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The hills are the spine of the world

The clouds bumping together in their haste to find the valley’s spillway millrace.

Now only their spine’s mark

All that’s visible in the rain clouds advance.

Below the village pushes up the umbrellas

Maybe shivers

As those hills disappear away again.

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guthrie

There were tears in his Mum’s eyes as he kissed her and promised to phone when he arrived home. Sally would stay with her tonight, she was much better at family stuff than him. He had to get back to Claire. The pregnancy was proving difficult and he didn’t like leaving her. Mum said she understood. But she looked disappointed all the same. Truth be told he was glad to get away.

The Hammersmith and City train remained oblivious to Matthew’s silent promptings as it ambled towards Kings Cross via lengthy halts in tunnels and stations. The Tube offers no succour to the grieving and he cursed himself for staying longer at Gran’s than he had planned. For a moment these frustrations cleared his mind of the day’s emotional unease and he focussed on avoiding eye contact by gazing at other passengers footwear. He studied his own sturdy brogues and bridled at the sight of the oil stain on his left trouser leg.

Finally, the train shuffled into Kings Cross. Matthew pressed against the tide of boarding passengers and was further hampered by queues of suitcase laden travellers struggling to squeeze through the ticket barriers. He felt guilty for leaving an elderly woman to carry her luggage unaided up a flight of stairs as he dashed to Platform 3 to make the train. Which he made. Just. After boarding, he had to walk several carriage lengths to find an empty seat.

Seated, he reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out the faded manila envelope Mum had handed to him at the wake. Gran had insisted he should have it.

Inscribed on the top left hand corner of the envelope was the phrase “Isle Of Man TT 1955”. Matthew opened the envelope and ran a finger over a paper clip that held together a number of aged black and white photographs and newspaper cuttings before retrieving them.

The first photo showed a man riding a motorcycle. He was sheathed in black racing leathers, his chin on the petrol tank as he sped along. The face of the rider was frozen in concentration, eyes fixed upon the road. The silver petrol tank was emblazoned with the name Norton. It was clear that the bike was travelling fast. Very fast.

In the background, people were sitting on a dry stone wall watching on. Matthew’s attention was drawn to a young boy wearing a mackintosh and school cap. The boy’s features were frozen with catatonic excitement.

He undid the paperclip and studied the second image; a man in racing leathers sitting astride a motorbike. Another Norton. Possibly the same one as in the first photo. The man had his arms crossed and held a cigarette in his right hand and cradled a helmet in his left arm. It was Granddad.

guthrie3

Three men stood either side of the bike, each man wearing collar and tie. Two of them were holding cigarettes and smiling, whilst the other man, older and holding a clipboard appeared to be scrutinising the bike. The boy wearing the mackintosh and school cap from the first photo, stared into the camera with the bland look of strangers caught unawares in other people’s photographs.

The third picture was older still. A group of six men and three women, all in military uniform. One of the girls sat on the lap of one of the soldiers, her arm draped self-consciously around the soldier’s neck as they smiled into the camera. Gran and Granddad. Granddad’s jacket bore the rank of Corporal.

Matthew had been shocked when Sally had rung to tell him Gran had died. He had never attached the notion of mortality to Gran. Her smile, hugs and joy at the smallest pleasures in life set her apart from anyone he had ever met. Many childhood memories had been forged when Mum took Matthew and Sally to spend a week with Gran in London during the school summer holidays, sadly decades ago now.

He knew he should have made more of an effort to see her these past few years. Mum had nagged him about. He was in London often enough with work after all. But it was easy to make excuses. Truth be told he didn’t have anything to say to her.

He ate a sandwich and stared out of the carriage window, occasionally catching his reflection in the glass or that of another passenger walking passed. The train rode over a set of points causing the heads of passengers to bob involuntarily as did the pages of the newspapers and magazines they were reading. Several middle aged men, suited but with scuffed shoes were studying laptops. He wondered how many on the train were grieving.

Gran’s funeral had been at nine o’clock in the morning. Manor House Crematorium. The Vicar, a youngish man already jowly and with thinning hair used the metaphor of life as a train journey. It felt clumsy, forced and failed to mention Gran’s sheer passion for life. He counted only twelve people there, excluding the undertakers who stood outside the Chapel smoking roll ups. An extraordinary life reduced to a dozen mourners, two of whom were early for a later funeral and only sat in the Chapel to keep out of the rain. The success of old age.

Mum had held his hand throughout the service. He felt guilty for being curt with her on the phone whenever she rang, annoyed with her rambling conversations and pointless questions about the minutiae of his life. He felt guilty for the increasingly rare visits home and his inability to have a conversation of any meaning with her. He knew she was lonely but found the boiling tedium of conversation with her an impenetrable barrier. He had promised himself after Dad’s death eight years ago that he would be a more attentive son. He knew that he had failed her. When she needed him most. He took after Dad in that respect.

During the service, he found himself thinking about Helen. She was now living with a doctor in Edinburgh. He wondered if she was happy. He hoped she was. He wondered why he never told her how much he loved her. Beyond all measure. Wondered why he had not fought to keep her. Wondered why they had allowed themselves to drift apart so easily. He wondered why he thought these things at a funeral. He thought himself a fool. Gran had told him as much when he told her that they had split up. “You let a good one go there Matthew,” she had said.

He knew Gran was right. Perhaps that is the purpose of funerals, to allow the living to judge their own lives against the finality of death and the missed opportunities caused by fearfulness.

He thought about Claire. He wondered if he would make the same mistakes as he did with Helen. He hoped not. There was the baby to consider.

The wake was held at Gran’s house in Clapton. A house full of familiar scents and artefacts. Fry ups, bone handled knives, the Sunday roast, the crumpled Daily Mirror still in her chair, the authoritative sound of the carriage clock in the living room, the smell of moth balls and wood polish. Inexplicably his mind was crowded with a memory of watching the wrestling on television on Saturday afternoon, before the football results and checking the pools coupon.

He studied photographs of previous generations that rested on the sideboard with the broken handle and the sticky drawers. There was Gran and Granddad in their wedding photo and another of them about to set off on an excursion on Granddad’s BSA. Gran holding on for dear life. Another photo, colour this time, was of Mum and Dad cutting their wedding cake. They were both smiling. Their future looked so appetising back then.

Matthew dried the plates as Mum washed up. His tea towel had a print of the Tower of London on it. It was a present to Gran from her sister Ethel, who had bought it on a trip to the Tower in 1978. Ethel broke her ankle gawking at the crown jewels and two Beefeaters’ had to carry her to the first aid room. Clumsy girl Ethel, “big boned” as Gran described her. She was the last of Gran’s siblings to die. That was the last time he had set foot in the house. It appeared as though nothing had changed in that time. Except for Gran’s absence.

The nice Asian family who lived next door and kept an eye on Gran brought cake and lemonade as a gift. The young couple who lived the other side popped in and offered their sympathies. Mum spoke to Mrs Davis, an old neighbour who had retired to Southend nearly twenty years ago and had made the journey down to pay her respects. Mum introduced Mathew to her, he didn’t recognise her, even when prompted about the fight that Matthew and Mrs Davis’ grandson, Andy had in the summer of 1982 over a game of British Bulldog. Andy lived in Spain now. Managed a bar. Matthew feigned interest as he dried the last plate.

After drying up, he nipped out to the garden to have a cigarette. He walked to the shed. The padlock that was never locked, hung limply from its hook and Matthew pulled on the door handle. The hinges had perished so the door proved difficult to open. With it ajar, he peered into the gloomy interior. The tarpaulin was still there. It was still there.

Once he had finished eating the sandwich, he turned his attention to the newspaper cuttings, yellowed with age, their folds, deep and indelible. The headlines read, “Guthrie Victorious at Oulton Park Invitation Race”, “Guthrie: Star of the Future?”, “Guthrie heads to Isle of Man in search of first TT Victory.” There was one more article, “Guthrie perishes in Tourist Trophy accident”.

Matthew continued reading, ”Sid Guthrie, the up and coming Norton works rider from Clapton, east London was killed yesterday in a tragic accident on the Tourist course at the renowned TT races on the Isle of Man. The intrepid racer, nicknamed “Carrot Guthrie” because of his ginger hair was thrown from his Norton 500 as it rounded the famous Goose Neck corner of the course some fifteen miles from the Island’s principal town of Douglas. Eye witnesses informed the local constabulary, who quickly attended the scene. Race authorities suspended racing for over an hour yesterday as ambulance crews hurried to the scene and gave immediate treatment to Guthrie who was moved to Douglas Infirmary. He was pronounced dead on arrival.

The likely cause of the accident was an oil spill from the motorcycle preceding Guthrie, the privately entered Triumph of local rider Reg Ash on the entrance to the corner which is taken at over eighty-five miles per hour on the leading machines.

Racing resumed at 11.48 am and the race was eventually won by Sam Bartram on a BSA Gold Star.” Associated Press

Gran had insisted the wrecked bike be returned to her. Odd was the consensus of opinion about her decision. It was only shipped back by the Isle of Man TT organisers after a protracted correspondence and Gran’s agreement to meet the shipping costs.

“It is how I remember him,” she told Matthew on one of his summer visits, “He was always tinkering with it, tightening nuts, loosening nuts, talking to me about chains – what do I know about split links? – “Got to make her go faster Lil, I got to make her go faster.” – Damn thing. Kept him near to me though. Like his heart beat it was.

To the eleven year old Matthew, the shed was a treasure trove of manly pursuits. Shelves sagged under the weight of long forgotten tins of screws, rusty spanners and wrenches. There was a musty metallic smell of mechanical decay and idleness as if the machine parts were waiting for their day to come again and resented being idle.

Under a damp, oil stained tarpaulin the old Norton had lain undisturbed, a cloaked relic of a long dead man’s life, for over thirty years until Matthew had press ganged Sally that summer into helping him move the engine cylinders and wheels that held the tarpaulin in place. Despite Sally’s protestations and the spoiling of her new dress with an unseen can of Castrol Racing grade engine oil, they disinterred the bike.

“Is that all it is?” Sally had said unimpressed that her labours had yielded such a paltry harvest. The front wheel was buckled and the front forks badly twisted. The cylinder head was shorn of its fins on its left hand side and the left side of the petrol tank was so crumpled that only the first three letters NOR were visible.

But Matthew never saw the wrecked machine for what it was. What he saw was a battered expression of speed and the cherished freedoms adulthood promised. Visiting Gran for the next two or three summers now took on a new purpose and excitement. To reconnect with the crippled bike and the promises it offered his imagination.

During those visits, after the comments on his growth spurt and how he would, “Break the girls’ hearts!” had been completed, he would spend hours sitting on the bike, imagining himself leaning into corners, accelerating down straights and overtaking rivals, head crouched on the tank, feet unable to reach the footrests, holding on to the dilapidated handlebars whilst commentating on another miraculous last gasp victory.

His clothes would smell of oil and desiccated rubber, whilst on his hands the tangy taste of rust permeated the pores of his skin. Mum had never been keen on him playing on it, but Gran said, “At least you know something of your Granddad. He died young, too young for your Mum and me, made my life a lot harder than it needed to be, but he died doing what he loved. Even though that is no compensation for the living.”

He felt that excitement when he entered the shed today, pulling back the tarpaulin and sitting on the bike. He fitted it now, feet reaching the floor. He leant forward and gripped the dilapidated handlebars. Yet those boyish imaginings of glory did not return. They had perished as the reality and rigid obligations of adulthood set in.

The bike had foretold of so much. Yet those tales had never materialised. Worse still there was now an oil stain on the left leg of his trousers.

Once more he read, “Guthrie Perishes…”. He looked around the carriage, at the bobbing heads and the laptop scrutineers. His phone buzzed. It was Claire.

“Hello.”

“Hello. How was it? I’ve been trying to call you all day.”

“Sorry. I forgot to take the phone off silent. It was fine. Sad but fine. I’m going to miss her. How are you? The bump?”

“We’re fine. I managed to get some sleep. Looking forward to seeing you.”

“Me too. Been a long day.”

“I bet it has.”

“I think we should invite Mum up for a few days. It’ll do her good.”

“Sure.”

“OK. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

He turned the phone off. Tears began to roll down his cheeks. Who was he crying for? Why? For Gran? Mum? Dad? Granddad? Helen? Claire? Himself? The Baby? He didn’t like confusion. Was very poor at it. Avoided it if he could. He silently urged the train to take him home.

guthrie

He is on the Norton, sheathed in black leathers, head flat on the silver petrol tank. The bike spits its power onto the road. He has become fused with it, ennobled by speed, clipping straw bales, scraping walls, skirting kerbs and rounding corners.

Accelerate. Second gear. Third. Fourth. Fifth, throttle fully open. Down to fourth, third, second, brake, lean hard, round the corner, find the apex. Accelerate; harder this time, again through the gears, throttle wide open. Eyes only on the road ahead; the world exterior to this a blur of trees, dappled shadows, walls, cottages and people.

Corner, downshift, once, twice, accelerate through the apex, hit the straight; throttle fully open, the great four-stroke engine beating to its own cadence now. Goose Neck approaches. Oil? Will there be oil? The boy. In the mackintosh and the cap. He is standing in the road. He cannot stop in time….the boy is speaking….

He woke with a start. It had been a bad dream. Claire lay next to him fast asleep. The annoying light from the street lamp outside the bedroom window, something he wished he had thought about before buying the house, seeped through a slight crack in the curtains.

He thought about the Norton and then thought about the oil stain on his trousers. He felt a life pass by and didn’t know how to claim it.

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I’ve taken to cleaning the smartphone’s screen with a cloth
My skin’s oils smear today’s world’s gadgets
But if I do dishes without gloves or read newspapers my fingertips burn for
lack of oil
A legacy from carrying papers to sell on the streets maybe.
Maybe a reason too
Why I love another’s skin
Beauty skin deep as my drying digits
If let
Would suck the other’s skin to the marrow.
Hunger of skin and all therein.
I write to leave marks but some I hurriedly must smear away.

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fresco_rescue

Hello!

Still stuffed? Well kick back and read this full version of  Train Travel Tales #50 – The Bigot and The Claustrophile.

Time for a mince pie and a pint!

Thanks for all the positive comments about this sad little tale of Eunice and her great-nephew Francis from one of England’s most established families.

Part 1 – December 1996 – An elderly Dowager and her feckless great-nephew are in a taxi, bound for Kings Cross Station. The Dowager remains unhappy with her luncheon……

“………..Cod! You know I don’t like Cod! Breaded too!”

“Sorry Aunt but as I told you, I thought it was haddock I- ”

“- Breaded cod. Where are we Francis?”

“Tottenham Court Road. Not far to Kings Cross.”

Cod…..”

Francis and his great-aunt Eunice sat in silence in the taxi. Only the energetic note of the idling diesel engine was audible. Eunice picked shreds of breaded Cod out of her top set, examined them and wiped the findings on the cab seat.

“I must say the driver’s ears are enormous Francis.”

“They don’t look that big.”

“If Father were here he’d be scurrying up wind with the twelve bore to bag the elephantine beast. You’ll have a pair of flappers like that when you reach his age Francis. It’s a trait in all the D’aubisson males. Ears. In fact all of your features seem too large for your face.”

Francis studied the driver’s ears and gently stroked his ear lobes, concluding that there were some similarities, in surface area if nothing else. He didn’t reply but flexed his right ankle joint, a subliminal response to her goading. Getting the old girl on that train to Scotland and away for two weeks was central to his plans for a most enjoyable Christmas.

He looked at his watch. Terry, the spot welder he had met at the creative metalwork classes was due in less than two hours for a final fitting. Two blissful weeks of encasement beckoned. Eunice’s jibes were a price worth paying.

The cab crawled forward.

“What time is the train again?” asked Eunice as they passed Holborn station. She kneaded her hands.

“Twenty five past two.”

She looked out of the cab window, aghast to see so many black faces walking the streets of London.  She settled into the past to reduce her discomfort.

The summer of 1926.  Eight year old Eunice, dressed in her favourite summer frock, was taking the train with her parents, her beloved younger brother Bertie and their Nanny to Scotland for the annual sojourn to the family’s Scottish Estates at Moray Castle.

Nanny, a Roman Catholic but that was never held against her, would scold Eunice and Bertie for poking their heads out of the carriage window to wave at the peasants in the fields as the train rushed by. Eunice thought that Father had paid them to stand in the fields for her and Berties’s amusement. The children would also attempt to catch the steam billowing along the carriages from the engine, hands outstretched like little stars waiting for the clouds to come. Another game entailed holding their breath between the shrill blasts of the train’s whistle, a game soon halted by Nanny after Bertie’s Consumption made the game a matter of life and death. 

Her darling Bertie. She still missed him and hummed the melody from, “I’m Just a Fascist in Love”, a song from his ill-fated production of, “Mosley: The Musical,” a tribute to one of the greatest ever Englishmen.

The curtain fell after two and a half performances. Bertie had sunk the remnants of the family fortune, so assiduously built up by Great Uncle Percy, into the production. The Scottish Estate had to be sold off to pay the debts.

When the Police called her that June morning in ’59 to inform her that Bertie’s body had been found in the Thames, Eunice’s life spluttered to a broken hearted stop. She retired from the world to reside in heartbroken, delusional grandeur.  She blamed the French for the show’s demise and for Bertie’s death. She missed him. Missed his touch and his kisses and the warmth of him next to her at night.  He should not have jumped. She would have made sure that he would be fine.

What had that wastrel Tibby done? Nothing. Nothing at all. Oh, there were copious tears at the funeral, a delicate veil covering those ruddy features telling the world of her grief for her husband.  There was even talk attempted suicide. Just so that everybody would know that Tibby loved Bertie. But Eunice knew better, Bertie had only ever loved her.

Eunice seethed.

Part 2 – The Oik

The journey to Scotland had been Francis’s idea and she had noticed the unusual vim and vigour her great-nephew had approached the myriad tasks involved to ensure an octogenarian misanthrope could travel to the North. Alone.

At first the trip had seemed so far away, so distant, that she had acquiesced on the basis that none of Francis’ ideas ever came to fruition. And, she did admit to herself that seeing the old Estate, probably for a final time did hold a certain degree of nostalgic excitement.

She sighed, “Scotland to see Tibby, in a second class carriage. Thank you Francis.” She was not sure what was worse, second class travel or the awful Tibby McVitie. Tibby and her honest country ways. Ruddy cheeked and surely shod. Tibby. Why did her memories always arrive at Tibby?

She had never liked the McVities. Too earnest and open minded for her liking. Dangerous attributes.

Her Uncle Peter had married Tibby’s Aunt, Dulcie McVitie in 1908. Uncle Peter was a marvellous man, full of vim and vigour. Owned The Border and Lothian Railway Company. Terrible business sense though. He placed inordinate trust in the goodness of mankind. Most unlike the D’aubissons.

In 1898, he put the Company up as collateral for investing in the  burgeoning railways of  Argentina, The Southern Patagonian Steam Company to be precise, confident that the growing beef trade with Europe would allow him to quickly recoup his investment and make a substantial return. Alas it was not to be. The Argentinean railway ran a total length of seven hundred and twenty yards before the finances disappeared. Peter was forced to sell the Border and Lothian to repay his debtors, which as it turned out were the very people who sought his investment in Argentina in the first place. Capitalism at its finest.

The marriage to a McVitie and access to their biscuit wealth was thus a means of repairing the D’aubisson family name and fortune.

Uncle Peter died at Ypres in the Great War. Strayed into no-man’s land and was shot by a sniper. A British one,  who had been a  a footplate man for The Border and Lothian Railway.

According to Father, Peter should have chosen a girl who did not consider kindness to strangers a virtue. As his letter to The Times in the winter of 1919 stated  “We must retain a distance from others and not succumb to their own fanciful ideas. The D’aubissons have always stood apart and sought out nobody but their own for comfort and solace. There is a danger in intermingling races and classes as we see only too easily these days with widening the franchise.” Eunice was sure that Father was the wisest man she had ever known.

Francis did not want to open up the debate about the ticket classification once again. He needed the thirty two pounds saved on the price of a first class ticket to meet the last minute revisions to his caliper design.

The taxi pulled into Kings Cross Station, “Twenty Eight pounds.” The cabby said.

“Pardon?” Eunice replied.

“Twenty eight pounds.” The metre flickered unequivocally. Francis rummaged theatrically in his pockets for change to pay the taxi fare, laboriously sifted coins and handed them over to the Cabbie counting out the amount as he went.

“But the distance from Kensington can be no more than five miles.”

“No mistake.”

“Francis, this man is a robber and a charlatan. Socialist too I’ll be bound. To think of the sacrifices the D’aubisson’s have made down the centuries for this country only to allow secondary modern oiks like you to embezzle what remains of our fortune. I shall report you to the relevant authorities.”

“Come on Aunt Eunice, there is no point arguing,” He handed several handfuls of coins to the driver who failed to spot that he had been short changed by thirty seven pence.

Francis decamped from the taxi and helped his bellicose matriarch exit the cab in as regal a fashion as possible. After she was safely on the pavement, he struggled to lift two battered, tan leather suitcases from the cab.

The taxi pulled away with the driver gesticulating at a group of Asian tourists nervously making their way over a zebra crossing towards the station.

Francis spotted a five and a two pence piece coins on the pavement. He set the cases down, picked up the coins and trousered them. If his calculations were correct that took him to £42.78 for the year. His third largest source of income after Welfare and Eunice’s purse.

The old woman walked toward the station entrance. There was a discernible limp in her right leg.

“Are you struggling with the luggage Francis?”

“They’re a little bulky.”

“Nonsense! Too many desserts my boy and never too keen on Lacrosse, the sporting home of the D’aubissons.”

The low grey sky and traffic noise gave a claustrophobic feel to the station entrance. A newspaper vendor bellowed, “Tory Sleaze latest – MP forced to stand down.”

Part 3  – The Cripple

Once again Eunice sheathed the present and returned to 1926 and the scented alchemy of steam, tobacco and heavily polished wood. Locomotives arrived and departed,  producing great plumes of steam in their imperious wake.  Scurrying porters moved luggage, eager for healthy tips from grateful customers. Men touched the brims of their hats continuously and women wore great dollops of headwear, nestling on lavender scented hair.

Two boys, of a similar age to her were selling newspapers. “General Strike imminent. Mine owners refuse to back down. Troops placed on standby.” People hand over a penny to the boys for a paper, reading the headlines as they walked away.

Her father spoke, “Come along Euni, we don’t want to miss our train now do we?” She felt his powerful grip clasp her dainty, gloved fingers guiding her to the Platform. It was the same grip that had provided so much comfort in those long nights fighting the Polio. She was sure that it was only Father’s strength, seeping into her that kept her from death.

Now after a slow, painful rehabilitation, where she had resided a world of darkened rooms with only the slow languid mechanical language of clocks for company, the trip to Scotland was to be her first engagement with the outside world. The caliper attached to her right leg to support her weakened limb, was the only visible trace of her illness.

The endured isolation and caliper had made her self-conscious, leading to a diffident  manner in company, anxious to prevent her lameness drawing attention to herself.

“Look at the cripple!” one of newspaper sellers shouted after Eunice. In an instant both boys began a chorus of, “Cripple, Cripple!”

There was a malevolence etched on the boys faces, deepened by the shadows cast by the gloomy station lighting. Salty tears of shame welled in her eyes.

“Cripple! Cripple!”

The Policeman was a burly creation. Probably a veteran of the trenches, Passchendaele or the Somme – she would never know. But she was grateful for the summary justice he meted out to the boys in the form of swift clips round the back of their heads, applied with a ferocity that knocked both boys’ caps from their heads. She saw the policeman mouth admonishment but didn’t hear the words.

Her father nodded to the Copper who touched the brim of his helmet. Neither men spoke.

“Don’t listen to them Euni.” Her father said as he bent down to comfort her.

“But why are they so cruel Daddy?”

A look of stale anger ran across his face, “I do not know my dear. A war has been fought and brave men sacrificed their lives so that these cruelties should persist. By rights I should be entitled to thrash the little beggars but alas there are laws preventing me from doing so now. So much death for so little gain -”

She was startled back to the present by a drunk’s basted features appearing before her, “You haven’t got ten pence for a cup of tea have you?”

“Certainly not, my advice to you is to get a haircut and wear a tie. That will stand you in far better stead when seeking gainful employment!”

Francis, still struggling with the luggage also turned him down, but wondered if begging could be a useful source of additional income.

“Thanks for nothing!” the drunk shouted as he returned to a companion, who was arguing with a nearby waste bin. “No fuckin manners these days.” He took a deep slug from his can of cider before continuing with his soliciting.

The noise and movement on the Station concourse surprised Eunice. The sight of so many foreign people unnerved her. She had read of the growth in the ethnic population and had warmed to Enoch Powell’s words in his famous speech. But this?

She wondered how Great Uncle Percy, the man responsible for so much of the D’aubisson family fortune through his mining interests in The Cape, and Botswana and Tobacco in Rhodesia, would have considered talking to a black person on an equal footing. A large oil painting of Percy dating from the 1880’s hung in Eunice’s dining room. He was dressed in the garb of a great hunter. Slung across his right shoulder was the Martini Henry rifle he used in the Zulu wars and as a further reminder of his military days, a Royal Engineers lanyard lay across his right breast. He stood on the pelt of a Lion and rested his left foot on its head, staring into the distance with a proud confident swagger, every inch the son of Empire. A young black boy stood in the foreground proffering him a plain wooden beaker.  In the background numerous scenes of Great Game hunting were depicted with brave Victorian gentlemen taking aim at a variety of wildlife.

To this day Eunice remained fearful of the painting as it hung over her during mealtimes. Its dark hue and bloodthirsty subject matter she found disturbing and the great black mutton chops Percy sported in the canvas raised in her a sense of bafflement and inexplicable dread. That and the surprise still evident on the long dead Lion’s face.

Part 4 – The Concourse of Kings Cross Station

A limp Brass Band rendition of Hark the Herald Angels, an admission of the approaching festive season, played over the public address system, regularly interrupted by the echoing information detailing train departures, arrivals and security announcements.

The sense of awe she recalled as a child from the steam engines was now replaced by the heady smell of diesel and fast food. The lighting gave the atmosphere a soiled, used feel. She looked down to the floor and saw it pocked with discarded chewing gum like a grubby Dalmatian pelt.

She had studiously spent most of her life avoiding these situations, eager to avoid the pitiful stares and had convinced herself that all and sundry whispered cruelties and gibes about her gait when they saw her. Those paper vendors cries of “Cripple! Cripple!” were a constant menacing whisper in her imagination when she ventured into public and convinced her that a life apart was a much more satisfying path to take and thus avoid ridicule. As a consequence, she had taken consolation in her own brittle company and a highly select coterie of relatives and friends who visited her in Kensington.

Now this small number either as a result of death or her insults had been whittled to one. Francis.

Eunice looked around the milling humanity seeping out of the station’s nooks and crannies.

“Nobody wears hats anymore Francis. People used to doff their hats too as a mark of respect. That all stopped after Suez. Where can I sit?”

Francis directed her to a metal bench near the WH Smiths concession.

“Excuse me are these seats free?” Eunice asked a man sitting on the bench.  He shuffled along the bench.

“Thank you.” She sat, tucking her legs neatly under her in a demonstrable display of poise and ladylike gentility. Francis placed the suitcases on the floor and sat, kneading his hands in an attempt to lose the stinging sensation the luggage had foisted upon them.

The beggar who had asked her for money now approached a knot of Japanese tourists.

“The beggar is after the Japs! You can almost hear their discomfort as he approaches them. But, the defensive square they have adopted to repel his onslaught would have drawn admiring glances from Wellington. Say what you like about the Japs but they are instinctive soldiers. The beggar cannot find a way to isolate any member of the group and pounce. Text book operation.” The beggar sidled away from the tourists flailing his right arm towards them and levelling a volley of oaths and curses which thankfully they all appeared to be totally nonplussed by.

She retrieved a ten pound note from her purse and held it out for Francis, withdrawing it slightly as he reached forward to take it. Their eyes met. “Run along and buy me a cup of tea. Exact change.”

Francis sneaked a furtive glance at the chest of an attractive woman as he waited to be served at the Coffee Shop. His thoughts turned to the pleasures of confinement over the Christmas period. She would be out of the way with the McVities. Callipered and two weeks in the box. All by himself. He checked his watch and stared at the back of the head of the tall man who stood in front of him, studying the spiral of hair running down the nape of his neck. He ordered two teas, pocketed thirty pence in change for himself and returned to Eunice, gazing slyly at the breasts of another attractive woman standing nearby.

“Will you stop leering Francis.”

He flushed.

From his earliest days, Francis had failed to inspire Eunice. As a child, he had seemed withdrawn and overly preoccupied with his own thoughts. He was a listless and pale specimen and she had little hope that he was to be the one to restore the family’s fortunes, still reeling Bertie’s foray into Theatre.

Francis hated his childhood visits to aunt Eunice’s often being literally dragged to the house by his mother, Eunice’s cousin,  who had accepted the importance of sustaining family ties even when faced with the belittling onslaught that commenced as soon as they crossed the threshold and only ceased when they made their way home to Amersham.

In fact the only time the pallid boy had shown any animation was when Eunice discovered him marching around her bedroom in her old caliper. To him it was a marvellous toy, to her a confirmation that the boy was peculiar.

Although he had received a severe admonishment from his mother about the incident, the feeling of a tightly strapped brace made a lasting impression on Francis. Confined yet supportive and strong, a feeling that he grew to love and yearn for in his lonely, reasonably pathetic adult years.

He rediscovered the caliper four years ago in the loft of the house, where he had been rummaging for artefacts that could be sold to the antiques dealer, without Eunice’s knowledge. He cleaned, oiled and polished it and felt that same feeling of security he had all those years ago when first wearing it. Eunice would hear from Francis’ room the sound of straps being tightened, the squeak of metal joints for so long still and her great-nephew crashing into his wardrobe with a stifled moan, but she decided not to comment about these nocturnal activities. Secretly she was glad of his company and allowed him his privacy.

She took a sip from her tea, “Disgusting.”

Part 5  – The Bench At Kings Cross Station

A woman and toddler sat next to them on the bench. Eunice shrank from the child as it had a coughing fit. Eunice whispered to Francis, “Get rid of the child. You know I’m susceptible to consumption and this urchin contains diseases of poverty.”  She kneaded her hands.

The child sneezed. Eunice calculated that the infection gained from the diseased infant would lead to her demise near Berwick upon Tweed. She stared at the child with such ferocity that it whimpered and drew into the protective shield of its mother.

A two note jingle filled the concourse, interrupting the opening chords of Away in A Manger. A female voice hovered over the station, “Great Northern Trains are pleased to announce that the 14.27 Great Northern Trains Bannockburn Flyer to  Aberdeen is now ready for boarding on Platform 1…..”

“That’s your train!” Francis said, a tad too enthusiastically.

Not long to go now he thought to himself. Eunice clung to the sleeve of his jacket. He knew that she didn’t want to go. He couldn’t, wouldn’t allow her to stay. Months of preparation lay at risk.

“Please Francis, I’ll stay in my room if you wish.” Her desiccated self esteem creaked and groaned with the thought of so many strangers in her proximity. And only Tibby to greet her. Tibby.

“There is nothing to worry about Aunt; the change of scenery will do you the world of good. You said so yourself.  I’ll get someone to give us a hand.”

He flagged down the driver of a trolley passing nearby, “Excuse me, could you help us please. My aunt needs to catch the train on Platform One and I was wondering if you could assist us.”

“Me?” the driver replied, “I can’t. I’m not authorised. Besides I’m full of comestibles for the 15.35 to Leeds. I have a pallet of sausage rolls and Scotch Eggs in need of refrigeration.”

Francis took the driver aside, “I will give you twenty quid if you help.”

“All right then, but you’ll have to accept the consequences for these sausage rolls.”

“Sure.”

The whispered, harsh memory of “Cripple! Cripple!” returned to Eunice. She adjusted her overcoat to hide the as far as possible her right leg, convinced that strangers were sneering at her infirmity as she began her journey. On a pallet of Scotch Eggs.

Please don’t abandon me to these ridiculers and commoners Francis. Please.”

But he wasn’t listening.

The driver was less than impressed when his twenty pound payment was made up of small denomination coins, 73 pence short of the agreed tariff and contained a number of pfennigs.

Part 6 – The Boarding

“Have a lovely time aunt.”

Please Francis.”

“Don’t worry; Tibby will meet you at Pitlochry. She’s so looking forward to seeing you after all these years!” He brushed bread crumbs from her overcoat, checked his watch, pecked her on the cheek and left the Carriage, double checking that the suitcases were securely stowed in the luggage rack. He had plenty of time to get home for Terry’s visit.

Please Francis.” But he was gone. Within minutes the train pulled away from the platform. Eunice kneaded her hands as she wallowed in her predicament. She was alone, for the first time in living memory without the sclerotic cocoon of the Kensington House. Fear turned to anger. Anger at being afraid. It was weak. As Father used to remind her, “Fear is weakness Eunice. Never be fearful of anything! We D’aubisson’s are exempted from this frailty!”

But she was afraid and no amount of self loathing would remove this stigma as the train sped northward through the crowded suburbs of North London in the ailing December light.

A young man sat opposite her, nodding his head to the tinny sounds emanating from his Walkman. Worse still he was unshaven. Criminal underclass she concluded. He was probably the father of numerous offspring from numerous council estates. She had seen his sort on the television programmes Francis watched in the morning. She heard a voice;

“Is this seat free?”

The black woman smiled as she pointed to the empty chair next to Eunice. She old woman clasped her handbag close to her.

“Is this seat free?” the black woman repeated.

Eunice nodded hurriedly, afraid to look at her.

“Thanks.” She placed a small suitcase in the overhead shelf. She took off her overcoat and placed it next to the suitcase, sat down and said, “That was a close call!”

The woman was dressed in a two piece navy blue business suit with a plain white blouse beneath the jacket. Three buttons were undone on the blouse and a large silver necklace made up of rectangular squares plunged towards her cleavage. She had expensively manicured hands and on her right wrist numerous silver bracelets rattled an imperfect tune with each movement of her hand.

“Excuse me,” The woman said. She spoke with a crisp, clear-cut Home Counties accent.

“Take anything you want. Please don’t hurt me!” Eunice replied.

“I’m sorry?”

“You can have it all, please don’t hurt me.”

“I just wanted to know if you found his Walkman annoying.”

Eunice had last spoken to a Negro in 1962. This experience had proved equally as traumatic. He was a Postman and she was unhappy that the post was arriving after nine thirty in the morning. She had written the following day to the Chairman of the General Post Office the following day asking for the man’s removal on the grounds of his slovenly demeanour.

The woman turned to the man and asked him to turn the Walkman down. He did so with the minimum of fuss. He smiled at her inanely and continued to nod his head in a palsied fashion to the sounds coming from the Walkman.

“That’s better,” the woman said, “I do find these things so annoying, don’t you?”

Eunice made a mental note to write to the Chairman of British Rail about the availability of train tickets for black people.

She truly was on her own, journeying to Scotland sitting next to a Negro in second class with a member of the criminal underclass sitting opposite. The disease of poverty she had caught from the coughing toddler now seemed like blessed release and she faced death with equanimity.

Scotland seemed a lifetime away. On so many levels.

Where was Bertie when she needed him?”

Part 7 – Is It Christmas?

The sterile silence between Eunice and the black woman was tangible and deeply uncomfortable for both.  When the woman alighted at Peterborough Station, Eunice slightly relaxed the grip on her handbag. Respite was only temporary however, as a mother and her young daughter occupied the empty seat. The child had a hacking coughing fit and began to cry loudly. Eunice calculated her death to be imminent.

The trolley attendant scuttled into the Carriage. She was a stout woman with heavy thighs that tested the quality of the seams on the Train Company’s uniform.

Eunice considered that the serving classes were not what they were. Not like Davidson, their faithful butler who lost an arm in 1928 retrieving her bonnet from a steam driven hay baler in the Moray Estates. Such was his sense of duty, Davidson did not even balk when having returned from hospital several weeks later with no right arm, Father terminated his employment due to his persistent absenteeism. In fact Davidson had agreed with her father’s that dismissal was only right and proper course of action to take, apologised for the damage he had caused to the baler and asked for the repair costs to be taken out of his final pay packet.   

“Would you like anything Madam? Tea or maybe a coffee?”  The attendant asked

“Coffee! You ask a D’aubisson if they would even consider drinking coffee? In public?”

Father considered coffee drinking in public to be a sign of latent homosexuality and discouraged his children from ever doing so. As it was her Father’s considered view Eunice never felt the need to query its logic.

“OK,” replied the flummoxed attendant who turned her attention to the mother who ordered a coffee and a fruit juice for her daughter. The child slurped her drink, much to Eunice’s chagrin.

A train sped past in the opposite direction, the pressure of which caused the carriage walls to buckle slightly. A young man in a T-Shirt with “Shit Happens” stencilled on it stumbled towards Eunice. She recoiled in horror as his features loomed towards her.

The child cried and her mother tried to soothe her. Strangers drifted past. The tinny, incessant beat continued from the headphones of the young man opposite. She felt lost amongst so many strange alien faces. Afraid and hemmed in. She was now a member of the everyday world she eschewed so virulently.

She wished Francis was here.

Francis. Feckless, workshy, untrustworthy and largely unlikable. She thought of him as a skin tag, permanently attached but unwanted. Whether it was cluttering up the house or eating noisily from one of those ready-made meals he lived on. He had become a permanent, unseemly feature in her home rather like the old armchair in the sitting room he had colonised for the best part of twelve years.

Twelve years!

“Just for a few weeks aunt, until I find a new job and get myself back on my feet.”

Apart from his nocturnal peculiarities, the boy had spent most of his life since then off his feet with his slender hairless legs draped over the old chair’s armrest commenting on the career progression of daytime television presenters. He could quite have quite easily existed without a skeleton, just a sloshing collection of muscle and skin, wrapped in the towelling skin of his threadbare dressing gown. The gown itself was a gift from her twelve years ago.  Moss now grew alongside a variety of food stains and bodily excretions that had forged a successful parasitical existence on the garment.

Even so she wished he were here now to accompany her in this strange, poorly dressed, incoherent world of clattering idiocy. She winced at the thought of his deliberate acts of self-injury and decided to think of it no more.

She turned her hands slowly noticing for the translucent sheen of the skin, liver spots protuberance of her wrist bones. Again she felt her hand nestling in her Father’s and thus a world free of ridiculers and commoners.

Calm again, the young girl scratched through a film of condensation with her left index finger to trace a droplet of rain that snaked down the outside of the carriage window. Her face was a mask of concentration as she followed the water’s path and mirrored its movements with her finger.

“Mummy?”

“Yes?”

“Will I get my dolly for Christmas?

“Only if you are a good girl.”

Was Christmas near? Eunice thought to herself. She was sure it was only June!

It was 1935. She was Fifteen. A gift. From Oswald Mosley, a great friend of the family. A small bound book entitled “Eugenics for Beginners” by Doctor Albert Strobe. The gold lettering embossed on the cover of the book seemed to shimmer a magical mantra and the Serrano binding gave a feeling of certainty about the contents. Eunice loved that book, so many interesting diagrams and drawings of people’s heads, bodies and deportment.

She spent many hours that Christmas using the book as a benchmark with which to establish the racial purity of the entire household, measuring head sizes, nose and hand widths. Bertie was happy to play “National Socialist” in his new uniform which Father had  imported from Germany. He wore the uniform for weeks, often to bed and howled uncontrollably when Nanny forced him to take it off in order to wash it.

Eunice though was disappointed with the results of her trials finding that the servants conformed to a much higher degree of racial purity that those of the D’aubbisson household; Father in particular faring very poorly. She never shared the results of her findings with him, fearful of the consequences.

Best not to sow seeds of doubt amongst members of a great landed family whose history was so intermingled with the development of England itself. War, pestilence, famine and , industrial strife through the years had seen the D’aubbisson family advance aided tradition and astute political connections. Even if The Argentinian railway fiasco head dealt a substantial blow to the family’s fortunes, this was England; where breeding still mattered more than substance.

“I hope I will get my dolly Mummy.” The little girl said.

The train rumbled onwards to Scotland.

Tibby and her passenger drove towards Pitlochry Station.

Part 8 – Pitlochry Station

When they met at Pitlochry Station, Eunice was surprised that Tibby’s appearance had barely changed. The ruddy distilled complection remained and the warm bountiful eyes still conveyed that awful bonhomie that a true D’aubisson despised. It had been nearly forty years since they last met.

Tibby’s was drinking coffee. From a cup. In public. Her Father’s considered view of the relationship between homosexuality and public displays of coffee drinking once again surfaced in Eunice’s mind and she wondered if Francis had exiled her to some sickening octogenarian lesbian Stalag.

The only visceral memory of Tibby that Eunice possessed was that the woman smelled of disappointment. That smell still lingered when she recoiled from Tibby’s gratuitous hug of welcome and warm words that focussed on Eunice’s journey and the inordinate amount of time since they had last met and how Eunice still looked remarkably well. “For a woman of your age”.

For her part, Eunice was glad of the company after the exertions of the train journey. Mingling with  children, the working classes, blacks and latent homosexual coffee drinkers had all but exhausted her. At least she knew Tibby’s name. Even if she had stolen Bertie from her.

“The car is parked just outside the station Eunice. Not far to walk. I hope you are hungry. I’ve bought some Breaded Cod for dinner. Francis said you liked it.”

“Breaded……” But before she finished,  Eunice saw him. Walking towards them, waving as he did so.  It had been nearly forty years. He hadn’t changed at all in that time. The double chin, thinning hair with pronounced side parting, rounded shoulders and the slightly protruding front teeth.

“Bertie!” cried Eunice, “Bertie. My darling Bertie!” The years slid away and Eunice stood in front of her beloved Brother once more. She felt an emotion that she never thought she would experience again. Joy.

“Bertie. My Bertie.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Eunice, this is my son Archie. Bertie’s son.” Archie nodded and smiled. His teeth were even the same off white shade as Bertie’s.

“Son?  I didn’t know I -”

“- I only found out I was pregnant after Bertie’s death and you were not best pleased with me at the time to say the least.  I thought one day you would find out, that we could be reconciled, in truth I never knew what I had done to upset you so, but time then has a habit of making our decisions for us. But isn’t he the spitting image of Bertie…….” Eunice heard no more of Tibby’s meanderings and focussed on her Brother’s incarnation. All these years of sadness, anger, bitterness and longing for him now fell away like melt water. Even the thought of Breaded Cod did not fill her with ire. Bertie had returned to her.

She knew now. Knew that the fates had decided to test her, ask her to prove her love for Bertie by the one thing that tests all love. Separation.

The past and present  melded themselves into a contiguous whole as Eunice held her beloved brother’s hand in the car as Tibby regaled Eunice with tales of kindness and generosity of spirit. Eunice even enjoyed them and readied to immerse herself permanently in the past and rekindle Bertie’s love.

As Nanny used to say to calm her fear of the dark, “Don’t worry Eunice, we need the night so the sun can have a rest. Ready to warm us and make us happy for the tomorrow.  Every day the sun giving us the thoughts, words, dreams, and hopes for us to live good Christian lives and the night to allow us to rest and reflect on our daily transgressions and seek atonement for them.  When I was younger, I had this dream of being able to live in perpetual daylight. Chasing the sun around the world on a magnificent Charger. Always chasing the daylight. Chasing the day. Now, I think I’d like to catch the dawn instead. Everything would be fresh, new, slightly dewy to touch as if you were in possession the keys to each and every day. I used to believe that the morning dew covering the fields and valleys represented the souls of all those young children who had died not baptized and were left in limbo. What a nice place to rest your soul, at the break of each day.”

She knew that 1960 was going to be a great year. The best. A new dawn had broken in her life.

Boxing Day 1996 – The House In Kensington

“Yes aunt. No Aunt. I’m sure Tibby is not a latent homosexual.  I’m delighted that Uncle Bertie is alive and well. 1960 will be a good year for us all. No, I don’t think the McVities have any Negro in them – there is someone at the door. I have to go. I will speak to you tomorrow.”

Francis set the telephone down. He realised that he missed his aunt more than he anticipated. She was all he had. But now was not the time for introspection or reflection.

He walked back into the Dining Room, stared up at the portrait of Great Great Uncle Percy and raised his can of cider to his distant relative. The calipers were now broken in; the initial discomfort now apparent when he bent over. On a couple of occasions they had become snagged in his dressing gown and his foreskin had been pinched on one painful, enjoyable occasion. He was pleased with his plan and concluded that this was the most memorable of Christmases. With luck the Old Girl would not be around much longer and he could set about encapsulating himself at will. Yes, it all added up to a marvellously peaceful, confined Yuletide.

He clambered into the box Terry had helped him locate in front of the television. Luckily Terry did not comment on this as Francis would have struggled to come up with a plausible explanation. It was probably because he was too busy counting out the £280 in loose change that Francis had paid him for the calipers. If he looked closely he would have realised that he had been short changed by 68 pence.

Francis closed the lid of the box and opened its grill. He admired his surroundings and toasted Percy once again and then bit into a date. He enjoyed the succulent sweetness of the fruit.

He waited for the final credits of Calamity Jane to roll.  The Sound of Music was on Television next.

It was his favourite film.

Read Full Post »

Hello

Here is the final part of this story – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part Seven is here

Part 8 – Pitlochry Station

When they met at Pitlochry Station, Eunice had to admit that Tibby McVitie’s appearance had barely changed. The ruddy distilled complection remained and the warm bountiful eyes still conveyed that awful bonhomie that a D’aubisson despised. It had been nearly forty years since they last met.

Tibby’s was drinking coffee. From a cup. In public. Her Father’s considered view of the relationship between homosexuality and public displays of coffee drinking once again surfaced in Eunice’s mind and she wondered if Francis had exiled her to some sickening octogenarian lesbian Stalag.

The only visceral memory of Tibby that Eunice possessed was that the woman smelled of disappointment. That smell still lingered when she recoiled from Tibby’s gratuitous hug of welcome and warm words that focussed on Eunice’s journey and the inordinate amount of time since they had last met and how Eunice still looked remarkably well. For a woman of her age.

For her part, Eunice was glad of the company after the exertions of the train journey. Mingling with  children, the working classes, blacks and latent homosexual coffee drinkers had all but exhausted her. At least she knew Tibby’s name. Even if she had stolen Bertie from her.

“The car is parked just outside the station Eunice. Not far to walk. I hope you are hungry. I’ve bought some Breaded Cod for dinner. Francis said you liked it.”

“Breaded……” Eunice saw him. Walking towards them, waving as he did so.  It had been nearly forty years. He hadn’t changed at all in that time. The double chin, thinning hair with pronounced side parting, rounded shoulders and the slightly protruding front teeth.

“Bertie!” cried Eunice, “Bertie. My darling Bertie!” The years slid away and Eunice stood in front of her beloved Brother once more. She felt an emotion that she never thought she would experience again. Joy.

“Bertie. My Bertie.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Eunice, this is my son Archie. Bertie’s son.” Archie nodded and smiled. His teeth were even the same off white shade as Bertie’s.

“Son?  I didn’t know I -”

“- I only found out I was pregnant after Bertie’s death and you were not best pleased with me at the time to say the least.  I thought one day you would find out, that we could be reconciled, in truth I never knew what I had done to upset you so, but time then has a habit of making our decisions for us. But isn’t he the spitting image of Bertie…….” Eunice heard no more of Tibby’s meanderings and focussed on her Brother’s incarnation. All these years of sadness, anger, bitterness and longing for him now fell away like melt water. Even the thought of Breaded Cod did not fill her with ire. Bertie had returned to her.

She knew now. Knew that the fates had decided to test her, ask her to prove her love for Bertie by the one thing that tests all love. Separation.

The past and present  melded themselves into a contiguous whole as Eunice held her beloved brother’s hand in the car as Tibby regaled Eunice with tales of kindness and generosity of spirit. Eunice enjoyed them and readied herself to immerse permanently in the past.

She thought 1960 was going to be a great year. The best. A new dawn had broken in her life.

As Nanny used to say when calming the polio stricken Eunice’s fears of the dark, “Don’t worry Eunice, we need the night so the sun can have a rest. Ready to warm us and make us happy for the tomorrow.  Every day the sun giving us the thoughts, words, dreams, and hopes for us to live good Christian lives and the night to allow us to rest and reflect on our daily transgressions and seek atonement for them.  When I was younger, I had this dream of being able to live in perpetual daylight. Chasing the sun around the world on a magnificent Charger. Always chasing the daylight. Chasing the day. Now, I think I’d like to catch the dawn instead. Everything would be fresh, new, slightly dewy to touch as if you were in possession the keys to each and every day. I used to believe that the morning dew covering the fields and valleys represented the souls of all those young children who had died not baptized and were left in limbo. What a nice place to rest your soul, at the break of each day.”

Boxing Day 1996 – The House In Kensington

“Yes aunt. No Aunt. I’m sure Tibby is not a latent homosexual.  I’m delighted that Uncle Bertie is alive and well. No, I don’t think the McVities have any Negro in them – there is someone at the door. I have to go. I will speak to you tomorrow.”

Francis set the telephone down. He realised that he missed his aunt’s hate flecked speech more than he anticipated. She was all he had. But now was not the time for introspection or reflection.

He walked back into the Dining Room, stared up at the portrait of Great Great Uncle Percy and raised his can of cider to his distant relative. The calipers were now broken in; the initial discomfort now apparent when he bent over. On a couple of occasions they had become snagged in his dressing gown and his foreskin had been pinched on one painful, enjoyable occasion. He was pleased with his plan and concluded that this was the most memorable of Christmases. With luck the Old Girl would not be around much longer and he could set about encapsulating himself at will. Yes, it all added up to a marvellously peaceful, confined Yuletide.

He clambered into the box Terry had helped him locate in front of the television. Luckily Terry did not comment on this as Francis would have struggled to come up with a plausible explanation. It was probably because he was too busy counting out the £280 in loose change that Francis had paid him for the calipers. If he looked closely he would have realised that he had been short changed by 68 pence.

Francis closed the lid of the box and opened its grill. He admired his surroundings and toasted Percy once again and then bit into a date. He enjoyed the succulent sweetness of the fruit.

He waited for the final credits of Calamity Jane to roll.  The Sound of Music was on Television next.  It was his favourite film.

Read Full Post »

jolson

Hello

Here is Part 7 of this story (only a couple more to go!) – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part 7 – Is It Christmas?

The silence between Eunice and the black woman was brittle, sterile and deeply uncomfortable for both.  When the woman alighted at Peterborough Station, Eunice slightly relaxed the grip on her handbag. Respite was only temporary as a mother and her young daughter occupied the empty seat. The child had a hacking coughing fit and began to cry loudly. Eunice calculated the end to be imminent.

The trolley attendant scuttled into the Carriage. She was a stout woman with heavy thighs that tested the quality of the seams on the Train Company’s uniform.

Eunice concluded that the serving classes were not what they were. Not like Davidson, their faithful butler who lost an arm in 1928 retrieving her bonnet from a steam driven hay baler in the Moray Estates. Such was his sense of duty, Davidson did not even balk when having returned from hospital several weeks later with no right arm, Father terminated his employment due to his persistent absenteeism. In fact Davidson had agreed with her father’s that dismissal was only right and proper course of action to take, apologised for the damage he had caused to the baler and asked for the repair costs to be taken out of his final pay packet.   

“Would you like anything Madam? Tea or maybe a coffee?”  The attendant asked

“Coffee! You ask a D’aubisson if they would even consider drinking coffee? In public?”

 Father considered coffee drinking in public to be a sign of latent homosexuality and discouraged his children from ever doing so. As it was her Father’s considered view Eunice never felt the need to query its logic.

“OK,” replied the flummoxed attendant who turned her attention to the mother who ordered a coffee and a fruit juice for her daughter. The child slurped her drink, much to Eunice’s chagrin.

A train sped past in the opposite direction, the pressure of which caused the carriage walls to buckle slightly. A young man in a T-Shirt with “Shit Happens” stencilled on it stumbled towards Eunice. She recoiled in horror as his features loomed towards her.

The child cried and her mother tried to soothe her. Strangers drifted past. The tinny, incessant beat continued from the headphones of the young man opposite. She felt lost amongst so many strange alien faces. Afraid and hemmed in. She was now a member of the everyday world she eschewed so virulently.

She wished Francis was here.

Francis. Feckless, workshy, untrustworthy and largely unlikable. She thought of him as a skin tag, permanently attached but unwanted. Whether it was cluttering up the house or eating noisily from one of those ready-made meals he lived on. He had become a permanent, unseemly feature in her home rather like the old armchair in the sitting room he had colonised for the best part of twelve years.

Twelve years!

“Just for a few weeks aunt, until I find a new job and get myself back on my feet.”

 Apart from his nocturnal peculiarities, the boy had spent most of his life since then off his feet with his slender hairless legs draped over the old chair’s armrest commenting on the career progression of daytime television presenters. She imagined that he could quite have quite easily existed without a skeleton, just a sloshing collection of muscle and skin, wrapped in the towelling skin of his threadbare dressing gown. The gown itself was a gift from her twelve years ago.  Moss now grew alongside a variety of food stains and bodily excretions that had forged a successful parasitical existence on the garment.

Even so she wished he were here now to accompany her in this strange, poorly dressed, incoherent world of clattering idiocy. She winced at the thought of his deliberate acts of self-injury and decided to think of it no more.

She turned her hands slowly noticing for the translucent sheen of the skin, liver spots protuberance of her wrist bones. Again she turned to the memory of her hand nestling in her father’s leading her to a safe and secret world free of ridiculers and commoners.

Calm again, the young girl scratched through a film of condensation with her left index finger to trace a droplet of rain that snaked down the outside of the carriage window. Her face was a mask of concentration as she followed the water’s path and mirrored its movements with her finger.

“Mummy?”

“Yes?”

“Will I get my dolly for Christmas?

“Only if you are a good girl.”

Was Christmas near? Eunice thought to herself. She was sure it was only June!

It was 1935. She was Fifteen. A gift. From Oswald Mosley, a great friend of the family. A small bound book entitled “Eugenics for Beginners” by Doctor Albert Strobe. The gold lettering embossed on the cover of the book seemed to shimmer a magical mantra and the Serrano binding gave a feeling of certainty about the contents. Eunice loved that book, so many interesting diagrams and drawings of people’s heads, bodies and deportment.

 She spent many hours that Christmas using the book as a benchmark with which to establish the racial purity of the entire household, measuring head sizes, nose and hand widths. Bertie was happy to play “National Socialist” in his new uniform which Father had  imported from Germany. He wore the uniform for weeks, often to bed and howled uncontrollably when Nanny forced him to take it off in order to wash it.  

Eunice though was disappointed with the results of her trials finding that the servants conformed to a much higher degree of racial purity that those of the D’aubbisson household; Father in particular faring very poorly. She never shared the results of her findings with him, fearful of the consequences. 

Best not to sow seeds of doubt amongst members of a great landed family whose history was so intermingled with the development of England itself. War, pestilence, famine and , industrial strife through the years had seen the D’aubbisson family advance aided tradition and astute political connections. Even if The Argentinian railway fiasco head dealt a substantial blow to the family’s fortunes, this was England; where breeding still mattered more than substance.

“I hope I will get my dolly Mummy.” The little girl said.

The train rumbled onwards to Scotland.

Tibby and her passenger drove towards Pitlochry Station.

Hello

Here is the final part of this story – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part Seven is here

Part 8 – Pitlochry Station

When they met at Pitlochry Station, Eunice had to admit that Tibby McVitie’s appearance had barely changed. The ruddy distilled complection remained and the warm bountiful eyes still conveyed that awful bonhomie that a D’aubisson despised. It had been nearly forty years since they last met.

Tibby’s was drinking coffee. From a cup. In public. Her Father’s considered view of the relationship between homosexuality and public displays of coffee drinking once again surfaced in Eunice’s mind and she wondered if Francis had exiled her to some sickening octogenarian lesbian Stalag.

The only visceral memory of Tibby that Eunice possessed was that the woman smelled of disappointment. That smell still lingered when she recoiled from Tibby’s gratuitous hug of welcome and warm words that focussed on Eunice’s journey and the inordinate amount of time since they had last met and how Eunice still looked remarkably well. For a woman of her age.

For her part, Eunice was glad of the company after the exertions of the train journey. Mingling with  children, the working classes, blacks and latent homosexual coffee drinkers had all but exhausted her. At least she knew Tibby’s name. Even if she had stolen Bertie from her.

“The car is parked just outside the station Eunice. Not far to walk. I hope you are hungry. I’ve bought some Breaded Cod for dinner. Francis said you liked it.”

“Breaded……” Eunice saw him. Walking towards them, waving as he did so.  It had been nearly forty years. He hadn’t changed at all in that time. The double chin, thinning hair with pronounced side parting, rounded shoulders and the slightly protruding front teeth.

“Bertie!” cried Eunice, “Bertie. My darling Bertie!” The years slid away and Eunice stood in front of her beloved Brother once more. She felt an emotion that she never thought she would experience again. Joy.

“Bertie. My Bertie.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Eunice, this is my son Archie. Bertie’s son.” Archie nodded and smiled. His teeth were even the same off white shade as Bertie’s.

“Son?  I didn’t know I -”

“- I only found out I was pregnant after Bertie’s death and you were not best pleased with me at the time to say the least.  I thought one day you would find out, that we could be reconciled, in truth I never knew what I had done to upset you so, but time then has a habit of making our decisions for us. But isn’t he the spitting image of Bertie…….” Eunice heard no more of Tibby’s meanderings and focussed on her Brother’s incarnation. All these years of sadness, anger, bitterness and longing for him now fell away like melt water. Even the thought of Breaded Cod did not fill her with ire. Bertie had returned to her.

She knew now. Knew that the fates had decided to test her, ask her to prove her love for Bertie by the one thing that tests all love. Separation.

The past and present  melded themselves into a contiguous whole as Eunice held her beloved brother’s hand in the car as Tibby regaled Eunice with tales of kindness and generosity of spirit. Eunice enjoyed them and readied herself to immerse permanently in the past.

She thought 1960 was going to be a great year. The best. A new dawn had broken in her life.

As Nanny used to say when calming the polio stricken Eunice’s fears of the dark, “Don’t worry Eunice, we need the night so the sun can have a rest. Ready to warm us and make us happy for the tomorrow.  Every day the sun giving us the thoughts, words, dreams, and hopes for us to live good Christian lives and the night to allow us to rest and reflect on our daily transgressions and seek atonement for them.  When I was younger, I had this dream of being able to live in perpetual daylight. Chasing the sun around the world on a magnificent Charger. Always chasing the daylight. Chasing the day. Now, I think I’d like to catch the dawn instead. Everything would be fresh, new, slightly dewy to touch as if you were in possession the keys to each and every day. I used to believe that the morning dew covering the fields and valleys represented the souls of all those young children who had died not baptized and were left in limbo. What a nice place to rest your soul, at the break of each day.”

Boxing Day 1996 – The House In Kensington

“Yes aunt. No Aunt. I’m sure Tibby is not a latent homosexual.  I’m delighted that Uncle Bertie is alive and well. No, I don’t think the McVities have any Negro in them – there is someone at the door. I have to go. I will speak to you tomorrow.”

Francis set the telephone down. He realised that he missed his aunt’s hate flecked speech more than he anticipated. She was all he had. But now was not the time for introspection or reflection.

He walked back into the Dining Room, stared up at the portrait of Great Great Uncle Percy and raised his can of cider to his distant relative. The calipers were now broken in; the initial discomfort now apparent when he bent over. On a couple of occasions they had become snagged in his dressing gown and his foreskin had been pinched on one painful, enjoyable occasion. He was pleased with his plan and concluded that this was the most memorable of Christmases. With luck the Old Girl would not be around much longer and he could set about encapsulating himself at will. Yes, it all added up to a marvellously peaceful, confined Yuletide.

He clambered into the box Terry had helped him locate in front of the television. Luckily Terry did not comment on this as Francis would have struggled to come up with a plausible explanation. It was probably because he was too busy counting out the £280 in loose change that Francis had paid him for the calipers. If he looked closely he would have realised that he had been short changed by 68 pence.

Francis closed the lid of the box and opened its grill. He admired his surroundings and toasted Percy once again and then bit into a date. He enjoyed the succulent sweetness of the fruit.

He waited for the final credits of Calamity Jane to roll.  The Sound of Music was on Television next.  It was his favourite film.

Read Full Post »

MCQUEEN

Hello

Here is Part 6 of this story (only a couple more to go!) – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part 6 – The Boarding

“Have a lovely time aunt.”

Please Francis.”

“Don’t worry; Tibby will meet you at Pitlochry. She’s so looking forward to seeing you after all these years!” He brushed egg remnants from her overcoat, checked his watch, pecked her on the cheek and left the Carriage, double checking that the suitcases were securely stowed in the luggage rack. He had plenty of time to get home for Terry’s visit.

Please Francis.” But he was gone. Within minutes the train pulled away from the platform. Eunice kneaded her hands as she wallowed in her predicament. She was alone. For the first time in living memory she was alone without the sclerotic cocoon of the Kensington house to act as a proxy friend. Fear turned to anger. Anger at being afraid. It was weak. As Father used to remind her, “Fear is weakness Eunice. Never be fearful of anything! We D’aubisson’s are exempted from this frailty!” But she was afraid and no amount of self loathing would remove this stigma as the train sped northward through the crowded suburbs of North London  in the failing December light.

A young man sat opposite her, nodding his head to the tinny sounds emanating from his Walkman. Worse still he had stubble on his chin. Criminal underclass she concluded. He was probably the father of numerous offspring from numerous council estates. She had seen his sort on the television programmes Francis watched in the morning. She heard a voice;

“Is this seat free?”

The black woman smiled as she pointed to the empty chair next to Eunice. The old woman clasped her handbag close to her.

“Is this seat free?” the black woman repeated.

Eunice nodded hurriedly, afraid to look at her.

“Thanks.” She placed a small suitcase in the overhead shelf. She took off her overcoat and placed it next to the suitcase, sat down and said, “That was a close call!”

The woman was dressed in a two piece navy blue business suit with a plain white blouse beneath the jacket. Three buttons were undone on the blouse and a large silver necklace made up of rectangular squares plunged towards her cleavage. She had expensively manicured hands and on her right wrist numerous silver bracelets rattled an imperfect tune with each movement of her hand.

“Excuse me,” The woman said. She spoke with a crisp, clear-cut Home Counties accent.

“Take anything you want. Please don’t hurt me!” Eunice replied.

“I’m sorry?”

“You can have it all, please don’t hurt me.”

“I just wanted to know if you found his Walkman annoying.”

Eunice had last spoken to a Negro in 1962. This experience had proved equally as traumatic. He was a Postman and she was unhappy that the post was arriving after nine thirty in the morning. She had written the following day to the Chairman of the General Post Office the following day asking for the man’s removal on the grounds of his slovenly demeanour.

The woman turned to the man and asked him to turn the Walkman down. He did so with the minimum of fuss. He smiled at her inanely and continued to nod his head in a palsied fashion to the sounds coming from the Walkman.

“That’s better,” the woman said, “I do find these things so annoying, don’t you?”

Eunice made a mental note to write to the Chairman of British Rail about the availability of train tickets for black people.

She truly was on her own, journeying to Scotland sitting next to a Negro in second class with a member of the criminal underclass sitting opposite. The disease of poverty she had caught from the coughing toddler now seemed like blessed release and she faced death with equanimity.

Scotland seemed a lifetime away. On so many levels.

Where was Bertie when she needed him?”

jolson

Hello

Here is Part 7 of this story (only a couple more to go!) – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part 7 – Is It Christmas?

The silence between Eunice and the black woman was brittle, sterile and deeply uncomfortable for both.  When the woman alighted at Peterborough Station, Eunice slightly relaxed the grip on her handbag. Respite was only temporary as a mother and her young daughter occupied the empty seat. The child had a hacking coughing fit and began to cry loudly. Eunice calculated the end to be imminent.

The trolley attendant scuttled into the Carriage. She was a stout woman with heavy thighs that tested the quality of the seams on the Train Company’s uniform.

Eunice concluded that the serving classes were not what they were. Not like Davidson, their faithful butler who lost an arm in 1928 retrieving her bonnet from a steam driven hay baler in the Moray Estates. Such was his sense of duty, Davidson did not even balk when having returned from hospital several weeks later with no right arm, Father terminated his employment due to his persistent absenteeism. In fact Davidson had agreed with her father’s that dismissal was only right and proper course of action to take, apologised for the damage he had caused to the baler and asked for the repair costs to be taken out of his final pay packet.   

“Would you like anything Madam? Tea or maybe a coffee?”  The attendant asked

“Coffee! You ask a D’aubisson if they would even consider drinking coffee? In public?”

Father considered coffee drinking in public to be a sign of latent homosexuality and discouraged his children from ever doing so. As it was her Father’s considered view Eunice never felt the need to query its logic.

“OK,” replied the flummoxed attendant who turned her attention to the mother who ordered a coffee and a fruit juice for her daughter. The child slurped her drink, much to Eunice’s chagrin.

A train sped past in the opposite direction, the pressure of which caused the carriage walls to buckle slightly. A young man in a T-Shirt with “Shit Happens” stencilled on it stumbled towards Eunice. She recoiled in horror as his features loomed towards her.

The child cried and her mother tried to soothe her. Strangers drifted past. The tinny, incessant beat continued from the headphones of the young man opposite. She felt lost amongst so many strange alien faces. Afraid and hemmed in. She was now a member of the everyday world she eschewed so virulently.

She wished Francis was here.

Francis. Feckless, workshy, untrustworthy and largely unlikable. She thought of him as a skin tag, permanently attached but unwanted. Whether it was cluttering up the house or eating noisily from one of those ready-made meals he lived on. He had become a permanent, unseemly feature in her home rather like the old armchair in the sitting room he had colonised for the best part of twelve years.

Twelve years!

“Just for a few weeks aunt, until I find a new job and get myself back on my feet.”

Apart from his nocturnal peculiarities, the boy had spent most of his life since then off his feet with his slender hairless legs draped over the old chair’s armrest commenting on the career progression of daytime television presenters. She imagined that he could quite have quite easily existed without a skeleton, just a sloshing collection of muscle and skin, wrapped in the towelling skin of his threadbare dressing gown. The gown itself was a gift from her twelve years ago.  Moss now grew alongside a variety of food stains and bodily excretions that had forged a successful parasitical existence on the garment.

Even so she wished he were here now to accompany her in this strange, poorly dressed, incoherent world of clattering idiocy. She winced at the thought of his deliberate acts of self-injury and decided to think of it no more.

She turned her hands slowly noticing for the translucent sheen of the skin, liver spots protuberance of her wrist bones. Again she turned to the memory of her hand nestling in her father’s leading her to a safe and secret world free of ridiculers and commoners.

Calm again, the young girl scratched through a film of condensation with her left index finger to trace a droplet of rain that snaked down the outside of the carriage window. Her face was a mask of concentration as she followed the water’s path and mirrored its movements with her finger.

“Mummy?”

“Yes?”

“Will I get my dolly for Christmas?

“Only if you are a good girl.”

Was Christmas near? Eunice thought to herself. She was sure it was only June!

It was 1935. She was Fifteen. A gift. From Oswald Mosley, a great friend of the family. A small bound book entitled “Eugenics for Beginners” by Doctor Albert Strobe. The gold lettering embossed on the cover of the book seemed to shimmer a magical mantra and the Serrano binding gave a feeling of certainty about the contents. Eunice loved that book, so many interesting diagrams and drawings of people’s heads, bodies and deportment.

She spent many hours that Christmas using the book as a benchmark with which to establish the racial purity of the entire household, measuring head sizes, nose and hand widths. Bertie was happy to play “National Socialist” in his new uniform which Father had  imported from Germany. He wore the uniform for weeks, often to bed and howled uncontrollably when Nanny forced him to take it off in order to wash it.

Eunice though was disappointed with the results of her trials finding that the servants conformed to a much higher degree of racial purity that those of the D’aubbisson household; Father in particular faring very poorly. She never shared the results of her findings with him, fearful of the consequences.

Best not to sow seeds of doubt amongst members of a great landed family whose history was so intermingled with the development of England itself. War, pestilence, famine and , industrial strife through the years had seen the D’aubbisson family advance aided tradition and astute political connections. Even if The Argentinian railway fiasco head dealt a substantial blow to the family’s fortunes, this was England; where breeding still mattered more than substance.

“I hope I will get my dolly Mummy.” The little girl said.

The train rumbled onwards to Scotland.

Tibby and her passenger drove towards Pitlochry Station.

Hello

Here is the final part of this story – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part Seven is here

Part 8 – Pitlochry Station

When they met at Pitlochry Station, Eunice had to admit that Tibby McVitie’s appearance had barely changed. The ruddy distilled complection remained and the warm bountiful eyes still conveyed that awful bonhomie that a D’aubisson despised. It had been nearly forty years since they last met.

Tibby’s was drinking coffee. From a cup. In public. Her Father’s considered view of the relationship between homosexuality and public displays of coffee drinking once again surfaced in Eunice’s mind and she wondered if Francis had exiled her to some sickening octogenarian lesbian Stalag.

The only visceral memory of Tibby that Eunice possessed was that the woman smelled of disappointment. That smell still lingered when she recoiled from Tibby’s gratuitous hug of welcome and warm words that focussed on Eunice’s journey and the inordinate amount of time since they had last met and how Eunice still looked remarkably well. For a woman of her age.

For her part, Eunice was glad of the company after the exertions of the train journey. Mingling with  children, the working classes, blacks and latent homosexual coffee drinkers had all but exhausted her. At least she knew Tibby’s name. Even if she had stolen Bertie from her.

“The car is parked just outside the station Eunice. Not far to walk. I hope you are hungry. I’ve bought some Breaded Cod for dinner. Francis said you liked it.”

“Breaded……” Eunice saw him. Walking towards them, waving as he did so.  It had been nearly forty years. He hadn’t changed at all in that time. The double chin, thinning hair with pronounced side parting, rounded shoulders and the slightly protruding front teeth.

“Bertie!” cried Eunice, “Bertie. My darling Bertie!” The years slid away and Eunice stood in front of her beloved Brother once more. She felt an emotion that she never thought she would experience again. Joy.

“Bertie. My Bertie.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Eunice, this is my son Archie. Bertie’s son.” Archie nodded and smiled. His teeth were even the same off white shade as Bertie’s.

“Son?  I didn’t know I -”

“- I only found out I was pregnant after Bertie’s death and you were not best pleased with me at the time to say the least.  I thought one day you would find out, that we could be reconciled, in truth I never knew what I had done to upset you so, but time then has a habit of making our decisions for us. But isn’t he the spitting image of Bertie…….” Eunice heard no more of Tibby’s meanderings and focussed on her Brother’s incarnation. All these years of sadness, anger, bitterness and longing for him now fell away like melt water. Even the thought of Breaded Cod did not fill her with ire. Bertie had returned to her.

She knew now. Knew that the fates had decided to test her, ask her to prove her love for Bertie by the one thing that tests all love. Separation.

The past and present  melded themselves into a contiguous whole as Eunice held her beloved brother’s hand in the car as Tibby regaled Eunice with tales of kindness and generosity of spirit. Eunice enjoyed them and readied herself to immerse permanently in the past.

She thought 1960 was going to be a great year. The best. A new dawn had broken in her life.

As Nanny used to say when calming the polio stricken Eunice’s fears of the dark, “Don’t worry Eunice, we need the night so the sun can have a rest. Ready to warm us and make us happy for the tomorrow.  Every day the sun giving us the thoughts, words, dreams, and hopes for us to live good Christian lives and the night to allow us to rest and reflect on our daily transgressions and seek atonement for them.  When I was younger, I had this dream of being able to live in perpetual daylight. Chasing the sun around the world on a magnificent Charger. Always chasing the daylight. Chasing the day. Now, I think I’d like to catch the dawn instead. Everything would be fresh, new, slightly dewy to touch as if you were in possession the keys to each and every day. I used to believe that the morning dew covering the fields and valleys represented the souls of all those young children who had died not baptized and were left in limbo. What a nice place to rest your soul, at the break of each day.”

Boxing Day 1996 – The House In Kensington

“Yes aunt. No Aunt. I’m sure Tibby is not a latent homosexual.  I’m delighted that Uncle Bertie is alive and well. No, I don’t think the McVities have any Negro in them – there is someone at the door. I have to go. I will speak to you tomorrow.”

Francis set the telephone down. He realised that he missed his aunt’s hate flecked speech more than he anticipated. She was all he had. But now was not the time for introspection or reflection.

He walked back into the Dining Room, stared up at the portrait of Great Great Uncle Percy and raised his can of cider to his distant relative. The calipers were now broken in; the initial discomfort now apparent when he bent over. On a couple of occasions they had become snagged in his dressing gown and his foreskin had been pinched on one painful, enjoyable occasion. He was pleased with his plan and concluded that this was the most memorable of Christmases. With luck the Old Girl would not be around much longer and he could set about encapsulating himself at will. Yes, it all added up to a marvellously peaceful, confined Yuletide.

He clambered into the box Terry had helped him locate in front of the television. Luckily Terry did not comment on this as Francis would have struggled to come up with a plausible explanation. It was probably because he was too busy counting out the £280 in loose change that Francis had paid him for the calipers. If he looked closely he would have realised that he had been short changed by 68 pence.

Francis closed the lid of the box and opened its grill. He admired his surroundings and toasted Percy once again and then bit into a date. He enjoyed the succulent sweetness of the fruit.

He waited for the final credits of Calamity Jane to roll.  The Sound of Music was on Television next.  It was his favourite film.

Read Full Post »

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