At Brookfields

Care home

when’s the tea coming no no its coffee now what’s in the cup it’s coffee cold still full that must have been this morning’s when’s the tea coming I hope it’s not those bloody custard creams again it was nice to see Kathryn is she my wife oh no it won’t be she must be my daughter but she didn’t stay very long I don’t like the fat black woman who brings the trolley round no no I mustn’t say that turn the radio on there it is I’ll Keep You Satisfied Billy J Kramer & the Dakotas Lennon/McCartney I remember it made number four after a number two and a number one Bad to Me turn it up can’t hear it Peter next door banging on the wall screw you where’s my earbuds where’s my earbuds WHERE’S MY FUCKING EARBUDS ah in the drawer is that where I normally keep them condensation on the window I’ll climb on the chair to wipe it no it’ll happen again and I’ll get into trouble and they’ll tell Kathryn why doesn’t Emma ever come or was that Emma who came today she sometimes comes Wednesday afternoons is it Wednesday today last night asking the questions David Mitchell last night wasn’t it no the night before or did I watch it on catchup go out and play rummy no that finished I think no one else remembers the rules or they forget they’re in a game stupid old gits and wander off rude I know Duck Soup I’ll watch Duck Soup and fast forward to when Groucho comes in battery flat damn where is charger WHERE IS CHARGER oh in wall as usual bet it’s bloody fish tonight it’s always bloody fish it’s dark outside was it dark when I looked at condensation don’t know, what time is it six o’clock tells me nothing must be winter then morning or evening feel tired might go to bed when’s the coffee coming or is it tea bet it’s bloody tinned tomatoes for breakfast it was nice to see Kathryn

Silly Mid-Off


WBGS u12s fifth wicket down. Time to pad up. Sit down, standing up shows a lack of confidence in the boys at the crease. Waiting. McKenzie and Wright are doing OK. I bat at number eight and I don’t bowl, so I don’t know how I got in the team. I guess the best batsmen are also the best bowlers. My stomach is churning. I hate this part so much. Only six overs left, perhaps they’ll bat it out. Or perhaps not. There is a shout as the bails spill.

I’m vaguely aware of Colyer saying “good luck” and slapping me on the back as I get ready to go. It’s a long walk out there. Please god, let me score one run, and I won’t be the worst. I nod at McKenzie as we meet. He got fourteen, not bad. As I reach the wicket Wright raises a hand to acknowledge me, but has no wisdom to impart. I ask for middle and leg and make my mark.

The visiting captain orders a boy in to silly mid-off and he tries to stare me down. Suddenly I’m not nervous any more, my blood is up. He’s trying to intimidate me. Got that wrong hasn’t he? He might catch me out, but I could knock his teeth in. Legitimately. He tries again. “They make ’em small in Watford, don’t they?” I glare back, flexing the bat. “I’m going to play my shots mate. Try not to get in the way.”

The bowler runs in fast, but seems to lose speed before he bowls. It’s a loose one, thank you god, and I clatter it to the leg side. There’s a loud thwack – I didn’t time it well – but it’s good for two. I’m on my way.

– – – – – –

WBGS u13s. A hot Saturday afternoon. Twelfth Man. Some kids hate it but I don’t mind, it means I can be part of the team without having to do anything. The visiting team has only brought eleven.

It’s not going well. They bat first and reach 124, and we struggle to 78 for 9. One of the fielders twists his ankle, and the umpires consult. Mr McCabe calls me over. “Edwards! You’re fielding for Latimer.”

I look at the captain, and he sends me to silly mid-off. Cowardly, he wouldn’t go there himself, he won’t even order one of his own team there. I take up position and he motions me still closer to the bat. Paul Green is at the crease. I give him an apologetic grin, and he nods back. Three balls pass without incident. The fourth he plays forward, and it’s nothing, it just bobs up a little.

Before I can ponder my loyalties I have sprung forward and got my right hand under the ball. Green looks at me wryly and shakes his head. There’s a smattering of embarrassed applause from the visitors. As we head for the changing rooms, the visiting umpire seeks me out and gives me half a crown. “Well done son. Buy yourself a shandy.”

The team are all right about it, I tainted the opposition’s victory a little, and we were going to lose anyway. I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. Not quite sure what a shandy is, though.

– – – – – –

WBGS thirds. A large windy field, maybe St Albans? It’s not going well, we’re 47 all out. But get this, I scored 16 of them. Roxon told me I was the only one in the team to play a straight bat.

They’re not especially hot with the bat either, but they get to 45 for 6. I’m in the outfield, and suddenly, it’s a high fly ball, Charlie Brown. Time slows down as the ball arcs down into my waiting hands. And out again. It dribbles over the boundary. Match over, with no chance of redemption.

That July afternoon in 1974 was the end of my competitive cricket career. I missed it a little. But how I felt when I was next in, no, I never missed that.



Call me Ronald.  My full name is Squeaky Ronald Reagan, a Spitting Image dog toy, although no dog has ever played with me.  And now no dog ever will.

Aelwyn started it.  He won me in a New Statesman competition.  Not having a dog, not being a fan of the real Ronald Reagan, and judging me ugly, he designated me a sort of negative trophy, and he and Kath infiltrated me into their son Rob’s luggage just before departure.

Rob made sure I came back with them after their next visit to Edinburgh.  Then on their next visit, Aelwyn hid me at the back of Rob and Fiona’s booze cupboard, among all the undrinkable holiday souvenirs.  I was there for a few months.

Then Rob decided to involve his brother Rik’s family, and hid me in little Alice’s bag just before the end of the holiday.  But Alice heard her bag squeak just in time and handed me back to Rob.

And so it went.  Rob had me presented to Rik’s family with their welcome flowers when they arrived at Disneyworld.  Rik conspired with a co-operative neighbour to get me placed on Rob’s driveway from four hundred miles away.  Rob hid me in a recess under a small statue in Rik’s garden, and when there was no sign that anyone was looking for me, sent Rik a virtual jigsaw piece every day by email hinting at where to look, until I was found.

And Rik persuaded the local florist to include me with Rob and Fiona’s joint birthday flowers.  And Rob persuaded Chorleywood bookshop to pop me into a bag along with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to be presented to their niece Rachel soon after midnight.  Rik acquired a matching Margaret Thatcher, and left her next to me in the spare bed in Edinburgh.  Happy days.

And Rob acquired a domain name with Rik’s name in it and posted pictures of me on tour in the US and Canada.  Rik persuaded Rachel to set up a dummy website with the same address as Rob’s site, but, displaying Rob’s usual environmental journalism beneath a large picture of me.  Unfortunately when asked, Rachel was unable to reverse her handiwork.  Rik had me presented to Lindsay as a special award from her trampoline club.

And Rob wrapped me as a joint Christmas present for Rachel and Alice.  Rik and Debbie insisted on providing the cake for Rob and Fiona’s sixtieth birthday party, and the cake squeaked as soon as the knife came down.  No-one was rushing to eat it.  Rob hid me among the Christmas decorations in Rik’s house, so I was discovered in mid-December with the Festive Banana, under the tinsel.

Eventually the game slowed down and then stopped as they ran out of ideas.  I sat and gathered dust in a drawer for years and years.  I thought I’d been forgotten.  Until five days ago.  Then I heard a woman’s voice saying “found him”.  I heard whispering and giggling, and a hushed conversation in an office.  I was placed in a huge wooden box, next to something large and slightly unsavoury.  I heard an old man chuckle as the lid closed.

And now it’s getting warm.  Very warm.

The Restless Miller

Moulin de la Camandoule001

It was August 1989.  Debbie and I had just flown from Venice to the Côte d’Azur after the first week of our honeymoon.  We had flown in a small Air Littoral plane, looked after by an extremely efficient and immaculately turned out stewardess who appeared entirely competent to pilot the plane should the need arise.

We picked up our hire car at Nice airport and drove in the afternoon sun to the Moulin de la Camandoule near Fayence.  We had stayed there before and loved it: a lovely old olive oil mill converted into a small hotel.  It was owned and run by Wolf Rilla and his elegant wife Shirley. We later learned that Wolf had been a film director and writer, best known for directing John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos as Village of the Damned.  He made a slightly irascible host, but this seemed somehow in keeping with the mellow, slightly scruffy charm of the building.

We had fond memories of our previous trip to this place: one evening in particular lingered in the mind when the diners on the terrace were unsettled to see and hear a thunderstorm steadily approaching.  Wolf stalked around fretfully while Shirley quickly and quietly helped the customers move indoors, working her way down from the most anxious.  It was clear who kept the place ticking over.

This time we were met by a youth named Tim who appeared hungover.  I explained in my halting French that we had booked a room there for the week, and he stared back in a panic.  I muttered something to Debbie about the luggage in the car, and Tim’s face lit up.

“Thank God, you’re English!”

After unpacking, we cooled off in the pool, and strolled around reminding ourselves why we loved the place.  The beautiful stone, the old aqueduct.  Heavy black iron tools of unknown purpose still displayed in alcoves.  Nothing had changed.  Dinner didn’t disappoint either: an unfussy, delicious table d’hôte menu.  And perhaps a little too much wine.  It had been a long day, so we retired to our room for the night, and were soon asleep.

For a while.  Then I woke up sweating in the warm night air.

I made out a large figure looming over the end of the bed, breathing slowly and heavily.  There was a strong smell of wine.  He seemed to be waiting before taking some sort of action.  I told myself it was an illusion, and stared at the figure, expecting it to dissolve under rational inspection.  Instead the outline seemed clearer, and the breathing more laboured, as if he had just run up the steps.

I stared in disbelief and fear for some time, before I finally switched on my bedside light.  There was nothing there, and my wife of ten days was sleeping beside me.

In the morning I told her what I had seen.  As I described it, I realised it was only the sound of her steady sleeping breath that I had heard: yet the same sound coming from someone awake would have sounded heavy, threatening even.  Half waking, I must have built the menacing image from the sound.

Relieved to find a rational explanation, I put my experience down to wine and rich food.  So we spent the week exploring the area, reading by the pool and cooling off.  Just being together.

On the morning of our departure, we were going for breakfast when Debbie looked back at our door and noticed traces of faded lettering next to our room name, Le Meunier.

Shirley came to the table with our coffee.

“Have you enjoyed your stay?”

“It’s been lovely, thanks.”  She set the coffee down.

“You’ve been lucky with the weather.”

“Really? I thought it was always like this here.”

“Oh…it comes and goes.”

“Tell me…Le Meunier…the miller, isn’t it?

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Did the name of the room change at all?”

“You noticed that?  Yes, when we bought the place it was called Le Meunier Agité – the restless miller.  We didn’t think that was a very relaxing name for a bedroom, so we changed it.”

“I can see why.  Do you know how it got that name?”

“Well…”  She lowered her voice confidentially.  “I don’t normally like to tell our guests…it wouldn’t help them sleep…”

“Do go on, we’re leaving today anyway.”  She smiled and pulled up a chair from the next table.

“According to the story, it happened about 1860.  The oil from this mill was said to be the best in the whole area. The miller was a large man called M. Tardieu, and one day he took his oil to market.  He’d only been at his stall an hour when the chef of a wealthy local landowner paid him a good price for his entire stock.  He bought a bottle of wine to celebrate, and drank it on the way home.”

“He got home about lunchtime, tired, hot and drunk, and went straight to his bedroom to sleep it off.  There he found his wife in bed with the apprentice.  He fell on the boy and started strangling the life out of him.  His wife ran out and found a heavy milling tool and hit her husband on the head.  He died instantly.”

“The story went that he still visits his bedroom sometimes.  Although I don’t know that anyone’s ever seen him.  Just a silly story, I think.”

Debbie and I looked at each other.

“Yes.  Just a silly story.”

At Pantclyd Farm


Richard Edwards b. Llanuwchllyn, Merionethshire, 27 Feb 1885.  d. Llanuwchllyn, Merionethshire, 24 Jun 1905.

Family trees can be cold, dry things.  But look, there he is, a pale, sensitive lad of perhaps eighteen years, with wavy hair and full lips.  He was my great uncle, although I never knew him, of course.  Nor did my father, born fourteen years after Richard died.

He stands against the farm wall, a pensive expression persistent through the long camera exposure, among a group of stocky, bearded and weather-beaten farmers, and their wives, plump ruddy-cheeked women, arms strong from manual labour.

Cambrian News, Thursday 29th June 1905: INQUEST AT LLANUWCHLLYN

Ellen Edwards, Pantclyd, was called to give evidence.  She said she was the mother of deceased, a joiner by trade.  She saw him last alive about 5.30 p.m. on Saturday.  He was starting from the house and said “I am going for a bathe.”  He did not say where he was going, but she guessed he had gone to the lake behind the house.  He was in the habit of going there.  Seeing him late returning, she sent his brother, thirteen years old, to search for him.  He returned and said that his brother’s clothes were a tidy heap by the side of the lake, but no trace of him could be found.  His father then went, followed by the whole family.  He was found in the lake and his body was dragged out.  The pool where the body was found was over seven feet deep.

Richard found an old towel and muttered something to his mother about a bathe as he went past her in the kitchen, and he emerged into the farmyard, still hot in the midsummer evening sun. A footpath across a field took him to another field with a large pond at the edge.  He smelled the camomile pressed under his bare feet and felt a thrill of anticipation.

Ifan, the blacksmith’s boy, was already there, lying dozing on the grassy bank.  Richard crept up on him and dropped a few blades of grass on his face.  Ifan awoke with a splutter and sat bolt upright, then started laughing.

They stripped off and ran into the pond, and waded between the reeds, watching the dragonflies hovering in the sun while they lay in the shallow water and splashed around.  At length Ifan shouted out “I didn’t bring a towel, I’d better get yours” and started to charge out of the water.

Richard chased after him and pulled him back in the water by his arm; then Ifan caught him by his ankle, before they made their way, shoving each other and laughing, to the bank.  They dried themselves and lay down on a sunny patch of grass while dragonflies hovered around them.

Richard lay on his side contemplating Ifan, whose head was turned away.  Richard’s mouth was dry as he took in the strong back and the muscular brown arms.  He reached out and tentatively stroked the boy’s back.  He encountered no resistance for a while.  Encouraged, he allowed his hand to continue beyond the base of the back…

Ifan suddenly jumped up.

“Get off me you dirty bastard!  I didn’t believe what they said but it’s true!”

He pulled on his trousers, forced his feet into his shoes, and ran off still fumbling with his shirt.  As he climbed over the gate, he turned round and shouted before disappearing from view.

“You dirty, dirty bastard!”

Richard lay motionless for a few minutes.  A chilly wind suddenly blew across the field. He felt tired, numb.  He felt cold and empty as he gazed across the pond.

*   *   *   *   *

A verdict of “Accidentally Drowned” was returned.  In moving a vote of condolence with the family, the Coroner said that he deeply sympathised with them in their bereavement.  The motion was seconded by Mr L.J. Davies and passed unanimously.

Look, here’s another photograph.  Or rather no, it’s the same picture, this time faded and cropped to show only Richard.  At the top left corner of the image we can see the curve of an oval frame.  A photograph that might have sat on his mother’s dresser or mantelpiece until she died nearly thirty years later.  I think she looked at that picture every day.

Richard Edwards

The Fisherman’s Girl

Seahouses cottage

The Isle of Mull is a long way from London, so Jennifer suggested we could break our journey home in the north east of England, a neglected but beautiful corner.  There is the dramatic coastal scenery, spectacular castles at Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh, and you can take the one and only Billy Shiel’s boat trips out to see the puffins and other bird life on the Farne Islands.  There are also beautiful beaches, although you might not wish to linger too long in the water.  If the kids are happy, they say, the grown-ups have a chance.

So we had booked a holiday cottage in Seahouses, a couple of streets back from the sea, and now we made a detour to pick up the key from the owner. Mrs McCready was a kindly but rather worried looking lady in her sixties, and I sensed her quietly observing our daughters as she handed over the keys.  At last we approached the cottage through tiny streets never intended for SUVs.  We squeezed the car into its space, and Rebecca and Charlotte leapt out to explore while I fumbled with the keys.  Once inside, Jennifer made the tea, put the welcome pack cookies on a plate and started working out a shopping list, while I brought the luggage in and the girls tore screaming up and down the narrow stone stairs.  It had been two fisherman’s cottages, converted into a holiday let as far as the architecture would allow.  Some of the rooms were cramped, but it was a charming place.

The weather was kind to us – not exactly warm, but mostly dry with plenty of sun.  Towards the end of the week Rebecca’s school friend Constance came to join us for a couple of days, and we picked her up at Newcastle station – after we had taken a wrong turn and spent some stressful minutes stuck in a bus lane.  Then we drove to a section of Hadrian’s Wall, and had a rather chilly picnic.

It was an agreeable week of castle visits, clifftop walks, cricket on the beach, fish and chips…and the girls spent many happy hours pottering on the wide, rocky foreshore at low tide.

On Friday – our last whole day of holiday – when we had just sat down for breakfast, we heard a commotion from the seagulls outside.  We left the table for a while to watch them swooping, diving and squawking, and agreed that something must have agitated them.  When we sat at the table again, Charlotte was staring at her cereal bowl looking confused.


“What is it darling?”

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t put any milk on my Shreddies.”  She continued to stare at the bowl, and raised a hand to pull at her curly blonde hair.  There goes Cartoon Charlotte, I thought, always having her little dramas and adventures.

“Don’t be silly darling, how else did it get there?”

She said nothing and looked at the milk bottle.  Then gave a little shrug of acceptance, but seemed subdued while she ate her cereal.


Saturday morning arrived, and we squeezed five people and suitcases full of unused clothes into the car.  There were no parking places near Mrs McCready’s flat, so I left Jennifer at the wheel while I went in to drop off the keys.

“Was everything all right for you?” There was something anxious in her tone.

“Yes thanks, it’s a lovely little cottage.  I should mention, though, we broke a wine glass.”  I proffered a five pound note.

Mrs McCready waved it away.

“Oh, don’t worry about that, they’re only cheap ones.  But, tell me, did anything unusual happen while you were staying there?”

“Unusual?  I don’t think so, no.”

“Oh good.  It’s just that…there have been a few incidents over the years.”


“There’s a story about a girl who lived there in the 1820s. Quite a sad story.”

“Really?”  I tried to sound interested, but couldn’t stop myself glancing back at the door.  We had a long journey ahead, and Jennifer would be getting impatient.  But the lady wanted to tell her story.

“She lived in the lower cottage, which she had inherited. She got herself pregnant by a young lad who went out in the fishing boats.  Her parents were dead, and there was no-one else who would help her.”

“But the young fisherman stood by her, and promised to marry her.  But three days before the wedding was due, his boat was lost in a storm.”

Mrs McCready paused and looked out to sea, as if expecting the boat to return.

“The girl managed to have her baby.  But she had no help, and the boy’s family would have nothing to do with her.  It was winter, she was nearly starving, and she couldn’t feed her baby properly.  The poor scrap didn’t last a week.  The girl was found washed up on the beach, with the baby wrapped inside her coat.”   She stopped and seemed to be waiting for a reaction.

“Oh dear, that’s dreadful!  Did you say there have been…incidents?”

“More stories and rumours, really.  But there’s a kind of tradition that she still visits her cottage sometimes.”

“No!  She doesn’t sound like the chain-rattling type.”

“Not at all.  The story goes that once every few years she comes into her old kitchen, and makes sure the children have enough milk to drink.  The poor sweet girl.”


“What took you so long?” said Jennifer as I got back into the car.  She looked over at me before starting the ignition.  “Are you all right?  You look a little pale.”

“It’s nothing.  She just wanted a chat.  Let’s go home.”

High Barnet Train

High Barnet


High Barnet 4 mins.

Four minutes, then.

Nicholas walks to the end of the platform, where the train will come in at, oh, about 35 miles per hour.  Four minutes to dwell on how he got here.


“Trade like a professional with Square Mile Index”

“Cheap Finance Guaranteed for Homeowners”


From where he stands, an artfully placed tannoy hides the indicator board, so he walks back along the platform.

High Barnet 5 mins.

OK, it’s going backwards.


Nicholas had spent the day in the British Museum, and then walking around Hyde Park in his suit, and was careful to take his normal train home.  The house looked beautiful in the spring sunshine when he arrived.  Hannah greeted him in the garden with a kiss, and brought him a beer from the fridge. Jack was running around kicking a football.  Kate, not usually demonstrative, broke off from planting her patch of garden, and ran to give Dad a long, slow hug.  Almost as if she knew.


He closes his eyes to blank the pain.

High Barnet 4 mins.


He couldn’t tell Hannah that they would lose the home she loved so much, the home on which she had worked so hard. Not that she would be angry with him: she would be affectionate, supportive, forgiving of his stupidity, and he couldn’t ask that of her, he didn’t deserve it.


Merton, smooth and confident, trying to do sympathetic:

“I’m afraid they have insisted on last in first out.”

“The way things are at the moment…”

High Barnet 2 mins.


That was quick.  Nicholas feels his heart thudding in his chest.  Nearly time. “A person under a train.”  In the past, he has smiled ruefully at this detail so readily supplied to explain delays.  Well, there will be delays this evening.


“Such a nice evening, I’m going for a little walk.”  And a little Dutch courage.


A mouse runs along the track.


Jack’s face is there, freckled, likeable.  On some level, Nicholas liked to think he was a bit of a hero to his boy.  Not any more.  You screwed up, mate.


“If this margin call is not met within 7 days, we will be forced to liquidate your portfolio.”

And the neat little solicitor, adding the charge to the mortgage deeds:

“Mr Harris, I really should advise you…”


A group of French students walk past, talking loudly.

High Barnet 1 min.

He moves purposefully back to the start of the platform.  Maybe 45 seconds now. Detached, he pictures what will happen: flesh, blood, bone and muscle all one to the weight of speeding metal and glass.  Momentum = Mass x Velocity.  Problems solved.  Does the apple fall to earth, or does earth fall to the apple?

Now the rails twang, and he chooses his spot, let’s see, ten feet from the mouth of the tunnel.  For Your Own Safety Please Stand Behind The Yellow Line.  He feels the rush of stale air. A rumble, barely audible, grows to fill his head in seconds.  He sees the reflected yellow light growing on the walls.

Ready to Leave.

At last a blur of silver and he starts to go.

He hears a French girl screaming “Non!”

He remembers how Hannah looked when they first met.

For an instant, he looks the driver in the eyes and sees fear. He checks and stumbles: the front carriage catches his shoulder and sends him spinning backwards into the wall.


Then numbness with pain, white sheets, bright light.  Hannah’s hoarse voice:

“Nick, you silly boy.  You silly, silly boy.”

Her hand around her fingers.  Feeling right.