Parenthood

You sit by his bedside

And read him to sleep

You kiss him goodnight

And let him count sheep

You tidy his room

And fold up his clothes

You tip-toe to bed

And count your own woes

 

The evening darkens deeply

The shooting star

That shines

Above

You do these things so freely

As they reflect your own true love

 

You wake him at dawn

And brush his blonde hair

You wash his small face

And see him downstairs

You watch as he eats

And check his school bag

You put on his coat

And write on his name tag

 

The morning lightens meekly

The pale sun

That shines

Above

You do these things so freely

As they reflect your own true love

 

You stand by the school gate

And hear the bell ring

He rushes to meet you

And you hear the birds sing

He walks by your side

And talks of his day

He looks up and smiles

And wants so to play

 

The afternoon brightens sweetly

The golden sun

Descends

Above

You do these things so freely

As they reflect your own true love

 

My Perfect Star

I was driving my son to school one day

When I spotted six wild deer

Skipping ‘cross the meadow, in the mist they were so clear

In the music of my senses

It was the strings of my guitar

Oh Nathan, you are my perfect star

 

From the day that you arrived kicking

You were bundle so very small

Now 14 years have passed and you’ve grown so tall

My life has become a travelogue

Of adventures from afar

Oh Nathan, you are my perfect star

 

People’ll tell you where they’ve gone

They’ll tell you where to go

But till you get there yourself you’ll never really know

Where some have found their paradise

Other’s just go too far

Oh Nathan, you are my perfect star

 

Now you’ve kicked your way to glory

With determination and some skill

You’re the mirror of my childhood, still with time to kill

At school you are a scholar

The payment for my scar

Oh Nathan, you are my perfect star

 

As the future burns so bright

The deer have now skipped away

The mist envelops the road ahead, turning light to grey

I think of all the things I’ve done

And how we’ve come so far

Oh Nathan, you are my perfect star

Poison: Chapter 10

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield

Book 1: Poison

Chapter Ten

NICOLAS sat in one of the half-chewed wicker chairs in his conservatory and, under a single basket shaded lamp, tried to decipher the uneaten part of his son’s note.

He could make out that Nathan was apologising for something and also that he was with Joe, and on closer inspection, he also saw TJ’s name and the words “life or death”. But the rest of the note was either illegible or simply missing.

He stuffed it into his trouser pocket.

The final two words “Love Nathan” stayed neatly etched in Nicolas’s mind as he hurried upstairs to pack a bag and report his findings to Felicity.

In his small double bedroom he stuffed a few bare essentials into a corduroy grip and changed into a baggy jumper, a pair of canvas chinos and some old suede desert boots.

At the last minute he remembered to retrieve Nathan’s note from his old trousers and tuck it into the back pocket of his chinos.

Nicolas then turned off his cottage lights, shut all the doors and hurried out to his car.

As he approached the vehicle, the two goats skittered past him into the darkness.

“Finest Afghan goat curry, both of you,” he growled after them.

On the short drive back to Greenfield Mansion, Nicolas again thought about Nathan’s note and especially the reference to TJ.

Was he missing something? Why would Nathan mention his sister and why the words “life or death”?

Nicolas knew TJ was away on an animal rights activist demonstration somewhere. But she was with friends and she was always self-assured in her texts and postcards home.

But there hadn’t been a postcard or text for over two weeks.

Nicolas wondered whether to telephone his former wife Elizabeth to ask whether she had heard from TJ… and as that thought passed through his mind he found himself outside the front door of Greenfield Mansion.

A cloud passed across the moon as he ran up the steps to the main door and pushed it gently.

It was now well past 2am as he entered the lobby to be greeted by a tired but smiling Felicity.

“Good to see you again, Nicolas,” she said, as he put his grip down next to a large potted aspidistra.

“Come and sit over here… there have been some developments,” she added.

Nicolas obeyed and sat on the chaise longue.

“Would you like a cocoa?” Felicity asked.

“No, I am fine,” was the reply.

“Well then, you’ll never guess what I found,” smiled Felicity, producing Clara’s mobile phone from the seat next to her.

And for the next 10 minutes she told Nicolas every detail of not only the three text messages shared between her daughter and Tony earlier that evening, but of a succession of dozens of texts between the couple from the past few weeks.

“I know Clara is 17 years old and needs some privacy, but I am her mother and I feel she has been less than honest with me,” she said.

“The deceit about the music lessons with Master Anthony is one thing, but matters have gone much too far. And now she is heaven knows where with this man and seems to know far more about what is going on than either you or me.”

Nicolas lightly touched the back of Felicity’s right hand and said gently: “Don’t worry, I am sure the kids are safe and we will get to the bottom of this.”

Felicity turned and smiled, her greying auburn hair caught the moonlight playing through the pane above the main door.

“Are you sure you don’t want that cocoa?” she said more calmly.

“Oh, yes… thank you,” answered Nicolas, rising to his feet.

The two parents ambled through to the kitchen and continued their conversation.

Back at 24 Severn Avenue, Amy was about to ring 999 on her mobile phone.

“No, don’t!” Nathan and Joe shouted almost in unison.

“We must not get the cops involved or TJ could die,” added the younger boy hurriedly.

“Well what do we do?” demanded a now increasingly agitated Amy. “We have a dead man, a wolf, a gun, three bullet holes and another man lying here in front of us in the hallway of my house… we have to do something.”

“Make that two guns,” said Joe, shining a large rubber torch he had just found on the sill next to Amy’s front door.

Joe shone the torch beam at a rifle lying half way up the staircase, then he turned the beam at the doorway of the living room to where Nathan had kicked the revolver.

“Well, I think first of all I need to clear away the bits of fungi,” pressed Nathan, “before someone else touches them by mistake… do you have any other torches, Amy?” he asked.

“Oh and any duct tape?”

Amy hesitated and said she had another torch in her bedroom and a roll of parcel tape in a box in the spare room.

“Parcel tape… well, I suppose that will have to do,” Nathan answered, disappointedly.

“Let me clear the stairs of the fungi and find the other torch and the tape,” he added, taking control of the situation for the second time that night.

“Can you help me pull this dead guy away from the stairs so I can get past… and don’t touch anything else, nor his right hand,” he added.

For the next 15 minutes, the three friends worked together to clear the staircase and make safe the back door with a chair wedged against the broken door handle. The spare torch helped them all see things more clearly.

All the while, Blue stood over the prone body of Klaus, who occasionally let out a small cry of pain or fear as the wolf moved against his bleeding leg.

“Pack a bag for yourself,” Nathan suddenly said to Amy, “We need to get as far away from here as we can. I have read enough Tom Clancy to know these guys are bound to have support somewhere.”

“But it’s my house!” cried Amy.

“And do you feel safe here?” asked Nathan.

“No, I don’t and haven’t felt safe for at least a week until you guys arrived,” she answered.

“Well in that case we need to move now,” said Nathan.

“But where to?” asked Amy.

“Sshhhh, you know where,” Nathan replied, winking at her in the half light.

“But what about this blonde haired man, I reckon he could still hurt us?” asked Joe.

Nathan produced the roll of parcel tape.

“This should slow him down,” he said. “Joe, you put your foot on his right wrist and if he tries to move, press down hard on it.”

Joe did as he was told and gave Klaus’s wrist a test heel.

The man screamed.

“Sshhhh or you’ll wake the whole street,” whispered the younger boy.

Nathan then proceeded, with Amy’s help, to bind Klaus’s mouth with parcel tape before clumsily taping his wrists and ankles to a chair, the banister newel and a hall table.

Satisfied with their work, Nathan quipped: “That should slow him down.”

A decidedly uncomfortable Klaus made increasing moans of pain.

Blue now sat by the man licking at the blood which still oozed from his torn right trouser leg.

Amy then turned to the boys and said: “Okay, now it’s my turn to have a plan and that plan is parked at the end of the road by the river bank! But first of all I want rid of these guns out of my house.”

“Well,” said Joe, “is the river bank near a river?”

“Yes of course it is, stupid!” came the reply.

“Well, seems like a good place to get rid of these guns,” he added with a big grin.

“Let’s go then,” urged Nathan.

“Oh Amy, do you have some cheese?” asked Joe suddenly.

“Yes, I think I have a new block of cheddar in the fridge, why?” she replied.

“You’ll find out soon,” Joe added. “Can Blue come too?”

In the kitchen at Greenfield Mansion, Nicolas and Felicity were sitting on a wooden settle, sharing cocoa from two old TG Green mugs.

Felicity told Nicolas about her call to the local police station.

“I couldn’t believe it, do you know our police station is only part-time. What do we pay our rates for?” she seethed. “Anyway they put me through to headquarters ruddy miles away and I spoke to some jobsworth officer who didn’t even know where Gresburton was,” her anger mounting as she told the story.

“But they have now got Master Anthony’s registration number and assured me they were taking the matter seriously. The officer said he had logged it all on their computer thingy and our local station would pick things up when they open at 8.30am,” she added.

Nicolas reassured Felicity again and reached into the back pocket of his chinos to retrieve the remnants of Nathan’s note. He passed her the piece of paper.

“Blimey!” she gasped as she tried to read the note.

“What do you think it means and why is TJ mentioned?”

“I think it means that we have a couple of leads,” replied Nicolas.

“I think it might be a good idea if you try texting Clara on the number logged on her phone and I will ring the dear witch to see if she has heard from TJ recently, because I have not heard a dicky bird in at least two weeks.”

“That’s odd, I have not heard from Sam recently either,” added Felicity, “And he is usually good at keeping in touch, even when he is abroad.”

“I will text Clara now, but as it is rather late, do you think it might be better to ring Elizabeth in the morning… unless she is at an all-night coven,” Felicity said with a schoolgirlish smirk.

“We can’t do much else now so I suggest you get some sleep, Nicolas. I have had Bob make up a bed for you in the West Wing and I will ask Mrs Wills to cook breakfast early when we are both more awake.”

Nicolas nodded appreciatively.

“Let me show you to the room,” offered Felicity, “And don’t forget your bag.”

“I will let you know if Clara replies to my text,” she added, giving Nicolas a tiny peck on his cheek.

In Shrewsbury, Amy, Joe and Nathan walked briskly down Severn Avenue towards the river bank. A few yards behind them a wolf slunk quietly along the bushes taking care to stay out of glow from the street lights. Further back the front door of number 24 had been closed tight. Inside, Klaus was struggling to free himself from the parcel tape manacles.

Two streets away in the bed and breakfast room, Clara was woken by two text messages. The first was from Tony, telling her he was parked outside and would wait until morning. The second message was from her mother.

Clara sent a single ‘x’ text back to Tony and lay puzzling how to reply to the second message.

Outside, Tony’s tired blue eyes were adjusting to the darkness when he suddenly saw two young boys and an older girl all hurry by at the end of the road. Each was carrying a bag and the girl appeared to also be carrying a long item in her left hand that looked like a fishing rod or a gun! Some yards behind them loped a large grey animal.

Tony gasped loudly. The animal turned its head and its piercing green eyes looked towards him.

May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung

I was driving my son to school one day

When I spotted six wild deer

Skipping ‘cross the meadow, in the mist they were so clear

In the hexagram of my senses

It was the strings of my guitar

Oh Nathan, you are my perfect star

 

From the day that you arrived kicking

You were bundle so very small

Now 13 years have passed and you’ve grown so tall

My life has become a travelogue

Of adventures from afar

Oh Nathan, you are my perfect star

 

People’ll tell you where they’ve gone

They’ll tell you where to go

But till you get there yourself you’ll never really know

Where some have found their paradise

Other’s just go too far

Oh Nathan, you are my perfect star

 

You’ve kicked your way to glory

With determination and some skill

You’re the mirror of my childhood, still with time to kill

At school you are a scholar

The payment for my scar

Oh Nathan, you are my perfect star

 

As the future burns so bright

The deer have now skipped away

The mist envelops the road ahead, turning light to grey

I think of all the things I’ve done

And how we’ve come so far

Oh Nathan, you are my perfect star

 

(with thanks to Amelia)

 

 

Poison: Chapter Nine

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield

Book 1: Poison

Chapter Nine

NICOLAS pulled his car onto the now familiar gravel outside Greenfield Mansion. The moon played shadows on the steps to the front door as he and Felicity quickly made their way indoors. The lobby and drawing room lights were still burning and the house seemed unusually warm. Nicolas suddenly remembered that he had probably left his own back door open and his cottage would be far from warm.

“Blinkin’ goats!” he spouted involuntarily.

“Pardon?” exclaimed Felicity.

“Oh, nothing important,” answered Nicolas. “I have just remembered that I probably left my back door open and you can bet the goats will be in the kitchen or conservatory again… the blighters make such a mess if they get inside.”

Felicity smiled broadly and giggled to herself quietly. Nicolas’s cottage was a mess anyway, she thought.

“Look, I have an idea,” she said, brightening suddenly.

“Why don’t you pop home and sort out your goats and things, pack a bag and come back. I can get Bob to make up a bed for you in the West Wing and we can plan what to do next.

“Meanwhile I will telephone the police station,” she added.

“Sounds like a plan,” said Nicolas. “And a good one too… I won’t be long,” he added. He made his way back towards the front door, the stopped and turned towards Felicity.

“Oh, the registration plate on Tony’s Porsche is T04Y WWD,” he said.

“Crikey, that was observant of you,” Felicity replied, blowing an air kiss in his direction.

Nicolas blushed and waved as he hurried outside.

Back at Severn Avenue, all hell had broken loose.

In what seemed to be a co-ordinated simultaneous action the younger man, Rolf, tumbled forward down the stairs cracking his head hard on the bottom banister as he fell.

At that same moment a grey haired animal leapt from the open front door and sank its fangs into the right leg of the blonde haired man Klaus. The pain of the animal’s bite shot up his leg into his thigh and groin. He crumpled to one side, firing his silenced Walther revolver three times into the kitchen door. The wolf was upon him, now biting hard into his right wrist until the gun dropped onto the hallway carpet. Quick as a flash Nathan kicked out and sent the revolver spinning into the open living room.

Amy froze.

“Blue!” Joe yelled. “You beauty!”

“Blinkin’ heck,” gasped Nathan, “What is he doing here and what a life saver!”

The wolf was now standing astride a terrified Klaus, slavering onto his face.

The wolf made eye contact with Joe as the young boy ordered: “Hold… don’t kill!”

Nathan moved towards the body of Rolf, who lay just four feet away. The man’s swollen right hand gave away the secret. TJ’s bag and its contents lay scattered on the stairs, and in the half-light, Nathan examined where the pieces of fungi had fallen.

Nathan turned to Amy and Joe, who were now both on their feet.

Amy was shaking almost uncontrollably as Nathan ordered: “Don’t touch anything… this other guy is dead… but I think it was the fall that killed him and not the Grey Skull shrooms!”

Joe placed a hand on Amy’s arm and hugged her.

“Don’t touch that grey stuff on your stairs, Amy, they are poisonous,” he told her.

He turned to Nathan and added: “And you, matey, are a legend.”

Amy was slowly regaining her composure. She moved quickly and closed the front door. As she did so she noticed the lights in a number of houses opposite were switched on and she could see faces peering out of one upstairs window.

“Whaaaat is that?” she stammered pointing at Blue.

“Never seen a wolf before,” Joe grinned back at her. “He’s mine, he’s called Blue… but I’ll be blowed how he got here! Look, he will let you pet him,” he added, tousling Blue’s mane.

Under the wolf, the blond haired man’s face was almost white with fear as the animal’s dribble trickled around his chin and throat. Blood oozed from his leg and right wrist. His grey eyes blinked into the unflinching green eyes of his captor and guard.

“We need to ring the police now,” interrupted Amy urgently.

At Landfill Cottage, Nicolas’s VW pulled up outside the back door. He jumped out and ran into the conservatory. The door was still open, blowing back and forth in the gentle night time breeze. He reached for the light switch and in the electric glow he surveyed the devastation that two unattended goats could cause. Chewed wicker furniture, a broken mug, a ruined rug and half eaten tomato plants gave an indication what lay ahead.

“Oh dang it, blinkin’ goats,” Nicolas swore.

He turned on the kitchen lights and viewed the mess, which included a well gnawed pine chair and two decimated wooden door handles, while the entire contents of the veg rack and the kitchen waste bin were strewn everywhere.

Next to the kitchen range, two content goats slept soundly.

Nicolas moved quickly towards the animals. He poked the first goat with his foot and shouted: “Right you two… outside!”

The animals started, before obediently trotting out through the kitchen door and into the conservatory. Nicolas followed and watched as the younger of the two animals stopped to take a bite out of what was left of a tomato plant.

“No, Annie, get outside!” he shouted.

The goats broke into a run through the conservatory door and onto the veranda, leaving pebble-shaped involuntary mementoes of their stay as they ran.

Nicolas shut the door behind them and began the tiresome task of cleaning up the mess.

Two full black bin bags and a matted broom later, the kitchen was passable. He would need to clean it properly another time.

The conservatory was a different matter. The mess of chewed tomato plants, strewn compost and goat poo needed a shovel, a bucket, disinfectant and a mop.

Nicolas had just finished the cleaning and was thinking about selling the goats and packing an overnight bag when he noticed a piece of half chewed note paper on the floor by the left hand window. The paper betrayed his son’s neat handwriting and he could make out the words: “Love Nathan”. He bent down, picked up what remained of the note and began to read it.

A mile away in the lobby of Greenfield Mansion, her Ladyship was explaining to Bob about their pursuit of Master Anthony.

“I need to speak to his father,” she was saying, “He has as good as abducted my daughter. He is in real trouble when I catch up with him.”

“Yes Ma’am,” said Bob, yawning.

“Oh, Bob,” I am so very sorry,” gulped Lady Felicity. “It is well past your duty hours and your bedtime. Please get yourself to bed and thank you for everything you have done.” “Thank you Ma’am,” answered the butler, “But as long as you are sure there is nothing else I can do tonight.”

“Oh, just one small thing,” Lady Felicity remembered. “Do you mind turning back the bed and putting a radiator on in the Elizabeth Room in the West Wing… Mr Sunnybank may be staying tonight?”

“Not at all,” answered Bob as he trotted off towards the back staircase, grinning quietly to himself.

Felicity sat on the chaise longue next to the landline telephone in the lobby and prepared to give the local police station both barrels of her anger.

She breathed in deeply and was about to dial the station’s number when she noticed Clara’s pink mobile phone on the lobby table next to her.

“Blimey, I thought Master Anthony had taken that,” she exclaimed loudly.

She picked up the phone and for the first time since her daughter was fourteen decided to read her text messages.

“I know I shouldn’t but a mother must do what a mother must do,” she muttered.

Felicity quickly scanned the most recent text conversation and grew quickly agitated when she read the recent exchange between Clara and Tony.

The agitation turned to fear and anger when she then read Clara’s original text message.

“I am unsure who is going to feel my wrath first,” she fumed, “my darling daughter or that duplicitous boy!”

“But I am sure of one thing… the police need to know now!!

And she began to dial the police station number on her landline phone.

At Albert Avenue in Shrewsbury, a red Porsche Boxster pulled up under a leafy Rowan tree outside a terraced house advertising bed and breakfast. The car’s occupant glanced at the upstairs windows of the building and then at the packed holdall on the passenger seat.

“Phew, that was close getting away from Lady Felicity and that guy from the cottage,” Tony thought to himself. “I hope she doesn’t involve dad in all of this or there could be hell to pay. I just hope it is all worth it.”

He turned to his mobile phone and sent a short text to Clara.

Two streets away in a black BMW, a laptop computer was beeping for attention. Almost 140 miles further away, the caller’s steel grey eyes were growing agitated at the failure of his operatives to respond.

The last text message on his phone simply read: “We are moving on the girl now.”

But there had been no further contact for more than an hour.

In a room less than three miles from this location two blank eyes gazed towards the ceiling of a surgically clean painted room.

Forever Young

MY eldest son has just celebrated his 30th birthday and suddenly I feel very old indeed.
Meanwhile, my youngest boy is still only 12 years-old. He provides a natural counter-balance as I stumble through my late 50s.
To state that he keeps me young is a barbed understatement.
My life revolves around him and my wife, as in turns we fetch and carry him to rugby, football, cricket, taekwondo and choir. And as parents we cheer his successes and chastise when needed. Coming up in the next seven days is a school Oscar ceremony (where he has won an Oscar!) a pop choir event, a village summer fete at his old primary school… oh and a trip to the dentist!
But his very being also teaches me my real age. He can run circles around me with any new technology, I cannot understand the music he listens to, far less name any of the artists and I am constantly exhausted.
Would I change things?
Never!
I wrote out the lyrics and recorded this song by Bob Dylan for all my beautiful children. So Ben, Tan, Rhia, Shannon and Nathan… this is for you… and me!

Poison Chapter 2

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

ON the edge of the coppice Nathan and Joe hugged quickly, collapsed together on a grassy bank and laughed out loud at their respective escapes.
“Dad was so engrossed in his new book, he won’t even realise I have gone for at least four hours,” said Nathan.
Joe grinned back from behind his shock of long brown hair before adding: “And with mum and Joy giving it some in the kitchen, they didn’t even notice me sneak out!”
“But what about Clara?” asked Nathan.
Joe broke into fits of laughter.
“She isn’t going anywhere, at least not till tea-time when mum goes to feed the horses and we will be miles away by then… tell you all about it later,” he chuckled.
Nathan sniggered before pointing to Joe’s bag and saying: “Okay, let’s see if we have everything.”
The two friends emptied their bags on the grass and carried out an inventory of everything they had brought.
Maps, money, knife, torch, biscuits, a stop watch, a packet of small plastic bags, some coloured elastic bands, spare underpants, two apples, the photo of TJ, one toothbrush between them and the jar of snake venom… all seemed to be in order.
“Aah mint, you’ve got chocolate fingers,” laughed Joe, while stuffing four of them into his mouth.
“And jelly beans!” sniggered Nathan, taking a handful of the multi-coloured flavoured sweets.
“Right,” he added, “We had better get going… the train leaves in 35 minutes.”
The two boys gazed across the fields towards the branch line railway station of Gresburton.
“Reckon we can get there in less than 15 minutes,” laughed Joe, repacking his bag. “Cummon!”
The two boys ran across the grass, down the hill towards the old red brick railway station.
Behind them, in the trees, the pair of angry brown eyes watched them.
And hidden in a dense rhododendron bush some 50 yards further back two piercing green eyes also watched.

“Whoo hoo!” Nathan shouted as the boys jumped a half rotten stile into the next field.
“Beat you there,” screamed Joe as he bustled past Nathan and took an early lead towards the railway station.
The sun beat down on the two friends as they raced their way into their dangerous adventure.
It would be the last time for a long while they would feel such innocent sunshine on their backs.

Suddenly Joe skidded to a stop by a large oak tree.
Nathan crashed into him and the two friends rolled onto the grass.
“What is this?” questioned Joe, pointing at a group of strange brown and grey fungi, growing around the base of the tree.
He reached out his hand to pick one.
As quick as lightning, Nathan punched Joe in the belly and yelled loudly at him: “No, don’t!”
Joe looked bruised and shocked by Nathan’s attack.
“Hey Nath, what you doing? I only want a closer look!”
“But you mustn’t even touch them,” Nathan retorted.
“They are Grey Skull Death Fungi. Their poison can even seep through the skin on your hands and you’d be really sick or even dead within minutes!”
Joe looked shocked.
Nathan continued: “They are really rare in this country and it’s only the second time I have ever seen them. I am amazed they are here.
“Look, can you see the skull-like imprint on the cap of the fungi?”
Joe’s face went its own deathly shade of grey as he listened to what Nathan said, and studied the strange image.
“Thank God your mum is a witch,” said Joe, nervously. “She has taught you so much.”
Nathan smiled.
“Well maybe not always, but she does know her fungi and poisons,” he replied.
“But they could be useful, let’s take a few.”
Joe sat on the grass in awe as Nathan took a small plastic bag from his canvas holdall, and, using it like a glove picked three fungi – before dropping them into another plastic bag and depositing it into a side pocket of the holdall.
“Right, let’s go, if we wanna catch that train,” Nathan snapped.

The boys continued their race across the fields and were soon on Pant Lane, just 100 metres from the railway station.
Then, almost like twins, they paused together and deliberated on their next move.
“Right,” said Joe.
“We need to decide how we are going to buy our tickets.
“You are only eleven and there is no way the guy at the ticket office will sell you a long distance train ticket without an adult with you,” he added.
“Yeah,” said Nathan.
“But even though you are thirteen and a few inches taller than me, you still don’t look old enough.
“And anyway we need to get this first train without anyone being able to trace us… that’s why I brought so much cash!”
They both looked blank for a moment.
Then Joe broke the silence.
“Got an idea,” he whispered.
“Never used one before, but seen Joy buy her train tickets on her days off at a machine near the station door.
“Reckon we can work out how to do it?”
The boys chuckled and nodded a ‘yes’ to each other.
Carefully they walked to the station entrance, paused, looked round to check they were alone and approached the ticket machine.
Nathan read the instructions on a white notice at the front of the blue computerised box.
“Reckon I know how,” he said.
He chose their destination of London Euston, via Shrewsbury, and touched the screen, then he selected a single ticket and a junior half fare option.
He gasped when the machine told him to insert £65.
“Wow, that’s expensive,” he said hesitating. Then he carefully unrolled a bundle of notes from his back pocket.
He inserted the bank notes and waited while the machine coughed up £5 change and a small green ticket.
Nathan read the ticket carefully and turned to his friend.
“Okay Joe… your turn!”
Joe followed the same sequence and within a minute had his own ticket stuffed into his jeans’ pocket.
He looked at his watch.
“We got just 10 minutes,” he said.
“Fancy a can of coke?”
The boys walked briskly onto the station platform, checked the departure notice and strolled across to the drinks vending machine.
With somewhat greater ease they bought two cans of coke.
The sweet pop invigorated them after their busy morning in the sun.
Their adventure really had begun.
After what seemed only a few minutes a three carriage train rolled into the station.
Joe checked the train number against the departure board and nodded to Nathan.
“This is it!” he whispered.
The boys climbed into the first carriage, stowed their bags under their seats and sat smiling, looking out onto the platform opposite.
On a bench just 20 metres away, they recognised Mr Taylor, their football coach, sitting reading a newspaper.
The boys looked down, and grinned.
They heard a guard blow a whistle and the surge of the electric engine as the train prepared to move off.
One carriage back, two angry – and now intensely curious – brown eyes watched them from behind a high-backed seat.
And in the last carriage two green eyes also peered out from under a luggage rack.