Sunday, 31 March 2013
Friday, 29 March 2013
I a really sold on these Mantic undead models. Finally found where I had hidden my Army Painter wash/varnish for safe keeping and finished these beauties.
The yellow glowing ball appeared briefly in the sky over Kent so I took some photos.
Wednesday, 27 March 2013
A complimentary copy of Bolt Action: Armies of Great Britain arrived this morning. And why, I hear you ask, should you get a complimentary copy?
Well, it goes back to a very agreeable dinner I had with Rick Priestley and John Stallard in Nottingham. We were chatting about WWII and I explained how my father was awarded the MM at Anzio. They asked me to write a short piece for this book, which I duly did. Yo will find it on page 84.
My father's battalion was decimated twice at Anzio. He was in the Cornish Company of the Shropshires because the DCLI, his parent regiment, had been decimated in Tunisia.
It makes one reflect on he courage and duty of my father's generation and all they endured. Could we do that again? Probably, but would we do that again. Now that's a very different proposition. They fought for King and Country. What we would be asked to fight for? Bankers bonuses and the protection of corporate management's offshore tax-free accounts?
As I write this, our loathsome politicians, those not yet in prison, are privatising Search & Rescue. I come from North Cornwall and I have seen the raw courage, skill and duty of the forces helicopter crews who battle out in all weathers to save live.
But in future if you get into trouble you will have to ring the Asian call centre of a foreign company who may get around to doing something about it provided the weather's not too bad and it doesn't affect the bottom line at all. Just have your credit card handy.
I know, I'm old and cynical but our leaders are responsible for the latter, if not the former.
Monday, 25 March 2013
The various editions of the A to Z are the Londoner’s bible. The pages
contain a comprehensive index and grid map to every street in the vast
sprawling city. Rhian used it to find a subway under the dual
carriageway and followed its guidance in the maze of streets north of
the tube station. Vernon Road was a cul-de-sac, which ran off a side
road that came off another side road in a sort of spiral. She followed
the roads around, taking the route that a car would have to follow. She
suspected that there would be a shorter footpath somewhere, but the
A to Z did not always see fit to show those.
Vernon Road consisted of rows of four-story terraced houses that
were at least a century old, Edwardian or maybe Victorian. They had
been originally built for the wealthy middle classes. The front door
was up a flight of steps, under which were what had been servants’
quarters. Of course, over the years the properties had all been
converted into small flats and blocks of bedsits. The wealthy middle
classes had long since fled the city and moved out to the rural bliss of
the Home Counties around Greater London.
She scanned the newspaper to remind herself of the exact address
and checked off the numbers on the houses as she walked down the
road. Number three was right at the end; there did not seem to be a
number one. The house was behind a handkerchief-sized, but neatly
cared for, front garden. Three-A was the basement flat. It had its own
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front door at the bottom of a small flight of steps to the side of the
Rhian knocked on an ornate and truly hideous brass knocker
shaped like a lion’s face. After a brief pause the door swung open,
decisively propelled by a tall woman in a long skirt and blouse in
autumn colors. They were cut in an “East European peasant style” that
had been fashionable a couple of years ago. She peered at Rhian
through large strong glasses that completely distorted her eyes. She
looked old to Rhian, almost as old as Gary.
“You must be the girl about the room?” the woman asked in a
middle-class southern English accent.
“Yes,” Rhian replied.
The woman cocked her head on one side, causing light brown
frizzy hair to drift across her face.
“I thought you were Welsh when I spoke to you on the phone,” she
said, looking at Rhian’s dark hair.
Rhian sighed. She had worked hard at losing her Welsh lilt in
exchange for a typical London accent, but everyone still identified her
as from the valleys after only a few words.
“That’s an interesting door knocker,” Rhian said, for want of
anything more intelligent to say.
She felt a strange aversion to the knocker that surprised her. Why
an inanimate object should bother her so was a mystery. Its blank
bronze eyes stared at her as if alive. She almost had a compulsion to
make her excuses and walk away.
“It’s a copy of the 1154 A.D. Norman sanctuary knocker from the
north door of Durham Cathedral,” the woman said, with the pedantic
precision of a scholar.
“I see,” said Rhian, who did not see at all. It was beyond her why
anyone should go to the trouble of fitting such a monstrosity.
“If you rapped on this knocker to request entry and confessed your
crimes, then you were absolved of sin and allowed to go free. Have you
any crimes that you wish to confess?”
“I don’t think so,” Rhian replied, smiling politely.
“Come in anyway,” said the woman.
Rhian’s air of unease evaporated as if an invisible barrier had been
removed, and the woman ushered her into a long corridor with high
ceilings. The knocker was just an inanimate lump of metal moulded
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into an unattractive shape. All the rest was her over active imagination.
Like most London properties, the house was much deeper than
wide, the layout allowing builders to cram in as many properties as
possible along the street.
“My name’s Francisca Appleyard. Everyone but my mother calls
me Frankie.” She held out her hand.
“I’m Rhian Jones.”
Rhian took the woman’s hand, consciously making herself squeeze.
A supervisor had once cruelly told her that she had a handshake like
a dead haddock. It was part of his petty revenge for being turned
“Drop your bags here and I’ll show you around,” Frankie said. She
pushed open the first door on the left. “This is the lounge.”
The room was comfortably furnished with a sofa and a red leather
swivel chair. The furniture looked expensive but was showing signs of
wear. Light came in through a large window, which opened onto the
basement well at the front of the house. Looking up, Rhian could see
the small garden and the street. Net curtains prevented people on the
pavement from looking in, so the window was like a two-way mirror.
A bulky TV set stood in a corner away from the window. It had been
an expensive state-of-the-art device when new but was now obsolete.
Rhian had the impression of declining fortunes, or maybe Frankie had
bought second hand. Bookcases and cupboards lined the walls right up
to the ceiling.
“You would have free access to this room,” Frankie said. “I am the
only other person in the house. This is my bedroom here.”
She pushed open a door to a room at the rear of the house that was
larger than the sitting room. A double bed took pride of place in the
center. This room was lined with shelves carrying books and strange
objets d’art. Rhian was struck by an ornate mask carved from polished
“Nor’ombo chieftain’s death mask,” said Frankie, following Rhian’s
gaze. She clicked her tongue in the middle of the name. Rhian wasn’t
sure whether the woman was making a joke. Rhian put a polite half
smile on her face, as she didn’t want to appear stupid.
Frankie drew back long ceiling-to-floor drapes at the back of the
bedroom to reveal French windows.
“The garden out there is mine as well, and you are welcome to use
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it. I am afraid that the only way in is through my bedroom, but that
shouldn’t be a problem during the day. I like to sit out and read in good
weather, but I advise you not to sunbathe au naturelle. The old boy
upstairs has a pair of binoculars and is a bit of a perv. The bathroom
is over there,” Frankie said pointing to a door on the right. “There is
another door into it from the hall.”
She took Rhian back out into the hall to demonstrate.
“The kitchen is in here,” she opened the door on a modern
kitchenette with wall-mounted storage, “and this is the guest room.”
The spare bedroom door wouldn’t open fully because of the bed in
the way. Frankie had to slide round it, moving further in so that Rhian
“It’s a bit small,” Frankie said, defensively, “but it’s warm and cozy,
and you’ve the run of the rest of the flat.”
The room was indeed small; the wardrobe doors couldn’t be fully
opened either because of the bed, but it was warm and freshly
decorated in bright, friendly colors. A window at the end let in natural
light and gave a pleasant view of the garden.
Something strange happened to Rhian in the little room. She saw
the world in color again for the first time in ages as if someone had
switched on a floodlight. No, that was not quite right because she had
recognized colors, distinguishing red from green, but emotionally they
had all been shades of grey. Her world had been shades of grey since
James—she bit down on the emotion—since the terrible night she lost
James. Something about the little room lifted her soul.
“The room is lovely,” said Rhian, genuinely pleased.
“Good! Let’s have a cup of tea and discuss terms,” Frankie said.
Rhian sat on a stool in the kitchen and watched Frankie go through
the English tea ceremony. She used a large china teapot shaped like a
“The rent is three hundred and eighty pounds a calendar month,
about ninety quid a week. Is that okay? It does include everything.”
Frankie said, anxiously, watching Rhian carefully.
Rhian considered. It would be tight, but the bar work would tide
her through until she could find a better job. She smiled at Frankie,
“That will be fine.”
“I’d like one month’s rent in advance as a deposit,” Frankie said.
“Oh!” said Rhian.
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She took out the envelope and counted the money twice. However
she rearranged the notes, she could not make the deposit.
“How much have you got?” said Frankie, sipping her tea.
“Two hundred and ten pounds.”
Frankie sighed. “And you will need something to live on until
payday. Give me ninety quid and we’ll call it quits.”
Rhian handed over a ten and four twenties, and helped herself to
milk. “Have you had many other tenants?” she asked, politely.
“One or two,” said Frankie, evasively. “Sugar? No? Is that how you
keep so slim, dear?”
Frankie shoveled two spoonfuls into her own mug. “I’ve been a bit
unlucky with lodgers,” Frankie admitted. “They tend to move on
“Have you lived here long?” Rhian asked, to fill a gap in the
“My partner and I lived here for some years,” Frankie said.
“Ah,” Rhian said, neutrally.
“Don’t worry, dear. It’s all ancient history now. He announced that
he needed to find himself, so he went on a solo bus tour across North
“Did he find himself?” asked Rhian.
“I don’t know because I haven’t seen him since. According to a
postcard from Nevada, he did find a nineteen-year-old blonde lap
dancer called Suze ‘with an e.’ She thought that his English accent was
Frankie said the last few words through gritted teeth. She looked
at Rhian and blushed.
“Well, maybe it is not quite yet ancient history.” She grinned at
Rhian. “Unfortunately I had resigned from my job at about the same
time to go freelance, so this household went from two reliable salaries to
one slightly dodgy income. So now, Miss Jones, I have need of a tenant.”
Frankie grimaced. “Sorry, what am I doing pouring out my woes
to a stranger? Do you have any personal disasters that you might want
to relate in retaliation?”
Rhian had a flashback. The doctors had warned her about them.
She wasn’t in Frankie’s kitchen any more but on a building site. James
lay still on the ground, head turned showing a terrible gash. His blood
was black in the moonlight.
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She snapped out of it. Frankie gazed at her waiting for an answer.
“No,” Rhian replied quickly. She took another sip from her
mug. “Would your employer not have taken you back, under the
“Probably, but I had already started up and I thought that I would
like to give running my own business a fair try. I was not entirely happy
with my late employer.”
Rhian waited, but Frankie did not elaborate.
“What do you freelance in?” asked Rhian, to keep the conversation
“I’m a consultant,” Frankie said.