Another of the articles I wrote for Best of British magazine.
Winter is almost upon us once again. I wonder what the next few months have in store for us weather-wise?
Looking back, I can’t remember many
bad winters over the last forty odd years, none that match the winter of 1963
at least. It stands out in memory as the worst (and best) winter I have ever
experienced; I was nine at the time.
We kids welcomed the snow and all
the extra time off school. We made snowmen, toboggans from bits of old wood or
old pram parts and the most lethal pavement slides you ever saw. We had one on
our road that would carry you a good twenty five yards. Adults hated us for
making them; as I said, they were lethal. Once a fresh covering of snow had
landed there was no telling it was there until an unsuspecting adult tried to
negotiate the pavement. I can remember my father getting a letter from the
milkman saying we would have to pay for any more breakages ourselves. The slide
was there for almost three months so you would think he’d have remembered where
it was after his second or third fall.
In the early 1960’s we moved from our old Victorian slum to a brand-new house on a brand-new estate in Kirk Hallam, Ilkeston. I was about seven at the time
The old house, which was tied to my father’s job at the iron
works, had been flooded. We lost just about everything; the waters had come
half way up the stairs.
The flood struck at 8.am on Sunday 4th December 1960. The
normally placid Nutbrook stream, swollen by heavy rain, burst its banks and
flooded the Ironworks and the bottom half of Crompton Street. The water carried
a hidden danger in the form of highly flammable, Benzoline oil that sat on the
surface of the water. I didn’t know until years later that the oil had been a
problem. I remember my father sitting on the sill of the upstairs window of our
house as he smoked and chatted to the people next door. Cigarette stubs were
flicked into the water at regular intervals.
We were rescued by the fire brigade who took us all to a
community centre where we slept in sleeping bags on the floor for a few nights.
It was a major adventure for us kids but not so much fun for
the parents or the older members of the community. I could have slept on a
clothes line in those days but I doubt some people there got a wink of sleep.
We were fed soup and sandwiches by the Salvation Army.
Before the evening meal we all had to stand and sing ‘I’ll be a sunbeam.’ My
father, a reluctant Christian at best, would move his lips like a poor ventriloquist
then burst into song on the final line of the chorus.
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam;
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
A bloody fine sunbeam am I.
During the day we played Beetle, Draughts, Snakes and Ladders and Monopoly. The older residents must have been sick to death of Ludo, but they gritted their teeth and played on. I think they’d have done anything to keep the more energetic kids on their backsides, sat at chairs and tables instead of hurtling around on the parquet floor.
Mrs Henderson pulled open the heavy blackout curtains with a
grunt. The late August sun lit up the cosy sitting room, highlighting the
floral pattern on the square of carpet that sat neatly between the brown,
horsehair sofa and the high-backed chair that nestled next to the open
‘It’s the postman.’
Peggy Larkin walked into the lounge carrying a handful of brown envelopes. She handed them to the tall, grey haired woman, who had been Peggy’s guardian since she had been evacuated from London to the big house in the small country village, almost a year before. Their relationship had begun poorly, but over time it had flourished and they had become very close.
Mrs Henderson flicked through the letters and selected one
with a London postmark. She recognised the fine, neatly-spaced handwriting,
‘Ah, a letter from your mother, Peggy. Let’s see what news she brings us.’
Mrs Henderson picked up a small silver knife and slid it
across the top of the envelope. She took out the two-page letter and scanned
the first page quickly before handing the second page to Peggy.
‘Here’s your share.’
She smiled broadly as she re-read the first page, then sat
down on the sofa as she waited for Peggy to read her portion of the letter.
‘Aunt Margie is getting married!’
Peggy looked up from the letter, a huge grin on her face.
‘And Mum wants us to go home for the wedding!’
Peggy danced around the room, clutching the letter to her
‘It’s only for a few days,’ Mrs Henderson advised. ‘Your
mother thinks you’ll be safe enough in London for a short time at least. The
bombing everyone thought would come, hasn’t materialised.’
‘I know,’ Peggy replied. ‘Some of the evacuees in the
village went home at the start of the school holidays and they haven’t come
back. People think it’s safe now. My teacher, Mrs Johnson, says the Germans
might not bomb us at all. Mr Hitler seems to be busy fighting in France.’
‘We’ll have to see about that,’ said Mrs Henderson. ‘Don’t
count your chickens before they’ve hatched, Peggy. It’s not safe to go back for
good.’ She folded the letter and slipped it back into its envelope. ‘Anyway, on
a selfish note, I’d miss you too much, and your mother has a very important job
at the armaments factory. With the long shifts she has to work, I doubt she can
find the time to look after you as well.’
‘I know,’ she said sadly. ‘Mum works twelve hour shifts at
different factories around London, she has to train women how to make the bombs
and mines as well as doing her own job. It’s very dangerous work.’
Peggy was quiet for a few moments, then she stepped across
the room to give Mrs Henderson a hug.
‘I’m very happy here. It will be nice when I can go home,
but until then, I know you’ll look after me.’
Mrs Henderson hugged Peggy tight.
‘It’s been a pleasure my dear.’ A tear ran down her cheek.
She hurriedly turned her head and dabbed her face with a white, handkerchief as
Peggy pulled away.
‘Something in my eye,’ she sniffed.
Mrs Henderson walked through to the kitchen, shook the
kettle, decided there was enough water in it to make tea, and placed it on the
‘We have to make plans,’ she said. ‘We’ll need to check
train timetables, buy tickets…’ She placed both hands on Peggy’s shoulders, her
eye wide in excitement. ‘… and you’ll need a new dress to wear. We only have a
couple of weeks to get ready. Your auntie’s fiancé has only got limited leave.
He’ll have to go back to his regiment the day after the service. It’s all a bit
rushed, but that’s what young people have to do today, what with the war and
‘Are you coming too?’ asked Peggy.
‘Oh, I’m not invited,’ laughed Mrs Henderson. ‘It’s only a
small, family occasion. So, we’ll need to find you a chaperon.’
‘A chapel what?’ Peggy looked confused.
‘It means a companion,’ explained Mrs Henderson. Someone to
travel with, to make sure you get there safely.’
‘Harry can be my chappie, thingy,’ replied Peggy.
‘Your brother’s younger than you, dear,’ said Mrs Henderson
with a little laugh. ‘I bet he’s had a letter too; we’ll have to drop in at the
Watsons’ to organise things.’
Peggy and her younger brother had been split up the day they arrived. Harry was staying with a middle-aged couple on the other side of the village.
‘I think Harry’s forgotten all about Mum,’ said Peggy
softly. ‘He never mentions home when I see him.’
Mrs Henderson patted Peggy on the shoulder.
‘I’m sure he remembers her; he’ll be just as happy as you
are to go back to London for a while.’
‘I’m not so sure,’ said Peggy with a shake of her head. ‘He’s
changed so much over the past year.’
‘Don’t worry about him, Peggy,’ said Mrs Henderson, softly.
‘He’s just settled in very well, that’s all. It’s a good thing really, you
wouldn’t want him to be unhappy now, would you?’
‘He calls them Mum and Dad,’ said Peggy, ‘but they’re not.’
‘No, they’re not,’ replied Peggy’s guardian, ‘and I’m sure
he knows that. It’ll just be a habit he’s gotten into that’s all.’
Their conversation was interrupted when they heard a frenzied,
hammering on the front door.
‘Goodness me,’ said Mrs Henderson. ‘Something sounds
She hurried to the front door and flung it open, Peggy
rushed along behind.
On the doorstep stood a young boy. His hair was
close-cropped, he wore a dirty, white shirt, trousers that were torn at the
knee, and mud-caked boots, which he scraped on the edge of the step as he
‘ALFIE!’ cried Mrs Henderson. ‘What on earth is the matter?’
Alfie was a few months older than Peggy; he had been
evacuated to a nearby farm at more or less the same time that she had arrived
in the village. He and Peggy were best friends and had shared a scary
‘Nothing much,’ said the boy, looking puzzled. ‘Can Peggy
come out to play?’
Mrs Henderson blew out her cheeks.
‘Thank goodness for that. I thought someone had come to tell
us the Germans were invading the village.’
‘They’re tied up in France,’ said Alfie seriously. ‘I heard
it on the news this morning.’
Mrs Henderson turned away and returned to the kitchen. Peggy
walked out onto the front step. She waved her letter at Alfie.
‘I’ve got exciting news,’ she said. ‘I’m going back to
London in a couple of weeks.’
‘London!’ he exclaimed. ‘Brilliant news.’ He stared at her;
excitement written all over his face.
‘Mrs Henderson is going to find me a… a, chappie something…
Someone to look after me on the journey.’
‘There’s no need for that,’ said Alfie. ‘I’m the only chappie you need. I’m going to come with you.’
This is a serial I began writing in 2010. Sixteen chapters were written and published on a blog. It proved to be quite popular and I’ve been asked many times if I’ll finish it and turn it into a book. I think the time has now come to do that, so, I’m going for publish the first four or five chapter’s on here to see if there really is an audience for it. Thanks for reading. Comments appreciated.
‘Will stared down at the lifeless body of Sir Charles Montague and
smiled thinly. It was over, his tormentor was dead. He pulled his sword from
the neck of his victim, wiped it on the grass and sheathed it. He looked at the
brightening sky, the sun said noon, time to make for Durberry Vale, Elizabeth,
and the rest of his life.’
Stephen King looked up from his manuscript and surveyed the hall. The
audience of mainly elderly members stared back at him. The silence was
deafening. Then from the table behind him came a solitary clap.
Margot Sugden, the writers group secretary, rose to her feet.
‘Thank you for that, Stephen, I’m sure we all found it very interesting.
Not many members read the last chapter of their novel on their first manuscript
reading but there’s no rule that says you can’t.’
She held up her list and squinted at it.
‘Now, whose turn is it? Ah yes, Deirdre, do you have more from ‘The
Quilt? You do? Excellent!’
Stephen made his way to the row of empty chairs at the back of the room
and sat down with a sigh.
A white-haired woman turned to face him from the row in front.
‘Awfully good.’ she whispered. ‘For a first timer.’
‘Thank you,’ said Stephen, ‘I don’t think it went down too well.’
‘I think it needs work,’ she replied, ‘quite a bit actually and people
tend to read novels from the first chapter here. But you’re writing and getting
an audience, that’s what counts.’
She paused, popped a mint into her mouth, thought for a moment, then
offered the packet to Stephen.
‘You will find it will take a while to become accepted here. We’re an
ancient bunch with a very old-fashioned mentality. We probably see you as a bit
of a threat at the moment, but we’ll get used to you…eventually.’
Stephen took a sweet from the end of the roll and smiled.
‘I’ve only written the last five pages of this particular novel so far,
‘I thought if I got the end done, I’d know where I was heading with the story,
if you see what I mean.’
A warm round of applause greeted Deirdre as she took to the stage. Mary’s
voice dropped to a whisper as she was shushed by the members in front.
‘You ought to be writing horror stories with a name like yours. I’m Mary
Clark by the way.’
‘My English teacher said the same thing at school. Nice to meet you,
In the meeting room, Stephen returned to his seat on the back row. Mary
was chaperoned to a chair nearer the front by the elderly man who had
confronted him in the bar. He gave Stephen a warning look before he sat down.
Margot got to her feet and squinted at her list.
‘Ted?’ she queried.
‘You really ought to go back to glasses, Margot,’ said Ted, as he picked
up his clipboard from the floor.
Margot blushed and sat down.
Ted marched to the podium, nodded to Harriet and addressed the
‘Ted Hughes, not the famous one,’ he announced.
A gentle titter ran around the room.
‘I was going to read a new poem, but as I don’t have to share reading
time with my grandson tonight, I’ve decided to read the latest chapter of my
Ted patted his pockets, looked back to his seat, then patted his pockets
again before eventually finding his spectacles on a thin chain around his neck.
He cleared his throat and read from the clipboard.
‘The Jonah. Chapter 14. Unlucky for Some.’
The membership stopped fidgeting and concentrated on Ted.
‘Captain Farthing strolled into the coffee bar from the dusty street and
took a table by the window, he ordered tea from a native waitress. It was
stinking hot. The waitress sniffed, gave him a queer look and turned the
propeller fan above their heads up to full speed.
Captain Farthing added two large spoonfuls of sugar and milk from a jug
on the tray and stirred his tea slowly. He sipped the tea idly and thought
about Fiona. Would she turn up after their last meeting? He doubted it. He
remembered how he had trapped her ball gown in the door of his car and her
horrified face when she realised it had dragged through the mud.
He hoped she had forgiven him.
There was a tinkle and Fiona stood before him. ‘Hello Farthy,’ she said.
Fiona sniffed from her delightful nose. She lifted first one foot then the
other and checked her shoes.
Farthing groaned as he realised in horror that the smell must be
emanating from his shoes. He checked them under the table. Sure enough it was
him, somewhere out on the dirty, dusty street he had trodden in dog shit.
Fiona was sympathetic. ‘You get all the bad luck, Farthy,’ she said,
‘you must be the unluckiest man in India…’
As the story progressed Stephen developed an almost uncontrollable urge
to laugh. He bit his lip, then his cheek, but still the laughter welled up
inside him. He decided he had to get out before he collapsed in a heap on the
Stephen walked out of the rear entrance and made his way across the
tiny, puddle-strewn car park to the street. The car park only had a dozen
spaces and they had all been taken by writer’s club members. Stephen wondered
what time he would have to get there to claim one of the spaces. He suspected
he would need to be there a good half hour before the meeting started.
The club was situated at the bottom of a narrow street on a steep hill.
Close to town, the street was popular with drivers as it was one of the few
places left without yellow lines and parking meters. Pedestrians splashed their
way along the pavement eager to get to their destination and out of the
Stephen held his plastic document folder above his head and jogged up
the hill to his car. By the time he reached it the rain had begun in earnest. A
clap of thunder rattled the windows of the taller buildings, a few seconds
later a crazy zig-zag of lightning lit up the night sky.
Stephen fired up the engine and switched on the headlights. The music of
Snow Patrol roared out from the speakers. He began to sing along as he flicked
the indicator and eased his way through narrow gap between the lines of parked
Half way up the street he noticed two figures struggling with an
umbrella. Stephen hit a button and the window was lowered.
‘Can I give you a lift?’ he called.
Mick glared from under the peak of his cap.
‘No thanks, we’re fine.’
‘You may be fine, Mick, but I’m getting soaked,’ said Mary. ‘Thank you,
Mick opened the back door and waited for Mary to get into the car. To
his annoyance she opened the front door and climbed in next to Stephen. She
snapped on her seat belt as Mick grudgingly threw himself into the rear seat.
After dinner Charlotte bought her
laptop over and went through her collection of digital photographs that she had
taken on safari. Stephen was impressed with her detailed knowledge of the
animals and places.
‘You should write it all down, Charlie,
I’m sure it would find an audience.’
‘Me, write? as in writing something
other than an email or a report? I can’t see it somehow.’
‘I read your emails, they were very
descriptive, I think you’ve got a real talent there. It just needs polishing up
a bit. While you were away, I joined the local writers group. They’re a strange
lot, mainly elderly, but they do have some younger members stashed away in a
cupboard somewhere. Why don’t you join too? maybe together we could blow away
some of the cobwebs and get it functioning again. What do you say?’
‘Writing, hmm, I have to admit I’ve
always fancied the idea. My old English teacher said I should be a journalist.
It’s certainly worth thinking about. What do they do at this group?’
‘Not a lot as things stand, but they do
have writing competitions every month and they have reading nights, so you can
get an idea of what strangers think of your work. Family members and friends
are always going to be polite about your writing, and while that’s encouraging,
it’s not really going to help.’
Stephen put the last few pages of his
novel on the table. Charlotte picked it up and read.
‘This is great,’ she said eventually,
‘where’s the rest of it?’
Stephen tapped his head.
‘In here, I’ve more or less got it all
‘So, you wrote the ending first?’
‘Yes, I know, the writers group thought
I was mad too. Or at least I think they did; I didn’t get any reaction from
them at all when I read it.’
Charlotte pursed her lips and thought
for a moment.
‘Thinking about it, it’s quite logical.
You should know where you’re going to end up.’
‘That’s how I see it. Of course, when I
write the preceding chapters the story might take a major diversion and it may
end up in a totally different place, but I just thought I’d give it a go.’
‘If the writers club is so old and
crumbly, is there any real point in me joining. They sound a mean old bunch.’
‘I was told they are just scared of change;
they know things will have to be done differently if the group is going to
survive, but they just can’t face up to that reality.’
‘So, what are you going to do, start a
Stephen the rest of the afternoon to remove the various worms and Trojans that
had infiltrated Mick’s computer defences. He ran five spyware scans a full
virus sweep and rebooted the machine several times before he was confident that
the machine was infection free.
thirty Carole popped her head round the door of the workshop.
now boss, I need to call in at the supermarket on the way home. See you
a minute, Carole,’ called Paul, ‘I’ll drop you off, I’m going that way.’
boss,’ they called together as they left the shop.
began the final tests on Mick’s PC.
to go to Mel?’
nothing on tonight, so I’m not in a hurry.’
heard her slide from her seat, a few seconds later he felt her breast press
against his elbow. She slid a hand around his waist and stretched to look over
I can do?’ she whispered.
straightened and edged away to the side.
thanks, Mel, I’m almost done now. I just have to deliver the bloody thing.’
company? I’ll come with you if you like.’
for the offer Mel, but I don’t’ want to put you to any trouble.’
pushed her body against him, placed a hand on his hip and looked up into his
‘It’s no trouble.’
tried to back off again but found himself pressed tight up against the
wall. He lifted his hands in a defensive posture, then thinking that she might
get the wrong idea, stuck them in his pockets instead.
boss, wrong time, wrong place, eh?’
there isn’t a r…’
shushed him, stretched, and placed a soft kiss on his lips.’
time then. Goodnight.’
turned away, picked up her bag and performed a catwalk wiggle across the
workshop, Stephen’s eyes followed her every movement. When she reached the
workshop door, she looked over her shoulder and blew a kiss.
wiped his brow with the back of his hand.
a close one,’ he said aloud.
At six-thirty he loaded the repaired computer into the boot of his BMW, locked up the shop and joined the tail end of the rush hour traffic. He pushed a Deep Purple CD into the player and turned up the volume. As he drove along the ring road, he began to think about a new plot twist for his novel. He decided it would take the story off at a tangent but it might make it stronger in the end.
drove through the council estate, he spotted a small convenience store and
pulled up at the side of the road. Stephen followed a well-used path that had
been worn into the grass bank and climbed the slight incline. The Mini Mart was
the first in a small line of shops.
pavement outside, a group of hooded teenagers leaned against a wall talking in
their own coded language. Stephen hurried into the store trying not to make eye
At the end of Redvale Lane, Stephen pulled onto the grass verge, picked
up Mick’s job sheet and entered the address details into his sat-nav.
‘After three hundred yards, turn left,’ he was advised.
A few minutes later he pulled up in front of a short row of terraced
houses. Mick’s was right in the centre at number four. Stephen flipped the
latch on the wrought iron gate and stepped up to the red painted front door.
There was a choice of a bell push or a brass knocker. He chose the bell push,
there was no reply, so he beat a rat-a-tat-tat with the door knocker.
A woman’s head popped out of the upstairs window at number three.
‘What are you after?’
‘I’m looking for Mr Morrison,’ said Stephen. ‘I’ve got a delivery for
‘He’s not in.’
Stephen looked at his watch.
‘I suppose I am a bit late.’
‘It wouldn’t matter what time you turned up, he’s never in these days,’
advised the woman.
‘Any idea when he’ll be back?’
‘Could be any time, I’ve seen him sneak back in after midnight. Is it a
parcel? I can take it in if you like. I’ll make sure he gets it.’
‘No, it’s not a parcel, I’m returning his computer. I need to set it up
for him and show him a couple of new programs.’
‘Computers?’ she spat. ‘At his age?’
‘There’s no age limit on using them,’ said Stephen. ‘Most people have
one these days.’
‘And we all know what people get up to on them too, that Intynet is full
The woman looked up and down the street then came to a decision.
‘Hang on a minute, I’ll come down.’
Stephen moved to her front gate.
There was the sound of bolts being drawn and keys being turned. A few
seconds later she stepped out of her doorway patting her steel grey hair into
place. She bustled down the path towards him before coming to an abrupt halt
just short of the gate.
‘Who did you say you were?’
‘I didn’t, but I’m Stephen King. I run a computer repair shop in town.’
‘You ought to be writing books with a name like that,’ she observed.
‘It has been mentioned,’ said Stephen.
‘Got any ID? You could be anyone.’
Stephen handed her a business card. She held it close to her face, then
squinted at it from a distance.
‘Left my glasses on the coffee table,’ she confided. She put the card in
the pocket of her cardigan. ‘I’ll read it later.’
‘Any idea where Mick will be?’
‘It’s Mick now is it? It was Mr Morrison a minute ago.’
‘I know him from the Westwich Writers Club, as well as being a customer,
The village of Kirkby Sutton is a conglomerate and an enigma.
Formed by the merging of two villages that had outgrown their ability to remain
separate as an entity, it nevertheless retains two extremely different and
specific identities. One half, as its name suggests, is built around the church
and is a, (mainly), well-to-do, haven of respectability, with its Georgian Manor,
leafy, wide-verged streets, lined with large, detached houses, driveways, off
road parking and a library. There is also a small 1960s estate, a mix of
private, three bedroomed, privately-owned houses, with an enclave of housing
association tenants bolted on for political expediency.
Down the hill, the other half of the village contains a
higgledy-piggledy, hotchpotch of stone cottages, modern, town houses and rows
of Victorian terraces, originally built for the employees at the local lace
factory, brewery and estate workers, who made the short trip up the road, to toil
on the farms of Lord Beresford on the other side of the village. Nowadays, the descendants
of those workers still live in the red brick terraces, but are employed by
industries in the nearby cities of Nottingham and Derby.
The rivalry of its residents compares to any found in much
larger towns and cities. You would be hard pressed to find as much animosity at
a local Derby football match in Liverpool or Manchester. The annual village
fair, which includes a fiercely fought, tug-of-war competition, held on a boozy
bank holiday weekend, regularly turns violent. For years, a police sergeant from
the small town of Higton, was paid to referee the event, but when the ageing
sergeant retired and the police station was closed down to save money in the 1950s,
the residents were left to sort out their own mess, so a committee, made up of the
vicar’s wife and a group of teetotal residents from both sides, sat in sober
judgment over the proceedings. To this day, the committee still rules on
complaints and accusations made by one side against the other. Most of the grievances
are easily dismissed, but on a few occasions, a vote has to be taken with the
chairperson, a lady with no connection to either side of the village, holding
the casting vote.
Sutton is the older part of the village and dates back to
Saxon times. Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon term for South town, (village,
or enclosure.) It was built on the plain at the bottom of a long slope, on the bend
of a fast-flowing stream. They built a timber church, which, in bad winters,
became a flood plain. Sick of paddling to church for their religious
instruction, they erected another one, higher up the slope, using the soggy timbers
from their original construction.
A hundred or so years later the Danes arrived, but instead
of rape and pillage, the Vikings merely appropriated the land around the church
and began to farm it. This community became known as Kirkby, or, the settlement
by the church. Over time, the Danish intruders, became Christianised, improved
the church building, and appointed one of their own number, a man from the
nearby town of Derby, as priest. They reluctantly allowed their near neighbours
to attend religious ceremonies, in an effort to re-Christianise the local
population, who had, by now, become almost universally, heathen.
It began with a trivial moment of carelessness, but the shockwaves that reverberate from this seemingly insignificant incident, spread far and wide.
Ed and his heavily pregnant wife Mary are on an errand for Ed’s ailing father before the pair depart for warmer climes. But the winter of 1962 comes early and one innocuous event and a hastily taken decision will have devastating consequences for the family of young Rose Gorton. Mary’s already fragile mental state is put under further stress while Ed tries to make sense of events that are spiralling massively, Out of Control.
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