Lifeline 41

I had a hangover the next morning, but we had the shower, as Mam had promised, and I spent more than a few minutes soaking, which gave me time to settle my mood and my behaviour. Not my day, much as I might have wished things had followed a different course, but in a way the day actually was mine. Two people I loved would be happy, so suck it up, woman, and be happy for them. After all, didn’t I have Class?

Lifeline 40

Cardiff wasn’t on any of Mossman’s schedules, so I had to take the train. Carol dropped me off at Cannock station early in the morning, which saved me some faff as well as giving her time to speak rather a few words of calm and comfort. I had a rucksack with the basics, plus a sleeping bag wrapped round a single air mattress, as the wedding and sort-of-reception would be at an MC clubhouse, and I had no idea what their sleeping arrangements were.

Lifeline 39

Mick Worsley had put a word in for me with the boss, and they had been as helpful as I could have hoped. There was a drop due in Chester, another a day later. I could ride there on the first drop, and if I could find somewhere to spend the night, I was guaranteed a lift most of the way there and back. I had started to laugh when Mr Mossman mentioned ‘finding somewhere to stay’, and he had given me a sharp look.

“Nothing really, Boss. It’s just that the last time I found somewhere to pass the night in Chester, it was under a tarpaulin in a pleasure boat by the river. I might just go a bit upmarket this time”

Lifeline 38

The letter was waiting for me one Wednesday evening in early May, sitting on the doormat when I returned from a job running a groupage to three addresses in Stafford. The envelope was handwritten, and I didn’t recognise the style, but there was a real stamp on rather than an imprint from an office franking machine, which had been the case with the first letter, the one I had found on the same mat on Tuesday.

Lifeline 37

The pattern of my life was set for the next year and a half, and to be honest, it wasn’t that bad. I worked hard in the week, putting in the hours at both the training centre and the local haulier, Mossman’s, that Dad had passed my care onto. There is more to driving a freight lorry than sitting behind the wheel, and Mossman’s gave me a decent apprenticeship in those extras. Their fitters talked me through the basics of maintenance, so that I could make a half-decent guess at the cause of a problem, and perhaps solve it without needing to call out a fitter or tow truck, but that wasn’t all of it.

Lifeline 36

So many changes to my life began that day. It wasn’t just the stress and challenge of learning to handle multiple tons of recalcitrant wagon, but the solitude I was left with in the Cannock house.

Mam and Dad were back on the road a week after dropping me off, for the simple reason that we needed the income, and that was how we got it. I had Carol and Peter next door, of course, which meant a regular meal in their company, as well as the steady supply of my drugs and hormones. That actually brought another major change in everything, as Carol insisted I had to go straight, which threw me for a second. She caught my expression, grinning happily.

“No, woman! Not wearing a twinset and listening to Cliff Richard! Have you registered with a GP yet?”

Lifeline 34

There was a lot more discussion, but in the end, it was quite a simple process, if long-winded. Bennett agreed to send everything necessary to the Cannock house, where Dad would arrange for Carol or Pete to pick up the mail and forward it to one of our safe places on the road.

“Will she be able to apply for a provisional licence now? Start driving and that?”

“I can’t see why not, Mr Petrie. She’s old enough, and you have a permanent residence, even if you don’t actually seem to reside there very permanently. Forms are in any Post Office. You will just need to put her on your insurance, of course"

Lifeline 33

That was going to take some planning, but we had time, and the Hairy Stotty was calling, a rally far more to my taste than the Midgesummer had been. We made our way down there with the van’s windows wide open so as to catch a cooling breeze, which didn’t work too well, and on arrival found that the ground was baked absolutely solid. That lasted right up to the Saturday evening, when the weather broke.

Lifeline 32

We ended up staying nearly a week, as the weather was so hot and clear. I went out with Pat on a couple of days, trying to copy her walking style, which was something I had noticed as we had walked up Glyder Fach. She didn’t take huge strides, simply placing her feet carefully in a steady rhythm, but it took her steadily uphill and towed me along in her wake. Our next trip was up the thing she had called Y Garn, by what she called ‘the nicer way, which involved a ridge, an awful lot easier than the Gribin, a really broad hillside for a descent, and then something that scared me at first sight.

Lifeline 31

The other side of the ‘dinosaur' was lit up in the orange of the sunrise, and so were several other hills showing to the right of its northern slope. The hill we had passed on the way in, a chaotic pile of loose rock from the road, showed a grander flank, holding what looked like a hollow above steady slopes of green dotted with white sheep. People were already moving on the campsite, with several cooking bacon of porridge on little stoves.

“Morning, love!”

Lifeline 30

We hit the road again once we were packed up, Dad insisting I drive the van along the back lanes until we hit the A4069, where he took the wheel and, to my surprise, turned north.

“Trying a bit of a different circuit, duck. Seeing as you have paid your respects to the Parsons, and those two men are in it up to their eyeballs, I thought we’d see a bit more of your own country than we normally do. You up for it?”

Lifeline 29

They featured on the front page, as well as in what seemed like half the rest of the paper. It was a style of reporting I had already come to recognise and despise: a story too shocking for their readers, see pages 2-26 plus special colour supplement.

It wasn’t quite as bad as that, but there was a lot to read. Mam set out a couple of camping chairs, Rosie sitting beside me as I read. Dear god, and I had thought my time with the bastards had been a taste of hell. It seemed I had been given an easy time, compared with what I read.

Lifeline 28

The pattern of my life started so often with light through the fabric of a tent. This was a little different, because the tent was Carl’s and the light was that of the first hints of dawn. I was lying on my left side, Carl’s left arm under my head, his right arm across my waist as his hand cupped my right breast. It could have felt sordid, as if he was sneakily groping me, but it wasn’t like that.

I felt protected, that was all. Just, please, Carl: don’t kiss my neck when you wake.

Lifeline 27

I slept well that night, even though my dreams were a little confused, and the dawn’s light had been replaced by a Summer morning when I eventually emerged from the tent. Mam and Dad had slept in the van, which felt a little strange at first, but it was simply another stage of my healing and growth.

From the day of our meeting, I had slept between or by them, except in our winter house, and now I was being given my own space, possibly as a recognition of greater maturity but maybe as a hint that my life was now a safe one.

Home Free 1



Sweat was pooling in her back. The temperature outside wasn’t to blame, as the terminal was air-conditioned down to something that felt more like Antarctica than Dubai, but she could still feel the heat on the back of her neck. She had worn a keffiyeh, agal and thobe to get through security at Jeddah, a binder uncomfortably tight around her chest, but she had still drawn attention from one of the guards.

Lifeline 26

Life went on. It sounds trite, but I came to realise that my decision to choose continuing to breathe had been made when I went out of a window in Runcorn; what followed was simply fine detail. It didn’t make the process of living any easier, but the days or hours I managed to get things into some sort of perspective kept me on some sort of even keel. In the end, I simply had to look at the two people who had rescued me for validation.

Lifeline 24

“Up you get, Duck! Time to get rolling!”

The beginning of March, and my bag was already packed, along with my bedroll, stowed in the van. I found the bathroom empty, to no great surprise, so I pulled my nighty off for a quick wash of the various bits Ken referred to as “Face, fork and pits”, as well as doing my teeth.

Lifeline 23

The next month or so passed slowly, and I never seemed to be left on my own. We were either working the markets, collecting stock from wholesalers or sitting in the warm, usually as I ploughed through my schoolbooks. The more I studied, the more I wanted to do more. Carol turned out to have a deep knowledge of geography, which was a surprise, while Peter added his little insights to my history lessons.

Lifeline 22

There is something I have always liked about a sleeping bag, and in later years I discovered the same feelings for small tents. It feels nest-like, a small space entirely one’s own, where everything feels close and warm. I luxuriated in my bag for a little while after I woke, but I needed a wee, and there was only so long I could put it off. In nighty, dressing gown and socks, I did the necessary before creeping down the stairs and past the living room door. From behind it came the sound of more than one snorer. I filled the kettle, and then decided to set a pan of water boiling so that there would be plenty for the tea that I knew would vanish almost as soon as it was poured.

Lifeline 19

The film was a surprise, in so many ways. Very American, so I missed a lot of the references when I first saw it, as well as extremely dated. I watch it now, and the assumptions it contains about race and class are shockingly clear, but that first viewing spoke directly to me. Dumbo was utterly alone, save for one friend who came from an utterly different world.

Lifeline 18

Sam and Rosie, naturally. That word sat in the front of my mind as I watched them run across the field, and it was another little barb in my soul. Up and down, my mood; the slightest little thing derailed me.

‘Naturally’. I wasn’t natural, of course, not what they thought I was, not a real girl in any legal sense, but that wasn’t the issue just then. It was how they were acting without a script, natural children behaving naturally.

Lifeline 17

We spent two more days in our little place in the woods, which sat on a very quiet road in a corner of Kent that somehow seemed to escape the hurry and bustle of the outside world despite sitting so close to three main roads. Years later, I would read of the man who lived secretly in his tent, hidden away in the bushes of the central reservation of the dual carriageway leading past Southampton’s railway station, his life passing in parallel with that of the commuters streaming past each day.

Lifeline 16

Morning was damper, with another low mist leaving the tents wet with dew. The campers were up before us, and already looking to be on their way when Lorraine shouted about the kettle, which brought both grins and nods. The three had apparently already breakfasted, but the lure of one last cup of Proper Tea seemed irresistible, before they set off along the path leading to the East.

Lifeline 15

“What’s a diddycoy, Loz?”

“Ah, love, it’s one of those words that has two meanings. Two uses, really. See, Ken’s Romany, mother and father. Me, it’s just my Dad, so that makes me a sort of mongrel, and the old Romany word means mixed blood. That’s one meaning, and one use of the word. If you were ours by blood, that is what you would be. The other meaning is also tied in with how it gets used, and it’s just another insult. They throw the same thing at the tinkers, and most of them have got big houses in Ireland as well as bloody big caravans.

Lifeline 14

I put those thoughts behind me as we moved on once more. It hadn’t been so very long since I had clambered out of that window and over the barbs topping the boundary wall, and my head was still spinning with the changes that had ensued.

For good or bad, but obviously the former in my view, Lorraine and Ken had both accepted me as what I felt I had always been, despite the physical reality. There was no way they could ever have been in doubt about that, considering how much of my body they had seen. Seen and healed, in Lorraine’s case.

Lifeline 13

The ‘pernackity’ turned out to be a sort of hotpot, sliced potatoes in a rich gravy; the ‘stotty’ was a flat, round piece of bread. In later years, the closest equivalent I could find was ciabatta. It had the same dense texture and weight to it, and I was profoundly disappointed to discover that many ‘stotties’ sold in chain stores were actually just a flatter version of sliced white bread.

Lifeline 11

I was officially no longer a Rally Virgin, with the badge to prove it, so I was feeling ten feet tall as we rolled into the site entrance, which was in a field next to a motorway. There was the usual collection of hairy people at the gate, all with the badges and patches now so familiar to me, many in the woolly hats that were almost a membership badge in their own right.


“Yes, love?”

“Is this an MC thing?”

Lifeline 10

Sunday morning made its way through the curtains, and I wriggled out from the bed, leaving Ken asleep and snoring. I tried to make as little noise as I could opening the sliding door, but from his snores I needn’t have bothered.

“Morning, Debbie!”

“Morning, Loz”

“Cuppa, love? Kettle’s just boiling”

“Please! What are we doing today?”

Lifeline 9

I didn’t sleep that well, as there was music until very late in the morning. I couldn’t call it ‘early’ as it had passed beyond that. We were still up and out by eight o’clock, though, and after Loz had inspected my injuries, I dressed, in the longer skirt this time. I went to fill the kettle, but she stopped me.

“Time for a little lesson in manners, love. Don’t worry, you’ve done nothing wrong! It is just that we have a few ways of doing things you need to learn. Grab three mugs for us”

Lifeline 7

Gandalf put a couple of fingers into his mouth and gave a piercing two-not whistle, something I had seen on screens large and small but thus far never in real life. A couple of children of around my age came running up, grinning with excitement.

“Rosie, Sam: We want two pints for Badger and his missus, and a hot choc for Debbie here”

The boy laughed.

“Two pints of what, Dad?”

Lifeline 5

We were still naked when Ken came back in, his figure shadowy through the shower curtain.

“Got you this, duck. Clean clothes are on the table. Pair of flip-flops in her size as well, as long as those were her shoes”

He handed a safety razor and a pair of scissors over the top of the curtain rail, then blurred again as he moved away, calling back, “I can change the filter tomorrow, so don’t worry unless it clogs”

Lifeline 3

As discussed following the first two parts, I am slicing away a chunk of the early part of the book to avoid distress. There is a huge story I want to write, but it has to start somewhere, and that place involves Charlie Cooper. This offering bypasses that with a summary, and then leads into the story at a later date.

I intend to include a fuller beginning when I publish commercially, but just not here, not now.

Anyone familiar with my work will know exactly what Cooper is, and how he likes to spend his quality personal time. I left Billy about to meet him and Don, and I need not spell out what happens over the next three years of care home life. A summary:

Much abuse. Much of what you read in ‘Job’ and ‘New Beat’. Two escape attempts by Billy, in both of which they meet a friendly police sergeant. I have described the bars on the windows. Billy marks his shirt cuff with the width of the bolt, and when he is awaiting return from the police station again, he finds he is left in a storeroom for once, rather than a cell: there is a prison visitor inspection in full flow, and Sgt Friendly does NOT want him seen or spoken to. There is a lost/stolen bicycle in the room awaiting disposal. It has a saddle bag, and a flat cycle spanner slips into his underpants after a quick check against his shirt cuff…

Now read on.

Dancing to a New Beat 86

The wall was almost as warm against my back as the sun was in my face, but the ground remained unforgiving. I felt my rump aching slightly, and when I stood up it was with some definite awkwardness, as the required muscles had all gone to sleep. It was the first time in ages I actually heard a Charlie sniff, but this one came with a twinkle.

“Numb bum, Di? Should’ve brought a rubber ring! Some of us know these things!”

Dancing to a New Beat 85

I left Chester with a real sense of hope, while wondering what else DI Mulready had in the way of evidence against Linehan or O’Sullivan. I suspected that my team had not been the only ones digging for things other than gold. There would still be a long way to go for Ben and Peter, but I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to end badly.

Dancing to a New Beat 84

Just the slightest of twitches in reaction to Mam’s deliberate stressing of the boy’s middle name, and of course I understood her purpose. My son turned his wide-eyed gaze to Mam.

“This is Aunty Annie and she lives in England by a church with aeroplanes and she plays a flute and she doesn’t speak Welsh but Aunty Steph Mrs Woodruff does!”


Subscribe to Cyclist