The War – Week 8 of the 52 week short story challenge

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The warm weather was turning Jenny’s small square patio into an idyllic sun trap. She had everything she needed within arms’ reach; the small picnic table held a choice of reading material, a bottle of water, cool from the fridge, sunglasses and her trusty Walkman. She leaned back in the deckchair, put her earphones in and began to re-read a favourite Dickens novel to the dulcet sounds of Neil Young. A strange mix perhaps, but one that suited her mood.

She’d been out on the patio for less than an hour when it started. A loud and very unpleasant rendering of ‘You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog‘. It was coming from a garden to the rear of hers and what the singer lost in tone and accuracy, they made up for in ear-splitting noise.

Turning off the Walkman and putting down her book, she got up and risked a look up the garden to the source of the noise. The most brief of glances was sufficient to confirm that the music was not about to stop.

They had been warned about potentially troublesome neighbours by the rather snobbish estate agent when they bought the house back in November.  Their end-of-terrace house was ex-council stock and extremely solid. Most of their neighbours had lived in the area since the houses were built after World War II, and had taken up the option to buy their homes when it was offered. Jenny had been born on a council estate however, and based on her own experiences, didn’t foresee any issues with this.

It had been cold when they moved into their new house.

Quiet and cold.

They had apologised to their close neighbours for the noise made when the central heating was put in but the occupants of the house joined to theirs were out at work all day, and the neighbour on the other side had the width of two garden paths between him and the noise of the drilling, added to which he was out on his scooter visiting family for most of the day as well.

Christmas was warm and cosy once the heating was in. Their first proper home together.

When Spring came Jenny and her husband-to-be spent some time in the garden trying to shift the pile of builders’ rubble left outside the back door so that they would actually have a paved area to sit on. They dug out a pathway up the steeply sloping garden and laid paving stones in order to have a stable surface on which to walk when hanging out the washing.

The garden wasn’t large but it was enclosed by larch lap fence panels and once the rubble was removed, grass began to emerge and a couple of patches of daffodils planted by a previous owner. Jenny bought a batch of twigs that were supposed to grow into roses eventually. She planted them with optimism.

House and garden were put on hold at the end of April as they made preparations for their May wedding. Nearly everything went to plan, and the things that didn’t quite work out were manageable. Who knew that their honeymoon room in a New Forest hotel would have a radiator that wouldn’t turn off, or that the wedding taking place in the grounds would be so noisy that they couldn’t have the windows open? They were moved out of the romantic room with the four-poster bed and relocated to a quiet and more substantial suite at the back of the hotel.

It was quiet and cold.

It was good to be away  and exploring new territories on their honeymoon, but equally  wonderful to come home to their little house and the growing garden. Good to return as a married couple with life ahead of them. Jenny was looking forward to the warmer weather and being able to sit out in their garden.

Reluctantly she brought her relaxing-in-the-garden equipment indoors as the Elvis impersonators at the top of the garden completely drowned out her own music and made it impossible to read. Jenny’s husband was at work and the only way to escape from the noise was to shut herself in the front room with the kitchen door and windows shut, and the TV on loud.

She dug out her husband’s binoculars and, hiding behind the new curtains in the back bedroom, she identified the source of the noise. The occupants of the house that backed onto a house three doors down from theirs were having a karaoke party.  The hideous racket was being created by a group of only four people; three males and a female.  From the number of empty – and full – beer cans observed, the party was set to go on all day. The karaoke machine was set up on a huge TV plugged into an extension lead hanging out of a downstairs window. The garden was reminiscent of a rag and bone yard; piles of rusting metal objects, a shopping trolley with only three wheels, damp cardboard boxes sagging in heaps,  and three ancient kitchen chairs around the kitchen door step.

The lone female was perched precariously on a stool that looked as if it had  been pilfered from a pub; she was wearing a very small pair of shorts made from cut-off jeans, and a white boob tube that had lost its elasticity, neither of which did much to cover her extremely pale and substantial body. Two of the males appeared to be of a similar age to her, whilst the other seemed to be of a younger generation. They all sported tattoos but Jenny’s husband’s binoculars were not strong enough to see whether the spelling was correct or not.

Curiosity made her careless and as the curtain dropped back, the female in the garden caught sight of Jenny and let fly a stream of obscenities that completely drowned out the karaoke machine. Jenny left the bedroom quickly, her heart beating double-time, and retreated to the safety of the front room after making sure that all the doors were locked and the kitchen blinds were down.

This was how her husband found her some hours later when he came home; curled up on the sofa under a blanket, curtains drawn and TV tuned to a loud and particularly appalling cable channel.

Jenny cried when she told him about the nasty neighbours and they both hoped that the incident was a one-off.

It wasn’t.

As soon as Jenny settled to read and relax on the patio, the noise would start. Weekends or weekdays, it made no difference. Other neighbours asked the family to turn the noise down and were met with the customary obscene gestures and insults. The female would get very excited and pull down her boob tube, exposing a pair of pallid and pendulous breasts to anyone unfortunate  enough to be looking.

In order to regain some privacy if not peace, Jenny’s husband and a couple of friends laid some paving stones at top end of the garden and erected a garden shed which effectively blocked the view of the patio from the noisy neighbours, who screamed abuse  throughout but were unable to prevent progress.

That was when the warfare started in earnest.

First of all their car boot was broken into in the night. The offenders didn’t steal much and the insurance covered the damage and what was taken but it was another blot on the landscape of their first home together.

Then someone set fire to the front garden gate – in the middle of the night again. The fire was soon put out but the attendance of the fire brigade and the police escalated the incident to a new level. Jenny had no proof of who was behind the fire but the fact that the noisy neighbours were spotted grinning and jeering in the crowd watching the fire engine, was a possible clue.

The son of the family tried to set the garden shed alight but was caught in the act and went off for a spell of juvenile detention.

The loss of her only son inflamed the female even further; their house was next door to the local convenience store and she took to watching from her front room window and pouncing like some malevolent trapdoor spider on anyone that she felt might have reported her son to the police.

Jenny and her husband stuck to the safety of supermarket shopping.

The end of summer was welcomed as a respite from the karaoke parties and nocturnal nastiness, but the return of the prodigal son caused an unwitting end to the hostilities anyway. The police kept him under surveillance once he came home and within a very short time the house was successfully raided for drugs and stolen goods.

The neighbourhood had been under the impression that the horrendous family had bought the house years before and that was why they behaved in such a proprietorial way. Not so. They were  council tenants and the housing department were gleeful at having finally found a solid reason to evict them.

Some of the neighbours came out to watch on the day of the eviction; arms folded and grim smiles as the bailiffs changed the locks and two of the older males were arrested for assaulting a female police officer. This was before the age of ASBOs but the evicted tenants were left under no illusions about what might happen – legally or illegally – if they returned to the property.

When the summer came round again, being able to sit out in the garden was something Jenny had looked forward to but the damage had been done and she never felt that she could relax there again.

It was a relief when they had to move North for her husband’s work.

The little house was rented to a young couple with a child who treated it with a complete lack of care and respect. When their tenancy came to an end, the house was put on the market and managed by the most inept bunch of estate agents going.

Miles away, in a rented house herself, Jenny received a phone call to say that the house had been broken into. The estate agent had left the back door keys in the kitchen drawer and as a consequence the burglars had been able remove the fridge freezer and the washing machine – both of which had been wedding presents just a few years before. They tried to remove the boiler too but failed and the estate agent had to foot the repair bill.

Jenny and her husband sold the house eventually and after a few trips South to visit family, they stopped feeling the need to drive past their old home.

 

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A Journey – Week 7 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I celebrated my eighteenth birthday in the bar at the Higher Institute of Education (they were going to put Southampton at the beginning until some bright spark realised what the acronym would be). I had moved on from the cheap but effective barley wine days; Pernod and lemonade was my drink of choice or a snowball if I wanted something a bit sweet and sickly with cherries on the top.

On the night of my birthday I had a combination of these drinks lined up along the table when Jon, the bar manager came over to ask the reason for my celebration.

‘It’s my birthday!’ I yelled. ’I’m eighteen!’

I was hit with the realisation that I had been drinking illegally in this bar for the past two years and that Jon might be a bit peeved about it.

He smiled though, patted me on the head and told me that if I was going to throw up could I do it in the flower bed outside please?

At the end of the night a group of us staggered off for a curry (without any vomiting) and I can vaguely remember listening to one of my dear friends who decided to tell that story.

You know the one – it starts with a girl out driving with her boyfriend at night, in the middle of a forest, when they run out of petrol. The boyfriend goes off to look for a petrol station while the girl locks herself in the car and listens to the radio.

Not surprisingly, a news bulletin interrupts the radio station to say that a dangerous lunatic has escaped from an asylum (that’s what they were called in the bad old days) and that NO ONE is to approach this man.

The girl dozes off and is awakened by a rhythmic thumping on the roof of the car. Being a sensible girl and not having a torch to hand, she stays in the car.

Police cars arrive and surround the car. The girl is told to open the car door slowly and to walk towards the police car in front of her without looking back.

She does as she is told, but just as she arrives safely, she is unable to resist the temptation to look back and sees – a grinning man holding her boyfriend’s severed head in his hand and banging it on the car roof.

In addition to the subsequent nightmares, I had to get up at eight am and take my stonker of a hangover on the Birmingham through train to audition for a place at the drama school my drama teacher had attended, and where one of my friends had been studying for the past year.

I’d been making trips to London on the train since I became a teenager. I’d been as far as Leeds on the train to visit my sister. I was blasé about the trip – after all – I had just turned eighteen and was officially an adult, but a very hung-over adult who didn’t really notice how bad the weather was, nor register the severe weather warnings on the news as I was trying to get out of bed.

I was wearing my audition outfit of black knee-length boots, black tights and a black needle cord dress with a multi-coloured knitted top half – very chic but not very warm. The outfit was finished off by an all enveloping full-length brown mock beaver lamb coat that I had inherited from the mother of one of my ex-boyfriends.

In short I was wearing completely inappropriate clothing for a journey to the Midlands with a snowstorm looming.

Considering that I was travelling during the rush hour, the train trip was fairly quiet and uneventful. I dozed until Reading and then perked up a bit as the adrenalin kicked in and the hangover subsided.  I even had money for a taxi from the train station to ensure that I got to the audition in time.

I was prepared.

I don’t remember much about arriving at the drama school, or the audition itself, apart from the fact that I managed to get through it without throwing up or forgetting my lines. There were other people there, some of whom looked even more bilious than I felt. We nodded nervously at each other. There were also some very loud people who had obviously met each other before and were doing the one-upmanship thing regarding the auditions they had attended. It occurred to me that if they were that talented, why were they auditioning for a small drama school in the Midlands rather than RADA or LAMDA?

I had already failed to get into either of those institutions.

The weather had worsened while I had been otherwise engaged; spouting Shakespeare and a piece from ‘Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs‘ that was considered a bit daring at the time.  Looking out of the window, I discovered that the world had turned very white and cold.

I had no idea whether my audition had been successful, and the only thing that really mattered was getting back to the Students’ Union bar, knocking a few back and finding out what my boyfriend had bought me for a birthday present.

Throwing on my bear of a coat and picking up my bag, I groaned as I received the news that the buses had stopped running and the very kind man sitting behind the desk in the hall had been unable to get me a taxi.

I had to walk through a snowstorm in totally unsuitable boots and a coat that grew more icicle heavy by the minute. This was not my idea of a plethora of snowballs. There weren’t many other people around; I assumed that I was the only one stupid enough to be out in such dreadful weather but I was determined that I was not going to be stranded.

When I got back to New Street Station I discovered that my through train had been cancelled due to the adverse weather conditions Up North, but that there was a train for London leaving in the next fifteen minutes and with any luck the weather Down South might be  good enough for me to get a connection.

The train was packed and I stood all the way from Birmingham to Euston. I staggered across a cold, wet London to Waterloo and collapsed on a slow train that was going home – eventually.

The boyfriend met me at the station and gave me my lovingly wrapped birthday present. It was an M & S brushed nylon dressing gown of a particularly vile pale green. It was three sizes too big for me and fit only for an old and confused person to wear in a nursing home. In today’s parlance it was the most epic of fails.

Gritting my teeth, I rallied all my drama school audition experience in order to express a suitable level of gratitude and allowed him to drive me to the bar.

Once there I dumped him and his dressing gown and got well and truly plastered again.

I passed the audition.

$_35

Lost and Found – Week 6 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Lost and Found and Lost Again

Rochelle sat on the rocky outcrop at the end of the beach. Her beach. The beach she had known all her life and the place she sought whenever life became too much. Unfortunately life became too much for Rochelle every day until she could push it aside with her current cocktail of choice. She had been told to avoid alcohol because it could have an adverse effect on her medication but ‘could have‘ was not a definite and there were days when avoidance was impossible.

The youngest of four girls, Rochelle was often referred to as ‘the Afterthought’ by her older and married sisters. They were all in their teens when their mother surprised them – and their father – with the birth of a tiny and delicate sister who was duly fussed over and petted by them all.

Perhaps as a consequence of this concentrated attention, Rochelle was a demanding baby; the toddler who invented new levels of tantrums, and the most sulky and erratic of teenagers. Mercifully for her sisters, they had married and set up their own homes by the time she had reached this most petulant and attention-seeking phase of her development.

Her father was bewildered by Rochelle’s behaviour. His other daughters had seemed so easy by comparison. Her mother continued to dote and spoil her pretty little girl, enchanted by the sweetness of her nature – provided things were going her way.

School was a trial for Rochelle. She made few friends but many enemies due to an unfortunate ability to tell tales with a mask of complete innocence that belied her devious nature. Tears and tantrums failed to move her teachers and she left school without any qualifications due to an extensive sickness record and no ability to apply herself to anything but craftwork.

Expressing a hitherto hidden desire to get away from home and family, Rochelle informed her parents that she wanted to go to college. A college on the mainland. A college far away from home. Puzzled by this desertion, Rochelle’s parents applied a few sanctions. She could go to college but only if she agreed to stay with Mr and Mrs Bullingham, elderly family friends who could guarantee to keep her safe from the wicked world.

It was agreed and having been escorted to her new home by her tearful mother, Rochelle settled into her new life. ‘Settled‘ may not have been the best description of how she spent her days. The college was small, more like a finishing school for young people whose parents were not ready for them to tackle the hazards of big city life. Many of her fellow students paired up throughout their time at college but not Rochelle. Some of the boys – and teachers – found her childish behaviour initially enchanting but the magic wore off very quickly and they soon realised that she was a person to be kept at a distance.

Rochelle learned how to flirt and flutter her eyelashes in order to get others to do things for her. She also developed a taste for alcohol; only to be consumed in her room or when she wasn’t due home to the Bullinghams’ genteel and alcohol-free zone for some time.

The college course came to an end and Rochelle returned home to her island, still without qualifications but possessed of a multitude of manipulative skills. She had made a few friends who kept in touch – perhaps because they felt sorry for the girl who didn’t seem able to grow up. To those who cared for her, Rochelle continued to be sweet and charming. Her sisters loved her but grew increasingly intolerant of her demanding behaviour – especially when she had been drinking.

Gentle suggestions regarding Rochelle finding work were rebuffed and met with floods of tears and prolonged sulking. Employment on the island  was limited anyway but for a young woman with little experience, no real skills and an air of naivete that did not transfer to the workplace, it was impossible. Rochelle’s parents came to the conclusion that she was unlikely to ever make a financial contribution to their household.

Being of a sensitive and rather sentimental nature, getting Rochelle involved in voluntary work for animal charities on the island may not have been the wisest of choices but it kept her occupied and her craftwork earned small amounts for the darling animals. She felt that she had found her true calling at last and was quick to tell her friends of her new purpose in life.

Her sisters however, grew increasingly concerned about Rochelle’s mental health, especially when she was at home or attending family events. She screamed and cried; retreated to her room when she couldn’t have her own way and had to be rescued from bars when her cocktail consumption got her into peril with men who were less scrupulous than her college chums.

There was a spell in hospital during her mid-thirties; life had become too much after Rochelle developed a crush on the much-married manager of the seal sanctuary. She stalked him and bombarded him with handmade cards containing coy messages. He succumbed to Rochelle’s childlike charms but panicked when she announced that she was with child herself. His wife found the bag of love tokens when emptying out his recycling and after talking to her repentant husband, contacted one of Rochelle’s sisters who in turn spoke very sternly to her parents.

The problem with living on an island is that the only strangers were tourists; everyone else knew each other and in order for Rochelle to escape the laughter and mocking glances, her parents had her admitted to a small private hospital where she was kept under heavy sedation following her ‘operation‘ and  caused her to retreat further into the safety of her fantasy world.

By the time her doctors felt she was well enough to go home, the manager and his wife had been relocated to the mainland, and another scandal had replaced Rochelle’s assumed shame. She made more friends whilst in the hospital; women who had been damaged and made vulnerable by life, women who saw Rochelle as an entertaining child, a willing drinking-companion, and a person unfazed by their own bizarre behaviours.

As the years passed, Rochelle’s sisters gave up on the idea of ever finding a man patient enough – and wealthy enough – to take their sister away from their aging and increasingly frail parents. They did their best to try and encourage some element of maturity in their baby sister, but she remained that – a child-woman who was incapable of doing more than making chocolate-box cards for animal charities and stamping her foot when life failed her.

Through one of her old college friends, Rochelle became acquainted with Trudi, a woman who had spent some years recruiting people for a demanding religious sect. As a consequence, she was adept at spotting those who life had left open to exploitation. She honed in on Rochelle; showering her with compliments, feeding her ever-hungry ego and grooming her as a useful source of information as well as a potential mouthpiece for Trudi’s opinions.

Trudi had a lucrative business selling email addresses to companies who used them to spam and intimidate people who had no interest in their services – especially the elderly. Several of her friends had become wise to this misuse of their details and Trudi found herself needing a new method of obtaining information.  Rochelle fell for Trudi’s explanation of needing email addresses to raise funds for charities – animal charities of course – and was quick to use her volunteer status to find mailing lists of anyone who had ever made a contribution. Trudi was ecstatic, and clever enough to get Rochelle to use her own email address when sending on the information. She paid Rochelle a token amount and kept the rest of the money  to herself.

Rochelle watched the police car draw up outside her house with some curiosity. At 53 years of age she had never seen a police car at her house before and idly wondered if her parents were alright. She turned back to the sea again and barely registered the crunching of police-issue boots on the shell and gravel beach. Rochelle’s mother had tried to persuade the police that her daughter had mental health problems but some of the people on the lists sold via Trudi’s dubious transatlantic contacts were from old and very influential island families who objected to being inundated with emails peddling Viagra, funeral plans and weight loss products.

One of Rochelle’s sisters met them at the police station and acted as her appropriate adult. Rochelle didn’t really know what to say in response to the questions. Tears and eyelash fluttering failed to move the stony-faced female detective and her equally impassive male colleague. After hours of questioning, Rochelle’s sister requested a break and took the opportunity to give Rochelle the kind of talking to she had badly needed all her life

Eventually Rochelle was persuaded to give up Trudi’s details and tell the version of events as she understood it. The detectives weren’t convinced that anyone could be as gullible as Rochelle but had little choice to let her go with a caution and a very stern warning about getting involved in this kind of scam in the future.

Unable to trust Rochelle, the animal charities she had previously supported made it clear to her parents and sisters that her services were no longer required. Her computer had been taken away by the police and her parents stated that they didn’t want it returned. Those friends she had kept in touch with via social media wondered idly what had become of her but no one cared enough to find out. Trudi was tracked down and despite blaming everything on Rochelle, her past track record gave her away and she was exposed as the force behind many other such scams.

Rochelle spends most of her time on the rocky outcrop; lost again but unlikely to be found this time.

 

 

That London – Week 5 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

 

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When my parents split up, there were just over six weeks before the end of the summer term. During that time I was catching two buses to get from one side of the town to the other. This came to an end when I got run over by a green station wagon at a busy crossroads in the middle of the main shopping area. It wasn’t a terrible accident. The car was slowing down at traffic lights, I sustained a grazed knee, cut my ankle and found myself sitting in a daze on a traffic warden’s gabardine mac, holding up traffic while an ambulance was called. I can still remember the smell of the coat and the confusion of crossing the road one moment and being flung up and out into the middle of the crossroads.  I would probably have been patched up at A&E and sent over to my mother – who was working on the hospital switchboard – but the kindly traffic warden insisted on picking me up and putting me in the ambulance. He bumped my head on the roof and concussion was added to my hitherto minor injuries.

It was enough to make my mother move me to a junior school closer to my Auntie Dee’s  and although I had the sporadic protection of my three male cousins, it was hard trying to make friends, especially as the accident had left me so frightened of crossing roads that I didn’t play out much. The other problem I encountered was that my fellow pupils had trouble getting to grips with my name: Cheryl, Shirley, Cherie were just a few of the variations. In desperation I announced that my name was Fred, and it stuck, much to my mother’s horror.

‘Why Fred?’ She said. ‘Any name would have done, but Fred!’ I shrugged, thinking that people would forget it by the time I moved up to secondary school in September. They didn’t. It stuck. It probably endured because in an all-girl school, our little clique consisted of Lee, Jo, George and me, Fred. Even the teachers – the more civilised teachers – called me Fred. The sub-human teachers – especially the hag who pretended to teach geography – treated me with the disdain reserved for anyone out of the ordinary.

Fred was not the good little girl I had been at junior school. Fred was an embryo rebel who lived in a bedsit with her mother and who had waved goodbye to a normal family life. She drank barley wine and hung around the student union bar on Friday nights when most of her peers were at youth clubs.

Within our group, it was George that was my best friend. She lived in the ground floor of an elegant detached house split into two flats. Her dad – also called Fred – was an aging hippy married to a much younger woman. George and her two older brothers treated their bewildered stepmother with a rudeness that the poor woman had done nothing to deserve. Their own mother had done a flit many years before, so she wasn’t to blame for the splitting up of their ‘happy’ home.

From all accounts George’s mother had been at the centre of the London party scene when George’s father met and married her. She knew rock stars and actors and after reluctantly bearing three children, had returned to her roots leaving confusion in her wake. George and I were thirteen when we went to stay with her in London for a very long weekend. We were so excited.  ‘That London’ was a place of magic and mystery; a place you went to on heavily supervised school trips to see exhibitions at the V&A, or the much vaunted Tutankhamun exhibition. I went to that one, I queued for hours, I brought home a paper carrier with King Tut’s death mask on it and not much else. I was older and more cynical by that time.

Our trip to London started well. We were met at Waterloo station by George’s mum. She presented us with make-up boxes from Harrods and took us out to dinner at a chic Italian restaurant round the corner from the three-storey Chelsea mews that she was looking after for friends. Until that moment, spaghetti bolognaise was something that Crosse & Blackwell did and it came in a small or a large tin. I may have turned my uneducated nose up a bit at the authentic Italian version. Okay I did but so did George. Her mum plied us both with red wine and thought it amusing when we got a bit squiffy. She was not quite so amused when we both threw up later that night. We had to clear it up ourselves though. She was far too gone and shut herself into her bedroom to avoid  the heavings and the smell.

She took us to Biba the next day and I spent 75 pence on a black scoop necked tee-shirt with yellow and black striped sleeves. The only Biba item I ever owned and I kept for years afterwards  even though it made me look like a bumble bee. That afternoon we went to the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square, saw ‘What’s Up Doc’ and gorged ourselves silly and hyper on unsuitable snacks. More upchucking ensued after a bumpy taxi ride home.

By Sunday we had spent nearly all of George’s mum’s limited funds and relations were rather frosty when we failed to show sufficient appreciation at being taken to the jousting at the Tower of London before being put on the train to come home. I was in disgrace because I had wanted to wear my favorite purple needlecord jean jacket. She said it was common  so I had to swelter in my shiny black PVC mac – with stick on cherries. Parting was not sweet sorrow. We were ungrateful brats and hell would freeze over before she ever invited her daughter – and her daughter’s equally obnoxious friend – to stay.

I think that our joint upchucking and hangovers after all the red wine had set the seal on our stay. George’s mother didn’t have a maternal bone in her body and we stopped being amusing when we started making a mess. We stood in the corridor of the train and sang King Crimson songs all the way home. Our fellow passengers weren’t exactly enthralled by two scrawny teenagers warbling ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ and scowling at anyone who came out of the carriage to use the toilet.

Being only 40 minutes away by train, London was accessible to us, and became even more so as I moved into my mid-teens. I nearly had a very exciting meeting with a famous person. I was doing a project on Edward Gordon Craig – actor, director and scenic designer – as part of my ‘A’ level drama and theatre arts. I came across an advert in The Stage regarding research into the actress Ellen Terry – Craig’s mother. I wrote off to the box number and was delighted – not only to get a reply but an invitation to meet up at the V & A.  My mother had visions of me being kidnapped, raped or worse by some wicked theatrical type and so I wasn’t allowed to take up the invitation. Poor Nigel Hawthorne – I think I would have been safe with him somehow.

I became more blase about going up to London; shopping trips to Oxford Street, live music at the Hammersmith Odeon, the occasional matinee. It was a place to pass through en route to somewhere else when I was at college in Birmingham but never a place to actually live.

When our youngest was four we planned a mega trip to that London; he and his brother thought we were just going to visit Daddy’s airport and were gobsmacked when we climbed aboard a Luton-bound Easyjet. A train to central London, the underground and a sight-seeing trip on a double decker bus. The boys loved it – especially when we arrived at the Science Museum. We were going to take a trip on the Thames but time ran away from us.

I had always been quite chilled on my previous visits to the capital, but with two small and inquisitive boys in tow, my maternal instincts had me seeing perils round every corner. A fear of pickpockets and muggers outshone that wonderful Tube station scent that I knew so well. We survived it though and my baby boy announced that it was his best birthday ever.

Our most recent trip to that London was in the year of the Olympics. We were given free tickets to go on the London Eye and as we were spending a week down South to see family, we took the opportunity to travel up by train.  Our eldest son was away at Uni but being the intrepid train traveller that he is, he planned our journey and acquired the tickets for the trip.

I was less fearful on this trip. I like being on trains and so does my husband. My six foot baby boy was less enamoured – especially with the people who used their phones on the quiet carriages. The London Eye was wonderful and the boat trip that was part of the package enabled us to catch up on the experience we had missed out on years before. My baby boy liked London – but only if there weren’t any people in it. They spoiled.

That was my London. I’ve no desire to go back. Liverpool and Manchester are sufficient for me now.