TOO OLD FOR SUZUKI • by Jonathan Pinnock

They’re halfway back home before either of them says anything. The late Sunday afternoon traffic is light, but they’re stuck behind an Eddie Stobart lorry and the road is too twisty for Tim to get past.

“Well,” says Angela eventually. “That was grim.”

“Yeah,” says Tim, shaking his head. “Gets worse every time, doesn’t it?”

She doesn’t reply. They drive on. There’s a stretch of dual carriageway and Tim accelerates into the open road.

He inclines his head towards the back seat. “What do you reckon, Matt?” he says.

“He’s asleep,” says Angela.

“Do you think he notices?”

“He will, one day.”

The dual carriageway ends just before they meet two caravans, travelling in convoy. Tim sighs. “Was there a single patch of wall that wasn’t covered with Charlie’s daubings?” he says.

“I don’t think so.”

“Did you see the one in the downstairs loo?”

“Yes, what was that one supposed to be?”

“Well, I know what it looked like.”

They both snigger.

“I mean, really,” says Tim. “Would you put that on display? Even as a joke?”

“I’d be afraid of social services.”

“Well, exactly.”

Angela frowns. “That noise has started up again,” she says.

“It’s probably nothing.”

“When’s the next service due?”


Tim listens to the whistling noise, trying to work out which part of the car it’s coming from. He gives up. “Do you think we should start Matt on Suzuki?” he says.

“I hate the violin.”

“Yes, but – “

“Don’t even think about it. He’s probably too old already.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. They usually start them round about the same time as weaning.”

“Bloody hell.”

“Yep. Charlie’s probably been scraping away for three years already. Same with chess.”

“Oh God, wasn’t that awful? Poor Matt. Didn’t know what to do, did he?”

“I think he knew exactly what to do,” says Angela. “If I’d been presented with that at the age of four, I’d have tipped the board over too.”

“Nasty little tantrum that caused.”

“Very nasty. They’ll have trouble later on, mark my words. That noise is still there, you know.”

“Of course it is.”

“It’s not just going to go away.”

“Yeah, I know.”

The caravans have both turned off and the road is clear again.

“What exactly was that in the casserole?” says Angela. “I was afraid to ask.”

“Christ knows. I fed most of mine to the dog when no-one was looking. When there was all the kerfuffle with the orange juice.”

“Poor Matt.”

“He’s so clumsy sometimes.”

“Oh come on, it was an accident waiting to happen. If I was being really bad minded, I’d say they’d set it up.”

“Not from the way Sarah reacted.”

“Bloody hell, no. She did apologise, though.”

“So she should.”


They both laugh.

“Poor Toby,” says Angela. “No wonder he’s losing his hair.”

“Is everything all right with his business, do you think?”

“I don’t know. He’s certainly got a nice new car.”

“The Lexus?” says Tim. “I’m sure he had that one last time they came to us. No, it’s just he didn’t say much about work. Usually he’s full of how they’re expanding into Estonia or Azerbaijan or wherever and there was hardly a peep today.”

“I’m not sure Sarah let him get a word in edgeways.”

“Yeah. One day I’d like to talk about something other than kids.”

“I know what you mean. If I ever go like that – ”

“Don’t worry. I’ll kill you first.”

“I know.”

“Toby did seem quiet, though. You don’t think – ”

“Good Lord, I hadn’t even considered that.”

They have caught up with a tractor, one of those with a cab the size of a small house. Tim can’t see any way round it.

“Would explain a lot,” he says. “I can see him now, checking into some seedy hotel in downtown Tallin – ”

“With a painted blonde on his arm – ”

“Called Valentina.”

“Why Valentina?”

“Dunno. Just like the name. Valentina Tereshkova. First woman in space.”

“I know that.”

“Anyway,” says Tim, “it’s a small lift and there’s only just room for them, along with an elderly grandmother, dressed all in black, and a passing accordionist from Vilnius – ”

“ – and unbeknown to either of the others, Toby’s hand reaches up under Valentina’s skirt, caresses her rump through silky knickers and – ”

“Is Matt still asleep?” says Tim.

“What?” says Angela. She turns to the back. “Yes.”

“Good. Carry on, I’m enjoying this.”

“I lost my thread.”


“Oh yes. And then … no sorry, I can’t get past Toby’s head.”


“His bald head. And those preposterous glasses.”

“Yes, I can see that might be a problem.”

“What was he like at uni?” says Angela.

“Same as he is now. Less bald and less ambitious, I suppose. And not married to Sarah, obviously.”

“Maybe she’s the one having the affair.”

“How would that work?”

“I don’t know. Maybe she drops the child off at nursery and races home to wait in for the gas fitter or something.”

“The gas fitter? You’re kidding.”

“Yeah, for that spanking new range thing.”

“Christ, yes. How much did that cost?”

“Bloody fortune, I bet,” says Angela. “She still can’t cook, though. Anyway, the gas fitter comes – ”

“Ripped and tanned – ”

“She gives him a mug of tea – ”

“And she asks him for a hand with his ballcock – ”

Angela sighs. “No, Tim, keep up. He’s a gas fitter, not a plumber. Doesn’t work.”

“Ah well, never mind.”

They’re still stuck behind the tractor. Tim glances across at Angela. “Wonder what they think of us,” he says.

“Fuck knows. Don’t care,” says Angela and they both start laughing. There’s a Little Chef at the next roundabout. Matt’ll like that.

Jonathan Pinnock is the author of Mrs Darcy Versus the Aliens (Proxima Books, 2011), which occasionally gets included in lists of things that should never have been done to Jane Austen, the Scott Prize-winning short story collection Dot Dash (Salt, 2012) and the bio-historic-musicological-memoir thing Take It Cool (Two Ravens Press, 2014). His stories and poems have won a few prizes and have been read on BBC Radio 4, among other cool places. He blogs at and tweets as @jonpinnock. He also runs the poetry site Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis.

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Rate this story:
 average 3.5 stars • 29 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Sarah Russell

    Great slice of life and way with dialogue.

    • Jonathan Pinnock

      Thank you 🙂

  • Trollopian

    Meant to give this 5 stars but apparently didn’t (despite touching my screen with exquisite care), because the average rating immediately slid from 4.4 to 3.8. Why, oh why, can’t this software ask us to confirm our rating before submitting? The dialog here is sharp and hilarious. This brought out a delicious mean streak in my nature. It’s not profound, but so what? Guilty pleasure from start to end.

    • When you open the page your browser caches the data. While you were reading someone else, many someones, probably, rated the story lower. Your browser didn’t display this new information because the form isn’t displayed in real-time like with a flash player, so by the time you added your five, it was countered by other votes, like mine.
      I agree there should be a way to confirm, but I’m pretty sure your vote counted as was intended if you took care in doing so.

      • Trollopian

        I didn’t think so, because I brought the number of ratings from either 4 or 5 to 6, but I can’t rule it out! Thanks, Michael. I’m in a minority that liked this story very much, and got every reference (including “Suzuki;” I play the viola) , until the puzzling “Little Chef.”

        • S Conroy

          I think it’s a cafe where they could get a tasty lunch to make up for the one that got sneaked to the dog.

          • Paul A. Freeman

            ‘Little Chef’ is a fast food chain found on all major motorways (highways) in England. The ‘Chef’ part is somewhat ironic.

    • Camille Gooderham Campbell

      Actually, you did give it the 5 you’d intended. I checked this by matching the IP address from this comment against the IP addresses of ratings placed at around the same time. Glad you enjoyed the story.

      • Trollopian

        Thank you, Camille!

  • Uninteresting people doing uninteresting things make for an uninteresting story.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    This was for me a little road tour of how to bludgeon the reader with arch viciousness, to no point except engendering the hope of an out-of-control 18-wheeler as the characters’ destiny. Except for their little boy, of course. Two stars.

    • Trollopian

      “Arch viciousness,” good phrase. It’s perhaps a character flaw that I enjoyed this. (I also enjoy the aptly-titled BBC series “Vicious,” the deliciously bitchy Mapp and Lucia novels of E.F. Benson, Stella Gibbons’ “Cold Comfort Farm,” and similar. One thing those authors have in common with Pinnock is nationality; is this gift distinctly British? I’m not.)

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        I wouldn’t call “Cold Comfort Farm” vicious but a nice satire of the ultra-modern young woman bringing what she considers the essentials of civilization to the hinterlands.

        I enjoy a good savage story myself.

  • I think you meant to say “a little loft,” not “a little lift” ? But, I’m not sure, I had to google “lorry”.

    Also it took me til the bit where Suzuki is mentioned to decipher that you meant the piano, which allowed me to figure out they weren’t on a motorcycle (Suzuki) and how they were talking so damned much on a bike….

    The alien vernacular is not why I disliked the story, however. I actually don’t know if I liked the story because this is not all of it. This was just part of a scene, a vignette.
    I saw no climax, resolution, or event. Nor did the characters seem to grow or experience anything to make me take note.

    I vaguely get the sense that someone died, but I’d rather have had these two on a Suzuki motorcycle driving off a cliff to avoid hitting a kitten… Conflict, resolution, and kittens for extra internet points.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      “Lift” is the British English term for “elevator.”

      • Of this I was aware… But it seemed there they were talking about a hotel room… I don’t know, like I said, I wasn’t sure, I’m usually pretty good with British English, but I didn’t get that bit.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          The seduction begins in the elevator on the way up to the hotel room.

      • Dan Keeble

        No Sarah, ‘elevator’ is the American term for lift 🙂

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          Sorry. It was the horror of the incipient Marmite shortage that muddied my thinking…

          (I’m in the “love it” camp…)

        • Jonathan Pinnock


    • Joseph Kaufman

      I thought they were referring to the Suzuki method of violin, since the woman immediately mentions a disdain for violin.

      • Suzuki method? Brand?

      • Ok, I looked it up. It didn’t sink in what he was saying but it really was an insignificant detail so knowing hasn’t helped with the story much.

        • S Conroy

          I think it is important in that it gives an idea of this couple and their parenting ambitions. If Poor Charlie doesn’t become the new Yehudi Menuhin/Picasso/Bobby Fisher it won’t be for lack of opportunity.

          • I got that without knowing if it was a Suzuki instrument or method. By insignificant I mean that the story didn’t go anywhere for me, so their parenting ambitions and the neighbors love life was all interesting tapestry, but the room was empty …

          • S Conroy


          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            S Conroy: The Suzuki Method is intended to develop the “noble heart” rather than the insufferable prodigy…so might not have been the most illustrative example for this story…

          • S Conroy

            I think you need to take that one up with those parents before it’s too late. I found this on Wiki as one of the components of the Suzuki method:
            Deliberate avoidance of musical aptitude tests or “auditions” to begin music study.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            We’re dealing with what I’d consider two particularly unreliable narrators here, though. Other people’s intelligent little children are often repulsive to the toad-minded.

          • S Conroy

            Oh, I agree on that. That’s why I’d also like to see the story from the high-achievers perspective. So even if all narrators are unreliable, at least the reader might have a better idea where everyone fits in on their own spectrum.

          • Jonathan Pinnock

            The Suzuki Method may indeed have noble intentions, but it’s still capable of being weaponised in the service of performance parenting.

      • Hi Joe, blunt question, did you know what “Suzuki method” was prior to receiving this item? (Sorry, I am a fiddle man.)

        • Camille Gooderham Campbell

          I don’t know if Joe knew, but I certainly did.

        • Joseph Kaufman

          Jeff, I did not read this story prior to publication, and I googled “Suzuki violin” when the original post mentioned pianos. I had no idea what the Suzuki method was before that nor what the Suzuki was referring to. I had also initially assumed the motorcycle since I once wrote a story with personified motorcycles in it, the protagonist being a peppy dirt-bike named Suz(uki).

  • S Conroy

    I found the reading experience compelling – flawless writing with the tension building throughout and I Loved the failed porno dialogues. But the the lack of pay-off/resolution took the wind out of my sails. I’d figured that whistling noise was going to lead somewhere or that there would be some other kind of twist. Instead a part of me wondered why they continued to fake a friendship with the overachieving couple. Of course in real life there are all kinds of complex reasons for our friendships, but in this case, for me at least, it would have worked better if I could have laughed with the couple at the end rather than analysing their motivations.
    Still that dialogue was 5 plus at times… can’t vote again.
    (A longer story with the other couple’s perspective added in would be one I would read like a shot.)

    • Jonathan Pinnock

      Thanks for your comments. Trouble is, if you were to put the other couple’s POV in, you’d end up with a conventional and rather dull “two sides to the story” type of thing. I’m more interested in presenting a single view and letting the reader decide whether or not they’re giving a reliable account.

      • S Conroy

        Yes, it’s your story of course and too easy for a bystander to come up with ‘special requests’ which have nothing to do with an author’s plans. Perhaps my brain doesn’t deal so well with being left on the fence and not knowing the author’s intentions. I do like an unreliable narrator, but the big buzz for me there is the moment of discovery.
        In any case I really enjoy your writing style and have been reading my way through your other stories here.

        • Jonathan Pinnock

          Cheers 🙂

  • Carl Steiger

    Check the air filter. That whistling is driving me nuts.

  • Hmm, sorry, this was a bit of cold Fish and Chips for me. All to do about nothing.

  • Paul A. Freeman


    • Jonathan Pinnock

      Thank you 🙂

  • Rose Gardener

    I really enjoyed this. It felt as though I was eavesdropping on a real couple having a real life conversation. The understated nature of the action – traffic slowing and clearing -complemented the ebb and flow of the dialogue sentiments. Lovely writing!
    Without being hit over the head with it, I was left with an acute awareness of how judgemental even ‘nice’ people can be, how parenting ideas categorize people faster than any other lifestyle choice, and how characters come to life when you capture the interaction between them in a natural way.

    • Jonathan Pinnock

      Thank you – “how parenting ideas categorize people faster than any other lifestyle choice”. Oh yes. VERY happy not to have to deal with that stuff any more.

  • Teacher

    That was a little disappointing. I was expecting some big revelation and stuck it out. But I dunno. Maybe it’s me 😛

  • Michael Snyder

    Clearly, Jonathan has a great ear for dialog. I didn’t love this story, but I liked it a lot (and thus found much of the criticism strangely harsh and digressive…but that’s just one humble opinion!).

    Much of the dialog in this piece was delightfully Anne Tyler-esque. And although this story does not deploy the typical setup, build, and payoff structure, it seems to hold up just fine as a complete story. The best part was that it sent me off in search of more your stories, which I liked quite a lot.