Don’t Leave Me This Way

One of the conditions of my WordPress Least Prolific Blogger (Overseas) award is that I’m only allowed to blog twice a year.  So here is my bi-annual update.

Unbelievably, we leave Italy in just over a week.  Three years have flown by and, despite all my bitching about Italian drivers, Italian shoppers, Italian rudeness, Italian lack of awareness, mossies, unbearably hot weather, bland food, graffiti, rubbish strewn across the streets…etc etc, I’m going to miss Rome more than I ever thought possible.

View from my apartment towards Tivoli.

View from my apartment towards Tivoli.

I’m going to miss:

The hot weather (I finally got used to it just as we’re leaving!)

Cheap prosecco.  Cheap wine.  Cheap beer.

Perfect cappuccinos served in a proper sized cup, rather than a bucket.

My apartment, which is bigger and nicer than any house I’ve ever lived in. We’ve actually played tennis in the living room.  It’s ten minutes away from the centre of Rome but it looks towards the mountains on one side and over a nature reserve on the other.

Walking through Rome whenever I like and being surrounded by history and beautiful sights.

But most of all, I’m going to miss the wonderful friends we made here.  Both Italian and other nationalities have been so welcoming, generous and sociable.  I’m not overly emotional but there will be tears when I say goodbye to everyone.   I’m half-inclined to tell everyone I leave a week later so I can just sneak off and not have any blubbering farewells (red and blotchy is not a good look on me).

I won’t miss:

Conversations like the one HWW had in his canteen at work a few weeks ago –

HWW: Tre caffè (three coffees)

Lady behind counter: Eh?


Lady behind counter: EH?

HWW (very slowly and loudly): TRE CAFFÈ

Lady behind counter (getting very flustered): SCUSI SIGNORE, NON PARLO INGLESE… (EXCUSE ME SIR, I DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH…)

Yeah, maybe it is time to go home :)

Big Girls Don’t Cry…Unless They’re Waxing Their Bikini Line


Exciting news! I’ve just been nominated for a WordPress Award in the Least Prolific Blogger (Overseas) category…but as I was hoping to win the Funniest and Best Written Blog (Those Three Streets Between The Football Stadium and The River in North-West Rome) category, I thought it was about time I got off my arse and wrote another post.

Last week a ‘friend’ invited me to go swimming at her gym later that afternoon. I’m not an enthusiastic swimmer, mainly because it requires revealing my body to the general public, but as I’m on (yet another) health-kick, I agreed.

I couldn’t lose two stone in three hours but, as I was rocking the winter look, I thought I ought to spruce myself up a tad with a last minute bikini wax.

I found a supermarket own brand waxing kit which, despite being €5 cheaper than the well-known brands, had 500% greater adhesive qualities. When I attempted to remove the first wax-strip from my nether regions, it refused to come off, instead clinging to my skin like a very determined leech.

Obviously, a tougher approach was called for so I braced myself and, with a Maori war cry, yanked for all I was worth. The wax-strip successfully ripped away in my hand, bringing both unwanted hair and the top layer of my skin. Beads of sweat glazed my forehead and a solitary tear dripped down my face as I tried to remember the meditation techniques I’d been taught to cope with the pain of childbirth. Unfortunately, even tantric sex with Sting couldn’t begin to lessen the agony of waxing one’s short and curlies with strips coated in Sticks Like Sh*t and I didn’t have gas and air to hand.

I was due at the pool in forty minutes and I had a choice to make. I was looking rather askew: one side hair free, although rather battered and bruised; the other side still ‘70s porn star. I wasn’t sure if I could face the pain of waxing again. Should I get busy with a razor (which is fast and easy but brings its own problems of 5 o’clock shadow and subsequent crotch itch) or just go as I was and tell my friend that it was the latest bikini fashion?

The wax won. I applied a new piece and, took a deep breath, ready to wrench off the strip – just as the doorbell rang. Oh cacca. It would be the caretaker, Yoda, who delivers the post. If I didn’t answer the door, he would go, along with any post which I would probably never see again and, as I was waiting for a parcel from Amazon (this in itself shows that my optimism has never ending reserves. I keep ordering them…they keep not turning up. I live in hope), I needed to get to him before he disappeared. I grabbed my dressing gown and hobbled carefully to the door, where Yoda greeted me and began a protracted story about…who the hell knows? He doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak molto Italiano so all our (surprisingly long) conversations are a total mystery to me. We may be in a long-term relationship for all I know. I finally managed to say arrivaderci and shut the door on him before waddling back to the bathroom.

The wax strip was now stuck so firmly to my skin that not much short of a Black & Decker electric sander was going to remove it. I downed a medicinal shot of grappa, grasped the strip firmly in both hands and, exercising muscles that hadn’t been used since participating in my primary school’s annual tug-of war contest, ripped it off. The world went black as I waited for the grappa to take the edge off the pain.

Looking down, I let out a sob as I saw that the wax-strip had torn in two and only half had been removed; the other half was marooned in the midst of my lady garden like a backpacker lost in the bush. The handy non-waxed portion of the strip provided for removal was on the piece I’d already removed so there was nothing to take hold of. With a pair of tweezers, I gently began to lift up the edges of the wax-strip. Rather than an immensely painful but mercifully swift removal, this time each hair was plucked out individually, each accompanied by an ever increasing wail of pain, ‘Ow.   Owww.   OWWWWWWW!!!’

Finally, the strip was off. I used the rest of the grappa to remove the residue wax and took a look in the mirror. To be honest, it wasn’t looking good (unless a freshly plucked sunburnt chicken turns you on) and I was thinking that next time I’ll leave hair-removal to the professionals,* but at least I was ready to hit the pool.

I was digging out my seldom-used Speedo cossie (circa 1994) when I got a text: Something’s come up, not going to make it to the pool. Maybe next week? Sorry!


*This does not mean Bodie and Doyle…

Teenage Dreams – So Hard To Beat

As a child, I was mad on the All Creatures Great and Small books and TV series. Thinking being a vet would be a great career, I tried to practise my techniques on my cat. Unfortunately, unlike my friend’s dog who was perfectly happy to be wrapped in bandages from head to tail and prescribed Smarties for medicinal purposes, my cat was made of sterner stuff. Any attempts to put his paw into a sling would be met with a firm claws-bared whack.

Then I became a teenager and realised that a vet’s life would be a lot harder than it appeared on the telly, especially without Tristan, with his jolly japes and drunken pranks to make it more fun, and getting up in the middle of a cold winter’s night to stick my hand up a sheep’s backside was not something that really appealed.

Instead I found a new obsession in music magazines such as NME, Kerrang! and Record Mirror. Yes, of course, Smash Hits too but that didn’t fit into my hip image so I didn’t carry that one around, waiting for strangers to notice and nod appreciatively, ‘Look, she reads NME. She’s so cool’.

I would wait impatiently for the next issue, eagerly stopping off on my way home from school to pick up my ordered copy, having previously completed and cut out the little subscription form – y’know, Dear Mr Newsagent, please reserve me a copy of Britain’s hottest pop mag – that means SMASH HITS – every fortnight until further notice from the next issue.

I mentioned doing this to my teenage daughter.

‘What, you went and handed in a form at Waitrose like a saddo?’

‘No, not Waitrose, a newsagent. A little shop that just sold newspapers and magazines and sweets. And it wasn’t sad.’

‘Why didn’t you just do an online subscription and get it delivered?’

‘Because, FOR THE MILLIONTH TIME, the internet didn’t exist.’

Muttered under breath as walking away: ‘Loser.’

Rushing home with my coveted mag, I would read it feverishly from cover to cover, devouring it as completely as the packet of Breakaways I had snuck up to my room. Ah, what joyful days before we learnt about healthy eating. Children today might have iPad’s and Play Stations but I’d never heard of saturated fat or bad carbohydrates and could munch guilt-free on endless Penguin bars or packets of Skips. That beats Instagram hands down.

Ooh, Simon, you saucy minx

Ooh, Simon, you saucy minx

Lying on my bed, gazing up at my poster of Simon le Bon Bon, I would fantasise about bands playing gigs in glamorous places like New York, Sydney or Milton Keynes. For some reason, I didn’t picture myself actually in a band. Instead my dream was to work as a music journalist: travelling the world, reviewing records (Daughter: ‘What’s a record?’ Me: ‘A round thing you would play to get music to come out. Like a big black CD’. Daughter: ‘CD???’), attending concerts and interviewing bands.   Naturally, all the stars would all fall madly in love with me and try to win me, but I would be a free spirit who couldn’t be tamed by a mere rock god, and would be known for my beauty and mystery throughout the music world. I spent an inordinate amount of time getting this fantasy just right. It sure beat reading Silas Marner.

During Careers Week, I revealed this ambition to my form teacher, Miss Smith, (obviously leaving out the part about being worshipped by rock stars), hoping for some encouragement and assistance. Miss Smith had white hair that she’d started having shampooed and set twice a week in the 1950s and saw no reason to stop now, a different coloured twin-set for each day of the week, and (we were convinced) a sexual obsession with Shakespeare. This being a Monday, she was wearing the pastel blue combo, her hair freshly teased into a candy-floss helmet. Staring at me incredulously, her lip curled with contempt, she spat out, ‘A music journalist? YOU? Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you can’t do that.’

If this was some reverse psychology method of motivating me to reach my full potential, it didn’t work.

Was trying to find a nice pic of Harry Styles but I’d much rather have Dave Grohl and, anyway, Dave’s a great example of doing what you love so here he is.

At the grammar school I attended, if you didn’t fall into the academic, jolly hockey sticks mould, they didn’t really know what to do with you. Except ask you to leave as soon as they possibly could. Information about courses, jobs and opportunities was a lot harder to find in the 1980s.  A quick Google search in 2014 brings up hundreds of hits for music journalism, from NVQs and degree courses to level-entry jobs, internships and the best ways to break into the business. Compare that to the ‘Careers Section’ of my school library: half a shelf, tucked between Biology and Chemistry, with a few dusty university prospectuses and not much else.

Nowadays, if I were a 15 year old with music business ambitions who received poor advice from a teacher, I’d think, ‘Up yours, you ugly crone’, start a music blog (BarbedBands? Barb & the Bands?? You get the idea), review a few gigs, make an online music programme on Youtube before being discovered and getting my own MTV show, marrying Harry Styles and taking to the celeb lifestyle like Jesse Pinkman to meth.

However, back in 1985, lacking the foresight to invent the Internet and have all this available to me, I pretty much just gave up on my dream. I wasn’t someone who hung out with bands, writers or creative sorts and didn’t have the confidence or daring to just make things happen. My ‘guidance’ from my teacher left me pretty crushed and I went on to spectacularly fail my O levels and leave school at 16, spending several years travelling and working in a series of crappy jobs before finally going to uni at 24. (And getting a first. Suck it, teacher biatch.)

Sadly, by then I’d forgotten about my dream and opted to study business and marketing, then enter the corporate world – the complete antithesis of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

So, without sounding like a Degrassi Street after-school special, when my children say that they want to be an astronaut or an actress, I always tell them to go for it.  It doesn’t even matter if they reach their dream or change their goals on the way. As long as they’re having fun and following a passion, not working in a Dilbert cubicle staring at a monitor for eight hours a day. Been there, my friends. Not fun. Although, in hindsight, having The Verve line You’re a slave to money then you die as my screen saver probably didn’t make it any better.

Ok, I’m off to finish editing my book so I never have to care about the WENUS*.


*Friends joke – please tell me you get it, or I’m not sure if we can still be friends…

Under Pressure

savage chickensI’ve been a bad blogger.  I haven’t posted for three months, which in the world of blog is a real no-no. On any list of top tips for bloggers, writing posts is pretty much number one. Mind you, on checking my site stats, I’d actually had a couple of days during my hiatus when I got my highest ever number of views. It appears that the way for me to be a successful blogger is not to post at all. Result.

So how have I been filling my time if I haven’t been blogging? Well, mainly by stressing, which takes a lot of hard work and commitment to really do it properly.  We’re due to return back to the UK next summer and, at the moment, I don’t know the answers to the following questions:

Where will we live/work/kids go to school/buy cheap prosecco?
Will I have lost two stone by then? [Ed: I think we all know the answer to that one…]  

And not knowing any of that is making me just a tad anxious. Until HWW (as the stereotypical main bread/prosecco winner in the family) confirms where he’ll be working, it’s a bit hard to plan the rest.

I could probably relax into it and just go with the flow if it wasn’t for the fact that my youngest is due to start secondary school next September, along with every other 11 year old in the UK, and applications had to be in last week. My stress levels were amplified greatly by being told something different depending on whom I spoke to at the county council: You can’t apply from abroad…You can apply but it won’t be processed until you return to the UK…We won’t accept your application …We will but you’ll be at the back of the queue…Have you considered home-schooling? 

And so on and so forth until I finally found a muppet customer service advisor who seemed to know what they were talking about and directed me to the relevant section on their website which proved I did have to put in an application.  However, another problem is that some of the catchment areas for schools in the UK are tiny; you’ve no chance of getting in if you live more than a mile away. Our application had to be based on our Rome address, which is approximately 1,200 miles away from our chosen schools. Fortunately, I haven’t actually got the energy left to fret about that so will just bury my head in the sand instead.


Anyway, after finally getting the application in, I thought I’d relax with a cappuccino and a read of the English news. Only to discover that my tax return was due in that day. And I hadn’t even taken it out of its envelope since receiving it in April.  At that point, I had a panic attack and passed out for the rest of the day which at least gave me a nice break from worrying…

The Books of Love

I’ve been a bit quiet on the old blog front recently but I have managed to do some nice colouring…

I read an article about the work of Tom Phillips, an artist who uses pages from one particular book to create an ongoing story, called A Humument, which is a ‘meditation on unrequited love and the struggle to create and appreciate art’ (apparently).  He began it in the 1960s and is still producing updated editions of the same book.  Lots of other artists do similar works, which is often called Found Poetry, to create poems or an entirely new story.

The basic idea is to take an old book, circle all the words that take your fancy and do some nice pictures over the words you don’t like.  I remember doing something similar as a child, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.  It goes without saying that I endured much artistic angst and suffering during the creative process and, obviously, there is an underlying deep meaning behind each piece of work.  Plus, it’s something nice to do with your hands in front of the telly if, like me, you’ve got five seasons of Breaking Bad to catch up on.

I call this piece Love & Meth in Miami in homage to Walter White

I call this piece Love & Meth in Miami in homage to Walter White

Coffee for an Angel is a political comment on the lack of refreshment opportunities for heavenly beings

Coffee for an Angel makes a political comment on the appalling lack of refreshment opportunities for heavenly beings

United Love examines the correlation between the decline in sales of traditional tea-bags such as PG tips and rising divorce rates in the UK

Cheer Up Missus is an ironic work on the futility of life and ironing

Cheer Up Missus is an ironic statement on the futility of life and ironing

You CAN Always Get What You Want

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the benefits of gratitude and kindness on our health, happiness and getting what you want out of life.  I used to be a bit of a Cynical Cynthia and poo-poo any hippy dippy ideas about the power of positive thinking or the law of attraction.  It was all too Oprah for me.   But, gradually I’ve come to see the light and, like a Cyberman, I’ve been converted and now I’m Barb the Believer.   So, as part of my commitment to happiness, I am attempting to speak more (barbed) words of kindness and be grateful for all the wonderful things in life.  Here’s my thanks for the weekend:

Thank you…to the bar in central Rome that allowed us to take a welcome break from the heat of the day.  It was so good of you to allow us to sit undisturbed for twenty minutes, without hassling us about ordering drinks or food.  In fact, you were so determined to make us feel comfortable that you firmly ignored all our attempts to catch your attention.  What a pain it was when we were rested enough to move to another bar where the waiter greeted us warmly within 30 seconds of taking a seat.  What’s his problem??

Thank you…to the Rolling Stones for an amazing show at Circus Maximus last night.  I am seriously in awe of Mick’s fitness; he hardly stood still for two hours.  I don’t know where he gets the energy.  Also, I don’t know where he gets his hair – surely it can’t be real??

Thank you…to the audience, who not only smoked incessantly but also filmed the entire concert on their iPhones/iPads, thus obscuring what would have been an awesome view of the main stage.  Fortunately, we were next to the bridge and mini stage so, despite the sea of technology, I was able to get a close up look at ol’ craggy face Mick.

Thank you…to the lovely group of Italians next to us, who told us how much they disliked English people and that, ‘You fucking English break my balls’. Really? Why have you just forked out €100 to watch a fucking English band then?

Thank you…to the lax parking rules in Rome which enabled us to park directly in front of the venue.  Usually I complain about the ‘Park anywhere you like/don’t worry if you’re blocking another car or driveway/double parking is fine, why not try triple parking for a change?’ attitude but last night, as we drove off ten minutes after the concert had finished, I was all for it.

Thank you…to the builders who are scaffolding our apartment block in preparation for repairs to the building.  I particularly appreciated the scaffolding being delivered by tossing it from the lorry onto the road at 7am this morning, thus waking me up on one of the very rare mornings when both my children were at sleepovers so I didn’t have to be up early.  Mind you, I should probably be more concerned that half the building is now being held up with steel supports, which makes me a tad nervous to step onto my balcony.

Not sure if I’ve quite got the hang of this gratitude thing…I’ll try harder next time.  Will I become too annoying if I become too grateful for everything?? Anyway, thank you…to you for reading my blog and just, y’know, being you :)



Check Out

Another short story this week, in lieu of a report from Rome…


The car swerved across the highway as Henley fought against the steering wheel to bring the Chevy under control. He narrowly missed the truck coming the other way, its horn blasting through the silence of the desert. Henley rammed his foot hard on the brake and the car skidded to a halt on the gravel verge. His heart pounded and he struggled to catch his breath as he unpeeled his shaking fingers from the steering wheel. He opened the window and let the cool wind freshen his burning face.

Henley had been driving since 8am, after a disappointing breakfast in a diner that was nothing like the cool, hip ‘50s diners of the movies. This one was unwelcoming, served bitter coffee (but free refills..) and cooked hash browns he could have built a house with. It hadn’t set him up well for the 400-mile drive to his next destination: Barstow, a small town on the edge of the desert, to pay homage to the great Hunter S. Thompson.

His journey had taken even longer after several hasty unscheduled stops to empty himself of his crappy breakfast, crouched nervously behind scantily thorned bushes or the occasional sign, hoping a rattlesnake didn’t attack him while he was incapacitated.

The motel the previous night hadn’t provided much sleep, thanks to a retro vibrating mattress that shuddered at random points throughout the night, usually just after he’d finally dropped off from the previous quake. This lack of sleep, combined with the violent bouts of diarrhoea, had exhausted him and he had only feebly resisted as his eyes had grown heavy, hypnotised by the road stretching for miles in front of him and the lights of the cars driving towards him.   He’d descended into the deep cavern of sleep, until the blare of the truck’s horn had violently yanked him back into consciousness.California postcard

Driving from New York to LA was a lifetime’s ambition for Henley. He wanted to see the real good ol’ US of A, get his kicks on Route 66, taste mom’s apple pie. Live the American dream. The reality, however, was turning out to be slightly different.   Any kitsch places that he was lucky enough to stumble across had seemed staged as if they were just cashing in on an old legend that had barely existed in the first place. Also, he hadn’t realised just how great the distances were and how dull much of the scenery would be. Ok, so the Grand Canyon was impressive and it was cool to see Las Vegas all lit up and imagine himself in Ocean’s Eleven, but there had also been a hell of lot of long hours’ solid driving in between those scenic bits. Long hours. On his own. With only an iPod full of classic rock to keep him company. He still had another 90 miles to go to Barstow and darkness had fallen suddenly.

It was time to stop for the night.

Henley slowly pulled back onto the highway.   He needed to find somewhere to stay; surely there must be a place soon. He kept the windows open, the warm smell of wild sage rising up through the air.    He had been driving for ten minutes or so when up ahead in the distance, he saw the shimmering light of a neon HOTEL sign. He drove into the almost empty parking lot and stopped next to an old white Mercedes parked in front of the reception.

The hotel was an incongruous sight to find in the middle of the Californian desert. A huge, three story building, it had a brooding, black facade, pointed arches and four tall towers reaching to the sky.   Gargoyles leered down at him, their hideous faces mocking him. What was it with Americans and their theme hotels? In Vegas he’d stayed in an Egyptian one with mummies and a small pyramid in his room.

Whatever. All he wanted was to go to sleep, no matter what the hotel looked like. The reception was in darkness, the door locked.   He tugged on the old-fashioned bell pull, its chimes ringing out in the cool night.   No-one answered, he rang again. Oh for god’s sake, he’d have to keep driving.

He moved away, heading back to the car. “Welcome,” came a voice behind him. “Are you looking for a room?”

No, I’m here for architecture tips, thought Henley as he turned back to the door. A tall, slim woman with long blonde hair stood in the doorway, holding up a candle in a Tiffany-style glass candlestick. She wore a full length, flowing dress.

“Yes, are you open?”

“We’ve had a power cut, there’s no electricity. We haven’t had power for ages. God knows when it’ll be back on.”

“I just need a bed, something to eat and drink.”

“You can always find that here. It’s $60 for the night.”

Henley hesitated – was this a good idea or was did it look too weird? – before exhaustion won out and he followed her into the dark building, through a maze of corridors and stairs, the light from the candle briefly lighting myriad doorways and passages leading god knows where.   He could hear the faint sound of music mingled with laughter and the occasional excited shout calling from far away.

“Sounds like fun,” he said.

“Oh, that’s just some friends. They like to dance in the courtyard. Do you dance? It’s very therapeutic. Helps you remember, helps you forget.”

Christ, she didn’t only look like an old hippy, she spoke like one too.

The woman showed him into his room: a huge black cast iron bed stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by lit church candles in tall candlesticks. A bottle of pink champagne cooled in an ice bucket on the bedside table and beads of condensation twinkled in the candlelight.

“Ummm, is this the right room? Looks like someone’s already in here.”

“No, no. This is for you. We like to make all our guests feel welcome.”

Welcome? More like a health and safety nightmare.

“Oh, well, thank you. I don’t really drink champagne though, more of a Budweiser man myself.”

“We don’t stock beer. No call for it. Haven’t done beer since ’69. I’ll leave you to get comfortable. I’ll be in the bar if you want to come down.”

She left and Henley lay on the bed with relief. He yawned loudly and gave a large, exaggerated stretch feeling some of the tension in his back dissipating. As he looked up, he realised he was staring at himself in a large, smoked mirror on the ceiling. He sat up with a jolt, suddenly wide awake. Maybe he should go for that drink after all.   It might help him sleep then he’d head off first thing in the morning.

Henley picked up one of the candles and blew out the others.   No point letting the place burn down, even if the owner was one can short of a six-pack.   His route back to reception was complicated by the darkness and the vast number of corridors and staircases. He didn’t pass any other guests but he could still hear the shouts and music from the party.   He tried to head towards the sound and eventually found himself outside a room on the ground floor, from where he could hear the music blaring. He opened the door and entered the room with the candle held high.

Henley froze, staring at the scene in front of him. His brain told him to turn and run as fast as he could but his legs were unable to obey the instruction.

A huge reptilian creature, at least twelve feet long, covered in red scales lay on a table in the middle of the room.   It was encircled by figures dressed in white, flowing robes, screaming and frenziedly stabbing at the beast with steel daggers, their blades plunging into the creature’s body as blood splattered through the air. Their robes were patterned with the bright crimson of fresh blood and their faces dripped with sweat.

The monster’s white fangs glinted in the candlelight as it snarled and shrieked. It thrashed its head from side to side and attempted to lash out with its long talons and whip like tail but it was spread-eagled across the table; thick rope around its legs and tail held it tightly anchored to the table legs. Its stomach and chest were swimming in blood and its guts were visible through the slashes and wounds.

The beast lifted its head off the table and stared at Henley with its glittering black eyes. Henley desperately wanted to look away but the monster’s glare held him transfixed.   Although he could feel the pure evil emitting from the monster, he felt that the beast was pleading with Henley to help him. Surely nothing deserved to die like this?

At that moment one of the figures in white caught sight of him standing in the doorway. “Friends, behold. We have fresh blood!”

Henley’s body finally caught up with his brain and he leapt back though the doorway, slamming it shut behind him. What the fuck had he stumbled into?   He began to run towards where he hoped the reception and the hell out of here were but the candle’s flame went out and he threw the candlestick to the ground. He put his shaking hand against the wall and groped his way along the corridor, trying to block out the horrific images of what he had just witnessed.

Henley progressed slowly in the darkness, trying to quell the panic he felt in every inch of his body. Behind him was the sound of hushed voices getting closer and closer.   He thought he could see a faint light emitting from the end of the corridor.  Oh Jesus, please let it be the way out. He turned the corner into the reception area, where more candles were placed on the desk.   A sob of relief caught in his throat and he sped up towards the door. He pulled down on the handle and pushed against the door but it refused to open.   He frantically rattled the handle up and down, throwing his shoulder against the door.

He screamed as he felt a hand on his shoulder.   Tears flooded down his face and the air disappeared from his lungs as he sank to the ground, his hand still clinging to the door handle.   He finally lifted his head to see what fresh hell would face him now.

A short, tanned man, dressed in a porter’s uniform, looked down at Henley and smiled.

“Help me, please help me,” Henley begged.

“Relax,” the man said in a deep, reassuring tone, “you can check out any time you like.  But you can never leave.”

The classic rock fans amongst you will find this easy: can you Name That Tune??  No prizes for the first correct answer but you can feel smug all weekend.