dubiously true stories and cartoons

Saturday, June 21, 2014


This is a true story. Only the names, dates, places, nationalities, sexual orientations, conversations and situations have been changed to protect the guilty.

Jerry Johnson felt refreshed after he and his wife Mary had spent a caravan holiday just outside the Welsh seaside town of Tenby. They went for a two-break over the Easter break and it was a tradition in the section where I worked that whenever anyone went away for any period of time they should bring back a present – usually sweets or chocolates – for the team to enjoy upon their return. Jerry, being a bit of a skinflint, brought back a small box of biscuits that had five views of Tenby on the top. Upon closer inspection of this paltry gift Jennifer, a colleague of mine, and I discovered that the five scenes of Tenby were printed on a piece of card that was stuck to the lid of the box with that gummy glue that could be peeled off and rolled into a ball, leaving the item that it had been attached to intact. On the reverse we found that the five scenes of Tenby were actually the front of a cheap (unused) postcard that had been hastily stuck onto the box (probably by an underpaid, illegal immigrant employed at Tenby’s Poundland) and so Jennifer suggested to me that we reuse the postcard for more nefarious means than it was originally intended.

“Why don’t we send this postcard back to Jerry from a fictitious couple and see what happens,” Jennifer suggested.

That sounded like a bit of a laugh and so I agreed. “You’ll have to write it,” Jennifer said, “because he’ll recognise my handwriting straight away.”

“Fair enough,” I replied and, picking up a ballpoint pen, I began to write.

Dear Jerry & Mary,
Had a great time with you in Tenby and were sad to see you go. Wish you were still here and hope to see you again soon.
Love and best wishes,
Roger & Julie

I addressed the postcard, stuck a first-class stamp on it and, with one of the rubber stamps from the Admin Office, smudged what looked like a postmark over the stamp. Finally I placed the postcard into the Mail-In tray and Jennifer and I waited to see what would happen.

What did happen was beyond our wildest expectations. Jerry was totally confused by the postcard and took it to show his boss, Andy, who was by this time in on the joke.

“I’ve just received this postcard,” blurted Jerry, “from a couple called Roger and Julie and I’ve got no idea who they are.”

“Really?” said Andy, stilfling the urge to laugh. “Are you sure you don’t know them. I mean, they wouldn’t send you a postcard if you hadn’t given them your address. You must know them.”

“I know. I know. But I can’t picture them at all. Maybe I know them from somewhere else.”

“That’s possible.”

He took the postcard home with him that evening and he and his wife racked their brains to try and remember the couple with whom they had made such an impression.

A fortnight later, everyone in the team (apart from Jerry) was in on the joke. He had showed us all the postcard and told us about the mysterious couple he’d met in Tenby that he knew nothing about. By that time he had convinced himself that he actually did know them, but just couldn’t remember them.

“I used to know someone called Roger when I was in the army,” he told me one day, “but I can’t remember whether his wife was called Julie.”

“Maybe it was him,” I suggested.


A week later Jerry received another postcard, this time from London, which read:

Dear Jerry & Mary,
Just been to the West End to see Les Miz. It was fantastic! Wish you could have been with us to see it. Will be in your area in three weeks’ time and hope to drop in and see you, if that’s OK.
Love and best wishes,
Roger & Julie

The postcard, depicting a scene of Trafalgar Square, was from me, of course. I’d just spent the previous weekend with an old Air Force friend of mine who had opened an Italian restaurant in Ealing. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss and it worked like a charm.

“They’re thinking of coming to see me in three weeks’ time,” Jerry said to Andy.

“That’s good news,” said Andy.

“But I still don’t know who they are.”

“Well, you will soon. It’ll all fall into place, you’ll see.”

“Do you think so?”

“Of course. You’ve already told me that you knew someone called Roger when you were in the army. It’ll probably turn out to be him. Can you remember what he looks like?”

“Who? The Roger from the army or the Roger I met at Tenby?”

“So you did meet him?”

“I don’t know . . . I must have done.”

Jerry and Mary were baffled by what was happening and had spent weeks sifting through boxes of old photographs and scouring their albums in an attempt (futile as it was) to identify the two people they had apparently been such good friends with during their fortnight’s holiday in Tenby. It was all to no avail and after hours of pointless searching they were as clueless as they had been when the first postcard had mysteriously arrived in Jerry’s mail a month earlier.

But things were about to change and some of the questions that were causing Jerry such concern were about to be answered.

Three weeks later Jerry received a postcard from Barcelona. It read (in tiny handwriting):

Dear Jerry & Mary
Sorry about not calling in but (as you can see) we decided to go to Barcelona instead. Remember the bullfight we went to last time we were here and Mary was so sick she had to be taken back to the hotel. She’ll be pleased to know that Bullfighting has now been banned! Wish you were here with us!
Love and best wishes,
Roger & Julie

“I must know him!” Jerry exclaimed. “How else would he know about the time Mary was sick!”

Roger knew that Jerry’s wife had been sick and had to be taken back to the hotel because Mary had told me that story at our team’s Christmas party the previous year. It wasn’t a particularly interesting story when she’d told it to me, but as Simon, one of my friend’s from the accounts section was going on holiday to Spain and Jennifer had found an unused postcard that she’d bought in Barcelona two years earlier, Mary’s pointless tale of bullfights and hotel toilets suddenly became one of paramount significance.

I wrote the postcard before Simon went away and he posted it from Spain a few days later.

And so it went on. For the rest of the year, on a regular basis, Jerry would receive a postcard from Roger & Julie, revealing tantalising glimpses of their past and the times they had spent together. Jennifer and I would listen to Jerry’s stories about his life in the army and deviously work them in to the postcards that were sent from all over the world. By the time Christmas came around Jerry was convinced he knew the fictional couple that had now become such an important part of his life.

What had started as a ‘little joke’ had by then become a joke of behemoth proportions and had been going on for just over eight months. It was time to wrap things up. It was time for Jerry to meet his new best friends.

But first we had to set the scene.

The day we closed down for the Christmas holidays Jerry received a Christmas card. Jennifer had managed to find one with the most pretentious verse I’ve ever read. It went like this:

At Christmas, hope and love
Make patterns which, invisibly,
Alight into our hearts
The way that birds, flying all of a sudden,
Often vault into a formation
That is structured
And seems timed
But is still completely free.
Watching them they seem at play
The way that my heart,
Anticipating Christmas,
Feels today.

Inside the card was a handwritten letter that read:

Dear Jerry & Mary
Well, it looks like our wandering days are over as the gratuity I received when I left the army has all but run out and I have had to seek employment to fund any further excursions abroad. Julie and I thought about depositing the gratuity into a high-interest savings account, but seeing as our mortgage is already paid off and the children have all left home we thought a better way of putting the money to good use would be to travel the world until it ran out. You only live once, that’s what you always used to say. As luck would have it I have secured a position working in the organisation you are currently employed in, although not in the same section. I will be working in the accounts section and my start date is January 4th. I am very much looking forward to meeting up with you again. It will be great to talk about old times and Julie can’t wait to gossip with Mary and taste her ‘world famous’ quiche again.
Anyway, Merry Christmas mate and I’ll see you in the New Year.
Love and best wishes,
Roger & Julie

Jerry was overjoyed. The only way to describe Jerry’s delight in receiving the letter is to paraphrase Scrooge’s words from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – he was as light as a feather, he was as happy as an angel, he was as merry as a schoolboy, he was as giddy as a drunken man!

“I knew it!” he declared. “I knew it! Didn’t I tell you that I knew him in the army!”

He was so happy that Jennifer and I had second thoughts about bursting his bubble in the New Year, but it was only a momentary, fleeting feeling that dissipated almost as quickly as it had entered our fiendish minds.

On the 4th of January Jerry was still in an extreme state of elation – the smile on his face could not have been broader and the spring in his step could not have been springier even if he had sprung to the moon and back. At 8.30 am his telephone rang.

“Jerry Cordell, Contracts. How may I help you?”

“Hello, Jerry.”

“Err, hello. Who am I speaking to?”

“It’s Roger,” said Simon from accounts. “How are you, mate?”

Jerry’s face flushed red. If, at that very second, the world had been consumed by a nuclear holocaust, Jerry would not have been happier. “Hello mate,” said Jerry, trying unsuccessfully to contain the joyfulness that was bursting out of every ventricle of his heart, “it’s so good to hear from you.”

“Yeah, I know, it’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” said Simon.

“Yeah. Look, wait there, I’ll come over to accounts now.”

Before Simon could reply Jerry had replaced the receiver onto its cradle. He quickly took his coat off the hanger behind the door and dashed out of the office, pulling his coat on as he did. The Accounts section was in a building across the road from the Contacts Section and Simon had to make a hasty exit before Jerry arrived, but not before explaining to his colleagues what to say to Jerry when he arrived.

When Jerry arrived back in the Contracts Section he looked crestfallen.

“How was it?” asked Andy.

“He wasn’t there. He’d just left and was out doing all his arrival briefings.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Yeah. I must have missed him by seconds.”

“He’ll in those arrival briefings all morning.”

“I know. It’s a fucker, isn’t it?”

“Well, you’ve waited this long – I’m sure a morning won’t make much difference.”

“Yeah. I recognised his voice though. You know, when I spoke to him on the telephone.”

“That’s good, then.”

The reason why Jerry recognised Roger’s voice was because it was Simon’s and Simon often came over at lunchtimes (or whenever he felt like it, really) and we’d talk about the latest films we’d seen. He recognised Roger’s voice because he’d heard it almost every day for the past three years.

At lunchtime that day Jennifer and I asked Jerry if he fancied going over to the staff canteen for lunch, but he declined, explaining (what we already knew) that he had brought his sandwiches in and he would be eating them at his desk.

The canteen served chips with everything. Curry with chips, pie with chips, fish with chips, pasta with chips, chili-con-carne with chips, cottage pie with chips, lasagne with chips, bread with chips – you could even have, if you were that way inclined and/or a fat bastard who had eaten all the pies, chips with chips. In the canteen there was nothing on offer that didn’t go with chips. Some people even dipped chips into their tea. After an artery-clogging meal of epic proportions that made us want to sleep for the rest of the afternoon, Jennifer and I wandered aimlessly back to the Contracts Section.

Upon our arrival we went directly to Jerry’s office and I said, “You’ll never guess who we met in the canteen?”

“Who?” Jerry asked, morosely.

“Your mate Roger!”

“Oh, you’re joking!”

“No. I couldn’t believe it. He seems a really nice bloke.”

“He is a nice bloke. We were in the army together.”

“Yeah, I know – so you’ve told us. Anyway, he said that he was going to pop in and see you this afternoon.”

At precisely 1.30 pm Jennifer and I positioned ourselves in the Admin Office and asked the Chief Clerk to go and tell Jerry that there were two people waiting for him, but not to tell him who they were.

Jerry jumped out of his office and gleefully bounded down the corridor to the Admin Office, where we were anxiously awaiting his imminent arrival. He was grinning from ear to ear and as he approached us I extended my hand and said, “Hello Jerry – my name’s Roger and this is my wife, Julie.”

In that revealing moment Jerry’s face went through several changes. First there was confusion, followed quickly by disbelief. This gave way to sorrow and then denial and then finally to anger. His entire body began to tremble and his eyes started to mist over. He looked like he had been possessed by a demon that was bent on destroying the universe. It seemed like a volcano was about to erupt inside him and I thought that any second now he was going to explode into a million tiny fragments of his former self. But then, just as Jennifer and I were expecting to be beaten to death, his manner inexplicably changed and he laughed and exclaimed, “I knew it was a wind up! I knew it was a wind up!”

We knew that he knew that he didn’t know it was a wind up, but we humoured him all the same. “Well done, Jerry,” I said. “When did you cotton on that it was a wind up?”

“Right from the start. I knew it was a wind up right from the start.”

Strangely he never told his wife Mary that it was a wind up and instead made up some cock-and-bull story about how Roger didn’t accept the job in accounts after all as a result of him winning a substantial amount of cash on the lottery.

Jerry never told me or Jennifer any more stories about his wild army days, which was a somewhat of a relief as his stories were neither wild nor interesting. A few months went by and I just happened to bump into Mary in town and I asked her about their mysterious friends that had never materialised. “It was funny really,” she told me. “Roger and Julie sent countless postcards to us and then all of a sudden they just stopped. I suppose it was because they’d just come into a lot of money.”


“Yes, but then last week I received this.” She reached into her handbag and pulled out a postcard from Peru. On the front there was a picture of a llama standing front of a well with mountains in the background. I turned the card over and was, to say the least, taken aback. The card was definitely postmarked from Peru. It was a place I’d never been to and nor did I know anyone who had been there themselves. It was, however, the message on the card that surprised me the most. For it was in that message that I recognised Roger’s familiar handwriting.

Dear Jerry & Mary,
Just arrived in Peru. Having a lovely time. Wish you were here.
Love and best wishes,
Roger & Julia

What was unusual about this postcard was that it was unmistakeably my handwriting – but I hadn’t written it. And if I didn’t write it then who did?

Maybe it was because I had spent months making the two fictional characters of Roger and Julie as close to being real human beings as possible, and that had somehow brought them to life and they were now travelling the world living off their fictional lottery win.

Or maybe, just maybe, it was a wind up.


AUTHOR’S NOTE: This story is, of course, a totally fabricated version of a real event. I did send all those postcards to someone and he did believe for quite some period of time that he had two friends called Roger and Julie. The reason I wrote this story is because my wife is sick and tired of hearing it. I tell it (in a shortened, and usually drunk, version) to any new friends we pick up and who are too polite to tell me to piss off and bother someone else with my pointless, rambling tales from a misspent youth. Therefore this is for my wife, Jackie, so she never has too hear it tumbling from my lips ever again – and if I should ever be drunk enough to start telling the story to an unsuspecting guest, she can tell me to shut the fuck up and then direct the now fortunate people to this blog, if they are in any way at all interested in what I have to say.

Thanks for listening.


No comments:

Post a Comment