‘Nothing to catch up with now the funeral’s over.’
‘Only what’s been going on in the rest of the world.’
‘No thanks, it was lovely having a break, I really miss The Queue and the marching oh and the vigils. There’s nothing to talk about at work now. Back to hearing about Thelma’s operation and Kitty’s boyfriend.’
‘Do you mind if I put it on, I want to see what the Chancellor of the Exchequer revealed in the Fiscal Event.’
‘The Fiscal what?’
‘Budget, mini budget, bound to be bad news, whatever it’s called.’
‘I can’t remember what the new chancellor’s called.’
‘No, nor can I, but apparently he’s very clever, won a scholarship to Eton and won University Challenge single handed.’
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?
A piercing scream rent the air, a blood curdling cry that penetrated Jennifer’s brain and shattered what was left of her nerves. Instinctively she covered her ears and prayed for silence. For a moment there was blissful silence as the victim drew breath.
‘But I wanted to open my banana myself’ cried the little boy.
For the umpteenth time that day Julia wondered why on earth her brother Gerald thought she would enjoy looking after her great nephews for a few hours. What had possessed her to agree?
With her nerves already torn to shreds she had absent mindedly started to unpeel the fifth and last banana of the bunch. The two boys had constantly pleaded hunger since lunch and had not believed she had no Monster Munch or Peppa Pig yoghurts in her house.
One more hour to go, how to distract them…
Across the floor were strewn the toys they had brought from home, quickly abandoned after fierce arguments as to who owned which Lego figures. Drawing had resulted in a nasty stabbing, obviously a mistake to sharpen the pencils. The cat had been a distraction for a few seconds until it fled to hide under her bed.
There was always the last resort, television, totally against her principles turning them into zombies staring at a screen, but needs must. However, when she looked in the Radio Times she could find no young children’s programmes, what was the matter with the BBC, what happened to Blue Peter?
The doorbell rang at last.
‘Is that Grandad?’
Julia looked at her watch, a few minutes early, supposing it wasn’t Gerald, but the window cleaner coming for his money or her new curtains being delivered…
‘…so next week it’s back in the hall; of course you can wear masks if you feel more comfortable doing so and the chairs will be spaced out.’
The chairman’s announcement was greeted positively by most members at the zoom meeting of the Lens Lovers camera club. Down in deepest Devon the local village hall was slowly coming back to life with activities, from Beavers to barobics, that had last been enjoyed early in 2020.
Paul Gibbons, New Member of the Year 2021, was horrified by the news, how was he going to get out of this? That he was a brilliant photographer was never in any doubt, all the images he shared on screen were his. The travels financed by his ill gotten gains had provided the opportunity to snap polar bears before they snapped him as he liked to joke. He did not mention that he was in a helicopter at the time. From the sands of Namibia to the trains of Siberia, from the Antarctic research station to local Devon scenes, he had tantalising tales for show and tell and had given regular talks far more interesting than their guest speakers.
It was Paul’s mother who had passed on the link to Lens Lovers’ zoom meetings; a friend from the old holiday home days had thought she might be interested. She wasn’t, she never wanted to see a camera again after her husband’s photography fatality, but she thought it would be an excellent diversion for her son during his lockdown. She had assumed he would tell the members he didn’t actually live in Devon.
Paul had not intended to deceive the club, but he had looked up their website and saw members had to live within a fifteen mile radius of the village hall to join, even for zoom meetings. At the time it had been a bit of a laugh, but he had become pathetically addicted to the fortnightly meetings. The many photos of socially safe lockdown rugged walks brought back childhood memories of more innocent times and then later the happy family holidays with his now ex wife and estranged children.
Zoom camera club hardly compared with his world wide adventures, but it was more exciting than Facetime with his mother and the weekly ‘Moving Forward’ sessions with the group. With digitally produced scenic backgrounds anyone on Zoom could be anywhere and his tropical island setting gave no clue to the cramped misery of his bleak bedsit.
Paul put on a smile for the squares of friendly faces as he rubbed his chafed ankle.
‘Yes, great news, though I might not be at every meeting, I think it’s time I booked a holiday.’
‘Oh well done Paul, does that mean you’re in remission?’
For a moment he wondered what Barbara was talking about, then remembered he had implied he had Multiple Sclerosis to explain why he had not been on the local outdoor shoots for fit, covid free members. Why had he mentioned holidays, he could have got away with implying he was still CEV, clinically extremely vulnerable. Though last week he had lied that he had just had his fourth vaccination.
‘Lucky you’, said Eddy, the oldest member ‘the only place I’m going is down Memory Lane.’
‘Well weare looking forward to meeting you in person Paul’ urged the chairman ‘and the hall is very disabled friendly, no trouble with your wheelchair and you can bring a carer, even if they are not a member.’
‘Oh thanks, all being well then…’
The only place Paul would be going on holiday was Memory Lane.
He glanced down at his electronic ankle tag, as if it might have miraculously disappeared. Even if he was living in Devon and not hundreds of miles away in a dreary city suburb, his curfew did not allow him out in the evenings.