A story for the times

wal pic

We’re so lucky with the weather! At last year’s fête we had three inches of rain. Typical English summer. This the best year we’ve had for a long time.
I notice Mr Landowner hasn’t shown his face and I’m not surprised. Personally I blame him for all the unpleasantness. If he hadn’t sold that field, none of it would have happened. He’s got plenty of money, didn’t need to do anything with that pony paddock. Pure greed if you ask me.
We didn’t even know he had sold it until this caravan turned up in the field. With people in it. I don’t mean holidaymakers – it wasn’t that sort of caravan. More a sort of trailer. More the sort of thing where people live. A trailer and a clapped-out Mondeo estate, with no tax disc.
I’m not a busybody but we live right opposite the paddock so it was staring us in the face. I rang him to say, I’m sorry but do you realise there are people in your field? What you might call travellers? He said nothing to do with me – they’ve bought the land. It’s theirs.
They were a couple in their 30s, with two quite young children. She drove out with the children most days, came back with them later. The children didn’t go to our school so I don’t know where they went. I did ask the head and she said she believed the family had applied but ours is a tiny village primary – there was absolutely no room for them.
I don’t know what made me start the campaign. I’m not a campaigning sort of person, I’m just a mum, but I suppose I was the one person who couldn’t ignore the problem. When I opened my living room curtains every morning, there they were.
Some people were in favour of confronting the family but I believe in the law and fortunately we have a solicitor living in the village to advise us. It was quite simple. They had no right to live there. The field was a place for ponies, not people.
Really I had nothing personal against that family, they didn’t make a mess and I have nothing against travellers (though of course the name is a nonsense. They don’t travel. That’s the problem). No – our argument was with the district council. The council had never given planning permission for that field to be used for residential purposes and they had a duty to act.
Well, it took 18 months of campaigning before we had our voices heard. By that time the whole village, more or less, was behind us. We were so angry at being ignored. Decent people were furious at being dismissed by high and mighty councillors who know nothing about what it’s like to live in a little community like this.
We just wanted them to implement the law. That’s all we asked. Either planning permission existed or it didn’t. The man applied to make it a permanent site and have water put in but of course that was refused. So we told the council – you have to get them out. Lines have to be drawn.
The whole thing dragged on and on. I suspect the spineless councillors were hoping the family would leave of their own accord. One of the councillors actually went to talk to the family but she had no luck. They told her they had to be there because their children had a condition which meant they had to go for hospital treatment twice a week. But surely there must be hundreds of fields closer to the hospital than this one.
Finally we got the court order. The police rather overdid it with a raid at 4am but I think they secretly like that sort of thing, and the chap got his six months in prison for breaching the order. I thought surely the wife will give up now, but she clung on. I went round to Mr Landowner and pretty much told him to get his tractor out and tow the damn trailer off his paddock.
The next morning I opened the curtains – and it was gone. Jubilation! Then my phone started ringing. There was a dirty great trailer on the village green and what was I going to do about it?
The police refused to come.
So, for six months the trailer sat there on the green. We never saw the family. I think she took the children out very early in the morning and brought them back after dark. Nobody was nasty to them, in fact I told some boys off for throwing cans at the windows.
Then one morning it wasn’t there. People living round the green said they had heard noises in the night. We think as soon as he was released, the man must have got a lorry and come to fetch his family.
The landowner just took his paddock back. There had never been any proper paperwork, he said. Now it has ponies in it again.
The whole experience has really changed this village. To be honest, we were in decline before. A lot of the residents are elderly and don’t go out much. Parish council meetings rarely had more than four people and it’s not as if people actually go to church. Some young families had moved into the village but they were commuter types and didn’t really mix. And quite a few of us had been opposed to those new houses being built anyway.
But now the whole place is so much friendlier. Knocking on doors for the campaign, I met lovely people, including the newcomers. Those grim six months when we had to trudge past that trailer on the green every day brought us all together. Spirit of the Blitz, you might say.
And today at the fête you can see the results – everyone has turned out, everyone knows one another. There’s a real warmth. When it came down to the line, this village united as one. It’s been the best thing that ever happened to us.


Brazil, beaches, football

A story inspired by the report, a few years ago, that homesick Brazilian footballers had sand imported to Manchester so they could play their beloved beach football.



I get back from my run and there’s Paulo, sitting around with the boys, looking like they do after a draw. I say, “what’s the matter with you lot? You look like a wet week.”

Paulo says, “si”, like he does, “si. That’s all we got in Manchester England, wet week.”

A few days later I get back from power plates and there’s this dirty great truck in the drive. “Delivery,” the bloke says, “sign here.” I say what is it? He says, “sand”. I say I haven’t ordered any sand. He says, “well your feller did. According to the docket he wants it spread on the lawn to a depth of 20 centimetres.” I say go ahead.

When Paulo and the boys get back they go crazy. Jumping up and down on the sand like little kids. I say, “all your money and you’re buying sand?” He says, “Jessica, this is Brazilian sand, from Copacabana beach”. I say, “if you want sand we can go to Blackpool.” He says, “no, this is real sand, feel it, take your shoes off and walk on it. Feel how soft it is, how blond, how fluffy, how it soothes the soul.”

I’d never heard him talk like that before so I take my shoes off and walk on it. It was very smooth. Then – hey, something bit me. I look down and there’s a crab hanging off my little toe. I say, “Paulo, I just had a pedicure yesterday!”

He says, “suit yourself. Me and the boys are gonna play beach football anyway”. “What’s beach football?” I ask. “Beach football is real football”, he says. “Everything else is just imitation.”

I should have known it wouldn’t stop with the sand. A week later I get back from spinning and I hear a noise. A noise that doesn’t stop. I go through the patio doors and there’s Paulo, gazing out to sea. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he says. I say, “the sea! If you want sea we can…” He says, “but this is the Atlantic. Not the whole Atlantic, that would be silly. Just five or six waves”. And there they were, long, silver, rolling on to the beach, over and over.

I thought he would be happy then. For a while he was more cheerful than I’ve ever known him. His game improved. We made love on the beach in the evening and it was romantic, but a bit chilly.

“When are you going to get the Copacabana sun”? I say. “Then I can give up the spray tan”.

The sun was wonderful. It got a bit much so we had to have palm trees. I wasn’t so bothered about the pina colada stand but the boys liked that. The flying fish were good, and a flock of very pretty blue and orange macaws started roosting in the palms.

Then one day I get back from boxercise and he’s rolling in the sand with some half naked slapper. “Who’s this?” I say. “I dunno,” he says, “she come with the beach.” I kicked her bikini-clad arse out on the street and put my foot down.

“What is it to be Paulo?” I say. “Beach football or Premiership football? ‘Cos I know which one pays a hundred grand a week.”

Most of the sand went to the Manager’s house. He lets the boys play beach football there, under his supervision. His wife has a nice tan these days.

The rest of it the builders used for the foundations of our spa and wet-room extension. Sometimes I lie on my yoga mat and press my ear to the tiles. I can hear rollers breaking on the shore. It soothes the soul.

A short story – The Burial

The Burial

This story was inspired by the research I did for my play The Last Witch. I became interested in ‘cunning folk’, who were around until the 19th century and possibly nearly up to the 20th century, and who claimed to be able to put their magical powers at your disposal, for a fee. One of the most popular services they offered was, not casting spells, but finding treasure. There’s a fascinating book on the subject,  Cunning-Folk. Popular Magic in English History, by Owen Davies, who is a Professor of History at the University of Hertfordshire.

The story is set in Banbury and the surrounding Oxfordshire countryside, which I know well.

This story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story prize a couple of years ago. It’s a very well regarded competition so I felt very chuffed!