Brief Encounter #13

Queen Joan Approximately
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AS regular readers will know, I have enjoyed a life-long obsession with my musical idol Bob Dylan.
Above all else he has given me the words and music to live by.
I met him briefly once (saving that for another blog) but what follows is the next closest thing and something I will always treasure… and not just for the obvious Dylan link!
It was the early spring of 2007 and as editor of the Denbighshire Free Press – a county newspaper in North Wales – I had been emailed the line-up for that summer’s International Musical Eisteddfod in Llangollen. Topping the bill on the Saturday of the festival was folk/protest legend and former partner of Bob Dylan; the wonderful Joan Baez.
At the time Joan was 66 years old, but still an amazing singer and guitarist and an icon to many.
I gulped when the festival promoter, the late Joe O’Neil, suddenly offered me the chance of an exclusive interview with Joan. My reply of “Yes, please” was instant.
And so the following Saturday I sat by my telephone and at the appointed hour it rang.
Joan was ringing me back stage from a gig in Germany. Like the line from her wonderful song to Bob Dylan, Diamonds and Dust: “And here I sit hand on the telephone hearing a voice I’d known a couple of light years ago” that moment will forever stay with me.
The phone call lasted about 15 minutes as Joan waxed eloquently about her work and looking forward to her first visit to the Eisteddfod. She also listened intently as I told her about a young band I was doing PR for. She wished them luck in a business still dominated by men. She answered concisely every question I put – including one about the ongoing poignancy of her Dylan love song – before she asked me whether I preferred Carrickfergus or the Water is Wide.
Joan finished by saying I should look her up backstage after the gig in Llangollen if I had any more questions or wanted a photo opportunity.
Joan was just the most wonderful interviewee I could have asked for.
The backstage meeting with her never came about – due to security issues – but that phone call was one magical brief encounter.

The Gaslight tapes

I HAVE been the victim of gaslighting.

And I didn’t even know it!

To understand anything which now follows, you probably will need to read my recent autobiographical blog piece entitled Denial. The posting tells the story of my denial of access and loss of my two middle daughters.

Following the publication of Denial on Sunday 9 March, I suddenly discovered by cruel irony that the perpetrators had poisoned other members of my family.

It was a sinister and unexpected shock and left me asking “Why?”

Then last weekend things became a lot clearer.

I had my best friend to stay. She wanted to help me come to terms with the most recent turn of events. She is my soul mate, my trustee and by chance a psychologist. She has known me for many years and knows most of my life. She had read my blog posting and was concerned. So during Saturday afternoon sat on our sofa, I filled in a few gaps and we chatted.

Then she turned to me and said suddenly: “You have been gaslighted.”

“It is a cruel and cunning and devious abuse tactic,” she added.

I gasped for an explanation.

So here it is: Gaslighting is a sophisticated manipulation tactic which is used to control and create doubt in the mind of the victim.

In a 1930s movie thriller entitled “Gas Light”,  a conniving husband tries to make the wife he wishes to get rid of think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp.

In recent years, the term “gaslighting” has come to be applied to attempts by certain kinds of people to create so much doubt and fear in the minds of their targets of exploitation that the victim no longer trusts their own judgment about things, thus coming under their power and control.

Sometimes, a person can assert something with such an apparent intensity of conviction that the other person begins to doubt their own perspective.

Bringing up historical facts that seem largely accurate but contain minute, hard-to-prove distortions and using them to “prove” the correctness of one’s position is another method.

Gaslighting is particularly effective when coupled with other tactics such as shaming and guilting. Anything that aids in getting another person to doubt their judgment and back down will work.

Deception is often the key ingredient in manipulation. Deception can be accomplished by outright denial, distortion of key aspects of events, and a variety of other methods, especially the more sophisticated lying techniques.

A really accomplished liar can deceive another person by merely reciting a litany of absolutely true things — while deliberately and cleverly leaving out one or two crucial elements that would change the entire character of what they’re trying to make you believe.

But a common element among all the tactics manipulators use is that they cause the person being targeted to doubt their gut instincts about what’s going on. Their gut tells them they’re under attack or that someone is trying to get the better of them, and they intuitively go on the defensive. But because they often can’t find any clear, direct, objective evidence that the other person is merely trying to disadvantage them, they start doubting and questioning themselves.

This is the real secret of effective manipulation. If the “target” were solidly convinced they were in the process of being done in, they’d more likely put up more resistance instead of capitulating.

Manipulators know this. They win by getting the other person to back down or give in.”

My friend then added: “The way I see it is that the person behind this is like a poison seed. That seed poisons those around to believe them and demonise you.”

So things began to become clearer:

  • The perpetrator could cite three of four instances in my life when I had lost my temper… therefore I had an “anger management problem”. Failing each time to mention the circumstances which led to the rational outburst of anger.
  • The perpetrator could prove that on a few occasions in my life I was treated for depression… therefore I was “mentally ill” and “must be dangerous”. Failing to point out that these occasions were separated by many years and were a natural reaction to overpowering life events, such as bereavement, cancer and loss of a job.
  • The perpetrator could point out that I had a criminal conviction… therefore I was “a criminal with an interest in young girls”. Failing to point out that the conviction was 30 years ago, had been fully spent since 1991, and was due to me immediately handing myself in to the police when I discovered the girl’s age.
  • The perpetrator could point out that I had moved 300 miles away and not seen my daughters for years… therefore I had “abandoned them”. Failing to point out that their mother had moved away and had prevented me from seeing my daughters.

And so on. Until those around them – mainly my daughters – believed all the blackening lies and half truths about me.

My friend said that I had been specifically a victim of gaslighting by proxy, which is described: “If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbours, the media, teachers – in short, third parties – to do his bidding. Even the victim’s relatives, friends, and colleagues are amenable to the considerable charm, persuasiveness, and manipulativeness of the abuser. The abuser offers a plausible rendition of the events and interprets them to his favour.

“Others rarely have a chance to witness an abusive exchange first hand and at close quarters. In contrast, the victims are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown and are angry.

“Confronted with this contrast between a polished, self-controlled, and suave abuser and his harried casualties – it is easy to reach the conclusion that the real victim is the abuser, or that both parties abuse each other equally.

“The abuser perverts the system – therapists, counsellors, mediators, court-appointed guardians, police officers, and judges.

He uses them to pathologise the victim and separate him/her from their sources of emotional sustenance – notably, from their children.”

Dr Richard Gardner sums it up: “The purpose of the alienation is usually to gain or retain custody without the involvement of the father. The alienation usually extends to the father’s family and friends as well.

“Many of these children proudly state that their decision to reject their fathers is their own. They deny any contribution from their mothers. And the mothers often support this vehemently. In fact, the mothers will often state that they want the child to visit with the father and recognise the importance of such involvement, yet such a mother’s every act indicates otherwise.

“Such children appreciate that, by stating the decision is their own, they assuage mother’s guilt and protect her from criticism. Such professions of independent thinking are supported by the mother who will often praise these children for being the kind of people who have minds of their own and are forthright and brave enough to express overtly their opinions. Frequently, such mothers will exhort their children to tell them the truth regarding whether or not they really want to see their fathers.

“The child will usually appreciate that “the truth” is the profession that they hate the father and do not want to see him ever again. They thereby provide that answer – couched as “the truth” – which will protect them from their mother’s anger if they were to state what they really wanted to do, which is to see their fathers.

“After a period of programming the child may not know what is the truth anymore and come to actually believe that the father deserves the vilification being directed against him. The end point of the brainwashing process has then been achieved.”

So I turned to my friend exhausted. She hugged me and said: “Now you know what has happened to you. You are not alone, you are a beautiful person and those that love you and know you well are still with you and we all support you.”

My first lesson in human psychology was over!

 

You’re the one that reached me you’re the one that I admired

blog tony benn
THE death of Tony Benn is a watershed in British politics.
He was the last truly great parliamentary socialist, and a man of courtesy, decency, principle, integrity and vision.
And he was a true hero of mine.
During my years as a newspaper journalist I was fortunate enough to interview Tony three times, and each interview was a joy.
Unlike many of his contemporaries – including former chancellor Denis Healey and ex PM Jim Callaghan – he did not waffle over his time in office or make excuses and like younger MPs he did not obscure with sound bites or spin.
Instead he told things as they were and imprinted his vision of equality and fairness in words of insight and candour.
The interviews were all in the 1990s, so during the latter time of his 50 years as a member of parliament, but he was still fresh and relished argument and fought for justice.
After each interview I felt like I had been speaking with a friend.
And I have another reason for loving Tony Benn.
In 1994, 41 MPs signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons praising my year-long investigation into the link between the test firing of depleted uranium tank shells and local clusters of cancer.
The same tank shells provided a link to Gulf War Syndrome in the first Gulf War.
Some of my political heroes signed that EDM including Alan Simpson, Ken Livingstone and Dennis Skinner. But the sixth signature on that motion was Tony Benn. His name next to mine was like a personal shield of honour. A treasure I will keep till the grave.
Tony was true fighter for ordinary working people from the moment he was elected an MP in 1950. He was a privileged and educated aristocrat turned man of the people.
From his successful fight to remain in the Commons upon the death of his father Viscount Stansgate – a Viscountcy which Tony was to be forced to inherit – through to the Hovercraft, Concorde, TSR2, nuclear power, special edition postage stamps, tape-recording his own interviews and speeches, he was every inch the dashing, eloquent and unafraid hero.
Tony Benn was one of the few British politicians who became more left-wing after having actually served in government.
When Labour lost power in the 1979 General Election, Tony became the authentic voice of the radical left with the press coining the term Bennite to describe the policies espoused by those resisting attempts to move the Labour Party to the middle ground.
As such, he became a bogeyman for the right in British politics, with delegates to Conservative conferences displaying Ban the Benn badges in the style of CND’s Ban the Bomb logo.
Later in life he became a folk hero as well as a campaigner for a number of causes, particularly opposition to UK military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was blamed by many for contributing to Labour’s lack of electoral success during the 1980s.
Tony Benn was a totem for those who rejected the shift to the right widely seen as necessary if the party was to regain power.
This shift was eventually completed under Tony Blair, who pushed through the abandonment of clause IV and redefined Labour as a party comfortable with privatisation and free market economics.
Tony Benn was unrepentant in his opposition to the changes saying: “We are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and to define its finer values.”
With a typically memorable turn of phrase, Tony then signalled the end of his parliamentary career in 1999, when he announced he would not be standing for re-election at the next general election. Asked whether he would be taking his place in the House of Lords, the former Viscount Stansgate replied: “Don’t be silly.”
His final speech to the House of Commons as MP was an appropriately eloquent farewell, in which he talked widely on his view of the role of parliament and the wider question of democracy.
He said: “In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person – Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates – ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.
After his retirement from parliament, Tony became the public face of the Stop the War coalition.
In one edition of BBC TV’s Question Time, his exchanges with US Republican John Bolton included this broadside: “I was born about a quarter of a mile from where we are sitting now and I was here in London during the Blitz. And every night I went down into the shelter. 500 people killed, my brother was killed, my friends were killed. And when the Charter of the UN was read to me, I was a pilot coming home in a troop ship: ‘We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.’ That was the pledge my generation gave to the younger generation and you tore it up. And it’s a war crime that’s been committed in Iraq, because there is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons.”
He died and will forever live as the Honorary President of the Stop the War Coalition, leading the greatest mass movement in British history. He was the greatest leader Labour, and Great Britain, never had.
Tony’s legacy must now be a catalyst for the left and working people.
The UK is the sixth richest country on Earth, but now has half a million people dependent on food banks; wages haven’t fallen for so long since the Victorian era; the next generation faces being poorer for the first time in a century.
“The flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope that you can build a better world” is what drives social change.
Appropriately Tony Benn once said: “Modern Britain does not lack anger, but the left’s real mission is surely hope. Charismatic and inspiring leaders will inevitably be mourned. But the injustices that drove them don’t die, and so neither will the need to continue their fight.”
Rest in Peace Tony, you were a legend in your own time.

Poem: Waking

The mist of morning cloaks the field
The dead of calm
Replaces
The blackness of the night

The dawn of day breaks gently
A faint glimpse of fear
Lingers
The greyness of the night

The faces of dreams dance away
The terror of the dark
Echoes
The sickness of the night

Memories of mistakes go slowly
The hand it holds on
Strongly
The stillness of the night

The song of birds call onwards
To brave another day
Shivers
The bleakness of the night

Lettin’ the cat out of the cage and keeping a low profile

In the past fortnight I have republished three of my newspaper articles written while I was working as an investigative journalist in Scotland and North East England. One looked at the likely governmental conspiracy over the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 another at the secrecy of the Bilderberg organisation and yesterday I reloaded a piece about the top secret Aurora aircraft.
Today we are back down to Earth with an article about big cats at large in the UK. This was first published in 1999 and republished in 2009.

ARE they overgrown pussycats, the figment of over-active imaginations, or something much closer to jungle reality? The mystery surrounding Scotland’s big cats has grown to Nessie proportions. Now experts claim there may be 50 of them prowling our countryside
The eyes flicker gold against the dipped headlights. The bared fangs belong to a David Attenborough wildlife documentary. The coat appears a buff fawn. The shape is unmistakably that of a big cat – possibly a puma. But this is not Saskatchewan – it is Scotland.
It is a clear February night. My car is parked in a lay-by on the A712, a remote road which winds its way through the Galloway Forest. I have taken a short break from a 200-mile journey home from friends in the North. I am awe-struck. I move my left hand slowly across to the passenger glove box where I know my camera is loaded with flash and film. The plastic lock unclips and the camera drops into my hand. I look up – but the beast is gone.
Like many others before me I have my one and only brief encounter with one of Scotland’s mysterious big cats. No physical evidence, just what I saw with my own eyes. The mystery beast – possibly the famed Galloway Puma – could be one of up to 50 big cats roaming free in the UK.
During the past two decades thousands of people have reported sightings of big cats from Cornwall in the south to Caithness in the north. In Scotland, the Galloway Puma has cousins in Angus, Argyll, Aberdeenshire and Moray. Experts are now united in agreeing that the cats are real, may have been at large for more than 20 years and bred generations of offspring.
Marcus Matthews, who has researched big cat sightings since 1986, is convinced. His 165,000-word manuscript on UK sightings is set to become a definitive book on the subject. His study-bedroom is cluttered with 25 files and 5,000 letters he has collected on the subject.
“I have over 1,000 letters confirming sightings,” he says. “But for every reported sighting there are probably two or three others which have never been recorded. We are talking of maybe 50 big cats out there, ranging from black leopards to lynxes and smaller jungle and leopard cats. The evidence is there,” he urges. “For instance the skull of a puma found on Exmoor in 1993 was certainly genuine.”
In Scotland, a puma was caught in the hills north of the Great Glen in 1980, a leopard cat was shot near Jedburgh in the Borders in 1988 and another killed in Berwickshire a year later.
The Ross-shire puma was found in a trap by a Cannich farmer following an eight-month hunt during which he had lost many sheep and foals. The beast – suffering from chronic arthritis – was taken to the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie, where she lived out her last years, dying in 1985. The origin of the Berwickshire leopard cat remains unknown, but the Jedburgh cat originally came from Edinburgh Zoo and had escaped from a private collection in Cumbria.
Last month, Buchan welder John Aitken revealed he had two encounters with a big cat within a year at Crimonmogate, near Fraserburgh. His sightings are part of a wave of new reports of puma-like creatures across the North.
Last year farmers in the Kiltarlity area in Highland blamed a big cat for a spate of sheep killings. Alan Syme, of the Scottish Agricultural College’s veterinary laboratories in Inverness, later confirmed that at least one of the sheep had been killed by “some creature other than foxes or dogs”.
Other sightings of big cats have been made near Stonehaven, Findhorn, Lochinver, Turriff and Huntly.
In South-west Scotland, the existence of the so-called Galloway Puma was recently given credence when three Canadian tourists staying in holiday chalets at Newton Stewart reported seeing the cat. They said it was identical to animals “back home” in Vancouver.
Sightings in the Forfar, Dundee and North Perthshire areas of the black-coloured “Angus Big Cat” have been reported for many years.
In 1994, Tayside Police followed their Grampian counterparts in appointing an officer to investigate reports of a predatory big cat roaming the rural areas and killing sheep.
And the big cat story is getting bigger:
First there was the Beast of Exmoor and the Surrey Panther.
A swamp cat was run over by a car at Hayling Island, Hampshire.
A Devon farmer shot a South American leopard.
The history of big cats in Scotland can be traced back to the 1920s when three lynxes were killed in traps set at individual points in the Highlands. Alford vet May Crossling says she first saw a big cat 20 years ago while driving in the Montrose area. She believes the most likely explanation for continued sightings is that a number of “panther-like cats” were released from private collections and have successfully bred in the wild. It is a view shared by others.
Malcolm Moy, former owner of the Argyll Wildlife Park in Inveraray, has long espoused the existence of a number of puma-like cats at large throughout Scotland. “It started when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced in 1976,” he said. “Before that you could even buy these things in Exchange and Mart and many people had them as exotic pets. But after the Act local councils told owners to either get a local authority licence and provide secure caging or have their pets put down. Many couldn’t afford the expensive cages and couldn’t bear to have their cats destroyed, so dumped them in remote places in Wales, south-west England and Scotland.” Other beasts escaped from insecure small zoos and careless owners.
Mr Moy’s conclusions were confirmed by another expert. Police big-cat tracker Steve Ashcroft claimed there were an “alarming number of big cats now living wild in Britain”. He said there could be as many as 50. Mr Moy added: “By now some of these cats would have got together and produced litters.”
A puma’s usual prey is rabbits, roe deer or young red deer. But it will also attack stock. “We had a panther in Argyll and one farmer lost 18 sheep to it after the local rabbit population got myxomatosis,” he added. New sightings in mid-Argyll have added weight to claims that a family of panthers may be roaming the area. A recent sighting at Ford near Loch Awe was the 36 th catalogued by police in Lochgilphead since 1984. The animal was caught on video tape and the film corroborated by a local SSPCA officer.
Terry Moore of the Cat Survival Trust believes the estimate of 50 big cats at large may be a little high. But he is confident there are as many as 24, from seven different species, living on the mainland of Britain.
Fears over an increase in big cat numbers have been made by zoologist Quentin Rose, who has investigated sightings for seven years. Mr Rose claims to have identified 27 reliable reports of leopards, 32 of pumas and 18 smaller members of the cat family – jungle cats, leopard cats and ocelots – in Scotland, Wales, the West of England and East Anglia. He believes the known reports are just the tip of the iceberg. And he warns that if nothing is done, the big cat population could explode, posing a threat to indigenous wildlife, livestock and humans.
Bob Fotheringham, chief game warden at Blair Drummond Safari Park, near Stirling, is less alarmist but still believes there are big cats at large. “Every three or four weeks we get phone calls of sightings of big cats,” he said.
“There are currently a lot in the Fife area and close to Balfron. We know there are native Scottish wild cats, but they are only seen rarely because there is such a vast area of Scotland in which they can lose themselves. For similar reasons I personally believe there are big cats out there.”

Friends and people like you

MANY years ago while cutting my teeth as a newspaper editor in Argyll I fought a year-long campaign on behalf of a Conservative parliamentary candidate who was an innocent victim of demonization and dirty tricks by his own party.
His crime?
To stand up and speak out for what he believed in. He had dared call a rich Tory landowner a “Philistine and a Barbarian” for flouting planning orders and felling a forest of trees in order to build holiday chalets.
His enemy quickly became the same landowner and his cohorts: the Duke of Argyll, Former Home Secretary Lord Willie Whitelaw, the chairman of the constituency party Archie McCallum and eventually the whole Scottish Conservative Party.
The parliamentary candidate was deselected by his party and never stood as a Conservative again.
His name was Bill Hodgson and he became a good friend.
Bill sadly died in October 2010.
He left me with many happy memories of wine-fuelled chats by his fireside in Edinburgh and his wonderful sense of humour.
He also left me a letter with the immortal words: “A man is known by his friends and not his enemies, I am grateful to count you as a friend.”
And his words still echo after I finished my recent heart-wrenching quartet of pieces entitled Back from the Edge.
I was nervous about publishing this series as it was so personal and raw, but have been bowled over by the response and love of true friends.
I knew I could count on my wife Gill, my son Nathan and mum for their support during this time, but the rest was a surprise.
You see, it is easy to know who you love and who loves you, but is less easy to appreciate who are true friends.
I now know I am blessed by real friends. So thank you: fellow bloggers Laura and Jane, my friend of 22 years Judith, a friend of even longer Jane, my warmest buddy Nicola B, the lovely Kay D, members of my extended Outterside family including Lorraine, Nicky and Karen, the gorgeous Sues, brilliant friend Kate M, the wonderful musician and human being Carolyn, Jenny and Caryn plus former work colleagues Rachel R, Sarah B, Sophie C and Karen B and especially the two Hannahs, who both have the capacity to reduce me to tears by the unexpected honesty and true warmth of their words.
And finally an embrace for Helen, my confidante and witness at my wedding to Gill. She is the daughter I never had and my soul mate. She tells it like it is: “Fuck the bastards Nic, you are beautiful!”
A man is known by his friends and not his enemies and I am a very lucky man.

Poison Chapter 4

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield
Book 1: Poison
Chapter Four

JOE and Nathan disembarked from the train – remembering at the last minute to drag their canvas bags from under their seats – and stood awestruck on the platform.
But the sense of wonder lasted only a few seconds before Nathan said: “Cummon Joe, we gotta go!”
Joe laughed out loud and the two boys walked briskly down to the ticket check and out onto the station concourse.
Once outside they stood as taxis whizzed to and fro and a crowd of people pushed past in pursuit of their shopping trip, or whatever else had brought them to this busy Shropshire town.
Nathan rummaged in his bag and consulted one of his maps. He was about to point the way, when a sudden commotion erupted behind them.
There were screams and various shouts of: “Over there!” and “Look!” and more urgently: “Run!”
A rush of people herded past into the car park and the apparent safety of the streets beyond.
Joe and Nathan listened as one elderly gentleman said to his wife: “It was, I swear to you, I have seen them in zoos.”
His grey-haired wife held his arm and replied: “There, there, it was only a large dog, now calm down Cedric.”
And with that, she pointed and said “Look!”
The two boys followed her stare and watched a middle-aged woman in a tweed skirt and jacket fasten a chain lead to a large Alsatian and reprimand the animal with “Bad dog, Karl!”
“Wow, wonder what all that was about?” said Joe.
“Dunno, but we must get on,” said Nathan, “It’s more exciting than boring old Gresburton.”
But as the boys were about to turn on their way, they were stopped again, this time with a familiar shout of “Hey, Nath!”
Nathan looked across the busy main road and was shocked to see his best friend from school, Ben Hill, waving madly from the opposite pavement. Ben’s mum, Caryn, also waved and, holding her son’s hand, crossed the road as the lights changed to red against the stream of traffic.
“Hiya Nath,” exclaimed Ben, and “Hi Jack,” he added in Joe’s direction.
Joe grunted back and Nathan looked embarrassed.
“Well, what are you two miscreants doing in Shrewsbury?” asked a clearly puzzled Mrs Hill.
“Where’s your dad, Nathan?” she continued.
Nathan flushed as he lied: “We’re, we’re going to see the dinosaur exhibition… sorry we gotta dash cos dad is waiting for us in the newsagents over there.”
Nathan grabbed Joe’s hand and the two boys ran in the general direction of a newsagents across from the traffic lights.
Behind them Ben called: “See you tomorrow Nath.”
Mrs Hill added: “Take care and watch the traffic, boys.”
Once inside the newsagents, the two friends pretended to look at magazines while nervously glancing out the window to watch Mrs Hill and Ben walk away in the direction of the town centre.
The boys glanced at each other and Joe winked.
Once the coast was clear, Nathan led Joe out of the shop and back over the road they had just crossed.

Back at Landfill Cottage, Nicolas Sunnybank’s mood had changed from one of anger and surprise to one of anger and fear.
Anger because, how dare his young son apparently sell his prize telecaster, worth over £2,000 for a mere £325, and how dare he then milk his Paypal account of £400.
And fear, because, why would his son do that, and where was he now?
Nicolas thought of waiting until tea-time to seriously quiz his wayward eleven-year-old, but something tugged at him to deal with the situation that very minute.
“He will be up to no good with that spoilt rich friend of his, Joe Greenfield,” he fumed.
“I bet he’s part of this!”
And with anger fighting measure for measure with the emotion of fear, Nicolas slipped on some green Crocs, picked up his car keys and leaving the back door wide open allowed a breeze to blow lazily across the conservatory.
Out in the glare of the sun, he jumped into his old purple VW Polo.
One turn of the ignition key and the car sped down the dusty lane and onto Gresburton Road.
Half a mile along the main thoroughfare into town, Nicolas turned a sharp right and raced along another lane towards Greenfield Mansion.
The car screeched to a halt on the gravel drive alongside a huge stone statue of an old Victorian Earl sitting astride a trusty stallion.
Across the beautifully manicured front lawn, an old gardener stopped from his weeding and watched as Nicolas sprinted up the stone steps and rang a loud bell at the front door.
Moments passed before the door was opened by the butler.
“Good afternoon to you, Mr Sunnybank, how good to see you,” welcomed Bob.
“Is my son here?” exclaimed Nicolas, “I need to see him now!”
“I am sorry, I haven’t seen young Nathan around the house today,” answered the house servant, “And come to think of it, I haven’t seen Master Joe either.”
“Well, in that case, may I have a word with Felicity?” replied a now increasingly anxious Nicolas.
“Of course, Sir, please come in and step into the drawing room and I will see if her ladyship is free,” said the quite jovial butler.
Bob strode in the direction of the west wing and the kitchen.
Nicolas made his way into the drawing room and stood agitated next to the fireplace.
Above the marble mantle was a dark rectangular shadow against the lighter green wallpaper, where a portrait had once hung.
“Thank God, Felicity has at last got rid of that awful painting of Lord I Like It Better Somewhere Else,” thought Nicolas.
He glanced at the two stags heads mounted on the wall either side of the fireplace, and winced.
“Barbarous!” he fumed.
He wandered over to the leather Chesterfield sofa and picked up a copy of the latest Horse and Hound magazine.
“What world do these people live in?” Nicolas asked himself.
But before he had time to espouse another poke at the direction of the British aristocracy, the door opened and in walked a smiling Bob.
“I am terribly sorry, but her ladyship has gone to do a spot of painting in the meadows… she will be back for tea at 4pm,” he volunteered.
“But, but, but,” stammered Nicolas, “This is really urgent, I really must see Felicity now, or better still my son or hers!”
The butler bowed slightly, and said “I will see what I can do.
“Would you care for a cup of tea or maybe something a bit stronger?”

Some 33 miles away, two excited boys were making their way up a steep hill beside Shrewsbury railway station and passed with some anxiety the huge gates to the town’s Victorian prison.
A gaggle of visitors stood on a ramp of steps next to a dark door, waiting in the sunshine to be allowed in to see their nearest and dearest.
High prison walls dominated the pavement and the surrounding houses as the boys hurried past.
“It’s along here,” encouraged Nathan, and the two friends broke into a run to get as far away from the prison gates as they could and as quickly as they could.
While the prison perimeter walls still towered overhead the road became more tree-lined and leafy and the feeling of anxiety gave way to the more familiar feeling of adventure.
The sun shone through the trees and dappled the pavement.
After what seemed to be 20 minutes of walking, Nathan stopped and grabbed Joe’s hand.
“What’s up?” asked Joe.
“This is it!” said Nathan.
“What?” Joe asked again.
“The road where TJ lives,” his smaller friend replied.
A sign next to them betrayed the words: Severn Avenue.
“It is number 24, somewhere up here on the left,” Nathan urged.
The boys walked past a busy pub, where the sound of some 1970’s pop song mingled with laughter and the smell of beer.
After a few more gardens, they stopped.
Joe was the first to exclaim: “Number 24!”
“Right, let me do the talking cos I have met her housemate before,” said Nathan.
His finger pressed the front door buzzer.
A minute passed before a tired looking dark haired girl in her early 20s opened the door and peered nervously onto the doorstep.
“Sorry, we don’t need our car washed,” she snapped, “Cos we don’t have a car, now naff off, and don’t ring again!”
She was about to slam the door in the boys’ faces, but Nathan acted quickly and thrust his foot into the door jam.
“Amy!” he shouted, “It’s me, Nathan, TJ’s brother!”
The girl’s mouth dropped open in shock.
“Oh my God,” she gasped. “Come in, come in quick and now!”
Half dragging the two boys over the thresh-hold she slammed the front door behind them.
She hugged Nathan tightly to her stomach and almost involuntarily kissed his head.
Tears welled in her eyes as she cuddled him even tighter.
“Ouch!” exclaimed Nathan, “I can’t breathe.”
“Sorry,” replied Amy, loosening her arms, “But it is so really good to see you.”
Leading them into the end of terrace building, Amy pointed towards an old green sofa in the front room.
“Sit, down, sit down,” she almost stuttered.
Nathan and Joe sat down together and began the difficult task of explaining to Amy why they were there.
And Amy had an even more difficult time telling the two young boys things she had kept to herself for four long weeks.
Outside, the two intensely curious brown eyes were watching the house from the pavement on the other side of the road.
Two piercing green eyes glinted from behind a large laurel bush in a neighbouring garden.
And further away at the end of the avenue two sinister grey eyes also watched the front door of Number 24, from the sanctity of a polished black BMW car.

Poem: No More War

From Cannae to the Afghan hills my battles have been fought
The centuries fall beside me and I am left with nought
In the darkness of the forest the English archers lay in wait
And abused my youthful hope at Crecy’s fallen gate
Saladin’s beautiful velvet army crushed my men at Damietta
Left me reeling for 30 years inside the silk veil of a leper
At the Battle of Watling Street Boudica’s chariot roared like thunder
Left bodies scarred and scared as her followers they did plunder
On Flodden’s muddy fields madmen shed the blood of tears
Left the dead unburied and my corpse to rot for years
The Blitz rained bombs and rockets on our shaking ruined city
Whisky fuelled the fight each night for a soldier’s dying pity
The Civil War was a wretched time and tore families asunder
It bankrupted dwindling coffers as I felt my life go under
And so a final battle was fought on the Verdun grass
The dead of friend and foe knew the warfare could not last
So lay down your weapons now we have had enough of war
Let matters pass between us and battles become no more