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Father’s Day

My father tells everyone his age, a habit that mortified my mother as she liked to pretend she was much younger than she was. I was raised in the days when dads were largely on the 9-5 treadmill and their wives were part time workers greeting their husbands with a welcome home drink while promising homely meals wafted their scents from beyond the kitchen door. Remote dads asking how the day at school went while decompressing the tension of their day to put on that calm face for family that was expected.

That may have been the dads most people had – remote, monosyllabic and disengaged – waiting for the day when the children would grow up and they would get their wives back but that was not the way my family worked.

My mother worked the 9-5 and my father worked shifts. An odd 10 day fortnight routine where no two days were the same and a “sleep day” was considered essential. What that meant for us in practical terms was that often it was my dad greeting me as I came home from school and often the banana and cheese omelette (don’t ask) would be cooked by him, or later on I carried out my mother’s instructions and we greeted my mother at the end of her working day with something that could be passed off as edible. We often masked it with the smell of perked coffee on the stove.

So it was my dad who took the dog for a walk or grew herbs in the plot outside the kitchen door to put into the dinner that night. He decorated the house on his days off and pretended to like the chocolate rice pudding or mince and potatoes I would bring home from cookery class in first year.

Then they both seemed to wake up to the 60s. Sometimes when I walked between the old school and the annex over the moor I would see my purple flowered shirt/purple cord jeans wearing father walking towards me with the dog at his heels. I tried to hide behind friends but he would always spot me and wave and I would cringe in embarrassment in the way that only a teenager can.

It was Dad who taught me to ride my bike and, much later on, taught my own daughter to ride hers. He had the patience to see a job through without getting into a flap. When I gave up on teaching her to drive and left it to the professionals as my screaming in terror wasn’t helpful, he took her out between lessons and told her what a good little driver she was and how safe she was – even when that was not entirely true.

And now he’s, as he puts it, in God’s Waiting R
oom, he’s still my daddy. He still wants to know I’ve got in to work safely and phones my office to see if I arrived if I forget to text. When you consider that many of my contemporaries are taking early retirement there is something quite sweet about that.

He potters about the house and despite walking with at least one stick on a good day, he will stand on a ladder to change a bulb or paint a wall. He works in his garden and house slowly but with pride.

He was ahead of his time, a modern man whose wife, child and grandchild were his world and there should be more daddies like him.

Kirklee Killing

ruined-castle-silhouette

Kirklee was a typical West of Scotland small town where everyone knew everybody else and honour was satisfied on Saturday nights on the way home from the pub.

Once important, its Saltire-waving uninhabitable castle at the other end of the main road sat atop the hill surveying the adventure playground and skate-park, obligatory coffee and gift shop visitor centre and bowling green sheltering beneath. The road bisected two distinct communities – the castle end was made up of the old church and conservation village properties the likes of which only doctors and lawyers could afford and behind this side lay semi-circular cul-de-sacs filled with people escaping the city whilst stepping up en route to the coastal town five miles down the road where most really wanted to live. On the war memorial side of the town lay the council scheme, overcrowded primary school, shops, surgeries, pubs and take-away restaurants. Children from both sides swooshed down the sloping pavements on silvery scooters having not learned yet that their futures would take them in different directions and pensioners looked both ways before stepping out of their front doors in case their ankles were about to be swiped. In the evenings, teenagers who actually ventured out of their rooms sat on the swings while swigging underage contraband and bemoaned their lot in life as, after all, there was nothing to do.

It was Scotland in miniature.

It was not the sort of place to have a police station even before the regions joined together as one Police Scotland centralised force and so it came as a surprise to everyone when the girl’s body was found at the top of the castle hill by Sunday morning tourists making the first climb of the day. It had been obvious as soon as they saw her that “Something awful” had happened.Her limbs were unnaturally sprawled in a way that no sleeping person would position themselves and her once blonde hair was matted with blood and mud. Murders just didn’t happen in Kirklee. Well, not for ages anyway.

Lucinda Carr arrived after the tent had been erected and the body examined by Bill Williams in situ. Bill had already gathered some physical evidence and would be the one to do all structured and sequential examination for physical and trace evidence and it would be his findings that would be presented to the Procurator Fiscal. An “integrated service” they called it but what it meant was being there from start to finish to ensure the guilty were brought to justice based on the evidence available. Bill was not one to speculate. He worked purely on the evidence and left the other aspects of the investigation to the rest of his colleagues.

Tape barred the way around the scene and Jon the photographer methodically photographed every blade of grass to be looked at later. Bill and Lucy had worked on one case together the year before but usually it was Lucy’s superior Mark who led the occasional case in Ayrshire. It was more likely that Police would be investigating a drunk and disorderly late night set-to or wifely domestic abuse to be recanted later than murder. Young girls tended to get into trouble once they left home for the city rather than while still living at home. The small town was used to policing itself and it was still okay for adults to talk to other people’s children or knock on a door to ask a neighbour to cut back a branch or move a visiting car. The flashing lights, tape and tent aroused some curiosity and a small crowd gathered.

“Time of death Bill?”

“You know better than that Lucy. I would estimate that it would have been between two and five this morning but I can’t be clearer till I get her back for a fuller examination. All I can say is that there has been blunt force trauma causing significant cranial bleeding which was possibly the cause of death.”

“Do we know who she is? Is there any I.D. with her?”

The very young looking constable who had been keeping back the growing crowd came back to talk to Lucy. “There was a driving licence in her purse with the name Cathy Small but the photo doesn’t match the hair colour. If it’s Cathy Small she’s twenty-three and lives in Panrock in Arran View and she had red hair six years ago when she got her licence.”

“She looks younger than twenty-three at first glance,” Bill said, “but again I won’t be able to confirm much more until I get her back to the lab.”

Lucy looked at the visible remains which were mostly obscured because she was face down. Cathy, if that’s who she was, was slight and short with pathetically thin arms splayed out – the right one up towards her head as if she’d been trying to stop a blow and the other unnaturally bent back over her waist. Both arms were bare apart from a vibrant loom band bracelet on her right wrist which made her look younger than 23. No rings. She was wearing a thin strappy dress with a floral pattern. It was bunched around her thighs displaying tanned legs covered in old bruises which were turning from purple to yellow. Insubstantial plastic sandals lay upturned nearby, telling their own story. She was on the worn path rather than the grass and gravel had cut her knees and elbows when she’d fallen. All in all, her ending had been painful and intense.

Lucy took the bagged up driving licence and began to speak to each of the bystanders on the other side of the tape but although people’s expressions ran the gamut from shifty to shocked no-one claimed to know of anyone missing or have heard of Cathy Small.

Silk and Tiaras

The Saturday ritual was virtually always the same: throw open the upstairs bedroom window; tip forward swivelling neck and shoulder to the right while inhaling deeply the Scottish salty air and looking out over the sea to Arran – no matter what the weather. It set up Francesca for the madness that was Saturday appointments in her bridal shop under the apartment. Retreating inward to sip a very quick double espresso Francesca would then have a final mirror check before descending the stairs to the luxury of the shop beneath. She had made a deliberate decision to have only high end products when she first opened twenty five years ago and the dresses were displayed to perfection against a background of pistachio and gold walls and thick carpets. There were of course the obligatory well upholstered high backed chairs for attendant relatives to relax on while this or that decision was made by the customer behind the changing room curtain but usually the dresses were the stars and it was no coincidence that successful brides were encouraged to display their favourite wedding photo for a month in the window of Silk and Tiaras to both highlight their success and Francesca’s at making the perfect match. Saturdays were by appointment only unlike the rest of the week but girls seemed only too keen to book an hour’s slot in order to get the undivided attention of Miss Francesca because, although she was famously unmarried, her eye for detail was said to be unparalleled. No bride was ever unhappy with the final choice, even although many a parent might have balked at the price.

The appointments book had the usual four bookings for the day. Ostensibly each appointment was an hour long but there was a half hour in-between each one to ensure that no blushing bride ever met another and somehow felt cheated out of her experience of being the most important person in the room.

Miss Francesca opened the door to  greet the first appointment of the day and wondered which of the sample dresses would suit this waif-like, un-made-up creature standing with arm outstretched and a slightly nervous demeanour given away by the nibbling of her bottom lip.

“Miss Francesca, I’m so pleased to finally have the chance to see you and your fabulous dresses up close. I’m an eight but I know you’ll have worked that out already as your reputation precedes you.”

 

Secret horse

I knew she’d gone to that faraway fantasy land when she told me she’d bought me a secret horse to protect us all. When pushed she said it was hidden and I was to remember Jake Kennedy. “Change your surname,” she said.

And I did remember Jake. He was the old farmer who rented out the land of the landscape gardener business my mother was a company director of. Wizened and unwashed, he would toil all day, swear and drink all evening and pitch up every so often to get his rent in cash. Rich enough to build his daughter a house in case she ever married but looking as if he didn’t have two pennies to put towards a different jacket, Jake was from more than 30 years before yet hidden in some synapse to be brought out into the open again as soon as the infection hit.

It is always difficult to know what to do when someone is delirious – to humour or not? I chose the CID approach. “Where is the secret horse? When did you get it? How much did it cost? How could you afford it?” but the oddest thing is that even amidst the craziness there is a kind of sense and rationale, however irrational to the outside world.

Because, you see, there was a time when I had needed to be kept safe from a violent husband and I had been about to leave home for good. There was a safehouse all set up and I would have had to change my name. At the final moment though I balked and chose to face up to the legal nightmare rather than flee and now I wonder if Jake had been the one who was going to provide the safe passage.

Maybe I have a secret horse somewhere, about to ride to my rescue.

Level U

Ginny decided on a cool swim before breakfast to set her up for the day’s meetings which would be interminable in the July heat. Wearing her hotel robe over her perfectly plain black Speedo she pressed U and the lift door puffed together after the familiar ping. It only gradually dawned on her that that was the only sound she had heard that morning. There was no annoying muzak on her way to the basement, no cheery “Hello!” at the reception desk, no buzz and chatter in the changing room and no clang or whir coming from the gym because she was the only person around. True, everything was unlocked so she couldn’t be too early but the only movement was the switching of the silent monochrome CCTV display which flipped between corridor, gym and pool in a regular sweep registering nothing. Nothing moved. There wasn’t a ripple on the pool surface, not even the slightest shimmer. Ginny wasn’t sure if she should continue or not.

She slung her robe over one of the poolside deckchairs and slowly entered the water to get used to the temperature which was surprisingly chilly. Ginny kicked off from the bottom step and moved into her usual quick front crawl, churning through the water sending waves towards the glossy white tiled sides which then criss-crossed back towards her sending out ever increasing troughs and crests, swelling and breaking against her body as she lapped backwards and forwards for her half hour work out. She hit the shower and washed the chlorine out before going back towards the lift.

The call button lit up but the light was stubbornly showing 3 and from the lack of noise seemed to stuck on the upper floor. There was still no-one on reception and everything was back to being calm, still and empty. Ginny pulled her robe a little more snugly round her and looked around for stairs to go back up towards ground level. There were six red doors . Two led to changing rooms which then had access to the pool, one led to the gym which she could see anyway through the large windows which flanked each side of  the room so it had to be one of the other three. The lift was still lit on 3 so she tried the fourth door. It seemed to be a small office as there was a desk with a laptop, a swivel chair and a filing cabinet. Door five led to a beauty/treatment room with a range of products lining the shelves so the stairwell must be behind door six. It wasn’t however as she soon discovered.

A curtain of heat met her at the door and through very dim lighting she could just about make out a sauna and a steam room but something wasn’t right as the heat and steam were not contained as they should have been and dense hot mist pervaded the corridor area.

Ginny was becoming increasingly irritable not just because she was annoyed but also because she hadn’t had anything to eat or drink yet. Where was everyone? What time was it now? Why were there no stairs – surely that was illegal?

She picked up the phone on the reception desk but there was no dial tone. She tried each digit one at a time in case there was a number to press for an outside line but nothing she tried seemed to work. There was just a buzz on the line as if it was disconnected. Ginny went back into the small office to try the laptop but its password protection eluded her.

There was nothing to do but wait.

Old Age

I blame The Golden Girls. Weekly, for years, it sold the idea of a sun-filled, fun time for elderly women full of energy who were either nearing retirement or long into it. These women still had love, romance and sex; occasional contact with their children; interests which involved working part time; going out to various parties and events; living in palatial surroundings and sharing laughter round the kitchen table while eating ice cream. It was a format that made the audience almost envy those who were approaching or in their final years.

They lied.

Old Age is not for the faint-hearted. It’s an ever decreasing circle of diminishing returns.

Unless you’ve been blessed with good genes, a good earning capacity and have had a healthy lifestyle for decades you will have instead a myriad of problems to look forward to.

Money unless you’ve salted it away to provide a cushion will never quite be enough. As your income from whatever pension you have will largely stay static, your outgoings will increase over the months and years. Inflation will mean that if you stay in you’ll worry about the heating bills and if you go out you’ll need the cash to fund that wee cup of coffee or that theatre seat. Your world will narrow as your options diminish. Best take up some hobby that isn’t that dear – the internet, libraries, rambler outings, learning a new skill or language at a returners-friendly university, Silver Screens for slightly older films and making use of free or reduced public transport while you still can.

Chronic ailments like diabetes, arthritis, auto-immune etc tend to encroach as you age. You’ll start to need medication which at first will help to alleviate the initial condition but as time goes on will have increasing side effects which will affect more and more of your body.

If you’re lucky, you will have none of these chronic conditions but you will be aware that the TV needs to be just that little bit louder, your night driving gets worse and worse and your arms need to get longer and longer just to read the small print. Your teeth will start to look longer and longer in the mirror as your gums start to recede. Those laughter lines will become etched into your face and stare back at you from the mirror. Your eyes will look puffy in the morning as if you’ve had little sleep but worryingly still look like that at lunchtime. Your gut will play tricks on you and rumble ominously in nether regions which in your early life you didn’t even know you had.

Your circle of friends will, unless you take steps to address this, decrease as people die, move away or become less able to get out and about. Loneliness will gradually encroach until you keep on the TV or the radio just to have someone else talking in the room.

And, as you approach that end stage where with reduced faculties and increasing frailty you need others to provide more and more of what you used to be able to do for yourself you face the stark choice of being a burden to someone else – either someone who loves you or someone who gets paid to pick up the slack. “In sickness and in health” means something to the over 70s who struggle on together, while they can, but as society becomes less and less about life-long relationships it is unlikely that there will be so many people with someone to provide that intensive love and support for the current singletons enjoying their youth with gay abandon.

So, if you’re young enough to make the necessary changes now – watch that diet, keep that body fit, get regular check ups, build up that private pension.

And, no matter what age group you are: buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

 

The facts via Wiki

 

NHS

 

Day Care

 

Paying up

Nette

She was a product of her time. Nette had been born in 1900 and so was quite affected by the First World War. Decades afterwards she spoke to me, her grandniece, about the boy she had loved who had gone away to war and how she had never married because he had never come home and although the dates didn’t quite fit, it was an explanation that suited a little girl visiting an elderly aunt.

She lived in a large sandstone fronted corporation flat off Byers Road in the West End and it was a place I was lucky enough to stay in for a few weeks when my mother was very ill in the Queen Mother hospital. She encouraged me to draw by showing me sketches she had done when she was a young girl. They were pencil sketches of flowers and bugs and boys and she cheerfully gave me pads and pencils and left me to my own devices. The flat seemed to be a warren of interesting rooms.

There was a large kitchen with a pulley which hung overhead and there were pots and pans on the wall and this was the first time I’d ever seen anyone do this. The white enamel bread bin had a green edge and this theme was picked up in crockery like her cream jug and sugar bowl and tea cups and saucers. There was a huge wooden table which dominated the room and she used to sit there a lot and mix up blancmanges or flavoured custards. She made a game of guessing what colour the dessert would be that day. The floors were all either lovely polished hardwoods or black and white diamond tiles and she hand cleaned them all every day even though I suppose she might have been in her sixties when I knew her.  There was a black and gold Singer sewing machine with a treadle pedal in the kitchen which I was allowed to play with as long as the thread wasn’t in place.

Nette had a beautiful cherry wood dining room with striped upholstery chairs and the evening meal was always served there, even when she was on her own which would be often.

The living room had lots of arm chairs which matched but were not identical. They faced the marble fireplace and there was a huge crystal vase which was always full of fresh flowers, at least when I came to visit.

Her bedroom was a child’s dressing up dream because she still had her flapper’s clothes and jewelry in the mahogany wardrobe  and when I was fed up with this, there was always the library which was just wonderful. Long and narrow, all it held was window seats down one side of the room and dark wood display cabinets down the other. The windows seemed to be enormous and the room sparkled with natural light. In the cabinets were literally hundreds of Penguin books and she was the sort of person that as long as you were quiet you could read anything you liked – bliss!

The Grandfather’s clock in the hall chimed dutifully every quarter hour, chiming away what was left of her life and she died unexpectedly of a heart attack in her 70s just keeling over when she was getting out of bed one morning.

It was only later when I was grown up that I was told the full story about her life beyond those conversations we had. She had been a secretary from the 20s through to 1960 and it was while at work that she had met the real love of her life. He was a married man whose wife was in some sort of institution in the days when divorce was more difficult than now. When he died suddenly in his 50s his sons who had known all about her came round to tell her, kindly enough, but told her to stay away from the funeral which she did out of respect. What that means of course, is that the picture she painted of a bookish spinster aunt was a carefully constructed artifice.

Siobhan

Siobhan stood framed in the cafe doorway looking for all the world like  an autumnal sprite. Her tawny hair with cinnamon highlights tumbled in loose curls over her shoulders instead of being scraped back like it normally was at work. Her plum coloured jacket was unbuttoned revealing a saffron and jade checked blouse tucked into her russet fine cord jeans. Siobhan was greater than the sum of her parts and although on most women these colours would have been too much, she carried it off with panache. She wasn’t wearing any make up at all apart from the gash of scarlet across her mouth but her porcelain skin basked in the candle glow of the room.  Suddenly she spotted him in the corner, smiled widely and walked towards him with the sashay of a woman who knew what she wanted and how to get it. Dermot felt as if his collar was getting too tight and he instantly regretted that earlier drink at the bar while he was waiting for her shift to end.

Botanic

It was crisp enough for breath to curl into the cold night air. The pavement glittered as if there were diamonds underfoot and the absence of cloud cover meant the stars twinkled overhead. It might have been a romantic  setting if it hadn’t been for the bloodied body  on the pathway.

A dog walker had called in the murder and she stamped around in an effort to stay warm while keeping her dog on a, by now, short leash. It was part of her normal routine, she said, to take a walk along Great Western Road but the dog had slipped the leash and run off towards the Botanic Gardens,  perhaps alerted by some noise or other. But no, she hadn’t seen any one else running off or heard any noises herself – just the occasional person returning home or out walking their dog before retiring to bed, just the usual nightly custom performed mechanically – almost without thought.

Margo McLean eventually told her to go home and they would contact her if there were any more questions. By that time Colquhoun had finished his preliminary examination and enough photographs had been taken of the scene for closer examination later. Colquhoun indicated that the girl had been killed fairly recently as although the body was cold, true rigor had not set in. The pooled blood had come from a single stab wound to the stomach but there were defensive wounds to the hands. There was no sign of a weapon in the immediate vicinity but a more thorough search in a wider area was ongoing now the dawn light was breaking. The first few hours were always crucial, with clues sometimes overlooked by officers too keen to return to the station. A fingertip search of the undergrowth was carried out and casts of footprints taken but there was no immediate sense of why this young girl had been stabbed or who the perpetrator was.

There was no handbag but she had a phone and a bunch of keys in an inside pocket in her pink coat and her skirt and underwear weren’t so disheveled that it suggested a sexual attack but only an autopsy would find this out for sure. After the preliminary examination the body was taken to the morgue for a fuller examination by Colquhoun and his team. Margo scrolled through the phone directory but there was no ICE number and no helpful “mum” or “dad” entries.  She had about twenty contacts all listed by their first name only and, as the battery was about to die, Margo returned to the station. By the time she arrived, word was waiting that a blood covered knife had been found in a nearby bin and it had been sent off to forensics to see if there was a match. As murder investigations went, things were zinging along.

 

After finding the right charger, Margo started calling the names on the phone directory in alphabetical order although the numbers just rang out or went straight to voicemail until Margo tried Cameron. Cameron was quite helpful and said that the number calling him was from one of his flatmate’s number and that Zara hadn’t come home last night. Zara, he said was an architecture student and it wasn’t unusual for her to stay late to finish off projects that were due in. In fact all of the students on that course had keys to the building so that they could come and go at odd hours. He gave his address and said he would be in until 10 but had an important lecture to go to.  Margo and Brian went round to the house in Warden Road which would normally have been too big for students but there were five of them sharing. After a cursory look around and asking when Cameron and Stuart, one of the other flatmates, had last seen or spoken to Zara, Margo and Brian carried out a search of the room that Zara had called home for the last two months. It had a laptop which they bagged up and there were lecture notes and drawings in tubes but nothing much to indicate what kind of life Zara had away from the house – no photos adorned the walls and there were no helpful diaries. Both Cameron and Stuart agreed that they didn’t know Zara that well because she wasn’t on the same course but that one of their other housemates, Kiera and Mel sometimes spent the odd evening with her down at the Union if someone was performing at the weekend. Her life though seemed to mostly revolve around studying for her course and Zara was a bit of a “brain”. Oddly the boys didn’t know much about her family but thought Kiera in particular would have wormed all that our of her. Kiera though was out at her part time job in Cup, a cafe known for its cakes, coffees and cocktails, and would be going to her lectures later in the day before going back to her job in the evening. Margo and Brian made their way to Cup and Kiera took a break, looking puzzled when they asked her questions about Zara’s family and routines. Zara, it turned out, had told her she had no family as they had died in a car crash a few years before but that they had left her with enough money to fund her studies for the six year course, including the work experience which she was hoping to have in Europe and Australia.

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