21 December 2008

your prayers are needed

Please say prayers for my former wife Debbie. She is on the Intensive Care ward in Southampton in critical condition. Her winter chest infection turned dreadfully serious and became pneumonia with complications. A severe lung infection has battered her organs and she is under sedation while the doctors administer all the help they can.

Paul

17 November 2008

end of an amazing chapter


Those who visited Michelle's previous blog and have read between the lines on here will know I have made a decision which affects the lives of a number of people. I will be returning to England at the end of this month. This decision has been one of the hardest of my life and one that I have thrashed round in my head endlessly.

The bottom line is I can't be happy in my new life and that is not fair on those closest to me. I will be leaving behind a little daughter and a young wife who somehow will manage in my absence. That is the way things happen. I am distinctly un-proud of myself and feel I have let many people down, not least Michelle and Maisie. That is a dramatic understatement, however, we are adults and rational, so remain friends.

l hope to rekindle my relationship with my two grown sons and start on a new path of quiet and calm. My exercise regime is injecting sufficient endorphins to keep gloom at bay although there are some bleak times. I have a new road bike waiting my return and will pedal my way to new horizons.

Fare well friends and "see you on the other side."

19 October 2008

the race

 

Well, I did it - my first race. There are some more photographs here, which Michelle took. I lined up at 10am this morning with the four hundred and twenty-seven registered runners for the PEI Half Marathon. I had pinned my race number to my running shirt and strapped the timing chip round my ankle and tried to forget my pain niggles. Would you believe it, I had a bad flare up of fibromyalgia in my left thigh yesterday, plus a severe pain in my right ankle and also a nasty insect bite in my right armpit just to give me something else to think about. I had felt pessimistic as we drove into Charlottetown this morning but I was determined to run through the pain if I could.

We parked and walked to the start in Grafton Street in the shadow of the Confederation Arts Centre. There was a buzz of excitement and a very large crowd by Charlottetown standards. All shapes, sizes and ages of runner were represented, and there were running kits of all colours. The weather was calm and kind but rather fresh, about three degrees Celsius and bright sunshine. Michelle planned to stay in town with Maisie and be back by the finishing line in time for my arrival - whenever that might be.

Having chosen to start near the back, I had to walk for half a minute after the gun while the first runners set off and gave us space. Something told me if I was overtaken by fast runners at the start it would be psychologically worse than keeping my pace sensible and sticking to the speeds I had tested in training. So I tried to stick close to six minutes per kilometre and monitored my progress against my watch as each kilometre marker passed. The initial crush thinned out and soon runners in the ten kilometre event peeled off to return to town while we half-marathoners forged on towards the airport on the outskirts of town.

I was so relieved that my pains had diminished when the race started and I actually felt pretty good throughout the whole thireteen miles. After an hour or so of running I let my pace gradually creep up as I was fairly sure I could now finish comfortably. Because my training runs have tended to be an hour or less I am new to the idea of refuelling mid-run. I had a plan though and in accordance with it, I drank a couple of gulps of Gatorade at three of the drink stations from the ten kilometre mark onwards and also sucked down two power gels from foil pouches.

In contrast to my last couple of training runs I had plenty of energy left and started to pass other runners. There are two severe hills at the two thirds point and these were sorting the men from the boys. I slowed dramatically on the steep rises but kept grinding away and passed more exhausted runners with their hands on their knees at the roadside. The field was well spread out by now and a glance over my shoulder revealed the nearest runner was at least fifty yards behind while there were a sprinkling twenty yards ahead for me to draw towards.

The city had closed most roads for the runners' safety but some arterial sections were open and simply had a coned-off running lane with policemen encouraging cars to stay slow, which obligingly they did. We turned onto University Avenue, the seven kilometre finishing straight but the undulating road and the distance prevented any view of the finishing line yet. By now there was no passing done and runners at our position in the field were hanging on to make it to the line. Groups of interested families were clustered here and there by the roadside cheering us on. I waved and smiled at them.

Race day adrenalin and excitement made a big difference to my performance. Also, I only ran a couple of short runs this week, ate plenty of good food and rested as much as I could. I didn't stop to walk at all during the half marathon and overtook quite a lot of runners in the second half of the race, so I think my strategy paid off.

On the final approach to downtown, I could see the big time clock over the finish line so I knew my watch wasn't lying! As I neared the line they called out my name over the public address system - "Paul B***** from Ferndown, Great Britain!" I ran quite fast across the line and waved to the crowd, finishing 227th out of 427 in a "chip" time of 2 hours, 1 minute and 11 seconds. I am very pleased indeed with the time as I beat my best training time by over ten minutes.

I have a finisher's medal and my race number as souvenirs. Now I am eager to run another half marathon and my target will be to beat two hours.

12 October 2008

now or never


This morning I ran my final long-ish training run, nine miles along the Confederation Trail. This coming week I will do no more than a couple of five-milers and take plenty of rest and good food. On Friday I pick up my race number and electronic chip ready for Sunday. There is no more I can do now but take care of myself and remember the golden rule - "don't set off too fast."

We drove along the south shore this afternoon and took some more pictures of the fall foliage then home for creamy pea soup and grilled cheese sandwiches!

15 September 2008

prince edward island half marathon


I have registered for the PEI Half Marathon on 19th October 2008. You can find all the information about this event at Prince Edward Island Marathon. Gulp!

I don't like to do something without testing it first from every angle so I assessed the five months of running already in my legs. Then I examined the published results for last year's event and discovered I would need to run quicker than two and a half hours not to disgrace myself. I have been running for fitness since May this year and have built up to twenty-five miles a week. I keep meticulous records for times and distances so my performance is not a mystery - I know what I should be capable of.

But until I've run the actual distance - 13.1 miles - how do I know I can go that far? My longest run to date had been ten miles. So to answer the nagging inner voice I mapped a route of precisely 13.1 miles and headed out to test myself. I ran at a modest pace which I guessed was around 6mph, covering a mile every ten minutes. My only "way marks" were points I had made a mental note of (like the halfway point, which I reached in an hour and five minutes) so I kept my pace on track. Luckily the early morning, weekend traffic was light and half my run was on the Confederation Trail, a great rural trail on a former railway line.

My heart and lungs were holding up well after an hour and a half but my legs began to feel very heavy whenever the road went up. Even so I managed to keep going without stopping and reached the twelve mile mark just after two hours. The final mile to home is downhill and I knew I was going to make it. My time? Two hours and twelve minutes. I was well and truly spent though.

Because I kept the pace sensible I wasn't out of breath, just physically exhausted. During the day I ate a lot and drank pint after pint of orange juice and water to replace the six pounds I lost in weight. Oh, and I slept like a log! Inevitably muscle soreness hit the next day and I was hobbling whenever I had sat still for too long. Two days later I was ready to hit the road again, on reduced mileage of course!

So I proved I could last the distance and I know what my approximate time should be in October. However, it ain't over till the fat lady sings and she isn't exercising her tonsils until 19th October! The Prince Edward Island Half Marathon is a modest but prestigious event with a small field. There will be hundreds of runners not the thousands we are used to seeing on TV at London or Boston. In other words there will be nowhere to hide!

I will be returning to England later this year, after a lot of consideration, plenty of talking and much sadness, so the run will be a kind of finale for me in Canada.

07 September 2008

running with Hannah


Ellen's Creek.

If you're still with me you'll know about my new-found interest in running. I chose not to blog about it daily but in hindsight perhaps I should have as it has become something of a passion for me.

I always reserve Sunday for my longest run of the week. This morning I mapped a new run on Map My Run following a long section of the abandoned railway line, now reborn as the Confederation Trail. The round trip measured a whisker under eleven miles, my longest ever!

Today I ran with Hannah and she was a tough partner - Tropical Storm Hannah. I set out in light rain and the threat of a lot more. After only a mile the heavens opened and I was drenched in seconds. I mean soaked to the skin. There was no point in turning back as I couldn't possibly get any wetter now. Hannah gushed across the road, surged in the storm drains, and coursed through culverts barrelling towards North River. I stopped avoiding deep puddles as there was nowhere else to run. My running shoes were full and heavy. A pole carrying electricity cables sizzled and crackled as I passed then suddenly a bright flare leaped from the top of the pole and the same instant I was deafened by an almighty clap of thunder. I think the pole was struck. There was no sidewalk for the first few miles but traffic was light and I was grateful the few cars and trucks were slowing to pull around me!

I had the new route fixed in my head and picked up the trail about three miles from home. The rain was torrential and I was reminded of this morning's "severe weather warning" - the remnants of Tropical Storm Hannah had spun up the Atlantic seaboard and was blowing herself out over Prince Edward Island. After an hour I still felt good and guessed I was easily maintaining my planned sub ten minute miles. Unsurprisingly I saw no other runners today. One lone walker on the Confederation Trail raised his hand and called, "Good morning" as I passed him, adding it hadn't been like this when he started out. "Me neither," I agreed.

One section of the Trail was barricaded and signed for repair work but I ran around the barrier and sloshed through some deep red mud before the gravel path resumed. An hour and a half in, I felt at this rate I could certainly manage a half-marathon. Today wasn't the day though as I was pacing for eleven miles. Even where the trail crossed roads I didn't need to stop, very few people were braving this deluge even in their cars.

As I crossed the bridge at Ellen's Creek where the road inclines up I felt my energy draining and was glad I would be able to rest my knees, hips and ankles in just a few minutes. I completed the 10.69 mile course in 104 minutes and 3 seconds. Michelle had run a bath ready for me and I sank gratefully beneath the warm water to soak my old, aching body. I love running!

21 August 2008

conspiracy theories

Loose Change What really happened on 9/11.
Endgame The blueprint for global enslavement.
Zeitgeist The spirit of our age.
The Greatest Story Ever Denied The UFO phenomenon.
Esoteric Agenda Global conspiracy revealed.
Secret Space Extraordinary revelations about space.

I used to be sceptical about anything which I couldn't see or experience myself. That has changed in recent years and I now have an open mind about theories like those expressed in the above documentaries.

The films show how easily false truths can be propagated and the real truth suppressed. An unsuspecting population will believe almost anything it is told and will seldom bother to search for the bigger picture. Various conspiracy theories are put forward here in clear and credible terms by intelligent articulate contributors and there are many areas of overlap.

Each film runs for about two hours so the complete list does require a significant investment of your time. If you can afford that investment it will repay with highly thought-provoking content.

Happy viewing.

new world record



With all this talk of Usain Bolt and his sprinting I fear my own efforts are being shamefully overlooked. Here I am, achieveing noteworthy progress in my quest to become a proper runner, while that West Indian boy is grabbing all the limelight in Beijing. Let's put things in perspective. He is running a block or so in a few seconds which is fine for youngsters but I am eating up mile after mile of sidewalk and trail every day, like a real man. OK, his average speed is about 24mph while mine is closer to 7mph but surely distance counts for more!

I have plotted various courses around Charlottetown using Map My Run which relies on Google Earth, so I know the precise distances I cover. I keep meticulous records in "Sport Tracks" to monitor my evolution to finely honed specimen of humanity.

I completed my first five mile run in fifty eight minutes in May 2008. On Tuesday my time was 44 four minutes 56 seconds and that wasn't the only world record to fall this week. I also smashed my previous best for three and a quarter miles, lowering my time to 27 minutes 13 seconds. Yesterday I scorched through my 2 and a half mile course in just 21 minutes and 58 seconds. Phew!

Sunday I will be tackling a gruelling 8.7 mile course which takes me way out of town almost to the airport. As usual I will be counting my steps, to make sure I don't set off too fast and run out of energy. The sidewalks here are laid in large concrete sections and I count strides per crack (don't laugh), usually seven strides per five cracks will keep me slow enough to last the distance. The observant among you will have calculated this run is almost exactly one third marathon distance, a deliberate contrivance by me as I work towards my goal of 26 miles 385 yards.

I tend to build my morning around the run. Breakfast is a boiled egg with a slice of buttered toast and a mug of tea or coffee. Then I slide into my rather fetching black running gear: Under Armour compression shorts (long) and a Nike second skin shirt, Nike Air Pegasus running shoes and an Ironman stopwatch. Not only does the outfit look entirely convincing but it fits where it touches so there is no chance of chafing.

When the race is run, I sit and sweat for a while, dripping salty body juices on the front doorstep. Next comes the delicious long, cool bath to ease the muscles. Within an hour or two all the excitement is over for another day.

I mischievously like to claim I am now a finely tuned athlete but the truth is after an hour of stiffening up on the couch I can barely move and first thing on the morning, well - first thing in the morning I hobble like an old man. "Fleet of foot" only applies once a day.

Thanks to Michelle for photographing me as I crossed my imaginary finishing line. She cleverly captured me off the ground in mid-stride and deftly airbrushed a passing car out of the scene.

31 July 2008

time's winged chariot


I Googled "time" quotations and found there are dozens. We are obsessed with it and rightly so. This morning I found, and was reminded of, so many sharp and witty statements about the passage of time that I can't pick a favourite.

We frivolously waste our time until one day it dawns on us that our time is finite. It depends on our character but we either develop "ostrich syndrome" or face mortality by drawing a will, draft final letters of request and instruction and purge our lives of all unnecessary possessions and distractions.

By middle-age I had accepted I was never going to be an astronaut or an activist, a politician or a pole-vaulter, gregarious or dynamic, a leader or regulator. Then it became a race against time to achieve realistic short-term goals. I wrote my memoirs at age forty and recently added another decade's worth. Putting a life in order is a continuing task though not an endless one, as the Grim Reaper will doubtless call time before I am entirely ready.

I narrowed my interests to music, motorcycling, photography, writing and reading. There is no time for any more... but maybe there is. I rekindled my boyhood interest in astronomy and began researching serious telescopes. I love to catalogue but I don't have time to map the known universe. I would nonetheless like to see with my own eyes the light which left distant galaxies hundreds of millions of years ago. A telescope is poised delicately on the back-burner for now while I pursue an avid interest in Science-Fiction novels, a new offshoot interest which thieves more of my time.

It takes time to write a novel. Sooner or later I will make space in my schedule to expand one of my short stories because, well... because don't we all (the aspiring immortals among us anyway) want to leave a permanent mark behind? First I need to think of all the right words, then sift them into the right order and finally push myself boldly into the arena of rejection - the hard part.

Oh, and I nearly forgot genealogy, another time-consuming interest which has filled many a gigabyte on my hard drive. I have unearthed the names and brief details of over a thousand lives which took many centuries to live. Wouldn't it be amazing to talk to those long-dead souls and discover how they filled their time?

Never before has there been so much to worry about yet so much astonishing complacency. As we rush towards the Age of Aquarius, the Internet bombards us with conspiracy theories: 9/11, Roswell, the Jesus myth, GM crops, global warming, world domination, 2012, Kennedy, Bilderberg and on and on and on... They are probably all true and all inter-related.

It seems likely that later this century a New World Order will see a much depleted global population micro-chipped under the rule of a single planetary government. I can't do anything about that but despite trimming down, you see, I have too many diversions and not enough hours in the day.

Oh well...

After three months of running my times continue to fall. My favourite outing of 3.21 miles is down to 28 mins 55 secs. I ran a total distance of eighty-nine miles in July. The temperature stayed level at 28C (82F) but I forged ahead and ran every day. I think it is time I started writing every day too, while there is still time.

"But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near."

To His Coy Mistress
Andrew Marvell
1621-1678

18 July 2008

sunset



Click for more views of a Cavendish sunset.

12 July 2008

Georgetown, Prince Edward Island


Today we drove east to Georgetown to see the schooner "Bluenose II" which was in the small port there. This is a replica of a 1920s Nova Scotian racing schooner. At one hundred and sixty one feet long and with a main mast towering one hundred eighteen feet overhead it is a very impressive timber ship. I put a few more pictures here which show the vessel in a little more detail.

07 July 2008

to the australian wanker who keeps spamming me and my friends' sites...

You Patrick/Micky are the arsehole of the Lord, farting out the divine stench of your own putrefaction. Point your antipodean anus elsewhere. You are a dry drunk. You are still drinking in your head. You have no concept of real sobriety. Stay away because none of us has any interest in your weasel words. FUCK OFF.

23 June 2008

running at fifty


You will look like this if you run too far, too fast, too often, too soon but when did I ever take good advice or embrace moderation? A couple of months ago I told myself I was starting off gently to build up but I set a pretty steep curve and allowed only one rest day a week.

At first I was stopping to walk during my 1.7 mile run, gasping for breath and my heart pounding. I would reach the finish with the watch stopping at just on twenty minutes and I would take another twenty to recover normal breathing and heart rate. Now, six weeks later, I can do that run in thirteen minutes ten seconds.

The “Map My Run” website, linked to Google Earth, lets you plot and measure routes and record times. I have five regular runs, the longest being five miles. Each time I run, I lower my best time by a few more seconds and am learning to pace myself on the longer outings.

Running as though I was still twenty-seven has been tough but the benefits are that my stamina has improved dramatically and my recovery time is now quite short. Oh, and I have lost twelve pounds in weight.

5 miles: 43 mins
3.2 miles: 28 mins 58 secs
2.6 miles: 22 mins 08 secs
1.7 miles: 13 mins 10 secs
1 mile: 7 mins 30 secs

07 May 2008

the long distance runner


1985 Nike Air Pegasus running shoes. I pounded the pavements of Bournemouth in the 1980s wearing these exact shoes, (at the time, running from myself and delaying the time of evening when I would reach for the bottle.) Eventually it got to be too much like hard work and heck, I was young and immortal. Why on earth would I need to exercise in my late twenties.

Twenty-three years later I have dusted them off and begun running in them again. I have to say they are supremely comfortable and have that certain "retro" quality which is impossible to fake. At fifty I have discovered I am no longer immortal and I definitely do need to exercise. After three weeks of building up I now run 2.7 miles in twenty-five minutes - pathetic really but it is all my old bones can manage just yet.


2008 Nike Air Pegasus running shoes. I am too easily unsettled by anything new and unfamiliar so I was mightily relieved to find the same old model is still available from Nike a quarter of a century on (albeit updated a little). I invested in this second pair of special footwear partly to satisfy my craving for modern technology, scuplted into science fiction running shoes and partly to give my old feet something delicious to slip into as an occasional treat. These beauties were worth waiting for. I feel I have a distinct unfair advantage over my fellow pavement pounders as I gallop along on bouncy pillows of air. The vintage pair will be my workhorse runners and the new ones for high days and holidays.




Even running apparel has come on in leaps and bounds since I last browsed the racks of a sports shop. My new running shirt and shorts weigh precisely nothing and have to be anchored to the rail in my closet to stop them floating to the ceiling like party balloons. They are so light I keep glancing down to make sure I haven't had a ghastly oversight and gone running naked. The same goes for my wafer-thin tracksuit, which is in my favourite and rather eye-catching combination of black and grey. (Well, I couldn't resist having the full set and I will need it [even wafer-thin] when winter comes around.)

Never one to do anything by half, I have a vague notion of running long distances in due course. I like the feeling when my lungs work hard and fill to capacity without a twinge. I like my heart beating fast. My current run of just under three miles would need to be followed by a further nine of similar length to get up to marathon distance. That seems an impossibility as I sit with sore muscles and write this but why not aim high.

09 April 2008

Maisie Jane



Born in the 8th minute of the 4th pm hour of the 8th day of the 4th month of the 8th year of the millenium. An auspicious date to step into this world. She might live a full century and will see incredible things. At fifty years my new daughter's senior, I hope I get to see some of them with her. We are here too.

11 March 2008

a new life - part 14


His appearance was very different from the time of the crime. Yesterday he had shaved his head leaving a neat goatee. Since Black’s visit he had been cultivating a convincing Manchester accent, a Bolton dialect to be precise and Francis was precise. Jane had been fooled time and again by his mastery of voices. He had often called pretending to be her brother from Glasgow, or her workmate from Newcastle. Ha-way bonnie lass...

***

The payphone smelled of stale cigarettes.
“Black? Never mind who this is, I have information for you man.” Francis’ Caribbean lilt was very convincing.
“ I sold a gun to a girl called Sue. The word is man, she did something silly with it.” He hung up while Black was still stuttering.

You’ve got the gun Sue, not me. His mind was razor sharp now. He felt jubilant. The clouds of the last few months had well and truly parted. His perspective was clear, his memory complete. That last decision had been a masterstroke. Sue was holding a murder weapon and it was covered with her fingerprints. She worked for a bank that had been robbed. Good luck to her when Black started nosing around asking where she had buried Francis and his wife. Pick the bones out of that lot, he smiled wryly and set off on foot for the car park.

***

Francis swung his old Ford out of a nondescript South London long term parking lot. He gunned it across Waterloo Bridge and headed west out of town. It was a cool, late October afternoon and he rolled down his window inviting in the chill breeze to keep him awake.

He drove through Knightsbridge, Kew and Twickenham in twilight before reaching the Motorway and building to a comfortable cruising speed. Illuminated blue signs slid overhead, “Hampshire and the West.” Every mile pushed his old life further behind. He glanced at his watch, it would be dark when he reached his old father’s farm.

Checking his pocket for the twentieth time, he felt his passport and wallet. He settled back and summoned thoughts of a far-flung continent, imagining a palm-fringed beach with the whitest sand, the bluest sea and an impossibly tall glass of iced water.

Steppenwolf thundered from the stereo:

“Get your motor running, head out on the highway,
Looking for adventure in whatever comes our way.”

Behind him on the back seat a shovel rolled in time to the beat.


THE END

08 March 2008

a new life - part 13


Go on! The dust has settled. If you let it settle any more you’ll forget which spot the “X” marks. Francis pulled on his brown leather jacket and slipped out of St Agnes Home, walking quickly towards Waterloo Station in the late autumn chill. There was something he should collect before disappearing for good.

The station was dense with travellers and echoed with mumbled announcements from the public address speakers. Francis wormed his way across the gigantic concourse, with its long snaking queues. He liked the anonymity of a large random crowd.

This time he approached the long line of grey metal lockers with a slow measured tread, zeroing in on his own. Glancing once over his shoulder he dialled 791 into the lock. Cautiously he opened the door a crack but already it was obvious… the gun was gone. He wiped the interior with his hand and pulled out a typed note.

“THE POLICE ARE INVESTIGATING A MURDER. I WILL RETURN THE WEAPON WHEN YOU GIVE ME HALF THE MONEY”

He crumpled the note in his trouser pocket and closed the locker. Sue… bitch!

He flipped open his wallet and thumbed out Black’s business card. Call me anytime, whenever you begin to remember anything. Anything at all. Francis sauntered to a row of phone booths, slid into one and lifted the receiver.

03 March 2008

a new life - part 12


“You’re okay son, “ the impossibly young paramedic grinned at him. “The bus came off worse, you should see it!”

“You were running out of Waterloo Station as if you had the devil on your tail,” said his even younger partner as she shone a pencil beam in his eye.

“… at least I got rid of the gun, didn’t I?” Francis muttered. He felt sick. Had he just woken from a very real nightmare? There were details he could remember easily, like the gun and the 3 shiny keys. But other details hovered maddeningly at the edge of his mind, like niggling thoughts about Jane and her share of the money. Perhaps if he concentrated less directly more details would return… like what the hell had happened to Jane? Memories started swirling in mist. He thought he heard a muffled gunshot and saw a pillow explode. He saw a ghostly shadow digging furiously in a field. Then a veil descended and his mind became blank.

“What’s my name. Where am I?” He was panicking now and trying to stand.

“Whoa, you’re in shock son. Lie still, we’ll get you to hospital pronto. Right, let’s get him in the wagon. One, two, three… lift.”

Francis’ breathing became slow and deliberate. He was falling deep, deep asleep.

***

For seven days he lay on his back on starched hospital sheets. Faces came and went, talking to him sometimes in scolding voices, sometimes pleading and then in gentle, soothing tones. He rose from profound sleep and remained suspended just below waking. He heard and saw but could not control his thoughts.

Sue had been his most frequent visitor. She had taken some time off from the bank after the robbery. Francis’s sudden departure took on new meaning when Detective Black had asked her to view some CCTV footage of her handbag being lifted in the supermarket.

“Yes, that’s Francis,” Sue had confirmed when Black showed her the Supermarket surveillance tape.
“Thank you,” nodded Black. “That’s all I need to know. Oh, and best not to talk about this with any of your work colleagues okay? And certainly not to Francis. We don’t want gossip do we,” he added.

“No officer, I shan’t be talking to anyone,” Sue promised.

***

She was no sleuth but trailing him had been ridiculously easy. Her target was oblivious to his new shadow. The day after he had murdered and buried his wife she had been following him. Even when he had bolted across the crowded thoroughfare at Waterloo Station he had looked back at her without a flicker of recognition. He seemed to be running blindly from everyone and everything.

Unknown to Sue, D.I. Black’s men had been pursuing Francis too but rather more discreetly. However Sue kept running and was in time to see a small backpack being hurled into a locker. She watched from behind a pillar, memorising the lockers, counting up and along the rows. The police gave away their presence with sudden sharp whistles and Sue had watched incredulous as Francis took off again spurting out of the station into the path of a red double-decker bus. Immediately there was a howl of rubber and a sickening thud.

29 February 2008

a new life - part 11


Francis' transition to a new life was tantalizingly close. The days of a hollow career, a sad marriage and crippling debts were sliding behind him but a few sticking points remained. Francis was number one suspect in a murder and in the frame for bank robbery. His amnesia had been real enough, though his ability to maintain it for three months should earn him an Oscar. There was no incriminating money in his possession and the gun was safely stowed at Waterloo. He reckoned things were buried deeply enough not to betray him.

But the voice in his head whined on: you walked out of a banking career then the bank was robbed. You know which way suspicion will fall... and you know the cops always hunt for a murderer close to home, don't you... they aren't looking beyond you. Soon the doctors will say you're fit for serious questioning. You'd better get ready to run.

***

Black and his surveillance footage had linked Francis to the key theft. He kept coming back to that. How could he have been so stupid? At least now he had no wife to identify him. When dividing the cash with her he had wondered if she would ever get to spend any. No way. Letting her think she was in on it had been a temporary move to buy him thinking time. But what he did to the back of her head... that hadn't been in his original plan.

One lunchtime back in the summer Francis had made a discreet enquiry in a pub, that same evening he was the owner of a gun. It had been amazingly simple. After the shooting he had hauled Jane’s body down to the car under cover of darkness and driven through the night. Before dawn he had reopened the earth in that remote corner of his father’s Hampshire farm and buried Jane along with her suitcase of cash right beside his own two parcels.

Now get back to London, lay low and let the dust settle, he advised himself. Yet the other nagging, harping voice filled his head, they''ll be coming for you. Would the voices ever stop haunting him? When the dust had settled and he ran would he ever stop running?

***

Francis flopped onto the spare bed just before the first glimmer of dawn. He lay thinking about the night’s ghastly events. His frown turned to a grin when he thought about how he had called the cows over to tread the ground. That was smart.

Suddenly he sprang from the bed in alarm. The gun, the bloody gun, he thought. Lunging under the bed he grabbed the cold lump of steel and thudded back downstairs two at a time. He grabbed a small backpack from the coat rack and slammed the front door behind him.

25 February 2008

a new life - part 10


She had encouraged him one hundred per cent all along and hadn’t it even been her idea in the first place? Her change of heart hadn’t truly surprised him. He knew she could never follow through with anything. Yet this was such a cheating, stealing, life-changing thing he had hoped it might for once be different.

In the end her old selfishness surfaced and she had told him to leave and “take his half of the filthy money with him.” He couldn’t trust her to keep quiet, her urge to boast and gossip would be too strong. She was unreliable so silencing her for good had become inevitable.

Her half of the money was still in the suitcase on top of her wardrobe where she had slung it, 18 brick-sized wads of twenties – enough to buy a whole new life. Francis had been less casual. The day after the robbery he had driven to his father's isolated farm and buried his new life in an isolated corner of a remote field in two black watertight parcels. X marked the spot in his mind.

***

Now in the quiet house he climbed the familiar stairs in darkness, keeping to the edges to avoid creaks. The gun dug into his belly.

He hit her with the butt hard enough to knock her senseless but she was still conscious, just. He pressed her head face down into the pillow while his right hand held the gun barrel to the base of her skull. She was no longer struggling just whimpering, “Please Frank, don’t, plea…” His point-blank shot to the back of her head blew her into the pillow, cutting her off mid sentence. At least he hadn’t had to look at her face.

19 February 2008

a new life - part 9


Francis dreamed vivdly every night, long and hard and fast.

Together they had carried the haul up to their spare bedroom on that wet summer night, puffing and panting with the effort. Then Jane had ruined everything. He was an angry man now. One minute she was all for disappearing with him. The next she wanted half the money to stop her talking. She had turned on him in an instant and he had been so deep in organizing that he hadn’t seen it coming. They had been “passport-ready.”

The house was almost cleared of furniture. On the floor by their bed was a steep pile of legal letters demanding repayment of their sky-high credit cards. There too was a repossession order for the house. Time had run out and flight was now the only escape.

Beneath their lids, Francis' eyes flicked rapidly left and right. He twitched as scenes rolled on his mind’s silver screen.

Crouched on the carpet they were counting, one for you, one for me.

Jane stowed her share back into one of the canvas bags. There was already a suitcase lying on the bed.
“Leaving tonight are you?” Francis asked dryly.
Jane smirked without answering and flicked the locks on the empty case. She put the whole canvas bag inside and pressed the locks shut. Then she swung the case on top of her wardrobe and lay back on the bed.

“What you doing with yours?” she asked. “... well?”

Francis slid two bundles of banknotes into an inside jacket pocket then slowly and methodically wrapped his pile in strong sheets of black plastic, making two large parcels. He bound them with tape, took them to the spare bedroom, knelt and slid them under the bed. Aware Jane had followed him and was watching he snapped, without getting up, “that’s what I’m doing with mine Jane, OK!"

He heard her grunt and then her footsteps receded in the hall. Reaching back under the bed he withdrew a .44 Magnum then slowly and carefully slid it under his pillow.

***

Francis rolled over in his sleep and groaned.

12 February 2008

a new life - part 8


Francis hurried the two blocks to where his car was parked. The bags pulled on his shoulders and he felt the true weight of his deeds. His muscles burned and the rain slanted into his eyes making them sting. The air was warm and heavy with the rich earthy smell of summer drizzle. He slung the bags on the back seat then bobbed into the front and slumped behind the wheel panting hard.

He stole into the house and found Jane waiting in the kitchen. She was drinking. Her cheeks were flushed.
“Let’s do it then,” she snapped. She picked up a pencil and started tapping a sheet of paper in front of her.
“Not so fast, I need a drink too.” Francis lifted the bottle of Jack Daniels almost to his lips. Then he slowly lowered it back onto the table and whispered, “Get me a drink of water.”

Fifteen minutes later the table was stacked with a large neat cube of cash. Francis sipped his water like Jack Daniels while his wife gulped her spirits like water.
“Right, let’s deal with this stuff,” Francis said in a low voice.

06 February 2008

a new life - part 7


Day after day he returned to the gardens on Victoria Embankment. He knew if he left before midday there was little danger of an accidental encounter with his former work colleagues piling across to escape the office for an hour. He stared at today's early scattering of people on the benches. He shook his head in exasperation at the sheer lack of normal human responsibilities. Sweet wrappers blew across the grass, cigarette ends were flicked onto the flowerbeds. He closed his eyes and squeezed them tightly shut.

Within seconds he was sleeping fitfully… jerking and grunting as he dreamed. He was back in mid-summer waiting for dark to fall…
“You can do this Frank,” his wife’s voice insisted. “Come on, we’ve been over it again and again.” Jane had always been an insistent woman.

And it had been impossibly easy. He had worked in the damned bank for years and he knew the layout blindfold. For one heart-stopping second the newly ground door key stuck a little but the front door gave softly and he was in. He padded to the alarm console and tapped the code. The code was changed once a month. The red light turned green and began blinking. Within ten seconds he had trotted nimbly downstairs in the blanket of darkness and was standing by the cash safe.

He thrust his two keys into their slots on the safe door and heard the reassuring clunk, clunk as he turned them.

Now he span the wheel, listening to the huge bolts withdraw then pulled on the door’s massive weight. It swung slowly but easily and admitted him into the soft warm darkness within. Once inside Francis pulled a torch from his pocket and snapped on the yellow beam.

“Jackpot,” he breathed almost inaudibly. The shelves were stacked with neat blocks of notes ready, he knew, for collection tomorrow. He pulled a canvas bag from inside his jacket and shook it out. From inside that he pulled another and began filling them both carefully and systematically. In under three minutes he had cleared £240,000 from the shelves in twenties and fifties. It took up much less room than even his experience had estimated. His packing was neat and faultless.

Francis closed the safe door, locked it and hauled the two bags upstairs to the front door. They were heavy but not excessively so. Standing unceremoniously on a table in the banking hall he could see over the frosted glass and onto a rain-swept street beyond. Rain, thank heaven for sweet summer rain…

... now in the park, a late autumn drizzle fell soft and cold. It had already soaked through his shirt. He awoke as it began to rain harder. It was early afternoon and the office workers had come and gone. Had they seen him? Francis found himself not really caring.

“I think I might be rich!” He said aloud to the empty benches. He rubbed his new goatee and walked through the park to take shelter under mighty beech trees. Below the vivid red and brown canopy he pondered his recurring dreams of the three keys, the stack of money and the gunshot. He couldn’t deny they were genuine memories. The snooping detective smelled a rat and St Agnes’ Home wasn’t a safe haven any more.

05 February 2008

Tagged by MD



  • Pick up the nearest book of at least 123 pages
  • Open the book to page 123
  • Find the 5th sentence
  • Post the next 3 sentences
  • (Tag 5 more people)

Thanks for the tag, I'm surprised you missed this one on the bookshelves!

The Complete History of Jack the Ripper
by Philip Sugden

The practice of offering government rewards, it ran, had been discontinued some years ago because they had been found to produce more harm than good and, in the case of the Whitechapel Murders, there was a special risk that a reward, "might hinder rather than promote the ends of justice." Montague was less than impressed. As he explained in a letter to Warren, the Home Secretary's view of rewards was "not in accord with the general feeling on the subject."

PV: to readers of my story, this interlude is though unrelated, decidedly appropriate!

31 January 2008

a new life - part 6


They knocked again. “Francis, you’ve got a visitor. Can we come in?” Francis swung his legs off the bed and cautiously walked to the door. He opened it and recognized the doctor, a memory specialist but the man with him, eyeing Francis from head to toe, was unfamiliar.
“This is Detective Black, Francis. He wants to talk to you. Don’t worry I’ll sit with you.”

Black motioned Francis to sit on his bed. Francis complied and the detective sat beside him. The doctor rested nonchalantly on the desk, legs crossed. Nothing to fear here, his body language said.

Black smiled. “Just routine, Francis. May I call you Francis?” He continued without waiting for an answer, “You had an accident and lost your memory. But you are an interesting man Francis, you are in a unique position and I think you may just be able to help me solve a little mystery.”

Francis shook his head. “I can’t help you.”
“Well. you were taken to hospital in an ambulance a few months ago,” confided the detective, “and the doctors tell me you were saying some strange things.”

“I can’t remember any accident,” Francis insisted. “All I know is they told me I fell asleep for seven days and then I woke up. They brought me here to rest and I'm slowly getting better.”

“You see Francis, I’m a patient man and I believe you. You told me the same story three months ago. I believe you but a suspicious man might ask, can’t help? Or won’t help? Can’t remember or won’t remember?” Black waited for a reply. None came.

“Francis, there are special doctors at a different hospital and I’d like them to run some new tests, ok?” Black scanned Francis hard for a flicker of reaction. There was none.

“OK, enough for today,” said the doctor. “We’ll organise a day at St James’ for next week and call you. Black held up his hands in defeat. “No problem doc, call me.” He pressed his business card into the doctor’s hand.

He opened the door, “I’ll see myself out.” He stepped out then slowly turned back to face the room. “Oh and one more thing Francis, you may like to think about why you were carrying a woman’s handbag at the supermarket back in June.”

Francis heart heaved in his chest. “Not me detective, I’m strictly a backpack man!” He managed.
“Thing is we saw you on TV Francis, saw you on one of those funny little cameras at the store. Think about it.”

The visitors left and Francis sank slowly into his chair. He would not be staying around for any more tests.

24 January 2008

a new life - part 5


In the days before he had resigned Francis had prepared for his new life. Making wax impressions of his bank front door key and one of the two keys to the vault was simple. It had been just as easy finding out who held the second key to the vault a week after he had walked out. He had watched the bank from a discreet distance after closing time. A couple of days’ surveillance revealed Tony and Sue were last to leave. Tony had taken over Francis’s key.

Sue was easy game. He followed her home for several nights and soon enough she headed for the supermarket. He swung into the car park behind her. Scatter-brained she flitted from aisle to aisle often leaving her trolley for a few seconds with her handbag in plain view. Sue bent to inspect the bottom shelf and as Francis glided past he plucked her handbag and dropped it into his own trolley. He moved swiftly but calmly to the far end of the store before dipping his hand into Sue’s bag. The heavy bunch of bank keys was at the bottom. He pocketed them and abandoned his trolley.

On his way out he dropped the handbag at the service desk, jumping the queue but leaving no explanation. Sue wouldn’t hurt a fly and in a curiously compassionate way he wanted her to be reunited with her bag. He knew Sue, she would go straight to the desk in a panic but he was guessing it would be morning before she even checked for the key.

He guessed right.

17 January 2008

a new life - part 4


The ceiling of his room was old and grey. It was cracked in neat rectangles and squares like a patchwork of farmers’ fields. Francis picked a stub of pencil from his nightstand and stood on the bed, his feet pushing deep into the old soft mattress. Reaching up he carefully marked a small X in the corner of one field.

All was quiet in his head. Satisfied, he sank back down and stretched out listening to the distant clatter of pots. The sounds were a reassuring affirmation that the world was turning and people had a purpose. He felt an inner murmur as the sleeping giant stirred. He thought about the day he walked out on his job. With the thought came a sudden incendiary burst of anger. You wasted the best years of your life, a voice thundered. Quiet reason countered, But it’s over now and you finally won, don’t forget that. You helped yourself to what you believed was yours and in so doing, balanced your life’s books. His mental referee stood poised to intervene.

He had been washed up for years and it had been a blessed relief to simply walk away. Something else played at the edge of his mind. He had needed to distance himself from an action… a deafening explosion, something utterly unspeakable. Sickened, he groaned and thought instead of the three bright silver keys which he had dropped from Westminster Bridge into the brown Thames.

Suddenly there were footsteps in the corridor outside and the sound of voices approaching. Francis stowed his memories safely away.
“… some kind of amnesia.” said a muffled official voice.
“Total?” asked another. There was no response but the footsteps ceased and knuckles rapped sharply on his door.

14 January 2008

a new life - part 3


Francis liked this cafĂ©, it was old, dirty and usually quiet. He stared out the window, absently stirring his coffee even though he didn’t take sugar. He was thinking about his grown up children (a boy and a girl he felt sure) but whenever he tried to visualise their mother he saw a face out of focus.

Today he had been out walking but the rain had forced him indoors. Two office girls burst in shaking off their umbrellas as they slid into a booth opposite him. Their heads were almost touching as they giggled, sharing confidences. I bet they are laughing at me. To give his presence some authenticity, he began studying a dog-eared menu with no intention of eating.

Little by little, pieces of his past were falling into place. He remembered the layout of a large house and in his mind’s eye he moved from room to room, peering into the corners, searching for more clues. He knew how to drive a car, he knew because he practised manoeuvres and gear changes in his head. He had been a bank clerk. The truth is, he was scared to remember more. Closing off unpleasant realities was safer, yet he remembered more than he was choosing to admit. Sometimes he caught himself balancing on the edge of memory’s precipice, one slip and he could free-fall into total recall. There was horror lurking in that black abyss.

“Refill?” A young waitress in a blue check coat was hovering beside him, her steaming metal coffee jug poised.
“Refill before we close?”
“Sorry, I was day-dreaming…” Francis put a hand over his mug. “No thanks. See ya.”

He walked fast in light drizzle. The staff at St Agnes dolled out a little pocket money each Friday and he would be there to collect his. It wouldn’t do to be late.

***

Take your time… Francis, take your time. There’s no hurry old chap,” said the doctor.
Oh but there is, I’m 49 already. He was racing through a test paper, a kind of questionnaire designed to exercise the memory. He had never believed these tests were innocent and today he felt sure there were trick questions intended to catch him out. His paranoia bone itched. They are looking for inconsistencies. They think I’m faking.

He always rushed the tests, hoping to give the impression they didn’t matter to him. But a test means marks. Marks mean pass or fail. There would be consequences. If they ever guessed he had begun to retrieve his past he would be out on his ear. For now it seemed prudent to stay in this safe place while he formulated a plan.

***

He could see out of his high window if he climbed on the table. Autumn leaves swirled and danced on the grass below. On the horizon were the roof arches of Waterloo Station.

791. The numbers just came into his head. A locker combination for left-luggage.

Last night’s dream had been the most vivid. He was running helter-skelter along a railway platform, gripping a small heavy backpack with one hand and pushing travellers aside with the other. Head down he sprinted past blurred posters and lines of commuters. He was leaning forward to the brink of balance, running out of control and his pursuers receded in the crowd behind him. As he slowed a line of grey lockers came into focus. He dropped to a walk and looked about him. He slammed the backpack into an empty locker and snapped his padlock on.

Hands on knees, gasping for breath he felt suddenly very sick. Abruptly he stooped over a waste bin and spewed his breakfast, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. His heart hammered then suddenly behind him came the shriek of a whistle. He broke into a fast run again, sprinting toward the station’s exit gates. Bright sunlight dazzled him as he burst onto the street...

Francis jolted awake to the drone of his alarm clock. Red digits 7am.

06 January 2008

a new life - part 2


When he awoke the screaming had stopped. Mid-afternoon sun slanted in at his high, square window and a faint smell of missed lunch hung in the air. A dream vaguely about fat wads of banknotes slid away. The day had a different feel now. Gone was his early morning optimism, replaced by a mild defeatism. This was his pattern.

What is the point in trying, whined his inner voice, the usual sign he was spiralling. People don't notice, they don’t even remember what you say, so shut your mouth and speak only when spoken to. Keep your observations to yourself. Don’t make plans or develop a schedule. You’ll be the only one doggedly sticking to it. So loneliness had become his companion.

He caught himself thinking about the safety and dependability of numbers and lists. Comfort came to him in strange forms these days. But when it did his mind played video clips of a tidy office desk with sharpened pencils and impeccably stocked drawers. Today there was audio too, a hum of official sounding conversation, punctuated by phones ringing and the click and gush of a coffee dispenser.

Francis rolled on his back and stared at the ceiling. If your desk was amongst others then you weren’t a manager. Low level, that’s what you were, low level. In truth he had already remembered this but had kept the thought from taking full shape because it upset him. As a youngster his family and friends respected his intellect and were sure he was destined for high things. Oh, what happened to that bright, confident and alert boy?

Why had he made the crazy choice to suffocate his youthful exuberance counting other people’s money? He didn’t know any more but it had signalled the end of his development. No, he had never been destined for the top. Sure, he wore sharp blue suits and walked the walk but inside he was living a lie. He simply hadn’t believed in what he was doing. You were a square peg in a round hole and you hadn't the guts to get out. He felt he was better than most people but that had never been recognized. It made him introspective and frustrated. His ludicrously high standards were met only by himself.

The floodgates were wide open now and a swirling torrent of negativity filled his mind: stupid obsessions, sadness, bitter regret and crushed ambitions. Well, there’s no denying it now, you’re remembering stuff. Blurred images of an unfulfilled life swam in and out of focus. Can you remember now how you survived all those years? What your crutch was? He knew the answer precisely but refused to let the voice give it headroom. His mouth was dry.

Francis conceded there was more than one man in his head. While the bitter, angry one thrashed around then wallowed in self pity, a calm, quiet one was hatching plans for him, almost unobserved. He knew he was making a conscious effort to keep his quiet voice under the radar because thinking openly might jeopardise his progress. The angry voice would hear and scupper the plans. He needed to keep angry voice in the dark until quiet voice grew strong enough to survive another fight.

This time he was aware of a third voice, a referee to see fair play. There had been no referee four months ago, the day he had walked out on his job and ended his old life.

01 January 2008

a new life - part 1


By the time he had taken five steps Francis knew this path was the wrong one. All roads eventually wind up at the same place of course but it's the variety of routes that makes the journey worthwhile. Francis didn't care for the cracks in the pavement or the grubby shop windows. This road was distinctly not worthwhile. Not worth the erosion of shoe leather. Not worth the tendonitis behind his left knee. A change of scenery was what he needed.

He turned abruptly and walked into a tall city gent who had been tailgating him. "Pardon me, sir," muttered the suit, touching the brim of his hat as he regained marching speed. Francis shook his head in despair. The standard of pedestrian traffic was too shabby these days. Surely everyone knew the safe gap for in line walking was three full paces?

The point is, he told himself severely in his head, the point is... actually what the hell was the point? This was happening too frequently for his liking. Lost snatches of thought, like dream fragments hovering on the edge of conscious thought. He knew he was mad at something, but what? Come to think of it he was just mad at the world. He almost always held an opinion the exact opposite of everyone else. But that doesn't make me wrong does it? The insistent voice whined in his head.

Was it his own voice or the thoughts of another personality, camped out in his mind? Having retraced his steps he turned right at the lights. He was the only pedestrian to wait for the little green man before striding into the road. Walking rules, pedestrians and opposing views, phew! He was worn out and it was barely 9am. Time to return to base and revise his approach to the day. Soon the redbrick fortress came back into view.

Not an asylum more a home for the intellectually challenged. Francis read the words that formed an arch above the old Victorian gates: St Agnes' Home for the Frail. They wouldn't get away with such political incorrectness these days of course but to tear down those old iron gates would be an even worse crime. So the weak in mind, who were a danger to no one but themselves, retained the sobriquet "frail."

The shortest route to the grand front doors was across a manicured lawn but Francis used the stone pathway. He knew there was enough time to sing the first verse of Brain Damage. As usual his right foot touched the doorstep with the final line, "Got to keep the loonies on the path."

He climbed the wide creaking stairs to reach his top floor sanctuary. Shutting the door softly on the day's difficult world he laid back on the hard narrow bed. From somewhere deep in the building a man's voice wailed, winding up like a banshee. He couldn't make out the words, he didn't need to. The sound was unmistakable, despair. He rolled over and put his ears under the pillow.

Francis had been a banker, he was growing certain of that. Whether an important one or a trivial one he couldn't remember - he was still working on that. Francis was 49.