You had to laugh, some of them looked worn out and they’d only been ‘out on the street’ for one night.
Nic was having the time of his life, all night company, places to eat and toilets open twenty four hours. Buildings open to all, light and life and most of all, everyone being nice to each other. Nobody cared who you were or where you came from, which was very different from nobody caring.
He had been given a wrist band, but had no intention of going to see the Queen. He wouldn’t have minded meeting her when she was still alive, some of her family were nearly as dysfunctional as his so she wouldn’t judge.
Nic had a fair idea what was going on at Westminster from chatting to others. Airport security, well he wasn’t carrying anything suspicious that would beep, but they would be on the lookout for suspicious looking people. Anyway, he was content to stay this side of the river. Others had come on their own, some people happy to share with new friends food they had brought or nipped from the queue to buy.
At regular intervals Nic would slip away for a ‘comfort break’ and discarding his wrist band, wend his way by a circuitous route to the back of the queue again and new friends. What a night, he saw the lights on the River Thames with new eyes, taking on the enthusiasm of those new to the city.
At Operation London Bridge Control Room human eyes looked at banks of screens while their colleagues, the digital detectives, scanned images with state of the art face recognition and other skills.
‘Screen six, near the end of the queue, got a loiterer… suspect coming back again, what’s his game… contact officers in that sector.’
Nic thought he was pretty anonymous, an observer, so he was startled to confront the smiling face of a man in a suit with a microphone.
‘We’re live on BBC television, can I ask what made you decide to come tonight?’
‘Oh um yes, I’m a local, so no trouble…’
‘It’s chilly tonight, but you were still happy to leave home comforts?’
Nic was just about to relate another made up life when he spotted them behind the reporter, two police officers and as he turned slightly, two more behind him. Now what on earth should he do…
‘No home comforts mate, I’m homeless, like lots of others and nobody has given us a mention… and if I get arrested nobody is going to care, except perhaps millions of viewers…’
Orange rocket launch cancelled due to engine trouble.
It’s Bank Holiday Monday in the kingdom, except for Scotland and motoring organisations have issued an amber warning to motorists…
Outbreak of mosquitoes in Southbourne; Health Secretary advises everyone to buy mosquito nets.
NASA advises leading blogger that orange rocket has a name and finds it offensive to be referred to by its colour.
A couple who named their new born baby Artemis have issued a complaint to NASA as Artemis fails to launch following the baby’s birth. Mr and Mrs Take were quoted as saying ‘We don’t want our son named after a failure.’
A social media row broke out after NASA responded to new parents Mr and Mrs Take to point out that Artemis was a goddess, so the name would have been more suitable if he had been a daughter. There have been heated arguments on international media as to whether a rocket is male or female or is entitled to self identify.
Scientists have issued a warning…
‘Giant leap for lambkind in Nasa’s Artemis 1 launch’
Shaun the Sheep is reported to be despondent as he returned to his field tonight. When asked how he felt he declined to comment.
When NASA was contacted they explained that Shaun the Sheep and his new friend Snoopy are the most important part of the mission. Their official purpose is to demonstrate zero gravity by floating around.
Charlotte was beginning to regret joining the new Hambourne Happy Creatives group. As a newcomer to the pretty town it had seemed the obvious group to join to keep her energised in her rocky writing career. She was eager to write a more cheery novel than her last and hoped Hambourne would inspire her to write about her new heroine, a recently widowed writer who moves to a country town for peace and quiet, but finds herself investigating a murder.
If she had been a local she would have known to keep Robert Falstaff at arm’s length. To Charlotte, at first, he was a charming man who had advice to freely offer, from dealing with computer problems to publishing and promotion. His apparent connections to television had her fantasising about a Sunday evening cosy drama.
Now, at this evening’s meeting, she found herself at the centre of attention, with her languishing novel ‘2053’ the topic of a discussion led by Robert. The other members were kindly in their questions, but she felt herself and the novel horribly exposed.
‘What made you choose the title, or that year Charlotte?’
‘I wanted it to be in the future, but still in a time frame when I could conceivably still be alive. How was I to know when I was writing it that all the events would come true by 2022!’
‘You could change the year, or perhaps call it The Covid Chronicles.’
‘Oh dear no, does anyone want to read novels about Covid?’
‘Hmm, I am writing a novel about Covid and the horror it brought to a town like Hambourne’ said a tight lipped woman.
‘Well, the novel is out there, published on Amazon,’ said Robert with an expression of disdain ‘so let’s concentrate on how Charlotte could do much better with promotion.’
‘Um, I was hoping to have a stall at your arts festival…’
‘Internationally I mean.’
‘I do have my blog and quite a few followers from every continent, except Antarctica.’
Robert scrolled down his iPad, Charlotte shuddered to see the familiar sky blue background of Thinking Through. Was her poor little blog to be exposed to ridicule?
‘Oh yes, I am thinking of starting a blog’ said a timid lady Charlotte immediately warmed to.
‘Silly Saturday, Silly Sunday, Monday Madness, Tuesday Tiny Tales, Wordless Wednesday, Thursday Trifles and Fun Friday’ sneered Robert. ‘Charlotte dear, you are not exactly coming across as a serious author.’
It’s a long time since I visited Hambourne and I wondered what had been going on there since 2013. You can read the Hambourne Chronicles in Hallows and Heretics.
Luke wished he could take his legs off, it was turning into a long evening. He had not expected the Clacket Lane Junior School Reunion to end with police questioning. Taking over the identity of the deceased Nigel Palmer had seemed a good idea at the time, a chap with no family or partner was not going to be missed. Nigel Palmer himself, who ironically died with his limbs intact, would not miss his passport and his wallet containing money, bank cards, NHS number and private health insurance details. The original plan had just been to return to England as a different person, start again. But the new life was halted before it started when Luke lost both legs above the knees. Ever one to look on the positive side, Luke realised that Nigel Palmer was going to get much better treatment and rehabilitation than Luke the Loser.
Now Luke cursed himself for thinking it a good idea to attend the reunion. The plan was to round off his knowledge of Nigel’s life, feel like a real person. Who could have predicted another Nigel impersonator would already be there.
At the hospital a police officer was interviewing an injured man who admitted he was not Nigel Palmer, obviously a man with mental health issues, his explanation made no sense. He had tried to escape from a hotel, but only escaped with minor injuries after the fire brigade had demolished half the gents’ toilet to release him from a window frame.
Back at the police station Detective Sergeant Dilly Deans finished interviewing the man with bionic legs. He was obviously the genuine Nigel Palmer, all the checks had come back positive. Goodness knows why that dreadful woman organising the reunion had insisted he was an imposter, just because he could not recall much about his junior school days, who does? His traumatic injuries had left him with gaps in his memory and all the poor man wanted to do was fill in the gaps.
‘I am so sorry we detained you Mr. Palmer, night duty will give you a lift to where you are staying.’
In his hospital bed Nicholas could not get to sleep, he was not at all sure what was going to happen next, would he be charged with any crime? One good thing had come out of this, more ideas than he expected for his new novel. A man who has a breakdown and wakes convinced he is Johnny, his classmate at junior school. While psychologists try to assess his rare condition the real Johnny confronts him and has old scores to settle…
Nicholas felt like Winnie the Pooh after eating a whole jar of honey…though he was not stuck in Rabbit’s burrow, but in the window of the end cubicle of the Gent’s toilet. In one of his chaplit rom com novels this had always been an excellent way to escape embarrassing or dangerous situations. Now Nicholas had created his own dramatic scene.
The muted sound of music and lively chatter floated down the corridor to the hotel cloakrooms. Hopefully everyone’s attention was still focussed on the late arrival of the real Nigel Palmer at the Clacket Lane Junior School reunion. How long before they noticed that Nicholas the imposter Nigel Palmer had slipped out of the function room? The tough looking real Nigel with his beard, biceps and bionic legs was unlikely to have ended up in such a humiliating situation.
How long before someone sauntered into the Gents so Nicholas could yell for help, or preferably keep quiet. As he tried to stretch his outside arm he realised he could reach into his top pocket for his phone. Maybe the emergency services would rescue him before his old classmates found him; he would not tell them he was in trouble, he would report as an anonymous passerby.
Nigel’s plan worked, he was being rescued, or at least there was talk of equipment being fetched by the voices he could hear behind him. In the alleyway an ambulance lady tried to reassure him, while a police officer asked how many terrorists were in the hotel. He would have been further reassured if he could have seen his former class mates lying on the floor being checked for weapons.
All except Caroline Hepworth who had managed to slip away, determined to see who was ruining her well organised evening. When she heard someone say ’in the alleyway Sarge’ she crept out, one of the advantages of being a woman of a certain age, one was always invisible. Peering in the darkness she could see two figures in yellow jackets talking to a head sticking out of a window, when a torch beam moved she caught a glimpse of a face. Wedged in the window was the man who had been Nigel Palmer all evening until the appearance of the more exciting real Nigel Palmer.
‘Don’t let him go,’ she bellowed ‘he’s an imposter.’
‘Not much chance, he’s stuck fast.’
‘Oh dear, is it serious, I mean he might be real and the other chap an imposter.’
What does one wear to a fifty year school reunion? Nicholas the introvert writer would have worn his usual boring clothes, while his wife would have agonised over what to wear. But Nicholas was going to the reunion as Nigel Palmer and his wife was not invited. Nigel was a fascinating character with decades of derring do behind him and he would certainly not have a homely classroom assistant wife in her sixties in tow.
Nicholas tactfully explained to his wife that Nigel Palmer had a string of broken relationships and liked to keep his personal life private.
‘I am glad you are keeping me out of this. Even if it is vital research for your new best selling novel it can’t be right to impersonate a real person.’
Nigel Palmer was the one person from their year at Clacket Lane Junior School who had not been traced. No one had seen or heard from him since the summer of 1972. Of course that did not mean he knew nothing about them. Nicholas’ writer’s imagination conjured up several scenarios in which Nigel followed the burst of Clacket Lane internet activity, but had too much to hide or far more interesting things to do than go to reunions. Or perhaps Nigel, who Nicholas remembered as a lively, entertaining often naughty boy, would enjoy surprising everyone. He rubbed his face as he wrote notes on Nigel’s imagined life, his new beard was itchy, but should ensure nobody recognised Nicholas, especially as nobody seemed to remember him anyway.
The evening was going well, Nigel Palmer was the centre of attention. it was easier being someone else than himself, he could have been a successful actor instead of an unsuccessful author. Thanks to David Attenborough and the internet, Nigel’s tales of discovering tribes in the South American rain forests and his time with Medicine sans Frontiers in Afghanistan felt real.
But Nicholas was getting tired, he was not used to socialising and drinking so much and he wondered if he should leave before he blew his cover. It was as he pondered how he could slip away quietly that attention was drawn away from him. There was a kerfuffle at the door and the authoritative voice of organiser Caroline Hepworth could be heard above the chatter and background music.
‘No, this is a private reunion for Clacket Lane, invited guests only.’
The others drew back to reveal a tall man standing in the doorway. Nicholas first noticed his red bandana and matching beard, then the tattoos on the huge biceps emerging from his tight black Tshirt. Everyone instinctively moved aside and politely quelled their gasps. Emerging from a pair of khaki combat shorts were two jointed sturdy steel robotic legs ending incongruously in heavy duty boots. The man laughed at the flustered gathering.
‘Caroline Burton, you haven’t changed a bit, you must remember me, Nigel Palmer, I used to pull your plaits. I guess I have changed a bit, a lot’s happened in fifty years.’
When I finally woke from my three year coma everyone said I hadn’t missed much and proceeded to gabble on about Covid and lockdowns. i had no idea what they were talking about.
It seems they had been talking to me a lot ’once restrictions were lifted’, another mystery. I do not remember a single word they said, so that was a waste of their time. Only my dearly beloved had the sense to give up early on, no great loss, though apparently ironic as the accident was his fault.
They insisted on showing me The Facebook Page. How embarrassing, I didn’t know I had so many friends, or maybe everyone feared not being seen as caring. Celebrities, what was that all about? Why on earth would I want some gloating multi millionaire author pleading with me to get better and finish my novel? From what I recall it was a load of rubbish. As for the music, who on earth thought I loved Andre Rieu and Andrea Bocelli?
At least he wasn’t dead, that was the best that could be said so far since his decision to reply to the Facebook post. As a writer Nicholas had merely set out to do some research for his latest novel, how easy was it to find your old classmates on the internet? Typing in Clacket Lane Junior School had produced a screen page of blue headings, but he didn’t want to know about the latest Ofsted report or the summer fete. Typing in 1968-1972 narrowed the search considerably; there was a nostalgia group for the anonymous town where he had spent his childhood, a history page that celebrated a few tenuous links to national events and famous persons… he almost missed the reunion announcement.
Could it really be fifty years since that last summer; the celebration of the school’s centenary, prancing round the maypole dressed in Victorian clothes. His wife had been more excited than he was, urging him to attend, despite his pleadings that he just wanted to know if it was possible to meet up with the past, he didn’t actually want to meet his old class mates, he was appalled by the thought.
Old boys and girls could join the closed FB group, go on twitter, email or even phone the organiser Caroline Hepworth, nee Burton… Caroline Burton, it would be her, milk monitor, teacher’s pet. She was organising the get together at the Holiday Inn; that was a contradiction in terms, who would want to go on holiday to that God forsaken town, unless it had changed a lot.
Nicholas emailed her and got a reply ten minutes later.
Hi Nicholas, don’t remember you but please join the group, it’s really interesting hearing what everyone’s been up to in the past half century lol.
He groaned as his wife brought him a cup of coffee. ‘Does she have to rub it in, half a century?’
‘A good way for you to get more readers’ said his wife brightly.
‘I’ll join, but I’m not posting anything, let alone pushing my website.’
He read through the posts; memories of pranks played on teachers and each other, gentle teasing where once there had been bullying, tales of exotic travels, brilliant careers and wonderful children. No one had mentioned Nicholas. In some of the profile pictures he could recognise the child in the middle aged face, others had cheated by posting school pictures or snaps of their dog, cat, motorbike or grandchild. But with only some of the names could he conjure up a memory of the child.
The next day things took a sombre turn. Caroline’s post was pinned at the top of the page.
Martin Fletcher’s wife has emailed to say he passed away last November after a brave battle with cancer.
Nicholas recalled Martin well, though he was in the other class; top of the school for his sporting achievements, he could beat anyone in a playground sprint, scored most goals at football, whacked the rounders’ ball with a strength that gave a glimpse of his potential when adolescent testosterone kicked in.
Martin Fletcher had barely crossed his mind for fifty years, but the shock of his mortality was like a kick in the stomach. The comments scrolled down the page, people were still typing them in, but Nicholas the writer could think of nothing to say.
Incongruously the next post was up beat.
Hey guys, great to catch up with you all, bet you didn’t recognise me in Game of Thrones, well the name on my equity card says Zane Swartz, but back then I was Peter Potts.
Frail, pale Potty, who would have thought it? His profile picture was the last school photo taken at Clacket Lane, Peter with his hair combed neatly. It was unlikely that anyone would recognise him behind beards, shields and spears. Nicholas clicked the Like button, everyone was Liking each other. Nicholas decided it was time to join in, at least he was still alive.
Remember how Mrs. Walker always told me off in English for not writing enough, guess what, I write long novels now.
He paused then put a link to his new website. There was no way they could know he was self published and was never likely to give up the day job.
The next day no one had Liked his post, let alone left a comment, perhaps they were still overwhelmed by the latest bad news.
Susan Fielding, everyone remembered her, all the girls wanted to be her or at least be her friend. Not surprisingly she had gone on to be head girl at grammar school. Perhaps others would have remembered Nicholas if his father’s work had not taken him to the other side of the country soon after he left the junior school.
Still, mustn’t complain, his life had been okay, while Susan’s obviously had not, she had taken her own life. News had filtered through via someone’s aunty who knew the family. Caroline had posted a hasty comment pointing out that it was not helpful to debate how or when it had happened. She was going to remember happy days with Susan at grammar school.
A sad comment from Howard.
I’m gutted, she was my first love
Howard, he of the Adonis looks, probably be called a gay icon now, presumably not gay as he had ‘gone steady’ with Susan during their years at the church youth group. He had not seen her since she left for university. While Nicholas had been battling acne and crippling shyness, Howard was enjoying dream teen years with Susan.
Nicholas was lost for words yet again. Would he put a sad emoticon to add to the list of comments on Susan? He logged out, glad that he was invisible to the rest of his year at juniors.
He went a whole week without being tempted, then promised himself to just go on once more, to post an apology that he could not attend the reunion as he would be out of the country; he was tempted to say he now lived abroad, but in the unlikely event someone looked at his website they would see him described as living in the dead centre of the country. Unfortunate choice of words, perhaps they would think he was also dead.
New post from Caroline.
Amazingly, all except one pupil have been tracked down. What happened to Nigel Palmer, no one seems to have seen or heard of him since the last day of juniors. He was such an unusually talented boy, he could be anywhere in the world.
Nicholas logged out, but his brain had not logged out, his author’s mind was racing; every other pupil’s life was being recorded in more and more detail, but he was only interested in the missing boy. Nigel, a lively, entertaining, often naughty boy; Nicholas had admired his courage in the face of authority; who was the man he became? He was determined to find out.