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.
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…
If it was not Gerald she was going to scream…
No words, just pictures to rest your brain or addle it!
Feeling a bit funny? Perhaps you need a Pudsevante.
No more trips to the chemist to collect your prescriptions? No more standing in a queue while the beleaguered pharmacist looks for lost medicines and other customers collect paper sacks full of their repeat prescriptions? Yes, no more trying to say your address and post code, your voice muffled by the masks we are still wearing in a ‘health care setting’. I heard the other day that in future we will use our 3D printers, which we will all have by then, to print out our tablets, probably combining more than one drug. Leave your computer on overnight to calculate the exact dose to suit your body mass and genetic make up. These tablets will be far more efficient, your doctor or consultant will no longer have to guess a dose that will work, but not blast you with bad side effects. Of course there is always the possibility we patients might accidentally give our computer the wrong instructions…
One thing many of us probably know about breast cancer is that you have to take tablets for five years after your main treatment, probably tamoxifen which comes from Yew trees. Looking this up I was rather disappointed to discover that it is taken from the bark of the Pacific Yew from North America. I had always fondly imagined scientists at dead of night picking berries from ancient yews in English churchyards. The early Christians built their churches on Druid sites; the Druids planted Yews as they regarded them as sacred; proven right because the Yew held the magic of healing.
It turned out that I am prescribed Anastrozole and I can’t find any romantic or ancient origins for it. Like tamoxifen it is a hormone inhibitor to protect against the types of breast cancer that love oestrogen. This is a tiny tablet to take once a day and because oestrogen is good for your bones I also have to take a very big tablet twice a day called imaginatively Adcal – D3, full of calcium and vitamin D3! Luckily these big tablets are chewed.
On my final appointment with the oncologist he said five to seven years, funny, he said five years earlier on! Perhaps I will be on Anastrozole long enough to be printing out my own tablets. Every breast cancer patient is under the hospital for five years after the main treatment, with breast care nurses at the Ladybird Suite – at my hospital, presumably other hospitals have other cute names – who can be contacted any time.
With one in seven women getting breast cancer ( six in seven Not getting it! ) at some stage, the system seems to run on very efficiently, with charities like Breast Cancer Now providing a great deal of information and help, from leaflets at the hospital to phone and on line help always available.
Rounding off this week’s May walks, saunter across Tuckton Bridge to the Christchuch side of the River Stour.
Where are you now and who is watching you?
Perhaps you won’t get lost if you follow the path…
…and don’t annoy The Green Man
You have reached your destination.
Gather here for the monthly Win on Waste; to the delight of green thinkers or anyone on the obsessive spectrum you can save all sorts of household items unwanted in your council recycling bins. From stamps to old toothbrushes. At a glance the most popular donations seem to be medicine blister packs and bras. The various items are donated to charities, community groups and artists. Exactly how they use them I am not sure, but ‘follow the milk bottle top’ could be a topic for a blog…
Do you have local community collections?
Which door will you go through to find what is real?
Take a walk…
…round and round
and upside down.
Where will you end up?
All pictures in this week’s blogs guaranteed taken this week and within walking distance of my house. For stories set in or inspired by my local area try one of my short story collections.
On BBC Radio at the weekend they talked on the phone to a family who have taken in a young Ukrainian man. They sounded like one of those larger than life families who are so fascinating to we lesser mortals. The parents are both vicars ( one was in training ) and have five children and numerous pets. As Christians they have always used their spare room for whatever needy person has come into their lives, not for them the valid excuses of not enough room or too busy. The children love meeting new people and their new Ukrainian is having lots of fun and improving his English.
Meanwhile on the home front my younger son and daughter-in-law have just bought their own place and I am on my own again. Lots of their stuff is still here so I might not have room for any refugees just yet, especially as the rest of the family want to come and see the many improvements they have done – that’s for another blog.
But far from the terrible war in Ukraine and Chez Tidalscribe, two stories in the news caught my imagination, one local tiny tale and one big story on the other side of the world.
Before Christmas there was a fire in a block of flats in Bournemouth, luckily the elderly residents were safely evacuated and quickly transferred to the Premiere Inn next door. But a News South story the other day revealed they were still there; so close to home and yet so far. They are being well looked after, have their friends and neighbours close and don’t have to bother with cooking. But it’s not HOME. Premiere Inns are usually reliable ( all look exactly the same ) and comfortable as long as you like the colour purple. Very handy as stopovers on long journeys or to stay near relatives who have a full house, but you would not want to live there for months on end. Ensuite bathroom yes, but the furnishings are basically a few shelves, some coat hangers and a hard chair. A lady of 93 was shown sitting on the big bed knitting, much the same position you would find me on a short Premiere break. I prefer to avoid the hard chair, gathering all the pillows and lounging with my knitting, book or iPhone. With all that’s happened, the last place I actually stayed away from home was Margate Premiere Inn Christmas 2019, a handy location twixt railway station and beach, overlooking the shelter where TS Eliot wrote The Wasteland, which still lies languishing on my Kindle… you can read more about the delights of Margate in this blog…
A more chilling story came from China in the news one evening. Anyone testing positive for Covid was being forced into quarantine in the most basic facilities ( or lack of facilities ) but the people screaming and fighting ‘security forces’ were not being taken away for quarantine. They were being evicted from their flats, their homes, so the whole block could be taken over as a quarantine centre; perhaps an effort to improve accommodation for the quarantees! Where the residents were going to live was not clear, but there are so many ways to lose one’s home. Never take your home for granted, one day you may have No Sweet Home.
When we got married and moved into our police flat I knew I never wanted to be without my own home again. We didn’t own it, but home only needs to be where you are settled safely, not necessarily owned. Home also fans out to your own street, town and country, but our own tiny spot in the world is unique for most of us who rent or own only one home. An Englishman’s home truly is his castle and you don’t have to be English to want your own castle. In the five years previous to our wedding I had lived with grandparents, aunt and uncle, been a lodger with two very different families, stayed in a motel and experienced institutional living. Now a few days after my 24th birthday ( which seems very young now ) I had my own kitchen and window box – oh and not forgetting a new husband as well!
In the natural order of things, in times of peace, houses outlive their owners. The new house my grandfather bought in the 1930’s for his young family is still standing, extended and improved like most suburban houses and home to other families over the years. With the death of my uncle that first family are all gone. Google reveals that the Victorian terrace I was born in is still standing and looking much the same from the outside. My parents rented the top half and when they said we were going to buy our own house, when I was six, I couldn’t understand it as we already had a home. The house they bought is also still standing. If you come from landed gentry or royalty your home may well have stood for many centuries and may stand for centuries to come.
When we see whole towns wiped out by fire, flood or hurricane we may see survivors and be glad for them that they still have their families. But it is still devastating to lose everything, your home and your town. If we lose loved ones our home is still more than bricks and mortar, it is a sanctuary and a place full of memories.
Watching the terrible invasion and attacks on Ukraine, millions of us felt a connection because they were people who had ordinary lives like us and in the space of a few days lost their homes or had to leave them. The fact that millions of people in the world are homeless or live in slums and refugee camps does not make the suffering of the Ukrainians less. Rightly or wrongly there seems to be a real possibility to help them until they can return that we can’t realistically do for the whole wide world. Close neighbours such as Poland have come up trumps with their welcome while in the United Kingdom we are hampered by post Brexit bureaucracy.
Whatever obstacles are put in the way doesn’t alter the fact that many people in Britain have volunteered to take people into their own homes and that is a gift far greater than money. To share your home with distant relatives and strangers for an unknown amount of time is not a decision to take lightly. Supposing they never leave, don’t speak any English, don’t fit in with your routine… Many of us will applaud others while being secretly relieved we can’t because we only have one bathroom, have a full house already, need space when family come to stay…
When we were first married a friend of ours, mainly through his own fault, was jobless and homeless and came to stay with us for a few days… yes you guessed, we thought he would never leave and in the end lied that relatives from Australia were coming to stay! We have had Australian relatives living with us without problems and my son and daughter-in-law are well on track to buying their own house and moving out soon. Would I have some Ukrainians or any homeless once I’m on my own? Well there is the question of only one bathroom and family needing to stay when they visit…
Have you ever taken in strangers to your home?
Covid has not gone away by any means, but officially in England we are back to normal; yesterday was the second anniversary of the day we went into the first lockdown. I have had my end of treatment visit to the oncologist so officially I am back to normal. For all of us the past two years have been strange. Perhaps because it is spring, or because Ukraine makes us appreciate our mundane lives, but everything seems more vivid, interesting, exciting even. I haven’t been further than a walk round Poole after my hospital visit but every walk, every coffee stop is ‘an experience.’
But we do have to face the fact that our town centre shops were already in decline and life is going to be hard and drab for many people with the economic disaster of Covid and Ukraine. Shopping therapy is going to be a thing of the past, though there is still coffee…
Looking on the positive side people have made new on line friends, got to know their neighbours better and become more empathic, helping those who have been isolated and those whose financial struggles were made worse by Covid.
For those of us who have lost partners and loved ones we see the proof that life always does go on, returning more and more to our previous lives doesn’t seem right, but unless we move to a different place or go sailing round the world, it is almost inevitable and a comfort. Some parts of my life have been rejigged while others miraculously slot back into place. Our writing group has resumed in the library; our tutor and founder is now ninety, recovered from a broken hip and more on the ball than the rest of us!
A few weeks ago my friend was making coffee for the new monthly coffee morning at my local library – one of their activities to welcome real human beings back into the library. I went along for moral support, just as well as only two others turned up, both mature chaps who have just returned to England. We had a really interesting hour and it turned out one of the men, Mike, went to a writers’ group back in the USA. I told him about our weekly group and he turned up the next week and has really enjoyed his two sessions. Our tutor was glad to have someone else who also remembered the war ( WW2 ) for our new chap was born in 1935 and spent fifty years in the USA after he and his wife emigrated. He is adamant that he is back in England for his ‘last years’ ( he is very spritely so there could be a good few last years), despite leaving all his family behind; a story that is his to tell not mine, but he is obviously making new friends as well, with the philosophy that every day he is going to engage in conversation with a stranger. This week another new bloke turned up at writers’ group, invited along by Mike.
It has been a strange few weeks. I received an email from my old high school friend in Australia who I have not seen or heard from since we were teenagers at college; fifty years of having no idea how both our lives panned out. She is helping with a research project on founder members of the college and with some difficulty ( as with all the girls who had married and changed their names ) managed to track down this website and found my email address on the contact page; I think that is the first time someone has used the contact page! It was really interesting catching up, though I have no idea what she looks like now!
If you walk dogs, walk or cycle everywhere and work in your front garden, you see familiar faces and smile or chat. Since Covid people seem even more likely to engage, with the silent sub text ‘Isn’t it nice not to be wearing masks and be out and about?’
A lady often passes by on her bicycle with a sweet poodly dog attached alongside, ears flying in the wind. I can’t help but smile and she gives a cheery nod. The other day she was on foot as I arrived back at my front gate and stopped to admire my front garden. It is hardly worthy of Gardeners’ World, but has burst into colour with bulbs out and the addition of the ubiquitous primula to fill in gaps in my tubs.
‘Are you a friend of Carolyn?’
I was pretty sure I didn’t know a Carolyn.
‘Carolyn and Amos round the corner?’
‘No, I definitely don’t know a Carolyn and Amos.’
‘Oh, you would certainly remember if you did know them. You look like one of Carolyn’s friends.’
I am still pondering if I have met Carolyn and Amos, perhaps anonymous faces I pass by often. And did she mean I am a twin of a particular friend or just look like the sort of person who would be a friend of Carolyn’s? Has the lady with the bouncy auburn curly coated dog only been greeting me for several years because she thought I was a friend of Carolyn’s?
Do you feel your life is back to normal, have you made new friends or found old ones during Covid?