Cyclist

A Longer War

Following superb work by Julia P I have just finished amending the formatted manuscript she provided (some other errors I had already seen, plus a couple of revisions, as well as copyright, 'other books by', etc) and now published it on Kindle. It will take a day or three to surface, but it will be along in short order. Remember that this site provides links to Amazon that earn commission.

A Longer War 76

CHAPTER 76
I walked up to the side door again, letting myself in and going directly to the vestry, where Ruth, naturally, had the kettle on ready. She already knew my habits, and I had a sudden warm memory of Wilf’s. Time for a brew?

The doctor had been as gentle as she could be, but her message couldn’t be mistaken.

“So what’s plan, then, Doctor?”

Sparkle

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This coming weekend sees the Manchester Sparkle event, written of by Bev Taff a few times. I will be there from Saturday afternoon as I will be working on one of their 'market stalls' all Sunday for my support network.

If anyone is about, stop by and say hello!

Better things

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I am coming to the end of another book, and it is triggering all sorts of thoughts about my life. I went through transition some years ago, from a hairy rugby-playing 'bloke' with a beard to a plump woman with bobbed hair and a taste for print dresses. I went up to York a week ago, for what used to be the Cyclists' Touring Club's annual rally, and I rediscovered myself.

A Longer War 75

CHAPTER 75
Matthew was as solidly cheerful as I should have expected, and we made quite the show of old warriors at the top table. Some judicious work by phone had secured the attendance of all the lads from the show, and I found myself looking forward to watching it. I stayed off the booze as my guts were not feeling too well, but the food went down well, and of course I was with friends. Such a different night to a certain evening one February. Val was sitting at another table along with Susie and Andy, and there was a large group from the yard.

A Longer War 74

CHAPTER 74
I left the church feeling far more optimistic than before my entry. Ruth (“My dad was the Reverend, Gerald”) was far from the stuffy man I remembered from our old family church, seeming more like the Padre we had fought next to over the Channel. She had depths to her that seemed to show that history of some complicated sort lay behind her smile, and more than that she made me feel good about and happy within myself.

A Longer War 73

CHAPTER 73
I ended up walking past my car, my mind elsewhere. As Susie would put it, I was on autopilot. I had wondered, I had worried, but even with Andy’s nagging I had managed to put it to the back of my mind. Once again, I thought of Susie’s turn of phrase: I had been in that African river, de Nile.

A Longer War 72

CHAPTER 72
That was a profoundly different experience to our earlier trip, and not just because the only real comrade I had with me on the second visit was Ernie. There was far more ceremony for starters, the two mayors seemingly trying to outdo each other in matters of sash and chain, and we were almost marched down the main street behind a brass band apparently made up of firemen. I didn’t think there were actually that many people in the village.

A Longer War 70

CHAPTER 70
He was blushing again, but there was a grin behind the lowered head and shuffling hands.

“Yeah, can’t really hide that one, can I? We haven’t set a date, but, well, it was sort of obvious. Pete asked Laura, and I saw the way her mum was smiling, and it just made sense to follow the boy’s example. Too many wasted years…”

He faltered, just for a few seconds, but then the smile was back, twice as bright and utterly natural this time.

A Longer War 69

CHAPTER 69
We didn’t see much of Pete for a while, and before I knew it Easter and its rush of tourists was on us. The older I got, the faster the years went, like water down a plug hole. Darren was looking at his approaching exams as well, so I ended up spending far more time on my knees in a boat than sat in the office. That bit was covered by Susie and Doreen, of course, a hand-painted name-plate prominent on one desk, but in the end I couldn’t put the hours in that were needed, as my knees simply couldn’t take it.

A Longer War 68

CHAPTER 68
The floods weren’t bad that winter, but as usual customer numbers collapsed for a couple of months. We kept ourselves afloat by doing that for others, with a steady succession of boats to hoist out and check for damage, fouling, caulking and the rest. Trevor and Ricky knew what they were doing with that, and it let Darren push ahead with his studies. If things went well, he would get his certificates in time for the school holiday period, just when they would be needed most.

A Longer War 67

CHAPTER67
That was a conversation-stopper if ever I heard one, and even with Susie living under my roof I had difficulty putting together everything Pete was saying. It was the pronouns, really. There was his lad, with a lecturer called John, and all Pete was saying was ‘she’ and ‘her’.

“Pete, mate. Look. I’m not getting this all in shape in my head. Start from scratch?”

Shooting

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Just finished a conference by phone, and it was chaos. There has been a stabbing, shooting and murder-by-car at our Parliament, and many of the people I was talking to were in lockdown, literally. Everyone I know (including one member of the House of Lords) in the area is safe.

A Longer War 66

CHAPTER 66
Matthew’s voice was still strong, despite his years. Rodney had spoken, I had said a few words, but it was Matthew who delivered the message, in a parish church in West Sussex.

“Friends. Comrades. Maurice Flanagan was an officer in the pay corps. The war in which so many of us suffered and lost so much, yet won a prize beyond value, passed him by. It was not his choice, for fate and the War Office had delivered him to a desk rather than an armoured vehicle, had clad him in Number Twos rather than armour plate or battledress.

Sisters 61

CHAPTER 61
I wandered back along the hallway as my wife thundered down the stairs, and beat me to the living room. As I entered, everyone seemed to be wrapped around everyone else, but all eyes turned to me. I kept the glum face on as long as I could, but Sar wrestled the test wand out of my hand.

“Yes! Two-nil!”

A Longer War 65

CHAPTER 65
I was really at a loss without her, and when Pete left shortly afterwards to take his boy down I was almost lost. It was an education, in a sense. I had spent so long on my own after Tricia had been taken I had felt that I was comfortable in my solitude, that I didn’t need people around me. I realised just then, as the house emptied and the nearest of my friends headed south, that I had merely been numb, not comfortable. Just because you lose the feeling in a hand or other bit doesn’t mean it can’t get damaged, just that the pain doesn’t tell you if it does. That had been my life: numbed, no pain, but steadily being damaged by my isolation.

A Longer War 64

CHAPTER 64
I have never liked doctors. I don’t mean that I don’t like the people who do the job, as Julian and Charles clearly demonstrated. I just don’t like the places, the smells. That stay in hospital after I had met Susie had been more than enough to be going on with for a very long time.

A Longer War 62

CHAPTER 62
I almost lost track of the year after that, for it was all rather an anti-climax following on from such events. We got some new boats in to replace some of the older cruisers, for the people who wanted them rather than traditional narrowboats always wanted all mod cons, whereas the other sort kept our little souvenir shop turning over nicely. I have heard all sorts of words applied to what we sold, the rudest being ‘tat’ and the politest ‘folk art’, but the hand-painted enamel plates and watering cans sold well.

A Longer War 61

CHAPTER 61
“What brought this on, Pete?”

He was silent for just the few seconds it took me to realise how worried he really was.

“Ah, Gerald, mate, it’s how he is. Bloody stubborn, pig-headed, independent, call it what you will. I can’t tell him… Shit, mate, he thinks I’m lining him up here cause I don’t think he can cope on his own, find his own…”

Another short silence, and again I waited.

“I nearly said ‘find his own feet’, and that would… I’m not making sense, am I?”

Sisters 60

CHAPTER 60
It went better than I had expected, at least as far as his embarrassment went. He actually seemed to be looking forward to it, so after an obligatory bit of teasing about how the pot had been filled, he started in on his own questions.

“I don’t know, Tone. Thing is, we’re looking at a sort of simultaneous birth thing. If we can manage it, that is”

A Longer War 60

CHAPTER 60
Ashley had been right, and there was no chance of a proper knees-up for the newly engaged, so we settled for a proper night in for the New Year. Work came back to haunt us, but in the end it was a relief getting back out of the house and seeing what damage the usual winter floods had done.

We were lucky that year, no wet feet in the King’s Arms, and the first few days of the year were spent setting out priorities for maintenance and refurbishment. Susie had somehow managed to find a source of Bolinder spares and reconditioned engines in Birmingham, and then added to her not-so-little coup by negotiating an incredibly cheap contract for traditional enamel ware with an artists’ studio in Camden.

A Longer War 58

CHAPTER 58
Harwich was visible from a long way off, or at least the big white reactor dome at Sizewell. There was nothing really visible of England apart from the dome for what seemed like hours, but eventually we were passing the moles or piers or whatever they are called and nosing up to the dock. There was the usual hanging about while sailors did sailor things, and then we were called down to our vehicles. Pete drove, silent that morning, and in a very short while we picked up the first motorway up past Cambridge, leading on to the A1 after a frighteningly busy dual carriageway to Huntingdon.

A Longer War 57

CHAPTER 57
Nobody said much at breakfast the next day, but we were all packed and ready to go. Pete had spent some time on the phone to the ferry company, and after he had explained the reason for our change in plans they agreed to bring forward the day our tickets would be valid for. It would be an evening departure and an overnight voyage to Harwich before the last leg up through England. As we finished the bread, cheese and sliced meats, Susie reached across to take Pete’s hand.

“Pete, love, who’s going down with you to meet plane?”

A Longer War 56

CHAPTER 56
The bus was quiet that morning, Ashley seeming a little lost. Pete was driving, so I made my way down to where the young man was staring out of the window. He’d said nothing over breakfast, and apart from a quiet ‘morning’ nothing at all since we got up. I slipped into the seat beside him.

“Bit quiet today, son”

He looked down at his hands. “Bit thinking to do, Mr Barker. Not much sleep last night”

Sisters 59

CHAPTER 59
Annie’s face worked once more in little twitches, her breath catching.

“Diane? What….”

“Lainey’s told me it all, or I suppose what she thinks I should know, A—nnie. I didn’t want to rock your boat, and, well, Elaine, this is a bit of a surprise, isn’t it? Not quite what we agreed, not at all”

A Longer War 55

CHAPTER 55
Pete was driving the bus the next morning, and I caught him giving me a sly look every so often, when he clearly thought I wouldn’t catch him at it, for he broke into a cheery smile each time I looked round quickly. I collared him before I boarded.

“What’s up, pal?”

“What do you mean?”

“You looking at me all queer, like. What’s on your mind?”

Sisters

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She was already in her own posing kit, all leather pelmet and pointy boots, and as she stood before me, hands on hips, mock-glowering, I had a small moment when I saw Sam peeking out from her eyes, and I realised I could hardly remember my brother, for Sarah was just so, so right in her skin.


Sisters


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A Longer War 54

CHAPTER 54
The next morning I had a hangover, of course, but we all did, so while Pete did something with the bus engine we pushed Maurice down the street in his chair for another look at our little garden. The café had done us a continental style breakfast which actually included a lot of sliced meats and cheeses rather than just funny bread and jam, so said hangover was ebbing, at least in my case. I could have murdered a bacon sandwich.

Sisters 58

CHAPTER 58
It was an odd year, in the end. Annie was clearly settled entirely into her new life, and each time I saw her she seemed somehow shorter. I realised she was like my forearms, that tell Siân was always so quick to spot. As she caught life up after so many years of pursuit, the tension was leaving her body. Even though she was like Alice in her devotion to heels, her physical presence diminished as her personality was finally allowed out to face the world.

A Longer War 53

CHAPTER 53
We ate that night in a pizzeria next door to another cheap chain hotel, just outside Lille. The restaurant offered what I was learning to call wi-fi, and Susie was able to run a real-time conversation with her mother through her computer.

“Sent her pics of lily ponds, Gerald. She’s quite chuffed!”

“Told her about pressie?”

“No, I’ll save that for back home. Make a thing of it, prodigal…daughter comes home, like”

A Longer War 52

CHAPTER 52
He took his leave, Susie still trembling as she sat open-mouthed. It was Charles who broke the silence.

“What have I been telling you, my dear? You must have faith. People are in the main decent”

Ernie called back “Aye, but arseholes, pardon my French, stick in the memory longer. Pete. Where we off to now?”

“Short trips, lads, Susie. Pegasus Bridge museum and a cuppa at the café”

A Longer War 50

CHAPTER 50
Susie wasn’t too late back, which suited all of us, especially as I had been forced to threaten Valerie to go home rather than sit up awaiting the prodigal daughter. I had taken myself to bed, but I couldn’t sleep till I heard the key in the lock, a clatter of heeled shoes on the doorstep and, of all things, a giggle. The next morning, there was a knock at my bedroom door and in came my girl with a tray of tea and a couple of rounds of toast and jam.

“What brought this on?”

“Nowt, really, just felt like it”

A Longer War 49

CHAPTER 49
I looked across at her, till she yelped and I turned my eyes to the front as we narrowly missed a cyclist. Concentrate, Ginge. I realised how much that one question had weighed on my mind.

“Susie, think on. I suspect he might be a bit lonely, what with his lad being away and that”

“Aye, and Mam thinks he has someone in his past as well”

A Longer War 48

CHAPTER 48
He was looking down at his hands as he started speaking again, and I watched his forearms ripple as sinews stood out and relaxed. He was far from relaxed himself, obviously.

“Right. You, we all know what Susie is, here and now. No, girl, let me finish. Not a good place to be, not in today’s world”

Susie snorted. “Better than it were, Pete!”

“Yes, better than it’s ever been, in a way, but we should really say not as bad. I don’t think it’s ever going to be ‘good’, not in any absolute sense”

Arwel Powell

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One of my favourite characters is a deep, loving man of fierce protectiveness and uncommon good sense. His name is Arwel Powell, and one of the best descriptions of him is as an iceberg, showing very little of the depth of his personality on the surface. He is based on a real person, a family member, and I found out today that the original for my character has just been given five months to live.

Words do fail me occasionally.

A Longer War 47

CHAPTER 47
“So, Andrew, what do you do for work?”

Valerie was smiling and clearly doing her very best for her daughter.

“I’m a draughtsman, at Harwell’s out by Layerthorpe”

Pete looked up at that. “Bit of a narrow field, us three then. All engineers of one sort or another”

“I just do the drawings, Pete”

“Yes, but there’ll be a bit of insight there. Never looked at someone else’s work and thought that something didn’t look right?”

Sisters 57

CHAPTER 57
In the end, I spent two weeks off work. My bosses were very clear in their instructions, and I was told that it was being recorded as ‘gardening leave’ rather than sickness absence, to avoid the stigma such things bring. Effectively, I was suspended on full pay, but without the implied misbehaviour.

A Longer War 46

CHAPTER 46
Susie was annoying for some weeks after that, as she fretted for what she clearly saw as vindication of her status. I had spent quite a while trying to straighten out the tax people for her PAYE and that, but no matter how many times she saw her name on a payslip she still didn’t seem to find my recognition ‘official’ enough. The Saturday it finally came, she went missing for an evening, returning home in the small hours in a very well-oiled state. I said nothing as she came in, just made her a cup of tea and saw her safely up the stairs.

Sisters 56

CHAPTER 56
It wasn’t as quick as that, of course, but we did at least get the process started. It was going to be a long haul. They needed to do so many odd things with our bits I lost track, but that wasn’t the problem. We could sort out the fertilisation bit any time, but it was the implementation, the implanting, that needed thought. Would we have what would effectively be twins, or would we stagger it to spread the, er, labour?

See if we get a viable kid-to-be first, Elaine, then plan.

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