Egypt, 1989: Part Two

The next day, we were collected for the short drive to the dock at Luxor. We had checked out of the hotel, and they had confirmed that we would be back in five days time. There were quite a few cruise ships lined up along the bank. Some were very old, and might have been plying the river at the time of Agatha Christie. One still had paddles at the sides for propulsion, but most were modern. Our boat was somewhere between the two, probably a hangover from the 1950s, with no exterior cabins like the old boats. But it had a large open air covered deck at the rear, ideal for watching the river from.

Our cabin was comfortable enough, with a double bed, private facilities, and a large window, almost at the water-line. Except for the outside spaces, air-conditioning was provided, and there was a comfortable bar and large restaurant. They had even managed to cram in a tiny shop in the reception area. Inside, the feel was suitably old-fashioned, exactly what we had hoped for.

Our bags were whisked away by friendly staff, and we were gathered to be given information about life on board. All meals would be provided, three times a day. Any extras, alcoholic drinks, extra coffee, and other drinks, would have to be paid for, naturally. But we could settle our room bill at the end of the cruise, and add gratuities if we wanted. This meant that we would not have to worry about any spending money all the time we were on board. They even gave an idea of the prices, which all seemed very reasonable. There would be a party on the last night, and we could dress up in fancy dress, with an Egyptian theme of course, if we wanted to. Any gifts or jewellery bought at the shop would have to be paid for separately, as it was a concession.

Excursions would all start early, around 6.30am because of the heat, and breakfast would be served early on those days. As it was between the busy summer season, and the even busier Christmas rush, there were only twenty-four passengers, well under half-full. Luckily, the same amount of staff would be retained, so we could be guaranteed excellent service at all times.

Other than our group of sixteen, there were two small groups of Egyptian holidaymakers from Cairo. I was really happy. Not only did we have the prospect of five great days ahead, we would be spending them on a comparatively empty boat. They also explained that we would travel mostly at night, stopping early, ready to take our trips ashore. When we returned in the late afternoon, we would set off once again, heading for the next place on our itinerary.

Our first day on board would start that afternoon, with the journey to our first port of call, during an early dinner.

Once the boat left Luxor and began its slow journey to Aswan, the real magic happened. Travelling at little more than a walking pace, the feeling of stepping back in time really kicked in. At times, it felt as if the boat was standing still, and the scenery was moving past us, like the old canvas panoramas in early theatrical productions. Across the wide river, traditional feluccas, small sailing boats, carried goods, or fisherman casting nets into the water. The scene appeared unchanged for centuries, with only the modern river cruisers giving any indication of the age. The chugging of our boat engine, and the occasional smell of fuel, were the reminders that we were actually moving south. Otherwise, all was peace.

Sitting on the rear deck, enjoying a cool beer, we gazed at the lush strips of fertile land lining both banks. Devoid of industry, splashes of green in a sandy backdrop made us realise why the Nile was so important to sustaining agriculture along its length. People queued for small ferries, donkeys and camels laden with crops or boxes. It could have been 1920, or even 500 BC. The sight of occasional lorries and cars on riverside roads brought us back to reality, momentarily puncturing the reverie that had set in.

I could have sat there for hours on end (and I often did) watching this scene unfold. I wasn’t reading a book, and only sometimes taking a photograph. Otherwise, I just experienced it. Something I had never seen nor felt anywhere else. During the night, we passed through Esna Lock, a sudden burst of light and noise that jarred with the peace of the day.

When we woke the next morning, we were at Edfu.

Although this is a large town on the west bank, we were only going to see one thing; The Temple Of Edfu, dedicated to the god Horus, the falcon-headed god. This enormous structure was built from 237 BC, and was later buried under centuries of sand, prior to excavation during the 1860s. The building resembles a large fort, with a colonnaded courtyard within. The walls are covered in carved heiroglyphs, depicting various scenes, and a large statue of Horus stands at the entrance. We were told that it was lucky to touch the beak of the falcon head, so of course, we all strained to do this. I can imagine that it must be getting quite worn away by now, if this is still allowed. Like every structure of this type we saw there, it seemed appropriate to wander around on our own, feel the atmosphere, and try to imagine what it must have been like, brightly-painted, and bustling with worshippers and priests.

I have heard other visitors to Egypt describe the experience as visiting lots of temples, each similar to the next, and tiring of looking at columns and sandstone walls. This was not how I saw it. I always felt as if I was privileged to get this small window into a fascinating past, and a civilisation so advanced, at a time when much of the world was undeveloped to any level.

Another peaceful cruise that afternoon, to our next destination, Kom Ombo.

When we woke up, we could see the temple, raised above the river bank, just across from our boat. This temple is dedicated to the crocodile-headed god, Sobek. It was once destroyed by an earthquake, and damaged by Nile floods. It looks somewhat dilapidated, but impressive nonetheless, in a dominant location. Carvings inside show recognisable medical instruments, and there are some fascinating mummified crocodiles on display, once part of the worship rituals. Strange to think that they could have been there since 150 BC. There is also a carved calendar, showing the days of the ancient Egyptian months, which was explained by a guide.

After the tour, we returned to the boat. We were to carry on to Aswan, where we would spend the last two days of our cruise. I was already regretting not choosing the longer cruise option, as I had completely fallen in love with this river, and the amazing sights near its banks.

Aswan is a large city, expanded in modern times and boasting a population approaching 300,000. I had not travelled to Egypt to see large cities. I had come from one of the largest, London, and sought peace and antiquity. There was little of that to be found in this bustling terminus of riverboats, tourists, and crowded markets. However, there were two good reasons to travel here; Elephantine Island, and The Temple of Philae, and we were going to see them both. It was an early start the next morning, for the drive of over sixty miles down to the islands at Philae. On arrival, a serene trip on a small felucca would take our small group to one of the two islands. The Temple buildings had been threatened with flooding after the Aswan Dam was built, and because of this, the temple was moved stone by stone, to its present location.

I remember how peaceful it felt, arriving on the sailing boat, and touring the restored buildings with such a small group. On the return trip to Aswan, we stopped at an ancient quarry, where we could see rejected monoliths and carved statues still partly in the rock they had been carved from. If they cracked, or were damaged during carving, they were simply left in place. That night on the boat, they hosted the ‘theme’ party. We attended, but I have to tell you that we did not really enter into the full spirit of it, as we declined to dress in ancient Egyptian style clothing.

The next morning heralded our last night on board. We were taken across to Elephantine Island by boat, where we  decided to take the steep trip to the Aga Khan mausoleum. Unwisely, as it turned out, we agreed to pay a small fee to both go on the same camel. Jammed into a double saddle with a hard wooden surround, we later suffered badly from being rocked back and forth for a considerable time on the back of the unfortunate animal. Days later, we still had extensive bruising from the pressure of the uncomfortable saddle.

Later that evening, we ventured into the nearest market to the riverside. Aswan is known for fine quality cotton products, and we purchased a tablecloth and napkin set, with the minimum of haggling on that occasion. We watched the sun set behind Elephantine Island, with riverboats and feluccas silhouetted on the water. It was magnificent indeed.

Our last night on the boat was something of an anti-climax though, as we were aching and tired from a long day, and went to bed early.

The next day, we packed after breakfast, and went to the small reception area to settle our room bill. Despite all the extra teas and coffees, numerous beers, and some wine with dinner, our total for the whole cruise was less than £40, around £8 a day. I even got them to check it, as I thought it was not enough. They obviously thought I was complaining, and presented a meticulous drink-by-drink account. When I told them I thought it was too low, they just smiled. It must have seemed a lot of money to them. I added the difference to make it the equivalent of £50, and considered it to be money well spent, including gratuities.

We left the boat reluctantly, and I gazed enviously at the other river cruisers, still conveying tourists. The return trip by coach took just under four hours, including a short lunch break in a rather dubious roadside cafe. The distance from Luxor to Aswan was about 110 miles. It had taken four days on board, less than four hours by road.

Back at the Hilton, we were surprised to get the same room we had left earlier that week. We still had a few days of our holiday left, including the much-anticipated trip to Abu Simbel.

A Good Runner: Part Thirteen


This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 790 words.

The taxi insurance was at least twice as much as insuring the car normally, but he had to have it. Driving back from the big house after paying the man for the car, Trevor popped in to the taxi office and showed the owner his car and insurance certificate. “I can start next Monday, I have to work a week’s notice”.

His boss at the roofing company had been sad to hear he was leaving. “You’re a good worker, Trev. If this taxi stuff doesn’t work out, there’s always a job for you here”. He handed over his week’s wages, plus his week in hand. “I’ve put an extra ten pounds in there for you”.

The following weekend, Trevor drove his granny out to Oxford, to give her a ride in the new car. They stopped for tea in the city, and he asked her what she thought of the car, and told her about his new job as a private hire driver. She swallowed a big lump of scone before answering. “Fancy, I call it. Don’t you go getting above ourself now”. After tea, he bought a grey sports jacket and some new shirts and ties.

He was determined to look smart when he started picking up passengers.

Ken Millward was the owner of Witney Cars, and explained how things worked. “We find you the jobs. You are not allowed to pick anyone up off the street, under any circumstances. Here are some business cards with our phone number on them for you to hand out. When you are driving past any phone boxes, remember to place them prominently inside. We get a lot of work from phone boxes. The rates are so much a mile for cash jobs, and a bit less for account customers. I take ten percent of all cash fares and fifteen percent of account jobs. You keep any tips. Make sure to have change on you at all times, and you should buy some maps of Oxford, Cheltenham, Gloucester, and even London. We will be taking people all over”.

Trevor had never been to London, and decided not to mention that to Ken, who carried on talking.

“You will get a list of booked jobs, regular pick-ups, and parcel or school runs. When they are done, you come back to the office and wait for a walk-in, or if someone phones for a booking. If you get any runs into Oxford or Gloucester, never park on a taxi rank or pick up anyone who might hail you at a station. The taxis there are all licenced by the Councils, and there will be big trouble if they catch you doing that”.

Then he handed Trevor a large stiff card with the name Witney Cars printed on it and the phone number. “Keep this on the dashboard of your car where it can be seen. And try not to park illegally, as we don’t pay for parking tickets. There’s a kettle out the back, and tea and milk. It’s two shillings a week, and if you want sugar, bring it in. Give the two-bob to Stella, she gets the stuff, and answers the phones on the day shift”.

Walking behind the partition holding a two-shilling piece, Trevor saw Stella sitting at a desk writing things down on small cards. “Ken says I have to give you a couple of bob for the tea”. He placed the coin on the edge of the desk. “I’m Trevor, Trevor Clemence. I’m one of the new drivers”. Stella looked up at him and smiled. “I know, I’m not deaf. You were only standing behind the partition”. He smiled back at her, feeling awkward. She had nice flick-ups in her fair hair, and reminded him of Millicent Martin. He guessed she might be a bit older than him too.

“The two bob is for the tea and milk, but you make it yourself. I’m nobody’s tea lady. And wash your cup up after too”. Her tone was mock-serious, softened by a friendly grin as she spoke. “If you need the toilet, it’s halfway up the stairs, on the first landing. And don’t wee on the seat, or leave it up after. I have to sit on that you know. If you are ready to work, I have a pick-up for you in Crundel Rise, going to the air base at Brize Norton. You know where they are, I suppose?” He nodded, and left immediately with the details on a piece of paper.

Stella called after him. “It’s an account customer, but he normally tips well”.

As he was driving to Crundel Rise, Trevor couldn’t stop smiling. Stella was great, and he was on his way to his first ever taxi job.

Egypt, 1989: Part One

I have decided to repost my 3-part series from 2014 about a holiday to Egypt in 1989. Parts two and three will follow this one in order.

Please note that many of the places described here have been greatly improved since our visit. Some now have permanent exhibitions, and better access. Some others are closed to tourists for the time being, and may or may not be re-opened. Hotels have been upgraded, and the river boats are generally of a more modern standard.

Egypt was one of those places I had always wanted to see. Old films with Pyramids and Pharaohs fascinated as a youngster, and later exploration in books and TV documentaries left me with a real desire to see this fascinating country. I had just never got around to it. I always felt that if it had lasted for all those thousands of years, it could wait a little bit longer for me to visit. I went to lots of other places instead. Some were changing politically, and needed to be seen as they were prior to that change. Others were cheaper, or just closer, so I took the occasional easy option. But Egypt remained in my mind, as somewhere I always knew that I would get to see. Eventually.

In 1989, I was getting married, for the second time. As the wedding was going to be in late July, we thought carefully about the honeymoon. Travel at this time is not only more expensive, it can also be very hot and uncomfortable. After some consideration, we decided that we would have the ideal honeymoon, in the land that I had always wanted to see. Egypt.

However, we would not be going in July, with temperatures at their highest. We would go in December instead. This time of cold and gloom in the UK is the exact opposite further south in Egypt. Warm sunny days, and calm cooler nights make December the perfect time to see this desert country. It also makes it more expensive, but I had been saving up. We went for a weekend in Amsterdam after the wedding, then returned to normal life, anticipating our ‘real’ honeymoon later that year.

After reading through some travel guides and tourist information (no Internet then) we decided to avoid Cairo. This did mean that we would not see the Pyramids, or the famous museum. On the other hand, it gave us the option of doing different things, including a cruise along the Nile, and a trip to Abu Simbel. We booked with Thomas Cook, and paid for everything, including the excursions. It was an organised holiday, with the chance to go on trips with guides if you wanted to, or do your own thing, if you preferred that. We would fly to Luxor, and spend a few days in the Hilton Hotel by The Nile, before joining our cruiser, for a five-night trip down to Aswan. After the cruise, we would return to the Hilton, and finish the remainder of the holiday there.

In October, with two months to go before the holiday, we began a long strike in the Ambulance Service. As the trip had already been paid for, we decided to still go, and not to let the fact that I wasn’t being paid, or might not have a job to return to, spoil any of our plans. I can’t deny that I was worried though, but that faded away as I sat on the aircraft.

On arrival at Luxor airport, our small group was broken up into those staying at different hotels. We were the only two going to stay at the Hilton, so we were dropped off by minibus with our luggage. Our first impressions of the city were not that good. Half-finished buildings lined the roads, and the whole place seemed to be dusty and run-down. The road leading to the Hilton led nowhere else, and the area around the hotel was studded with industrial buildings, and fenced-off scrub land. Outside the entrance, a group of horse-drawn taxis waited for business; the animals looked to be in a bad way, with all their ribs showing.

Inside the hotel compound, all was luxury. Palm trees, manicured gardens, and a stylish entrance, manned by uniformed youngsters whose only task was to open and close the doors for guests. Staff at the reception treated us like royalty; bags conveyed to our room, checked-in without fuss. The room itself was comfortable but not grand. It had one perfect feature though, a small balcony overlooking the River Nile.

Our deal included breakfast and dinner at the hotel, and all meals on the boat. After a shower and change, we explored the hotel grounds. A huge chess set was laid out, and comfortable furniture surrounded a pool, leading out to the lush gardens bordering the river. It certainly was a glamorous location, at least inside the hotel grounds. The weather was good, warm but not too hot, and the hotel had most things you could want, including a gift shop, cafe, and large restaurant. Dinner was an elegant affair, in an old-fashioned atmosphere. The hotel was not even half-full, so service and food were excellent. There was also the possibility to upgrade to the a-la-carte menu for a very small sum, so we did. We had two days to wait before getting on the river boat, so we resolved to make the most of it. The next morning, we would join the tour to Luxor and Karnak Temples.

We were collected after breakfast, and taken by coach on the short trip via the centre of Luxor. Founded in 1400BC, this city was originally called Thebes. Much of it appeared unchanged on first examination, and even the centre had the feel of a biblical town. Meat hung outside open butcher shops, covered in flies, and the market stalls were busy, with considerable traffic crowding the narrow streets.

Arriving at Luxor Temple, the reason for coming to this country was immediately apparent. The sheer scale and grandeur, the feel of history, of walking in the steps of Ramesses, it was completely overwhelming. Within moments, I was captivated, and knew instinctively that it had been worth all the travelling, and the cost. After listening to the guide for a while, we went off on our own, uninspired by his dry delivery and endless statistics about the height and weight of the columns. Just walking around the complex, looking up at the construction and feeling the atmosphere was more than enough. The main Karnak temple is nearby, along a path lined by what is left of a row of sphinxes that once joined the two main places of worship. The famous Hypostyle Hall, of over 100 ornate columns, and the carved reliefs in the Precinct of Amun Re, are simply breathtaking, and worth the whole trip alone. It was fascinating to imagine them all brightly painted in their heyday, and we could still see traces of some of the colours in the shaded roof areas.

The old town of Luxor didn’t have a great deal to offer. There were some tourist shops of course, as well as numerous market stalls and street sellers, all hawking trinkets and souvenirs. The persistence of some street traders was disconcerting. Outside of any attraction, and on the route back to the main hotels, they would follow you relentlessly, brandishing things in your face, and asking ‘English?’, or ‘German?’, if they went by my wife’s natural light blonde hair. At certain points, the Tourist Police would step in, and the salesmen knew better than to carry on. Although used to bargaining in North Africa, Kenya, and Turkey by then, I was staggered by the ridiculous starting prices stated by any shop or seller there.

Before leaving England, I had promised my friend’s little girl that I would bring her back a toy camel. I had expected to see lots of camels for sale, but I could only find wooden ones, not suitable for a small child. I eventually found a leather-covered stuffed camel in one shop, and went inside to look at it. The shopkeeper pounced immediately, telling me that this was a hand made first-class camel and one of a kind. His opening price was the equivalent of almost £200, which we could only laugh at. When he wouldn’t go below £50, we walked out of the shop. He followed us out, and offered a ‘much better price’. After another thirty minutes, we secured the toy for £8. This was probably still far too much, at least twice what it should have cost, but I was just pleased to get out of there.

We decided to return to the hotel by horse taxi. This involved more protracted negotiations with the driver, until we settled on the fare of around £1, which seemed to be the going rate. When we got back to the hotel, he asked for twice that much. “The rest is for my horse” he told us, indicating the sorry animal pulling the carriage. I decided to make a stand though, otherwise prices would get inflated. I gave him the equivalent of £1 as agreed.

The next day, we had an early start to visit the Valley of The Kings, and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This involved crossing the river by small boat, then a minibus trip up to the first site. Other than a parking area, and a large cafe, there is little to indicate the treasures below the rocky barren ground there. We had a guided tour into the tomb of Ramesses ll, which seemed to be little more than a hole in the ground, with steep steps leading down into darkness. The small group and guide were both compulsory at the time, as there were fears of damage done to the site by the sheer volume of tourists. Once on the staircase, we could immediately see the wonderful colours of the preserved paintings and heiroglyphs. It was amazing to think that the man who once occupied this tomb had died in 1213 BC, over three thousand years earlier. Only one small room was accessible, and it contained the large stone sarcophagus that would have originally housed the decorated coffin and the mummified body within. Even given the short time allowed for the visit, the impact of those moments in that cold chamber, surrounded by colour from a bygone era, stays with me to this day.

After an early lunch in the large cafe on the site, we headed off to see the Temple of Hatshepsut. This monumental building, part of which is built into the rock itself, is part of the large area known as the Theban Necropolis. Her temple is magnificently preserved, and an outstanding sight amid the surrounding hills.

Wandering about this complex, marvelling at the reliefs and architecture, I learned a valuable lesson about walking around in the midday sun. Although I hadn’t felt unduly hot, it was very bright, and very warm. I passed out with sunstroke, finding myself suddenly lying on my back, a group of concerned faces looking down at me. Other members of our group, as well as my wife and the guide, got me into the shade. They gave me water to drink, and also poured water over me. I soon felt better, but resolved to wear a cap every day after that. We returned to the hotel that afternoon, and I was fully recovered by the time we got there.

The next day we would be joining our ship, for the five day cruise down to Aswan.

A Non-Lockdown Saturday In Beetley

It wasn’t that long ago that I was posting about lockdown life in Beetley. To be honest, it wasn’t that different to life before lockdown, at least for me.

Now it has been almost a week since ‘Freedom Day’, and not much has changed around here. On Monday, I collected an Indian takeaway meal from a restaurant we use. Staff were still wearing masks and face shields, and the screens were in place between tables. But the diners were not wearing masks of course, so I kept mine on as I waited for the meal to be prepared.

I went into Dereham on Tuesday, and did the ‘big shop’ at a huge supermarket. Around two-thirds of the customers were weaing masks, and all the staff I saw were wearing them too. They had an announcement playing over loudspeakers suggesting masks should be retained, and that shoppers should still try to social distance where possible.

I saw some maskless shoppers grinning at that, and all of those not wearing masks were quite obviously younger than forty.

Out walking with Ollie, fellow dog-walkers are still keeping a reasonable distance if they stop to chat, and we are standing at the side of narrow paths to allow others to walk by without having to be in close proximity. But the youngsters and teenagers playing around in the river or basketball court are behaving as if Covid doesn’t exist any longer, with close physical contact, and not a mask in sight.

Where Julie works at out local Doctor’s, most people are complying with the mask rule, which is still in force for medical sites. Only a couple of people refused to wear one this week, and they were not allowed into the building. In one case, a woman became abusive and aggressive, and the manager had to be called down to make her leave.

Next weekend, there is a big family party in the Watford area, in Hertfordshire. I wasn’t going anyway, because of leaving Ollie. But Julie was looking forward to attending the 50th birthday party, and seeing many of her extended family. However, that area has shown an alarming spike in Covid infection during the last week, so attending a party inside has become a worrying prospect. Wearing a mask in that situation is not much fun, so she will likely cancel her long-awaited trip.

This all goes to show that despite ‘Freedom Day’, the virus is still around, infections are still increasing, and many of those who didn’t want to wear masks are taking full opportunity of the relaxation of rules.

In many ways, nothing has changed at all, so we carry on as before here in Beetley.

A Good Runner: Part Twelve

This is the twelfth part of a fiction serial, in 765 words.

Trevor worked hard for the rest of the year, even going in on Saturdays for extra pay. By the time he was celebrating the new year of 1965 with his granny, he had managed to save almost five hundred pounds. He gave the old lady fifty of that, which seemed like a fortune to her, but that was to soften the blow when he told her he was thinking of moving out.

Shirley had left the local tea rooms long before. Valerie the owner had told him she was living in Oxford, with a travelling salesman who was a regular at the tea rooms. He had just shrugged at the news. Trevor was a man who accepted bad luck as his lot in life.

With spring coming, Nigel White was determined to get rid of his daughter’s car. There had not been a single enquiry from the newspaper advertisement, so he resolved to put up some postcards in local shops and post offices. They were a lot cheaper, and more likely to be seen by people in Witney. He took the canvas cover off the car, removed the battery, and charged it up. Sure it would start and run for any potential buyer, he wrote out some cards and paid for them to be in the windows with all the others.

After helping his gran get some shopping one Saturday morning, Trevor noticed a newly-refurbished shop front. What had once been a dusty old ironmongers was set to become a new taxi office. They had a sign outside, stating ‘Drivers Wanted. Apply Within’. When he had dropped off the shopping at home, he walked back and stood outside the shop. Working as a taxi driver appealed to him as being a lot more comfortable than hauling roof tiles day in, day out. So he went inside.

“No, we don’t have taxis for you to drive mate. This is a private hire company. You supply your own car and insurance, we get the work for you, and take a percentage. You need a decent car with four doors, it must be undamaged, and nice and clean. Come back and see me when you have one, show me the taxi insurance papers, and you can start the same day”. Despite his disappointment at the company not supplying cars for him to use, he couldn’t get the idea out of his head as he ate dinner that night with his gran.

It wasn’t until Tuesday when he spotted the postcard in the window of the corner shop. ‘1963 Consul Cortina. 4-doors. Very low mileage. £400’. He asked the shopkeeper to write the phone number down on a piece of paper for him, then walked to the phone box on the corner. The man at the other end gave him the address, and he agreed to go there and see the car late on Saturday afternoon when he had finished work. It was in a very posh part of town where Trevor had once cleaned windows.

The house was suitably impressive, and the doors of the double garage were already open when Trevor arrived. The shiny green Cortina was in one half, and a grey Rover P5 dominated the other half. He didn’t have to knock, as the elderly man came out as soon as he stopped to look at the car.

“She’s a good runner you know, and such low mileage for a sixty-three car too. Have a look, the door is open. Only six thousand miles on the clock, you won’t find a better one. The spare wheel has never been used, no MOT required until next year, and I have charged the battery for you. There is still a few gallons of petrol in the tank too”.

Remembering he was supposed to haggle, Trevor really couldn’t be bothered. Everything the man was saying was true, and compared to the cost of the newly revamped Cortina model, this one was a real bargain. He hadn’t said much, and the man took that as hesitation. “If you like, I can get the keys and give you a drive around. I am insured to drive it on my policy”. He was back in two minutes, and invited Trevor to jump into the passenger seat. They headed away from the town centre, driving on the country road in the direction of Poffley End. After ten minutes, he pulled into the space next to a farm gate.

“Well young man, what say you?” Trevor smiled.

“I’ll take it. I can bring the money on Monday evening, after I have sorted out the insurance”.

A Good Runner: Part Eleven

This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 741 words.

Trevor Clemence.

There was little choice for Diane but to reurn to her family home in the small town of Witney, in Oxfordshire. She explained away her resignation by telling them that she had not got on with her colleagues, and had an idea to go to work in Hong Kong, where teachers were usually in some demand. In fact, after only one week at home, she managed to secure an interview with an agency in London that was happy to forward her details for a vacancy on their books. Within a month, she was packing to leave, using the last of her salary to buy an airline ticket.

The house in Essex had been rented through a local company, and that rental income would cover the mortgage costs and management fees. As for the green Consul Cortina, she gave the keys and paperwork to her father, and asked him to sell it for her.

Nigel White had little interest in cars, even though he could drive, and owned a smart Rover car. He placed a classified advertisement in the local weekly newspaper, offering Diane’s low-mileage car for offers around four hundred and twenty five pounds. Then he parked it inside his double garage, and more or less forgot about it.

Trevor Clemence was a man who hadn’t had that much luck in his life. He was fired from a carpentry apprenticeship for always turning up late for work, then had joined the army at the age of eighteen. He didn’t even complete his training, as after knocking out a drill sergeant with one punch on the parade ground, he was thrown out. Not long after, he managed to get work helping a window cleaner in Witney, and he was allowed to drive the van on learner plates, eventually passing his driving test first time.

His boss let him use the van outside of work, and he soon met Shirley, who was working in a roadside cafe on the A40 nearby. They married when Trevor was twenty-one, and went to live with his widowed grandmother in the town. Two years later, the man he worked for offered to sell him the window-cleaning round, and negotiated a weekly payment to cover the cost of buying it, and the old van that came with it. Trevor was very pleased with himself. He now had his own business, and he was only twenty-three years old.

Bad news arrived in the shape of the winter of 1963. With the weather so bad, most of his regular customers didn’t want their windows cleaned. Trade dropped off alarmingly, and his weekly takings were reduced by half. Plans to start a family had to be shelved, and Shirley was unhappy about that. Then one afternoon as he was on his way back from cleaning the windows of the vicarage in Minster Lovell, he crashed the van in a country lane, after skidding on ice.

There wasn’t enough money to pay for the repairs to get the van roadworthy, and with no van, he could only do the windows of a few local shops that he could walk to, carrying the smaller ladder. It wasn’t long before he had lost the majority of his customers, and he had only paid off less than half the money he owed his former boss. Shirley was working at the tea rooms in Witney now, but her wages were barely enough to buy the shopping, and pay their share of the bills. His grandma only had her old age pension, so the new year of 1964 was a dismal prospect indeed. Faced with no alternative, Trevor had to give up the business, and get a regular job.

All he could find was work as a labourer for a local roofing company. They would pick him up in a lorry at the end of the lane every morning, and he spent all day carrying roof tiles up and down ladders, after unloading them from the flatbed at the back. At least the work was regular, even though it was tiring and monotonous. By the end of that summer, he had managed to pay off his debt, build up his strength, and had tried to talk to Shirley about renting their own place and starting a family.

Her attitude surprised him. “To be honest, Trev, I’m pretty fed up. Don’t think I want kids after all. Not with you, anyway”.

Three weeks later, she was gone.

Ollie And The Heatwave

Since Ollie turned nine in February, he has slowed down considerably. But he still likes nothing better than to accompany us anywhere in my car, and is able to jump up onto his bed in the back as if he is still only two years old. So he was delighted when after watching us pack up the car last Thursday, he was called outside to leap into his spot.

The first day in Essex was actually overcast, and not very warm. He was pleased to see my cousin’s two small dogs again, even though having so many people in the house made him rather agitated, perhaps because he worried that he might be left behind.

By the time we arrived in Kent late on Friday afternoon, the weather had started to warm up considerably. We were grateful to be able to eat outside at my friend’s house, but Ollie stayed inside, finding some cool carpet in the shade to lie on.

On Saturday, it was almost 30 degrees (C) and we drove the short distance to a local Country park to give him a good walk. In the absence of a river, I took along his water bowl and a large bottle of water. Ollie was soon slowing down in the heat, so after an hour, we sat under a tree near the cafe there, and Ollie was lying down on the long grass in the shade. Despite drinking lots of water, he couldn’t seem to cool down, and was panting constantly.

The next day, I walked him to the local park near my friend’s house, somwehere he has been many times before. But there was a lot of traffic in that large town, and Ollie kept stopping on the pavement, flinching at the noise as cars and buses drove past close to us. By the time I got to the park, I had to sit in some shade and give him a big drink from his bowl. As he showed no sign of wanting to continue the walk after that, I decided to head back, by which time it was close to 31C there.

He spent the rest of the time lying on the kitchen floor, and when the sun moved around and we sat outside to eat, he ventured out to find any small breeze and the cool decking of her patio. For all three days in Kent, he had seemed grumpy and listless, though I was pleased that he ate all of his food, and had a good appetite.

The drive home on Monday wasn’t too bad, and I decided to stop off at Thetford Forest so that Ollie could get out for a walk, and have a drink. For some reason, he wouldn’t follow me after I parked the car, and kept looking back at it. I had to settle for him having a short drink before getting him back in the car for the one hour drive to Beetley. The next morning, he seemed happier, as the temperature in Norfolk, though still hot, was a full 5C lower than it had been further south. Even so, after fifteen minutes in his preferred area of Beetley Meadows, he ran into the river and stood there for over twenty minutes.

Today was still warm and sunny, but a lot fresher than it has been. Ollie has decided that he must now sniff and mark a lot more places than ever, presumably making up for that ‘lost time’ away. It took me almost thirty minutes to walk less than 400 yards, and I found myself standing waiting for ages until he was ready to catch up.

So at least during this short heatwave, dog-walking now has a new name.

‘Dog-Waiting’.

A Good Runner: Part Ten

This is the tenth part of a fiction serial, in 764 words.

The next morning, Diane woke up determined to break her fast-growing addiction to spending time with Connie. When the knocker sounded on the door just after eleven, she stayed inside, not answering. Connie would obviously know she was at home, as she would have seen the car parked in the lane. But she had to be strong, and not let the girl in. She had her new job, her cottage, the car, and too much to lose.

Peeping from a bedroom window upstairs, she could see Connie standing by the gate next to her bicycle. It seemed she was playing the waiting game, but Diane could play that too. Evetually, the girl tired of waiting, and slipped a note through the letterbox before riding off. ‘Came to see you, but no reply. I will try again tomorrow. C. XX’.

The following day, Diane made sure not to be home, driving to the estuary at Mersea Island, and spending the day reading in the sun. Then the day after that, and the next day too. By the end of that week, Connie apeared to have given up trying, and despite some pangs of guilt over encouraging her, Diane was greatly relieved.

As usual, the teaching staff returned a few days before the end of the holidays. There was some preparation to be done, reviews of exam results, and other general admin to get out of the way. Diane was in before everyone else, hoping that her enthusiasm would be noticed. When the headmaster came into the staff room, she expected some compliment about how well her classes had done in the exams, or praise for arriving long before the others. But he wasn’t smiling.

“Diane, can you follow me to my office, please?”

She sat across the desk from him as he removed some papers from a drawer. “I have a letter here. I am not going to show you it, but I will outline what it contains. It is from Mrs Reilly, the mother of Constance Reilly. You know Constance of course?” Feeling cold in her stomach, Diane nodded.

“She alleges that you have been -shall we say- intimate with her daughter in an inappropriate fashion. Inviting her into your home, driving her around in your car, buying her gifts, making affectionate and flattering remarks to her, and on one occasion even kissing the girl. It seems Constance told her mother she wanted to move out and live with you because you were in love with each other. As a result, the girl has been removed from this school by her parents, who are in the process of moving out of the county to an undisclosed location. I thought I should give you the chance to tell me your side, Diane.”

Her brain was spinning, and she was sure that if she had eaten any breakfast that morning, she would certainly have vomited onto the headmaster’s desk.

“I did invite Connie in for a cold drink on a hot day, but only after she had cycled to my house without being invited. I once gave her a lift home in my car when the school bus broke down, but never drove her around as the letter suggests. Yes, I bought her a novel back from holiday, but only because I know her family is not well off financially, and Connie is truly a bright star as far as literature is concerned. I wanted to encourage her interest in books and art, but when she tried to kiss me, I immediately realised she had misunderstood, and have not seen her since”.

The look on his face told her he hadn’t believed a word.

“You are lucky that the parents have not chosen to involve the police, and so far I have not passed this on to the education authorities. I have replied to the letter in a personal capacity, and given my assurances that you will no longer be teaching here. I suggest you resign immediately, or I will have no alternative but to suspend you pending a formal investigation into your conduct”. He slid a sheet of plain paper and a pen across the desk. “Please write the resignation letter now, giving some kind of reason why you are unhappy here. Maybe you cannot settle in the area, or want to go abroad to teach? I don’t care what you write, but you will write it”.

As Diane was driving home in tears, she knew the cottage would have to go, as she could never afford the mortgage with no job.

The car too.

A Good Education

When I was away last weekend, I discussed my time at school with a friend who I met there, 58 years ago. That discussion has prompted me to reblog this post. A tribute to my education, originally posted in 2012.

beetleypete

I confess that I know little of the school system today. I am aware that many teachers are unhappy, that exam results are possibly being manipulated, and Department of Education targets seem to be the driving force behind teaching. I also see that standards of spelling, literacy, numeracy, and general knowledge have fallen, and students rely heavily on the Internet for information that they might once have learned. University degrees have lost their status and potential graduates now have to face the prospect of years of debt ahead of them. Things have changed, of that there can be little doubt. There is a distinct lack of Historical knowledge, and little regard for the relevance of the subject. Geography, and geographical awareness, has reached a low, to the extent that many young people could not place themselves on a World map.

I do not have statistics to support these claims, but…

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