Suddenly, we find it. The prom dress shop. Right up till that moment, we’re still not sure we’re on the right road, and I for one am completely convinced that we must be wrong. No way would a posh frock shop be situated in such a downbeat place. We’re in the most downtrodden of areas, just outside the bus station. On this pedestrianised stretch, only one shop in every six is still trading. Most are boarded up, desolate and dirty, and despite the day being bright and clear, I’m uncomfortable here. The brightness is that of a grating strip light and the air metallic. People are shabby with eyes downcast. I still can’t believe my daughter, who had always insisted that she would never attend prom, is dragging me here to a posh frock shop. I also can’t believe how excited she is. She’s been non-stop talking and practically bouncing as she walked.
She bounces even more as we open the door. We’re here because her friend Emma has a Saturday job at the dress shop. Caitlin and Emma aren’t traditional friends, and it is becoming more and more common that friends haven’t met in person. In this case, Caitlin and Emma have met. Ish. It was when we went to see Harry Styles at Manchester Arena. We had been drawing pictures in the air with our phone torches and noticed that another group of three about quarter of a mile across the arena, were copying our actions. Then we copied theirs. We did so for hours, and went home feeling as if we’d communicated in an age-old signalling ritual. That evening, one of the girls posted in Harry Styles fan group that they’d been copying flashing phones across the arena. They told the group where they’d been sitting and where we had been. Caitlin replied. ‘That was us!’. And voila, the online friendship of Emma and Caitlin was born. The two girls run to each other and hug and talk non-stop. They know each other so well, but have never been in such close proximity. The shop is all bridal dresses on the lower floor, and the furniture metallic and sumptious. Black and silver. White and ivory. Velvet and steel. But Caitlin notices nothing, just shrieks excitedly with her friend. Emma soon directs us upstairs and we walk up a twisting staircase to the top floor where we were confronted with alien swathes of satin, lurex, taffeta and lycra. Most of the gowns are royal blue, baby blue, peach, beige, red and navy. Three jump out as the freaks in the room: peppermint green, lemon and buttercup yellow. I’m immediately drawn to them as their colours are different though the styles are the same. I wonder where a person would go if they wanted a gown in deep purple or bright orange. Or if they wanted a non-traditional style. Long sleeves. Shorter skirt. High neckline? While non-stop chattering, Caitlin chooses her first 3 frocks and I am led to a set of bright modern chairs (lime, pink, blue and scarlet) to wait. As I sit, I glance at laminated photos of the various dress styles and effects. They leave me cold, though it’s nice here. I’m happy enough to look at the royal blue carpet with occasional spilled sequin, and to wonder what’s happening behind the matching royal blue curtains with silver sequinned stripe. The strip lights buzz reassuringly, so I write and wait. Caitlin and Emma, secreted in the large dressing room, are giggling as if they’ve spent their whole life as best friends. Over this, I occasionally hear the near- whispered conversation of women in the next dressing room. That young woman is apparently a size 4. Size 4! I don’t think my girl was a size 4 even at primary school. Its incongruous. The staff here dress in navy jeans, navy uniform t-shirts printed with the shop’s logo, and flat white shoes, yet they coax young women into tiny dresses and enormous heels in shades of peach and grey and shiny nude. Still, I sit and listen as the curtain rustles and ripples and Emma fits Caitlin into the first of five dresses. There are mild noises of cars outside and occasional shouting of drugged up or drunk men, and I feel as if I’m in another, far more privileged world than that of the outside. The kids now demand so much more elegance than I did at the same age. Tight bodices and floaty skirts. Off the shoulder strips of satin. Fairytale frocks. I sit and make notes and observations of this alien place with its fleur de lys wallpaper and the clean glowing chrome curtain and clothes rack rails. I turn my head. Next to me on the painted white shelf, is a long bent pin, but it isn’t the pin that catches my eye. It’s a box adorned with pink and white stripes and displaying the product name Nudi Boobies – “Reusable Backless and Strapless Silicone Bra”. It takes me back to the days of working at Transformation in Prestwich when I assisted transvestites with their silicone breasts. There it smelled of old buildings and mildew. But this place doesn’t smell of mildew. It smells of nothing but the lightest of floral perfume. Maroon 5 come on the shops speakers. Memories. I love this song and sing along which makes the girls giggle a little more. Caitlin has decided to try dresses only in grey tones. She plans to rainbow colour her hair so wants a simple dress She’s ready to show me the first, and even I feel the sense of anticipation and thrill as the curtains are swept back. The gown has an off the shoulder, tight fitting bodice and floor length A line skirt. Grey. Not metallic, but silvery blue dove grey with a corset back. It looks lovely on her, its satin drapes and sparkling lace bodice, with lace drifting from below the bodice, weeping organically onto the skirt. I can’t fault the dress and how it fits her. Caitlin’s second choice is far simpler but looks equally lovely. It is black and silver lurex with a corset back. Strange how she should choose such tones as she’s such a colourful character. Around me are sumptuous deep cherry red gowns of satin and taffeta, covered in beads reflecting light. My daughter’s usual butch style, her denim coat with blue and white polka dots. 1980s shape. Tan leather, her broken iphone lies on top. Screen cracked in a spider web. Her pink and green charging cord snakes around it. I’m struggling to see her as a fairy tale princess, yet she is clearly not uncomfortable. I’m also no princess, and neither do I feel uncomfortable though I’m scruffy here in my oversized jumper, flat laces ups and old jeans. Now the shop’s stereo is playing disco classics from the 1980s. Wailing ‘Don’t leave me this way’ puts me in a good mood. Caitlin tries another two pale grey dresses. Neither fits properly around her lower half. We discard them immediately. Her final dress is of a dark teal colour: very slinky with a mermaidy look which was not at all flattering. With very little discussion, we choose the first dress she’d tried. As she dresses again in her own clothes I hear the girls talk of the corona virus and how there are now quarantined Chinese people being cared for in the Wirral. Strangely, the location of the quarantined Chinese people is round the corner from another of Caitlin’s friends. We leave after paying the deposit and giving more hugs. Unsurprisingly, my daughter is high as a kite for the remainder of the weekend!
Some weeks ago, just as my personal crisis was reducing to a manageable normality, my friend, Tabitha, informed me that she needed my help in getting rid of her caravan. The storage site was having some issues, and had told her that the caravan needed moving by the end of the month. I told her that I couldn’t really help as I didn’t have a towbar, but our conversation led to my already overactive mind cogs leaping into action.
I thought Tabitha had sold the caravan before she set off on her holiday to Greece, and forgot to ask her about it for a couple of weeks, but when I finally did ask, she admitted that the sale had fallen through. This led me to think even more, and the thinking pattern went like this…
My first novel, Past Present Tense (published under the name of Lesley Atherton, and now republished as Finding Dad by Meredith Schumann) was primarily about hoarding, but a subplot was about alternative life, and time spent in a caravan. My second novel, The Waggon, is basically set almost entirely within the setting of a traditional gypsy waggon.
So, my thinking was that 1) I could acquire Tabitha’s caravan and pay someone to transport it to my driveway. 2) I could use a lot of my creativity (at that time, deeply frustrated) in updating the inside of the caravan by doing a lot of sewing and painting (two of my favourite things). 3) I could get someone (possibly my daughter) to spray paint the outside of the caravan in the style of a gypsy caravan. 4) I could set up the inside and an awning to be a kind of shop for the crafts that we make, and we could travel to events and festivals, selling stuff and running workshops etc. 5) I could get someone to signpaint text on the rear and side of the caravan, in order to promote the two novels which mention caravans.
I believed I might get the therapy I needed from all the making and painting, and would also end up with a useable promotional tool, a potential working space (writing room or craftervan), a potential holiday home for me, and a potential holiday home for others (a decent money earner, according to my friends) should l need any of these things in the future.
So, I acquired the caravan. It had a flat tyre, but I was able to get hold of a local guy on Facebook who was willing to transport it half a mile to my driveway, for a small consideration. It arrived, and then the work began. Being of a creative attitude, rather than possessing an engineering state of mind, I began with the bits that I could see, rather than the hidden bits. My thinking was that I would enjoy the caravan space far more if it looked and felt good.
First of all, I pillaged my secret DIY space (behind the fridge and freezer) and scooted around for some spare paint in interesting colours. My first task was to remove most of the curtain fittings (not the pelmets) then to get painting. So, in vinyl silk throughout (as recommended by many caravan adaptation websites) I began painting the ceiling a deep, dusky pink, the walls of the living area a paler grey-pink, and the walls of the kitchen area a funky blue. Once this was done, I began on the soft furnishings.
I bought thousands of metres of a subtle ethnic stripe fabric in shades of red, gold and green, and covered each of the seats. The rear of the backrest cushion was also trimmed with an ethnic tapestry design. Then, the four weirdly shaped armrests were upholstered with a funky green wool fabric, with fancy trim. I’ve had the fabric for many years, and had never found a use for it! After that, I made seven cushions, some with printed panels of a gypsy fortune teller, or gypsy dancers. I also mended three rag dolls (the two largest made by a friend of my mum’s and the smallest a Holly Hobbie doll I found in a charity shop’s 10p bin).
After that, it was curtain time. I used the same fabric as the seat covers, but trimmed it with lots of ribbons, braid and black cotton lace that I’d acquired over the years. I then made the pelmet covers from the most expensive of all the fabrics I’d purchased (£12.99 a metre!), and created the net curtains for the kitchen window, and long drapes separating the bed area from the kitchen area. These aren’t ordinary nets – they are embroidered with red and yellow flowers in a Jacobean style. I’ve still to make the curtain tie backs. I purchased braid online for them as I couldn’t find anything nice locally, but only then did I realise it would take 2 months to arrive as it was coming from Hong Kong.
The kitchen, being a brighter area than the more subtle sleeping/living area, was given a set of rainbow stripe curtains. Lovely. And, while I’m in the kitchen, I managed to get hold of a lot of bargeware and brightly coloured items. They fit in beautifully, including pans and a kettle, storage pots and tins. Then, using rugs pinched from my house – red fur and a circular rag rug – I laid the floor and was set up. I began to move things in – cutlery, plastic pots, toiletries in tiny bottles, some of my home made items for the craft shop, a television and DVD player, some brightly coloured plastic plants, lanterns and candles, books, and a few rapidly dwindling snack items. I even moved in my wooden parrot and my painted African four string oilcan guitar, and they look amazing!
I was then ready for the next step, and painted the cupboards a fantastic combination of forest green and ruby red. I’m still in the process of doing this, and absolutely love how homely it looks. A cross between a caravan, a narrowboat and a gypsy caravan. Now, I want to buy a bigger and more powerful car so I can get the caravan out on the road, but before I do anything like that, I have to get the outside of the caravan sorted.
My idea of painting the caravan’s exterior in the style of a gypsy caravan has been taken on board by my daughter who says she’ll do all the painting and design work in exchange for a new mobile phone. OK, I said, so that’s in the design stages at the moment, which is fantasic.
So, that’s the story of my caravan. I’m writing in it at the moment, and it is a lovely work space with muted lighting, and is peaceful most of the time. My recommendation, for anyone who is creative and is going through a dark time – find yourself a project. A big, but deadline-free project seems ideal to me. Give yourself no pressure, but do give yourself as much ambition and enjoyment as you can manage at any time. The caravan has been the saving of me, and for that I am very thankful!
Even when I delve right back into my earliest memories, I knew that he was fucked up.
That was why I needed no clues from the police who arrived on my doorstep.
No sooner had they introduced themselves than I said the words that had been darting round in my head for the last twenty years.
‘I know why you’re here. It’s my brother. He’s a serial killer, isn’t he?’
I’d invited the officers into the living room and sat them down. I guess they were far more accustomed to denial, to shrieks of ‘Oh my God’ and determined statements of ‘No, that’s definitely not true. He’s a lovely guy. Keeps himself to himself. Never been in any trouble’.
So, when they asked me ‘Why didn’t you report him to us?’ I told them the truth. I knew he was a psycho and a serial killer in the making. I knew what he was capable of, but what I didn’t know was when he’d strike, and, as I told the police, you can’t arrest someone for being an arse.
My early memories were vibrant, hence unforgettable. Like the time, my brother pinned me to the floor and used my chest as a trampoline. Like the time when he listened in on a phone call and told my friend that she was a slapper because she had been sexually attacked at a party. Or the time when he ran onto the street, grasping a yard brush, yelling and shrieking at the kids hanging out. ‘My sister’s a bad person,’ he shouted. ‘She always steals my friends.’
And how could anyone forget the time when he’d thrown the dog downstairs in the laundry basket asking if I’d pay a million pounds for him not to do it. I was an eight-year-old child. I didn’t have more than 50 pence to my name. So my brother threw the dog downstairs with a sneer and the accusation ‘You did that. It’s your fault that he’s crying’.
I’m writing this because I know the story needs to be told. The world needs to know who and what my brother is.
And in answering those questions, I’ll also answer another question. The answer to the life, universe and everything. Not in general. Not for everyone. Just for him.
I was going to begin at the beginning, as that’s where most stories start. Then I wondered if I should begin when Colin’s crimes formally began – at the point when the bell-ringing police arrived at my door. But the police have had little to do with solving my brother’s crimes, or in apprehending him. I decided to begin where my mind took me.
I won’t bore you police procedure, as that’s got absolutely nothing to do with the story I’m about to tell. It is my story and Colin’s. It isn’t a tale of police or trial.
I started this writing to assist the police, as a convoluted statement, but it’s grown and grown as it seems once I start writing, I can’t stop.
It’s not pretty.
Being three years older than me, my brother has always enjoyed a kind of power. When I was a toddler, he’d offer to change my pull-up nappy when I was potty training. I don’t remember much of this, but I do remember mum telling me years later that he had put all sorts back into my nappy and had also opened the nappy up to look at the contents, then closed it again without removing a single piece of excrement. He seemed to enjoy getting people on their own and vulnerable, preferably partly dressed too. We went to a party when he had just started in high school. I guess that must have made him 11 or so. It was one of those family parties where you’re visiting your ‘Auntie’, who is your mum’s friend. Auntie Hannah had just one child who was a little older than me but not as old as my brother. She was called Selena, and we got on well.
Colin, my big and already brutal brother, took Selena into the garden and climbed into the fishpond. He removed all the fish and threw them onto the lawn. Selena and I rushed around in a panic, attempting to pick them up and put them back, all the while screaming for our mothers. But when my mum and Auntie Hannah came out, Colin told them that he was putting the fish back and that it had been us who’d tried to kill them. Amazingly, our mums believed the older boy. Colin walked away with a smirk, while Selena and I got in big trouble.
From that point on, I noticed that Colin was always believed. He just had that charisma that only truly psychopathic people have. Like you get sucked into it, despite yourself, like you believe all the terrible things they tell you, and you decide, that yes it must have been you who was at fault all along. He was a monster back then.
So many fish died. And cats. Birds from the garden. Hate to remember how many frogs he destroyed, and all the frogspawn he watched hatch, only to fry in a pan over a camping stove, once they emerged to become tadpoles. And it wasn’t only animals that he hurt. I had a plant – it was a rubber plant – on my window ledge, and I liked it. It was bold and beautiful, and I thought that it was indestructible. It wasn’t. Neither were mum’s red hot pokers or dad’s roses.
Not even granddad’s hydrangeas escaped his control.
Even our parents.
One time, our dad made that tip trip. He was doing the best and most beautiful thing he could have done for our family. By removing some of the house’s excess junk, you would be helping us all to lead a better life. The things he removed were mainly the boxes that items arrive in, and old unusable stuff, like school pants, made for someone ten years younger, and instruction manuals for now-broken electrical items. But on dad’s return, what did the psycho say? He said that he needed those things. He demanded them back. He demanded that dad must get them back. But dad refused. Colin insisted and flipped out big time. Dad still refused. It was the correct thing to do, but Colin never forgave him.
Colin had a lot of flip outs as a kid. I’m sure I had my share. But he had far more.
‘Profound,’ he said, and it was immediately apparent that both syllables were stated with reluctance and disdain.
‘Don’t you approve, Colin?’
‘I don’t, but then you knew I wouldn’t.’
‘Did I? Oh, I’m sorry, Colin.’
I used his name as I knew he hated it. I told him for precisely that reason.
‘What part was profound, Colin?’
My brother looked away and appeared to be staring at the family’s group photo. Dull brown frame for a dull brown photo.
Colin turned quickly and glared in my direction.
‘Why do you never smile in photos?’
I shrugged and continued drying the dishes. There was no way I was going to answer that question and even less chance that I would ever be ‘pleasant’ to him, even when forced to wash up alongside him.
Demonic, he was.
Evil, patronising and disgusting.
How I hated him.
Twice a month, every month, we’d arrive at the house of our parents and would sit at opposite sides of their living room, while mum and dad fussed and hovered.
I’m still not sure how much mum and dad understood about their errant son back then: how much they suspected or sensed.
They treated each of us the same as kids. Same sized bedroom, same pocket money, same number of classes and activities per week, same time and same attention. I had been intolerant of him even back then, despite my parents’ decency towards him presumably because I was his primary victim.
As young adults, we began this fortnightly routine, and it had continued, with breaks only for holidays or sickness.
I loved being their daughter, but have never accepted being HIS sister. Still, I had to dry up next to him. There was none of the silly foam-flicking washing-up that may occur between siblings who get on well, but neither was there violence or argument at that stage. It was more that we had an uneasy, temporary truce.
‘I don’t smile when I’m not in photos either,’ I said to him as he sponged a knife far too enthusiastically. ‘Something to do with childhood issues, I suppose.’
I settled my gaze on the tea towel and my hands on a Bohemian crystal brandy glass. I told myself not to grip it too hard. It had been a wedding present 30 years earlier. I placed it on the counter in front of me and breathed deeply. I could hear mum and dad chatting in the living room, so I left him there alone.
‘I’ll finish drying later,’ I said.
‘Sit down and watch Inspector Morse with us,’ my mum suggested. Of course, I did.
I know that this might not seem all that relevant, but it is. Believe me. Colin didn’t have an average person’s relationship with the seven deadly sins. He enthusiastically embraced as many as he could without joy, and with cold appraisal.
Mum and dad aren’t around any more. Their car skidded on black ice when they were coming to visit me. Apparently, Colin had been following behind in his car and had witnessed everything.
He’d inherited their house, in time. I was supposed to have inherited many of their artworks, their car, their small boat, and a lot of jewellery. But Colin kept hold of them all, and even a court order demanding that he release the items to me, he didn’t. Anyway, without mum and dad, the possessions were cold. They had lost their sparkle. I let him keep them, without fuss.
Investigations indicated that there had indeed been a patch of black ice on the country lane.
But I knew Colin was to blame.
Just as I knew he’d been to blame when a young woman was found concussed and raped and stuffed into the lining of a ripped-up armchair left at the entrance to a local beauty spot. Though her attacker had worn an Ironman mask and bulky clothing, the description of him sounded like Colin, as did the few words he said to her. ‘You’re stupid.’ ‘Don’t you understand what I’m trying to do here?’ ‘Why don’t you smile?’
And when the holiday home for dogs was ransacked, and about 20 poor animals had been butchered on the premises, a CCTV image of the man was shown on local news. I knew it was him, despite the Wolfman mask.
It was the same when I arrived home after a night out and noticed a blood-stained dagger on my doorstep, the very same step that the police arrived at just three years later. The blade was written off by my boyfriend as a joke, but never had it been written off by me. It was a warning. It couldn’t have been anything else. I just wasn’t sure what he was warning me against, though I knew what the punishment for not heeding the warning would be.
That same night as the dagger appeared on my doorstep, Chris and I were preparing for bed. We’d had a couple of drinks, so we were jolly and giggly, but nothing more. Chris went out to give Oscar the dog his final walk of the night.
Neither of my two best boys returned. Chris was never found, but Oscar’s collar was left next to the reservoir.
I will never forget that night. How could I? How could anyone?
So, when people ask how I know that my brother’s a serial killer, I am prepared. I carry these sheets of paper in my bag at all times. It only takes one person, on one occasion, to listen.
I just hope that person gets to me before he does, and before I finish writing this account.
What I fear about FOOTBALL is the obsession with BALLS. What I loathe about BALLS is the sheer bloody MACHISMO. What I dislike about MACHISMO is EVERYTHING there is. What I object to about EVERYTHING is its overwhelming BIGNESS I don’t like BIGNESS because it makes me feel SMALL. I don’t want to feel SMALL because I’m not UNIMPORTANT. I hate feeling UNIMPORTANT because NOBODY is. I’m unhappy about NOBODIES because the term is so INSULTing. I hate INSULTS when they scorn the WEAK. I fear for the WEAK who may well fail at SPORT. I totally despite SPORT because it attracts CROWDS. I don’t like CROWDS because they follow the PACK MENTALITY. And I am scared of the PACK MENTALITY, especially when it relates to FOOTBALL.
Elliot stuffed his hands firmly into the cavernous pockets of his Peaky Blinders coat, and clenched them in, then out and in again. As an attempt to restart his circulation, it wasn’t too bad, but a pair of thick gloves, an extra vest or layer of long johns would have been of more assistance, and he felt stupid for being without them. It wasn’t like him to be unprepared, but the night had been planned around dancing rather than hanging about at bus stops. And when the dancing was to be somewhere special (the Onedin Cellar) and with a particularly stunning young woman, he needed to be dressed just right.
But, after an hour and a half of standing at the edge of the road in the ice cold and foggy weather, Elliot had finally concluded that he’d been stood up. Still, what could you expect from a stunning woman like Hannah? She must have had her pick of far more eligible suitors. He looked down at his feet and wiggled his toes. Circulation was becoming an issue.
‘She didn’t turn up, then?’ The voice was husky and low, and Elliot recognised it immediately as his best friend followed the sound out of the freezing mist.
Elliot’s hunched figure squeezed itself in just that little bit more, and he sighed. Unusually for him, it was a sigh not bolstered by bravado. ‘She didn’t. And I waited for bloody ages, too.’
‘Sorry about that, mate.’ Artie shoved his own hands into his pockets. ‘We’ll go to the gig minus girls then. Mel didn’t turn up either. They are probably ill, or maybe they got kept behind. You know how much that bastard Mitson likes his waitresses to do constant involuntary overtime. Did you call her mobile? Or the cafe?’
Elliot shuffled his feet a little more and began to bounce gently without leaving the ground.
‘Maybe it is Mitson. Who knows, but it would explain why Hannah’s not been in touch. I don’t know the café’s number. Do you?’ Elliot’s feet were so cold that they were beginning to itch, and he wiggled his feet pointlessly inside what were his smartest pair of shoes. Unable to get any heat relief in one set of appendages, he tried with another set and shoved his hands up into his armpits under his coat.
‘I don’t know the café number either. And with us both being banned from the place, I’m not taking the risk of getting any nearer than we already are. You know as well as I do that Mitson doesn’t do anything other than watching through the windows, and he’s threatened more than once that he’s going to set the Doberman on us if we go near. We should never have done what we did to him. I reckon he’s turned the girls against us.’
‘You could be right, mate. But we’re all dressed up for nothing then.’
‘Still fancy The Onedin Cellar? Give it a try. We might get lucky there.’
The young men nodded decisively at each other and, glad to be moving again, began the walk down Armitage Road and past The Railway pub where inside, Mr Mitson watched their dejected forms and sniggered from his usual window seat, knowing that his two favourite barmaids were safe at last.
‘Kick her out,’ the man boomed. Stefan knew that Jonny always was determined to get his voice heard. ‘Just do it. Simple as…’
Stefan turned from Jonny’s piercing unstable gaze, smoothed his first ever goatee and shuffled a little in his position perched against a table. No way was he going to do as Jonny said, just because Jonny said it. Not only was Heather a fantastic player, when Jonny’s skills were definitely taking a downward turn, but Stefan also reckoned there might be a chance of a romance developing, if he played his cards right.
‘It’s not as simple as that. I reckon we’ve got to give her a chance. Having her on the team is awesome. She’s awesome. It can’t be easy being the only girl on the Under 18s. All the footballers. All the hormones!’ Stefan began a laugh, but stifled it after he noticed Jonny’s expression. The thug had jutted out his jawline and pelvis simultaneously, looking like a letter C in the making. He exhaled as he jutted.
‘Kick her out. It’s easy. Get it done,’ Jonny demanded once again, scratching an itchy patch stimulated by his pelvic jutting.
‘But think about it, Jonny. Why? She’s a miracle in motion. She’s like a terrier the way she gets the ball.’
‘She’s good to look at, Stefan, but she can’t shoot!’ Jonny’s cheeks and forehead glowed.
‘You can’t shoot either, Jonny. At any rate, she’s a defender, and she’s little and strong and wiry. She’s brilliant and she’s been through the same trial period you all have. She’s good at what she does, and the rest of the team like her too. So, no way is she getting sacked. Coach agrees. She’s one of our best assets. ’
Stefan, the club’s assistant coach for the past seven months, was beginning to regret his decision to continue this role till the end of the season, for he suspected that Jonny Hart would make his life miserable till he got his way. But he’d no intention of letting Heather go. She was 17, and he was only 18 himself. He liked her. He more than liked her. He admired her. More than that too – she made his ankles tremble.
‘Have it your own way, Stefan. But I’ll tell you this. You’re letting all this power go to your head. Coach should no way have given you the team selection job. No doubt about it. You’ll see, when it comes back to bit you on the arse.’
Jonny stormed from the clubhouse, virtually colliding with Heather on the way in.
‘Look what you’ve done!’ Jonny shouted, and Heather apologised, though clearly no apology was necessary.
‘What’s up with him?’ she said as she neared Stefan. ‘What did I do?’
‘Nothing, Heather. With him it’s enough if other people just live.’
Heather pushed her floppy red fringe behind her ear. ‘I’ve worked that one out.’
She cleared her throat. ‘Coach has just given me the tickets for the club dance. I’m to sell them to all the age groups and supporters. Twenty pounds each. You want any?’
Holding out the pile of tickets, Heather sat herself on the edge of the table opposite Stefan and manouvered into a cross-legged position. Stefan watched her thigh muscles twitch and flex and his gaze carried down her leg to the purple football socks, and matching boots. Her calves were tremendous – so well defined that he could trace the shape even through the thick ribbing.
Feeling sure that Heather must have noticed him staring at her lower half, Stefan attempted to look away, to move his body, or to even answer her question – anything but continue the awkward silence and the feeling that she surely must be perceiving him as nothing more than a pervert. But his awkwardness had meant that he failed to notice the very things that would have made him feel better. Heather was looking back at him with a warm smile, she was crinkling her eyes, and she was playing with her carroty fringe. Her head cocked to one side, she had no sooner got herself settled on the table, than she was already moving towards Stefan, with a tiny, nervous giggle.
‘Stefan, I want to ask you something.’
‘Sure. Anything,’ he spluttered as she extracted a ticket from the pile in her hand.
‘Fancy coming with me?’
‘Sure. Anything,’ he repeated, shakily taking the ticket from her hand while attempting to control the tremble in his ankles. ‘I’ll pay, of course.’
Wow. Success with a lady at last, and a dynamic and beautiful sportswoman at that.
‘I’ll buy mine, you buy yours, OK? And, Stefan?’
‘Don’t you think that Jonny is becoming a liability? I think you should kick him out.’
Stefan couldn’t help but nod his head, and pull the young woman towards him, his hand gently crushing her purple and orange strip top while her hand snaked under his.
He would go to the dance, and he would sack Jonny Hart, and both activities would be extremely beneficial for the team’s success. They wouldn’t do him any harm either.
The zoo was too small and looked underfunded. Scruffy, even. And, to a person who is very torn about the whole issue of keeping animals in captivity, it hadn’t been my first choice for a day out. Still, we were on holiday, we were in a remote area, and there weren’t a huge number of other options for tourists. So, combined with the undoubted strength of ‘pester power’, the zoo it was.
We’d already encountered a few weird and wonderful creatures. The lemurs had been so close to us as they sat cross legged on the inner window ledge of their enclosure. At one point, eight were sat staring at us, but the core number was two. The same two. One was clearly a mum, and one her baby… The mum picked at her baby’s fur, and the baby fidgeted. It was an image of domestic bliss, till another lemur began to poke the mother in the eye. I hoped that the baby wouldn’t learn this abusive behaviour from its older enclosure mate, especially as the mother lemur seemed to allow the abuse. She didn’t retaliate, vocally protest or even move away. I was reminded of myself – not long out of an emotionally abusive relationship – and I shivered in distaste.
The zoo’s selection of monkeys was a small one, and we quickly tired of the bullying lemur, so moved on to the next section where a red panda, curled into a ball, was asleep atop a modified dovecote. We all agreed that the red panda was cute, though boring, but just as we began to move away, we saw the panda’s legs twitch and it rolled towards the edge of the dovecote. The red panda was no longer boring as it plummeted to the ground, limbs outsplayed, and landed on the muddy grass, seemingly unharmed.
Not having learnt its lesson, it climbed on the network of ropes to position itself back on the dovecote once again. It rolled into a ball and, presumably, fell straight to sleep. I found myself wondering how many times each day this might happen to the red panda, and, even, if it chose to fall for attention, or even to provide us with a more interesting floorshow. I remembered a young prairie wolf cub we’d watched at another animal park. It had a ball playing up to the cameras of excited onlookers. While its brothers and sisters hovered around the wooded area in the middle of their compound, surrounded by the shelter of undergrowth and their pack, one little wolf had decided that people were more fun. People would provide it with interest, so it would provide us with interest in return. It was the sweetest thing – the way it acted just like a domestic puppy, rushing round, doing zoomies, waiting for us, jumping off a branch and pretending to fall off.
The red panda fell again, and we soon grew bored. I hoped it had company in the shed at the back of its enclosure as I hated the through of it being alone. As I looked around, it became obvious that it could easily have roamed free throughout the zoo, and given there were no predatory creatures there, I reckoned it would be safe enough. But it chose to remain where it was, stumbling and getting back up to provide momentary amusement to passing humans. So, I guessed, partner or no partner, it was happy with its lot. I was glad of that.
The lack of a map (nobody had picked one up) meant that we were wandering erratically from one area to the other, and were unsure of what we’d encounter next. But when we turned the corner from the red panda, we moved into something that was clearly a different form of habitat altogether. There was nothing fencing the animals in and separating them from the human visitors. All we could see was a huge, grassy and muddy field, which surrounded a central large pool. Around the edges of the field were trees and hedges and huge beds of straw, but there were no creatures to be seen.
Our first thought was that this was a bird area and that the birds were perhaps wildfowl or of the kind that spent certain hours of the day elsewhere off-site. We thought no more of it and prepared to follow the path to the next mystery area when suddenly we noticed something weird. It seemed that a creature was emerging from the pool, and it wasn’t large enough to be a hippo. Still, it was large enough, and bulky too, with a solid body and skinny legs. It must have been completely submerged till that point.
My heart almost burst with delight, and I said out loud. ‘Capybara, my favourite animal in the world. It’s a capybara.’ It was indeed a capybara, basically an enormous brown guinea pig. I immediately squatted down and held out my hands to this drenched yet still-muddy creature, which shook itself as soon as it was fully clear of the pond. I smiled encouragingly, and was so happy when I realised it noticed me. ‘Come here, cappy,’ I pleaded. But the magnificent capybara turned away from me with what looked like a shrug. I wanted to hug it. I wanted to take it home. But all the capybara wanted was to rest itself post-bathe in the hay strewn sunny corner of its field. I got up, feeling stupid, and the capybara sprinted away. Still, I’d seen one, and that was what mattered.
A moment of joy. A moment of sheer happiness that I’d encountered my favourite animal, in the flesh. And a moment of realisation that I would never mean the same to it, as it did to me.