SNOW AND A SUPERMOON (Angels & Other Occurrences 4.2)

So the idea had been to escape the Great Flood of London by taking Marie to stay with cousin Beth and her husband Zak up in Yorkshire. There Marie could have the baby in peace, safe in the knowledge that Beth had only six months earlier given birth to her own son John. It had seemed like a good idea at the time – and to be fair, there hadn’t been a lot of time for planning. It had been a question of grab the transport and go. If only the transport hadn’t happened to be Beppo’s ancient ice-cream van with the dodgy electrics. If only they weren’t now lost in a narrow lane somewhere in Norfolk, with dusk falling and snow threatening. They were never going to make it.

Sepp looked at his watch. Four-thirty, and the darkest month of the year. His thoughts strayed to London. He’d tried to get a signal on his mobile phone a minute or two back – no joy. Whatever was going to happen in London – the barrier being breached, his and Marie’s extended family and all their friends – all still there, though moving to higher ground – it must be happening right now. If only he could get online… but no, he must concentrate on Marie and the baby. He had been watching her out of the corner of his eye. He had a horrible feeling her pains had started, but she wasn’t saying.

‘Are you OK?’

‘Yes, just… a touch of indigestion… probably. But maybe we should try to find shelter for the night. We were never going to make it to Yorkshire, were we?’

‘With the benefit of hindsight, no, my angel.’

She laughed. ‘You can still make me laugh. That’s why I love you, Sepp.’

‘You mean that’s the only reason?’

‘That’s just one of them. But let’s get a move on before this old van conks out altogether. You look out the driver’s side and I’ll look out of this side, and we’ll stop at the first house we come to with a light in the window. Agreed?’

‘Agreed. Thank goodness for this moon – so big and bright. At least we’ll have moonlight on our side. And now that snow’s beginning to lay, we’ll have… snow-light as well.’

‘It’s a supermoon. I saw it on the News before we came away. It’s when the moon comes really close to the earth. Every fourteenth full moon or so there will be one… oooooow!’

‘Marie, you’re a mine of information, but that’s not indigestion!’

‘No, I’m afraid… I’m afraid…’

‘Next house with a light on.’

But there were no houses. The lane seemed to be going on and on for ever, twisting and turning, taking lengthy diversions round fields – or what might be fields if you could see them. The high hedges obscured their view. If anything the lane seemed to be getting narrower. It was obviously rarely used since a line of grass was growing in the middle of it, in the places where the tarmac had broken.

‘I hope to God we don’t meet anything coming the other way. I don’t fancy reversing this thing back to the last passing-place.’

‘Have we actually passed…. Ooooooow … a passing-place?’

‘I can’t remember. Oh come on, there must be a house somewhere down here. Plenty of sheep, plenty of donkeys, but where are all the human beings?’

‘It’s not London, you know. It’s just… sparsely populated.’

‘This isn’t sparse – it’s deserted. There is nobody!’

‘Look, this side – a gateway.’

She was right, there was a gate –one of those metal farm things with bars, held together with a loop of thick, frayed rope.

Beyond the gate was a track, and almost into the woods at the bottom of the track, lights.

‘Could it be a farm?’

‘I don’t know. Those lights – they’re all dotted about, not like normal windows. It looks odd. Maybe it’s those – what do they call them on the Fens? Will o’ the Wisps.’

‘I don’t think Will o’ the Wisps would be that square, Zepp. And they’d be jiggling about, wouldn’t they? Aren’t fireflies supposed to dance? Anyway, I can hear music.’

‘Creepy, heebie-jeebie-type music?’

No, Irish-type music. Fiddles, accordians and stuff. Owwwwww!

‘Good enough for me,’ said Sepp, jumping out to open the gate.

‘Fiddles it’s going to have to be.’

SNOW AND A SUPERMOON (Angels & Other Occurrences 4.1)

‘We’re lost, aren’t we? Why don’t you just admit it?’

Sepp sighed. ‘OK, I admit it, we’re lost.’

‘Here’s me about to give birth any day now and here we are together, alone, in an ice-cream van, in the middle of winter, somewhere in Norfolk or possibly Suffolk, and night’s coming on. Typical man, too proud to stop and ask directions…’

‘Well, who would you have me ask? I mean, there’s the sheep in the field over there. I do believe we might have passed a donkey or two half an hour back. Would you like me to reverse all the way back up this lane, because it sure enough isn’t wide enough for a three-point turn.’

Sepp glanced across at Marie, twisting uncomfortably in the high passenger seat of a vehicle never designed for pregnant ladies. She was close to tears, he realised.

He reached across and took her hand.

‘Sorry, sweetheart. I forgot about the hormones. Of course you’re worried, and I admit I’m worried too. I’m desperate to get you and… junior there… to a safe place. I’m sorry I got us lost. You know me – East End boy – find my way around the East End, no problem, but East Anglia’s a whole different ball game.’ He was trying to inject some humour into the situation. Trying to reassure her that he was still capable of looking after her. Except he wasn’t sure himself.

‘We’ll be OK,’ he said. ‘Whatever happens – and even if we are lost – you’ve got me. And the baby’s got us.’

They had been forced to leave the city in a hurry, four hours ago. Beppo had lent him the ice cream van. ‘I’m only thinking of myself, Giuseppe. If you’re going to come into the business with me once all this flooding business is over, we’re gonna need the van. Selling ice creams from a bicycle – not so good.’ This was the first Sepp had heard of joining Beppo in his business ventures. Ice cream was only one string to Beppo’s bow – there was the hot-dog stand, the baked potato franchise, the… he sometimes found it difficult to keep track of it all. Beppo was a business wizard, a real East End boy, on his way up. Sepp understood that Beppo was making him a very generous offer, in a roundabout sort of way. He gave his cousin a hug. Once the present danger was over, it might be a life-saver. A week ago he had been laid off from his job as a joiner on a building site. ‘I don’t want to let you go, Sepp,’ the boss had said, ‘but the housing market’s going seriously downhill at the moment. Just can’t afford to keep you on.’

He had not told Marie about this. She had enough to cope with at the moment, without getting all steamed up about how they were going to cope financially. Now he wouldn’t need to tell her. Beppo had saved the day.

But right at the moment he had to focus on finding them somewhere to stay the night. They were obviously not going to make it up to Beth and Zak in Yorkshire before nightfall, and the baby might come any time now. If only the Thames Barrier hadn’t decided to fail right now. Why couldn’t it have waited for a few days, till after the baby? The barrier was supposed to protect Londoners against flood tides and now… Now the weather people were announcing a tidal wave on it’s way towards the capital. The barrier, they said, whilst it might delay serious flooding for a while, was not going to be adequate this time. It was an unprecedented high tide. Those in lower-lying districts should evacuate to higher ground. If possible Londoners should evacuate the city altogether. At this point the News programme cut to a map, panning slowly over it. Sepp looked, but he didn’t need to. Their ground floor Council flat was just a few short streets away from the river. You couldn’t get more low-lying.

‘The young, the old, the sick and the vulnerable should go to stay with relatives in other parts of the country,’ the news-reader said. ‘Government advice: set out now. Evacuate now if you have the option to do so.’

Within minutes a text arrived from Zak:

Sepp come to us bring Marie. Beth so worried. Throw few things together get moving. Spare room ready. Come now.

The van was far from ideal. It had been sitting on Beppo’s driveway since the autumn and the battery had gone flat. Beppo had jump-started it and, hopefully, it had recharged itself by now. Hopefully. It wasn’t too reliable at the best of times. Something wrong with the electrics. Sepp just hoped the van wouldn’t start treating them (and any bystanders) to impromptu performances of its ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’ jingle, as it tended to do when its ‘electrics’ were on the blink.

FLYING WITH GABRIEL (Angels & Other Occurences 2)

Marie pulled up the collar of her coat, then fished a thick scarf out of her bag and wrapped it round the outside. March was not particularly warm in London, even at midday when the sun was doing its inadequate best to dissolve the last traces of snow. Marie loved snow, but not when it got this old and weary-looking, spangled with city grime. Unfortunately she would have to take off her mittens to eat her sandwiches. What was it today – she unfolded her mother’s crinkly baking foil – cheese and cucumber. She was chilly and hungry, but more importantly she was happy. Out of the office, if only for an hour; away from that word-processor and the piles of files. This was her quiet time – no longer Marie David, a secretary working for an international aid organisation – just Marie, alone in the Little Park, with her angel.

She came here every lunchtime, unless it rained. On rainy days she went to the library café and read a paperback over a cup of ill-made tea. They didn’t seem to mind her bringing her own sandwiches. But she liked the park better. It was only a small one, by London standards, and not exactly secluded. You walked up one of two shallow runs of steps and into a circular space of formal flower beds. Sometimes the Council gardeners would be at work, planting and discarding, their truck parked up on the pavement for pedestrians to squeeze past. Pansies were favourite, and geraniums. At the moment it was daffodils and crocuses. The daffodils were more advanced, the crocuses only just beginning to show white and purple heads through sharp green leaves. And in the centre was her angel.

Technically the angel was a war memorial. Beneath its stone feet were listed citizens of that part of the city who had died in the First World War. Marie sometimes wondered whether they would recognise it, those citizens, if they were permitted a brief return. All these high-rise offices, the gleaming plate-glass windows. The angel seemed small and lost, beneath them, not exactly neglected but left in peace. Pigeons perched on his shoulders, leaving strings of white behind. Lichen grew in the folds of his stone robes and moss about the base, for most of the day this place, overshadowed by skyscrapers, was cool and damp. Marie liked the angel. She always tried to sit facing him so that she could look into his face, though sometimes that bench was taken. In a way, they conversed.

Maybe others had been put off by the chill in the air, because today he and she were alone in the little park. She breathed deeply, separating in her mind the smell of new grass and young flowers from car exhaust fumes, separating the silence between them from the chaos going on outside. She felt suddenly very happy: and the angel came to life. It was not as if he moved, exactly, but as if he began to give off warmth. He was shimmering. So many colours! She gasped.

Marie, he said, you must not be afraid.

Who are you? she asked, in her head, although she knew.

You know me. You know me well, for I have been here all along. Some call me Gabriel, but I have many other names. Sometimes I have no name. I bring special news for you, Marie; you are blessed – favoured of God. He has seen into your soul, and He has chosen you.

Chosen me? She was afraid now. What could God want her to do? What could she possibly do that a God might want?

God has given you a baby son. Your boy will be great, he will be wonderful. He will become a king, of a kind you cannot imagine. He will reign forever and his kingdom will have no end.

There must be some mistake, she whispered. You see, I am… Sepp and I were waiting… We’ve been together since school. We love each other, but we were saving for a deposit on a flat, waiting till we could marry. I know it’s old-fashioned, but…

Gabriel, Sepp won’t understand if I have a baby. He’ll think, he’s bound to think… Marie thought about her mother and father, who trusted her. She thought about her sisters, her brother, her aunts and her friends. She thought about Sepp and his vast, affectionate Italian immigrant clan. They would all think…

How could this have happened? she asked. For she knew it must be the truth. Something inside her had been transformed as the angel came to life. She could already sense that tiny speck, the child inside her.

God is not bound by human realities. He has given you this child, both to cherish and to mourn. I can tell you that Beth has also conceived, and is now in her sixth month. A boy, also.

Beth? Marie remembered her distant cousin Beth, up north in Yorkshire. Beth with the cheerful smile and the tired eyes, married to ex-hippie Zak. The two branches of the family had drifted gently apart. She hadn’t seen either of them for years.

But Beth is so old… I mean, I thought they hadn’t been able to… Marie didn’t understand any of it.

Poor child, said Gabriel, and she felt his infinite compassion. He stretched out his hand to her. Fly with me now, he said. Be at peace. All shall be well.

And so it was that they flew, out over the city. They flew through the cold Spring air, tracing the winding course of the Thames and circling the grey suburbs. Together they looked down on palaces, lakes and other, greater parks. Marie felt this great city and indeed the whole world as Gabriel felt it, not as a maze of unknown streets and strangers but as a whole, a beating heart.

*

Giuseppe, she said, using the name she had first known him by, I can only tell you the truth. But it’s a truth you will not believe and Sepp, I am so afraid to lose you.

THE BIRD OF LIGHT (Angels & Other Occurrences 1)

At the midway point in the ancient spiral staircase, looking down into the little courtyard with the fountain, Martina paused. She liked to keep an eye on her staff, but discreetly. What was he up to now? Zak appeared to be enraptured – staring into space. For goodness sake, she thought, how difficult can it be to go in with a plastic bucket and a little shovel and remove a year’s worth of coins from a fountain, skim off a few floating leaves? Not exactly rocket science, even at his age. At once she felt guilty. Fifty-eight wasn’t that old, and what she had just thought was ageist. Fierce, when necessary, Martina did at least try to be fair to her staff, and honest with herself.

The main gates should have opened five minutes ago. Gatehouse had radioed up – punters queueing nine deep outside. Pushchairs, kiddies and cameras all over the place. It was the end of September and the start of the castle’s Autumn Flower Festival. Sunny it might be, with that low, intense sun of autumn, but it was none too warm to be standing about outside. The castle looked fantastic at this time of year – red, orange and gold leaves carpeting the lawns and lakes outside; and in every room that was open to the public, one and sometimes several huge, dramatic displays of autumn flowers and foliage supplied by all the top groups in the county. People looked forward all year to this Festival; they wanted in – and in was where she needed them to be. The castle had lost money last season – combination of a dismal British summer and the failure of the static balloon as an attraction. Unfortunately, that had been her idea. Balloons went down a storm back home in the States but for some reason people here didn’t seem to want to pay £25 for a ticket, to be tethered at treetop height, not flying anywhere. It had been a blunder, and she was desperate to make up for it. No one, as the Foundation had obliquely pointed out, was indispensable.

They were waiting for Zak, just Zak. What on earth was he staring at, sat on the edge of the fountain, bucket and shovel in hand? Oh come on Zak, she thought, don’t make me come down there and tell you off. I don’t have time.

Zak was looking at the Bird of Light. There was always light in the central courtyard. It was a strange place for that. When the sun was shining it reflected randomly off the leaded glass panes of the surrounding windows. Sometimes the light dazzled him (his eyes were not too good, nowadays). Sometimes the windows looked blind, like they’d grown cataracts. Cataracts of light. It had been, for him, a place of worship, yet what he was worshipping he could not have said. But suddenly, today, there was the Bird.

He had turned his back, to begin on the coins and leaves, but somehow he knew it was there. He knew something was there. Just afraid to turn round. Terribly afraid. It was watching him. Even with his back turned he could see… unusual light. Light cascading off the walls, bouncing off the cobbles. Light shining on the fountain, light crashing into other light. He couldn’t explain it. It wasn’t natural.

Turn, Zak.

It was a soft voice, but he hadn’t turned.

I am here, Zak. I have something to say to you.

He kept trying to shovel up the coins. Delusions? After all these years? How long have I been sober? Will it never let me go?

It’s good news, Zak. Please turn.

It was the ‘please’ that did it. He turned. And saw the Bird. At least that’s what it looked like. What it might have been. Except it was so tall. Could birds be tall. White wings, but they gave off light. It must be…

It’s about Beth.

And now it was replaying in his mind, the night he met Beth. It was if the Bird itself was controlling his memories.

They had met in the Station Hotel. He’d been drunk, as usual. He was rehearsing his last order. Time for another one, Joe? He was rehearsing his walk across the room to the bar which, by this time of night, felt like being on a fairground ride. So many chairs. And the chairs seemed to tilt and move. So easy to trip and then… there wouldn’t be another one. Joe would tell him he’d had enough. Joe would call him a taxi and pay for it himself. Joe was a good bloke.

But this night, there was this girl. He didn’t remember her coming in but there she was, perched on a bar stool, chatting to Joe as if they were old friends. Yet she’d never been here before, he was sure of it. She had long hair. Fair. Real fair, not dyed, that almost-mouse colour. She had dropped her carpet-bag at her feet. It was battered, that bag. She had been places.

And there was that picture again, the one he had seen before. He had seen her in some African market, or somewhere like Zanzibar. She was ahead, then she turned and smiled. Such a beautiful smile, and for him. And at her wrist there were bangles of all colours. They glittered in the sun, and the sky behind her head was so very blue, like no sky he had ever seen before. The Bird brought this back to him.

And then something strange had happened. Her train pulled in and he watched her get up to leave and he was thinking, that’s it then, she’s going, but she didn’t go, or least not at once, no, she stopped and came over to him, and she stood in front of him, looking into his eyes, and she said, My name is Beth. Come with me.

And then she was gone, and he couldn’t believe it had happened. He must be imagining. And then… Zak was up and staggering full pelt towards the door, chairs scattering in all directions as the room rocked and swerved around him. He was running across the gravel, he was heading for the platform. The whistle blew, train doors were slamming. He had to make it to that train; he had to catch her…

He had something to say to her. Good news. Such wonderful news.

She was fifteen years younger than him, but after that she never left his side. They had travelled the world for a while, then did what others do. They found a house and married, and tried for children. But the children hadn’t come.

They’d had all the tests. He’d assumed it was him, being so much older, but it wasn’t. There was something wrong with her. She’d had operations, and tablets, and tests. Nothing worked. Beth hardly ever mentioned it nowadays, but he knew it still hurt. Yes, he had wanted children by her, but she… It was something different for women, a greater grief.

It’s about Beth. Good news.

When he emerged from the courtyard he was dumb. The Bird had punished him for his disbelief. How am I to know? Zak had asked. What proof can you give me? I am getting old and Beth – she’s getting on. Forty-one next birthday. How can this happen?

His name will be John, said the bird. His name will be John. He will touch no drink. He will give you both great joy. He will be filled with light – this light. He has come to prepare the way.

The way for what? Zak was trying to say. Only no sound come out.

*

Today of all days, thought Martina, as she followed Zak in the ambulance. She guessed it must have been a stroke – something in the brain department – yet he was walking OK – in fact there was a  spring in his step. But, she thought, people don’t just suddenly forget how to speak if they’ve got nothing wrong. Maybe something less scary, like laryngitis. But it wasn’t as if he’d had a sore throat, even – not that he’d mentioned. And the man seems so ridiculously, insanely happy. Positively joyous. What sort of lunatic would be happy on their way to hospital? Poor Zak, she thought, he’s got a wife and… now she thought about it she wasn’t sure. He had never mentioned a family. But definitely a wife.

Martina reached across and laid a hand on his arm, hoping to reassure. For all his faults, she had a soft spot for Zak. He was a sweet old guy. He smiled at her – the biggest and broadest of smiles. And there was this weird kind of shining-ness about him.

Shepherds sorted, Wise Men plotted

Done – my Shepherds story for my new Angels & Other Occurrences sequence, which I’m scheduling to start on  1st December. The Shepherds should come in on the 7th.

Also – in the bath – along with driving, my best place for plotting – I suddenly ‘received’ the plot for my version of the Three Wise Men. Typed it out quick, before it disappeared. I looked at this plot outline thinking – that’s bizarre. That’s really weird. Can I really write something that weird? Yes, I think. If anyone can write something weird it’s probably me, and it’ll take my mind off the endless merry-go-round of upsets and complications that seem to breed in my family around Christmas.

Sometimes it pays to procrastinate, I’ve found. If you resist the temptation to start writing at once, often – it’s that Synchronicity thing again – see previous post: Synchronicity in Writing – a tiny new bit of information comes along and it’s that tiny new bit of information that the whole plot ought to have hinged on. Then of course you have to rewrite the plot but that’s all part of the fun.

This morning I was watching Countryfile and Adam Whatsisname, the handsome red-headed farmer chappie, was doing a piece to camera. He was telling us that, sadly, his father had passed away a few weeks earlier and this had reminded him of the Lock of Wool superstition. Once upon a time, he said, a Shepherd would be buried with a Lock of Wool clasped in his right hand; when he arrived at the Pearly Gates the angels, seeing the Lock of Wool, would let him in. They would know that a shepherd couldn’t get to church of a Sunday. He said he had done this for his Dad.

I was thinking, what a lovely story, and then I thought – I see – now I see how my Shepherds post is going to work, and how the Lock of Wool will be central. I see the characters, I see how many of them there are, I know their characters and their tragedies and why they are out on that hillside; I see who or what it is who will tell them…

That’s the joy of writing – sudden inspirations. More of a battle when the time comes to get them down on paper!

AND SHEPHERDS STILL TO DO

No, I don’t know why I’ve got a picture of a meerkat in a blog that’s mostly about cat-cats, and under the title And Shepherds Still To Do. My normal approach is to look for a picture that matches the story, a picture that tells a little story in itself, a picture that inspires a hitherto unthought-of post or a picture that contains some oblique little jokey reference for the connoisseur of visual obliquities. Occasionally, I can’t find a picture to fill any of those categories and if in doubt, I always say, insert a cat. What’s not to enjoy about a picture of a cat?

But this little meerkat has been jumping out at me for some time. Probably he reminds me of the eight (or so) month struggle I had to persuade my free Aleksandr Orlov toy to cease his endless travels and turn up at my house. As you may know, there is a particular comparison website (I will include a link in case you’re interested – not being paid to advertise them, honest) which has been running a long and successful advertising campaign featuring eccentric meerkat characters, and the meerkat of all meerkats is Aleksandr Orlov.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compare_the_Meerkat

The idea is if you use their comparison website and actually change – I can’t remember what it was – electricity providers, say – you can apply for a free fluffy meerkat. I’m not a great one for soft toys – since my mother broke my twenty-one year old heart by giving my teddy to Oxfam without my permission I have never felt quite the same about them. The only other one I have is a tiger called Kevin. He has been with me for years and is getting rather dog-eared and dusty, up on the top shelf.

Aleksandr sent me one charming email after another, all in his colourful Eastern European version of the English language, explaining that PostKat was in fact on his way with my free meerkat toy, but had currently made a detour to ski in St Moritz, or was touring Rome. There was even a map, upon which you could track his meandering progress around Europe. What really got my goat was when the map revealed that PostKat had got as far as Calais but had chosen to veer off to view the spring bulbs in Holland then peruse noir detective novels at some Scandinavian bookfest or other instead of just nipping across on Eurostar to deliver my Aleksandr.

I mean, it started off amusing, but one did begin to wonder – does Aleksandr actually exist? Might Postkat be a figment of some cynical ad-person’s imagination? Was it possible that these emails were coming from a warehouse in Milton Keynes or Blackburn, Lancashire as opposed to the Russian village of Meerkovo?

That aside – Shepherds Still To Do. What’s that all about then?

Well, I’ve been working on a sequence of Christmas short stories for this blog – kind of nativity re-tellings set in London, East Anglia and – well, they could end up anywhere in the UK, I haven’t yet finished the sequence. They won’t appeal to everyone – and please don’t think I’m trying make everyone a Christian and that every future post will be full of earnest debates as to how many angels might fit on the head of a pin. I’m not at all sure that I’m a Christian. I don’t know what I am, if anything. I went, or rather was despatched, to “the Methodist” every Sunday morning as a child. After that was Sunday Dinner with Nan and Grandad, which I looked forward to rather more. My parents were professed agnostics (they were always everything together, no separate opinions). I expect they just needed a few hours of peace and quiet. I expect I was terminally annoying as a child, or maybe they were just looking forward to manufacturing a couple of sisters for me.

So I went; I got stars for regular attendance in my little blue book; I got a copy of the Bible, now falling to bits and replaced with a Hagrid-sized paperback version, complete with Apocrypha, which I have not tried out yet. I don’t think the Methodists approved of the Apocrypha – at any rate it wasn’t in my old Bible. I relished the stories – as I would come to relish all stories, read, told or for the telling – and loved being able to sing great old hymns and carols somewhat out of tune at the top of my voice. I stopped going at the age sixteen because it clashed with strawberry-picking and a rather handsome farm manager, and never went back (well, I did go back with my sister, on one memorable occasion, but that’s a previous post and I can’t remember what I called it, off the top of my head).

Subsequently I got into Buddhism, and Mysticism, Philosophy, Particle Physics (please don’t test that out – I’m not pretending to have understood it, mostly) Neuroscience (ditto) and New Age timey-wimey stuff generally. I read and I thought and I wondered and I tried to fit it all together, tried to make sense of it all. (Still failing at that.) But just recently those Bible stories have come back to me. I just need them again. Maybe they’re comfort food for my declining years adrift in this chill, dank decade – the literary equivalent of tomato soup.

Which I loathe with a passion.

The first of the new story sequence is scheduled to come in on 1st December, so next – whatever – Tuesday? They’re all based on the gospel of Luke, by the way. Luke was my favourite as a child. If I’d been a boy I was convinced that would have been my name. So far I’ve completed my versions the annunciations – to Zacharias and to Mary, and the nativity itself, which covers three posts. Still to come – the Shepherds – oh no – and the Three Wise Men. And unfortunately (for me) the Wise Men are holding out for a post each – and time is catching up with me. I’d like to finish the sequence before the scheduled posts run out, thus effecting a seamless segue (I love that word, whatever it means). I said to them – couldn’t you all squeeze in together? It’d be much tidier and then I could get on with something else. A bit of non-fiction, perhaps? No way, they say.

PS: I should warn sensitive readers – there will be an ice-cream van. It’s the equivalent of the donkey. I didn’t ask for an ice-cream van – it just arrived in the plot, thankfully not playing Popeye the Sailor Man. And I mean, there aren’t so many donkeys wandering free in East Anglia nowadays.