It’s all in the mind. And it hurts!

During most of my adult life, I have suffered, to one extent or another, from depression – worse at some times than at others. As far as work is concerned, for one period of just over a year, it prevented my doing any at all. At many other times it got severely in the way. Compared with most other such sufferers however, I was in a privileged position. As a film director who wrote the vast majority of my own stuff, I exercised a large amount of control over what I did and when I did it. Had I worked in an office, it would have been a very different story. 

Quite early on in the progress of my depression, in order to try and ease the pain and distress it was causing, I set about trying to figure out where it had come from, what was its source. Surely I wasn’t born with it. And if I weren’t, then I must somehow have acquired it in the years since. I went back in my own mind – time and again – into the events of my past, particularly my childhood, as far back as I could remember, looking for clues. As for my very early childhood – that part that predates my ability to remember any of it – I spoke with relatives who were around at that time and who could recall my circumstances. In this way, I started to build up a picture. I got quite a shock. A lot of it was pretty unpleasant. Nevertheless, it seemed clear that the unpleasant stuff was what lay at the root of it and had therefore to be acknowledged and confronted.

The other thing I did, over a period of about ten years, was to jot down in a notebook I carried with me all the time, thoughts and observations about my life and about life in general. It helped. Externalizing my disturbed feelings and then noting down observations that emerged from them had the beneficial effect of starting to disconnect me from them. The realization that I was neither those feelings nor the pain they brought on gave a wonderful glimpse of freedom and well-being. Those glimpses, though extremely short, were intensely significant – and with time they grew longer. And longer. Today, although I still get the occasional attack, it will hardly ever last more than a day. And even then will seldom be enough to put me off carrying on with my normal everyday life. I can talk openly to W about my feelings and how they seem now like the distant feelings of an entity that exists no longer  – i.e. those of myself as a very young child. 

Life, as we all discover at some point, is not easy. Looking back over my notes a while back, I thought maybe they could help others. Depression, after all, is now one of the commonest and most misunderstood causes of distress and serious unhappiness in western society. Accordingly, I’ve distilled what seems to be their essence and I’m going to present them here in this blog on an occasional basis and in a form which I hope expresses them in a succinct, straightforward way. I sincerely hope they help and give reassurance to any who read them and who may themselves be struggling with the anxieties, lack of self-esteem and debilitating negativity which scarred my life for so long and may be scarring theirs.

Here is the first –


‘Why can’t things stay as they are?’ you say. Why does everything have to change?

Look out of the window. Everything everywhere is in movement. Leaves twist in the wind, birds fly, ants scurry, the grass grows, sap rises within the trees, the clouds cross the skies above our heads, the earth moves round the sun. Even the particles within the atoms which constitute the buttons of your coat and which make up the flesh on your bones, spin endlessly around each other. And you and I grow older.  Nothing is as it was even a fraction of a second ago. On a different time-scale we would see before our eyes the rivers gouge out canyons in the land, the mountains turn to dust, stars come to birth and go out. Nothing is as it was, nor as it will be. All is change: life itself is change.

Shutting the door on change, you shut the door on life.

Is that how you want it?

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The Last Burst of Summer

In this south eastern corner of the UK we’re enjoying a burst of late summer sunshine. The little park below my flat is looking really beautiful, especially in the late afternoon and early evening. The sun then is low in the sky, so it shines through the trees, sending great elongated shadows of people, dogs, and of the trees themselves out across the grass which is everywhere brown with lack of rain. People walking through these shadows pass through them like actors through spotlights on a stage, the sun lighting first one side of their face and body, then into virtual darkness they go, to emerge again into full sun on the other side of the shadow. 


All the trees and bushes are at the peak of their maturity with so many subtly different shades of green. And here and there, you can detect the tell-tale signs of the autumn on whose doorstep we stand – especially with the horse-chestnut trees. Their bright green, spherical, spiky fruits are almost ready to fall to the ground. As are their leaves, a few of which are already beginning to die back and turn brown. Not long now before they’re falling, eventually creating that thick carpet of dead leaves through which your feet swish, like through puddles, as you walk.

I have a lasting affection for autumn. It’s a time of year that makes for introspection. It’s like the world, the skies, the trees, the plants all have done what they came here to do. And now they recognize it’s time to fall back, rest, and rejuvenate. In other words – to die. For death is not the end. Sure, it’s the end of a cycle. But all things, without exception, are cyclical. And that which has gone, has gone only to come back again when the wheel has turned full circle.

We do death a sad disservice in the West. We fear it and hesitate to talk openly about it. Loved ones so often don’t die, they merely ‘pass on’. Yet death is integral to our life. Without it, there would be no life; without life there would be no death; without black no white, without white no black. And indeed, as we are born, so we begin the process of dying. That we will one day end is our one and only certainty. Or at least, that some part of us will end. For I don’t think that’s the whole story.

For most of my childhood, I lived in Bedford, a small, market town eighty kilometres or so north of London. I remember one morning when I was probably about eleven, walking on my own along by the river there – the River Ouse – and looking into its waters and thinking an odd thought. “When I die,” I thought to myself, “I really don’t care if they throw my body in the river. Because my body isn’t me.” And I walked on, feeling pleased with myself, though for reasons I wasn’t clear about!

But it seems clear to me now – I am not my body. Apart from anything else, if I were my body, would I refer to it like it’s a possession and call it ‘mine’. Hardly. There is the universal, unspoken presumption of an ‘owner’. So my body will die – that’s clear. But I can make no such assertion about the owner, the ‘I’  – who has to exist in all of us. And who is, maybe, the very same in all of us. I think if we can discover who or what that ‘I’ is we will come across a great secret – perhaps the greatest of all secrets.

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‘Albatross’ – Extract 8

Here is the eighth extract from my book ‘Albatross – the scent of honeysuckle’, published on Amazon. The link to Extract 1, for those who want to catch up is –


Al peered through the rain on the windscreen. There was a phone box some way up ahead. He put his foot on the brake.
Viki snapped at him. “What are you doing?”
“There’s a phone box.”
“So I’m stopping.”
“What for?”
“I’m going to ring them.”
“The motel.”
“They’ll trace that in five minutes! What’s the matter with you?”
He pulled towards the side of the road. “For all we know he might have been bleeding to death!”
She yanked at the wheel to redirect the front wheels away from the verge.
He removed her hand. “Get off!”
“Keep driving!” With which she shoved her right foot between his legs, kicked his foot off the brake and floored the accelerator. The Jaguar leapt forward like a cat, spun and slewed sideways across the wet road right into the path of an oncoming truck. Viki was transfixed. Al, from somewhere, found the presence of mind not to brake or to take evasive action but to continue on that track, shooting straight across the path of the truck which was aquaplaning towards them, its brakes locked, fountains of water spewing from its wheels. The Jaguar mounted the opposite verge, bounced and rocked along the sodden ground as the truck, horn blaring, hurtled past in the opposite direction drowning them in its spray.
The Jaguar came to a standstill in the entrance to a field. Al sat staring out through the windscreen, his heart pounding. The blood had gone from Viki’s face. She rocked slowly back and forth, her eyes wide. Then threw open her door and vomited into the wet grass. Slowly, she sat up again and shut the door. Wiped her mouth with a tissue, grimacing.
They sat in silence. Passing vehicles, their lights dazzling through the rain, sprayed the side of the car. Eventually Al sat forward again and started the engine. He waited for a clear road and moved out into the carriageway.
For a long time neither spoke. Then Viki said, “Sorry.”
He didn’t answer.
She said again, “I’m sorry.”
“You said.”
“You could be a little more gracious.”
“I’m not feeling gracious, Vik. You nearly killed us. And the driver of that truck.”
“OK” She shrugged. “Whether you accept my apology or not – I apologize.”
They drove on through the rain.
She said quietly, “It’s a motel, Al. There’s chambermaids. They clean up. He’ll be fine.”
“That’s shit, Viki. I don’t like shit.”
“Shouldn’t be screwing the lady client then, should you?”
“As it turns out – no.”
She flicked the vanity mirror down, took a makeup pouch from her bag.
He pointed to her torso. “What have you got in there – a swinging brick?”
“And the rest.” And then, with an obscene coquettish lilt. “Remember?” She looked in the mirror, dabbed some rouge on her still white cheeks. Then applied lipstick. She put the pouch back in her bag. “What time back in Bristol?”
“Couple of hours maybe.”
She put her face right up to her window and peered out. “Where are we?”
“The last sign said ‘Tavistock’.”
“It’s pissing so much out there I can hardly see. God, I hate the countryside.” She turned up the heating, set her seat in the recline position, and lay back. She closed her eyes. “I shall remember this day.”
The road curved through tall, dark, water-laden trees. Al turned the radio on. “Money, Money, Money”, exclaimed Abba, “In a rich man’s world.” The car warmed up. Viki’s head fell forward onto her chest.

She came to with a start. Looked anxiously around. She was on her own in the car which was stationary. The engine was running and the driver’s door open. The rain was blowing in, wetting her maps in the door pocket and her cache of chocolate bars. And there, thirty metres up ahead on the corner of a narrow lane, was Al tugging open the door of a public phone box. “Al!! Oh, Christ – no!!”
But too late. He was inside, and pulling from his pocket a notebook. He flicked through it. She bit her lip. This was going to sink them. Any second now his mouth would be moving – his stupid, silly, fucking mouth giving everything away. She slipped across into the driver’s seat. Reached into the rear, grabbed Al’s briefcase and flung it out onto the grass. She dragged the door shut, took the wheel and put her foot on the gas. The car rocked and bounced off the wet verge and onto the road then took off, weaved for a few moments from side to side before straightening out and disappearing into the rain.
Al watched through a window of the phone box, his face expressionless.

“Shit!” The heavy box slipped from Ellen’s hands and crashed down on the ledge just inside the loft. A cloud of black dust erupted, making her cough. She manoeuvred the box alongside the other three. Then, with a huge effort, heaved herself up from the ladder and sat down with them. She was badly out of breath. Her knees and the joints in her fingers hurt. Her back ached. She was not up to this. Blood was seeping through the finger of one of her gloves. She looked back down through the hatch to the landing. It was an awfully long way down. She wanted to cry.
She turned and peered into the gloom of the loft. It was a land of deep shadow, lit only by a bare bulb dangling from an umbilical cord of flex put up by Barney once, during a very short-lived spell of DIY enthusiasm. It was piled high with stuff shoved away out of sight. It extended the whole length of the house. They’d had plans for it. Double bedroom, bathroom, small study, big windows, big view to the Welsh hills. Plans going nowhere. Still in a drawer downstairs.
She got to her feet. Heaved up the nearest box, and stooping to avoid cracking her head on the low beams, staggered with it through the dusty twilight. Up here, you had to watch where you put your feet. Half the place had no proper floor. One lapse of concentration, and you could have a foot through the main bedroom ceiling. Ending up astride a medieval joist was not something she wanted to think about. With a heavy thump, she let the box down by the water tank. Three more trips like that and her knees were about to give out.
She eased her aching body down onto the floor beside the boxes. Her hair was in her eyes, the blood on her glove had spread. She went to lift the lid of the topmost box, in order to take a look inside. But changed her mind. It would have been like looking into his coffin. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the cladding of the water tank.
She didn’t hear the car that pulled up in the lane outside.

“There.” Frank Lippincote handed her a gin and tonic. “Try that.”
Ellen took a sip, nodded. “Nice. Thank you.”
He sat himself in an armchair opposite her. “You look a little discombobulated.”
“Not a nice job.” She took a substantial swig.
“What were you doing?”
“Something that had to be done.”
He pointed to the sticking plaster on her finger. “And you’ve cut yourself.”
“It’s nothing.”
He sipped his whisky. “I haven’t seen you in a while, Ellen. How are you these days – in yourself?”
“How do you think I am? These days or any days?”
He shrugged.
“I’m sorry. That was impolite.” She drank again. “I get by – on a day-to-day basis.”
“I rather thought from your letter that you were beginning to – so to speak – emerge.”
“Some days, that’s how it feels. Others – ” – she shrugged – “ – the road seems long.”
He sat forward, elbows on his knees, as though about to say more. But didn’t.
“It’s nice to see you,” she said.
He flushed slightly.
“What brings you to this neck of the woods?”
“I was on my way back from London. I thought I’d call in.”
She was touched. “That’s kind.”
“I think of you.”
“It’s good,” she said quietly, “to know someone somewhere is thinking of one.”
He sat further forward. “I often wonder about you, you know.”
She smiled.
He smiled back.
She looked down into her glass as she swirled the ice around. “How is Martha?”
For a few moments he was silent. Then sat back. “This thing takes its course.”
She picked an imaginary fleck of something out of her drink. Then finished the drink off in one and handed the empty glass to him. “Would you mind pouring me another? Please.”
He was pleased to be asked. He was intensely aware, strangely, of the sound made by the chunks of ice as they tumbled into the glass, and then of the tonic water as it splashed, fizzing and cascading over them like sea foam over rocks.
He handed the drink to her. She took it and their fingers brushed. He badly wanted to say something though he didn’t know quite what. So he didn’t, and whether or not she was aware of his touch as he had been of hers, he didn’t know that either. He sat down again, confused and anxious. He looked apprehensively at her. Then frowned. Her eyes seemed moist, as though perhaps on the brink of tears. Please don’t cry. He sat quickly forward. “Ellen look – I – er – well – ”
“I don’t know.” But then suddenly he reached out and placed a hand over one of hers. Then sat staring at her, stunned by his own action. Gently, she turned her hand up and lightly clasped his. He looked uncomprehendingly down at their two joined hands. Then suddenly took his away. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Are you?” she said, without looking at him.
He bit his lip.
“So,” she said, withdrawing her hand and arranging herself primly upright in her chair, “what were you up to in London?”
“Meeting with my accountant.”
“How intensely boring.”
He seemed not to have heard. “I could have helped you, you know.”
“Helped me?”
“You had only to ask.”
“Help me with what?”
He pointed to the ceiling. “Whatever it was you were doing up there. If you’d rung. What were you doing?”
“Burying Barney.”
He started back.
“A one-person, one-woman job. His stuff was still all over the house. Clothes, photographs. Things he would just put down and leave.” She sipped her drink. “Barney had this compulsion to expose his inner workings to public view.”
Frank shook his head very slowly, as if understanding and commiserating.
“He’d pick things up – all sorts of odd bits and pieces. And bring them home and put them out on display. On that shelf over there, there was a large red stone he picked up off a beach somewhere. Put it in his pocket and brought it home. Like a magpie.”
Frank looked down into his glass.
“And a silver dollar. Given to him by a barman in California. I even had to put up with an ancient Oxo tin in the bedroom.” She pressed a hand gently to her mouth.
“Mmmm,” said Frank, nodding sagely. “Difficult stuff, that. Very.”
A cloud crossed the sun. The shadows in the room moved and faded. They sat in silence. Frank looked out of the window.
“It was a good life, Frank. Friends with power and influence. Exotic parts of the world. Did you know – in the early days we lived in Hong Kong? Every morning I took a dip in the South China Sea. Can you imagine that?”
“Sounds idyllic, I have to say.”
“A weekend return flight to New York on Concorde – Barney saved the baggage tags. Even they were out on display on a shelf in the upstairs toilet! Why would a man throw all that away? Because either he threw it all away or he didn’t. If he didn’t, then something awful has happened to him. And if he did – then there has to be a reason. Don’t you think?”
He looked away.
“Can you think of one?”
He got up from his chair and went to the window, stood looking out.
Ellen frowned. “Frank?”
“Your garden’s going to be splendid again this summer.”
“Don’t be a boor. I asked you a question.”
Still he didn’t respond.
He turned from the window. “I’m going to have to be honest Ellen.”
“Honest?” She frowned. “What are you talking about?”
He peered down into his drink. “It’s like this – ”
Her face darkened. “Just – ” – she held up a hand to stop him where he was – “ – hold it there.”
He stopped.
“Is it another woman, Frank?”
He looked wide-eyed at her.
“Jesus fucking Christ! And it never, ever even crossed my – ”
“No. No. It’s not. I mean – I don’t know. How would – ”
“Tell me!”
“I’m trying to! How would I know? I haven’t seen him for as long as you haven’t seen him.”
She subsided a little. “Then what on earth are you talking about? What do you mean – you’re going to ‘be honest’? Have you been lying to me about something?”
“My dropping in here wasn’t completely spontaneous.”
“Ah. I see.”
“I’ve heard from Jardine.”
She froze. “And?” She watched him as he made his way slowly back to his chair and sat down. He clasped his hands round his drink. “There appears,” he said, “or – there seems to have been – another side to Barney.”
“Another side? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He’s just come back from Cornwall and – ”
“Who’s just come back from Cornwall?”
“Jardine. And – “
“What’s Cornwall got to do with anything?”
“I’m sorry Ellen – I’m trying to put this with some care.”
“Well damn the care! Just get on and tell me.”
“It seems there is – or perhaps has been – another and – a rather – perhaps troubling aspect of Barney’s personality. It may – Jardine feels – and I see what he’s saying – it may go some way towards providing us with some sort of clue as to the matter of his disappearance.”
She turned on a look of stunned disbelief.
“But he has something to say, Ellen. He has something to tell us. We need to set up a meeting with him.”
A breeze stirred the curtains, flicked gently at the pages of a magazine on the table.
Ellen got up and stood looking out the french windows.
“Facts,” said Frank. “One has, in the end, to look at the facts.”

Till the money comes through everything is on hold. All I can do is sit here and wait. I am not good at waiting. I think too much. There’s ‘thinking’ and there’s ‘thinking’. The sort I do at times like this is usually of the counterproductive variety. All London’s policemen and policewomen – and maybe Interpol as well – carry around with them at all times a photograph of me which they look at many times a day. The country’s population have an identikit picture of my face embedded in their brains. Around every corner lurks a know-all looking to grab a moment’s fame by outing the fugitive. I take a risk even looking out of this third floor window into the street.
First thing in the morning I go for a walk, usually to the nearby Queen’s Park. A half-awake face stuck to a steamed-up window of a passing bus holds its glance just a fraction longer than I deem necessary and my heart’s in my mouth. I avoid all newspapers. I have from time to time to go into shops which sell them in order to buy other things. I sidle past them, my eyes averted. And the man or woman in the shop has only to look a little quizzically at me and I’m fumbling my change in my anxiety to get to the door. As I hurry off down the road are they even now dialling 999?
I realize of course that the chances of anyone recognizing me now – or even caring for that matter – are remote. But still I live in a more or less permanent state of anxiety, especially out of doors. Despite the pleasure and the reassurance of my recent meeting with Martin, it is still me over here and the rest of the world over there. I, in my new persona, have yet to be assimilated into the great mass. I am the Alexander Selkirk of Kilburn High Road. The fact that it’s all entirely of my own doing doesn’t make it any easier. If this whole thing goes tits-up – as I heard the strange man downstairs say to someone on his mobile the other day – the whole weight of failure is on my shoulders, and I’d rather not consider the consequences.
But there is another side to it. When I look in a mirror, when I catch sight of my reflection in a shop window, I like what I see. I’m discovering a new way of being. I’m feeling free of things I didn’t know were holding me back before I was free of them. In the train on the way back from Egham, I found myself gazing at the few suited and briefcased men on that afternoon train with what I can only describe as the self-congratulatory pity of the recently converted. That, for most of my working life, had been me. I felt for them. I wanted to take them by the shoulders and shake them.
So until the money is through, I have to kick my heels here in my mean little cell beneath a railway viaduct. It’s not an easy place to be. Cooking a dinner which I eat on my own as the trains crash past overhead, borne down with their cargo of humanity on its way home to spouse and family is a telling test of my resolve. Many evenings I go out and eat in some inconspicuous little Indian or Chinese restaurant. I’ve discovered a number of them around here, all within ten minutes walk. The food is generally good and reasonably priced, the atmosphere pleasantly convivial.
I admire these people from Asia who come to make a living here. What a curious little, half-cast-adrift offshoot of Western Europe this country is. It must seem to them rather like it must have done to the Roman Legionnaires – the end of the inhabited earth, beyond which is only the cold sea and swirling mists. Some of them from little towns and tiny villages whose remoteness I can only guess at – full of wide skies and dirt roads – and here they land with a plate of food in their hands and a smile on their faces too, as often as not. My hat comes off to them – ‘Chapeau!’ as the French so nicely put it. I can’t see many English people – and I include myself in that – having the balls to go to the wilds of China or India to open an English takeaway. ‘Roast Beef to Go’? I don’t think so.
After my meal I walk home. I call it ‘home’ for want of any other word. While the rest of the world struts along on someone’s arm, I walk alone. Sometimes, from a woman passing close, I catch in the air a trace of her perfume – ‘female smells in shuttered rooms’. I am weary of my never-ending maleness.
But I must not let this take hold. Succumbing to the honey trap has been the graveyard of many a high principle. I tell myself it will be alright once I have my hands on the money. Then I can begin.

When Martin did eventually contact me with the details of Dad’s money, my first reaction was embarrassment. Then guilt. It was an obscene amount. But then, Dad had always promised as much. He’d amassed it – hoarded it – over sixty years. In the family there was only myself to whom he could leave it. Mother was dead. Dad had two nephews and a niece – my cousins – children of his two brothers. But both brothers had made at least as much money as Dad and he saw no reason to add – financially at least – to what their offspring were already set to inherit. He had no outside interests. Work had been his life. Having given, way back in the past, his lovely Jaguar to Toc H, primarily in a fit of pique, he felt that charities had had sufficient of his largesse. That left me.
After Mother’s death however, I had vowed I would never touch a penny of his money. Despite what I knew of their relationship and the roots in both their psyches of its destructiveness, still I blamed him for her alcoholism and her premature demise which, I was convinced, resulted from it. Into my middle age I was hostage to a need to perpetuate, even in her death, my default position by Mother’s side. Stockholm Syndrome. It was shamefully unjust, and it had a profound effect on Dad. It led to our alienation from each other which was to continue, on and off, for the rest of his life.
Always I had misread him. Whereas, by some sleight of hand of Mother’s I’d felt compelled to try and understand her, it never occurred to me to try understanding him. Dad, after all, was just Dad. It was like he inhabited a separate, second-class world in which little of fundamental importance ever happened.
When his end came, I was not around, and hearing of it devastated me. Only then did it hit home what he had meant to me. He had been no always-there, always-reliable pater familias. But when the road got rough, it was to Dad I turned. He was ever in the background of my mind. When the hills had crumbled and the stars had gone out, Dad – I knew – would still be standing. Probably with a glass in his hand.
I looked down into a long wooden box. His face was white. He seemed at peace. I wondered if, in his last seconds, he’d thought of me. He hadn’t had much cause to.

My new bank card turned up – eureka! I’m across the starting line. As I slid the immaculate, shiny card from its security envelope, I was almost as excited as I had been as a student when I opened my first bank account. And the sight of that name embossed on it – ‘Bernat Gyorgy Horvat-Marshal’ – gave me a jolt. Last used when I was in my mid-twenties. It was my real name; the one on my birth certificate. It was the name conferred on me by my parents for whom I felt a sudden, profound yearning. Were they still shouting at each other in some ethereal cloud palace or dungeon in hell? Good luck, both. And my love – wherever you are.
I put the precious card carefully away in my wallet. Now I could set things in motion. Buy a few more clothes and some standby shades. Maybe another hat. I’d become quite attached to the idea of me in hats. A trilby perhaps, set at an angle and pulled down low, like in those American gangster films of the ’40’s. And a new car. A new, secondhand one, that is. Small, modest. Nothing that would attract attention. But I was wary. The prospect of bartering with the trendy spivs running London’s secondhand car marts these days was not one I relished.
In fact, I so baulked at the idea that I took a chance on a little garage just a few streets away. I’d walked past it many times. It usually had some sort of vehicle for sale on its tiny forecourt. On that particular day there was a gleaming Harley-Davidson motorbike – for one crazy second it almost tempted me – alongside a little, two-door, blue Ford Sierra. Just the ticket. I descended into an oily cavern, spread with half-dismembered cars. The man who heaved himself out from beneath one of them was as old as I was. I was reassured.
He told me the Sierra was a good runner, low mileage. I trusted him. Its paintwork still shone and it seemed more or less free of dents. I paid him and drove it away feeling proud of myself. It had been accomplished entirely on my own. I found a space to park it in my road. I got out, stood back and looked at it. I liked it. It was a friendly car. One day soon, I would give it a name.
On the way back to my bedsit I discovered, deep in one of the inside pockets of that frightful zip-covered jacket (which I’d worn when I bought the car in order to avoid giving any impression of affluence) my old mobile – the one from which I’d removed the sim card in the taxi that afternoon in Wigan. I would not be needing it. I rubbed it very thoroughly with a tissue to remove any fingerprints – a nice touch, I thought – then dropped it into a skip in the road outside someone’s house.
The following morning I planned to be away. To Halifax. It’s where he began – so where I too would begin. It was Hobson’s choice anyway. Halifax was the last and only place I knew him to have existed. When I thought of it like that, my chances of success seemed ridiculously remote. Maybe I should try reading life’s runes. I’d lived long enough by intellect, rule and statute. And perhaps, on my way up north, I’d find some forgotten village well off the motorway, and post that letter.”


For those interested in buying the book, it’s available here –

And here –

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Sadness in the Little Island

In the early part of this week, W and I spent a day wandering around a nature reserve run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the county of Sussex in the south of the UK. The weather was hot, averaging around 32C in a completely cloudless sky. There was a wonderful quiet sultriness about everything. Birds stayed hidden most of the time in the trees and shrubs, out of the heat, only the occasional call giving their presence away. The members of a distant herd of highland cattle seemed virtually petrified on their feet. A flock of fifty or so grey lag geese plodded slowly, meticulously through a wetland, foraging in what remained of the mud. Butterflies of all colours flitted and danced through the air. Apart from them, the only other living things not apparently subdued by the heat were the hundreds of dragon flies – some of them huge – and damsel flies hovering and darting about with apparently undiminished energy.

The paths on the reserve twist and wander around over open meadow land and through wooded glades dappled with sunshine. Stopping at one viewpoint – a large wooden platform constructed on the slope of a wooded hill to give a view over miles of countryside – we talked with a man who was a volunteer worker on the reserve. He had worked there many years. He had at his side a gleaming modern scythe he used for cutting down thick grass and vegetation. He spoke with a quiet enthusiasm of turning up there at seven that morning when it was still cool with the mist lying all along the ground at little more than ankle-height; of the silence at that hour, of the low sun and long, slanting shadows; of the different birds he’d seen. The world is so beautiful at that time of the morning in such places. There is great order in it.

Coming back to London however, a city I love and have lived in for many years, a depressing reality is nowadays inescapable. Although London itself – and a number of other large cities, along with Scotland and Northern Ireland – voted overwhelmingly in the recent shambles known as ‘the referendum’ to remain in the EU, Britain today is Brexit Britain. That is – Britain going it alone; isolationist, xenophobic Britain; a Britain which has demonstrated to the world in a few short weeks, that its long-held reputation for decency, probity, racial tolerance and solid good sense was skin-deep.

As an indirect result of that Brexit vote, we now have a new Prime Minister. She has gathered around her, a new Cabinet. And whom do we have among her list of luminaries? Well, our new Foreign Secretary is a man spoken of by other world leaders world as a buffoon and liar; another new government minister is a man whose basic honesty, a few short years ago, was tried in two very important aspects and found severely wanting in both – to the point where he was forced to resign. Neither man would be employed by any reputable employer. To cap it all, our new Prime Minister herself stated unequivocally in parliament the other day, that she would indeed, if called on to do so, press the button to unleash a nuclear missile on another sovereign state, killing a hundred thousand or more people.

Are there others out there who, along with me, think the human race, in its present form, is seriously insane?  Two thousand odd years of Western ‘civilisation’ have taught us almost nothing. We continue to behave in a way that is criminally lacking not only in morality but in the most basic intelligence. Go back to the nature reserve. Watch the birds, the butterflies, the creatures of the field, the woods, the grasses, the clouds in the sky – learn from them. They have a timeless lesson to teach. But it seems we aren’t listening. Maybe we’re just too clever.

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Letter from a little island

Tuesday June 28 2016

Dear Europe, World,

Hello. I’ve tried to stay away from Shipwreck Brexit, but the few days since the announcement last Friday that Britain had voted to leave the European Union have been among the saddest of my adult life. That this country – or at least 52% of its voters – a country that has so boasted of  its ‘values’ – its tolerance, its championing of the underdog, its magnanimity – should have opted, when the chips went down, for xenophobia, isolationism and some sugar-coated dream of a nirvana that never was – otherwise known as ‘getting our country back’ – leaves me with a deep sadness. Already the all too predictable is happening – there were reports yesterday of a 57% rise in racist/xenophobic attacks on non-Brits in the UK, including school-age young children. What have we come to? What sort of people have been lurking in the shadows of this land?

And now – and if you can’t see the connection, then you need to open your eyes a little wider – the England football team crash out of Euro 2016 in what’s being heralded as the most ignominious of all national team defeats. The Brits, you see, at whatever level and in whatever sphere, do not take to being team players. We’re divas. If we could have stayed in Europe and ordered everybody else about and told them what to do – well, that would have been pretty nice. We could have handled that. After all, we won the war. Which one? Er – the one that ended sixty years ago. When we stood alone. And which, without the Americans, the Poles, the Gurkhas and many others from other lands, we would have lost. That war. It confers on us a sort of universal entitlement.

But now – it’s looking like the illusion, the self-deception are catching up with us. The edifice is crumbling. As one commentator in the Guardian newspaper put it, ‘England has not yet come to terms with its own irrelevance’. And in my view, until it does, it will sink further and further into the quicksand. Profound lessons need to be learned. Humility would be a good one to start with.

 Yours hopefully,


P.S. Is anyone listening?

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They’re cutting the grass!

The grass in the little park which my flat overlooks hasn’t been cut for an unusually long time. In places it must be a metre high. Very small children running through it almost disappear, and small dogs doing the same actually do disappear, detectable only by a fast moving line of waving grass. The grasses themselves look like the surface of the sea as they wave and ripple in the wind. The delicate seed pods on their extremities nod and sway. And all over the park, among the trees, edging the pathways there have appeared carpets of daisies, buttercups, things that look like buttercups but I think are probably kingcups; bright yellow flowers that look like dandelions but aren’t because the ends of their petals are more right-angled and which are often called – I believe – ‘false dandelion’ and sometimes even, ‘hairy-cat’s-ear’! And all that takes no account of the banks of clover flowers that have appeared.

Many years ago this park formed the grounds of a school for the blind, now long gone. I find it extraordinary to think that these flowers and grasses, waving in the wind today, are the direct descendants of the grasses that waved in the wind in those far-off days. The seed develops, produces its offspring which, in turn, produces seed which then, in turn etc., etc. and will probably go on doing that until the sun burns itself out.

Way back in the mists of time, I moved with my mother and step-father into a newly-built house in what was then a small town just to the west of London. It was a little estate of about forty semi-detached houses erected on what had once been a meadow, part of the grounds of a recently demolished big country house. I spent most of my teenage years there. In the mid-eighties, after the break-up of my marriage (and coincidentally, the death of my mother) I moved back into that house with my step-father.

It had a big rear garden about thirty metres long. My step-father, who also died not long after I moved there, had many years ago given up on the vegetable garden to which he’d once been so devoted, and had turned it all over to grass – which he cut every week, come hell or high water, with a hover-mower. When he too had departed this vale of tears I decided to leave at least half that grassed area to grow naturally without mowing it or cutting it back. I liked the idea of having a miniature country field in the garden. 

I was amazed and delighted to see soon appear wild flowers and waving grasses that clearly hadn’t put their heads over the parapet in over forty years. Well – I guess they would have put their heads over had they not been so assiduously mown down before their prime by my step-father. So all that time, despite the ground having once been a vegetable garden, and despite having had a concrete path laid through it, the seeds of those grasses had survived, patiently waiting until they were called on again. And now – here they were, their colours as fresh and intense as though the last time they’d appeared had been only the season before.  

The long grasses brought lots more insects. And the insects brought more birds. I had a burgeoning nature reserve on my hands. I decided to add a pond. It was roughly circular, about half a metre deep in the centre, and perhaps a couple of metres in diameter. I constructed a little waterfall, powered by a pump fed by a cable that ran from the house. It all took a few weeks to settle down, but within a month a frog had moved in. Water boatmen joined the frog. The frog must have persuaded a member of the opposite frog sex to join him/her because before long the place was awash with tadpoles. I bought a few small fish from a garden centre. One morning, soon after that, I had to chase away a heron who was perched on the bank and staring with a fixed, predatory look into the water. And for those not familiar with the UK’s Grey Heron it’s a huge, long-legged bird with a two-metre wingspan and a beak on it like an anti-tank gun. I couldn’t compete with him. When my back was turned he soon disposed of my fish.

Life is endlessly amazing. We so take it for granted. And it’s everywhere, irrepressible. Sitting in the park the other day with W, I saw, making its way across the sleeve of my jacket, some green living thing that was so tiny it was only just visible. Then it stopped for a second, changed direction and continued on. It had made a decision – let’s go the other way. Maybe it had taken a wrong turning – or simply changed its mind. I hope it arrived at wherever it was headed.

And as I write this, though it may appear like a bit of dramatic licence on my part – it’s not – out there in the park there are rumblings of machinery starting up. Looking out the window, I see two huge, petrol driven mowing machines. They’re about to cut the grass again! I hope they leave it for as long next time – then the flowers and the waving grasses will be back. And maybe that tiny green thing as well. 





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‘Albatross’ – Extract 7

Here is the seventh extract from my book ‘Albatross – the scent of honeysuckle’, recently published on Amazon. The link to Extract 1, for those who want to catch up is –


Martin and I arranged to meet by the river the following Monday. Sunday was his usual day for fishing but, as he pointed out, get good weather on a Sunday and the river and its banks would be awash with boats, people, children, ice cream vans, frisbee throwers et al. He would pick me up from the train station at a place called Egham, just a few miles from his fishing spot. Staines would have been closer but Staines was a busy place with a bustling train station. Egham on a Monday morning, he assured me, would be quiet.
I had a week to wait. I decided to use that time in closely observing my own natural behaviour. Then in modifying it where necessary in order to try and create an individual with behavioural traits unlike those of the erstwhile Barnaby Marechal. When the following Monday came, I wanted to feel that in as many ways as possible, I was Mister New Man.
Philosophically it was fascinating. If you want to obliterate the person you have been, and thereafter to be seen and accepted as whoever you now are, you have to go a long way beyond simply changing the way you dress, growing a beard, putting on a flat cap and a pair of shades. You have to give attention to the whole physical and psychological organism that amounts to ‘you’. Recognition of another human being takes place at the instantaneous coming together in the mind of the observer of an immensely subtle and complex combination of factors – physical appearance, gestures, facial expressions, mannerisms of all kinds. So if you’re going to do the job properly, all those things have to be addressed.
There was a full-length mirror by the head of the bed. I walked up and down in front of it – like Mr. Silvero in the night – studying my walk, how I held myself, how I started off, stopped, turned around. The process began to intrigue me beyond its present purpose. How often does one cast that detailed an eye on one’s own self? Not often enough, it seemed. My walk, for a start, almost embarrassed me. It was an odd walk. Slightly snatched and jerky with, even so, a bit of a loping stride. It was not attractive – but it was noticeable. In fact, it was probably one of the main features which, at a distance, would have identified me to those who knew me. It needed modifying.
I set out to study walks. I spent time in shopping malls in and around the capital, Brent Cross, The Whitgift Centre, Bluewater – moronic places, full of people armed with bags they seem determined to fill. We must have developed a great opinion of our own worth, that we lavish so much on ourselves. Or is it the opposite? Is it that deep down, we feel such a lack of worth that we’re driven to try and redress the balance by the power of our purses?
In such places I sat down, and from the foxhole of my shades, my burgeoning beard and pulled-low black cap, watched people walking. Walkers come in varieties – the shamblers, the draggers of feet, the slow and weary ones, the totterers, those who take weeny steps and those who stride, the swayers from side to side and the ones who look like they’re leaning into the wind. How few walk well. How few are aware of themselves, confident, head up, shoulders out. Once back in my room, I would train myself to be that sort of walker.
I gave time to my interpersonal mannerisms. Before the mirror, I talked to myself as to another person while, at the same time, studying my body language – my hands, my facial expressions, the crossing and uncrossing of my legs. Although happy with this in principle, still I appeared less fluid, less open, free and demonstrative than I’d supposed. I’d work on it. And I tried out a few new gestures. I quite liked the idea of lightly rubbing my chin when appearing to think hard, and of running a hand through my hair when puzzled or when laughing. (Both, I realized with something of a jolt, were common gestures of my Dad’s). I practised looking cool and relaxed when sitting. Stretching out a little, lounging, one arm perhaps half over the back of the chair.
By the following weekend I was reasonably happy with my progress. Things seemed to be falling into place.



“I do so adore this view.” Ellen stood by the french windows, a hand lightly clutching the heavy curtains. She watched the clouds scurrying before the wind, their shadows sweeping over the fields and leaping the hedgerows. “Those hills in the distance – would they be the Black Mountains?”
Frank Lippincote eased himself out of his armchair and stood by her side. “Where? Show me.”
“Those distant grey humps.”
He followed her pointing finger. “You know,” he said, “I am not as well up on the local geography as I should be. But I suspect they might well be the Black Mountains. Martha will know. We must ask her.”
“’Black Mountains’.” Ellen savoured the words as she turned from the window. “Fairy tales – spirits and hobgoblins.”
He watched her as she returned to her armchair. She was still shapely. Elegant. She moved with an unselfconscious grace. Barney had spoken of her incipient arthritis, but Frank had seen no sign of it. As she sat down again she smoothed her skirt nicely beneath her bottom. She picked up her cup from the little table at her side and took a sip.
He left the window and returned to his own chair opposite her.
Martha came in with another pot of tea. She was a short, overweight woman whose movements seemed often ill-judged and awkward.
Ellen watched her carefully. “How are you today, Martha?”
Martha braced herself, held her breath, then leaned creakily forward to put the teapot down beside the milk and a now almost empty tray of cakes. She stood up, released her breath. “Mustn’t grumble, Ellen. Mustn’t grumble.” She prepared to lower herself into her armchair by first hovering above it. “There are people with worse.” She released herself and plumped down into the mass of cushions. “Aren’t there, dear?” she said to Frank.
“As you say, Martha.”
Each sipped. Teacups chinked in saucers.
Martha pointed to the french windows. “Starting to rain. I had a feeling it would.”
Frank set his empty cup and saucer down on a low coffee table. He cleared his throat rather loudly. “So Ellen – the question on all our lips – what about this man of yours?”
“Yes Frank,” said Ellen, after a pause. “What about him?”
“Well – is there – I mean – have you or anyone heard anything more?”
Martha, peering into her teacup, said, very quietly, “Ellen might not want to talk about this, Frank.”
Ellen waved a dismissive hand. “It’s alright, Martha.” Then to Frank, “No. That Harry Jardine rang the other day. But only to clarify a detail.”
Frank sat back. “You must feel – well – actually, I don’t know how you must feel.”
“Then I’ll tell you – abandoned. Abandoned, dumped, betrayed – ” – she paused – “ – and quite angry.”
Martha shuffled around in her armchair. “I think” she said, “a little top-up on the cake situation.” She heaved herself up once again, picked up the plate on which one cake remained. She offered that one around.
The others shook their heads. Martha made her way slowly from the room, biting into the cake as she went.
The first spots of rain were running down the window. Ellen watched them catching sparkles of light.
“Ellen,” said Frank.
She turned to him.
The words he’d rehearsed failed him. Others unintended came out. “Er – it’s just that – well, you know how it is.”
“Do I? How what is?”
“What I mean is – in the circumstances – well, I feel helpless.”
Ellen said nothing. She looked again at the rain. The drops had all joined now into a single sheet of water running down the glass, distorting the countryside and the racing clouds beyond.
Frank put the tips of the fingers of both hands together, and pressed them to his lips. He rocked gently back and forth. “I hope you know where I’m coming from when I ask this – but things with you and Barney – were they, well – ?”
“Were they what?”
“As they should be? You know.”
She frowned. “I answered that in a letter.”
“Yes, you did. But – “
“Then that’s your answer.”
He retired, nursing the rebuff.
“I certainly had no reason,” she said, “to expect him to vanish off the face of the earth. If that’s what you mean.”
He cleared his throat. “So what view of it all do the police have?”
“They don’t suspect foul play. Mr Jardine seems to agree. They’re probably right. If it were an accident of some sort – or something a lot worse – you’d expect a clue. But there’s nothing. It’s like it had all been planned – no loose ends. Some taxi driver – in Wigan, of all places – thinks he might have picked up a man who might have answered Barney’s description the day after his talk in Carlisle. But apart from – ”
“What would Barney have been doing in Wigan?”
“I’m sure they’ve got that wrong. The London train from Carlisle stops there, that’s all. But it stops at other places as well. And – ”
“Was he not on his way to Ludlow though rather than to London?”
“Probably. Does it make a difference?”
“It does. In order to get to Ludlow he’d need to change at Crewe. Now, the thing is, the London train doesn’t stop at Crewe. So the police may well have been thinking that he got off at Wigan in order to change for Crewe. But on the other – ”
“Oh, Christ, Frank – I don’t know. Did he get on the train at Carlisle in the first place? They don’t even know that.”
“Did no-one drive him to the station?”
“It seems not.”
“And if you ring his mobile?”
“It’s dead.”
There came a sudden crash from the kitchen. Frank shot up, half out his chair. “Martha!”
“It’s alright, Frank! Dropped the tray. That’s all.”
He sat back again.
Ellen said, quietly, “Is it my imagination or does Martha seem not so well again?”
His face darkened. “It’s not your imagination.”
“Oh, Frank.”
“It comes back. It goes, then comes back.”
She looked down into her cup. “I do wonder sometimes what it’s all about, you know. Not that I’m thinking of doing anything about it, but I can understand people putting an end to themselves.”
“I’m afraid I’ve always avoided thinking too deeply about that sort of thing.”
“Have you never wondered?”
He shrugged. “One has a life. One has to get on with it.”
She put her cup down on the coffee table. Then sat looking at it.
Frank watched her. “A penny for them.”
She turned to him. “Did I do something to deserve this, Frank? If I did, I really don’t know what it was.”
He had never seen Ellen look vulnerable before. A wave of confusion threatened to embarrass him. “I really do so wish,” he said, “that I could help.”
“Yes. That would be nice. But you can’t.”
Martha returned from the kitchen with more cakes. Frank looked at her in a sort of puzzled despair. “We’re never going to eat all them, Martha.”
Martha hovered once again over her chair. Then dropped herself in among its cushions. “Let’s see, eh?” she said, catching her breath. “Let’s just see.”
Ellen returned to studying the rain on the windows.
Frank picked anxiously at a fingernail. Watched Ellen out of the corner of his eye.
Martha, daintily and with great care, selected a cake from the replenished pile.
The wind rattled the wisteria against the window.



Monday morning. Barney stood before the mirror. In approximately three hours time he would meet with Martin Cosgrove – the first time in over fifteen years. He was reasonably happy with the work he’d done on himself. His hair – although there was not a lot of it– was noticeably longer and just beginning to curl at the sides and back. He had not worn it this long for many years. The touch of it on the skin of his neck, straggling a little as it did in the wind, stirred memories. Its dark brown was now pleasantly streaked with grey. He liked that. It made him look almost distinguished. But be careful – the line between ‘distinguished’ and ‘conspicuous’ might be quite fine.
Hair gel was out. However he’d manipulated it, he’d looked ludicrous. His stubble had grown to where it qualified now as a short beard. He had been concerned it might contain patches of ginger. But the few ginger hairs that had appeared were hardly noticeable. Overall, it was turning out pleasantly darker than he’d expected – almost black around the chin. He would not allow it to grow beyond what he considered ‘mid-length’ – long enough to be seen as a full beard, but not so long as to attract attention. But it itched. And, to his slight distaste, was subject to dandruff.
He had not entirely come to terms with his new wardrobe. He still had to push past some psychological barrier to avoid putting on a tie. Open-neck shirts still gave him a sense of being half-dressed. And vulnerable. Like the zebras and wildebeest in David Attenborough wildlife programmes being attacked by lions who always went for the throat.
He had splashed out on a pair of Calvin Klein blue jeans. He was pleased with how they looked on him, but he couldn’t figure out why they made them so tight that he had difficulty just putting his hands in his pockets. But then maybe if they weren’t that tight, they wouldn’t look the way they did. You can never have everything.
The footwear question had, for a long time, defeated him. He’d upgraded the grotesque Wigan trainers to a pair of expensive designer ones. But still he had been unhappy. The soles were so thick and rubbery they made him feel slightly unstable. In any case he could not get past the thought that really they were little more than extortionately expensive plimsolls. In the end, he bought himself another pair of Church’s brogues. They should not, in theory, go with jeans. But to his eye they did. They looked good.
The pride of place in his new wardrobe was a black leather jacket, made in Italy and bought from a branch of M&S in one of those awful shopping malls. He had not shopped in stores like that since his early days in advertising. But the quality surprised him. The leather was beautifully supple, the cut excellent.
Thus attired, he stood before the mirror that Monday morning. His long aversion to casual modes of dress had all but disappeared. There would no doubt be those who would look on him as an aging rocker – was that the word? – attempting to recapture the unrecapturable. Let them. He looked good. And little like the Barnaby Marechal of old.
He was ready to meet Martin. Ready to start a new life.

He left the train at Egham. The only other person to get off was a young woman dragging along, either side of her, a couple of complaining children. He crossed the tracks via a metal footbridge. He watched the train below him as it pulled out of the station on its way to Weybridge. ‘Weybridge’ – didn’t George Harrison once live there? Paul McCartney? Both?
He had half an hour to kill. He left the station, and looked up and down a street of small shops. A couple of hundred metres or so further on, on the opposite side, was what looked like the gated entrance to a park. He set off towards it. The walk – watch the walk. Head up. No loping. When you imagine all around might be looking at you, it’s hard to act natural. A sudden police siren sent a brief shot of panic through him. There’d be flowers in the park. He’d go and look at them. Or watch the ducks. If ducks there were. He liked ducks. They were calming.
He came to a pedestrian crossing and stood with the knot of people waiting for the green signal to cross. He glanced covertly around to see if he could detect any dawning of recognition. They all seemed aware of little outside their own heads. The green light came on. They all crossed. Barney remained buried and unrecognized in their midst. He unwound just a little. He made his way into the park.
There were ducks. On a small lake, they paddled serenely around among reeds and water lilies. He sat down to watch them on a wooden bench dedicated, according to a brass plate in need of polish, to the memory of ‘My Dear Sister Florrie’. Their colours were iridescent in the sun. What natural poise. A small black one with a white forehead suddenly attacked – or so it seemed – another of its kind. There was a great deal of splashing, squawking, beating of wings. But only for about ten seconds. Then both of them backed off, shook themselves down and swam calmly away like nothing had happened.
He looked at his watch. Twenty minutes still to go.
What?? He shot bold upright.
“Barney!” A woman’s voice.
His heart pounding, he looked all around. A woman, probably in her forties, overweight and gasping, was half-running towards him waving her hands. Jesus! Who in hell? But wait a minute – he followed the direction of her eyes – to a diminutive white dog, yapping and scuttling furiously along the path towards a dog four times its own size.
“Barney – no!! Come back, Barney! Barney!” But Barney the dog took no notice.
Barney the man sat back and took a deep breath. His pulse rate slowed again. He chuckled to himself. A clock struck some indeterminate point between the hours. He checked his watch. Then glanced in the direction of the sound. Rising up through the jumble of buildings crowding the land on the far side of the park was a square stone tower. Squat, dark, massively built.
Barney was no man for churches. The interior of an empty church with its ancient silence, its gloom and graphic images of pain and torture stirred in him dark shadows. Their silent depths called to that depth within him where childhood demons played. Yet as a man afraid of heights is drawn inexorably to peer over the edge, so such places exerted over him an almost magnetic pull. This dark tower called to him. Like it had risen up through the surrounding buildings in order to be able to see him across their rooftops. And there he was. He got slowly to his feet, and set off towards it.

The heavy wooden door swung ponderously on ancient hinges, opening up a silent chasm. Shafts of sunlight, tiny dust motes floating in them, poured down from the high windows picking out in bright pools irregular sections of the pews and the bright colours of heraldic banners that hung out from the walls. He made his way on near silent footfalls into the centre of the empty space. One other human figure sat, half-lit, across the far side, alone and head bowed. Accusing effigies gazed down at him from walls and windows. He stood for a few seconds, then sat himself slowly down in the nearest pew. Its wood was a rich chestnut colour, polished to a lacquered shine by the rear ends of guilt-ridden generations.
He set his briefcase down by his side and composed himself. Unlike the huddled, bowed figure over there, he sat upright, back straight. Clasped his hands together on his lap and sat very, very still. He was no man for religion any more than for churches. But it seemed the thing to do.
The silence, like some entity reacting to the space he had created for it, moved closer to him. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath. It came closer still, tentatively at first, as though trying him. A sudden urge to start thinking came over him – Martin, money, his son. He pushed it away. Allowed the silence to keep coming towards him, to wrap itself around him.
It was then that he began to experience a most extraordinary sense of space – space that encompassed him, and everything out to and beyond the furthest stars. A limitless and timeless emptiness that took in all things. Asking nothing of him, and incomprehensibly benign. Tears started. But as suddenly as it had arrived, so it began to retreat. He reached out to keep hold of it – but he would as well clutch running water. Then it was gone. He was alone again. He looked up and around. Something had happened. Some thing had reached out and touched him – then slipped back among the shadows.
He stood up. The huddled figure still sat with head bowed. The shafts of sunlight came and went with the movement of clouds across the sun.

“I suppose,” said Barney, struggling to work out the geography of a camouflage-green waterproof cape, “this would have to go down as one of the more bizarre moments in my life.”
Martin Cosgrove reached out and settled it around Barney’s shoulders. “There.”
Barney’s head projected from the apex of a green tepee. He looked down at himself. “I feel,” he said, “like something that’s come up out of the river.”
Cosgrove smiled. “But you look the part.”
Barney held out a hand, palm up towards the sky. “No rain. Won’t people wonder why I’m wearing this thing?”
“Fishermen are pessimists.”
Barney looked down at their little area of river bank. Two folding chairs. Two rather flashy-looking fishing rods resting in steel supports set in the soft earth, their extremities hanging out over the water. Tins and boxes of fishing paraphernalia. “The last time I did anything like this, Martin, I must have been about ten years old. I had a stick with a piece of string tied on the end, and a hook on the end of that.” He pointed to Cosgrove’s expensive, many-pocketed fishing jacket. “We didn’t wear stuff like that.”
“This,” said Cosgrove, “is nothing. Some of them leave home on Sunday like they’re going into space. Anyway – ” – he indicated the chairs – ” – shall we make ourselves reasonably comfortable?”
They both sat. “What’s happening to people, Martin? Some of them seem to need to wear designer outfits to go for a bike ride or a run round the park.”
“One can, I’m afraid, get rather seduced.”
Barney looked out over the river. The water lapped gently at the bank by his feet. A breeze stirred the leaves in the trees above his head. “Brilliant idea, this, Martin.”
Cosgrove looked him up and down. “It’s good to see you. It’s been a long time.”
“And you. Sad to say though, I can’t tell you what all this is about. Not yet. I’m feeling a bit how a fugitive from justice must feel.”
“It suits you,” said Cosgrove.
“What – being a fugitive?”
“No, no. The beard. The different clothes. The dark glasses. Very ‘alternative’. To be honest, I never thought you fitted very well into the suit-and-tie brigade anyway.”
“Really? Interesting. I had a bloody good try though, didn’t I?”
“And your situation – what I sense of it – sounds somewhat ‘alternative’ too.” Though he smiled a chummily conspiratorial smile, his once sparkling grey eyes had dulled. He was looking old and just a bit tired. His hair, though still thick and wiry, was completely grey now, untidy and not well looked after.
“I hope,” said Barney, “that none of this is going to put you in a difficult situation – professionally.”
“Worry not. I’m retiring this year.” He took from a pocket a pack of cigarettes. Held it out to Barney. “Smoke?”
Barney shook his head.
“Wise man.” He lit up. “Not that retirement absolves me of professional responsibilities. But please don’t concern yourself with it.” He drew on his cigarette. “I’m flattered you’re prepared to put the trust in me you already have.”
“It seems I’ve got you just in time. To be honest, I was a tiny bit surprised to find you still in practice.”
Cosgrove knocked the ash from his cigarette. “I should have gone long ago. Judy wanted me to. But – well, I didn’t. Then it was too late. We’d had no children – sadly. After she died I carried on primarily to keep my mind occupied. I’m not a man for hobbies.” He indicated the spread of fishing tackle. “This apart. At which I’m little more than a dilettante, frankly.”
The unsolicited intimacy touched Barney. “I’m sorry, Martin. I didn’t know about Judy.”
Cosgrove shrugged.
“So when do you actually retire?”
“When I’ve finally accepted that I’m no longer indispensable. Probably later this year.” He sighed. “Forty-two years. That’s what it will have been then, Bernat. Forty-two years in the same building. Forty-two journeys of the earth round the sun.” He looked out across the river. “I sometimes think, you know, that we spend our lives struggling up a winding staircase in the dark, not really knowing where it leads. While outside, the sun’s shining, the grass grows. Birds sing.”
Barney looked at him in surprise.
Then, with an expression on his face as though his own sudden flight of whimsy had reactivated some dormant impishness, he leaned across to Barney. “Good luck!” He stage-whispered it, as though he feared the trees had ears.
“Pardon?” said Barney, taken aback.
“Bloody good luck to you. Whatever madcap thing you’re up to Bernat. I wish I had your courage.” The old sparkle was, briefly, back in his eyes.
“Or my foolhardiness.”
“Whichever. What the hell.”
“So,” said Barney, sitting back, “how long is this money going to take?”
“Not long. I’ll make sure.”
“No-one must know. Not anybody, ever.”
“They won’t.” He smiled.
“I’m sorry. I forget. You’re well used to keeping the family secrets.”
“I’ve kept yours a long time.”
“I have egg on my face though Martin, don’t I? I swore on my life I would never touch his money.”
“What you actually said to him in a letter was that if, in spite of your expressed wishes, he still went ahead and left it to you, you’d give it all to Greenpeace or Save The Whale.”
Barney chuckled. “You have a good memory.”
“I’m a lawyer. I salt away useful snippets.”
“So.” Barney sat forward, elbows on his knees. “Once it’s released, when can I get my hands on it?”
Cosgrove took from a pocket a little battered tin, on its front a faded picture of John Bull. Unhurriedly he removed the lid, took the remainder of the cigarette from his lips, and stubbed it out in the tin. Then replaced the lid and put the tin on the ground at his feet. “You’ll have it as soon as I can get it transferred to the new account. Which will be in the name of Bernat Gyorgy Horvat-Marshal. And which will be with an internet bank, such as – ”
“Internet? Martin, I know nothing about the damned internet!”
“You don’t need to. At least, not very much. That way, everything’s done online. It’s quite anonymous. You get your money out of holes-in-the-wall as normal.”
“What about cheque books, paying-in books, direct debits, that sort of – ?”
“You don’t need a cheque book. They’re on the way out anyway. Anything else you want, order it online. You do everything online – standing orders, money transfers – everything”
Barney took a deep breath. “I guess I can send an email. Look up a web page.”
“You’ll manage.”
“But where, how do I access the internet in the first place? I can’t sit in one of those internet cafés. Somebody’s going to see me and – ”
“The phone I gave you. The screen’s a bit small, but you can get on the internet with it. Once the money’s released, obviously it’s up to you how you manage it. But I warn you, there’s an embarrassing amount of it.”
“I might need an embarrassing amount.”
Cosgrove waited for the elaboration he felt might be imminent. But Barney turned away, looked across the river, over the meadows that stretched away on the far side towards the village of Laleham. He sat staring into space. Then came round again, and pointed suddenly to the little tin on the ground at Cosgrove’s feet. “Why,” he asked, “do you put your cigarette butts in there?”
“Er – well, just dropping them on the ground here doesn’t really seem the thing to do. And I don’t throw them in the river. What would a mouthful of tobacco do to a trout?”
Barney laughed, looked curiously at him. “How long have you been on your own now?”
“Five years. Why?”
“Have you never thought of – well – you know – ?”
“Someone else?”
Barney nodded.
He shrugged. “Look at me. Who’d want me? Anyway – ” – he cleared his throat rather loudly – “ – talking of women – what’s your wife’s financial situation likely to be at the moment?”
Barney took a second or two to gather himself. “OK. Ellen has family money of her own. And there’s still a fair amount in the joint account. There are bonds in her name. The London flat’s in her name. She’s at liberty to dispose of any of that if and when she wants.”
“And I suppose,” said Cosgrove, smiling amiably, “if you’re still AWOL in seven years’ time you’ll be presumed to have departed this life and she can sell the Ludlow house as well.” His smiled faded. “You are sure Bernat, are you, that this is what you want to do?”
“’Want’ isn’t in it. I really have no choice. I’m sorry to be so MI5 about it, but that’s all I can say at the moment.”
The conversation lapsed. Cosgrove tweaked his fishing lines. Barney looked at the people on a small pleasure boat sliding gently past. Its bow wave rustled the reeds near his feet. A woman passenger in a wide straw hat was looking at him. He returned the look. She turned quickly away. He smiled to himself. “Out of interest,” he said, turning to Cosgrove, “suppose, I’d never come to you. What then?”
“I always assumed that one day you would. Despite what you’d said.”
“But suppose I hadn’t. Suppose I’d died, for example, and the money was still in trust. What then?”
“If, twenty-five years on from the setting up of the trust, you as beneficiary, had still not been located or had been located but had continued to reject the terms of the trust, then it was to be dissolved.”
“And the money?”
“The money plus its accrued interest was to be transferred to the account of an orphanage in Hungary.”
“Excuse me?”
Cosgrove looked expressionlessly back at him.
“Martin? An orphanage?”
“In a town whose name I can’t possibly pronounce, but spelled – ‘M-a-t-e-s-z-a-l-k-a’. Not all that far from the border with Romania, I believe.”
“An orphanage?”
“I know nothing about it Bernat, or about the town, or what connection it had or did not have with your father or his family, or your mother or her family.”
Barney ran a hand through his hair. “My mother,” he said, very quietly, “was born there.”
“In the orphanage?”
“No. Not in the orphanage. In that town somewhere – I don’t know where. I’ve never been there. None of this was ever spoken about. Not in front of me, anyway. I’m stunned.”
Cosgrove’s eyes narrowed. “Your mother’s Jewish parents were her natural parents I suppose?”
“God, Martin – don’t.”
“It might be worth following up, old boy.”
“I haven’t the space in my head.”
Cosgrove reached into a large bag by his side. He took out a Thermos flask and two plastic cups. He unscrewed the cap and poured. “I do apologize if you prefer your coffee black, but living on my own, I’ve rather got into the sloppy habit of adding milk before I put it in the flask.” He handed the cup to Barney, who sipped tentatively at the rim of the cup. He looked around at the boats, the river, the waving reeds, the trees. “How often,” he asked, “do you do this?”
Cosgrove stretched his legs. “Not often enough.”
Barney sat back. Listened to the birds, to the ripples as the river murmured quietly to the bank. Some little yellow flowers in the grass by his feet were brilliant in the sun.

Martin ran me back to Egham train station. On the way, we drove past a school. Young children, released for the day, ran across the playground like chaff before the wind. Mothers and one or two fathers waiting for them at the gates in order to shepherd them home. I didn’t do that. I could have done.


For those interested in buying the book, it’s available here –

And here –

And if anyone reading this knows the wonderful La Bruschetta in Crystal Palace, London SE19 – I left a free copy in there.

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