Monthly Archives: December 2012

Past Imperfect

I was never frightened of Charlie Barling. We both grew up in the same village, an isolated place, on the fringes of salt marshes in north Kent. It is a landscape Charles Dickens used for his tale of an escaped convict in Great Expectations. In Victorian times prison hulks moored in the adjacent waters, on the Thames Estuary, and the ghostly skeletons of decaying boats still lay along the banks of the sea wall when I played there as a child in the sixties, making up stories of pirates and treasure and what might have been.


Charlie’s family farmed on the edge of the marsh, around the system of muddy inlets which once played host to smugglers. They were probably Charlie’s ancestors. It is a peculiar environment, set between land and sea, an unstable wilderness where legends lie in waiting and lost treasures remain lost. And we children understood this was where Charlie and his brother wandered freely with their shotguns – shooting anything in sight.


Charlie didn’t go to the village school but most villagers gave him a wide berth, knowing his reputation, except for my best-friend Janet and I. Charlie was our friend and treated us with respect. Janet’s mum said he possessed something rare, something she called ‘impeccable manners’. I don’t remember how we all became friends but during the long summer holidays we would explore together the warren of creeks and marshes while our mum’s worked in the Barling orchards picking fruit. 


All this happened many years ago, but recent events have reminded me of Charlie Barling.


When he was eleven Charlie went on to senior school in the nearby town. It was a boys school, a new comprehensive with very forward looking ideals and no reputation. At the age of fourteen Charlie killed his form teacher. Not with a gun, although he was well used to guns. Charlie used a knife. With a single stab wound he murdered his teacher in front of the whole class. The horror of what happened was headlined in the local papers for months. Somehow I couldn’t recognise the ‘monster’ in the news with the boy I knew. People spoke of his unstable temperament and unruly manner, but nobody seemed to ask why he snapped that particular day.  I’m not apologising for Charlie but I wonder what would have happened if he had been able to access automatic weapons, like those used by Adam Lanza. And that thought haunts me.


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The Occupation

Thank you everyone, your good wishes worked. David and Stacey retained their title. Now my nerves have settled (well almost) and we have Christmas to look forward to I can get back to the business of writing instead of worrying. Well perhaps….


It’s been a roller-coaster couple of weeks. Our lives are always thrown into chaos when my son comes home but this year was even busier, perhaps it’s because we are living under a state of occupation. My parents sold their home (of 30 years) in the south and moved north in the summer. The plan had been that they live in the flat my daughter and her family had just vacated but mum and dad found that was just big enough to store their belongings (they were supposed to downsize). With barely a blink they announced they would have to live with us until they found something suitable. And they have found something suitable – in the next village – but they haven’t moved in yet.


During the subsequent occupation I have come to the conclusion I have an overdeveloped need for privacy. Mum and dad are great, they do the washing and ironing, organise meals, play hide and seek with the great grandsons and generally make life brighter. However…their occupation has been a disaster for my creativity. Or more precisely for my ability to write.


I like my peace and quiet. I have my own workspace where I spend part of my day writing. I can do that because I am grown up now and don’t have to ask mum’s permission to do anything anymore. But after half an hour mum always comes in with a cup of coffee and gives me a look that I know means she doesn’t consider someone sitting down in front of a computer during daylight hours to be employed in doing anything commendable. So I feel guilty. And that isn’t a good state of mind for a middle aged writer.





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The British Skating Championships 2012

The British Skating Championships 2012

Dr Zhivago as skated by Stacey Kemp and David King, A photograph taken by Graham Taylor of Digital Photo Events

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December 11, 2012 · 6:42 pm