STRANGER

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STRANGER by Chris Green

Each time I go to Carwydden Cove, the ragamuffin stranger is there, lurking in the shadows. Major Tom, my salt and pepper schnauzer sometimes barks excitedly as we approach. He has a habit of running up to strangers to introduce himself, so I throw a stick to distract him. Something about the spectral figure suggests that he wants to be alone and I am intruding on his space. At first, I found his baleful presence intimidating but I have come round to the thinking that there must be an innocent explanation for his being on this remote stretch of beach every evening.

If he were a fugitive from justice or a paedophile, he would surely have been caught by now. Besides, if he were the latter, this would hardly be the place to come. Few children venture down to this rough shingle. Carwydden is primarily a dog beach. Perhaps he is an erstwhile mariner or a solitary poet. Whichever, he is so well camouflaged that if you were here for the first time, you would not notice him. He seems to be able to find shadow where there is none.

If I found the stranger particularly disturbing, I could easily take Major Tom for a walk up the other side of the cove. But, since my retirement, I have become a creature of habit. In fact, if I’m honest, I like to walk this way because Amy and I used to come here when we were courting. The Spring of 1961, it would have been when we met. We were sixteen. Spurs were top of the league. If I put my mind to it, I can still name the entire first team. Wooden Heart was at number one on the pop charts. Amy was a member of the Elvis Presley fan club. I took her to see Flaming Star at the Gaumont, or was it Blue Hawaii? I was more of a Cliff fan myself. The Young Ones and Summer Holiday. They were great tunes. Anyway, one time when I had my short back and sides at Reg Cropper’s, I had gotten something for the weekend and we fumbled about behind a clump of rocks. Yuri Gagarin was in space at the time I remember. Ever since then, I’ve felt an attachment to this beach. Amy, bless her heart, died three years ago from complications after a routine procedure. I was inconsolable. That’s when I got Major Tom to keep me company, what with the children grown up and long gone. But I always think of Amy when I walk this way.

I drop news of my sightings casually into my daily conversations around the village. Mrs Nancarrow in the Post Office says she sometimes goes to the beach with her pastels but has never seen him. Nor has Spike at the garage where I have the Kia serviced. Barbara from the Age UK shop, who knows everything that goes on around the area, hasn’t heard anything. My neighbours Breok and Merryn have not seen him, and my other neighbours Jack and Vera suffer from an intermittent deafness and often do not understand what I am saying. Mushtaq in the general store where I buy Major Tom’s James Wellbeloved says he hasn’t got time to go to the beach since Nasim started working at The Eden Project. No-one seems to have caught sight of my man of mystery but me. I wonder if P. C. Trescothick might know something, but after the incident with Major Tom and the sheep, I do not like to draw attention to myself.

I keep an eye on the local newspaper. I start going to the library in the nearby town to look at back copies. I remember the days when I used to take Adam and Alice there after work on a Monday when the library was open late to give Amy a break. I recall we did this for several years in our kermit-green Deux Cheveaux. I would take the opportunity look at the local paper while they were choosing their Roald Dahl or Stig of the Dump. There never seemed much to report in those days. It was a quiet backwater.

The South West Examiner today describes a different world. A serial killer who has preyed on female cab drivers has been apprehended. There is controversy over a Dial a Drink scheme being introduced where alcohol can be delivered to your door 24 hours a day. There is a story about a dancing goat that you can hire for parties and another about a woman who crashed her car while teaching her dog to drive. There are reports of chilling attacks on pensioners and a piece about nightclubs and bars being issued with cocaine-torches, that door staff can shine into clubbers faces. Microscopic particles of the drug glow green. Clubbers? The only club there used to be around here was the United Services Club. Perhaps, to boost its readership, the paper now concentrates too heavily on sensationalist stories. My friend, Mark Friday tells me some of the news might even be fake, probably most of it. He says that they lift their stories from internet sites. Whether or not this is the case, there are no reports of a furtive interloper living on a shingle beach in my neck of the woods.

Outside the library, I bump into Chas.

‘Well, fuck me on a Friday, Frank! Good to see you, mate. It’s got to be a year or two,’ he says. Chas is tilting a little. I imagine he is no longer on the wagon.

I agree it has been a long time. In fact, I haven’t seen Chas since Amy’s funeral.

He quickly confirms my suspicions about the drinking.

I’ll tell you what old mate,’ he says. ‘Come and have a beer with Lenny and me later. We’ve started going to The Francis Drake.’

The Francis Drake?’ I say. ‘You can’t be serious.’

The Francis Drake as I remember it is a bit select. Amy and I had had our silver wedding celebration there. Silver Service. Thirty pounds a head back then. Adam was going through his punk phase at the time and came in his bondage gear with his orange hair and full regalia of safety pins, embarrassing us all. It would have been hard at the time to predict that he would become a science teacher in Cumbria. Pillar of the community, married with two children and a Ford Focus. Alice’s career path has been a tad unusual. After passing her City and Guilds in the unlikely subject of Dog Grooming, she opened a Dog Spa in the Cotswolds with her friend Terry. Terry, I should add, is female. Probably no grandchildren there. I suppose my main regret is with the family so far-flung, the only time I see them is at Christmas. It can get lonely with just your own company all day long. Alice suggests I join a dating agency but I tell her I’m too long in the tooth for all of that.

Chas’s voice brings me out of my reverie.

All the other pubs around here have been turned in bistros, Frankie,’ he says. ‘You know, posh nosh for the grockles.’

But The Francis Drake is the most exclusive of all the places around here,’ I protest, looking him up and down. ‘Surely they wouldn’t let you in your tatters.’

You don’t get out a lot, Frank, do you?’ he says. The Francis Drake went into a downward spiral in the nineties. Fortune Inns, you might remember, went bust. It was empty for yonks. No one wanted it. Till The Flynns took it. Doesn’t do food any more. Well, you can get scotch eggs and crisps. Cheapest beer around here though. ….. All the holiday people go to The Buccaneer or The Jolly Slaver for their t-bone steaks or salmon in white wine sauce.’

Whole new world, isn’t it, Chas?’ I say. ‘Seems determined to leave us behind. Remember Rose Trevillick? I’ve just read in the paper that she has been fined for feeding the ducks in the park. What is going on?’

Chas does not remember Rose. Or the park.

Lenny’s doing well,’ he says. ‘He’ll be really pleased to see you. Keeps talking about the time the two of you took the boat out around the headland that really bad winter.’

Although they are both a little younger than me, I have known Lenny and Chas for over twenty years. The three of us worked shifts together at the china clay factory. Worked might be seen as a euphemism in Chas’s case. He spent most of the time at the factory avoiding it. There is no getting away from it, Chas has always been a rogue. A fabulist too. When you first meet him, you might listen to his stories with rapt attention. Junior billiards champion of the South West. A trial for Plymouth Argyle FC. Original guitarist with the Manic Street Preachers and he had a fling with Kate Bush. To look at Chas, all eighteen stone of him and not an inch over five foot five, you would have to say that this seemed unlikely. After a while, you would take anything Chas said with a pinch of salt.

Lenny, on the other hand, has always been someone on whose word you could rely. He is perhaps impressionable but, unlike Chas, he is as honest as the day is long. If, for instance, Lenny were to tell me the stranger on the beach was Lord Lampton, the peer who in the mid-eighties murdered his wife and then disappeared then I would be looking out for the droves of newspaper hacks who would be on their way. The thing is, Lenny is quite likely to come up with a story like this. Lenny’s hobby is investigating unsolved local mysteries.

Seated outside The Francis Drake, I settle Major Tom down with a pork pie and a bowl of Guinness, and Chas, Lenny and I begin to catch up. Chas tells me that he is back in the music business managing a Kinks tribute band called The Kunts – with a K. He says they are fantastic musicians and the singer looks just like Ray Davies.

Only a question of time before they make it,’ he says.

You don’t think maybe the name might be a problem,’ I say. ‘I mean, the punk era was 30 years ago.’

Not at all mate,’ Chas says. ‘The name’s awesome.’

But they will be on the tribute band circuit, won’t they?’ I say. ‘There’s a kind of respectability involved when you book a band at the local community hall.’

You know what, Frank?’ he says. ‘You worry too much.’

Chas tells me he has not had a proper job since he was laid off at the china clay factory. He signs on at two different addresses, does cash in hand felt-roofing, and sells knock-off goods and pirated DVDs at car boots. I recollect Ted at the butchers telling me he bought a box of DVDs at a car boot and that he wasn’t able to play them. Chas is so indiscreet. He spends the next ten minutes reeling of a catalogue of scams that he has been engaged in. He has no scruples. No wonder Irene divorced him.

His mobile rings. Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. This gives Lenny the opportunity to tell me about a missing person mystery he has been working on. Ricky Geist, the Cornish actor who he says was on the verge of a career in Hollywood disappeared without trace nearly twenty years ago.

You probably don’t even remember him, do you?’ Lenny says.

I tell Lenny I have a vague recollection of someone with a name like Ricky Geist in a series called Shooting Script or something similar.

That’s the one,’ Lenny says, apparently thrilled that I can remember. ‘Ricky played Matt Black in Shooting Script. And he was in You Never Can Tell on the BBC. Not the main character admittedly but the feeling was that his star was in the ascendant. Then, just when Hollywood was considering sending its scouts over to sign him up, he disappeared. To this day, Ricky has never been found.’

I see,’ I say. I begin to wonder….. What if? Surely it couldn’t be him. Could it? I decide to hear Lenny out before interrupting.

But, over the last few months, I’ve heard there have been one or two sightings of him here in the south-west,’ he continues. ‘It’s all a little vague but who knows, perhaps it is just a question of triangulating the locations of the sightings and anticipating his next move.’

Does Chas know?’ I ask.

No. I haven’t told Chas,’ Lenny says. ‘You know what he’s like. He would ridicule the idea.’

Chas returns from his phone call, grinning all over his face.

Sorry guys,’ he says. ‘I’ve got to love you and leave you. I’ve got a date tomorrow. Better have an early night. ……… Oh, go on then! I suppose there’s time for another pint.’

For the rest of the evening, Chas regales us with a treasury of apocryphal tales. There is no chance now to tell Lenny about the mystery man on the beach so I arrange to see him the next day.

Not being used to drinking so much, I have just about recovered and taken Major Tom for a quick walk along the river bank when Lenny calls round late the following afternoon. We both blame the excess on Chas.

He’s always been that way,’ Lenny says. ‘Difficult to have just a pint or two when Chas’s around.’

Hardly likely to change now, is he?’ I say. ‘What’s this band he was talking about?’

There is no band,’ Lenny says. ‘He was just winding you up.’

What about his date then?’ I say.

Well, he seems to be seeing her today,’ Lenny says. ‘At least that’s what he says. But you can never be sure with Chas.’

Another Kate Bush perhaps?’

Lives in a fantasy world, doesn’t he?’

Always has, always will.’

Swift half?’

Why not? Hair of the dog.’

We stop off at The Francis Drake. The bar is empty. Errol, the landlord explains how he bought the place for a song, put on tap a good selection of strong ales and farmers’ cider and within a few weeks business was booming, but lately, the pub has been going down the pan. Errol blames it variously on the unnecessary restrictions on the strength of beers and ciders, the recent road closures and Brexit.

Chas Filcher is probably my best customer,’ he says. ‘And he’s seeing this new woman today, he tells me.’

Not going to bring her in here, is he?’ Lenny says.

No. I don’t believe he will,’ Errol says. ‘He said he was taking her to the races.’

Lenny and I take our beers outside and I begin to explain about the stranger on the shore. I can sense his excitement growing.

And you reckon this down-and-out might be Ricky?’ Lenny says.

I couldn’t say for sure,’ I tell him. ‘But judging by what you’ve been telling me, I think there’s a good chance it could be him.’

Well. What are we waiting for?’ he says. ‘Let’s go before someone else discovers him.’

We get into the Lenny’s Hyundai and head towards Carwydden. It is a good mile and a half from the car park down to the beach and as we make our way over the rugged terrain, Lenny chatters excitedly about his successes. His investigations have helped to locate half a dozen missing persons now and is proud of his achievements. He says it has given him a new lease of life. For once, he feels valued.

We arrive at the spot where I would normally find the stranger lurking in the shadows. I am about to point him out when I discover to my dismay, he is not there. He is nowhere to be seen. This sends me into a spin. I do my best to reassure Lenny that he will be around somewhere. We spend the next half hour scouring the shingle beach and surveying the nearby cliff paths but there is no trace of him. Not a single thing to suggest he has ever been there. I feel a burning sense of embarrassment having brought Lenny all the way out here. My apologies along with my insistence that he was here forty eight hours ago land like a lead balloon. Lenny tells me it doesn’t matter but his disappointment is palpable. As we stroll back to the car, he says with what I feel is an air of forced cheeriness, a chuckle even, that he will carry on looking for Ricky Geist. But, I get the impression he no longer requires my help to do so.

Tabloid tendencies have apparently taken over at the South West Examiner. The paper has taken to populating its pages with mindless trivia at the expense of major news. Readers are often left in the dark about important issues. The editorial staff, if indeed there are any, seem slow to pick up on big stories even when they occur close to home.

So, it’s not until a couple of days later that I discover that Lord Lampton’s battered body has been found on a nearby beach. Police are working with witness statements, the article says and are expected to make an arrest soon. I barely have chance to digest the news before the police come knocking at the door. It isn’t P. C. Trescothick and his new lad either. This pair are not from around here. They look as if they might mean business. I find to my horror they are here to arrest me for Lord Lampton’s murder.

Detective Sergeant Blunt, the tall one with the tattoos, reads me my rights.

I protest my innocence. They are quick to counter this. They tell me they have irrefutable evidence.

Witnesses from all over the village say you’ve been asking them questions about the stranger down on Carwydden beachBlunt says. ‘Mrs Nancarrow says you’ve asked her many times if she knew who the stranger was.’

Except he wasn’t a stranger, was he?’ Blunt’s colleague with the facial scar says. I did not catch this one’s name but he certainly looks like a bruiser.

I was looking for Ricky Geist,’ I say. ‘We thought the stranger on the beach might have been him.’

Would that be the same Ricky Geist who has just won a BAFTA for the acclaimed Channel 4 drama, Disappeared Without Trace?’ Facial Scar says.

What?’ I say.

Don’t you read the papers?’ he says. ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role for Disappeared Without Trace.’

Lenny, who I have always trusted implicitly wouldn’t play a prank like that on me, would he? How would even have known that I knew nothing about Ricky Geist and why did I pretend that I did? What could he gain from the deception? Unless ….

Let’s get back to the murder investigation,’ Blunt says. ‘Spike Mulligan from Trewethin’s Garage tells us you offered him money to do the deed. He says he should have come and told us at the time what you were planning but he was worried he might get detained because he had a record.

I am flabbergasted. I’ve known these people for years. Why are they incriminating me?

And your neighbours, the Duckworths tell us you kept going to Carwydden Cove looking for him,’ Blunt continues. ‘With someone called Tom.’

Major Tom,’ I say. ‘Major Tom is my dog.’

Yes, that would explain it, ‘ Blunt says. ‘Jack and Vera weren’t very clear about exactly who Tom was.

Errol and Wendy Flynn from The Francis Drake say that they heard you in their bar talking to Lenny Nice about your murder plans,’ Facial Scar says. ‘Lenny tells us that you’ve been talking about it for weeks. And we have CCTV of you doing a reccy on the area with Lenny. Lenny says you made him drive you out there at gunpoint.

Lenny, probably the most honest man in Cornwall. Lenny, my long-term partner representing The King Billy in darts tournaments. Lenny, who I saved from drowning on that trip around the headland years ago. Something is not right here. Lenny is the last person you would expect to be a backstabber. What in Heaven’s name is going on?

But, Lenny has an alibi,’ Blunt says. ‘He was with Chas Filcher at the time it happened. He says he was with him all weekend. They were fishing.

That can’t be right,’ I say. ‘Have you spoken to Chas? What does Chas say?’

Chas confirms they were fishing,Facial Scar says. ‘He also says that he doesn’t know you.’

Chas and Lenny both doing the dirty on me is not something I could imagine possible. I’ve known the pair of them for twenty years. Then, there are all the other people from the village, who have pointed the finger. People whose houses I have visited, people who have called around for drinks at Christmas, people I have chatted to in the pub. But mostly, Chas and Lenny. With friends like these, as the saying goes. ……….

Now that we’ve got all that cleared up, it’s a ride down-town in the back of the car for you,’ Blunt says. ‘As you won’t be getting bail, wed better drop the dog off at the RSPCA.’

One of the worst things about getting old is that you need lots of naps. I must have dropped off reading the Examiner. It’s here on my lap open at the story about dangerous sinkholes. Thankfully, there doesn’t appear to be anything in the paper about a body found on the beach. It might be an idea though to pop down to Carwydden later with Major Tom to make sure. Perhaps Lenny might like to come. I’d better call him to make sure he hasn’t got the hump with me. To my great relief, the Examiner has nothing about Lord Lampton or the police, just the usual rubbish about celebrity indiscretions and a story on transgender bus drivers. Fake news most of it, my friend, Mark Friday says. I don’t know where that horrible dream came from. Perhaps it was those new tablets Dr Chegwyn put me on for my arthritis.

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

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Harmonica Drive

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Harmonica Drive by Chris Green

Sandwich Man walks past our house at five to six every evening, just before the end of Pointless on television. He passes on his way home from the listening centre where he works. From the back entrance of the base, Cheltenham Close offers a short cut to Tambourine Way and Harmonica Drive for those leaving the centre on foot. Sally and I can tell what kind of day Sandwich Man has had by the way he walks. If he has had a good day then there is a spring in his step as he passes our front window. He will smile as he gazes across at our Japanese cherry tree. His head will be up and he will be humming an Eastern European national anthem or perhaps mouthing the chorus of a sea shanty. He will be wearing a smart blue anorak and gripping his Tupperware sandwich box. This is of course how he got his soubriquet.

But if he has had a bad day then he walks with a limp. He will not be smiling. His brow will be furrowed. His shoulders will be hunched. His grey hair will be tousled. He will be in shirtsleeves and carry just an empty water bottle. This probably means he forgot to pack sandwiches for his lunch. He will be starving after working a seven-hour shift at the spy base. He will be anxious to get home to put his stroganoff in the microwave. He is after all not a young man and must feel the cold especially if it is raining and he did not take his anorak or an umbrella to work that morning. Perhaps the weather was fine earlier and the rain only came on later in the day.

Every now and then Sandwich Man is late and Sally and I begin to worry about him. The minutes tick by. Is he perhaps unwell? Have his migraines started up again? Has he been attacked leaving the base? If he hasn’t walked past by the end of Eggheads, at 6:30 then we go over to the window or open the front door to look out for him. He might be lying in the street after a targeted assault by an enemy agent. After all, he works in a very sensitive area. He is a code breaker and, according to Rhonda at number 48 his real name is Jakob Olev. It is mainly out of habit Sally and I continue to call him Sandwich Man.

Jakob has a friend at the base called Peter. Rhonda doesn’t know Peter’s surname, nor have we come up with a suitable moniker for him yet. Peter lives next door to Sandwich Man in Harmonica Drive, which is through the pedestrian alley from Cheltenham Close and a couple of streets away. We accidentally followed them home one evening a year or so ago, when we still had the dog for protection and found that Sandwich Man lives at number 18 and Peter at number 19. We don’t go out so much since Murphy was put down. There’s no need really now that you can order all your shopping online.

Sometimes Sandwich Man waits for Peter so that they can walk home together. Peter works in a different department, Telephone Surveillance, European section, according to Eddie at number 52. Now and then he is delayed. He has to stay behind to finish logging phonecalls from the German Chancellor to her crystal reader in Dusseldorf, or text messages from the Italian premier to his paramours. Eddie used to work at the base and he tells us there is a lot of cross referencing to be done when it comes to high profile cases. Perhaps when this happens Peter ought to tell his friend to go ahead without him.

We do not believe that Peter takes sandwiches to work. He is perhaps ten years younger than Sandwich Man and only just starting to go grey around the temples. Sally thinks that Peter probably gets by on chocolate bars and cake. He has a chocolate bars and cake kind of build. Maybe he has a high energy drink, a can or two of Red Bull or Iron Bru at lunchtime.

Sandwich Man is not normally late going home on Friday. Sally thinks Friday is his goulash night. Whether or not he has remembered to take his sandwiches that day, he likes to get back in good time to enjoy his succulent Sainsbury’s goulash. It makes a nice change from stroganoff. Stroganoff can be so boring when you have it day after day. Some Fridays we see him breaking into a trot as he makes his way towards the alley. You can almost sense his mouth watering in anticipation of his treat.

But, this Friday Eggheads finishes and there is no sign of him. Peter slinks past our window on the opposite side of the road and casts a furtive glance at the cherry tree, but still there is no sign of Sandwich Man. I switch the television off. Sally and I begin to speculate as to what might have happened. Might he have been electrocuted by the new high voltage cabling they have installed at the base? Has he been caught by the grandees passing information to the other side, whoever that is? Whistle blowing, I believe it is called. Sally wonders if perhaps he didn’t heat yesterday’s stroganoff through properly and has E Coli or Salmonella.

‘You have to be so careful with microwave meals,’ she says.

We go outside and look anxiously up and down the street. We notice that Drew Carlson who lives at number 42 is polishing his new Nissan. I’m not sure that he has actually taken it out for a spin yet. You would think that he would be out driving in the hills or something on a nice evening like this, but perhaps now that he is retired he too likes to stay put, as we do. Of course, he has his hobbies. Flags are the big one. It is hard not to spot that Drew has a new flag flying on the pole in his front garden. It is quite an unusual flag, blue white and green, with a hat in the centre of the white horizontal.

‘I bet you don’t know what this one is,’ he says smugly, as we approach. This is a game he likes to play. Last month we had Comoros and Chad. Drew seems to have a penchant for African flags lately. We all refer to him simply as Flagman.

‘Mozambique?’ Sally says. ‘No, no! Wait! I know. it’s Lesotho.’ Sally does know her flags. She has a book on vexillology.

Flagman looks crestfallen. ‘How did you know that?’ he says. He does not know that Sally has a book on vexillology. She bought it to help with questions on Pointless.

‘I don’t suppose you’ve seen Sandwich Man,’ I say.

‘I was going to ask you the same,’ he says. ‘It’s not like him to be late on a Friday.’

‘Perhaps Sally and I should go round to his house to see if he’s there,’ I say. ‘There’s nothing much on television until Only Connect.’

‘Good idea,’ says Flagman. ‘I would join you put I’d like to finish waxing the car first.’

Sally and I look at each other. We are a little apprehensive about the idea but we agree to go ahead without him. We make our way cautiously through the alley. It is more overgrown than we remember it. In fact, it is a veritable jungle. Tambourine Way looks distinctly unfamiliar. Admittedly we have no reason to come this way so we do not know the area very well. There are no obvious landmarks. There are no cars on the street. After a while, Tambourine Way leads on to Harmonica Drive. This is even more desolate. There are rows of houses, but they look abandoned. A deathly hush prevails. I don’t recall it looking this way the time we followed Sandwich Man and Peter home. Now I think of it, I do not now remember following Sandwich Man and Peter home, but I do not say anything to Sally. She might make another comment about the early onset of Alzheimer’s.

I see what appears to be a Sainsbury’s van in the distance. Outside number 18 Harmonica Drive, probably. I draw some comfort from this. I imagine that it must be Sandwich Man’s home delivery of stroganoffs and goulashes and cheese and ham and sandwich fillers with maybe a case or two of energy drinks in case Peter drops round. Perhaps Sandwich Man has been waiting in for the delivery all day, which would explain why he hasn’t been to work.

‘Are you sure that we are going the right way,’ says Sally. She can’t have spotted the Sainsbury’s delivery van.

‘I think so,’ I say. ‘But I could be wrong.’

‘There are no houses,’ she says. ‘Where are all the houses?’

It is true. What I took to be houses are ramshackle farm buildings. The closer we get I can’t help but notice that the Sainsbury’s van is not a Sainsbury’s van ….. but a bear, a big brown bear.

Sally has a book on bears. ‘This one,’ she says, ‘is not the cuddly type.’

This is not the news that I want to hear. Does it also explain what has happened to Sandwich Man? No wonder Flagman didn’t want to come. It’s a dangerous world once you get out of Cheltenham Close. Unpredictable and hostile. Admittedly, we do not get out much, but we had no idea that this was such a wild area. How could Sandwich Man possibly live in an environment like this?

We are about to run, well in our case possibly not run, but the bear doesn’t seem to be interested in us. It steals off to investigate a bandicoot in the undergrowth. A bandicoot? Sally confirms that it is, in fact, a bandicoot. She has a book on Antipodean marsupials. They are always coming up on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

Perhaps we should be getting used to surprises but the train hurtling towards us comes as a bit of a shock. We never realised there was a railway so close by. And this one isn’t a Thomas the Tank Engine or one of those light rail metro trains, this is a big blue freight train pulling a long line of those trucks that carry volatile liquids. There was a question about them on In It To Win It a week or so ago. Are they called tank cars or something? Whatever, the train is getting closer and although we are not on the railway track, it is scaring the hell out of me. At my age, I don’t tend to swear a lot. It is something that I’ve grown out of but here I make an exception.

‘Let’s get the fuck back to Cheltenham Close,’ I shout.

Sally is with me on this one. I’ve never heard her swear before but she does so now.

Turning around, we find to our horror that the landscape has changed again. We are now faced with barren, featureless scrubland, giving us little indication of which way we should go. But we have just come this way. It wasn’t like this. Nor was it like this the time we came with Murphy. This can’t be Harmonica Drive. Surely. In fact, this can’t be happening. These things do not happen in our world. We just watch the quizzes and give answers when we are able. Something must have happened to rupture the space-time continuum.

We are not given chance to take stock of our queer situation. A crack of thunder like the end of the world rocks the heavens. A frightening figure in catholic robes appears to be opening up the sky. Is that a hand reaching down? It can’t be that time already. We have some time left don’t we? I do believe we are actually running now, in defiance of our arthritic limbs. Literally running for our lives.

With an immense effort of will, we retrace our steps through the changing terrain of the hinterland, and back through the freshly clipped privet of the alley leading to Cheltenham Close. Flagman is still polishing his car. He waves. We do not want to have to explain to him what we have been through. We would not know where to begin. We dive into the house to avoid him. I switch on the TV. Only Connect is about to start.

‘I do hope that Sandwich Man comes by on time on Monday,’ says Sally, pouring the gin. ‘And things get back to normal.’

‘Me too,’ I say, holding out my glass. ‘I don’t think I could go through that again.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

Tara’s World

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Tara’s World by Chris Green

Tara was finding it difficult to remember things. Friends of hers, in their fifties and sixties, suggested that her memory was unlikely to get any better. As you grew older those peripheral places where the past was stored were harder to find, they said. They told her how they constantly forgot important dates and events and often asked for the same information over and over. Increasingly they needed to rely on the internet and other memory aids to remind them of things they thought they knew.

‘A diary is essential,’ said Naomi, who was 58. ‘How else would I know where I have been, or who I have seen?’ Tara did not see Naomi as someone who led a particularly chaotic life. Taking the dog to the vet was a bit of an outing.

‘You can use a diary to express your feelings,’ said Emily, who was 61. ‘You can really let off steam when you put your mind to it, and I find this helps a lot.’ Married, as Emily was, to Colin, Tara could see that she might sometimes need this outlet.

‘A’ve kept a diary since Ah was a wee lassie. an’ noo a’ve got no-ain tae gab tae at nicht, Ah fin’ mah diary’s a stoatin comfort,’ said Fiona, who was 64 and recently widowed. Murdo had died last year as a result of a hunting accident in the Highlands, or was it a rare blood disease.

Tara, who was still only 48, began to put aside five or ten minutes each night before she went to sleep to record the day’s events and to put down her thoughts. She became quite disciplined about this ritual. She quickly found that writing a diary simplified her life. No matter how late she went to bed, she would put pen to paper.

Memory is a fickle apparatus, its performance imprecise and unpredictable. Tara could remember some things from long ago clear as a bell and she was able to reconstruct large sections of her life around a particular episode from way back, but when she tried to remember what happened last week or earlier that day, she drew a complete blank. Sometimes the reverse was true. This was particularly frustrating. She would lie awake at night trying to piece together what happened in the Summer of 1984 or the Spring of 1997. Or what she had done in the months between splitting up with Hugh and meeting Grant. She would get so far and then draw a blank. She could feel a pulsing ache from the feverish activity taking place in far reaches of the hippocampus as the fruitless search for information progressed. As well as gaps in her recollections, Tara was also faced with the bewilderment brought on by false memory. Where did random rogue recollections come from? There appeared to be no way of checking the accuracy of her account of anything that happened long ago. She wished that she had started keeping a diary sooner.

It was June 6th, a Friday. Tara had had quite a full-on day. It had started well with the news that Alice and Alex were going to make her a grandmother, but had gone downhill with the shunt in the Lexus at lunchtime, and got worse when she found out her car insurance had lapsed. Why hadn’t she had a reminder? Perhaps she had had a reminder. Why hadn’t she put the renewal date in her diary? The office in the afternoon had been a nightmare. Her computer picked up a virus and the photocopier broke. Dinner with Denzel at the Dog and Duck had been a disaster. Denzel drank far too much and had embarrassed her in front of clients. The phonecall from Phil at eleven asking her to work in the morning was all she needed.

To put down her reflections on the day, she took out her diary, which she kept in a drawer in her bedside cabinet. To her almighty astonishment, she found that the page for June 6th had already been filled in – in her neat handwriting, as had the pages for June 7th, June 8th and June 9th, in fact, every day up until July 5th. She read the day’s entry in horror. It gave an accurate description of her day, complete with an up to date appraisal on how she was feeling towards Denzel. Those were the exact words she had used, when he had asked her to run him home.

Charlotte, Tara’s friend from the amateur swimming club, was not pleased to get the call. She had been in the throes of passion with her new man, Piers, at the time, and had only answered on the premise that any call after midnight must be important. It was a few minutes before she put Tara’s call into this category, but Tara had been a friend for years and she could tell that she was distraught. Pleas for her to calm down only brought on another outburst.

‘What does it say for tomorrow?’ Charlotte asked finally. ‘I mean today.’

Tara read out the diary entry for June 7th.

‘Simple! Don’t go to work in the morning, then the diary entry will be proved wrong,’ said Charlotte.

‘I think I do have to go to work. Important deadlines, and all that. June as you know is always a busy time at East Asian Travel.’

‘Then you must make sure that you do not go to town in the afternoon and then the rest cannot happen,’ Charlotte said. ‘You don’t have to buy the surrealist painting of the naked saxophone player with the New York skyline by the unknown Spanish artist.’

‘I suppose not, but it’s one of a pair along with a blind trumpet player looking out to sea that I’ve already got. The pictures are quite amazing.’

‘Tara!’

‘OK. You’re right, Charlotte. I won’t go, and I won’t buy the agave plant from Treehugger Nurseries. I won’t even pick up the Lexus from the panel beaters.’

‘And you don’t really need to get a wetsuit from Albatros Diving, do you? So that’s your diary day cancelled out.’

After a night of tossing and turning, and a dream about drowning in a rip tide off the Bay of Biscay, Tara made it into work. Her in-tray reflected the busyness of the summer season. She was faced with a long list of people to phone about their travel plans, and hundreds of tickets and letters to be sent out. Why couldn’t East Asian Travel operate over the Internet like everyone else?

Phil, normally so aloof, was being exceptionally helpful and had even brought in some cakes.

‘I’ll give you a lift in to pick up your car, my sweet,’ he said, putting his arm around her shoulder. Was he flirting with her? No, it turned out. He was just softening her up to work Sunday. She did not find this out until after they had picked up the wetsuit. bought the painting, been to the garden centre and she had helped choose a birthday present for Phil’s wife.

If Tara had remembered her diary entry for the day, depending on viewpoint, she would have seen that she was going into work, or according to what was written, had been in to work, on the Sunday. She would also have anticipated, or recalled, Denzel’s unwelcome call in the afternoon. And what was she doing at Frankie and Benny’s with Toni? She never went out on a Sunday evening and she hated pizza.

Following this, Tara decided to read the entries carefully for the whole period that was filled out. She tried to commit the events of each day to memory. But, over the next few days, no matter how hard she tried to contradict her proscribed schedule, circumstance conspired against her and she ended up doing exactly what was written in her journal. Even the most unlikely episodes took place. How could you predict that a TV celebrity was going to die in a balloon accident? And what were the chances of meeting your primary school teacher who you hadn’t seen for forty years in the traffic free area outside Monsoon?

‘I can’t see what the problem is,’ said Naomi. ‘It takes the hard work out of keeping a diary if it’s already filled in.’ Naomi hated surprises and liked everything to be just so.

‘It makes it seem like fate,’ said Emily. ‘I met a clairvoyant the other day. She does readings over the phone. Colin says its a load of old crap but I believe things happen for a reason.’ In Emily’s world, everything from tarot to tea cup readings could help to simplify life’s great mysteries.

Fiona was more sympathetic. ‘Ah can ken wa yoo’re scared. ,’ she said. ‘Ah woods be terrified. quantum leaps ur somethin’ ye expect tae bide in science fection where they belang.’

Much of Tara’s diary-week was predictable, inasmuch as it consisted of things she usually did, like go swimming after work on Tuesday, or go to her evening art class on Wednesday. She did not know why she put it down. About half of what she wrote was meaningless. Did it matter that she had cooked a casserole or had an erotic dream? Or that the cat had been in a fight or the parlour maple was flowering. After all, it flowered every June at about this time. Because it was written in the diary, she made a special effort not to call Eric, the cooker repair man in to replace the faulty oven fan, but he called round anyway on the off-chance that she might need a domestic appliance repair done. However, some of what she had apparently written for the week was unusual. She had the same dream that she had recorded in the diary of her travelling, as a man, on a bus in Barcelona, listening to The Cinematic Orchestra on a music player with oversized headphones, while the Christmas dinner was cooking. She was looking out for the railway station where she had to catch the 5:25 train to take her back to the place where she caught the bus. She calculated she would just about make it on time. The family, not her family but a family put together from unconnected people remembered from childhood, were waiting in the Las Ramblas apartment and when she arrived back the pheasant roast would be ready to serve. Not the kind of dream you would expect to have twice.

The Mariachi band marching past her house playing Bésame Mucho every morning was a bit random too, and the dead owl on the doormat definitely unexpected. And what were the chances of finding yourself in a lift with the author, Frank Biro? For the whole week, the mundane and the exceptional matched exactly what was recorded in the diary. It seemed her free will was gradually being broken. By Friday, she was in panic mode.

‘Confusion of this nature is commonly caused by overwork,’ said Dr. Chandrasekar, the young locum who was filling in for her regular GP, Dr. Sadness. ‘What is your job?’

Tara told him she was in the travel business.

‘Ah!’ he said. ‘This is one of the worst jobs for work related stress and anxiety. And of course, it’s worse in the summer months, am I right?’

Tara thought that perhaps he was stating the obvious, but agreed.

‘Do you drink alcohol regularly?’ he asked. ‘Alcohol as you probably know can make one delusional.’

Tara confessed that she had popped an extra bottle or two into the supermarket trolley in the past few days, to help cope with the trauma, but as a rule, she didn’t overindulge.

‘How many units a week on average would you say?’

There was a time for honesty, but this wasn’t it, she felt. ‘About eight or nine,’ she said.

‘No recreational drug use, I take it.’

‘Absolutely none, not for many years.’

‘I think what I’ll do is write you out a prescription for some tablets. Now you take six a day and in a few days, I think you should start to feel less anxious.’

‘Risperdal!’ said Charlotte. ‘He gave you Risperdal! That’s what they give to people with schizophrenia. Six a day! Definitely not, Tara.’ She listed the side effects. They included hypersalivation, insomnia, mood disorders and suicidal tendencies.

‘So what do you suggest?’ said Tara.

‘I’ve started seeing a Sand Tray therapist,’ said Charlotte.

‘What on earth?’

‘She gets me to alter the positions of miniature objects which represent people and events. She says that will help me make the same changes in real life.’

‘And has it helped?’

‘Well its early days, but I do enjoy playing in the sandpit.’

Tara went instead to Aurora, a non-directive psychotherapist she found in Circles of Light. Sessions consisted of Aurora listening to a free-flowing narrative of Tara’s inner world while she clicked a set of coral worry beads.

‘I am in a large institution, a sort of self-contained metropolis, and I am being initiated into an elaborate catalogue of rules and regulations and procedures that apply there,’ said Tara. ‘Leader issues me with instructions for classes I have to attend. When I have finished one, he tells me I have to attend the next one which will start at 10pm and then the next one at midnight and then one at 2am and so on. I accidentally miss one and am reprimanded. He tells me I will have to go to extra classes as a result. The procedures are very rigorous. I have to walk this way or that way along corridors and up staircases by following arrows. I have to take particular colour coded emblems that I have been issued with along to each class. It has to be the correct colour, and I do not know how to choose. No one has told me and I keep making mistakes. I have to keep a record of my progress. In my small room, I spend hours filling out a spreadsheet, which in turn makes me late for my next class. Other people I meet seem to accept the regime as normal.

‘And how do you feel about it?’ asked Aurora.

”I feel trapped of course, as if I am imprisoned. I want to get out,’ said Tara.

‘Go on,’ said Aurora.

‘I am walking through one of the large covered spaces and I see a sturdy figure swimming with powerful strokes through a central channel, helped by the flow of a fast flowing stream. I try to point this out to one of the acolytes and he says there is no stream, it is a gravel path. I mention it to Leader, and he is pleased that I have told him. It means that someone is trying to escape and now he will be able to stop them. As a result, my status within the institution seems to change. I no longer have to go to classes. I am now in a massive glass atrium. I am sitting on the grass along with some others, eating doughnuts, with a texture like styrofoam. The atmosphere here seems much more relaxed. I notice there are tall glass sliding doors at the front of the atrium. I see people on the outside going about their daily life. They appear sketchy, like figures in an architect’s drawing. Someone in a harlequin suit says to me that it is an illusion, fate has no outside. You are always inside. I do not want to believe him, and I make for the doors, which slide open, but close just as I am about to reach them. I try this several times but there is no way out….. Then I wake up.’

‘I will see you again next Tuesday,’ said Aurora. ‘We can talk more about it then.’

Phil felt Tara might be able to distract herself by working longer hours while Denzel suggested she ought to stop being so selfish and think about others for a change. Tara wondered if it might not be better to just go with the flow and see what happened. After all, according to the diary nothing fatal was about to happen before July 5th. She decided that she would not deliberately try to follow what was written, but neither would she try and avoid it.

This scheme worked well for a few days. Everything went according to plan. What was written in her diary and what happened each day continued to match, but on Thursday she noticed an anomaly. She had gone to see True Story at The Plaza and not Never Lose Focus at the Savoy. When she looked through the diary entry again, the original entry had changed, which would mean that in her absence the diary was rewriting itself. It had changed, hadn’t it? Tara could not be sure of anything anymore. Her memory, even over a few days, or hours, was not to be relied upon. This was the reason she had started writing her diary in the first place.

The cheque from the insurance company didn’t arrive on Friday and she didn’t win the ebay auction for the Gaggia Espresso machine. It seemed that her real life and the diary account were getting out of sync. When she checked later, however, there was no record of the cheque or the coffee machine on the page for Friday. She was certain there had been. And it was not the hottest day of the year on the Saturday as reported; in fact, it was cold wet and windy. On checking, she found this entry too had changed. On Monday she noticed that there had been an omission in the diary account. Surely she would have recorded something as important as winning tickets for Ladies Singles Final Day at Wimbledon.

‘You’re not really sure, are you?’ said Naomi. ‘I told you this would happen to you.’

‘ Join the club! I can’t remember what happened yesterday,’ said Emily.

‘It’s an early sign ay Alzheimers,’ said Fiona. ‘Age creeps up oan ye, ye ken.’

‘You’ll have to start making copies of your diary,’ said Naomi.

‘I don’t think Colin approves but I know someone who does remote viewing,’ said Emily.

‘Ye coods keep th’ diary oan line,’ said Fiona. ‘An’ save it tae google clood.’

On Monday evening, Tara scanned the remaining the remaining eighteen completed pages on to her PC. She felt pleased with her resolution and that night slept without the usual apnoea or bad dreams. The next morning before work, when she checked, she found that the diary had an updated entry ‘scanned the remaining eighteen completed pages of the diary’. Her meticulous script (the rounded s, the well-formed c, the curls on the a, the lazy elongated n) was unmistakable. The scanned version, to her alarm, also had the same entry. Summer it might have been, but Tara felt a January chill run through her. She was spooked.

Her apprehension was about to get worse. Tara had not given much consideration to why the diary entries finished on July 5th. When one possible explanation did occur to her, it hit her like a bombshell. It came as the result of a dream in which she was driving fast towards a level crossing. It was a crossing that she was familiar with, in fact, she drove through it most days. Without the warning of the red flashing lights, the gates ahead of her closed. Realising the stopping distance at the speed she was travelling would not bring her to a halt, she tried to turn away from the crossing into a road to the right, but the car’s steering was not functioning, and when she tried to apply the brakes, she found the vehicle only had bicycle brakes. The car pushed through the gates and came to a halt in the middle of the tracks. Large black steam locomotives pulling freight headed towards her from both directions. They were approaching at breakneck speed. She had no time to get out of their path. She was going to die. On waking, it occurred to her that the out of control car signified that she had no control over her life. This was perhaps why her diary finished on July 5th. There being no record of July 6th, she was overtaken by a powerful foreboding was going to die the following day.

She examined the diary once more. The dream was now recorded in detail in both the diary and the scanned document. She unplugged the scanner and took it up to the attic. She shut down the computer. Files could not be updated and no new files could be created if it was not switched on. She turned her attention to the diary. She contemplated destroying it. She decided that this might not be the best solution, but from now on she would keep it with her at all times. She read each page again carefully, looking for clues. There was no mention of a degenerative illness or a scenario that would put her life in peril anywhere. She paid particular interest to the page for Thursday, July 5th. What was written here now became of great importance to her. She felt she had to avoid the sequence of events on this day at all costs.

For the next two weeks she did not let the diary out of her sight except when she was asleep, and then, although it was uncomfortable, she had it strapped to her waist under her nightdress. Except for a few omissions and oversights her day to day experience and the account in the diary matched each other. The same things happened at work and she went to the same activities that the diary said she would. The Mariachi band now played El Jarabe Tapatio each morning and she had lunch at the new Albanian restaurant that no-one had heard of. She even had the same unexpected phonecall from Denzel in the middle of the night. While the synchronicity was still spooky, she was relieved that nothing untoward seemed to now be happening. She appeared to have established an equilibrium. She was even wondering whether she now had to avoid the events of July 5th.

On Friday, July 4th in the early evening, Tara was taking a shower after a hot sticky day at the office. Before stepping into the shower, she had left the diary face down on the top of the laundry basket, but when she stepped out, it was gone. There had been a few seconds that she had her eyes closed while she rinsed her hair, but no one could have got into the bathroom and taken it. The door was bolted and she had not even drawn the shower curtain. Caught between panic and desperation, she emptied the linen basket and threw discarded clothes and bath towels this way and that, but there was no sign of the diary, and yes, the door was still locked. She was absolutely certain that she had put the diary face down on the top of the basket, hadn’t she? Once she had given up the search and composed herself, she booted up the PC to check the diary files. These too had disappeared.

That night, in her brief spell of sleep, she dreamt that she was on holiday in a foggy former Eastern bloc country. It was the last day of her holiday and her flight was due to leave in two hours. She had not packed, and her belongings were scattered everywhere. They had a charred look about them as if they had been in a fire. She could not remember who she was with. Her travelling companion’s identity kept changing. Alice was with her now and she produced a large shiny old fashioned black pram with lots of chrome fitments. She wanted to take it on the plane. Tara wondered how such a large item would fit into the luggage. It did not look as if it would fold away. Next, she was driving to an old church, which had recently been restored. Suddenly the sun visor in front of her dropped down. Somehow, it covered the whole of the windscreen. She could not see where she was going. She could not take her foot off the accelerator. She could hear the loud hum of the traffic ahead. She realised she was heading towards a busy main road. She woke with the sheets bathed in sweat.

Despite her shattered mental state, she made it into work. To her surprise, the day started well with the news that Alice was, in fact, expecting twins, but went downhill with a knock in the Audi at lunchtime, and got worse when she found she had not transferred her insurance from the previous vehicle. The office in the afternoon was a nightmare. Her computer monitor showed the blue screen of death and the fax machine broke. Her dinner date with Danny at Denny’s Diner was a disaster. Danny did not drink, and after a bottle of wine, Tara ended up embarrassing herself with her outpouring of emotion. The phonecall from Phil at eleven, telling her that East Asian Travel was to cease trading and that she was out of a job, was all she needed.

Before remembering that it had disappeared, she instinctively reached into the drawer of her bedside cabinet for her diary to record the events of the day. But, there the diary was, in the usual place beside the night creams and lotions. She opened it up where it was bookmarked, only to find blank pages. Why, she wondered, had she not written in it for nearly a month.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Slow

slow2

Slow by Chris Green

I am sitting in my comfy high-backed chair with a nice milky cup of tea and a plate of Waitrose custard creams. I don’t always shop at Waitrose because it is a bit expensive, and anyway, Goodbuy is nearer, but I like to get a few nice things when I can. Molly is nestling against my leg, purring gently. I’ve given her her dinner. Gourmet cod and haddock, she likes, and her saucer of milk. Molly is black and white, in case you were wondering. We are settled for the evening now and we are listening to the snooker on the radio.

Clive Whisper and Dennis O’Donnell are commentating. Dennis’s voice has such a gentle Irish lilt. Like warm buttered toast, it is. You can almost hear the cows in the fields. Dennis is fond of gardening, my magazine says. He has a nice house in Hampshire with a big garden with a shrubbery and herbaceous borders.

My Albert used to like gardening. He would spend hours in his shed sometimes on a warm spring evening looking at his magazines and getting his seeds ready for planting. He knew what to do to make things grow. That’s where Jonathan gets his green fingers from I suppose.

‘Dave’s taking a little time lining up this pink. It must be a good two minutes now, Clive since he potted the last red. ‘

‘He’s having the white cleaned, Dennis. Only a few inches between cue ball and object ball but he doesn’t want to get a ‘kick’. ….. He’s having the pink cleaned. ….. He wants to make sure of the pot. Nothing’s straightforward at this stage.’

‘He’s getting the referee to clean the blue now, Clive. Surely he’s not going to go for the blue.’

‘No, Dennis. I think he is just making sure the blue is clean if he cannons on to it after he has potted the pink. ….. Meticulously chalking the tip of his cue. He’s down for the shot. Pink to bottom right. Gently moving the cue back and forward. Perfect concentration. He does not want to miss this and let his opponent back in. A little right-hand side on the cue ball.’

Someone in the audience is rustling a sweet wrapper, Clive. Earlier we had someone in the audience coughing and now this. This is disgraceful behaviour.’

‘Yes Dennis. Dave’s been distracted. He’s up from the shot. …. Walking round the table again now. ……..’

I thought Jonathon might phone. He can’t be that busy with his aquilegias, or is it pelargoniums that he grows. The Chelsea Flower Show’s not on for another couple of weeks. He knows I look forward to his phonecalls, hearing all the gossip, and news of how the extension is coming along. It doesn’t take much to just pick up the phone. ….. I know I shouldn’t say it but sometimes I wish I’d had a daughter. Mable’s Debbie phones her every night, on the dot at twenty to seven, so that she still has time to put the kettle on in time for Emmerdale.

‘It’s all about concentration, here in these championships. Dave’s having a sip of water now to calm things down …. He’s walking round the table again to have another look at the remaining balls from all the angles.’

Choice of shot, very important these days, Clive.’

‘He’s getting down to cue, what a classic cueing action Dave has, Dennis.’

‘Yes perfect cueing action, Clive. Head down, very straight back, straight backward movement of the cue, fourteen or fifteen little stabs at the ball to line it up. …. ‘

Oh dear. Is that the time? I must have dropped off. I’m as bad as you, Molly. I wonder if we’ve missed anything.

‘No, Dave’s getting up again. He’s looking at the brown. He thinks it might just pass the red near the middle pocket. …… He’s getting the referee to clean the white. Didn’t he just have the white cleaned, Clive?’

‘Yes, he did, Dennis. But there IS a place in the semi-final of the World Championship at stake. You can’t blame Dave for being a bit careful. There’s a lot of pressure on this shot.’

Yes, Clive. He’s only sixty seven points ahead and there are still fifty one left on the table. His opponent only needs three four point snookers to tie the frame.’

He’s getting the referee to clean the brown.’

I am beginning to feel my age. Myrtle is fond of saying, ‘you’re only as old as you feel’, but I can’t get about like I used to. Everything just seems harder these days. I know there’s a lot of talk about Easyjets and mobile phones and the world wide web, but that’s as maybe; to me the world seems to be slowing down.

It does not seem so long ago that Robbie Swift was making maximum 147 breaks in five minutes; now Dave Plodder often takes five minutes over one shot. Since Robbie’s retirement… he was a lovely boy, Robbie. Handsome. Big shock of dark hair. Big brown eyes. Since Robbie retired, snooker has become slower and slower. Dennis and Clive are always talking about the importance of safety shots in the modern game and putting the white behind the green or putting the white behind the yellow or leaving it on the baulk cushion. It seems to me that players don’t take risks anymore. I suppose I can see why people say that it’s dull. …. I’m not surprised really, if I’m honest, that it was replaced by Celebrity Strip Snooker. I don’t want to watch that. Who are they anyway these celebrities? I’ve not even heard of most of them. Armani Love, Sloggi Bragas, Suki Ringtone. What are they famous for? Are they Page Five girls? Call me old fashioned but I think that snooker should be played in black trousers and waistcoats – by men.

Not everyone likes listening to it on the radio, mind you. Myrtle says, ‘what to you want to listen to that for, there’s Going Once, Going Twice or there’s Celebrity Facelift on the TV. Or that programme where they tell you how many bacteria there are behind your deep fat fryer. …. There’s no end of choice these days it seems with satellite or cable. You can watch a live operation or Russian roulette. I think Myrtle was just making a point; I can’t imagine that’s what she watches. And it’s all interactive if you have a red button. You can even phone up now and order films and watch them while you’re having your breakfast. …… I’d like to see Brief Encounter. Probably not at breakfast time. I’d like to see it in the afternoon with a good hanky. Albert and I went to see Brief Encounter at the Roxy when we were courting. I don’t know if I can get satellite or cable, though. I’ll have to ask Jonathan when he phones. And I’ll ask him how I can get a red button. When he’s not too busy with his euphorbias or montbretias.

Still, the snooker on the radio does take my mind off things. I have so much time to think about things these days. And it’s May, and it’s light in the evenings. You can hear the birds singing. May used to always be my favourite time of the year. But it’s not a time to be old. It’s not a time to be on your own. You want to have some company in May. You want to talk to someone and hear someone’s voice. It’s not much, but I do like Dennis’s voice. And Clive’s of course. Clive reminds me of John Le Mesurier. Of course John le Mesurier is dead now isn’t he, and Richard Attenborough.

With summer coming, at least I have the test cricket on Teletext to look forward to. I’m glad you don’t need a red button to get Teletext. Cricket, I expect you can remember, was taken off the television after the low over rate fiasco in the Ashes series. Thousands of complaints, there were from people waiting to see Property Ladder. It must have been two years ago now. How time flies.

But that’s just the point. Time doesn’t fly, that’s just what they say. Time actually crawls. It’s no fun getting old, I can tell you.

I remember when my Albert was still alive and we used to watch the cricket together. Albert was a member of the MCC, you know. He used to play for Godmanchester in the league, before his accident. Used to bowl ganglies, or perhaps it was googlies. He took me to Lords once or twice, but it always seemed to rain, and there was one time he got too drunk to drive us back and we had to call Derek. Albert liked a drink. He was never nasty drunk, though, he just used to fool around a bit and make silly promises. And he would always apologise the next day. He was a good man, my Albert.

There were some thrilling matches when it was on the telly. The one I remember the best was the one where Geoffrey Firstblood got 342 for England and Dwayne Bwana scored 350 for the West Indies in their innings. You don’t get scores like that anymore. Fred Bowler hit the winning run off the last ball

Of course, I’ve got my Origami classes at the Community Centre in Geoff Hamilton Street on Fridays. Free, they are, because I’m over seventy five. I have been practicing my swivel folds and double rabbit folds by cutting up all my old Radio Times. ‘You shouldn’t have done that’, says Gladys. ‘They would have been worth something one day.’

Not in my lifetime,’ I tell her.

I am driving to the class now in my safe little Kia. Jonathon got it for me last time he was down. Just after Christmas, it was. He had to rush off, though. Lesley was having a dinner party and he had to arrange the drinks. Got him under the thumb she has, and those short skirts she wears. More like belts, they are. And at her age. Doesn’t she think to look in the mirror? Mutton dressed as lamb, I say. Jonathon should have married someone who could have children, that’s the truth of the matter.

I’m moving slowly along Alan Titchmarsh Avenue. They have put in three different types of speed bumps over the last few weeks, with white lines and yellow lines and yellow criss crosses and dotted white lines and red boxes and an interesting selection of what Hannah in my hairdressers tells me is referred to as traffic furniture. They do nails and tanning as well now at my hairdressers, but I think I’m too old for all that. l just go for my perm. Anyway, back to the road. There are peach coloured sections of that rough road service that makes you think you have a puncture. Rumble strips, are they called? Every few yards there are signs saying 20. How on earth do they think you could get anywhere near 20 miles per hour on this stretch of road without putting your back out? Several hundred thousand pounds, Gerald said it cost. I asked him if it came out of my council tax. He was not sure. Gerald, bless him, is not sure of a lot of things, but he is eighty two. I’m only seventy six and I have my senior moments. I don’t think I pay council tax.

And to impede progress further, there are yellow and black ramps and a chicane with black and white hooped bollards. And they’ve put in a red cycle track along the pavement. Not that anyone ever uses it. Too windy these days, I expect what with the climate change. I don’t know how they come up with these ideas. The road looks like an overgrown licquorice allsort. And then there are temporary traffic lights where they are narrowing the road at the approach to the Diarmuid Gavin Road junction. These seem to be permanently on red.

I am on Diarmuid Gavin Road now. They seem to be narrowing the road here too. There are hundreds of red and white cones and they have put in temporary traffic lights. These are on red.

I have switched the car radio on. I didn’t realise I had a radio. I thought it was the heater. Jonathan never was one for explaining things. And it’s already tuned in to the snooker. I wonder how I turn the heater off. It is rather warm in here.

Dave doesn’t seem to want to go for the pot on the green, Clive. He’s going for safety. He’s looking to put the white ball firmly behind the black.’

‘He’s not played it hard enough, Dennis. It’s not going to reach.’

'That's the second time in this frame that he's ended up short, Clive. Do you think the table's playing a little slow?'

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved