Flailing

I’m wondering what’s creative about writing.

I have thousands of things I want to say but doing it creatively is another matter at the moment.

Urgency seems to demand putting the raw thing down. Immediate, now without frills or fluff or camouflage.

Subtly making a point seems to require time for the anger, hurt, offence, pain, infuriation etc to be internalised, cocooned, dealt with and regurgitated when it doesn’t make me ache or foam at the mouth and yet what is lost in the process?

For one, doing something about it now.

What is it?

Injustice, falsehood, stupidity, aggression, wilful misreading, oppression, suppression, acceptance of fashionable idiocies. If the writing means something, should it be left to mature and develop until it can make a point without shouting, without screaming? Will it be too late to do something, to achieve anything when it is ready to see the light of the page?

News cycles are faster, acceptance of foolishness by default easier

Do you need to contradict every lazy assumption that leads to the defeat of thought, of reason?

Maybe.

If not; what?

Maybe just write.

BBC: When Toffs Attack

The jackals are out for the BBC.

All the usual suspects are crawling over the media, trying to haul down the broadcaster in order to devour it and make a financial as well as a corporate killing.

Charles Moore, a long time Tory hack who edited the Daily Telegraph, said this morning on the Today programme on Radio 4, that the BBC was a corporation which complained of fake news whilst itself faking the news. This was not true and a gross calumny.

If you have missed the thrashings of the rats tearing at one of the few (only?) politically neutral news agencies in the UK, if not the world, you may be forgiven for thinking this was about  the BBC making up a story that led to a war at the very least; it wasn’t (they leave that to politicians – WMD anyone?).

What we are actually talking about is Martin Bashir mocking up a couple of bank statements in order to get Earl Spencer on board with journalistic access to his sister, Princess Diana. The resulting interview Bashir did with her was one she said she wanted to do. After its airing on BBC she wrote that Bashir had not shown her any documents, was not pressured to do the interview and she had no regrets at having given it.

Now if Charles Moore reckons the BBC was peddling fake news it seems he is saying that Princess Diana was the one lying, doesn’t it? Bashir may have used a dubious method to get close enough to her to suggest the interview, but he didn’t make any news up. Charles was having an affair with his now wife, Diana had had an affair with another man and she was desperately unhappy in the marriage. Prince William saying that the interview worsened his parents relationship hardly seems tenable in this light, it was already doomed.

Spencer has claimed this interview led directly to her death two years later, which seems to stretch the laws of causality beyond reason. But this whole affair has nothing to do with reason, it has all to do with establishment payback melding with a long term commercial media hatred of the BBC born of greed.

This opportunistic attack on the BBC comes on the back of 11 years of swingeing financial cuts on the Corporation by an ideologically opposed party in power. And the BBC hadn’t been in favour with New Labour before that, given its part in exposing the lies about WMD and the government exposure of the man who helped the BBC, Dr David Kelly, who subsequently died in mysterious circumstances.

Should Bashir have had the documents mocked up? Probably not. Is it a hanging offence? No. Was the interview faked? No. Did it reveal the truth about the state of the marriage of the heir to the throne and say something about his fitness to govern? Yes.

Did the interview lead directly to her death? In the same way as being born inevitably leads to our death. The choices all parties made after that took her to that terrible end. The fact that it was commercial journalists and paparazzi hounding her into that Paris tunnel, make the baying for BBC blood now all the more sickening.

Beware Patriarchs Bearing Covenants

I blame Abraham for a lot of things.

Perhaps the least contentious, in terms of not being arrested for hate crime, being blown up by suicide bombers or annoying friends and relatives, is the fact that he fucked up my relationship with my father for a few more years than was necessary. It would have happened anyway I guess in that stupid testosterone fuelled male competitiveness crap around puberty. But the supposedly reassuring tale that God has our interests at heart and that he had chosen to make a covenant with us by getting Abraham to sacrifice his ‘only begotten’ son was a bit of a downer for me.

I was my father’s only begotten son and I was worried about history repeating itself. Isaac was always portrayed in those picture books beloved of Christian Sunday Schools as looking calm and relaxed, like he knew the fix was in, but I wasn’t convinced. The whole voice of God, the deus ex machina bit at the fifty ninth minute of the eleventh hour didn’t help. I mean there weren’t a lot of thorn thickets around our terraced house and there were definitely no rams getting caught in them to do the whole super sub routine on the altar.

Don’t get me wrong, my father hadn’t until this point, I was about six or seven when the portent of this tale struck home, done a lot to suggest he was listening to voices in his head advocating filicide as a strong career move. But you never knew.

Actually the more I read the Torah/Pentateuch/Old Testament, the less certain I became about the whole reliability of God’s contract and Abraham’s version of events.

The whole ‘only begotten son’ bit was a crock for a start. Abraham (Abram at the time as he had not yet been renamed by God) already had a son. Ishmael hadn’t chosen to be born and certainly got the shitty end of the stick. Sarai/Sarah persuaded Hagar to have Abram’s child as she couldn’t and then she kicked the pair of them out when she had her own child. Nice lady.

Actually Abraham and Sarah are a right pair. Abusing the home help, planning on murdering their son for a chance at the top job in the tribe and helping destroy two cities because they (possibly) didn’t persecute homosexuals enough.

You have to wonder if Abram might not have been disguising a rapacious desire to succeed at all costs under the veil of doing God’s will. It’s as if a really good PR firm had got hold of the life story of some of today’s tech giant/social media creators and done a snow job on them. ‘Sure he destroyed millions of high street jobs and drove down wages and avoided all the existing labour and tax laws…but he was doing it for a higher purpose!’ Watch out for new Messiahs/Patriarchs coming to a digital app near you!

My Dad didn’t exhibit any kindling collecting tendencies but I confess his understandable crossness at some of the things I did at times, triggered a distinct wariness. I wish I had explained my reserve to him at the time.

 As it was we grew more distant than we needed and puberty made things worse. It took me some years (decades?) to move back to a respect, and yes a love, that I had had when Daddy was the best thing in the world, before bloody Abram stuck his oar in. We did get there but I wish it hadn’t have been so protracted and skewed by a mythical character and his self aggrandising PR story.

Three great religions and the justification for millions dead.

Beware men building pyres and listening to voices no-one else can hear.

Or hi-tec business empires.

Cooking With Gas

‘We’ll walk. It’s only up the road.’

So we did.

Two young men. Professionals in three piece suits. Not as unusual then as it would be now perhaps. We strode across the old market centre of an old mill town. The town was searching for a new direction. We knew where we were going. The mills that had brought prosperity and self confidence were almost all gone, one or two hanging on by their fingernails. Our client wasn’t.

He was dead.

‘What did he die of?’

‘Heart attack I think.’ Andrew stopped at the crossing. They really needed to do something about the traffic snaking its way through a medieval street plan. I said so to Andrew.

‘They’ll put the ring road in soon.’

‘You think.’

He looked at me as the green man appeared and the beeper bleeped.

‘You should stay a bit longer in the Leigh on Friday nights.’ He winked.

‘I think I’m still at the house clearance stage.’

We turned off the main street and disappeared into the warren of early nineteenth century terraces.

‘Me too, but get yourself noticed.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah.  Eddie, Keith and Simon were all in last week when the planning crowd walk in, straight upstairs. Eddie and co. buy a round and follow. Monday he tells me there are interesting developments on the old railway line into town.’

We turned a couple of corners in quick succession then took a left down some cobbled steps.

‘Where’s that going to go then? When it gets into the old goods yard? There are properties all round there now.’

Andrew slid his forefinger along the side of his nose and tapped it.

‘Keep an eye on the conveyancing files. See where your mate at the Rugby Club puts his mortgages out to in the next few months and who’s buying.’

‘But it’ll be blighted.’

‘Exactly. Lots of lovely compensation. What’s a terraced cottage at the moment? Eight grand?’

We entered a courtyard that could have been out of a Dickens novel.

‘Bit more, bit less depending where it is.’

‘Yes, well you can rest assured you can buy it for seven and sell it for twelve when the council values it for you if the road goes through and you sell without trouble, Deal yourself in, then you’ll be cooking.’

We stopped before a peeling green door.

‘Key?’

I took the bunch with its clean new string and cardboard tag and jangled it in front of Andrew.

‘Want to play “guess the key”?’

‘What the hell did he want with all these?’ He took the bunch, squinted at the tumbler lock and selected a Yale type key. It stuck half way in.

‘Bugger! Your turn.’ He handed the bunch back.

I discounted all the obvious mortice keys and selected the most worn Yale. It slid into the lock and with a slight wiggle spun the cylinder. The door pushed clear.

‘After you.’

Andrew gave me his dead pan look as he stepped through the door, then stopped and wrinkled his nose.

‘What’s the matter?’ I asked. Then I got it as the air rolled out past him. It wasn’t so bad as to make you gag but there was something really odd about it.

‘Did he die in here?’

‘Don’t know. I guess he must have.’

We went in a bit further. The door opened into a short hallway with stairs facing you and a door on the right. The smell wasn’t quite as bad now the door had been open a minute. We left the front door open and moved forward to the door to what was obviously the living room. The smell rolled over us again, very strong now. We both cleared our throats. Someone had to go in first. Andrew had been first into the house, so my turn.

I walked in, eyes flicking, hoping not to see anything too horrible. It was a standard terraced room. Some had a front room and a living room and a kitchen. This was configured with a living room a kitchen and a scullery. The living room had nothing in it you wouldn’t expect to find. I shook myself free of the smell.

‘He can’t be here can he? He’s with the undertaker. That’s why we’re here.’ I rationalised.

Andrew nodded and went and shut the front door. It was quieter than I would have expected. It didn’t smell like a body. Not entirely. Not really. It wasn’t that decayed meat smell, not the sickly sweetness underneath, although there was a hint of it. We stood on the threadbare carpet and shrugged.

‘Let’s get on with it.’ I said. We each had a plastic bag with a couple of foolscap envelopes in case we discovered things we needed to take back to the office. You never knew what. Simon and Andrew had found a bewildering variety of oddly coloured old bank notes in a house last year none of which were now legal tender. The Bank of England redeemed them at the face value of just over a thousand pounds. I had wondered if the estate would have been better off selling them as collectors’ items; but it wasn’t my decision.

‘You check the sideboard I’ll do the shelves then we’ll move back through the kitchen.’ Andrew said.

I put the bag on the top of the cluttered sideboard. There were ornaments and trinkets and lots of bits of metal lying about in the dust. I squatted down and opened the cupboard doors underneath the drawers.

I rubbed my fingers together, they were getting grubby already. Dusting had obviously not been a priority. I felt the grime as I took in the collection of china and odd mementoes. I rubbed my fingers again. They felt greasy, which was odd. Old polish? I discounted the china as definitely not Meissen or Ming and went on to the drawers. They too were greasy and a bit smutty even. I found some letters, a few bills, one insurance policy, a cheque book and a building society pass book. They all went into an envelope which I signed and Andrew countersigned.

‘It’s really grubby.’ I said.

Andrew looked at his hands. They too were showing signs of dirt. ‘It’s like he’s been smearing butter or something on the wood.’

We moved through to the kitchen. Everything there had the same soiled feel to it, but oddly it was not as bad as the living room. There was nothing of interest to his estate there. No solid silver cutlery or Fabergé eggs tucked away in drawers. We moved back to the scullery. If anything it was cleanest room so far. There was an old fashioned ringer washing machine but beyond that it was mostly given over to metalworking tools and a bench with boxes and boxes of nuts, bolts, screws and other bits of metal unidentifiable to me.

‘What did he do for a living?’ I asked.

‘Toolshop engineer for Hewitt’s mill.’

‘Brought his work home with him then.’

‘Retired last year. This is his hobby stuff.’

‘One year out of harness. Not much is it?’

‘Poor old sod.’

‘Upstairs then?’

We walked back through the kitchen and I checked the grill and the oven. Clean as a whistle.

‘I checked that. No hidden millions in the cooker.’ Andrew laughed.

‘I just wondered if he’d left a meal on or something. It smells like old bacon.’

‘Someone cleaned it up if it was. Gas is off according to Len.’

Len was the firm’s Legal Exec who had sent us on this errand. It needed two of us to make sure everything was above board. It was why we stuck together in the house. You didn’t want someone accusing you of walking off with the half of the sovereigns Uncle Tom had always told them was in the back parlour. We went upstairs.

One small bedroom had been converted into a bathroom. You could just about swing a cat but there was nowhere to hide a fiver, never mind a bag of sovereigns. We considered the shaving kit for a moment, shuddered at the cutthroat razor and moved on.

The second bedroom was converted into another workroom. The work bench was covered in tools and metal again. All clean and relatively tidy. There were a couple of drawers, in one of which we found twenty pounds in pound notes. They went into an envelope and we sealed it, signed it and noted the room.

The bedroom was sad, the bed unmade, a few scattered clothes. The wardrobe was full of clothes from a different era and the overpowering smell of naphthalene and paradicholorobenzene mothballs. There was nothing of value or significance in the pockets but at least the stink of mothballs overpowered the stale burnt bacon smell.

My hands were nearly black and sticky and my suit would be going into the dry cleaners the next morning.

‘All done?’ I asked.

‘Couple of girlie mags in the chest of drawers and about a dozen watches. That’s it. Time to go.’ We bagged the watches and replaced the magazines.

We descended and stuck our head into the living room for a last look round. No obvious Picasso on the wall we’d missed. A few shelves, the sideboard a television, a couple of easy chairs one of which looking the worse for wear and stained with what was presumably the side effects of our client’s demise

We locked up and left.

It was almost five when we got back to the office.

‘All right?’ Julie, the receptionist asked.

‘Yes. Need to wash up though.’ Andrew held up his hands.

‘Ew! What have you been, going through the coal hole?’

The talking brought Len out of his office.

‘Come on, hand over the loot before you go anywhere.’

We followed him into his office and placed the keys and the bags onto his desk and talked him through the finds.

‘No treasure chests that lot open then?’ He said nodding at the bunch of keys.

‘No. He just collected metal bits and pieces, tools, watches and obviously keys.’

‘Fair enough. You’d better go and get him washed off you by the look of things.’

‘What?’

Len had a big smile on his face as he tamped down his pipe.

‘Didn’t I say to take some gloves or something?’

‘No you didn’t.’ I said, holding my hands away from my sides. ‘Should you have done?’

He laughed. ‘Didn’t you read the file?’

‘No identified close relatives, house search for valuables and financial papers.’ Andrew said.

‘Clerks eh? Page two, cause of death.’ Len smiled, and picked up the folder as if to refresh his memory which was obviously not required.’

‘Neighbours called the police when they hadn’t seen him for a few days and…Did you notice anything odd?’

We shrugged and I held my hands up. ‘Everything was covered in greasy dust. Oh and it smelt like he’d left a fry up on.’

Len laughed.

‘Neighbours knocked and then opened the letterbox to shout. Then they called the police. They called the fire brigade.’ Len smiled sadly. ‘He’d been sat in front of the gas fire, watching tele. Died of a heart attack. Nobody missed him, retired, no family, bit of a loner. Sat there in front of that fire for quite a while. Not hot enough to burst into flames. Just enough to cook his legs through to the bone.’ He nodded at our hands. ‘That grease and soot is what’s left of his legs.’

Andrew and I looked at each other, at our hands and headed for the washroom followed by Len’s chuckles.

A Farrish By Any Other Name

Inspired by a NaPoWriMo prompt on Carol J Forrester’s site: https://caroljforrester.com/2021/04/15/napowrimo-day-fourteen-my-married-name/ Thanks to her – I wouldn’t have seen it and had the idea otherwise. Oh, and go and read her pages – she writes proper poetry!

What’s in a name?

Everything and nothing

A consummation devoutly to be wished

And an untimely ending

Played out on a stage

Of someone else’s making.


Did I choose my name?

Did you?

My name holds promise

Something strange, exotic perhaps

Al Faris in decades gone by?

Lost in a scribes lazy transcription


A Moor maybe?

 I look at my freckles,

Red hair, fair skin and wonder

Is there anything in genetics?

Or maybe there’s Moor or less

Than meets the eye?


Of course the answer’s simple.

An internet search

Cuts the work of decades now

To an origin lost in time

Not that long it turns out

But long enough to wipe memory


An itinerant Dumfriesshire man

A William of that ilk,

My ilk it turns out, give or take

An ‘R’ that was a scribes addition

Came to my home town and never left

But left me his Border name.

I Spy David Cornwell

I was rereading ‘Whither Le Carré? [link] earlier this week. I don’t normally re-read things I have written. Certainly not for the fun of it – too much angst and desire to re-write. In this instance I wanted to see what I had thought of David Cornwell and his later work, particularly in the light of appraisals and estimates of the worth of his work prompted by his recent death.

Le Carré continues to be something of a problem for those who felt and shared the patriotism that shone through much of his earlier work, despite the shabby tawdriness of the settings and the bureaucracy that used these flawed human beings for their own nefarious ends. I felt it and appreciated it. As I grew older and experienced some of it myself, I realised that it is possible to be a patriot and yet not a narrow nationalist, but it is a difficult line to tread. As time went on it became apparent that something had slipped from Le Carré’s world view that had sustained him in his love of country despite its foibles and failings. His anger with the way global corporations were exploiting the world’s weak, the misuse of people of principle and determination for less than democratic ends and the abandonment of that post WWII compact of a better, freer, more united Europe eroded the feeling in his books that we were better than the opposition even though we were far from perfect.

Among his later books were an off piste op against a possible Islamist plot that drops decent operators down the pan when thing go wrong, a tidying up of Peter Guillam’s post Tinker Tailor life and a long shout against Brexit and what has happened to post Imperial Britain in ‘Agent Running in the Field’.

Le Carré was never a hankerer for Imperial past. His patriotism was never a narrow jingoistic nationalism. Negotiating a peaceful and prosperous path through that post Imperial search for meaning and a decent place in the world was what seemed to drive his Cold War books. This wasn’t the Great Game any more, it was a low rent wrapping up of past errors and residual horrors while keeping a worse Soviet wolf from the door.

He said he was very happy the Cold War ended when the Soviet Union collapsed and despite the claims of some critics that his work and income would dry up, the post Cold War climate opened Le Carré’s work up to wider, newer horizons. Horizons where the smug winner takes all mentality of some global players made a mockery of the hopes of Cold War participants for a better, safer, more decent world should they win.

Having tilted at global capitalism portrayed in the machinations of big pharma in The Constant Gardener and exposed the willingness of the West to sacrifice its virtues of freedom and fairness in A Most Wanted Man, Le Carré went back to his roots.

He revisited one of the key operators from Tinker Tailor in his post Cold War sojourn in A Legacy of Spies. Peter Guillam is retired in Brittany when events from the past, told in ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, catch up with him. Smiley makes something of a deus ex machina appearance to save his protégé from the Whitehall machine keen to have a scapegoat for actions out of kilter with current values. The query ‘So it was all for England, then? Is met with the response ‘…whose England? Which England? England all alone, a citizen of nowhere? I’m a European.’ Which puts Cornwell’s position into his characters’ words.

His last novel takes this further and ‘Agent Running in the Field’ is a superbly crafted howl against the petty insularity that England embraced in the Brexit vote. The missed opportunity of Russia’s rejection of Communism and the surrender of democracy in the west to a populist flight to charismatic hard men with simplistic answers to complex questions stalks the  novel.

Cornwell kept his skill and his craftsmanship to the end, although he fell out of love with England. I’ve admired his writing since 1975 and I continued to enjoy reading him right until the end. I have shared many of his views on Britain and her place in the world although I think he got some things badly wrong, for example his clash with Salman Rushdie over the right to criticise religion (you do have that right whatever he thought). I think he was a very useful weather gauge for the moral direction of Britain’s travel. It is a sadness that he died before that moral compass could be reset on a direction by which the country could steer a better course.

Thank you David Cornwell.

School Days and Beyond

I received a ‘Former Pupil’s’ magazine from my old school the other day. There had been an ‘Old Boy’s Association’ of which I was a member, having paid into a fund every term for the privilege. Things changed when the school, all boys when I was there, acquired a Girl’s Division when the local High School, a selective Grammar, finally fell under the Comprehensive axe. Obviously we couldn’t all be Old Boys now, and it gave the opportunity for a revamp, a new organisation (with a joining fee obviously!) and much more regular contact and vibrancy than before. All of which are good things.

It does make me wonder however when I read of the successes and careers of my former school mates what I have done with my life. Comparisons are odious, but unlike Ian Taylor of Vitol (d. June 2020- RIP Ian) I never had £2million or £3million to give each year to the arts. I remember rugby training with Ian after school and watching his performances in the Drama club with admiration. It never occurred to me at the time that he may go on to be the man to transform the oil trading and energy commodities industry.

There are others. I remember having impromptu late night coffee and drinks with the now Director General of the International Labour Organisation, in his parents kitchen after a night out not long after we left school. Amongst the usual young men’s trivia, we discussed what we were going to do in the future. I don’t remember mentioning what I ended up doing and I don’t recall becoming DG of the ILO being at the forefront of his mind either.

I wasn’t in the same year as the first Captain of the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, now a Vice-Admiral, but he followed me through the same classrooms and gymnasium and Main Hall.

There are luminaries of all kinds: England Rugby Union scrum halves, England Rugby Union doctors, England Cricket coaches, leading business chiefs, scientists, senior civil servants and yes, the odd pop star, who attended the same school before, during and after my time, including (many years before) the Judge who tried and signed the death warrant of Charles I.

And what did I do?

Well not what they did, although I have had an eclectic, entertaining, and rewarding life. Possibly not as well, depending if and how you judge these things although I have had successes both personal and career I would not swap for all the oil in Vitol’s accounts. There has, however also been bewilderment and frustration. I was surely as clever and as capable many of the people in the list above, but doing something with my ability proved elusive at times.

Ian Taylor, interviewed by Bloomberg News in 2016 said ‘ You need to have relationships’ discussing his success and the constant travel and willingness to meet and negotiate with people that characterised his work.

I never quite felt happy or confident with that side of life’s equation and my late diagnosed ASD probably helps to explain a lot of my difficulty in recognising opportunities, career and personal, that presented themselves. It wasn’t that I disliked people or didn’t want to have relationships with them, I simply didn’t get the different levels, nuances and interactions that others took for granted. I learned many of them as the years went on, but it was never an instinctive thing with me. It was like working really hard to learn and speak a foreign language. I could make it work to a point but the instinctive recognition and speed of response was often missing.

If I had known in that kitchen with Guy, or on that training field with Ian, what I know now, would my life have been different? Probably. I would still have had the ASD. I would however have been able to make changes of approach, expectation and how I let people know about why I am the way I am. I would still have been me, but maybe those relationships I needed to have developed could have been simpler to make, easier to maintain and more frequently identified.

29 March-4 April was World Autism Awareness Week and some organisations are extending this to make the whole of April, Autism Awareness Month. I would rather we are all more aware and accepting of those who see the world differently all the time, but hey, I’ll settle for a month to start with.

Quick Thought on ‘Snare’

So that was ‘Snare’.

It started life as a deliberate attempt to get myself through not so much a writing block, I ‘m not sure I have those as such, but rather an ‘ending’ block.

The basic idea started with a memory of a walk in the Cotswolds which began through a yellow stone alleyway between the back of cottages to an enchanted valley. That was the only bit I had, but taking an idea for a little walk has never been much of a problem. Bringing the stroll through plot and character to an end however is often problematic.

Spoiler alert – I hate endings, I slow down at the three quarter stage of reading a book I am enjoying because I don’t want it to end, I used to hate going to bed and bringing the day to a close etc etc.

But I decided this story was going to end whether I liked it or not.

Do I like it?

Well it’s my least disliked.

There’s a short intro to ‘Snare’ exploring my feelings and thoughts a bit further on the ‘Snare’ page – found in the menu under ‘Writing’ or here if you want to know more and would like to read the whole story in one place without following from blog post to blog post.

SNARE

Part 4

Ed wanted to know what was going on but he was stuck behind his friend, his view of what was happening blocked by the edge of the copse.  To get a glimpse of what a going on he needed to move around Tom but that would mean making a noise and moving the trees and if Tom’s stillness was anything to go by that was probably not a good idea right now.

Tom slowly lay down, his body behind the hazel, his head just poking round the undergrowth. ‘He’s looking downhill. Not moving though’.

‘Can we get across the path?’

Tom shook his head slowly. ‘He’s not got his back to us. He’ll see the movement. Specially if he’s looking for the dog.’

As if to emphasise that the man most certainly was looking for his dog, there was a burst of whistling and shouts of ‘Max! Max!’ from the direction of the path. There was a crashing sound again in the brush behind them in response to the shouts and a flash of brown and white crossed the track going uphill.

‘Bugger.’

‘What?’

‘He saw the dog. I think.’ Tom said.

The circled back round uphill of them and came across the path. It was a Springer, all smile and tail touching its nose as it greeted them with a bark.

‘Fuck off.’ Tom hissed and his hand curled round the handle of the knife he carried tucked away under his hoody.

‘Don’t Tom!’

Ed looked at the dog, excited now by its new friends. It was unlikely Tom would get near enough to kill the dog but if he did or if the owner saw him with the knife that would be the end of Uni, the end of his escape from the village. He dug inside the rucksack, pulled out the rabbit that Tom had dispatched and waved it like a toy at the dog who, smelling the blood and meat, set for it. Ed held the carcass out to the animal and as the dog seized it, he grabbed the dog’s collar. He left the bag at Tom’s side. ‘Stay there.’ He said and walked out onto the path.

The man had been about the start shouting again by the look of it and was a couple of paces down the side path when Ed appeared. Ed put his gruffest voice on, but gave it the posh edge he used when he was talking to the adviser about his options for college places. He hoped it would sound like Chucker’s keeper.

‘Is this your dog?’

‘Oh, er yes.’

‘Well keep him under control will you? Look what he’s been doing.’ Ed gestured towards the dog’s new toy being shaken like a rat as he trotted contentedly at Ed’s side.

‘Oh, God! Leave it Max!’ Put it down!’

The man looked shocked.

‘I’m so sorry. He got away from me. He’s only young and…’

Ed was up to the man now.

‘You got a lead for him?’

‘Oh yes.’

‘Well put it on then.’

The man fumbled for the lead and snicked it onto the collar. Ed let go of the collar and stood up.

‘You should keep him on the lead in the country. There’s lambs about this time of the year and birds rearing in the woods. If I’d had my shotgun…’

‘Oh God! I didn’t think. I am so sorry.’ He looked down at the dog who was trying to eat the rabbit. ‘Max, put it down, please.’

Ed looked at the dog and firmly took the rabbit and said ‘Leave!’

Max was a bit startled at the gift being taken back but he let go and waited.

‘Thank you.’ Said the man. ‘I couldn’t get him to come back. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t caught him.’

‘Get some training, then he’ll come back to you.’ Ed smiled. ‘Might even bring you some more to share.’

‘Oh, I am so sorry. He’s not in trouble is he? Are we?’

Ed looked thoughtful for a moment.

‘Well, it’s only a rabbit and no birds damaged so not this time. No. But if he gets loose again where there’s lambs or birds…’

‘Yes, yes of course. It won’t happen again.’

‘Right then. Where are you headed?’

The man patted Max.

‘We’re headed for Colehampton.’

‘Colehampton! You’re way off.’

‘I thought so but Max saw a deer and dashed off and I had to get him. Got pretty lost to be honest. Could you put us back on the right path?’

‘I reckon.’ Ed gave Max a pat as well. ‘A deer you say?’

‘Yes. Big one, seemed to keep stopping to get Max to follow him.’

‘Big antlers?’

‘Yes. Is he famous or something?’

‘Just a bit odd, antlers this time of year.’

The man was looking at Ed, waiting for more. Ed decided there’d been enough chat.

‘Well, you’re on private land here but if you head down to the bottom of the wood and turn left along the 10 acre there, you’ll come to a lane. Turn right up the valley and there’s a footpath about half a mile on the left will take you into the back of Colehampton, by the church.’

‘Thanks. We’d better get going then. Cheerio.’

‘And keep Max on his lead.’

Ed watched the man and Max, reluctant to leave his furry plaything behind, walk down the slope to the ten acre. He wondered about the deer Max had been lured into the wood by. He waited until Max had disappeared and then walked back to Tom.

‘Has he gone?’

‘Off to Colehampton with his dog, aye.’

Colehampton?’

‘He got lost.’

‘That was bloody brilliant Ed. I thought you was a keeper myself for a minute. How did you know he was just a walker?’

‘Dog wasn’t trained was he? Just a pet like, running all over like that, all that noise, him and the bloke. Not a countryman’s dog.’

‘Like the way you gave the dog the tough old boy been squirming all night. Good thinking that. You’ve got big future here you have boy.’

Ed didn’t answer but picked up the bag and walked off up the hill.

They crested the rise and walked down into the Green lane. They kept well into the hedges along the 30 acre, Tom garrulous with the excitement of their encounter. They reached the almshouses without problem and as they went over the gate they turned and looked up into the darkening shadows of the woods. A figure emerged from the edge of the trees, darker than the shadows, and paused. It was hard to see details with the setting sun over the wooded hill casting fingers of darkness down the field, but Ed was sure he could see points of light on antlers. He pointed the figure out to Tom who grunted. Then the figure tipped back its head and a belling roar echoed in the evening air.

‘It shouldn’t have antlers now.” Ed said.

Tom looked at his friend.                     

‘See you tomorrow?’

Ed kept on looking at the hill. The patch or darkness returned to the wood.

‘Don’t think so Tom. I’ve got to talk to some people about next year.’

END

SNARE

Part 3

‘Come on dopey, first one’s only a few yards.’ Tom said, moving off through the bushes.

Ed had done all right at school once he’ stopped hanging around with Tom and actually done some work. His teachers hadn’t suggested college because they’d had him marked down the same path as Tom, but now he’d got his results, good results, he was thinking about going this year. He’d put an application in and had one offer and needed to talk to someone about a couple of others he was waiting for. The idea was to make some cash this year but so far there’d been nothing. And here he was again with Tom.

He nearly bumped into him as Tom stopped.

‘Here we go.’ He stooped and pulled aside a branch. The snare had looped neatly round the rabbit’s neck and the animal was as dead as it was going to be. Tom unpegged the wire and pulled it out from the rabbit’s flesh. He coiled the wire and peg and pocketed them, giving the animal to Ed who stuffed it in the haversack.

‘Next one’s about five yards over.’ Tom whispered.

They turned their back on the run and stepped under and round the undergrowth to where Tom had laid the next snare. There was no rabbit. The loop of wire was still set open and there was no sign of disturbance. Tom shrugged. ‘Bugger. I thought that we’d maybe get them all sprung today.’ He stood up. Never mind, leave it, we can come up tomorrow and check that one.’

‘”We.” Already apparently in Tom’s mind they were working together again. Ed wasn’t so sure. He had a route out if he was sensible. College. A job in a town or city. Money, independence. Not being a country boy on the edge of existence. Not being a sidekick to a chancer like Tom. Wondering again why Tom’s family was weird and what would happen when the luck ran out.

They checked another three snares on this side of the path, one empty, one with another clean kill and one with the animal still kicking a little as the noose hadn’t broken the neck or throttled it in the time since it had run into the trap. Tom slipped a short lead cosh from his pocket and smacked the animal sharply on the back of the neck which stopped the wriggling.

‘He’ll be a tough old bugger to eat. Give that one to my Dad I reckon.’ Tom laughed.

‘Why?’

‘Why tough or why give it my Dad?’

‘Both I suppose.’

‘They don’t die quick, they get real knotty. All that struggling. Quick kill before they realise what’s happening, they’re all relaxed see. Nice eating. Dad don’t mind, but Carslake’s customers is choosy. I start giving him tough old buggers like this he’ll drop the price or stop taking ’em altogether.’ Tom grinned. ‘Customer care boy.’

Ed took the animal and looked at it. ‘You’ll know which is which?’

‘Yeah. Look.’ Tom flipped its neck over. ‘See. Big bit of fur rubbed off this side where it was struggling.’ He lifted the head. ‘And that mark where I whacked him.’

Ed put it in the sack with the others.

‘How many more Tom?’

‘Another five. Round the other side of the warren.’ He pointed to a patch of thick briars just down the hill. ‘That’s it. Hundreds of the little beggars in there. Not far to the fields in the bottom of the valley. I’d get more trapping that side but you don’t know who’s watching from the wood on the other hill.’

Ed nodded and they moved off around the thicket and uphill back towards the track.

They finished emptying the snares. Four of the five had been good clean kills and one untouched. Tom was setting another snare on a new run when they heard a crashing through the undergrowth somewhere down by the briar thicket.

The two of them looked up and then at each other.

‘What’s that Tom?’

‘It’ll be that bloody buck. It’s getting late and he’ll be off to browse in Chucker’s fields.’

‘You reckon?’

‘Yeah, come on. Set one where you are. You’re more or less standing on a run there.’

Ed caught the wire and peg that Tom threw at him. He crouched down and looked for the tunnel through the undergrowth. He’d tight pegged the wire round a good strong trunk of a bush and was just setting it open at the right height for a rabbit head when the crashing sound cam louder and presumably nearer. Ed half crawled to where Tom was finishing his last snare.

‘Come on Tom. Let’s go.’

‘What’s the matter? Afraid of the spooky deer?’

‘I don’t know Tom, but it’s getting late and I don’t want…’

There was a whistle and both lads dropped down to the ground. They looked at each other. ‘That’s not a fucking buck Tom.’

The other noises got louder and they heard panting. A dog was quartering the wood.

They backed under a blackthorn bush, Ed biting his lip as the thorns scratched his legs.

The dog’s panting got louder and the whistling more strident. Then a man’s voice cut the air.

‘Max! Max, come! Come!’

The dog went away.

‘What is it? A walker?’ Ed whispered.

‘Keeper with a new dog?’

‘It’s bound to find us.’

Tom raised his head a little looking downhill to where the noises were coming from.

‘Move uphill Ed, slow and low like. He can’t have seen us.’

‘What about the dog?

‘Don’t sound too bright if he’s making that noise to get him to come back does he? Come on boy, move!’

The two started to half crawl, half stumble up the hill keeping as low and as quiet as they could while they made their way back towards the path.

They almost stumbled onto it through a stand of hazel that someone had coppiced years ago, now left to straggle. Tom stopped, and froze, still, barely, in the cover of the trees.

‘Bugger’s come up the lane and onto the side path. Standing up there now.’

‘Who is it?’ Ed asked.

‘Dunno. No shotgun, not Chucker or his keeper.’

‘What’s he doing?’

‘Just standing there.’

‘Waiting for the dog?’

‘Maybe.’

Tom was like stone, unmoving, eyes fixed and his voice was the sound of a leaf falling. Ed could tell it as there but he wasn’t sure how he could hear it. It was almost as if he could feel Tom’s thoughts in his head rather than through his ears.