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Since moving to Norfolk in 2012, we have not seen much of The Broads. This large area of wetlands and man-made waterways is one of the best known features of the county, and serves as a great holiday destination for those with an interest in boating, fishing, and water-sports. It covers a very large area, and the tourism it attracts generates employment and income for small towns and villages nearby.

We have visited Wroxham before. This town has quite a few shops, waterside cafes and restaurants, and is the starting point for river cruises, boat hire, and many activities. We have also visited Salhouse broad, a small but attractive area, and some of the other broads closer to Norwich. I had received an e mail and texts from my cousin. He informed me that he was renting a house for a week, to enjoy a short holiday with his partner, and all their children. They live in a south London suburb, so this was going to be a change of scene for them. As they would only be thirty miles away, in Horning, he suggested that we come over to see them last Sunday. His brother and family would be coming, as well as some other relatives, who also happened to live in Norfolk. As I hadn’t seen my cousins for over two years, it was too good an opportunity to miss, and we agreed to join them for lunch, and to spend the day at the holiday house.

Despite some very slow traffic on the way there, we arrived as planned, and it was great to see everyone. The house was modern and attractive, and very well appointed. They also had a cruiser boat included in the package, which was moored against a jetty alongside the house. We didn’t get to go out on that, as they had just returned from their ‘maiden voyage’, but that was not our reason to visit, so was of no consequence. Besides, we had taken our dog, Ollie, and he has never been on a boat before! There is little garden around the house, as there is no need for it. A substantial area of decking provided a place for everyone to sit, with the water only inches away. It was a hot day, but the proximity to the water, and a breeze from the River Bure nearby, made it very pleasant indeed.

Once everyone had arrived, we were a party of ten adults, and six children, who ranged in age from three to fourteen. The house and jetty area was large enough to accommodate us all comfortably, and some of the youngsters spent time on the boat too. Inside the property, it was soon apparent that it had been well-designed. With some bedrooms downstairs, the large open-plan living area was on the first floor. This benefited from a full-length balcony overlooking the river, affording the best views, and attracting a welcome breeze. We could watch boats coming and going, and see the other holidaymakers in nearby properties fishing or relaxing on their jetty or platform. The whole village is dedicated to boating, and waterside properties for holidays. It was a place unlike anywhere else I have been here, with little or no land, save for access roads, and every house, pub, restaurant, or cafe directly fronting the water. There must be many places like this in Scandinavia, and all across the USA, but I have never seen them. For me, this was a magical place to spend the day.

It was really nice to be able to catch up with family after so long. Children never seen, now three years old, others seen as toddlers, now taller than me. New jobs, moves to different areas, new relationships; so much to find out, and to talk about. There was a lot of wallowing in nostalgia too. My cousins have now lost both their parents, and I am one of the few family members still around, that knew them both well. I was able to provide them with amusing or interesting stories of their parents before the boys were born, in times and places that they would have known little about. Despite being more than twenty years older than both cousins, the conversation flowed easily, and the bond of family love and friendship was immediately re-established. We all enjoyed an excellent buffet lunch, prepared by my cousin’s partner; which I ate in the fresh air, on the large balcony. Ollie was very well-behaved, as he usually is, and it was nice to see him excited by running up and down stairs, which we don’t have in Beetley. Everyone loved him, and enjoyed stroking him, and playing with him. It was not such a good place for dog-walking though. With almost no open areas of grass, and no woodland at all, he was restricted to grassy verges and quiet roads, for his walk that afternoon.

We took our leave reluctantly that evening, for the short drive home. It was an excellent afternoon, in warm and friendly company, at a great location. You can’t ask for much more from a sunny Sunday.

 

 

 

 

I am turning to everyone for help with something that is beginning to bug me. For the last week, I have been unable to cut and paste (or copy and paste) any links into wordpress posts. This started with You Tube, and has now spread to everything. Whether it is a music video, film clip, or wiki page, it just will not appear on the post. I have tried publishing first, then trying to add the link later, and that doesn’t work. It does let me do this onto a blank word document, but when I then try to add this into the wordpress edit, it fails to materialise.

This is going to effect my posts considerably. Film and music posts will no longer contain clips or information, travel posts will have no links to things of interest, and I will be unable to publish links to things I have written elsewhere, My computer knowledge is fairly basic. I have re-booted the PC, and changed the usb connections for the mouse and keyboard. Nothing makes any difference.

So, fellow bloggers, and computer experts out there, HELP!

Thanks in anticipation, Pete.

Northern Soul

I have decided to include three songs in this post. One reason is that I found it too hard to choose an example, and the other is that I would not want to publish three posts about similar songs, from the same genre. I have briefly mentioned Northern Soul previously on this blog. By the early 1970’s, this small movement had grown, and had come to notice nationally. The devotees would pack venues in the north of England on Saturday nights, dancing to lesser-known soul records from America, until late the next morning. It came with a fashion style all its own, and a noticeable racial tolerance and general good humour. These clubs also served as markets, where fans could buy and exchange rare recordings to play at home. Young people would travel from all over the country, to fill places like the Wigan Casino, or the Blackpool Mecca.

Although it originated in the earlier Mod scene of the 1960’s, Northern Soul aficionados did not continue with the same music from the Tamla-Motown stable, or Atlantic and Stax. They sought out smaller labels, and relatively little-known recording artists to dance to, as long as their music provided the distinctive sound that they loved. I could never claim to have been involved at that time. I was too old by then for one thing, and I would never have been comfortable in the baggy trousers and singlets favoured by the energetic dancers. For me, the attraction was simple. I knew the music. In some cases, I owned the records, and knew the recording artists’ work well. I had bought them the first time around, up to ten years earlier, when in my early teens.

It has never really gone away. Despite the closure of most of the iconic venues, the spirit lives on. In the following decades, other groups began to cover Northern Soul classics, giving them a new audience. Notable here are Soft Cell, who covered ‘Tainted Love’, and Dexy’s Midnight Runners, who included ‘Seven Days is Too Long’ on their debut album. Some of these younger fans sought out the originals, and club nights began again. There are still ‘weekenders’, held in various places around the country, and a diehard army of fans, old and young. Their motto is, ‘Keep The Faith’. It is a faith worth keeping.

Regrettably, I am unable to cut/paste links from You Tube to this post. I have no idea why, perhaps they have disabled this facility. It has always worked before. So, if you are at all interested, they are easily found there. If this continues, my posts in the music and film categories are destined to look very boring, I’m afraid.

Open The Door To Your Heart. This solid song from 1967 was recorded by Darrell Banks, and written by the talented Donnie Elbert. Banks had a very short career, as he was shot dead in 1970, aged just 32.

Seven Days is Too Long.  As mentioned, this song was covered by Kevin Rowland in 1980. I had the original single by Chuck Wood some ten years earlier. Although more commercial than some, it is rightly considered to be a Northern Soul classic.

Do I Love You (Indeed I Do). This was a Tamla Motown release from Frank Wilson in 1965, and was considered sufficiently obscure for the Northern Soul scene. It has exactly the right beat, and overall sound, to illustrate perfectly just what they all loved about this kind of music.

As Irving Berlin once wrote, “We’re having a heat wave, Tropical heat wave”. The last couple of weeks have seen temperatures rising in Beetley, and every day has been sunny and hot. Even though it makes it hard to sleep at night, I’m not complaining. For too long, we have had damp and cold, followed by rain and damp. This sight of summer is long overdue, and most welcome. Ollie has been feeling the heat though. His coat may be short, but it is thick, and he is listless and uncomfortable. His only relief is to get into the river, something he does frequently on his walks.

I have had to limit the scope of our usual dog walks for now. The other places we go do not have access to any water, and Ollie would get far too hot. I probably would too. There is shade and breeze available over at Beetley Meadows. Away from the exposed sun on the playing fields, trees offer shade, with picnic benches and seats available to rest on. Sitting quietly, you can see the neon-blue damselflies skimming over the water, brilliant against the green of the reeds and river plants. Large brown dragonflies, as big as small birds, patrol their sections of the bank, like WW2 fighters, swooping and diving. Their turn of speed is amazing to watch, and they can change direction in the blink of an eye. Occasionally, they kiss the surface of the water to snatch prey, or tangle with another of the same type, in what appear to be territorial disputes.

The plants in the small river have grown so extensively, it seems as if they will choke its flow. But the water always finds a way through, and continues to trickle rapidly eastwards. At the bend in the river, where access is easy, the summer has brought out the seasonal visitors. Young mums with toddlers, older children with nets and buckets, catching water-insects and tiny fish. Boys fling large stones in, excited by the splashes; some even appear with inflatable boats, determined to explore past the limits of the bend. Picnics are spread out, wet clothes laid out to dry, and new friends are made. Our dogs are eyed with trepidation. We reassure them that they are here every day, and will not harm, or even approach the noisy children. These fair-weather arrivals seek to claim the place for themselves, at least for the duration of the heat, or the holidays. From September until next July, we will see none of them again.

Ollie seems to be confused by their presence, and the absence of attendant dogs. He is only used to seeing other people with dogs, and finds it strange that they would be there without a canine companion. He takes a dip, has a drink, and comes out again. No doubt he wants to escape the squealing and splashing. We wander on, around to the shady dell where the rabbits live. He has a sniff around, but the heat makes him less than enthusiastic to seek them out and chase them. I sit for a while, enjoying the breeze. It is cooler here than inside the bungalow, so makes a nice change from feeling sticky and overwhelmed. The playground and basketball court are both full of children. They only finished school for the holidays the day before, but they are soon out in the fresh air, which is good to see. Seemingly oblivious to the heat, they charge around with footballs, or run up and down slides and climbing frames.

The TV weather news says that it will soon change. Cooler temperatures and heavy showers may well be here by Sunday. But we have made the most of our own little heatwave, and will look forward to when the next one comes around.

After another flirtation with fiction, I have decided to give it a much-needed rest, and return to what is actually happening!

When he was small, Ollie liked to dig in the garden. As he usually made holes in the lawn, we soon discouraged him from doing this, and made it clear that it would not be tolerated. Although he still rooted around for acorns, and other windfall of interest, he stopped digging completely, which was a great relief. After some heavy rain a while ago, he was let out for his usual late night excursion, just before we go to bed. He was let back in later, and trotted past as normal, rushing into the living room to see Julie. As I locked up, I suddenly noticed muddy paw prints on the tiled floor of the kitchen, and realised that this was a lot more than usual, even after some rain. I looked out of the back door, and switched on the outside light. Next to the shed, he had obviously been digging. This was not a normal dig, that you might expect a dog to indulge in, it was more like a trench, a substantial excavation.

The damage was considerable. It stretched for a length of two feet, and was at least a foot deep. We were angry with the dog. He was cleaned up, told off, and sent to bed. Luckily, the mud was able to be cleaned up easily enough, once it had dried. Sure enough, the next day, he was at it again. He came in from a trip to the garden, with mud caked on his paws, and in the large jowls that surround his mouth. No amount of chiding would stop him, it seemed. I was constantly cleaning him up, before going outside, to fill in the holes that he insisted on digging. There must have been a reason, surely? I couldn’t think of one. We had no mice in the shed, and there had been no sign of hedgehogs, or other animals that might cause Ollie to dig. We continued to tell him off, and to consign him to the shame of his bed.

After a few days, he had stopped the digging, so we felt vindicated. Leaving for a trip away, Ollie stayed with neighbours overnight. On our return, we discovered a large molehill next to the water butt. A day later, another appeared, two feet into the lawn. The mole damage originated near the shed, so it was plain to see that Ollie had detected the mole, hence his previous digging. After this revelation, we no longer felt justified in scolding him. After all, he was only trying to rid our garden of disruptive moles. They are still here. Notoriously difficult to discourage, I have decided to just live with them Hopefully, Ollie will too.

The Bright Pupil

This is a fictional story. I haven’t published any for some time, and thought I would try again. It is rather long, and may take some time to get through. For the benefit of readers outside the UK, Reading is a large town, situated 45 miles west of London. It is pronounced Redd-ing, not Reed-ing.

Graham rummaged in his pockets for something to use to scrape the windscreen. He had been surprised by the frost, as it hadn’t seemed that cold last night, and it was not something you expected in April. Even as he showered, then had a hurried breakfast of tea and toast, the thought that it might have been cold out didn’t even enter his head. He found an old library card inside his wallet, a remnant of a former life. The briefcase and pile of workbooks had to be delicately balanced on the roof as he scraped, careful not to send them sliding. Once inside, he rubbed at the interior of the window with the sleeve of his jacket, waiting for the heater to achieve sufficient power to dislodge the rest of the ice. When he was satisfied that the engine was warm enough, and visibility restored, he put the car into gear, and headed off to work.

The school was not that far, just south of Reading station. At this time of day though, the journey from Caversham would take some time. Commuters were still being dropped off, and other traffic was heading down to the M4 motorway. He didn’t mind sitting in the queues. He had allowed enough time, and it gave him the chance to think about his plans for the day ahead, and what classes he would be teaching. His preference was for the first-years. Still a bit nervous in the huge school, not yet confident enough to be disruptive. They would need more time to develop the bravado and insolence so common in the older kids. Still, he had been around long enough to handle those too. Don’t try too hard to be their friend, never let them inside your life, and never show weakness. Distance and professionalism, that was how he operated.

After six years at this High School, Graham was reasonably well established. Having taught for almost twenty years, he was one of the older members of staff. He knew what they thought of him. He was seen as a plodder, a man with little star quality, lacking innovation and drive. The Head had more or less told him so, at the end of last summer, although she chose her words more carefully. ” Graham, you do all you need to do. Your results are generally above average, and your attendance is exemplary. It would be nice to see you get more involved with the students though, come up with some motivational ideas, and involve yourself more in other activities. Don’t you agree?” He didn’t agree. As he was not seeking promotion, and had received satisfactory reports from any and all inspections, he had little need to give her much regard. Inside, they both knew that nothing could be done to get rid of him, and being unpopular in the staff room was no justification for dismissal. As he saw it, as long as English was a compulsory subject, he had a job for life.

Graham had started his career in the south-east of the country. At the time, he was living with his parents, in the town of Dartford, in Kent. His first job after qualifying was in a middle school near Canterbury, and he had moved to that city, renting a small flat. He had stayed there, learning the ropes, watching how the system worked, and steadily building his confidence. The years just seemed to slip by, one term merging into another, until he became part of the furniture of that unexciting school, and found that this suited him just fine. Some years later, his parents had moved to Reading, to be closer to his elderly grandfather. He visited occasionally; Mothers’ Day, Christmas, sometimes on a birthday. They had bought a solid bungalow in one of the nicer roads in Caversham, very close to the golf course. Dad had taken up golf when he retired, then Mum was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Graham cut down his visits. He couldn’t see the point, when Mum didn’t even know who he was. Dad soon wore himself down looking after her, and it was obviously a relief when she died.

Just over six years ago, his Dad had dropped dead of a heart attack, on the fifth and somewhat tricky hole of the golf course. Graham’s colleagues at work were very kind. They got in a supply teacher, and told him to take all the time he needed. A meeting with the family solicitor in Reading revealed a nice surprise. As an only child, he was due to inherit everything left by his Father, as well as a substantial life insurance payout, which he had known nothing about. In addition to the debt-free house, there was a woodland holiday home, hardly ever used, and enough money to keep him comfortable for the rest of his life. His Dad’s car was also bequeathed, but as he had no interest in it, he arranged to give it to a distant cousin. The solicitor smiled at him as he said, “You could easily give up work Mr Hardy, become a man of leisure.” Graham had no intention of giving up work. He wouldn’t know what else to do. After the quickest and quietest of funerals, attended by some golf club cronies and that distant cousin, Graham made a decision. He would move here, find a job in a local school, and live in the bungalow.

He returned to Canterbury, and began to look at job vacancies in the Reading area. It didn’t take long to find an opening at the High School, as it was undergoing substantial reorganisation, and also had a new head teacher starting. Using the Caversham address, he applied, and gave a very good interview. He managed to make himself appear progressive in outlook, and this together with his many years of experience, convinced the new head that he was just the man for the job. He got in some local tradesmen, and gave instructions for decorating and modernising his parents’ bungalow, before returning to Kent, to tender his resignation. He would work until the summer break, then move to Reading during the holidays, giving himself ample time to get the place just how he wanted it, before the start of school that September. It was a new chapter in his life, and he was embracing it, as only he could.

He sat for a while in the school car park, as was his habit, watching the different groups of children arrive for their day in school. The younger ones, uniforms still as they should be, if perhaps a little too big. Muslim girls walking together, keeping their own company, wearing trousers and headscarves. Older girls, dressed as if for an evening out in a night club. Skirts too short, wearing too much make-up, checking their mobile phones, updating Facebook statuses. The awkward boys of the same age, cat-calling, jumping on each other; unsure how to display the mating rituals that they could feel gnawing away inside. The good kids, the fat kids, the friendless, the one very cool boy. Every school was the same, everywhere. Nothing ever changed.

In the staff room, the usual seats were occupied by the same people, as they were every day. Some nodded a greeting to Graham as he entered, though most ignored him. He was seen as a loner, an outsider. He always wore a suit and tie, still carried an old leather briefcase, and usually sat on the wide window ledge, ignoring the Scandinavian-style furniture. He wasn’t in the tea club, never joined other staff members for a drink on Fridays, and had not once attended the Christmas Party. The other teachers in the English department organised trips to the theatre, arranged for guest speakers who had become successful writers, and took extra classes for those falling behind. Hardy just taught the syllabus. Nothing more, nothing less. Infuriatingly, his results were just as good as anyone else, sometimes much better. He demanded peace and quiet in his lessons, and rarely interacted with students. He made them read the parts in plays, but never took one himself. Despite his age, he was like a teacher from another time. The only occasions that anyone ever recalled him being animated, were during debates about strikes. He was a committed union member, and always voted for industrial action. But he was never on a march, a demonstration, or picket-line. He just didn’t come in.

Mrs Abayo entered the room, calling out “Good morning everybody” in her loudest voice. Her appointment had not been without controversy back then. Graham had no problem with her colourful clothes, braided hair, or African origins. Others did, and hid their feelings behind false smiles, and over-enthusiastic greetings. He was very happy to work for her. She left him alone, and only spoke to him when she had to. For her part, she felt uneasy around this man. He dressed like a civil servant, and carried himself in an old fashioned way. He was polite and well-mannered, but his aloofness reminded her of the British diplomats in Lagos, a memory of her youth. His hair didn’t seem to grow. It was always the same; not too long, cut neatly, with a side parting. His steel-rimmed spectacles were worn close into his face, and he had a way of looking at you, with what she felt were dead eyes. Of all her staff though, he was the only one who still managed to get the pupils to behave. He rarely shouted, but he was free with handing out detentions, and could quieten a class with an intense stare. He also made disruptive children stand outside her office, waiting to report themselves to her for bad behaviour. She had told him that this wasn’t really acceptable in this day and age, and that he must find other ways to address the problems. In truth, she never knew what to say to them, so always made a note in a book instead, and told them that it had ‘been noted’.

All the teachers looked at her that morning as she announced her presence. She had something to say to them all, that was obvious. “In three months time, it will be five years since Gemma Purdey went missing. I thought that the school should do something to mark this anniversary, and sort it out while we have time to prepare. Any suggestions?” Alex Harding looked around at the others before he spoke. “I don’t think that any of the pupils will remember much about that now, after all, her year have all long since left.” Fran McKay sat forward in her seat and glared at him. “That’s hardly the point Alex, she went to this school, and went missing whilst a pupil, I think Janet is right, we should do something.” Her tone had been unnecessarily aggressive, her voice a little louder than required. Graham watched this interaction. Rumour had it that Fran and Alex once had something going, and he had ended it. The young man had undoubtedly made an enemy for life, as she always took the opposite view now, on anything. The Head could see she was getting nowhere. “OK then, I am going to issue a press release, saying that we are still thinking about her, and that we have not given up believing that she will be found alive and well one day. I will ask her family first, and see if they want to be involved. Thank you.”

Gemma had gone missing on the Friday before the summer holidays. Graham had been at the school for almost a year then, and had taught the girl, finding her to be an intelligent and enthusiastic pupil. She left school at her normal time, and didn’t come home. There had been the usual uproar. Teams of searchers, TV crews and journalists, police everywhere, helicopters in the skies. Only a few days away from her twelfth birthday, her angelic school photo, long fair hair, green eyes, cute smile, was seen all over. On the front pages of the newspapers, featured on the TV news, on posters around the town, and circulated throughout the country. Examination of all available CCTV cameras took some time, but her movements were eventually traced. She could be clearly seen on the station platform, before walking on to the London train. When the train arrived at Paddington, there was no sign of this young girl leaving the station. She was gone. No other camera spotted her, anywhere in London, or anywhere else for that matter. Other passengers, and a ticket inspector, remembered a young schoolgirl sitting nearby, reading a book. They paid no more attention to her, and none remembered seeing her get off. There was a televised re-enactment of her last known movements. They used a young actress to play Gemma, but everyone in the staff room agreed that she didn’t look anything like her.

The investigation centred on her family, as it usually does in these matters. Her Dad was interrogated, and both his brothers too. Their backgrounds were splattered all over the tabloids. One uncle had been in prison for something or other, and her Dad had once been in the army, so they spoke to his old comrades, who mostly backed him up. When nothing came of harassing the family, they turned their attentions to the school. Every staff member was more than happy to cooperate. Individual interviews were carried out at the school, the staff called back from the summer break due to the seriousness of the situation. The detectives were thorough, and very personal in their questioning.  They were especially interested about everyone’s actions on the Friday in question, and made no secret of the fact that they expected all the teachers to supply them with a firm account of their movements. They avoided the word ‘alibi’, but nobody was left without any doubt that this was what they really meant.

Graham was more than happy to tell them what he had done that weekend. He had driven straight from school to Canterbury. With the schools breaking up for the six-week holiday, he had arranged to visit an old colleague, and stay overnight. He was able to provide them with contact details, and was confident that his old friend would confirm his arrival late on Friday evening, and his departure early on Sunday morning. The only member of staff unable to account for that weekend was Tom Farrar. He was a popular young teacher, who took sport and physical education. The kids really liked him, and many called him by his first name. He lived some way from the school, in the town of Bracknell. He was single, and didn’t have a girlfriend; at least not one that anyone had heard about. He told the police that he had spent that weekend alone, hardly venturing outside his flat. He was relaxing after the long spell at work, and looking forward to a trip to Greece before school started again. This lack of activity, and absence of interaction with possible alibi providers, made Tom the focus of police attention. They had him back and forth to Reading for questioning, and he soon came to the attention of the local press, who sold the story on to the nationals. Someone got hold of a photo of him, in a swimming class. He had his hands underneath Gemma, showing her some sort of swimming posture. Despite the fact that all the other class members were in the photo, it was artfully cropped, and found its way to many newspaper front pages, quickly appearing on TV news as well.

Tom was hounded. The other staff members avoided him, and only pupils could be found to support him. Trouble was, the more youngsters that came forward, the stronger the suspicions became. His flat was turned upside down, and his life examined in minute detail. The investigators soon discovered that he was gay. One of the reasons that he had been unwilling to disclose his movements that Friday, was because he had spent the night with a married man, and didn’t want to betray this confidence. Despite this development, the police still treated him as the main suspect in Gemma’s case. He was attacked in the street, and his home was also damaged. Tom was left with no alternative but to move away. He resigned from the school, and when there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him for anything, he left the UK, to start a new life abroad in Canada. At least that was what Janet had told them. She had received reference requests from various places in that country, apparently.

With no other leads, the police continued to concentrate on the staff. They were asked to hand over their mobile phones and computers, and to allow access to bank statements, and anything else that the detectives deemed relevant. They also wanted permission to search their homes. There were some protests. Some of his colleagues saw this as an invasion of their privacy, and an attack on their liberty. Graham was more than happy to hand everything over. He had told his colleagues, “If you have nothing to hide, why wouldn’t you try to help?” The only thing remarkable about Graham’s laptop and phone, was that there was nothing remarkable about his use of either. Safe search had never been disabled on the computer, and all the activity and searches concerned literature, educational matters, and the odd e mail to old colleagues in Kent, as well as a distant cousin in Devon. His phone use was equally uninteresting. He had never taken a photo with the camera, or received one from anyone else. There were text messages to the same former colleagues in Kent, and some phone calls to car dealers, and takeaway restaurants. As for his home telephone, it had not made hardly any calls since it had been installed, and had only received a few, mostly from canvassers. Detective Inspector Sue Teller was presented with the findings, covering less than one A4 page. She looked up from her desk at the young officer and remarked, “This is one dull guy.”

On the first anniversary of her disappearance, there had been a fresh appeal from the still distraught parents. The whole story was briefly re-hashed on an episode of ‘Crimewatch’, and the pupils made their own appeal, on a specially set-up Facebook page.  Nothing happened, no new leads were discovered. Life went on as normal.

The rest of his day having passed as it usually did, Graham was happy to be arriving home that evening. The cold had not lasted, and the early evening was bright and fresh. Opening the fridge, he put away the milk and fresh grocery items he had bought on the way home. He went into the large living room, removed his tie, and switched on the TV, consulting the magazine guide to that evening’s programmes. He set the recorder to make sure he taped some news, as well as a popular game show later. He rarely watched the television, but he was acutely aware that this was seen by many others as being strange behaviour. Over breakfast tomorrow, he would skim through the recorded programmes. This would enable him to discuss things, should they come up in general conversation. The large pile of workbooks were placed on the dining table at the end of the room. He would mark the work later, it never took him very long. In the utility room behind the kitchen, he took off his suit, and pressed it, ready for the next time it was worn. He circulated five suits for work, taking four of them to be dry-cleaned once a month. He ironed all his shirts for the week on Sunday afternoons, and this routine made him feel settled. Placing his shirt and socks in the laundry basket, he walked around to his bedroom, wearing only his underpants. He chose a black polo shirt from the wardrobe, and some jogging bottoms to match. Slipping flat sandals on his feet, he adjusted the thermostat in the hallway, and walked slowly up the stairs to the loft.

He had the loft conversion built into the roof space soon after moving in. He got the builders to carry out the work, as part of the overall modernisation. It provided a spare room of reasonable size, with a small en-suite bathroom. One large skylight window was also installed, with a blackout blind fitted to it. At the time, he was asked by colleagues, and even by the builder, why he would want more space, in a substantial bungalow that already had three large bedrooms. He said that it would add value to the place, and also serve as a guest room, should any of his former colleagues, or his distant cousin, ever wish to stay over. From the front, it was hard to tell that any work had been done. At the rear, only the window betrayed the presence of an extra room. The small staircase had easily fitted inside the generous hallway, and the finished job was most attractive he thought. The lock was fitted later, he did that himself.

He opened the door and walked into the stuffy room. She was sitting in the armchair next to the bed, and she smiled as he entered, putting her book onto the bed, and rising to give him a kiss on the cheek. Her long hair was tied in plaits either side of her head, and her fresh face, devoid of make-up, made her look younger than her almost seventeen years. “What have you been working on today?” Graham asked in a kindly tone. ” Jane Eyre” she replied. “I’ve written an essay on her relationship with Mr Rochester, it’s on the desk.”

It had been easy enough. She was new to the school, good at English, and very impressionable. He saw the talent in her right away, streets ahead of the others in her class. She would be doomed though. Her parents doubtless had little ambition for her. She had lots of siblings, and as the oldest, would be expected to work as soon as she could. Graham was sure of that. He had asked her what she thought she might do, later in life. She told him that she was thinking about becoming a nurse. He thought about that, and it riled him. Nothing wrong with nursing, but there were plenty of others to tread that path. This girl had an instinct for literature, and he would not allow her to waste it. He showed her a little attention, and occasionally chatted to her, after the rest of the class had left. He was sure to give her very good marks for all her work, and softened his usual nature sometimes, but only during the brief moments they were alone. To any onlooker, he was just a caring teacher, nurturing a talented pupil.

He bought two basic mobile phones from a stall in a distant shopping centre. They were the sort that didn’t need to be registered, and used any sim card you put in them. When he was sure, he slipped the phone onto her homework with a note, telling her to keep it to herself, and adding the number of his own phone. On that note, he wrote that he would text that evening, and she should make sure that her phone was on silent, and that she was alone in her room. The secrecy would excite her, he hoped. He gambled that she wouldn’t tell any of her classmates. She didn’t seem to socialise that much anyway; probably had to get home, to help out around the house. After a couple of months of clandestine texts, she agreed to a meeting. He would slip her the money for the train, and text her instructions on what to do. On that Friday, she had left school as usual. Instead of walking home, she had taken the much longer walk to the main station, arriving in good time to catch the non-stop London train. She made no attempt to conceal herself, openly buying a ticket, and waiting on the platform, dressed in her school uniform, with a backpack slung over her shoulder. As the train neared London, she went into the toilet. Inside, she quickly changed into the clothes supplied by Graham and left where she could find them. Her hair was bunched up into a baseball cap, and the hood of her baggy fleece top placed over that. With long shorts, and new trainers, her image was changed completely. She put her school clothes into her backpack, and put all of that into the nylon sports bag she had folded inside it earlier. Making her way to a different part of the train, she left the carriage as it arrived  in London, bunching up with other passengers, walking on her toes with a swagger, and looking down. To those examining the CCTV, she was disregarded, believed to be a teenage boy.

Gemma checked her phone. He wasn’t there yet, the train was a lot quicker than the car. Anyway, she still had to get a bus, to somewhere in south London that she had never heard of. Graham’s instructions were most detailed, and he had assured her that she would find the place, and not get lost. He had even given her a ticket, a sort of voucher. Because of her age, she probably didn’t need it, but he told her to just get on, and put it under the driver’s partition. Keep her face down at all times, and not to speak to anyone. By the time she had completed the long bus journey, amazed at the heavy traffic, he was there waiting for her, as arranged. She was pleased to see him, and excited by the adventure, almost breathless. Part of her was still very scared, but she knew he would sort it all out. He went over every detail of her journey, asking countless questions. When he was sure that she had done exactly as instructed, he started the car and drove off, heading south. When the buildings thinned out, and she started to see some fields, they stopped at a McDonalds, near a big roundabout. He went inside and bought her a meal, and a milkshake, as well as something for himself. They ate it in the car park, as Graham went over the arrangements for the next few days.

He had rented a caravan, on a large site on the Kent coast. It was only a short drive from Canterbury, where he told her that he had to go to see some friends. He had bought enough shopping, to last her for a few days, as well as some changes of clothes, toiletries, and anything else she might need. It was all in the back of his car. She was not to go outside, or to answer the door to anyone. The caravan had a small toilet and separate shower, and she would have no need to leave it, until he came back on Sunday. There was no TV, but he would leave her lots of books, and contact her on their secret phones. When he went into the office to get the key, she lay on the back floor of the car. Anyone glancing over would have seen an empty vehicle. When he was sure nobody was about, he got her into the caravan, and showed her how everything worked. As he left, he said he would text her very soon, and that she should text him, if she was worried. Remarkably, she managed well. She replied to all the texts he sent from the house of his old colleague, and sent some saying goodnight, or good morning, but she didn’t panic. Not once.

Bright and early on Sunday morning, Graham put the second part of his plan into operation. He reasoned that they would all be suspects, and that his house may well be searched. Until that was over, it was important that Gemma be somewhere safe and quiet. Although he had gone over this previously, he repeated it all again, on the drive up to the motorway. He had checked the caravan thoroughly, and cleaned every surface, just in case. Handing in the keys, he had waited until a casual worker was at the desk, and just dropped them hurriedly onto the counter, without comment. Their next destination was the woodland lodge, just outside Buckingham. It seemed his father had bought this isolated property purely for its proximity to Silverstone Motor Racing Circuit. He had a love of that sport, and could use the lodge to attend meetings there, avoiding race-day traffic. Graham had been up there recently, and stocked it up with all that would be needed for an indefinite stay. She would no longer have to be alone, which would make things much easier. As he was on holiday, his absence could easily be explained, and he could be contacted easily enough on his normal mobile phone. When the call came, he was ready.

Gemma had begun to get a bit edgy. The novelty of the adventure was wearing off, and she missed her Mum, and her brothers and sisters. She had suspected romantic motives for Graham’s actions, but he had not touched her. He read books, smiled at her a lot, and told her that she had a great future. There was no TV to watch, no Internet, and they didn’t go out. She was bored, and told him so. He got a little angry, and said that she didn’t appreciate what he was doing for her, what he was prepared to give up, to help her. He seemed like a teacher again. When he had to go away, he told her it was just for one night, as he had things to do. He never mentioned the police. In fact, he told her, nobody was looking for her, and her parents had not even reported her missing. That evening when he left, he locked the door and windows, and took the keys. Now she was getting scared, and even considered smashing a window. But she had no idea where she was, and no money. She could ring 999 on the mobile, but what would she say?  Best wait and see, she reasoned, he will be back tomorrow.

The house had been searched, and nothing found. Graham returned to the lodge after dark, and gathered up all the things. The two phones were disposed of in the woods, and once he had cleaned up to his satisfaction, he left with Gemma, who was looking forward to moving into his house, where they would surely become the couple of her dreams. She spent the journey on the back seat, covered by a duvet. Graham drove carefully, he certainly didn’t want to get stopped by the police. He ushered her into the bungalow, and led her straight upstairs to the loft room. That morning, he had made up the bed,  and installed the shelving and wardrobe. A large desk was against one wall, and a cosy armchair behind the door. There were lots of DVD films on the shelves, together with dozens of books. New clothes hung in the wardrobe, and toiletries and towels had been placed in the bathroom. A computer sat on the desk, with pens, notebooks and a printer. It wasn’t connected to the Internet, but in the absence of a TV, it could play the films he had bought her, and also serve for her to do her work on. She really liked the room, and he made dinner for them both, bringing it up on a tray. He explained why he would have to lock the door when he was out. It was for her safety, in case anyone got in.

After the first few days, it began to seem normal to Gemma. She had breakfast in her room, and lunch was left if he went out. They ate dinner together every evening, and he readily supplied new films for her to watch, when she quickly got through those already there. Because of the summer holidays, he was home most days then, and spent them with her; going through books, discussing great writers, and sitting up with her, until she went off to sleep. There was no indication that he was going to be her imagined lover though. Other than a friendly cuddle, or occasionally stroking her hair, he didn’t go near her. Not in that way. It was very peaceful, after her noisy life at home, and she began to see the sense in his argument, that she could study better in this environment, and one day become a great writer. He would see that her work was published, and when she was older, they would reveal their great secret to everyone.

Once a month, Graham would make the trip around the M25 to the huge shopping complex called Lakeside, in Essex. There was no chance that anyone there would ever recognise him, and he could buy the things that Gemma needed, certain of his anonymity. The shop assistants changed frequently, but still he was careful not to use the same shops all the time. On the way back, he would stop at a huge supermarket in Hertfordshire, stocking up with enough groceries to avoid having to keep going to the shops locally. He always brought her back a gift. A small necklace, a new book, or a brightly-coloured jumper. She was delighted with these trinkets, and felt very special indeed. She soon stopped asking about her family, or the others at school. He would read through her work, and tell her that it was of an incredibly high standard. He was sure that she would be the next Bronte. He might also bring home ice cream, always her favourite flavour.

That evening, after finishing the essay on Jane Eyre, Graham put the papers back on the desk, and turned to look at her. “Excellent work” he declared. “We will have to arrange something very special for your seventeenth birthday.” She beamed her satisfaction, then said,  “It is only a couple of months now.” He reached over and stroked her face. She really was the brightest pupil he had ever taught.

 

 

 

Today was the hottest day of the year so far in Norfolk. After taking Ollie for his usual walk, I was feeling pretty drained, and not really in the mood to spend much more time outside. There was little escape from the sun, and no breeze to speak of. I am not complaining though. After spending two years complaining about the rain, I am pleased to be able to enjoy some dry days.

I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the small room grandly called ‘the office’. With the sun towards the back of the house, and sitting on my usual backless stool, I was able to keep reasonably cool. My mission was to check out the blogs of my followers. I have mentioned before, that I am informed by WordPress that I have 350 blog followers, and another 50 or so who follow by e mail, or via Twitter. I sat at my desk, and called up the list on the stats page. Seventeen pages of gravatars and website addresses to work through. I decided to make a cup of coffee.

I could exclude those that I follow, as I know what they are up to. I was also aware of a few that I knew to be defunct, for various reasons. That still left me with over 320 to plough through. I felt guilty, as in many cases, I had not commented for ages, or read any recent posts. I was quickly able to whittle down the numbers. Blog after blog had been deleted by the ‘owner’. Many had not been posted on since early 2013, or even late 2012. Some had posts declaring that they were ‘taking a break’, or ‘closed for the holidays’. In some cases, those holidays were last year’s. Numbers were further reduced by being able to ignore any ‘followers’ still active, who were continuing to sell stuff, or promote religions. A fair number of the blogs were still posting near-identical posts about pets, cooking, or photography. Nothing wrong with that, not in my book. Some of the budding authors had come on sufficiently to be advertising their published works, or putting up links to where they could be found. I excluded these from the ‘sellers’. They are just blogging writers who have achieved their goal. Well done to all of you in that category.

By far the majority are still going strong. They are blogging with the same enthusiasm as when they first came to my attention, and their blogs have gone from strength to strength. They almost all have a great deal more followers than I do, so congratulations are in order. We had started on this journey around the same time, and most of us are still here, to tell our tales. Most of their blogs are great to look at. Colourful, strewn with photos, and full of guest posts, or tales of travel. I did notice that many have changed theme. It seems that black is the ‘new black’, usually with red or white type. Others have eschewed wordpress completely, and are blogging on different platforms, or have taken the .com route, to their own website. I wish them luck, all of them. Some of the sites are simple ‘re-bloggers’, where the site owner writes very little themselves, instead re-blogging articles from many other bloggers. I mean no criticism of this. I have benefited from this practice personally, and I believe that it is a great way to spread the word, and to get ideas and information to those who might not otherwise discover  it.

As and when I got the opportunity, I touched base with many of them once more. I liked a post here, commented on one there. Congratulated when appropriate, and encouraged if I considered it necessary. Some have already got back to me, no doubt surprised at my sudden and unexpected appearance. After a long afternoon into the early evening, I finally completed the list. It made me feel good, assuaged my guilt, and revitalised my community spirit, as far as the blogging community has one. I must be sure to do this more often. As I often say, we are all in this together,

 

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