What is a government for?

 

A slight detour into the realms of the political for this blog. It struck me that all of my children will be old enough to vote in the referendum in June, so in large part this is for them. I think they probably know all this anyway, but this was inspired by imagining them listening to the debates, reading articles, and trying to decide which way to vote. So, just what is a government for?

This seems to be one of those questions that few of us ever find ourselves pondering, and if we do then it tends to get brushed aside quickly with a, ‘Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? The government is supposed to be running the country.’

The thing is it rarely seems to be obvious in practice. Who gets to be the government and how should we choose them? How is the government supposed to run the country? Whose policies should be followed? Do they slavishly follow manifesto promises or should compromise be reached when it comes to everyday practicalities? Who gets to benefit?

As we endure the run up to the Brexit referendum on June 23rd and the US Presidential campaign I have found myself pondering just how many people ponder this, and what conclusions do they come to? With me so far? Good.

I expect, or at least hope, that if you were to stop the proverbial man or woman in the street and ask them if they think that any government, of any political persuasion, should run the country for the benefit of that government alone and their few trusted cronies that you would receive a resounding No! Government should not be for the few. Apart from anything else, once you have a situation like that then those in power will rig things so that they stay in power, and then you have a diminishing number of options to change a situation and you’re already starting from a point of disadvantage. Coups happen in situations like that, or revolutions, civil unrest and uprisings. All of which are bloody and far from guaranteed to succeed, much less have the outcome you thought they were going to. ISIS in Syria, anyone? Or to quote a fictional example, 1984.

So should governments run the country for the voters? Simply do what benefits voters and no one else? Well, not really. For a start not everyone is eligible to vote. We have what most people would consider universal suffrage in the UK, which means that virtually all adults have the right to vote, but there are still a lot of people who cannot vote. Mostly children, but also some adults who are not registered to vote for whatever reason. You might think that it would be a strange country that would ignore its own children and channel all resources into adult voters, and yet a quick look at various childrens services in the UK will tell you that’s exactly what we do. Childrens Mental Health Services have lagged behind those of adults for decades – a GP told me way back at the turn of the century that the waiting list for children to access mental health services was so long that you would have to wait at least a year even if your child was suicidal. I can’t imagine that things have improved at all since then. Then there are the cuts to support services for families, cuts to child benefits – I could go on, but it is clear that governments will not put money into services for people it doesn’t see as important ie those who can’t vote for them or provide them with a pay cheque.

Another case in point is the District of Columbia. The people who live there have no representation in the Senate, limited representation in the House of Representatives, and very few voting rights. It’s a situation that arose because Congress decided they wanted full control of the surrounding land, to not be beholden to one state or another for its security, but the unintended consequence is that without anyone to speak up for them the residents in the District live in some of the greatest poverty in the United States. Not all of them, true, but there is a lack of integration between the white communities and the black communities and I’ll give you three guesses as to which come off worst and see their circumstances getting worse. Oh, DC residents are still liable for full federal taxes, by the way. They just don’t see much of that money back in terms of social care.

And then there’s the fact that throughout history there has been a pattern of not allowing everyone to vote. It is within living memory that women in the UK were finally allowed to vote no matter what their income or social status. Within living memory. If governments only serve those who can already vote then that would never have changed.

So should governments do what is best for the majority of their citizens? After all, you can’t please everyone all of the time, so why not just go with what will make scarce resources work for the majority of people? This is another No, although I see enough comments online and in the print media to realise that many people wish that this was the case. At least, they seem to think that way because they assume that they are in the safe majority. The problem with this strategy, apart from its inherent cruelty and unfairness towards some of the most vulnerable people in society, is that it is open to such abuse. As soon as you are willing to accept that some people are worth helping, but that others can be safely consigned to the waste bin, then you open the door for those who wield power to change definitions, shift goal posts, and just generally behave in ways that benefit themselves and no one else (remember the governing for the benefit the government and cronies above?) You get people who vote for a party because they think they are the hard-working family that is being talked about in the manifesto and they don’t want to spread thin resources thinner by propping up others who are labelled as scroungers. Except then they discover that they are now labelled as scroungers, because although they are hard-working they are so poorly paid that they rely on benefits to make ends meet. Benefits which are being cut, or taken away entirely.

Or, you might have been a business owner that believed the promises that red tape would be cut for small businesses, rates and taxes would be set to allow you to cling on through the recession, only to discover that you’re not operating in the right development zone to benefit, or your business is considered just a tad too big, and so you get hit with all the extra rates and administrative hassle you thought you might be spared until business had picked up enough to cope with it.

I haven’t even mentioned people considered minorities because they are disabled, or have a different colour skin, or are LGBTQ , or practice a different religion, or weren’t born in this country, because I figured that was obvious enough. The thing is, being different doesn’t mean lesser, and doesn’t mean being less deserving of full participation in the life of the country that you live in, wherever it is.

So no, no governing for the benefit of the majority only. Govern a country for the benefit of everyone, and if you hear anyone proposing anything different then look very closely at what they are really saying. How do you imagine they would act if they actually got into power? So anyway, as the dude in the suit of armour said, ‘Choose wisely.’

Posted in Life in general | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Glamour

‘I think I’ll call you Roo’ she said, as she twirled her fingers through his greying black beard. He just nodded, astonished that after all the uproar over the past few days such a glamorous woman had knocked at his mother’s door and asked to see him. At least, he assumed that’s what she had done – one minute he’d been alone in the basement and the next She was there.

‘I’m sorry, but what did you say your name was?’

‘Tatiana.’

He shook his head a little, confused, he could swear that she’d said Titania when she had first introduced herself, but maybe it was the accent confusing him. The police had only just left after he’d called them to investigate the death threats he’d received, and he was still in his sweaty grey tshirt and shorts, but the tall brunette in front of him didn’t seem to notice that he smelled rank and badly needed to brush his teeth, except, hadn’t she been a red-head when she’d first appeared? Never mind, he’d always preferred brunettes anyway.

He tried to listen to what she was saying but his senses felt overwhelmed that such a beautiful woman was standing there, actually wanting to talk to him and not turning away in disgust. For all his bragging on-line it had been years since any woman had spent more than 2 minutes in his company, apart from his mother and the police woman who had just left. He thought he had just heard her suggest that they go over to her place. Result!

He agreed enthusiastically, as he knew that his mother would only be nagging him to clear up and take out the garbage when she came back from work – and getting out of the house would mean she wasn’t there to cramp his style. Although, truthfully, he’d nearly forgotten what his style was – it had been over 20 years since he’d snatched a kiss from Chantelle behind the bike sheds. He didn’t even stop to pick up the overnight bag that he told his on-line fans he kept in readiness for such occasions, mainly because that was as much a figment of his imagination as the rest of his online life.

Somehow he couldn’t remember walking up the stairs and out of the door, or any other part of the journey, but he knew they had arrived when he could smell pine needles and wild rosemary. The trees grew together so closely that he couldn’t see any gaps between them, but suddenly he was surrounded by women. A lot of very, very angry women. Except that he wasn’t totally sure they were human, there was something about the eyes, and the teeth, and the claws…

He turned to Tatiana, bewildered and more than a little scared now. As he did so she allowed the glamour to drop for one second so that he could see her as she really was, and then he was gone.

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Confidence

Jane looked up as Lizzie wandered over to her desk. She tried not to frown or look disappointed but she knew that this could only mean one thing – Lizzie wanted a chat over her morning coffee and Jane would have to listen, nod and agree when all she really wanted to do was shake Lizzie and tell her to wake up and smell the coffee, you are living in a dream world. If only it was that easy.

It was exactly as Jane had dreaded. Lizzie had been to the spiritualist meeting last night and had been told she was doing well, her mother was looking down on her and was proud. The usual garbage that anyone with half an ounce of blather could pull off if they wanted to. Jane looked at Lizzie as she talked; noticed the colour back in her cheeks, the sparkle in her eyes, and the gaunt look disappearing as she started to eat properly again. No, it wasn’t going to be easy to negotiate this minefield. The problem was that Lizzie really was doing well, and her mother ought to have been proud, but it seemed that the only way Lizzie would hear that was from her mother’s own mouth. Or that of the spiritualist currently claiming to be doing that.

Jane had let her mind wander as she pretended to listen, but was brought back to the present by a note of sudden doubt in Lizzie’s voice. Oh no, she thought, but oh yes. Lizzie was starting to notice cracks in the current spiritualist’s knowledge. Crap. Jane knew what would happen next – Lizzie would fall out with the medium, then she would get depressed, stop eating, barely make it into work, and just generally fall apart. Jane had seen it all before in a never-ending cycle over the past twenty years, since their mother had died when Jane was twenty-two and Lizzie not quite twenty-one. She had hoped that time would help Lizzie move on, but it didn’t seem to be happening any time soon.

After the coffee break was over Jane tried to concentrate on her work, but found it difficult. She kept getting distracted, thinking through what she was going to have to do next. She’d hoped for a little more time, but she was clearly going to have to be prepared with a back-up plan a lot sooner than expected.

At lunchtime she googled the contact details of all the spiritualists and mediums  that she hadn’t used before, and prayed that this time she would find one that could remember all the inside family information she gave them.

 

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Good news and bad news

The good news is, I heard today that the amount of my story that I have blogged so far doesn’t bar me from entering it into a competition which may, or may not, lead to it getting published eventually by a real publisher – woo hoo!

The bad news is that means I won’t be blogging any more Jappters for a while although, rest assured, I will be writing them! It also means that those characters named after my twitter friends who have encouraged me and asked to ‘take part’ in the story will have to be edited somewhat if you have tweeted under your real name. The section entered into the competition will be edited, and then I’ll start editing the bits that are on the blog.

If anyone is feeling particularly bereft and wanting to read the next Jappters as they are written (Arthur/Martha, I’m looking at you, here) then I can email them if you ask me to. Or maybe beg. Actually, bribe might be best – yes, if you bribe me to email them to you 🙂

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25. Sgt. McKeown aids and abets an escape

Velox trotted off down the street with his nose to the ground. Whereas before he had been weaving from side to side, sniffing at the full width of the street, this time he was moving steadily and clearly following a single trail. He wasn’t running at full speed, but his pace was fast enough that Graptus and Cleon were going to have to work at it to keep up with him. Graptus had turned to wave farewell to Philemon as he stood in the doorway, puzzled at their sudden departure, and had regretted it when he saw how far behind he had fallen. By the time he had caught up with Cleon again he was too out of breath to speak for a few moments.  I’m getting old, he thought, and too lazy – my rose garden isn’t keeping me fit as much as I thought.

 

While he was waiting for his breathing to calm down enough so that he could speak, as well as keep up the extremely brisk walking pace that Velox was setting, Graptus pondered Velox’s behaviour. He hadn’t shown any interest in the door, or in running off down the street, when they had arrived, so did that mean that Felix was the person they had heard at the front door? If it was Felix then what had he been doing there? Had he followed them, or had he gone to the house for some other reason? If he had caught sight of them and followed them there, why hadn’t he called out to them, knocked on the door – or even just waited for them to come out again? If he hadn’t followed then why was he there? So many questions. So many puzzling events that didn’t seem to fit together – Graptus was beginning to feel like he had been set an exam where more than half the questions were missing altogether and the other half were written in a language he didn’t speak. As he thought back to their time in Philemon’s house, Graptus remembered how Cleon had behaved when coming back into the office to check that the side door was secure – now that he thought about it, Cleon had behaved very oddly.

 

‘Cleon, what did you really find when you and Velox went to check the other door? You looked like you were going to say something and then thought better of it after Philemon told you about what Paradotus has been up to.’

‘We didn’t find anything – the door was locked and all was quiet, but Velox was sniffing all over the place – he’d clearly picked up some kind of scent. From how much he was interested I’d say it must have been quite strong, so probably recent. After that Velox went off into the kitchen, but I’m honestly not sure if he was sensing Felix in there or just the leftovers of a chicken carcass – but what was Felix doing there at all? After Philemon told us about Paradotus and his sudden change in behaviour I must admit to worrying that Felix was mixed up in it all somehow.  Paradotus’s new friends don’t sound anything like Felix or the way he would behave, and if he ever had enough money to buy that fancy strong box then he wouldn’t have had anything left to put inside it, but I needed to be sure. As it was Velox didn’t pick up anything from either of the strong boxes at all, so maybe Felix just came to the house to find us?’

 

Graptus let Cleon ramble on, glad of the opportunity to think and, he had to be honest with himself, to catch his breath some more. He really was going to have to do something more strenuous than weed his rose garden if he was going to avoid turning into one of those old men who couldn’t leave their own house without an arm to lean on. He hadn’t been unduly surprised that Velox had picked up Felix’s scent by the side door as well, it was what Graptus suspected once he had put together all his memories of their time in the house together in a coherent way, and Cleon hadn’t said anything he hadn’t already thought himself about Felix’s possible involvement with the plot that Paradotus was involved in.

 

By this time the two friends were half way across the Pons Sublicius; the old wooden bridge led to the base of the Aventine Hill on the far bank and had been rebuilt many times, replaced after floods or when it simply became too rickety. The oldest bridge to cross from Rome to the west bank of the Tiber, it had never been rebuilt in stone. It was wide enough for the two men to walk side by side but not much more, so whenever they met a heavily-laden pack animal they were forced to stand to one side until the animal and its driver had passed. The bridge was a bottleneck between the wider networks of roads either side of the river, and was usually fairly crowded. It was a common haunt of beggars, who took advantage of the fact that there were usually crowds of people who were unable to move quickly along. A couple of beggars had been sat dotted along the length of the bridge so far, asking for alms as Graptus and Cleon passed, enough to make even Graptus anxious that they would lose sight of Velox, but not as many as there would have been on the Ides of May when a procession wound down from the Temple of Fors Fortuna, collecting effigies from all the Argei shrines as they went. When they reached the river the Vestal Virgins took the effigies from the magistrates who had carried them through the streets, and threw them into the river – no one knew why anymore, but it was still done every year. This was Rome, after all, and you didn’t just abandon an ancient religious ritual just because no one could remember why it had started. Graptus wondered what else would be forgotten in years to come. Maybe, one day, the roads, palace and temples he had worked on would crumble away to nothing and no-one would know they had ever been there, much less who built them. Who will live here then, he pondered, before bringing himself up short – Graptus you old fool, he thought to himself, stop getting distracted by anything and everything, you need to be thinking of finding Felix, not daydreaming away.

 

They waited for the latest mule to squeeze past them with its mountain of cargo, and turned to continue their way along the bridge. As they did so Graptus realised that Velox was speeding away from them. Up to now he had seemed to understand that they couldn’t move any faster and had waited for them patiently whenever they were dispensing alms or just held up by the bridge traffic, but no longer. Graptus nudged Cleon and pointed, saving his breath for the inevitable run to catch up, but just at that moment he caught sight of Velox skidding to a halt by another beggar. It was a little difficult to see through the crowd and hear over all the hubbub, but it seemed as though Velox was barking excitedly. The man obviously seemed startled, struggled to his feet and scrambled off with Velox in pursuit. Graptus and Cleon wasted no time in chasing after the beggar and Velox as fast as they could manage. They knew that they needed to catch up with the fleeing pair before they left the bridge, or they could lose them in the tangle of streets on the far side, which would mean losing track of the one clue they had to Felix’s whereabouts, and Velox into the bargain.

 

**********************************************************

 

Sgt McKeown looked around as he waited for the kettle to boil. The teapot had been easy to locate in the end, sitting on the corner of the range cooker keeping warm. He had emptied the dregs of the last pot out and set himself to the next task of finding some tea, at the same time as keeping an ear out for the conversation at the end of the room, in case he was needed.  It didn’t seem to be going too well so far – DI Robb was doing her best to sound bright, cheery, and as if this was just a routine visit and that all they wanted were the old farmer’s reminiscences of his time down in Kent. Unfortunately she was getting nowhere at all so far, and was clearly running out of farming knowledge to casually drop into what she was saying in the hopes of drawing a response. In the meantime Nathan had managed to find the tea caddy on a shelf above the range cooker, an ancient tiny fridge that – thankfully – did contain some milk and three clean mugs. As he carried the tea over to the pair sitting by the woodburner Katie Robb was starting to stumble to a halt, and she had stopped speaking completely by the time Nathan had sat down in the remaining chair. She looked at him bleakly, quite clearly out of ideas and handing over to him.

 

Nathan looked at Martin Foreman, who had taken his mug of tea without a word and was now sat looking from one visitor to another, holding his drink untouched and ignored. Nathan wasn’t sure, but was that a hint of a grin at their discomfort? He looked down at his own tea for a second, weighing up in his mind what to say, and desperately hoping that he’d guessed right about Martin taking his tea very strong, with a good slug of milk and three spoonfuls of sugar. Well, he thought, being coy about why we’re really here hasn’t worked, so why don’t we try being honest? And with that he launched into a potted history of recent events, starting with the disappearance of the Smiths and ending with the twin explosions that had killed an entire crew of firemen and left Martha seriously injured in hospital. He reckoned that Martin wouldn’t appreciate anyone trying to make him feel obliged to talk either, so he kept to a sparse re-telling of the facts – not glossing over anything but not laying it on with a trowel either. If he remembered anything of farming folk from when he was growing up back home, they tended to be used to hearing of tragedy, disaster, and sudden death – farming being one of the riskiest professions – and therefore supremely unimpressed when faced with a half-baked tale told just to gain sympathy or a favour. The story he was telling was bad enough, there was no need for embellishment, and it would either work or it wouldn’t.

 

He’d kept his eyes on Martin throughout and his voice as matter of fact as possible – although he felt it catch in his throat as he got to Martha’s injuries as a result of being buried under Stu’s house, but he took a breath and tried to carry on calmly. When he had finished he simply stopped talking, resisting the urge to keep on speaking until Martin showed signs of responding. The old man had been looking at Nathan as he spoke, his expression neutral, although there had been a couple of times when Nathan wondered if he had imagined a twitch of feeling in the old man’s face.  He held Nathan’s gaze for a couple of seconds more, and then looked at his tea cooling in his mug. He took a sip, frowning slightly, the first time his expression had changed at all since their arrival. Then he drank the rest of the mug, and put it firmly down on a little side table.

 

‘All right, lad, I’ll answer your questions but on one condition – you give me a lift to t’retirement flats by t’ next market town along the road. I reckon you’ll be going that way onnyroad if you’ve got rooms at that bed and breakfast that calls itself a hotel at the top of the lane, there. There int anywhere else ta stay near ‘ere, onnyroad.’

Nathan looked to Katie, glad that Martin’s speech had taken on enough soft southern characteristics from his time in Kent to need no translation. She nodded her agreement, and they were both taken by surprise when Martin shot to his feet, brushed passed them and started off down the corridor towards the front door. It was clear that if the crutches and walking sticks they’d nearly tripped over on their way in belonged to the old farmer then he was in no need of them now. He’d dived into the front parlour and as they entered the dimly-lit room he started picking up the luggage Nathan had seen earlier and almost flinging it at them. Katie and Nathan looked at each other, thoroughly bewildered – this was a complete change of pace, not at all the cosy foreside chat that they’d both been expecting.

Katie managed to get her voice in gear and blurted out, ‘But I thought you just wanted a lift to visit someone after we talked?’

‘Nay, lass, ah’m movin art, greedy son o’mine thowt if ah lived wi’ him afta giving up t’farm I’d just give him orl uz savings. Well, I’ve spent ‘em instead and got missen a flat, so he can ferget it!

With a shrug Katie and Nathan lugged Martin’s bags to the car. There was a brief delay while Nathan had to go running back in to fetch a coat from the rack and a fantastically carved walking stick – Martin deciding that perhaps he’d overdone things and would need a stick after all. He rejected the offer of retrieving the tablet and headphones from the kitchen though, telling Nathan that they belonged to Andrew who would only come and retrieve it and that he wasn’t ready to have a visit from that tight owd bugger. He caught Katie rolling her eyes at that description, and couldn’t help mentally agreeing that father and son were very alike.

 

It was when they were installed in his new accommodation that Martin opened up. Once away from his son’s farm any pretence of being out of touch and disconnected from events down in Kent dropped away. He had heard about the disappearance of the Smiths in suspicious circumstances and the explosions, although obviously not the results of the police investigation so far. Yes, he had been aware of the tunnel, but not until the gangmaster who supplied the farm labourers had told him about it. He’d said something about stumbling on an old ventilation shaft and wanted to go poking around in the cellar. Once the entrance had been found – not without removing lots of clutter and knocking on the walls to see if anything sounded hollow – life had suddenly changed on the farm for Martin. It appeared that the gangmaster had been dictating a lot of how the farm was run already, but as Martin was getting less able to cope and the profits seemed to be steadily rising he hadn’t bothered too much about it. Once the tunnel was found, however, Martin became a prisoner in his own home and had very little say in anything.

 

No, he didn’t know what the tunnel was being used for – he was kept well away from it and had to move out into the converted oast house across the yard. There was a lot of coming and going, he knew that. He might not have been able to see what was going on inside the house, but they hadn’t been able to hide the steady stream of lorries that came into the yard and backed up to the front door. He hadn’t been able to see what, if anything, was being loaded or unloaded, but he always knew when a lorry was expected as the labourers would drop what they were doing and start gathering in the yard.

 

The money really started to roll into the farm accounts then, but he only saw a fraction of it. The rest was siphoned off into the account of the gangmaster through various fictitious charges and so on. Martin hadn’t dared to tell anyone, although he had tried to tell Martha on one of her visits in the early days. It was just after the tunnel had been discovered, and before he’d been forced to move into the oast, but there had been a minder hanging around the whole time and he hadn’t had the opportunity to say anything.  Martin was pretty sure his minder was suspicious, though, as he’d spoken to Martha out of Martin’s earshot as she left, and he hadn’t seen her again after that. It seemed certain that whatever was said had put her off returning.

‘Shame. I liked the lass, she were gran’ company, and if she’d come again after the coup then I’d have told her enough to get her to look into things, minder or no.’

‘Coup? What coup?’

‘Well, one day the gangmaster were one bloke, and the next it was t’other. Everything else stayed the same, the company stayed the same, just t’bloke at t’top changed. The labourers seemed to stay the same too, although maybe one or two changed over, but other than that not much changed – except they never did tell me what happened to the first bloke. If I ever even looked like I was about to ask they’d threaten to ‘it me. I started to wonder if he was buried somewhere on the farm, which is what I’d have wanted that Martha to investigate. She were a gran’ lass, she’d’ve found a way to get the ball rolling and I wouldn’t’ve had to say much to tip ‘er off neither – bright as a spark that one. I were reet sorry to hear she were hurt. I know you said she were goin’ to be fine – that’s right, is it? You weren’t just making it up so I would talk to you?

 

Katie started to speak, but looked to Nathan to carry on. ‘You know Martha, and I don’t – you’re the better person to reassure Mr Foreman.’

So Nathan started to explain that yes, Martha’s injuries had been pretty severe, and would have been very serious indeed if left untreated for days, but things were looking good. If it hadn’t been for the radiologist picking up on just how much pain Martha was in as they’d moved her into position for the X-Rays then things would have been very different, but as it was she’d been treated very, very early, and just needed to give everything time to heal up.  As he was talking Nathan was thinking that they still had questions for Martin, so he tried to be as swift with his updates on Martha as possible. He could see that Katie was writing what looked like a list, so he guessed that she was as curious as he as about the gaps in Martin’s tale and was making notes before she forgot what she wanted to ask.

 

Nathan was thinking that he wanted to know how and why Martin had left the farm – it didn’t seem like the sort of thing that the mysterious gangmasters would have been happy about, given that they seemed to want to keep him under their noses to ensure his silence. And just who had those two men been? They hadn’t come across any paperwork relating to the name of one gangmaster, let alone two. Had the gangmasters been the real men in charge, or was there someone else behind it all?

 

The news about Martha was told soon enough, and Katie was all set to take over and resume asking questions when Martin stepped in, and asked them to come back the next day. He did, in truth, looked suddenly very drawn and tired, and Nathan realised that he’d forgotten just how old the farmer must be – Martin’s voice was still strong and showed no hint of the tremor that can show up with age; his face, despite being lined and weather-beaten, had looked younger and been full of colour earlier, animated with interest as they had talked about the past. All of which had made Nathan treat him as if were a good twenty or thirty years younger than he must be. After all, his son Andrew looked as if he was nearing sixty years old, although it was difficult to tell for sure.

 

As impatient as they were to hear the rest of the story Katie agreed to return. It had been fully dark outside for quite some time now, and although their accommodation for the night was secured they still needed to find the place, and somewhere to eat as well. It’s only a few hours, thought Nathan, I’m sure we can wait that long, so reluctantly they left and wound their way through the lanes. As they did so it started to snow heavily, and soon he only had time to concentrate on not driving into one of the stone walls lining the road in the sudden whiteout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bronze

Clara opened the last cupboard door in her father’s house. Ever methodical she had gone from room to room, drawer to drawer, emptying, sorting and dealing with the contents. It had been just a few weeks since he had died, and she was relieved that her father had never been a hoarder and had always been disciplined about keeping the house scrupulously clean and tidy since her mother died over forty years ago now. It had made the whole process so much easier, not having to sort through endless piles of meaningless stuff to find the one nugget of golden memory that she wanted to keep hold of.

This cupboard was news to her, though. It had been partially hidden behind a massive mahogany wardrobe in her father’s bedroom and she had briefly wondered if it was a door to a secret room and was imagining all sorts of mysteries before realising that wasn’t possible – it was simply a blocked in alcove to one side of the chimney breast and there simply wasn’t the space for a whole room between the bedroom and the outside wall of the house.

She turned the handle and simply stared. This cupboard was jam-packed, full to the brim – there were cardboard boxes stuffed with notebooks, piles of yellowed newspapers, and any number of buff folders that contained goodness knew what paperwork. The whole thing was a mess.

Reaching for a newspaper at random she unfolded it and looked uncomprehendingly at the front page – there was a picture of her mother, standing on what looked like an Olympic podium, with a bronze medal around her neck. How on earth had she not known about this? Why had her father never mentioned that her mother had competed and won a medal?

Clara pulled out all the boxes as fast as she dared, and sat on the floor sifting through. The first cursory glance told her that she had training records, diaries, medical records and, right down at the bottom, a box containing the medal itself, wrapped carefully in tissue paper. She held it up and examined it, never having seen an Olympic medal before. It had the date and location on it, Munich 1972 – the Olympics famous for the kidnap and murder of the Israeli athletes and coaches. She had been born a year later, and her mother had died when she was two years old – was that why her father had never mentioned it?

Rummaging through the piles of stuff Clara focused on looking for anything that might give her a clue; a letter, a diary entry, anything. She found nothing, but she was running out of time – the estate agent would be here soon to show the first potential buyer around. Deciding that she’d have to deal with it all later she boxed everything back up again and drove it home, feeling both frustrated at the lack of answers and glad that there’d been a mystery after all.

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Relative

Christmas was going to be a real drag this year, Felicity decided. Mother was coming, which meant that the house was actually going to have to be cleaned for once. Not so much for mother’s benefit as she was mostly deaf and completely blind, but because she would be bringing Grace, her daughter – Felicity’s sister.

To say that the two of them didn’t get on was like saying that gazelles weren’t that fond of lions, or that water did everything it could to repel oil. Or was that the other way round? Well, whatever, they didn’t mix well. Particularly not when Grace had sunk a few Christmas brandies. Her tongue, always unpleasant, gained a particularly barbed and bitter quality after that.

She never wanted to remember that she’d only moved back in with mother after her husband had left her, having finally had his fill of her cross ways. No, the way she told it she’d given up her marriage to go and care for their ailing parent, ignoring the fact that mother had been in full possession of her faculties at the time and very reluctant to have a child move back in just as she was enjoying herself. The stroke that had caused her deafness and blindness had come out of the blue for everyone, and Felicity suspected that no one had resented it more than Grace, having suddenly found herself catapulted from the status of freeloader to carer. Not that she had been a nice person before that, but it had certainly made things worse.

Grace never tired of accusing Felicity of neglecting her mother and making much of all that she did herself – completely ignoring the fact that Felicity lived three hundred miles away, across the channel, and had a job and family of her own to be there for. No, that bit was never mentioned. She wheeled across the kitchen to give the Christmas pudding mix a final stir before going back to finish greasing the pudding bowls. She looked at the small bottle of almond oil on the table top by the mixing bowl virtually overflowing with dried fruits, candied peel, apples and spices. It smelled heavenly and was completely nut free. They had been left out because of Grace.

Felicity didn’t know why she’d even got the almond oil out of the cupboard, but it was there now, tempting her to add just a few drops to the mix. After all, who would know? Except Grace, of course, when her face and throat swelled up until she could breathe no more. Yes, it was very tempting, and with mother here already there’d be no dash back home to care for her. Felicity filled two of the bowls then added some almond oil to the mix for the last two. Would she label them correctly? She didn’t know. She hadn’t made her mind up yet, it was a difficult decision to make. Oh well,  she thought, all problems are relative.

Posted in Fiction, Life in general, family and otherwise, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments