Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 1

A NOVEL BY ROY McCARTHY

Barry

‘Yeah, right Dad,’ his eldest daughter Lauren had said. But Barry was nothing if not stubborn. Jumping into the car he’d driven the half-mile or so to the Memorial Park, parked tidily, and set off around the perimeter footpath at a steady lick. The memories had started drifting back, unbidden, over the Christmas holidays. He’d had some great times back in the day. Wearing the green and red he’d been a match for most in the south, over the roads. He was well known on the circuit and was known as a doughty rival. ‘Barry Lane,’ they’d say; ‘good runner Barry. Never knows when he’s beat. You think you’ve got him but the bugger won't give in.’ A good clubman too, he’d make himself available for the relays and all that....
1

‘Tomorrow I’m going running!’ Barry announced to the family. It’s time I took myself in hand.’

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 2

Barry: a no vel

Written by Roy McCarthy; edited, designed and published by Redberry Press in association with backontherock. Also with thanks to Emma, for the initial proof reading. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior written permission by the author. All rights reserved. Printed by Cox and Wyman, Reading. 2

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 3

On many levels Roy McCarthyʼs first novel is about running; not just on track and road but, more darkly, running away from the monotony of day to day routine and, in one manʼs case, from revenge ...

3

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 4

‘OH, sod this!’ Barry ground to a halt. He put his hands on his hips, let out a spluttery cough, breathed heavily. Fortunately, he thought few enough people were about this cold New Year’s Day to witness this limp surrender. Car keys in hand, the Focus was parked where he’d left it, a half-mile or so back at the park entrance. He glanced wistfully back at it and then at the keys. One useless without the other. ‘Ah well, come on.’ Chastened, Barry set off again, this time at a slower trot. He had found an old pair of Nike trainers in the depths of the wardrobe. Sports socks, an old pair of shorts, T-shirt and tracky top. Lara had watched him with wry amusement, surprised that her husband was following through with his rather tipsy pronouncement of the night before. ‘Tomorrow I’m going running!’ he'd declaimed. ‘I’m taking myself in hand.’ ‘Yeah, right Dad,’ his eldest daughter Lauren had said. But Barry was nothing if not stubborn. Jumping into the car he’d driven the half-mile or so to the Memorial Park, parked tidily, and set off around the perimeter footpath at a steady lick. The memories had started drifting back, unbidden, over the Christmas holidays. He’d had some great times back in the day. Wearing the green and red he’d been a match for most in the south, over the roads. He was well known on the circuit and was known as a doughty rival. ‘Barry Lane,’ they’d say; ‘good runner Barry. Never knows when he’s beat. You think you’ve got him but the bugger won't give in.’ A good clubman too, he’d make himself available for the relays and all that. Many a trophy the club had won, and they’d always put up a good show at the Nationals, too. Barry had also represented the county on a number of occasions and the South of England. At one time he fancied he might have won an England vest but the selectors overlooked him. But that was then and this was now. ‘Morning Eddie, Happy New Year,’ he nodded to the old man, keeping a wary eye on Eddie’s unleashed dog of indeterminate breed.
4

ONE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 5

‘Same to you, Barry, going for a run?’ enquired Eddie. ‘Something like that,’ replied Barry. ‘Stupid git,’ he thought. And he used to love the training back then. Four, five times a week. Sometimes with the lads at Wellhead Harriers, other times totally alone. Both had their merits. Running with the group meant that there was no slacking off. You'd go with the pace even though you might not be feeling great. Maybe a five-miler along one of the well-worn local routes with a target time agreed upon. Once a week it was down to the track for a session. Sharpen up on top-end speed. Other nights he'd run on his own, maybe eight or ten miles steady. Depending on the fixture list really. You'd target your key races and hoped to be running at your best for those. And then there were the long runs at the weekends, 14 miles upwards, done at an easier pace – ‘the building blocks’ the coaches used to say. When he was at his peak he’d run 70-80 miles each week. Not much time for anything else really. Certainly not for beer and smokes, he reflected, ruefully. He arrived back at his car. At least he wasn’t gasping quite so badly after slowing the pace a bit. Now for a bit of a stretch. Always stretch after running – he remembered the old routine. Calf stretch, quad stretch, hammies – they were the important ones. Arms, shoulders. That would do for now, no point in overdoing it. Barry unlocked his car and sat down. Not ready to face the girls quite yet though, and he’d hardly been out of the house 20 minutes. They would hardly be impressed with that, really. Barry considered. He was 39. He was content enough, really. A cushy (though sometimes tedious) number in the town planning department over at the council offices. A lovely wife and two great kids. An okay sort of semi-detached house a mile out of town, the mortgage not too murderous. And enough money so that he could reasonably indulge his vices of fags and Real Ale, What more was there, really, for a bloke like him? He closed the door and started the engine. He drove out of the Memorial Park gate and turned away in the opposite direction to that which would have led him home. He’d go for a spin on this cold New Year’s Day. ‘Was this year going to be more of the same?’ he wondered. ‘What about the year after that?’
5

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 6

The roads were quiet, which was unsurprising. A teenage girl slunk her way home still dressed in a bizarre party costume. Barry’s mind started to go into fast-forward. Next year, the year after. He would be 40 soon. He’d continue to work in the planning department. He was competent but no high flyer. He would continue to be married to Lara, he supposed. The girls would grow up quickly and presumably move on. He would still be driving a Ford Focus, or similar, by day. By night he would leave it in the drive and walk to The Station, smoke his fags and pass comment on the condition of the beer. On Mondays he'd throw for the darts team, which sometimes meant a trip a little further into town. No country pubs these days though – drink-driving had put paid to that, which was sad. Some nice little pubs out of town, but increasingly they were closing or having to sell their souls and become pseudo-restaurants to survive. He turned onto the bypass, the roads still virtually empty. Something was nagging at him, he was unsettled. He sensed this unease in himself but could not pinpoint the reason. Restless, why? He could think of no wish or want that was causing this unusual condition. Impetuously, he dropped into third and gunned the Focus down the bypass for 100 yards or so before settling back into the cruise. Signaling right he took a minor road further out of town which would begin his loop home. Five miles perhaps. His favourite distance back in the old days when he was able to hold his 5-minute miling pretty much throughout. Not many would live with that. He’d had a bit of arrogance about him as well then and would challenge the field with the odd spurt off the front which, even if he couldn’t always maintain the lead, gained the respect of his fellow runners. And if he was beaten it would take a good man to do it. Ruefully he looked down at his stomach. Those days were gone. Soon he’d be home tucking into the usual fry-up. No need to watch the diet these days. So that was his life, laid out in front of him. It wasn’t so bad. Better than for those buggers in Africa, or the Gaza Strip, or Calcutta, any road. Slowly the Focus came towards the town outskirts. Barry didn’t know what was eating him today, he really didn’t.
6

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 7

Maybe he just needed to go back to bed for a few hours after breakfast. That would settle him down a bit. That and a fag. But there must have been something strange in the air that morning. The next thing he knew he was parked once more at the Memorial Park. How did that happen, he didn’t recall aiming the car here? He switched off the engine and stared into space, watching the clouds drifting by. Minutes passed. Then Barry shook himself back to the present. He got out and locked the door. And, quickly checking to see that Eddie and his dog were gone, he set off again around the perimeter path. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

7

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 8

‘THIS is the life,’ thought Lara, as she lazily stretched and rolled over. It wasn’t often she got to have a peaceful lie in. Nothing to do. No work, no school, no breakfasts to prepare, no timetable today. New Year’s Day. The girls were awake – she could hear them chattering and conspiring next door. Otherwise it was quiet; little traffic noise as the town slept off its collective hangover. She turned onto her back and pulled the duvet up to her chin, becoming awake now. Determined to take advantage of these few minutes’ luxury. She wondered how the old man was getting on out there? Silly old bugger. He’d said something about getting fit last night, and going for a run. She’d taken no notice, of course, and had been somewhat surprised to have been awoken by him a little earlier, clumping round, searching for shorts and T-shirt. She’d regarded him sleepily through half an open eye. ‘I’m going for a run,’ he’d said. She’d decided not to reply before he’d finally pulled his hooded top over his head, left the room, banged down the stairs and out of the front door. The car had started first time and the engine noise had disappeared up the road. ‘Fair play to the boy’ she thought, ‘it would be good for him if it became a regular thing,’ – which she doubted. ‘A new year Lara,’ her mind drifted. ‘What would it bring? Would the four of them continue along the same course for another year?’ She worked mornings in the library; Barry, down at the council offices; Lauren, the bright one, blazing a trail at school; poor Michelle trailing somewhat in her wake. She supposed things wouldn’t change too much; after all, why would they? She enjoyed her job, to a point anyway. She was good at it and was popular with her colleagues and those members of the public who used the library. Pretty much a regular crowd. The ones, usually older, that popped in most every day. They would come by more as part of a social routine than from
8

TWO

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 9

any great literary longings. They would glance through the dailies, the magazines, have a little chat. Others would come in less frequently, returning books, looking for others. Lara’s job was to keep everything in order, put books away in their proper place, deal with enquiries, helping where she could. Her whole life was like that, really; just like the library. Quiet, ordered, everything in its place. The girls were a lively handful, of course, but they generally lived, worked and played within the boundaries set by Lara. Barry took little part in this boundary-setting business. He still seemed somewhat surprised and bemused that he found himself surrounded daily by three females of the species. He preferred, on the whole, to let them get on with whatever they were getting on with. He was the caveman at the cave’s edge, the Protector of the family unit. But it was Lara who was the girls’ mentor, their guide, their comforter when things went wrong and the first person they ran to. ‘Mum, we want our breakfast!’ ‘Oh Lauren, I’m not getting up for a few minutes. Get yourself some cereal, sweetheart.’ There followed the sound of scampering down the stairs as the girls headed for the kitchen, maybe relishing this new independence; Mum trusting them to arrange their own breakfast. Lazily she stretched, like a cat. Really she ought to make a move. But rebelliously (she smiled to herself) she settled back once more. ‘Feck it, I’m staying here,’ she murmured, testing her new resolve, though not yet daring enough to go for the full monty with the f-word. The next time one of her old people enquired where they might find Catherine Cookson she’d shout ‘Under fecking C, where do you think?’ This time she giggled aloud. ‘Right, this won’t do’. Lara reluctantly lowered the duvet and swung her legs off the mattress. Standing up she dramatically flung off her nightie and struck a dramatic pose, arms aloft, in front of the mirror. Still relishing her naughtiness she considered her body. Not so bad, she thought, for 34 and a mother of two. Boobs OK, nice flat tummy, hips and bum average, good legs. Lara did try to take care of herself as well as looking after her family. She was careful about her
9

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 10

diet and was knowledgeable on the subject of food – calories, protein, good and bad carbs and the rest of it. Once a week she went to the local school hall where she did a Pilates class and, occasionally, she’d even attend a spinning class at the gym with her friend Margaret. So yes, not bad in the body department she concluded. Not that her husband noticed, she huffed quietly, still in rebel mode. She sighed and prepared to face the day. She’d go down and sort out the girls, and maybe have a shower and do her hair later. Bra and knickers on, Lara made sure that the bed was in ship-shape order, duvet smoothed and pillows plumped. Yellow T-shirt and jeans, flat comfortable shoes and she was ready to rock and roll. All was quiet on the western front. The girls were munching their Shreddies silently at the breakfast bar while their eyes were glued to the TV in the corner which was showing cartoons. ‘Good morning Mummy!’ Lara exclaimed, again striking a pose. Lauren and Michelle looked briefly in her direction to make sure there was no trouble afoot and then returned their attention to the TV. ‘Where’s Daddy?’ asked Lauren, at the age of nine, the elder. ‘Gone for a run,’ replied Lara. This news resulted in the cartoon being temporarily abandoned in favour of spluttering laughter and exclamations of incredulity. ‘What’s wrong with that?’ asked Lara, unsuccessfully trying to play the straight man, a smile betraying her. ‘Daddy used to be a good runner.’ ‘Used to be, like a century ago maybe’ snorted Lauren. ‘I’ve never seen him run, he’s too fat!’ ‘Well I think he’s good to try,’ interjected seven-year-old Michelle. ‘He’d beat you, you lazy bitch.’ ‘Mum! Did you hear that?’ wailed Lauren. Getting no satisfaction from Mum, Lauren gave her sister her best ‘just you wait until later’ glare. Eventually peace reigned once more. Lara prepared her own breakfast – porridge, toast and decaff coffee. As she carried it to the breakfast bar she heard the family car pull into the drive, the engine switched off and the door bang shut.
10

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 11

LAUREN was destined to become a teenager deemed to be ‘a worry’ by her parents. But at the age of nine such years were well ahead of her. For now she glided effortlessly, it seemed, through her young life. Approval had become her due and she accepted it as such. She was classically pretty with high cheekbones, dark blue eyes and black hair which she liked to wear long. She chose her clothes with care, when allowed to do so, and ensured that she always looked her best, especially outside her home. She was a star pupil at Wellhead Primary where lessons and learning came naturally to her. All subjects came alike to her and there were very few occasions where anyone topped her marks. She had a particular aptitude for maths, however, and would grasp new concepts immediately while many of her contemporaries would battle to conquer them, to attain an average standard. Many was the teacher who wished that young Lauren Lane could be fast tracked such were the problems she caused with delivering value to this gifted pupil while dealing with the rest of the class. Fortunately one lad, Richard, was almost equally clever in many respects, so that provided some competition and incentive for her. By default Lauren and Richard were regarded almost as a star couple. Of course, Lauren and Richard were favourites with the teaching staff and were often called upon to help out with monitoring and mentoring others, once their own work had been attended to. They would run messages between classrooms and the school office. They became natural points of contact between the teaching staff and their class, and they were asked their opinions which were always given careful consideration. All of which gave Lauren something of a superior attitude. Her snub nose would go into the air if something didn’t interest her, if she found something trivial, or if boys (with the exception, of course, of Richard) dared to speak to her. With her group of girlfriends she was pleasant and helpful. But when sport or PE came around Lauren was most definitely
11

THREE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 12

not a natural. She would join in happily enough, but was disinclined to exert herself or to get bothered about winning or losing. She much preferred to direct operations. At netball she would wave teammates into space and shout which passes to give. If the ball came to her she would look at it in surprise and pass it on quickly. In complete contrast to the rest of her school life she would avoid any situation where the spotlight might fall on her. Michelle, at seven years of age, was different in so many ways. Barry wondered aloud (and occasionally privately) if one or other of his daughters was, in fact, the milkman’s. And when Lara pointed out that milkmen no longer existed he wasn’t particularly convinced. Times past, Michelle would have been known as a tomboy. These days, with the roles of boys and girls being less clearly defined, that wasn’t quite fair. But whereas her older sister was quiet and studious, Michelle fizzed around, always looking for an outlet for her energy. To Lauren she was like an annoying wasp, much as she cared for her little sister. Michelle was thin-featured with prominent freckles and brown hair, invariably pulled back in a pony tail. Not good-looking like Lauren she was nevertheless popular at school, particularly among the boys. This had nothing to do with her average academic ability but all to do with her high spirits and energy. Notably she was the fastest runner in the class, faster than nearly all the boys. She would sooner join in their games than hang around with the girls and her enthusiasm made up for any lack of ability. At football she would chase around like a dervish, ignoring any instructions. Boys, and any other girls who had infiltrated the game, were scattered like skittles as Michelle pursued the ball as if her life depended on it. Each goal for her team was greeted with delight and she would shout at her defenders and goalie if they conceded. In organised girls-only games she was invariably the star player and a natural future school captain. But, just as Lauren found school work straightforward, Michelle struggled somewhat. She wasn’t the worst but she was not naturally gifted and she found it difficult to concentrate. She quite liked
12

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 13

writing stories and drawing, where she was able to use her own initiative and imagination. But figures and stuff left her scratching her head and with low marks. Her school reports carried phrases such as ‘lack of concentration’ and ‘must try harder’. And this left young Michelle somewhat frustrated and with a bit of a chip on her shoulder. Her good marks for English, Art and PE were often overlooked and her parents worried more about the negative comments. Most of all she felt very much in the shadow of her gifted elder sister. She knew, even at her young age, that Lauren got all the praise while she, Michelle, would get any criticism going. She loved her big sister and would defend her to the death in public. But she found it hard to hold her tongue when they were together and she was often spiteful. In trying to take her sister down a peg or two she could be hurtful, and she would be sorry afterwards. She would seethe and store up resentment when Lauren came home with more good marks, or when people in town paid attention to her whilst Michelle was ignored. Michelle was happiest when outdoors and she was able to let off steam. As neither Mum nor Dad were outdoor people, though, that didn’t happen so often. And so this essentially good-hearted child was frustrated, even before she knew the meaning of the word. But, of course, in the modern world opportunities are many and, down the line, Michelle was destined to make her mark. As the car pulled up outside the girls looked up from the TV, curious to find out how the running adventure had gone. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

13

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 14

‘WHAT?’ asked Barry as three pairs of eyes appraised him. ‘My name’s Barry Lane, I live here,’ he continued grumpily as he trudged over to the fridge, found the orange squash, poured some into a glass and filled it from the cold water tap. Lifting to his lips he glugged it back without drawing breath, and gasped with satisfaction. ‘Where did you go running?’ enquired Lara. ‘Oh, just the park. No-one about, the place is dead. Except for Eddie and his stinky dog.’ The girls giggled. ‘How far did you run? Are you really fast?’ enquired Michelle. ‘Petal, I didn’t run very far and I think you’re faster than me these days.’ ‘Yay, can I come next time? We can have a race!’ ‘Hmm, we’ll see if there’s any next time,’ replied Barry, ‘I’m going to get a shower.’ ‘Shall I get your breakfast ready, Barry?’ asked Lara as her husband headed for the stairs. ‘Nah, leave it for a bit,’ was the reply, as he disappeared into the bathroom. But as the water ran hot Barry Lane was quietly pleased with himself. OK, he was overweight and very unfit, that was no secret. One rueful look down at his naked body was quite enough to remind him of this. There was no sign now of the wiry athlete he had been until fatherhood had signalled an end to all that and a beginning to many bad habits, aged just 30. But this morning something had happened to him. He couldn’t explain it, but it felt good. As if someone had opened a door and had invited him to step through. And he had accepted the invitation. His first circuit of the Memorial Park had been pretty horrible, but it had had a strange effect on him. Without knowing how or why, he had found himself returning for a second lap when the Barry Lane of recent years would have run only for the one lap, knowing it would be followed by the crea14

FOUR

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 15

ture comforts (of one or more ‘treats’) of food, fag, couch or even an early pint. During that second lap he had fallen into a nice rhythm. Slow but comfortable. He had completed it coughing and short of breath, but with definite life in his legs. He could have carried on. It was his breathing that had caused the major difficulty, and the cause of that was obvious to Barry Lane. So, there and then, under the shower on New Year’s Day, he made a resolution. He dried off and presented himself downstairs again. The girls had disappeared, Michelle back to the TV and Lauren upstairs, presumably to read or write. ‘Full English?’ enquired Lara as she busied herself at the sink. ‘Yes please sweetheart. Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ As he spoke, Barry flicked back the cover of a packet of 20 Bensons and considered the contents thoughtfully. ‘How do you mean, Rome … garden please, Barry!’ Lara ordered as she dried her hands on a tea towel and prepared to start a fry-up. Her husband occasionally lit up in the house without thinking, though he went along with being banished to their small back garden for this purpose. Or indeed the front, though there it became more of a public affair. ‘Watch and be amazed Lara.’ As she paused and looked at him he took up the packet, with both hands crushed it and threw it into the corner of the room. ‘What, you’re packing them up?’ Lara asked, still frozen in place, her hand on the fridge handle. ‘Yep, today I begin to take myself in hand, Lara. I’m only 39 and I’m wrecking my body. I want to feel fit and well again. I want to get back in shape, like I was when we met. I want it for myself but I owe it to you and the girls as well.’ Lara’s heart melted. She went to Barry, dear old Barry, put her arm around his shoulders and kissed him warmly. Her husband wasn’t given to either great speeches or great actions and she loved him for what he had just said and done. Whether or not he was able to maintain this great new resolution she doubted very much, but she wasn’t going to knock any good intentions, short-lived or not. ‘And the running – are you going to make that a regular thing as
15

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 16

well?’ Lara, returned to the fridge and this time brought out bacon, eggs and sausages. ‘Yes, I am. Definitely. I’m not going to go mad and start racing though. Got to ease back into it gently. I’m so unfit it’s not true and I’m not daft enough to think I can get back to where I was. Not yet, anyway. I’ll set myself a little schedule and see where I am in a few weeks time.’ ‘You know that Paula Radcliffe doesn’t eat full English’s,’ Lara teased as she heated up the frying pan. ‘I know. Maybe I’ll attend to my other vices in due course. But right now I could eat a horse.’ ‘No worries, one full English coming up. Don’t forget we’re going to Mum’s later.’ ‘COME on Dad, race me to the end of the road!’ Michelle demanded. As early evening descended on this lazy New Year’s Day Barry and the girls were going for a walk while Lara and her mother were chin-wagging inside over the washing up. ‘OK,’ Barry groaned as he considered his tired legs. ‘Lauren, you say “Go”.’ ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’ yelled Lauren, whereupon Michelle sped off down the road and Barry went slowly up the gears but remained in his daughter’s wake. ‘Yay, I’m the winner!’ exclaimed Michelle, dramatically raising her arms in victory. Both returned, breathing heavily but smiling, to where Lauren regally watched on. ‘Lauren can be our coach,’ said Michelle, ‘then we’ll both be better runners!’ She knew she was goading her sister a bit, but she was always hoping to improve. ‘You want to be our running coach, Lauren?’ asked Barry with a smile. ‘Huh, as if I haven’t got better things to do with my life’ replied the nine year-old. ‘Oh, go on Lauren, you’re clever. How can I get faster?’ insisted
16

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 17

Michelle. ‘Well ’Chelle, why do your arms go in all directions – up and down and round and round? If they just went backwards and forwards then maybe you’d get somewhere.’ ‘Oh, rubbish, what do you know, you can’t run for toffee!’ said Michelle indignantly. Nevertheless she surreptitiously rehearsed a new, neater arm movement. Barry just stood there looking at Lauren, not quite believing what he’d heard from his non-sporty daughter. ‘So how can I get better Lauren?’ he asked quietly. ‘Oh Daddy! You need to lose weight to get faster. And when you get old you need to warm up properly before your race. You can’t just get up off the couch and run fast. Now, before the next race you must jog up and down a bit,’ instructed Lauren. So there, in the twilight of urban Surrey, father and daughter jogged up and down the street under the eye of coach Lauren. Michelle concentrated hard on making her arms go straighter, Barry shaking out his legs, still stiff and sore from earlier. And after the rerun race, though the result was the same, the coach grudgingly pronounced: ‘That’s a bit better’. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

17

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 18

BY the time the clocks went forward that year much had changed in the Lane household. Barry had more than kept that resolution of taking himself in hand. It had become an integral part of his being. Something had awakened in him and he had embraced it with all the enthusiasm of a child taking up an interest for the first time. But whereas a child will ditch his or her stamp collection sooner or later, as sure as night follows day, there was no sign of Barry turning his back on running. He had sat down and thought about how to ease himself back into this punishing sport sensibly. You don’t sit on your backside for nine years and hope to pick up things where you left off. Lauren had, of course, reminded him of this and would continue to come up with remarkable observations which, not having been born of experience, Barry could only put down to her young intuition and sharp mind. Barry knew that he needed a target, or targets. Any running schedule would soon falter without something to aim at. Running was hard work and often painful and it was only in pursuit of stated aims that anyone would continue to put themselves through it. He considered pure weight loss as a target, but he figured that this would happen naturally, anyway. And the competitor in him demanded that he set himself a running target. A race, a time to beat. He checked the Harriers’ website and found that a 10k was scheduled for the end of March. Perfect. He’d enter that and, nearer the time, he’d decide on a time target. His PB (personal best time) for 10k was under 30 minutes but that would always remain the case and it was how near to that time he could get ... that would be the question. So, with his target now set, he started to work out how best to train for it. He figured that, first of all, he’d better make sure that he could run 10k … ie just over six miles.No way was he, a former top runner, going to be caught walking during the race. No sir. He reckoned that if he could run non-stop for 45 minutes then surely
18

FIVE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 19

to God that would get him to the finishing post. Calculating by time rather than distance also meant that he didn’t really need to worry about measuring courses for himself. He was aware that many runners these days use GPS devices such as Garmins to do this stuff. Maybe he’d treat himself to one for his 40th, later in the year! He opened his pocket diary and considered. How often should he run? He knew that rest and recovery were an important part of a runner’s schedule. It would be mad to think he could train every day; certainly not yet. Maybe three-four times a week to start with? His ‘Week One’ entries read as follows: Tuesday – 10 minutes Thursday – 12 minutes Friday – 9 minutes Sunday – 15 minutes ‘Pathetic,’ he thought. If his former club mates saw that schedule they’d split their sides laughing. However, he gritted his teeth and returned to the diary. He worked on it until ‘Week Five’, which read: Tuesday – 38 minutes Thursday – 40 minutes Friday – 35 minutes Sunday – 45 minutes – target Phase One. That would do. If he reached that Phase One target then he’d sit down again and formulate Phase Two. Now, what else did he need? Not much, really. But he needed a half decent pair of running shoes. His old trainers would do for a while but he knew that he’d wreck his legs and feet if he tried to do too much running without investing in proper shoes. He’d have a look in that sports shop in town and ask their advice. If there was anyone working there who knew about running, that was. He wouldn’t trust a spotty Saturday boy. And he’d run in the mornings, he thought, before work. So, the alarm was set earlier and Barry would jump out of bed and, via the bathroom, would pull on socks, trainers, shorts, T-shirt and a warm top. After one or two indignant hoots from early-morning motorists he added a luminous bib to his outfit. He added a woolly hat and gloves if it was uncomfortably cold. He switched his watch to stop19

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 20

watch mode, pressed the start button and headed off down the welllit London Road towards town. Nice and slowly, not worrying about distance. When he’d run half of the allotted time he simply turned around and ran home at the same pace. And it worked. He was completing his runs without too much trouble. His breathing was getting easier all the time, his legs and body protested somewhat at first but they soon got used to the idea. There was a gradual but definite improvement. Barry was pleased with himself and was looking forward to the future with great enthusiasm. AND Lara had certainly noticed a difference. The new Barry did not smoke or splutter or wheeze or smell of stale tobacco. If he had the odd fag it was not obvious to Lara. He had also started to be choosy about his food. Fry-ups for breakfast were out, in the main. He chose to eat cereal, like the girls, and wholemeal toast with margarine and jam. He would stay in town for lunch and she guessed that he would be watching what he ate in the subsidised staff canteen in the council offices. However, having eaten less rubbish in the daytime Barry was ready for a big dinner in the early evening. And he pleased Lara by listening to her advice on balanced meals and on a proper mix of protein and carbohydrates with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Barry didn’t check his weight but it was clear to Lara that he was losing plenty. He was visibly slimmer and fitter-looking, he was adjusting his belt-notches inwards and he no longer had to struggle to fasten the top button of his shirts in the morning. And, after dinner, Barry would not automatically disappear to The Station. For the first time in years he might choose to sit there, read the paper or Athletics Weekly, watch TV or help the girls with their homework. But, surprisingly, once left alone, Lara and Barry found that they had little to talk about. He wasn’t interested in her work, which, after the children, was the centre of her life. And beyond
20

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 21

the obvious good it was doing her husband, Lara had little interest in running or indeed sport of any kind. There were too many long periods of silence. In hindsight either should have recognised the warning signs … but, for the moment, things were fine. However, silences or not, there was another major difference in Barry. This Lara could not discuss with her mother or her colleagues at the library. In bed Barry had become something of a lion. Their sex life had never been fabulous at best, but, in recent years, it had become Saturday night dutiful and fall asleep. This left Lara somewhat frustrated and worried about her attractiveness, but in the larger scheme of things it didn’t trouble her overmuch. But now things were suddenly different. Almost before Lara had walked into the bedroom her husband would be all over her, throwing her on the bed, undoing buttons and straps. And, if the sex was still basic and unimaginative it certainly was no longer unenergetic. From a once-a-week man to once, sometimes twice a night, Lara wondered if all runners were like this! It was a complete transformation but Lara was not about to complain. In the morning she would finish her make-up with a look of definite self-approval and she would walk into town with a much more confident air. Like a French tart, she giggled to herself. IDLY flicking through magazines one quiet morning in the library one advertisement caught Lara’s eye. It was for a residential course in Cornwall to learn to draw and paint to take place at Easter. ‘ That would be nice for them,’ she thought. For they rarely had a weekend to themselves these days. The girls could stay with Mum. And this break wasn’t too expensive. But, to her disappointment, Barry turned his nose up at the idea. ‘Nah, not interested. What would I want with poncy drawing and stuff? Besides, the 10k is the week after and it would get in the way of my training.’ ‘Well, just come and don’t do the painting bit. It would be nice just the two of us, down in Cornwall.’
21

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 22

‘No, I’d not enjoy it, love. If you’re interested, though, why don’t you go?’ Disappointed, Lara dropped the subject. But next day she found the advertisement again and, after hesitating for a second, dialled the number shown. ‘Yes,’ the lady said, ‘there are still places available. And yes, we always have a few singles on these breaks … and one or two wanting to get away from their partners for a few days!’ So, there and then Lara, not known for her decisiveness, booked her place at St Ives and promised to send a deposit. If her husband could go off and do stuff on his own, then so could she … >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

22

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 23

‘DADDY, hurry up!’ It was a typical weekday morning – in this case a Friday morning, in the Lane household. No different in essence, of course, from many households across the country; a world where parents need to get to work and children have to get to school. At some time in the future a more sensible way of arranging things may evolve but, for now, this was the daily reality. Barry, having completed a good, strong run was in pole position and presently in control of the bathroom. He had showered and shaved and was pretty much ready to return to the master bedroom to get dressed, leaving the bathroom to his daughters. But first he took a moment to regard his trimmer figure with approval and sprayed same with deodorant before pulling on his pants and unlocking the bathroom door. He was almost bowled over by Lauren who, by virtue of seniority, was next in line to use the facilities. ‘Good morning Daddy,’ Barry muttered sardonically to himself as the door crashed shut. Michelle, one might have thought, would be equally eager to be up and at the day. On the contrary, she was awake but still tucked up in the lower bunk reading a boy’s comic. Unlike her older sister she had no great wish to do anything that might expedite her arrival at Wellhead Primary School. Not unless PE was the first item on the curriculum, which it rarely was. Downstairs, Lara had everything under control – at least those matters over which she had control. She wasn’t required at the library until about 9.45am for a 10am opening. She was already dressed for work in smart blouse and trousers having risen, as was her wont, well before the predictable rush. She knew that her husband had a supply of ironed shirts and a drawer full of socks and pants. That being so, she assumed, unless informed to the contrary, that he was capable of getting himself ready for work. And, happily, this was usually the case.
23

SIX

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 24

Similarly, with the girls, Lara was careful to ensure that there was always an adequate supply of school clothes and sports kit, as required. At the ages of nine and seven she also considered that both Lauren and Michelle were now capable of presenting themselves downstairs in reasonable shape. In Michelle’s case this was problematical, but Lara let her younger and slightly scatterbrained daughter do her best before making any necessary adjustments. She sensibly assumed that the girls would learn some of life’s basic lessons quicker by trying to cope for themselves, whenever practicable. Breakfast was a relatively easy exercise, especially since Barry had decided to cut out fried foods. No longer did the sound of sizzling and the smell of bacon permeate the upper reaches of their little semi-detached every morning. She began singing to herself a Joni Mitchell song: ‘Woke up it was Chelsea Morning and the first thing that I knew, ‘There was milk and toast and honey, and a bowl of oranges too ...’ She had added the bowl of oranges to the kitchen/breakfast room to fit the lyrics, and her daughters didn’t know whether or not to believe that Mummy had composed the verse that she would often hum or sing. Lauren reckoned not, as they lived in Wellhead, not Chelsea. But, at the moment, it was only the sound of local radio that accompanied the gentle sounds of crockery and cutlery until, at length, the sound of masculine footsteps descended the staircase. ‘Well, how was your run?’ Lara asked automatically. She asked out of general interest and solidarity with her husband only. To the extent that his answer was longer than half-a-dozen words, she filtered out the detail and just took in the vibes that indicated whether or not things had gone well. ‘Yeah, good! Coming along nicely. At this rate I won’t disgrace myself. Four miles in about 26 minutes I reckon. I couldn’t have done that a few weeks back.’ He paused: ‘I might treat myself to one of them Garmin-things if I break 40 minutes in the race. I’m still guessing my distances, really. I saw Kerry Black out there this
24

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 25

morning, he’s my age, we used to ...’ It was just over two weeks to go until the 10k race, and a week until Easter and Lara’s trip to Cornwall. Whereas Barry was looking forward to the race, Lara was wondering whether her four days away from the family was a good idea. She wasn’t worried that Barry and the girls wouldn’t manage. She was simply nervous of how she herself would get on with a lot of strangers, all of whom probably knew each other and who would probably be expert artists, despite how the short break had been promoted and what the lady on the phone had said. She had never really been on her own for long. She had lived with her parents until the age of 23. She enjoyed seeing friends socially, and, with her pretty features and neat figure, she was never short of male companionship. But she liked none of these men well enough to seriously consider moving away from her home comforts. Until smart, athletic Barry Lane had come along and stolen her heart. Since that time, 11 years previously, they had rarely been apart. With a guilty start she realised that, once again, she had totally switched off as Barry had recounted news of his latest run. Also, Lauren had presented herself at the breakfast bar virtually unnoticed. ‘Morning, sweetheart,’ she leaned over to kiss Lauren on the forehead ‘Is Michelle nearly ready?’ ‘I so don’t think so,’ replied Lauren. ‘Michelle! It’s ten to eight!’ yelled Lara from the foot of the stairs. Shortly afterwards she heard the reluctant padding of feet and the bathroom door closing. Lara sighed. The arrangement was that Barry would drop the girls off to school on his way to work. But this was only on condition that they were both ready by 8.15am. Otherwise, they both walked or caught the bus. It was less than a mile, just this side of town but a nuisance, especially if it was raining. Lara herself would happily walk into town a little later. There was no real need for them to have a second car, which was irrelevant anyway as Lara didn’t drive and had no present intention of learning. Lauren quietly ate her cereal and a piece of toast and washed it down with a glass of orange. As she checked her schoolbag and got
25

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 26

her coat ready, Lara headed up the stairs. The bathroom door was still closed. ‘Michelle, what are you doing? It’s eight o’clock!’ The door opened and the seven year-old slowly emerged, walked back into her bedroom and started to pull on her clothes. Trying not to let her exasperation show, Lara started to hurry up the process. Re-button school shirt correctly, pull off right sock, turn it the right way out and pull it on again, ensure shoes were on the correct feet. Lara wondered if she was expecting too much. Hurriedly brushing her daughter’s hair, she ushered her down the stairs. Michelle finally sat herself in front of her cereal. Barry ostentatiously began to pull on his coat over his jacket. Belatedly, Michelle realised the perilous position, opened her eyes wide and started to shovel down her breakfast. Her reluctance to walk to school with her sister scolding her all the way finally kicked her into action. Finally, Dad and daughters, one still carrying a piece of toast with coat half on and dragging her bag along the ground, left the house and piled into the car. A few minutes later the Focus pulled up at the roadside close to Wellhead Primary. The girls climbed out waving goodbye to Dad. As they walked in the school gates, Lauren was rushed by several school friends, delighted to see her. Casting around, Michelle spotted her own friends playing a skipping game at the far side of the playground and rushed over to join them. The sisters would not see each other again until 3.30. BARRY parked at the council offices, went in the staff entrance and skipped up three flights of stairs to the planning office on the top floor. There he shared an office with two colleagues, Tony Matson and Fiona Flynn, neither of whom had yet arrived. They reported directly to the Town Planner, Fred Smithers, who had an office down the corridor next to the Drawing Office. He hung up his coat on the back of the door then took off his jacket and slung it on the back of his chair. He pushed the power button on his
26

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 27

PC and sat down and looked out of the window while it went through its start-up routine. In the courtyard, around the fountain there were several small groups of council employees engaged in conversation. Although the morning was fine and it was not yet 9am this was unusual, Barry thought to himself. Turning back to his PC he clicked on the email icon to check what had come in overnight. After scanning the list of 20 or so new messages, and deleting about half of them as junk, an internal priority message caught his eye and he clicked it open. ‘FROM THE CHAIRMAN’S OFFICE ‘To all employees of Wellhead Town Council ‘As you will all be aware, the Council’s finances have been under pressure for some time. The reasons for this uncomfortable situation are many and various. However, there is no escaping the fact that the Council’s expenditure has exceeded its income in each of the last three financial years leading to a deficit situation that cannot be allowed to continue. ‘The Finance Committee consider that income has been maximised as far as is practicable. Costs have been cut but these cuts have not proved sufficient. Seventy-three per cent of the Council’s total expenditure is in employee costs – salaries, pension costs, social security and other staff-related expenditure. This percentage must be cut. The implications are clear and, whilst no decisions have yet been made, it is inevitable that headcount will need to fall in conjunction with a hiring freeze. In plain terms there will be redundancies. ‘Together with the relevant unions, the Finance Committee will be working on the details and these are expected to be finalised within the next three weeks. ‘We apologise for having to bring you this news but we have no option. At this time consideration will be given to applicants for voluntary redundancy who are invited to contact the Finance Committee at the email address given below.’ Barry descended the stairs, poured himself a coffee from the ground floor machine, and blankly walked out into the courtyard and sat by the fountain.
27

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 28

LARA finally began to relax. In a corner seat of the Cornish Riviera Express outbound from Paddington she plugged herself into her iPod and, with her back to the engine, she watched the western London boroughs slip by. She had awoken with a rare sensation of excitement, of something about to happen. Then she remembered that it was the Thursday before Easter and she had places to go! Her previous nervousness had been replaced by a girlish eagerness. She had booked a seat on the 12.30pm train from Paddington to Penzance. She guessed, correctly as it transpired, this service out to the south-western tip of England would be extremely busy with people looking to escape the capital for Easter. All she needed to do was get herself up to Waterloo and across town to Paddington in time. She had arranged today and Tuesday off work and therefore was not restricted in her plans by library considerations. She was sure that they could manage without her for a while! She had packed most of her things the night before, carrying all she needed for the few days away in a small suitcase, plus her shoulder bag. All the course materials were to be provided so she didn’t need to worry about all that stuff, which she thought would have proved too expensive anyway. Breakfast had been only averagely stressful and Barry and the girls had been packed off into the car on time. Barry would take the girls to her Mum’s that evening and would pick them up on Monday and they would be fine. Mum loved the company, especially since the sudden death of her husband, Lara’s father, three years ago. The sudden recollection hit Lara like a hammer as she made her final check of the house. Her poor Mum had found Dad dead in the chair as he watched TV one evening after dinner. What a shock it had been to Mum, and, of course, to the wider family. Dad had been a young, healthy man and there had been no prior indication that he had had heart issues. If there was a consolation it was that he had gone peacefully, even though before his time.
28

SEVEN

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 29

Mum had never got over the grief, and probably never would, but her grandchildren were a great comfort to her. She put the unhappy memories to the back of her mind. Satisfied that the house was in order with everything switched off, Lara carried her bags outside and locked the front door to await her prebooked taxi. This turned up promptly and she was soon being dropped off outside the station with 20 minutes or so to wait for the commuter train up to London. She bought her one-way ticket from the machine and sat down on a platform bench. It was quiet enough at this time of day, the morning rush having abated leaving mainly shoppers and those with free travel passes with just a handful of ‘travellers’ as Lara classified herself today. It was a mild spring morning but with a moderate breeze that rustled the leaves on the trees that stood behind the opposite platform – reminder that winter’s chilly fingers had not yet completely released their grip. Lara was glad that she had erred on the side of caution by wearing a sweater along over her T-shirt. She tried to relax but she needed to be further away from home before she would feel that she was finally on holiday. Holidays. These had been rare enough in Lara’s 34 years. Not that she had great desires to travel widely. Some people’s lives revolved around travelling and, no sooner were they home from one holiday than they were planning for the next. That wasn’t her. Checking the clock (seven minutes until the train was due) she considered her holiday history. As an only child there were annual fortnights at the sea – Ramsgate, Folkestone, Brighton were those places she could remember. Happy, simple days walking on the prom, building sandcastles on the beach behind windbreaks, decorating them with seashells and pebbles, paddling or swimming in the chilly English Channel, eating sandwiches by day and fish dinners in the evening, always staying in small B&Bs or hotels. Her parents’ tastes were simple and they unknowingly passed on to their daughter the happiness that can be found in them. As Lara entered her teens, of course, the excitement of the seaside and being with her parents palled somewhat. For two summers she went off to Wales with her best friend,
29

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 30

Alice, plus her parents, who had a holiday home. They cycled, explored, pony trekked and generally conspired and shared secrets. Then school trips took place and Lara’s first overseas journey was to France, though from Normandy one could still see the English coast on a clear day. She was enthralled by the landing beaches, the Mulberry harbour and the war cemeteries. Her French improved, as did her education as concerned men. Her first proper kiss and, both alarmingly and excitingly, the sensation of a male hand exploring her school blouse was the first indication of how attractive she was becoming. Lara left school without excelling and found that she was suited to retail work. She liked meeting people and helping them and her natural organisational skills led to a couple of management positions in town department stores. She especially liked meeting young men and, with one or other of her favourites, she explored Paris, Rome and Dublin. With her new man, Barry, she happily flew to Tenerife – her longest journey to date. Here they truly fell in love beneath the slopes of Mount Teide though, since returning, they had not journeyed beyond England’s shores. They preferred to take short breaks up and down the country and considered themselves fairly expert in the matter of English towns and cities. A few minutes late, Lara climbed onto the London train. An uneventful 35 minutes later she was disembarking at Waterloo Station. Checking the Tube map she bought a ticket for Paddington and so eventually found herself on the Cornish Riviera Express, last stop Penzance. She had to convince a large woman that she was in Lara’s pre-reserved seat before she was finally able to sit back with a sigh of relief. Five hours or so down to Penzance so time to relax. Fairport Convention played on her iPod. Lara considered that she might have been better off reading up on the subject of drawing and art, of which she knew so little. However, on the whole, she was content to take the course as it came, with the welcome meeting and first session due for 10am the following morning. As the train made steady progress westwards Lara was pleased to see the catering trolley arrive.
30

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 31

She had not eaten since breakfast time. She requested and received a coffee and a Danish, and, as an afterthought, a small packet of biscuits. ‘Well, no point in being on holiday and not pushing the boat out!’ she smiled to herself. The news of Council redundancies had hardly touched Lara. Barry had, of course, told her of the internal email, and indeed it had been all over the local paper. But he seemed unconcerned. The Planning Department was always busy, he said, and he couldn’t imagine cuts in his department. If the worst came to the worst then he would get a good package. There was nothing to worry about, said Barry, and he refused to discuss the matter further. And, as far as Lara could tell, her husband was unconcerned at the possibilities ahead, even though it was the talk of the town. So there didn’t seem to be any future in fretting over something that might never happen. Lara did her best, therefore, to dismiss the matter from her thoughts. As the afternoon drew on, the Cornish Riviera Express made its way deep into Devon and the picturesque run down from Exeter through Dawlish, Teignmouth, Torquay and Paignton. At these stops the train began to shed its passengers before it headed on through Plymouth, after which they were in Cornwall. Lara now gave her full attention to the landscape as they approached the toe of England – St Austell, Truro and finally Penzance, the end of the main line. She alighted and quickly found the local train that took her the few miles along the pretty branch line to St Ives. And it was here that Lara arrived not long after 6pm on that Maunday Thursday evening. On enquiry it transpired that the Breezes Hotel was within comfortable walking distance, close enough even for her to pull her suitcase along. She found it around the bend from the station and up a hill, a little way away from what appeared to be the town centre and harbour area. The Breezes turned out to be a typical English family-run hotel, comfortable and homely-feeling without the bells and whistles generally expected in a more expensive establishment. In answer to the bell, which she rang at Reception, she was eventually greeted by the friendly lady she had spoken to on the phone.
31

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 32

This turned out to be Mary Turner who, she informed Lara, ran the hotel with her husband, Jack. It was Jack Turner who was the art teacher and who led the tuition on these regular breaks. Mary showed Lara to a small but clean and adequate room. The hotel provided breakfast but, as Lara had been told earlier, other meals were not available. A list of restaurants in the town was available any of which, upon production of the Breezes key, would allow a discount. The Breezes had a small bar for the use of residents. Mary supposed that Lara might meet a few of her fellow students in the bar a little later. Suddenly feeling lonely, Lara phoned Barry. He was home and contemplating treating himself to a pint ahead of the holiday weekend. Lara quite agreed that he should, and described her journey and the hotel. Promising to call the day after, she said goodbye and called her mother, chatting with her and her daughters who were making themselves at home there for the weekend. Her mind at rest, Lara decided to head for the hotel bar to see if there was any sign of life there yet. Who might she meet? ‘Maybe there would be a murder and it would be like an Agatha Christie novel,’ she fancied, as she made her way down a single flight of stairs and found the bar. She indeed found life of sorts in the bar. ‘Hello,’ she said, to a serious-looking older man in a check jacket and with a curly moustache. ‘Good evening,’ he replied, without embellishment. In addition there was a middle-aged couple, too well-dressed for the surroundings, Lara thought. Both carried generous-sized glasses with what appeared to be white wine. ‘That’s what I fancy,’ Lara thought, and presented herself at the bar. A pretty, younger girl appeared to be in charge and Lara asked for a glass of dry white wine which was, accordingly, served without worry as to measure, in the Continental way. The girl introduced herself as young Mary, the daughter of the proprietor. She was a student, she said, but often helped out in the family business when on vacation. Happy to meet anyone who would talk to her, Lara introduced
32

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 33

herself and told Mary that she was on the short break for beginner artists. ‘You’ll have fun with Dad,’ Mary said, ‘and he treats everyone the same whether they’re Picasso or just rubbish.’ Before turning to serve the serious-looking man she recommended that the nearby Mary Rose Restaurant was a good bet for a reasonably-priced evening meal. But, with Easter arriving, there were a number of establishments now re-opening for the season so she wouldn’t have a problem finding somewhere. Just as Lara was wondering where to sit down the middle-aged couple stepped over and introduced themselves: Louise and Glyn Hodges, from Cardiff. Yes, they were on the short break. No, they didn’t know anybody else here. Would Lara like to join them for dinner? Finding herself short of other offers and pleased to have found nice companions, Lara gladly joined them and headed into town. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

33

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 34

BARRY Lane sat in the bar of The Old Crown in Wellhead town centre that same Thursday evening. He fancied a pint, but he fancied drinking that pint without having to talk to people. At The Station everyone knew him and he would be expected to chat, joke, buy rounds, play darts. Indeed, he was affectionately known by the darts crowd as ‘Twenty Six’, reflecting Barry’s most usual three-dart score. His skill with the arrows had not noticeably improved over the years despite plenty of practice. As with many pub darts teams it was the social element that was more important than winning matches, therefore Barry had retained his place on the team on these grounds. The bar was busier than normal, more like a Friday evening as people enjoyed the luxury of a drink, knowing that they didn’t have to turn in for work the next morning. Barry knew a few of the drinkers and greetings were politely exchanged, although he preferred to take his pint of Real Ale to a corner seat, the better to reflect on matters. He was worried, very worried. The news of forthcoming staff cuts had hit him hard and he was doing his best to keep his concerns from Lara. He supposed he ought to share his fears with his wife but he had brushed aside her attempts to raise the matter. He thought again about his position in life. He was 39 and had worked for the Council for the last 15 years, the last five of which had been in the Planning Department but he had no educational qualifications to speak of and had progressed his career slowly by virtue of being steady, competent – a safe pair of hands. He knew the ropes, procedures and systems and had an enviable list of contacts. He was the go-to man for obscure queries from council staff. The receptionists would often refer members of the public to him if it wasn’t clear which department was needed. His colleague, Tony, was slightly older but had fewer years’ service under his belt. Fiona was considerably younger and a university graduate wanting to specialise in town planning and was destined for greater
34

EIGHT

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 35

things. It was a reasonable bet that their office would be reduced by one. That was even if the office wasn’t restructured in some way. They had all sought assurance from Fred, their boss. However, Fred professed that he had no knowledge of what was happening; neither had he been consulted by the higher-ups on the redundancy issue. With Fiona the bright graduate being fast-tracked it seemed a straight fight between Barry and Tony. In guarded conversation each had ascertained that the other had no intention of taking voluntary redundancy. So there the matter lay for the next two weeks during which time the best and worst would be revealed. Knocking back his first pint and then getting a refill, Barry considered the worst. On his salary they were able to pay the mortgage, run the car, pay the utilities, buy clothes and school stuff for the girls, but little else. Lara was expected to see to household expenditure from her part-time earnings from the library. What remained they put aside for little luxuries. Any reduction in the household income would hit them hard. And Barry was realistic enough to know that his prospects in the open job market would not be good. He could not offer an employer more attributes than many other job candidates. The fact that he was a steady bloke, a former runner and an all-round good egg would only count for so much. True, any redundancy package would help and would mask the reality of their situation for a while, maybe a year or so. But, unless things sorted themselves out in the meantime, then the future looked bleak. However, he told himself for the umpteenth time, the worst hadn’t happened yet, and maybe it wouldn’t. Until it did he would try to look on the positive side and not share his concerns with Lara. He was aware that this very acceptable Old Crown beer was going down rather quickly; nevertheless he ordered a third pint. He wasn’t driving and the girls were staying at their grandmother’s. He banished all worries to the far recesses of his mind and instead considered the more pleasurable matter of his running comeback. Ten days to go until the Wellhead Harriers 10k and Barry thought that he would be ready. He had worked hard and well and until race day he just needed to tick over, not to run too hard and to arrive
35

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 36

fresh at the starting post. Then he would see. He mentally reviewed what he had achieved since New Year’s Day. He had achieved his first target with some aplomb – 45 minutes non-stop running which completed Phase 1 of his training schedule after five weeks. Since then he had set about improving his speed. He considered that just completing the 10k race would not be enough. For those fun-runners, as he termed them, just starting out then completing a race might be an achievement in itself. But he was now determined to show himself, and perhaps some former club mates, that he could still knock out a good time. So, over various distances on the local roads, Barry started to train his legs to go faster. He would time himself on the digital watch he wore and would carefully log his times in his office desk diary. He became competitive with himself and, each morning that he ran, he was determined to beat his best times for three, four, five and six miles. One evening a week he would visit the Wellhead track and, under the floodlights, would run a repetition session. For example, this might consist of a run of 800 metres under a target time of three minutes, with a recovery time of three minutes before repeating, with maybe five sets in total. The idea was to accustom the legs and body to a fast pace under controlled conditions. Barry knew that these sessions would normally only be carried out by athletes with plenty of ‘base miles’ in their legs, but he was eager to get back into the old routines. On Sunday mornings, in common with many runners across the world, Barry would go out for a long, slow run. He would head away from town into side roads and public footpaths. These runs were to be enjoyed and time was unimportant. And Barry had now begun to look like a proper runner again. As well as the running, his changed lifestyle had resulted in considerable weight loss which, in turn, helped his running performance. He felt trimmer, healthier. And randier! He often came across fellow Harriers on the road. If they were travelling in the same direction they would have a little chat. Enquiries would be made as to whether Barry would be returning to the club and maybe get on the teams again. Barry would re36

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 37

main non-committal. The idea appealed to him but he wanted to see exactly where he stood. The test would come with the 10k race and then he would re-assess. ‘Barry Lane?’ a female voice said, interrupted his daydreaming. He looked up. It was a good-looking woman, much his own age. She was wearing a smart suit and obviously had yet to change from her work clothes. She was vaguely familiar but he couldn’t place her. ‘Yes that’s right, but I …’ ‘Penny! Penny Clarke. Oh, you’ll remember me as Smith. Don’t you remember …?’ Slowly, recognition dawned. ‘Of course, hi Penny. How are you? You’re looking well.’ Penny Smith was an old girlfriend, from long ago before he had met and married Lara. His immediate recollection was that they had been together for a few weeks, a couple of months at most. They had had a good time together but had parted by mutual consent and on good terms. Penny sat down beside him, rather to his surprise. She looked pleased to see him and in short order wanted to catch up on his recent history. She was not surprised to hear that he still ran – that was all he seemed to do back in the old days. And while Penny made all the right noises as Barry talked about his family… was it his imagination that she appeared disappointed? ‘And you? How long have you been Mrs Clarke? You shouldn’t let me keep you from him,’ Barry said, wondering whether to get a refill or else to wander home via The Station. ‘Too bloody long!’ Penny replied, wrinkling her nose. ‘He’s not here anyway. I’m with that crowd from work.’ She waved her glass towards a group of four or five near to the door. ‘Let me buy you a drink.’ ‘Yeah, well, I was just about to go really. I’m holding the fort while Lara’s away. The kids are at their gran’s.’ He could have torn his tongue out. ‘Well then, what’s the rush? What is it, pint of Best? You wouldn’t be so rude as to refuse an offer from an old mate, would you?’ The evening proceeded. The ‘crowd from work’ left without
37

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 38

attempting to take Penny Clarke. Penny was an entertaining companion and Barry started to enjoy her company. It was an unusual and pleasant experience for Barry, a one-on-one with a woman other than his wife. Pint followed pint, gin and tonic followed gin and tonic. Barry was flattered when he felt her hand on his thigh momentarily, then returning to linger when there was no objection. But really, he told himself, he was doing no harm chatting to and drinking with an old friend. They eventually left The Crown, somewhat unsteadily and managed to get a table at a nearby Indian restaurant. They didn’t do justice to the food but the bottle of house red disappeared rapidly. And Barry and Penny fell into a taxi with Penny insisting on inspecting Chez Lane and Barry promising coffee. AND, on a quiet Good Friday morning, Barry Lane slowly and painfully awoke, the room bright with Easter light streaming in through the uncurtained windows. Rolling onto his back he lay there, trying to piece together the events which had led him to what promised to be a monster hangover. He caught his breath as the awful truth came back to him. More in hope than expectation he turned his head to the left. There, peacefully asleep, was the naked form of the lovely Penny Clarke. Barry Lane returned his blurred gaze to the ceiling and groaned out loud: ‘Oh God, no!’ >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

38

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 39

THERE was a mild sense of carpe diem among the patrons of Flanagan’s Bar in Dun Laoghaire, a few miles south of the Irish capital of Dublin. Tomorrow was Good Friday and there would be no drinking after midnight tonight, not until Saturday. Good Friday is one of the few remaining bastions of the Church’s influence in the secular life of the Irish Republic, and the country’s drinkers simply have to do without their vice on that day. Along with Christmas Day (which is never abbreviated to Xmas) Good Friday, the day Christ died for our sins, is very special to the Irish Church, and the licensing laws treat it accordingly. The regulars in Flanagan’s had taken their places on their barstools a little earlier than they normally would, and were keeping an eye on the pub clock so as not to be caught out unexpectedly, short of their quota. All those seated around the bar were well known both to each other and to the proprietor, Con Flanagan. Indeed, it would have been a cause for some discomfiture had a stranger taken up residence on a spare stool, like throwing a pebble in a pond to disturb the calm waters. Strangers were welcome, after sly scrutiny, but were expected to take their drink away to the tables. At the bar was Ger Conroy, who ran the only shoe repair business in the town; also Johnny Quinn, a stocky and weather-beaten lad who laboured long and hard for a firm of road maintenance contractors; Jack Quinn, his brother, who was a farm labourer; Joe Lynch, a schoolteacher; Mikey Doyle, who sold furniture; Peter Donnelly, whose line of business was not clear, although he was frequently out of town and was clearly doing all right for himself. He was dressed more smartly than his companions and he was known to be free enough with his money. All except Peter were dressed in regulation Irish barfly fashion of dark trousers and shoes, pastel shirt and buttoned jacket. The Quinns wore flat caps.
39

NINE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 40

The drink of choice was, of course, Guinness, the national drink. This far north of Cork an alternative stout, Beamish, was available but not so popular. Murphy’s, so popular in the south, was not to be found. Each pint of Guinness was poured with expertise by Con, in two stages, before he presented the drink to the customer in perfect order. To attain this perfection takes both practice and time for the drink to settle. The experienced barman (or indeed barmaid) will anticipate a customer’s further requirement by keeping an eye on the remaining level of his customers’ glasses. He will start another pint when appropriate, therefore saving the customer the two minutes waiting time, by confirming the order with the slightest eyebrow enquiry. The conversation was easy and good-natured, but of little interest outside the group. Typical small-town gossip and banter, interspersed with talk of a sporting nature included Dublin football and Leinster rugby, with periods of unawkward silences, during which one or more of the group would wander outside to the smoking shelter overlooking the harbour area. For centuries the boats from England and Wales had come to and returned from Dun Laoghaire, or Kingstown as it had been known before partition. The vessels were more modern now but the routes were essentially unchanged. Back inside the pub there were other drinkers scattered around away from the bar. A group of four – two young men and two women – were engaged in animated and laughing conversation. The men were drinking the marketing success and discerning failure that was Bulmers with ice while the girls had short drinks. Two middle-aged women swapped secrets on the next table. There was a card school in progress further on. One customer sat by himself, enjoying his pint and The Herald. In the corner was a dartboard where one lad chalked the scores and would take on the winner; 501, straight in, double out; a college of subtraction and division more efficient than taught at any primary school. High in an alcove a TV screen played silently but, there being no sport scheduled for this evening, it did not distract from the natural buzz of conversation.
40

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 41

The pub clock fast of course; read 9.07pm; after which the doors of the place crashed open. Two men burst in. Both wore stocking masks. One carried a shotgun. Simultaneously all at the bar swivelled around. Everyone else in the pub stopped what they were doing and looked up. For a long second there was silence as the horror of the moment registered. Then, in one deafening moment, the gunman shot twice in the direction of the group at the bar. Shouts and screams of terror filled the bar. The intruders crashed out of the door as quickly as they had come in. Peter Donnelly lay on the floor in a growing pool of blood, his dead face fixed in an expression of fright. Panic and chaos filled the night as the patrons of Flanagan’s responded individually in unpredictable ways to the hellish scene they had just witnessed. It would live with many for the rest of their lives. Calmest of all was Joe Lynch who removed his jacket and laid it over the lifeless body of his friend. With shaking hands, Con Flanagan rang the Guards, but already the sirens could be heard. The pub clock, fast of course, by this time reading 9.08pm. ‘JESUS, you killed him! You were only meant to frighten him!’ As the car sped southwards the young driver was ashen-faced. ‘Pat, what have you done? What have we done?’ ‘Fuck, I don’t know. It just happened. Stop somewhere; we’ve got to get rid of this stuff.’ Jimmy Grant tried to think clearly. ‘This stuff’ consisted of the gun – the murder weapon – plus the stocking masks. The murder weapon! Christ, he never wanted to be involved in any murder. And he could be put away for the rest of his life, even though he hadn’t pulled the trigger. Their orders were to teach Donnelly a lesson, put one through his leg. Why in God’s name had Pat put two rounds into his body, at point blank range? Beyond Bray, on the road to Wicklow, the main road crossed a river. Shortly after this Jimmy turned off down a minor road and stopped.
41

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 42

‘Take the stuff to the river, get rid of it there. Make sure it won’t be found. Keep the Marigolds on until you’ve ditched the gun.’ ‘Owen will kill us if we don’t bring the gun back.’ ‘Are you totally mad? Owen won’t want to be holding a gun that can be matched to the shooting. Find a deep spot so some fucking fisherman won’t fish it up in the morning. And hurry up, we’ve got to get down the country before we’re picked up.’ Twenty minutes later Pat returned. He was silent, worried. ‘OK, that’s done. I need a drink,’ he said. ‘Tough,’ replied Jimmy. ‘We’d look nice walking into the next bar, the news headlines on the telly, the two of us with ‘Guilty’ written all over our faces ordering a couple of large Paddies and going to skulk in the corner. As it is we’ll be lucky to make it to Waterford before the Guards get us.’ However, no one had managed to see their car to get a decent description. And, although they were taking a chance by travelling together and driving quickly away from the scene, they got as far as the Bridge at Waterford shortly after 11pm and parked up on the Quays. After that went their separate ways. JIMMY Grant did not sleep well. He knew that he was in deep, deep trouble. He knew that he was involved in a dodgy business where a bit of bodily harm was part of the game. He took his chances in that respect, in return for the financial rewards. But no way had he signed up for killing people in cold blood. Peter Donnelly had strayed outside his territory and the boss had quite rightly decided to assert his authority. But Pat had lost control, disobeyed orders, and he had put both of them in danger. He had no wish to spend the rest of his days behind bars in Portlaoise, or some other God-forsaken dump. ‘Correction,’ he thought, ‘he wouldn’t last a month behind bars.’ He would be a sitting target for revenge and it would be only a matter of time before he was found strung up in a cell or with a knife between his ribs.
42

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 43

However, he had a short window of opportunity tonight, and he examined his few options. His first option was to go on as before and trust that the underresourced Garda Siochana would not solve the crime, or that associates of Donnelly would not connect him with the killing although the chances of both of these things happening were not good. The second option was to get the hell out of Ireland. He had never left his birthplace before but he had no wife or girlfriend to worry about. He was a free agent and he had a few Euros squirreled away. It was a no-brainer. The following day, Good Friday, he took a taxi to Waterford Airport and bought an open return ticket to Luton. An hour or so later he had negotiated security at the airport, even though he had been certain that, at any moment, he would be asked to step into the office. At the car rental desk he flourished a credit card and his Irish driving licence. He took charge of a nice Toyota and opened up his road map of Great Britain. He had no knowledge of England but he needed to hole up somewhere to gather his thoughts. ‘Somewhere quiet,’ he thought, ‘somewhere by the sea’. He had heard of Devon as a county where the British went on their holidays and … there it was, a long way over to the west – although he was in no rush to get there. He started the car, checked the operation of the lights and the alignment of the mirrors. He pulled out of the airport and found his way onto the motorway network. First the M1 then the M25. Those who said that the M25 was a mad death trap were correct. Mercifully, he soon reached the junction of the M4 and relaxed into the long drive towards Bristol. He pulled in to a service station and filled up before buying himself a coffee and a sandwich. Relaxed, he continued on his way, the afternoon sky now darkening. Nearing Bristol he turned onto the M5 and then, consulting his map once more, he decided to take the road to the north of Exmoor, along the Devon coast. Night had now fallen and the driving was not so easy. He was tired now, physically and mentally. The road was tricky in the dark and, as he negotiated the hill that led vertiginously out of Lynton he
43

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 44

decided that he would have to find somewhere to stop for the night. At Ilfracombe, a town which looked of reasonable size, he found a public car park, took out his sports bag which contained his belongings and locked up the car. A few minutes walk led him past a hilly side street down where a hotel sign winked invitingly. The young man in charge of the desk, the owner it transpired, told him that he was lucky and that he did have a single room left on this Bank Holiday weekend. And, not wishing to trust to luck in finding somewhere else to stay over the next few days, Jimmy took the room for four days. An hour later Jimmy Grant finally relaxed completely over a pint of strong Devon cider. He sat back and listened to the happy buzz of holidaymakers and to the locals, with their funny accents. He felt safe, so closed his eyes and imagined that he might stay in Ilfracombe forever. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

44

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 45

LARA threw back the curtains of her hotel bedroom window. A quick peek satisfied her that the window was not within view of other eyes, prying or not, and she then drew back the nets. It was a gloriously sunny morning without a cloud in the sky. Although she hadn’t been lucky enough to secure a sea view she was rewarded with a pleasing aspect. Her room overlooked rooftops in the foreground, those of established residential buildings with lichen-covered tiled roofs, chimneys, TV aerials. In the middle distance farmland sloped gently upwards to meet the sky two or three miles away. She could make out several horses and farm outbuildings. To the right, telegraph poles marched up the hillside, no doubt marking the passage of a roadway out of town. Far to her left the sun was rising in a virtually cloudless sky. Lara checked her watch again – it was not yet 7am. It was a while before breakfast would be served, after which the art group would meet for the first time. She brushed her teeth and threw herself back onto her single bed, relishing her freedom although she realised that she was paying for it with a certain amount of accompanying guilt. It was not often that she wasn’t there for her family yet she reasoned that the girls would probably enjoy their little break at Mum’s, while they certainly wouldn’t be deprived of life’s comforts while there. Meanwhile Barry was well able to take care of himself. Of course she missed him – she hugged a pillow to prove the fact, knowing that he would miss her. However, she reckoned that even the new, revitalised Barry Lane probably wouldn’t die if he went without sex for a few days. She giggled out loud. The previous night had been pleasant enough. The Hodges had been good, if quiet company. They had walked down the hill and had found the Mary Rose Restaurant, as recommended by young Mary Turner.
45

TEN

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 46

Luckily, they had secured a table in the crowded room, after a little wait at the small bar. Each had opted for a further glass of white wine. Lara had ascertained that both of the Hodges had some artistic experience, by virtue of attending evening classes together. Neither considered they had any talent, however, and, like Lara, had found it an attractive proposition to combine furthering their hobby with a little holiday in the West Country. Neither had been to St Ives before. After being guided to their table they had perused the menu. Lara considered it a very conservative menu, playing safe to what the proprietor knew would be mainly an English clientele who would not be expecting fancy cooking. Lara chose Prawn Cocktail with (of course) Marie Rose sauce, and then supposed that the Grilled Cod flavoured with Saffron might be a good choice in a fishing town. As they ate their starters Lara ascertained that Glyn was a civil engineer and Louise a part-time teacher of maths. Their daughter was married and lived close by to them, in Cardiff. Their son was in his second year at Bristol University, reading engineering. Both listened politely as Lara talked enthusiastically of her family and of her work at the library. Thereafter the conversation flagged somewhat, for the Hodges themselves seemed to have little further to say. The prawns were fine. They all decided on a further glass of wine to accompany their main courses. Lara’s fish was a little overcooked, as were the accompanying vegetables. ‘Very English, all right,’ thought Lara. The Hodges ate their steaks without complaint. Declining a dessert they had paid the bill (which seemed reasonable) before making their way back to the hotel. Lara had been somewhat disappointed that the Hodges had opted to go straight to their room but then she, seeing the bar area considerably busier than earlier, had done likewise. ‘Just as well,’ she thought to herself, still lying on her bed. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
46

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 47

THE next morning she was wide awake and alert, ready to tackle whatever the day would bring. A walk before breakfast she thought, come on! She sprang off the bed and quickly showered. On with bra and panties, T-shirt and jeans. In deference to the time of day she tucked a cardigan under her arm. Ensuring she had her hotel keys, Lara skipped down a single flight of stairs and, noting the clinking of cutlery and other small sounds of activity from the dining area, she let herself out of the front door. Quickly, she put on her cardigan, while a cool breeze reminded her that summer had not yet arrived, despite outward appearances. She walked down the hill, around the corner, past the Mary Rose and on towards the town centre. Shortly, she arrived at the harbour and a beautiful place it was early on this Good Friday morning. There were few people about – one or two like her were enjoying the peace of the morning and the picture postcard views. There was a little activity amongst the small fishing vessels, although whether Good Friday constituted a holiday for fishermen, she wasn’t sure. She walked slowly around the harbour, breathing in deeply the smells of the sea. She hoped very much that the art class would be brought down here at some stage, though she had no idea how she would begin to capture anything of this scene. She sat down on a bench and considered how lucky the people were who lived here, waking up to this every morning; although she knew full well that the reality of living 365 days a year in an ‘idyllic’ holiday spot was very different to it being a fleeting visit. She was about to head back when a fisherman walked up to the bench and sat down at the other end to where Lara was. She shook her head slightly and smiled. The old chap looked as if he’d stepped out of a Popeye cartoon – woollen hat, pipe in corner of mouth, beard, oil proof Guernsey sweater, heavy working trousers and black boots. ‘Good morning’ he drawled in a heavy accent, his eyes not turning from the sea. ‘Hello,’ replied Lara, ‘are you on holiday today like everyone else?’ ‘No. Work as usual. Though I don’t do much myself these days anyway.’ 47

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 48

‘Retired?’ ‘Old fisherman don’t retire, they just sort of fade away. You down on holiday?’ ‘Yes, sort of. A drawing holiday.’ ‘Drawing, is it? Well, there’s plenty of you arty types in these parts. Can’t move for them in the summer. Mustn’t complain if they bring their money with them, though.’ The old man puffed his pipe and smiled. He finally turned towards her. ‘I tell fortunes. Would you like your fortune told? I won’t charge today seeing as it’s a holiday.’ ‘Oh, I’m not sure…’ He looked at her for a long time but then appeared to become rather disturbed. ‘Maybe not today, not today,’ he said. ‘Why not? You’ve got me worried now,’ said Lara. The old man sighed. ‘Maybe I’m getting old and tired. Maybe I imagine too much. I think more and more of a fishermen’s paradise where all hardships are forgotten. You may hear a ballad sung in the bars here, Fiddlers’ Green. But this morning I see this joyful ballad tinged with tragedy and sorrow. I can say no more, Miss.’ ‘How strange,’ Lara said ‘I’ll listen out for the song but it seems to have upset you more than me. Anyway, I must be off. Nice to meet you and have a good day.’ ‘Goodbye Miss, and enjoy your holiday yet again.’ ‘Goodbye then, Seb.’ She stood up and walked back the way she had come. Back at the hotel breakfast was in full swing. Spotting the Hodges she asked if she could sit with them. She told them briefly about her walk but left out the odd encounter with Seb. Between slices of toast she looked about at those she assumed would be her companions on the forthcoming course. Indeed, they were a mixed crowd – male, female, young, old. Instinctively she looked for people of her own age. Pleasingly, there were at least two men and three women who appeared to be no older than she. She supposed she would meet them properly later. But she was here only to relax and learn to draw, she reminded herself. If any of the men believed that she was up for a bit of extracurricular activity then they would soon be disappointed.
48

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 49

A few minutes before ten Lara again headed downstairs. The dining area had been cleared and chairs had been set out facing Jack Turner, a genial, bearded man who stood in front of an easel. Lara sat by herself and waited until each of the 14 chairs facing Jack had been filled. At once Jack sought to put everybody at their ease. He was aware, he said, that many of them were first-timers and would be nervous. Others had done a little drawing, sketching or painting. But it was a beginners’ course and there were no experts present. Above all, he emphasised, he considered that talent was irrelevant. He knew that each of them was bringing their individuality to the weekend and each would express this in their own way. There was no ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but he would try to suggest tips and techniques that would help them. Everyone’s art would be celebrated and none criticised. There would be no awards and he hoped that each student would leave them on Monday having learnt how to leave what they saw, but also their feelings, on paper, using a variety of methods. Explaining that their first exercise would be in charcoal, he gave them a few simple tips to help them on their way. Then, asking them to bring their chairs, he led them onto a lawn at the back of the hotel. Here were set up 14 easels, each ready with several sheets of rough paper and charcoal sticks of various thickness. Choosing an easel, Lara sat down and found that the view from the lawn was the one that she had admired from her bedroom, although from a lower elevation. To her left was Louise Hodges and to her right was a quiet-looking lad of about 25, who introduced himself as Dave. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, just draw what you see,’ instructed Jack. With varying degrees of confidence each student picked up a stick of charcoal and addressed their blank sheets. ‘Remember, you have to see and understand your subject first before you can draw it,’ Jack told them. So Lara sat back in her chair and let her gaze wander over the rooftops and farmland for several minutes. Then, with trepidation, she began to sketch.
49

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 50

Nervously at first, then with growing confidence, she outlined the horizon and the buildings in the foreground. Then she added a little detail including TV aerials, horses, outbuildings, telegraph poles plus a little shadow and shading, while noting how the sun played on the scene before her. Meanwhile, Jack moved silently among the students, occasionally whispering a word or two to them. To Lara he said nothing, but on one occasion he picked up a charcoal stick and, with a few deft strokes, brought a section of her sketch completely to life. Her mentor smiled at her as her eyes lit up with understanding before he moved on. After an hour Jack brought the class to attention. He commended everyone for their efforts. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said. ‘Right, now I will show you how to draw a horse!’ THEY broke for lunch at 12.30 and Lara headed for her room. She tried to ring Barry at home but there was no answer, so she left a message sending him her love. No answer came from her Mum’s, either. She would try again later. Then she wandered down the hill and found a café where she sat in the window with a coffee and Danish. It was now an unseasonal warm day and she dabbed at her forehead with her napkin. With new enthusiasm after the morning session she rejoined the group downstairs in the hotel. Jack said that they would take advantage of the weather and take their materials down to the harbour. He asked the group to continue their work with charcoal, and then experiment with water colours. He asked them only to remember one phrase regarding the use of colour – ‘less is more.’ And with that, the group headed on foot back down the hill to the harbour while Jack took easels, folding chairs and materials along with him in a small van. As they spread themselves around the harbour area so as not to inconvenience other users, Lara was amused to note that Dave, who had hardly spoken a word during the morning session, took care to claim a spot near to Lara.
50

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 51

She remembered to sit back and look, take in the scene and form her impressions before she picked up her charcoal. The warm afternoon passed quickly. Dave bought her an ice cream while Lara sketched the scene in front of her, simplifying it by leaving out a number of the boats. She used a mental composite of the working fishermen, to produce a single figure on her sea wall. With care she used washes of green and blue for the sea and sky, becoming bolder with blacks and reds to pick out the vessels, with grey patches to represent sea birds. Then she produced a second, then a third version. She found that, without someone scrutinising and criticising, she could relax and enjoy her work. Again, Jack moved around the group almost invisibly. ‘Good, very good,’ he said to her, quietly, on two occasions. Dave peeked at her work and exclaimed his approval. She was sad when it was time to pack up, so much had she enjoyed her day. STRANGELY, Barry was still not answering the phone at home. His mobile was switched off, but it normally was when he wasn’t working. She did, however, have a chat with Mum and the girls. They had been for a trip in the car to the South Downs where they had walked, played games and eaten ice creams. They were all tired and would have an early night after dinner. Lara showered, gratefully, and then ironed a simple print dress in readiness for the evening. At the bar she found most of the art group chatting happily and mixing well after what had been considered an excellent day. Dave was there, the only one looking somewhat lost and Lara took pity on him. She bought him a drink while ensuring that she included him in the various conversations as she moved around the bar. She agreed, on their behalf, to join a group heading into town for dinner. This time they pre-booked and six of them crowded into an Italian restaurant. It was a noisy, convivial evening. Dave, who was not unattractive, paid her lots of attention. She accepted his clumsy flattery, his tentative touches and even
51

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 52

his arm around her waist as they walked back up the hill. But when he suggested taking a bottle of wine onto the lawn to look at the stars she told him firmly: ‘Goodnight, Dave,’ before she headed for her room and then fell asleep within seconds of her head touching the pillow. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

52

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 53

BARRY sat at the breakfast bar nursing his hangover and a mug of black coffee. The sun was arising outside but he was oblivious to the morning’s charms. He was barely dressed – pants, jeans and shirt, partly buttoned and hanging outside the jeans, was the sum of it. Again his head slumped into his hands. ‘No, no, no,’ he said to himself, silently. Although his brain was as yet incapable of moving beyond page one, he was all too well aware that he had cheated on his lovely wife. However much he might later dress the matter up it would always boil down to that single, inescapable fact. For the moment his world consisted of that one matter, and a large Arsenal mug of coffee that gently steamed before him. Upstairs there were muffled noises of activity that confirmed the worst – it wasn’t all a bad dream. The sound of padding footsteps and the shower being switched on, a few random vocal notes that might have constituted singing; and presently the shower being switched off and the footsteps retreating to the bedroom. The hairdryer. And finally a footfall on the staircase. Barry’s coffee remained untouched and it was no longer steaming. ‘Good morning darling!’ Penny threw her arms dramatically around his shoulders and kissed his ear. He said nothing. She pulled away from him, slightly put out. ‘Is the kettle hot?’ The ensuing silence meant that she answered her own question. ‘No, Penny! It needs refilling and boiling again. There we are. Find a mug, put coffee in. Get milk from fridge.’ She came to him again. ‘What’s up?’ she asked. ‘It shouldn’t have happened, it just shouldn’t,’ he managed. ‘What shouldn’t? The conversation? The drinks? The meal? The shagging? Oh, you’re feeling guilty, that’s it isn’t it? Well don’t.’ ‘Maybe you don’t love your husband but I love Lara. How can I have done this to her?’ ‘Oh nonsense. It was only a bonk. And a pretty rubbish one at
53

ELEVEN

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 54

that. Forget about it.’ Barry groaned and took a sip of his lukewarm coffee. He took slight comfort from the realisation that Penny wasn’t making a big deal about what had happened. Also from the fact that he couldn’t recollect anything after getting out of the taxi until he’d awoken this morning. Maybe he could deny the whole thing after all. ‘Penny, you won’t tell anyone about this will you? Not your husband, or your work colleagues, or …’ ‘What’s to tell, Barry? I sleep with blokes often enough. I forget most of them within a day. And, I must say, you didn’t give me much to remember you by.’ His pride was duly offended but this negative was more than offset by the knowledge that it seemed there would be no consequences of his own making. So, he went and made himself a fresh coffee and, returning to her, took a large gulp which scalded his throat. At last his brain seemed to be moving into second gear. ‘Do you really hate your husband that much Penny? To cheat on him like that, all the time?’ ‘No, I don’t hate him at all, I’m just bored with him. And I suppose he’s bored with me. He knows that I go out and meet different blokes and, if I like them enough, I sleep with them sometimes. It’s not cheating, I don’t do it behind his back. And I wouldn’t mind if he slept around as well. Life’s too short.’ ‘Why do you stay together then?’ ‘Too much bother to do otherwise. If either of us wanted to marry again it would be different, I suppose. How long have you been married, Barry?’ ‘Ten years.’ ‘And how many times have you been unfaithful.’ ‘Never! Not once. Never even considered it. Until now.’ Barry’s head slumped into his hands again. ‘Wow, how boring! Doesn’t the sex get … sort of … samey?’ ‘Penny, I really don’t want to discuss either your sex life or mine. It happened, I can’t change that. But I wish it hadn’t.’ ‘Well, it’s nice for a girl to feel wanted, I must say,’ she huffed. ‘Anyway, time I wasn’t here. Will you give me a lift home?’
54

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 55

‘Can’t. I’m still miles over the limit.’ ‘Oh well, nice day for a walk. I’ll let myself out and we’ll not bother with the fond farewells, eh?’ Penny Smith’s shoes clacked down the street and around the corner towards town. Barry hoped fervently that none of the neighbours had seen her go, or that they had not seen them both arrive home last night, falling, giggling, out of the taxi. Yet again he groaned and held his head. He went upstairs and lay down and dozed for an hour and woke up feeling marginally better. Maybe a little run would be in order to help him clear his mind. He pulled on his shorts and a T-shirt. He found a clean pair of white socks and then his New Balance running shoes. He knew that he ought to have taken more care in choosing them but these had been half-price in a sale at the sports shop. Anyway, they seemed to be OK. He tucked a £20 note into the pocket of his shorts, followed by his house key as he shut the door behind him. Switching his watch onto stopwatch mode he pressed the Start button and trotted gently off, along the road. This time he turned away from town and headed west. Here he would loop around the lanes and head back for a late breakfast after a few miles. He said ‘good morning’ to Eddie and to his strange dog as he hit his stride. The main road was busy, though, with holiday traffic in the main, heading for the Downs or the south coast, the cars and families encouraged by the weather. Heavy goods traffic was virtually non-existent. He crossed over the bypass and onto a less busy road that served the outer suburbs of Wellhead. Here he settled into a steady rhythm which he knew he could maintain for a long time. No fast running today, he just wanted to cruise. And, as he cruised, he thought over the events of the previous evening. He had been an utter fool, no doubt about that. Like a kid, drinking too much and falling prey to false flattery and a pretty face. What had happened as a consequence meant nothing at all either to him or to Penny. It had been a drunken fling that neither had enjoyed. Simple. End of. What a total prat he had become.

55

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 56

The early afternoon sun beat down. Barry jogged on, starting to sweat heavily but feeling both strong and in control. He had decided not to take the loop back home but pressed on, seeking out even quieter ways. He ran facing the oncoming traffic when the pavements ran out. He welcomed the climbs he encountered and enjoyed the downhills, letting his arms swing free and his stride lengthen. The only sounds now were those of farm life – tractors, dogs, cattle and sheep. He fell into a semi-trance and, without actively considering them, two matters suddenly clarified. He would confess his infidelity to Lara. She wouldn’t be happy but she would understand. Then he would take his career fate into his own hands. He would apply for voluntary redundancy and would re-train for a new career. These things pleased him as Surrey became Hampshire and his anxieties disappeared into the background. HE checked his watch and, to his astonishment, saw that he had been running for more than 90 minutes and that he was now far from home. He’d had no intention of coming this far and wondered if he’d be able to make it back. He became aware that he was soaked through with sweat and his legs, though still strong, were starting to tire. He turned around and started to run in completely the opposite direction. He was not carrying anything to drink and he knew that he must be well on his way to dehydration after that length of time running under a hot sun. Following a signpost for a village he turned to the right and, a couple of miles on, was rewarded by the sight of a general stores. He bought a Lucozade Sport and a Mars Bar for both hydration and an energy hit. Then, after finding a hedge for a discrete pee, he carried on, refreshed. Barry headed in the general direction of home, confident that he would soon pick up familiar landmarks, road names or road signs to guide him.
56

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 57

However, as the day wore on, he realised he was more or less lost. Twice he asked directions but some time after the second set of directions from an old man, his resolution failed and he stopped abruptly in his tracks. He was close to exhaustion and still in the middle of the countryside with fields as far as he could see. Although the setting sun gave him some directional comfort he wished that he had the skills of those old country folk who guided themselves on their way without need of signs. ‘If I remain out here much longer, then I’d need survival skills to build a shelter and catch, skin, cook and eat a rabbit,’ he reflected. With this black humour cheering him up somewhat he sighed and pushed his suffering legs into motion again. A little later a passing motorist pointed the way to the Portsmouth road. Now knowing where he was, albeit still miles from home, Barry refused the offer of a lift. He steadfastly jogged to the main road and turned north. A little way on was the blessed sight of a pub and he had money in his pocket. Caring not that the barman probably took a dim view of this sweaty creature entering his establishment he ordered a cold pint of cider. Gratefully, he downed it in one. He could never understand how the survivors of the desert in ‘Ice Cold In Alex’ merely looked at and sipped their lager as it was presented to them as they staggered into the bar in Alexandria. He took a second pint outside to join a number of other people, families in the main, enjoying the late afternoon sun. He was unutterably weary but easy of mind as he sipped his pint. He reflected on two difficult decisions made that day. Things certainly clarified and rationalised themselves during a long run, when one’s mind was cleared of other clutter. He was sure these decisions would be correct. So, finishing his pint he set off to cover the last few miles. He plodded along the main road then took a left for Wellhead, at last being forced into walking a little way. At the bypass he gathered what strength he had left and ran to57

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 58

wards town, finally turning into his estate and his front door. Crawling upstairs he painfully removed his clothing, revealing bleeding nipples, red raw inner thighs, swollen toes and feet. Without further ceremony he collapsed onto the bed in a state of semiconsciousness. The phone rang but even if his spirit had been willing to answer it, his body was not. Later he showered, with his injured parts stinging with a vengeance. He walked downstairs like the Tin Man and prepared himself coffee and a sandwich. ‘A strange 24 hours,’ he reflected, and wondered if his exertions today would affect his 10k in nine days’ time. Then, after watching TV for an hour, Barry Lane went back upstairs and, in between regular leg cramp spasms, slept the sleep of the just. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

58

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 59

THE small town, perched on the windy north Devon coastline at the mouth of the Bristol Channel, was coming into its own over the Easter weekend. Like many West Country coastal towns and villages, Ilfracombe returned to its natural state over the winter months. Many of its seafront hotels were closed as were nearly all of the various concessions and attractions. The town centre, not particularly attractive at the best of times, traded slowly and seemingly reluctantly with the townspeople preferring to avoid its rainy streets when they could. Only the hardy, and those few winter visitors who preferred to avoid the crowds, braved the long seafront and the cliffpaths, taking care to wrap up warmly with waterproofs, scarves and appropriate footwear. Even the seagoing fishermen were less inclined to head out into often rough weather preferring, instead, to await more favourable conditions both meteorological and trading. Yet, seemingly without a nod in the direction of the locals and visitors it had ignored since September, traders reopened their businesses in Easter week as if awoken by a kiss from a princess. They offered their wares as if the shutters had come down abruptly only the evening before. New staff taken on for the season had to learn quickly while the town’s population expanded overnight. Jimmy Grant was starting to relax as he began to realise that he was, for the present anyway, a free man. There was no one in particular who he cared to advise about his whereabouts. His parents lived in Waterford and no doubt they would be hearing from one or two people asking after him. The less they knew about him the better, however, and he calculated that even the cold-blooded men who would surely like to find him would not harm them in his stead. He had no other close relatives and had cultivated no relationships. He would need to make further plans in due course but, for now, he judged himself safe enough in this English holiday town.
59

TWELVE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 60

Not caring to become too familiar with the hotel staff, he did not eat breakfast there but instead decided he would visit one or other of the town’s cafés. There he would order a fried breakfast, though he searched vainly for either a decent black pudding or some good, homemade, soda bread. He idly thought that he might open a place here which served decent breakfasts. Similarly, finding that the English – if Ilfracombe consisted of a statistically relevant sample – could not provide a proper cup of tea, he resigned himself to becoming a coffee drinker for the duration. As the days passed he fell into a pattern of activity. After breakfast he would get into his car and, picking a spot on the map, would head in that general direction. He enjoyed driving, especially once he could escape the main roads while he could admire the countryside without having to pay too much attention to other traffic. On the Tuesday after Easter he had returned the hire car to Luton airport and had purchased for cash a serviceable Citroen which he drove back to Ilfracombe and used thereafter. Using the town as his base he explored much of the county of Devon and became well acquainted with the highways and byways of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Each day he ran. He would find a parking spot out in the country or in a neighbouring town, pull on his running gear and set off for an hour or so, using the quiet country lanes or often the marked footpaths which seemed to be everywhere, it seemed to Jimmy. In his native country such free access to private land was rare. On other days he might return to the hotel before setting out along the cliff paths which ran east and west of Ilfracombe. His lean and athletic body was ideally suited to the often testing terrain and gradients and he pushed himself hard. Neither did he care to take a rest day as long as his body was able to absorb the regular hard work he put it under. In the evenings he would frequent one of the many restaurants in the town, taking a particular pleasure in Indian food, with which he was unfamiliar. Asking the waiting staff’s advice he learnt about the various cooking styles; how the dishes were served; spices, rices, curries
60

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 61

and eating conventions. His easy way and willingness to learn about their native cuisine made him a firm favourite with the three Indian establishments in the town. After dinner he would explore the bars of the town. Careful not to become a regular of any of them, he nevertheless got to know those which appealed to him. He avoided those larger places, such as hotel bars preying on visitors and those which advertised meals and entertainment. He preferred quieter bars, frequented by locals, often fairly basic, where he could relax with his drink, undisturbed, or maybe fall into conversation if the mood took him. Everyone assumed he was on holiday and he would simply reply ‘Dublin’ in answer to any enquiry about his home. Like black pudding and tea, Jimmy soon learnt that the English couldn’t ‘do’ Guinness. In bar after bar he had winced as staff had sloshed the precious liquid into a glass and sighed at the huge foaming head as it was scraped it into a sink and poured again until the glass overflowed. Afterwards they would shove the turbulent result in front of Jimmy. Unsurprisingly, it tasted as bad as it looked. After a few tries at the local cider, which didn’t agree with him, Jimmy started to experiment with Real Ale. Fortunately, this was in good supply in various bars and he started to appreciate the variety and taste of many of them. Quickly, he realised that Guinness was God’s own drink in Ireland but that the English ‘did’ Real Ale very well indeed. ONE night, when Jimmy returned to his hotel, there was a message marked for him, lying on the front desk. It read simply ‘Call Owen’. He was horrified. After three weeks in Ilfracombe he had more or less put the past behind him. He had obviously let his guard down, assuming that either he had covered his tracks or that his shadowy enemies had lost interest. He was wrong. One person at least knew where he was and it seemed obvious that, if his gang
61

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 62

boss knew his whereabouts, then others must know too. How had they tracked him down? What were their intentions towards him? One thing was for sure, he decided, he was not about to call Owen. His call might be traced, the line may be tapped. Owen might have crossed over to the other side. In the Irish underworld one could never be sure of who were friends and who were enemies. Throughout that long night he considered his options. Staying where he was wasn’t an option, unless he had a death wish. Sooner or later they would get him. He had to move on. If the Garda Siochana were on his trail then it would be nigh on impossible to outrun them with their resources and those of their colleagues around the world. However, he guessed and hoped that he, Jimmy Grant, might be figuring rather lower on their radar than that of many others criminals. It was, therefore, the men in the shadows who he had to contend with. If they knew where he was, would they be watching him? Surely they knew that he would run immediately he got the note. If that were so then they would be on high alert tonight, ready to trail or intercept him. He would therefore hold his nerve, act normally, bide his time. Once he left Ilfracombe, where to next? If he gave them the slip they would assume that he would leave the country, possibly heading for the Costa del Crime to live among other fugitives from justice, either official or kangaroo. Once there he reckoned the grapevine would report his arrival quickly enough and his life, in turn, would be short if sweet. ‘Where would they least expect him to head for?’ he asked himself. ‘Back to Ireland, perhaps?’ But he knew he would be found there, sooner or later, no matter how low he lay. ‘Circle back to Ilfracombe, perhaps?’ That had its attractions, he admitted, but the genial, single Irishman had become too familiar around town. And they would not let the noose slip a second time. By the next morning he had made a plan, invested in a decision … always best to make a decision, though it might turn out to be a bad one. He breakfasted in the town as usual and went for a drive.
62

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 63

He returned to the hotel before one o’clock. If he was being followed they would already be puzzled that he was acting as normal. He pulled on his running gear, ready to head for the cliff paths, which he did regularly. But this time he strapped his bum bag around his waist, and, within it, placed about £200 in cash plus his various credit and debit cards, driving licence and passport. Jogging slowly at first, he set off eastwards in the direction of Coombe Martin, running gently for the three miles there. In his mind he assumed that, if he was being followed, those tasked with the job would not be inclined to pursue him along the cliffs but would be content to await his return. However, now he made his way off the cliffs and across a caravan park to the main road running back into Ilfracombe. He had earlier ascertained bus times and the fact that the No 24 bus stopped at the caravan park. Fortunately others were waiting for it, too, so he was able to tuck in amongst the queue as it approached. So, having bought a ticket to Barnstaple, he made his way to a seat and then tried to look inconspicuous from all the other passengers, conscious that they would be surprised by a fellow passenger in his running gear. At Ilfracombe he sank into his seat as best he could, his face turned from the window. Then, as the bus left the town and made its way south, Jimmy decided he could now breathe a little more easily. JIMMY Grant alighted at Barnstaple, a large market town further along the coast, where he found a sports shop and bought track suit bottoms and a lightweight jacket, both of which he put on. Back at the bus station he found the bus for Plymouth where he bought a single ticket. Arriving in Plymouth in early evening he quickly found a hotel room and paid cash for a single night, signing in as James Doyle. The following morning he bought trousers, a shirt, socks, underwear and a pair of casual shoes.
63

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 64

To the surprise of the store assistant he dressed in his purchases immediately, before putting his running gear into one of their carry bags and taking it out with him. Then, making his way to the railway station, he bought a ticket for London. Later that same afternoon, at Euston, he booked a train ticket to Manchester … but alighted at Birmingham. Finding a nondescript chain hotel a little way from the station he booked for a single night. The next day, after studying the previous night’s local newspaper, he signed a lease for a small apartment in the nearby suburb of Edgbaston; paying three months in advance when the landlord hesitated, wanting references. Visiting a hairdresser he then had his longish black hair cut short and dyed blond. In a high street opticians he purchased a blackframed pair of spectacles with neutral lenses. Grimacing at himself in the mirror, he concluded that he looked an idiot before deciding that, dressed as he was, plus glasses and dyed hair, even his own mother wouldn’t recognise him if she passed him in the street. To complete the subterfuge, he wondered if he tried hard enough, he could lose his soft Munster accent. ‘I could if I tried hard enough,’ he decided. For now, however, he felt safe enough to allow himself to relax and decided that he would investigate a local Indian restaurant and see what Real Ale emporiums he could find, come nightfall. And, to build an appetite, he decided to start exploring Edgbaston and its environs where, donning his running gear, he ran a brisk 20-minute out, 20-minute back from his newly acquired address, after which he showered, dressed again in his brand new clothes and headed out, yet again, to begin yet another chapter in what had become in any terms, a Complicated Life. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

64

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 65

‘COME on Lauren, get up. It’s Easter Sunday!’ ‘’Chelle.’ ‘What?’ ‘How is it that you’re always up so early when there’s no school?’ ‘’Cos it’s fun when there’s no school, that’s why.’ The Lane girls were awake at their grandmother’s house on the other side of town. As Lauren had duly noted, her younger sister Michelle was already up and about. Awakening early she had jumped out of bed. After the bare minimum time necessary in the bathroom she had quickly dressed in the same clothes she had discarded the night before – knickers, yellow shorts, Girls Aloud T-shirt, white ankle socks and Velcro-fastened shoes. Teeth and hair unbrushed she had clattered downstairs. Gran was still not up so Michelle wandered in and out of rooms, examining this and that. Although the girls visited Gran often it was still interesting to explore; to find and examine unfamiliar objects. Gran didn’t mind. Then she unlocked the back door and started to wander around the well-tended lawn and flowerbeds. They only had a small patio at their house so a big lawn was a treat. Michelle was delighted to meet a neighbouring cat, a well-groomed animal which accepted Michelle’s affections as her due. After it sauntered off, Michelle had gone back inside and looked through some magazines and papers, finding nothing to interest her. Bored, she had returned to the bedroom to rouse her sister. ‘I’m meeting Paula and Tracy later. What are you doing?’ Lauren asked. ‘Don’t know. I’ll have to ask Gran. Will we have Easter eggs?’ ‘Oh, yes, I think so. If not I’ll get some creme eggs from the shop. I’ve got some money.’ ‘I think Gran has some hidden away. I wonder if Daddy will come over. I hope so. I want to know if he’s going to win the race
65

THIRTEEN

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 66

next week. Do you think he’ll win Lauren?’ There was a giggle from the bed. ‘No, of course he won’t win! He’ll do OK but there’s lots of better runners, ’Chelle.’ ‘Yes he will win!’ Michelle glared at Lauren. ‘He’s my Daddy and he’s the fastest! And if anyone else is winning I’ll trip them up or make them run the wrong way.’ The short silence which ensued indicated a truce in the matter, at least for the moment. Lauren was a peacemaker, had she known it. She instinctively knew that it’s impossible to argue with someone who won’t argue back rationally. She changed the subject. ‘I wonder how Mummy’s getting on at art school. I hope she calls today. If she doesn’t, I’ll ask Gran if I can ring her later. Maybe she’ll become a famous painter and we’ll be rich.’ ‘Hurray! Then we can buy another car and a bigger house and I won’t have to go to school!’ ‘Everybody has to go to school ’Chelle, even rich kids. But maybe she won’t have to work in the library any more. But I think she enjoys working there, talking to people about books and stuff. And they wouldn’t find anyone else as good as Mummy. She comes home on Tuesday, so she’ll tell us then.’ ‘Ah, come on Lauren, get up. I need to do my training.’ ‘On Easter Sunday? I don’t know if people train on Easter Sunday.’ ‘Well, if they don’t train, then I’ll be better than them.’ ‘But ’Chelle, you’re better than them anyway! There’s only two boys can beat you!’ ‘So! I want to beat all the boys. And not just those in our school. I want to beat everyone in the world!’ She reconsidered for a moment. ‘Well, all those girls that are seven, anyway.’ Lauren sighed. There was no arguing with that. ‘OK, I’m getting up.’ While Michelle fidgeted, Lauren rose at a regal pace. Exasperated and impatient, Michelle descended the stairs again and shortly her grandmother joined her. Michelle gave her a fond hug but then reverted to practicalities. ‘What’s for breakfast? What are we doing today? Can we have Easter eggs? Is Daddy coming over?’

66

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 67

‘Slow down, darling, you’re on holiday. Relax. Now, what do you want for breakfast, Michelle, and I’ll see if I’ve got it.’ ‘Mm, boiled egg with soldiers, toast and jam?’ ‘Well, I’m sure I can manage that.’ ‘But not before I’ve done my training, Gran! Lauren says that it’s not good to eat before training. Not that she knows anything,’ she added, sourly. ‘Lauren’s quite right though, Michelle. Is she your trainer, then?’ she asked with amusement. ‘She’s my coach. So I have to listen to her. But she doesn’t know anything, really.’ ‘So get another coach then,’ Gran said, reasonably. ‘I don’t know any other coaches so she’ll just have to do!’ Michelle concluded. Lauren overheard the end of this exchange as she appeared in the kitchen. ‘Am I sacked, then?’ she mildly asked. Michelle gasped ‘Nooo, you’re the best coach ever, Lauren! Come on, what’s the training today?’ ‘First a warm-up. Come on.’ Lauren led her athlete out onto the back lawn and consulted a floral-patterned notebook. ‘Run slowly up and down ten times,’ Lauren instructed. Michelle complied. ‘Star jumps. Go!’ Michelle made like a four-point star, jumping up and down until she was ordered to stop. ‘Sit ups. Go!’ ‘Touch your toes ten times. Go!’ After the warm up they trooped through the house and out of the front door. Gran’s house was situated in a quiet cul-de-sac. Lauren surveyed the street and then issued instructions. ‘Right, you’re to run from that grey car up there to this red car. But slowly until the blue car and then your fastest till the end. When I say “go”.’ Michelle did this five times. ‘Have I finished then?’ she asked, puffing and panting. ‘No, five more times, but listen. You’re forgetting your arms, they’re everywhere, like an octopus. Neatly, backwards and for-

67

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 68

wards, if you please. And you’re not Paula Radcliffe, so stop bobbing your head everywhere. And lift your knees up more.’ ‘I can’t remember all that!’ wailed Michelle. ‘I can’t think and run at the same time.’ Lauren considered for a moment. ‘OK then. The first time you run think about arms, the second time think about head, the third time think about knees. Then we’ll try to put them all together.’ With a loud groan of frustration Michelle stomped back to her mark. But she did her best to carry out Lauren’s instructions. On the very last run, although tired by now, she was sprinting in a strong and controlled manner. Though both girls were too young to realise it, Lauren’s simple observations and Michelle’s willingness to improve were having the desired effect. Michelle gasped to a halt, leaning on Gran’s gate. ‘That’s a bit better,’ allowed Lauren, putting her notebook in her pocket, before coach and athlete headed inside for breakfast. ‘GRAN, do you miss Grandad?’ Lauren’s eyes widened at her sister’s indiscretion. They were sitting around the dining room table eating breakfast. Michelle’s face was returning to its normal colour. She had agreed to brush her teeth and her hair and had changed her clammy T-shirt before sitting down. She had innocently raised a subject that was thought not to be an appropriate one, certainly as far as the children were concerned. Though surprised at the unexpected question, Gran was not perturbed. In fact, she welcomed the rare chance to discuss Jim with her grandchildren. There was no need for any of them to tiptoe around the subject. ‘I miss him every day, darling,’ she replied simply. ‘Why do you miss him?’ Michelle said. Thinking carefully, Gran replied: ‘Well, Michelle, if you lost something or someone that you loved a lot you’d miss them, wouldn’t you?’ ‘Yes I suppose, but only for a bit. Then I’d get a replacement! >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

68

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 69

Why don’t you get a new grandad, Gran?’ Lauren gasped but Gran laughed merrily. ‘Wouldn’t that be great Michelle? If I could go along to a grandad shop and buy another one.’ More wistfully she continued, ‘I loved your grandad, Jim, and he loved me. We did everything, shared everything together. You can count yourself lucky if that happens to you just once in a lifetime.’ Now her eyes glistened a little. Noticing this, Lauren laid a hand gently on her gran’s arm. But Michelle ploughed on. ‘Wasn’t he grumpy? I remember him being grumpy.’ ‘All men are grumpy, dear, some of the time anyway. But he loved you as well you know.’ ‘Where is he now, Gran? Where do you think he is?’ ‘Oh dear Michelle, I really don’t know. Where do you think he is?’ She saw a chance, gently, to turn the tables. Michelle screwed up her face in thought. ‘Heaven I suppose, maybe in the grumpy corner! Is there a Heaven, Gran? What’s it like? Everybody’s happy there, even if they were sick or sad when they were alive? And perhaps they have running and football every day, and the angels play as well.’ ‘I hope you’re right darling,’ said their Gran. ‘Now, let’s clear away the breakfast things and let’s see if I can find any Easter eggs.’ ‘WELL hello, stranger!’ Rose Smith opened the front door to find her son-in-law standing there. ‘The girls have gone out with their friends. Due back in an hour or so. Come on in anyway. How are things?’ Barry stepped inside Rose’s neat house. He’d always been made welcome there. Rose considered Barry Lane a good mate for Lara, her only daughter; not the rich and handsome prince she might once have hoped for, but a kind and hard-working man. ‘Coffee? Easter egg?’ she offered. ‘You’ve lost a load of weight. I hope this running lark isn’t making you ill.’ ‘Coffee would be great, thanks, Rose. And no, I’m not ill, just in shape for a change.’ >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

69

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 70

‘Heard from Lara? She got there alright anyway; called the children on Friday.’ ‘I spoke to her yesterday evening, yes. Seems to be having a ball down there. Weather’s great for the painting and she’s made friends by the sounds of things. She was dashing out when she phoned.’ ‘Do her good, a break away from the children. It’s a wonder you didn’t go as well Barry …’ ‘Ah, it’s more of a break for her without me hanging around. Not my scene anyway.’ He sipped his coffee. Rose came and sat down next to him. ‘Michelle was asking me about Jim earlier,’ she said, ‘just out of curiosity. Asked me if I missed him.’ ‘Oh, and do you? Silly question of course. No one else on the horizon, Rose?’ ‘No. I wonder if I ought to do something about that for I do get lonely sometimes. Maybe I ought to sign up for one of those internet dating sites,’ she giggled. ‘Things have changed since my day.’ ‘Rose, it’s still your day! How old are you, 52 or something? That’s the prime of life these days. If you wanted, there’s loads of unattached blokes out there.’ ‘Huh, if they’re unattached in their 50s then there’s something wrong with them or they’ve got baggage. Or they’re married and only after a bit of extra marital.’ Barry suddenly felt uncomfortable, but sensed an opportunity to corroborate his decision to come clean with Lara although he needed to be careful. ‘Extra marital, I can’t understand anyone who would do that to his missus,’ he began. ‘There’s a bloke at work been a bit naughty and is wondering whether or not to confess to the wife and have done with it. I don’t know what to say to him, not having been in that position like.’ He waited, as if uninterested really. ‘Yes he should tell her, face the music, clean the slate. That’s what I think, anyway.’ Just what he’d hoped to hear. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

70

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 71

IN north Devon it promised to be another fine and warm day. At breakfast Lara would have joined Dave, who was sitting alone. However, he gave her what she judged to be a black look as she walked into the room before choosing instead to join a group of three. She told herself to be a bit firmer with that young man, though without being unkind. She had no come-on messages to send to him or to anyone. However, men often took a little affection on a woman’s part for physical attraction and were confused by what they then saw as a cold shoulder. As the ‘older woman’ she had a bit of responsibility to be clear on this matter. In any case, she wanted to be able to mix freely with the rest of the group without any misunderstandings. She chose cereal and fresh creamy milk, then half a grapefruit followed by a leisurely coffee with toast and jam. She thought the Breezes’ breakfast quite delicious, but perhaps part of that was to do with the fact that someone else was preparing it. She couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t got up to make breakfast for Barry and for the girls, once they came along. Then she recalled that New Year’s Day when Lauren and Michelle had managed to get their own cereal while she had lazed in bed. And when Barry had gone out for his first run! She experienced a sudden rush of love for them all and told herself she would call them that evening. Later on the Art class were all going off visiting some galleries, but before then they all gathered on the lawn to start day two of their course. Everyone, without exception, seemed to be enjoying the work and they now realised that whatever they produced, however dreadful, would be treated with respect. To start the day off Jack sat them down on the back lawn again and introduced the subject of life study, ie drawing people. He asked for a volunteer, assuring them that they weren’t required to pose nude!

FOURTEEN

71

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 72

One of the older men, Arnie, put his hand up and Jack sat him down in front of the group. Without further ado he told the group to draw a head and shoulders portrait in soft pencil, and allowed them ten minutes each. After time was up Jack asked Arnie to turn half-face away from the class, and they were given another ten minutes to prepare a fresh drawing. As usual, Jack walked inconspicuously among the class. Lara pursed her lips and did her best to capture Arnie on her sheet of paper. She wasn’t convinced by her efforts and was eager to learn how to improve. After they had all completed their second efforts Jack took up his own pencil and, emphasising a few main points as he proceeded, produced a remarkable likeness of Arnie in no time at all. Thanking Arnie, who returned to his seat, Jack asked for a further volunteer. To her own surprise Lara found her right hand go into the air and she was brought in front of the class. She tried to relax as 13 wanabee artists scrutinised her closely; this proved very difficult and she concluded she could never cut a career in the public eye. At length she was mercifully released. As she returned to her place she tried to see what people had drawn and, from the few glimpses that she caught, she thought that she wouldn’t investigate further if that was how she appeared to others! After lunch they all trooped down the hill and into town. Jack had arranged for them to visit a large workshop-type art gallery. St Ives was well known for its attraction to artists and it had long been a Mecca for those wishing to devote their lives, or part of it, in the company of others of like mind. They said that the St Ives’ quality of light was special and Lara thought that she could not argue with that. They spent a most interesting hour talking with several of those who spent much of their year here in pursuit of their passion. Lara couldn’t imagine that there was much money it for most of them, but she would love to be in a position to try the life for a summer. The group then spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the other galleries in the town before heading back to the hotel. Lara finally managed to speak to Barry that evening.

72

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 73

He explained that he had been out most of the day the day before and had not been able to get to the phone in time when she rang later. She didn’t push the point as to why he hadn’t called her back. He didn’t have much to say to her and, after she had described her adventures in Cornwall so far, she hung up and went downstairs. It was the same group of six that headed off into town, this time having booked at a Chinese restaurant. Dave had seemingly forgotten about last night’s brush-off and was pleasant enough to Lara tonight. She took care to let him know she was married and unavailable and he seemed to accept this with good grace. They had a pleasant enough evening and Lara even accepted a final drink with him in a town bar. While Lara made her way back up the hill Dave decided to stay in town for a while. Lara decided that, tonight, she would go straight to her room, read a bit of her book and go to sleep. THE next morning she was woken by heavy footsteps and raised voices downstairs. Her watch said it was just after 6.30am – what could be going on? More footsteps on the stairs and in the corridor outside. Then, to her shock, a heavy knocking at her door and an officious voice. ‘Hello? Open the door please!’ ‘What ... why ... who is it?’ asked the frightened Lara. ‘Police, Madam, open the door now please!’ In a mixture of fright and confusion, Lara pulled on her cardigan over her nightie, padded to the door and opened it. Immediately she did so a uniformed policeman stepped inside. Behind him was a worried-looking Jack Turner who had obviously dressed at short notice. The officer quickly looked around the room, in the bathroom, wardrobes, under the bed. He opened the sash window and looked outside and down at the lawn. Lara looked from the policeman to Jack in turn. ‘What’s going on? What are you looking for?’ Seemingly exasperated, the policeman turned to Lara. ‘Where is he? Where’s David Barnes?’ >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

73

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 74

‘David Barnes? I’ve no idea who or what you’re talking about.’ Jack spoke next, more gently. ‘Dave, you know, the chap on the course.’ ‘Dave? I haven’t the faintest idea, Jack. If he’s not in his room how would I know?’ Lara replied in confusion. Breathing deeply the officer continued: ‘Madam, I must ask you to remain in this room for the moment. Please don’t call anyone. In fact please give me your mobile phone. Don’t use the hotel line, it’ll be monitored. I’ll be having the door guarded.’ After he had taken Lara’s mobile he turned and, with Jack behind him, left the room without further comment. The door clicked shut as they clattered down the stairs. Behind them, Lara sat down on the bed, shaking. What was happening? She thought back to the previous evening, trying to remember anything that could have sparked a police raid. But no, the whole thing meant nothing to her. She supposed that she had permission to use the bathroom, she thought lugubriously. Still shaken she showered and made herself as presentable as possible before dressing in shorts and T-shirt. Mindful of the police instruction she nevertheless opened the door to look outside. There a WPC stood with her hands clasped behind her back. She looked expressionlessly at Lara. ‘Can you tell me what’s going on, please?’ Lara asked. ‘Sorry Ma’am, can’t tell you anything right now.’ ‘How long are you keeping me here for?’ ‘Honestly don’t know Ma’am,’ she relented, partly because of the way Lara had addressed her, both quietly and politely. Not like the usual type she was accustomed to dealing with, she thought. ‘Shall I see if I can get something sent up to you? Coffee or anything.’ ‘No, thank you. I can make coffee here in the room. Thanks.’ She shut the door, drank coffee and racked her brains, the latter giving her a worsening headache. It was about 8 o’clock when there was a knock at the door and the WPC looked in. ‘Please come with me now, Ma’am.’ She led the way along the corridor and down the stairs. One or two of the painting group were already up, waiting for breakfast to

74

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 75

be served, maybe, and Lara was mortified to be seen as she followed the WPC into the small residents’ lounge. And she was further alarmed to see two more uniforms outside the hotel entrance as they walked by. In the lounge the policeman who had come into her room earlier sat behind a coffee desk. The WPC took a seat nearby. ‘Please sit down, Mrs Lane.’ Lara sat down in an armchair opposite the policeman. ‘I’m Detective Inspector Smith and this is Detective Constable Lynley.’ He nodded in his colleague’s direction. ‘We’d like to ask you a few questions.’ ‘Of course,’ replied Lara, ‘but can you tell me what’s going on?’ Ignoring the question, DI Smith said: ‘You are staying here in this hotel, Room 14?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You arrived on Friday evening?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You are, um, friends with David Barnes?’ ‘If you mean Dave on the art course then I’m acquainted with him. We’re hardly friends, though.’ ‘You were with him on Saturday night?’ ‘In a group at a restaurant? Yes.’ ‘And you returned to the hotel with him?’ ‘Well, yes, I suppose so.’ ‘You were with him last night, Sunday?’ ‘For goodness sake, we just happened to be in the same group again!’ ‘Were you in the Red Lion alone with him afterwards?’ ‘I don’t remember the name of the pub, but I had a drink with him, yes.’ ‘You spent last night together?’ ‘Now hold on!’ Lara leapt to her feet. ‘Who’s telling you that? Dave went off into town by himself afterwards and that was the last I saw of him. ‘Anyway,’ she added as an afterthought, ‘since when do you lock people up for sleeping with other people? If I had done, that is.’ DI Smith finally decided to divulge some information. ‘Madam,

75

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 76

there was a serious incident in town early this morning. Mr Barnes is a suspect and he’s missing. He’s got previous convictions for GBH. Our information is that you were, um, very friendly with him. Can you tell us where he is?’ ‘I’ve no idea!’ Lara slumped back into her seat, shocked anew at this news. At least she now understood the seriousness of the situation. ‘I’ve had no relationship with Dave, David Barnes. I can’t help you.’ Smith considered. ‘Very well, Madam. That’ll do for now. But I must impress on you the seriousness of withholding information from the Police. I understand you live in Wellhead, Surrey. My colleagues there will be making arrangements to keep tabs on you. Until we clear this up. You leave for home tomorrow, I believe?’ ‘Yes,’ said Lara, quietly; ‘but I may go today, now, instead.’ Smith twisted the knife. ‘I’ll be getting Forensics to go over both your room and Mr Barnes’s. You don’t want to save them the trouble before you go, do you? Nothing that that you may wish to say?’ ‘No. You’ll find nothing. You’re barking up the wrong tree. I don’t know where he is.’ ‘Very well. Here’s your mobile phone back.’ Because of the way he said it, Lara knew from the tone of voice that from today onwards, her calls would be monitored. Lara left the room in a daze. How could a few days holiday end in a nightmare like this? SHE phoned Barry and tearfully related the whole story. Aghast, Barry insisted that he would drive down to collect Lara and bring her home. Sadly, Lara agreed that she would be in no state to concentrate on, never mind enjoy, the rest of the course. She could have made her own way back to Surrey but Barry was having none of it, even more so as, on this Bank Holiday Monday, train services would be both crowded and restricted. Lara spoke briefly to Mary Turner and told her briefly that she would be leaving early. Mrs Turner said that she would speak to Jack. They were both very sorry about what had happened and they >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

76

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 77

were sure that Lara was in no way involved. Again, becoming tearful, Lara told Mary that she had spent two wonderful days with them and she was sure to return under happier circumstances. She then packed and settled back with a book and her complimentary instant coffee to wait. Barry arrived soon after lunchtime. He had driven non-stop and they stopped for a while soon after leaving St Ives to enable Barry to stretch his legs. They talked over sandwiches and yet more coffee. And although Barry knew that there were things he needed to say, today didn’t seem to be the time to say any of them. Meanwhile, as the fine day turned into a fine evening, Barry and Lara arrived at Lara’s mother’s to a fond welcome from their daughters. Over dinner and happy chatter life seemed good and any problems small and far away. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

77

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 78

THE Guards and their SOCO team had done their work throughout Good Friday. The regulars at Flanagan’s, gathering the following evening, chuckled that the timing at least had been good. There couldn’t have been a better day for taping off licensed premises as a crime scene than on the one day it was closed by law for business. Flanagan himself, having been given clearance by the Guards and, having called in industrial cleaners during the morning to clear up the blood, saw no reason why he shouldn’t open by early evening. After they had carted Peter Donnelly away on Thursday night, the customers of Flanagan’s had been detained ‘for questioning’ as witnesses. The regular lads had been shifted down to the far end of the room, away from the immediate scene, where they joined the other ashen-faced and tearful customers. Each in turn had been called into a back room where they explained what they had seen. The gaffer had continued to serve drinks as required and, indeed, had given each customer on hand a free large Paddy for nerve-calming purposes. In years to come this unprecedented generosity of Flanagan would become legendary and an inseparable adjunct to the tales told about the evening of the shooting. Ger, Johnny, Jack, Joe and Mikey all met again that Saturday evening. They sat uneasily at first, not wishing to discuss directly the happenings of Thursday night but knowing that to ignore it and go on to discuss the afternoon’s football results would be to ignore the elephant in the room. In Irish fashion they therefore came at the elephant from an oblique angle, quizzing Flanagan as to the various post-shooting activities in the pub. By degrees therefore, and as the pints started to flow, the dialogue became more direct until, though never being disrespectful to the dead man, exaggerations and wisecracks were being swapped. But no-one was unwise or indiscrete enough to discuss or mention, even in general terms, the likely perpetrators before, finally, the

FIFTEEN

78

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 79

football results could properly be discussed. Away from the bar it was noteworthy that none of the other Thursday customers had put in an appearance. Instead there were a steady stream of those rarely, if ever, seen in that bar. Curiosity seekers who entered the pub quietly (surprised to see it open) ordered their drinks. They whispered to each other and tried discretely to recreate the events of Thursday night as had been reported in the papers. Then they left for their more usual haunts. Behind them, down at the harbour, the air was warm and still and the lights were bright. IN the Ballybricken area of Waterford city James and Sheila Grant were getting ready to head up the road for a drink. It was their usual habit on a Saturday night and it being Easter made it no different in that respect. James fussed in front of the mirror, making sure his tie was straight and that his thinning hair was combed to his satisfaction. His wife of 30 years was less fussy and was happy just to throw on her coat and anticipate some good company and a few brandyand-dries. The coat indeed seemed a bit superfluous this warm late spring night, but she felt uncomfortable stepping out without it. She waited patiently until her husband was satisfied and had plonked his greasy cap onto his neatly-combed hair. Then, locking the door of their modest town cottage behind them, they turned and walked slowly up towards the Green. Sitting on a bench on Ballybricken Green a nondescript figure, steadily smoking a cigarette, watched the couple come up the hill from the direction of Gracedieu. They passed by him closely enough as they traversed the Green, crossed the road and pushed open the door to Alfie Hale’s. A few minutes later, throwing the filter tip to the floor, the man followed them in. Inside, Alfie’s was livening up. At the far end of the spacious bar, near to the collection of sports memorabilia, some featuring the eponymous Alfie Hale, a DJ was setting up his equipment. Sheila took a seat as James went to the bar. Despite the fact that his wife >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

79

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 80

had drunk nothing at all but brandy and dry ginger these last ten years, they went through the usual ritual. ‘What would you like?’ ‘Brandy and dry.’ Sheila sat back and looked at the collection of black-and-white film star photographs that adorned this end of the bar: Laurel and Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, James Stewart, Marilyn Monroe … before James (Grant not Stewart, which she regretted), arrived back from the bar, bearing their drinks. A Guinness for himself and Sheila’s usual. She inspected hers to ensure that it was as ordered, and that ice had not been added, before lifting it to her lips appreciatively. ‘Aaahh, lovely, just the business. I’ve been looking forward to that all week.’ James sampled his pint without comment. Still the best pint in Waterford he reckoned, though these days his sample of bars was probably not statistically significant. While the couple inspected their familiar surroundings … who was in and who was coming in that might be of interest, a man came their way holding a drink in a small glass. To their surprise he pulled out a chair and sat down in front of them as they sat side by side. He was young and nervous-looking, jeans, checked shirt, dark jacket. He had a mousey-looking face topped by untidy black hair and, when he spoke, it was with a local accent. ‘Mr and Mrs Grant? Good evening. I was hoping that Jimmy might be with you tonight?’ ‘Our Jimmy?’ replied James: ‘He doesn’t hang around with his mother and father.’ ‘Oh, well then, do you know where I might find him?’ The man spoke quietly and politely. ‘At home I imagine, if anywhere. He’s got his own place you know, out the Dunmore Road. He doesn’t live with us.’ ‘Yes, we’ve tried his flat, Mr Grant. He’s not there. So I thought you might have seen him? In the last couple of days?’ ‘No, sorry, can’t help you,’ replied James. ‘He leads his own life, which doesn’t often include us. How do you mean, we’ve. …?’

80

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 81

The man considered for a long moment. When he spoke his tone had hardened. ‘I hope for both of your sakes that’s the truth. If you see him, or hear from him, ring this number.’ He handed them a typewritten note containing a mobile telephone number. ‘I mean it, call that number or it’ll go bad for the both of you. And, if you do see Jimmy, tell him to call Owen.’ With that this newcomer to the pub swallowed his drink, placed his glass on the table, stood up and walked out of the bar. James had meant to aim a sharp rejoinder at the stranger but the cat had his tongue. Through all of this Sheila had listened with growing alarm. ‘What was all that about James? What’s Jimmy done? Who’s looking for him?’ ‘Don’t know and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t care,’ and, with that he screwed up the note the stranger had given him and threw it on the table. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

THE police had left and the Breezes Hotel continued as best it could. Everyone had been shocked by the invasion of the hotel by the local constabulary; of their heavy-handed treatment of the owners and also that of Lara. Subsequently Monday’s art classes began very late and in subdued mood. Two of their number were, of course, absent and rumours were flying as to exactly what the ‘incident’ in town had been. The whisper was that there had been an attack on a local woman. It seemed that the quiet young man, ‘Dave’ was a prime suspect and this in itself was strange and upsetting. Even more incredible was it to think that the pleasant and friendly Lara could be in any way implicated. But, that’s the way it looked or else she would be here, wouldn’t she? was the general consensus. The art weekend drew to a close and everybody drifted quietly away.

81

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 82

Young Mary Turner was on duty in the bar that Monday evening. It was quiet and, with only a couple of people around, she busied herself by cleaning and tidying. She pulled each section of bottles off their shelf in turn, wiped them carefully with a damp cloth and replaced them all meticulously, label to the front; the same with the cold shelves, taking care that the earliest-dated bottles neatly stacked on them were to the front, so that they would be poured first. Then she wiped the bottles of spirits and optics in turn. Crisps and nuts were neatly lined up behind her. She took care to place beer mats all in a straight line on the bar. As one of the customers left, Mary was out in an instant and the table was cleared and cleaned before the door had closed behind the customer. She returned to her post. She started to pull bottles out again before, crossly, stopping herself. She looked at the line of beer mats, jumbled them up a bit and sighed. Mary was pleased in many ways to be back home for the Easter break. Things in St Ives were simple and familiar, the present ‘incident’ notwithstanding. Her first year away at Bristol University had been difficult for her on many levels. She had found it difficult to adjust to the way of college life with its expectations of parties, alcohol, soft drugs, late nights, casual sex... For although she was a confident enough young lady on the surface and generally well-liked, her insecurities had surfaced quickly in this alien environment. Her compulsive tidying behaviour, harmless enough and virtually a non-issue at home, had escalated alarmingly. So while her fellow first-year students revelled in their freedom to be untidy, Mary tidied non-stop, most often without being aware of what she was doing. Her friends teased her without realising that there may be a problem there, somewhere. She tried to make light of the issue but it was a source of worry and stress to her. Another continuing worry to Mary was her approach to relationships. She was not short of friends, both male and female. She was happy to joke and fool around and also to engage in more serious discussions, joining in freely and with intelligence, but she seemed unable to develop deeper, personal relationships. Opportu-

82

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 83

nities were many, and frequently one or other of her male acquaintances attempted to take things a little further. Invariably, however, at the first deep kiss or exploratory hand, the barriers would go up. Her girlfriends were often incredulous that she had turned down certain guys who had never even looked their way, despite their best efforts. Mary herself struggled to understand what was the cause of this obvious reluctance for in her head she had normal desires – she did fancy guys and loved the thought of sleeping with and lying close to certain of them. But something was stopping her from going ahead. As a consequence, Mary then found that she became of interest to one or two gay female students. In these instances she was quite certain of her feelings towards lesbian relationships and carefully rejected such advances. With a shrug she told herself that there was ‘no problem’ and that she ought not to place expectations on herself. If things were meant to happen they would happen in their own, good time. There was no big deal and she should ‘chill’. In the meantime, however, she started to take refuge in alcohol, often retreating to her room with a book and a cheap bottle of wine. However, here at the Breezes she was relaxed and, temporarily at least, free of any issues. She cheerfully greeted a new couple who came into the bar and chatted happily to them as she served their drinks before beginning, once again, to carefully line up her row of beer mats. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

83

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 84

THE Lane household was a hive of activity as the family all got ready for the Wellhead Harriers 10k. Barry was, understandably, the centre of attention – this was his big comeback ten years after his last race, even if he wasn’t the only racer today. Earlier that week Barry had noticed that there was a children’s race accompanying the main event and, naturally, Michelle had jumped at the chance of taking part. While Barry was quietly lost in his own thoughts as he made his preparations, Michelle was buzzing around in anticipation. The main race was due to start at 10am and Barry was anxious to arrive by 9.15am to check in and warm up. As the start and finish was at the Harriers track only ten minutes walk or so away, there was no great rush. A great advantage of living near to the race was that Barry and Michelle could get their racing gear on at home, and they had no distance to travel afterwards. Barry descended the stairs in white Tshirt, black shorts, short white socks and his Nike running shoes. Pinned to his T-shirt was his race number, 110. There was a cheer as he presented himself for breakfast. ‘Hurray for Daddy, the winner of the 10k!’ yelled Michelle, jumping up and down in excitement. ‘Hey Daddy, you look like a real runner!’ Lauren exclaimed. ‘Huh. Maybe this is a big mistake and I’ll conk out half way round!’ Barry sat down at the breakfast bar. Porridge with honey was supposedly the breakfast of Paula Radcliffe so this is what Lara had prepared for her husband – by prior agreement, of course. As it was yet another warm morning, a large glass of orange squash seemed a good idea, although dehydration would hardly be an issue over such a short distance; after all, this was no marathon. ‘So,’ began Lara: ‘if you start at 10 o’clock, what time will you finish, do you think?’ ‘Hmm. I’m reckoning on 40 minutes if I go well, more likely 45. If I’m not back by 11am send out a search party. Any chance of a 84

SIXTEEN

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 85

bit of toast?’ ‘How many are in the race, Daddy?’ asked Lauren. ‘I think there were about 700 last year. That’s everyone, both men and women.’ ‘So you’ll beat, umm, 699 others!’ Michelle crowed. Barry looked at his younger daughter. ‘Michelle, there will be loads of runners before me. I’ve not raced for ten years and lots of runners are better than me. And they’re younger. So I’m just going to try my best. You won’t be disappointed in me will you?’ Her bubble burst, Michelle considered long and hard. ‘No, not if you run your best. Try not to come last, though. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t win though. And if I do I’ll blame my coach!’ She shot a fierce look at Lauren. ‘For goodness sake, Michelle. It’s not the Olympics! Just run and enjoy yourself. We won’t care if you’re first or last; it doesn’t matter.’ Lara reasoned. ‘It matters to me!’ shouted an overwrought Michelle and she stomped out of the kitchen with Barry and Lara swapping looks and shrugging their shoulders. Lauren waited a minute then quietly went to find her sister. Michelle was sprawled in an armchair, a mixture of emotions as she fiddled with her Barbie. Lauren knelt down in front of her and spoke quietly. ‘So you don’t want to race today, then?’ ‘Yes?’ Michelle looked curiously at her sister. ‘Why do you want to race?’ ‘To win!’ ‘What about all the people that don’t win? What about the 699 people in Daddy’s race that won’t win. Will they all be sad?’ Michelle thought. ‘No, because not everyone can win. Some are old. Some are just slow. But they still enjoy doing their best.’ ‘Yes, doing their best! Like Daddy will. He won’t be sad if he doesn’t win. If he was sad that would make all of us sad. So you won’t be sad if you lose, will you? You’ll just do your best?’ It was too much for Michelle. She sobbed quietly, unsure now of what she thought. Lauren stayed with her until she calmed down a little. ‘OK, why don’t you wash your face and get ready. It’s a lovely day for running!’

85

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 86

THEY set off from the house just after 9am, out of their road and left towards the Harriers’ track, the girls skipping excitedly ahead. An hour before the race and already there was a buzz on this side of town. Many runners from the town chose, like the Lanes, to walk to the race. Such runners were unmistakeable, both by what they were wearing and carrying, as well as the fact that, in the main, they looked much slimmer and athletic than the average Sunday morning walker. Today most wore shorts and light jackets due to the warm weather, sports bags slung over their shoulders. Barry himself carried nothing at all for he was ready to go. Michelle, similarly, was ready to race and she had rediscovered her high spirits by the time they neared the track. Marshals in yellow bibs directed race traffic off the main road into the track parking area while the overflow parked in the field next door. Turning into the stadium, the Lanes found it already teeming with runners. Most were standing around, chatting, others were queuing for registration, yet more were jogging around. ‘Right. Will you look after Michelle while I get ready? I think the children’s registration is in the grandstand.’ Barry was anxious to focus on his own race now. He would, in any case, miss Michelle’s, which was to take place after the start of the main event. His family having disappeared around the corner, Barry did a little jog on the spot. He had his race number and quickly ascertained that there was no need for him to re-register. The busy desk was for those who needed to collect their numbers or for those who wished to make a late entry. With little more than half an hour to go he needed to warm up. He joined the growing number of runners making their way onto the track, which seemed to be the obvious warm-up area. Gently, to start with, he joined the other competitors making their way anti-clockwise. There began a steady stream of greetings from those that he knew, mainly ex-club colleagues. He had seen many of these during his training runs of course, but today was different. The Wellhead lads seemed pleased to see him again. The older ones still remembered him as a good racer, even though he had been off the scene for many years. Barry found himself both excited and a little nervous. He had been away a long time. However, this being an ‘Open’ race meant

86

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 87

that there were runners of all abilities, fast and slow, so there was no pressure on him; unlike the days when he would wear the Wellhead vest and when the racing was so cut-throat that he needed to perform at his peak every time out. Also, there was a fun atmosphere today; with men and women, young and old, all of them competing together rather than against each other, though in different categories. He started to enjoy his day and gradually increased the pace of his warm-up. After resting for a few minutes he completed his preparations by putting in some fast strides, getting his heart pumping and his legs ready for racing. With a few minutes to go to 9 o’clock he made his way with everyone else to the start line. The start was on the track from where they would leave the stadium and head out of town on the roads which would be temporarily closed, purely for the race. Convention dictated that the fastest runners line up at the front of the field so that they would not to be impeded by the slower ones. Other runners generally placed themselves in the crowd according to their idea about their own and their fellow runners’ ability. Ten years before Barry would have been firmly in the front echelon but today he took his place a little further back, if for no other reason that he didn’t want to raise Michelle’s hopes by showing up with the leaders in the early stages. A minute to go and, along with every other runner, he knew that he could now only trust that his training would pull him through. And, along with every other runner, he considered that such training he had done had been insufficient. The man with the Tannoy had been talking cheerfully to the runners for the last few minutes but few, if any, had been listening. Now, however, he counted down the seconds: ‘ten, nine, eight …’ Barry set his watch to zero and, on the sound of the air horn, pressed the start button. Frustratingly, the crowded start meant that he couldn’t get into his stride straight away but, as he entered the back straight, he found some space and eased past a few fellow competitors. The racers were to complete a full lap and then leave the stadium. As he ran by, Barry scanned the spectators in the seats and there they were!

87

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 88

Lara, Lauren and Michelle standing up and cheering wildly. He smiled broadly and waved to them, then followed the leading runners off the track, onto the road and out into the country. AS the last few runners left the stadium (these last few were actually walking!) preparation for the children’s races began. Michelle was to run in the youngest age group – the seven- and eight-yearolds. She had warmed up under Lauren’s direction on a patch of grass in the field next door to the race track, which was being used for car parking. Then they had joined their mother in the seats to cheer off the runners in the main race, delighted to see Daddy wave to them to such an extent that they jumped up and down and cheered him wildly, as he went by, not so far off the lead. After that the first children’s race was announced over the loudspeaker, for the sevens and eights! Lauren nudged Michelle and they both made their way to the gate and on to the track. At the gate Lauren grabbed Michelle. ‘Listen! One lap is a long way, a quarter of a mile. You can’t sprint your fastest all the way. Run quite slowly until near the end then, if you’ve got any puff left, speed up!’ Michelle showed no sign that she had heard a word of her coach’s advice as she trotted over to the start line where the other boys and girls were gathering. She noticed that there were others who looked older and stronger. This was different to running against the boys and girls just from her class at school. She was suddenly less confident and she wished she had gone for another wee. The starting man was kind and told them not to go too quickly at the start – just as Lauren had said! Then he made them stand on the curvy start line. There were lots of them and not everyone could fit on the line but Michelle grimly refused to be shoved aside by one or two bigger boys. At last the starting man stepped off the track before saying: ‘On your marks. Set. Go!’ Everyone ran off at top pace and Michelle was horrified, imme>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

88

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 89

diately, to find herself behind lots of other boys and girls. She tried to speed up but it was no good, everybody was faster! Tears sprang to her eyes – what was happening? She was meant to win! For a moment she wanted to run off the track and give up, to go and hide somewhere forever. But then, within seconds, she noticed that some of her rivals were slowing down. As they ran around the big first bend and into the back straight Michelle thought that maybe some of these boys and girls had started too fast and were puffed out already. They didn’t have a coach like Lauren. What had Lauren told her – don’t go too fast at first? Michelle made herself think. She saw that there was still a long way to go. She would slow down for a while and then see if she had any puff left near the end. And then, as a bigger boy tried to get by on her inside, she stepped in and neatly blocked him off. As she settled down she saw that there were about seven boys and girls in front of her and, as she quickly looked behind, lots more were now struggling further back. She tried to run steadily with neat arms and to keep her head still as she concentrated on staying close to the girl in front of her as they ran down the long, back straight. BARRY glanced at his watch as he passed the 1k marker – 4min 15sec. He was hoping to keep as close as possible to four minutes per kilometre so that first split, considering the crowded start on the track, was OK. The leaders were already out of sight up the road and there were even a few women ahead of him! ‘That wouldn’t have happened ten years ago,’ he thought, grimly. However, he was realistic about his present place in the scheme of things. He found himself running alongside a tall young man in a green vest and, for a while, matched him stride for stride until his younger rival started to stretch away. Barry let him go. The course was familiar to him after his many training runs these last few months. Soon enough they had crossed over the bypass by way of the footbridge and were in the less populated lanes beyond. The day was fine and sunny and Barry was working up a sweat as >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

89

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 90

he relaxed into the race. An early tightness in his chest – a reminder of his smoking days, had gone. He was running at a reasonable clip but he was relaxed and saw no reason to up his pace or effort levels, not yet anyway. It wasn’t as if he was in contention for the prizes. His watch showed approximately 4min 10sec and 4min 8sec for the second and third kilometres. One or two people had passed him but he, in turn, had passed one or two himself. Most of those runners around and in front of Barry wore club vests and he was able to recognise many of Wellhead’s rival club colours from the old days. Back then each club vest in front represented a target, a challenge, one to beat. Today he was running incognito, he thought, in his plain white top. Perhaps he ought to join up again, pay his subs. Maybe, he’d see. They came to a steepish climb and Barry leant into the hill, chopping and quickening his stride. He felt strong and found himself making up a few places. Almost immediately he lost those places on the downslope which followed as others descended freely with flowing limbs. ‘Hmm, I need to work on my downhill technique,’ Barry reckoned. His fourth and fifth splits continued to be a little outside his target pace. At the halfway point, as the course started to curve back on itself towards town, Barry decided that he was enjoying his day just a little too much. Time to step on the gas, he decided. Along with most of the runners around him he ignored the water station. He put his head down and gradually increased his pace. AS they approached the last big bend Michelle was still in eighth place. She was feeling tired but she supposed the other runners were, too. ‘OK, go past this girl,’ she said to herself, and with a little spurt she was seventh. The leading boy was half way around the bend by now with two other boys and the leading girl trailing behind him. Then there was a gap before another boy, another girl and then Michelle. She needed to close that gap soon, she thought. The boy >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

90

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 91

and girl in front of her were tiring and didn’t look like catching up with the leaders. Telling her tired legs to speed up, Michelle managed to catch and pass them as they went round the bend. She was now in fifth place and while there was still a gap, it didn’t look so big now. With fresh heart Michelle urged her legs onwards and suddenly, as they came to the end of the bend, she had closed that gap! Could she do better than fifth? No, she was out of breath now and her legs just wouldn’t go any faster. However, suddenly the other girl slowed down and Michelle found herself fourth. Only the boys were in front, now, and there was still most of the long straight to go. ‘What would Lauren be saying?’ she asked herself: ‘Speed up arms, lift knees higher!’ She tried to ignore the pain in her legs and her chest, which seemed to be bursting. She pulled out of the inside lane and saw the finish line where the judges were and where all the mums and dads were cheering. Mummy and Lauren would be there shouting for her – she had to win! Her whole world became a battle to reach the finish line. Arms and knees pumping she passed one boy, then the other. Just the big boy in front now. Everything became a blur as she gave her last ounce in the cause. She was catching up but no! The line came too soon and she’d lost. Michelle collapsed on the track, desperately trying to gasp in air. Worried people came to help her up and she slowly climbed back to her feet. Then suddenly Mummy was there with Lauren and she collapsed tearfully into their arms, exhausted and totally distraught. AS Barry stepped up the pace he began to feel a little more like a racer rather than a runner. His legs were moving well, his breathing was faster now but controlled. He started to pass other runners, one by one. Most seemed content, for the moment anyway, to hold their steady pace: ‘3min 40sec for the sixth kilometre. That was more like it,’ Barry thought. A couple of other lads came up to his shoulder and Barry, his >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

91

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 92

competitive instinct awakened, picked up their rhythm and determined to stick with them for a while. The seventh kilometre was his fastest so far. It was at this point that reality started to kick in. His legs suddenly felt tired and he was starting to gasp a little. He let his two companions go on ahead as he settled back to try to regain his rhythm. Now, for the first time, he was having to battle to keep going. The indolent lifestyle of his thirties, as well as his advancing years, were starting to tell, regardless of the excellent work he had put in in recent months. Back up to four minutes for the eighth split as they approached the footbridge over the bypass and the town outskirts. Yes, he had made his effort too soon, he realised. He was now doing not much more than hanging on as they raced back into town towards the track. He’d done OK, he thought, and he just wanted to finish it off properly. No longer checking his watch he concentrated on his running form – run tall, good arms, pick up heels. And here was the turn into the stadium. Up through the car park, through the gate and onto the track. There was a smattering of applause from the waiting spectators and Barry was off around the track on the final lap, runners in front and behind him. Now relaxed again, he came happily into the final straight, gallantly deciding against racing a female opponent to the finish line. He smiled as he crossed the line and looked at his watch – 40m 03sec. Yes, happy with that. And plenty more in the tank, with more training, he reckoned. ‘21st Daddy!’ yelled Michelle, apparently happy enough with Barry’s result. He rejoined his family and looked at the gold medal hanging around Michelle’s neck. ‘First place Michelle, well done!’ ‘I didn’t win, but I was first girl,’ Michelle told him. She seemed to have recovered from her earlier distress. ‘Barry, she was beaten by a whisker by a boy a year older and twice as big as her. When she got her medal, the announcer said that it was a record time for a seven year-old girl!’ Lara told him. ‘Well, come on, let’s go home, get cleaned up and we’ll go out for Sunday lunch to celebrate,’ said Barry. ‘Hurray!’ cheered the girls.

92

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 93

THE Cornish Riviera Express raced westwards. One of the passengers was a troubled-looking, pale-faced young woman. She spoke to no-one and spent the long journey staring blankly out of the window, at once seeing all and seeing nothing. The good weather had broken and it was raining steadily from leaden skies. Anyone observing her would conclude that it was certainly raining in this woman’s heart. Lara struggled to rationalise and regain control of her thoughts and emotions. The previous day had been idyllic. After the races there had been a long family Sunday lunch at a pub a little way out of town, a walk by the river feeding the ducks, a quiet evening in and a game of cards after a light dinner. Then, when the girls had gone to bed, he had told her. Told her about Penny Clarke, or Smith, it didn’t matter what the cow’s name was. Told her how he had met her in the pub, that they had gone for a meal together and then – then they had come home to their house and slept together in their bed! Then he had told her that it was just a mistake, it meant nothing. Laughed it off and tried to change the subject! She, Lara, had become hysterical. She could not begin to understand how he had done such a thing to her. She screamed questions at him and didn’t listen to the answers. She threw things at him and didn’t care what got broken. Alarmed, Barry had tried to calm her but this had made things worse. The children, becoming frightened, had come downstairs in tears and she had shouted at them to go back to bed. Finally, she had yelled at him to get out of her sight. He had gone upstairs to comfort the children. Lara had cried herself to sleep on the sofa. In the early morning she had woken up cold and shivering, but calmer. She made herself a cup of coffee and sat down to try to gather herself. Her world had been turned upside down. She was somehow aware that maybe she was over-reacting, but she didn’t know how else to react. What should she do now, today? She did93

SEVENTEEN

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 94

n’t want anything to do with her husband, not for the present, anyway. She would only start screaming and shouting again. ‘Hello, can I come in?’ It was Barry, peering nervously around the door. Lara’s first reaction was to fly at him, but she realised that she’d done plenty of that the previous night. The best course of action for now was just to behave rationally, then solutions might present themselves. ‘How are the girls?’ she asked quietly, as Barry sat down. ‘Upset. You ought to go and talk to them.’ ‘What! You’re telling me how to behave … ?’ she started to shout again, then caught herself. She took a deep breath. ‘Yes of course, I’ll go up in a while.’ There was a long period of silence. ‘I’m sorry, you know,’ said Barry ‘I’d do anything to unwind things. It really was nothing to me. I love only you and that will never change.’ ‘But it happened, didn’t it? And who’s to say it won’t happen again?’ ‘It won’t, I promise you!’ protested Barry. ‘Ha! Words are very cheap aren’t they?’ ‘What else have I got to offer? I have only words; you have to accept them as sincere.’ ‘I don’t know, Barry. I can’t just accept what you’ve done. We can’t go on as though nothing’s happened. I need time to think about this. Away from you.’ ‘What? Are you kicking me out?’ She was silent as she thought. ‘I’ve got to have some space. At least for a few days. I can’t go into work in this state anyway. I’ll go to Mum’s or something. You can look after the girls. They’re at school all day, anyhow.’ ‘Lara, we can work it out. Don’t go, we can talk...’ ‘Barry we’ll talk all right but I’m all talked out for now. I’m going to see the girls.’ Lara went upstairs and called the girls together. Hugging them gently and with all of her love she explained that: ‘Mummy and Daddy have had a fight. That happens with grown-ups, sometimes.’ She was sorry that they had been frightened and that they ought

94

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 95

not to worry. Everything would be all right but Mummy was going away for a day or two to think. Daddy and Gran would look after them and: ‘Mummy will call every day.’ Then she told them to get ready for school. After a subdued breakfast, Barry went off to work, dropping off the girls on the way. Lara called her mother and outlined what had happened, leaving her to guess at the real reason for the marital fallout. Her mother, of course, would be happy to keep an eye on things until they were back to normal. But where was Lara going? Keeping her fingers crossed, Lara rang The Breezes in St Ives. For a little while Lara had felt so happy and relaxed there, and she knew that this was where she might marshal her thoughts. Mrs Turner was surprised but pleased to hear from Lara. Everybody had become very fond of her, she said, and had felt so sorry for what had happened with the police. And hadn’t the police let her know? They had found David Barnes at his home in Plymouth. The woman involved in the ‘incident’ had retracted her complaints and had insisted that she had been a willing partner, no matter that she had ended up seemingly battered and assaulted in a quiet part of the town. So the whole thing had blown over and yes, of course The Breezes could fit Lara in for a few days. They would be delighted to see her. Lara rang the library – they were none too pleased that she wouldn’t be in for a few days, but Lara didn’t much care at the moment. Then she checked the train timetables on the internet, packed a small suitcase and set off for Cornwall. AS the train trundled around Torbay Lara called home. After a few peremptory words with Barry she spoke to Lauren and then to Michelle. She assured both worried and teary girls that she hadn’t deserted them and that she would see them very soon. The call left her more depressed than ever and she wondered if she shouldn’t, after all, go straight back home. But she kept her resolve to take time out >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

95

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 96

for herself and settle herself down before making any firm decisions. At last the train reached Penzance and there was the connecting branch train to St Ives waiting for her. Soon she was trailing her suitcase up the hill and into the entrance to The Breezes. She rang the bell on the desk and got ready to say hello, sign the registration card and take her key. But instead, as the kind figure of Mrs Turner appeared, Lara crumpled into her surprised hostess’s arms and wept both noisily and uncontrollably. SOME time later that evening Lara, by now having regained some composure, presented herself at the little hotel bar. To her surprise, not only was the man in the check jacket and curly moustache sitting on a barstool in the same position as when she had first walked into the bar at Easter, but young Mary Turner was behind the bar. ‘Mary, hello! I thought you’d be back at Uni by now?’ ‘Hi, Lara isn’t it? Lovely to see you again! I’m due back on Wednesday but, I dunno. I’m thinking of not going back. Anyway, what brings you back down to this neck of the woods?’ ‘Not going back? Why, what’s wrong?’ ‘Oh Lara it’s a confused and sorry sort of story. It would take too long to tell. And what’s your story?’ ‘Ha, it’s a simple one and I could tell it to you in a couple of seconds. But it’s left me in a right old state and I just needed some space.’ ‘Man trouble?’ Mary guessed. Lara smiled ‘Yes, what else. Men!’ ‘Sounds like you need to talk, Lara. Maybe I do too. Men indeed,’ Mary reflected. ‘But in the meantime what are you drinking? First one’s on the house!’ Mary was a bubbly, friendly girl. She treated every guest in her bar as if they were special. Even the strange, silent man on the barstool was treated like royalty. She was young and attractive. Lara couldn’t imagine what could be troubling her. Whatever it was, it was certainly hidden deep. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

96

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 97

Lara wasn’t hungry and decided to skip dinner in favour of another drink or two and an early night. She had no intention of wandering off into the night by herself so she settled down at a table away from the bar. She opened the book that she had brought with her. Although she was enjoying Mary’s company the young lady had a job and other guests to attend to. After a while she looked up and was pleased to see Jack Turner at her table. ‘Hi Lara, Mary told me that you were with us again. I gather it’s a bit of a break from the family this time?’ ‘Oh, hello again Jack. I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to thank you properly before I left last week. I enjoyed your classes so much. Will you join me for a drink?’ ‘I’d love to, but let me get them. The house white is it? Good choice.’ ‘Good measures, too,’ replied Lara, ‘I’m surprised you make any money selling it.’ ‘Well, I’ve never seen the French or Spanish measure out their wine, have you? And I don’t care if the bar doesn’t make money if people have a good time here. But can I talk to you about your talent?’ ‘My talent?’ laughed Lara. ‘What talent might that be, other than a talent for bursting into tears every five minutes?’ ‘Your sketching and painting. I think you’ve got a gift for it. For a beginner I think you showed rare perception and feel for the work. I hope you continue with it. I don’t say that to many people, either.’ ‘Gosh, Jack, I thought I’d drawn a load of rubbish. You aren’t winding me up are you?’ said Lara, surprised. ‘No, not a bit of it! I meant what I said, that everybody’s efforts are worthy in themselves. But you could develop your work and produce artwork as good, if not much better, than much of the stuff you’ll find around here.’ Jack gestured generally in the direction of the town art shops. After chatting a little more Jack left. In celebration, Lara treated herself to a last glass of wine. It was quieter in the bar now. Everybody had either gone out or had gone upstairs. ‘Your father thinks I’m the next Rembrandt!’ Lara smiled a bit tipsily as she popped herself on a barstool.

97

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 98

‘If my father says that then he’s right. He doesn’t hand out plaudits willy-nilly. You must be good!’ ‘Then maybe I’ll buy myself some paints and brushes and a smock and stuff and spend my days splashing colours on canvas,’ Lara said, dreamily. ‘Why not; plenty do, Lara. You’d need to be able to afford to do it, though. There are hundreds in St Ives alone trying to flog stuff to holidaymakers and not many make a living at it.’ ‘Yes, but nice to dream, though, isn’t it? Fancy not having to traipse into a library and arrange books all day. Just wake up each morning and start painting. Then again, I’m a mother with a husband and children to consider.’ Reality hit home and Lara’s bubble burst. ‘Lara,’ began Mary, ‘if you want to talk about it I’ll listen. Not sure if I can help, but I’ll listen. Then, if I get brave enough I’ll talk as well. Dad will look after the bar tomorrow evening, if that suits. What do you think?’ ‘OK, done deal. Tomorrow. G’night then, Mary.’ BARRY realised that his decision to confess his infidelity had backfired spectacularly. Better if he’d had just shut up about it. Lara had taken the news badly, very badly. But it was done now and he could only hope that time would prove a healer. Meanwhile, he had made a second decision; one that he was determined to go ahead with. There were only days to go before the Finance Committee were due to announce restructuring, job cuts and redundancies. He carefully typed an e-mail addressed to the Chairman of the Finance Committee. It read: ‘Dear Sir, ‘In response to your recent general memorandum I, Barry Lane of the Town Planning Department, would wish to discuss possible voluntary redundancy. I look forward to hearing from you. Yours faithfully …’ He pressed the ‘send’ button. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

98

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 99

JIMMY Grant aka Doyle reckoned everything was perfect in the best of all possible worlds. It was a fine, moderately warm summer afternoon. He lounged back against one of the groundsman’s sheds, sipping a Lucozade, watching Warwickshire quietly bat out time for a draw against Sussex. Or that’s what Steve, the head groundsman said, and he should know. Jimmy had been on the Edgbaston groundstaff for a couple of weeks. He had come by the job under unusual circumstances. With time on his hands he had wandered the mile or so from his apartment to the cricket ground one afternoon. There was a 2nd X1 game in progress and there was no charge to go in. Jimmy had walked into the ground and had found a seat near to the playing area. He watched the game with bemusement for a while, trying to figure out what was happening on the pitch. Other than the occasional, very occasional flurry of activity, he concluded that the thousands of people who had chosen not to occupy the seats around the ground had made a good decision. He counted no more than a handful of other spectators, though there was slightly more activity in a posher area that he took to be for club members. No, cricket must be suited to the English temperament; he couldn’t see it catching on in Waterford. After a while the sky became overcast and it commenced to rain a little. Jimmy was amazed to see all the players disappear at a jog towards the changing rooms. Pussies! From over in the corner the staff started pushing covers of some sort onto the playing area. As the rain became heavier he thought that the remaining covers would be in place more quickly if people lent a hand. As he was close by it seemed the thing to do to hop over the pailings onto the grass and trot over to where a lad was waiting for assistance beside one of the wheeled covers. Together they got it moving and quickly had it neatly in place on the playing surface alongside the others. Then the gaffer, who had turned out to be Steve, ordered that the big sheets be brought out 99

EIGHTEEN

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 100

also to cover an even larger area, the rain looking like it was settling in. Jimmy, who was already wet by this stage, continued to lend a hand until they had done all that they could do. As he turned to make his way from the ground the gaffer came up to him. ‘Hey, thanks mate! Appreciated. Sorry you got wet.’ ‘That’s no problem. Looked as if you needed an extra pair of hands.’ ‘I did. A couple of blokes have done a runner on me since yesterday. Fancy a job?’ Steve joked. ‘If I can wear some of them yellow overalls!’ ‘Come and have a cuppa and a chat.’ The summer job came at the perfect time, on a number of levels. Although Jimmy had a fair bit of money put by he needed some sort of steady income sooner or later. That idiot Pat had ensured that his previous lucrative line of business had ceased. Furthermore, it suited him well to blend into the working community of Birmingham. The more he loafed idly around the place the more likely questions were going to be asked about him. And, of course, he was simply getting bored, too much time on his hands by day. He was punctual and hard-working and quickly became popular among the small groundstaff with his good humour and ready wit. They ribbed him mercilessly about his lack of cricket knowledge. Without exception all of the other lads were there because of the chance to be involved in the sport, albeit on the periphery. The gaffer had apparently played for the county some years back, left arm quick, whatever that was. Jimmy happily played the Irish innocent knowing that the basics, never mind the nuances, of the game were forever beyond him. The working hours were long but much of the time he was merely ‘on call’ so he was happy to do whatever was required and the poor rate of pay didn’t concern him. Determined to retain his fitness levels Jimmy kept up his running regime. Most days he did a few miles, usually around the streets after work. On days when there was no cricket at Edgbaston he’d get changed and spend 40 minutes or so lapping the ground. He occasionally wondered if he would be any good as a runner,

100

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 101

competitively. He had no idea of whether he was fast or slow or what. He ran because he wanted to stay in trim, and because running gave him a sense of freedom and control which he had lacked for much of his life. When out on the roads it was just him, the road ahead, and the weather. The sun might beat down on him, the rain and wind might batter him. But nothing could prevent him completing his set miles for the day. But one of these days he might time himself, or enter a race. Just to see. At last Warwickshire and Sussex shook hands on the draw. This was the signal for the groundstaff to leap into action. The sooner that all the end-of-day tasks were completed, the sooner the lads would be able to get away. Tonight he’d arranged to have a pint with one of the other blokes, Nigel. He was a local, a Brummie, much the same age as Jimmy, and they had become fairly friendly. While Jimmy was always wary of forming friendships that were too deep, he liked the laconic Nigel and found that he was an intelligent guy, despite the line of work he had chosen. Nigel had suggested they meet at the Prince of Wales, just behind the National Indoor Arena, at 8pm. Jimmy decided that he might as well walk as wait for a bus. Heading for the city he walked down the busy Hagley Road, through Five Ways and down Broad Street, the brash nightlife centre of the city but quiet enough at this time of a Wednesday evening. As he came into the city centre he turned down behind the Alexandra Theatre and the NIA. After the traffic and all the bright lights, the Prince of Wales turned out to be an old building which the demolition people and developers seemed to have overlooked. Nevertheless, it seemed a well looked-after establishment. Jimmy stepped in and found Nigel already at the bar. ‘All right Jimmy, what you having?’ ‘Hi Nigel! What do you recommend? Great selection of ales they’ve got.’ ‘Yeah, great, ain’t it? Any of them cask beers will be fine. It’s the Directors for me.’ ‘Same for me then, thanks.’ They sat down in the attractive, wood-panelled bar. Jimmy

101

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 102

thought the place wasn’t unlike Flanagan’s in Dun Laoghaire, and he had to chase the bad memories away before they brought him back to a place which he was anxious to leave behind him forever. Savouring his pint, Nigel told Jimmy that it was no accident that the Prince of Wales still stood in the face of so-called progress all round it. It had taken much lobbying and many protests by a lot of people to keep the hands of the rapacious money men off the site. People like Bob Willis (right arm quick, Nigel explained leaving Jimmy none the wiser) had got involved until finally a preservation order had been granted by the city council. Although the bar looked unspoilt, it had apparently been ‘tarted up’ from the basic boozer it had once been. It was, however, considered that this was a small price to pay to see it saved for future generations of Brummies. After they’d enjoyed a couple of pints Nigel stood up and said ‘Right, come on.’ Jimmy assumed that they would saunter into the city centre but Nigel made a beeline for a black taxi and they jumped in. ‘Digbeth please, mate,’ he instructed. A short while later, having negotiated the one-way systems, the taxi pulled up. Nigel paid the driver and he and Jimmy jumped out. ‘Okay, you should feel at home round here, Jimmy.’ To Jimmy’s surprise the two of them commenced a tour of Irish bars, starting at the Kerryman then moving across to several establishments in the Bradford Street area. In all of them they got a warm welcome, especially once they learnt that Jimmy was from the old country. He brushed aside all enquiries as to the exact location though. ‘Near Dublin’ was the closest that he would divulge and that seemed to satisfy people. Even though it was midweek there was plenty of life in these bars, the Guinness was well looked after considering it was England, and both men enjoyed themselves mightily. Their last stop, getting on towards closing time, was at the Anchor. Here there was music, and an open mic session was in progress. Jimmy was able to hold a tune and, emboldened by the pints, he responded to the general invitation to step up and sing. There was a smatter of applause as the young man took the mic –

102

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 103

no one present knew him. Jimmy spoke to the three musicians. They looked at each other and shook their heads. ‘No son, none of those songs’ said the eldest who held a fiddle and bow. Jimmy looked surprised and spread his arms as if to ask why. But then he spoke to them again. This time there was a nod, the tune struck up and Jimmy started singing: Near to Banbridge Town in the County Down One morning last July Down a boreen green came a sweet coleen And she smiled as she passed me by Well she looked so sweet from her two bare feet To the sheen of her nut-brown hair Such a coaxing elf sure I shook myself To make sure I was really there ...

Not all of the customers knew the chorus but, as the traditional air progressed through the verses, they became experts! From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay And from Galway to Dublin Town No maid I’ve seen like the sweet colleen That I met in the County Down

There was warm applause and a few calls of ‘More’. Again he turned and spoke. This time the musicians launched into the tune with smiles and enthusiasm. glory We have come to answer our country’s call The four proud provinces of Ireland The customers roared the chorus Ireland! Ireland! Together standing tall Shoulder to shoulder We’ll answer Ireland’s call! Come the day and come the hour, come the power and the

103

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 104

There was loud applause as Jimmy stepped down and the musicians started to pack up their instruments and equipment. Nigel clapped him on the back and the two men drained their pints and headed off unsteadily into the Birmingham night. As they walked back towards the city centre Nigel asked: ‘So, what was the song that they didn’t want to play?’ ‘Rising of the Moon, an Irish rebel song. The guys weren’t happy to play a rebel song. Don’t know why.’ ‘Don’t know why! Have you really no idea, mate? I’ll give you a clue. Who were the Irish rebels at war with?’ ‘The English tyrants. Our brave lads kicked their arses out of Ireland eventually, most of Ireland anyway.’ At this Nigel stopped and stared at his work colleague. ‘Jimmy, I hope that’s just the drink talking. You’re not in the bogs of Ireland now and that talk isn’t welcome.’ Jimmy bridled and took a step towards Nigel, his body tensing. However, as Nigel stood there calmly and not prepared to defend himself, Jimmy took a deep breath and turned away, his shoulders dropping. ‘Ok, fair enough, fair enough, I understand.’ They both set off again in uneasy silence, up through the Bull Ring past the ancient church of St Martin’s. Then they were in New Street, heading towards the late night bus stops. Nigel broke the silence. ‘No, I don’t think you understand at all mate. You’ve heard of the Birmingham pub bombings, haven’t you?’ Jimmy began to realise where this was going. ‘Yes, though I wasn’t even born at the time.’ ‘There, mate, over there!’ Nigel pointed across the road at the Yard of Ale pub entrance, closed at this time of night. ‘That’s where one of the bombs went off. Twenty or something killed, couple of hundred injured – arms and legs blown off. Kids just out for a drink and a good time, just like we were tonight. Proud of your brave countrymen are you? Well, are you?’ Nigel was by now visibly upset. ‘Jesus, no, Nigel. That was different – no one could condone that. I hope you don’t think I do.’ ‘Jimmy, you’d sing songs commemorating the deaths of Eng-

104

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 105

Nigel walked off, leaving Jimmy alone with his thoughts in the quiet Birmingham night. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

lishmen. What am I supposed to think?’ ‘But that was long ago, it was different...’ ‘Jimmy, I know you’re a good bloke but you do yourself no favours. Take my advice and remember where you are or, somewhere down the line It will cost you. Goodnight.’

105

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 106

DELIBERATELY or not Lara had been given a different room this time, one which looked out over the town to the sea. This time there was no rude interruption and she slept deep and long, not waking until well after 9 o’clock. She immediately felt guilty that she had not called home before the girls had gone to school, but consoled herself with the knowledge that she had spoken to them the day before. Now, with no family responsibilities and with no timetable for the day ahead, she set the little kettle to boil and propped herself up in bed. Her head was slightly fuzzy and she resolved not to turn into a regular boozer just because she was out of her home environment. Despite the unpleasantness that had ended her last visit she felt strangely at home here in St Ives. The Turners were all lovely, and anyone that she had ever spoken to in town had been friendly. The local constabulary needed a lesson in PR all right and she was annoyed that they hadn’t thought to speak to her once their ‘incident’ had been cleared up. She wondered about David Barnes, the quiet bloke on the course. After he left her that last evening he had gone back into town and had apparently met a woman and had ended up assaulting her. She supposed that she ought to count herself lucky. You could never tell with men, she thought. Nice as pie when they wanted but capable of horrible behaviour behind your back. She wondered what lay ahead in years to come for her lovely young daughters. At length she lazily got herself into the day, dressing in blouse and bright skirt which showed off her legs. As the temperature was not what it had been over the Easter weekend she put on a light cardigan. She didn’t see any of the Turners as she went downstairs and out of the front entrance, heading down the hill into town. She strolled around the harbour area, stopping a while to watch the activity there. Then she joined other holidaymakers in exploring the rambling town with its many interesting shops. 106

NINETEEN

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 107

Craft shops, designer clothing, antiques, together with a myriad of art shops and studios. With her newly-acquired interest in all things arty and still glowing from Jack’s praise she spent a great deal of time examining the endless works of art on display, and for sale. This time she found herself looking at them more critically, noting the different mediums used and styles, trying to see the art through the eyes of the artist. She wondered if she could indeed aspire to produce work that someone might put on a wall! She spoke to shop owners, other browsers and even a couple of the artists and her knowledge and appreciation increased with each conversation. No one was going to make a fortune out of Lara, though. She wasn’t really interested in buying, even if she’d had the money. She was itching to have another go herself. She ate an early lunch and returned to the hotel for a while before returning to town. In mid-afternoon she came across a studio she hadn’t noticed before. This was tucked in between two old buildings, down an alleyway. By this time a confident browser she wandered down to investigate. She found the alleyway opened out into a large covered yard. And, in addition to finished works on display, this appeared to be a working studio. One man was sitting in front of an easel sketching a portrait from a photograph; another partfinished picture had been temporarily abandoned by its creator. Fascinated, Lara wandered about looking not only at the works but at the paraphernalia which went into creating them. ‘Hello, down on holiday?’ It was a middle-aged woman in a flowery dress and straw hat, clearly in charge of, or at least part of, the enterprise. ‘Hello, yes, sort of. But I’m becoming really interested in drawing and painting and stuff. I did a short course recently and I can’t seem to get enough of it right now.’ The woman laughed. ‘Well you’re in the right town for art! You can’t shake a stick at all the people that come to St Ives for it. So you do a bit yourself, then?’ ‘No, but I think I might like to try sometime. I got a taste of it on the course and the leader, Jack, thought that I had promise!’ ‘Jack, Jack Turner? Well, if he says you’re good then you’re good

107

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 108

dear. My name’s Mia, by the way.’ Mia stretched out her hand and Lara took it. ‘Lara Lane, pleased to meet you. How do you suppose someone like me could try out, get started Mia?’ ‘You sit down right here!’ Mia grabbed the surprised Lara’s hand, pulled her over to the vacant easel and pushed her onto the chair. She removed the half-finished work from the easel and put an artists’ pad in front of Lara. ‘There’s pencils and paints and brushes. There’s books and bowls of fruit and stuff lying around. Get started. If anyone wants me I’ll be back in half an hour. Enjoy!’ The astonished Lara sat there wondering what to do. The man working on the portrait turned around, smiled at her, and turned back to his work. Lara could, of course, have got up and walked away, but she sensed an opportunity and she had nothing else to do. After further hesitation she turned her easel and chair so that it faced towards her fellow artist and picked up a soft pencil. ‘Not going anywhere for a minute are you?’ she called across to him. Again he turned, smiled and turned back. Lara began to sketch him. LARA was full of smiles as she bounced into the bar at The Breezes. She had arranged to meet young Mary there at 7 o’clock and she was already buzzing. Her head was full of colours and images and she couldn’t wait to talk to someone about her day. She had called the children earlier and her heart ached when they said that they were missing her. She wished that they were with her and she had already resolved to go home and see them this weekend, temporarily or otherwise. Mary was ready and the two of them headed off into town. They would eat later but first of all they called in at a large and busy pub. Mary was greeted by the staff and several of the customers. She was, of course, a local girl and obviously popular and again Lara wondered what a girl like her could be troubled about. Lara bought herself a glass of lager and Mary a glass of wine and they settled down on a couple of high stools. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

108

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 109

There was plenty of time for heavier talk later if things turned in that direction, but for now Lara was delighted to be able to gabble on to Mary who proved to be an attentive and interested listener. Lara described how she had worked steadily at the workshop for a couple of hours. Mia had returned but, beyond bringing her a cup of coffee, had not bothered her. The chap that she had sketched had left and several other arty types had come and gone, saying hello to her and chatting among themselves and Mia. A few late afternoon holidaymakers wandered around, and one or two came to watch Lara at work. At these times she tried to appear expert and knowledgeable but was relieved that no one asked her any technical questions! Eventually Mia seemed to be packing up and Lara thought that she had better do likewise – maybe she was overstaying her welcome. Mia had come over and flicked through some of Lara’s work and had made encouraging noises before speaking to her. ‘Would you like to come back tomorrow, Lara?’ ‘Well, I’d love to. But I can’t keep using all your stuff for free and your space and everything.’ ‘OK, this is how I work.’ started Mia, pulling up a stool and sitting down. ‘You can come in for a day, or half-day, whatever, whenever you like. You pay me a bit to help towards the rent and the materials. If you want to progress to using more expensive materials, proper canvasses etcetera then I’ll charge you at cost. I’ll help you a bit if I can, and so will the others if you ask them. But I don’t really teach. And you can take the materials away into town, or out into the country if you like, as long as it all comes back here. Oh, and if you sell anything I get 50%,’ she smiled. ‘Well, you won’t make your fortune out of me,’ Lara laughed, ‘but I’d love to come back if you’ll have me.’ ‘I only invite those people I like and those with something about them. So see you soon, maybe?’ Lara’s eyes sparkled as she finished her story. Maybe she was about to discover a brand new dimension to her life and she was excited. She knew that she still had to resolve her marital situation but this new interest was not dependent on sorting that out. She could paint in Wellhead as well as St Ives, even though the light

109

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 110

quality may not be the same! If she ever sold her work, to a blind man perhaps, that would be icing on the cake. ‘Right,’ said Mary, ‘I don’t know about you but I’m starving. Come on.’ They quickly agreed on cheap and cheerful and went in for a pizza and a bottle of beer apiece. They chatted happily and, despite the fact that Mary was still a teenager and she, Lara, was a mother of two, it seemed that they had clicked and were comfortable together. They decided to take a walk along the harbour wall and get some air. ‘So, young lady, tell me what troubles you and I, your agony aunt, will solve it with a wave of my wand.’ Lara decided that one of them had better bring up the subject while they were both still sober. They sat down on a bench overlooking the boats. ‘Oh Lara, it’s just that I‘m finding it difficult at Uni. Nothing that I can put my finger on. The work’s OK, it’s just that....I mean I get along with everyone just fine but... ‘ It was no good. Mary wasn’t ready to open up on her issues with men, even with someone as sensible as Lara. Maybe later. But perhaps she could talk about the other thing that was becoming a major problem. ‘I’ve got this obsessive, compulsive tidying thing, Lara. It only started after I went to Uni. I can’t help it. I continually find myself arranging things, picking stuff up and putting it away, making everything neat and tidy. And when everything’s perfect I’ll start all over. In other people’s rooms and houses everywhere. I can’t stop. I think I’m going mad and people are starting to notice.’ She sat there quietly, looking sadly at the boats. ‘Hey, can I take you home with me? I’ll pay you!’ joked Lara. ‘Oh Mary, you poor thing! I think that’s something to do with control, isn’t it? If something in your life is out of control then you can unconsciously bring some order to it by doing what you’re doing.’ ‘Probably, I don’t know. How can I fix it though? I make myself stop, but five minutes later I’m at it again. And I think it’s starting to affect me in other ways...’ Lara suggested that Mary speak to her GP, maybe get referred to a psychologist. But Mary was unsure. ‘Hypnotism?’ said Lara, ‘you never know, might solve it in a

110

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 111

heartbeat.’ ‘I could try that I suppose,’ said Mary, dubiously, ‘at least I’d be no worse than I am at present.’ Between them they decided that the next day, Wednesday, they would seek out a respected practitioner that did hypnotism and they’d make an appointment for Mary. She, Lara, would accompany her on her first visit. Mary brightened now that a possible solution to one of her problems was in sight. The other could wait. ‘Well, Lara, your turn,’ encouraged Mary. Lara gave a huge sigh. She wasn’t sure that young Mary would be able to give her much advice on the subject, but she had to talk to someone. ‘The oldest marital problem in the world. Barry’s been seeing, sleeping with, another woman. It’s knocked me into pieces and I really don’t know what to do or how to act...’ she started sobbing quietly. ‘Wait a minute, I feel a bottle of wine coming on.’ Mary led the way to a nearby wine bar where there were quiet booths. Once they had their white wine in a cooler and two glasses, Mary started again. ‘OK, facts please. Sleeping with a woman or women, one time or many times? Did you find out or did he tell you first? What did he say about it? Is he sorry?’ ‘He says just once, an ex-girlfriend. They were both drunk. He told me because he felt guilty and he thought I’d understand. He says he’s sorry and it won’t happen again.’ The sobs started up again and Lara was glad they were in a quiet corner. ‘And do you believe all that he’s told you?’ ‘Actually, I think I do, yes. But I can’t pretend that it didn’t happen.’ ‘Do you love your husband?’ ‘Yes, dearly.’ Lara was red-eyed, still trying to make sense of everything. Mary was silent for a while as she sipped her wine and considered matters. ‘You want my opinion, right? This is what I think. Bear in mind I don’t know Barry and I hardly know you, Lara, so feel free to get a second opinion. My off-the-cuff opinion is that he’s a man. And, being a man, his brain is sometimes in his trousers. From what you’ve said I think you’re making too big a deal of it. Give him the

111

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 112

benefit of the doubt. Let him know you’re not happy and that his behaviour was unacceptable. Then make up and give him a chance, otherwise you are going to jeopardise a happy marriage and a happy family. Is that what you want?’ Lara looked at her new friend for a long time, then leaned over and gave her a long hug. Mary had just put together Lara’s jigsaw of thoughts in a way that made perfect sense to her. She couldn’t disagree with Mary’s diagnosis and advice. Tomorrow she would call Barry and they would talk and she would decide what to do next. The pair spent the rest of the evening discussing lighter topics, joking and laughing. They both thought it was a good thing that Jack had closed the bar by the time they swayed, giggling, into The Breezes. THE following morning a jaded Lara called home and told Barry that she would be back on Friday evening. The girls squealed with delight. She then breakfasted at the hotel before making her way across town to Mia’s workshop. Mia was pleased to see her. She was quite amenable when Lara said that she wasn’t able to commit to any long-term arrangement but that she would pay her way on a daily basis. Lara spent the rest of the morning working on sketches from sampler books, then packed up, telling Mia that she would see her the next morning. Mary drove them both to Penzance in the family car. They had picked the alternative practitioner out of the Yellow Pages – he promised cures for all ills and phobias through hypnosis. Mary considered that this was the modern equivalent to quacks selling coloured water out of the back of wagons. However, nothing would be lost except £30. They were in good time for the 4 o’clock appointment and Lara waited in the small reception area as a handsome-looking gentleman led a nervous Mary into his consulting room. About half an hour later she emerged, seemingly none the worse >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

112

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 113

for the experience. Over coffee in a nearby tea room, Mary said that Victor, the hypnotist, had discussed her compulsive disorder and had then ‘put her under’, athough she seemed to remember most of what had happened. Quite simply he had told her that, from now on, she would feel no compulsion to clean and tidy. Then he had woken her up. He said that it could need further sessions, but to see how things went. ‘So, how do you feel now?’ asked Lara. ‘No different,’ laughed Mary, ‘I’ll just have to see how it goes. In any event I think I ought to get back to Bristol tomorrow, although I’ll miss your company.’ ‘Oh Mary, I’ll miss your company too, but I’m sure we’ll meet again soon and we’ll keep in touch anyway.’ That evening Lara sneaked a takeaway up to her room, then spent an hour in the hotel bar quietly reading a book full of tips for aspiring artists. Her heart was light as she contemplated both the excitement of learning more about her new pastime and also with the prospect of seeing her family again the following evening. She glanced at young Mary working behind the bar once or twice. She said nothing but smiled to herself as she noticed that, tonight, Mary did not seem to be fussing so much over bottles and crisps and beer mats. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

113

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 114

BARRY’S head whirled. Too many thoughts, images, partial scraps of ideas fighting for space. He left the council building and walked towards his car in the now near-deserted car park. It was nearly 6.30 on Friday evening and the weekend beckoned. However, whereas most of the town’s working population had been able to wind down towards the end of the working week as normal, Barry Lane’s mind had been fizzing around like a chemistry lesson experiment, unable to relax. In such a rare situation in a past life he would have made a beeline for The Station and calmed himself down with some nice, cool pints interrupted only by random chat with his drinking buddies and frequent trips to the outdoor smoking area. If he was tempted by that thought right now then circumstances made it impossible. He had mouths to feed and a militant wife to welcome home after a week’s absence. First things first, though. He temporarily pushed everything to the edges of his consciousness except for the necessity of sorting out the girls. They would be starving by this time. The Focus started first time – ‘small mercies,’ he told himself. Unexciting it might be but the family car, though getting on in years, had never let them down. He harboured a little dream of a red, two-seater Ferrari convertible in which to cruise around the town. If Lara kicked him out then he might demand one as part of the settlement, he thought idly. But in the meantime he drove the Focus out into the thinning traffic and set course for home. As Barry unlocked the front door there were predictable cries of anguish, not unlike those of family cats indignant at having been forgotten. ‘Dad, we’re starving! Cook us something! Where have you been?’ ‘I’m absolutely going to die if I don’t eat right now!’ Barry sighed. ‘Good evening Daddy dear, have you had a nice day?’ he addressed his daughters with heavy sarcasm. ‘No, Lauren and Michelle, actually it’s been highly stressful and I need some114

TWENTY

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 115

one to remove my shoes and bring me the evening paper and a bottle of beer.’ There was momentary silence as all this was evaluated, and dismissed. Then there was a simultaneous chorus of: ‘Daddy, what’s for dinner?’ Barry sighed again. He plodded into the kitchen, opened the fridge door and peered inside. ‘Ok, there’s chips, frozen cod fillets, sausages, eggs, bacon, half a tomato. In the pantry we have bread, baked beans....’ ‘Cod and chips please, Daddy. And hurry up ... please,’ Lauren added as Barry gave her a look. He started to read cooking instructions on the sides of packaging and tentatively turned switches on the cooker. ‘So, anything exciting happen at school today?’ Barry asked, once he felt in control of operations, albeit temporarily. ‘Ten out of ten for arithmetic and another star on the chart,’ said Lauren, in a bored tone that riled her younger sister – just as she had intended. ‘Big head! Daddy, Sally Sharpe wet herself again.’ The girls dissolved into giggles. ‘Daddy, what time does Mummy get home?’ asked Lauren. ‘Her train gets in about 9.30, I’ll pick her up from the station,’ Barry replied. ‘Hurray! Can we come to the station?’ asked Michelle. ‘Yes, don’t see why not,’ replied Barry. Dinner was served in due course. Judging by the silence that descended as they ate it appeared that the girls had no immediate complaints as regards Barry’s cooking. He decided that he would go for a little run – he had some time to spare before Lara’s train was due. He had done a few miles this morning and it was unusual for him to run twice in a day. Nevertheless he found that running cleared his head better than anything else, and right now it needed clearing. He trotted out of the door and turned right and then left down the London Road, away from town. He kept it slow and fell into a rhythm, his footsteps and breathing in synchronisation.

115

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 116

He had no real interest in monitoring his heart rate – as many other runners did – but supposed that it would now be nicely elevated although well below where it might be under intensive training or in a race situation. And so, with his body on auto, he let his mind start to sort itself out. First, there was the very real matter of his marriage. He was staggered at Lara’s reaction to his infidelity. But he realised that, to Lara, it was a most serious matter. If he wished to mend things between them then he would need to show much more remorse than maybe he had to date. That is, even if he had to grovel a bit. He couldn’t bear to think about splitting up with Lara with the inevitable effect on their children. He was sure that Lara would only wish to go down that road as a last resort. Their ten years of marriage had been, in the main, good. Better and longer-lasting than many these days, he thought. Yet he had to be aware that he needed to be on his best behaviour if he was to gain Lara’s full confidence again. If things weren’t complicated enough there was the curve ball that the Council had thrown them. This had come to a head only this afternoon. Just after lunch his immediate boss Fred Smithers had called him into his office. Fred had been consulted by the chair of the Finance Committee on the matter of Barry’s enquiry about voluntary redundancy. Certainly it was the case, Fred had confirmed, that the Planning office was likely to have to bear its share of pain in the forthcoming cutbacks. Although no firm decisions had yet been made Fred revealed, in confidence, that certain assurances had been given to him that his (Fred’s) position was safe for the time being. He went on to say that it was likely, as had been fairly obvious, that the Town Planning office would be likely to lose one of their three staffing positions. He, Fred, would be sorry to lose any of his staff. If, however, the loss was someone who had volunteered for redundancy, then that would be the least traumatic solution. Barry had confirmed that he did wish to proceed. Fred had then made a call and arrangements had been made for Barry to meet with members of the Finance Committee at 5 o’clock. After an uncomfortable and quiet afternoon working with Tony and Fiona,

116

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 117

Barry had made his way upstairs to the boardroom. There he found three senior Council members, all members of the Finance Committee tasked with the unenviable job of carrying out the restructure of finances. As a long-standing member of staff Barry knew the three well enough but rarely moved in their circles. The committee chairman, Sir Terry Bambridge, conducted the interview. He soon came to the business in hand, ‘Well Barry, we have your memo concerning voluntary redundancy. I presume you’d first of all like to know the terms before you fully commit to this?’ Barry immediately noticed that they were not going to throw his request back at him. He wasn’t regarded as indispensible – indeed, he had never thought that this was the case. He remained, however, curious as to whether he had, or would have been, selected for redundancy had he not pre-empted the matter. ‘Yes Terry, if you could advise the main terms then I’m sure I can make a quick decision.’ Sir Terry then outlined the redundancy package that would be available. It consisted of a sizeable fixed sum, mainly in consideration of Barry’s many years in the post. It would be payable in full one month from the date of his leaving the office. ‘Barry, it goes without saying that we’d be sorry to lose you. You’ve given the Council many years of excellent service and we and your colleagues hold you in the highest regard. That said, I can probably confirm that your application would be accepted by the committee, if you were to confirm such an application.’ The other two committee members nodded in silent reply to Sir Terry’s enquiring eyes. So there it was, thought Barry. Behind all the kind words they were happy to let him go. But the package was generous and attractive. He had been tempted to seal the deal there and then but had hesitated and said, instead: ‘Thank you, Terry. I’d like to discuss this with my wife. Could I let you know on Monday?’ ‘Of course, Barry, it’s important that you make a joint decision. Please speak to me on Monday. Have a good weekend.’ Barry turned for home, his legs growing weary but his mind

117

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 118

clearing rapidly. It was a no-brainer, really, though he had agreed to discuss the matter with Lara. It seemed likely that he had been selected for redundancy anyway, and the terms of a compulsory redundancy would be no better than those on the table. But then there was the question of what he would do once he was sitting at home with his feet up and a chunk of money in the bank. That, he concluded as he arrived home, was something that could be discussed later. He showered and dressed. To his surprise the girls had done the washing up, no doubt more to please Lara than anything else. However, it was a nice touch. They had got themselves out of their school uniforms and into random casual gear, excited by a late evening trip to the railway station to meet the Waterloo train. It was still only 8.45 but the girls seemed unable to sit still so Barry bundled them into the car and they set off. It was a trip of only a few minutes and soon they were parked up and approaching the station. ‘Hey Daddy, flowers for Mummy!’ yelled Lauren, pointing at the flower-seller outside the station who was beginning to pack up for the night, the number of homecoming commuters having dwindled to a trickle. The flower man was happy to give them three little bunches of mixed blooms cheaply – they were unlikely to be saleable by the following morning. Barry was put in charge of the flowers while the girls ran around, exploring the little there was to see. The Waterloo train was showing on-time and at last, to the glee of the girls, it came down the line and pulled up noisily. As Lara appeared through the gate the girls greeted her ecstatically and the three of them hugged for a long moment. Barry was greeted more circumspectly, but not too coldly he thought, considering the state in which Lara had left at the beginning of the week. At home the atmosphere was happy, at least while the children were about; Lara dispensed little presents of Cornish pixies and Cornish fudge. She told them something of her week and the girls told them about their week at school and how hopeless Daddy was as a Mummy! At last they were sent to bed, protesting but yawning non-stop.

118

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 119

And Barry and Lara were left alone, a bottle of wine and two glasses for company. ‘Well?’ Lara began, obviously expecting Barry to break the tension which had grown once again. ‘Well what? What do you want me to say, Lara?’ ‘You’d better do better than that Barry.’ He took several deep breaths. ‘OK, once again I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry, Lara. I made a mistake, a bad mistake. It won’t happen again, ever.’ ‘Is that it?’ Barry looked at Lara. This wasn’t fair. What did she want? Didn’t she know that he loved her? Ah, slowly the penny dropped. ‘Lara, I love you, truly love you sweetheart. I’d give anything not to have hurt you because you’re the most important thing that’s ever happened to me.’ He really sounds like he means it, thought Lara. But she was determined not to collapse in tears again, it was becoming too much of a habit. ‘OK, Barry, I accept all that you’ve said. I love you too, you know. Now, give me a kiss,’ But, as they undressed later, Lara put a final warning shot across Barry’s bows. The tension between them had eased to a great extent but now she said: ‘You stay on your side of the bed please, Mr Lane, I’m not ready for that yet.’

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

119

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 120

THE next morning, Saturday, saw all the Lanes at the Wellhead Harriers track once again. Michelle, to her great excitement, had been taken along to join in the children’s athletics coaching session there. The coach in charge, who knew Barry well, happily took Michelle under his wing. The track was busy with older junior and senior athletes either barrelling around the track, jumping into pits or throwing various implements on the infield. The youngest group, including Michelle, occupied a quiet section of the track. While Barry and Lara sat together talking on a grassy bank, Lauren edged as close as she could to where the youngsters were training. Michelle was among the youngest and smallest and Lauren kept a proprietary eye on her. One or two of the older ones were wearing the green and red of Wellhead Harriers. As far as Lauren could tell the group were spending a long time warming up; the coach was leading them in various routines – skipping, stepping, heel-flicking, running like horses with high knees. Michelle was struggling a bit with some of the moves and her brow was lined in concentration. Lauren was fascinated and she wished that she had brought her floral coaching notebook and pencil. The coach asked her if she wanted to join in but Lauren, laughingly, shook her head. On the grassy bank Barry and Lara were catching up. As well as healing their fractured relationship – which seemed to be under way – there were practical matters to address. Barry had explained to Lara the significant news of the day before at work. Lara was taken aback. She knew of course about the Council memorandum but, as Barry had seemed to make light of it, she assumed that there had been nothing to worry about. Now they – Barry had made it plain it was a joint thing – had a decision to make. Go ahead with the voluntary redundancy application or not. ‘So, you could be unemployed by Tuesday, Barry. That’s what this means, doesn’t it?’ 120

TWENTY-ONE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 121

‘Yes. But all the vibes tell me that I’ll be unemployed in a week or so anyway. I’d sooner go of my own volition than be told. Besides, this could be a big chance for me.’ ‘How?’ ‘Lara, I’m skilled for nothing but to work as a town planner. As far as I can tell there’s no other town planning jobs, not in Wellhead anyway. I’ll sign up for a training course in the autumn, get myself qualified to do something else.’ ‘Like what else? Have you thought?’ ‘Not really, but there are any number of retraining opportunities. The Council will help with that, it’s in the package. There’s time to think about that. Meanwhile, the lump sum will come in useful.’ Lara considered. ‘Barry love, it’s up to you. But it seems to me that you’re right. You’re young enough and brainy enough to make this work in your favour. I’ll happily go along with whatever you decide.’ She gave him a little kiss on the ear. Barry smiled, relieved; ‘Good. I’ll let Sir Terry know on Monday then. I’m sure it’s for the best. And we’ve still got your library salary so it’s not as if we’ve no income.’ Lara was silent. She hadn’t known how to bring the matter up, but it looked like this was the ideal chance. She hoped that Barry would understand just as she had tried to understand him. ‘Umm, the library. Barry, I don’t think I’m going back.’ She looked at him in fearful anticipation. ‘How do you mean, not going back?’ ‘Things happened to me while I was away this week, Barry.’ She laughed, seeing his expression. ‘No, I haven’t been running around behind your back, promise! But I’ve been doing some thinking as well. How about we talk about it tonight over dinner at Franco’s? Here’s Michelle.’ Michelle came bounding up, flushed with exertion and excitement. Lauren trailed in her wake. The chat turned to athletics and how their youngest daughter had fared on her first morning at Wellhead Harriers. She had enjoyed every second and couldn’t wait for next Saturday to come. Lauren was trying to remember everything she’d seen so that she could write it down when she got home. ‘Right, everybody,’ Lara said as they walked home. ‘Michelle,

121

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 122

shower. Then we’ll all go shopping. Lauren you’ve got Ava’s party this afternoon. Michelle, you’ll come to Gran’s with me will you? And we’ll let Daddy watch the cricket on the telly. How’s that?’ THEY sat at a side table in Franco’s, a nice French restaurant in town. They didn’t eat out much so, when they did, they were determined to make the most of it. They had gone for the house red and this had gone well with the strong paté dish that they had started with. Awaiting their main courses it was time for Lara to explain herself. ‘I’ve really got the painting bug. If I’m not doing it I’m reading about it. If I’m not doing it or reading about it then I’m thinking about it.’ ‘Good. It’s nice to have a hobby.’ Barry knew that there was more to come ‘But it’s more than a hobby, Barry! It’s taken over my life. And people tell me I’m good, or at least that I could be good. People who know what they’re talking about.’ ‘But you only work mornings at the library. You’ve got the rest of the day and night to paint.’ Lara sighed. ‘But there’s more, Barry. I love St Ives, I love the workshop I go to and the people who work there. I’d like to stay there, for a week or two more anyway...’ Barry considered. ‘OK, I see. So you pack in the library job and pay to stay at The Breezes and pay this woman to paint in her workshop. Have I got this right?’ Lara replied desperately ‘Yes, but maybe I can work evenings as a waitress or something. Maybe the Turners will let me work my passage at the hotel. Let me do this, just for a while Barry, please?’ Lara instinctively knew that this was a big moment for both of them. Barry didn’t realise but his reply, and the manner of his reply, would go a long way towards telling Lara where their relationship was. He had said and done all the right things this weekend, but actions spoke louder than words. Was he going to grumble about her >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

122

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 123

plans, to throw obstacles in her way? She just didn’t know how things would proceed under those circumstances. Barry’s reply came after a long moment that seemed like an age. ‘Lara, just do it. For as long as you like. It’s obvious that your heart’s in it and I wouldn’t dream of stopping you. We’ll work out the practicalities somehow.’ She stared at her husband, hardly believing. His reply had been genuine and unconditional. No ifs or buts. She beamed, then reached for his hand across the table and squeezed it. She was unable to speak for the moment as jumbled thoughts of St Ives came crashing in. Fortunately, their main course arrived. Their waiter delivered steak in a peppered sauce for Barry and pork fillets in a mustard sauce for Lara. Vegetables and Jersey Royal potatoes were presented on side plates. They stayed with the house red and once again they were alone. Now that Barry had agreed to the idea, Lara was eager to think aloud, to run some of her many thoughts past him. ‘I’m still just learning, really. There’s so much basic stuff I just don’t know, different methods and mediums and all sorts of stuff. But everyone I’ve met has been so nice and helpful. I’ll stay with Mia for now, I think. It’s a great base and I don’t need to worry about buying all my own materials. And if I’ve got a question then there’s always someone to ask. And I don’t know, further down the line, if I can become a good painter...’ ‘I can’t see you going back to any library, sweetheart. You’d better tell them on Monday, sort it out properly with them.’ ‘Oh God, should I work my notice, do you think? Maybe I ought to think about it some more. It’s not that bad at the library and the money’s handy.’ Barry was firm. ‘Lara, I’ve never seen you so excited and enthused. I might not know much but I do know that you’d regret it forever if you didn’t go back to Cornwall and give it a try. So if you’re still umm-ing and ahh-ing on Monday, I’m going to tie you up, bundle you in the car and drive you down myself!’ Lara smiled happily. ‘Ok then, I’ll call The Breezes tomorrow and confirm I’ll be back. And you can bring the children down next weekend! When will you finish work?’

123

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 124

Her thoughts returned to Barry’s work situation. ‘It sounds like I can pack in straightaway, that’s the impression I’ve got. They’ll accept my application and pay me the money a month later. I guess they don’t need me to go in any more, except to clear my desk and stuff. I’ll need to check with them.’ ‘Are you sure that you’ll be OK with the kids? You’ll have more time now, anyway.’ ‘Yes, and there’s your mother as well. They’ll miss you though Lara, so that’s a consideration.’ ‘Yes it is, but we’ll get around that, I hope.’ At the end of the evening they paid the not insubstantial bill and treated themselves to a taxi. And that night they were as close and happy as a married couple as they could ever remember. HE knew that they would come. It was a question of when. He lived in the mindset of a condemned man as surely as if he sat in a cold cell, bars on the window, listening to the carpenters build the gallows in the yard outside. Worse than that man in the condemned cell. That man had certainty. He knew that, ten minutes before 6am the following morning they would come to his cell. The keys would jangle and one of them would turn in the door. They would lead him out into to a holding room. There he would meet with the priest and would have the opportunity to say a final prayer. Then they would lead him into the courtyard and he would look up at the gallows that awaited him. He would climb the steps to meet the hangman who would place the hood over his head. Standing on the trapdoor the hangman would place the rope around his neck. Seconds later he would be plunged into oblivion. A man could gear himself up to his fate in the knowledge that the timetable was unchangeable. But he sat in the cell of his mind listening to the hammering of the carpenters, with no knowledge of when they would come. Or the injection of poison, the application of thousands of volts of electricity, a volley of bullets. Ah, that’s how it would be here in Ireland. That was the way of it. The bullet. That was the manner in >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

124

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 125

which he had offed poor Peter Donnelly up there in Dun Laoghaire. And he deserved what was surely coming because of his stupidity. Put one in his leg. Those had been his instructions. But he had panicked and had killed the man. Now it was just a question of waiting. They would come, as sure as night follows day. It had crossed his mind to leave home, to leave the country, even. But he ought to have done that immediately. To try it now would be to accelerate his demise. They were watching him, biding their time, probably deciding on the when, where and who of the matter. He had received two unequivocal hints that he was living on borrowed time. It might come this night, it might come in a year’s time, but come it would. He could only hope that it might be painless. Like a troubled spirit from Ireland’s ancient past, Pat slowly trudged the damp quays and the dark lanes of Waterford. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

125

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 126

MICHELLE’S innocent remarks the previous day had set Rose thinking. She smiled again at her grand-daughter’s suggestion that she go out and get a new Grandad! Up until that day she had scarcely given a thought to taking up with a man again. It just hadn’t occurred to her. And that was very simply because, she told herself, she harboured no inner desire to have another man in her life. She had loved Jim and had lost him, and that was an end to it. Bringing in another man wasn’t going to suddenly fix matters. Anyway, she was perfectly happy in her little house and indeed enjoyed her freedom. She was able to live her own life free from having to compromise to anyone else’s ways. Her biological clock had well and truly ticked past midnight so there was no perceived pressure there. As to the sex thing, she really hadn’t been bothered with it much at the best of times, so there was another good reason why she should remain in blissful widowhood. And yet, she teased herself, and yet. Once she had finished with her nursery school duties, done her bit of shopping and come home, did she not sometimes feel lonely? She lived for the times that her friends and family visited and was always sorry to see them leave. But she thought that she would as soon have a bit of loneliness as have some lump of a husband sitting across there in Jim’s armchair, silently watching the football on TV. But she admitted to herself that she did miss having a social life. Since Jim died she had scarcely been out to a pub, a restaurant, a show, anywhere. Yes, there had been a few times, but she always got a nagging feeling that whoever she was with had invited her out of some sort of duty. That wasn’t a comfortable feeling at all. Mightn’t it be nice to go out with a bloke, as a couple, as equals. Just now and again. She’d love to up to town now and again to see one of the big productions, for example. She muted the sound on the TV and decided to be naughty. She 126

TWENTY-TWO

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 127

walked to the drinks cabinet and peered inside. She drank rarely so the cabinet was full of bottles, most of which had been given as gifts or presents. One of the few opened bottles was sherry, which, she decided, must have last seen the light of day at Christmas. She found a sherry glass, gave it a wipe with a tissue and poured herself a large measure. She settled back in her armchair and considered matters. What if, she asked herself, a middle-aged widow wished to meet nice gentleman of a similar age? Where would they start? Not me of course, thought Rose, any woman. What would she advise one of her friends, for example? Go to where men go, there’s a start. Where do men go, then? The pub, football matches, that was about it, she reckoned. So her advice to her friend then would be:‘You must dress up on a Saturday evening, heels, short skirt, blouse with one too many buttons undone. Keep the make-up to a minimum (don’t want to appear a tart) but spray something nice on. Then go to a lively town centre bar and pop yourself onto a barstool. See if you haven’t pulled within five minutes.’ Or, option number two: ‘Buy a ticket for the next match at Upton Park. You needn’t dress up as in option number one but be sure to buy a West Ham scarf. The night before the match swot up on the club’s website, learn the names of some players and stuff. At the match shout and swear and jump about when the people around you do. Check out the likely men and, when West Ham score, fling yourself at them and kiss them. Then, at the end, hang onto their arm as you push through the crowds and don’t let go.’ Yes, that should bring me in plenty in consultancy fees, thought Rose, filling her sherry glass again. If those sure-fire methods somehow failed then it would be time to think again. Joining clubs and associations would be the sensible thing to do, or join an evening class. That way one could check out the talent on the quiet while doing something else. Not a bad idea at all, thought Rose. Young people had so much more opportunity for love, she thought. Love for girls that was, sex for boys. It was expected that young people would be hanging out together and they didn’t think twice about what people thought about their obvious interest in the opposite sex. Or the same sex in many cases these days, she’d ob-

127

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 128

served. In her day, she thought, any lady unlucky in love or too shy to speak to men would sign up with a dating agency. They’d fill out a form with all their details and interests and would say what they were looking for in their ideal partner. Hopefully, an equal number of men would do the same. Then, Hey Presto! The agency matched you up and you lived happily ever after. Maybe they had the right idea in Ireland, where was it, Lisdoonvarna? There lived a matchmaker. He would interview those single people, both men and women, who would seek him out due to his reputation, with a view to finding a partner in marriage. Typically the men would be farmers looking for younger wives. The life of the farmer being hard and long they had not had time to consider taking a wife. There was a surplus of marriageable country girls as the disinherited sons, their fathers’ farms having been left to the eldest, made a beeline for Dublin, London or New York at the first opportunity. Once the harvest was in the farmers descended on Lisdoonvarna. The pubs did enormous trade and the farmers returned to their land several weeks later and many euros lighter. In a number of cases the matchmaker had managed to secure his fee and the girls had gone with the farmers to extend the family lineage. Rose refilled her glass. She wasn’t sure she was making any progress with her lonely, imaginary friend, but she was enjoying her sherry. Internet dating, perhaps? That was the modern way, she’d heard, for those of a certain age. Yes, she’d advise her friend to check out internet dating. She stood up and wandered over to the computer on the desk in the corner, and pushed the power button. She was not an avid internet user but occasionally sent an email and sometimes looked at websites suggested to her on the TV or in magazines. She sat down with her sherry well away from the keyboard and presently the Google screen appeared. OK here goes, she thought and typed Internet dating and pressed the Search button. She was immediately presented with lists of relevant websites. She scarcely knew where to start, but Jim had told her that the first few options in a Google search were generally paid for and not necessarily the best choices.

128

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 129

She spent the next half hour surfing, with growing interest, across a number of likely websites. Roughly half of these promised that you would immediately meet your perfect partner and they proved it by showing pictures of happy couples and testimonials. The other websites made little reference to love and, to Rose, seemed thinlydisguised invitations to men to part with money in the hope of getting laid. Eventually she settled on a site that she thought that she might investigate further. Taking a deep breath and another sip of sherry, she pressed the Register button. Another half an hour later the website had wrung her dry of all the personal information about herself that she could think of! She was amazed at what they wanted to know and what she had volunteered in addition to that. She had indicated her interest in meeting men in the Greater London area aged 50-60. She had uploaded a photograph of herself. She had also parted with £20.99 to be included on the website for a month. She finally sat back, amazed at herself. Any men interested in her profile could leave a message. She was sure that she would die if anyone messaged her, and she took comfort from the fact that she was completely anonymous on the site. And with that ‘Surreylady’ switched off the computer, put the remains of the sherry back in the cabinet and headed, a little unsteadily, upstairs. IT was two days later when Rose remembered, with a start, about her registration with Maybe Friends. She had just come in, shaken off her shoes and popped on the kettle. She looked apprehensively at the computer screen, made herself a cup of coffee, walked up and down for a minute and finally switched on the computer. The screen presented itself and she found the website and logged on as Surreygirl. She gave a shriek and held her head as she read: You have five new messages >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

129

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 130

What? Who was sending her messages, she wondered, wildly. She resisted her sudden urge to shut down the computer immediately. After all she had forked out to this website to provide her with contacts, hadn’t she? It wasn’t as if she had to answer messages or anything. So she took a deep breath and clicked on ‘Read Messages’. There they were listed, from Admin, SexGod, BoyBlue, Supertrev and lonelymatt. She clicked on Admin and, as expected, this was just a message welcoming Rose to the site and pointing out some of the features. With fearful anticipation she then started to read her other messages, one by one. She was surprised. All of the messages, including Sexgod’s, were friendly and funny at times. The men all commented on her profile, pointing out mutual areas of interest, and asking about things like her musical preferences or her occupation. She checked on the profiles of all the men and found they varied greatly. From the photographs she wasn’t sure that she would actually like to meet any of them, but there didn’t seem to be that pressure, anyway. Maybe, if she answered the messages, that would be seen as an invitation to meet. Nevertheless, she considered it would be unnecessarily rude not to answer and she therefore replied to each in general terms, signing herself Surreygirl though two of the men had used their real names. Pleased with herself, she logged out and busied herself with some light housework. IT was early evening and Mary was idly flicking through some lecture notes. She had returned to Bristol the previous day – a day late but that was of little consequence, really. She sat under a tree in a small, triangular park close to her halls of residence. The heat of the day had abated somewhat and a gentle breeze was starting to rustle through the leaves of the park trees. There were few other students or other people about. Many would have headed off home or elsewhere for the weekend. Others would be getting ready to welcome in the weekend and some would un>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

130

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 131

doubtedly already be hitting the bars and revving up for the night ahead. Mary would join them later. She enjoyed meeting her friends and their friends and acquaintances. However, the socialising inevitably revolved around bars and, later, clubs. Mary knew that too early a start would leave her tipsy and sleepy and fit only for bed while her mates partied on. She would study for another while. She had enjoyed her short holiday back home in St Ives. As her hotel management degree course progressed she was able to relate theory to practice more and more. The plan was, this coming summer, she would start taking over much more of the day to day running of The Breezes while she was on holiday and when the hotel would be at its busiest. Further down the line she supposed that she would need to serve her time in a bigger establishment, but the supposition was that she would eventually take over the family business. And she’d made a good friend in Lara. Although she was in her thirties, Lara had retained much of a youngster’s enthusiasm for life. Marriage and children had given her a different perspective on life and, of course, she presently had one particular issue to work through. But generally she was a cheerful and empathic woman, sensitive and generous when it came to others. Mary smiled as she remembered their day out in Penzance and hoped that Lara would be down in Cornwall at some stage later in the year. As for the hypnotism, that had been a giggle and worth £30 for the experience. She didn’t feel any different in the slightest. True, she hadn’t found herself in the middle of a tidying fit since then, but give it time. ‘Hi, can I share your tree?’ It was Clarrie, a fellow student who she had met a few times around the place. A nice guy to talk to, maybe a bit intense with his views on various things, a history student also in his first year. With his specs and unkempt hair he was on his way to becoming a mad history professor, Mary thought. He wore the student uniform of jeans and scruffy white T-shirt. ‘Hi, Clarrie, yes, park yourself down. I’m not concentrating properly anyway. What you doing for the weekend?’

131

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 132

‘Plenty, but I’m able to change my plans for a pretty lady, Miss Turner.’ As he said this Clarrie’s cheeks pinked up. ‘Well there are plenty of them around here Mr Sargent. A goodlooking boy like you will have no problems, I’m sure.’ ‘Course I wouldn’t, but I’m the choosy sort. I prefer classy birds.’ He blushed even more. Mary laughed. It had taken Clarrie some big effort to come out with those lines. Plenty of lads were confident and thought nothing of chatting up women and dealing with rejections. Others, like Clarrie, had to endure agonies before coming out with their hesitant chat up lines. Mary turned towards him now and edged imperceptibly closer. ‘So, you think I’m a classy bird then, Clarrie?’ ‘Oh! Well, yes, yes you are. Nicer than the others, and you’ve got lovely hair, and eyes, and....’ She leaned closer to him and smiled. ‘So, what are you going to do about it?’ Somewhere above, up in the tree maybe, Mary looked down upon her corporeal self with amazement. What was going on here? The ice maiden responding to a man’s advances? Not only responding but flirting outrageously! She didn’t do this; she accepted compliments and then moved on. If a bloke had ever tried to take things further she had brought things to a stop immediately. The ethereal Mary looked on with great interest. Clarrie’s eyes widened in surprise, then they closed slowly as his lips pursed and he leaned towards Mary. She grabbed him by the shoulder, pulled him forward and brought her lips down upon his. She led the way in a deep, long kiss. Eventually they came up for air. Mary smiled and plucked off Clarrie’s glasses; he was gasping and looking shell-shocked. ‘OK, slower,’ Mary instructed. Slower and sweeter and more tenderly, oblivious of any others that may have been in the park. Her body responded and her desire became more apparent. Impatiently she took his right hand and placed it on her left breast – they both gasped. Her left hand moved to the front of his jeans and squeezed, and they both gasped again. Mary in the tree thought to herself: ‘Not here’.

132

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 133

Trying to appear nonchalant they walked to the halls and to Mary’s room. Without ceremony they kissed again, threw themselves on the bed and started tearing at each other’s clothes. Within seconds they were bonking desperately and a few seconds later it was all over. When Clarrie’s breathing had slowed down a little Mary asked: ‘Was that your first time?’ ‘Yes, was it that apparent?’ ‘No, my first time as well. Come on, I’m sure we can both do better.’ >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Under the tree Mary said: ‘Not here, come on.’

133

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 134

THE week passed in a somewhat surreal fashion. Barry had allowed himself the rare luxury of a lie in on Monday, much to the annoyance of the girls who consequently had to walk to school. He dropped Lara over to the railway station and then drove to the office. He was further delayed as all the free staff car parking places were taken by this time. He therefore had to find an on-street spot from where he walked to his workplace of many years. His work colleagues, Tony and Fiona, politely acknowledged his arrival. Like everyone else in the office complex they were unsettled and nervously awaiting a further pronouncement from the powers that be. There had been little idle chat or joking recently and the tension in the air was tangible. Shortly after that first bombshell announcement of likely redundancies, the three of them had discussed things briefly before retreating back into their respective daily roles. They had, however, unanimously concluded that the axe was likely to fall upon one of them. Even without any restructuring the perception would be that two people could carry out the daily work of the Town Planning office as well as three. It was a cushy enough number working there. Of course, there were times when things were hectic but, on the whole, each of them managed to carry out their tasks efficiently. At the end of the week there was rarely a backlog and active files were generally under control. The three of them worked well enough together and helped each other out as necessary and fielded each other’s phone calls in case of a temporary absence. Most tellingly, in the case of annual leave, the remaining two seemed to cover the daily work of the absentee without too much trauma. The most naive management consultant would have zeroed in on this office for cost reduction. Of the three, Fiona had maybe least to worry about. She had 134

TWENTY-THREE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 135

joined the department straight from university and had worked there for less than a year. She was a bright young professional and management had earmarked an accelerated career path for her through the civil service ranks. It was recognised that young talent no longer wished to serve its time as in years gone by and the Fionas of the world would quickly be lost to the private sector if not treated as a prized asset. Tony had worked for Wellhead Council for almost as long as Barry. He, like Barry, had few formal qualifications. He was steady and dedicated. He worked methodically on his own cases and was able to seamlessly pick up a new matter, or a colleague’s file, and deal with either equally efficiently. Each night he went home to care for his wife who had been ill for a number of years – it was now terminal. Whereas the naive management consultant might have tossed a coin over Tony and Barry, there was the probability that the coin would come down in Tony’s favour. Nonetheless, as when one believes that an examination has gone well while the worries multiply until the official results are revealed, Barry picked up the phone and speedialled Fred’s number. Yes, Fred was free and Barry could pop in. As Barry left the office Fiona and Tony said not a word. Thirty minutes later he walked back in. ‘Tony, Fiona. That’s it. I’m leaving at the end of the week. Jumping before I’m pushed.’ He sat down heavily at his desk, staring blankly ahead, wondering what do now. His colleagues dropped what they were doing and the tension which had been so apparent was immediately broken. The office was suddenly full of chatter, questions, a mixture of commiserations and congratulations. It was quickly apparent that Barry was, in fact, quite happy with the whole business and therefore there was no awkwardness. There was no bad news and it meant the probable survival of the remaining members of the office. By Thursday afternoon Barry had completed the handover of his files. He had made a point during the week of visiting all the various offices in the complex to say goodbye. He had known some of the workers there for many years, even if their paths may have crossed only rarely. Of course there were many new and younger

135

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 136

faces as well and, though he was not yet 40, he felt something of a relic as he spoke to them. At 4 o’clock on his last day Fred hosted a small party in his office, cheap wine and nibbles all within the department’s spend budget. By 5 o’clock most people had drifted away. A last handshake for Tony and hug for Fiona and he was alone in his office. He checked his desk a final time for any personal items, picked up his briefcase and left his office for the last time. BARRY lingered over his coffee. He was in his running gear but was savouring the unusual experience of having nothing at all to do on a Friday morning. In a while he would go out and plod a few miles. There was nothing marked in his running diary. Since the 10k he had formulated no further running targets and, as a result, he had become slightly lackadaisical; that would soon change once he set himself some new goals. But what with everything going on around him right now, this seemed a little way down his list of priorities. At length he stood up and looked out of the window. It was a rare, drizzly day in this fine early summer, but it remained quite warm. He set off at gentle pace and turned away from town. At the entrance to the Wellhead track he turned in and stopped at the box that collected postal deliveries for the Harriers. He pulled the envelope out of his waistband where he had stowed it and popped it in the box. In the envelope were two membership application forms. The first was for Michelle as it appeared that she would soon be a regular at junior training sessions. The second was for Barry himself. He had long ago let his membership lapse and, except for the fact that Michelle was now getting involved, he would hardly have bothered again. He had no intention of racing in club colours again. However, he still felt some allegiance to Wellhead Harriers and now seemed as good a time as any to renew that allegiance. His delivery complete, he trotted off down the road again. Barry and Lara had talked regularly on the phone during the >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

136

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 137

week. It was a strange time for them. So little out of the ordinary had happened to them in the years they had been married. Yes, of course the children had come along and that had been both a source of happiness to them and had also challenged them at times. But, in the grand scheme of things, their lives had been smooth and without life-changing events. Now, in the space of a short period they had needed to deal with Barry’s redundancy, the lapse of his marriage vows and his new focus on his running, together with Lara’s desertion of her steady job for the life of an artist in Cornwall. Whether they were good or bad things, they represented change which needed to be managed. At the centre of the change management they were in danger of forgetting the effect on the girls. Fortunately, Lauren and Michelle were still at the age where they were flexible and unlikely to be affected by changes in routine. Both parents agreed that whatever they agreed was in their own best interests; whatever was life-fulfilling to them was likely to have only a positive effect on their children. One decision that had been made was that Lara would spend each second week back home in Wellhead. It was inconceivable that the girls should be without their mother for weeks at a time, perhaps showing up in a rush at weekends only to disappear again. Whereas Lara was rapidly being captivated by her new-found passion there was no reason why she could not continue to learn and practise while at home in Surrey. The light might or might not be so suitable (Lara was keeping an open mind on the myth) but she reckoned she could handle it. They had also decided that Barry ought to take time out before deciding on his own future. The redundancy settlement was such that he did not need to make a quick and possibly rash decision. In the long term he wanted to retrain, to learn new job skills that would stand him in good stead in the future employment market. He might, in the shorter term, take some sort of job that would provide an income of sorts. In the meantime they were in a situation where, for the first time in their marriage, they didn’t have to worry overmuch about money. Lara could indulge her hobby; Barry could run and contemplate

137

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 138

life. They could also afford the odd luxury which, in the past, had needed to be saved for. They had avoided the tyranny of overloading credit cards and had restricted their house purchase to a modest one which came within their budget. Therefore, they were not weighed down with debt and were now in a position that might be considered comfortable, though not luxurious. But, of course, the nest egg wouldn’t last forever. Today Barry ran slowly and comfortably around the town suburbs and, at length, found himself at the Memorial Park. The drizzle had abated somewhat and the day was young so Barry decided he’d have a little rest before the last stretch for home. He found an empty bench, wiped the excess rain off one end of it and sat down. So much for the famous runner, he thought, as he settled down to contemplate the world for a few minutes. The well-tended lawns were in need of a trim, he thought, but it was maybe too wet to do it today. A couple of council gardeners were tending flowers and bushes a little way away. Then away to his right he heard the unmistakeable sound of female footsteps on the path, heading his way. No bloke would clack along like that. He idly turned his head in the direction of the footsteps, and then his eyes widened – Penny Grant! Oh God no, he didn’t need to meet that woman now, it was unlikely to be a cordial meeting. Quickly he summed up his options. Get up and run in the opposite direction? Dodge behind a bush? In what would prove to be a bad decision he leapt off the bench and scooted behind the bench into the muddy gardens and deep vegetation, coming to a halt behind a hydrangea in full bloom. He could go no further back due a perimeter wall but he fancied he was out of sight. He held his breath and listened to the footfalls getting closer. Then there was a rustle in the vegetation, something coming towards him. ‘Woof!’ Nooo! Eddie’s brute of a dog! ‘Go away, fuck off!’ Barry urgently whispered. ‘Woof, woof!’ it barked happily and wagged its tail. ‘Rusty, come on boy.’ It was Eddie. ‘Go on dog,’ Barry prayed, but to no avail.

138

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 139

‘Woof, woof, woof!’ Barry tried to retreat further into the undergrowth but was halted by a thorn in his backside. ‘Rusty, come on. What have you got there?’ There was a louder rustling; Eddie appeared among the leaves and looked at Barry in surprise. ‘Barry! Sorry, didn’t know you were there. Having a pee?’ ‘No. Yes. I’m coming out now.’ He had no choice either as Rusty was not going to abandon his new playmate and Barry couldn’t stand there all day. He emerged onto the path. ‘Barry Lane! What are you doing in the bushes?’ Oh God, it was Penny. ‘Having a pee, if it’s anyone else’s business!’ Now one of the gardeners approached, attracted by the commotion. ‘There’s a gents just over there mate. Peeing in the bushes, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!’ ‘You’re lucky I wasn’t a copper. I’d have nicked you for indecent exposure.’ Eddie was all helpfulness as usual. ‘Huh, nothing much there to expose.’ Penny clacked off, Eddie continued on his way with Rusty while the gardener returned to his tending, looking over his shoulder to ensure that the shady character was leaving. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

139

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 140

LARA was even happier today than she had grown to be during these last few weeks. Barry and the girls were coming down to St Ives today so they could spend the school half-term holiday together. The Breezes, though in demand that week, had managed to find a small room for the girls to share and Lara was happy to have to share her large single bed with her husband! It was Saturday and they would be arriving later in the day. She quickly finished her coffee and toast and hurried down the hill and across town to the workshop. ‘Morning Mia! Morning Henry!’ Lara greeted the workshop owner and one of the semi-resident artists who was already at work, regarding a seascape that he was working on, head tilted to one side. She found her easel and set it up. Already in place was an embryonic study of a local bay, on heavy artists’ paper temporarily mounted on backing board. From a brown envelope she drew several colour photographs of the bay, selected one and Blu Tacked it to the top of her easel. She collected watercolours and brushes and got ready to start work. She had started to establish a routine for her working day. Most mornings she would arrive early at the workshop and paint. Working on a wide variety of subjects she experimented with oils, watercolours, crayons, spray cans, even. She began to learn how colours mixed together, both on the palette and on paper. She tried various techniques that she had studied or that had been suggested to her by Jack or Mia. She played around both with realism and various abstract concepts, light and shade, trying not to copy any one artist or style. She constantly thought back to that very first day at The Breezes and Jack’s initial instruction to draw what you see. She started to realise that you could see the same subject in many ways, under different conditions perhaps, and that she could play around with impressions so that one view, or person, or object could be por140

TWENTY-FOUR

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 141

trayed in a thousand different ways. She would eat a sandwich lunch with anyone else who might be around. She loved listening to the artists talk even though she couldn’t always decipher some of the vocabulary. She learnt about how the St Ives artistic community had come about in the 1950s, led by the legendary Barbara Hepworth. The town had attracted, and continued to attract, artists and collectors of art. There were, as Lara had noted, a profusion of galleries, studios and workshops – also many small shops specialising in artworks. It was Mia’s opinion that there was much undoubted talent in St Ives and Cornwall generally. However, there was also a large element of snobbery. And there were those who were trying to piggyback on the area’s reputation with minimum or no credentials, spouting a lot of what the Irish would term codology – or cod, not recognised by the local fishermen. Each afternoon Lara would leave the workshop carrying sketchpad and pencils. She might search out a spot down by the harbour or in the narrow streets of the old town. More often she would walk out along the nearby beaches or along the coastal paths, east or west. Then she would settle down and she would sketch. A street or harbour location provided endless variations on the same theme. One rainy afternoon she had sat for hours under the awning of a tearoom drawing version after version of a street scene with its miserable-looking holidaymakers. Out of town she drew seascapes, landscapes, anything that she felt worth capturing. She used her digital camera endlessly to capture the views and had the best ones developed so that she could paint them later. As the summer months approached she found that the environs of St Ives were becoming somewhat congested with artists both professional and amateur. It was the rule rather than the exception to head for an apparently quiet spot to find one or more people already ensconced there. Then it was a case of join them, or to head off elsewhere. But always people were polite and friendly, and Lara imagined that the codology must exist elsewhere. She had drawn and painted a few harbour views. However, the location was so picturesque it seemed that roughly half of the paintings on view in St Ives were harbour views. No less

141

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 142

worthy for their profusion she reckoned that the world had more than enough without her hesitant efforts. At Mia’s suggestion Lara had had a few of her better efforts framed. She was amazed that a right choice of simple frame could set off a painting so well and sometimes turn it from a hesitant experimentation into almost a professional-looking work. These leaned up against a nearby wall and visitors to the workshop sometimes looked through them. ‘How much is this one?’ She looked up, startled. An elderly couple had picked up one of her framed paintings. Other unframed, undiscarded work lay around untidily, awaiting a decision as to their fate. It was the man who had spoken though both he and his wife held the picture. It was one of her rainy street scenes which she had completed in oils and which she thought had best captured the gloom of that afternoon. ‘Oh, gosh, I don’t know. £20?’ Lara had no idea. She was happy that some people looked at her paintings but it had never occurred to her that they might wish to buy one. ‘Is that all? A bargain, here you are, £20. What’s your name, dear, so that we can catalogue it?’ As the couple left the workshop Lara shrieked and ran to Mia’s office waving the banknote. ‘Look, look Mia! I’ve sold a painting!’ Mia laughed. ‘Well done. Plenty of so-called artists never sell a stick. 50% did we say?’ She plucked the £20 from Lara’s fingers and replaced it with a £10 note. ‘You’re now a selling artist. Never mind that the price hardly covered the canvas and paint. Onwards and upwards, Lara. I think they’ll need to surgically remove that smile up at the hospital!’ SHE would finally, reluctantly, pack up her materials for the day. Left to her own inner desire she would draw and paint until she dropped. But she understood that this was unhealthy and that, if she was not careful, she would end up a madwoman in a garret striving for a perfection that was unattainable. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

142

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 143

After showering and having a lie down she would take herself off to a nearby pasta and pizza restaurant and have an early dinner. Generally she dined alone, although she was slowly becoming a part of the local, semi-permanent community. She was getting to know people by name and they often recognised her as ‘that nice arty woman’ who lived at The Breezes. She had attended several evening exhibitions and lectures. Jack had sometimes accompanied her and he had introduced her to certain people involved in the art business. Thus she had got to know more about what was going on in the area, the types of work that were being produced and some of the people who were producing them. Then, later in the evenings, she would relax in the hotel bar with a glass of wine and study her subject. Still considering herself very much a learner, she read voraciously on different aspects, techniques, movements and trends. Then she would take all of these ideas away and try to put some of them into practice during the following days. Her early work was therefore often wildly varied as she sought to find a style or styles that she was happy and comfortable working with. On her trips home to Wellhead she tried to give all the care and attention she could to her husband, children and their home. Barry’s days were now unoccupied and long and it was good that they were able to spend hours together, often driving into the country and taking long walks during the day before the girls came home from school when they would be together as a family again. Lara restricted her hobby to sketchpad and pencil and might quickly capture a church or other building which caught her attention as they walked. She practiced her portraiture on her family, to their great amusement, but even Barry had to admit that Lara seemed to possess something that amounted to more than an enthusiastic beginner’s aptitude. Quite how Lara’s new passion could be accommodated in the longer term was, as yet, unclear. She was excited that all of them would soon be together for a week in Cornwall so at least they might begin to put some of these things into context.

143

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 144

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> THEY arrived towards tea time, the girls tearing excitedly out of the car to greet their mother at the hotel entrance. Barry, somewhat stiff after the long drive from Surrey, followed them more sedately. Jack and Mary greeted them warmly. Lara had become a firm friend over the last few weeks and they had been looking forward to meeting her family. Jack had met Barry only briefly on that traumatic Easter Monday when the local constabulary had descended on the hotel, and Lara, in particular, like a ton of bricks. The girls battled over ownership of the beds in their room and Lara had to referee. They unpacked their belongings and put them away neatly, upon pain of no dinner until they did so. Finally, the Lanes were assembled and were marching down the hill into town. Though they visited the harbour briefly, Barry and the girls were really too tired and jaded after the drive to appreciate it straightaway. A better idea, by far, was a drink before dinner and Lara led them to the quiet bar where she and young Mary had held their conference several weeks back. It was less quiet now that the season was kicking in but they found an unoccupied table in a corner. The girls were happy with Coke and crisps and Lara reckoned that white wine was proving the source of her inspiration and so was content not to change the habit. Barry was in a private heaven, looking at the choice of beer pumps, and he settled on a pint of Skinner’s, at least to start with. They raised a toast to ‘half-term’ and chinked their glasses together. Lara quickly caught up with all the news from back home. The most important matter seemed to be that Michelle had done relay practice that morning at the Harriers with Lauren, as usual, taking it all in. In fact the coach in charge had, noticing her interest, invited her onto the track area the better to see and hear what was going on. Lauren had duly noted all that she could remember later on in her notebook. Also, Barry had entered Michelle into the club championships which were to take place just before the school summer holidays. After a second drink, and looking at the bar meal menu, they had

144

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 145

no real inclination to move elsewhere to eat. Barry and Lara looked no further than the locally-caught cod athough the girls preferred the chicken nuggets. A last drink and they headed up the hill to The Breezes. Though the children were virtually asleep, they had to be more or less frogmarched to their room with orders to go to bed to sleep properly. Finally, Barry and Lara treated themselves to a final drink at the hotel bar and a little chat with Jack before heading upstairs themselves. The following few days were idyllic. With the weather set fair though less warm than of late, the family spent a lot of time together. Lara took them all to her workshop and introduced them to Mia. The girls spent a little time trying out as artists. Michelle showed most promise but both soon got bored and didn’t lobby to make a return visit. Lara spent less time there on this special week and, instead, they visited the beaches, explored the cliff paths and, using the car, visited other local towns and attractions – Penzance, Penryn, Falmouth. As always Lara carried her sketchpad wherever they went. Sometimes she would just outline a subject, then they might relax at another location and she would spend an hour or so on a detailed sketch. She was rapidly building up a considerable body of work. But on Friday they agreed that Lara would spend the morning, at least, at the workshop. She was anxious to progress one particular study. Barry would take the girls out for the morning and they would meet up after lunch. Lara turned and gave them a wave as she skipped off down the hill. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

145

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 146

IT was true to say that Jimmy Grant was happy with his new life in Birmingham. He had what he considered a cushy summer job, although he would need to find something else from mid-September. After a long break mainly due to his particular circumstances, he had started dating again. He was an attractive man with an easy manner, twinkling eyes and a seductive, southern Irish voice. In the course of the summer he had met and dated several women, slept with a few of them but ultimately was unwilling to make any long term commitments. Although life was good right now he somehow knew that it would not always be this way. He couldn’t be sure that his future lay in this city, much though he was beginning to love it. But also he just enjoyed his freedom, his independence, and wasn’t ready to give this up for a woman. Still, the women seemed content to accept Jimmy on those terms. Since that first visit to the Digbeth and Bradford Street areas of the city he had returned there on a regular basis. Though not drinking heavily he liked to make his way from bar to bar where he found good, working class company and conversation. For many, many years Birmingham’s steel and construction industries had attracted Irish emigrants. Here in these dark, mean streets in the undeveloped eastern part of the city centre was where generation upon generation of these emigrants had gathered to socialise. Many of their bars had been swept away in modern times but some remained. The Anchor, Adam & Eve, Spotted Dog, Dubliner, Kerryman. Although certain of these had been themed and were being ‘discovered’ by young Brummies they were still venues where an Irishman could have the craic. And, of course, there were music nights and Jimmy often stepped up and did a turn, although being careful to restrict his repertoire to non-nationalist songs. He was a popular singer and was starting to be recognised around the place. Occasionally he worried that he might be raising his profile too 146

TWENTY-FIVE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 147

high above the parapet – he still had a price on his head if his shadowy enemies were to learn where he was. But for now his short, bleached hair and dark-rimmed, shaded glasses gave him confidence enough to enjoy life. He often indulged his new love of Indian food and, if he were currently going out with a girl, would entertain her in one or other of these establishments. And whereas in Ilfracombe he’d had a choice of two or three, in this city he could try a new place on every day of the year had he wished. Not all of these Indian restaurants were great but he was, by now, discerning enough not to return to any that he found lacking in cuisine, service or value for money. Recognising that his social life was not the healthiest, he ensured that he continued to run four or five times a week. He was fortunate that beer and rich food did not seem to be affecting his waistline but he was determined to stay physically fit. He continued to wonder idly if he had any talent as a runner and thought, without conviction, that he ought to try racing. He continued to work at the County Ground and was enjoying the outdoor life. Still, he was the cod Irishman that was puzzled by everything about the game of cricket. Though he naturally sided with Warwickshire and now recognised most of the players, he relied on his work colleagues or the reaction of the few people in the seats to tell him when the team were doing well. He realised that it was a good thing if a local man whacked the ball to the boundary, thus earning four runs. And if a Warwickshire bowler managed to knock down the stumps with the ball that was good also. But for the rest he was lost, though quite content to remain so. He no longer worried why, if the match was a draw at the end of four days, there was no extra time or replay. He was happy to follow orders, to enjoy his work and the company of the other lads and then pick up his money. One Thursday evening in August Steve called him over just as he was about to leave. ‘Jimmy, fancy doing a trip for me tomorrow? Down to Bristol, fetch a package back?’ ‘Of course. I haven’t got a car, though, gaffer.’ ‘Fine, take the train, there’s plenty from New Street. Got a credit

147

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 148

card? Get yourself to the County Ground in Bristol. My opposite number there has a package for me, seeds and stuff. Need it quite quickly. Bring it in Saturday for me, OK?’ So, first thing on Friday morning Jimmy caught the bus into town and made his way to New Street Station. A quick look at the timetable told him that there was a train to Bristol leaving within the hour and that there would be plenty of time to pick up the package and make his way back to Birmingham later. He bought himself a day return ticket and sat down for a little read of his book while waiting for his train to board. HAVING eaten her light lunch and done some hoovering, dusting and general tidying, Rose settled down in front of her PC. She logged on to Maybe Friends and was pleased to see some new messages. In the few weeks since she had registered she had spent some time each day chatting away in cyberspace to various men. She now looked forward to swapping small items of news from some who were almost becoming old friends by this stage. And quite often new men appeared. She had also become brave enough to do her own searches and had made the first contact in a few instances. Many of these men faded away as quickly as they had appeared, of course. Sometime this was because they had been wanting to meet up in person and they had lost interest when she had been reluctant. She really didn’t want to be meeting an array of strange men, no matter how nice they might appear on the website. But today she looked again at a page on the website which was promoting a social evening. This was taking place the following week in Guildford and was billed as a ‘fun meet-up’ for any website members who wished to turn up. It sounded like a good idea and something to which she might go with a friend. On impulse she picked up the phone to her work colleague, Susan, who was divorced. Quickly they agreed that they would go. If it was no good then they could just as easily leave. Before she could change her mind Rose e-mailed the event organ>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

148

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 149

iser and asked her to put her name and Susan’s down. So, the following Tuesday Rose and Susan found themselves in a function room above a pub in Guildford. To their relief they weren’t the first to arrive and there were plenty of people there already, both men and women. The organising lady, Breda, had met them at the door and made them feel welcome. While they sipped their first drinks and were wondering how to proceed Breda stood up, welcomed all those assembled and announced an ice-breaking game! Everybody groaned, but the silly game had the desired effect of breaking up groups that were beginning to form. And, quite soon, Rose had lost sight of Susan and, to her surprise, found herself chatting to a variety of people. And they weren’t all predatory males as she had secretly feared. Most were quite ordinary but often interesting people. Rose was reassured to know that single people need not be sad, socially inept souls. She knew this, of course, but it was nice for one’s knowledge to be reinforced sometime. ‘Hello. May I get you a drink?’ Rose half-turned towards the soft Irish voice to find a tall, pleasant-looking fellow at her shoulder. ‘Hello, no thank you, I’m fine. Nice to meet you, though, I’m Rose.’ ‘And I’m Sean, nice to meet you.’ Rose settled into about her twentieth conversation of the evening – what she worked at, where she lived, etc. She ascertained that Sean lived locally though he had lived in his native Ireland until three years ago. He was a widower with a grown-up son who was still in Ireland. He owned his own flat and ran his own small business, finding and hiring out building labour and tradesmen to building contractors and sub-contractors. But he showed what appeared to be genuine interest in Rose – her ex-husband, her only daughter and her family, her work. And he showed a lively interest in and knowledge of politics and current affairs that made many of her contacts seem somewhat shallow. Then she was suddenly aware that the bar was shutting and that Susan was hovering nearby, trying to catch her eye. Sean politely

149

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 150

asked Rose if she would like to continue their conversation sometime and Rose, after only a moment’s hesitation, gave him her home number which he keyed into his mobile phone. As she left with Susan she turned to her and said: ‘I think I’ve pulled!’ Rose didn’t have long to wait by the telephone, as girls used to do in her day, she thought. Days and weeks would often go by with an anxious teenager rushing to the telephone every time it rang only, ninety nine times out of a hundred, for her face to fall as she handed the receiver to mother, father or sibling. But Sean called her the very next evening. Two days later they had their first date and before long they were seeing each other two or three times a week, sometimes just for a drink, other times, maybe on a Friday or Saturday for dinner. Sean was a charming and friendly man, interested in all that went on around him. He was particularly interested in rugby and also Gaelic sports back home in Ireland. However, he recognised that Rose’s interest in sport was limited and therefore he didn’t dwell on this subject. His home town was Tramore, a coastal town in county Waterford where he had lived most of his life. He had been an only son but had four sisters. Sean had married a local girl and she had borne him a son. Tragically, however, she had developed breast cancer and she had died a number of years ago. He had not re-married. He had served his apprenticeship as a bricklayer/plasterer but had found a more profitable niche in organising labour for hire to the buoyant building industry during the Celtic Tiger years and travelled the country widely keeping his business interests under control. Three years before he had come to live in England for reasons that he was somewhat vague about, merely saying that he ‘wanted a change.’ He remained what Rose considered ‘a perfect gentleman’ and beyond one or two fond kisses and hugs at the end of an evening, they would go their own ways. HOWEVER, one afternoon harsh reality crashed in amidst their >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

150

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 151

growing friendship. Sean called her, upset as she had never heard him before. His only son had died suddenly in Waterford. The details were clouded and unclear. Pat had been a young man in his early 30s living in Waterford city. Sean had seen little enough of him, even when he had lived in Ireland. Although he didn’t appear to have a steady job – one that he went to and came back from every day – he seemed to live and thrive well enough. Of course Sean had to travel back to Ireland. His daughters, three of whom still lived in Ireland, were dealing with the immediate arrangements. Although the Irish way was to deal with the funeral and burial quickly it was probable that, due to the suddenness of the death, there would be an investigation and autopsy before the body would be released. Sean was leaving his business arrangements in the hands of a trusted associate and would fly to Ireland the following day. In the days that followed Rose suddenly felt lonely in a way that she hadn’t felt in a long time. She had learnt to live with her independent state and to quite enjoy it. But this man had come into her life in a quiet way and, now that he was gone for an indefinite period of time, it was unsettling. Sean did, however, call her once he’d arrived in Tramore and then they spoke at least daily thereafter. A week later he called to say that Pat’s body had been released and the funeral had been set to take place in two days time. Suddenly Rose felt that she needed to be there to support Sean and, though he protested it was unnecessary, she made the appropriate arrangements at the nursery school. The following day she drove up to Luton airport and left her car in the long-term parking area. The Aer Arann flight to Waterford took little over an hour and, when she had cleared security at the tiny airport, Sean was there to meet her. The drive to Tramore took less than 20 minutes and soon they were pulling up at a sizeable detached property near to the town centre. Sean explained that this had been his parent’s house and that his sister Aine now lived there with her husband. Aine was there on her own at this time of day and she greeted Rose warmly. Rose got her first taste of Irish hospitality including the compulsory tea ceremony, accompanied by an array of homemade breads

151

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 152

and cakes. Eventually, feeling stuffed, she was pleased that Sean suggested that they stretch their legs along the seafront. Tramore was a lively town acting, Sean explained, as the seaside resort for Waterford city and county. They walked and talked for a while and returned to the house. Sean had arranged accommodation at a town centre hotel for Rose guessing, correctly, that she might feel more at ease there. The eve of the funeral was sure to bring any number of visitors to the house which may have proved overwhelming, especially to someone on her first visit to the country and unfamiliar with the country’s ways and customs. Accordingly, Sean and Rose had an early dinner in the town before Rose checked into her hotel. The funeral was held late the following morning. The town was brought to a standstill as the funeral cortege made its way from the funeral home to the family house, pausing briefly there before moving on to the Catholic church. Rose, dressed appropriately, took her place away from the family. The principal mourners were Sean, the father of the deceased, and Sean’s four sisters and husbands (in all but one case.) Although it was of course a sad occasion Rose got the impression that, Sean excepted, Pat was not mourned as fervently as she might have expected. She got the feeling that it was more a sense of duty, or possibly curiosity that had brought many of the sizeable congregation out that day. Ireland has a curious affinity with premature death having seen too much of it over the centuries. The people know how to observe and respect the rituals of death without, unless close family are involved, getting too personally involved or upset over it. After Pat had been laid to eternal rest and the priest and mourners had started to disperse, Rose lingered, waiting for Sean. He was speaking to an elderly couple and she overheard some of the low conversation. ‘Well, Sean, I wonder if our Jimmy will be joining Pat beneath the sod before long.’ It was James Grant who spoke. His wife, Sheila, still tearful after the recent proceedings, started sobbing again. ‘Ah now, James, no need for that. How is Jimmy, anyhow?’ ‘I don’t know, he could be dead already for all I know. Or will be

152

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 153

soon, if they catch up with him.’ ‘Who? What’s he done?’ Sean was puzzled. ‘Sean my dear man. You know surely that Pat and Jimmy ...’ ‘All I know is I’ve heard a lot of whispers and dancing around the truth as is usual in this country. What’s happened that I should know about?’ ‘Sean. The shooting up in the bar in Dun Laoghaire a while back. Pat and Jimmy ...’ Sean was silent. Now he understood. And if it was true that his son, Pat, had taken part in a cold-blooded murder, then he could have no quarrel with a revenge killing. ‘James, Sheila, thanks for coming. God bless.’ He turned away, joined Rose, and they made their way out of the churchyard. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

153

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 154

BARRY and the girls headed up the coast in the car. It was cloudy this morning and they had agreed that they would explore a new part of the Cornish coastline. Maybe the sun would have broken through by the afternoon and then they would all go to the beach. They were due to drive home the following day with school restarting on Monday, and they were determined to make the most of their last full day. Going home was something none of them was particularly looking forward to. They had enjoyed every minute of their trip to Cornwall. It helped, of course, that Lara was by now familiar with the town and surroundings. Indeed, Barry was beginning to wonder if Lara would ever be able to drag herself back to her previous life in suburban Surrey. They had not discussed the matter during the week but Barry had never seen his wife so happy and radiant. But certainly recent events had made Barry realise that there were other ways to live one’s life. Until very recently their lives had been seemingly set out ahead of them in stone. Those certainties had been swept away but they had been replaced by opportunities, if those opportunities could be grasped. The education of the children was a big factor in the equation. They needed to start making some decisions, however provisional, before too long. Some miles east of St Ives Barry randomly turned off onto a minor road and found a small parking area giving access to the cliff path. They all put on jackets as it was breezy enough before Barry locked the car after which they set off, the girls running ahead. The views out to sea were spectacular and they took turns in finding and pointing out boats travelling up and down the coast. Some would be fishing vessels, others privately owned boats. A few had sails up but most were under power. Along the cliff path the flowers and plants were out in profusion, both on the cliffs themselves which fell away steeply to the sea, and on the landward side where the sturdy sea grasses gradually gave way to land under cultiva154

TWENTY-SIX

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 155

tion. Sea birds of various types flitted hither and thither, the seagulls swooping and diving anxiously as they guarded their nests. They would walk for a mile or two, thought Barry, and then turn back. Barry’s serene demeanour turned to horror in the few seconds that followed. There was a shriek from up ahead, unmistakeably Lauren’s voice, followed by a second shriek from Michelle, who howled her sister’s name. Barry’s heart turned to ice as he started running towards where Michelle was standing, head in hands, staring down the cliff and calling to her sister frantically. Reaching the spot where Michelle stood, Barry peered over, praying hard. He could see nothing other than grass, flowers, vegetation and rock. The cliff fell steeply away to the beach some thirty feet below. ‘Lauren!’ he yelled. ‘Lauren!’ There was no answer. Again Michelle screamed her sister’s name, frantically. Barry instinctively started to try to scramble down the steep hillside but immediately his feet slipped from beneath him. To renewed screams from Michelle he managed to grab hold of the vegetation with both hands and slowly hauled himself back to the path. ‘Lauren!’ he shouted again with panic surging through his veins, Michelle now near hysterical beside him. Then, just as he started towards the slope again they heard something. They held their breath and listened, then it came again. ‘Daddy!’ The voice was weak and tremulous but Barry’s relief was indescribable. No matter how badly hurt Lauren may be, she was alive! ‘Lauren! Hold on I’m coming!’ For a third time he started down the cliff face but again, to more screams from Michelle, he lost his balance and barely stopped himself from plummeting downwards. Breathing heavily he stood back. He shouted again. ‘Lauren, can you climb up, are you hurt?’ ‘My ankle’s hurt, I can’t move it. It’s too steep to climb!’ Barry stood back and tried to think. Clearly, he was putting his own life in danger by attempting a rescue. He needed assistance. There were no other walkers in sight, and no buildings. He had stupidly left his mobile phone at the hotel. The car was a mile or so

155

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 156

back at the car park. He would need to place some trust in Michelle but she was too young to send off on her own for help. He grabbed the frightened girl by the shoulders. ‘Michelle, listen. I’m going to run back to the car and get help. You stay here. If anybody comes by tell them what’s happened.’ Then he shouted once more to Lauren. ‘Lauren, I’m going for help. Try to be brave and I’ll be back soon.’ ‘OK Daddy, hurry up!’ Barry raced off back towards the car, leaving Michelle alone and very worried. Now she shouted to her sister. ‘Lauren! Daddy will be back soon. He’ll rescue you.’ There was a short silence then: ‘Michelle?’ ‘What?’ ‘The sea’s coming closer, I can’t go higher and get away from it!’ Michelle tried to understand this latest statement and then her eyes opened wide. The tide was coming in towards her sister! What was she going to do? She thought frantically. Daddy had told her to stay on the path, but he didn’t know about the tide. She looked wildly about her – still there was no grown-up to be seen. Then she came to a decision – she was going to try to help her sister if she could. She peered again over the cliff at the point where Lauren had fallen and where Daddy had slipped twice. She was lighter and could maybe climb down easier. Or maybe there was another way. She ran a little way further up the cliff path, then back the way they had come. Then she found a spot where the cliff seemed less steep and there appeared to be maybe a path through the grass and flowers. ‘Lauren! I’m coming down to find you!’ There was no answer. Michelle had to hurry. She set off down the track. It was little-used but it was undoubtedly a path that others had used in the past. The seven-year-old picked her way between gorse bushes, over sticking-out stones and around bends. A couple of times her trainers slipped but she righted herself; the cliff seemed less scary along the track and she gradually found her way down to-

156

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 157

wards the bottom. At last she rounded another bend and there was the sand and the sea. Michelle scrambled over some boulders at the foot of the cliff and jumped down onto the sand. She was down! But the sea was very close and waves were rushing in towards the cliffs. Quickly, Michelle ran along the sand and suddenly there she was! A white-faced and very frightened Lauren sat on the sand just below the sheer cliff face, the waves now sending the sea lapping up to where she sat. ‘Lauren! Here I am! You’ll be OK now. Come on, there’s a path up the cliffs over here!’ She beckoned Lauren to follow her. ‘I can’t move Michelle, look at my ankle!’ To Michelle’s amazement she saw that Lauren’s left foot stuck out at the completely wrong angle from her leg. Even the youngster understood that this was serious. Lauren’s face, arms and legs were scratched and bleeding in a number of places but that didn’t matter for now. Then a stronger wave came in and splashed them both; they both squealed in fright. Then Michelle took charge. ‘Lauren come on, you’ve got to move from there or you’ll drown!’ ‘I can’t!’ wailed Lauren, having tried to haul herself to her feet. Another wave rolled in, half soaking them. Michelle went to Lauren and pulled frantically at her arm. ‘Stand up Lauren! Look, lean on me and hop on your good foot.’ At last Lauren managed to stand upright on one leg. She was frightened and in great pain but she recognised that her little sister was making a huge effort. Unless she managed to move away quickly they would both drown. So she hopped, half leaning on Michelle, through the strengthening surf towards the pathway which Michelle said led up the cliff. She knew that if they could get only a part way up they might be safe. Then Daddy would come. They stumbled slowly through the surf, Michelle using all her strength to hold Lauren upright. But even so she fell twice, screaming in pain, and Michelle had to drag her up all over again. At last they managed, somehow, to reach the boulders which separated the sand from the pathway. The sea was by now lapping up against the rocks. Through her pain Lauren looked hopelessly at the obstacle

157

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 158

ahead – how was she going to get over the rocks? ‘Lauren, sit down on that one there. Then I’ll lift your leg up.’ Lauren did as instructed. Michelle then lifted her damaged leg, as gently as she could, up onto the boulder and Lauren managed to pull the other one after it. She then somehow managed to squirm over the remaining rocks. They were nearly safe. A few more yards up the path and they should be away from the waves which were now noisily dashing up against the rocks and the cliff face. But they were both now at the end of their tethers. ‘Come on Lauren, you can go a bit further, please try!’ ‘I can’t, I can’t.’ Lauren sobbed. ‘Get your stupid backside up the path or I’ll kick you up – I can’t pull you anymore!’ cried Michelle in despair. In response Lauren managed to drag herself a little further. Then they heard the most wonderful sounds, men’s voices on the cliff path above calling their names. They could hear Daddy’s amongst them! With their remaining strength they shouted and shouted and, the next thing they knew, they were being carried up the track in safe, strong arms. BY this time an ambulance had been called and the paramedics made Lauren comfortable, put her on a stretcher and headed for the car park. Michelle was pleased that there was no stretcher for her as she wasn’t hurt and she would have felt silly. She was, however, shocked and desperately tired and she allowed Barry to carry her part of the way. She didn’t want to go to the hospital but Barry persuaded her that Lauren couldn’t go alone. So, while the girls headed off in the ambulance, Barry took the car, picked an alarmed Lara up from the workshop and headed off to the West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance. On the way Barry related what he knew of what had occurred. He himself was feeling desolate and guilty, the incident having happened on his watch. He didn’t know exactly what had happened while he had been away fetching help, but it appeared that Michelle had been something of a heroine. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

158

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 159

At the hospital they found that Lauren had been made ready for theatre. They helped the staff with the admittance paperwork and they signed the consent form for the operation. It appeared that it was a clean break and that the procedure ought to be a routine one. A triage nurse had already checked Michelle over and was satisfied that she had sustained no damage. She was lying, half asleep, in a side room with a TV on in the corner. There were long hugs from Barry and Lara. Michelle was beyond words for the moment and was silent, responding to questions only in monosyllables. Other than being assured that Lauren was going to be all right, she just wanted to be left alone. Soon enough a nurse came and informed them that Lauren’s operation was over and that she was comfortable and recovering in a private room. Barry’s employment had included private health insurance and this had also been included in his redundancy settlement. Lauren would need to stay in hospital for maybe two or three days during which time her lower leg would be set in plaster. She would have to learn to walk with crutches for a while but she would be right as rain in a few weeks’ time. A little while later they were taken through to Lauren’s room. She was sitting up happily in bed, surrounded by books and magazines and flicking the TV from channel to channel with the remote. She chatted away to them, seemingly none the worse for her adventures other than for her broken ankle. Lauren seemed to see even this as a bit of a lark and was looking forward to showing off her crutch ability at school! It was late afternoon and there didn’t seem any reason for all of them to stay. Lauren was absolutely fine and didn’t particularly want everyone hanging around. Barry and Lara thought they would go for a walk around Penzance. Michelle, however, was adamant that she wasn’t leaving Lauren by herself. They therefore left, promising to be back before too long. They leaned against the wall overlooking the lido and considered the immediate options. Lauren would be in hospital until after the weekend. Michelle ought to be back at school on Monday. Barry could drive her back as planned but then he would need to come back for Lauren. Alternatively, Barry and Michelle could

159

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 160

catch the train or coach back and Lara could bring Lauren back next week. Lara thought she maybe ought to learn to drive at some stage! But a much better idea would be for them to extend their weekend together and to explain Michelle’s absence to the school. Even though schools were grumpy about unnecessary absences, they would just have to lump it this once, they decided. Back at the hospital Lauren was fine and she was perfectly content that Barry and Lara would return to The Breezes and would come back to visit the next day. Michelle, however, still refused to be parted from Lauren for the night even though she was told that it was impossible. Lauren then proved that nothing was impossible and that it was in fact quite simple. She summoned the nice nurse with the bedside buzzer, as she’d been shown, and explained what she wanted. Minutes later a porter brought in a fold-up bed, and placed it against the wall opposite Lauren. Sorted. AFTER they’d eaten dinner in the town Barry and Lara decided to share a bottle of wine in the bar at The Breezes. Jack was in charge. Lara was surprised that young Mary hadn’t put in an appearance recently – she must be enjoying herself too much at Uni she thought, but resolved to call her soon. It was a good time, Barry thought, to start to make some plans. The summer was upon them; Lara was consumed by her new passion whilst trying to devote time to her husband and children; Barry was living the easy life, enjoying his running but otherwise doing little or nothing; the redundancy settlement was still intact but they would soon be eating into it; above all the children needed to be taken into account. Barry was a man and therefore generally slow in picking up mood variations, body language and meaningful silences. Even he, however, had begun to realise that his wife was in love with Cornwall and St Ives in particular. She came alive down here and conversely her shoulders drooped when she returned to Surrey. He decided, pouring them both an>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

160

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 161

other glass, to come out with it directly. ‘Lara, you’d like to stay in St Ives permanently wouldn’t you? If it were possible?’ She looked at him in surprise. She didn’t think it had been that obvious. ‘Well, yes, I would. Very much so. But only with you and the children. But you wouldn’t want to leave Wellhead, would you?’ ‘I’d never thought about it. Until now. I just thought it was where I belong, we belong. But when you get time you think, what is there to keep us? Neither of us have jobs there for a start.’ ‘We’ve got a house with a mortgage,’ pointed out Lara. ‘There are houses in St Ives,’ replied Barry. ‘But the children, they’re settled at school!’ ‘There are schools in St Ives, aren’t there? The kids aren’t at a vital stage in their education just yet.’ They were silent for a while, lost in their separate thoughts. Just by applying simple logic, what had seemed impossible before had suddenly become possible. Young Lauren could have worked that out for them in a heartbeat. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

161

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 162

THE train dropped Jimmy into Bristol Temple Meads shortly before midday. He reckoned that Steve would stand him a taxi, so he jumped into one on the station rank and was soon at the ground, home of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club. There was no match taking place today by the looks of the quiet streets surrounding the ground. He walked in through the main entrance and, to his amusement, straight through an open door and onto the ground itself. At Edgbaston, match on or not, there would have been some jobsworth around delighted to be able to ask gruff questions and to assert their authority. Here, today, there wasn’t a soul to be seen, apart from a single member of groundstaff out on the square, seemingly repairing footmarks. Jimmy himself was becoming something of an expert in repairing bowlers’ footmarks, those formed by a bowler as they ran in to bowl, landing their feet in the same place each time. The last three or four steps, as the bowler adjusted his body to deliver the ball, often created significant holes in the ground, especially if it was wet or damp. Even more troublesome were the marks left on the pitch after the ball had been delivered and the bowler decelerated to a halt. These marks needed to be fully dealt with before that area of the square could be played on again. Groundsmen such as Steve could identify virtually every bowler on the county circuit from his distinctive foot patterns. And there were a few who, with the damage they wrought, were the bane of a groundsman’s life and they would groan when the team containing the offending player came to town. Jimmy walked across the ground to the square. The footmark repairer, an oldish chap, confirmed that Kenny, the head groundsman, was around somewhere, most likely over at the sheds where the equipment was kept. 162

TWENTY-SEVEN

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 163

Jimmy strolled over and found Kenny reading a paper and drinking the tea that seemed to be as indispensible as petrol, diesel and lubricants in groundsmen’s huts around the country. Jimmy introduced himself and was poured a mug by way of welcome. Yes, Kenny had prepared the package for Steve and he fetched it out from behind a mower. It would be easy enough to carry under his arm, thought Jimmy. But first he had to listen to a long monologue on the subject of grass types, soil variations, nutrients, sunlight and lack of it and rain and lack of it, all delivered in a slow and pleasant West Country drawl. At length Jimmy was able to make his excuses and take his leave. Walking back over the ground and out into the suburban streets of Bristol Jimmy ruefully considered the package tucked under his arm. This type of courier job took him back in time, though not so far. The goods he carried today were far different from the goods that he had delivered from address to shady address back in Ireland. .He shivered, despite the warm temperature, as he recalled where this had led. As a young lad, not long out of school and unable to find steady work, he had run an errand for a man in a pub. Several more deliveries followed and the man in the pub had paid him a sum in cash that seemed to Jimmy more than generous for what was really a simple task. He suspected from the outset that the packets he delivered would have been of interest to the authorities. However, he needed the money and the work was easy. After a time, when he had become trusted, he, Jimmy, had become the ‘man in the pub’, seeking out new couriers. And so he had been drawn in to the drugs trade with its high risks and high rewards. He was bright and the faceless barons saw that his remuneration increased in accordance with his increased responsibilities until he was unwilling and probably unable by this time to step off the treadmill. But he had not risen high enough in the organisation to distance himself from the coal face, and look where it had all ended for him. In a cold-blooded killing in a bar in Dun Laoghaire. How different things seemed now, he thought, making his way through the sunny Bristol streets towards Temple Meads. He had a normal life once again, working and playing within the laws of the

163

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 164

land. Never again would he be tempted to compromise his lawful life for money. He arrived back at the station and checked the timetable. Annoyingly, he had just missed a train to Birmingham, the next one not being for a couple of hours. No matter, he was peckish anyway. He turned and left the station in search of sustenance. There was a pizza parlour around the corner and he pushed open the door and stepped inside. It was lunchtime and therefore quite crowded. However, a busy girl told him that they could accommodate him if he didn’t mind sharing a table. He didn’t mind at all, especially as he was placed opposite a pleasant young lady who was already digging into her pizza. ‘Hi, sorry to disturb your meal. It’s busy here,’ he said. ‘Hello, no problem. Make yourself at home. What’s under your arm?’ ‘Ssshhhh, heroin. Don’t tell anyone though!’ he replied, conspiratorially. The girl giggled and sliced into her pizza. He ordered a pizza and a Coke from a harassed waitress. ‘You a student?’ he enquired, a reasonable guess due to the girl’s casual clothing and canvas bag full of books and files. ‘Yes, over at the Uni. Needed to do a bit of shopping in town today, though. I can probably sell that lot for you over the weekend!’ She smiled and nodded at Jimmy’s package. ‘Well, if you sell it as heroin you’ll be in trouble when your mates find out it’s grass seed!’ he laughed, ‘Actually I’m a groundsman, my name’s Jimmy,’ he explained. ‘Hello Jimmy, I’m Mary. You in town for long?’ ‘Nope, back off up to Brum on the train in a bit.’ ‘Pity, you could have come back to halls and shown me your wares!’ She stopped and blushed. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean that, Jimmy. Sorry.’ ‘Hey, it’s OK. Didn’t take it seriously. We all say daft things sometimes.’ They fell silent again, but there had been a little spark there somewhere. Mary instinctively liked this man’s soft Irish accent and mis-

164

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 165

It transpired that there was no lecture for Mary that afternoon, and no 14.30 train for Jimmy. Instead, they walked and talked. They wandered the docks, parks, museums and galleries but saw little beyond each other. By the late afternoon they were holding hands, sitting on a park bench, exploratory kissing, oblivious to passersby. Once again she considered inviting Jimmy back to her room, she ached for him. But she wanted it to be different with this bloke, not just another shag. She wanted very much to see Jimmy again and perhaps try building a proper, lasting relationship. That could only happen if the feeling was mutual. She decided that the only way to test that was by the age-old method of giving a guy your number and hoping he’d call. ‘Jimmy, I’ve got to go. But look, I’ve had a brilliant afternoon with you. Thank you. Here’s my mobile number. Call me if you like.’ ‘Yeah, I’d best head off, too. You’re a sweetheart Mary and I’ll call you for sure. Take care.’ With parting glances they went their separate ways. As she headed back to her halls Mary reckoned that some guy was going to get very, very lucky tonight. ‘IRELAND’S a very different place, Sean. It’s lovely, the people are lovely, it’s just... different.’ >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

chievous sense of humour. And Jimmy always admired a pretty face but in addition he sensed both an intelligence and strange vulnerability in Mary that attracted him. They had by now finished their lunches and they settled their bills at the cash desk and stepped outside. Mary was reluctant to walk away from this nice guy. However, she told herself sternly that this had to stop, she couldn’t continue flirting with everything in trousers. ‘Well, I’m going this way... ’bye Jimmy.’ She started off in the direction of her college but was then delighted to hear: ‘I’ll keep you company for a minute, if you like. Train doesn’t go for a bit.’

165

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 166

Sean and Rose were sitting in Jordan’s Bar on the quays in Waterford City. Sean had decided that they would escape the family for their last day in Ireland and would spend the night at a hotel in Waterford before flying back to England in the morning. Sean replied: ‘I’d agree with you, Rose. But I’m interested in what you, as a first-time visitor, make of Ireland. Your first impressions.’ Rose considered. ‘Friendly, welcoming. People seem to be genuinely interested in each other, in me as a stranger, in the wider community. In Surrey you could be dead a month before anyone realised. But there’s something else I can’t put my finger on.’ Sean nodded. ‘Yes, I know what you mean. Remember as well that you’re in rural Ireland – never mind that Waterford calls itself a city, it’s not really. Dublin you’d find altogether different. You’d struggle to find an Irish native in O’Connell Street these days – O’Connell Street where the Irish Republic was born. But the rural Irish retain many of their old ways.’ ‘Ways, such as...?’ ‘You’ve got to know how the Irish country people have lived down the years. It was never easy, never a country idyll. Many lived off the land and they barely scraped an existence, what with their large families as well. That bred meanness and backbiting. The Famine in the 1840s devastated the country. The Church held the peasantry in subservience. English rule, often brutal, has meant a legacy of suspicion, as has the division between Catholic and Protestant.’ He stopped to draw breath. ‘So I think that, underneath the surface, there’s an undercurrent. Dig deeper and you’ll find an unattractive aspect to the Emerald Isle. But I’m sure that that will change within a generation or two. The new, educated and European young people will form a new type of population. Not the one of a Hundred Thousand Welcomes that the Tourist Board would like, but without that mean backdrop, just like the English with a bit of an accent.’ He smiled. ‘Gosh, Sean, you’re quite the social commentator. Now, let me buy us a drink. Oh, here’s your friends!’ In the side door walked James and Sheila Grant and they greeted

166

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 167

Sean before James hurried Rose back to her seat while he got the round in. They all settled down around a table. ‘We thought you’d gone back to England, you two. Decided to stay?’ James enquired. ‘No, just decided to have a quiet night away from the Tramore crowd. We fly home in the morning.’ ‘Ah good, good. Nice to see you anyway, we don’t know anybody in this bar. We normally stick to Alfie’s up on the Green. Porter’s more expensive here, probably paying for the river view!’ James laughed. They drank and joked companionably for a while, Rose enjoying herself immensely, finding herself completely at home and relaxed. The bar staff and any customers she came into contact with throughout the evening had a smile and a kind word for her, and she found it easy to respond. In such a setting it was difficult to imagine a darker side to Irish life. At length Sean brought up the subject of James’ and Sheila’s son, Jimmy Grant. Their voices lowered automatically. Sheila, who had enjoyed the company but who had said little, grew visibly upset. ‘No, not heard from him in maybe 12 months. Maybe it’s for the best. What we don’t know we can’t tell,’ James said. ‘I’d say he’s no longer in Ireland. More sense than my eejit of a son, anyway!’ ‘Hush, Sean, he’s at peace now. Don’t speak ill of him.’ ‘I disown him, if he’s guilty of what’s being said!’ Sean was also getting upset now. Then Sheila spoke through her tears: ‘My Jimmy’s in England. He’s happy now but he’ll die violently. Happy and singing he’ll be when his time comes and I’ll not see him before he dies.’ She broke down and sobbed loudly. And so the evening finished on a low note. Sean and Rose headed silently for the Granville Hotel while James comforted his wife as they walked slowly up Patrick Street to Ballybricken Green. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

167

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 168

THE weekend passed quickly. Barry and Lara drove the short distance to Penzance twice on both Saturday and Sunday. Lauren was in high spirits and she and Michelle were having a fine old time, making the most of the facilities in Lauren’s room and ordering the nurses about. Michelle was only dragged away for the day on the promise that she could return in the evening. Lauren would have her ankle checked on Monday and, all being well, she would be fitted with a cast. Once she could get about on crutches she would be released. After the incident on the cliffs Lara didn’t want to let Michelle out of her sight. She forgot about her painting for a few days and the three of them spent the weekend together. There was suddenly a difference, though. They were no longer just holidaymakers. They began to look upon the area with new eyes, and beyond the obvious attractions. They understood well enough that a visit to an attractive destination was one thing; living there the year round was another. There were cases aplenty where a couple had retired to their dream house by the sea only to return within a short space of time to the area they knew best to be near their family and friends. It wasn’t a straightforward decision. They discussed the matter on and off over the weekend, observing this and pointing out that. Michelle’s ears pricked up but she was too young to understand what her parents were going on about. They talked about the downsides of leaving Wellhead and found that they were surprisingly few. As to family there was really only Lara’s mother and she was, indeed, a consideration. Lara was close to her and she had acted as an uncomplaining child-minding resource ever since the girls had come along. Though Lara reckoned that Rose had other things foremost in her mind these days! And Lara hoped that she would find genuine happiness in a new relationship – she deserved to, if anyone did. 168

TWENTY-SEVEN

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 169

As to friends, well they had a few. But really neither could visualise that they would be distraught to leave them behind, or vice versa. Indeed, Lara now thought that she had made more real friends in St Ives in a few weeks than she had in many years living in Wellhead. In the early evening of Sunday they drove back to Penzance to spend a little time with Lauren. She was excited, as was Michelle, at the prospect of getting her cast and crutches! She couldn’t wait to present herself at school with all the attention that she would get. And each girl would have their separate and different version of the cliff accident to regale their classmates with. Barry and Lara returned to St Ives with provisional plans to leave for Surrey on Tuesday, if everything went to plan. LATER that evening, as they shared a bottle of wine at the bar of The Breezes, they took Jack into their confidence. It was a quiet evening and they sat on stools at the bar while Jack sat on the other side, dispensing drinks to the few guests. Barry summed up where they were in their thought processes as regards moving to Cornwall. ‘So Jack, that’s where we’re at. We could sell our house – there’s a fair bit of equity in it now. Property down this way seems to be much the same price, if you’re not too fussy, that is. The kids could go to school here.’ ‘OK, that’s the easy bit, Barry. I presume you haven’t got savings to enable you to retire. What will you both do?’ ‘Well, we’ve got a bit of time, a bit of money in the bank. I can either look for unskilled work, or sign on in the autumn for some sort of vocational training. Not really considered what I’d be most suited for, really. But I need to decide soon.’ ‘And Lara, what are your plans?’ ‘Well, I’d hope to get something part-time again. I guess that wouldn’t be too difficult, would it, especially in the summer season?’ Barry took another sip of his wine. ‘A hotel management course might come in useful in St Ives, mightn’t it Jack? Is that a line >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

169

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 170

worth pursuing?’ ‘Hmm, hotel management. Long hours, rewards not fantastic. We’re thinking about maybe selling up ourselves, maybe this place would be more suited to a younger couple. Develop the restaurant side of things and aim for off-season niche markets, things like that. We’re thinking of moving abroad, maybe.’ Jack was now lost in his own dreams and silence reigned for a while. Barry and Lara glanced at one another. Well, it was worth popping the question wasn’t it? It was Lara who spoke: ‘Jack, you say that you’re thinking of selling the hotel?’ Jack looked at her, brought back down to earth. ‘Well, yes, we’ve discussed it. Maybe when we close in October. Give the new people a chance to have a clear run at next year.’ ‘Have you got buyers lined up?’ ‘One or two possibles, but we haven’t put it on the market yet.’ He looked sharply at Lara, the penny dropping. ‘Why, would you be interested?’ Both Lara and Barry laughed. ‘We don’t know, we’ve only had ten seconds to think about it!’ exclaimed Lara. ‘All I know is that I feel so happy and energised in this hotel, in this town. I’ve no idea what my husband thinks!’ Jack took another bottle of wine from the fridge and said ‘Come on, sit down at this table over here.’ THEY drove back to Surrey the following Tuesday, tired but excited. Lauren was stretched across the back seat resting her injured ankle but she was otherwise in good heart. Michelle was rather squashed in a corner but she didn’t complain. Both were all ears as their parents chattered away, throwing ideas around. They had told the children that they might (with the emphasis on ‘might’) be moving to Cornwall later in the year. It was all quite surreal as, for the moment, they headed back home to Surrey. They had sat up late in the hotel with Jack. Later his wife, Mary, had joined them, wondering why Jack was so late coming to bed. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

170

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 171

She had found them deep in conversation surrounded by figures and plans and had joined in the discussions. Jack had been up front and had named a price which would include the freehold of The Breezes and the business itself. This price was well in excess of the funds available to Barry and Lara, even allowing for the sale of their house in Wellhead at the present market price. It would be a question of borrowing the balance of the purchase price, if they could. Jack and Mary had shown them trading figures which showed a small profit while also giving the family a reasonable living, though without leaving them much for luxuries. They, Jack and Mary, had discussed various projects for expanding and improving the business but they felt that they no longer had the drive or incentive to throw themselves into these projects. However, if younger and more driven owners wished, there were a number of areas which might be developed to grow profits and the value of the business. They could make a go of it, they were sure. All the way back to Surrey they discussed it until the children zoned out and started chatting between themselves. Between them, surely they could run a hotel, couldn’t they? It might be a bit scary at first but they should be able to manage. It would be a lot of hard work, with early mornings and late evenings and they would make mistakes but they would learn from them. And, living in would avoid the extra headache of buying a property. Later on they would consider improvements to the business, once they had it under control. But could they afford it? Would the bank lend to them? That would be the next step and they would make an appointment with an accountant as soon as possible. He would crunch the figures and put a business plan to the bank for their consideration. If the bank gave the green light then they would be in a position to make an offer to the Turners. In the meantime they would put their house on the market (without obliging them to complete) so that there would be no delay on that side of things. It promised to be a hectic few months.

171

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 172

MEANWHILE the summer term at Wellhead Primary rolled on and the summer holidays approached. Lauren’s ankle mended and the accident didn’t appear to have affected her brains. Her marks in virtually every subject were excellent. As always, some of the children resented her superiority somewhat, the boys in particular thinking her a snooty cow. But she retained her group of good friends and always tried to be pleasant. She was sad at the thought that she might be leaving the school shortly. The thought cast a cloud over the last weeks of the term for her. She made sure that she collected her friends’ mobile phone numbers and email addresses, vowing to stay in touch with everybody. Michelle battled on with her work, doing her best, taking a renewed interest in Art following her trip to St Ives and Lara’s workshop. Her teacher was impressed with her work in this area, just as she was unimpressed with her efforts in more mainline subjects. However, Michelle’s head was often elsewhere and, with Sports Day approaching, it was most definitely not on sums and writing. It was to be Michelle’s first Sports Day and she just couldn’t wait. She realised that she often struggled in the classroom and she was used to getting low marks. Put her in any sport or game, though, and she was in her element. Parents were invited to Sports Day and Michelle was desperate that her Mummy and Daddy be there to watch her perform. Lara made sure that the date was in her diary and she and Barry walked down to the school in good time for the first event, after lunch. The whole school was to take part in the big field at the back of the school building. Dressed in their PE kit each class in turn was led out onto the grass to ripples of applause from the parents. Michelle spotted Barry and Lara and waved happily. Soon she’d be speeding along the track to a gold medal! She found a space and warmed up, as she’d been shown, as best she could among all the children. Lauren was somewhere on the field as well, with her own age group. She would not join in, however – her ankle had mended well but it had been thought as well not to risk matters. She’d happily cheer her team on but wasn’t at all both-

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

172

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 173

ered about not participating. Presently the first event was announced for Michelle’s year, the Water Carry. The children were lined up in teams. In turn they had to fill a plastic bucket with water from a big barrel. Then they ran in and out of obstacles and over a vaulting horse, spilling as little water as possible, pouring what they had left in another barrel. Whichever team had the most water at the end were the winners. The parents clapped politely. Michelle did her bit but didn’t care much when her team lost. She was waiting for the running. Then the teams had to throw coloured ping pong balls into buckets. It counted for a point if it didn’t bounce out. This time Michelle’s team won and the parents clapped again. Michelle was getting fed up. ‘Excuse me Miss, when do the running races start?’ she asked her teacher. Miss Jones replied: ‘I don’t think there are running races, dear, just games.’ Michelle was distraught. Just games? She didn’t want to play games! The next one involved each team standing in a line and passing a football over heads and through legs to see who finished first. The ball came to Michelle and, in a temper, she kicked it far down the field. Michelle got a telling off and her team were disqualified. In the next event you had two mats and you had to get the mats and all your team to the winning line without standing on the grass. Seeing her team was losing Michelle marched over and pushed one of the leading team’s girls off her mat. This time Michelle was sent off the ground and she was warned that the Head Teacher would be wanting to see her. Barry comforted his mortified and weeping daughter as they made their way home, leaving Lara to wait for Lauren. Barry understood exactly. Michelle had a fierce competitive streak and she had been denied a chance to show it. It was the school’s prerogative to hold a non-competitive Sports Day but the least they might have done was to let everyone know beforehand. Fortunately it was the Wellhead Harriers Club Championships shortly and Michelle would get all the competition she wanted.

173

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:26

Page 174

THE Boss was sitting in front of the big screen in his luxury apartment in Clontarf in the north Dublin suburbs. For want of anything else much to do this Thursday afternoon he was idly watching Sky and the Test Match. The umbrellas went up again at the cricket ground and the batsmen of England, the fielders of New Zealand and finally the umpires left the field. The cameras panned to the groundstaff as they dragged the covers onto the playing area in double quick time, then a close-up of one of them, laughing with his colleagues as he worked. The Boss stiffened, then, reaching for the remote he rewound and replayed the last few seconds. After several replays he called out: ‘Declan, in here a second.’ When Declan appeared The Boss pointed to the screen. ‘Who does that remind you of?’ He rewound, replayed and stilled the picture twice more. With Declan still scratching his head, The Boss walked to the screen and, with two fingers, covered over the bleached hair on the groundsman. Declan’s face brightened. ‘Well, well; Jimmy Grant!’ ‘Where’s this cricket match?’ asked The Boss. ‘Edgbaston, Boss.’ ‘Which is where?’ ‘Birmingham, Boss, that’s in England, like.’ ‘Thank you Declan, don’t push your luck. Get onto our man in Birmingham, check it out, let me know.’ >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

174

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 175

BARRY had let his running slip, he had to admit. After his dedicated training in the first part of the year and the Wellhead 10k just after Easter, the intensity had worn off. He had no immediate running target or goal in sight. For the present he no longer had a reason to get up early in the mornings. He had fallen out of the routine of setting the alarm early and lacing up his running shoes to get a few miles in before work. True, he would often switch off daytime TV and force himself out of the door, but it was becoming an effort. When Lara was away in Cornwall his good eating habits lapsed. He had started treating himself to a few pints on a Saturday night again, around at the Station, where his old colleagues were pleased to welcome him back. He rummaged in the drawer and found his old set of tungsten darts. And then he started to fancy a game on a Friday night as well as Saturday. Then, one Sunday morning he stepped on the bathroom scales and he was horrified when the needle shot way past the point where he had last seen it. Stepping off he turned sideways and looked at himself in the mirror. What he saw did not please him. His tummy was reappearing slowly but surely and, though he had not regressed to where he had been the previous December, he was annoyed that a lot of his good work was being undone through pure idleness and lack of discipline. He dressed and went downstairs. Lara was busy in the kitchen. The girls were clowning around in the lounge, the TV playing to no-one in particular. ‘Why didn’t you tell me I was turning into a fat pig?’ asked Barry, mildly. ‘Well, I’d noticed that you were running less but I didn’t like to say anything.’ ‘I’ve put on over a stone since Easter, that’s disgraceful. I need to do something about it. But I’ve got out of the habit of running. 175

TWENTY-NINE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 176

I need to spark that into life again, somehow.’ ‘Stop going to the pub. Train for another race.’ It wasn’t Lara who spoke but Lauren who had overheard the exchange between Mum and Dad and who had given her unsolicited advice before disappearing into the lounge again. Barry sat down and Lara put a coffee in front of him. ‘Lauren’s right again, as usual,’ he observed. ‘I need some sort of a target, a goal. I haven’t got the willpower to keep running around like a fool without something to aim for.’ ‘So, look for a race,’ Lara said, reasonably. ‘We’ll be in Cornwall for the summer holidays so why not look for a race down that way in, say, September? Oh, don’t forget we’ve got to see the bank manager tomorrow with the accountant.’ He hadn’t forgotten. They’d had two meetings with the accountant and one with their lawyer. They had discussed their possible purchase of The Breezes and had shown the professionals the figures given to them by the Turners. They had also talked about possible future plans. The accountant had gone away and had drawn up profit projections and cash flow forecasts and had built them into a business plan ready to show the bank. If the bank indicated that they would be willing to lend then the accountant and lawyer together would do the due diligence to ensure that no matters were overlooked. Only then would the contract of sale and purchase be ready to sign. The Lanes understood that the formalities had to be properly followed but that did not stop them talking endlessly about their future in St Ives. Lara, in particular, prayed fervently that everything would go through and that their dreams would not be dashed. Meanwhile, Barry had a race to find. There was probably not much point in targeting another 10k just yet, though he was still determined to run faster than he’d managed in the Wellhead race. A half-marathon might be an idea, he thought. That distance was always popular with runners. Being 13.1 miles it was a significant challenge, yet it didn’t require the massive dedication and training effort that a full marathon entailed. He found the Runner’s World website and went to the Events page. Searching on ‘Cornwall’, ‘September’ and ‘Half Marathon’ he

176

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 177

came up with the Plymouth Half Marathon in mid-September. Ten minutes later he’d entered and had 12 weeks or so to prepare. ‘That’s done, then, the Plymouth Half in September. I’ll be 40 by then. If the worst comes to the worst and we’re still living here I’ll go and run it anyway,’ Barry told Lara. ‘Now I’d better start training.’ He got changed and went out for a 40 minute run, using his digital watch. Tomorrow, he promised himself, he would treat himself to one of those Garmin GPS thingies. A lot of the runners had them these days, he noticed. You switched them on and, like a car GPS, they locked onto satellite signals. They measured how far you ran and how fast, they calculated your split times, they could track your heart rate. When you got home you could upload the results onto your PC and it would even give you a map showing where you’d been, plus a lot of other stuff. Trouble was, Barry mused, plenty of runners assumed that these gadgets automatically made you a better runner or that more expensive running shoes, technical T-shirts, waterproof jackets and the rest actually improved your performance. There was no easy or shop-bought way to becoming a better runner. You simply had to train harder and smarter than the next man. That was all there was to it. He got back home, showered and noted the time and approximate distance of the run in his diary. Then he logged back onto Runner’s World. By going through the Training section he found a half marathon training programme and copied it into his diary. His first impulse was to just ignore these generic programmes and to follow his own training instincts, but he reckoned that, without his old training group, he needed some accepted framework. By this time he was already enthused again, ready to adjust his diet once more and to ignore the siren calls of the Station. YOUNG Mary Turner was delighted when Jimmy Doyle, the Irishman who she’d met in town earlier, texted her that very same >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

177

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 178

evening. It read: ‘Hi mary gr8 2 meet u will call soon jimmy x’. She’d only had the opportunity to open the message much later after she had got rid of Danny, a second year history student. The sex had been good and satisfying but throughout the action Mary had found her thoughts drifting back to Jimmy, his kind eyes, bleached hair and mischievous good humour. She had gently but firmly shown a reluctant Danny the door. Now that she’d had her wicked way she had no intention of sharing her night’s sleep with anyone. She hadn’t yet and didn’t mean to start now. It might be different with Jimmy, though, she smiled. Jimmy was as good as his texted word and called the following evening as Mary read some course notes in her room. To her amazement, what had appeared to her to be a ten-minute call showed on the phone log as being over an hour long. They had spoken freely and cheerfully and she had learnt a lot about him. He was living in Birmingham and working at the county cricket ground. He had no nailed-on girlfriend at present. He came from Waterford where his parents still lived. He was 31, rather old for her, she supposed, but maybe she was getting fed up of boys her own age anyway. He was vague about his life in Ireland and why he had arrived in England a few months ago. She asked him straight out if he was escaping a failed relationship there but he told her firmly that that wasn’t the case. He spun a line about emigration being hard-wired into Irishmen, and for now that was all that she was going to learn on that subject. And yes, they had agreed to meet up again! The summer term finished shortly and Jimmy would check the fixture list and his work schedule and she would go up to spend a day in Birmingham with him. She could hardly wait. LARA was, unusually, in a mild panic. Her mother was coming to dinner, which usually made her nervous enough. But this time she was bringing a new man! To the best of her knowledge it was the >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

178

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 179

first time since her father’s death that Mum had taken up with someone else. Lara had asked if this new man, Sean, had any food preferences or hates. Mum didn’t know so Lara was flying blind in that regard and hoped that what she was preparing would meet with approval. As she flitted around the kitchen preparing, checking, mixing, testing, she was pleased that she had sent Barry and the girls out from under her feet. She’d suggested he go for a pint at the Hen & Chickens and treat the girls to a Coke and crisps in the lounge bar at the same time. Not surprisingly, all three had jumped at the idea and had last been seen marching up the road hand in hand. The table had been extended, a tablecloth found and the places laid for six. So far so good. Now she placed the starters at each place so at least that would be something done. A strong liver paté for the grown-ups with a blackcurrant sauce for sweetness and plenty of French bread to spread it on. For the girls, she prepared a simple prawn cocktail with Marie Rose sauce, keeping some prawns over in case Sean turned his nose up at the paté. Then she opened the red wine to let it breathe. Satisfied that the main course and accompaniments were cooking nicely she adjusted the cooking temperatures downwards to avoid overcooking. She momentarily relaxed and treated herself to a gulp of cheap cooking wine, then leapt as the doorbell sounded. She ran to open it. There was Mum and just behind her a tall, good-looking, middle-aged man. Hot on their heels, running up the road, were Barry and the girls hotfoot from the pub. Coats were taken and introductions made. Barry poured everybody a glass of sparkling wine with even the girls being allowed a small amount. At length Lara judged the time right for everybody to sit down. The men sat at the head of the table with Rose and Lauren on one side and Lara and Michelle on the other. Barry poured a glass of red wine for everyone, though the children now reverted to soft drinks. Sean said that, as he was driving, he would stick to water thereafter. Fortunately he approved of the paté! Lara was intrigued as to this man to whom her mother had been attracted to after more than three years of widowhood. ‘We’re all so sorry about your son, Sean. It must be hard to lose

179

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 180

a child.’ It was Lara who spoke. ‘Thank you. It’s been a difficult time but it’s over now.’ ‘So, what brought you to England, Sean?’ Barry asked. ‘Do you know, I haven’t got a straight answer for that, Barry. One day I just woke up, decided to sell the business and move to London.’ ‘Did you know anyone over here, before you came?’ Lara interjected. ‘Yes, a few people. It was really through them that I started my new business. ‘ ‘How did you find Ireland, Rose?’ asked Barry. ‘I had the nicest time, Barry, even considering it was all for a funeral. I’ve never come across such a friendlier people. And the country itself intrigues me.’ ‘Oh, intrigues you; how?’ Rose glanced at Sean. ‘Well, it’s such a mixture of ancient and modern, somehow. In many ways the country is so advanced, more so than the UK I’d say. But it’s like it can’t free itself from its own history, ancient and not so ancient. It all makes for a unique place. I’d love to go back.’ ‘Well, maybe we’ll think about it, eh?’ It was Sean and he looked at Rose, who blushed. This did not go unnoticed by an amused Lara. THE remains of the starters were cleared away and Lara served the main. Pork fillets in a mustard sauce served with Jersey Royals, broccoli, carrots and cauliflower. There was approval all round. Conversation turned to Cornwall and the Lanes had news on that front. Lara told them. ‘We heard today that the bank have approved our financing. So now it’s over to the lawyers.’ ‘What’s the timescale?’ asked Sean. ‘Six or seven weeks, maybe, you know what lawyers are like. The longer they work on stuff the more they get paid! But the plan is that we’d take ownership at the end of the summer, maybe Oc>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

180

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 181

tober, and open for business next Easter!’ ‘So, when would you leave Wellhead?’ ‘We’ll go down as soon as the children break up, in two weeks’ time. Jack and Mary have kept our rooms for us for the summer. So we’ll try and learn all we can. In the meantime we hope that the sale of this house goes through quickly.’ The evening thus finished on a high note. Sean had been a pleasant visitor and Lara was pleased for her mother. He was going to drop Rose home before driving home to Guildford. ‘The dishes can wait,’ said Lara and she and Barry held hands as they followed the children upstairs. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

181

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 182

BARRY marked his page of ‘Bar Management – An Introduction’ and threw it onto the table. He had time on his hands and he was beginning to panic slightly in anticipation of what he and Lara may be taking on but he reckoned that whatever knowledge he could glean in advance could only be a good thing. He had therefore started reading books and magazine articles dealing with small business management in general and hotel management in particular. Whatever he read though was leaving him more worried than previously! Tax, accounts, health and safety, food hygiene, insurance, licensing laws, employment laws. How were they going to cope with all this, and more, without paying accountants and lawyers all their profits? Originally he’d had dreamy thoughts of just sitting behind the Breezes bar like Jack, shooting the breeze with the guests and raking in their money. He was beginning to suspect there may be more to running a hotel. Whatever, it was time for him to run. There were still 11 weeks to go until the Plymouth Half Marathon but he’d started to knuckle down again. He was following the programme that he’d copied into his diary and he had started to watch his food and drink intake again. Today, Thursday, his diary instructed him to run five miles. This was where Barry reckoned he could put his experience to work and improve on those simple instructions. There were many ways of running five miles. At the beginner level it might entail a runner plodding very slowly for over an hour, maybe taking walk breaks in the process. However, for someone with pretensions to being a serious athlete, this wouldn’t really bring much benefit. So, once a week on Thursdays, Barry headed for the track for a session. He went upstairs and got ready. T-shirt, shorts, socks, running shoes. From the fridge he took a bottle of water. That was all he needed; ‘What a simple sport,’ he thought. ‘Anyone could do it.’ The only other thing he needed today was his digital watch which 182

THIRTY

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 183

he could switch to stopwatch mode. He had purchased a Garmin GPS and was getting used to it but for a track session it was unnecessary. He tucked his house key into his shorts pocket, closed the door behind him and trotted slowly up the road towards the Harriers’ track. It was overcast today, perfect for running. Not that runners generally allowed the weather to influence their sport. If it was time to run you ran – simple as that. Maybe a rain jacket at times. In the winter a woolly hat, gloves and even tights became advisable. But in Surrey, anyway, it was rarely, if ever, that the weather was extreme enough to deter a runner. He turned into the Harriers’ track. It was lunchtime and there were a few other people about, maybe squeezing in a few laps before heading back to the office. As Barry put his water bottle down beside the track the club captain, John Carson, finished a lap, breathing heavily. ‘Hi Barry, come to do a bit?’ ‘Hi John. Yes, I’m just starting a half marathon programme. How’s the club doing this season?’ ‘Doing well, really, we’ve got some good lads right now. I reckon we’ve got a sniff of a medal at the Southerns next month.’ ‘That’s the road relay championships you mean? I ran in those a few times back in the day. We won it a couple of times as well!’ ‘Yes, the glory days. Well, we might be back there soon. There’s the Nationals at Sutton Park in October then. Top ten there, perhaps. Have you thought about turning out again, Barry?’ ‘Not really, John, I’m not sure I’d enjoy seeing all the young whippets streaming off ahead into the distance. I’ve had my day as a competitive runner.’ ‘Well, you’d be welcome any time, Barry. There’s a lot someone like you could teach the younger ones. Bye for now.’ John set off on another lap and Barry prepared for his session. He’d decided on 5 x 1600m @ 6.00 off two minutes. That is, running 1600 metres (four laps of the track) in a time of six minutes, resting for two minutes and repeating another four times. The idea was to build endurance and stressing the body by running at faster than race pace.

183

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 184

He stepped into Lane 2, mindful of the convention of keeping Lane 1 free for racing and time trials. Setting his watch to stopwatch mode he pressed the Start button and set off. It took him a lap or two to find his rhythm but he then settled into his running, enjoying feeling the breeze in his face on the back straight. He checked his watch at 400m, a little too fast at 87sec, and he eased off slightly. Checking and adjusting at the end of each lap he finished his first repetition exactly in his target time of 6min. He re-set his watch to time the 2min recovery, or interval, and took a swig of water. When the two minutes were up he set off again. The second repetition was slightly harder work but, again, he finished it well. The third was harder still and he was gasping, hands on knees, as he crossed the line but he’d stuck to his 6min target. He doubted if he could manage the fourth repetition but set off to attempt it anyway. However, by now thoroughly warmed up Barry hit his stride, got his second breath and started to enjoy the battle, finishing well inside the target time. Breathing hard he nevertheless set off on the final repetition with a will to see how fast he could run it knowing that he had then finished for the day. He increased his stride rate and tried to hold it steady, then on the final lap he ran hard all the way, fighting the lactic acid in his legs and struggling to get air into his lungs. He drove for the line and stopped his watch at 5min 32sec. John was watching and clapped him on the back. ‘If I were your coach I’d stand you up now and make you do another rep!’ Barry grinned. That was a rotten trick he’d known coaches pull in the past. Tell your athlete that it was the last repetition and then after they’d run their eyeballs out and as they gasped their terminal breath afterwards, make them do another one! He gave John a wave, picked up his water bottle and jogged slowly homewards. MICHELLE had recovered from the trauma of the Sports Day. She had been marched to see the Head Teacher the next day when she’d >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

184

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 185

found it hard to explain her behaviour when asked, but Mr Smith seemed to understand. Michelle Lane was not the cleverest child but neither was she a troublemaker. Mr Smith knew of her sporting abilities and concluded that it was simple frustration on Michelle’s part. He was sorry to be losing Michelle and her more intellectually gifted sister at the end of term. Warning her that he expected a sportswoman to behave rather more graciously in future, he sent her on her way. He also made a mental note to review the arrangements for next year’s Sports Day. However, today was the Club Championships at Wellhead and Michelle was sick with nerves. She would be one of the youngest children there and she really had no idea what to expect. She was awake early, pestering Lauren for advice. Lauren was cross and trying to get back to sleep, so Michelle padded downstairs where, to her surprise, she found Barry. ‘Hi champ!’ he greeted her. Michelle gave him a silent hug and went to pour herself a glass of squash. ‘So, are you looking forward to living in St Ives?’ Barry asked. It took Michelle’s thoughts off the championships for a moment. Well, yes, I think so. But I’m not looking forward to leaving all my friends.’ ‘Yes, I know. But you’ll still be able to phone them and email them. And you’ll soon make new friends.’ ‘What if I don’t like the new school and the new children? And is there an athletics club in St Ives?’ ‘Michelle, you’ll soon get used to St Ives. Won’t it be nice living in a hotel by the seaside instead of in boring old Wellhead?’ Michelle was still uncertain, but soon enough thoughts returned to the present. Lara and then Lauren appeared and breakfast got under way. Lara made sure that Michelle had everything she needed in her sports bag and then they all set off for the track. They were in good time for the first event but still there was quite a crowd around when they arrived. Michelle, if it were possible, became even more nervous as she saw the crowds and heard the loudspeaker man making various announcements. Michelle had wanted to enter every event but, being only seven, was only allowed to compete in three. She had chosen the 60metres,

185

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 186

long jump and high jump. She had only done high jump twice but it was fun, jumping over the bar backwards and landing on the mattress on your back! There were two queues for check in and Michelle and Barry joined the girls’ queue. When they reached the desk the lady asked her name, found it on a list and handed Michelle a number and some safety pins. She gave her a programme as well and said to listen to the loudspeaker for her events. With Barry’s help she pinned on her number, which was almost as big as her T-shirt, and they went to find Lara and Lauren. All the sprinting races were to take place first, starting with the youngest. Lauren told Michelle she needed to warm up quickly but a cross lady with a flag wouldn’t let them onto the track. They remembered where Michelle had warmed up for the children’s race some weeks beforehand and in the field they found other athletes doing just that. Lauren didn’t need to consult her notebook as she instructed Michelle in a few drills and warm-up jogs. Then the loudspeaker announced that the athletes for the sprints should go to the start. This time the cross lady waved Michelle in the direction of the start with her flag. Lauren went to join Barry and Lara in the seats. They watched anxiously as Michelle joined the crowd of children on the grass near the start. The youngest group, the Under 9 girls, were to go first and six children walked onto the track and into the lanes. Michelle wasn’t in the first race and they all watched, startled by the loud bang of the starter’s gun. The six girls raced to the end where judges and timekeepers wrote down the results. Then Michelle walked onto the track with the next group; she was in one of the centre lanes. If Michelle was nervous her sister and parents could hardly bear to watch as the gun went. But to their relief and delight Michelle sped down the track, an easy winner. The first two in each heat were to run in the final later on, so Michelle was in the final. The last Under 9 girls’ heat was run and, ominously, a dark-skinned girl shot down the track to win as easily as Michelle had done. She would be hard to beat in the final. Michelle came to sit down with them in the seats, happy enough with her performance. The day was coming to life with more and

186

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 187

more athletes now on the grass infield. There were throwing events going on; Michelle was a good thrower but she’d chosen not to enter the cricket ball throwing event. She noticed for the first time the high jump which was taking place at the far end of the field. There were older athletes taking part and they were jumping, or trying to jump, over a bar that was set startlingly high. Michelle hoped that she wouldn’t be expected to jump that high! At the same time the sprints were continuing and the athletes were getting bigger and older. At last it was the turn of the grown-ups – they were really fast. But there weren’t so many of the older ones and so they only had one race and the first three in each race went to get their medals from a desk. Then the loudspeaker announced the start of the high jump competition for the Under 9 girls and Michelle jumped up. They all made their way out of the seats as Lauren, Barry and Lara wanted to go and stand where they could see the competition. At the trackside the cross lady waved her flag at them to keep on the outside of the track. Michelle arrived at the high jump and the lady in charge took her name. To her relief the bar had been put much lower now. There were only six or seven girls who had turned up to compete, one of them being the dark-skinned girl, Sonia, who had been so fast in the running. They were all allowed a practice jump. Michelle cleared the bar easily but all the others did too. The lady announced the start of the competition and said that the bar was set at 80cm. Michelle and all the other girls jumped the bar, although one girl knocked it off on her first go and was allowed another attempt. You were allowed three attempts in all and you were knocked out if you couldn’t clear the bar after your third go. Then the bar height was increased to 85cm and this time one girl was knocked out – six left now. Again the bar went up, this time to 90cm. It was getting more difficult now and, to her dismay, Michelle knocked the bar off on her first attempt. However, she wasn’t the only one and the officials were kept busy picking up the bar off the bed and putting it back several times. To Michelle’s relief, she jumped the bar on her second go. When the bar went up to 95cm two more girls had been knocked out so there were only four

187

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 188

left, Sonia included! Michelle was sure that she couldn’t jump that high but, to her delight, she cleared the bar on her second attempt. It looked as if this might be the winning jump as the other girls bashed into the bar, but Sonia also cleared it on her second attempt and, for the first time, the watching crowd clapped in appreciation. So there were only the two of them left as the bar went up to a metre! Michelle started to chat to Sonia while they were waiting – they were both quite sure that they wouldn’t be able to jump a metre. When the officials were ready the two girls tried their best but it was no good, neither was able to jump so high after they’d both had three tries. Everybody thought it must be a draw, but the officials went into a huddle examining their sheets. Michelle and Sonia, by now quite tired, sat and continued chatting. They both waved at their families who had stood watching, clapping and groaning as the competition progressed or were eliminated. At last the lady in charge walked over to them. ‘It’s a draw, and we can’t separate you on countback. So there will be a jump-off. First, you’ll both have one more attempt at one metre.’ The lady didn’t say what would happen after that but the girls climbed wearily to their feet and prepared to jump again. After the loudspeaker announced the jump-off some more people gathered around the fence to watch. Sonia went first and knocked the bar off to loud groans from the crowd. Michelle got ready, but she didn’t really know how she could do any better than before. She stood at the end of her run up ready to jump and the crowd went silent. Then she heard Lauren shout her name and she turned her head towards her. What was Lauren doing? She was standing on one leg and driving her other knee up into the air. She did it again, and suddenly Michelle understood. Concentrating now she began her curved run up to the bar. On her eighth step, as she got to the bar, she drove her right knee up towards the bar as she jumped off her left foot. She sailed upwards and her shoulders went over the bar. Then her hips. She seemed to have gone clear but then one of her heels clipped the bar. As she landed on the bed the bar wobbled wildly and for a long second there was silence. But the bar didn’t

188

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 189

fall off! Michelle had won and the crowd broke into loud cheering and clapping while Michelle jumped up and down on the bed in delight. She had completely forgotten about the other girls in her excitement but now they all came up to her and said ‘well done’. Sonia gave her a hug in addition. Michelle was also surprised when Sonia went to each of the officials in turn and said ‘thank you’ to them. She thought that was a good idea and so she copied Sonia. The officials looked surprised and pleased and they congratulated her on her win. Michelle couldn’t remember when she had been happier as she rejoined her delighted family. Michelle thankfully accepted a bottle of cold water and they all went to sit on the grassy back to wait for the long jump. As Barry and Lara saw Sonia’s parents and went over to say hello to them, Michelle remembered what had happened just before her winning jump. ‘Lauren, how do you know so much about athletics? You’re only ten. Most coaches are grown-ups.’ Lauren considered. ‘I don’t know anything, really. I just watch and I think I know how to make things better. That’s all.’ But there was no more time for chatting as the U9 girls’ long jump was announced. Fully recovered by now, Michelle jumped up and ran over to the long jump pit. Meanwhile her parents, Sonia’s parents and Lauren trudged around so they could see the competition. The long jump competition took ages. This time there were more than 20 competitors and each girl had three jumps. Once again Michelle and Sonia were among the leaders but it was difficult to know who was winning. At last the event was completed and the results announced. Michelle was the winner again with Sonia second. And, once more, Sonia, to Michelle’s surprise, was all smiles instead of being disappointed. She came over and gave Michelle another big hug. Just before she left to join her family Michelle remembered to go up to each of the officials to thank them. By now it was near to lunchtime and many of the athletes and spectators were drifting away. However, there were still a few events to go, and of course there was the final of the 60m. At last

189

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 190

It was only a little later, as she examined the medals – two gold and one silver, around her neck that she realised, sadly, that she would never again compete against Sonia.

this was announced and the six finalists took to the track. Michelle and Sonia had been placed next to one another in the middle lanes. All the spectators who remained now gathered to watch the sprint finals. ‘On your Marks, Get Set, Bang!’ The girls sped off but then there was a second ‘Bang’! There had been a false start and the runners had to stop and go back to the start again. ‘Warning Lane 5’ said the Starter and an official came and waved a yellow card at Michelle who, she now realised, was in Lane 5! Michelle was worried as she knew that she might be disqualified the next time. This time she made sure that she waited for the bang of the gun before she set off. As expected, Sonia and Michelle soon took the lead but this time Sonia was always slightly ahead and, no matter how hard she tried, Michelle couldn’t get ahead. Sonia won the race. Tears sprang to Michelle’s eyes as she turned to walk off the track. Then, just in time, she remembered how nice Sonia and the other girls had been when she had won the other events. She turned back and first of all found a celebrating Sonia and gave her a big hug as she said ‘well done.’ She sniffled a few ‘thank yous’ towards the judges and timekeepers and went to find her family.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

190

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 191

IT was hard to believe but the day had finally arrived. The second week in July saw the Lanes ready to depart for Cornwall. The weather had taken a turn for the worse and the steady rainfall was contributing to the air of sadness and gloom. In contrast to the preceding days when great excitement and anticipation had reigned there was a sense of loss, both collectively and individually. As Lara paced around the house yet another time, checking that nothing was being left behind, she had a lump in her throat. This house was where she and Barry had made a happy marriage and had brought up their two contrasting daughters. She and her husband had formed a secure and stable home environment. While some of their neighbours seemed to have a bit more excitement and money for luxuries like better cars and foreign holidays, she had been, on the whole, grateful for what had been granted to her. She had friends but none that she would miss in particular. She would miss her mother but they weren’t, after all, going to the Moon and they could visit and keep in touch as much as they wished. Barry was probably the least affected by the gloom. He, too, had been content with his time in Wellhead and the suburban life with its simple pleasures suited him well enough. But his so called career in the council offices had been no more than a job which gave him a modest living and he had already put it far behind him. He had already deduced that he could do his running most anywhere. Like Lara, he had acquaintances rather than close friends. To the extent that he fancied a pint he had ascertained that the pubs and beer of Cornwall were, on the whole, light years better than their bland equivalent in Wellhead. No, he wouldn’t look back with regret and instead was focussed on the future. To Barry, as long as he had his family, he would be happy most anywhere. The girls were a mixture of emotions. One minute they were buoyed by the excitement of the thought of their new lives by the sea. The next they were plunged into gloom by the sense of loss they already had for their friends, their school, everything that had 191

THIRTY-ONE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 192

been so familiar to them throughout their young lives. Lauren had written long, thoughtful letters to many of her friends and one or two favourite teachers. However, it was likely that she would soon blend into to her new surroundings and, while not forgetting her friends in Wellhead, she would soon take on life’s new challenges with equanimity. Michelle had not been able to articulate in quite the same manner and instead had spent her last days at school just hugging everyone and wetting them with her tears. She made sure that she had the phone numbers and email addresses of just about everyone and promised faithfully to keep in touch. She was, at present, unable to think beyond the present and would have the deepest sense of loss over the next few weeks. Their house was still on the market. There had been some interest but they had turned down two offers, sticking for now at their original asking price. They would keep in touch with the agent in this respect. The furniture and contents remained for the present. In the likely event the new owners wanted to bring in their own stuff then the agent would arrange to dispose of the Lanes’. They had sent a van ahead to The Breezes with many of their personal possessions and, therefore, had just a few bags to load up this lunchtime. After they had all trooped through the house yet again it was finally time. There wasn’t a dry eye as they got into the car, the sense of finality hitting them. Michelle clutched her Snoopy and Lauren her bear even tighter as Barry edged the car out into the road, one or two neighbours appearing to give them a wave. Left on to the London road, past the Harriers’ track, onto the bypass and the M3 that would take them away towards their new life. MARY Turner was undecided as to whether or not she liked Birmingham but Jimmy Doyle she was in no doubts about. The day trip had turned into four days. But tomorrow she needed to go back to St Ives to help out at the hotel. The Lanes were arriving and, as it was, her Mum and Dad were having their work cut >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

192

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 193

out as the busy season was upon them. There were big discussions over the Lanes buying the hotel and she really ought to be around to help with things. It was no bother to her, though. She drew a wage for the time that she worked at The Breezes, which always helped. Besides, she was curious to meet Lara’s husband and children. She had got on so well with Lara that she was sure her family would be equally nice. It seemed that, following their girlie evening together, the marriage was back on track. Also Mary was looking forward to a repeat of their evening together. She couldn’t wait to tell Lara about what had happened to her since that visit to the hypnotist! Jimmy was working and Mary was watching. It was late afternoon at Edgbaston, a chilly and cloudy day. Mary was well wrapped up and was keeping herself supplied with coffee from the sad little catering wagon. At least she had asked for coffee although, in a blind tasting, she might not have guessed. Mary had some idea of what was going on out on the pitch. Jack had played regularly until recently for the local club and she and Mum had been regular attendees, Mum having often been in charge of teas and refreshments at the home games. Today Warwickshire were in the ascendancy and Worcestershire, their local rivals, were eight wickets down deep into the second day. It was spin from either end with fielders all around the bat, the ball sending up puffs of dust with each delivery. The visiting tail-end batsmen were battling grimly amid the shouts and groans of the close fielders and the frequent confident appeals to the sweater-laden umpires who, for the moment, remained immune to the pleading of bowlers and fieldsmen. Despite the drama no more than a few hundred spectators were spread around the big ground. Jimmy had met Mary at New Street earlier that week; both had been somewhat surprised and pleased at the instant pleasure of this second encounter. After all, they had only met once before, by chance, and it would have been unsurprising if that pleasant meeting had been a one-off for one or both. After dropping Mary’s bag off at his apartment they had spent the rest of the day in the city centre. Mary had naturally wanted to see the shops and Jimmy had not had the need or desire to do this

193

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 194

as yet. They therefore had spent much time wandering the streets, shopping centres and arcades. First of all was the Bull Ring. Impressive enough in its construction (or rather reconstruction, the first Sixties ultra-modern conception now having been swept away) Mary found nothing particularly unique about the myriad chain retail outlets contained therein. She was more taken by the nearby outdoor markets which offered a huge variety of goods at bargain prices. Jimmy treated her to a half-length leather jacket of dubious provenance but of quality equal to if not better than those for sale at many times the price inside the arcades. In addition, they were able to have an animated and hilarious exchange with the stall proprietor, a huge West Indian with flashing white teeth, with whom Jimmy eventually struck a mutually acceptable price. Later they strolled through New Street, Corporation Street, Bull Street and all the lanes in between. In the early evening they made their way to Broad Street, past the Alexandra Theatre and the National Indoor Arena to the Prince of Wales in its isolation down near the canal. It was quiet and they enjoyed a couple of drinks and a light bar meal before making their way back to Jimmy’s apartment. They snuggled up on the sofa and shared a bottle of wine. Jimmy played the gentleman and insisted that he’d sleep on the sofa, but Mary was having none of that. Their first night together was perfect. And, to her surprise, towards dawn, Mary realised that for the first time the physical sex that she craved was being complemented by something even better, the caring and gentle kindness and attention of a man she knew who she was already falling in love with. She had so much to learn, she thought. She was just a kid and finding her way. She hoped that she would continue to have Jimmy around to teach her. The following day they left the shops behind and dug deeper into what Birmingham had to offer. The municipal museum and art gallery was as if it had been frozen in time with the building’s interior architecture being as noteworthy as many of its exhibits. It was truly an oasis in the midst of the brash modern city. They wandered westwards across the noisy expressways and into

194

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 195

the tranquillity of the Jewellery Quarter, carefully restored and renewed as a living story of the city’s heritage. They explored Gas Street Basin and walked miles of canal paths, again thoughtfully restored and bringing the city’s industrial past into a 21st century context. Finally, they rested in St Philip’s churchyard and gazed at the memorial to the victims of the pub bombings. And, once again, they were eager for an early night via the Prince of Wales. Jimmy had to work the following two days so Mary was left to her own devices. That suited her well enough and she spent the mornings studying and the afternoons at the cricket. The previous evening they had eaten a posh Indian meal in town and this evening, after the cricket, Jimmy had said that they would visit some Irish bars, which sounded fun. In fact anything she could do with Jimmy would be fun! There was a loud cheer from the pitch and a Worcestershire batsman trooped off towards the pavilion, caught and bowled. The last batsman came in and immediately had a wild swing and was bowled. Worcestershire were all out. Warwickshire still needed to bat for twenty minutes or so tonight and the groundstaff hurried out to tidy up the pitch in the ten minutes before play would restart. Mary’s heart did a little jump as Jimmy waved to her with his brush. She waved back and smiled – an Irishman painting white lines on an English cricket ground! She hoped someone had taught him where to put the lines or there would be great confusion. Soon enough the players reappeared, Warwickshire batted out the day without alarm and the umpires declared play finished. To her delight Jimmy came over and hopped over the fence and said that Steve had let him go early. They jumped in Jimmy’s car and were soon back at the apartment and getting ready for their last evening together; for now anyway. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

195

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 196

SHE’D never felt as special as she did tonight. Jim had been a wonderful husband and friend and they had had a happy marriage which had produced a lovely daughter in Lara. She had been devastated when he had been taken from her. But Jim would have wanted her to be happy and to be wanted by another man – after a decent interval of course! She considered that her little investment in Internet dating had paid handsome dividends. After carefully ascertaining that she had a blank diary, Sean had informed Rose that he was taking her to Geneva for the weekend! No argument would be brooked. They had arrived on a lunchtime flight from Gatwick that morning and had checked into the Warwick Hotel. Together they had strolled the grassy north shore of Lac Leman and had visited the Red Cross museum before catching a bus back into town. They had wandered in and out of the shops, wondered at the discipline of the citizens as they waited patiently for the pedestrian signal to flash before crossing empty roads, and had then crossed over the Pont Mont Blanc. There they had explored the slopes and buildings of the old town and, as twilight fell, they ate a superb seafood dinner. Now they sat in a bar overlooking the lake and the floodlit jet d’eau. Sean was sipping a glass of beer and Rose a Martini and lemonade. On a raised platform a trio of musicians were discretely playing a selection of Alpine tunes. The bar was maybe half full with what was a suitably respectful and, on the whole, middle aged clientele. ‘Enjoying yourself, Rose?’ ‘What an unnecessary question, dear man. I can’t believe I’m here when only a few hours ago I was in boring old Surrey. Thank you, Sean.’ Then Sean stood up and walked up to the musicians. What on earth is he doing, wondered Rose. Sean appeared to speak to the bassist and the music stopped. To Rose’s astonishment Sean now turned towards the customers at the chairs and tables and, as he 196

THIRTY-TWO

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 197

started speaking firmly and clearly, a hush fell. ‘Ladies and gentleman, please excuse me for interrupting your enjoyment of the music. I hope you’ll also excuse me for not speaking in French in this, your lovely city. I know, however, that you’ll understand what I’m saying. A few short weeks ago I was lucky enough to meet a most wonderful lady. She is beautiful and I love her dearly. Today she has been by my side as we have visited your city and I have realised I couldn’t bear to lose her. Therefore with your permission...’ he now turned to Rose and knelt on one knee before continuing, ‘...Rose, would you do me the honour of marrying me?’ There was a collective gasp and some laughter as everyone turned to see where Rose was. There she was, the woman with her mouth wide open in surprise and astonishment as the reality of the moment hit her. She stood up, left her seat and ran to where he was. She flung her arms around his neck where he knelt and cried: ‘Yes, of course, yes, dear man. I will! I will!’ The cheers and applause from the bar caused heads to turn on the far bank of Lac Leman. ‘SO, things are OK now between you and Barry?’ ‘Yes, they really are. He’s said and done all the right things. And you were right, Mary. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and the boy’s done OK. Who can tell the future, but for now we’re in love more than ever, thanks to you putting it into perspective for me. I’m grateful to you.’ Lara and Mary were sitting in their favourite quiet bar in St Ives. They’d had a plate of pasta and a bottle of wine earlier and were now into bottle number two and were starting to relax. It was two days after the Lanes had arrived and Lara and Mary had insisted on having a couple of hours by themselves to catch up. Barry was looking after the children and Jack was looking after the hotel bar, normally Mary’s domain in the evenings when she was at home. By now Mary was fully in the picture as regards the ownership >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

197

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 198

of the hotel. Although her parents weren’t that old, she knew that they had been thinking about selling the business at some stage. They had been there many years and simply wanted a change. The hotel business was changing and Mum and Dad didn’t really have the inclination to invest the energy and resources that The Breezes required to thrive in the modern age. Quite where that would leave young Mary after she had finished at university she wasn’t sure, but that was for the future. She was, however, pleased that her new friend, Lara, was going to be the new owner, along with her husband. That is, if all the paperwork and legalities went through in due course. Lara was obviously in love with the area and Mary was confident that the hotel would be in good and sympathetic hands, even if improvements were in the pipeline. ‘Anyway, Mary, we’ve done a lot of talking about me. What about you? I’ve not really spoken to you since we went to Penzance and that hypnotist. Are you cured?’ Mary smiled. ‘Guess what, from that day to this I’ve not had a problem. I’ve stopped all that silly tidying and cleaning and sorting in my every waking moment. If anything I’m the opposite and I ignore stuff that really needs doing! But, there’s something else ...’ Her voice tailed off. Chin resting on her hand Lara waited in vain. Eventually she said: ‘What?’ Mary pinked. ‘I don’t know, it’s private really. You wouldn’t be interested, Lara.’ ‘OK,’ said Lara and sipped her wine. Eventually Mary spoke again. ‘It’s just that, I think the hypnotism had a sort of side effect.’ ‘Oh?’ Lara waited. She’d let Mary tell her if she wanted to. Mary seemed to consider and came to a conclusion. She took a deep breath and carried on. ‘The last time we sat here, Lara, I wasn’t totally honest with you. The tidying, compulsive disorder was only a small thing, really. There was something more important. I had an, errrm, issue with men. Can I talk to you about men and sex and stuff Lara?’ ‘Mary! Listen, believe it or not I’ve had sex – I’ve got two chil-

198

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 199

dren and I’ve been married for ten years. Before that I did have other boyfriends. I doubt if you’ll shock me. So, fire away.’ Mary giggled. ‘OK then. When we last sat here I was a virgin, OK? At age nineteen for God’s sake. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity, either, and I really fancied certain guys and they fancied me, but ...’ ‘But what? And making love isn’t compulsory, Mary, although your friends may have given you that impression.’ ‘The thing is, I just couldn’t, or wouldn’t. My body wanted to and we’d get so far but then I’d freeze and panic and it never actually happened. And, of course, I’d never see these guys again. How could I blame them? And I didn’t know how to fix it or who to speak to.’ ‘And then the hypnotist, and then ... ? ‘Lara, I turned the exact opposite! Before I knew it I was shagging every bloke in Bristol! I didn’t care who he was or what he looked like, I just had to screw him. Love didn’t come into it. You can imagine the reputation I’ve got at Uni now, Lara, the lads are queuing up around the block! Talk about making up for lost time.’ Lara’s jaw had dropped and she looked at her friend. She didn’t know what to say so she waited for Mary to continue. ‘But, hopefully, things might be settling down a bit now.’ For the first time Mary smiled, like the cat that got the cream. ‘How so?’ Mary told her about Jimmy, how they’d met, how she’d immediately felt different about him. She told him about Birmingham and how their lovemaking had been about so much more than the physical gratification. She told Lara she thought that she was truly in love and, if Lara was any judge, that certainly appeared to be the case. ‘Listen, Mary. With these other guys, you used protection, yeah? I mean contraception, protection against STDs and stuff. It’s important not only for your health but for that of anyone else, Jimmy, for example, that you might have a relationship with.’ ‘Sometimes, I think so. I’d got a bit careless with the Pill and stuff, there didn’t seem much point before. But there were condoms, most of the time anyway.’

199

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 200

‘Mary, promise me that you’ll get all that checked out with your doctor. Like tomorrow, OK? But in the meantime you seem happy enough?’ ‘Lara, I’m so much happier in myself. There was this big cloud in my life and that’s gone. Maybe I ought to give that hypnotist a bonus!’ ‘Huh. Or maybe get him to reverse the spell. Never mind, how about a last bottle of wine?’ BARRY gave up. All he had got by way of response from Lara so far this morning was the occasional anguished moan as she tried to hide herself deeper within the duvet. By contrast Barry himself was fresh as a morning shower of rain, which was apt as, drawing back the curtains, he regarded the damp St Ives day. He himself had contented himself with a couple of bottles of beer downstairs the previous evening as he flicked through several issues of Hotel Management. The more he read and studied the more aware he became of the limitations to his knowledge. If all went to plan another day would soon dawn when he and Lara would awake as the 100% owners of The Breezes with all its responsibilities. There would be no Turners to turn to for support and advice. By whatever means they would have to, on that day and going forward, fly solo. It was a scary thought. Barry searched in the unfamiliar chest of drawers and located his ‘running’ drawer. He pulled out socks, shorts and T-shirt and put them on. Finding his Garmin he switched it on, opened a window and placed it on the cill so that it could begin the process of locking on to satellites somewhere far above. Finally, he put on his running shoes and laced them up. He opened the door and padded across to the girls’ room and looked in. Both were half awake, reading and communicating by way of grunts and short phrases. ‘Morning you two. I’m going for a run, back soon. Don’t disturb Mummy just yet. Don’t be a nuisance to the other guests. Bye.’ >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

200

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 201

‘OK, ’bye Daddy,’ they chorused. Returning to his own room he inspected his Garmin. It had become confused because it was no longer in Surrey. Sighing, Barry pressed buttons to reassure it and finally it appeared happy and ready to cooperate. Barry grabbed it and hurried out of the room, down the stairs and out of the front entrance of the hotel before the Garmin could become distressed at having lost contact with its satellites. He strapped it onto his right wrist. This was his first run in St Ives and he thought an easy hour was in order, maybe seven miles or so. He set the Garmin going and, randomly, he turned and jogged up the hill. Still eight weeks to go until the Plymouth Half Marathon. He was trying not to become impatient and was following the programme he had set out for himself. There had been some disruption recently, of course, but, on the whole, he considered he was doing well. He considered that there were two ‘key’ sessions a week and, whatever else happened, he would ensure that he completed these. The first of these sessions was a midweek speed/endurance session which up until now he had done on the track at Wellhead. He did not know yet if there was a local track in easy reach of St Ives. If not, he reckoned it would be easy enough to measure out a section of road which would serve the purpose. The second key session was the weekend long run, the length of this increasing each week up until two weeks from the target race when the mileage would drop so that he would get to the starting post fresh and ready to race. Today, however, was just an easy run. As he was unfamiliar with the area he ensured that he had activated the Back-To-Start function on the Garmin, which, in theory, kept runners from getting lost. He recalled the instance earlier in the year when he could have used such a function! The hill flattened out as it gained the high ground; Barry fell into a nice rhythm and started to enjoy the sensation of running in the light, misty rain. He considered how his life had changed so radically in the space of half a year. He had lost, or given up, his job of many years. He and Lara were in the process of selling their semidetached house which they had worked hard to pay for over the

201

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 202

years. They were on the cusp of investing all they had into a business in the uncertain tourism industry, an industry in which they had absolutely no experience. He had had a stupid affair which had endangered his marriage. Each one of these things could be looked upon as stressful. The stress could have both negative and positive effects and, if the negative outweighed the positive, it could mean a rocky future. However, Barry had in his favour one further overwhelmingly positive change in his life. His health and fitness had improved beyond belief in these last months. Undoubtedly this was helping him, and would continue to help him deal with all of the negative stresses. Light of heart and foot he stopped and turned for home as the Garmin showed 30 minutes. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

202

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 203

JULY passed into August. The plan was still that Barry and Lara would take ownership of The Breezes on 1 November. As ever, the lawyers seemed to be stringing the matter out. The Lanes’ lawyer would raise legitimate queries with the Turner’s lawyer. These queries needed to be referred to the Turners and, upon receipt of the replies, the answers would be conveyed back to the Lanes’ lawyers. Exasperated, both the Lanes and Turners demanded to see final drafts of the agreements. When these had been received they all spent a long evening together at the hotel going through every clause, taking particular notice of the most important items raised by the lawyers. Finally, they agreed on the final documents they would all be prepared to sign. The following morning these drafts were hand-delivered to the Turners’ lawyer in the town with the request that signing copies be prepared with no further delay. In the meantime Barry and Lara threw themselves into the running of the hotel, shadowing Jack and both the Marys. After a chaotic start they fell into the rhythm of the business and started to make themselves useful. Within a week or so the older couple even found that they could take a break at certain times, which was unusual in these busy summer months. The day began with breakfast and it was Jack, together with two seasonal staff, who took charge of this operation. Jack did the cooking while his staff took orders and looked after the guests in the breakfast room. The menu was a limited one with Jack’s reasonable view that this enabled them to provide quicker service and better quality. Once breakfast was over the washing up was done and the tables re-laid for the following morning. Jack checked the food stocks and phoned up orders to the local suppliers as necessary in the interim. At all times they had to be aware of food safety and hygiene rules and practices – the inspectors could, and did, turn up at any time. Meanwhile, the seasonal staff turned their attentions to the bed203

THIRTY-THREE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 204

rooms, which were the older Mary’s domain. Once the rooms had been vacated they had to be returned to perfect order. Linen had to be changed whenever there was a change in occupancy, or else every week unless it became a necessity. Towels needed to be changed and bathrooms thoroughly cleaned. The room itself was dusted, cleaned and Hoovered daily. It was an unpleasant eyeopener for Lara who had believed everyone in the world adhered to her own view of personal hygiene. However, after a week or two she became accustomed to this and insisted on always cleaning several rooms personally and inspecting the others to ensure that standards remained high. One other member of staff was employed to ensure that the common areas were kept clean and tidy together with the Reception area and the small office. A gardening company was sub-contracted to ensure that the small but neat and tidy grounds were kept in order. In the course of the day one of the Turners was always around in case they were required. From lunchtime onwards tea, coffee and biscuits were dispensed for a small charge, but no further catering was done. Jack would ensure that the bar was well stocked and ready for opening at 6pm. Of course administration and paperwork took up more time. Then there were the bookings to be taken care of. More and more of these were handled by a dedicated computer system and guests would book on the Internet either directly with the hotel itself or via one of the large agencies. However, they still took telephone bookings and walk-ins, the latter group those who had arrived in St Ives ‘on spec’ or who might have been directed to them by the tourist office. There were, of course, cancellations and no-shows to deal with. All of this required time and concentration so that rooms were not left unoccupied when there were potential guests out there or, worse, that rooms were not double-booked. The Turners had built an informal network of local hotels, guest houses and even private householders to whom they could redirect guests if it proved necessary. As for the bookkeeping and accounts, the Turners threw themselves on the mercy of a local firm of accountants who sent a jun-

204

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 205

ior over to them weekly to keep things in order, and who then looked after the annual accounts and tax returns at the appropriate time of year. While Barry and Lara’s heads spun with the strangeness of it all, Lauren and Michelle were quite content. They made the residents’ lounge their domain and played or just rested in the plastic chairs in the hotel grounds. Of course, their parents found time for them but this was limited. As a partial solution they were both presented, to their delight, with their own mobile phones. They were given a daily top-up allowance so that could phone their friends but, once that was used up, it was just too bad. However, in the afternoons one or other of their parents would be free for a while. They would explore the town or, if it was fine, they would go to the beach. Cliff path walks were allowed, despite the accident. In fact Barry and Lara had made a point of taking the girls back to the spot as soon as they could, so that there could be no pent-up fears remaining. LARA hadn’t exactly forgotten about her painting but found that she had far less time right now to devote to it. She still popped in to see Mia and was pleased to learn that three more of her unframed paintings had sold, even though her work still lay propped up in a corner, virtually out of sight. Two of them had been sold to the same gentleman, who had enquired about the artist and where more of her work could be found! Mia pushed notes totalling £110 into Lara’s hands, that total being her cut of the sales proceeds. Every few days Lara found a little time and paid Mia for a halfday and happily resumed her hobby, her confidence higher now that people were asking about her work. The money was fine but, more than that, it was affirmation of what a few people had told her. She had half thought that people were just being nice when they said she had talent. But words were one thing – the sales meant that, maybe, they were right. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

205

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 206

Lara was getting ready to pack up one Thursday afternoon having decided that she had better get back to help out as the guests started to get back looking for tea, information or just a chat. However, Mia asked her if she had time for a quick chat before she left. She wandered over to Mia’s chaotic work corner which doubled as some sort of office. ‘So, when do you take over at The Breezes, Lara?’ ‘Well, the plan is that hotel closes towards the end of October and we officially take the whole lot over on 1 November. Then we thought we’d open the week before Easter. But we’ve got to decide on any improvements before then, and to get any necessary work done.’ ‘Well, I think you’ll do great. The Turners have built up a hotel with a good reputation so, if you can continue with that, and maybe even improve on it, you’ll be a success. Now, where does that leave your painting career?’ ‘Career? I don’t think of painting as more than a hobby, Mia.’ ‘OK, and maybe you’re right. But I’ll say this just the once. I believe that, if you wanted to, you have a chance of making a bit of a name for yourself. There’s something there in your work that, I think, raises it above most of what is produced in this part of the world. For a beginner I think that some of your work is very exciting. The least you ought to do is consider whether or not you want to commercialise it. Just my opinion, of course.’ ‘Oh! They are really kind things to say, Mia. But both you and Jack have told me that everybody’s art is as worthy as everybody else’s. In fact, that’s probably the main reason I love drawing and painting, because it doesn’t matter how rubbish it is. How do you resolve that little conflict?’ ‘Lara, there is no conflict. On the hobby and pastime level, of course, every person is entitled to see their own efforts as unique and worthy. I’ve had plenty of them in this workshop and I’ve praised and encouraged each. But I’ve not suggested to them that they should hope to sell their work. I’m just saying that maybe you’d have the chance to make a bit of money if you wanted to go down that road.’ Lara was stunned into silence. She’d never come near to consid-

206

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 207

ering painting as a business. Maybe she would lose the enjoyment if she did. I mean, for example, how could a cricketer enjoy his sport if, every time he went out to bat, he knew that a failure might result in him not being offered a contract for the following season? ‘Just supposing I decided to try and make some money, Mia, how would I start?’ ‘To begin with, make sure that people see your work!’ She laughed and waved at Lara’s stuff piled in the corner. ‘Display it, hold exhibitions. Get your name into the right circles. Aren’t you buying a hotel or something? Is there room for a studio there? I’d help, of course, if you wanted. For a cut of the action.’ She smiled and winked. Head spinning anew, Lara stood up to go. ‘Gosh, Mia, there’s a lot to think about. I’d need to talk to Barry, of course. But thank you for your support, it means a lot to me.’ ‘Bye Lara, see you soon.’ A FEW days later the big day arrived. Barry, Lara and Jack walked down to the Turners’ lawyer in the town and signed the sale agreements transferring both the property and the business to the Lanes’, effective 1 November. Their own house was on the verge of being sold – they had eventually accepted an offer just £2,500 short of the original asking price. The finances were therefore in place and the lawyers would take care of the loose ends. THE new owners-elect had plenty to think about but the very next day came an official-looking letter addressed to them both. Supposing it was yet something else concerning the change in ownership, Barry didn’t open it immediately. Instead he carried it through to the breakfast room where he found Lara and the children. It was a rare, quiet moment between the breakfast rush and the slog to do the rooms. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

207

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 208

Michelle had her face in her hands and was making funny squealing noises. Lara looked shell-shocked. Lauren just smiled. Barry thought his heart would burst with pride. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Fortunately, the seasonal staff were efficient enough and could be left to their own devices for a while. Barry poured himself a coffee from the urn, added a sweetener and joined the ladies. He remembered the envelope, slit it with a table knife and scanned the contents. A surprised grin spread across his face as he re-read the letter. ‘Daddy, what are you smiling at? asked Lauren. Barry beckoned to Lauren who stood up and walked over to look at the letter. ‘Read it out loud, Lauren, start there,’ he pointed. Lauren started reading ‘... having taken due note of Miss Michelle Lane’s courageous actions in saving the life of her sister Miss Lauren Lane, hereby invites Miss Michelle Lane to receive the Children’s Award For Bravery at Mansion House on 29 September next, at 2.30pm. ‘Miss Lane may be accompanied by up to ten members of her family and friends. Please contact my Secretary on the number below to confirm attendance and to be advised of the detailed arrangements. (signed) The Lord Mayor of London

208

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 209

AUGUST passed in a whirl for Barry and Lara. Although they had no financial interest in the business at this time, they had thrown themselves into the day to day running of the hotel. Jack and Mary were glad to have assistance at this busy time. In return they were happy to pass on all they could of their knowledge built up over their years in the trade. Gradually and naturally the older couple began to take more of a back seat. They could see that the Lanes were hardworking and were already dedicated to making a success of things. They therefore had confidence that they could leave certain matters in their hands. For their part Barry and Lara understood that, by immersing themselves at this time and learning what they could while the Turners were still around, they would, themselves, benefit in the long term. For their part Jack and Mary had their own dreams and they found they now had a little time to indulge them. They meant to buy a property abroad and to spend most of their time there after The Breezes was sold. They had yet to narrow down where ‘abroad’ would be. That would be the first and most important decision. Both were in their early fifties and didn’t necessarily wish to just potter about aimlessly for the rest of their lives. These questions saw them spend increasing time reading magazines and surfing the Internet and quietly discussing their options. Barry and Lara found time for the children whenever they could. They would explore more of the town, walk the cliff paths, spend time on the beach. Occasionally they jumped in the car and visited other towns and villages in the locality. One day they paid the obligatory trip to Land’s End, nagged by the girls. The place was as tacky as they’d feared. The children loved it, however, and Lauren had to be snapped out of some sort of personal dream as she gazed in the direction of America. Lara’s heart leapt at the thought of her beautiful girl 20 years 209

THIRTY-FOUR

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 210

down the line and how and where she might be living her life at that time. They talked about their plans for the hotel but had agreed to leave all detailed discussion until after the doors closed at the end of October. There were two major changes that they wished to introduce and for which their accountant had allowed for in their business plan. The first was to introduce an evening menu, one that offered simple, locally-sourced food served well at a reasonable price. From what they had seen the town restaurants were all busy, at least in the summer months. The second change was to open the hotel all year round. They both had lots of other ideas and they had no doubt that Lauren, in particular, would chip in with one or two of her own! Lara couldn’t get Mia’s words out of her head and wondered if she couldn’t introduce art and artists as a feature of the hotel. The Turners already offered short art-based breaks, of course, but could they do something on a more permanent basis? They would need to offer something different to drive business their way over the slow months. Barry was toying with the idea of offering breaks for runners, where he would lead jogs and runs locally. This might incorporate personal coaching, advice and running-specific lectures. He was aware that running for fitness was going through a mini-boom and there ought to be a market. He would also love to introduce at least one Real Ale into the bar for the more discerning drinker. This might fit in well with their restaurant venture. But more immediate priorities were to hand. The girls were enrolled in their local primary school for the autumn term. They had all visited the school one afternoon and were made welcome by the head teacher. She already had paperwork from Wellhead Primary and was duly impressed by the reports on young Lauren who, she imagined, would be a credit to the school. Michelle appeared to be cut from different cloth, but she had been praised for her enthusiasm for PE, and she had some creative ability. And her reputation as a brave young lady went before her, the cliff path incident having been extensively covered in the local press. She looked forward to welcoming them both in September.

210

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 211

It was, however, with some trepidation that the girls got ready for their first day at their new school. They had bought their new uniforms two weeks ago from the approved supplier in town and Lara now unwrapped them and laid them out on the single beds in the girls’ room. Black shoes, white socks, bottle green skirt and blazer, white blouse and a straw hat with bottle green trimming to be worn when in uniform outside the school premises. They put everything on carefully, pulling faces at the colour. They were used to pink and grey uniforms and green felt strange. Breakfast passed in relative silence as the tension increased and at last it was time to leave. Picking up their almost empty bags Lauren and Michelle walked quietly to the car and climbed in the back. Lara sat in the passenger’s seat and they set off up the hill. The school wasn’t so far but at least, for today, they would arrive in style. A few minutes later they had arrived and Barry parked at the roadside, joining the many cars already there. Together they all walked to the school gates. In the school yard everyone was laughing and playing, the children excited to be meeting their friends once more. Kisses were given and Lauren and Michelle trooped into the school yard together. They stood there and turned back to their parents, unhappy and unsure what to do next. Their parents’ hearts went out to them but what could they do? There was another young girl, identically dressed in her bottle green, standing nearby, seemingly desolate and near to tears. And at the gates was a woman who was clearly her mother, unhappy and helpless. Lara called both of her girls over to her and whispered to them, indicating the other girl. They nodded and smiled and walked over to her. Lauren spoke first. ‘Hello, what’s your name?’ Surprised, the girl sniffled: ‘Molly.’ ‘Hello, Polly, I’m Lauren and this is Michelle. Are you new?’ ‘It’s Molly, not Polly!’ giggled Molly. ‘Yes, I’m new and I don’t know where to go.’ ‘Well, we’re the same. I suppose they’ll tell us in a minute. Have you got any pets?’ The three of them strolled off, chatting. Barry and Lara returned

211

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 212

to the car and drove back down the hill without exchanging a word. IT was an early Friday evening in Birmingham city centre. Jimmy was having a quiet pint with his colleague, Nigel, in the Prince of Wales. The nights were drawing in noticeably, now. The cricket season had been over for several weeks now and Jimmy’s employment would be up very shortly. Nigel was one of the few permanent staff who would look after the ground during the winter until the cricket began again in April. As well as doing the usual major work to the pitch and outfield, Steve’s lads would attend to much of the general maintenance of the ground – repairing, repainting etc. As a Test Match ground, one that hosted international cricket, it was important that standards were maintained and even improved. There were brash new grounds around the country which were trying to break the grip of the established centres such as Edgbaston. To keep ahead of the game the Warwickshire club needed to continue to invest in facilities and it was the ground staff’s task to ensure that these were kept in good order. Both were enjoying one of the cask ales, kept as ever in perfect order. When Jimmy was over in Digbeth he reverted to the Guinness, which was generally served properly, although it never tasted quite as good as that back in Ireland. As always, though, he drank slowly, savouring the taste and rarely over-indulging. Nigel turned to his colleague. ‘So, Jimmy, have you decided what you’ll do with yourself after next week?’ Jimmy thought for a while. ‘In a word, no,’ he smiled, knowing Nigel would persist. ‘Will you look around here for work, stay in Brum, like?’ ‘Don’t know, mate. I like Brum well enough, I wouldn’t mind staying. Learn a bit more about your strange English games. Might even go down and watch the Blues one of these days, if they let Paddies in,’ he grinned. Then he continued more seriously: ‘This girl I’ve been seeing from Bristol, Mary. She’s coming up tomor>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

212

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 213

row. We’ll need to talk.’ ‘Serious, then, is it?’ ‘Sort of. I really like her a lot, Nigel. Maybe I’ll move down that way. I guess Steve might put in a good word for me with his mate at the Bristol ground. We’ll see.’ There were three lads at the next table. Jimmy and Nigel had barely noticed them. Then they heard, in an undertone: ‘Irish cunt.’ Jimmy and Nigel looked at one another with raised eyebrows. Maybe they had misheard or perhaps they had picked up something out of context. But then, in a similar undertone, they clearly heard: ‘Fenian bastard.’ This time Jimmy glanced across. Three blokes with severe haircuts, all dressed in black bomber jackets and jeans were sitting silently around their table, pints raised to lips. They didn’t return Jimmy’s glance. Unsettled, Jimmy turned back and immediately there was an unmistakeable: ‘Pikey bastard.’ Now Jimmy turned and said: ‘Guys, if you want to say something, say it out loud so the whole bar can hear.’ The three looked at him in amusement. One said ‘We weren’t talking to you, Paddy, we were talking about you.’ His mates sniggered. Jimmy was tight-lipped but determined to remain calm. ‘What’s your problem, lads? I’m just having quiet pint with a mate. Leave it out, eh?’ They laughed mockingly. ‘And if we don’t leave it out? What ya gonna do, Paddy?’ ‘C’mon, let’s go Jimmy,’ said Nigel, standing up. ‘No, hold on Nigel. I’m enjoying my pint here.’ Then, turning to the three men he continued: ‘Lads, tell me what’s your problem with the Irish?’ They laughed again. Then the spokesman said: ‘Jimmy is it? Well, Jimmy, we just don’t like murdering Irish bastards in Birmingham. Best take your friend’s advice. Paddy.’ He spat on the floor. Jimmy was livid now and stood up. The three men stood up also and tensed. Customers looked worried and one or two melted away. ‘Murdering? When did I murder anyone? I’ll remind you of some murdering English will I? From Cromwell to your Black and Tans

213

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 214

to your shot-happy troops in Northern Ireland! What about ...’ The group of three took a step forward. Nigel grabbed Jimmy and pulled him towards the door. A barman jumped out and assisted in the process and stood in the pub doorway, ensuring that an enraged Jimmy couldn’t re-enter. Shouting in his ear, Nigel grabbed his collar and dragged him away towards Broad Street. ‘Now stop! Calm down mate! It’s over.’ ‘Nigel, they don’t deserve to get away with stuff like that!’ ‘No, they don’t, but they’re just arseholes. You get them everywhere. Now forget about it. Come on, I know a good place.’ Jimmy took a few deep breaths, and calmed down. ‘Ah, Nigel, I don’t think so. I’m going home, tidy the place up a bit with Mary coming tomorrow. Sorry I’ve spoilt your drink.’ THEY went their separate ways, Nigel towards the centre of the city and Jimmy out along Broad Street, heading homewards. He was annoyed with himself more than anything. He had lost his temper with the Neanderthals, just what they had wanted. In the process he had reinforced the image of the fighting Irish. It was the first time that he had been aware of any animosity against his nationality during his time in England and he knew that blatant prejudice of this sort was largely confined to extremist groups. It was sad to encounter such behaviour in a social setting. He was calming down but, on a whim, he turned into a bar just before he came to Five Ways. It was a vast, bright emporium but mostly empty and awaiting the young, free-spending crowd that would arrive from 10pm onwards. Seeing only keg beers and lagers for sale on the bar he decided, unusually, to have a large whisky. He would sit down and drink this before heading home. But, as he turned from the bar, his heart sunk as the three men from the Prince of Wales walked in. They had clearly followed him and now they came straight up to him where he stood. The obvious ringleader confronted Jimmy with his henchmen >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

214

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 215

close behind, keeping close watch. ‘Now, Paddy, where were we? You were accusing me and my friends of violence. Would you like to be repeating that to us now? How about it, Fenian bastard?’ On impulse Jimmy flung the contents of his glass in his face. Howling with rage his assailant grabbed a pint glass off the bar, smashed the rim and jabbed the jagged remnants in Jimmy’s direction. Jimmy just managed to step out of range and grabbed the nearest weapon, a chair. As the man ran at him again with the glass he swung the chair, scoring a direct hit. The attacker reeled away, grunting in pain, and blood spurted from a jagged face wound. Jimmy threw the chair at one of the remaining men and turned and fled for the door. He made it but fell into the arms of two bulky policemen who soon had him pinned to the ground. As he lay there, Jimmy could see little of what was happening as the local constabulary sorted out the bar. An ambulance came and went, sounding its blues and twos. Eventually, Jimmy was dragged to his feet, handcuffed and thrown roughly into the back seat of a police car. Within minutes he had been hauled out again, up some steps and into a police cell, the door slamming behind him. Several hours later Jimmy was questioned and released. The only two independent witnesses to the incident had confirmed that Jimmy had acted completely in self-defence. The three aggressors, including the one presently being stitched together, were well known to the police. The questioning inspector was not, however, willing to let Jimmy go scot free just yet; not until they had full statements from the attackers. Jimmy had, he thought, seemed vague when asked about his home country and recent work history, before arriving in Birmingham earlier in the summer. He warned Jimmy to bring his full ID to the station within 48 hours, before releasing him into the night. As Jimmy walked to his apartment he was worried. As yet he had not got around to changing his passport or driving licence. These Irish documents would undoubtedly be cross-checked with the Irish authorities. This would almost certainly trigger the matter of the Dun

215

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 216

Laoghaire shooting and he would be whisked back across the Irish Sea before his feet could touch the ground. With even more to think about, Jimmy turned the key in his apartment door, aware that Mary would be arriving in just a few short hours.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

216

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 217

THAT was it. There was nothing more now that he could do. Barry picked up his diary and logged three miles in today’s section. It was quiet around the hotel on this late summer Saturday afternoon; Lara and the girls were out somewhere and Jack was holding the fort in the office. Barry showered quickly and dressed lightly in shorts, T-shirts and sandals. Picking up a half-read novel he made his way downstairs, out of the main entrance and into the area of grass and welltended flowerbeds that greeted the visitor to The Breezes. A few deck chairs were dotted around, all unoccupied. Barry chose one and sat down. He opened his book and read a page or two before putting it down onto the grass. He closed his eyes and leant back, enjoying the still, warm air and the peace and quiet. The symphony of squawking seagulls which had seemed invasive on his first visit to St Ives were now merely a barely-noticed backdrop to the tranquillity of the town. His training had gone well enough, he reckoned. On the whole he had completed the mileage required by his programme. There was one period of seven or eight days when, not feeling well, he had hardly trained at all. But other than that he’d done OK, he reckoned. Tomorrow would be the proof or otherwise of that, of course. He wondered if any of the Wellhead runners would travel down for the race; hardly, he thought. There was already enough competition in the south-east. He noticed that the Wellhead men had finished second in the South of England road relay championships – that was as well as they’d done in many years. Maybe he’d pop up to Sutton Park next month to give them a shout in the Nationals. He had run for the club in the Nationals on several occasions in the past and one year had recorded the third fastest time of the day. That day they had finished sixth and the minibus journey back south had been a happy, loud and boozy one, the driver included! Barry felt a twinge of regret that he had given it all up so soon. 217

THIRTY-FIVE

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 218

At 30 he’d probably still had several good years at the top in him. However, life had got in the way and, once he’d stopped training for a few months, he hadn’t been inclined to turn his back on the lazy suburban life. But now, just turned 40, he’d rediscovered the attraction of taking to the road, putting the body under stress, falling into a rhythm, left, right, left, sun, wind and rain on your face, seagulls, sprinklers, light refraction, the shimmering of summer lawns... ‘Hi, Daddy!’ He woke up with a start as his daughters ran up the steps. ‘We’ve been to the beach!’ Lara followed, rather more sedately. ‘Hello, love. Do you mind looking after them for a couple of hours? I’d like to pop down the coast a bit and catch some afternoon light and shade. Do you mind? And we’ll grab a bite in town later.’ Of course he didn’t mind. ‘No, I need some race advice anyway,’ he said. ‘Lauren, give me a top tip for winning the Plymouth Half Marathon tomorrow.’ ‘You won’t win, Daddy! But to run your best you need to eat pasta tonight, Paula does.’ Barry blinked. How did a ten year-old know all this stuff? THEY felt guilty the following morning as they prepared to set off en bloc for Plymouth. Still, The Breezes had operated smoothly enough in their absence up until now, and the hotel was only three quarters full at present. Barry was quite happy to travel up alone but Michelle was insistent on coming to watch. Despite her protestations she was still too young to be left alone, so it was a family affair once again. With a 9 o’clock race start they hit the road shortly after 7am. They arrived in good time and found the designated parking area a little way away from the race start. This part of the city was alive with activity which increased noticeably as the start time approached. Runners were everywhere, in their many hundreds, men and women, young and old. They stood chatting in groups, each group wearing identical club vests or T-shirts proclaiming a charity. They jigged up and down, >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

218

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 219

they stretched, they strolled, they found a space and jogged. Each and every participant had their own way of preparing for the race. And it was easy to classify the runners. The ‘elites’ were, without exception, of light build. They all wore club vests – it was unusual to find a top runner who was ‘unattached’ to a club. Vests with bare shoulders, not T-shirts. Proper running shorts. Often they wore lightweight racing ‘flats’ on their feet and, equally often, sunglasses, which gave a vague air of menace. The elite, slim women habitually used proper figure-hugging sports bras. At the opposite end of the spectrum were those who seemed totally unsuited to the sport of running. All shapes and sizes, they chatted and swapped gallows humour – fears of not finishing before nightfall or of being arrested by the Slow Police. Often they were supporting charities and had their names printed on their T-shirts, the better to be cheered on by the spectators. For quite a few this was their first half-marathon, 13.1 miles, and they would be pleased to finish, regardless of time. Sports bras were often, and sometimes alarmingly, absent! But, perhaps strangely, almost all wore expensively-branded running shoes. Between these two groups was the largest contingent. These were runners who, though taking their running seriously, were not going to threaten the leader board: maybe those new to the sport or those whose best days were behind them. There were many others who trained to keep fit and who used a formal race to test themselves out, probably the only occasions when they would push their bodies towards their limit. All had one thing in common, the enjoyment of gathering together with like-minded people to run together: there was great camaraderie and a sense of common purpose. There were few other sports in which the most hopeless case could compete alongside a world champion on equal terms. As well as the runners there were, of course, a huge amount of helpers who gave their time to ensure the race took place. Many of these were in evidence today, marshalling the runners and traffic. Others would be manning the water stations which would be dotted around the course. There were also plenty of others, never to be seen, working behind the scenes before, during and after the event.

219

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 220

As 9 o’clock approached Barry took his place at the start, confident enough now to tuck in a little way behind the elites but in front of the main mass of runners. The weather remained fine and there appeared to be little breeze. Barry’s Garmin had behaved so far today and had made contact with its satellites in double quick time. It was at the ready awaiting a push of the Start button. Most, though not all, of the elites wore similar gadgets as did a considerable number of the lesser runners. Some were content to rely on a digital watch, doing without all the bells and whistles that a GPS offered. Only a few of the charity runners weren’t at all bothered, or would simply be satisfied with the time eventually allocated to them by the finish line officials. The usual loudspeaker announcements were being made which were either indecipherable or of no particular interest. Finally, the countdown began; prompting many of the runners to happily join in and to give a loud cheer as the air horn sounded to start the race. Barry was taken a little by surprise as those in front of him moved forward and were into their stride quicker than he had anticipated. He accelerated after them so as not to be caught up by those behind. Already the leaders were streaking away up the road, one or two trying to make a statement of intent to their rivals early on. Barry was certain that these elites would run by time, checking their watches constantly to ensure that they were running at their optimum pace. Too fast and they would ‘die’ later on in the race, too slow and they would not run to their potential. Other runners were intent only on finishing as high up the field as they could and, accordingly, would race by reference to the runners around them; many were well known to one another and knew each other’s capabilities. Barry didn’t recognise anybody around him – most were wearing the vests of Cornish or other West Country clubs – Cornwall AC, Newquay & Par, Mounts Bay, Exeter Harriers, Teignbridge Trotters. His was the only Wellhead vest, as far as he knew. He found himself in a group of four other men and started to settle into a rhythm. There was a long way to go and it was crucial to relax in the early stages, to run easily until at least half way. At that

220

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 221

stage, by listening to your body, you could better judge whether to turn up the gas a bit, a lot, or simply try to consolidate your position. But the terrain soon conspired against rhythmic running as they crossed the river and encountered a steady uphill section which then flattened only to climb sharply again before levelling out above the city. The group of five were breathing heavily after this early effort but were still well in control. Barry had developed a positive attitude to hills and he worked enthusiastically. He felt good and fresh, but was still astonished when he glanced at his Garmin for the first time as they passed the third mile marker. 17.20, a pace of faster than six-minute miling. Despite the early climbs the pace was considerably faster than he had planned and trained for. He had run his 10k race at something like 6.30m/m and, with the half marathon twice as long, he expected to run nearer seven-minute mile pace. This indicated that he was running faster than he could sustain. Yet he felt fresh and he was running easily. What should he do, stick with the group and probably crash and burn later, or fall back and conserve energy? After consideration he decided that, so what if he crashed and burned? He would try to stick with the group ... for the time being, anyway. BACK down on Plymouth Hoe Lara was giving a history lesson. ‘So, Sir Francis Drake was playing bowls right here.’ She mimed a perfectly-aimed bowl. ‘Then a messenger ran up and said that the Spanish Armada were coming.’ ‘What’s a Spanish Ardama, Mummy?’ It was Michelle, though for once Lauren didn’t know the answer, either. ‘Well, it was boats full of soldiers wanting to fight Sir Francis Drake.’ ‘What did they want to fight him for?’ ‘I don’t know, Michelle. But anyway, what do you think Sir Francis Drake did?’ ‘Ran away!’ >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

221

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 222

‘No, Michelle. He told the messenger that the Armada would have to wait a minute while he finished his game of bowls. Then he got into his ship and sailed out and sunk all the Armada!’ ‘Hurray!’ the girls cried. ‘And then he probably came back to Plymouth and bought an ice-cream. Can we have one Mummy?’ THE group was still five strong, though one of the originals had pulled up suddenly. Shortly afterwards they overhauled a female athlete who, for the moment, had dug in and was keeping them company. Five miles ticked by as they passed through the country lanes above the town and began a sweep to the west. Barry was still worried by the pace which, he was convinced, was too fast, but still he felt fresh and strong. The first water stop was signposted. Barry didn’t feel particularly thirsty but grabbed a plastic bottle from one of the volunteers anyway and took a swig. Bottles were better than plastic cups of water for the runners. From the organisers’ point of view they were much more trouble as they had to be collected afterwards from every part of the course, from where they had been discarded. It was not unusual to find the occasional bottle from a previous year hidden under a hedge or somewhere. By now they had dropped the woman off the back of the group and one of the lads was seemingly starting to struggle. Instinctively, Barry increased the pace for 30 seconds or so before easing back and was satisfied, on glancing back, to see that a nice ten-metre gap had opened up between the remaining three in the group and the struggler. The old racing instinct was still there, he thought, though the body might not be quite as strong. And indeed, shortly after the ninth mile marker he finally found the fast pace starting to tell. His energy reserves were running out and his legs were getting heavier. Now it was time for a bit of mental strength as the brain communicated with the legs and, as it sensed a dwindling of bodily resources, ordered the legs to slow down to conserve those resources. Barry needed to override those signals of the brain as he knew that >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

222

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 223

the body was capable of much more than the brain realised! He wanted to display no signs of weakness to his rivals and instead pushed out his chest, lifted his hips slightly and pressed the accelerator again, just for a few seconds. But his rivals were no mugs and could race as well. As they passed through 11 miles and they started to swing down towards the town, the two others, seemingly by agreement, increased the pace and this time Barry had no answer. He watched the gap increase and all he could do was to keep his increasingly aching legs turning over. One by one other runners came up to his shoulder and went by him. As they came to the last stretch to the Hoe he desperately tried to stay on the shoulder of one much younger rival and they passed through the finish gantry, side by side, Barry breathlessly waved the other athlete ahead of himself as they passed through the funnel. He was stunned as he looked at the Garmin which read just over 75 minutes, much faster than he thought he was capable of. They were checked in by the recorders, received their finishers’ medal and had their timing chips removed. The chips, attached to a shoelace, would have sent the signals to the race computer system so that the provisional results could be quickly produced. Grabbing a bottle and a banana Barry wearily looked for his family among the crowds. He was soon greeted by a delighted Michelle who declared Daddy to be the winner because of his medal! However, even Michelle was now ready to admit that this was a joke and that she ought to be proud of her Dad for just doing his best. They sat on the sea wall and chatted and Lauren told Barry the story of Sir Francis Drake. Over at the finish line runners were still coming through and would continue to do so for some time yet. Further down the seafront was a large marquee and some people were making their way down there so the Lanes now joined them. The marquee was quite full of runners and friends and family and, on the stage, there was much examining of paperwork. It appeared that the prize presentation was imminent – presumably enough runners had finished now to enable them to declare

223

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 224

the winners. Sure enough, the Race Director now stood up and welcomed everyone, the sponsors, VIPs and even the Lord Mayor of Plymouth who would present the prizes. Then, to great applause, the winners of the men’s and women’s races were announced and went on stage to collect trophies and an envelope each, and to have their photos taken with the Lord Mayor. Then second and third places for men and women were likewise declared. The ceremony had some way to run as now the age group category prizes were to be announced. Barry and Lara, near to the back, decided to head off and find the car. But as they turned to go they heard over the mic ‘Second place M40, Barry Lane, Wellhead Harriers.’ ‘Daddy, Daddy! That’s you! Go up!’ the girls danced in delight. Somewhat stunned, Barry made his way through to the stage to a round of applause, shook the sponsor’s hand and was handed a white envelope. He then stood beside the Lord Mayor and continued to look stunned as a camera flashed before he was able to step down. It was a happy party that hit the road back to St Ives. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

224

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 225

MARY couldn’t sleep, hadn’t slept properly for days. She was pregnant, there was no doubt about it. If there was anything good about this whole mess she was sure the baby was Jimmy’s. She was six weeks gone and she had slept with no one else in the last three months. How it had happened she had no idea. Following her lecture from Lara she had ‘copped on’ (as Jimmy would say) and had taken sensible precautions from that day on. She had no idea what she was to do about the situation. Tomorrow she would be meeting Jimmy in Birmingham and she would need to tell him then. What would his reaction be? She had read statistics about unplanned pregnancies like everyone else. Little did she realise that she would become a statistic. At least if you were a kid you had the excuses of either ignorance or pressure from the boys. She was a week off her 20th birthday and she couldn’t believe this had happened to her. She sighed and looked at her wristwatch – 2.15am. It was going to be another long night. AT The Breezes the Turners were a week away from departing. They would hold a small party the following weekend and hoped to be able to say their final farewells to all the friends they had made over the years. Although they had no regrets, no second thoughts, they were finding it hard to cut loose. Barry and Lara were looking forward to taking over completely. They felt that they were ready and they were anxious to start putting their plans into action. Certainly on Day one it would be very strange. The hotel would be closed for the winter and, in a practical sense, there wouldn’t be much to do in the short term. But they needed to put meat onto the bones of their plans and to get the wheels turning, or else Christmas would have come and gone be225 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

THIRTY-SIX

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 226

fore they knew it. The previous week they had gone up to London to see Michelle collect her Children of Bravery award at the Mansion House. It had been an emotional day with some heart-wrenching tales and some wonderful kids. As well as Barry, Lara and Lauren, Aunt Rose and Sean had gone. Then Michelle had spent hours agonising over which five friends from Wellhead she would invite. She could only narrow it down to six and the Lord Mayor’s secretary had squeezed the extra one in! Tomorrow, Saturday, they were taking another trip. This time they thought they deserved a weekend away before becoming hotel owners. They were driving up to Birmingham for a couple of days and, on Sunday, they would pop up to Sutton Park to cheer on Wellhead Harriers in the national road relay championships. Lara was, however, more excited by the prospect of meeting up with Mary Turner again who would be staying with her new boyfriend, Jimmy. They would arrange a meal or a drink somewhere over the weekend. ROSE and Sean were discussing wedding plans over dinner. Neither could see anything wrong with next Easter, or with the suggestion that the ceremony might take place in St Ives with the reception at The Breezes! ‘WHAT on earth is upsetting you, Sheila?’ James Grant, a gentle soul, was getting just a little bit exasperated at his wife’s snuffling this Friday evening. ‘For the twentieth time I just don’t know, James. Please don’t keep asking. I’m sorry, I just don’t know.’ James sighed and tried to concentrate on the television news. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

226

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 227

IN the end all the Lanes decided to go up to Birmingham for the national relays. As usual Michelle was keen to watch anything connected with sport, especially running. Lara’s mind was made up after speaking to young Mary on her mobile. Mary seemed unusually glum but it was she who had suggested that she and Jimmy come along to the running. It would be nice to see everybody again and to introduce Jimmy to them. Barry followed the signs for car parking and they all stepped out into a grey day, the rain just about holding off. Sutton Park appeared to be of vast proportions and well-suited to such an event. All around there were fit-looking runners – no charity runners or anyone else that couldn’t get themselves onto a team. All the teams had qualified from their regional championships so there were no hopeless cases, just serious-looking athletes getting ready to give it their best shot for their club. Here and there were dotted tents, erected by various clubs, acting as temporary headquarters and resting places for their runners. Already there were races under way for younger athletes – the women would compete afterwards and the senior men last of all. The men’s teams consisted of six runners, each of whom would complete a lap of about 5.8k before handing over to a teammate. The announcer was whipping up enthusiasm for the younger runners but the main focus would be on the senior races. Lara squealed with delight as she spotted Mary. She called to her, ran over and greeted her with a hug. Mary looked pale but introduced the handsome Jimmy Doyle to Lara and then to Barry and the girls. Not bad at all, thought Lara. Even if he was a bit older he was still a good looker and he looked as if he had the mischievous sense of humour for which his countrymen were noted. She hoped to be able to have a longer chat with him later on. Meanwhile, Barry thought he had spotted the Wellhead colours fluttering on a tent in the middle distance and strolled in that direction. And, indeed, he found the Wellhead men there, or four of them, anyway. He knew all of them including the captain John Carson. The two remaining runners and the reserve were on their way and had called in a few minutes ago to say that they were on the

227

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 228

M45 approaching Birmingham. After their silver medal in the Southern championships John was confident now that they could get a top six place. They had an excellent team – a couple of national-class runners with four solid performers. It all depended, really, on what teams their closest rivals could muster. If the likes of Belgrave Harriers, Leeds and the local favourites, Birchfield Harriers, put their top runners out, Wellhead would be blown away. But one star performer missing could make a big difference. With just under an hour to go the senior men were commencing their loosening up exercises which would eventually become even more energetic. Facing a hard run of 5.8k, or 3.6 miles there was no time for warming up in the early part of the run! Barry walked over to a refreshment stand with the girls and bought them Cokes. ‘Don’t tell your mother and brush your teeth later,’ he told them. Then they walked over to where the course was roped off, to watch some of the racing. The senior women were running around the tarmac paths and Barry tried to recognise the clubs they represented as they ran by. Unfortunately, Wellhead only had a senior men’s team; like a number of the older, traditional clubs they had never particularly encouraged the women. Neither did they have more than a handful of useful youngsters, though, for as he had discovered with Michelle, they were now starting to build from the bottom upwards. As a Tipton Harriers vest sped by he felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned. It was John Carson, looking fed up. ‘Barry, fancy a run?’ ‘Ha ha! No. What’s up?’ ‘RTA. The other lads are stuck on the motorway outside Coventry. Doesn’t look like they’ll get here.’ ‘What’ll you do, just run the four legs?’ The unsatisfactory option for teams short of numbers was to let those athletes present run and record a time, though they would not count in the team race. ‘Yes, I suppose so. But why not give it a blast yourself, Barry? You’re running pretty well and there would be no pressure. You’re

228

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 229

a signed-up club member so we could substitute you on the starting list, if we’re quick about it.’ Barry considered. His shoes were in the car with his kit bag. He was running well and, after Plymouth, was itching to run again. And it would be good to pull on the Harriers vest again after all these years. ‘Sod it, put my name down. I’ll get my gear on.’ John hurried off towards the organisers’ caravan. Barry ushered his bemused daughters over to Lara so they wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. He explained quickly what had happened then set off for the car. Then a thought crossed his mind. He turned back. ‘Jimmy, I’ve heard you run a bit? Make up the team for us.’ ‘Ah, just to keep fit. I’m no good. Don’t even think about it Barry!’ ‘If I buy your drinks all night tonight?’ ‘Deal! Get me some gear,’ grinned Jimmy. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ Barry hurried after John just as he reached the caravan. ‘I’ve got a mate who’ll run,’ he said to a surprised captain. ‘Who? He’s not a member though Barry,’ ‘But he’s not a member of anywhere. He’s unattached. You’re a club official, you can sign him up. Give it a whirl, nothing to lose.’ A few minutes later the first leg runners for the main race, the senior men, gathered near to the start as the last of the women crossed the finish line. It had taken some persuasion for the Wellhead substitutions to be accepted by the organisers and there was a good chance that any challenge to them by another team would succeed. Nevertheless, they had a full team now, one that would not trouble the leaders but who would hopefully figure in the list of finishing teams. Neither Barry nor Jimmy had club vests but they would grab those from the earlier runners once they had finished. Jimmy was running in the cross trainers he was wearing, probably the only runner of the day not to be using proper running shoes. In addition he had had to borrow shorts a couple of sizes too big for him and he’d fastened on his trousers’ belt to keep them up. Wellhead were in business, but only just.

229

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 230

Lara and Mary looked on in bemusement, Lauren and Michelle in growing excitement. They now understood the format of the race and were looking forward to shouting on the lads, including the unlikely late substitutes. And then the first leg runners lined up, a gun sounded and they were off. It had been decided that Jimmy would run fifth and Barry sixth and last. They had had no chance yet to warm up so they took the opportunity to get up to speed as best they could while the early runners made their way around Sutton Park. The leaders started to appear up the road and Wellhead were in an excellent fourth place at the first handover. John, the captain, was next and held the club’s position at the end of leg two. Jimmy and Barry grabbed the vests of their club mates and got ready, nerves starting to jangle. Also-rans or not, Wellhead were a well-known club and both would be in the spotlight to some degree. To some surprise and a ripple of applause Wellhead pulled back a place and handed over to their fourth runner in third place. Belgraves and Birchfield were away up the road ahead and clear in the battle for the lead, with a number of teams grouped behind Wellhead. As Jimmy stepped out ready to take over Wellhead had slipped back to fifth. With their two regular runners they would have been in a fine position but now, with their two late replacements, they were about to start falling away. To gasps of astonishment from the spectators the chap in the Wellhead vest and baggy shorts shot off in pursuit of the leading teams like he had the Devil on his back! ‘Who’s that?’ was the question on many lips. It was unusual for a runner from a top club not to be recognised on the circuit, but there were shrugs of shoulders as team managers and athletes admitted ignorance in the matter. The consensus was that the fellow would burn out early in his run and would stagger in way down the field. It was to general amazement then that, in close pursuit of Bels in the lead, and Birchfield in second, the Wellhead runner appeared up the road and ran strongly through the line in third. Now there was a serious flurry of activity with many pursuing John Carson, the Wellhead captain, or climbing the steps of the or-

230

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 231

ganisers’ caravan, demanding answers. Jimmy Doyle appeared to be his name. Not one of those present had heard of him. The bloke must have damn near run the fastest time of the day so far and he was a total unknown! Surely he’d cheated, somehow. There were major mutterings of discontent as the race neared its climax. The sixth and last Wellhead runner didn’t feature on the printed programme, either. However, a number of the older hands recognised him. A little heavier, maybe, but unmistakably Barry Lane, come out of retirement. Good runner in his day but Wellhead must be struggling to have to wheel him out today. He’d brought his own fan club by the looks of it, a woman and two young girls cheering him wildly as he set off. Barry saw the two class runners ahead of him rapidly disappearing. As he accelerated to a speed he hoped that he could sustain, he wondered how in God’s name he now found himself in third place on the last leg of the national road relays. When he’d agreed to run, a little over an hour ago, he’d envisaged stretching his legs a bit down amongst the dead men. What a runner Jimmy was, and what talent had lain undiscovered! He glanced back – his nearest pursuer, in what he thought might be a Leeds vest, was a fair distance behind. He’d be swallowed up before long but he pushed himself into overdrive, determined to go down fighting. The crowds out here were thinner now but Barry’s legs ate up the ground as he passed the half way mark as he glanced back again. This time there were three vests close together, but he was surprised they weren’t closing the gap to him quicker. They were running smarter than he was, Barry reckoned. He was running about as fast as he could now and anticipated his legs tying up at any moment as the lactic took hold. But, to his surprise, he was maintaining a good pace as the footpath curved back towards the inflatable finishing arch and the crowds. One more look back and the pursuers were now within 20 metres. They had Barry well in their sights and each of them knew that the last place on the podium, and a bronze medal, was now up for grabs. Barry entered the long final stretch but he could now hear the heavy breathing and light multiple footsteps close behind him. He was done for, but he’d done his best for his club. The first of the

231

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 232

pursuers was level with him now with the line only 30 metres away. The sensation of an opponent on his shoulder suddenly awoke Barry’s survival instinct and, from somewhere, he found some last vestiges of willpower that simply overrode his body’s capabilities. But he couldn’t hold his place against the younger man and he fell over the line in fourth place, before the world dissolved before his eyes and he blacked out. He came to, sometime later, breathing oxygen and hooked up to a heart monitor in which he imagined was the medical tent. Lara and the girls were standing nearby and they were relieved when he regained consciousness, looked at them and smiled. He recalled the recent battle and how it had finished. ‘Ah well, I tried,’ he said, removing the oxygen mask. ‘You got a medal Daddy! Here it is!’ It was Lauren, and indeed she was holding out what appeared to be a bronze medal. Barry was puzzled. ‘There was an objection or something,’ Lara tried to explain. ‘The winners were disqualified and your team was promoted to third. John will explain better. They’re outside.’ The paramedics judged Barry recovered and OK to go. Thanking them, Barry walked outside with his family. There were the Wellhead team clowning around with Jimmy to the fore. Barry was surrounded, congratulated and patted on the back. It was questionable whose run was the most astonishing, Jimmy the unknown’s or Barry the veteran’s. Between them they had totally upset the applecart. Even if there were further objections in days to come, they could never take back this moment.

Lara said that she would ring Mary later and they would meet for dinner. Barry put an arm around each daughter and walked slowly to the car. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

232

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 233

‘D’YOU know, I might be quite good if someone told me how to run,’ Jimmy said later that day. He and Mary had returned to his apartment having said their goodbyes to the four Wellhead lads who were driving back to London, over the moon with their third place trophy. ‘Well, I know nothing about it, I’m only a girl. But being the second fastest among the country’s top runners isn’t too shabby, I’d agree. And you’ve never had any coaching or anything?’ Mary was relaxing with a coffee. ‘No, I didn’t even run at school. Couldn’t be bothered. I enjoyed it today, though. Maybe I’ll take it more seriously in future.’ Certainly he would be under pressure to do so. Britain wasn’t so blessed with top runners that people in high places were going to ignore Jimmy. He had created a sensation in his baggy shorts held up with a belt, running the legs off some classy athletes. More than a few observers had compared him to William Wilson, the comic book character, who appeared at the last minute to break records before disappearing back into the hills to live on nuts and berries. There were others convinced that Jimmy had taken a short cut across the park, but no one had actually seen that happen and the runners themselves were making no such claims. Mary still hadn’t told Jimmy about her pregnancy. Now didn’t seem to be the right time. Perhaps later tonight. They’d arranged to go back out to north Birmingham to meet Barry, Lara and the kids at the hotel they were staying at. They’d booked a table for six and after dinner Jimmy was going to hold Barry to his promise of standing him drinks all night! Mary was looking forward to chin wagging with Lara again; she’d tell her the news and maybe ask her advice as to what she should do. Lara was easy to talk to and always had sensible things to say. She looked across at her running hero and wondered if they had a future together. The next 24 hours might provide the answer. 233

THIRTY-SEVEN

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 234

LAUREN and Michelle were in their element. They reckoned that this was a cool hotel compared to The Breezes. There was a big games room with Internet, screen games, table tennis and lots of other stuff. It had a shop and a huge, busy bar. They had met some other boys and girls and they were allowed to run about the corridors. Outside there were swings, although it was a bit damp for that today. They had lots of ideas for improving The Breezes that they would be passing on to Mum and Dad! Barry and Lara were getting ready for dinner. Barry had had a brief nap after coming back from Sutton Park and he felt right as rain again now. They had decided to let the kids run riot downstairs for a while. It seemed that everyone else’s kids were. This hotel took the phrase ‘family friendly’ to an extreme – it was more like a holiday camp. It seemed like many of the runners were staying here with their families. The hotel had the advantages of being cheap and close to Sutton Park but otherwise it was all they didn’t want The Breezes to become! Nevertheless, they were looking forward to dinner and drinks with Mary and Jimmy. They both instinctively liked Jimmy although he seemed to be something of a man of mystery. Maybe they would elicit some further and better details about his background as the evening went by. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

GER Conroy, Johnny and Jack Quinn, Joe Lynch and Mikey Doyle were duly assembled. Each was comfortably seated on their usual barstools; in front of each were pints at various stages of completion. For the moment an easy silence reigned. Over in the far corner a desultory game of 501 was taking place, periodically interrupted by the disappearance of the participants who would take it in turns to go outside for a fag. Away from the

234

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 235

bar an old couple sat silently at a table, and at the next table was an old man with flat cap nursing a pint and a drop of Paddy’s as a Sunday night treat. Con Flanagan, without much else to do, wiped the bar with a damp cloth. The clock read 9.07pm. THE dinner menu at least had the advantages of being both short and simple. Barry, for one, found this extremely satisfactory. He’d always been confused, for example, by bookshops. He’d wander around for an hour or so from section to section, looking at the selections offered from top shelf down to bottom. He’d emerge blinking into the daylight clutching a book that, as often as not, he’d throw in the corner after a chapter or two. He reasoned that, if a bookshop contained just two books, you would make your selection much faster and with equal chance of enjoying your selection. ‘Paté and fish,’ he announced, putting his plastic menu back on the table. ‘Though I’m worried about the freshly-caught bit,’ he continued. ‘Do they trawl Gas Street Basin for their cod and rush it up here just for us?’ ‘Don’t be facetious, Barry. I think I’ll go for the stuffed mushrooms, then the veal.’ Lara added. Michelle didn’t care if it was babyish, she was going to have chicken teddies and chips. Lauren turned up her nose at the children’s menu and would have the same as Mum. ‘No bacon and cabbage?’ roared Jimmy, ‘Jaysus, bring me a shteak with plenty of shpuds then!’ The girls squealed with laughter and Mary squeezed his leg. She herself went along with Lara and Lauren. The waitress who took their order was pleasant and childfriendly; she probably didn’t need too many other talents in this hotel. She flitted from table to table taking orders and delivering meals while her colleague worked the other half of the room. Her name badge read Marta, probably a foreign woman, thought Lara. It set her thinking all over again about the shape and nature that >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

235

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 236

their new restaurant would take. The waiting staff would be of vital importance, she thought, along, of course, with the chef. They dare not make any mistakes in staff selection. The food arrived promptly, edible if not inspired. However, the Lane party was in high spirits and were not inclined to quibble. Jimmy was proving a hit with everyone, his quick wit and ready laughter even spreading to the nearby tables. The children loved him already. After such a successful day at the relays the drink inevitably started flowing. The Lanes were staying here overnight and Mary and Jimmy would taxi back into town later so there were no driving worries. Barry and Jimmy had, at an early stage, resigned themselves to the fact that the hotel was a beer desert. No Real Ale, of course, and Jimmy’s first and only pint of Guinness had been sloshed into the glass in sacrilegious fashion. They were therefore happy to stick to the drinkable house wine, as did Lara and Mary. Lara was just a little concerned for Mary. Despite her obvious pleasure at being with Jimmy she looked pale and preoccupied and drank little. The girls were being highly entertained by Barry and Jimmy so Lara decided it was time for a girlie chat. She caught Mary’s eye and they both stood up and headed out of the restaurant. It was rather quieter in the public areas now and they found a pair of armchairs under a potted palm. ‘Mary, you look happy and unhappy somehow. Is anything wrong?’ She came straight to the point. Mary looked down and was quiet for a long moment. She knew that she had to tell someone. She had prevaricated from telling Jimmy but she couldn’t keep this to herself any longer; she was making herself sick with worry. Lara was the obvious person to tell in the first instance. In the short time they’d known each other they’d become firm friends and Lara could be relied upon to be non-judgemental and to give sensible advice. She took a deep breath. ‘I’m pregnant Lara, I ...’ she broke down in sobs, not knowing what else to say. Immediately Lara was at her side. ‘Come on, let’s go for a walk.’ Lara took her arm and they

236

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 237

stepped out of the hotel entrance. There was a sort of floodlit rockery garden off to the side with several paths wandering through it. The friends headed this way in the cool night air, conscious of the hum of motorway traffic and the winking lights of aircraft on their final approach to Birmingham International. By this time Mary had gathered herself and continued. ‘Yes, I’m pregnant. And it’s definitely Jimmy’s, before you ask, I’ve been with no one else since.’ ‘And you’ve not told him?’ ‘No, I can’t. I don’t know how, Lara. What will he say? What will I do?’ ‘OK,’ began Lara, ‘first, you’re not the first woman to get pregnant accidently and you won’t be the last. So stop being such a victim. Second, Jimmy deserves to know, now, tonight.’ ‘Nooo,’ wailed Mary, ‘I can’t, Lara!’ ‘Mary, he’s not daft. He’ll know well enough soon without you telling him. In the meantime you’ll just sit there and make yourself sicker and sicker with worry. Do you love him?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Then there’s no argument, tell him now.’ ‘But what if he gets angry, what if ...’ ‘Then we talk again, go to the next logical step. But what if he’s delighted?’ Mary brightened. ‘Oh God, all right, how will I tell him, Lara?’ ‘Wait there.’ Lara walked back into the hotel and to their table where the four of them were in gales of laughter and fast becoming the source of entertainment, or in one or two cases, annoyance for the other diners. Lara took hold of a surprised Jimmy’s arm and led him out of his chair and, ignoring his worried questions, out of the hotel entrance. Mary stood there by the rockery gardens in the gentle floodlighting. Lara gave Jimmy a little shove between his shoulder blades in her direction and turned back, returning to the table. She sat down with her puzzled family, sipped from her wine glass and waited. ‘Just wait a few minutes,’ was all she’d say in reply to all interrogatives. Despite her coolness she was desperately hoping for a

237

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 238

good outcome. Then she looked up and Jimmy and Mary were walking back into the restaurant. To her delight and relief they were arm in arm and Mary’s face was wreathed in smiles. At the table they remained locked together. Jimmy picked up a fork and rattled it against a flower vase until the restaurant fell silent, all eyes on the couple. ‘Go on then,’ Jimmy said to her. Taking a deep breath Mary screamed: ‘We’re getting married and we’re going to have a baby!’ The restaurant erupted in cheering and applause. Jimmy and Mary embraced. Only Lara remained in her chair smiling, feeling very pleased with herself. THE evening wore on and tables were cleared. A four-piece band set up on the small raised stage and started running through a tired repertoire. There continued to be a steady stream of traffic to and from the bar, some enjoying the show from the tables, others preferring to escape and talk and drink in the bar area. Lara suggested it was time for bed but Lauren and Michelle were having none of it, especially once ‘Uncle’ Jimmy announced he was going up to sing! Mary had heard Jimmy sing and judged him to be as good as many. Barry, Lara and the children were looking forward to hearing him. They wondered if the band would agree. During a break Jimmy went up and spoke to the band. They seemed to come to some agreement as Jimmy unfurled the mic, blew the dust off it and tested it for sound. A few heads turned as Jimmy introduced himself and his first song – this might be a bit better than listening to a mediocre band without a vocalist. A few more heads turned as Jimmy’s tuneful voice started to change the mood of the night. It’s a long, long way from Clare to here It’s a long long way, it gets further every day It’s a long, long way from Clare to here >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Only the keyboard player knew the old traditional tune and he

238

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 239

picked out the notes as Jimmy’s voice carried the song into the furthest corner of the restaurant and into the bar. There was appreciative applause as the song came to an end. Jimmy immediately launched into another, this time accompanied by three out of four instruments. As I roved by the dockside one evening so fair To view the salt waters and take the sea air I heard an old fisherman singing a song Oh take me away boys my time is not long

Some in the audience knew the rollicking chorus and soon everyone was bawling it out. Wrap me up in me oilskins and blankets No more at the docks I’ll be seen Just tell me old shipmates I’m taking a trip mates And I’ll see you someday in Fiddler’s Green

They soon got the hang of it and Jimmy happily strung out the song to allow everyone a good singalong. Barry and Mary joined in as loudly as the rest. Lara, however was suddenly unsettled; she had virtually forgotten Seb the old fisherman at St Ives – she hadn’t seen him since that first morning when he had become disturbed when talking about a song called Fiddler’s Green. Tragedy and sorrow, he’d foretold. Jimmy, theatrically, waited for the loud applause to die down and then, seemingly happy to continue unaccompanied, his rich voice took up another Irish air. Most of the drinkers at the bar had now drawn closer to watch the performance together with those at the tables. The pale moon was rising above the green mountains The sun was declining beneath the blue sea When I strayed with my love by the pure crystal fountain That stands in the beautiful Vale of Tralee

239

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 240

During the last line Jimmy left the stage and walked to where Mary sat at the table. He took her hand gently and continued. She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer Yet ‘twas not her beauty alone that won me Oh no, ‘twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning That made me love Mary the Rose of Tralee

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and applause rippled as Jimmy returned to the stage to continue. Within seconds the happy atmosphere turned to nightmare. The melodic notes were stilled forever by the sound of two popping sounds from somewhere near to the bar, the smell of burning powder and a figure running rapidly out through the hotel entrance. Jimmy’s mic dropped to the floor, his hands clutched gut and chest from where blood streamed through his fingers and, with a puzzled expression on his face, he fell forward from the stage. There was screaming and chaos as the diners ran from the scene. In horror Lara gathered her girls and ushered them away. With an unearthly shriek Mary threw herself down beside the body of her fiancé and tried to shake him back to life. It could not be done; and in the days and weeks ahead Mary would wish with all her heart to follow him to wherever he’d gone. IN the Ballybricken area of Waterford, Sheila Grant struggled frantically out of bed and rushed to the window, wailing and moaning. James, her husband, alarmed, followed her and held her. ‘Sheila, what’s wrong, what is it?’ ‘He’s dead, James, he’s dead! The banshee!’ ‘No, Sheila, no. It was a bad dream. Come back to bed.’ ‘I was awake, James, I heard the banshee screaming, I swear it! Our son’s dead, James!’ Knowing deep in his heart she was right, James led his wife gently downstairs to say the Rosary over a cup of tea. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 241

Project 3 Roy's book Quark 7:Layout 1

8/1/12

11:27

Page 242

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful