A Short Story

The following post was originally published in my old blog, just over nine years ago. As very few people read the blog in those days, I thought I’d give it a second outing.

It was written a couple of weeks before I walked out of my job as a Waterstone’s manager. I was very unhappy and in a mood of desperation, applied for a training course that later turned out to be a complete waste of time and money. Thankfully, I realised that something was wrong before I handed over any cash.

But I digress. I’m reposting this not because of any literary merit, but because it almost feels like a short story, although every word is true:

Last week I went to take part in an aptitude test session at Tolworth Tower – a grim, 1960s office block on the fringes of Greater London, next to the busy A3 road. When I booked the tests, I was asked if I knew where the tower was. I said that I had been there before, but didn’t mention that it was when I was on my first date.

I was a very young 17 and had wanted to ask a girl I knew out, but didn’t know how to go about it. Then, for some reason, I hit on the idea of suggesting tenpin bowling. I’ve no idea why.

I found her number in the phone book and dialled it. To my delight, she said yes and three days later, we met at the bus stop and caught a 281 to Tolworth Tower’s bowling alley.

I thought the day had gone well. After a game of bowling, we took the bus back to Teddington and had what felt like a romantic walk in Bushy Park. It was a beautiful spring day. Sadly, she didn’t share my view and I never saw her again. I quite upset and resolved to abandon tenpin bowling as part of my wooing technique.

After the aptitude test I decided to catch the train to Twickenham and revisit the places I had known since childhood. There were quite a few changes. Every other building now seemed to be a restaurant and what had once been a solidly white, slightly down at heel area, had been augmented by more exotic faces and languages.

I walked down to the River Thames – a part of Twickenham that hasn’t changed much in 250 years – and visited the church where my parents married and I was Christened. It was empty and after lighting a candle for my father, I studied a noticeboard to see if I recognised any of the photos of the members of the parish council. They were all strangers.

How can you grow up somewhere, attend school with over a thousand other local children and, within a fairly short space of time, feel like an outsider? Where had everyone gone? I began to feel slightly depressed.

Suddenly the church door swung open and a woman asked me if would be much longer. I explained that I was about to leave. ‘Okay that’s fine.’ she replied ‘When you go can you make sure that you shut the door very firmly – you really have to slam it.’

I nodded and just as she was leaving I realised who she was. I wanted to rush after her and say how strange it was that after visiting Tolworth Tower for the first time since our one and only date, I should bump into her like this. But by the time I had obediently slammed the church door shut, she was gone.


  1. Kid

    Ah, brilliant. I wonder if, after leaving, she suddenly realised who you were, and hid out of sight until you had gone. Out of embarrassment at the memory I mean, not because she thought you were a nutter or anything like that.


  2. Peter

    I love short fiction stories which have a twist or unexpected impact at the very end. That meander along, amiable enough and with the final paragraph in sight, have you thinking – “where’s this going, hardly worth the effort?” Than bang and suddenly, everything before has greater clarity and meaning and leave you pondering all of the possibilities. As you say, a true story and perhaps even more poignant for that.


    • Steerforth

      I’m glad you felt that the last paragraph justified the rest. I’ve had many chance encounters before, but this one fitted into the day’s narrative as if it had been dreamed up by a writer.


    • Steerforth

      I think we see lots of people time and time again, but only notice the friends and notable eccentrics (like the famous Bearded Lady of Guildford). At one point I became quite paranoid – at 20, I sneaked off to Paris with a girl during term time. I thought I’d got away with it, but a few days later, someone came up to me and said “That was you outside the Louvre wasn’t it?” It’s harder to disappear than you think.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Steerforth

      I suppose that’s why they say never go back. It’s so tempting to return to old haunts, but it can be a bittersweet exerience, either because the place has changed beyond recognition, or because we have.


  3. zmkc

    Did you ask her out again? Are you sure she didn’t enjoy herself? When you are young these things are so hard to understand – the first time I was asked out it was by someone I definitely wanted to be asked out by, but I’d formed my ideas of what should happen on dates from American television, (I was only just 16 at the time). Therefore, when the person who had asked me out made no attempt to kiss me during the course of the “date”, I was very insulted and decided he didn’t like me. When he rang to ask me out again, I refused, on the demented grounds that I was convinced he didn’t like me (in which case why was he asking me out again? Unfortunately that question didn’t enter my head until ten years or so later). Possibly, if this female you went on a date with was as dotty as me, her request to you to ensure the door was firmly closed was really some kind of code you were supposed to interpret and understand meant that she had always loved you. On the other hand, possibly there are no females quite as dotty as me in this regard. And, if there are and she was one of them, you had a lucky escape.


    • Steerforth

      I think she was astute enough to realise that we were completely incompatible and I’m eternally grateful to her for having the good sense to give me the elbow. A month or two later, I sent a letter to her which finished with the rather embarrasing line “Please reply, if only to say goodbye”. She didn’t reply.

      I’m afraid that I was one of those boys who didn’t make a move on the first date and waited until I was absolutely convinced that my feelings were reciprocated. In hindsight, I can now see several lost opportunities. Youth really is wasted on the young.


    • Steerforth

      That’s pretty brutal – I suppose kids are very territorial. But grown-ups can do it too. When my wife and I moved to Lewes, our best friends became very icy, as if we’d somehow rejected them. They don’t even send cards now.


  4. Lucille

    I didn’t see that story before so I’m glad you republished.
    Not quite the same but I thought you might like this Ted talk if you haven’t already seen it. It’s quirky.


    • Steerforth

      WordPress is full of surprises – I’m still getting used to it. But please don’t feel the need to apologise, as I think it looks better than a bit of text. I shall have a look later.


  5. Peter Sipe

    I love this story.

    Have you heard of/read “I Thought My Father Was God”? Edited by Paul Auster, from his national story project a while ago. Full of tales like this, some as good.


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