The sea is moving closer. It eats away the clay cliffs, and the rain turns soil to flowing brown custard, cascading down onto the sand.
As it falls it takes with it memories of the past. Roots and rocks once firmly embedded in the land. Concrete comes down, from roads we once travelled on, and from the foundations of homes.
It creates a space between land and water, surreal and compelling. Drowned forests, ruined bunkers, fossils, sea glass, twisted metal.
There is life in the wreckage. Kelp, red algae, sargassum on the rocks and sand.
This coast buries its past in the blue depths. Piers, villages, towns drowned; not in a dramatic swoop. More like a crack in the soil one year, a fallen fence the next. The land dribbles away. Sometimes it shifts down a metre or so, as if it is furtively attempting to escape our attention. Then another metre. And next week it is smashed boulders of clay and clumps of grass across the beach.
There are ghosts here. They emerge when the tide goes out, and make us wonder what their story was before the sea came.
Harassed by neighbours and the police, it was only in the closing pages of Tales of the Boy in Winter that Hannah revealed the truth.
WARNING: This article contains plot spoilers. If you’ve not read the book, it won’t make much sense, apart from being an interesting letter from abroad.
19th January 1975. To Mr J A Pembleton. Pepper, Pembleton and Patterson Publishing Co. Ltd. Yorvik House. 13 Riverside. York. North Yorkshire. United Kingdom.
Dear Mr Pembleton,
Thank you so much for your recent correspondence. I am in reasonable health considering my circumstances. It is good to catch up with the news in England. I do hope the young woman that was taken is found unharmed.
My Aunt Myrtle was also kidnapped, in 1953. I believe it was a bungled robbery, and her coat was caught in the back door of the getaway vehicle as she was walking to the post box with a letter to my Great Aunt Mary. She was rather dishevelled when the bank robbers reached their destination, having been thrown up onto the boot on a tight bend. She said it wasn’t a fast journey – the thieves had chosen a Renault Dauphine – but it was rather windy that day. It blew her Poodle clip into an Italian bouffant. It was only luck on their behalf, that they clipped the local policeman’s bicycle as he arrived at the scene thus taking out of action the only vehicle available for pursuit by the Pollington Constabulary. It was a pity one of the buttons had come off her coat that morning. In her hurry to leave, Aunt Myrtle had sewn herself into her coat, thus rendering escape from it and the back of the Renault Dauphine impossible.
The horrible men kept her for over a week, until she was able to escape up the chimney after chewing through the rope they tied to her wrists. I pray that the abducted girl isn’t forced to bake bread and make pots of tea like my poor aunt had to. She could never look at a tea strainer afterwards without coming over funny.
I am grateful for the cheque you enclosed. It will go towards expenses we have incurred whilst travelling. Mr Pembleton, you are quite at liberty to disclose this location to the police. I do understand that while I am regarded as an accomplice to murder(s), and having no means of legal representation, I will remain a fugitive. We are leaving this morning for new ‘climes’. I have to say it will be a relief. It is a beautiful country, but in order to go anywhere we are accompanied by armed guards. Perhaps they think we are oil tycoons!
I do not understand why anyone would think that I could kill George. I still love him, and I tell Mr Watson this every day. He understands now. He has apologised, but I have not accepted this, or the flowers he leaves outside my room every morning. I was questioned at the police station here for rather a long time after the fork incident. It was quite awkward. I was unable to defend my actions without giving away my true identity. Fortunately, after receiving adequate medical attention, Mr Watson decided not to press charges, so they let me go. I do wish everyone would stop mistaking me for his wife.
I believe that my brother Harold has stirred things up with the press. He seems quite determined to ruin me. Perhaps ‘Tales of the Boy in Winter’ shall make enough money to pay a solicitor’s fees? I can only rely on your reputable firm in this matter.
I do miss my little house and my geraniums. I suppose Harold has thrown them away now. They were very old, George’s plants. Perhaps they were taken away as evidence, and WPC Crouch now has them on a windowsill? I doubt she will, after what happened.
I must go now. Our car has arrived to take us to the airport. I never know where we are going. I leave that to Mr Watson. Please continue to send correspondence to the post office box number as previous and I will respond as soon as I can. I remain ever grateful for your support.
19th January is the day that celebrates the Worcester Bishop Wulfstan (c1008 – 1095). As you can see by the dates, he lived through one of the most traumatic times in the history of England, the Norman Conquest. He was a close confidante of Harold Godwinson, Harold the Second, the last crowned Anglo-Saxon King of England. How he survived the invasion, and kept his bishopric is strange as most others were replaced over the coming years by Normans.
There is a story that when he was ordered to surrender his staff, he stuck it into the tomb of King Edward saying that only Edward, who had appointed him, could take it off him. No-one could remove the staff but Wulfstan, so he kept his role. But perhaps it was his dedication to others and his reputation for healing and prophesies that saved him becoming de-robed. He dedicated his work to helping the poor and is known to have ended the slave trade from Bristol. He was a social reformer in difficult times, operating under a new regime.
He wore lambskins, not decorated robes, and was a vegetarian.
He was buried in Worcester Cathedral (his favourite rebuild) and shortly after a ‘hagiography’ or saint’s life was written about him. It wasn’t long before people started reporting miraculous cures that happened at his tomb. One of these miracles was the curing of King Harold’s daughter, although it’s not documented what was wrong with her.
He was one of the top saints in the Middle Ages. In those times, people undertook arduous journeys to shrines to receive some form of divinity, be it a cure, a message, or a relic (the trade in pieces of tombs, clothing, sacred jewellery and bones was very popular).
Pilgrimages in St Wulfstan’s name continued until the early 1700’s.
King John, at his own request, was buried between St Wulfstan and St Oswald in the Cathedral in 1216. At the time of the Reformation his shrine was destroyed, and his bones buried near the high altar.
Today, he is one of England’s lost saints. We do not celebrate his day still as we do dragon slayers, but here is a man who dedicated his life to ending the suffering of poverty and slavery, in a time of great change.
‘Sole survivor of the old Fathers of the English people.’ Saint Wulfstan of Worcester.
Hannah is a
woman under siege. Her neighbours are hounding her, distracting her from
discovering her family’s mysterious history.
to us a short compilation of tales dating back to the reign of Queen Victoria.
A little girl trying to find her way, a forgotten son, several step-mothers,
ghosts, wolves, fluffy kittens and loose guttering. It all adds up to sleepless
nights, frayed tempers, suspect plates of sweets and… murder.
All as poor Hannah becomes increasingly tormented by the antics of the people behind the wall. Why couldn’t they just leave her alone?
Short stories infused with dark humour coming soon to Amazon