Thursday, December 27, 2012

the tracks

Ted is sitting on the bed in his nightshirt, as poised and watchful as an owl. He’s grown his hair out at the temples, presumably to comb up over his pate; now, it pokes out either side in two large tufts like comedy ears.
‘Have you still got the pain?’
He rubs his breast bone up and down with the knuckles of his right hand.
‘How would you describe the pain, Ted? I know it’s a difficult one – but what’s it like? Sharp, dull, ache? Crushing-type pain? Cramp?’
He shrugs.
‘Burning?’ he says.
‘And does it change at all when you take a breath in?’
He takes a breath in.
‘Not really,’ he says, letting his breath out again with a sigh.
We carry on with our checks as his friends watch from the hallway. It’s a strange household. Downstairs, magazine-supplement tidiness, clear, down-lit spaces polished and neatly laid out; and Ted’s room, a chaotic tumble of clothes, books, boxes, with four sections of a vast model railway track, dismantled and leant against a chest of drawers. Assembled, the track would take up the entire room, sixteen square feet of beautifully constructed embankments, bridges, stations and signal boxes. Meticulously detailed figures, suitcases and newspapers, waiting on the platform. I imagine Ted rising up in the centre of it all, a giant signalman with his hand on a bank of switches, a cap on his head.
‘We need to take you down to our ambulance and do some more checks,’ I tell him. ‘But I have to say, before we do anything, we’ll be recommending you come to hospital. Our ECG can give us a good idea of any problems, but you’ll need a blood test for a definitive result. Is that okay? So let’s get everything you need together now and take it with us.’
He nods, and shuffles forwards off the bed. His friends make way on the landing.


‘Any other medical history?’ I ask him as the ambulance splashes on through the night. ‘Operations? Accidents? Hospital admissions?’
He shakes his head. The tufts of hair quiver. Highlighted by the spotlights in the ceiling, they seem finer and more sensitive, two pointy white filaments filtering the air for clues.
I rest the clipboard on my lap and smile at him.
‘I love your model railway,’ I say. ‘It’s amazing. Do you get to lay it out much?’
‘Sometimes. It’s difficult. Ever since I sold the house and moved in with my friends. I don’t have the space I used to.’
‘Pretty impressive, though. Did you make it?’
‘It’s my Dad’s really. We did it together. When he died, I carried it on. It used to be bigger. You know. More trains.’
‘Fantastic! Just looking at the first section – the embankment and everything. All that detail. It looks so real.’
Those comedy ears, trembling.
‘I’ve was in Southview once,’ he says. ‘Sectioned, you know what I mean?’
‘Oh really? When was that?’
He stares at me.
‘Last year.’
I click my pen and make a note.
‘Last year, okay. And why was that, Ted? Why were you sectioned?’
He stares at me.
‘Walking on the tracks,’ he says at last. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I hope you all have a fantastic holiday!

With a huge thank you for all your support over the past year. 

Here's to 2013! 


Friday, December 21, 2012


Mr Ernest Wakeland is a hundred years old.
‘And nine months.’
Sitting in his favourite chair, something as perfectly fitted to him as his brown corduroy jacket, he has his elbows planted right and left on the armrests, his forearms leaning in, his hands neatly clasped together over the gap, the forefingers of each hand pressed together and then turned back to rest lightly on the point of his chin. He looks like an ancient professor graciously welcoming students into his study. His legs are crossed. The monogrammed slipper on his foot taps out in time to his hundred year old heart. And nine months.
‘Good morning,’ he says. ‘Do have a seat.’
Just across from Mr Wakeland is his younger sister, Mary, ninety-four, poised on the edge of a red velveteen chair, monitoring the situation. Despite her own advanced years, she still has an air of younger sister deference about her.
Jeffrey, Mary’s grandson, busies himself in the background, gathering together the necessaries for Mr Wakeland’s ‘survival bag’ – a notebook, today’s newspaper, mobile phone, wallet, pyjamas, toothbrush.
‘Hairbrush,’ says Mary. ‘Don’t forget the hairbrush, Jeffrey.’
Mr Wakeland separates his hands in a palms-up gesture of forgiveness. ‘I suppose one ought stay on top of these things,’ he says.
The District Nurse has been out to Mr Wakeland this morning. She wasn’t happy with the progress of his chest infection and wants him admitted for further assessment. I read through the notes – an impressive lack of medication, surgery, incident – then help Rae prep the chair ready to go.
Behind his armchair, on a neatly arranged dresser, amongst the family photos and certificates, there’s a signed photo of the queen.
‘Yes – got the telegram in March,’ he says. ‘No-one thought I would.’ But looking at him, I can’t imagine anyone could have doubted it. In fact, Mr Wakeland is so healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Buckingham Palace has discreetly redrawn its protocols and made arrangements for the two hundredth anniversary.
‘You’ve obviously got the old bone gene,’ I say as I help him into our carry chair.
‘Oh I don’t know,’ he says, settling himself in. ‘Mary and I have done all right, but none of the others made it much past seventy.’
‘My youngest daughter was born in March,’ I say as I tip him back in the chair and wheel him towards the lifts.
‘Oh really? How lovely.’
‘March, two thousand and five.’
‘Well! A little way to go, then.’
Jeffrey hurries after us with the survival bag.
‘It’s odd to think,’ says Mr Wakeland, as the lift doors slide shut, ‘It’s odd to think that three of my birthdays I spent as a prisoner of war in Austria. Working in a talc mine.’
‘Talc. The rock, not the powder. But the rock becomes the powder, of course.’
‘I’ve never thought about talc mines before.’
‘Neither had I, but there you are – or there I was. But these things happen in a time of war, I suppose.’
I’m tempted to say that maybe all that talcum powder is one of the reasons his skin stayed soft and young, but I hold back, because I guess three years forced labour in a mine of any description - but especially a German POW mine - would be anything but life-enhancing.
‘So – talcum powder! What did they want talcum powder for, Mr Wakeland?’
 ‘Oh I don’t know,’ he sniffs. ‘Keeping all those delicate Wehrmacht bottoms fragrant and dry.’ He nods and smiles, and gathers the blankets of the chair more tightly around him.
‘But other than that, pharmaceuticals and the treatment of rubber, I expect.’

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I'm getting around thirty spam emails a day now. Half get stopped, but half get through - some of them with links to dodgy sites. So reluctantly I've decided to put the comments moderation facility back. I've disabled the 'word verification', though, so it just means a bit of a delay before you see your comment up there.

Sorry! I know it's a pain, but I can't think what else to do. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

the best view in the world

I haven’t been to this custody suite before. It’s situated miles away, on an industrial estate the other side of a neighbouring town. It doesn’t seem right, having to pick our way between the paint supply vehicles, the glazier trucks and paladins, the bored smokers in plastic bonnets standing outside the sandwich-making factory, the fork-lifts loading and unloading pallets of stuff, the beeping of reversing lorries – all to reach the new police custody suite, a low-slung, red-bricked compound with high wire fences and cameras monitoring our approach.
‘I can’t believe the cop cars do this every day.’
‘Maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s like Batman. Maybe there’s a secret entrance somewhere, a cave with hinged trees that flop to the side.
‘Let’s hope so.’
We drive up onto the yellow grid outside the main gates and buzz to enter. When we’ve been approved, a massive plated door shudders and starts to grind slowly upwards. After a couple of minutes there’s room enough to drive the ambulance in. Stop lights, cables, buttons, and a big red sign on the wall saying Please turn off your engine. The door closes behind us. We climb out and buzz again. After a while, just as the main door crashes to, a police officer appears from a hidden door. A bright and friendly guy with an open face topped with a zhuzh of yellow hair, he looks strangely out of place in these austere surroundings, like a children’s presenter playing the part of a prison guard.
‘Come for our boy David?’ he says. ‘Brilliant. This way.’
There must be a company that specialises in these interiors, because the custody suite itself is exactly the same as the one back in Helmstone. The same dirty-blue marmoleum flooring, the same shadowy footprint decals showing the prisoner where to stand, the same hefty circular command desk, imposingly raised on a dais, with its screens and cameras and crew of white-shirted administrators busily inputting, registering, sorting out.
‘This way.’
‘We haven’t been told much.’
‘Okay. So what we have is a twenty-two year old male called David Swift. He was found sitting on the edge of a multi-storey car park yesterday evening threatening to jump. Police arrived on scene and talked him down. He was sectioned, brought here, seen by the Duty Psych. He’s not been violent at all and he’s been cleared to travel with you without any escort. Don’t know why he came all the way out here to kill himself. No-one’s been able to figure that one out. But as he lives in your neck of the woods, they thought it best if he went to Southview. And there we are! That’s it! I’ll go and fetch him out. Nice lad. Very smiley.’
Just before he disappears, he waves across to one of the white-shirted staff, who promptly unlocks a tall metal cupboard and draws out a holdall wrapped in a large, clear plastic sack gathered at the top and sealed with a security tag. He dumps it on the floor at my feet.
‘Sign here,’ he says.


David is sitting on his seat, studying his mobile phone. Now and again he slowly shakes his head from side to side, smiling, and sighing and blowing air gently down his nose, as if he were reading a series of texts from someone who amused and disappointed him in equal measure.
‘Okay, David?’ I say. ‘Comfortable?’
He looks up at me, extending his smile in a blandly disconnected way, then immediately drops back into his phone.
He hasn’t said a word since we showed him onto the ambulance. As soon as we’re underway I restore his belongings to him. He watches me rip open the plastic sack and pull out the holdall, smiling the whole while. I make a joke about how impossible it is to break the police seal, but then again that’s probably the whole point. He tilts his chin up to agree, but doesn’t say anything.
As soon as he has the bag he locates his phone and checks his messages, whilst I read through his notes again: two sheets, one handwritten, one typed. The handwritten sheet is barely legible, sketching out David’s presenting condition in a scrawl of dry bullet-pointed descriptions, acronyms, arcane scores. The typed sheet is a formal follow up, referencing the legal aspects of his treatment, the steps that have been taken and must be taken. Signatures and addresses. A list of the contents of his holdall.
‘It shouldn’t take long to get back to Helmstone,’ I say to him.
He smiles again – a bland and strangely coy expression – then gently puts his phone back in its sock, and into his pocket. He folds his arms, and stares through the slatted blinds of the window.
‘Not the best view in the world from that seat, I’m afraid,’ I say.
And then I’m struck by the view he must have had from that other seat, the one he took yesterday evening, high up on the edge of the multi-storey car-park, his legs dangling over the abyss, the terrible blue canyons of the city beneath him.
He looks at me intently – and then flinches a little. For a second I wonder if it’s my comment about the view. But no. He’s already reaching back into his pocket, pulling out his phone again, intently reading the text that’s just come through.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Patient has been violent with a kitchen knife.
Kitchen knife? That sounds even worse than a knife. Bigger, at least.
I make the call.
‘Good morning, Control. Just a few questions. Firstly - just to make absolutely sure – we’re to take this patient fifty miles out of town to Eastwall because they’ve got no beds in Southview? Secondly – it’s half past six in the morning. Wouldn’t it be better to delay things at least until the sun’s risen? More humane. And then, erm , seriously.. a kitchen knife?
‘Yep. I see what you mean. Just reading the notes on this one. Sorry - I’ve only just taken over. Yep. Erm. I’m afraid we’ve been sitting on this urgent journey for twelve hours or more, and if we don’t do it now, chances are it’ll never get done. With regards the kitchen knife – yep. That does sound dodgy. I’ll get back to you. Stand by one.’
I hang up the radio and sink further into the chair.
‘If you came and woke me up at half past six in the morning I think I might be reaching for something sharp,’ says Rae, folding her arms and staring off down the road. ‘Or blunt.’
There’s a frozen blue depth to the air, frost on everything.
A car crackles past, and the street sleeps on.
The radio buzzes again.
‘Yep – confirming the destination, and yes, if you could make contact, please. I’ve had assurances that the patient has been assessed as safe, so the police won’t be attending. We’re calling the patient now, so he should be expecting you.’


Datu Reye’s wife opens the door to us. A delicately pretty Filipino woman in an old silk bathrobe, she nods at me and holds out the house phone.
‘That’s okay,’ I say. ‘You can tell them we’re here now.’
But she continues to hold the phone out, so I take it from her and tell them myself.
Datu is wandering around the dimly lit flat looking for his shoes and things. There is a flat and passive remove to his face, like a child who has been given instructions, and who follows them dutifully but without the least idea to what end.
‘I’m really sorry we can’t go to Southview,’ I say to his wife.
She lowers her chin and stares at me.
‘You do understand we’re not going to the local unit, don’t you? They don’t have any beds. So we’ve got to go to Eastwall?’
She nods and smiles, and hooks some strands of hair back behind her ears. She looks almost as lost as her husband.
‘Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of him,’ I add.
She nods again, then goes to help Datu put some things in a bag.
I don’t see them kiss goodbye.
He follows us out to the ambulance, and when I turn to look the door has already closed.


I’ve put on a couple of spot lights in the back, which seems kinder than the full rack. Datu sits in the rear seat, leaning forward at the waist over his crossed arms as if he were trying to fold himself in half. He stares down at his trainers, and accommodates the rocking motion of the ambulance with discrete little counter-movements of his own. I try to chat to him, but he only looks at me once, with dark eyes that seem to sense more than they see. After a while I resign myself to a quiet journey, and settle deeper into my seat. The miles pass away beneath us.


‘What name is it?’
‘Datu. His name’s Datu Reyes and he’s a transfer up from Helmstone, a voluntary admission, because they haven’t got any beds in Southview.’
‘And what name did you say it was?’
‘Datu Reyes. I’ve got his other details here...’
‘Just a moment please.’
‘Shall we wait here?’
‘Yes. Just a moment.’
She goes back into the locked ward.
Datu stands with his chin down, his paisley bag resting on the floor.
After a while the nurse comes back.
‘There are three wards here,’ she says. ‘And none of them are expecting Mr Reyes. Are you sure you’ve got the right place?’
‘I don’t know. Are there any other psych wards round here?’
She thinks about it.
‘No,’ she says.
‘I’ll call Control.’


‘Sorry Datu. They sent us to the wrong hospital. But don’t worry, the one we want’s only another couple of miles. It won’t take long. Do you need the loo or anything before we go?’
He stares at the floor.
‘Okay. Sorry about this. It won’t take long.’
We lead him back out to the truck. He folds himself back into position on the seat.


The other hospital appears to have been built round the back of an enormous housing estate. The SatNav gives up and sticks the flag any old where. We end up down a street that terminates in a row of grim-looking lock-up garages. But with some directions and a little luck, eventually we find ourselves turning onto the forecourt of a low slung series of buildings so anonymous they could equally well be manufacturing PVC windows as offering therapy.
Rae parks up.
‘You can’t stop there,’ says a bearish guy, clapping his hands in the freezing air. ‘The day bus is due along any minute.’
We get back on board and follow his directions to the main entrance. Rae stays with the vehicle as it’s blocking access; I walk with Datu into the main foyer.
The receptionist leans her face nearer to the glass bubble to hear me.
‘Patient Datu Reyes, a voluntary admission all the way from Helmstone,’ I say.
She frowns, then leans away to call across the office.
‘Do you know anything about this, Gill?’
Gill looks up from behind a small hedge of potted plants, stares at us through the glass a moment, shakes her head then ducks back down again.
‘Where did you say you’re from?’
‘Helmstone. South of here. About fifty miles.’
‘Never heard of it.’
‘Erm – did you want a date of birth or anything? Would that help?’
‘Just a minute,’ she says, and makes a call.
Datu is standing over by the wall, beneath a vast watercolour of sunflowers.
‘John’s coming down,’ she says. ‘If you’d just like to wait.’

Over the next few minutes a succession of men appear through the security doors beyond reception. Each time I smile and say Good Morning, but each time it turns out not to be John.
The receptionist must think we’re exceptionally friendly, down in Helmstone I think.
But just at the point when I’m about to go back up to speak to her, the door opens again and another man appears.
‘Good morning!’ I say – and this time he walks towards us. A compact man in a ribbed green cardigan, his expression is as pressed as his clothes. When I hold out my hand he leans forward to take it, but cautiously, like a vet unexpectedly called upon to shake hands with a cat.
‘Ye-es,’ he says.
‘This is Datu. Datu is a voluntary admission all the way from Helmstone. No beds, I’m afraid!’ I laugh, mano a mano, but John’s still too preoccupied with the strangeness of the whole business to respond.
‘Happy to accept?’ I add.
‘And what did you say the name was?’
‘Datu. Datu Reyes. From Helmstone.’
He hesitates, then sighs and, pulling his swipe card out on its extendable line, holds it against a grey plate and gets the green light to go through.
‘This way,’ he says.
Datu follows.
For a moment I wonder if I’m delivering someone to completely the wrong place, but if I am, I’m the only one who seems to mind.
I wave goodbye, but Datu is already disappearing through the door with John.

The receptionist looks up and smiles when I say goodbye.
That friendly Helmstone thing again.
As I walk back out, the sunflowers on the wall seem even bigger and brighter than before.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

ancient history

We drive out along the coast road, high above the sea.

I read about these chalk cliffs. How they were laid down over millions of years in the warm, deep waters of the Cretaceous, the skeletons of countless billions of plankton, raining down from the sunlit upper reaches to the dark sea bed. As plesiosaurs and ammonites swam through the water, and pterosaurs flew through the air, and iguanodons and megalosaurs walked on the land, the ooze deepened, the pressure intensified, and the chalk deposits grew. Millions of years of change were gathered into it, a limitless array of fishes and urchins, molluscs and corals, one thing into another, a bustling scrawl of life written into stone. And then the global changes, the great geological events, the boundaries between one aeon and another, the crash of an asteroid, a mass eruption, hot to cold, the rise and fall of oceans, the driving up of mountains, the drag and retreat of ice fields, all living things struggling to adapt, living, thriving, dying, pushing on.

Out there, where those boats are fishing now? It wasn’t so long ago that was fertile land. You could walk from here to France. Our ancestors lived out on the tundra, hunting bison and elk.
From time to time their bones get fetched up the nets.

Things happen, whether we want them to or not.


David is waiting for us in his living room, surrounded by the things he has collected over the last sixty years. Japanese netsuke, chessmen and porcelain figures, photographs and carved wooden elephants. His wife Erica shows us in; David is too poorly to move.
‘I just need my pain relief sorting out,’ he says. ‘I’ve got cancer, you see. It started in the lungs, I had an op and a whole load of chemotherapy and whatnot. A horrible business, but it seemed to have done the trick – except, it hadn’t, really. It’s come back, in my liver, maybe a few other places, they’re not sure. They said I could go back on the old chemo but I said no. I’d rather live the last few months feeling more like myself – do you know what I mean? – rather than go down that road again. I just don’t want it. But I woke up with these pains here and here, and some difficulty breathing. I hope you don’t mind me calling you out like this. Only I got a bit panicked by it, d’you know what I mean?’
We do what we can to make him comfortable, sort things out. Erica goes into the kitchen to make some tea. We chat about this and that.
‘I tell you something that happened the other day,’ he says. ‘I was out taking a stroll through town, you know, getting some air, when I felt a bit puffed and had to have a little sit down on a wall outside a petrol station. It was a lovely day, though – d’you remember? – cold, but bright. Anyway, I was sitting on this wall watching the world go by when a group of young girls came out of the petrol station, on their dinner break from the local school. One of them was very striking, lovely blond hair, really shining in the sun, you know? She looked like an angel. Anyway, she had this pack of sandwiches. She unwrapped the wrapper, took the sandwiches out, then tossed the wrapper backwards over her shoulder. So when she passed me I said “There’s a bin just there, love”. And d’you know what that sweet-looking girl said to me? She leant in close, with her hand to the side of her face like she wanted to whisper, and she said: “Shut your mouth you old cunt”. Then carried on walking. Just like that. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say. But then I thought “What the hell”. So I called out: “And you have a lovely day, too.” So she turned round and gave me the finger.’
He shrugs, and adjusts his position in the chair.
‘I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,’ he says, pinching the bridge of his nose and giving his head a little shake. ‘It’s all ancient history. It just played on my mind a bit, that’s all. It doesn’t really mean anything.’


When we’ve sorted David out, we say goodbye and get back into the ambulance.
Control sends us back to base.
We retrace our route along the high cliff road, driving quietly and quickly, the sea shining beneath us, the sky clear and blue above.

Monday, December 10, 2012


The workshop is round the back of the farmhouse, amongst a ramshackle collection of outhouses and lean-tos. There’s someone to wave us in at the gate, though, a gigantic figure in dirty orange overalls, a  jumper and combat jacket, fluorescent vest, and to top the whole ensemble off, a face boiled red by exposure to the elements. On top of his head is a heavy knitted beanie, squashed down on a mass of wild hair and beard. He looks like a lion press-ganged into working for the council.
‘Round you come,’ he growls. ‘Watch your left there. To me. To me.’
I jump out, straight into a puddle.
‘Mind that,’ he says.
‘So who’ve we come to see?’
‘This way, fella. It’s the damndest thing. I wasn’t even supposed to be working today. Lucky I was or who knows what might have happened. Through here. Mind your head – although you should be all right.’
He leads us into a low-ceilinged building crammed full of machinery – machinery with chains and levers, machinery with blocks and beds and wheels to move them; machinery with great screws and plates to press and raise and separate; machinery that’s been stripped down to sad arrays of wires and switching gear and PCBs; and then stacked precariously in every available space, plastic crates of bits, plugs and sockets, valves, and screws, and brackets, and fixings of every shape and size. There’s scarcely room amongst it all to make your way through to the office at the back – office, in that it has a desk, a computer and shelves of files and directories. They’ve nominally marked out the space by building two breeze-block walls right and left with a curtain of plastic sheeting taped to hang across the opening from the ceiling. There are no heaters that I can see, certainly none working. The air is brutally chill, our breath misting in front of us. It feels more like a cold store than a workshop, despite the insulation of so much stuff, tumbling up incoherently to the pressed asbestos sheets of the roof, where the husks of countless dead spiders hang with their legs frozen in the tucked-up position.  
Malcolm is sitting on a swivel chair at the desk. He’s dressed like his friend, layers of old clothes, great winter boots and socks, a beanie hat. His face looks even redder than his friend, though, clean shaven, lacking that vital layer of animal hair as proof against the cold. The end of Malcolm’s nose is particularly raw, and even in this poor light you can see that it’s been abraded by some violent action.
Lion Man tells us he came in and found Malcolm face down on the floor having a seizure. It lasted a couple of minutes, but he seemed to come round fairly quickly. He told him to lie where he was, but Malcolm ignored him and got himself up again.
‘I’m fine. Honestly. I’m fine.’
He rolls himself a cigarette, scattering tobacco across the papers on the desk as his hands shake.
We ask him a few questions and start to figure out what may have happened – but suddenly his phone goes.
‘Do you mind if I... hello? Yep. Yeah. Okay....’
He turns on the chair, puts the cigarette in his mouth, finds a pen, and starts taking notes.
‘Yep. Three point one? You sure, mate? I think you’ll find that’s usually a point two. Yep. Uh-huh. With the trip? On a nine-fifty? Okay. Let me just check that for you...’
He draws diagrams, makes notes, the ash from his fag drifting down onto his hands.
Lion Man sighs and folds his arms.
‘I keep telling him he’s got to slow down but he won’t listen. He’s driven. Absolutely driven. He was here till three yesterday.’
‘In the afternoon?’
Lion Man snorts.
‘Of the AM variety,’ he says. ‘And that’s not unusual. We’ve got orders to fill, deadlines coming out of our ears. It’s tough, you know. Times is a-hard. You can’t afford to sit around and cry about it. Make hay while the sun shines.’ He glances back through the workshop to the yard outside. It’s just started to rain again.
‘Well – you know what I mean.’
We both look back at Malcolm. I catch his eye as he swivels round on the chair to pull down a directory from one of the shelves. He nods and smiles weakly, then puts the directory on the desk and – crooking the phone between his cheek and his shoulder - starts to thumb through it.
‘The nine-eighty, you say? O-kay. Let me just get a price on that for you...’

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

magnolia angels

This is our first call to St Germain’s in quite a few months. It’s been closed for refurbishment, and I’m interested to see what’s been done. Ellen, one of the hostel staff, waits for us outside, smoking by the recycling bins. She nods, drops the fag, grinds it out, leads us in the front door – a great stone arch rising impressively over us, its stone steps dipping in the middle from centuries of feet.
‘I don’t know if you know Pete,’ Ellen says, with a sigh as worn as the steps. ‘He can get a bit abusive sometimes but it’s all just blather. Apart from a bit of trench foot and COPD he’s not too bad, though. He’s got pissed up tonight, and now he’s lying half-naked in the corridor. He’s got a head injury, not too bad as far as I can tell but you’re the experts. See what you think. I must admit I’ve about had it with him.’
We follow Ellen through the security doors of the vestibule, then off to the wide, modern stairway. There’s a sign on the lift saying MAY BREAK DOWN. DON’T USE UNLESS YOU HAVE TO.
‘That’s the next thing on our To Do list,’ she says.
The stairs rise up through a series of  mezzanine floors, each floor partitioned off into small, rectangular rooms with just enough space for a wardrobe, side-table and bed. Pete is on the third floor, lying on his side on the narrow stretch of office-grade carpet. There’s another inmate standing over him, a dissolute figure with a scattering of blurry blue tattoos up his arms. He stares at us as we approach, his face slack and reddened with booze.
‘He can’t stay here. I need to get to bed,’ he says. Then he looks down at Pete and toes him speculatively. ‘Get up ya’ drunken bastard.’
‘Hello Pete,’ I say. ‘It’s the ambulance.’
Pete growls and bats at the space between us, making a series of incomprehensible sounds as thick with hostility as his beard is thick with matter.
‘That’s not very nice, Pete. We’ve come to make sure you’re all right. People are worried about you.’
He hugs his arms to his chest and draws his legs up. He looks comfortable enough, were it not for the fact he was naked from the waist down and lying in a hallway.
‘Get up! Get up, will ya?’ says the man. ‘Nobody’s interested in yer wee stubby cock, fella. Trust me on this one.’
I prod and irritate Pete until he opens his eyes and responds sufficiently to assess him. We check him over. He doesn’t appear to have hurt himself. It’s just alcohol.
‘If he sleeps it off in his room, would you be around to look in on him from time to time?’
Ellen nods. ‘There’ll be someone around all night,’ she says.
We help him up and in to his room.
It’s only when we’ve put him to bed I’m aware of the apex of the stained glass window, rising up behind the bed, safe behind a Perspex screen. This is the uppermost floor, right at the very top of the old church.
When we go back out into the corridor, I notice a couple of stone angels poking out through cutaways in the stud walls like they were impatient at being covered over and sawed a hole for themselves with their praying hands. As a reward, they’ve been painted magnolia, the same as everything else.
‘Looks great,’ I say.
They watch over us with their eyes closed as Ellen leads us back to the stairs. 

night wader

We can see the police cars on the promenade, their reflective decals glowing in the light from one of the lamps, but in case we hadn’t, it puts on its blue sparklers for a moment. There’s just enough room between the bollards at the end of the walkway to squeeze the ambulance through. Ahead of us, the vista through the windscreen is a graded banding of colour, black to light – to our right, the great mass of the sea, just a scattering of white points from distant ships; line upon line of creamy white waves moving in as the tide rises; the lighter grey of the empty promenade running on ahead of us, and then the city, piling up to our left, a hectic bank of brilliant whites and yellows. It’s so cold you can hear the stars. A golden moon, rounded at one corner, floats above the whole thing, so low you could reach up and poke it with your finger.
I park next to the police cars. There is one officer waiting there for us. We can see his colleagues down on the beach by the water’s edge, playing their torches out across the surf.
‘He’s walked out to sea,’ the officer says, blowing on his hands and then rubbing them together. ‘Rather him than me. Jesus it’s cold. Anyway, he’s just standing there, up to his shoulders. Been there twenty minutes, maybe? Don’t think he’s been under .Not since we got here. We were going to go in and try to fish him out but the inshore lifeboat’ll be here any minute and that’s probably the safest bet all round. The warmest, that’s for sure.’
I fetch some blankets from the back, switch the heater on, unwrap a foil blanket, then we all jump down onto the beach to meet the others.
The sea is calm and regular, but the noise of the surf as it moves in is a thundering pulse of sound, and with the freezing wind leaning in to us as well, we have to shout to make ourselves heard. The police officers have all got powerful torches. The beams intersect at a point five hundred yards off-shore – the head and shoulders of a young man, standing with his back to us. He doesn’t even particularly react to each wave as it slops up around him. He just stands there, a diminishing point of humanity on a brutally inhospitable canvas.
 ‘Who called us?’ I shout.
‘He did. Made the call from the beach, dropped the phone and walked in.’
One of the officers says: ‘Over there, look’.
One blue and one white light, sliding in from the left towards the figure.
‘Here they come.’
And now the spluttering thug-chug-thug of a marine diesel. A light snaps on from the boat; it turns, and approaches the figure. Even now he doesn’t move. Caught in the brighter light from the boat, I wonder if he’ll suddenly duck under the water. He has that look about him – a curious sea-creature who stays on the surface for just as long as it can, then dives back down to the safety of its own world. But instead he raises up his arms as the boat comes alongside. A bulky orange figure jumps down into the water. The man is gathered onto the boat; after a minute or two, it turns, and slowly rides the waves as it makes its way in to meet us.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

New book! Free!

I’ve just published my next book on Amazon. It’s a thriller called Into the Eclipse, and it’ll be free to download for the next 5 days (from morning of Mon 03 Dec – to the end of Fri 07 Dec). I’d love to know what you think of it. It’s quite different from Frank’s Last Call in that it’s entirely fictional, and written as a novel rather than the novelisation of a blog.

Here’s the blurb I put up on Amazon:


The solar eclipse.
For many it was a natural spectacle, a beautiful quirk of astronomy.
For Ella, it was one last chance to save her daughter.

When Kate leaves home to go to university, she is recruited by a secretive organisation and severs all links to her family. Ella, her mother, tries desperately to win her back. Eventually she turns to Noah, an anti-cult campaigner. Together they face up to an organisation prepared to do anything to protect itself, as it moves inexorably towards one final, cataclysmic event.

An exploration of faith and redemption, Into the Eclipse follows the paths of several very different lives as they intersect during a solar eclipse.


As always, a review on Amazon would be very much appreciated!

With thanks again for all your support and encouragement.