The Three Sisters

This short story started as a class exercise to write a piece of micro-fiction about 350 to 400 words long. Then, every day for a week we were given a prompt word we had to incorporate in another short paragraph. The prompt words were yesterday, change, forgive, plenty, stalemate and cloud. I wrote something about the experience of writing this in a recent post Creative Writing in Lock Down.

The three sisters were solid and inseparable after their lives in the children’s home. They married but their husbands made an uncomfortable trio of brothers-in-law. Then, one day, one of them was caught kissing the wrong sister. One sister pink with pleasure, one white with fury, and one green with envy.

Pink with pleasure, Colette, and white with fury, Samantha, didn’t speak for the next twenty years. Shortly after, green with envy, Marion, migrated to Australia to be near her husband’s family. They all went their separate ways. Then, out of the blue, Samantha and Colette both received letters from Australia.

Marion’s husband, Jack, had a one-man business servicing light aircraft, the life blood of the outback. A year earlier a plane he was working on fell off its jack and killed him. She’d never got on with his family and decided she needed a change. She planned to come back to the UK. Should they meet? Let bygones be bygones?

Samantha had divorced her unfaithful husband, Malcolm. Colette, having been divorced by her husband for her infidelity, went to live with the now divorced Malcolm. He turned out to be a perfect companion; witty, compassionate, loving, athletic, good around the house. One day he went to work and never came back. In the meantime, Samantha went to live in a  writers’ colony on Eel Pie Island and discovered to her relief she was a lesbian. If she could find a way to forgive Colette they would have a lot to talk about.

And so began a growing correspondence between the three sisters. The word forgiveness was never used but its possibility seemed implicit as the letters became more relaxed and intimate, even hinting at secrets to be told. Marion had sold her house and hoped to be back in the UK and rent a flat in time for Christmas. If they could get together they would have plenty of time to catch-up on the missing years.

Some secrets were shared in the letters. Sam and Malcolm’s relationship had been rocky from the start, her volatile temperament and his infuriating equanimity and refusal to argue. At the time of his adultery with Colette their marriage had been a stalemate for years. Colette’s marriage had also been in the doldrums. Her husband only seemed interested in football and drinking with his mates. So far Marion had kept her secrets to herself.

Marion had always felt dowdy and uninteresting compared with her vivacious older sisters. Moving to Australia had been partly an attempt to escape the cloud of depression she was always under. She wanted to find a life and identity of her own but it hadn’t really worked. Her new life had made her feel even more a characterless cipher. Ironic perhaps that now she was looking for another new start back with her sisters. This time she would be the interesting one, the only one to have committed a murder.

She would hold court in her London flat and gradually reveal to her sisters how interesting she has become, a metamorphosis from the dull little moth she had been to the intriguing woman of depth and dark mystery she now is. In the long lonely days and nights in the outback she had taken to writing an imaginary life as an escape from her real one. Only part of that fantasy had she made real so far. Now she would take her imaginary life to the UK and spin it as her real one. Only later would she tell the truth that lay within it, about Jack and the jack.

Teenage Crazes

Can there be many things more irritating or embarrassing to its parents, more amusing to its neighbours or more likely to invoke admiration from its peers, than a teenager in the full throes of a craze?

I’m thinking of the shimmy dress of the 20s – to the knees if you please! A whole generation’s crowning glories reduced to a few wisps under the coiffure artiste’s demanding scissors, then kept in place by cloche hats or headbands. Such affectation but, how daring. And who didn’t admire the girl who rouged her knees, smoked coloured cigarettes and black bottomed into the early hours? Jazz was the rage and so were men in bags, blazers and boaters; cocktails with ‘naughty names’ like Between the Sheets, Love’s Desire and Hanky Panky.

The 20s saw the first breakthrough of a youth identity. Teenagers were yet to be invented and, due to economic depression, war, and the understandable resistance of parents to the loss of their authority, it was to be the last until the advent of the 50s.

Post-war Britain saw improved economic standards and especially for the single young. Suddenly youth became a viable commercial proposition, with money of their own. They bought records, clothes of their own choice, went out without the parents or family, and as all these avenues opened up to them, they exploited them to the full.

Rock ‘n’ Roll fanatics – the word was soon reduced to ‘fans’ – needed the uniform: a drape suit with essentially fingertip length jacket or longer was a must, preferably in some unmissable colour: light blue or red with black velvet collar and cuffs. And then the shoes; crepe-sole creepers (brothel creepers!) also in wild colours completed one end of this vision while a bootlace tie held by a skull and crossbones clip completed the other. To top it all, though, was a duck’s arse (DA) blow-wave. With this you were the Elvis of Hull, Harlesden or Haringey.

Your girl had a ponytail or bouffant hairdo, Brigitte Bardot lips, enhanced with scarlet lipstick, wore stiletto heels and chewed gum. You were all set and you jived to Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard or The King. You flung your girl around the floor like a bit of sticky substance that wouldn’t come off your fingers, and look unperturbed. You kept your hand just so, in the small of your back while flinging her unless you bring it out to breath gently on your nails before polishing them on your lapel. You are cool.

Cool becomes hot, however, in the 60s. Hot tempers. The mods and rockers, or greasers or Teds, are the two factions. You must be one or the other or you are square. One of the oldies and mouldies that don’t move with the times.

The Mods are ‘in’. Neat, clean, smart and brainless. Pill poppin’, bluebeat dancin’ and scooter ridin’, whose adrenalin got going by needling the rockers, arranging fights on south coast resorts and playing dodge the cops when they got there.

Flower Power followed. Peace after punch-ups, pot after pills, beauty and understanding, love-ins and transcendental meditation. We all wanted to go to San Francisco or Marrakesh. But beauty is only skin deep and you may be a heroin dealer under that beautiful biblical exterior. Sad, sad disillusionment. Parents of the 50s bad lads thanked the Lord they weren’t parents of the 60s sexual revolution. The men looked feminine and the girls adopted male attitudes to casual sex and in the world at large the fashions went from daring to outrageous, from the mini skirt to the topless look.

Also fashionable were student demos and outrage at police violence. Sex was everywhere, the papers, the films, the theatre. We read it, heard it, saw it and did it. And none of it was discreet. This was the new era for honesty. According to the worthies, we were doomed; degenerates. And yet, here we are, large as life and twice as ugly. We haven’t been made yet to pay for our sins as was hoped.

Or have we? Following in our wake are surgical boots called platform soles, mid-calf tartan trousers, skinheads beating up old ladies, and The Rollers. And if having to listen to them isn’t punishment enough, I don’t know what is.

Julia Wassall. Written as a GCE ‘O’ Level English homework in 1977, rediscovered 43 years later!

Creative Writing in Lockdown

It’s a month since I’ve posted here, just before the coronavirus lock-down started on Tuesday 24th March. This also coincided with starting a new on-line creative writing course with Alison Taft using email and a private Facebook group for sharing and comment. This is working very well. The daily contact and asynchronous communication makes possible exercises and tasks that can accumulate over the week. One particular exercise for instance was to write a 40 to 50 word micro-fiction story, or dribble, using the word ‘envy’. Then each day for six days the story is added to using a new prompt word. We all ended up with pretty good short stories of between 300 and 400 words.

One of the things I like about this exercise is how later sections make you revise your understanding of earlier sections. Each short section is replete with possibilities, things hinted at, unsaid, story potentialities. Each new section, focused by the word, picks up on one of these, developing one possible story line and foreclosing on others. But in the process opens up new unforeseen possibilities. Each new section forces a new understanding of the previous section, a bit like the present acting back and modifying the writer’s understanding of the past – a bit like time travel! My story was called ‘The Three Sisters’ and I’ll publish it here.

The other writing activity during the lock-down involves my other creative writing course with an establish group at Headingley, Leeds. I’ve helped set up a web site for the group to publish some of its work. They’ve been together for up to seven years and I’m very much the new boy but they are very friendly and supportive. Our meetings were due to start at the end of this month but have had to be put on hold. In the meantime we have been meeting on-line weekly using Zoom where we share what we have written as the previous week’s writing task. This has worked very well and fortunately most of the group have been able to access this system for on-line meetings. So far all the tasks have been poetry and to my surprise I’ve enjoyed them, not being a poet or having any pretensions of being one. I have written a villanelle, an acrostic and an ekphrastic poem. All will be revealed when I post then here! The group has a number of very accomplished and published poets and there feedback has been very encouraging.

Dwelling in the past brings solace and rest

Dwelling in the past brings solace and rest,
The days of youth and deeds of derring do,
Source of consolations for the final test.

Memories of old friends, times of the best
Such wonderful mates, so solid and true.
Dwelling in the past brings solace and rest

Alone, with heavy heart and breathless chest
Thinking of the scrapes that we’d all been through
Source of consolations for the final test

Childhood and youth, a life forever blessed
Love, laughter, adventure, a heady brew
Dwelling in the past brings solace and rest

Then, a place, partner, children of one’s own
All chasing other dreams, another view
Source of consolations for the final test

Final darkness, a good life’s last caress
Visions of sunlight and grace surround you
Dwelling in the past brings solace and rest,
Source of consolations for the final test

Autofiction as Palimpsest

Autofiction, perhaps better called autobiographical fiction, has become a genre of writing in vogue. The term was coined in 1977 but the genre is much older. It is fictionalised autobiography, a piece of fiction that draws heavily on the life of the author. It is often written in the first person but can also use the third person. The author him or herself can be the named protagonist or this can be a made up term.

Arguably all writing is autobiographical to some extent. It draws on experience and memory, things learnt and recognised influences. But also unconscious or taken for granted ideas and attitudes and the doxa of the day, within a culture, a social group and a time that in nature and society seems self-evident. So fiction is a mixture of the sociological and the personal, a product of the intersection of the life of the writer with the historical and cultural context of their lives.

I carry within and on the surface of my body the marks of my biography – scars from accidents, infirmities the developing result of those accidents as well as life-style choices, a psychology the culmination, so far, of influences and education, a self-identity shaped by a history of experiences, roles played, groups and social networks belonged to. The result is a person who at any one stage of their life is a sort of collage, a gallimaufry, a multi-person. What I like about the metaphorical notion that a person is like a palimpsest, a document that bears the traces of past writings, is that in a person is in some respects a series of emergent layers. Each of us is like a Russian doll where within us there are earlier versions of our selves – child, teenager, young adult, married person, and so on.

A palimpsest can be a piece of material that has had several unrelated texts written on it. The only thread that runs through the existence of the material is itself and the changing cultural context of the various otherwise unrelated texts that it has had layered upon it. A palimpsest can also have had texts written upon it that are related sequentially, perhaps revisions of the same narrative, or at least influenced and shaped by earlier accounts. It is palimpsest of this type, ghostly stories still existing in the current version, that I see as a metaphor for a life.

If it is the case that all fictional writing draws in some way upon the biography of the writer in that it draws on experience, memory, influences on self identity, attitudes and beliefs – the taken for granted aspects of the world as well as those consciously deliberated and reflected upon – than all writing is a product of the palimpsest that is the author. It is autofiction.

Drawn from life: why have novelists stopped making things up? [A Guardian article]. “Karl Ove Knausgaard, Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti, Edward St Aubyn – authors are using their own life stories in their fiction. Does the boom in autofiction spell the end of the novel”?


I am young, fresh and tender. I am succulently, greenly beautiful.

Ah, but so, once, was I.

You? You are old. Dry and brittle. You are past your prime. I, I am sought after. People seek me out, they play on me, delicately taste me. They like to hold me between two thumbs, blow on me until I vibrate like a spider’s web in the wind and hear me squeal with pleasure. What use have they for you?

I am the rustling couch which is the receiver of sighs and whispers. I am the receptacle of secrets. I am the wistful melancholy of summer sadness mingled with the promise of mellow autumn.

Then I am the reality of summer happiness. It is I that sees the anticipation of spring become the green of cricket pitches, bowling greens and parks. I am the one that cools hot feet and fills the air with sweet scents. I am the daisy-speckled one that gathers the people together.

I do not deny you your attractions; would you deny me mine? If you will but look, you will see that I too am adorned – by the cornflower and wild scarlet poppy. Beware arrogance, young blade; age reaches us all.

Not I. I am needed as provender for the animals. Why even the domestic cat comes to me for medication.

And what am I if not fodder for those same beasts during winter when you have shrivelled and died or lie hidden and shivering beneath winter’s chill? Should I envy you then, when I am warm in the barn?

Tell me, do artists draw you, old one? Do they sit for hour upon hour pondering over your shades, textures and shape, as indeed I am pondered over?

Were it true that no artist finds in me what is found in you – and it is not – that boast would still cause me no pain for I am more than a mere passive subject. I help to create nests and hides – living art. Not only do I provide the material for the country mouse’s nest but am the very foundation of her home. I am sanctuary also for snipe, quail and partridge. What could find protection in you?

Look to my roots and you will see. I harbour a score and more of insects. I, too, am a protector.

You will see, then, that there is no need for arrogance or pride; that we both have a place and serve a purpose?

Yes. Yes, I understand that now.

Julia Wassall. Written as a GCE ‘O’ Level English homework in 1977, rediscovered 42 years later!

Flash fiction – Sanctuary

The New term for my creative writing group started last week. This time there will be a theme running through our work which is ‘sanctuary’. This is because in March, as part of the Headingley Literature Festival, the group will be putting on a public performance of readings on the theme, very broadly defined. Our first homework was to write a short piece of flash fiction, in this case about 350 words, on some place or location that we personally think of as our sanctuary. Some of us found this quite difficult as, assuming sanctuary is some sort of escape or safe haven, those of us that have quite ordinary and harmonious lives, don’t need or have a sanctuary. Most of us wrote something on memories of childhood, early family life, or a particular place they find relaxing and re-energising. There were a couple of pieces on going to football matches on Saturdays! As our tutor, Liz, pointed out there is a tendency with this exercise for it to become rather sentimental. On the whole we avoided this but there is no doubt there was a good bit of nostalgia in some of the writing. I suppose a retreat into a nostalgic reverie of a more carefree or exciting time in our lives could be seen as some sort of visit to a sanctuary. I wrote two pieces, both personal in the sense that they are fictions based on elements of personal experience. The first, ‘en-suite’ is the one I read out in class.

Lenny felt safe at last. He’d been shown to a decent cell at Millgarth. The solitary window was too high to see out, but it was round the back of the station near the market so quiet at night. He’d had his cup of tea and sandwich. They had taken his clothes and insisted he had a shower before turning in. It suited him down to the ground; quiet, warm, en-suite after a fashion. Usually they let him go the next day after charging him with vagrancy or a breach of the peace, but this time it would be different.

He’d go to Armley prison for a while but he was banking on getting to one of the dispersal prisons out in the sticks. It didn’t matter where as there was nobody to visit him. He would soon fit in. He would keep his head down and mind his Ps and Qs. He was in his 60s now so he had little fear of becoming anybody’s plaything. He’d get on one of the education programmes, learn to read and write, perhaps get a job in the prison library, maybe the kitchen. He’d heard there are gardens at Full Sutton where the prisoners grow vegetables. That would be OK.

If his sentence is less than four years he might have to serve it all in Armley. He lay back in his bunk and smiled. He was pretty sure he would get more than four years. He hadn’t meant to kill the young man who had pissed on him as he lay in his sleeping bag, round the back of Schofields. He had hit him in the kneecap with the hammer he kept. As the youth lay writhing on the pavement he thought, now’s my chance, what’s to lose? It was October and he wasn’t sure he’d survive another winter anyway. Every problem is an opportunity he remembers a magistrate telling him once. Well, he’d had a lifetime of opportunities by her reckoning. This time he wasn’t passing it up. He had put the kid out of his misery with one massive blow to the head and settled back into the doorway to wait for the police.

The Kitchen
The kitchen was my mother’s domain. It was only later I realised it was also her sanctuary. A war bride, daughter of a respected family within the business community, father a magistrate and President of the Round Table, she defied her parents and married a geordie private from the local barracks. Disowned and dispossessed they managed to have a reasonable life, but always had to be careful with money. We never had a car and holidays were spent with various of dad’s relatives. There was always food on the table and decent clothes but we missed out on many of the things our school friends enjoyed, school trips, holidays abroad, weekend drives in the country and the like.

In all my memories of her, mother seemed detached, alone somehow, despite keeping home for a family of five. I don’t remember any conversations between my parents. Once in a while I would see them on the sofa watching the TV with dad’s arm around her. On holiday they would sometimes hold hands walking on the prom. I think they loved one another. But mostly they lived separate lives. For a while mother tried going to dad’s working men’s club with him on a Friday evening and joined the ladies’ darts team but she didn’t fit in and it soon came to an end.

She spent most of her time, once we’d all started school, at home by herself. None of us were allowed into her kitchen. We used to feel guilty if we even looked into it when the door was open or the hatch through to the dining room. I would often see her at the kitchen table in her floral pinny, staring at nothing in particular or out of the window overlooking the back yard, a book open in front of her. I never saw dad read anything other than the News of the World. To me mother was a closed book and only much later could I begin to understand the unfulfilled possibilities of her life. I think that, sitting in her kitchen, she spent her time living in different worlds, the ones she entered though her books, and perhaps thinking of the ones she might have had if the army hadn’t come to Tunbridge Wells.

Unshackling the unconscious: reflection on writing a cento and the I Ching.

In my creative writing class we recently did an exercise writing a cento. This is a poem made up from lines taken from other poets existing work, each line is taken from a different poet and the final product should make sense. Cento is Latin for patchwork and centos are sometimes called collage poems. Early examples were written by Homer and Virgil.

We used anthologies in the exercise. We were asked to choose our first line carefully as it will constrain your subsequent lines as you look for a topic or theme to emerge. The first line will have some appeal, perhaps resonates with a mood or a specific theme. Subsequent choices will be complementary in some way and the meaning of the poem, the objective, will crystallise. The lines are written down and re-ordered. Some minor modifications can be made, only a few words, to bring the tense into line or the gender of a protagonist.

The meaning has developed by the author/compiler and is given its full form in the reordering. Like in all poetry, readers will sense and fill in gaps with speculation and interpretation. The meaning of the poem will be constructed, forged or to some extent disinterred by the reader. It is what it comes to mean to him or her. Theirs may or may not be congruent with the meaning for the poet. It will depend on the mood, temperament, knowledge and experience of the reader. The poem will evoke images and feelings, immediate images and meanings but also others that are provoked to emerge from deeper levels of the unconscious mind and memory.

This process reminded me of the way the I Ching oracle works. It dated back at least two and a half millennia and uses a manuscript called The Book of Changes and a series of commentaries called the Ten Wings written and compiled by Chinese Confucian savants and philosophers. Traditionally yarrow sticks are thrown in the air and the resulting pattern is unpicked and interpreted. In modern times three coins are thrown multiple times to achieve the same end, to construct a series of six lines that form a hexagram which, on consultation in the book, will give you the answer to the question you were asking of the oracle and kept in mind while going through the process of constructing the hexagram.

Generally you do not use the oracle to ask yes/no questions. The interpretation and commentaries on the hexagrams are very abstract and do not offer you any truths. What seems to happen is that in the exercise of trying to apply the statement to your question you start to unpick the possible answers against a clearer idea of what the uncertainties and other factors are. It is your own knowledge, emotions and experience you are drawing on. You construct your own understanding and narrative account of the question, the meaning of the question, the factors and uncertainties that surround it and evaluation of various alternative approaches.

It occurs to me that something like this can be used to think about questions and make decisions regarding any situation where you are trying to construct a plausible and coherent narrative. The questions pose to the oracle could be about imaginary characters you are inventing for a story line, or situations you wish to develop and possibly resolve in the story. The I Ching could be used as a story generator or at least something to have a conversation with (although in practice the conversation is with yourself) about aspects of your writing.

This is the poem I produced in class. We were given about 20 minutes to complete the exercise.

I’m drawn to these places; already feel I belong,
It goes so deep, the anger and unspoken stories.

Through the night when we had nearly let go
We created a desert and called it peace.

When women howled in the street, men ran from their doors,
Brown, nude and stumbling, in the heat of death.

Malene Englelund. The Terns
David Harsent. Fire: End Scenes And Outtakes
Kirsten Irving. No Fish Are We Now
Sam Willetts. Caravagio

Exercise in micro-fiction

Micro-fictions are short stories of 100 words or less. I have three to write as this week’s homework for my creative writing class, all referencing in some way or another a door. I’ve found this to be a difficult task and it reminds me of something in a letter written in 1657 by the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal: “If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter”. In only 100 words you cannot develop a back story or detailed characterisations. You are obliged to leave the reader with a fair amount of work to do, to speculate and fill in the inevitable gaps. This is par excellence an exercise in “show, don’t tell” a common creative writing course mantra. So far I’ve written five and I have until Tuesday to write more, refine them and choose three for submission and reading. Here are the five so far. Of these Julia likes the first three best.

The Clothes Horse

He has done the right thing she told herself after he walked out and hurt had given way to acceptance, even relief. She had never been able to take the place of the mother he always regretted leaving. It was after she had died that he disappeared. A month later she spotted his favourite scarf and jacket on the balcony of old widow Moretti’s apartment. She had smiled at this discovery. The widow missed her dead son more than her dead husband and now, presumably, she had found another son to dote on and he another mother to cling to. [100]

The Consolations of Dog Walking

There he was, as always, waiting expectantly outside the door, his lead in his mouth, eyes full of excited expectation. It was his children’s dog in theory but in practice, when it came to walks, it was his. Dogs live on instinct and automatic responses – wag, bark, fight, flee, sniff, scratch – a repertoire not dependent on reflection, analysis, or calculation. His dog gives him uncomplicated unconditional love. He in turn understands it completely. No second guessing, hesitant uncertainty or fear of being judged and found wanting. No questions or inconsequential conversation. Just the two of them, companions free to wander. [100]

I Baked You a Cake

She’d left the door ajar. The aroma of her baking, mingled with the honeysuckle perfume drawn out by the warmth of the evening sun, would greet him as he entered tired and hungry from work. She had some good news to tell and was preparing a special cake with love and care as a celebration. Only the best ingredients; Normandy butter, fresh vanilla pods, free range eggs. This had been the first cake she had made for him many years ago. The final ingredient would make it the last – a freshly brewed infusion of Jimsonweed to seal a fond farewell. [100]

God’s Door

Leaning on his stick, he knocked on the blue door, as he had done for over 50 years, first with his wife and, later, their children. Doing God’s work. The children eventually turned their backs on them and their religion. Then God, cruelly, senselessly, took his wife and, at a stroke, abandoned him too. If doors are answered now, he no longer talks of God and salvation. He just wants to exchange a few words, to see perhaps a smile, to see in someone’s face an acknowledgement of his existence. Salvation now is other people. Please God, open the door.  [100]


The old iron key turned in the lock. The ancient door yielded to the sound of groaning hinges, and the familiar musty smell of the church embraced her. As always, she was the first. This was the time she loved best, to process towards the altar, to climb the steps to the lectern, to address her imaginary congregation while putting up the numbers of the day’s hymns. Small in stature and bent, she shrank even more in the presence of others. But here, behind this door, alone under God’s understanding gaze, she found sanctuary from the rejection of the world. [100]

The bottle-green shoe

This was homework for my creative writing class for the 5th November. The theme was shoes. This is a true story told to me by a solid, down-to-earth Yorkshireman, the Brian in the story.

Brian and Sally had moved into the 18th century farmhouse early in their marriage. Once it had been surrounded by moorland but now it was enclosed and hidden away in the urban sprawl of Bradford. It was a low stone building under a heavy Yorkshire slab roof braced against the fetch of the westerly wind but now insulated by its thick walls and mullioned windows from the noise of the busy city. They took pleasure in just being in the house, feeling its tranquil solidity, imagining the lives of the generations who had lived, loved and died in it over the centuries.

The house had needed extensive repairs and they did their best to maintain its original features and feel. When modifying the massive fireplace in the living room to fit a modern stove they discovered a horseshoe embedded in the stonework. This was carefully replaced before being covered over again. They found the remnants of corn dollies under the broad roughhewn floorboards. Friends had joked that they should watch out for ghosts as there must be some lingering unquiet souls but they had never sensed the presence of malignant spirits. Far from it, they felt nothing but the warm and friendly embrace of the house, as the latest custodians in its continuing story.

A year after moving in they had returned from a New Year’s party in the early hours of the morning. Almost falling out of the taxi they went straight up to the bedroom where they partly undressed before diving under the duvet and falling into a deep inebriated slumber. Much later that morning they rose and tidied the clothes strewn around the room. But Sally could only find one of her new glossy bottle-green patent leather stiletto shoes. They looked everywhere, retracing their steps from the taxi. They rang the taxi company to see if the shoe had fallen off on the journey home. They rang their friend to see if she had left it there and can come home without noticing she only had one shoe on. The shoe could not be traced.

As the years past they forgot about the missing shoe, had a child and moved fairly harmoniously into comfortable middle age. Their daughter, Jackie, had grown up, left home and got married. They too decided it was time to move on. They were very sorry to leave the family home with all its memories but wanted to be nearer Jackie and an imminent grandchild. The old farmhouse had been their home for nearly 30 happy years but now they were entering a new phase in their lives.

All was packed except what had been stored in the roof space. The ancient vertical timbers supporting the roof were massive tree trunks untooled other than where branches had been sawn off. Remnants of bark still clung on here and there. The air under the roof was cold and dank and it felt somehow separate from the rest of the house. It was the most unchanged part of the building, the only area that was just as the first occupants would have seen it. Stepping into the roof space was like going back 300 years into the past. That is except for the bits and pieces they had stored there over three decades, most of which was old furniture and boxes of junk. Amongst them Paul found the old brown cardboard suitcase his father had been demobbed with in 1947. It contained some photos and letters and some campaign medals that he wanted to keep so the case was taken downstairs to await the removal van. He had never shown Sally this family memorabilia before so, while they sat around the kitchen table for a last cup of coffee, he prised open the rusted catches to lift the lid. There, in all its pristine beauty, was the missing bottle green stiletto shoe.