Philanthropy or greed?

Originally I thought about calling this ‘Life and Art’ but that sounded a bit pretentious so I changed it to Philanthropy or greed. But really the way things that are happening in real life and things that I have already made happen in the book I’m writing, have a very strong resemblance to one another. Let me explain.

I am currently writing a book called ‘The Great I Am’ which is set at the time of the Brexit vote and its aftermath and has a familiar central figure, a politician who tells lies as easily as he breathes, is a womaniser and a misogynist etc, etc and gets a well earned comeuppance in the final chapters (oh I did enjoy writing that!). It is a complicated book with a great many characters, one of whom is an old woman who leads a campaign in the part of London where she was born to prevent a greedy, speculative developer from pulling down the excellent Peabody buildings in which she lived. When I first planned it, I don’t think there was any very glaring example of such wanton destruction but there certainly is now.

The Guardian headline this morning says ” ‘Rushed’ planning shake-up will lead to more slums, experts warn.” And the article below it explains that the Government means to change the way planning applications for new buildings are handled. If a planning application is based on ‘pre-approved design codes’ it will get automatic permission. Land in England would be divided into three categories: growth, renewal and protection. New homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices would be allowed automatically in growth areas. It all sounds very grand but when you think about it you begin to see that it would give speculative builders government permission to build their expensive houses for the rich, virtually wherever they please.

In my part of the world good, rich, arable land is constantly being boughtpagam up by speculative developers and turned into huge, lucrative estates full of houses that most local people simply couldn’t afford to buy. A group of locals in Pagham and Aldwick called P.A.G.A.M (Pagham and Aldwick Greenfields Action Movement) have been campaigning for years to stop this happening here. As you can see from this poster, they are very angry about it. But the campaign has had an effect. Their most recent report back to their members says ‘DECISION PROCESS BY ADC DID NOT TAKE PLACE ON THE  24TH. JUNE, WHICH MEANS P/24/20/RES WILL PROBABLY NOT HAPPEN UNTIL THE NEXT DCC ON THE 29TH. JULY, SO MORE TIME FOR OBJECTIONS.’ Or to put it briefly, the development that the locals do not want has been held up but only temporarily.

Back to the book, which as well as the odious politician, shines a light on a man who was the very reverse sort of character. This man was called George Peabody. He was born in 1795 in the USA and in 1863 he began to build comfortable and affordable blocks of flats in London for ordinary working men and their families and pulled down the slums they’d been forced to live in before he took action, because they were the only places they could afford to rent. Mr Peabody had actually grown up in poverty himself, in Massachusetts, so he knew what it was like. And although he made a lot of money during his lifetime, he was a true philanthropist and spent his wealth to help other people, unlike a majority of our entrepreneurs today who give every indication that they are simply, in it for the money.

His buildings are still standing in various parts of London but one was brought up and turned into luxury flats for the rich – hence my story of a campaign to stop those developers taking over any more.

Life and Art all mixed up together.

Fourpenny Flyer re-published

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Back to the writing business this morning. My publisher Agora are re-printing this novel this morning. It’s the central book of a trilogy based on the fact that WHSmith was founded by a woman. In real life Anna Smith worked so hard that she died young but she sounded such a feisty character that I couldn’t resist creating a prototype and I kept her alive until the Victorian Era.

This book is about her daughter in law Harriet who lived in the time of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester, so naturally she is present on the occasion and saw how frightening and brutal it was. There are some parts of history I simply can’t resist!

It was originally published in 1989. But if you haven’t met my Nan Easter before you might like to meet her and her family now.

It’s available on Amazon here.

Fourpenny Flyer eBook Cover

A 70th Anniversary

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This is an anniversary I’ve got to celebrate on my own. 70 years ago today at half past ten in the morning, in Wandsworth Registry Office, Roy and I got married. It was probably the most miserable day of our entire life together. This photograph was taken about an hour after the event and my darling’s body cues and expression tell the story. Hands on hips and feet slightly apart it says ‘sod yer!’, the expression on his face says ‘I’ve married her and there’s nothing you can do about it!’ He was a good bloke.

After that the only way our marriage could go was up. And for the next 54 years that’s the direction we took. I hope the next photographs will show how happy we were -especially when our first baby arrived. We didn’t have very much money but we had one another and we had our babies.

 

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Which is not to say, we didn’t make mistakes. I wince to remember an absolute howler. He was an ardent cricketer and a very good one – a spin bowler – he played most weekends in the summer and, now and then, if his club were playing somewhere near, I went to watch him. I didn’t really understand the game. It was a bit too complicated for me. But I loved to watch those long legs pounding up the crease and enjoyed the roar of delight – no correct that – the polite but appreciative applause that rippled round the ground when he took a wicket.

The day of the howler was a summer Saturday when the team played in Sutton where we lived. I put my first baby in his pram and wheeled him to the cricket ground where I sat on a deck chair in the sun to watch the game. I saw him take a wicket and acknowledge his applause and then I dropped off to sleep in the sun. When the game was over and he appeared beside us ready to walk us home, he was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

‘What did you think of that?’ he said. ‘Good or what?’

‘It was a very good wicket,’ I said.

He was still grinning ‘I got a hat-trick!’ he said.

I knew what that was, three wickets with three consecutive balls, a vary rare achievement and I’d slept through it! How could I have done such an awful thing?! But I confessed. What else could I do? He put his arms around my shoulders and called my by his loving nickname for me ‘Oh woolly-bear!’ That was forgiveness of a very high order. He was very easy to love.

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Over the years I learnt a lot from him. As our kids were born, I saw how well he handled their three very different personalities and very different needs. It was a skilled technique and he called it ‘Kidology’. We didn’t hit any of our children, EVER. But he could handle them in virtually every situation and if they were behaving badly he simply said ‘ENOUGH!’ and the bad behaviour stopped. It was a sort of loving magic and I watched it work with amazement and a lot of admiration.

When they reached their teens, he was still showing the way, treating them as adults, almost as soon as they’d reached thirteen. ‘Enough’ was rarely heard in those days.

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They evolved three new sorts of loving friendships, which I found absolutely delightful to watch because it showed how very fond they were of him and how much they trusted him.

Here he is talking to our son Larry as they very often did. I used it in a blog called ‘The Gentle Gentlemen’ because that’s what they were.

As we got older and when I was earning very good money, we went on lots of holidays together and lots of cruises. And in addition to that we took our grandchildren on holiday with us. Both these pictures were taken by Charlotte on two such holidays. They were very happy days.

16 years ago, when he died, the entire family was devastated. I couldn’t even begin to think how I would manage without him. We all had to find new ways of coping – with grief, and with a new lifestyle. He’d been a very good man and his death ripped the heart out of us. I wrote this poem for him when he was 53, in an attempt to tell him what he meant to me.

Love Song

Diurnal and reliable, you stay
Faithful as rain.
I drink again
Your dear love, used, but not diminishing.

My bruised thought open to you. What you say
Healing as sleep.
The watch you keep
Is soothing, love, before my dreams begin.

Necessary to me as light and day,
Constant as air.
Each hour I wear
Your unremitting love, just like my own known skin.

Blueprint for producing a dictator

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How on earth did this apparently innocent little boy turn in to the monstrous, narcissistic, ignorant, psychopath who currently lives in the White House and dominates the bulk of the Western world?

There is an answer and it seems to me that his niece Mary has understood it well. In her new book ‘Too much and never enough,’ – (I bought my copy yesterday Mary and it should arrive today) – she says ‘there is no understanding Donald Trump without understanding his malignantly dysfunctional family.’ And she goes on to describe that trump4family in considerable and revealing detail. She says Donald’s father Fred is the villain of the piece and calls him a ‘ruthless, New York, workaholic, who slept about four hours a night and was driven by money’. He showed little interest in his five children other than grooming an heir for his property business. He spurned his eldest son Freddy but settled on Donald, deciding that his second son’s arrogance and bullying and his willingness to lie and cheat, were just what the office needed. The pattern was set. And the business thrived, when he died Fred Trump was worth $250-$300 million.

Unless we are very careful or have the good fortune to have had one or two loving and supporting parents. We will be what our parents have made us. Bad parents have appalling effects on their children.

From my own experience, I know that it is possible to come to terms with what has happened to us and come out the other side still damaged but managing to love our own families. But it takes a very long time and considerable support from somebody who actually loves us and accepts us as we are.

Trump and Johnson who is another narcissistic psychopath, have never had or seen any need to alter their behaviour or opinions in any way. The master of Eton, knew exactly what sort of boy he was dealing with when Johnson was in his school, he wrote home to his father saying:

“Boris has adopted a disgracefully cavalier attitude to his classical studies. It is a question of priorities, which most of his colleagues have no difficulty in sorting out. Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility (and surprised at the same time that he was not appointed captain of the school for next half.) I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard his as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.” 

So there it is, laid bare for our understanding, a boy who will grow up into the arrogant, elitist, bullying, womanising, misogynistic, racist, ignoramus who presently, god help us all, is the Prime Minister of this country. And his Daddy, who thinks that he too has the perfect right to ignore all rules and do exactly what he wants, is obviously the source of his son’s disastrous maladjustment.

I will give the final word to Mary Trump, she says ‘one of the reasons I was so devastated by what happened in November 2016 (when he was elected) was because, while I knew that he was categorically unfit and incompetent and cruel, I never foresaw that a 100% of republicans in office would just enable him to the extent they have.’

‘It’s been horrifying because in that sense, he’s not the problem. If he were being held to the same standards other people in his position have been held to, if they had cared about the transgressions he’s made, the lines he’s crossed, then he would have been neutralised, or at least reigned in. But they’ve given him permission to keep going.’

This entry was posted on July 24, 2020. 1 Comment

Dixie is feeling neglected

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As you can see. He had positioned himself to assist with the current jigsaw puzzle, but Lottie and I were busy with the complicated central section of the current novel, so he was IGNORED. And all this when he’d spent the entire night out in the garden hunting, to keep the place clear of small birds and rodents and how self-sacrificing was that?!

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No cat takes his literary duties so seriously – with the possible exception of Liz Fenwick’s Ziggy who he has to admit runs him quite close. The books in the library are always under his caring eye or his warming backside. All manuscripts are carefully inspected. He is on guard constantly, as you can see. He will keep a book open with his paws so that it can be read at any time it is required; he can lie across the keyboard to keep it under control, because it has a ridiculous tendency to print rows of the same letter and skip twenty or thirty pages with no provocation at all. He is all in all dedicated to his job.

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Above all, he has accepted the additional duty of sick-nurse without making any complaint. When the literary lady was ill enough to lie on the sofa during the day with her eyes closed, he sat along the back of the sofa as close to her as he could get and watched over her all the time. She says she couldn’t have got through the bad patch without him.

He is, all in all, and giving it all due consideration, probably the best cat in the universe. And modest with it. All he asks for is a little admiring attention, he considers it entirely unnecessary for people to keep saying ‘Off!’ when he is guarding a jigsaw.

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This entry was posted on July 23, 2020. 3 Comments

This might be news to you.

It was to me and it’s such a corrupt story I think a lot of people would – and possibly will be – as horrified as I was to hear it.

It was revealed by an admirable journalist who is called George Monbiot and he wrote about it in The Guardian on the 15th of July. He says that he had been asking himself for the past fortnight why news of this particular scandal hasn’t been all over the front pages.

Let me begin at the beginning. This present case of blatant corruption was unearthed by ‘investigative journalist at The Guardian and Open Democracy’ and it concerns a government contract to test the effectiveness of the government’s Coronavirus messaging, it was worth £840,000 and was issued by the Cabinet Office which is run by Michael Gove. The deal seems to have been struck on the 3rd of March, but the only written record in the public domain is a letter dated the 5th of June, retrospectively offering a contract which had already been granted. There was, as George Monbiot tells us, no advertisement for the work and no competition, the deal appears to have been done with a ‘handshake and a slap on the back’. 

And who did this contract go to? It went to a company called ‘Public First’ which is owned by a married couple known as James Frayne and Rachel Wolf. And guess who their friends are! Frayne has worked with Dominic Cummings on political campaigns since 2000 – well there’s a surprise! – and when Gove became Education secretary, he brought Cummings and Frayne into his department – and there’s another one! In 2010 Gove’s department awarded Wolf a contract worth half a million. That didn’t go to competitive tender either. I hope you are now all singing together ‘Jobs for the boys!’ and feeling as cross as I am at the public use of so much of OUR money.

This is about as corrupt as any government in this country has ever dared to be. It is corruption on a grand scale and it is all done in secret. But there are some people struggling to bring it to the light. George Monbiot is one – and all honour to him – another is the ‘Good Law project’, which issued proceeding in the High Court against Gove last Friday, ‘alleging breaches of procurement law and apparent bias in the granting of the contract to his long-standing associates’. It will be interesting to see what success they have.

Finally, a little tit-bit of local news on the same subject. It involves a pest control company called Pest Fix in Littlehampton, West Sussex, just along the coast from where I live. It’s a very small company, which has listed net assets of a mere £18,000 but surprise, surprise, the Government gave it a £32 million contract to supply surgical gowns which it was supposed to order from China. It was given a deposit worth 75% of the value of the contract despite the fact that the Government’s own rules state that ‘prepayments should only be made in extremely limited and exceptional circumstances and should be capped at 25% of the value of the contract’. In the two weeks before the Government gave its contract to Pest Fix, it was approached by 16,000 companies offering to supply PPE. Some had a long track record in manufacturing and/or supplying PPE and most had stocks that could be deployed immediately. Which is a very far cry from what Pest Fix appear to be doing. Even today only HALF the gowns that they were supposed to order have reached the country and they’re all siting in a warehouse in Daventry.

This is corruption on a vast and dangerous scale. I will let George Monbiot have the last words because they are so potent and so true. ‘This’ he said at the start of the article from which I’ve taken all this information – many thanks Mr Monbiot – ‘STINKS.’ 

This entry was posted on July 16, 2020. 2 Comments

I’ve just said goodbye to an old friend.

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And here it is, all gleaming clean and ready to move on to its new and second owner.

I have to admit that after driving it from new for the last 14 years, I’m going to miss it quite a lot.  It’s been a friendly little car and it’s driven me comfortably to more places than I can count or remember.  In the first half of our life together we went shopping at least once every week and considerably more as Christmas approached, visited the various members of my large and enlarging family, headed off to church every Sunday and to the theatre whenever I fancied it. We visited friends wherever they were,  met guests at the station and took them back again when their visit was over, attended a variety of literary events – often with a boot full of books – and drove up to see my sister at happily regular intervals. It was a dear little dependable car.

But now I have to face the facts of an elderly life, and accept that as I’m 89 – pushing 90 – and have only one dependably functioning eye. it would be too dangerous for me to drive any more. Boo-hoo. So last Friday, I sold my old friend to a young mechanic who is going to get it in perfect working order and give it to his niece as a Christmas present. He told my daughter and I how excited she was about it and that was cheering, despite the need to say farewell. It’s transported a lot of Christmas presents in its time and now it’s going to be a Christmas gift in its own right. I hope its new young owner will enjoy driving it as much as I have.

But of course, there’s a dilemma here and I know that very well. For the past few years thee has been a growing campaign to alert drivers to the ecological harm their vehicles are doing. There have been far too many cars and lorries on the roads, far too many aircraft making con trails in our skies, far too many luxury cruisers spreading pollution through our oceans and into our ports. When lock-down reduced the number of vehicles on our roads, and grounded our aircraft, the benefits were obvious. We rejoiced at the improved purity of the air we were breathing and were delighted to be able to hear the birds singing again. And yet, and yet… I have to be honest and say that when I had a heart attack was taken to hospital, efficiently and quickly in an ambulance, I was grateful and relieved to be helped so quickly. But seeing both sides of the argument doesn’t give me any insight into the solution we need to the problem. I was fond of my little car and used it selfishly. I was glad to be rescued by ambulance. Mea culpa.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. Can we find a balance? I don’t know that either.

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted on July 13, 2020. 5 Comments

I’ve had a letter from Hancock and Jenrick.

It arrived yesterday afternoon, four pages long and purporting to give me  ‘Important advice on covid-19’ because I’m ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ which is hardly news to me. I’ve been ‘shielding’ for the last three months. The first piece of advice they had for me was predictable too. ‘You are advised to follow the shielding guidance rigorously.’

Then their message got vague. Well there’s a surprise. ‘On 1st June the shielding guidance was slightly relaxed… you may wish to spend some time outdoors away from your home once a day.’ And they explained that ‘this change was based on scientific evidence that the initial peak of the epidemic had passed in the UK.’ Nothing was quoted from any source. to support that statement. Well there’s a surprise!  So I looked up the figures from the World Health Organisation. Number of cases in the UK to date 306,862, number of deaths 43,081, supported by a very clear graph which showed that the mortality figures were still rising, although more slowly than they had originally. But no indication at all that the peak was passed. Other scientific organisations agreed although their mortality totals were even higher at 65,700.

Then they ended the first page with a neat little get-out clause. ‘Like all our guidance to those who are clinically vulnerable, this was advisory.’ Well,well, well. So if you don’t follow their advice that’s up to you, but if you do follow it and you catch the virus, it’ll be all your own fault. Nice to know.

So on to page 2, where we are told of the changes that are coming. On July 6th we can meet in a group of six people or form ‘a bubble’ with one other household. But again we are told that this is an ‘advisory’ change.

From 1st August ‘you no longer need to shield’. We can go to work, our children can go to school, we can go shopping for food, or to places of worship or for exercise. But we are advised to ‘follow strict social distancing’.

Then on to page three and some ‘facts’ at last. ‘All Government decisions on Shielding advice are led by the latest scientific evidence.’ Really? What evidence was that? They don’t tell us. We’re just told that ‘four weeks ago, around one person in 500 had the virus’ and that ‘last week it was even lower with less than one in 1,700 having the virus.’ If I hadn’t watched the Prime Mendaciter and his minions spewing out lies on a daily basis, I might have been taken in.

They finish on a regal flourish. If we are in trouble, not to worry, there are all sorts of organisations who will help. Top of the list is our cash-strapped, overworked NHS, then come our equally cash strapped GPs, councils and charities. ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Johnson?’

And then there were the signatures. ‘Matt’ and ‘Robert Jenrick’.I didn’t know who the last one was so decided that this morning I would look him up. But I didn’t need to. This morning the man was all over the front pages. ”Jenrick under pressure to quit as Tory donor documents released.” So  I read it and an unsurprisingly sordid story  it was.  Robert Jenrick, in his role as Housing Secretary, had insisted that a planning decision on a £1 billion property development should be rushed through so that a Tory donor’s company could reduce costs on the deal by £45 million. And who was the Tory donor? Why none other than our old friend Richard Desmond, owner of the Express newspapers, and great friend of one Boris Johnson. And why did he want this decision speeded up? Because the speed would enable him to avoid the need to pay £45 million to Labour run Tower Hamlets. As he put it himself in his charming way. ‘We don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe (sic) for nothing.’

And as if that weren’t revelation enough, I found another news item. There had been a UK Labour opposition day motion  asking for routine weekly Covid-19  testing for NHS and care workers and the House had defeated it by 344 votes to 198. And to make assurance doubly sure, it had approved an amendment against it without a division. The amendment was proposed by the PM, Matt Hancock, Therese Coffey, Gavin Williamson, Robert Jenrick and Jacob Rees-Mogg. What a grizzly crew they are.

I’m going to give the last word here this morning to a novelist called Matt Haig. (You redeem the name Matt), writing on Twitter.

‘Just  think,’ he wrote. ‘If the government had locked down when they were advised, if they had been as quick as others with test and trace, if they’d been clear with their messaging, if they had protected care homes, if they didn’t have Dominic Cummings, we could be ending lock-down safely.’

 

This entry was posted on June 25, 2020. 4 Comments

I’ve got two new heroes!

This has been quite a week! And for once in a while it’s turned up two splendid young men in the news. Splendid, handsome, young black men, the kind of men to admire. And for once in quite a long time I’ve got really good things to write about.

The first of these two men to hit the headlines is Patrick Hutchinson who attended the right wing demonstration in London last Saturday with a group of his friends, because they are all trained to cope with emergencies and they thought this demonstration might well turn violent and that then they could be useful, which it did and which they were. One of the demonstrators was knocked to the ground and injured and Patrick went into the melee and as he said ‘got underneath him and carried him off somewhere rather safer’. 

When he was interviewed about it afterwards he said he hadn’t stopped to think, he just took action and later in the interview he said he was doing it for the future of his children and grandchildren. Respec’ Patrick!

The second one of my lovely heroes, was this handsome, young man and in the normal course of events I wouldn’t have noticed him because he is a famous footballer and – shh don’t tell anybody – football leaves me cold! But this young footballer has warmed the cockles of my heart, because he is a great campaigner and has taken up the cudgels to protect our poorest children. The Prime Mendacitor had decided not to extend the government’s free school meals voucher system for low-income families over the summer holiday period. And our splendid 22 year old wrote to him to ask him to change his mind. He isn’t just handsome and a brilliant footballer, he has a good turn of phrase too. Just look at his plea!

“I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity.” 

“Without the kindness and generosity from the community there wouldn’t be the Marcus Rashford you see today: a 22-year-old black man lucky enough to make a career playing the game I love. Wembley Stadium could have been filled more than twice with children who have had to skip meals during lockdown due to their families not being able to access food.”

“This is not about politics; this is about humanity. Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry? Food poverty is a pandemic in England that could span generations if we don’t course correct now.”

The Prime Mendacitor, after spinning his usual web of lies all around the affair, gave way to the pressure and decided that he could find enough money to feed these kids after all. Respec’ Marcus! You’re a great guy.

And as if that weren’t reward enough for one week, I also discovered a new and rather scrumptious word. So I’ll leave you with that. It’s ‘quockerwodger’ and it’s first meaning is a wooden puppet but it’s acquired a secondary meaning too and that’s the bit I really enjoy. It is, and I quote, ‘a politician acting on the instructions of an influential third party rather then properly representing their constituents.’ Wiffle, waffle, piffle, paffle!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted on June 18, 2020. 1 Comment

Black lives matter.

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I make no apologies for writing this blog this morning.  All life matters to me, black lives as every bit as much as everybody elses. I believe that all men are created equal.

So here is a story about the slave trade and how abominable and cruel it was. I researched it thoroughly in 2001 and a book called ‘Suki’ was published as a result of my studies. This is an excerpt from that book, describing the death of one particular slave, who dared to make a stand.

‘Watch out for your big feller,’ the surgeon warned as he walked away.
Jack turned to question. ‘Which one?’
‘Spilled the porridge that first morning.’
‘Is he sick?’
The surgeon looked at him, straight and serious. ‘No sir. He means to starve himself. He don’t eat.’
‘Oh don’t he?’ Jack said grimly. ‘I’ll soon see about that.’ Losing a slave to sickness or foul air was bad enough but a self-inflicted death was folly – and arrogant to boot.
The big feller was one of the second group to be fed that morning and now that his attention had been drawn to it, Jack could see that the man was refusing all sustenance except water. He sat with his arms folded across a chest grown considerably thinner and gazed out to sea, swaying with the rhythm of the ship but otherwise unmoving and blank-faced.
‘Deuce take the dog,’ Jack said angrily to his three assistants. ‘I do believe Mr Dix has the right of it.’
‘He’s uncommon determined,’ Dickon said.
‘He’ll not determine me,’ Jack said, anger rising. ‘I’ll warrant you that. He’ll find me more than a match for him. Keep him back when the others go below and fetch me a big spoon.’
The big feller showed no concern when he and his shackle-mate were thrust back onto the deck as the others stood to shuffle to the hatches. He simply sat where he was and waited as though the world were no longer his concern. His companion, who was smaller and had fed well, was instantly and twitchingly anxious, his neck taut as a tree trunk, his eyes dilated and flickering with alarm. There were flakes of dried wheat meal around his mouth, which he wiped with the back of his hand, nervously. But even when Jack bore down upon them with a tub of meal in one hand and a serving spoon in the other, the big feller simply sat, and when the first full spoon was jabbed at his mouth, he tightened his lips and turned his head aside at the last second so that the contents spilled over his shoulder.
‘Devil take him!’ Jack swore. ‘I’ll not be disobeyed. Pin him down boys. We’ll see about this.’
The big slave put up a terrible struggle, thrashing his arms and twisting his body violently from side to side, but between the four of them they pinned him to the deck. His terrified companion was dragged down with him, much kicked and thumped in the process, but at last he was subdued, panting but unable to move, with his fists tied hard behind his back and the vice of Dickon’s scarred hands clamped on either side of his face, holding him steady.
Jack watched him with satisfaction. ‘Open his mouth.’
Dickon grimaced. ‘What if he bites sir?’
Jack seized a belaying pin and flourished it in front of the big feller’s face. ‘If he bites sir,’ he said, speaking directly and furiously to the slave, ‘We’ll knock his blamed teeth out.’
He bit as soon as Dickon’s fingers touched his lips, his eyes blazing hatred and defiance, and was instantly hit in the mouth with the pin. It was such a heavy blow that it split his lip and knocked his two front teeth so loose that they hung by a bloody thread.
‘Quick!’ Jack said, filling the spoon and thrusting it at the bloody gap. There were several seconds of confused struggle. Blood and spittle and gobbets of meal flew before their eyes, leg-irons clanked and dragged. They were all shouting, arms flailing, fists punching, and someone was screaming. But when they finally stood up, the slave’s mouth was full of meal. It was a triumph.
‘Swallow damn you!’ Jack roared at him. ‘Swallow!’ His eyes stung with fury and he was holding his spine with such tension it was beginning to ache.
It was a wasted order. The big feller turned his head to one side, spat out the meal and vomited green bile all over their shoes and the crouching spine of his companion.
Jack swore so much he made his throat sore. ‘Hell’s teeth! I’ll not be beat by a savage. I’ll make him eat, damme if I don’t. Give me that spoon again! Quick! And get that blamed fool out the way.’
Dickon tried to drag the other slave to his feet and couldn’t do it. ‘We’ll have to take his irons off.’
‘Well take ’em off, dammit. I’ll not be beat by a savage.’
The irons were removed and the slave dragged away by the feet, with his hands covering his eyes.
‘Now!’ Jack roared.
But the instant his companion was freed, the big feller had struggled to his feet and, as they turned towards him, he was running towards the side, tumbling over the gunwale, falling into the sea, straight as a plumb line. It was all over in seconds, before they could draw breath. Then all three seamen yelled, ‘Man overboard’ and Mr Tomson came running to see what was amiss.
Jack was the first to recover. ‘We must lower a boat.’
‘Can’t be done,’ the captain told him, stroking his beard ”Twould mean going about and so forth.’ Which was plainly true, for there was already a considerable distance between the ship and the slave, who was swimming strongly.
‘We can’t leave him to drown,’ Jack protested. ‘He’s a good specimen. Worth a deal of money. Could we throw a line?’
‘Not without a harpoon,’ the captain said. ‘Not that distance. We ain’t whalers.’
‘We can’t just leave him,’ Jack repeated. ‘Something must be done.’
It was being done as he spoke. Two dark fins had appeared in the green water and were circling the swimmer. As the crew watched in fascinated horror, there was a sudden spume of white water, a chop of waves, a thrashing and bubbling as if the sea was boiling. Then a long red trail of blood threaded out from the centre and the slave’s head disappeared.
‘Sharks,’ the captain said and went back to the bridge as if that were the end of the matter.

This entry was posted on June 11, 2020. 6 Comments