I saw this on Tina Frisco’s Twitter account. It is very true!
Despite being happy to be away from the noise and pollution in London, I have often lamented the lack of being close to restaurants and venues within walking distance of where we live now in Beetley. This is a selection of some of the places I miss since moving away from the Capital.
The Marrakesh Cafe, Camden Market, London NW1. A short stroll from where I used to live, at the edge of the bustling Camden Market, this cafe was an ideal spot to enjoy mint tea, whilst watching the world go by late at night.
The Jazz Cafe, Parkway, NW1. Even closer, this wonderful venue where you could eat and drink as you watched some great bands or solo artists. Although called The Jazz Cafe, it featured a wide variety of music, and ticket prices were always affordable. We had some great nights in there.
The Feng Shang floating Chinese restaurant, Cumberland Basin, Regent’s Park, NW1. Accessed from Prince Albert Road, literally at the end of the street where I used to live, this upmarket Chinese restaurant serves some of the best Chinese food in London, in a refined atmosphere. Pricey, but worth it, this was also my mum’s favourite restauarant.
Bar Italia Cafe, Frith Street, Soho, W1. A London institution, tables on the pavement allow you to watch the nightlife in Soho as you sip your overpriced double espresso or cappuccino. Nothing better after a night out.
Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, Soho, W1. Not far from Bar Italia, you will find this branch of the well-known pizza chain, with live Jazz performed since 1976. Enjoy your favourite pizza and drinks as you listen to some famous names of the Jazz world.
The Gourmet Pizza Company, Gabriel’s Wharf, SE1. Next to the River Thames on a converted wharf, this pizza place specialises in unusual toppings and little-known beers from around the world. You can eat inside or outside, so it’s a good spot even in the winter. A longer walk from where I lived, but combined with a stroll along the riverside, it’s worth it. And I always ordered the Englsh Breakfast Pizza, a full breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausages, black pudding) served on a thin and crispy pizza base. Yum!
This is a fictional short story, in 970 words.
Christine watched as Sue opened her pencil case. Looking across the gap at the blonde girl sitting primly at her desk, she subconsciously pulled her feet back under the chair, so Miss Snooty Susan wouuld not see her scuffed cheap shoes. The pencil case was suede, and embossed with a butterfly motif. Chrisine’s pencil case was a cheap clear plastic. It didn’t even have a zip, just a pop stud securing a creased flap. When she took out the pencil, she sneaked it back into her satchel, so nobody would see it.
Sue slid the zip of her plush case open slowly, before removing a snazzy fountain pen from inside. It was a Parker, obvious from the metal arrow that served as both decoration and pocket clip. The silver-coloured top stood out from the black body, and Christine was wondering if it might even be one of those new cartridge pens. You didn’t have to chance getting messy with those, just plug in a new ink cartridge.
Even the nib was tiny, the latest style and perfect for neat and small writing. Christine’s mum had told her she didn’t need a pen, and they were too expensive anyway. Then Aunty Betty had bought her a set of HB pencils for her birthday, and that had been the end of it. Mum had got her a pencil sharpener from an old wooden box that dad had left behind when he left. “No idea how old this is, but it works well enough. You might as well use it, save buying another one”.
Mrs Millington said they had to write an essay, and she chalked up the subject on the board. “What I did at the weekend”.
Snooty Susan started to write immediately. She would probably be writing about what a wonderful weekend she had spent being spoiled by her parents. They probably took her ice skating, or swimming, or to ride a pony in the suburbs. Christine didn’t want to write the truth about her weekend. She had spent it doing the laundry, changing the beds, and cleaning the house while mum was working her shifts at the factory. Then each evening she had cooked her own dinner, before falling asleep reading a book.
So she invented something better. On Saturday, her dad came to take her to the cinema. He bought her ice cream during the intermission, then on the way home they stopped for fish and chips which they ate out of the wrapper as they walked along the street. Then he came back on Sunday to take her on a riverboat trip, and they went to Greenwich on the boat, before walking up the hill to the Observatory.
After lunch, they had Gym. That meant they had to change into their shorts and plimsolls in the changing room. Susan had special kit to wear, but Christine had to do Gym in her vest and knickers. Her plimsolls didn’t have any laces after the last pair had broken, so mum had made her use rough string that had been tied around a bundle of firewood. But the changing room offered her the opportunity, and she took it.
As Susan ran out onto the floor of the gymnasium, laughing with her friends, Christine held back, and took the new Parker pen from the suede case. She only wanted to feel what it was like to hold it, but when Miss Harris shouted for her to get into the class, she put the pen into her own cheap pencil case.
The last class that afternoon was Maths, and today was Geometry. That would usually involve using rulers and drawing lines, but today they had to write some answers to problems Mr Lloyd had written on the blackboard. Susan got the butterfly case from her leather satchel, and raised her eyebrows. Then her hand shot up. “Sir, someone has taken my pen. It’s new, and a Parker”. The teacher looked exasperated. “It’s probably just a prank, Susan”. He stood up. “Okay, if someone has taken Susan’s pen, hand it back now, and apologise”.
Nobody moved, including Christine.
The teacher didn’t want to waste any more time. “Right, everyone empty your satchels onto your desk now, and show me your pencil cases”. Christine was suddenly seized by panic, and had no idea what to do. For some reason, she did something stupid. Jumping up, she grabbed her satchel and ran out of the class. At the end of the corridor, the madness of her action dawned on her, and she turned to see Susan and Mr Lloyd running toward her. Fumbling in her pencil case, she removed the pen and held it out. The shiny top fell off as she did that.
Susan’s face was a picture of triumph as she grabbed Christine’s hand. “She stole it, sir. She’s a thief”. If she had just taken the pen without saying anything, Christine would have let go. But as it was, she gripped it tighter, causing the angry girl to pull on it really hard. Mr Lloyd was puffing as he got to them. He was old, and out of condition. But he looked annoyed, so Christine released her grip unexpectedly.
With no pressure holding her hand, Susan’s arm shot back at speed, and the pen went straight into her right eye, nib first. Her scream was so piercing, Christine put her hands over her ears, turning her head away so she couldn’t see the blood pouring out and the pen protruding from Susan’s eye.
Moments later, the corridor was full of people, and Mrs Collier the History teacher grabbed Christine by the arm as the screaming continued. As the teacher marched her off to the headmaster’s office, Christine was crying, and tearfully explained herself.
“I only wanted to hold it, to see what it felt like”.
I was pleased to find this selection of photos taken by Libby Hall, in 1967. I was 15 years old then, and this is the London of my teenage years.
The main concourse of Liverpool Street mainline station.
People living in tenement flats above Clapton Station in East London.
Farringdon Station in Clerkenwell, and the surrounding shops.
An overview of Farringdon Station and the Clerkenwell district.
Advertising signs in East London.
A classic ‘row of shops’. East London.
A newsagent and tobacconist shop. They were almost always situated on a corner.
Booth’s Gin distillery and bottling factory, Clerkenwell. The company made gin there from 1740.
The districts of South London where my parents grew up were once considered to be little better than slums. Dwellings not really suitable for the large families that lived in them, lacking most facilities we would take for granted by the 1960s.
They had outside toilets, hot water heated on a stove or cooker, and were back-to-back small terraced houses with poor ventilation and little light getting into them.
In 1924, the year my mum was born, a national newspaper published an article about the lack of living space in those houses.
Two nearby streets, Sultan Street and Sultan Terrace, are shown here in 1939, the year WW2 broke out. Nothing had changed in those fifteen years.
Ironically, despite the loss of life caused by the German bombing of London, it was the devastation left behind that created the space for the gradual rebuilding. This allowed for much better living conditions in working class areas after 1960.
Our blogging friend Ami from https://undercoversuperhero.com/ is participating in a fundraising event with her husband to raise money for the unit that helped her through a long illness, and continues to help her and others today.
This is her post about that.
We’re Fundraising for the Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Departments.
You may have already seen by now that me and Ewan are taking part in the Superhero Tri this year to raise money for the physiotherapy and occupational therapy departments at the rehabilitation centre where I stayed for 6 months in 2018.
If you’re unfamiliar with my story, in 2018 I almost died from double pneumonia, as I slowly recovered I realised I had lost the ability to do everything apart from moving my eyes or turning my head.
I had to learn everything again from writing, typing, brushing my hair and teeth, eating and drinking, to sitting in a chair, sitting up without support, standing up and walking.
In total, I spent 3 months in hospital and 6 months at the rehabilitation centre. It was at rehab where everything changed.
On my first day there, I was dependent on a hoist, but by discharge day I was able to walk with a walking frame (with 2 people assisting me).
I could write a book about how much the staff mean to me, they really are extraordinary people and are the real superheroes.
We’re almost halfway towards our fundraising goal (thank you so much if you’ve donated already!) and I know times are tough right now so if you’re unable to donate, can you please share this far and wide?
Thank you so much!
Here’s my fundraising page. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Ami-Hook-Ireland
If it is possible for you to help with a donation of any amount, please follow the link. If not, then please share this post on any social media you are a member of.
I am just back from Fakenham, and have taken the second visual fields test required by the DVLA. According to the technician, I got a ‘perfect score’. She also told me that due to ‘administrative errors’ at the DVLA, I am one of many who have been required to re-take this test.
(Perhaps it was not personal after all.)
Despite the perfect score, it is still up to the DVLA whether or not they issue my renewed licence. And according to the optician, they have a backlog of ‘many months’ still outstanding.
So it is ‘wait and see time’. (No pun intended.)
This is all 24 parts of my recent fiction serial. It is a long read, in 19,020 words.
The story was suggested by a first line supplied by Chris. https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/
He hadn’t seen anything like it in twenty years of teaching. Not only did it seem incredible, and too good to be true, it gave him a shiver up his back. Roger read it again, realising he could hardly have written it himself, let alone have expected to read it as homework submitted by an eleven year-old girl.
It was the first month of the new school year, September 1968, and Roger had been assigned his classes, including his own form, G1. G for Gale, his surname, and 1 for the fact they were all first years. New uniforms, always a little too large, to allow growing room. The kids unfamiliar with the building, not used to regular homework assignments, and most getting to know classmates for the first time. Attempting to fit in, or make new friends.
Not Emily though. She sat with a remarkable self-assurance, her uniform immaculate, and exactly as it should be worn. Not for her the rebellion of sports shoes, or a skirt folded at the waist until it was too short for modesty. Her tie was in place, and her white shirt crisp and clean. That alone was enough to set her apart. As he asked questions during a lesson, her hand went up before he had finished speaking, earning her raised eyebrows from her classmates.
And her answers were not only correct, they were detailed, and well reasoned too.
Only a few days had passed before Emily had made herself very unpopular with her peers. But if she cared, there was no indication of that. Easing them in to the new regime and surroundings, Roger had waited until the second Friday to set homework. They would have all weekend to do it, and hand it in after the last period on Monday. It was simple enough. Give a description of a Motte and Bailey castle, with one example. He didn’t even ask for a diagram or drawing. History was a compulsory subject until they were fifteen, and one of the least popular with the kids.
Something wasn’t right. Not even the best encyclopedia could have provided so much background and detail, and instead of the one example he had asked for, Emily had given him ten, with drawings up to the standard of an architect. Not just an explanation of how they looked, but how they were built, why the sites were chosen, and even the names of the Norman lords who commissioned them and later occupied them. It must surely have taken her all weekend. If she had actually done the work of course.
During his three years at university, his time at Teacher Training College, and the subsequent twenty years at the school in the London suburbs, he had never seen any homework to compare with this, not even from a seventeen year-old hoping to go on to study History at a university. It was not possible that an eleven year old girl had produced this over one weekend.
Roger started to become angry.
Was this some kind of joke? Did the girl and her parents really believe he wouldn’t see through some obvious plagiarism? He was going to have to have sharp words with Emily tomorrow, perhaps ask for her parents to come into school and see him. He opened a bottle of cheap Liebfraumilch and poured a glass. Diana would have mocked his choice of wine, but luckily Diana was long gone.
Comparing the efforts of the rest of the kids’ homework made it even worse. Thomas Saunders had produced half a page, almost certainly copied from The Encyclopedia Britannica. He didn’t even care that his teacher would know he had used words he couldn’t possibly have understood, including Norman French, for God’s sake! After Emily, the brightest in the class was definitely Christine Hollingsworth. But the best she had managed was two sides of very large writing, and a half-page pencil sketch of a castle. The rest of the marking only took twenty minutes. They had all got a rough idea, but most had used examples of stone castles that were built a hundred years later.
Halfway down the second glass of Hock, Roger walked over to his bookcase. It took up one entire wall of his living room, and was a lifetime collection. He chose three books from one section at random, knowing they would all contain references to Motte and Bailey castles, then sat in the armchair and read the relevant sections as he smoked cigarettes.
Nothing. No comparison to Emily’s homework. Despite being written by leading authorities in the field, none of them compared to her work.
She had definitely created something totally original.
That night, the thought of that kept him awake.
Whilst eating his cornflakes the next morning, Roger had a change of heart. He would wait to tackle Emily and her parents, ask around his colleagues to see if she was as good in every subject, or if her History talents were just a fluke. He drove in early, actually getting a space in the staff car park, instead of having to park on a side street nearby. Even though he was only forty-three, most of the other teachers considered him to be rather stuffy and old-fashioned, and only a couple of them were older than him.
He knew what they thought of him, but didn’t care. Tooo many years of living alone had made him stuck in his ways.
The early months with Diana had been wonderful. The white wedding, a short honeymoon in Paris, followed by moving in to the terraced house they were buying together just a short drive from the school. But marriage had changed his wife. She displayed snobbery, constantly talking about not being able to afford a better car, or more modern furniture. She complained about his books taking up too much space, forcing him to relocate them to the spare room. And she had insisted on buying the latest model of television, even though the weekly payments made things tight financially.
Then she watched it. Every evening, seven evenings a week.
She spent too much money on the housekeeping, buying only the choicest cuts of meat and expensive wine, which she insisted on drinking with dinner every evening. Very soon, they had debts that they could hardly keep up with. When Roger confronted her about those, she called him mean, tight-fisted, said he didn’t appreciate her good taste. And all this from a woman who was a copy typist for the local council, and he had met at a Jazz night in a local pub.
They didn’t see their first anniversary. Diana moved back in with her parents, then moved on later to the man who owned a big car dealership that dominated the nearby road junction. No doubt he had the money to make her comfortable. At least the debts were paid, and Roger bought her out of the house for a fraction of what she could have asked for. He agreed to the divorce when she asked for it, and she even admitted infidelity with her new lover to speed things through the courts.
That was a long time ago now, but he still considered he had made a lucky escape. After Diana, he sold the television, and didn’t bother with women again. He went home every night to peace and quiet. Eating whatever he wanted, and drinking cheap German wine if he saw fit to do so.
And he had his books.
Sarah Cook was already in the staff room. He knew she taught Maths to Emily, so came right out and asked if Emily was showing promise in the subject. Sarah was reasonably new, only two years at the school. Rumour had it that she thought herself above a surburban school like theirs, and was hoping to move on to something more prestigious. She accepted his offer of a cigarette before replying.
“The Hartmann girl? Somthing fishy there, if you ask me. I gave them a test last Friday, just to see who had any idea. It was a forty-five minute general question paper, and gave me a break before the end of the school day. Less than ten minutes in, and the Hartmann girl has her hand up. “Finished, Miss”. Sarah mimicked Emily’s voice perfectly. “So I walked over and took her paper, expecting it to be crap. But it was a hundred percent correct. Most of the others were on question three of fiteen questions, and Miss Smarty-Pants had done the lot in record time. If I didn’t know better, I would say she was at the standard of a school leaver. But she’s only eleven, so something doesn’t seem right”.
It was obvious that Sarah didn’t like the girl, but the fact she had nailed the Maths test just added to Roger’s worries. Sarah stubbed out the cigarette and picked up some folders. He knew she would be keen to get to Morning Assembly early, and to be seen to be early by the headmaster. Tom Morgan showed up then, taking off his bicycle clips and running his hands through his windswept ginger hair. He was Emily’s English teacher.
Roger walked over and asked him much the same question. How was Emily shaping up in English? Tom was making himself a cup of tea and answered without turning round. “Well her spelling is erratic, but her grasp of literature is first rate. I set them an easy homework of an essay on their favourite book, and she turned in six pages about Wuthering Heights that I would have been proud to submit myself. The girl has promise, undoubtedly”.
Wandering off to the main hall for the boredom of Assembly, Roger was feeling uneasy.
Roger waited until the lunch break to catch up with Philippa Moore. She taught Emily Geography, and he asked her the same question, as she nibbled a sandwich in the staff room.
“She certainly has a grasp beyond the rest of her class. Most of the others couldn’t point to England on a world map, and they have yet to understand anything much about natural geological formations, and the oceans. Then again, she lived abroad, didn’t she?” She returned to her sandwich, dismissing him by turning away.
So Emily was good at everything. Was that even possible? He had heard about kids being amazing in one subject, and musical prodigies were famous too, like Mozart. But every subject? He still had to cover the rest of course. Science, Art, Religious Education, Physical Education, and German Language. But first he wanted to check something.
Re-reading her homework, Roger could not find any spelling mistakes. Even with the more difficult technical words she had used to describe building techniques, and some of the tools involved. Yet Tom Morgan had talked about her bad spelling in English homework, so that confused him. And now this mention of living abroad, he wanted to find out more.
After the end of the school day, he had handed back the homework before his form left. The decision to give Emily an ‘A’ had been easy enough, but he had resisted adding a + to that. In the school administration office, he caught the eye of Delia Simmons before she went home. She was the school secretary, and had been there ever since the school had opened. She knew everything, and Roger knew from past encounters that she also liked him.
“What can I do for you, Roger? We don’t often see you in here?” He told her that he was going to need to contact the parents of a girl in his form, Emily Hartmann, and asked for their address and phone number. Delia didn’t even need to check the record card. “Oh, she doesn’t have parents, she has a legal guardian. I remember them coming in to the headmaster’s office for the interview. It was all explained. She had been living in America, her parents died in an accident, and a business associate had been named as her guardian. He had to travel here on business, so she started school here this term. Hang on, I will get you the details”.
Plucking the card from one of the file drawers, Delia returned with a smile. “Lakeside Drive, a very swanky address. I think there are only four or five houses down there. It’s a private road, a very posh area indeed. The houses there are worth a small fortune, Roger. Yes, here is the guardian’s name, a mister Riku Yamada. He’s an oriental-looking gentleman, but speaks perfect English with an American accent. He was very friendly too. Shall I write it down for you?”
He knew that Delia had been widowed at a young age, and was at least ten years older than him. She had made no secret of her attraction to him, although he had never encouaged her. At the staff Christmas dinner the previous year, she had saved the seat next to her, waving at him as he walked in. Then she had scolded him for not dressing up, and wearing the same suit he so often wore to school. She was too pushy for his liking.
Thanking her for the information, he departed hurriedly, before she had the chance to suggest they go for an after work drink sometime. She had tried that on two previous occasions. The first time he had invented a dental appointment, the second a visiting aunt.
Now he was running out of excuses.
At home that evening, Roger started to take some notes. There was something niggling him about Emily. A girl genius who had just turned up in a south London suburb at the age of eleven, with a Japanese guardian, and some story about dead parents in America. Emily had no trace of an American accent, and used no American terms or phrases. If she had lived there and gone to school there, how could that be? And she must surely have been born in Britain, to qualify for a state school education free of charge.
It was giving him a headache.
Unable to settle that evening, Roger got in his car and made his way to Lakeside Drive. Not that he was going to call at the house, but he had an overwhelming curiousity to see it. As Delia had said, it was in the very best part of the area, and close to countryside and woodland as the suburbs gave way to open land. Each house had a name, not a number, and Emily’s address was Lake View.
It was at the end of a cul-de-sac, with just enough room to turn the car around in the road outside. He was disappointed when he saw large metal gates across the entrance to the house. They looked like the type that open and close electronically, and a matching metal postbox was attached to one side. So even the postman didn’t have to go up to the door.
Determined not to have made a wasted journey, Roger parked the car and walked up to the gates. Through the small gap between the two solid gates, he could just make out the house at the end of the driveway, illuminated by two security lights that shone onto the grounds surrounding it.
Mostly glass, and all on one level, it seemed to back directly onto the lake. In front of a separate garage, he could clearly see a new model Rolls-Royce car parked. But all the blinds or curtains were closed, so he had no view of anything or anyone inside.
Whoever this Yamada was, he certainly had a lot of money. Or perhaps the money was Emily’s, an inheritance from her deceased parents? There had to be at least five bedrooms in such a large house, and the luxury of it all seemed excessive. A girl from such a wealthy background could easily have been sent to the best private school in England. Why come to a moderately affluent suburb and got to the local school?
When he got home, there was a message on his answerphone. It was Delia. “Oh, I’m sorry to have missed you. I didn’t think you went out much in the evenings. I just thought you might like to come round to mine for a nightcap and a chat. If you are home at a reasonable hour, please ring me back”. Roger cursed the woman. Now he was going to have to come up with some excuse why he was out, and why he wasn’t back early enough to return her call. What was she doing ringing him at home anyway? She must be getting desperate.
The next morning, Roger got to Delia first. He apologised for missing her call, and told her he had a migraine, and had gone to bed early. She gave him her most sultry look. “Oh you poor thing. If I had known, I would driven over and looked after you. Perhaps we can do something next weekend? There is a good film on at the local”. He wanted to keep her onside, and he really didn’t like films. But he heard himself say, “That sounds good. I would like that”.
As he left the office, Delia looked like the proverbial cat who had got the cream.
Richard Mason was the physical education teacher who took Emily’s class for various sports and exercise, though Anita Day ran the Netball team and the girl’s swimming club. Richard liked to be called Rick, though he was old enough to know better. Roger managed to catch them both as they left the staff room to sort things out in the gym. He asked them both how Emily was doing, and offered no explanation as to why he was interested.
Anita spoke first. “Well she is a non-swimmer, and there is a letter excusing her from the pool due to the fact her parents drowned. As for Netball, she is hopeless, no stamina”. Rick nodded his agreement. “Hopeless in gym class too, out of puff in record time. I have asked the Headmaster to check if she has some kind of illness. I don’t want to push her to a collapse”.
Thanking them, Roger headed off to his class of third years.
So despite her average size and build, Emily was not good at any exercise or sports. So much so that one of her teachers was worried that she might have something medically wrong with her. And no swimming, with a very convenient excuse that was unlikely to be challenged.
The third years were rather noisy and disruptive, but he let them get on with it for a while. He was putting all the pieces of Emily Hartmann together in his mind.
And none of them were fitting.
During the next History lesson that Roger was teaching his own form, Emily showed remarkable insight into the Norman expansion across Britain. She also added some details about how Harold Godwinson had reneged on his promise to give William the crown, giving some justification for the invasion in the first place. That wasn’t even something Roger had mentioned during the lesson, and Emily went on to reference the Bayeux Tapestry, which was a lesson he had in mind for the following week.
The rest of the class sat looking bored as Emily delivered what was more or less a lecture, and the girl sitting next to her was staring out of the window throughout. After the class left the room, Roger was sitting at his desk considering the fact that Emily Hartmann could easily have taken that lesson if he hadn’t been there.
At morning break, he managed to have a word with Sonia Reiss, the German teacher. Trying to act very casual, he mentioned that Emily appeared to be very bright, and asked how she was getting on. Sonia replied as if she was talking to an idiot. “Hello? Her name is Hartmann. That’s a German name and her family was of German origin, so she speaks it like a native. There is hardly any point in her being in my class, but they are the rules. She will pass all of her German exams with flying colours, that’s obvious”.
He didn’t appreciate her tone, or her thick Geman accent. She always reminded him of those aggressive camp guards he had seen being arrested at the end of the war, in documentary films.
Roger’s next target was Hugh Edwardes, the Religious Education teacher. The Welshman was well-suited to his subject, with his sanctimonious airs, and pale bald head like so many vicars seem to have. He screwed his face up at the mention of Emily’s name.
“She laughed at me! Laughed, mind you. She told me that religion is a myth, and that no God exists. I understand from the headmaster that the girl’s guardian has tried to get her exempted from my class on the grounds that she is an atheist. Eleven years old, and claiming to be an athiest. I ask you, Roger, is that normal? Anyway, it was turned down. It is a compulsory subject until they choose their preferences in a few years”.
By the end of the school day, that familiar headache was starting again, and it was not improved by the sudden appearance of Delia in his room.
“Funny Girl, that’s the film I was talking about. It’s all the rage, and a wonderful musical with so many great songs. Barbra Streisand is the star. She’s so good, a really great singer. If you pick me up about six forty-five, we will get there in plenty of time. Then we can have a drink somewhere after. Okay? Here’s my address, I wrote it down for you.” She placed the sheet of paper in front of him.
Then she left without waiting for an answer, which was just as well as he hadn’t had time to think up a reason to cancel the date.
Unable to face cooking anything, Roger bought a Cornish Pasty and a box of red grapes in the corner shop near his house. He ate the pasty cold as he considered what he was now naming The Hartmann Conundrum.
Could he be the only teacher at the school bothered about the girl? The only one thinking that there was something really strange about her? He was aware that most of his colleagues believed that it was enough just to get through the day, and hope for a decent percentage of exam passes next summer. Performance reviews and promotion were linked to those passes, and the teachers were not supposed to bother themselves with any issues outside of the school, unless alerted to them by other agencies.
Of course, he was taking time to ask about her progress in every subject. His colleagues were likely to only be focusing on what happened in their own classes. Part of him just wanted to get on with the school term, give Emily an A for every paper, and stop worrying about why she was so different. But Roger was not a man who could let things go.
He liked his life to be orderly, from the way he catalogued and arranged his books in subject order, subdivided by publication date, to the way that he always used the same knife, fork, spoon, bowl, and plate. Then washed them up as soon as he had eaten, dried them, and put them away.
Emily was disrupting his routine.
As it had been over twenty years since he had last been on a date, Roger had no idea what to wear. The cinema, then drinks in a pub. No need for a tie, but not too casual. His old blue blazer still fitted him, and that had what he at least regarded as timeless style. An open necked white shirt underneath, grey trousers, black shoes. Before leaving the house, he splashed a little after shave lotion onto his hands, and patted his face. It smelled strong. Too much?
Too late now.
By contrast, Delia was desperately overdressed for the same occasion. A low-cut velvet dress with a hemline far too short for a woman of her age, black nylons, and a short bolero jacket. She was wearing enough make-up to jusitfy a stage performance in a West End theatre, and he had been able to smell her perfume through the door before she opened it. By local standards, they were going to look more than a little out of place in a surburban cinema.
He had remembered to open the car door for her, and to gallantly turn his head so as not to look down her cleavage or up her dress as she got in. On the way, she rambled on about how it had been a long time coming, and they should have started seeing each other a long time ago. It was apparent that she already saw them in some form of long-term relationship, and he hadn’t even parked the car behind the cinema.
“After all, you are divorced, I am a widow. Neither of us is getting any younger, and we have both been married before. Okay, so I am a little older than you, Roger, but at our age does that really matter?”
Roger paid for the tickets of course, and chose the Circle for a better view. When Delia hovered at the counter that sold sweets and drinks, he offered to buy her something. She chose a box of Maltesers, the largest one they had. Upstairs, they sat in the front row, so Delia could put her jacket over the ledge and get the best view of the screen. By the time the advertisements appeared on screen, she had opened the Maltesers and was holding his hand.
Fortunately, she was not one of those people who talked a lot while watching a film, but the crunching sound she made as she ate the sweets was just as annoying. He had to admit the film was very good. It was well-staged, and the songs were mostly memorable. Walking back to the car, Delia held his arm in a possessive way. Before he could suggest a pub for drinks, she got in first.
“There really is no need for us to go and sit in some noisy pub on a busy Saturday night. I have all we need at my house, so let’s just go back there”. On balance, he preferred that to one of the local pubs, he had to admit.
In her cosy living room, Delia produced a decent white wine, and slipped off her shoes as she curled up on the large sofa. “Why don’t you take your jacket off, get comfortable?” By the second glass of wine, he was thinking it had been a long time since lunch, and it was making him feel a bit woozy. He had no idea what to say by way of normal conversation, but guessed a debate about Saxon settlements in sixth century England was not the way to go.
Then Delia made her move.
Despite his age, and his short marriage, Roger knew very little about sex and love-making. But he was left in no doubt that Delia was considerably more experienced. By the time she was finished with him, his shirt was open, his trousers around his ankles, and her dress and underwear flung across the room. Lying underneath her after, feeling her weight on his body, he really wasn’t ready for what she said next.
“Right then. Let’s go upstairs and do it properly”.
It could be said that Delia opened his eyes to new possibilities that night. In fact, he was sure that on at least two occasions, his eyes had actually bulged in their sockets.
When she said it was time to sleep, he was relieved on two counts.
One that he badly needed the rest.
And two that he could ask her about Emily the next morning.
The next morning, Roger was up early. He washed as best as he could in the bathroom, upset that he was unable to brush his teeth. Dressing quickly, he went downstairs and sat politely on the sofa, waiting for Delia to appear. He had left her snoring gently in the bed. After twenty minutes, he went into the kitchen and got a glass of water from the kitchen tap. Perusing the garden, it occurred to him that this was a substantial house indeed, and she had been left well provided for by her long-dead husband.
It was almost an hour before an apologetic Delia appeared. She had brushed her hair and was wearing an expensive satin dressing gown, but last night’s make-up was still on her face. “You should have woken me, darling. Have you had a drink? Just water? I will make us some tea and then cook you a nice breakfast”.
She had called him darling, and he had noted that.
Over a full English breakfast served in the large dining room, he talked about Emily Hartmann, and how nothing about the girl added up. He had intended to ask Delia to help him find out more about her, but she beat him to it.
“Why don’t I make some enquiries, Roger? I’m sure I could find out much more about her without anyone being concerned about why I was asking. School secretaries are the backbone of school life you know. We are expected to be nosey. Now, I hope you are going to stay for Sunday lunch? I have a half leg of lamb in the fridge, and I make my own mint sauce”.
He had to disappoint her, claiming too much homework to finish marking. In truth, he wouldn’t have minded a home-cooked roast dinner, but he was not going to spend the day in yesterday’s clothes, with unbrushed teeth. Delia settled for a very smoochy goodbye kiss as he left, then whispered in his ear.
“We will make a good team, you and I. We will get to the bottom of the mystery of young Emily. You can pop round after work one evening and I will tell you what I have discovered. No need to talk about it at school and raise any suspicions”.
As he drove home, Roger experienced a strange feeling. He was going to miss Delia.
School on Monday felt strange too. Delia winked at him as he walked past the office, and tapped the phone she was holding before nodding and smiling. She seemed to be telling him that she was talking on the phone about Emily, but he knew he would have to wait to find out. To cover up anything he was planning, he treated Emily the same as everyone else, despite her boring the pants off of everyone in the class by launching into a detailed description of the Bayeux Tapestry without even being asked.
In the staff room, he went back to being ignored, and didn’t bother with any follow-up questions about Emily. Best let them think he had moved on, lost interest in the girl.
The day passed quickly, and as he packed his things into the old leather briefcase, he was surpised by the sudden appearance of the headmaster. Stephen Hoare was a former army officer who had gone into education relatively late. Some staff members looked down on him because he had not been to university, but he had a bearing and authority that intimidated them into silence. Hard to guess his age, Roger presumed he was in his late fifties, and probably did not have that long to go until retirement.
“Ah, Gale. Glad I caught you. Need a word. I’m not mentioning any names, but I have it on good authority that you have been asking around about a girl in your form and showing undue interest in her. The Hartmann girl, I am sure you know who I am talking about”. Roger nodded, and the headmaster continued. “Well I think it’s time to stop all that. After all, teachers showing too much interest in young girls, tongues wil start to wag, rumours will circulate, and before we know it there will be some sort of repercussions. In short, we don’t need a scandal at the school. Now you are a good chap, your work is exemplary, so what do you say you just get on with that and forget all about this girl”.
He didn’t wait for a reply. It was an order, not a conversation
Delia was on the phone to him that evening before he had time to start making his dnner.
“Well, so far I have been able to discover that there is a birth certificate that shows Emily Hartmann was born in London. There is a record of it on her application form to come to the school, along with the serial number. I cannot find out anything about her parents drowning yet. America is a big country, so I have no idea which newspapers to telephone. However, her guardian Riku Yamada listed a home address different to the one here, as they only took that house once they moved here permanently this year. That address was Maida Avenue, in a very expensive part of London. So I telehoned the local education authority for that area early this morning, and made a routine enquiry about Emily. They said they would get back to me, and they did”.
There was a long pause when Delia could be heard flicking through some papers.
“She attended school near there from the age of eight, at St Saviour’s School. I rang the school secretary, and she remembers her. She said she had a guardian, as her parents had been killed in a road accident in Germany. But the guardian’s name was not Yamada, it was Richter, and it was a woman. The secretary also recalled that she was very intelligent, enough to make some of the teachers query her real age. That’s definitely strange, Roger darling, not to say suspicious”.
Roger thanked her for her efforts, and agreed to go to her house on Friday evening after work to talk it all through. After the headmaster’s visit, it was not something that could be discussed at school.
Not bothering with a proper dinner, he prepared some crackers and cheese and opened a bottle of Blue Nun. He felt jubilant, redeemed. There was something not right about the girl, and his assumptions had been correct.
Two days later, Roger did something he had never done before in all his years of teaching. He prepared a history test paper for the class, but changed the questions on the one he would hand to Emily. He deliberately included some very hard questions on subjects he had not covered yet, as well as changing some real dates and names. For the rest of the children, he left it at their expected standard, so hopefully none of them would realise Emily had a different paper. He was going to give the test on Friday, and watch them write the answers.
On the day, there were the usual raised eyebrows and theatrical groans when he announced the test. Walking round the class handing out the typed sheets, he made sure to have Emily’s in the right place when he got to her desk. It always seemed there was someone different siting next to her, and it dawned on him that it was usually the last to arrive who had no option but to share her desk. This time it was Alan Holt, a boy whose father was in the army. He wanted to be a soldier too, so considered having to learn anything was superfluous to his ambition. He was unlikey to notice Emily’s different paper.
Emily’s hand was up halfway into the allotted time of forty-five minutes. Roger collected her paper and took it to his desk. Not only had she got one hundred percent correct, she had also changed the wrong dates, and corrected the names. He knew full well that the kids he taught in sixth form would have struggled with that paper, and they were all seventeen.
By the time he got to Delia’s house that evening, he was excited. As soon as she opened the door, he started rambling on about what he had done, and how he was convinced that the girl was some kind of genius, a prodigy. Despite her physical appearance, he was also convinced she was older than she looked.
Delia had other things on her mind. “Let’s go upstairs before dinner, my love. I have really missed you since last Sunday morning. It is so annoying, not being able to let on at work that we are a couple”.
She wanted her reward, and Roger paid in full.
Over the meal later, he asked Delia if she knew who had complained to the headmaster, causing Stephen Hoare to issue his warning. She smiled at her new flame.
“Of course I do, sweetheart. It was that German bitch, Sonia Reiss”.
On his way home from Delia’s, Roger was fuming. Sonia had run to the headmaster and told on him, and she might have asked around the other teachers before doing that, to offer a more convincing complaint. Delia had done well to find out about the other school, and the different guardian. It would be easy to jump to conclusions about some connection between Sonia and the Richter woman because they were both German, but something told him that was only a coincidence.
He had one more teacher to talk to about Emily. Her Science teacher, Siobhan Connolly. She was one of the new breed of teachers. She had long fair hair, wore trendy clothes, and let the older pupils call her by her first name. She also had a lot of new ideas about Science, and how it would change everyone’s life before the end of the century. Naturally, most of the other staff members had little time for her. The women seemed to be jealous of her good looks and massive self-confidence, and the men knew that she was out of their league in terms of dating, or illicit affairs.
Ignoring the headmaster’s warning, he approached her the next afternoon when school was over for the day.
She listened politely to his usual questions about Emily being so advanced academically, then smiled as she replied. “Well, I have to agree that she is very different to the rest of her class. She grasps the subject well, and her homework is of a very high standard. But I think she’s a fake, and is being helped by someone outside of the school. Her work is so far advanced compared to the rest of her year, she couldn’t possibly be that clever. At some stage, I was going to confront her about it, but until you mentioned it, nobody else has remarked about her. Then again, most of them are just here for the salary”.
Roger asked Siobhan to wait before making an issue of it. Trying not to give too much away, he reminded her that Emily was in his form, and that he was already in the process of trying to look into the reasons why Emily was so good at everything. She shrugged. “Okay with me. I don’t really want to stir up a hornet’s nest. After all, I’m the new girl, so I am happy to leave you to it”.
Delia phoned him after dinner, and by the tone of her voice he knew she was pleased with herself.
“How do you fancy a day trip into London on Saturday, my love? I have chatted to the school secretary from St Saviour’s again, and she has agreed to meet us to talk about Emily. She also believes that the Richter woman might still be at the same address, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t call on her while we are there. I said we would meet her in the Little Venice cafe at two on Saturday afternoon. You could stop over on Friday night. I will make you something nice for dinner”.
After agreeing to both the meeting and stopping over on Friday, Roger had to face the fact that he was actually becoming quite attached to Delia.She had left him in no doubt how much she liked him, and her interaction with him was so different to what he had known from his wife Diana. In every way possible. Added to that, she was actively trying to help him, interested in why he was doing it, and she had asked nothing from him.
The woman was already in the cafe when they got there. He had found somewhere to park a few minute’s walk from the cafe, which was situated on a road bridge over the junction of the Regent’s Canal and The Grand Union canal, in a very desirable district of London. It was also very close to the address where they might find the Richter woman.
Her name was Millicent Pugh, and she had a Welsh accent to go with her surname. Probably forty-something, dressed in a decade-old style and timid-looking, she reminded Roger of a librarian, and had made Delia aware that she was a Miss, so unmarried. She kept rotating her teacup on its saucer as she spoke.
“I never took to Emily. I mean, it sounds horrible to say that about such a young child, I know. But there was something strange about her from the start. When they came in to arrange her coming to the school, she was talking in German to Mrs Richter. But like an adult talks to another adult, you know what I mean? Not a like a child to a guardian, especially a woman of fifty-odd who looked very stern. If I had to sum it up, I would say Emily was in charge. Now I know you’re going to think that’s crazy, but then you have driven all this way to see me, so it’s best to know the truth”.
Delia leaned forward. “Tell us more, Milly”.
Millicent took the bait. Roger went to the counter and ordered more tea and some fancy cakes.
“Well, as you have taken so much trouble…She was the talk of the school for a while. Anyone involved in teaching her kept using words like genius when they talked about her. She had the educational level of someone much older, apparently. There was even talk of entering her for IQ tests, and maybe getting some publicity for the school. But the Richter woman would have none of it, and tried to pass it off as Emily having very intelligent parents who had worked hard with her before they died”.
She accepted the French Slice with real cream from Roger, and took a large bite of it.
“During her last year, it was presumed that she would attend the local Senior School. They get options of where they want to go, and apply. But of course you know that, silly me. Anyway, we were told that she would not be staying in Maida Vale. In fact she would be moving to the South London suburbs and attending a Secondary School there. That is obviously your school, and her records would have been sent on for you to examine, I’m sure”.
Delia waited until she had finished her cake and her second cup of tea. “Milly, could you show us the house where she lived? I understand it is close by.” Milly smiled, and turned to point out of the window. “You can see it from here. That side of the canal, number four. That’s why I suggested we meet here”.
They thanked her for the information, and for agreeing to see them. On a paper napkin, Milly wrote down a phone number. “Please let me know what you find out”.
Waving her goodbye as she walked to a nearby bus stop, Roger looked down the street. Outside the house there was a car parked. It was a new model Rolls-Royce, identical to the one he had seen through the fence at Emily’s address.
Delia was more confident than him about just ringing the doorbell and seeing who answered. “We have come this far, my darling. I for one need to know why they moved from this area”. She marched up the front steps and pressed the bell. Roger hung back at the bottom, still wondering what they would say to whoever answered. Just when they thought nobody was home and they were about to leave, the door opened.
Standing in the doorway was a man who looked Oriental. When he spoke, his accent was American. “Can I help you, folks?”
Completely unfazed, Delia smiled. “Hello, Mr Yamada. We were just vsiting some friends nearby, and I thought it would be interesting to see where Emily used to live. I see you still live here. So who is at the lakeside house with Emily?” Roger was sure all this would cause trouble. What reason could they have to be there? What if Yamada made a complaint to the school?
He was equally as composed. “Oh, Emily is at home studying today. I just came to visit a friend who still lives here, catching up on old times. Why don’t you come in and meet her?” Inside the large reception room overlooking the street, he offered them a seat and left the room. A few moments later, he returned with a serious-looking woman. Her short grey hair made her look severe, and her dress seemed to be more like a uniform of some kind. Yamada made the introduction. This is Erika, Erika Richter. We go back a long way”.
With no hesitation, Delia gave hers and Roger’s names, adding that Roger was Emily’s form teacher, and very interested in her because she was so bright. Mrs Richter replied in a German accent so strong, it reminded Roger of those German Officers in old war films. “Emily voz alveys a clivver girl. She does vell at your school, yes? Riku looks after her now. I voz getting too alt”.
Roger desperately wanted to launch into questions about why Emily’s parents were supposed to have died in Germany when she was eight, but drowned in America when she was eleven. But that would mean implicating Millicent Pugh. It was enough of a shock to find both of her guardians at the same address, and he felt that if he pushed it, they would either tell a web of lies, or be in the school on Monday to lodge a formal complaint.
Before Delia could dig them in any deeper, he stood up, thanked them for their time, and wished them a pleasant weekend. A surprised-looking Delia stood up too, and walked out with him. As they went out of the front door, Yamada smiled and waved. “Thanks for your interest. Emily is in good hands”.
As they walked to where the car was parked, Delia raised her eyebrows. “Well, I wasn’t expecting that!”
On the drive home in heavy traffic, Delia was going over her thoughts about what had happened.
“Well, imagine that! Both of them in the same house, and Emily supposedly studying at the lakeside house. Do you think she was in there, my love? I wonder if they are controlling her in some way, I really do. It seems incredible to me that two different official guardians should be snuggled up together in that house. I can only imagine what they have in mind for the poor girl”.
Roger thought Delia was becoming too fantastical with her theories. Emily was hardly a prisoner, as she could approach any teacher during the school day, and ask them to alert the authorities. Besides, had Delia forgotten what Millicent Pugh had said? She had remarked that Emily appeared to be the one in charge of Erika Richter, not the other way round. He was more interested in the girl’s inconsistencies. Why was her spelling excellent in his class, yet poor in Tom Morgan’s English lessons? Why could she not participate in any sport or physical activity, when she looked so fit and well?
He concluded that interrogating the guardians or trying to find out more about them was a diversion they didn’t need, and said as much to Delia. Yes, it seemed strange they knew each other. Then again, once Yamada took over guardianship, wouldn’t it be natural to be in contact with the previous guardian? They had to concentrate on the girl.
Emily Hartmann was the key to finding out why she was like she was.
With Delia hyped-up and excited, they spent most of that evening, and almost all of Sunday, in bed. Roger was becoming used to her constant terms of endearment by now. He no longer squirmed at being called ‘Darling’, My love’, or ‘Sweetheart’. He did not return the favour in the slightest, but that didn’t seem to bother her. Being around her was starting to feel normal, though on Sunday evening when she suggested he move into her house, he refused quite firmly.
Stroking his head, she smiled seductively. “I can wait, my darling”.
They had until late October before the half-term holiday week, and Roger decided on a charm offensive with Emily. If she had been told that he had showed up at the Maida Vale house, she gave no indication of knowing. And despite his concerns, there was no second visit from the headmaster. Yamada must have kept quiet about a form teacher and school secretary turning up on his doorstep.
That proved that he definitely had something to hide.
Young Emily responded well to increased praise for her History class work and homework. He even added the occasional + sign to the regular mark of A that she received. Rather than risk asking more questions of her other teachers, he resorted to eavesdropping in the staff room, but heard no mention of Emily’s progress in other subjects.
By mid-October, Delia could no longer contain herself, and was dropping heavy hints around the school that she and Roger were an item. Hugh Edwardes slapped him on the shoulder one day as he was getting in his car. “You and the lovely Delia, eh Roger? I didn’t see that happening, well done!” He managed a sheepish grin as he got into the car, then sat wondering if Hugh had been interested in Delia for himself.
Perhaps she was a much better catch than he gave her credit for?
That evening, he went through some boxes of papers he kept in the spare room. He found an old GCE ‘O’ Level exam paper that covered a completely different period to the one he was teaching currently. Victorian Britain, the extended use of the steam engine, the expansion of heavy industry. Cotton Mills, Railways, and increasing populations in cities and large towns.
The following day as the class packed up their things and started to file out to go home, he called Emily back. He showed her the paper, and suggested it might interest her. He said she could try the questions, and see how she got on. When he told Delia on the telephone that evening, she was complimentary. “Smart move, sweetheart. If she can’t resist getting a good mark, she will prove our point. That is a paper sat by sixteen year-olds, and you haven’t taught any of it to her class”.
The next morning, Emily placed the paper on his desk as the class left to go to their first lesson. It was accompanied by ten sheets of paper containing her answers. Halfway through lunch, Roger took the papers into the staff toilet and sat in a cubicle to read them in private.
She would have got an A from the Examining Board. It was one hundred percent correct, and even contained some of her own conclusions.
Emily had taken his bait and swallowed it whole.
The day before the half-term break, Roger managed to get Emily alone in the class for a few moments. He asked her how it was that she was able to do so well on an exam paper designed for much older children, on a subject he hadn’t taught her. Her reply was matter-of-fact.
“I study History because I enjoy it, Mister Gale. Not just the period you teach us at the moment, but every aspect of History. I hope to go on to study it at university. I have lots of books and encyclopedias, and I have been lucky enough to take trips to some historical sites too. Is that all?”
She was certainly uncannily self-assured for someone so young, and had not hesitated to answer his question, betraying no concern that he had asked it. Perhaps she was simply a prodigy? If so, she had a bright future ahead of her. But something was still niggling away in Roger’s belly.
It just didn’t feel right.
Delia had some suggestions for how they could spend the weekend. Although the pupils and teaching staff had a full week off for half term, administrative and secretarial staff had to work normal hours during half-term, and also go back earlier before the end of the longer summer break.
“You know they hire out boats on the lake, my darling? I thought we could take a picnic and rent a boat on Sunday afternoon. Yamada’s house might be screened from the road by metal gates, but it backs onto the lake, so there’s a chance we might see something from the water”. Roger hadn’t thought of that, and agreed immediately. He could take along his wartime binoculars that he had been left in an uncle’s will.
The old-fashioned two-seater motor boats only moved along at a sedate pace. Delia had left the picnic basket in the car with a large tartan blanket, so they could eat on the grass by the lake after they got back. By getting there early, Roger had been the first to hire a boat, and was pleased to discover it was easy enough to drive, with a steering wheel just like a car.
He knew nothing about boats.
After cruising up and down aimlessly for forty minutes, with Delia constantly kissing him as he managed the unfamiliar controls, Roger brought the boat to a halt opposite the back of Yamada’s house, about fifty feet east of the back garden. Lifting the heavy binoculars as the boat drifted slowly, he could see that the back of the house was all glass, and unlike the front, it was not obscured from the rear view. Delia’s guess had been good. But the weather wasn’t sunny, so nobody was outside. Concentrating hard, he foucused on being able to see through the huge glass windows into the living room. But there was no sign of either Yamada or Emily.
They had to settle for the picnic in a cool breeze on the grass near the car park, and admit failure. Then he drove Delia home and took her upstairs to reward her for her initiative. After all, it wasn’t her fault that they hadn’t shown themselves.
Over a light dinner that evening, they talked about what they could do next. Well Delia did most of the talking.
“Since Yamada hasn’t mentioned anything about us turning up in London, I reckon you ought to contact him and ask to talk to him at the Lakeside house. You can say it is to discuss extra tuition for Emily because she is so clever, or that you are concerned she might be cheating. I can get his home number from the office, and nobody would need to know you have spoken to him. You need to get inside the house, get him off guard, then ask him the pertinent questions. If he was going to complain to the headmaster, he would have done that before half-term, so he is not likely to complain if you visit him at home showing some genuine interest in Emily’s future”.
Roger liked her train of thought. Yamada had said Emily was in good hands, so if he offered extra tuition free of charge, chaperoned of course, it might be a way to get on the inside. Once he was accepted, he could slowly ask more probing questions and hopefully get to the root of the mystery. He turned to Delia and smiled.
He would do it as soon as term resumed.
On the evening of the first Monday back at school, Roger telephoned the number Delia had given him on a piece of paper. It took a long time to answer, and Yamada sounded cagey when he spoke. “The Hartmann residence, may I ask who is calling?”
So he used Emily’s surname, not his. Roger thought that was most unusual.
As he had decided to offer the extra tuition rather than ask questions about her apparent genius, Roger stuck with that. Once Yamada knew who was calling, he relaxed and became very friendly.
“Extra tuition you say? Well it is certainly very nice of you to offer that. I will discuss it with Emily, and get back to you. But if we go ahead, it will definitely be paid for, I could not allow you to work extra hours for free”.
It was not him that got back to Roger though. The next afternon as the pupils were leaving for the day, Emily left an envelope on his desk in the Form Room and walked out without saying anything.
In the empty classroom, he opened the letter. It was written in Emily’s handwriting.
‘We agree to the extra tuition. Please come to my house alone on Saturday morning. My guardian will be there, and he will make the arrangements to pay you for your time’.
That night, he phoned Delia and told her what had happened. She sounded delighted. “Well my darling, progress at long last. You are going to get inside the house, and I am sure that once in there you will be able to get some insight into what is going on. Once you are finished there on Saturday, please come straight to my house and let me know what happened”.
With the prospect of Saturday to anticipate, the school week seemed to drag. The weather changed too, becoming much colder very quickly. Roger spent his evenings preparing book references, test papers, and lists of suggest reading for the girl. Sitting at his new portable typewriter after dinner on Friday, he had an idea that he might get her to university standard before the middle of the following year. He was going to have to ask her and Yamada to keep his tutorials secret. No need to upset the headmaster again.
When he drove up to the metal gates on Saturday morning just before ten, they opened as he approached them. He pulled his car onto the driveway next to the Rolls-Royce, thinking it looked shabby next to the luxurious vehicle.
Yamada was at the open door, dressed very casually and smiling. “Welcome, Mister Gale. Please come in”.
The interior of the house was very warm, despite no sign of any fires or heating radiators. Roger was happy to take off his heavy parka, and the jacket he was wearing underneath. Yamada offered coffee, and he accepted. The huge room was open-plan, with modern leather furniture, a massive white rug in the centre, and very little clutter. When the man returned with the coffee mug, Roger offered a few compliments about what a nice house it was, then asked how they managed to keep it so warm.
Stamping his foot against the wooden flooring, Yamada grinned. “Underfloor heating. Electic cables set into the floor throughout. It’s all the rage over in the States”. Then he pointed to large grilles above the windows and the sliding glass doors that led out onto the lakeside garden. “Airconditioning too, keeps the house lovely and cool in the summer”. There must have been a kitchen somewhere, but a dining table and six chairs took up the remaining space on the other side of the room. Roger asked if Emily was joining them.
“She will be with us shorly, but first I would like to discuss your payment”. He reached into his pocket and produced a small black velvet bag, reaching over to hand it to Roger. “This should more than compensate you for any work you do with Emily. I know something about stones, and you could sell this in the Hatton Garden jewellery district for close to two thousand pounds. Just tell them you were left it by a relative, they won’t ask too many questions”. Opening the bag, Roger tipped out a large diamond onto the palm of his hand.
That much money was just over a year’s salary for Roger, and free of tax, pension payments, and other stoppages. He should have said it was too much, made some protest, suggested a smaller fee.
Instead, he just said thank you.
Roger was still looking at the diamond when Emily came into the room. She looked very tired, and her skin was pale.
“Will that suffice, Mister Gale? My guardian assures me that it is a very good payment.”
He nodded, and she sat down on the sofa next to him.
“So you are going to give me extra tuition? I am very interested in the world wars, one and two. Can you help me with those periods in history?”
He assured her that he could, but that neither subject was part of the current curriculum.
“That doesn’t matter. I do not seek academic achievement, I only want to research the periods. Are you happy to talk to me about the after effects of the first world war, and the rise of the right in Germany, Spain, and other countries like Italy leading up to 1939?” He nodded again, and she produced a notebook. “In your own time, Mister Gale”.
For more than two hours, pausing occasionally to allow her to catch up with her notes, Roger described the near collapse of Germany in the years following the end of World War One. He went on to give an overview of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, and Mussolini’s popularity in Italy. He followed that with a precis of Republican Spain, and the invasion by the Nationalists led by Franco and his Moorish army.
During his virtual monologue, Emily took notes feverishly, and Yamada stared out of the window, occasionally sipping what smelled to Roger like good cognac.
Before Emily called a halt to the extra class, he had covered the Flu pandemic in 1918, the International Brigades and the defeat of the Republic in Spain, the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Party in Germany, and the Fascist takeover in Italy. He told her he would go into more detail in future lessons.
Emily appeared to be delighted.
“You have a great knowledge of the subject, Mister Gale. I will be looking forward to exploring other historical periods during the year. You do of course know that you are not to discuss this in school, or with your colleagues?” Roger told her that it would be their secret. “When you come again next week, I would like to know much more about the conflict between England and Scotland, leading to Cullodden. Is that something you can help me with?
He was confused about why she wanted to cover so many different eras, but assured her that he could help with the Jacobite rebellion. He had been there for almost three hours when Emily stood up.
“Thank you for your help, Sir. It has been extremely useful”.
With that, she left the room. Yamada offered more coffee and a snack, but Roger declined. He was cursing himself for not asking more questions of both of them, but pleased that he had made a good impression, and had been asked to come back. He was also more than happy with the diamond offered as payment.
Taking his leave, he shook Yamada’s hand and said he would be back next week.
His next destination was Delia’s house.
Her eyes lit up when she saw the large diamond. “Wow! That’s worth a lot of money, more than Yamada suggested, I’m sure. I know what my husband paid for some of my jewellery before he died, and that was years ago. What else did you find out? Did you get any sense of their life, or why Emily is so clever?”
All Roger could really tell her was that Yamada and Emily did not seem to have a very close connection. They hadn’t spoken to each other all the time he had been there, and the guardian had not become involved in the lesson in any way. Obviously, Emily was hungry for knowledge, and understood some complex political issues far more than most eleven year- olds would, but they already knew that she was intelligent beyond her years.
One thing had stood out though, and it reminded him of what Millicent had told them about Erika Richter. Emily definitely appeared to be in control. Yamada seemed more like an employee, than a parent. He admitted to Delia that he had been reluctant to ask any personal questions, and hadn’t mentioned the confusion over the death of her parents.
Delia was reassuring. “You will get to that in good time, my love. I’m sure their barriers will break down once they get used to your visits.
Although he wasn’t so sure about that, he agreed anyway.
If Roger was concerned that his new relationship with Emily would make things awkward at school, he needn’t have worried. Her behaviour didn’t change at all, and if anything she had started to act more like the others. Although she was still getting an A for every test and homework project, she had stopped adding so much detail he hadn’t taught the class, and she was learning not to answer every question immediately, but to give the others a chance.
Even if they got it wrong.
Life with Delia was settling into a pattern. He was getting to know her better as a person, and to become aware of some of her frailties. The longer he spent in her company, the more he liked her. She had stopped asking him to move in with her, and seemed sure he would choose to do that in time. More staff members appeared to know that they were seeing each other, but that soon became old news.
The Saturday morning tutorials with Emily had also settled into a routine. She would take notes as he talked, and Yamada would gaze out of the window, seemingly disinterested. So far, Roger had not attempted to sell the diamond. He had left it in Delia’s small safe in one of her wardrobes, when she had happily told him the combination to reassure him he could retrieve it at any time. That day she had also given him a front door key, telling him he should feel free to treat her home as his.
But he still rang the doorbell.
As Christmas was coming up, with the longer break from school, Roger asked Emily if she still required tuition during the holidays. “Oh yes please, sir. We don’t celebrate Christmas, so I would be grateful if you could continue as normal”. During his now frequent visits to the lakeside house, he had occasion to use the bathroom. He had been directed to a family bathroom along a narrow hallway, and noted that all the doors leading off that were closed. On his way back to the living room one morning, he tried some of the handles, hoping to get a sneaky look into other rooms.
They were all locked.
There had been no relaxation of the mood when he was in Emily’s house. It was always quite a formal atmosphere, and he had little chance for general conversation, let alone personal questions. Delia had suggested he should just come straight out and ask them anyway, but that was not in Roger’s nature.
Delia was planning a traditional Christmas meal for them on the 25th, and when he arrived that morning, he was taken aback by just how much effort she had gone to. A massive decorated tree filled one corner of the large sitting-room, and there was a pile of wrapped presents underneath it. He asked her if others were coming, and she laughed. “Of course not, my darling. It is going to be just the two of us”.
Feeling embarrassed, Roger handed over the small gift he had remembered to buy. He had paid extra to have it gift-wrapped in a department store, and had asked the advice of the sales girl on what to purchase. It was a very popular perfume, she had assured him. A qualilty product. At fifteen pounds, it certainly seemed expensive enough for a gift, so he had bought it. Delia was effusive in her gratitude. “Oh, that’s wonderful! I had been thinking about trying that perfume, how thoughtful of you to go to so much trouble”. He eyed the pile of presents under the tree again, counting seven parcels. Hopefully, they would not all be for him.
But they were.
The meal she had prepared was more like a banquet. He sat at the dining table as she brought out course after course, finally ariving with a turkey big enough to feed a family of six. She handed him a large carving knife and two-pronged fork. “You carve, sweetheart. I like to see a man carve the bird”. Roger didn’t have the heart to tell her he was already full, and sliced off a few pieces of the breast meat, declining a leg in addition. When they had eaten that, she suggested they wait until she brought out the pudding and cream.
He nodded, much relieved.
Trying not to doze off on the sofa, he listened as Delia droned on about it being a perfect day, and how many more perfect days they would enjoy together. Then just after five that evening, the doorbell sounded. Delia looked at him, and raised her eyebrows. “Who could that be? I am not expecting anyone”. She got up off of the sofa, and Roger followed her to the front door.
It was Riku Yamada.
Yamada was apologetic. “Sorry to disturb your Christmas, but I have a request”. Delia invited him in, but he declined. “I would like to invite you to come with me to the lakeside house. I have the car of course, and will be happy to bring you back later. You can both come, and will learn something quite monumental. I wanted to leave it until tomorrow, but Emily was insistent”.
They both agreed, without hesitation.
In the comfort of the Rolls-Royce on the way, Delia had a question. “Tell me, how did you know that Roger was at my house? And how did you know where I live?” Yamada smiled. “That is also something that will be revealed soon. Emily made a big decision this morning, and it will change your life”.
Roger was sorry he had accepted a large glass of port after dinner, and hoped his head would stay clear. He had no real idea what was going on, but from what Yamada was saying, that seemed to confirm that Emily was definitely calling the shots.
At the house, the metal gates were already open, and as the car drove through them, they began to close. In the living room, Emily was waiting, dressed in a simple white dress and knee socks. She seemed quite calm, even serene. Delia and Roger declined an offer of drinks, then both sat opposite the girl. Yamada stood by the huge window, looking awkward. Emily turned to him. “Show them”.
He produced a device from his pocket, and walked over to show it to them. It had a screen that showed a red dot on a small map, and the map contained the street where Delia lived. “It’s called a Tracker. Emily put the transmitter under the wheelarch of your car some time ago. It shows on this receiver, tells me where your car is, and if it is moving. That’s how I knew where you were”. As he walked back to the window, Emily began speaking to them.
“I am about to tell you things. They are all true, but you will not believe me, and you might even think I am insane. You cannot take any notes, I’m afraid, and please do not interrupt me. Any questions you have will be answered in good time”. Delia wasn’t waiting to ask her question. “Why Roger? Why us? How did you choose us to reveal yourself?” Roger looked sideways at her. She seemed to undersand much more than he did.
Emily answered patiently. “I don’t have a lot of time. I needed people who were interested, intelligent, and reliable. You have been looking into my background, and I have been aware that Mr Gale was suspicious of my educational level. He involved you in his research, so I thought it only right and proper that you should be here this evening”. Delia nodded, and the girl continued.
“It is now December, 1968. Next July, the Americans will land men on The Moon. You may have read that they plan to do this, I can tell you it will be successful. In November 1989, Germany will be unified, after the Berlin Wall is taken down. In February 2022, Russia will invade Ukraine, setting in motion a war that will eventually spread across Europe, and involve America. In the winter of 2087, a high tide will engulf most of southern England, spreading as far as London, which will become uninhabitable. I could go on, but I think you get the idea”. She turned to Yamada. “Show them”.
Walking to a unit against the back wall, he reached into a cupboard and came back with what looked like a very slim book. When he opened it, a light came on, and revealed text. He handed it to Roger. “Just pass your hand over it to move to the next page”.
For the next fifteen minutes, Roger and Delia flicked through the electronic pages, most of which listed cataclysmic events as historical fact. The melting of the ice caps on both poles flooding huge populated areas, increasing temperatures burning up most forests, and crop failures that caused hundreds of millions of deaths. A world war fought over fresh water, and the end of oil and coal production when it just ran out.
They both knew it wasn’t a joke, but it was too much to take in.
Closing the strange book, Roger placed it on the coffee table. Emily stared across at him. “Now you understand, but you need to know much more”. She turned to Yamada. “Coffee for our guests, I think”.
When the coffee arrived, a subdued Roger and Delia waited untl Emily started speaking again. The sheer enormity of what they had learned so far hadn’t really sunk in, and it was naturally hard to comprehend. But neither of them protested or scoffed. They both believed her.
“I am from what you currently call Germany, at a time in the future when we no longer use place names, dates or calendars that you would recognise. After the various disastrous events you have read about on the recall device, the decision was made to move human civilisation underground. The projects started on each continent, but were not all successful. Britain was not suitable, but colonies were built in Germany and France, also in America, Japan, and Sweden. As you can imagine, this took hundreds of years, and did not include the poorer nations of the world at that time. They were left to fend for themselves, and Russia and China made their preparations in secret”.
Delia had a question that wouldn’t wait.
“So are you really a child of eleven? And what is the role of Riku here?” Emily seemed a little exasperated, but answered anyway.
“I am myself at the age of eleven, as you see me. But where I come from, I am close to what you would consider to be very old. Perhaps eighty, to give you some perspective. But in the future that is not old, as age is irrelevant to a large extent. As for Yamada, he is my guardian in this time period. Tell them, Yamada”.
Riku sat down.
“Okay, so I am from San Francisco, in this time. I am forty-six years old, and have Japanese-American heritage. People like Emily need to have a guardian. They don’t understand how things work in their past, so they need instruction. They also need watching, as they have to be very careful not to get seriously injured or die in this time. That’s why she does no sports, and no swimming. Where she comes from, swimming and sports are unknown anyway. Exercise is also limited, so she tires very easily. Before me, Erika Richter was her guardian, but she was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I was brought over. I used to be the guardian of a Japanese teenager who travelled back to live in San Francisco. But he stupidly went out on his own and was run down by a car. It’s hard to find good guardians, as it is a stressful job involving a lot of care and attention, and a lot of lying!” He smiled at that.
Delia spoke up again. “What about the diamonds? Don’t you have money? How do you cope with everyday expenses, and running the household bills?” He looked at Emily, and she nodded.
“Well no, money as we understand it doesn’t exist in their time. But they have been coming back throughout our history, and used advance knowledge to secure fortunes in valuable stones, gold, anything of value that could be traded. They bought land and houses with it, like this one. It was built for one of them in thirty-eight, before the war. And the house you came to in London was bought by another one of them in the early nineteenth century. Worth a small fortune at today’s value. They have land and houses all around the world, and they pass them on from guardian to guardian in wills. It has worked as a system since the middle ages. Same with all the documents, like Emily’s birth certificate. They just apply for duplicates of people who have died, and use them as needed. Emily Hartmann is not her real name, and she was not born to parents as you and I understand it”.
Emily raised her hand, and he stopped talking. She took over.
“The guardians are well-paid of course, and carefully chosen. None of them have children or close relatives. None of them are married, none have criminal records or bad reputations in their communities. They are set for life, after twenty-five years of service. Given enough valuables to live in comfort, and a house in the country of their choosing. None of them would ever tell their stories anyway, as trying to explain all of this would make people think they were crazy. Unfortunately, Erika contracted cancer, and we had to find a replacement for her. But she will get extra medical treatment, and help at home until she dies”.
She turned to Yamada again. “More coffee. It is going to be a long night”.
Delia had something to say once the fresh coffee arrived.
“We have seen those electronic screens, but they don’t explain how you can move through time. Do you have anything else to show us, Emily?” The girl nodded.
“Finish your coffee, and I will show you things you cannot imagine. Even when you see them, you won’t understand them, believe me. You can ask questions about anything, but I cannot guarantee that you will comprehend the science behind the answers. I do not mean to sound patronising when I say that, but the technology we use every day is centuries ahead of anything you can even imagine”.
Roger hadn’t said anything previously, but then he asked her why she had shown such promise in some classes, but not in others. He mentioned her bad spelling in English, and her rudeness to the Religious Education teacher.
“I am always looking for the more intelligent and adaptable teachers. They might make good guardians, or be more inclined to help me generally. I do not consider the English teacher and the RE teacher to be suitable. But Miss Reiss had potential, as do you. So I made sure to do well in those classes, to bring attention to myself. In your case, it worked. As for Miss Reiss, she made an assumption based on my current name without taking me very seriously. Where I come from, we can learn a language fluently in the space of a few hours of your time. We have implants inserted in our brains not long after birth, and that makes it possible to learn a great deal in a very short space of time. In fact, there are no schools, at least not as you understand them now”.
Putting down her cup, Delia wanted to know something.
“How far in the future do you come from? Can you put that into some perspective we can understand?” Emily thought for a moment.
“In your calendar, it is currently nineteen sixty-eight. That means it is one thousand nine hundred and sixty-eight years after the birth of Christ, who many of you worship as a God. In other cultures, the years are different. For instance in the Muslim world, China, and Judaism. But try to imagine three times the current year. Three times the amount of years since your Christ was born. That would give you an approximate date of five thousand, nine hundred and four. Not that the date really means anything, for as we have found out in the future, time is nothing like you imagine it now. Would you like a break? I appreciate this is all far too much to understand this evening”.
Roger shook his head and told her to carry on. His postprandial tiredness had disappeared in an instant once they had arrived at the lakeside house.
“In the time where I live, humans have to do very little. We study, we learn, we try to improve and develop. Since the discovery of time-shifting, we also travel. But we can only travel back. One law we soon discovered is that travel into the future will never be possible. Becuase the future does not exist until it has happened. So, to explain. Tomorrow, I can travel back to today, but not to the day after tomorrow. However, I can travel back to any time in my life, then from there travel back in time to any date I choose. When I do that, I have all my accumulated knowledge as an elder, and in this case as an eleven year-old girl. Meanwhile, my actual self remains in my time, in stasis. My vital functions maintained by computers, and by robotic artifical intelligence”.
Interrupting, Delia had something to say. “What is artificial intelligence?” Emily pursed her lips.
“I will not try to explain that tonight, but consider what you already know. Machines that make things, machines that make light work of human labour. You even have the basics of computing, with machines that use punch cards to make calculations. In your lifetimes, machines will do so much more. They will manufacture cars, sort parcel deliveries, operate on people requiring delicate surgery. When you are both old, telephones will be portable, and fit in your pocket. You will all have devices like my recall device that can access every single piece of information you can ever need. Students will learn on computer terminals, and games on home computers will replace toys. This is the period in history when technology accelerates. By the time you are both dead, nobody will fail to understand such progress”.
Looking rather uncomfortable, Delia stood up and spoke to Yamada.
“If it is alright with you, I would like you to take us home now. I need a break, even if Roger doesn’t”.
As they were leaving, Emily walked up and touched Roger’s shoulder. “Please come back tomorrow, you can telephone the house and Riku will collect you, or just drive over anytime”.
The drive back to Delia’s house was quiet. Yamada didn’t say anything, and Delia sat holding Roger’s hand very tightly. When they got back inside her house, Roger asked why she had wanted to leave.
“If what she is telling us is true, then she knows everything. Wars, famine, disasters, even the dates we will both die. I don’t want to know all that my love, I don’t want to sit anticipating terrible events, knowing they are going to occur when she told us they would. It is too much, it really is. I wish I had never heard what we have already been told. I feel drained, can we just go to bed and go to sleep now?”
Delia was genuinely exhausted and was soon sleeping soundly. Roger was far too excited to sleep. He had not questioned a thing they had been told, because he instinctively believed it was all true. As an historian, he had spent his life looking back into the past, but now he could do the opposite, he could know what was going to happen, not just what had already happened. And if they had been travelling back for centuries, imagine the depth of the first-hand experiences they might have. They could have stood on the Forum in Rome, or watched the Pyramids being constructed in Egypt.
He was going back, and nothing would stop him.
On the morning of Boxing Day, Delia was calmer. As she served up some breakfast, Roger told her he was going back as soon as they had eaten. He expected an argument, perhaps even a tantrum. Delia gently stroked his face. “You go, my love. Go and discover what you need to know, but please come back to me tonight and tell me some of it. But not all of it. I don’t want to know about any more terrible things, and I definitely don’t want to know when I will die”.
The gates were already open, so Roger drove straight in. Yamada opened the door and waved. “She’s waiting for you”.
Emily was standing in the hallway wearing pyjamas with a penguin pattern. That made her look much younger. There were no formalities or pleasantries. “You must want to know how it works, so follow me and I will show you”. Yamada remained in the living room. They must have decided that Emily had no need of a chaperone. Along the corridor where the doors had been locked, she opened one and he walked in behind her. The room was around twelve feet square, and empty. When she passed her hand over the blank wall at the back, a blue light came on, shimmering and cascading. It reminded Roger of a waterfall, but made no sound.
“This is a portal. It leads back to when I was eleven in my own time. We can only bring through what we can carry, but we can make unlimited trips. The main thing I have to explain to you is the difference in time. Not just in years, but in the way it works. I have been living in your time since I was eight years old, so just over three years. But in my time that is a moment, a heartbeat. When I go through the light and back into myself at the age of eleven, it is as if no time has passed. And there is another portal there that takes me back to any time in my life I choose, and eventually back to my older body, in stasis. Once I choose to return to that, I live again as a woman of eighty. Do you understand?”
Roger was nodding, but inside he was still trying to grasp what she was saying. She sensed that.
“Look at it like this. I have aged three years in your time. I have grown up, and gone from the ages of eight to eleven. But all I have actually done is to inhabit your time as myself at those ages. In reality, I have not aged here at all, and never will. Where I come from, age is relative. Our bodies age a little, but not as people do in your time. There is no disease, and regeneration by foetal cell implantation is usual. Before travelling back, we have to undergo extensive vaccination procedures, as we otherwise have no resistance to the diseases of the time we choose to go to. If we die in the past, we do not exist in the future. That is our dilemma, and the risk we must take”.
The pounding in his head was becoming something like a migraine, and Roger tried to fight the discomfort. Emily mistook that for confusion. “You do not seem convinced. So I will show you something that might help you to believe me”.
With that, she walked through the blue light into the portal and disappeared.
Two minutes after Emily had walked through the blue light, a woman appeared in the portal and walked into the room. She looked to be about thirty years old, full figured, and very attractive. Her clothing was a long dress, in a shiny bronze-coloured material. Roger took some steps back, and she raised her hand.
“Don’t be afraid, sir. It is just me, but at a different time in my life. If you want proof I can name some of my classmates at your school, or recite my last homework essay. I just wanted to show you what I have told you is true. This is me at a stage of my life that you might recognise as being forty years old, but in my world that is only a fraction of my life expectancy. I would be considered young, almost childish by your standards. Let’s go into the living room, and I will tell you more”.
There was no sign of Yamada, and the older version of Emily sat down next to him on the sofa.
“I will go through some of the basics for you, and I am sure you will be able to picture my time. There are no parents as you know them. Babies are born in laboratories using eggs and sperm taken from suitable candidates. There are no birth defects, no hereditary diseases, and there is strict control of genetics and gender. Every racial type is preserved, and only so many of the babies are allowed to grow to full term in each cycle. The resources are limited, and must be preserved. Over-population would be disastrous. The babies not integrated into the population are used to provide stem cells to prolong the lives of those that are, and those who go full term are cared for in special nurseries, tended by robotic nursing staff. The population of Earth is strictly controlled by mutual agreement. Just enough to continue our research, and to allow us to progress into our uncertain future”.
Roger was rubbing his head in his hands, and Emily paused to let him recover his wits.
“Because there are no animals, we exist on a vegetarian diet, supplemented by nutritional aids. There is no crime or violence, so no police are required. There are no wars, so no armies are necessary. It is a life of contemplation, almost monastic in practice. There is no marriage, no sex between genders, so no jealousy, no frustration, and anger is almost unknown. One thing that makes it difficult for us when we travel is having to endure spitefulness, bad temper, anger, and occasionally violence. None of us have experienced any of this where we come from. It can be a terrible shock. In fact, it has caused many travellers to return after a few days, never wanting to go back in time again”.
He wanted to know why they travelled back in time at all, when they already knew what had happened. She grinned.
“Why do people in this time want to go on holiday to foreign countries, when they can see what they are like on television? Why do people travel to Paris to see The Mona Lisa, when they can see a picture of it in a magazine? Why visit a zoo to see a lion when so many films and TV shows have already showed you what they look like? It is curiosty, and a desire to experience the difference. We live in individual units, just large enough for our needs. We rarely meet other people, as we can communicate electronically. There is no desire to travel within our own time, as every underground city complex is identical, and the surface of the planet is too dangerous to go out onto. So we seek our gratification and life experience by travelling back in time. That is one of the main reasons that our elders spent so long developing the structure to make it possible. And when you can spend a year watching the Norman invasion of England, and return home when only a few moments have passed, who would not want to be able to do that?”
He wanted to know how they financed their world of the future. She thought about that before answering.
“There is no fiscal structure. The machinery is self-perpetuating, and maintained by robotic droids that can exist on the surface. Food and clothing is made and issued by different automatons as and when needed. There is no alcohol, no tobacco, no fashion industry, and no charge for accommodation or electricity to run our lives. Once personal possessions and wealth were pointless, greed ceased to exist. When there is nothing to steal, crime does not exist. Our lives are simply lived in the pursuit of knowledge, with the idea that humans will never make the same mistakes they are making now. And one day, there might be hope of some kind of return to culture and innovation. But as things stand, nobody in my time feels the need for change”.
She stood up. “I am going to return to my eleven year old self now, I won’t be gone long”.
When the eleven year-old Emily returned to the room, Roger had made up his mind to ask her something. As soon as she sat down, he asked her if she had some idea of asking him to be a guardian.
“I can see why you might think that, but I have a very different offer in mind for you. It is something that has only been done a few times, and it must be approached with great care. However, in the last few months I have come to the conclusion that you would be a perfect candidate. As far as Delia is concerned, she will indeed be offered the chance to become a guardian. In fact, she will be asked to become my guardian. Yamada has been requesting a return to America, and we have a project for him in Califoria that he is most suited for. If Delia agrees, she would become my guardian after New Year, before the school starts again.
She hesitated for a second, then lowered her voice slightly.
“It will involve moving location to Edinburgh, as I intend to change to the age of eighteen and attend university in Scotland. I will pay the fees as a private student and Yamada has arranged the sale of some diamonds to fund all that. We also have a house there, so the move north will be easy. I want you to ask her. And I would like you to convince her”.
He was far from sure that Delia would agree, but told Emily he would do his best to sell her on the idea.
“As for you, I think you will be excited at what I have in mind for you. You would become one of the elite, one of the few chosen to travel forward through the portal into our time, and then be able to go back to any time of your choosing. As a History teacher, I suspect that would appeal to you. Once you are in one of the cities of the future, you would receive all the medical treatment necessary to extend your life to at least twice of what you can expect if you stay here in your time. Your life experience in our past would be invaluable, and you would become something like a university professor, refining our knowledge of this period. Does that idea appeal to you? I appreciate it may be very scary to contemplate, but you do not have long to make up your mind. If you agree to go, it will happen on the thirty-first, in a few days’ time”.
When he nodded that he understood, she continued.
“To make it work will require an implant, similar to the type we all have. The portal will recognise someone with that specific implant, and allow travel back and forth in time. This will mean a small surgical procedure that will be carried out by a robotic device that I will bring back through the portal. It is not painful, but it will require that you rest here for twenty-four hours while your brain adjusts. That means that you have to decide soon, and have the implant procedure on the thirtieth. Perhaps it is best if you go back to Delia’s now, and talk it through with her”.
Delia was excited when she opened the door. “I was worried, my love. Come inside and have a drink, then you can tell me all about it”. After giving him a large glass of white wine, she patted the cushion next to her on the sofa, and he sat where she had indicated. For the next hour, she listened without interruption as he told her every detail of what had happened at the lakeside house. She sat thinking for a full ten minutes before speaking.
“Well you wouldn’t have to be gone forever, surely? You could choose to come back at some stage, couldn’t you? I mean, if I am to be Emily’s guardian in Edinburgh, then she will have one of those portal things, and you could come back and visit whenever you wanted. I can understand why you might want to do it, I really can. But you only have three days to make such a huge decision, and we would both have to contact the headmaster and make up some story about why both of us are leaving. Perhaps it is best to sleep on it tonight, and approach it all with a clear head tomorrow morning. Let’s go upstairs, my darling”.
Roger didn’t need to sleep on it. His destiny had arrived.
The atmosphere in Delia’s house was subdued the next morning. It was a very cold day, and she had her central heating on a high setting. But Roger was not used to it, and felt uncomfortably hot. By the time he sat down at the table for breakfast, he was losing his appetite. Delia assumed that meant he was undecided, and she launched into what sounded like a very well-rehearsed speech.
“You know I was hoping that we might become more than just two people seeing each other. I hadn’t ruled out the idea that in time we would get married. Now all this crazy stuff to do with Emily has come along, and I have to say it has turned my world upside down. I’m not saying I don’t believe what she has told us, or what we have seen with our own eyes, but I just wish she had never come to our school, and we had never heard of her”.
She spread some butter far too thickly on a slice of toast, and Roger resisted the urge to tell her that without Emily, nothing would ever have happened between them. He had come to really like Delia in a short space of time, but compared to what was on offer from Emily, Delia’s bedroom specialities were not going to keep him there. The next thing she said surprised him.
“But I see no reason to stop you doing something so potentially amazing, on the understanding that you come back to me one day soon. After all, you can travel to all manner of places and times, and still return to me as you are now. I mean, that’s what Emily said, isn’t it?” He didn’t want to burst her balloon by telling her it wasn’t as simple as that, so just nodded as he chewed some bacon. That seemed to seal the deal.
“Well then, I agree. Why not? I will be Emily’s guardian, as long as she doesn’t treat me like a servant. The way she speaks to Yamada is not very nice at all. I will have to make it clear to her that she will not be able to treat me the same way. And if she wants to have a car in Edinburgh, she will have to employ a chauffeur or use taxis. I’m not going to contemplate learning to drive at my time of life”. She reached over to pour more tea from the pot for both of them.
“As you have to go so soon, I would like us to spend at least one full day here together today. We have all that food left over from Christmas, lots to drink, and we could spend the whole afternoon in bed to make up for what we are going to miss when your are off time-jumping, or whatever they call it. Okay?” He had been hoping to go and see Emily again, to find out more about the life he could expect in one of her underground cities. But Delia needed his reassurance, so he smiled and agreed that she was right.
She was sleeping later, after the protracted sex. But Roger was lying awake, imagining the places and times he would choose to visit, aware that Delia would age while he was gone, and not relative to him. To his way of thinking, living in a small unit with no distractions to interfere with his studies sounded perfect. A society of pure research and learning, all the basic needs supplied with not having to go shopping, prepare meals, or worry about what to wear. Life without the routine and deadlines of schoolteaching seemed ideal. Emily had been right about Delia though. She was better suited to being a guardian. She had a caring nature, and enjoyed looking after people. Well she certainly looked after him, in the short time they had been together. Far better than Diana ever had.
Delia must have been tired, because she was still asleep when he got up to go downstairs and make himself a snack. It was after six when she appeared, her hair in disarray, and her mood sour. “You should have woken me. I was going to prepare a nice evening meal for us, and look my best. Now it’s too late. I’m going back up to have a bath”.
Giving up on his sandwich, Roger sighed. He didn’t want their last few days together to end badly.
The next morning, there was lots to do. Delia contacted the headmaster at home, and told him that her and Roger had to move away to look after a relative in Scotland. She would send him a forwarding address in due course, but both would be leaving without notice. Stephen Hoare was not best pleased, and Roger could hear his raised voice even though Delia was holding the phone close to her face.
“Well, I have never heard the like of it. Gale will be leaving his class in the lurch, and I will have to get a supply teacher to start immediately. He can say goodbye to a decent reference, I can tell you that. As for you, Delia, I am sorry to hear you have to move away to look after someone. There will always be a job here for you if you ever come back. Joan can take over your role until we can find someone of your standard, she know the ropes well enough”.
Next, Delia made a call to a local estate agent. He seemed keen to talk, on the usually quiet first day of opening after Christmas. She asked him to come and look at her house at his earliest convenience, with a view to finding respectable tenants for a long-term rental. It would be rented fully furnished, with every necessary item left in place. The young man agreed to come and give an appraisal at three that afternoon, assuring her he had a list of very suitable potential renters. Then she rang a local removal company, and arranged for them to come and pack her clothes and personal items the next day, with a view to moving them north to Scotland very soon.
As for Roger, he would pay his rent up until the end of the month, and send a letter to the landlord giving notice. His personal items would be packed up and sent into storage, using the same removal company as Delia. She would arrange to pay the storgage fees through her bank account, using money supplied by Emily bringing back precious stones and gold. His main concern was his massive collection of books, but Emily had assured him that once he had the implant, he could read anything that had ever been published, in any language. All he would have to do was to close his eyes and think of the title.
When the young man had been and offered a surprsingly large monthly rental, less a fifteen percent management fee, Delia sat down and talked at length about how she expected Roger to come back from the future and visit her. It was much the same thing, repeated in a roundabout fashion.
“I will expect you back for my birthday of course, and Christmas. I am sure you will soon work out how to arrange a short visit, even if only overnight. You will be able to tell me lots of fascinating stories about all the things you have seen, and in due course you may tire of that, and decide to stay with us in Scotland”. She continued saying much the same thing for well over an hour, and it only stopped when she decided to cook an early dinner.
On the twenty-ninth, Roger returned home to supervise the removal men as they packed his things. He sent the letter to his landlord, and chose what to wear the next day, the day he would have the implant fitted. He had promised Delia that she could come to the lakeside house with him, as he would have to stay overnight to recover from the procedure. Clutching at straws, Delia phoned him at home that evening.
“My darling, it’s not too late to back out. I’m sure you must be nervous, even afraid of what might await you in Emily’s world. We can contact the headmaster and tell him we don’t need to go to Scotland after all. You can leave your things in storage and move in with me, and we can both go back to work after the new year as if nothing had happened”. Her tone was upbeat, but inside she feared the worst. When he said he had to go ahead with the plans, those fears were realised.
“Well at least I will be there with you to wish you Bon Voyage”.
When Emily opened the front door, Roger and Delia were both taken aback. She was now around eighteen years old, and dressed like many students of the time in a short denim dress and purple tights. Her hair was loose, and rested on her shoulders. Seeing their faces, the girl laughed. “I changed up to eighteen, to be ready for university. I think it’s a good look”.
Roger carried Delia’s cases from the car. She had packed enough clothes and essentials for the first couple of weeks in Edinburgh, and had a separate overnight bag ready for that evening. Emily was bubbly and cheerful. “Yamada has gone. He returned his car to the the hire company on his way to Heathrow, and will probably be arriving in California soon. He has sent a letter to the school telling them that we both had to return to America, so I will not be back next term”.
As Roger placed his car keys on the hall table, Emily nodded at them. Just leave your car here. It may be useful if anyone else comes to live here at some stage”. Then she turned to Delia. “My new name will be Anne Fraser. I have documents stating that I have been at school in America, but want to return to Scotland where I was born. You are going to have to get used to calling me Anne before we get to Edinburgh, and there are guardianship papers for you to sign later.”
She showed them into a room overlooking the lake, containing a large double bed. Next to the bed was a strange device, a metal box about the size of a small television, with what looked like a metallic crab on top of it. “This is the robotic device that will insert your implant. It will not be painful, but will take some getting used to. I will guide you through the process once it is in place. Then you can spend the night together here before going through the portal tomorrow. Shall we start?”
Delia had been expecting some kind of farewell party and some personal time together, so she was shocked that the procedure was going to happen immediately. She sat in a small armchair as Roger got onto the bed and Emily manouvered the machine into place. When she activated it, an orange glow surrounded it and one of the crab-like arms extended out to touch Roger’s head just below his right ear. There was a noise like a high-pressure spray, and Roger flinched. Emily reassured them both. “Just the anaesthetic”.
A second arm extended, holding a long needle something like a hypodermic. It slid smoothly into Roger’s head as Emily watched. “Stay very still, it will be over in seconds. The implant is no larger than a shirt button, so you will not feel it once it is in place”. There was a whirring sound, followed by an audible click, and the long needle withdrew back into the arm, then back inside the small robot. Emily leaned forward and attached what looked like a small sticking plaster over the tiny hole it had made. But it wasn’t the skin-coloured fabric they were familiar with, more like a metallic mesh. She seemed pleased. “There, it’s all over. Lie still for one hour, and try not to move your head at all”.
With that, she picked up the machine and left the room, smiling at them from the doorway. “I am just going to send this back”.
For the next hour, Delia chatted to Roger about anything and nothing, as he stayed still on the bed. Then Emily returned. “I need to speak to Roger now, Delia. There is food in the kitchen, and any refreshments you desire. Can I ask you to please leave us alone for a while? You will have all night to say your farewells”. Delia wasn’t hungry, but she went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of tea. Then she crept back to stand outside the room, hoping to be able to eavesdrop through the door. But the door and walls were too solid to be able to make out specific words, and all she could tell was that Emily was doing all the talking.
Emily came to find her in the living room after a couple of hours had passed. “Roger is sleeping now. You can go back to the room and spend the rest of his time here with him, but please try not to wake him up”.
It was a disturbed night for Delia, lying next to the man she loved. Despite what she had been asked she did try to rouse him, but he didn’t wake up. By the time dawn arrived on the thirty-first, she was aching all over, and had hardly slept. Emily arrived in the room, and Roger’s eyes opened immediately, as if a switch had been flicked. The girl looked down at him, and he smiled at her. “It’s time. Shall we go to the portal?” Roger nodded, and got up from the bed.
Feeling shaky, Delia held Emily’s hand as Roger stood in front of the cascading blue light. He turned and smiled once, before walking into the light and disappearing. Moments later, the blue light disappeared, and a blank wall was left in its place. Delia gasped. The girl put her arm around her, and spoke quietly. “It’s okay. The new portal in Scotland will be activated now, and this one will cease to exist”. Delia was trying not to cry as she asked the question.
“So Roger will be able to come back and see us in Edinburgh, then?” Emily shook her head.
“Oh that won’t be possible. Two of us cannot exist in the same time frame. Roger knew that, I told him earlier”. She released her arm.
“Come now, Delia. We have much to do”.
At 8:30 this morning, the magnificent Tower Bridge in London was raised to allow the Swedish replica sailing ship ‘Gothenburg’ to pass along the River Thames. This is a rare sight these days, and I was pleased to be able to find a photo of it online. In my youth, the bridge opened numerous times a day to let in cargo vessels. The local traffic would be faced with long delays when that happened.
(Click on the photo for a much larger image.)
Southam Street in West London was made world-famous in the photographs of Roger Mayne. He photographed the street and its inhabitants extensively during 1956.
Most of the street was declared ‘unfit for human habitation’ in 1969 and demolished in the same year. Only the short section west of Golborne Road remains. It is close to Westbourne Park Tube Station, Golborne Road Market, and Portobello Road Market. Although a long way from where I was growing up at the time, I later worked nearby for over 20 years, in the Ambulance Station close to Ladbroke Grove.
Children playing in the street on a hot day.
A man pretending to be an orchestra conductor. No idea why.
Boys on their bicycles.
Bomb-damaged buildings from WW2.
Playing marbles in the street.
A Football game.
The area was one of the first parts of London to see significant immigration by West Indians. This photo shows it was an early multi-cultural part of London.
Southam Street in 2021. All that is left of it.