Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Motor Cycling in Northern Spain and Portugal

Three years ago, we travelled to Northern Spain and Portugal on the BMW GS with a group of bikers.  We had a wonderful time and this year decided to revisit the experience.  We toured with Global Motorcycle Tours, having gone with the Company three times before to various locations in Europe.  Northern Spain and Portugal remain our favourites even though this year's journey was quite a different kettle of fish.



When we join these tours, we like to get to know everyone else in the group.  Usually consisting of about fifteen bikes with a mix of singles and couples, most of the singles are male, so it's good to have at least five or six couples involved.  Mark and I are 'people loving people' and part of the holiday for us is chatting to everyone, finding out a little about each person and hopefully making some new good friends.  It's always interesting to see the vast range of characters who get into biking.  In the past we have met musicians, nurses, teachers, oil-field engineers, surgeons, chief executives, metal workers, hotel proprietors, bus drivers, to name but a few.  Once on a motor bike, there is no difference - the bike is the leveller, the link between all.


But of course, the real holiday is the tour.  Riding on roads that sweep and wind through mountain passes or across open plains with little traffic is a joy.  When the weather is warm, there is nothing like being on a motorbike, the breeze in your face, the smells of the countryside herbs or cattle changing to odours of  civilisation as you approach a town.  The aromas of newly baked bread, or roasting meat waft fleetingly through your senses together with the traffic of the busy streets.  Then back out into the countryside again, watching storks standing in mown meadows, the sight of men working in the fields, scything the grass in preparation for next winter's fodder.  The sound of the bells on mountain goats whilst you wait patiently for a flock of sheep to be herded across the road by an old bored-looking sheep dog.


 

Riding in a group with fourteen other bikes is an experience in itself.  After a day or so, you find yourself bonding as a group, thinking like a group, looking out for each other.  If one of the group have a mishap everyone feels it. Sometimes, as in all groups, there are people that you don't feel so comfortable around and this for me, is part of the adventure.  But they are still a part of the group and because of this, each time we go on a tour it is different.

People tell me that being a pillion on a motorbike is dangerous and that maybe I shouldn't be putting my life at risk for such a pastime.  This year's tour in Spain and Portugal did bring home to me just how dangerous it can be.  Anyone can come off a bike, even the most careful of riders, and I have always been aware of that fact.  However I have always been confident that my partner is a competent rider who would not take risks, especially not with me on the back, and not in such a situation as whilst on a tour like this.



It was only on the second day, the first full day of the tour, when one of the group had an accident and came off on a bend.  We were riding towards the middle of the group which had strung out over several miles when the tour leader pulled up, led us into a shady spot and told us that one of the riders had come off.  We knew nothing more at this point as he left us with his partner and went back to investigate.  We waited in the limited shade for news.  He kept us fully informed and within an hour or so, the rider was on his way to hospital, extremely lucky to have survived what could have been a nasty outcome.  A more subdued party arrived at the hotel that evening.  You will always get riders who take perhaps more risks than is necessary and I imagine that after riding on English roads, suddenly arriving in a country where the highways seem to be made for bikers to enjoy, it is easy to forget how dangerous some of the roads can be.



There was much talk in the bar that night and it made me think about how much responsibility we each have towards the group in these situations.  You pay for a holiday adventure and perhaps you feel that it's no one's business but your own how you experience that holiday, but if you are in a group such as this, what you do and how you behave has an effect on the group.  Luckily for the rider involved, he had only fairly minor injuries - but it was a close call and certainly affected the way others behaved after the event.  For me, I saw how well we were all looked after by the tour leaders who ensured that everything for the rider who came off was put into place without a hitch, as well as keeping us all updated on progress from the moment of the accident to the end of the tour eight days later.  They worked hard to keep the morale of the group on a level so that we could still enjoy our holiday whilst being aware of lessons which may have been learned by this incident.  Some people may say that going on a 'guided' tour is an expensive way to travel on holiday but I can honestly say that the tour leaders earned their money on this tour.

We certainly recommend this company for a superb range of tours in Europe for those who wish to combine a great holiday with an adventure.  Certainly not for the faint-hearted but great fun.  Run by Tom and Susan Bennett.


www.globalmotorcycletours.co.uk

Facebook page: Global Touring UK Motorcycle Tours

This Tour was the Northern Spain & Portugal Tour which covered Picos de Europa, the Peneda-Geres National Park in Portugal, the Serra Da Estrela National Park, and included a visit to the Sandemans Quinta do Seixo vineyard.

Friday, 27 May 2016

A Journey Home

 A couple of months ago, Mark and I took a trip to Poland.  The first time for both of us, but for myself, it had a greater meaning.  Apologies to my brothers who may have different memories.  This is just my own.....

A Journey Home

The plane banked, ready to descend from the sky.  The bright sunlight beaming through the tiny cabin windows dimmed as we dipped into the cloud.  I looked at my husband, he took my hand and held it in his.  I glanced through the window once more and there it was - Poland.  Miles and miles of dark forest and pale green fields sweeping below us.  The tears flowed without even a thought of what we were doing or where we were.  It was automatic, embarrassing, as I had no control over the emotions.  Why had it taken so long to get to this point in my life, I wondered.  I don’t know the answer but it felt like I was coming home at last.
    In 1945, at the end of the war, thousands of Polish soldiers arrived in England.  Given the choice of settling here, going to the USA, or returning home to Poland, many decided to stay here.  The Soviet Union having ‘liberated’ the area where my Father had come from made going home a poor choice at the time, although leaving behind his sick Mother left him carrying a guilt for the rest of his life.  Before long he met the woman who was to become my own Mother and soon they were married with a child on the way.
    Life was hard in England in the years after the war.  My Father had little education in Poland due to the German occupation.  Polish citizens were treated no better than slaves and children had to leave school at a very young age.  Now a free man with a new life here but with no trade or profession, he was a labourer for several years, working on projects such as the Fawley Oil Refinery.  My parents lived in a number of different homes in the early years:  a period of time with my Nan, some time in a converted church in Fareham, and at the time that I was born, in a Nissen hut which had previously been used by prisoners of war.
    I was still a toddler when we moved into our council house, newly built at the time.  Money was still very tight and I remember going with my Mother to jumble sales for new clothes and being given hand-me-downs from the woman my Nan worked for as a cleaner. Her daughter had only the best so my clothes were often of good quality and lasted well.
    During all those years of growing up sometimes Dad would tell us stories of his childhood in Poland.  There was always a sadness in his tales as they were tinged with the knowledge that he would never go back to his homeland.  There was this little obstacle at the time - the Iron Curtain.
    As we grew and the years passed, my Father was persuaded to train as a psychiatric nurse.  This was mainly due to my Mother who had always loved nursing and though she’d not completed her training before the children started to come along, she was working as a nursing assistant at nearby Knowle Hospital and, worried that labouring outside in all weathers was affecting my Father’s health, she talked him into giving it a go.  He loved it and had a successful career in nursing.
    When travel between the West and East became easier, in the 1980s, I finally met my Uncle and Aunt who lived in Poland - they came to visit us - my Father still would not, or could not go back to Poland for a visit.  The country remained under the Communist rule then and although some travel to the West was allowed, it was difficult and our relatives advised us not to go.
    My Father died over 12 years ago and had never been back to Poland.  Since his death, more and more Polish people have come to England and many have settled in Portsmouth.  Suddenly, everywhere I go in town, I hear my Father’s voice - in cafes, supermarkets, on the streets.  It’s somehow comforting.
    When the plane landed in Katowize and we left the airport, it was uncanny.  The people who greeted us, whilst strangers, were so familiar to me.  The journey from the airport to Krakow, through country where my Father would have possibly played and then fought during the war years, starving and cold in the winters with no fuel or money for food, played on my emotions.  For all of my life to this moment, Poland had been a distant land, a fairy tale of my childhood, a place I thought I would never see apart from in stories and in my dreams.  And yet, here I was, bumping along in a mini-bus, peering through rain-washed windows at the land of my family.  These forests where my Father may have picnicked and gathered wild mushrooms, these towns where my Father may have visited distant relatives that I would never meet, the new roads which were not there when my Father was a child, roads he had never seen.
    Krakow is a magnificent city, it’s market square boasting to be the largest in Europe, it’s history rich and varied.  It’s people are proud of their heritage and I could not find a trace of bitterness linked to their past.  Just a determination to remain free and to make Poland a great nation again.  For me, everywhere we went, I could hear my Father’s voice, my Aunt’s laughter and kindness.  The people are gentle, courteous, and hard working.  I felt truly at home.
    For many tourists going to Krakow, it’s important to visit Auschwiz and Berkenhau, to remind us all of what we, as humans are capable of.  For myself, it was chilling to think that there but for the grace of something, my Father might have ended his days there.  A tour of the Jewish Quarter and Schindler’s factory, now a museum dedicated to the Jews of Krakow is equally harrowing.  But the highlight of the visit was the free walking tour of Krakow Old Town.  You can find their details online at www.freewalkingtour.com/calendar.  Our leader, a young woman called Gosia, was enthusiastic, highly knowledgeable and sensitive as she led us through the highlights and history of Krakow Old Town.  It is recommended that you wear good walking shoes and as our trip was in early March, we needed raincoats and warm clothing.  The tour took a couple of hours and was a whirlwind of emotions for me.  We came away with a deeper understanding of Polish people.  I felt I had found my true roots.
    We only stayed in Krakow for a few days.  It was enough for me for the first visit but we left with wonderful memories and the knowledge that I’d completed a part of the jig-saw that is me, reconnecting with the past, even though I have no family left in Poland. 
    The journey home to England was simply a journey from home to home.
   

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Portsea Basin Sunset

My latest short story - set in Portsmouth, a short tale of haunting where least expected.

Portsea Basin Sunset

It was just before dawn on a damp November night.  Joe walked home after a most difficult night shift.  Normally he loved the walk home in the dark.  It gave him a chance to leave behind his work and prepare for the day ahead - a couple of hours sleep and then off to his job in the Charlotte Street market.  As he turned into Arundel Street, just a few more yards to his flat, he felt a change in the air.  A mist was swirling about the trees, newly planted in the precinct.  He walked a little faster and nearly fell over the man sitting on the bench in the middle of the street.  Joe stopped just in time.
    ‘Sorry.  I didn’t see you there.’  He looked down at the man.  He hadn’t even flinched.  ‘Are you alright?’ Joe asked.  No answer came.  He could see the man was awake but he didn’t even look up at him.  Joe shrugged and walked on.  He hadn’t gone more than a few steps when he heard the sound - the sound of a heavy horse’s hooves on cobbles, water lapping in the background.  He turned back to look and the man had gone.  The sounds had gone.  All that remained was the drip, drip, drip of the rain from the roof overhanging the shops.

If they hadn’t dredged the canal they’d never have found me.  I’d been lying there for months, the fishes nibbling at my flesh, water snails sliding between my toes, my body weighted by the rocks tied around my waist with ropes still yet to rot.  Now there would be questions asked and finally some answers revealed. 
    You thought I’d abandoned you but I never would have done that.  I was waiting for you, waiting at the canal basin, waiting as we’d agreed the night before.
    The day was nearly over, the evening sun glowed red on the still water.  All seemed at peace.  The barge would be leaving in an hour, our passage booked to London.  We knew that this was the safest way to get you away - the road to London would have been the first place they’d have looked once they’d discovered you missing.
    Looking back now, I wish that I’d been stronger, that I’d not delayed and had agreed to leave when you’d first told me about the child.  If only I hadn’t hesitated.
    As the dirty waters were pumped from the muddy basin and I looked down on my mouldering body, I was glad you weren’t there to see what was left of me.  I wondered where you were - I wondered about our child.  I was so busy wondering about things that I hadn’t noticed him standing there on the bank.  His face was like a thunderstorm, ready to burst forth.  He was also looking down at my body.  I stood behind him, wanting to push him over the edge into the murky slime but the past weeks and months had taught me the impossibility of this, my own body being of no further use to me.  Had I pushed him, my hand would have gone straight through his body and the worst he would have felt was a shiver of someone walking over his grave.
    I watched, helpless, as he looked about, and seeing that he was completely alone and safe from the prying eyes of the living, he made his way to a nearby stack of timber and began to carry a log back to the bank.  He dropped the log onto my poor half-eaten body.  The mud was soft beneath my remains and as the log hit my chest I sank a little.  It may have been my imagination but I swear I felt a thud as it landed.  Still my body could be seen from the bank.  He fetched another log, then another and another, dropping each one onto my body until it was completely covered.  I felt the dull thud of pain as each one dropped, sensing the vitriol from the man on the bank - the man who’d been your cruel suitor, the man who had murdered me.
    No doubt he’d been confident that the canal waters would hide his crime.  The contamination of the City’s wells put paid to that.  When the local people began to complain of the salt water which was seeping through from the canal, tainting the once-fresh waters, the engineers decided that it should be dredged.  That was when my body saw the light of day once more.
    Now, my remains again out of sight, the evil man smiled down at the mud and laughed.  He laughed and walked away.  I tried to follow him, to find where you were, to somehow let you know that I hadn’t abandoned you by choice but I found that I could only stay within the confines of the canal basin. 
    Frustrated, I waited.  I wondered if you would come this way again and that I could see you one more time before I left this earthly domain.  I could never be at peace with you not knowing.  You never came.  But he did.  He came back, over and over again, stood on the back of the canal and looked down at where I lay, almost as if he was waiting for me to rise up and show myself to him.  I wished that I could have but it was out of my power to do so. 
    Then, one night, after dusk, he appeared at the end of the alleyway, standing in the shadows, looking around to see if the coast was clear.  There was no-one about, only me, as ever, waiting and watching.  The canal had long been filled again with water, the work all finished and the wells once more flowing with clear, sweet waters.  Several narrow boats and a couple of barges were tethered along the banks, the horses grazing in the meadow just beyond the basin.  In the distance, voices and laughter could be heard from a local hostelry as the owners of the boats unwound after a long day on the canal.  But there was no one to be seen on the banks of the basin.
    I watched as he crept from the darkness of the alley and made his way to the edge of the waters.  Then I noticed that he held a bundle in his arms.  A bundle which was moving and as I watched I heard the sound of a baby cry.  I watched in horror as he picked up an empty sack which had been discarded on the bank.  He picked up a number of heavy-looking stones and placed them in the sack.  Then, more awful still, he bundled the child into the sack also, tying a string around its neck before he slung it into the middle of the canal basin and stood watching as the bag sank out of sight.  My child!  Murdered!
    This was too much for me - I summoned up all of the anger I could feel for the loss of our child, the loss of you, the loss of my young life, and willed him to topple over the edge.  I saw him trying to resist.  He struggled but I was stronger.  He swayed, a look of fear and shock on his face as he realised that he was falling forward, in slow motion, into the deepest part of the canal basin.  As he landed, I heard his head strike something in the depths and guessed that it was probably one of the logs that he’d thrown in to hide my body.   Unhappily for him, striking the log rendered him unconscious .  I watched and smiled as his breath bubbled to the surface and I stood there, staring into the water, long after the bubbles had ceased.
    Many years have passed and still I remain here, unable to leave the basin, waiting in vain for a glimpse of you, long after your life must have ended.  I never saw you again.  I don’t suppose I’ll ever be free to rest my soul in peace.  Even now, now that the canal is long gone, smooth paving stones taking the place of the waters, I remain here and can still hear the echoes of horse’s hooves on stone, the lap the the dirty waters against the barges as if they still moved along the canal.  Some mornings I sit and watch as workers make their way home after a night shift.  I wonder when I see them, wonder if they can see me, wonder if they are somehow connected to you, wonder what ever happened to you all that time ago.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

New Novel on track

I've been working hard over the last few weeks to get my new novel on track again.  After sleeping on it for some time, I've been re-motivated to pick it up again and I have to say that I'm really enjoying the process now.  Sometimes I find it hard to put it down, even when I know that there are other projects stacking up around me.

I plan to finish it by the end of March this year.  So far I've written 47,500 words which I reckon should be about the half way mark.

What's it about?  Set in the 1980s, a psychological thriller with murder, plotting, kidnap, bodies in the cellar just for a start, you will meet some characters familiar to you from Caught in the Web, as well as some unlikely new heroines and heroes working together in a charity shop.  The working title is Payback.

If you still haven't read Caught in the Web it's available from Amazon, from Completelynovel.com,  and in bookstores as a paperback.  Also on Kindle as an ebook.  The Kindle version has been updated so if you had a poor quality one previously it's worth having a second look.

Friday, 15 January 2016

I'm back!

Something happened to my blog.  I think I lost the password and lost interest and when I got back to it, inadvertantly set up a new blog account.  Now I've solved the problem, thank goodness, so will be posting items on here again.

I haven't been sleeping though - in the past year I've been keeping busy with my writing.

I've had several articles and a short story published in The Star and Crescent at www.starandcrescent.org.uk  in Portsmouth.  I have written and performed a short story at the Square Tower, Southsea at the Day of the Dead iii event in November.  I have picked up and am running with my next novel, now with the working title of Payback, and I have directed and produced The Return of the Soldier, a play by John Van Druten, at Titchfield Festival Theatre, also in November 2015.

All of this and a total knee replacement back in July!

My short story: The Haunting follows:


The Haunting

I’m glad you came back again to fill these empty halls.  The castle stone walls are damp and cold in winter. Twelve months is a long time to wait in the dark, alone, for company.  It changes you.  It certainly changed me.  I’m cold and so, so hungry for company.  
There was a moment, maybe three months back when I did see a glimmer of hope.  It was a wedding.  The sun was shining but there was a chill wind coming off the sea.  I was gazing down from the balcony - just about there.  Children were running about - no discipline at all any more.  The wedding guests were loud, stuffing their mouths with food, quaffing copious bottles of wine and ale from dainty glasses, shouting and laughing across the hall with no decorum at all.  The energy was most unwelcome; it made me feel oppressed and angry.
Watching them eat, I was so hungry.  I just wanted something to eat.
I didn’t notice the child until she was right there, next to me on the balcony.  Just me and her, alone up there.  I could feel her inner glow and was overcome with a need to devour her life force.  She stood so close to me, I knew I only had to give her a little shove and she’d fall through the railings.  I anticipated the sound of her body landing in the centre of the wedding feast, imagined her form draped over the wedding cake, the looks of shock and horror wiping the grotesque grins from the faces of the drunken wedding party.
I was this close to doing it, as close as I am to you now.  But someone down there was watching, and spotting the child so close to the railings, she let out a God Almighty scream, ‘Chantelle!  Get down here right now!’
The whole room hushed.  A hundred pairs of eyes looked up at me - I shrunk into the wall in haste, forgetting that they couldn’t actually see me. I watched as the parent clattered up the stairs and dragged the child away, wrenching her arm nearly out of its socket.  I sent a silent message of pity to that child that day.  Could have ended it all for her if her mother hadn’t ruined it.
Are there any children in here this evening?  I like children.  Children have a special aura about them, an innocence unsullied by modern living.  That’s why I like them.  Well, sort of like them. 
It was just one year ago tonight that I first came to this Tower, just like you, delighted to have been invited to an evening of ghostly story telling.  I’ve never believed in ghosts - I thought it would be fun.  
And the evening started well enough.  I was greeted by smiling witches and devils, encouraged to drink wine, peruse local authors’ works, then was shown to my seat in this very room.  I sat just there, right where you’re sitting now amused and so cynical that anyone would be stupid enough to believe in such a load of claptrap!
During the intermission I found myself in conversation with a gentleman in a black cape and top hat.  I assumed he was one of the authors. There was something about him that sparked my interest and when he asked me to stay behind afterwards I was flattered.  I sat through the second half, impatient to find out more about this mysterious man.  He was not unattractive.
When the evening was over I lingered in my seat.  People began to stack the chairs andI moved into the other room.  People in here were packing away their books and posters, laughing and chatting together.  They were warm.  Warm and alive together.  I remember it because it was the last time I felt that feeling - of life. 
The gentleman wasn’t here though so I looked in the cloakroom.  Now, I swear I was only in there for a few minutes but when I came back out the place was in darkness and empty. Buy the light of my mobile phone I made my way to the door.  It was locked.
At that moment I was scared - just for a second or two.  I banged on the door and called out.  Surely someone must be outside.  I scrolled through my phone for help.  Then the phone beeped and died.  I was in darkness again.  Fear crept through me.   I began to cry, silently at first, then I began to sob loudly and to shout for help.  I was suddenly cold, cold as the stones.  
Eventually I sank to the floor, exhausted.  Part of my brain was telling me that all I had to do was to wait, that I may have to stay here all night but in the morning surely the caretaker would be in to clean.  Another part of my brain was filled with thoughts of spiders, and rats running over me in the night.  Nothing in my head told me to beware of anything supernatural.
I looked up and saw a glimmer of light coming from the far corner of the room.  A shadow was stealing towards me behind the dim flickering light.  A candle I thought.  Someone else was here.  Thank God!  As the figure moved closer to me I stood up, peering into the light.  I couldn’t see the face but recognised the cloak and top hat of the gentleman.  The relief I felt was immense.  I spoke to him - I can’t remember what I said, probably something like, ‘thank goodness, I thought I’d been locked in.‘  
He was silent.  He kept moving towards me.  As he drew close I tried to look at his face but could only see shadows beyond the candle.  
  ‘Who are you?’ I asked.  He lifted the light higher and I could see his face, his eyes searing into mine.  I felt myself drawn into the depths of what appeared to be red discs of fire.  He raised his arms, his black cloak swept up and enveloped me.  I cried out and struggled to escape from his arms but gradually I felt the strength ebbing from me, I could no longer breathe.  
The feeling of panic was unbearable at first, then gradually I felt a kind of peace flowing through me as the life force was sucked from me.  I looked up at him one last time and he was smiling.
Then he was gone.  And I was cold, and hungry.
I’m so glad you’re here.
I’m so glad, because I like your company so much.
And I’d like to invite one of you to stay behind tonight.  Perhaps you could stay - for dinner?


I do hope you enjoyed it.
I'll be back soon......

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Kevin - the unlikely Hero


A bit of work on a character....


Kevin’s Journal

My name is Kevin Franks.  I still live at home with my Mum even though I’m 23.  I’m quite short, about 5’ 7’’, slim, with black hair and I’m not bad looking.  

I grew up with my Mum.  I don’t remember much about my Dad - he left when I was 5 and a half.  Mum doesn’t talk about him at all but I just vaguely remember sitting with him in front of the television when I was little.  I remember the smell of him, warm and strong, his hands ruffling my hair and then he’d pinch my cheek.  When he left I can’t remember how I felt.  It’s all just a black hole in my memory now.  Mum always said we would manage very well thank you.  She worked at the Doctors surgery as a receptionist and would come home from work and scrub the house from top to bottom every evening.  Our house was very clean but Mum would never let me bring any friends home to play.

I know I could be doing something better than working in this charity shop - I did well at school but something had gone wrong along the way.  I always wanted to be a shop manager and could have been one by now - if only things had turned out differently.

I’m a hard worker and was doing my A levels when something happened and I lost the plot a bit.  I think I was trying too hard and would go over and over every piece of work I did before I could hand it it.  I got to the point when I believed that my work would never be good enough.  That’s when I suffered my little ‘breakdown’.  That’s what Mum called it.  To be truthful, I can’t actually remember much about it and anyway, I’m all over that now.

I don’t have a girlfriend at the moment.  Well, I’ve never really had a girlfriend although there was this girl at school I used to hang out with for a while.  I don’t see her anymore though.  

I plan to get a proper job soon - I just need to get a bit of experience under my belt.  When I’d applied for jobs they said I had no experience so that’s why I’m here, just to get experience.  Not because I’m not good enough for a real job in a real shop.  I try hard to pretend that this is a real shop with real customers.  I know presentation is important.  That’s why I always wear my suit to work.  Once I have my own shop I’ll make sure all the staff are smartly dressed at all times.  I don’t like the way Catherine, the Manager, wears jeans and paints her toenails which peep out through the holes in her sandals.  But she is the manager of this place, so I have to keep up the pretense that she’s in charge, and we do make a good team after all.

The best part of the job is helping the customers, showing them the new items that had just come in.  I take great pride in my customer service.  Everyone who comes in is important - well you never know who they are do you.  Take that old lady who comes in every day at the same time.  She smells slightly of cats - or is it urine?  I’m not sure but you can’t take any chances, can you?  If you are nice to people they always remember you, don’t they?  In a good way, that is, not like the people who went to school with me, remembering what I was like in those bad old days.  Anyway, that old lady will die one day and may leave a lot of money to someone - and it could be me.




Sunday, 16 November 2014

Caught in the Web - Chapter 49


An excerpt from Caught in the Web.  New download version now on Kindle.

Chapter Forty-nine
The cobbles were warm beneath Evelyn’s toes.
Sitting on the kitchen chair outside her childhood home, she’d slipped off her shoes. Her mother came out of the back door with a plate of home-made cake and offered her a slice. Evelyn smiled as she took a chunk of the moist, rich fruit cake in her hand.
‘I should have given you a plate,’ said her mother. ‘But we won’t have to worry about the crumbs out here. It’s so nice to sit in the garden, don’t you think?’
Evelyn looked up at the older woman. She felt something thawing inside as the sun warmed her skin. The cake crumbled as she took a bite, the sweet fruit soft on her tongue, the spices bringing memories flooding of her childhood, sitting in this very spot, watching her brother playing in the dirt amongst the vegetables. She sighed, remembering the happier times before....
‘How’s the cake?‘ Her mother sat down beside her, bringing her thoughts back to the present.
‘It’s lovely. Just like you always used to make.’ She finished the cake slowly, savouring each mouthful before washing it down with the strong tea that Grace had left on the garden wall beside her.
Two weeks had passed since her mother’s visit to her and she’d been home three times now. Home. How easily that thought had tripped from her mind. How hard it had been at first. That nurse, Sheila, had stayed with her the first time but for the past two visits she’d been left alone for the afternoon. At last Evelyn was beginning to feel more relaxed with her mother and even though she knew that it would take time to forget the past, she wondered if one day she could forgive what had happened. She thought about Joe, her little brother, lost to her since she’d been taken to Highclere.
‘What’s Joe doing now?’ she asked.
‘He did an apprenticeship in engineering.’ There was pride in her mother’s voice. ‘Then he emigrated to Australia fifteen years ago. He’s married with two sons. Wait a minute.’ She got up and went indoors, quickly returning with a photo album.
‘I’ve never met his wife or the two little boys but they write to me.’ She opened the album. ‘This is his wedding photo.’ She pointed to a photograph of a grown-up Joe standing beside a young woman in white, smiling at the camera across the years. She turned the page.
‘These are their two boys. That one is Michael. He’s nine now and this is Andrew. He’s six.’
Evelyn gazed at the photographs of her brother and his family, feelings of regret welling up. She felt an echo of pain before pushing it away again.
She felt her mother’s hand on her arm. ‘I’m glad you’re here,’ she said.
Evelyn handed the photo album back to her and smiled.
‘I’m glad, too,’ she said. Each visit had been turbulent, painful at times but also seemed like a step forward to a future which was rooted in the past.
The older woman took a deep breath.
‘I wanted to talk to you about what happened all those years ago,’ she began.
Evelyn recoiled inside. She sat for a moment, then consciously made herself relax. ‘I tried to forget it all,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t matter any more.’
‘I suppose not. Not really,’ said her mother. ‘But it would make me feel better if I could only understand more about what happened.’ She paused and looked sideways at Evelyn. ‘I sensed that something bad had happened to you. Was it something that Bob said to you?’
Evelyn said nothing, wishing that her mother would stop.
‘I remember you two being so good with each other, then it seemed to change.’ She paused again. ‘I think it was difficult for him knowing that you were pregnant and not yet married.’
‘Don’t Mum,’ Evelyn interrupted.
‘No, let me finish. I still can’t understand what happened.’ She stopped, seeing the distress on Evelyn’s face.
‘Oh, my dear, I’m sorry. You don’t have to talk about this if you really don’t want to. I just thought it would help you as well.’
Evelyn took a deep breath.
‘I’ll tell you but you won’t like it and you probably won’t believe me.’ She felt her mother squeezing her hand in encouragement.
Evelyn sat in silence. She felt the sun on her skin and felt the welcome breeze gently brush against her face whilst she thought about how to say it.
‘It was him.’ The words were spoken clearly and quietly. ‘Uncle Bob was the father of my child.’
‘What do you mean?’ The question was asked but her mother’s face revealed that she was half expecting this.
‘Uncle Bob. He was the one. I was a good girl - never went with any boy. He came to my room at night. He hurt me Mum. I couldn’t tell you and I couldn’t make him stop. He did it to me over and over again. When the baby came, he took it away. He took away my baby girl. He took away my life. I just wanted to die then. I’m sorry Mum.’ The tears were flowing from her eyes but she couldn’t look at her mother, afraid that she’d said too much.
Suddenly she was in the older woman’s arms.
‘My poor, poor girl,’ her mother sobbed. ‘I knew something awful must be happening to you but I had no idea. I had no idea that Bob was like that. I thought he was such a good father to you, stepping into your real Dad’s shoes like that. I should have known. You should have told me. I would have stopped it.’
‘You must have known,’ Evelyn accused. ‘How could you not have known?’ She could feel the anger burning again.
'I didn’t - really.' Her mother faltered.
'I couldn’t tell you. I thought you’d be angry with me. Like it was my fault. He said you wouldn’t believe me. Then he said other horrible things, like I’d led him on, thrown myself at him. I didn’t lead him on. You do believe me, don’t you?’
‘Of course I do,’ her mother said. ‘He wasn’t a good man.’ She stopped speaking and turned to look at Evelyn.
‘I found out things after you went into hospital,’ she said. ‘I found out he was already married to a woman in Southampton. He went back to her in the end. I suppose he only stayed with me to get at you.’
‘Well, it’s in the past now.’ Evelyn felt sorry for her mother for the first time in her life. She sighed. ‘I’m glad you came to see me,’ she went on. ‘I’m glad I can visit you.’
They sat in silence, each enveloped in their own thoughts and private regrets. Eventually it was Evelyn who spoke.
‘I love you Mum,’ she whispered. She smiled through her tears.
‘I’m sorry,’ was all her mother could say. She paused before going on. ‘I love you too. I always have loved you. I don’t know how I can make up for all the lost years but I would be so happy if you could come and live here again. I don’t suppose you’d want that?’
Evelyn swallowed down her feelings of alarm.
‘I would. But I’m scared,’ she finally replied.
‘I understand. But we could do it gradually if you want to. You could come home for a night first, then see how it goes. What do you think? I’ve talked to the Charge Nurse and he said that’s what usually happens.’
‘Alright.’ Evelyn smiled.
She lay on her bed allowing these unwelcome thoughts to intrude into the calm hopefulness she’d been feeling the previous evening as she’d slipped into sleep. It was a relief when the nurse opened her door some time later and called for her to get up. It was Linda.
‘Come on Evelyn, breakfast’s here. Up you get,’ she said briskly before she tu