I haven’t seen much of Mrs 3DU over the holiday as, once I’d done my Christmas shop, I parked the car up outside my house and left it there for a week. I did another small shop on the Saturday morning before the New Year but she had already dragged Mrs 4DU around the supermarket on the Friday, though she did get her to ‘nip out’ for a few last-minute bits for her on New Year’s Eve.
I have news about Mrs 3DU’s daughter’s car, but I’ll add that bit at the end.
As usual, I received all the news from the street gossip collective which includes, Mrs 4DU, Mrs 5DU, MRs 2DD and Mrs ATSADAB (Across The Street And Down A Bit.) Surprisingly, we have recently had a new member added to our ranks. I say surprisingly because she lives right down at the bottom of the street, so she has now become Mrs BOTS. I have no idea how she gets all the news as she’s miles away from the rest of us. We are all pretty much clustered together near the top end of the street. She must be getting the gossip via tom-tom drums or something… mind you, Mrs 4DU does have a log burner, so she might be sending out smoke signals. Continue reading
I am absolutely delighted to announce that I am one of the attending authors at the Tales on Trent Book Signing Event at the King’s Hall, Stoke on Trent on Sept 2nd 2023. Don’t be shy, come and say hi if you are attending.
Adam, once one of the beaten, church poor, had no serious religious beliefs, and had only attended church (for a friend’s wedding), once since he had left school, so he spent the rest of the morning reading a copy of Thomas Hardy’s, The Mayor of Casterbridge, that he had found, damp, but still readable, on a seat in Hyde Park, earlier in the summer.
At around 1.00 PM he heard the loud chatter of children as the Parsons family returned from church. He got to his feet and hurried across the room as he heard someone rap on his door. He opened it to find Mr Parsons standing in the hall.
‘Mr Sears, I feel I have to apologise for the behaviour of my children earlier today. They have been instructed not to disturb you by running up and down the hallway in future.’
‘They were playing,’ Adam said with a smile. ‘I wasn’t disturbed in the slightest, quite the opposite in fact. I always find something joyous in the sound of children’s laughter.’
Mr Parsons nodded, and smiled back.
‘I’m so glad you see it that way, Mr Sears. They are confined upstairs rather too much and they do tend to expend all that built up energy every chance they are given. They visit the park twice a week but I fear that is not enough to let off the steam that builds up.’
‘They are welcome to play in the corridor at any time, Mr Parsons,’ replied Adam. ‘Rest assured, I will never be annoyed by their presence.’
Mr Parsons nodded again. ‘Oh, by the way, if you spot a cat around the area, could you let us know. Our pet, Mr Dickens, appears to have disappeared again. It’s a regular occurrence, so I’m not particularly concerned, but the children do worry about him. He’s not supposed to go into the street but he manages to slip out sometimes, usually when the children aren’t as observant as they promised they would be when we allowed them to take the creature in. He’s a big furry ball of a thing. Mostly ginger with a white flash on his chest.’
‘I’ll keep my eye out for him,’ Adam said, looking to the staircase where Veronica and Catherine waited with hopeful faces.
Mr Parsons turned away.
‘Come along, girls. Mr Sears will let us know if he spots the escapee.’ He patted both girls on the back. ‘He’ll turn up, he always does.’
Adam closed the door and returned to his book.
While visiting the bathroom during the afternoon, Adam thought he heard a baby crying. He turned off the tap, waited for the drain to empty, then cocked his head to listen. The sound came again, faint, but clearer. Adam paced the bathroom pushing his ear against the marble tiles, here and there. He wondered what was on the other side of his bathroom wall. He paced out the distance from the back wall of the bathroom, past a short open space to the kitchen, then through the sitting room until he got to the doorway of the apartment. He opened the door, stepped into the passage and paced out the same number of steps, towards the back wall.
‘Ten paces short,’ he said, as he reached the painted brickwork at the end of the hall. Adam looked to the right and noticed a door, set into the panelling below the staircase. The glossy door was not locked and he opened it and stepped into the dark recess beneath the stairs. Adam squinted into the gloom and saw another door, this one much more substantial. He stepped forward and turned the handle but the door was locked. Adam retraced his steps and returned to his sitting room where he picked up the bunch of keys from the mantel, that his landlady had given him. He had taken the front door keys from the bunch so that he wouldn’t have to carry the unwieldy ring of keys in his pocket.
Adam carried the keys back to the door in the stairwell, selected one of the larger keys and inserted it into the lock. Luck was with him; he turned the key and heard the lock click open. Adam twisted the handle and pushed open the door. Daylight filled the stairwell and Adam blinked a few times as his eyes became accustomed to the light. After a few seconds acclimatisation, he stepped out through the doorway.
Outside, he found himself in a short, high walled garden area. To his left was what he assumed was the extended wall of his bathroom. In front was a paved area with an ash-pit dug into the left side. Facing him, cut into the high wall, was a roughly-painted, wooden gate that showed at least three layers of faded, flaking, paint that has been applied over the years. Along the wall, at the left-hand side of the gate were three, dented, metal dustbins. To his right was an iron built, timber-treaded stairway that led up to the back door of the apartment above. On the third step sat a large ginger cat. It stared at him through narrow, green eyes, flattened back its ears, and hissed.
‘Mr Dickens, I presume,’ said Adam with a laugh. He held out his hand in what he hoped was a cat-friendly gesture. Mr Dickens ignored the offer of a petting, leapt down from the step and ran into the house. Adam looked around his surroundings again, then followed the cat, locking the heavy door behind him.
Temporarily blinded by the darkness, Adam felt his way along the right-hand wall until he found his way back to the stairwell door. He stepped into the bright hallway, decided to leave the door ajar in case the cat was hiding in the dark, and walked back to his sitting room. As he entered the room, he saw the ginger cat watching him carefully from the dining table.
‘There you are,’ said Adam, aloud. He walked slowly around the table so as not to alarm the animal, stepped into the kitchen and returned with a small piece of sliced ham, which he pulled apart and laid on the tablecloth. Mr Dickens looked at the ham, then at Adam, and remained where he was. Adam backed away and sank into an armchair. He pointed towards the tiny pieces of ham. ‘Eat,’ he said.
The cat sniffed the air, then padded across the tablecloth and began to tuck into the unexpected treat. Encouraged, Adam got to his feet, walked slowly to the table, and made what he hoped was soothing noises. Mr Dickens turned his head towards him, then returned to the food.
Adam decided not to risk a clawing by attempting to pet the cat and instead took a step back. The cat ate another sliver of ham, then became stiff, its ears flattened against its head, the hair on its back stood on end. It stared at the open bathroom door, hissed twice then began to growl.
Puzzled, Adam looked to where the cat was staring.
‘It’s alright, puss, there’s nothing there.’
The cat obviously thought otherwise, and still growling, began to back away, never taking its eyes off the bathroom. When it reached the edge of the table, it turned and leapt in one movement. With a swish of its tail it hurtled out of the still open door.
Adam took one last look at the bathroom, shook his head, then turned and walked to the hallway. On the stairs was Catherine, she cradled a still-wary Mr Dickens in her arms.
‘Did you have him all the time?’ she asked accusingly.
‘Of course not,’ replied Adam, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice. ‘I found him out on the back stair, near the ash pit. He must have got into the yard when the dustmen came and couldn’t get out again.
Veronica seemed appeased.
‘Well, in that case, thank you for finding him. We were getting worried.’ She ran her fingers through the thick fur on the side of the cat’s head. ‘You’re a very silly cat, going into the yard. There’s nothing there for you, not even a mouse.’ She grunted as she got to her feet lifting the heavy cat. ‘Let’s get you some dinner, you must be starving.’
‘I gave him a little bit of ham,’ said Adam. ‘Not much though, so he should still want his dinner.’
Veronica began to climb the stair. ‘Thank you for rescuing him,’ she said, without looking back.
Adam returned to his flat, picked up the two, tiny pieces of ham that Mr Dickens hadn’t eaten and took them into the bathroom where he dropped the meat into the lavatory and pulled the chain, flushing it into the drains.
Adam put the kettle on the kitchen stove and made tea, adding milk from the pan he had boiled earlier that day. He carried the tea tray to the big table, placed it in the centre and sat down facing the bathroom, wondering what the cat had seen to make it act in such a strange manner.
After two cups of tea and a wasted half hour, Adam decided that it was impossible to understand cat behaviour, and laughing to himself, pulled on his jacket, went out into the quiet street, and made his way to the Dog and Duck for dinner.
The three-course meal cost nine pence, twice as much as he used to pay at the Furling public house in Paddington. The meal consisted of a thin, beef soup, mutton, potatoes, cabbage and gravy, followed by a sweet, lemon pudding. At the Boar restaurant, just up the road, the cost for a similar meal would be a shilling. Adam decided that a shilling was too much to pay for his evening meal on a regular basis, and that he would eat at the Dog and Duck four nights a week, have restaurant food on Saturdays, before visiting the music hall, and dine at home on the other two nights.
Adam remained in the bar of the pub, drinking a decent ale, until eight o’clock, then made his way back home, breathing in the still clean, summer evening air. At midnight, the destructor, a huge furnace built to burn household waste, would start up at the refuse disposal yard and heavy industry boilers and ovens would be relit, ready for the new working week.
It was a relatively short walk home. When he arrived, Adam decided to sit on the top step of the stairs outside his apartment building to watch the world go by. With a full stomach and two pints of heavy beer in his stomach, he was as happy as he had ever been.
Adam slept well on the first night in his new home. He woke early on Sunday morning and took a brisk walk through the almost empty streets. In his former lodgings, the streets would have been almost as busy as a weekday, with many children of the less well-heeled spending the early morning of the Sabbath scouring the gutters and pavements for tiny pieces of coal that has been missed by the Saturday evening search patrols. Some scoured the back yards of food shops for half-rotten potatoes, a few, bad smelling leaves of cabbage or a crust of stale bread.
Later, the streets he now walked would be littered with children heading off to Sunday School before meeting up with parents at the church for their regular Sunday morning service. All of the children in Adam’s new, more affluent area, walked to church in their Sunday best clothes to be given bible tuition and made to repeat the Lord’s Prayer and the ten commandments before listening to a guest speaker. Sometimes it would be a vicar from a neighbouring parish, sometimes a fiery, American preacher, and sometimes, more interestingly, a missionary, fresh back from Africa with tales of man-eating lions and crocodiles the length of an omnibus.
In Paddington, Adam’s previous district, only the children of the religious poor attended Sunday School. The church official in charge of the poorest of the poor handled things in a very different manner. Unruly children were dragged unceremoniously to the front of the room and beaten with either a thick leather strap or, if the offence was considered blasphemous, a three-foot cane. Threats of hell and damnation would follow the children out of the hall and into the streets where the cursing and fighting would begin anew.
Adam counted three public houses and two, small but well looked-after, restaurants as he surveyed his new neighbourhood for the first time. The chalked-up blackboards outside each establishment showed prices for two or three course evening meals. Even the pubs seemed to have a reasonable menu. They were all twice the price of a meal in the eateries less then half a mile along the road, but he knew he would be enjoying a far superior meal and would have less chance of a seriously upset stomach during the night. Following the recent licencing restrictions, the pubs in this district at least were not allowed to open until 12.00 PM while all of the shops were closed and shuttered, as people adhered to the strict, Lord’s Day rules.
Adam switched from the cobbled streets to the pavement as the private hire and privately owned carriages came onto the roads and walked back to his new apartment at a brisk pace, lifting his hat or nodding to the few fellow citizens who were taking the chance to exercise in the almost deserted streets and the smoke-free air.
Adam had precured a small loaf, some butter, a lump of cheese and an onion on the previous afternoon and when he returned home, he made a pot of tea and sat down to enjoy the first meal in his new abode. Outside, in the hall, he could hear the sound of children’s laughter. He opened the door and looked out to see two girls aged between nine and eleven, wearing smock dresses and lace-up boots, along with a red-faced, wheezy boy, some years younger, sporting a checked knickerbocker suit, acting out a game of tag up and down the long corridor. They stopped dead as he appeared in the doorframe. The older of the girls looked particularly shocked.
‘Shut the door, mister,’ she begged, and began to back her way along the polished wood panelling that lined the bottom of the staircase. She held out her hand to the other girl. ‘Veronica, quickly now, come here.’
Never taking her eyes from Adam, the younger girl edged towards, who he assumed was her sister. She grabbed at her wrist and together they ran up the first three steps to the turn of the stair.
‘Don’t be afraid, children.’ Adam held out both hands. ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’ He turned to the boy who stood, mouth agape, only three feet away from him. ‘You’re not afraid of me, are you?’ He smiled and crouched down so he was at more or less the same height as the boy.
‘Stanley! Get yourself up here… NOW!’ the older girl commanded.
Stanley looked from Adam to the girl then back again, but remained glued to the spot.
‘Stanley?’ Adam spoke softly. He held out his hand towards the child. The movement seemed to wake Stanley from his stupor, and he spun around on one foot and hurled himself up the steps.
Adam straightened, and held out his palms again. ‘I’m not going to hurt you. Please, don’t be afraid.’
‘It’s not you we’re scared of,’ said the younger of the girls. ‘It’s what’s insi—’
‘Shh, Veronica,’ the older girl put her finger to her lips, ‘you’ll entice her out, then we’ll all be for it.’
Adam looked puzzled. He half turned and pushed the heavy door, open wide.
‘There’s no one here but me. See for yourselves.’
The girls looked at each other, the older of the two stretched her neck in an attempt to see past him. Adam stepped into the hallway and stood to the side so the girls had a clear view into his sitting room.
‘See? No one. I live here alone.’
‘Catherine, Veronica. Come along now, let me brush your hair, it’s almost time for Sunday School. Is Stanley with you?’
A tall, slim woman in a grey pleated skirt and a light pink, frilled-collared blouse, descended the stairs. Spotting Adam, she paused, then held out a slender hand towards the children. ‘Come now, we don’t want to be late.’
She began to turn away but stopped as Adam spoke.
‘I’m Adam Sears,’ he said quickly. ‘I appear to have frightened your children. I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry.’
The woman smiled thinly.
‘I’m Felicity Parsons,’ she replied. Her face became softer. She ushered the children upstairs then walked elegantly down the stairs to the hallway. She held out a gloved hand. Adam took it as gently as he could.
‘I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance,’ Adam said. ‘I’m new to the district, I don’t know anyone around here. I’m sorry we seem to have got off on the wrong foot.’
‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ Mrs Parsons replied, stretching to look over Adam’s shoulder and into the sitting room. ‘I hope you last a little bit longer than the previous tenant… previous three tenants, that is. No one seems to stay here long. It seems that just as we get to be on speaking terms, they disappear on us.’
‘I met Mr Parsons last night, he told me the same thing,’ said Adam. He looked back into the apartment, a puzzled look on his face. ‘It’s a lovely place, I really can’t understand what’s wrong with it for the life of me.’
Mrs Parsons patted his arm and walked quickly back to the staircase.
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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