Tag Archives: england

You Have 1 New Friend Request


Okay folks, here’s the second idea I had for a novel.

It’s called, ‘You Have 1 New Friend Request’.

Here’s the basic premise:

Social media romance, or elaborate Facebook phishing scam?

What begins as an innocent correspondence between an English hack and a French-Canadian furniture restorer, soon descends into the seedy underworld of the French sex industry and people trafficking.

Will Ted and his daughter be able to save Natalie before she disappears into the murky French underworld? Or is she just a ruse to lure in his daughter?

So, same as yesterday, really. If you have the time to have a read, I’d appreciate your feedback. And, whether you think it has potential. Also, whether you prefer this idea to the one I posted yesterday. Don’t ask for much, do I?

Your help is greatly appreciated.

You Have 1 New Friend Request.

nm

By David Milligan-Croft.

CHAPTER 1.
COUCOU!

Ted was scrolling through his Facebook news feed when he heard the ping of a notification and a little red number ‘1’ appear over the ‘friends’ icon. He clicked the silhouetted couple and saw the tiny profile picture of what looked like a beautiful woman with a name he didn’t recognise. He immediately felt curiosity and suspicion in equal measure. He clicked on the profile of Natalie Marceau, and when he saw an enlarged image his heart did a double beat.

She was stunning. Model stunning. Movie star stunning. So why was she ‘friending’ Ted Miller – an average looking 40-something? He looked on her profile page and she appeared to have about half a dozen friends, all of whom seemed roughly the same age as him if not a little older.

‘Probably phishing for old pervs,’ he thought to himself. ‘Then plead some sob story to extort money.’

She was 25 years old, living in Brittany, France. Originally from Montreal, Canada. He clicked on the photos header and was aghast. Her auburn hair cascaded over her slender shoulders. Her blue eyes shone with a light emanating from her vivacity and her smile was luminescent with joy. Whilst she was sensationally attractive, she had a natural air about her, as though she was almost unaware of the fact – or didn’t care. Ted’s finger slid up the track-pad of his MacBook, the cursor hovering over the ‘accept or decline’ button. Deep down, he knew this was a mistake. A scam. But the romantic in him could not resist. He clicked – Accept.

No sooner had he accepted Natalie’s friend request, a message appeared in the chat icon. Tentatively, he clicked the button.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

Ted opened up two pages of Google translate in his browser. One to translate from French to English, the other from English to French. He cut and pasted the word into the text panel for translation: Coucou = Cuckoo or hello.

Not being up on French colloquialisms, Ted opted for a more formal reply.

Ted Miller: Bonjour.

He remembered a little French from school and from various holidays in the South of France but not enough to hold a conversation. He could get by ordering things in restaurants and hotels, but the problems began when anyone replied in French. They’d usually speak much too quickly for him to comprehend any of the key verbs.

The three dots made a wave to signify that she was typing. If, in fact, this was a ‘she’ at all. Ted had visions of a twenty-stone Russian spot-welder sitting in his vest and underpants in front of a laptop with the stump of a cigar hanging out of the corner of his mouth tapping away at his keyboard. That, or a Nigerian banker in Lagos promising to deposit $10 million dollars into his bank account for a paltry administration fee of two hundred dollars.

Natalie Marceau: Are you good?

‘That depends.’ Ted thought. ‘On whether you mean, ‘am I a good person’ or ‘am I feeling okay?’ He opted for a response to the latter.

Ted Miller: I am very well, thank you for asking. How are you in sunny France?

‘I bet she’s impressed with my French.’

Natalie Marceau: I do not understand. You want to know if France has sun?

‘Shit,’ Ted clicked the ‘suggest alternative translation’ tab.

Ted Miller: Sorry, Google translate. Probably didn’t come out too well. Do you speak English?

Natalie Marceau: Not much.

Ted Miller: Don’t you speak English in Canada?

Natalie Marceau: Not in Montreal. Is French. Not British.

‘That’s me told, then.’ He walked to the fridge and opened a bottle of San Miguel then sat back down at his laptop. He glanced out of the window, ship lights were shimmering off the blue-black water of the harbour basin. ‘C’mon, Miller. Think of something interesting to say. It’s what you’re supposed to do for a living, for God’s sake.’

Ted Miller: Yes, you did indeed win that particular skirmish. But we kicked your arse at the Battle of Waterloo! (Winky face.)

‘Stick that in votre pipe, Ivan!’

The circular green dot that indicates that a person is online to chat disappeared.

Ted leaned back in his swivel chair and took a swig from his beer. ‘Maybe not a Russki after all.’

He scrolled through some of Natalie’s other photos. She looked like she had a stylish apartment. In some photos she wore her hair piled on top in a bun, in others it flowed in waves about her cheeks and shoulders. Her clothes were elegant and chic. In some, a blouse button opened provocatively. In others she wore large, black-rimmed spectacles. He wondered if they were for show. They certainly gave her that librarian look. Most of them were selfies, so there weren’t many full length shots. Although, she did look tall and slender, but it was difficult to tell. Ted began to wonder if he had been a bit quick to be cynical. Surely, not everyone on the internet was a potential fraudster. Perhaps he should try and make amends. Or, perhaps, this was exactly the tactic they use to lure you in. He was just about to type a conciliatory message when the chat box suddenly read: This message has been temporarily removed because the sender’s account requires verification.

‘Oh well,’ he mused. ‘It was fun while it lasted.’ He pulled the computer onto his lap and swivelled the chair to put his feet on the window ledge. His reflection blurred with the orange and yellow neon of Media City beyond. He downloaded a photo of Natalie to his desktop then dragged it into Google images to check the source of the photograph.

‘Nothing unusual there.’ He tried with another, then another. All the photos of Natalie seemed above board. No links to other identities or spurious sites.

Ping! Another friend request. ‘Wow, I am popular tonight.’ He clicked on the button and it was Natalie again. Ted’s brow furrowed in consternation. How could he not? He clicked accept and immediately began typing.

Ted Miller: Where did you go?

Waving green buttons.

Natalie Marceau: Sorry. I think someone was hacking my account.

Ted perused her FB page. This time, he was her only friend. ‘Ah, so I’m the only one that took the bait, am I? Or did one of the other old pervs report you to Facebook?’

Ted Miller: Really? That’s a shame. Glad you’re back. (Smiley face.)

Ted Miller: Sorry about my Waterloo comment. I was only joking.

Natalie Marceau: Really? Never mind.

Ted swallowed hard. ‘I think a lot of this is going to get lost in translation.’

Ted Miller: If you don’t mind me asking, how come you wanted to be friends? It’s not as if we have any friends in common.

Natalie Marceau: Don’t you want to be my friend?

Ted Miller: Of course I do. I was just wondering, that’s all. It’s not often a 42-year-old man gets befriended by a young French goddess who could arrest a heart with a flash of her smile.

‘Bit soon for that kind of talk, Ted,’ he took a swig. He was feeling the buzz from the beer. But she didn’t take the compliment bait.

Natalie Marceau: Twenty five is not that young. Besides, age is unimportant.

‘Couldn’t agree more, my dear.’ Ted drained the last of his beer and got another from the fridge.

Ted Miller: So, Natalie, what do you do for a living all the way over there in France?

Natalie Marceau: Nothing special, or good. I restore the old furniture.

Ted Miller: That sounds great. A very noble craft – bringing something old and decrepit back to its former glory.

He resisted the temptation to make a self-deprecating joke.

Natalie Marceau: Your words write nice. You are also a romantic, no?

Ted Miller: Well, it’s been some time since I was romantic.

Natalie Marceau: You do not have a wife?

Ted Miller: I have an ex-wife. Five years now.

Natalie Marceau: So you have not had a lover in five years?

Ted almost spat his beer out over the computer screen. ‘Get to the point, why don’t you, Natalie.’

Ted Miller: I also have a daughter. Who lives with her mother.

He wondered whether the green light would flick off at this last revelation, as it seemed to be taking an eternity for Natalie to reply. He looked at the clock in the top right of the screen. It was 21:45. Quarter to eleven her time.

Natalie Marceau: Give her a big kiss from me. Well, it’s getting late. I must lie down for a while. Good night.

Ted Miller: Yes, I will. Goodnight. Sweet dreams. You too. Nice to be friends.

Everything came out in a scramble as he attempted to say everything before she switched off. Then silence. Her green light disappeared and he was left looking at her smiling face. She looked as though someone she loved had just made her laugh. He even felt a pang of jealousy. Whoever took the photograph must know her intimately enough to illicit such an animated response. A lover? A best friend?

He read her final comment again – “Give her a big kiss from me.” ‘Why on Earth would I do that? She doesn’t even know you. You don’t know her. Odd thing to say.’

There was a photo of Natalie lying on a bed holding the camera above her face. The pillow and duvet were crisp white cotton. There was a hint of wooden floorboards to the right hand side. Her ochre arms extended diagonally out of shot. Her eyes were doleful, yet she was still smiling. She was lying on top of the duvet wearing a white vest top with a simple, graphic illustration of a cat on the front. Ted thought about lying next to her, smelling her hair, touching her gossamer skin. The light was bright, as though it had been taken in the daytime, or summer.

‘Get a grip, Ted,’ he thought. ‘You’ve got about as much chance of that happening as Donald Trump being the next American president.’ He clicked the ‘shut down’ button and gently closed the lid of the laptop. He looked down at the canal basin where houseboats glowed eerily against the blackness of the water.

CHAPTER 2.
LA FILLE.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

The ping on his iPhone woke Ted. He unlocked his phone and read the message from Natalie, then looked at the clock at the top of the screen: 07.30. ‘Well, I guess it is half eight over there.’

Ping.

Natalie Marceau: Good morning, Cheri. Have a good day! (Smiley face, smiley face winking, face blowing a kiss.)

‘That’s a pleasant way to start the day.’ He tossed back the duvet and padded into the living room in his t-shirt and boxers to start up his computer. ‘I’ll have to download translate to my phone as well.’ He logged onto Facebook and opened the translation tabs.

Ted Miller: Bonjour Natalie. Thank you. Have a great day also.

‘Ask her a question before she disappears,’ he thought.

Ted Miller: What are you doing today?

Natalie Marceau: I told you. I am restoring the furniture.

Ted Miller: Sorry, yes, you said. But it’s the weekend.

Natalie Marceau: I work on my own so I must work all the time.

‘Jeez, tough crowd.’

Ted Miller: Yes, I should have known. Do you have any plans for tonight?

Natalie Marceau: No. I make ratatouille for me and my cat and watch a movie.

Ted Miller: Your cat eats ratatouille?

Natalie Marceau: No. That would kill him. I watch the movie with my cat.

Ted Miller: What kind of movies does he like? The Cat in the Hat?

Natalie Marceau: That is a stupid movie.

‘I thought it was quite funny,’ he thought, stretching a yawn and scratching the cotton fabric of his t-shirt under his arm.

Ted Miller: How come you’re not going out on a Saturday night?

Natalie Marceau: I have no friends.

‘I find that hard to believe, young lady.’

Natalie Marceau: It’s complicated. I tell you later. I have to go to work now. Gros bisous.

And, with that, the green dot disappeared.

He cut and pasted ‘gros bisous’ into translate, even though he was fairly certain he knew what it meant.

‘Big kisses.’

‘Big kisses to you too, Natalie,’ he thought, allowing himself the warm glow of affection that it might all possibly be real. Then, cynicism returned. ‘You really are an idiot, Ted.’ He jumped up out of the chair and headed to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Then, realising what he was doing, ‘Wait, what the fuck? I’m going back to bed.’

Ted awoke after a restless two hours bathed in sweat. He went to the kitchen and filled a large glass of water and took his medication to slow his heartbeat down. It was a condition he’d only recently discovered he had. Tachycardia, as it was known is when the heart beats excessively quickly. Often times, it would beat so fast that he could ‘hear’ it through his pillow, preventing him from sleeping.

It was 09.35. He was due to pick up his daughter from his ex-wife’s in an hour. Before he showered he opened up his laptop to see if Natalie had sent anymore messages. Nothing. A thought occurred to him – he searched her name on Twitter. Nothing. ‘Not unusual. Most Twitter users have daft names anyway.’ He tried Linked In. Also nothing. There was no trace of Natalie Marceau on Pinterest, Tumblr, Tinder, Instagram or Snapchat either. He even tried eBay. The only place she existed was on Facebook. And only to him. He closed the lid. ‘Fuck it, what’s the worst thing that can happen?’

He pulled up outside his ex-wife’s house. Or rather, their old house. It was a grand Victorian semi-detached over three floors in the leafy Manchester suburb of West Didsbury. He had barely got out of the car when the front door of the house opened and the sturdy frame of his ex-wife filled the doorway at the top of the stone steps.

‘Still driving that heap of junk?’ Morag said, arms folded.

‘Hello to you too,’ he said, smiling. ‘This beauty? It’s a classic.’

‘Daddy!’ Audrey said, pushing past her mother’s hips and bolting down the steps.

‘Not so fast!’ rebuked her mum, then sighed at the futility of her request.

Audrey jumped into her father’s arms and he swung her around on the pavement.

‘Hello, sweet pea,’ he said. ‘Got me any presents?’

‘Hey!’ she said, thumping him on the arm. ‘That’s my line!’

‘What time you bringing her back tomorrow?’ Morag asked.

‘Usual time,’ he replied. ‘About six-ish.’

Just then, Kevin emerged from the shadows behind her, placed his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. Ted cast his eyes down toward the pavement and opened the passenger door for Audrey.

‘Hey Ted,’ Kevin said.

‘Hi,’ Ted replied, but doubted it was audible enough for it to have reached the top of the steps. ‘Are you going to the recital tomorrow?’ He directed his question to his ex-wife.

‘Oh, we can’t, can we, darling?’ she craned her neck and planted a kiss on Kevin’s cheek.

Audrey gave a look of disgust. ‘We’re going to London this afternoon. You know… gotta make the most of a free night. Can’t wait. Won’t be back till late.’

‘How late’s late? Audrey can always stay with me tomorrow night as well. Save you busting a gut to get back.’

‘No, no. We should be back in time.’

‘Suit yourself,’ Ted said, walking round to the driver’s side. ‘See you…’ But when he looked up they had already gone inside and closed the door. He sat down and slammed the door.

‘So, little lady, where to?’

‘Anywhere away from here,’ Audrey folded her arms and pouted. ‘You should have called him egg head. And no, not because he’s clever!’

Ted smiled, patted his daughter on the knee and pulled off down the road.

‘And just so you know,’ she said, staring out of the passenger window. ‘I think your car’s cool. Better than his poncey Beemer.’

‘He treats you well though, doesn’t he?’

Audrey huffed. ‘S’pose so.’

‘I mean, that’s all I care about is that he’s good to you.’

‘Yeah, I guess.’

‘Look honey, I know it’s hard, but try not to be a hard-ass to him all the time. It’ll only come back on you.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, if you keep knocking him back he’ll probably stop trying to care. And neither of us wants that.’

‘You and mum could always…’

‘That’s never going to happen though, is it, love? That ship has sailed, hit an iceberg, got torpedoed, then hit by a kamikaze pilot and sank without a trace. And, by the looks of things, old Kevin’s got his feet firmly under the table. Has he moved in yet?

‘Might as well have. He’s never out of the place. Spends more time in the bathroom than mum. And that’s saying something.’

Ted laughed. ‘You know, we could always go to the cinema if you like. They have a Studio Ghibli film on.’

‘Really! Which one?’

‘My Neighbour Totoro.’

‘Cool! I’d love that.’

After the movie, they went to Pizza Express for a late lunch. Audrey was perusing the menu while Ted was checking his phone to see if he’d had a message from Natalie.

‘Expecting an important phone call?’

‘No, why do you ask?’

‘You keep checking your phone.’

‘No, I don’t,’ he said defensively.

‘You so do! You’ve checked it about twenty times since we left the cinema.’

Ted raised his eyebrows and placed the phone on the table and picked up the menu. As he was studying it, his phone beeped. Before he could drop the menu and pick it up Audrey had already grabbed it.

‘Whoa! Who is she?’

‘Give it back, Audrey.’ Ted reached out for his phone but Audrey slid her chair backwards slightly making the legs screech across the tiled floor.

‘Wow. She is hot. Who is she?’

‘I don’t know, do I?’ Ted said tartly. ‘Because somebody has my phone.’

‘Natalie Mar-ceau, it says.

‘She’s just a friend on Facebook,’ he said, pretending not to mind and looked at the menu again.

‘Please tell m you’re not dating her, are you?’

‘Of course I’m not! Now give it back,’ he said irritated.

Audrey pulled the phone close to her chest. ‘Good. I’d hate to have a step-mother who was younger than me,’ she laughed.

‘She is not younger than you!’ Ted was getting angry. ‘You are 12. She is 25.’

Audrey did a quick calculation in her head. ‘She’s still closer to my age than she is to yours,’ she said cheekily.

Ted sighed as the waiter arrived. ‘Large glass of house red, please.’

Audrey sensed her father’s irritation and slid the phone back across the table. He picked it up, glanced at the screen then placed it back down.

‘What does it say?’ Audrey asked?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t speak French,’ he said flatly.

‘So how do you guys communicate?’

‘There is such a thing as Google translate, you know.’

‘Excuse me for asking.’ Audrey folded her arms.

Just then, the waiter arrived. ‘I’ll have the Quattro Stagioni, please,’ Ted said. ‘But, can I have it mixed up?’

The waiter scribbled on his order pad and nodded.

‘Pizza Diavlo and a Coke, please.’

‘Try again,’ Ted said.

‘Sheesh, sparkling elderflower, please,’ she handed the menu back to the waiter. ‘Kevin lets me have Coke.’

Ted smiled as he handed back the menu. ‘Good for him. But I’m not Kevin. See, he’s not all bad. You never know, you might end up preferring him to me.’

Audrey gave her father a kick on the shin. Ted burst out laughing.

‘Aren’t you cross that he lets me have Coke?’

‘I don’t make the rules in your mother’s house,’ he said. ‘But she knows how I feel about it.’

‘Why did you split up?’

‘Audrey! We’ve been through this a thousand times.’

‘No we haven’t! You say we have, but we never do. You just fudge around the subject.’

The waiter arrived with the drinks. Ted took a large gulp of red wine. ‘Your mother misread the marriage vows; she thought they said, “In health and in wealth”.’

‘See! There you go again! What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘It means I’m not as well off as I used to be when I worked for The Guardian,’ he said.

‘You still work for a paper though,’ she said.

‘Not a national. It’s just a local rag.’

‘How come you can afford to live in Media City then?’

‘It’s a friend’s. He’s on secondment in Beijing for two years so he said I could flat-sit for him. He gave me a really good rate. The rent would normally be double what I’m paying.’

‘That was kind of him. What you going to do when he gets back?’

‘Move out, I guess. Let’s not think about that, it’s a long way off. Tell me about school.’

After the meal they drove back to his apartment in Media City overlooking the canal harbour. Audrey sat at the kitchen table drawing Manga cartoons while Ted checked Facebook for news from Natalie. There were four messages.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

Natalie Marceau: Bonjour!

Natalie Marceau: Bon soir!

Natalie Marceau: You are obviously busy.

Ted Miller: Hi Natalie! I’m here now. I’ve been out all day with my daughter. Sorry. How was your day?

Natalie Marceau: I want you to know I am ordered, but not obsessive. I do not like the mess and I like things to be in their place.

I am loving, very affectionate, not stuffy. I’m not possessive or jealous. I am not excessively envious or pathological. I demand you to be faithful. That is not my fault because I was born under a sign of love.

I am calm and quiet, polite, discreet, very reserved, but when I have something to say, I say it to the face. I am courageous but nonviolent. I am extremely patient, (e.g. I can stay to wait hours anywhere).

I am not vindictive, I let the wheel turn, even if it takes time to turn, because I know it will turn one day or another, and when I have said what I had to say everything is over.
I am faithful in friendship as in love. I am fair and just. I hate when one is attacking the weakest (oppressed). I am able to lead the fight against injustice and racism.

I’m looking for a loving man, funny, generous, caring, faithful and sincere who will respect me and love me for who I am. A man that will teach me to love him with all my heart. If you are that person!!!!!

‘You’re also a fruitcake,’ Ted thought.

Natalie Marceau: All I look for is a man who will support me, that will not make me suffer and who will love me for what I am, nothing more. I’m not materialistic nor bad. I am just a little heart to take. A generous woman, sincere and kind who wants to live a beautiful story.

‘Bloody hell, that escalated quickly,’ he said aloud.

‘What did?’ Audrey asked, looking up from her drawing.

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Dear EU, a love letter to Europe.


Dear EU,

I am so sorry, I have some bad news. It’s not you. It’s not even me – It’s them!

And, by ‘them’, I mean the 52% who voted to leave the European Union.

I guess they’ll say I’m just a sore loser and that democracy won the day. But it’s hard to see it as democracy when their decision making was based on a litany of untruths and fear.

You see, I was one of the 48% that wanted to stay with you, because I love you. I’m a complete Europhile. I love your rich, colourful, cultural diversity. I also love the fact that we can come and go as we please. Not just for holidays, but for work or to study.

And it’s that cultural diversity that leads to understanding, respect, tolerance and unity.

The world needs fewer borders, not more.

Sure, it’s not always been plain sailing and we’ve had our ups and downs. But I think we’ve had more ups than downs over the years, don’t you think? You’ve let us keep our own currency and border controls. And you’ve made the prices of things much cheaper. And made sure workers’ rights have been protected.

You’ve been very kind and patient with us these past few months while we’ve tried to make up our minds whether or not to dump you.

The problem was, the Vote Leave campaign told so many whopping big lies about the economy and immigration that they managed to get 52% of people to believe them.

Only this morning have they reneged on one promise to spend £350 million pounds a week on the NHS! I bet the Vote Leavers feel like a right bunch of suckers right now.

I have to be honest, and say that the Vote Remain campaign didn’t cover itself in glory either.

A lot of folks over here are saying that the people who voted leave are ‘stupid’. But they’re not, are they? They were just lied to on a monumental scale. The fact is, the Vote Leave campaigners played on people’s fears. They managed to convince them that all the problems we’ve been having these past few years are the fault of the EU and immigrants rather than the financial crash of 2008 and Tory austerity measures.

Unfortunately, they’ll soon find out that they were spoon fed a pack of lies.

The other big problem is that a lot of people in England are becoming ever more racist. They don’t want you ‘foreigners’ coming to our country and nicking our jobs and sponging off our welfare system.

But you don’t do that, do you? You create £6 billion worth of wealth for the UK economy. And withdraw a paltry few hundred million in welfare by comparison.

All the clever people wanted us to stay with you. People like Stephen Hawking, Richard Branson, Lord Sugar and Posh & Becks. (Maybe we should have got someone from the Big Brother house or Geordie Shore to be a spokesperson instead.) Whereas, all the right-wing scaremongers such as Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Katie Hopkins wanted us to leave. And, because people are becoming more and more right wing, they believed in the harbingers of fear, hate, division and intolerance.

Maybe there is a way for us to stay together. Me and you, that is. Not Britain, it’s too late for that. And, the irony is, the ‘Great Britain’ Vote Leavers so desperately coveted will probably lead to it being dismantled. (Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain with you.)

Poor-little-England will have to take on the world single-handed. It’ll build a grand new fleet of galleons made from the finest spruce and oak. England shall once again, rule the waves, sail the seven seas and plunder, rape and subjugate all in its path!

Until, it sinks and drowns.

We’re not all racist, nationalistic, xenophobic, imperialistic, unrealistic, gullible Luddites, you know.

I still love EU. And I always will.

Yours,

David.

P.S. Can I please come and live with you?

 

 

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#158/365 – The Beautiful Game.


Yes, I’m talking about football.

And no, my American chums, not your kind of football where you use your hands, I’m talking about our kind of football where we use our foots. (Why don’t they call it Feetball?)

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Unfortunately, that’s about as good as it gets for the English national team because they’re actually not very good at using their feet.

That said, it doesn’t stop me admiring the skills of the foreign players who grace the Premier League or indeed, the classy sides in the Champions League.

One of the reasons England won’t stand a chance of winning the World Cup is that FIFA have brought in this stupid rule which means you have to actually be English to play for the national team. That’s game over right there.

Take the recent warm up match against Peru – our man of the match was goalie, Joe Hart. (Even though it was actually given to Sturridge who was very poor despite his cracking goal.)

Let’s have a little player rating, shall we?

No?

It was rhetorical.

Joe Hart 8/10. Man of the match, for me. Busier than the Peruvian keeper. Jagielka owes him big time.

Glen Johnson -8/10. Yes, that’s minus 8. He was a liability and certainly played like a man who has no competition for his place. Constantly lost possession. Worst player on the pitch. Kyle Walker – you are sorely missed.

Leighton Baines 0/10. Provided no width on the left wing. Rarely got forward.

Gary Cahill 7/10. Was the only decent defender on the pitch.

Phil Jagielka -5/10. Another liability. And against better teams would have probably been responsible for us conceding 2 or 3 goals. Owes Joe Hart a night on the beer. (They’ll probably do that night before the Italy game.)

Steven Gerrard -5/10. Constantly gave the ball away by over-hitting passes.

Jordan Henderson -2/10. Perhaps didn’t lose possession quite as much as Gerrard, but did he actually pass the ball forward at any stage during the game?

Lallana 0/10. Completely ineffective. Which was a shame as I have high hopes for him.

Wellbeck -4/10. Constantly lost possession. I don’t think Hodgson realised he was playing otherwise he would have subbed him after four minutes. Looked about as menacing as 16 stone streaker.

Rooney -6/10. Actually was a 16 stone streaker. Looked very short of match practice. Gave the ball away at every opportunity. Had the first touch of a newborn giraffe on crystal meth.

Sturridge 2/10. Only gets into positive figures for his cracking goal. The rest of the time he was hapless.

I can’t be arsed doing the subs. Life’s too short.

You wouldn’t have thunk we won 3 – nil. T’was a tad flattering.

England’s main problem was their first touch. (And their second, third etc.) They were set up like a Spanish team yet can’t seem to be able to control a ball without having to take three touches and have a minimum amount of space around them akin to the turning circle of a Passat estate.

“I was delighted with England’s performance,” said the Italian, Uruguayan and Costa Rican coaches.

Look on the bright side, England: at least after the group games you’ll get to spend a couple of weeks on the Copacabana. But please, don’t try beach footy, you’ll only make twats of yourselves.

images

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#64/365 – Rain


I love the rain.

Which, when you live in a country like England, is pretty fortunate because it pisses it down all the time. (Not keen on it when it’s accompanied by a bitterly cold wind, mind.)

af2b1a2c2a3cd74eb5b19243ab46f92e

There’s something very cleansing and liberating about it.

That said, hearing it can be just as joyous as feeling it – the sound of rain against a Velux, or the cascading rhythm of droplets on leaves.

Where would we be without it, eh? Here’s where…

af0c5714441bef002c445ffa5e4945ef

Don’t get me wrong, I love the sun, too. And I wouldn’t say no to swapping the North of England for the South of France for six months of the year.

But, let’s face it, we wouldn’t have This Green and Pleasant Land, or the Emerald Isle, (not to mention flowers and crops and animals to feed off the land), if it weren’t for a spot of rain now, would we?

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Peak District

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Derbyshire

Unworried sheep

Unworried sheep

Sorry, couldn't resist. But there is some grass in the background.

Sorry, couldn’t resist. But there is some grass in the background.

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What does it mean to be English?


A Brief History

What with all the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations taking a stranglehold on our fair nation, I’ve been banging on a bit of late about wanting England, (nee, Britain), to cast off its monarchistic shackles in favour of a republic.

I’m not going to open that debate again in this post, but instead, discuss what it means to be English. And whether I do, in fact, consider myself proud to be called such. Or whether I am, indeed, a traitor to my kin as I stand accused.

Yorkshire dales, nationalism, patriotism, monarchy

Leeds city centre

I suppose my first point would be that just because someone calls themselves a republican doesn’t automatically preclude them from being patriotic.

But am I? (Patriotic, that is.)

Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. If, by patriotism, we mean will I be following the England football team swashbuckling their way through the Euro2012 competition, then yes, I am patriotic. There is a nice neat pile of fingernails on my rug that bear testament to this fact after the England / France game.

If, on the other hand, would I fight in Afghanistan for the Queen and David Cameron, then no, I am most definitely not.

Am I proud of some of the great achievements Britain has bestowed upon furthering humankind? Such as: The industrial revolution; the railway; the train; the television; the telephone; the world wide web and not forgetting the bag-less vacuum cleaner, (which I couldn’t live without). Damn right, I’m proud of those achievements.

On the other hand, am I proud to be associated with the persecution, subjugation and even extermination of many peoples of Britain’s once mighty empire? No, I am not. But neither am I guilty of those crimes.

But to answer the question on whether I am proud to be English, I need to dig a little deeper into English history.

I know very little of my family tree. What I do know is this: I was born in the great county of Yorkshire. Both my parents are from Yorkshire too.

Of my four grandparents, two were from Yorkshire, one was from Lancashire and one, allegedly, from Glasgow. I also know that two of my great-grandparents were from County Louth, in Ireland.

Why am I telling you this? Why should you care?

Because I am trying to paint a picture of a colourful and chequered past.

None of us, no matter how patriotic we are, are purely from the place we were born like some Aryan race. If we could trace our ancestry back far enough, they would all lead to East Africa at some stage.

sheep, nationalism, patriotism, monarchy

Hey, Blondie!

So, who are the English?

The first settled and organised peoples of the British Isles were, ironically enough, called Britons. They were a Celtic race operating in small warring kingdoms and had been pottering about for around 12,000 years before the Romans turned up in AD43 and put some manners on them. And some roads. And some fine architecture. And some great sewage systems. If you like that kind of thing.

Those Britons who weren’t subjugated were driven into Scotland, Cornwall and Wales. (Which actually means ‘foreigners’.)

But the Romans couldn’t hack the weather so they sloped off home in the 5th century leaving the door open to those pesky Angles, Jutes and Saxons who saw the opportunity to ‘acquire’ some prime real estate for next to nothing. In fact, it was nothing. Because they took it off the hapless Brits.

The Angles and Saxons were from northern Germany. While the Jutes were from Jutland in present day Denmark.

While they settled into their new homes they divided ‘England’, (obviously it wasn’t called that back then), into four kingdoms: Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex. Which looked something like this…

Saxon England, English

Saxon ‘England’

By the 9th century, one Saxon, by the name of Alfred, had it in his mind to unite all the kingdoms into one mighty kingdom, called England. Unfortunately, those irksome Scandinavians had other ideas and went viking on our asses and promptly set about ravaging the coast of Blighty for all its worth. So much so, they controlled much of northern and eastern England for a brace of centuries.

Although the King of Wessex didn’t actually manage unification in his lifetime, he did sow the seeds for future kings to accomplish his vision. And that’s why he’s the only British monarch to be accorded the epitaph “Great”.

Richmond castle

What’s not to love? Richmond Castle, North Yorks.

I won’t get into the whys and wherefores of why William of Normandy felt he was next in line for the English throne. But felt it he did. And when Harold Godwinson took the throne in 1066, Bill decided to dish out some Norman whupass on the Anglo-Saxons.

Now, we all associate the Normans with being French. But, they were, in fact, Norse Viking. Norman, meaning ‘North men’. They plundered and settled in what is now called Normandy, France.

As we all know, it was the Normans who finally brought stability to England. But they did it with an iron fist. They decimated huge parts of Yorkshire and Northumbria because of their allegiance to Danelaw. The scars of which are still felt today. And Yorkshire still has a strong historical link to our Scandinavian ancestry.

As the Norman barons tightened their grip on England over the next couple of hundred years, it’s easy to see why the English royalty felt they had such a strong claim to the French throne.

coat of arms, croft

Rightful heirs to the throne

If Alfred the Great’s vision was to build a united England; William the Conqueror’s dream was a Great Britain.

Right then, history lesson over. So, what does it mean to be English?

Well, as I’ve hopefully demonstrated, the English are a veritable smorgasbord of different cultures – Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans. There were probably a few Romans left in the pot too.

The problem with nationalism is that the concept is absurd. We’re all from somewhere else further down our ancestral chain.

I have been called a traitor because I want to see a republic in this country.

Wanting an end to a monarchistic system which bestows riches and luxuries beyond the common person’s wildest dreams purely because of birthright is not treason.

Wanting a democratic system where every man and woman jack of us has the chance to be head of state, is not treason.

It’s loyalty to one’s country and its people.

Moreover, I would attest that it is more patriotic than supporting the monarchy.

Am I proud to call myself English?

I have no idea whether my ancestry includes any Anglo-Saxon, Viking or Norman, but I do know that I am a proud Yorkshireman. I am a proud Briton. And yes, a proud Englishman. But I am also proud to call myself a North Man and a European.

Up the Republic!

And, come on England against Sweden, this Frigg Day!

Whitby bay, home of Dracula.

Whitby Bay, home of Dracula.

Malham cove, yorkshire

Malham Cove

Leeds Utd, Billy Bremner,

…How did that get in here?

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Why England won’t win the Euros


I wrote the exact same headline before the 2010 world cup. Except it said World Cup instead of Euros, of course.

https://thereisnocavalry.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/why-england-wont-win-the-world-cup/

I remember thinking when Capello was brought in, that if he couldn’t win the world cup with that squad of players then no one could.

Then I started getting a bit worried when our best goalkeeper, Joe Hart, couldn’t get in the team. On the plus side, it did make me realise I was a better manager than Fabio Capello. Which is nice.

I just hope Roy Hodgson doesn’t make the same mistakes as his predecessor and realises that he needs to make a fresh start.

Let’s rid our national team of these egotistical Premiership players who, quite frankly, are not nearly as good as they think they are.

The most encouraging England performance I have seen in many a year was our one nil victory over world and European champions, Spain.

Admittedly, any neutral, (or Spaniard), will quite rightly testify that England just put eleven men behind the ball and got a right footballing pummeling.

You don’t beat a team like Spain by playing football. They’ll annihilate you. You beat them by tactics. Or tic tacs. Whichever works best.

What I admired about the performance was that it featured quite a lot of lesser-known premiership players who played out of their skins. And, more importantly, for their shirt.

Players like: Phil Jones; Phil Jagielka; Joleon Lescott, (who was man-of-the-match by a long chalk); Scott Parker; Kyle Walker; Danny Wellbeck and Jack Rodwell.

The squad also featured the likes of: Milner; Adam Johnson; Leighton Baines; Gary Cahill and Daniel Sturridge.

Of course, some of the aforementioned players are more household names now than they were two years ago. But they’re still not dead-certs for a first team spot in the England team.

There’s been a lot of talk in the press about Hodgson trying to mend bridges between Terry and Ferdinand. Why?

Dump them. We have better centre backs in Jagielka, Lescott, Jones and Cahill. Contrary to what Terry and Rio might say to get a place in the squad, it will split the dressing room. It would be suicide to take them.

Ashley Cole may well be considered one of the best left backs in the world, but he’s a petulant, gun-toting imbecile who has the permanent expression of someone who’s just smelled something unpleasant. Get Leighton Baines in. (Who is deadly from a dead ball.) And Micah Richards has got to be the best right back in the Premiership this season.

Wayne Rooney may be the Premiership’s leading English striker, but do we want a player who is banned for the first two games and can be a temperamental liability if things aren’t going his way? Do you ever see Lionel Messi sulking like Rooney?

Most people were expecting Harry Redknapp to get the England job. And, I put Spurs’ recent dip in form down to the shambolic way in which the FA dealt with the sacking of Fabio Capello.

Of course, the media were partially responsible too. But perhaps they might not have been quite so definite in their predictions about the future England manager had the FA come out immediately and said they wouldn’t be talking to any possible replacements until the end of April.

Instead, they said nothing and let the whole circus gather momentum until it was almost plausible that Redknapp was already in charge.

This media spotlight had such a distracting and damaging effect on Spurs’ season that I wouldn’t blame them for suing the FA for loss of future revenue, should they not get into the Champions League.

Only time will tell whether Roy Hodgson was an inspired appointment. But, if I were him, I’d take a leaf out of Republic of Ireland’s Italia ’90 squad and pick a team rather than a group of individuals.

Ireland got to the quarter-finals that year by playing to their strengths. Greece won it in 2004. Did they have a squad of household names? Of course not. They played their game.

And we should play ours. We have some decent footballers but we can’t play football like Spain or Holland. We don’t have that kind of class.

But what these younger, lesser-known players have, is True Grit.

Could England win Euro 2012?

They might have a chance if Hodgson goes with the less fashionable and predictable names. After all, they have already beaten the world and European champions.

Unfortunately, I think Mr Hodgson will probably bow to public and media pressure and pick the same olds, same olds.

Take note, Roy, Capello didn’t listen to me and look what happened to him.

Here’s my team:

Attacking, isn’t it?

And here are my subs:

Okay, where’s Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney, I hear you ask. Well, they’ve had a go. And they’ve failed.

And, whilst Peter Crouch may play for unfashionable Stoke City, he has scored the goal of the season in the Premiership and continually pops them in for his country.

I haven’t included Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere because he’s out injured for the rest of the season. (Is that the case for Chelsea’s Gary Cahill?) If so, then Phil Jones would be my next choice.

And while we’re on the subject of local elections, Stuart Downing couldn’t put a cross in a ballot box let alone a penalty box. So don’t go there.

Good luck, Roy. I like the cut of your jib.

And please, media – will you stop making juvenile jokes about his speech impediment? It’s embarrassing. Do you really think so little of the English public that we think it’s funny?

Hmm, I know I’m being a bit of a ‘Tinkerman’, but I like the look of this team too.

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The Doorstep Girl


This is a short story I wrote a few years back which explores a terminally ill working-class girl’s first encounter with an Afro-Caribbean man in 1960’s England. The story is told through her eyes.

THE DOORSTEP GIRL
© David Milligan-Croft.

I could never reach the door knocker, so what I would do was put my feet in the cement grooves between the worn red bricks on either side of the door frame about two foot off the ground.  I must have looked kind of funny though; it felt like I was almost doing the splits. But it was the only way I would ever be able to reach the door knocker and let Jamesy know I was there.

A couple of times in the past, before I perfected my technique, I knocked over the odd milk bottle which didn’t go down too well with old Jamesy. He would complain that he didn’t have enough money for clumsy mistakes such as that, but really I knew he didn’t mind too much because he was pleased to see me.

I would visit Jamesy every Tuesday after school until I got too sick to go. Then Mam wouldn’t let me go out on account that I had to stay in bed and shouldn’t tire myself out.

I met Jamesy in the park one summer a long time ago. I was riding my bike when some boys started throwing sticks at me. I fell off and grazed my knees and palms. Jamesy ran over, though I didn’t know his name was Jamesy then because I’d never met him, and he chased the boys away. Jamesy straightened out the wheel of my bike and walked me back to where I told him I lived. He said he lived on the way and that I could come in and have a glass of Dandelion and Burdock if I fancied, which I did. The fizz tickled my nose as I drank it. Jamesy didn’t say much at first so I would talk about my Mam and my older brother and school and what I liked to play at and what I liked to eat.

There was always a bit of a funny smell in Jamesy house. It smelled sweet, but not like the sweets I would eat. At first I didn’t want to be rude and tell him that I thought his house smelled so I asked him what his favourite sweets were and he said that he had never eaten sweets; which I couldn’t believe. So then I asked him what his favourite food was and he said it was curry, but I didn’t know what that was.

Jamesy got out of his chair quite slowly like it was a bit of an effort for him and he went into the kitchen. He had lots of funny things in his parlour like scary looking wooden masks and little statues of men and women. When he came back he was carrying a big pot. He set it down on the table and took a spoonful of whatever was inside and walked over to me. His other hand was in the shape of a cup to catch any drips that might fall out. I tasted the reddy stuff and curled up my nose a bit. Jamesy thought this was funny. He said he did exactly the same thing first time he tasted our bread and dripping. The red stuff was sweet at first then it began to tingle my lips, then it started to burn my tongue. I gulped my pop as hard as I could to stop my mouth from burning.

After he cleaned my knees and palms I went home. Mam asked me what happened and I said I fell off my bike because the boys from the estate were throwing sticks at me. She was busy cooking stew in the kitchen so she never asked me any more about it. I didn’t tell her about Jamesy. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong but I also knew she wouldn’t be too happy if I told her so I just said nothing.

The next week when I was coming home from school our Kevin ran past me and pulled my satchel off my shoulder. He said he was going to throw it in the river. I said that he could if he wanted to and that he’d be the sorry one when I told Mam what he’d done. This made him more angry so he tipped out all my stuff onto the road and ran off laughing. I was really vexed with him and didn’t feel like going home right away so I thought I’d call in on Jamesy.

He seemed a bit surprised to see me, standing at the doorway in his slippers and cardigan. He asked if I’d like to come in, so I did. He made a pot of tea and put four sugars in his cup when I only have two. Mam says I can’t have anymore than two because otherwise it would rot my teeth. So I asked him if he had any teeth and he laughed and said he had some in a jar that he kept by his bed. I knew what he meant because my Granny did the same thing. I used to hate it when she would give me a gummy kiss. Jamesy asked me if I liked school and I said I did except for when people teased me because I didn’t have any hair. This seemed to puzzle him a bit because I had lovely long brown hair sticking out from under my woolly hat. So I told him that it wasn’t real hair, it was just clipped to the inside of my hat so people would think I had hair. But everyone knew that I didn’t because I was the only one in school that would wear a hat all through class. Some of the boys would try to pull my hat off at breaktime but I would hit them or kick them. The girls would call me baldy Janet and pull their long hair over their lips like a moustache and ask me if I was a man instead of a girl. It upset me at first but Mam told me not to pay them any attention; so when they called me names I would stick my fingers in my ears and hum a tune really loudly, like this.

Jamesy said that he had a daughter too and that she lived in a place called Trinidad which was at the other side of the world almost. He showed me the little place on a map and said it was really hot there and I asked him if that was why he had brown skin on account it was really sunny all the time and he said that it was. But then he said that he wasn’t originally from this little island but a big place called Africa which confused me a bit because how could you be from two places at once? He said that he wasn’t from two places but that his ancestors were from there. I must have still looked confused because he said that ancestors were people who were older than your gran or grandad. I told him that my Grandad was from Rochdale, but the rest of them were from round here as far as I knew.

He showed me a picture of his daughter and told me that her name was Natalie. But she wasn’t a daughter like me, she was much older, like a woman. She wanted to go back to her roots to find out a bit about were she came from. I said that was a bit like me going to visit my Grandad’s relatives in Rochdale and he said that it was.

Mam asked why I was late home from school so I told her that it was because our Kevin threw my stuff all over the road and it took me ages to pick it all up. She gave our Kevin a clip round the lug hole and told him not to be so nasty. When Mam went to the loo he pinched my arm making me cry out loud and said I was a squealer.

Kevin was fourteen and didn’t like me very much which Mam said was because Dad wasn’t around anymore and because I got a lot of attention because I was sick. So I said I didn’t want to be sick. I didn’t want people fussing round me all the time.

Kevin used to run away from home or school a lot and said he wanted to go and live with Dad. But he would always come home again because none of us knew where Dad lived. I never missed him like Kevin did because I was very small when he went away so I don’t remember him that much. Kevin does though, and he says that Dad used to take him to watch football or would play toy soldiers with him. I wasn’t that impressed because I didn’t like football or soldiers. I liked drawing or reading and writing. I didn’t even play with dollys like the other girls. I liked the little dolls Jamesy had though. They were of funny looking men and women. He said that some were warriors, some were to frighten away bad spirits and some were for fertility which meant for when men and women wanted to have babies.

He showed me some more photographs of where he used to live and everyone looked happy and wet. I asked why he didn’t want to live there anymore and he said that this was his home now and besides, he couldn’t afford to go all that way and so he would have to make the best of it.

Some of the pictures were of a man in a soldiers uniform and he looked a bit like Jamesy and Jamesy said that it was him when he was a lot younger and that was why he came here in the first place to fight for England against the Germans. He did say though that he hadn’t come by choice and that he hadn’t got anything against Germans but everybody in the whole world was fighting them, except for the Japanese  and the Italians who were their friends. I said that it was unfair when everybody picked on just one person but he said it was different because some of the Germans had been very bad to a lot of people and that’s why everybody else in the world was fighting them. So I told him that was different. But I wasn’t bad. I never hurt anybody but people still kept on being nasty to me.

Jamesy said that’s why Natalie, his daughter, had gone to find her roots because lots of people were nasty to her in England, so I asked what had she done to make everyone so angry and he said that she hadn’t done anything. He said it was because she was black like him and I said that he wasn’t black he was brown and he smiled. I told him that my Dad used to be black when he came back from the coal mines but that would wash off.

When I asked him where Natalie’s Mam was he looked a bit sad and his eyes looked shiney like he was going to cry. He said that she was gone and I thought he meant back to Trinidad but she hadn’t. She’d gone to Heaven. He said that she went to Heaven because she had cancer and I asked him if that was where I was going to go because I had Leukaemia. And he said that I was a poor child and he hugged me. I didn’t feel like a poor child. I know we didn’t have very much money but we weren’t as poor as the kids who lived on the estate or the children who lived in caravans because they didn’t have a house.

When I got home Mam was asleep in the chair; I tiptoed into the kitchen so’s not to wake her up and made myself a cheese and bovril sandwich. Mam was always tired after she came home from work at the biscuit factory. Her clothes would always smell sweet and the people at the factory must have been very nice because they always gave her loads of biscuits, though most of them would be broken by the time she got home. Sometimes she had to work right through the night which I didn’t like because that meant Kevin would have to look after me and he would just bully me or tear up my drawings. So I would hide in the pantry and read by using a torch.

After a few weeks I got too poorly to go to school which meant that I couldn’t see Jamesy afterwards. I couldn’t write him a letter because even though I knew where he lived I didn’t know his address and I don’t think I ever gave him mine. My bum got quite sore from being in bed all the time. I just stared out of the window and looked at all the other kids playing in the street which made me even more sad. I wished that my hair would grow back so that they wouldn’t make fun of me and would let me play with them. I wished that Dad would come back so Kevin wouldn’t pick on me so much and I wished Mam wasn’t so tired all the time from having to work so hard. But most of all I wished that I wasn’t sick so that I could see Jamesy. He’d given me a little wooden mask which was painted with gold and red and black. It had pointy ears and teeth like a dog and big bulging eyes. I said it was a bit spooky but he said that I shouldn’t be frightened of it because it was meant to scare away evil spirits. If any evil spirits came into our house it would frighten them away and protect me. So I put it on my bedside table before I went to sleep, but in the morning I would have to hide it under the bed so Mam or Kevin wouldn’t find it.

I went to the hospital quite a lot which made me feel even sicker and made more of my hair fall out. I decided to take the mask with me so it would scare the Leukaemia out of my body. I think it must have worked a bit because after a while I was feeling a bit better and could go back to school.

I ran round to Jamesy’s after school and got a bit of a shock when I got there. Someone had painted ‘Niggers go home’ on his front door and his window was broken. I straddled the opposing bricks and banged hard on his door knocker but there was no answer. I ran round the back and peered through a knot in his wooden gate but I couldn’t see anything there either. I went back round the front and banged even louder this time. I must have banged really loud because a grumpy looking woman from next door came out and asked me what all the racket was. I said I’d come to see Jamesy and she said who? So I said Jamesy, the man who lived here and she said, oh you mean Mr Vincent. And I said that I didn’t know what his last name was. And by this time I knew there was something wrong and I could feel my eyes starting to sting and the grumpy woman said that Jamesy was dead, that he’d died a couple of months ago on account of him being too old.

So I shouted at her, ‘I’m going to die too. But I’m not too old am I? You silly old crow!’ Then I ran off.

Mam thought I was upset because I was poorly, so I told her that I wasn’t and I told her about Jamesy, about how he wanted to go home to where his roots where and his family and the sunshine. About how he was made to fight people he didn’t want to fight, then the people who made him fight picked on him and his daughter. And Mam said that people could be cruel. But that most people weren’t cruel, most people were good inside.

Then I thought that maybe he had died because I had his little mask that scared away the evil spirits. But Mam said that he probably had another one, and that my mask probably wasn’t just for scaring away spirits here on earth but for scaring away spirits after I had gone to another place. She gave me a big hug and her cardigan smelled of pink icing. Then she said that I should keep it with me at all times and when I met up with Jamesy again I could ask him if he had a spare mask, and if he hadn’t, he could share mine.

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