I was sitting in the lounge reading about the only current news item of any remote interest. Yes, you have guessed right! Brexit.
Well, I suppose reading is a slight exaggeration. I was dozing and occasionally jerking awake as my arm slid off the chair for the umpteenth time. On each occasion I made a self-conscious glance around to see if anyone noticed, before continuing to read the next instalment of Brexit nonsense, only for my eyes to gradually slide shut again within seconds.
I had been awake for most of the night, worrying about waking on time to go to the airport. It wouldn’t be the first time that I lay awake all night, worrying about attending an early appointment, only to drop off fast asleep an hour before the time I should have woken, with the end result that, yes you guessed it again, I missed my plane, train or dentist appointment.
However, today I was on time, actually too early, trying to kill two hours at the airport before my flight was due to board. I was much too afraid of missing the flight, which would take me to the UK, to my mother’s funeral. Fear of missing her funeral and letting my Dad down again one more time, had kept me fully awake throughout the long night.
Now, as I sat dozing, mostly due to tiredness but also due to the absolute soul destroying boredom of airport departure lounges, I allowed my thoughts to freely wander aimlessly through alleyways and cul de sacs as they wished.
All of a sudden, during one lucid moment, I was aware of two people right behind me. It was one of those seating arrangements where we sat back to back, leaving our heads very close to each other, but without direct visibility. I could hear very clearly every word they said. Their conversation brought me wide awake and I was fully alert for the rest of my waiting time.


“I’m so afraid that they will find him though”, whispered a female voice.
It was the sinister reply that captured my attention at first, a throaty male reply that portrayed evil, not only due to the harsh words, but also by its directness, without feeling or compassion.
“No worries, Jane. I buried the old bastard deep, in the last place where anyone would think of finding him. He’ll be pushing up carrots in his old allotment in a few years’ time.”
“Oh Rob! I’m so frightened. If we are caught, we’ll be in prison for……”. She tailed off, without finishing her sentence.
I realised that I was trembling. What could I do? If I went to the police, all I could tell them was a conversation that I overheard. I didn’t know their names and hadn’t even seen their faces. I was concentrating hard, trying to judge their age, accent, anything that I could pass on to the police, when the man reached over to put his arm around his partner, to reassure and console her. In doing so, his elbow caught me slightly in the back and I reactively turned around. So did he. We looked straight into each other’s eyes. He was unshaven, about thirty. His hair was as short as his three day stubble. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. I stared, trying to act naturally but also trying to take a photograph with my mind. I needed to capture him perfectly, the close set eyes, the small wart on the left of his neck, the damaged ear. This guy had seen a few fights in his time.
“Sorry Pal,” he said.
“No problem”, I replied.
The couple then got up and slowly walked away. I never saw her face. All I saw was her shapely calves running down into a pair of maroon stiletto heels, her pink cotton dress and her long blonde hair. He was in denims and creased red t-shirt. As they walked away I sat watching, my mind racing. What should I do? Should I go to the police? I was in turmoil, wavering between forgetting about the whole thing, and running immediately to the police with my story.
I decided for the former. It was none of my business.


The rest of the time, waiting until boarding began, was spent thinking about my Dad. How would he manage without Mum? They had been together over 50 years. A pang of guilt ran through me as I realised that I had little grief for my mother. She had been frail for years and her final months had been raked with pain, as the cancer slowly did its job. No, my grief was for Dad. He was the one who must carry on alone. At least I wouldn’t miss my plane and add one more disappointment to a lifelong string of let-downs, where I hadn’t lived up to his expectations. I would stay in the UK for as long as he needed me, or at least until I was sure that he could cope. Maybe I could persuade him to return to New Zealand with me, but my hopes were barren of any reality. He had never been able to accept Roger, let alone come to live with us. My sexuality was as alien to him as his lack of understanding was to me.
I concluded my thoughts as the announcement for club class boarding came. I would avoid any of those difficult conversations. I was there just to support Dad, and to say farewell to my dear old mother.


Having been upgraded to Club class while checking in, at least it meant that my long flight would be more comfortable. I was soon in my seat, sipping a glass of champagne, waiting for the horde of economy class to settle into their seats.
All of a sudden a familiar voice quietly spoke to me from the next seat. I was in the aisle seat and had not been aware of anyone cutting across me to take their seat. As I turned my head to look at her, I knew that I must have fallen asleep. I must have been dreaming.
“It’s alright Tom. Don’t be frightened.”
She held my hand. It was warm and real. I stared at her face and gave a quiet sob as I realised that the frail old lady sitting next to me was my mother. I didn’t want to wake. I wanted to savour every second of the reunion. I didn’t want to let her go.
“But…but…it’s you. It can’t be. I mean….your …. “
“It’s me, Tom. It is the real me. Now you must listen to me. I don’t have very long.” My mother smiled reassuringly. I was so full of trust and love that I didn’t question it at all. She was here, next to me and that was all I cared.
She spoke quickly. “I met someone. His name is Gary Featherhead. It was his son and daughter-in-law that you sat listening to in the departure lounge. He died yesterday in his home, a few days after I gave up the fight. We met as we were in the same batch.”
“Batch?” I queried.
“Yes, deaths apparently come in batches. Gary and I were allocated to the same batch.”
I listened, riveted, as my mother told me the story of her passing and how she met a dear old man, saddened by the treachery of his son, a violent and aggressive brute. She explained how Gary had been murdered and his physical remains buried very deep in his own allotment, the same day. She told me that Gary had another, illegitimate son, a son conceived with the only person he had ever truly loved. His legal son, Robert, had found out about Gary’s other son and feared losing his inheritance, as he and his father hated each other. Robert suspected that his father may be planning to leave some of his money to the “bastard” son and had killed him, before he could make a will. I had been listening to Gary’s murderer, while waiting for my flight to board.

“But what can I do?” I asked.
“You must tell the police. Gary said that he has written a will. It is hidden under the floorboards in his bedroom. You must get off this plane and go to the police. Gary’s body is buried in his allotment, near the shed. His name is Gary Featherhead and he lived in Hamilton, Queen’s Close number 13. Have you got that?”
Now I wanted to wake up. This dream was no longer pleasant.
“I can’t get off the plane, Mum. I’ll miss your funeral.”
“Tom. Listen to me. Don’t worry about not being at my funeral. My funeral is not for me in any case. It’s for the others, so that they can feel better, feel that they paid their respects. I know that you loved me. You don’t need to be there. This is more important. You must help Gary get justice. He deserves that.”
An old man touched me on the shoulder, signalling with his finger that he needed to get by into the seat occupied by my mother. I was confused. How could I let him by, knowing that my mother was there? He was already easing past me and I sat flabbergasted as he sat down right on top of her. As he did so, her form faded until the last whisper of recognition showed her blowing a kiss to me, before she disappeared completely.
“Are you alright?” the old man asked, looking at me rather strangely.
“Er, yes thank you. Maybe I’ve had too many of these,” I said, looking at my wine glass.
She was gone.
I was sweating. Who would believe such a crazy story? If I did go to the police, how could I explain knowing the name and address of the murdered man? I imagined the ridicule when I said that I had been informed by my dead mother.
Boarding was almost complete. It was now or never. I thought about Dad and letting him down again. I thought about Mum. Was it just a dream? Mum, Dad, Mum, Dad. My mind was spinning. All of a sudden I rushed to my feet, grabbed my cabin bag and ran to the front of the plane, insisting that it was a life or death emergency and I must leave the plane to talk to the police.
The cabin crew were not happy. They even half-heartedly threatened me with legal action, to which I simply smiled. They could see that I wasn’t going back to my seat.
A security car was sent to the plane and five minutes later I stood watching a Boeing 747 taxiing down to the runway.
Sorry Dad.


“That is one hell of a tale,” said a burly police sergeant Dunk Richards.
I had told them everything about the murder except the meeting with my mother. I had left out the detailed address and said that I overheard the name Gary Featherhead and the town of Hamilton. I assumed that would be enough for them to trace him.
Sergeant Richards asked me if I could wait while they contacted the Hamilton police and checked out my story. Within the hour Mr. Featherhead’s home was cordoned off, as was his allotment. They had found evidence of a struggle immediately upon entering the premises.
There was a very strange piece of evidence. Today’s newspaper was open on the kitchen table in Mr Featherhead’s home, along with a half drunken cup of coffee, on which his fingerprints were found. The murderer, Robert Featherhead, had organised an accomplice to go to the house, leave the newspaper and coffee, which would give the impression that Gary Featherhead could not have been killed prior to today, if his body turned up sometime in the future. That provided Robert and Jane with an alibi, as they were already on the plane to the UK.
But their plan had failed completely, thanks to my Mum. Gary’s body was recovered immediately, time of death established at least two days ago. The testament was recovered and Robert and Jane would be going to prison for a very long time. Somewhere out there is a young man, the illegitimate son of Gary Featherhead, who would be very happy with his inheritance and the knowledge that his father had thought of him at the end.
I finished the day with mixed feelings of having brought some justice to the world, having let my father down once again, and having seen my mother for one last time. Was it real or was it only a dream?
When I left the airport, heading towards the bus terminal, I was thinking what I could tell my father. How could I explain? I decided that he has such a low opinion of me in any case, that I will just let him know that I missed my plane. I couldn’t afford another plane fare, even if there had been another plane to London in time to get to the funeral.
I could hear my father now, “Useless as always. You couldn’t even get to your own mother’s funeral.”
I couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm to call him that evening. Tomorrow morning would be soon enough. I went home, told Roger the whole story over a bottle of wine, and by late evening we were fast asleep in each other’s arms.


I woke in a blur. I had been dreaming about my mother. The telephone was ringing.
Slowly, I crawled out of bed, whispering to Roger that I would get the phone.
“Is that Tom?, said a familiar voice, “Sergeant Dunk Richards here.”
“Er, yes, Tom speaking. What’s up?”
“Listen, you ain’t gonna believe this. Our Prime Minister is flying to London in about three hours. A car is already on the way to you. It’ll be there in ten minutes. The PM has agreed, no, has requested that you be on that plane too. He said it’s the least we can do. According to my reckoning we can get you to your mother’s funeral on time.”


At 10am as people were gathering at my father’s house, ready for the funeral procession, which would take my mother down to St. Paul’s church, where she would be laid to rest, another black Jaguar limousine pulled up outside. Everyone looked as the chauffer stepped out, walked around to my side, and opened the door in full formal style. I stepped out to dozens of staring faces, but none looking more surprised than my father.
He hugged me warmly, this broken man, who had been cut in half by the loss of my mother. We stood, looking into each other’s eyes for a long moment, before he said, “I was hoping that you may have brought Roger with you.”

The end


Finally a few hours of freedom. Freedom to roam the streets at will, sneak down dark alleyways, watch the drug dealers, the pimps, and ogle the half-clad girls of the night.
Freedom to go where I want, do what I want and be who I want. This is my time.

I go out every night. One great advantage of being me is that I never sleep, never become tired. I am not like the rest of you, crawling into your beds at night, becoming virtually unconscious during the best time of the day, the time when all the excitement happens.

Just read and see what a typical night for me entails and be envious.

It is Saturday night, just before midnight. I have been freed from my tedious daily chores, going hither and thither, following Jason around like a little sheepdog. He doesn’t care about me one iota, barely even notices that I exist. Once he is in bed asleep, I am done for the day. I sneak out unseen in the darkness, anticipating the Saturday on the town.
I slide along unseen by passers-by, unnoticed by all, except the moths. The moths become unruly, nervous and flutter around me as I creep along.
I hear music, loud thumping beats that make me shudder with excitement. I make my way towards them. I cross the street. A car flies by, going right through me, without noticing. I feel the speed, the buzz of the night. Wow! I am moving to the roar of the 70s disco music and see the bright flashing lights. Still, no one notices me amid the red, blue, yellow and green flickers. I see the dancers moving in the strobe lighting, appearing like pictures in an old silent movie.
This is living. This is why I am here. I’m laughing, dancing with the others. I dance between the couples, duck between their legs, join the Funky Chicken moves, The Bus Stop, The Resurrection Shuffle and my favourite YMCA.
I dance the night long, never tiring, never hungry, never sweating. The time flies so fast.
I look outside and see that a faint hint of dawn is showing on the horizon. I must hurry back. Jason will be needing me.
Have I left it too late? I race through the streets, dodging lampposts, avoiding lit doorways. It is becoming lighter. The sun will be up soon. People are beginning to turn their heads as I whoosh by, not sure if they have seen me or not. I sense their nervousness. Have they just seen a ghost? Did they simply have one too many this night? No matter, I hurry home to Jason.
I race up the staircase. I can hear his stirring. Oh no, he is awake. I nip into his room, carefully avoiding the bedside lamp, which is already on. Ah! I am safe. He is not yet properly awake.
I crouch quietly next to him, ready to spring back into life the moment he climbs out of his bed.
I know that he needs me, even though he never shows it. I will be with him until tonight, when I go out on my next adventure. “Where shall I go tonight”? , I wonder.
You see, I am Jason’s shadow.

A Teacher’s Nightmare

John Grosvenor felt sick, ready to throw up at any second. Despite the desperation he was feeling, he was momentarily distracted by the thought of the headmaster and his desk being covered in a spray of fine, half-digested rice crispies, which brought a sickly grin to his sweating red countenance.
“I’m so sorry John,” he said. “We should be able to get this thing cleared up rather quickly. I can assure you that you have my full support.”
“You can’t suspend me Trevor. I am totally innocent. I never touched her. Emma Graham is simply trying to take revenge for the poor results that she has been given. For Christ’s sake man, suspending me will make the whole thing public. I will be eaten alive out there. You know how the papers love something like this.” He was almost raging. His actions were not helping at all to convince Trevor of his innocence.
Trevor McDonald thought quietly for a few minutes, watching him closely. He was wondering if he really was the paedophile that he had been accused of, or not. This is how it would be from now on. If in doubt “hang the bastard”. He had heard it often enough from other similar cases.
Trevor eventually spoke. “I believe you, John. I always assume innocence until proven guilty in such cases, but protocol is protocol. I have to suspend you until this is cleared up, one way or the other.”
“You see,” John blurted out. “One way or the other.” That’s already half an accusation. I don’t have a bloody hope in hell.”
“One thing I can promise you, John, is that we will try to keep the lid on this as much as possible, until the facts are all assessed.”
The naivety of Trevor almost made John burst out with hysterical laughter. He has no idea. The whole school will have known even before he entered this office.
He stood up, took a few deep breaths, tried to calm himself and left his office. The effort to keep his head up, walk to his car, which seemed like an eternity, was as much as he could take. He sat in the front driver’s seat, head spinning with thoughts about how he was to face his family and friends. Surely they would believe him. Deep down, he knew that many wouldn’t.
An hour earlier Trevor McDonald’s office had been full. Mr and Mrs Graham, Emma, Elaine Daws from the Social Services and PC Manda Jones.
Elaine began by asking Emma to take her time, and explain exactly what had happened between her and Mr. John Grosvenor, in the storeroom during the morning break.
Emma spent the next five minutes explaining how she had been asked if she would help sort some of the English text books into order, during the PE lesson, as she couldn’t take part, due to a sprained wrist. She said that she was keen to help and it would occupy her, instead of just sitting outside, watching the netball practice. She described how her English teacher, Mr Grosvenor, came to check on her, just as the morning break was beginning.
Mr. Grosvenor offered to help her finish the job quickly, so that she would still have some of her break time left, if she was willing. Emma said that she agreed.
Then Emma described in a very believable way how her teacher had told her that she had lovely breasts and that she must be very proud of her figure. Before she could respond he reached out and took them in the palms of his hands and began caressing them. Emma told how shocked she had been and it had taken a few seconds before she could react at all, by which time John Grosvenor was beginning to lift her blouse. She said that she ran from the storeroom and came straight to the headmaster’s office, where she told Janice Fairhead, his secretary, what had happened.
She hadn’t left the office since.
The small group of adults all looked at each other. Mrs Graham was trembling with anger.
“What are you going to do about this? “ She asked no one in particular, scanning the faces from social services to the police and finally to Trevor.
“Well first of all we need to hear Mr Grosvenor’s side of the story. We will arrange this for tomorrow morning. It can’t be done today, as our specialist for handling these cases is away until tomorrow,” explained Elaine.
“But surely you are not going to let this pervert continue teaching vulnerable children until then?” screamed Mrs Graham
“No, of course not, “countered Trevor, “he will be sent home on paid leave until this can be sorted out.”
Mr Graham had not said a word, or shown the emotional anger that his wife had demonstrated. In fact, he had been inert throughout the whole meeting. He just sat quietly, listening to his daughter explain how she had been molested by her teacher, a man of roughly his age, without a murmur. He looked almost nervous, rather than angry.
This type of situation was rare in the school, but there had been the odd case of misconduct or sexual harassment, mainly between pupils, over the years, but they all had one thing in common, an extremely irate father. It unsettled Trevor McDonald somewhat, that Mr Graham hadn’t displayed any such feelings.
The Graham family pulled up on their driveway. Emma had sat sulkily in the back of the car, without saying a word, for the whole journey. In fact, nobody had spoken. Each were in their private thoughts, working out what to do for the best.
“Richard, I need to nip to the supermarket to buy a few things for our dinner, “said Diane Graham. “It’s best that you two stay at home. I won’t be long.”
They went into the house, waving goodbye to Mrs Graham and Emma went immediately to her room. A few minutes later, Richard tapped on her bedroom door and entered. Emma was sitting at her desk, still sulking and looking extremely forlorn.
“Emma, why don’t you tell me what really happened in that store room.”
“What do you mean?” she responded. “I told you everything. “He did exactly what you always….”
She stopped and dropped her head towards the floor.
“I’m not angry with you, Emma. I just want you to show me what happened.”
Emma began trembling. She knew what was coming. She had experienced it a thousand times, and worse.
She undid her blouse, removed her bra and looked directly into her father’s eyes. “This is what he was trying to do”, she stammered.
Richard took both of her breasts in his hands and began to caress them softly. “Just like this,” he whispered.
Mrs Graham arrived at the supermarket, reached into her bag to take a coin for the shopping trolley and realised instantly that she didn’t have her purse with her. In her rush to go to the school, she had left it on the table. With a curse, she got back into the car and drove home.
On entering the house, she was aware of an unusual quietness. She looked downstairs, found her purse and then went to the lounge, expecting to find her husband or Emma there. It may be a mother’s instinct or some other form of sixth sense, but she instinctively began to walk quietly. She climbed the stairs and could hear the murmur of Richard’s voice coming from Emma’s room. She pushed the door open and shrieked loudly at the sight of her daughter. She was wearing nothing on her upper half and Richard was sitting opposite her with one hand on her breast and the other between her legs. Emma was trembling heavily and tears were drying on her red cheeks.
Mrs Graham went berserk. She picked up a ruler from Emma’s desk and began hitting Richard repeatedly on the head, screaming obscenities, damning him to hell.
“I was just….just, “he tried to say, but there was nothing to say. He ran out of the house.
Diane Graham wrapped Emma in a blanket and took her down in front of the fire. She knew well enough that now was not the time to ask questions, Emma needed time to collect herself and her Mum had time to wait. She sat quietly with her daughter, waiting for her to speak, after first making a phone call to the local police station.
During the rest of the evening Emma explained to her mother that this had been going on for many months. He father had always told her that she was so beautiful and her mother would be very jealous if he knew how much he loved Emma. “If you tell her what we do, you will break her heart”, he told her. Emma explained how it all started with her father telling her what lovely breasts she had, and how he liked to caress them. It went on from there.
“What is wrong with these damned filthy men?” Diane protested, “Are they all the same. First your teacher and now even your own father.”
Emma winced at this last remark. She looked up pleadingly into her mother’s eyes.
Diane Graham could see the truth in her daughter’s face. “He didn’t do it, did he? Your teacher didn’t touch you at all, did he?”
Emma broke into tears. “I was just so angry with him. It just came out and the lie grew from there. I feel so ashamed. I’m all mixed up now.”
Diane hugged her daughter as tightly to her as she could. “You have nothing to be ashamed of,” she reassured her.
John Grosvenor entered his home shortly before 6pm. He had been wandering about most of the afternoon, weighing up his options. His overriding thoughts were that this was not the first time that he had been accused of a sexual crime. Back in his university days, after a one night stand with another student, he had been accused of rape. The accusation was made and although it was subsequently withdrawn after some investigation, it lingered over him like a dark cloud, ready to burst into a storm at some future point. That point was today.
In reality, he and a fellow student had been out drinking, far too much and had ended up sleeping together. It was six of one and half a dozen of the other. John’s wife, however, knew of it.
Eventually he had plucked up the courage to come home and try to convince them of his innocence. He had considered his position carefully. If this accusation found its way into a court, he was done for. If he was found guilty, his career and family life was over. If he was found innocent, he still had the belief that his career and family life was over. Who would believe in him afterwards? How vulnerable would he be to such future lying accusations? He had come to the conclusion that there were only two possibilities to clear his name completely. The first was for the accuser to come to her senses and apologise for lying. This seemed extremely unlikely for his position. The second was for him to take his own life, leaving a declaration of his total innocence. As his dying testament, it was more likely to convince the people who mattered to him, that he was falsely accused.
But what a price? Could he take his own life? These were the questions that had occupied most of his afternoon. He had decided that it would be the only way.
He made a plan. He must attend an interview tomorrow at the police station, where he will be questioned and asked to give his version of the story. Based on this, the police will probably decide whether or not to formally charge him. He decided that he will attend the interview and if it goes badly he would take the final measure. He wrote a short letter to his wife as follows –
My dearest Susan, if you are reading this letter I am no more. I have been falsely accused of physically abusing a fifteen year old girl at the school. I promise you that I have been faithful to you and Gemma, our wonderful daughter, ever since we have been together. It is for the love of you both, that I must say goodbye, in the hope that you can see this as a declaration of my total innocence and believe in me for always. I cannot stand the thought of seeing doubts or distrust in your eyes and forever wondering if I was really guilty or not. I love you so much. Your John.
As he entered the kitchen, where Gemma and Susan were already sitting around the table, he took one look at them and knew that his decision had been correct.
The following morning John looked awful. He hadn’t slept all night, neither had Susan. Although awake next to each other, they had hardly spoken a word. Neither knew what to say except “It’ll be alright” or “I am innocent”. So they both quietly lay, going through their ‘what ifs’ until the alarm announced the start of a new day, maybe John’s last.
He entered the police station at five minutes before 9am. To his surprise, Trevor was there. He had expected social services and police only. Trevor greeted him calmly and said that the police had suggested that he attend, as it is only an information gathering interview at this stage and he would have more information regarding the situation at the school.
John was surprised to feel pleased to have him there. He needed some support from wherever it came.
They entered the meeting room together. The others were already in place. John assumed that they had been there for some time, preparing their line of questioning.
After initial introductions, PC Amanda Jones asked John to explain what, if anything, had happened between him and Emma, yesterday in the storeroom.
“Well, where to start?” he said. “Emma has recently been performing well below her usual standard over recent months. This is not unusual with girls of that age, and I had tried to discuss the situation with her, to no avail. She had become quite withdrawn too. Therefore I had no choice but to grade her results well below average for the recent exams. I know that she took that hard. Yesterday I felt quite sorry for her. She had sprained her wrist and couldn’t join the netball practice, so I asked if she could help me in the storeroom, sorting some books. She offered to remain during the morning break, in order to finish the job, during which I stayed to help her. That’s it. I have nothing else to add.”
“Are you saying that you, at no time, touched her or made sexual remarks, in any way?”
“That is correct.”
“Mr McDonald, do you have anything to say or add in regard to Emma or Mr Grosvenor’s actions recently?” asked Ms Jones.
“I can only say that I have known Emma for a number of years. In fact I have known her mother and father for much longer. We were students together at university. As far as I know the whole family has always handled themselves correctly, no…impeccably. I can’t imagine that Emma would invent such a story. It is just not like her.” He looked directly at his colleague and said,” Sorry John, but it is the case.”
The sick feeling started to return. They had all decided that he was guilty. He could already see the headlines, the shame, the disgust. He put his hand to his breast pocket and could feel the letter by his beating heart. The final action was coming quickly now. Suddenly he relaxed at the thought of knowing that he had an escape that none of them knew about. He would control his destiny, not this group of misguided do gooders. He was just about to blurt out how much he hated the lot of them and their conniving, accusing tone. How he was innocent but didn’t give a shit any longer, as they had already decided what the outcome was going to be.
At that moment, a knock came at the door.
“Please excuse me a moment, “said PC Jones.
Two minutes later she returned, with a half-smile, half frown on her face.
“Mr Grosvenor, I have someone here to see you.”
Mrs Graham and Emma nervously walked into the room.
“Emma has something to say,” said Mrs Graham.
“Sir, I never meant to…I mean I was just angry. I am so sorry.”
Then she turned to the other people in the room and said loud and clear, “Mr Grosvenor never touched me. I made it all up because I was angry with him. Mr Grosvenor has always been a caring and helpful teacher, and I only hope he can forgive me one day.”
John Grosvenor stood, tears in his eyes, and Emma ran into his arms and gave him a cuddle. He sensed that there was more to this although had no idea what. “You are already forgiven,” he replied.
John went home feeling completely wrecked. Within the last 24 hours he has been through the wringer.
He pondered over the people who had let him down. The working relationship, let alone the social relationship, with Trevor McDonald would never be the same again. The man was not his friend, as he had thought.
His wife, well who is to say how that will go. She had doubted him at a crucial time. Would things ever be quite the same again.
After he heard of the arrest of Emma’s father, and the subsequent charges, the only person who he had a better relationship with, ironically, was Emma.

Coming and Going

They told me to just pop the stick in midstream, so I did. They instructed me to lay it flatly in the stream, so I did. They told me to wait a couple of minutes, so I did.
I could have waited for my period, due in two or three days, but just as with Robert last week on our first date, I couldn’t wait. I had to know. Robert was a nice enough bloke, friendly, thoughtful, gentle, but also lacking in excitement. I really don’t know why I agreed to go to his place for a nightcap, but once there and with the cognac working inside of me, I couldn’t resist the temptation to find out what other assets Robert might have.
We made love well into the night. He really was friendly, thoughtful, gentle, but at the end of it all, still lacking in excitement. I left the following morning, leaving a very hopeful Robert Dunwoody with a peck on the forehead, knowing that I would probably never see him again. He was not the man of my ever more frequent dreams, and I left chastising myself for the lack of prudence. We hadn’t used any form of protection. How could I have been so irresponsible?
While pondering this for the umpteenth time since last week, I was suddenly brought back to the here and now by the realisation that I was staring at a plus sign. A positive. A little ‘add’ symbol. It was telling me that I would be ‘adding’ to the population. Why the hell do they call it positive? It wasn’t positive. Positive, for me, would be a big fat negative. A minus.
I wanted a bloody electron, not a sodding proton.
My first reaction was to terminate. I wanted to get rid of Plus quickly and quietly. That was until I had lunch with Rose.
We met two days after Plus came into my life. She had called me in tears. No explanation, but she needed to talk with her closest friend. I was looking forward to telling her about Plus, and asking if she would help me with the arrangements for erasing him.
We met in a quiet corner of the Nag’s Head. I was there first, sipping my favourite Campari and ice, when Rose entered, spotted me straightaway and headed directly to the table. Her eyes were puffed, swollen from her tears, which still looked as they were about to burst into full flow at any moment.
“Whatever’s the matter, Rose?”
I could hardly understand the response as it came intermittently through sobs and tissues. The gist of it was that she had been trying with Rod for millennia, to become pregnant. Finally it had happened only a month ago. She had miscarried yesterday morning.
“I just sat on the loo and it happened. No pain, just a lot of blood.”
Apparently she had gone to the hospital but after a few routine checks she was discharged with some medication to help “clear the rest”.
All I could think of was Plus. How could I break Plus to her? She needed me right now. As these thoughts raced through my mind, I was suddenly overcome with guilt. I was thinking only of myself, when my dearest friend needed me more than ever. This sudden realisation caused a surge of emotion in me and the tears began to flow. There we sat, two young women, one dying to become pregnant but losing it, the other hating the thought of becoming a mother with Plus rapidly dividing and multiplying his cells deep inside. Obviously I didn’t say a word. How could I?
Over the following weeks two things happened, or should I say, they didn’t happen.
Firstly, I didn’t tell a soul. I couldn’t. Dad was not well, with his dicky heart. Since his second heart attack it was repeated daily that we must not let him become stressed. He must rest. Of course I couldn’t bring Plus into his life.
Secondly, I didn’t have the termination. Not being able to tell anyone except Rose, who I couldn’t put through the discussion of a termination right now, I didn’t do anything. Each day, I intended to call the clinic, make an appointment and de-Plus myself as soon as possible. But I didn’t. Something in me, that I can’t explain, held me back. I had no strong religious beliefs, no views against abortion, and certainly no ‘mother’ needs. So why did I keep referring to Plus as ‘he’? Every time I thought about Plus, I imagined a baby, a real person. A boy!
The weeks passed. Plus grew. I began puking.
Mum knew almost immediately. She heard me in the bathroom. She knocked the door. I opened it. She nodded and threw her arms around me, heaving a big long sigh. “My Kate, what are we going to do with you?” she whispered. “How far gone are you?”
“Just over three months,” I replied.
“And the father?”
I looked up until our eyes met. They said it all.
Rose called again. “Can you meet me in the Nag’s for lunch?”
I was dreading another crying session. By now, at four month’s Rose would notice. What would I tell her? At least it wouldn’t be to ask her to help me get rid of Plus. Why they hell can’t I stop calling him Plus?
“Kate! Kate!” She came rushing up to me as soon as I entered the door of the lounge. “Guess what? Go on, I bet you can’t.”
One look at her smile and I relaxed. “You are pregnant.”
“How did you know? Well never mind. Yes, isn’t it wonderful? I am so happy.” She blurted it all out in one long stream of thoughts.
Now it was my turn. “Guess what”, I asked after we had ordered our drinks.
Rose looked at my face, then down at my dress and smiled until it widened into full blown laughter. “Oh my God, Kate,” she screamed, “you too?”
“Yep, as pregnant as it gets. Me and Plus have been together now for four months.”
The Plus part went over Kate’s head but the four months didn’t. “Four months? But that means you must have been pregnant when we…”
“Yes, that’s right”
“But why didn’t you tell me? I am your best friend.”
“How could I, Rose? You had just miscarried. It would have been heartless of me, especially as I intended to …” I stopped and dropped my eyes.
“Oh, Kate. You were going to have a termination. Why didn’t you?”
“I don’t really know. Time moved on. You were upset, so I felt alone. Dad is ill. And anyway, me and Plus are becoming quite used to each other,” I said, patting my small bump.
“Never mind.”
The weeks passed. Dad had to be told, which was a bit of a nightmare. At first he went through the roof. Then came the hurtful recriminations and finally the acceptance, after a couple of stiff drinks.
I stopped working at seven months. All discussions had been had a thousand times. Mum and Dad wanted me to stay with them and bring the baby home. They would help me, while I continued to work. I wanted to move out and not subject them to the hardships of a new-born baby, especially in Dad’s condition. He was only up for a few hours per day, and even then he spent it mostly dozing in the chair. He looked worn out.
I met Rose every week for lunch and we compared notes. She was over the first few months and according to the doctor, everything was looking fine. We talked more and more of our lives after the birth. How we would spend more time together and our children would be like siblings to each other. On the odd occasions when Rod was free for lunch, he joined us. It was transparent from his manner that he was not so happy with the situation, and who could blame him? We liked each other well enough, but I could see that when his baby came along he wanted to spend far more time at home with his family, and not have to share Rose with me.
The following weeks flew by. Plus was now making me waddle. I desperately wanted to meet him in person and it wasn’t to be very long before my wishes were met.
I woke up during the night in need of a drink. I tiptoed down the stairs to the kitchen and opened the door of the fridge. As I bent down and lifted a 2 litre bottle of mineral water it happened. My waters broke all over the kitchen floor.
“Oh no,” I yelped.
Mum appeared at the doorway, just as she always had when I was young. She had a sixth sense when I had a nightmare or felt ill. She would always hear me and come to my bedside.
“I’ll drive you to the hospital,” she said, “but first I must tell your Dad so that he knows where we have gone.” She touched my cheek with the palm of her hand and said very lovingly, “don’t worry my dear. Everything will be fine.”
Two minutes later I heard the thumping steps of my father coming down the stairs.
“There’s no need to get up, Dad. Mum will take me to the hospital. You can go back to bed.”
“I will Kate. I just wanted to give you a hug before you leave and tell you that we are always here for you.”
He came to me with widespread arms and gave me the sweetest hug. After some seconds, I said that we must hurry. “Dad, you need to let go,” I whispered. “I love you too.”
Dad didn’t move. He gripped me as though he was in a trance. I tugged myself free and looked into his eyes. He wasn’t there. I am not sure if I screamed or just whimpered but Mum came running across the room. She took one look at him and gently lay him on the floor.
“Stay there, Kate. We need an ambulance.”
I sat with Dad’s head in my lap, resting against my bump. He was drifting in and out of consciousness. One moment he opened his eyes and looked at my tummy. He moved his hand gently onto my baby and at that moment he gave a big kick. Dad felt it and smiled as a small tear oozed out of his eye. He knew.
When the ambulance arrived I was still sitting on the floor. My nightie was soaked and the pain of regular contractions was immense. “Just bloody wait there, Plus, and don’t be so damned impatient,” I screamed.
The paramedic gave me a strange look, took one look at Dad and went to work. Mum was bouncing between me and him, not knowing really what to do.
The paramedic said, “My name is Bob. Don’t worry. Mr. Richardson is now in good hands, but we need to get him to the hospital quickly. He is having a heart attack. Will you be alright on your own here? “, he asked looking at me and then at Mum.
Mum explained that my water had broken half an hour ago and that she was shaking so much, she wasn’t sure that she could drive me to the hospital.
So, I travelled in the ambulance with Dad, Bob and Mum in the front seat.
Despite the grave situation and regular painful contractions, I couldn’t help thinking how attractive Bob was. He was clearly very concerned about Dad’s condition, but still found time, every few minutes, to squeeze my hand and check that I was ok. I noticed that he had no wedding ring on.
Whether Bob read my thoughts or not, he smiled at me and gave me a knowing wink. I smiled back.
As soon as we arrived at the hospital things moved fast. Mum went with Dad and they were wheeled away in a hurry. I was checked in and taken to the maternity block. Before I knew it, as it all happened so quickly, I was lying in a four person ward holding my new baby boy. It was eight o’clock on a Sunday morning.
I asked the nurse if she would check what the situation with my father was. She went to find out. Some minutes later Mum came into the ward. She took one look at Plus and burst into tears. “He is so beautiful,” she murmured. The she looked at me and I could see it all.
“It’s Dad. He’s he’s .” I couldn’t say it.
Mum nodded, “yes Kate, your Dad passed two hours ago.”
The next two days dissappeared in a dream. I was switching between so many conflicting emotions. It was a mixture of immense sadness and immense happiness at the same time. My father had died as my baby was being born. It was as if I was being given a message of some kind. I promised myself that I would be as good a mother as Dad was a father. This would be the right way to honour such a wonderful man.
Later that day, two faces popped their heads around the door. Rose was like a schoolgirl, full with excitement. “Oh, sorry I couldn’t come before. We were away at Rod’s parents. How tedious. Anyway I am here now and look at who I have brought in with me.”
I instantly burst out laughing. It was so transparent that Rose assumed that the man she came in with was the father of my baby. She didn’t even doubt that the handsome guy with a bunch of red roses, asking at the reception desk for Kate Richardson, was not only the father but my secret lover.
Bob looked nervous and confused. “Should I leave,” he stuttered. “I just wanted to see how you were after seeing you the other night. I..I…am very sorry to hear about your father. There was nothing that could be done. Plus is a very beautiful baby.”
“Plus?” queried Rose.
“Never mind,” I replied.
My laughter disappeared. Rose hadn’t yet heard. I asked them to sit down on my bed, one each side, and slowly explained everything.
Bob looked uncomfortable and said that he must go, but before he left he asked me if he could call on me at home. I said that I would be very happy for him to call. We gave each other that same knowing smile that we exchanged in the ambulance. Rose spotted it too and giggled.
As soon as Bob was gone, Rose couldn’t contain herself. There were so many mixed feelings that we didn’t know where to start. Dad had passed, but we had known deep down that he would not be long in the world, due to his bad heart. I looked at Plus and couldn’t find it in myself to be terribly upset at the same time.
As the coffin was lowered into the grave it was one of those typical grey November days. I held Luke closely to me. I don’t know why, but it felt the right thing to do to bring my new baby to the graveside so that Dad could have one last look at his first grandson. Bob squeezed my hand and I looked up at his strong serious face. I had known him only ten days, but already I knew that if he would have me, I would be his forever. I looked at Mum, standing on the other side of me. She smiled and nodded approvingly. I think that I never loved her more than at that moment.

I Know Who You Are CWG Entry December 2017

It was one of those dark foggy evenings, just above the temperature necessary to turn the shallow puddles to ice, but cold enough to send a shiver down the spine and force the pale white hands deep into warm, cosy trouser pockets.
It was the 23rd of December. I had taken a bus to the end of the lane and was walking along the unlit verge between the lane and the drainage ditches, that followed wintry hawthorn hedges as far as the eyes could see, which wasn’t very far at all, due to the dense fog. I pulled my woolly hat down around my ears, covering my face from the biting cold as much as possible.
I will never fail to be irritated by those oncoming drivers, who obviously have seen me in their headlights, allowing little space as they whoosh past, still maintaining their lights on full beam, and blinding me momentarily.
I was tired, cold and in dire need of our log fire and a nice cup of tea. I had been doing the last of the Christmas shopping and was loaded with a heavy rucksack which contained some meat from my favourite butcher and two bottles of Artadi, Viña El Pisón, Rioja 2012, and a bottle of Tomatin 18 year, sherry cask, single malt whisky, along with a few last minute presents. I had ordered the wine especially for this occasion.
Forcing my hands deeper into my pockets, but enjoying the satisfying decision to take the rucksack with me, thereby allowing my hands to be free, I cursed the next set of full headlights as they approached.
It all happened so fast. One second the lights were ahead of me. I was squinting to avoid losing my night vision as much as possible. I was vaguely aware of the lights slowing down and stopping just ahead. The next second I was on the floor. I felt the tug of the straps as someone was trying to pull my rucksack away, as if in a dream, which I later learned was caused by being dazed after a sharp blow to my head. Then as my guts gave the most violent wretch, I just opened my eyes in time to see the flicker of a toe cap. That was the last I saw.
But, not realising at that moment, I had seen more than a steel toe cap of a boot. I had seen the face of its owner.
The cold tore into me like a ravenous animal, gnawing first at the extremities, then raging into the limbs and body. I had no awareness of time, and as consciousness slowly returned I coughed and spluttered, as the pain in my temples and stomach slowly came to the fore. I was drenched, lying in the soggy ditch, soaked in dirty stinking water and bloody from a gash on the side of my head. It seemed an age, crawling and scrambling to get back onto the hard tarmac. For some minutes I sat bewildered until I gradually realised my predicament. I became aware of the cold and the mile and a half distance between me and home. With an effort, which almost caused me to lose consciousness again, I slowly came back onto my feet. Nothing was broken. Thank goodness. I could walk.
My hands had been far too numb to use a key. I came to the window and remember the ironic contrast between the beautiful scene of warmth, the Christmas tree, the log fire, the wrapping paper and my own momentary world of pain and agony. All I had been able to muster was a weak tap on the lounge window. Luckily she had heard it above the sound of Jingle Bells, which was echoing from the television.
Bettina shrieked as she opened the door. I slid over the threshold, buckling down onto my knees.
I was still lying on the lounge carpet when the doctor arrived, but feeling a little better. No stiches were needed, and after a rest by the fire and some ibuprofen and antibiotics, I was able to talk to the police. They had been at our house for an hour, talking and eating mince pies with my wife, waiting for me to wake.
It was a simple interview. They asked me to explain what had happened, paying extra detail to anything I could remember of the make of the car, or identifying features of my attackers.
I truthfully told them that I had not seen the car. The glare of the headlights had temporarily blinded me, making it impossible to give any useful information. Regarding my attackers, I explained that there were two men, but even that I was not certain, as it all happened so fast. I gave them a description of my rucksack and contents and that was all. They left with a promise to look into the mugging, but had to admit there was very little to go on. We wished each other a Merry Christmas and they left.
Christmas Eve was spent making the last finishing festive preparations. Bettina was busy most of the day, purchasing again the lost items. She even managed to find a bottle of single malt, but not the favourite brand I had acquired. I kept the name of that to myself. I spent most of the day, lying on the couch, trying not to feel sorry for myself, or concentrating on the pain, that was still aching in my groin and head. The hardest pain of all though, was the knowledge of the identity of my attacker.
Every year Christmas day is spend at home. Robert and Josie, our two children, arrive during the morning with their families. They each have two of their own, and now that they have all reached early adulthood, we don’t get to see them as often as when they were small. The family gathering is so much part of our tradition at Christmas, it would be unimaginable to change it. Luckily, our son-in-law and daughter-in-law both seem to enjoy coming.
Bettina and I had agreed to play down my terrible experience of two days before. In truth, I was feeling much better and we both wanted to ensure that Christmas was not spoiled by long discussions about muggers and what should be done to them.
So, as Robert, Sarah and the two girls arrived, we put on a pleasant face and made a small joke about the cut on my brow. The swelling had subsided somewhat and a plaster covered the cut.
“I would love to see how the other fella came out,” said Robert, with a big grin on his face.
I nearly choked at those words, and found it difficult to muster a smile. If only he knew.
One great thing about being a grandfather of girls, especially when having been in the wars, is that they fuss over you even more. Emma and Louise hardly left my side, apart from placing the presents under the tree. This is another one of our family traditions. When we have finished eating, we all open our presents together, just as we did when they were small children.
Josie arrived with her husband, Bob and lovely Emily, who was home from University for the holidays, while we were already tucking into the first of the mince pies. “Hey, I hope there will be enough for us”, Josie quipped and we all greeted each other. A few jokes about being plastered and having a head as “hard as nails” later, Josh arrived. We were now complete.
Bettina was busy running around serving drinks, pastries and nibbles, while at the same time holding the fort in the kitchen.
“The mountain of presents is becoming shameful,” I joked, pointing to the huge pile of carefully wrapped and decorated parcels around the tree. “Whatever will we do when great grandchildren begin to arrive,” I said, at which point everyone looked towards Louise and Emma as the most likely sources of such offspring.
“Don’t look at me”, Emma remarked, with a happy smile.
Dinner was a strange affair, for me. For the rest of the family it was simply a normal festive get together, where everyone was happy, laughing and enjoying the togetherness of a big family gathering. But in my case, there were moments where I forgot about the robbery and got lost in the banter, and other moments where I drifted into a world of my own, becoming angry, wanting to tip the table upside down and scream. On a number of occasions Bettina squeezed my knee, to gently bring me back to the here and now. Luckily, everyone was so engrossed in pulling crackers, placing paper hats and reading the jokes to each other, that no-one else noticed my troubles.
The presents opening is always the part of Christmas that I like best. We share our presents and I am always filled with pride to see my family receiving more pleasure from what they have given, than from what they receive. It sends little, “We did a good job of bringing them up”, bells ringing in my head.
Only this year was different. The event of two days ago was eating into me. I was switching between sadness and anger. My emotions were all over the place.
We took turns in opening the presents, thanking and kissing the giver, showing our appreciation or, at least, making fun with silly banter over the more unusual ones.
Next was my turn. Josh picked up his gift for me from under the tree and handed it over with a big smile. “Merry Christmas, Grandad”.
My hands were trembling as I unwrapped the gift. I first read the small card, which read “Lots of love from Josh”. Peeling back the wrapping paper, I gradually uncovered the label on the bottle.
Viña El Pisón, Rioja 2012

My First Day At Grammar School

Presentation1I wasn’t at all nervous about my first day at Grammar school, as I had two older brothers already attending. John was in the upper sixth and a school prefect. Tom was in the fifth form. I knew that no-one would mess with me even though I would be a little sprog. I had heard from my brothers how the sprogs would be bullied and teased, especially in the opening weeks of the Autumn term.

As we entered the school main gate, walked up the long driveway, which led into the main front playground, I had never seen so many children in one place. Most were in small groups, probably sharing experiences of their summer holidays. Some of the boys were playing football and others playing a rough looking game, which I later found out to be called ‘sag’.  In future years I was to pick up many bruises from this crazy game.

John went off immediately to join the prefects and arrange the first assembly. Tom stayed with me until he spotted some friends. I stood there alone until I recognised Sue McCarthy. She had been at my junior school.  All together nine of us had passed our eleven plus and chosen Manor Park as our 1st choice grammar school.

“Hi Sue. I am glad to see you. You are the first person that I have seen that I know since I arrived. I hope the others turn up soon. “

Sue looked nervous. “Hello Jim. Do you know what we are supposed to do? I don’t know where we should go.”

“I guess they just call out names or something. Don’t worry. I will stay with you until they call us.”

And so we waited what seemed ages until the bell went and an old man in a black gown stood in the middle of the playground and called all first formers to gather round. I soon spotted the rest from Hartshill Junior School and we huddled together in our group.

The names were called and we were ordered into four lines, one for each class. I was in class 1a and luckily was with three others from my old school. Sue was one of them.

A form teacher led each line off to their classroom. Ours was a middle-aged woman with a huge backside that waddled as she walked along. She spoke in a high pitched voice as people do when they talk to babies.

“Now children. My name is Mrs White. I am your form teacher for this year. Follow me. Stay in line and don’t dawdle.”

We all marched in, chose a desk and sat down. I sat next to Sue. I had a strong feeling of needing to take care of her, a feeling that was completely new to me. Maybe this was how the knights of King Arthur felt when saving the maids in danger. I was Sue’s loyal knight.

Mrs White gave each of us an exercise book and told us to write our name, school and form on the front.

I quickly wrote James Bothwell, Manor Park Grammer School, Form 1a in my best writing.

Mrs White, as I later found out, was not only our form teacher, but also the Head Of Department for English. She walked around to check that we had all finished correctly, took one look at my book and told me to stand up.

“James. Please tell the class how one spells grammar as in Manor Park Grammar School. “

I felt my face reddening. In front of so many unknown faces my shyness took over. I glanced down at Sue. Her lips were trembling in sympathy for me. I thought that she would cry. I also glanced at her note book and realised that she had spelt grammar with an ‘a’ , whereas I had spelt it with an ‘e’.

I knew instinctively that hers was right. That was the reason that I had been singled out.  A cheeky confidence suddenly came over me. “ G R A M M A R,” I said loud and clear.

Mrs White breathed a small sigh of relief. “Thank you. Maybe next time that you write it down you will use the correct spelling.”

“Yes, Miss,” I mumbled and quickly took my seat again.

We spent the complete morning in our form rooms apart from the first assembly, which took place one hour later than normal as it was our first day.

The whole school filed into the school hall every Monday morning for prayers and special announcements. The prefects sat on the stage in their striped jackets. I remember feeling proud to see my brother on the front row and decided there and then that I wanted to be a prefect also when I reached the sixth form.

Back in the classroom we each drew up our timetables. Immediately after lunch we would go to our lessons. I was pleased to see that we had two double lessons of PE each week. I had loved football and was looking forward to begin playing rugby. English would be with Mrs White and would be taken in the form room. Other lessons required the class to split up depending on what disciplines had been chosen. German, for instance, was with Miss Scarlett. I looked forward to my German lessons. I had often helped my brothers with their German homework by testing their memory with new word lists, and had picked up quite a lot. This was one subject where I knew that I could do well.

History was with Colonel Mustard. We all chuckled at the mention of Colonel Mustard and Jack Watkins raised his hand and asked if he was a real Colonel. Mrs White said that he had fought in World War Two and was injured in the Normandy Landings in 1944. She added that the staff was very proud to have such a decorated war hero teaching at our school.

Mr Green or Reverend Green would be taking us for Religious Instruction. My brother Tom had already informed me that Reverend Green was often absent due to illness. He had picked up some strange virus or something when acting as a missionary in Africa in the 1950s. He still has recurring illness where he is bedridden for days on end.

Our music teacher would be Mrs Peacock. I had no idea what we would do in a music lesson. My family were not musical and I could play no instruments. I remember thinking “Do they just play music for the whole lesson?”

Mathematics and Physics would be with Mr Plum. Although he was not a real professor, people called him Professor Plum. When I was to meet him a couple of days later it became very clear why. He looked just like an extremely old professor and taught in his university black gown. In fact many of the older teachers taught in black gowns. Mrs White also did.

We had just over an hour for lunch. It was a beautiful September day with light white clouds scudding over a deep blue sky. Our little group of nine quickly gathered together to share the events of the morning. We had only been talking and eating our sandwiches a few minutes when along came two second year  bullies.

“What have we here? A group of little sprogs waiting for someone to share their food with.  Wow, that looks tasty,” the fatter one said, as he reached out to snatch Sue’s tuna and cucumber sandwich.

“Leave her alone,” I blurted out.

They both turned on me. I thought that I was in for a thrashing.

“Go away or I will call his brother. He’s a prefect,” Sue yelled.

Fatboy looked at me and asked if that was true.

“Yes, John Bothwell , upper sixth. And my other brother is in the fifth.”

I watched as they tried not to lose face but left as quickly as they could. We all chuckled and I made my biggest mistake of the day. As they were walking away I shouted after them, “You are just cowards. All bullies are cowards.” I would pay dearly for those remarks.

After lunch we went directly to our first proper lesson. Mine was German Language in room 32d. We had been given a room map of the school and I found it quickly. It was right next to the swimming pool in the quadrangle. I remember that it was hard to concentrate on learning when children were outside swimming.

Miss Scarlett came in and my jaw dropped open. I sat on the front row, right in front of her desk. I had never seen such a beautiful woman. She was completely different to the other older teachers. She wore a knee length dress and was slim, tall and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She asked us all to introduce ourselves and tell her any German words that we might know.

Lots of the boys knew a few such as ‘achtung’ or ‘Donner und Blitzen’ that they had read in the war comics.

When it came to my turn I blurted out far too much. I wanted to impress her and show her that I had learned a lot from my brothers. It all just came pouring out in a mad, confused rush.

“Die Decker ist Gelb, ein, zwei drei, vier, funf. Guten Tag, Guten Morgen, Ich habe Hunger….”

“Ok James, that will do. Where did you learn that from?” she asked smiling.

“My brothers,” I said. “I can count up to 100 if you like.”

“Erm..that won’t be necessary today”

I spent the rest of the lesson half listening to her and half looking at her legs. When she sat down at her desk, I was right in front of her and could see right up to her knickers. I will remember those scarlet pants for my whole life. I felt some strange feeling in my groin but had no idea what it was at that time. Now that I realise, I suppose I am lucky to know exactly the time when I first began to leave childhood behind. It was my first day at Grammar School. Miss Scarlett and her scarlet…..er where was I? Ah, yes German lessons.

Next was a double lesson of history with Colonel Mustard.

He did a similar this to Miss Scarlett, by asking each of us to introduce ourselves and give him one date from history that we knew. I gave 1066 the Battle of Hastings. I knew this because my brother, John, who was a really keen stamp collector, had told me that next month a new set of commemorative stamps comes out for 900 years since the Battle Of Hastings. He had ordered a first day cover.

Colonel Mustard was a frightening man. He was enormous and always wore his black gown. His face was lop-sided as he was shot in the cheek during the war and some of the nerves had been damaged. When he smiled, which was extremely seldom, it looked more like a vicious sneer.  We were all afraid of him.

During the very first lesson he introduced us to dictation. He would read some text, which we were to copy down in our notebooks, new ones in which, this time,  I had spelt ‘grammar’ correctly.

He began,” Early imports from the New England Colonies were dried meat, fish, lumber, furs and Heinz baked beans.”

He stopped talking and looked at us all, one by one. We were all silent. A pin drop could be heard in the room. “Who has written Heinz Baked Beans?” he thundered at us. Every child put their hands up.  “And who believes that the early colonies of America actually exported Heinz Baked Beans to England?” No-one raised a hand.

“Aha,” he said, “So you all have written something that you believe to be false. Let this be a lesson to all of you. Dictation is not only for writing, it is also for listening. If you hear something that you find unbelievable or wrong, you raise a hand and ask. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Sir,” we all replied. It was a lesson that I will never forget. Never believe everything that you read or hear.

The last lesson with Reverend Green was gentle and fitting to end the first day. He told us the story of the Good Samaritan and we then discussed it. Afterwards he told us about his time in Africa. He had travelled a lot and I remember thinking how much I was looking forward to his future lessons. Beforehand I had been dreading the subject of RI as I had imagined a repeat of my years attending Sunday school.

When the bell went at 3.30pm I walked out to the small rear gate. Tom had arranged to meet me there after school so that we could walk home together. It was nearly two miles and much better that we go together.

When I arrived at the gate Fatboy and his friend were waiting for me. They had obviously decided that they weren’t so afraid of my big brothers after all, and that they could get me on my own.

First they knocked off my cap into the mud. While I was picking it up one of them kicked me in the backside. I nearly fell over and felt the first wetness of tears welling up into my eyes. They were tears of anger though rather than fear. As I picked up my school cap I gathered also a pile of mud into it and threw it as hard as I could at the fat one. It splattered all over his white shirt and tie. He took one look at the mess I had made and then came at me. I knew that I was in for it.

As he came towards me I turned to run but a hand came out of nowhere and slapped him across the face. “If I catch you after my little brother again I’ll bloody kill you,” Tom growled. He would have scared even me.

We laughed about it on the way home. In hindsight I have never had a close relationship with Tom, but this was one of those rare moments where we were true brothers.

This was my first day at Grammar School. I survived further bullying, had some epic scraps in the playground and was sent to the headmaster on numerous occasions for the cane. I also had a fantastic time learning, playing rugby, and making some lifelong friends.  I dearly wish that some of these elements of schooling, both the good and the bad, were still present in today’s schools. There were hardships, but overall they prepared young people for a world in which one needs to survive.

Diamond Dogs

Diamond Dogs

Keep cool – Diamond Dogs rule, OK
Beware of the Diamond Dogs
(David Bowie 1974)

Jack Walsh sat quietly sipping at his gin and tonic as the golden sun dipped below the hills to the West. He studied Cecil’s expression, searching for some sign of dishonesty or insincerity, some trick to the wonderful offer he was being made. All he could see was an innocent seventeen year old sickly boy, full of enthusiasm and no trace of deceit.
Cecil Rhodes had just made him an offer of a lifetime. He wanted him to join his venture when he finalised his purchase of a claim to the De Beers mine. Head foreman was the offer and a princely sum of just under a guinea a week.
“Is there any more tonic? The blasted malaria. I’m told it works well against it.”
Cecil reached over with a jug of lukewarm tonic and re-filled his glass. Their eyes met as he sat back in the rickety wooden rocker, on the front porch. “I need a man I can trust and one who knows this damned business. You’ve been around diamonds ever since you saw Erasmus pull that one out of the Orange River five years ago. It’s in your blood Jack. ….and I trust you more than any man here.”
Jack took a long hard swig, nodding as he swallowed it down. “OK. You’re on. Let’s do it.”
So began the relationship between Jack Walsh, hardened diamond miner and Cecil Rhodes, young ambitious entrepreneur.


Jack’s main job was to maximise production and stop theft. The mine workers would come up with all sorts of amazing inventions to smuggle diamonds out of the mine. Over the years Jack had extracted diamonds from just about every possible hiding place. They were sewn into clothes, placed into their own bodies, sometimes at the cost of excruciating pain and even death. Some had tried swallowing them in order to smuggle out their dream of a rich future, only to find that the diamond had cut into their intestine or bowel, leaving them with an awful and slow death.
Yes, Jack knew all of the tricks. Even so, he often wondered how many successes there were. How many thousands of pounds worth of diamonds had been removed without a trace?
Cecil was far more relaxed about the theft. Culprits would be promptly executed. Profits were booming. “Why worry too much about a few stolen diamonds, when we are expanding at such a rate,” he would say. “Just do the best you can Jack.”
For Jack, however, it was personal. It was his job. He took it as a personal attack against his authority and was obsessive in catching thieves. He even introduced a company law that forbade any worker to leave the mining complex within three days of working the mine. The latrines were searched at the end of each working day. This task was handed out as a punishment for slackness or other minor crimes.
One evening just before dinner Jack was taking his usual evening drink out on the porch, chatting with an old friend, Robert Parsons. Robert was a travelling salesman, dealing mainly in mining tools but also someone known in those parts for his uncanny capability to acquire almost anything for a price. He had even recently managed to come up with a white marble grand piano for Cecil’s new house at a cost of one thousand two hundred guineas.
“You’re pulling my leg Bob, surely? A breed of dog that can smell a diamond? Diamonds don’t have scent. If only it were true.”
“Well, I admit that I am no expert but apparently it really is true. I have heard that they don’t smell the diamonds directly, but can pick up on the scent caused by the potential smuggler. I guess he gives of an adrenalin or nervous scent, which the dog can be trained to pick up on,” replied Bob thoughtfully.
“Do you know where I could get one of these dogs?” Jack inquired, quite excited by the idea of finally being able to stop all theft.
“It’s very easy. The best breed available for this type of work is your common-and-garden Beagle. It is a well-known hound for hunters. There are plenty around. I tell you what, next time I come by in three weeks’ time, I will bring one with me. How’s that?”
Jack became quiet, thinking about how much easier his job would be fighting the smugglers if he had such a hound. The next three weeks dragged for him.


Three weeks later as Robert Parsons walked towards him with young, but full grown Beagle on the lead, he called out “Hey Jack. Only eighteen months old but fully trained. What do you think?”
Jack waved away the two miners that he had been scalding for laziness and sent them back to their work. With a beaming smile he greeted first the dog, then his friend. “What do I call him? Does he have a name?”
“She,” he replied, grinning, “has been named Ruby. All you need to do is have the miners file past after each shift and the dog will do the rest. Trust me; I have seen her in action.”
At the end of the afternoon shift Jack stood with Ruby as, one by one, all one hundred and sixty miners slowly shuffled past. Ruby looked totally disinterested. With nose mostly to the ground she sniffed around, barely noticing that people were walking by. Jack was sorely disappointed and began to lose heart.
“Look, all it means is that nobody was trying to smuggle anything today. You should be pleased, rather than upset. Give it time. You will see.” Robert re-filled his glass with plenty of tonic water and was clearly enjoying the fun; after all, Jack had paid a good sum for the dog. “Do you believe this is good against malaria?”
“I dunno. That’s what I have heard,” Jack replied quite morosely.

The following day and the one after that was the same reaction from his young Beagle. She just didn’t seem interested. Jack was almost ready to call it a day and send the dog away. Even the miners were chuckling to themselves as they paced by after each shift. One of them even stopped to hand the dog some titbits of meat, which earned him a sharp crack on the shoulder from Jack’s stick.
It was the last evening shift on the third day that Ruby finally showed some attention. A large built Mandingo, skin oiled by sweat after a hard day’s work, casually strolled by. Ruby pricked her ears, made a gruff rumbling sound which escalated in volume until she was barking loudly and looking frantic from Jack to the miner and back again.
Jack called to the miner, “Stop. You there. Come here.”
The worker looked nervously towards Jack. He stood still for a few seconds before breaking into a full run towards the compound exit gate. Jack called him to stop or he would shoot. The Mandingo carried on. Jack raised his single shot breech-action Martini-Henry rifle slowly to his shoulder, took aim, held his breath and gently squeezed the trigger. The shot took the left knee clean off the runaway thief.
His two helpers dragged the screaming Mandingo across the dusty floor, in front of the staring line of workers. “No-one moves,” shouted Jack.
A search revealed nothing. Jack was unsure what to do next. “Why did you run?” he shouted at his sobbing victim.
“No reason Master. No reason. I just got scared. Please Master, please, I got four kids to feed Master.”
Then Jack noticed a small trickle of blood coming from behind the miner’s left ear. He walked over, took his ear in his hand and there it was, a small cut with a hard lump buried beneath. He squealed as Jack pressed with thumb and forefinger forcing a diamond as big as his finger nail out of the small opening. “Take him away,” he commanded as he turned towards Ruby. He walked over to her. She had resumed her inactive disinterest in the whole affair. “Well done girl. You have earned a steak tonight,” he whispered as he ruffled her floppy ears.
And so it went on for many months. Jack acquired three more Beagles and occasionally caught would-be smugglers. However the miners soon became wise to Jack’s Diamond Dogs and knew that it was pointless to try to steal any more. Their smuggling game was over.


By 1873 Cecil Rhodes, with his partner Charles Rudd had amassed a significant number of mines in southern Africa.
The introduction of Jack’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ had become so successful that Rhodes had noticed a marked increase in profits. In view of this he invited Jack to his home for dinner, with a proposal for further expansion of the use of his Beagles. Rudd was also present.
Rhodes offered Jack a new position, to relinquish his post of Head Foreman at the Kimberley mine and take over the role of security for the complete company. Rhodes wanted to see Jack’s dogs used across all of his mines in Africa.
Rudd, however didn’t like Jack’s crude ways. He considered him to be far too low class to be sitting at the same dining table with the likes of him and Rhodes. He was quite negative about the security proposal and made it abundantly clear that he had no time for Jack.
“Cecil, this is a complete waste of company funds. We have no evidence that the rise in profit has anything to do with these overfed stupid dogs. I say we kill the whole idea.”
Cecil Rhodes had known Jack for a long time, longer than Rudd. He was clearly irritated by Rudd’s animosity and replied,” I haven’t told you yet. My other announcement tonight is that I will be leaving for England next month to complete my studies at Oxford. I would like you to take care of everything while I am away, probably three years.”
Rhodes was far too cunning for Rudd. He knew that Rudd would be easy to convince faced with the prospect of three years and a free hand with the company. Agreeing to allow him to follow through with the ‘Diamond Dogs’ plan would be a small price for him to pay.
Rudd leaned back in his chair and smiled easily. “Ok Cecil, have it your way. Walsh can have the job with his dogs and I will look after things while you play student at Oxford. Let’s drink to it.”
Jack raised his glass and took the toast, but couldn’t shake off the feeling of uneasiness over the new changes. He felt very vulnerable with Cecil Rhodes, his friend gone and replaced by this sly fox. He would have to watch his step, he thought, as he downed his final drink before leaving.


Rhodes took a ship for England as promised the following month. Jack’s replacement was up and running in the Kimberley mine, which left him free to implement the use of his Beagles throughout the sixty-eight mines in the Kimberley area.
He had been gone only a week when he was visited by Charles Rudd. The meeting was very aggressive and resulted in Rudd directly accusing Jack of stealing, although without any proof. Jack was not someone to mince his words and threatened Rudd that if he didn’t rescind his accusations he would be sorry. Rudd laughed in Jack’s face and replied that he was lucky to have a job at all. His salary would be reduced from that day onwards by ten per cent.
Jack went back to his hut boiling over with anger. He knew that the Rudd’s of this world always had the upper hand. They were the true masters and Jack was no better in many ways than the poorly paid mineworkers.
That night he took his gin neat and was unconscious within a few hours, although not oblivious to his troubles.
During the night Jack dreamt. He dreamt of the people he had harmed, their blood, their pain and even worse their faces. He cried through his sleep and could be heard in the neighbouring huts screaming for help. In the end he quietened to a morbid melancholy and, while still asleep, his plan became clear. As he woke, before the sun had begun to rise, he felt much better and knew which direction his revenge on Charles Rudd would take.


The Beagles were introduced throughout the diamond mines. Within a few months, just before Cecil Rhodes returned earlier than expected, after only one semester at Oxford, fifty of the mines already had Diamond Dogs checking the workers. Profits were promptly showing signs of increase.
This time, however, Jack was working to a different plan. He had realised that the dogs could easily swallow small diamonds embedded in pieces of beef. He set up trusted accomplices at each mine to ensure that the dogs were ‘fed’ diamonds, which were then passed back to him when he did his weekly rounds. They were paid handsomely. Jack felt secure in the knowledge that his collaborators would be punished just as harshly as he would if they were caught. This ensured their discretion.
Within a year Jack Walsh was a rich man. He had amassed, without knowledge of his employer, over ten thousand pounds in uncut diamonds. There remained only one small part to his plan before he would leave South Africa forever.


Under the guise of a welcoming back party to Kimberley after his trip to England, Jack invited Cecil Rhodes to a festive evening at the mine. There was music and dancing. The miners were all rewarded with a few hours free time to join in the celebrations. They were allowed to bring their women and children along. Cecil was quite taken aback by the festive spirit and joined in fully, donating an extra barrel of gin to the evening. Jack had deliberately arranged the evening while Charles Rudd was away on business with the consortium of merchants.
As the evening progressed Jack began to touch on the sensitive information that he wanted to privately divulge to Rhodes.
“Mr. Rhodes, we have known each other for a very long time, and I hope, despite our different positions, that I can consider you to be a friend, a friend that I can speak to in utter confidence.”
Cecil looked at him, slightly puzzled. “Of course Jack, anything you tell me stays strictly between us. What is it?”
“I am sorry to bring this to you but I have reason to believe that your partner, Charles Rudd is guilty of diamond theft. I overheard two miners discussing how they get them to him during his occasional visits. The diamonds are collected in the tool house until there are enough for the handover. That is all I know.”
Cecil Rhodes looked incredulously at Jack. “I can’t believe this. Who are these people? I want to talk to them now.”
“I am sorry, but I couldn’t see their faces. They were talking after dark behind the latrine. My only suggestion would be for us to quietly take a look through the tool house while the party is in full swing. No-one would notice.”
Jack and Rhodes went into the tool house. It was a large dusty building, full of picks, shovels and various other mining tools.
“This is a waste of time Jack. Even if there was a stash of diamonds here, it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Cecil as he turned to walk back out.
Jack had to think quickly, too quickly. “Here, look. The soil in the floor over there is a different shade. “
He burrowed with his hands and quickly came out with a small linen bag. Opening it, he poured a small pile of diamonds into his palm.
Rhodes was aghast. “You were right Jack. I need to think about this until Rudd returns on Friday. I want no word of it to come out until I speak to Rudd. Do I have your word?”
Jack fought hard not to smile. With earnest expression he just quietly replied, “Of course Sir.”
Cecil Rhodes was a sickly fellow, young and innocent in appearance. This was one of his greatest advantages as a businessman, which enabled him to be continually underestimated by people. Jack was one of those people.
Rhodes had understood the bad relationship only too well between Rudd and Jack. It was very clear to him that Jack was trying to set up his partner as a thief. He knew that Charles Rudd was on to far too good a thing, as his partner, to risk losing it all for a few diamonds. They were to become extremely rich together during the following years.
Rhodes also knew that Jack must have gotten these diamonds from somewhere. This mystery he must solve quickly and discreetly.
One of the black miners was the grandson of a slave that had been freed by Cecil Rhodes’ great uncle back in 1823, a full ten years before the abolition. Rhodes knew that he felt a debt of gratitude and could trust him. He secretly arranged for him to spy on Jack Walsh. Over the following weeks Rhodes received the intelligence reports that Jack Walsh was smuggling out diamonds through the use of his Beagles.
A full search was promptly organised, involving the use of mounted infantrymen, as this was well before the formation of the British South African Police. Jack Walsh was found to be in possession of a large number of uncut diamonds and proven guilty of embezzlement. He was sentenced to death and executed on the evening of the 10th June 1874 as the golden sun dipped below the hills to the West.