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Garfield found; where to now?

My first tentative venture into crime fiction occurred many years, even decades, ago. As tends to be my way of doing things, I started writing and let the characters lead me.

Chief among them was a mild and insignificant denizen of suburban life, Garfield Parks.

Why he was called that, I have no idea; that back story had yet to be discovered and written.

Then other things intervened: work, business, life and love among them. Garfield and his troubles were set aside for another time – one that never arrived.

Fortunately I did at least transcribe this hand-written tale from exercise book to computer. But that was many PCs and laptops ago and Garfield became lost among the many updates and data transfers.

His wife, so we are told, had also disappeared. She had not returned from what Garfield maintained was a visit to her sister. By now the police have arrived … and that is where I left him, being grilled by two highly suspicious detectives.

Searches of old CDs and memory sticks failed to find him. The passwords to three external drives where he could possibly be hiding have been forgotten and cannot be reset.

Poor old Garfield, lost and gone forever with never a change of removing the taint of guilt hanging over him.

Until today!

More much-needed sorting and decluttering revealed three memory sticks used for backing up files and storing pictures.

And there among them was the yet-to-be titled nascent story of Garfield and his missing wife. Well, at least the opening chapters – a total of a mere 4000 words.

In all modesty, I always thought it was a pretty good effort for a would-be author.  That opinion remains unchanged after re-reading it today after the many years of tuition, study and honing my craft that have occurred in the intervening years.

All I ask for now is that Garfield does a Rip Van Winkle and soon awakes from his slumbers to lead me through whatever dilemmas, dramas, dangers and detours beset him as he fights to clear his name.

I fear there were sinister forces at work; that there was much more to the innocuous Mr Parks than has so far been revealed.

Maybe the police were right to have suspicions, especially as he seemed so unworried and vague.

And then there’s his wife’s bossy sister who has never hidden her antagonism to their marriage.

Come on, Garfield. What happened? Where to now? Where is the body – if there is a body – and who put it there?

Watch this space …..

Crime fiction fans: Bromo’s back

Bromo Perkins returns.

The latest story in the ongoing investigations by Richmond’s favourite cynical sleuth will be available in paperback and to download as an e-book from next week.

All the heavy lifting has been done by the wonderful team at Design For Writers and everything has been uploaded to the international websites of Ingram Spark.

Ingram Spark will also be making both versions available through all the major websites and booksellers.

No matter where you live, copies will thus be readily available to order by logging in to www.ingramspark.com

Watch this space…..

Memoir dilemma: knowing when to stop

The rhetorical response to the unanswerable has traditionally been to ask “how long is a piece of string?”

An alternative, as recent experience has taught me, would be to comment “how long is a memoir?”

Having decided it was about time the work in progress was wrapped up, the sudden discovery of  another must-follow line of enquiry emerged. And it was too tempting to ignore.

A  report in the Plymouth Journal revealed that a great-great-great-great-grandfather  I had so far blissfully ignored had been swept off the landing stage at the Eddystone Lighthouse off Cornwall’s rugged coast by a freak wave. As the newspaper bluntly put it, he “sunk to rise no more”.

It was a story clearly needing further exploration as his death would inevitably have had a drastic impact on his wife, then eight months pregnant, and  their five  young children. Thus any thoughts of  signing off on the memoir were deferred yet again while these lives were researched.

Within two years 4x great-grandmother was listed as a pauper. With only a teenage son out at work, money was beyond tight.

Eventually, as others came of age, things improved. She took in a lodger (which has overtones of something else as he remained well beyond normal tenancies), secured an annuity and lived in reasonable comfort until the age of seventy-four, even employing a servant in her final years.

It was one more chapter crying out to be included in a book titled Celtic Skeletons.

But still the book could not be completed. That same day an email lobbed from a woman in Minnesota, USA.

She was a complete stranger. At least until I checked the family tree and found her to be not only a cousin but the daughter of a petty crook and long-term prisoner whose terms in and out of gaol and numerous appeals for release I had fully documented along with a home life that could best be described as tumultuous.

And here was his daughter, now about to celebrate her 87th birthday, thanking me for providing her with details of her family’s early years. To which she is adding several memories and personal details. 

It was a bonanza and a bonus for any memoir writer. Which is what makes it an endlessly fascinating and enjoyable field of writing endeavour – and why Celtic Skeletons remains a work in progress.

As long as a piece of string. 

Saddling up: postcards No.5

 

Great riding country: Sheepscombe, near Painswick.

As the saga of the postcards continues I have at last struck some sort of common thread.

And it’s all about horses. Not all that deep and meaningful but at least it is a consistent theme extending over several of these messages of long ago.

For once during my trawl through these newly discovered mementoes, I have little difficulty in recalling time and place which, in itself, is a great relief.

The first card depicts a white horse looking out over its stable door. “Man’s friend” is how I captioned it on the reverse.

The accompanying message is equally succinct: “Have arrived. This is great. There are 15 of us and it’s an all-male week.”

No hint was given as to whether I thought the all-boys-together situation was good or bad. Maybe on this occasion I preferred the absence of distractions for we were lodged at “the only place of its kind in England” – the home and riding centre established by the legendary Pat Smythe, Britain’s golden girl of the 1952 Olympics.

A week of mucking-out, tuition and riding beckoned.

The location was a dot on  the map labelled as Camp, set in the midst of the Gloucestershire countryside.

As I recorded on a second postcard, also bearing a horse’s head on the front, it was seven days of “plenty of good food, excellent company and fine weather.”

The highlight was doing duty as stable lad at  a day of polo matches, walking the mounts to and fro, cooling them down, giving them feed, making sure they were fully ready to go again and generally being fully immersed in the whole horsey business.

I loved it. And it is one memory that has remained bright and clear down the years. An idyllic time. Rural England at its very best. Something to be treasured, although I fear it is becoming less and less understood, appreciated and valued by succeeding generations.

Postcard home: a good companion

Those seven days at Camp, Painsnwick, Pitchombe, Sheepscombe and other nearby villages set in train a love of horses and riding that remains to this day, although time in the saddle has become almost non-existent.

Throughout my travels I have ridden whenever the opportunity was offered – on an Israeli beach, in the Canadian Rockies, across the Hungarian plains, to the summit of an active volcano and on Lipizzaners at their home in the former Yugoslavia.

Like so many young girls, my daughter caught the bug. School holidays were spent immersed in the whole horsey thing, lodged at a riding centre in the Macedon Ranges.

So we acquired horses of our own: loveable former pacer Brandy, the lively Donna and thorougbred Gypsy. And I had to lug a horse float hither and thither – a cumbersoome and scary task I never truly mastered – as proved by the time the car and float parted company on a sharp uphill bend in a long line of Sunday traffic.

Twice during my double life as a travel agent I devised and acted as leader for an eight-week world horse-riding tour.

The itinerary  included (inevitably) the Spanish Riding school, tuition under a master of the horse on the Esterhazy estate, pony trekking in the Brecon Beacons, lessons at the Fulmer Riding School, tuition and daylong gallops at the Lipica stud plus show-jumping at Aachen, Hickstead and the Dublin Horse Show.

Trying  to control and corral sixteen young Aussie women on what for most was their first  overseas trip added a memorable dimension over which a veil has long been discretly drawn.

So many memories from a clutch of postcards.

**To be continued….

 

More memoir surprises

Family history never ceases to surprise and delight.

It is an endless journey into the unexpected.

Skeletons leap from cupboards and sudden contacts from hitherto strangers breath life into people who so far have been mere names clinging precariously to the family tree.

This week, emails from out of the blue have unearthed another bag of surprises and added further grist to the memoir that is becoming an ever-expanding work in progress.

Overnight I find I am related to two sisters who met prematurely early deaths; one was an alcoholic, the other a drug addict.

A third relative from this same Welsh ancestral cluster spent years in a mental asylum after undergoing cross-examination in a sensational society murder trial.

From cursory reading it appears that Aunt Eva was employed as a nursemaid for the murdered woman and was accused of somehow having access to the arsenic used as the killing agent.

The common thread here is that many of their male line served in the Great War and either came back maimed, often in hidden ways, or simply never returned, in some cases their bodies not even found on the battlefields where they fell.

Their wives and families were left to struggle on tbe best they could.

Happily, more recent descendents have become absorbed into suburban respectability with not a black sheep to be found among them. At least, so far.

But one cannot help wondering what the next generation of family historians might eventually dig up.

 

 

Weekends in Beirut – Postcard memories No.4

On the tarmac at Beirut International Airport: a Comet 4C of MEA

So, moving right along …
The next postcard to take my eye among my recently discovered trove of long-lost messages home was another bog standard picture of an aircraft. This one is dressed in the livery of MEA, or Middle East Airlines, the national carrier of Lebanon.
It is a Comet 4C, the workhorse of many airlines back when mass tourism and package holidays were beginning to hit their post-war stride.
In the message on the back I briefly inform my sister that it is being posted during a 45-minute stopover en route to Beirut and that I have enjoyed “superb weather and the smoothest of flights”.
I add, jokingly I can attest, that I had a bullet-proof vest in my baggage “ready for Jordan” which, on this occasion, was my final destination.
However, it was not that somewhat adventurous trip that I was first reminded of on finding this postcard.
At that time, plentiful overseas travel was one of the perks of my job as a reporter and feature writer on Travel Trade Gazette, a publication that owners and staff alike proudly proclaimed as the world’s first weekly publication for the travel industry.
We reported on the politics, finances, management and products of this rapidly expanding industry business. Not merely from a UK aspect, but globally.
The world was ours to investigate and explore, not from the view of the holidaymaker but from that of those who created the products.
New hotels had to be inspected, resorts checked out, marketing plans examined, each new air route flown. There were tourism chiefs to be interviewed and international conferences to be attended and reported on. The world, as the saying goes, was our oyster.
And a very tasty mollusc it proved to be for a bunch of young journalists, most of them yet to see their thirtieth birthday.
An occasional weekend in Beirut was thus routine. It began with the trip out to London Airport (this was in pre-Heathrow days) where our hosts saw us into our first-class seats for the MEA dinner flight to Beirut.
Check-in to the luxurious waterfront Hotel Phoenicia Friday was followed by an exploration of a city that had no trouble justifying its tag of “the Paris of the Middle East”. It was a golden sparkling vibrant city where few could have imagined the carnage and devastation that was to come.
After breakfast, cars whizzed us off through the famed cedars of Lebanon and into the awesome Beka’a Valley.
A dominant feature of this vast plain is by the Temple of Jupiter, (pictured right), one of the wonders of the ancient world that, down the centuries has been frequently vandalised, usually in the name of religion until only its six towering columns remain amid the city’s expansive ruins.
Such unfathomable destruction as has been wreaked on Baalbeck and its spread of ancient building and monuments continues to sadden as my postcard stirs memories of starlit nights attending performances amid the temple’s towering columns.
Sunday – after a luxurious and bibulous Saturday night dinner – was usually a day of much-needed rest and recreation; exploring the souks and alleys of Beirut, sampling the Phoenicia’s pampering, or water-skiing and swimming in the Mediterranean off the hotel’s deck.
It was all good preparation for a flight that departed in Monday’s wee small hours and got me back in London in time to stumble into the office and start another day’s work.
A tough life but, as the saying goes, someone had to do it. And as I gaze at this old postcard I’m thankful it had to be me.
It was a world and experience never to be recaptured.

A Paris interlude: Postcard memories No.3

Concorde: up, up and away.

If there is any validity in the saying that “every picture is worth a thousand words” then my hoard of old postcards could generate sufficient information to create an entire book.

Whether of fact or fiction is open to debate. As reported in previous posts on this topic, two attempts to match the facts recorded on the postcards with my memory of those distant times have ended in failure.

No matter how much I try, I cannot recollect any visit to the Channel Isle of Jersey nor any periods of residence at the address to which several cards were sent.

Better results are being achieved as I peruse many of the others and try to sort them into a vague sequential order. Memories are being stirred, names recalled, places and incidents remembered.

However, as most of the cards are undated and the postmarks are often blurred or lacking details of time and place, they still provide only a random retelling of my life before the internet, mobile phones and messaging.

Among those that ripped the memory bank wide open was the one (pictured above) depicting that marvellous flying machine, ill-fated the Concorde.

This was mailed as I was about to depart from Paris, a place I used the postcard to describe as “this strike-bound city”.

I had arrived there a few days earlier from Australia at the end of what I wrote of as being “the longest supersonic flight yet made”.

To join this one-off experience, I had first flown from Melbourne to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The Concorde had arrived there bringing European  delegates of an International Monetary Fund conference, or some such gabfest.

Myself and three other Aussie journalists – Frank Gallego, Jack Butters and Charles Sriber – had been invited to join the return flight to Paris.

It was literally an out of this world experience; one of the few that remains bright in the memory.  That soaring take-off, the feeling of the huge surge of power, the weird sense of being confined with only a hundred others in this pencil-thin projectile (only two seats either side of the narrow aisle) hurtling so smoothly way up through the clouds and into the almost translucent rarefied atmosphere beyond.

We were space travellers, peering down on the curvature of the globe far below – a view unlike any experienced in normal flight.

Paris was reached in three relaxing leaps each lasting about three hours; a nine-hour journey to replace the horrendous twenty-four hours or so those of us living Down Under usually endured for visits to Europe. It was made even more pleasurable and memorable by the Michelin-level food and wine that help distract more nervous passengers from the bulkhead gauge showing our progress from subsonic through transonic to supersonic, from Mach 1 and on to Mach 2.

There are, however, other memories awakened by this postcard that go unmentioned in the few words it contains.

This brief visit – a mere three nights in Paris before a tortuous 36-hour journey home – I seized upon to arrange a secret assignation with a “friend” then living in London.

It was soon agreed: we  would meet in Paris.  She could get a couple of days off work – with OPEC, if I remember correctly –  and I had no rigid program to adhere to. My travel companions would be diverted with their own sightseeing.

The best laid plans ….

It was on the morning of the second day that we scurried hand in hand along the Metro platform to board the train. We dashed  through the closing doors of the nearest carriage and plonked down into a couple of seats.

Giggling and breathless we raised our gaze and looked around.  Facing us across the aisle, sagely nodding and with knowing grins, were my three journo colleagues, each of whom was a friend of my companion in collusion.

So much for secret trysts and assignations.

I wonder what memories these other postcards will stir ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcard memories and puzzles – No.2

Souvenir of a visit that is beyond recall.

Yesterday’s gone.  But it lingers on, the details not forgotten unless it was one of those total wipe-out booze-laden occasions. Same for last week, the month that has passed and, hopefully, the highlights at least, of the year before this one.

All are within recall in varying degrees of detail unless one sadly suffers, like far too many appear to do, from some debilitating condition.

Going further back down the tracks of life, however, requires more mental effort. Additional reminders and prompts are needed, like a fading actor who has lost the facility for memorising the lines.

Usually, given the right clues and feeds, something is eventually  stirred. A name, a place, a snippet of music, even a catchphrase can niggle away until the past is brought back to the here and now.

The story thus raised from the dead may have been embroidered over the years; there may be distortions to what was said and perhaps subtle shifts made in the precise time and place. The occasion can be relived, hopefully with pleasure although there is no guarding against unwanted sadness or regret.

But what happens when no amount of nudges, hints, reminders and even solid facts fail to winkle out anything other than a total blank?

Is this what is meant by losing one’s mind? Is this an early warning sign of something more serious?

This is the dilemma – one among many – that this sudden discovery of a hoard of old postcards has created.

Found among them is a handful sent to me by family members at two addresses where I was apparently residing in the city where I worked,  but which was some miles from the town where I normally lived with my parents and younger sister.

No matter how hard I try, I have no recollection of ever living at either address or, indeed, in that city even though it does happen to be  where I have lived for the past eight years.

Today I took a walk. I power-walked up the hilly streets where it seems I once lived. Streets up which I have frequently run many times in recent years. And, as on those occasions, not a tweak of memory occurred.

Similarly, in recent years I have visited streets in towns throughout England where I previously lived way back when. On these excursions,  memories were always revived of having trod those same routes in the distant past. Forgotten people and events were often vividly resurrected.

But not this time. These streets are familiar from the present but have no connections to my past. There is a blank … and this is somewhat disturbing. Best to move on.

So I turned to another of my postcards from long ago; four scenes of Jersey in the Channel Islands, a place I have frequently toyed with visiting.

But it seems I’ve already been, and no matter how hard I try it is an experience I cannot recall.

This card, from 1962, informs my family I am “having three days here for a conference.”  Really! Discussing what?

Apparently I endured  “a bumpy flight and two hours late.”

Once there, I decided “this place is just like Bognor but the drinks are cheaper“. However, there was a downside as there were “horrible flat-capped English holidaymakers everywhere.”

So, that’s Jersey for you as it once appeared to one who still believes he has never been there.

I wonder how many more blank pages of my mind I am to discover.

** Memories from the postcard trove to be continued …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcard memoir from snapshots of the past

Postcard home from Belgrade in 1963. ‘A week back in London, then to Lebanon, Jordan etc’

We all know about the past being a foreign country [LP Hartley, The Go-Between] and in recent days I have come to realise how true that oft-quoted phrase can be.

A large handful of well-worn postcards, wrapped in a torn plastic bag, have taken me back down the years and stirred memories that until now have remained stubbornly dormant.

As one who can hardly recall the detail of events from last month, those of my much more youthful years have long been a blank sheet.

I still remember where I lived, which of the many schools I attended, the places where I was employed. But that is mere outline, the rough sketch drawn before the picture is painted. The details have long gone – dates, names, events, conversations and so much else are almost all non-existent in a brain that otherwise still functions at a satisfactory level.

But now I have my postcards, mostly in my own handwriting to the folks at home, and they are doing a better job at stirring the memory than any expensive session on an analyst’s couch.

Like a SOCO team’s “enforcer” they have battered down a previously unyielding door into the past.  Only a few words on each, but enough to trigger a name, raise a smile, answer  a mystery and, of course, raise a host of many more.

For example, when did I live in Carvoza Road, Daniel Road or in Hatfield Crescent? All are locations in Truro, the city where I transformed from schoolboy to employee. They are addresses that appear beneath my name on  postcards sent by my parents while, so it seems, they were on holiday trips around England.

But the family home was in Falmouth and to the very best of my knowledge it was there – and only there – that I lived throughout the three years of my time working in Truro.

Thus a window into my past has been thrown open but the view it presents is a total puzzle. Was I a boarder? Was the Miss Ditton to whom several of the cards were addressed as being “care off” a family friend, a boarding house owner, a B&B operator?

Postmarks and two separate addresses indicate I “enjoyed” two separate Truro sojourns during July and August 1955 while the rest of the family was tripping around Stratford-on-Avon, Birmingham, Sidmouth, the Lakes District and our wartime home of Fleetwood.

And not a jot of this exile remains in my memory.

Nor does my namesake, another Tony who signs off on two of the postcards sent to Corporal Berry at RAF Abingdon during my two misspent years of National Service.

In one he talks of being halfway through “my grand tour of England” and regrets that “we’ll not reach Cornwall” and in the other he reports  the food and weather  in Conway are excellent and urges me not to worry as he’ll be back next week.

Fine, but who the hell is/was this other Tony?  Why Conway? Why should I be worried at his absence?

Churning over the old grey cells unearthed not a jot of him but his postcards help revive other memories and confirm forgotten details.

Flip through the pack – choose a card, any card, says the conjurer – and  I realise I have a random, higgledy-piggledy  Reader’s Digest version of my forgotten life.

“Hello from 250 miles behind the Iron Curtain” I write in one. So much was left unsaid.

On another: “Can’t resist sending a card from the most primitive place I’ve ever seen. Just returned from the ritual killing of a couple of sacrificial buffalo, a funeral and a three-day festival.”

From what was still Yugolsavia: “Been driving a car across a lake, it’s that frozen. Spent a whole afternoon on my backside in the snow – it’s called skiing.”

Feeling the heat in Israel: “A temperature of 108F should be enough to give me a tan, and have I got one! Phew, it’s hot. Am the only Englishman is a party of  20 French journalists.” Which could be the reason I detoured home via Paris. That and the El Al air hostess.

From Newcastle: “Awa’ hinnie. Passing the night here for a dinner-dance.” Don’t ask …

The nascent foodie in Barcelona: “Had a meal the like of which you’ve never seen. Paella it is, consisting of prawns, shrimps, mussels, squid in a rice dish plus chicken. The way these people eat in unbelievable.”  Well, we were still emerging from food rationing.

And so much more; this was the quick contact pre-Twitter, as many words as you could squeeze into a space rarely more than two-and-a-half inches wide and deep.

Enough to prod at the dark screen clouding my memory and let in some welcome shafts of light.

And this handful  is only the beginning. There are many more promised to come. So many memories  to revive; so many stories to relive, and perhaps even to tell.

Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baffled by this topsy-turvy (running) life

Relief:  another 10,000m race completed

Dilemma upon dilemma.

Indecision resolved by decisions, which next day are quickly reversed. Back to square one.

Is this the mental turmoil that all sportspeople face as the body slows and energy fades?  The deciding when to quit.

Common wisdom says the clever ones know when to stop. They accept the situation for what it is: the closing of one door and the opening of another. Not a dead stop but simply a change of direction.

Or, in running terms, the passing of the baton to those who can still go the distance with comparative ease.

The question would appear to be a simple one: is it time to quit?

Last weekend, after weeks of internal debate, it was answered by wimping out of a ten-mile race along Cornwall’s hilly country lanes.

The body heaved a grateful sigh, the brain poured scorn upon such weakness. And so another day of debate ensued that made even the Brexit dialogues look constructive.

In the end, a bottle of bubbly was put to chill, a chook was marinated ready for the oven and dinner became a boozy celebration of the past alternating with commiseration for what was to come.

By bottle’s end, the decision had been made. After some seventy years  of competitive running (give or take a break or two) I had hit the final hurdle, and mind and body would simply have to cope.

After all, I had quit before. Several times. The Nellie Melba of running, said some.

There were those f**k it moments when the pressures of family, work and a job that offered an excess of five-star living put paid to any athletic activity.

And it was “no contest” when the choice lay between a long weekend freebie in Beirut, Barbados or Beirut, or churning out the wintry miles on the South Downs of Sussex.

Finally there was the promise I made (to others as well as to self) to quit when I could no longer run a sub three-hour marathon – a deadline that occurred in my sixty-seventh year on a tropically hot and humid day in Brisbane when I staggered home in 3:16.30.

But, like all addictions, the running habit was too hard to kick. It provided too much of a high to be able simply to say “No more” and walk (or even jog) away.

So here I am, sixteen years on from my last “retirement” and still battling  the voices that say enough is enough.

Judged purely by comparing times posted by fellow addicts in the same age bracket, I can still be considered in my prime, an elite.  Those times, however,  ensure my finishing place is way down the bottom of the results sheet.

They also mean I have probably walked, or even stopped, somewhere along the route.

That’s not running as I have always known it. And is it something I really want, or need, to do?

Would the body not be better served by a good brisk yomp along the ever-enticing wonder of the coastal path or high up on the moorlands of Bodmin or Dartmoor?

All too often the older competitors in masters’ athletics are portrayed by the media as oddities and curiosities; wizened bags of bones staggering towards the tape, hoping to get there before their heart shuts down.

It’s not a photo-shoot I wish to be a part of.

And yet I am still looking at the race calendar for 2018 and sending in my entry fees. The dilemma persists.

These words were begun with the intention of saying farewell and thank you to my immediate running community, and also to all those far and wide who have provided support, encouragement and companionship through the running years.

But, as I write, I find they also give voice to my inner turmoil, setting out the pros and cons, and the  dilemma others will face, whether through age or injury or other circumstance. And I still cannot bring myself to make the decision that is demanding to be made.

So it seems it’s not quite the intended goodbye after all; but I’m afraid it’s getting close. Very close. How many more hills can I climb?

Keep running, and enjoy it while you can.