Monday is England’s next step on the ‘roadmap’ to normality. Wherever you are you may be closing down or opening up or more likely your leaders are doing another u-turn. Normality is a long way off and though you might read messages on line from your favourite places – ‘Welcome Back’ – do they really mean it? Here are some nice places you probably won’t be able to go to…
Bridges open, but one way only, bad luck if you’re on the wrong side of the river.
Dreaming about eating out? Stick to dreamland, everywhere else is fully booked.
Must have beach app on phone to check if you are allowed to visit.
Lighthouses – good for social distancing, but only one visitor at a time.
Someone else got their first, closed until further notice.
Cruises currently limited to passengers who have been vaccinated and are good at rowing.
Wales, different rules to England, you may not be allowed to cross the border.
Cathedrals are always interesting to visit, but this may be as near as you can get. Enter only if you are fully masked and have had a negative Covid test.
Museums are popular outings, especially if it’s raining, but book in advance for your thirty minute slot, book separately in advance for a cafe fifteen minute slot.
Scottish holy island – ferry only goes once a day. Scotland has different rules to England and Wales so you may not be allowed across the border… what a shame, you would really have loved Iona…
National Trust houses always popular for an outing; they are opening up again – of course you have to book in advance and once inside will have to walk round in single file, one way only, no stopping or turning back…
Chances of getting inside here for a look round? Very unlikely…. unless you live there.
The little girl stood on tiptoe and peered over the stout cliff top fence at the sparkling blue sea.
‘I wish I could go in the sea Mummy.’
‘It’s much too cold.’
‘But there are people swimming in the sea.’
‘Beach Bubble people are used to it, you wouldn’t like the horrible salty water going in your mouth, Sally, the swimming pool is much better for swimming.’
The sun shone in Sally’s eyes, taking her to a dreamland. The sun warmed her face. She loved being up on the cliff top, but now she was tall enough to see over the fence she could not stop asking questions.
‘I wish I could go on the beach, what is sand like, Mummy?’
‘Horrible, you can’t walk on it properly, the wind blows it in your mouth.’
‘Well the Beach Bubble people look like they are having fun playing in the sand.’
‘That’s because they have nowhere else to play. You wouldn’t like to live down there, especially in winter.’
‘Why don’t we live down there?’
‘Because we’re the Cliff Clan, we live up here and they live down there.’
‘Why can’t we visit them?’
Sally’s mother sighed. ‘How many times have I explained darling, we have to keep separate; them, us, the Forest Folk, T’othersiders, Town Team, City Crowd… You sing that song at school, you should know by now, but there are more bubbles than even I can remember. Besides, we don’t need to visit them, we can meet them all on Zoomtime.’
‘Tell me what it was like when you were six.’
Sally’s mother smiled at her daughter, the child never tired of her stories.
‘Well we couldn’t go to school, no one could come to our house and when we went outside we had to wear a great big hot suit and a very heavy helmet. But we hardly went outside because there was nowhere to go; the shops had all closed down before I was born.’
‘How did you get your food?’
‘Once a week a helicopter flew over our road and dropped a great big crate on a parachute. My Daddy was very important as he was in charge of unpacking the crate and making sure each house got their box of rations. Out the door he would go in his suit with his air tank and mask and yellow gloves, then deliver each box to the doorsteps. So you see how lucky you are.’
‘And I only have to have an injection once a year?’
‘Yes, we had to have a great big needle in our bottom every four months, when the yellow van came round with the scary robodocs to give us our medicheck.’
Sally squealed in horrified delight.
‘How come we have real people doctors, what happened to the robodocs?’
‘I’ll tell you about that when you are older. Now do you know what Daddy and I have planned for your sixth birthday treat tomorrow? We’re all going on the train.’
‘The train, the real goods train with the special carriage on the back?’
‘Yes, we have lucky tickets to ride in the observation saloon.’
‘Where are we going to go?’
‘Wait and see.’
The next morning Sally tripped happily ahead of her parents as they walked to Cliffton Station. She had never been inside the old building, let alone stood on the platform. From the footbridge they often watched the long solar powered train glide silently into the station to deliver supplies for the Cliffton shops.
Standing on the platform, the train looked much bigger and they had to help Sally up the steps into the carriage. They said hello to the other passengers, who all knew it was Sally’s birthday, everyone knew each other in Cliffton and they were happy to let Sally’s family have the best seat facing the viewing window at the end of the carriage. They glided smoothly out of the station looking backwards down the long snaking line. The platform passed by, they went under the bridge, houses disappeared into the distance, then suddenly it went dark. Sally gripped her parents’ hands.
‘It’s okay,’ said Daddy ‘we’re just going through the tunnel, leaving Cliffton and going into the forest.’
Sally stared as if her eyes would pop out, so many trees and then an open field, people were waving at the train, others were riding horses. The little girl was excited to be going somewhere new at last. The train started to slow down and a platform slid alongside as they stopped. A sign said Forest Halt.
‘Are we getting out here?’
‘No, no, they’re just dropping off supplies for the Forest Folk.’
The train started again and Daddy pointed left at a huge stretch of flat water with colourful boats floating idly.
‘Lakeland, where your Aunty Kate lives.’
Soon the train stopped again at a lovely little building covered in flowers.
‘Can we get out here and visit Aunty Kate?’
‘No darling, but you can tell her on Zoomtime we have seen her station, she’s the station master and plants all these lovely tubs and baskets of flowers.’
All too soon the train gathered speed, the lake was left behind and they went through another tunnel. The scenery began to look familiar; Sally thought she glimpsed a flash of blue sea in the distance, then more and more houses appeared and very soon platforms slid alongside them. Sally felt a catch in her throat and her eyes welled up; even before she saw the sign she realised where they were.
‘Here we are ‘ said Daddy in a jolly voice ‘home again.’
Sally looked up at the yellow and blue sign ‘Welcome to Cliffton-on-Sea’.
Ellie sipped her tea as she watched breakfast television. Women doing amazing things, how come she hadn’t thought of these ideas in this year of living strangely? Swimming in the Thames every day, wild swimming… cold water was the latest way to keep healthy. If everyone went in the river every day the whole country would be healthy, probably immune to Covid as well. Ellie tried to imagine herself going down to the local river early every morning; alone, bit risky but who on earth would want to join her. Where would she get in, not that swampy reed bed by the bridge, the slipway at the rowing club…
Perhaps it was better to stay in a boat like that English yachtswoman; Vendee Globe non-stop round the world. Ellie didn’t even know the race was on, let alone who was in it, but Pip Hare was and here she was back again and talking to Breakfast Television. She hadn’t actually won, but it was still pretty good. She looked about Ellie’s age and totally normal. A good way to avoid lockdown, or rather it would be like lockdown only with the scenery changing, mainly sea, but Ellie could cope by herself, she had learned that much since Dave had announced his departure this time last year. Turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. In lockdown with Dave, Dave working from home, 24 hours of Dave… what a nightmare. If Ellie could cope by herself in this little flat, she could cope by herself in a state of the art yacht. She had only been on the ferry to the Isle of Wight, but she loved the sea, looking at it, swimming in the summer. The open seas, independence, learning about yourself; she had looked into her inner self, but hadn’t found anything yet; well that on line course ‘Unlocking the True You’ had been rubbish anyway. She should probably start by crossing the Atlantic; it couldn’t be too hard to learn how to sail, it was all satnav and computers on board and everything was made of tungsten. Ellie would have to give up her job… she would love to give up her job. Working from home she had realised that it wasn’t just the people at work she didn’t like, she hated the job as well. Money could be a problem, but she could get some charities to sponsor her…
Her reverie was interrupted by her phone buzzing, message from Ruth.
Do you mind if we give it a miss this morning, it’s bloody freezing out there, I had to melt the bird bath and that east wind will be unbearable on the prom, you’d best stay in.
Ruth was chickening out of their daily walk, their daily exercise with one person from another household? The daily exercise and gossip was all that was keeping Ellie sane. It was alright for Ruth with her garden and birdie friends. Ellie would have to go out all by herself. Well a bit of a breeze wouldn’t put her off, she could do it. If she wasn’t meeting Ruth at their usual spot she would go on a different circuit.
Half an hour later Ellie realised her first mistake, she should have walked the other way round, heading east along the promenade the wind took her breath away, the sand stung her cheeks, her eyes were watering, her scarf came unwrapped, her hood would not stay up. The next zig zag path up the cliff looked so far away, who would even notice if she didn’t make it home. Despite hardly being able to see, she could not fail to notice a familiar bright pink hat in the distance. The pink hat was heading towards her, it could only be Ruth and she was walking with someone else. It was galling that they had chosen the right direction to walk, setting a fast pace with the wind behind them. Did Ruth assume Ellie would have stayed at home or on their regular circuit? Ellie was Ruth’s one person from another household, so what was Ruth doing walking with someone else?
Yes I’m proud to be serving my country, proud of the uniform I wear; keeping everyone safe.
Last week, but already it feels like this is what I was destined to do.
No, we always work in pairs for safety, it can be tough out there and I know I can trust Nat with my life. We also need to show our presence.
The most important aspect of our work is to gather intelligence; does something look not quite right? Is that person a local? What is that chap carrying? Why does that woman keep glancing around nervously.
No I don’t think we’re turning into a police state, most people know why we are doing this.
What do we actually do? Every hour, every day is different, we never know what we’re going to face. But that doesn’t stop us taking risks, talking to strangers…
You have yesterday’s recording from my headcam? No, that’s not allowed. Oh, it’s already gone out on the lunchtime news… No, I have nothing to hide, it will be good for the public to see what we face.
Are you out for exercise… and you ran all that way… well there isn’t going to be an Olympics so you don’t need to run twenty six miles every day.
Is this your car Madame, how far have you driven? Yes we do know where you live – ANPR. Did you drive down the spur road? So your details are already on the PNC. I am using plain language – Automatic Number Plate Recognition, Police National Computer. Well we would all like a walk by the sea, but it’s hardly local. Yes it is actually against the law to go to the seaside.
Is this outing for the purpose of essential shopping. No I don’t think you are carrying four heavy bags just for fun. May I look inside the bags. No you don’t know your rights and you’re wrong. Do you consider chocolate and three bottles of wine to be essential? Home schooling does not make them essential.
I would believe you were out for daily exercise if you were walking a little faster. If you have knee trouble why don’t you stay home?
Sitting on a bench does not constitute exercise Sir. CPD? Why does being obsessive mean you have to sit down? Ah, yes of course that’s OCD, so what made up condition is CPD? We didn’t do that on our one day first aid course. Oh, my colleague here says yes we did, but I was asleep. Anyway, please don’t drop dead on my watch ha ha, we’re not allowed to administer mouth to mouth resuscitation because of Covid.
Isn’t it time for our lunch break Nat, let’s just clobber one more. Good morning Madame, is this your vehicle. Yes I can see you have a disabled badge, but you don’t look very disabled… so is that your ninety nine year old mother in the passenger seat? Shouldn’t she be at home? A last look at the sea before she dies, we’ve heard that excuse before….
What do I love about my job? Working with people, I’m good with people and I love being a Covid Warden.
There have been rave reviews for my latest novel At The Seaside Nobody Hears You Scream; from my mother, that chap at writers’ group, the husband of someone at knitting group, someone at knitting group, the young chap next door, a friend whose review was rejected by Amazon… I could go on and on… Of course you won’t see these reviews as they are by word of mouth, but you can take my word for it.
And I must not forget to thank Baz the Bad Blogger who posted a one star review on Amazon and Badreads, my first one star review, I was so excited, though it is true that Baz gives every book he reviews one star, as none of them are a patch on his first and only novel I Zomboid.
Here is his review.
Not Enough Zombies. I started reeding this novel, whose title I keep forgetting, when it came out in November 2019, I couldn’t put it down and had finished it by August 2020. I usually take a couple of years to reed a book. The plot was a bit complycated for me and two many karacters, I prefer stories with too characters. There wur not enuff zombies and hardly any violence, but apart from that it was a great reed and I past it on to my mum who loved it and said it was nearly as good as my novel.
I don’t know how Baz managed to get his review accepted as in recent years Amazon has rejected almost every review I have written. Therefore I think we can safely assume Amazon must be rejecting the thousands of reviews readers have written of my novels.
My novels are not for the faint hearted, though I can guarantee there are no zombies. You never know what may happen or how long they might last, but if you are as brave as Baz download a copy or order a paperback for your Mum.
In the summer of 2013 Annette Bethany Brown went missing without trace. Her boyfriend Toby Channing was the last person to see her, the only person who knew where she had spent the previous days. In February 2014 Tobias Elliot Channing, private investigator, was still roaming the country, a camper van detective specialising in missing persons; hoping to discover why so many people go missing. He was visiting every place that had a connection with Anna, there were still no clues to her disappearance.
Hurrah it’s the longest day of the year; but that doesn’t mean you cannot join in the fun if you are in the southern hemisphere. One of the features of the new WordPress BLOCKS, which not many people are aware of, is the fifth dimension, which only works twice a year at Solstice. Simply click on a picture and you can be transported to that place. A square picture will take you there in the present, a round picture will take you to the exact moment the photograph was taken. Got it? Just make sure you read the complicated WordPress instructions on how to return…
How did you get on? Tell us which was your favourite place.
I was looking forward to a quiet Saturday when the doorbell rang. I only half opened the door, hoping to keep out the torrential rain and wind. On the doorstep stood a complete stranger, or at least it was hard to recognise who she might be with her head bowed and face concealed by the hood of her sodden coat. When she looked up, her expression was one of confusion. ‘Oh, er sorry, is your daughter in?’
I relaxed, pushing the door back another inch. ‘I think you must have the wrong house, I don’t have a daughter.’
‘Oh erm… is this The Lighthouse? Only I was a bit confused because it doesn’t look like the pictures and it isn’t very near the sea.’ Who was this stranger and what pictures?
‘It is only ten minutes walk from the cliff top’ I retorted. And what business of hers what I called my house? It was a bit of a joke, my fantasy of living in a lighthouse on a rocky outcrop hadn’t quite materialised. The little featureless home in a row of similar houses could have been in any suburb anywhere, but I could walk to the sea; if my knee wasn’t playing up or the weather wasn’t too dreadful.
‘I don’t suppose mine is the only house called The Lighthouse, did you use SatNav?’ ‘I came on the train.’ That explained her drowned rat appearance, a cliché, but she did actually look like a drowned rat; it was a good walk from the station. What was I supposed to do with her? She had an accent I couldn’t place.
‘I’m sorry I can’t help you, is it a friend or relative you’re looking for?’ ‘I was sure this was the right place, Sandbourne, Wessex, I’m over in England for a writers’ convention in London next week.’ I felt a touch of sympathy for a fellow writer and a niggle of guilt that I had not invited her to put even a toe inside the door.
‘What a shame you have such awful weather for your day at the seaside, it might brighten up later. I hope you manage to find your friend.’ ‘She’s a fellow blogger, I’ve never actually met her.’ A disquieting bell began to ring inside my head. I am a blogger, but who on earth would want to meet me in real life. Perhaps Sandbourne was full of bloggers who would welcome a visit, but I had no desire to meet fellow bloggers in real life. The whole point of blogging was surely to avoid people.
The woman blinked away large drops of water splashing down from my gutter. ‘She’s called Scribbletide, her blog’s called ‘To The Lighthouse’ … you know, after the Virginia Woolf novel.’
‘Yes, yes, I have read it, they never actually get to the lighthouse.’ Hmm, just like me, that’s why I called my blog that… I never get to the lighthouse. But how on earth had this bedraggled refugee from abroad found out where I lived and how long before she cottoned on that I no longer looked like that picture of me taken thirty years ago, nor do I live on Portland Bill. I could carry on feigning ignorance and hope she cleared off, but what if she told the rest of the blogging world the truth? No more Likes and ‘hugs’, no more followers. And I was intrigued, which of my thirteen followers was she?
‘You had better come in, as long as you promise not to write a blog about me.’
With her dripping coat hanging over the kitchen chair and a mug of tea in her hands she looked a bit more presentable, but with no resemblance to any blogger I could think of. ‘So are you Scribbletide?’ she stared at me suspiciously.
‘Well it’s a long story… why don’t you tell me what your blog is called.’ ‘Leaping into the Unknown, it’s my day today, my sixth birthday.’
It took me a few moments to cotton on. ‘Leap Year, 29th February today, your birthday, not a very exciting way to spend it. I don’t Do birthdays, but if you only have one every four years I guess it should be special. Do I follow your blog?’
‘Yes, all the time, I’m Jolly Jumper, you love my daredevil adventures.’
Now I knew why she did not look familiar, her blog persona was a cartoon superwoman who wore a colourful Scandiknit jumper. Her real self looked like she would get vertigo climbing a step ladder.
I took her to the cliff top café for tea and a big slice of cake. She wouldn’t go near the edge of the cliff as she was scared of heights, but with the dreadful weather, we were happy to sit inside and chat. After seeing her off on the train back to London I went home to start my new blog post. What a thrill today to meet a fellow blogger from over the ocean. My special visitor, Jolly Jumper, was dropped off by the Sandbourne Lifeboat and scrambled up the craggy rocks to knock on the door of my lighthouse. It was so windy I could hardly open the heavy wooden door…
Exactly six years ago we had just had the Valentine’s Night Storm; we did not know it was called that till we had had it. The next year, in 2015, the Meteorological Office of the United Kingdom and Met Eireann decided to name storms in advance, with an alphabetical list of popular names they picked out from Facebook. It was claimed this would make people take storms more seriously and it worked, because since they started naming storms they have got worse, with more flooding. Last weekend it was Storm Ciara and as you read this we will be having Storm Dennis. Female and male names alternate, so luckily by the time we get to N ( probably in a few weeks time ) we can have Storm Noah.
Storms come with amber and red warnings, plus constant warnings from weather people in the cosy news studios to stay away from coastal areas. They then show photographs the public have taken just before they get washed away by waves and ‘go over’ to reporters being blown off the sea front to give us live coverage. It is so windy we can’t actually hear what they are saying.
This photo of Storm Ciara, thanks to Mike Jefferies Photography, saving me getting wet, appeared on Facebook. It is the famous cob at Lyme Regis in Dorset, one of the settings for Jane Austin’s novel Emma, where a trip to the seaside nearly ends in tragedy when a young lady contrives to fall off the cob. I don’t think the weather was this bad in that scene, but if you ever go to Lyme Regis the cob slopes and if it is wet it is very slippery.
Meanwhile back to Saturday morning 15th February 2014; after a night of the wind shaking our house I suggested ( insisted ) we go down to the cliff top at high tide for some bracing fresh air and this is what we saw.
It gave me an idea for a story and eventually became the opening scene for At The Seaside Nobody Hears You Scream.
‘Is that for next door?’ Eleanor asked the green man who had emerged from the yellow van.
‘No, express delivery for Ms E. Fairfax.’
‘But I haven’t ordered anything, certainly nothing as large as that, is the box heavy?’
‘No, I’ll leave it just inside the front door shall I?’
Eleanor closed the door and rolled the box down the hall until she found the sender’s address.
EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME
RAINBOW WORLD LTD. OF MILTON KEYNES
She was reluctant to open the box; if she had been in one of her black humour thrillers, the box would be sure to explode. But on the other hand, any of her feisty heroines would have no hesitation. Eleanor fetched a sharp knife from the kitchen and ran it along the taped edges. On top of various packages was a rainbow envelope.
To Aunty Ellie Happy Birthday Love Ben
Inside was a gothic card of gold and black.
YOUR PASSPORT TO A NEW EXPERIENCE
One of Ben’s jokes no doubt. She pulled out the largest parcel, inside were folds of white fabric…
Eleanor picked up the phone. ‘Ben? Thanks for the present, maybe I’ll wear it to my book launch.’
No, you have to wear it on your birthday when you go for your EXPERIENCE. I know how much you love those CSI programmes, I guess it will be like one of those murder mystery dinners, but without the food. Should give you inspiration for your next novel.
She put the phone down and decided to read the instructions more carefully.
Saturday morning was bitterly cold, especially at Highcliffe. Eleanor was glad she was half an hour an hour early to warm up with a coffee in the Cliffhanger café. She planned to sneak into the Ladies to put on her forensic suit at the last moment, she looked around at the other customers wondering if any of them were there for the EXPERIENCE.
When she slipped outside she saw a van pulling up, black with gold writing
As two men in forensic suits got out, other white suits emerged sheepishly from parked cars. Eleanor was glad she had worn her thermal underwear, the wind was biting after the steamy warmth of the café.
Without any introduction the van driver addressed the shivering group.
‘Okay, report of a body on the beach, we need to start work before the tide comes in.’
Without further ado he strode towards the edge of the cliff and the footpath sign. Eleanor tried to read the expressions on the faces of her six companions, but straggling in single file, struggling to keep up, she had no idea if they were taking this seriously or if they were all friends of her nephew. But even Ben was unlikely to have arranged a prank on this scale.
Dodging a few boulders, they came to an abrupt halt near the water’s edge.
‘It’s so realistic’ squealed a young woman excitedly.
‘Looks like a scene from one of my books’ said Eleanor.
‘Ooh, are you a crime writer, are you on television?’
‘No, Amazon Kindle.’
A loud clearing of the leader’s throat drew their attention to the others, just as one of the men keeled over backwards. Another pushed past the two women and behind a rock to vomit.
‘Happens every time,’ laughed the leader ‘no one expects it to be a real body.’
Eleanor approached with a writer’s curiosity to see how they had created the scene. It was the smell which hit her first. A real body washed up from the sea was very different from Google research. She almost laughed to herself, Ben had been right, this was a unique opportunity and she tried to quell the rising nausea.
‘Cause of death?’ asked the leader brusquely.
‘No evidence of external injuries, due to the extent of decomposition’ Eleanor replied. ‘A post mortem will be needed to determine if the victim drowned or was already dead before he entered the water.’
‘Good, good’ said the man, as his assistant stepped forward with arms outstretched, bearing a large folded item of black vinyl. ‘Now before we put the body in the bag does anybody have back problems, it’s quite a weight to carry back up the cliff.’
‘Yes, me,’ said Eleanor ‘but shouldn’t we call the police?’
‘Not until we’ve ascertained if a crime has taken place. Now, does everybody have a car, or does anyone want a lift in the van to the morgue?’
‘Where’s the body going?’ asked the young woman.
‘In the van of course. Has everybody got their metal case labelled
Part Two, not to be used by children under sixteen.
‘Which case do you mean?’ a pale man asked.
‘The one containing a scalpel and saw.’
For more dark tales dip into Times and Tides
Twenty five stories starting with a blind date and ending on Xmas Eve, with no clue as to what you might expect in between. In this third collection of short stories are some real places and experiences plus much that could happen or should never happen.