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My missing colleague was a radio surveillance operator and he did 13-hour shifts of intense listening through his headset. Off-duty he would say very little apart from commenting that the constant whistling of the wind “drove him mad”. He said that his co-worker had a monotone voice that was “driving him insane” and he needed to get away from him and experience “human company”. We checked all other “escape” possibilities and this was passed to the British Royal Navy Commander (we sailed out on a boat to avoid radio broadcasting) who was positioned offshore of Devon Island. The Top Brass thought there was a possibility that the missing electronics officer may have been abducted by the Enemy.
In the previous few days there had been a lot of strange noises outside our remote monitoring station. Rumblings from afar and flashing lights in the sky. As the resident meteorologist I was expected to explain these phenomena, but I couldn’t. I did have to put in a Special Report to RG5 however, for the record. They would use this at the subsequent Court of Enquiry.
My colleague had walked for 4 miles into the wilderness. He wasn’t lost. His steady steps, with an even pace, showed he had intent or purpose. Lost people walk around in wide circles. He knew what he was doing, but where was he heading? His footprints in the snow came to an abrupt end. He was never seen again. No body was ever found.
It was difficult weather conditions for this kind of operation, with the blinding snow and gale-force winds. In spite of this, rescue vehicles were fuelled up and a team searched the area where the man had left his footprints to nowhere. The strong winds were blowing snow all over the place and quickly covering the tracks of the man forever. And the searchers were now endangering their own lives. They gave up after 3 exhausting hours and headed back to Base while they could still make out their own tracks for guidance. They had marked all the areas they had searched with flags.
2. HOTEL HALSTEAD
In April 1983 I arrived at Bootle railway station in Cumbria. I was there to work at a secret weapons-testing military-base which was two miles from the train station, but not on the map, or marked by any signs. I was also to work at Eskmeals observation station.
For the month I was there I stayed at a quiet country hotel. But it was just a bit too quiet. And the middle-aged couple who owned the establishment were decidedly odd. They scowled at my small transistor radio and indicated that they did not approve of it. They served me meals through a hatch and never entered the dining room. I would hear a knock and I would get up from my chair and slide the hatch open. I would be met with a woman with a withered face, and piercing blue eyes of sadness, and she would hand me a tray of food.
I had to sign in the guest book with a fountain pen. They insisted on this. The rest of the book was blank. There were no other guests. And the reception counter had a layer of thick dust on it. When I asked if I could make a phone call they said that the phone “was broken”.
The woman instructed that I should not ignite the paraffin heater in my bedroom myself, but if I was cold, then Mr Halstead would light it for me.
They were both obsessed by locks, keys, mirrors and doors. I was convinced they were hiding something in their cellar. Something bad. A secret that was unbearable. I could see it in their forlorn faces.
I had my Olympus OM4 35mm film camera with me. I took some pictures. All the time I had the distinct impression that I was being watched, that is, spied upon. The mirror in my bedroom was most peculiar. I kept thinking I was seeing people in it. At one point I thought I saw a young women undressing in the mirror. At other times I saw strange faces.
3. LORRY MAN
The Lorry Driver was heading south, over the Dava Moor road, towards the Cairngorms. His final destination was Madrid. He decided to travel through the night to get a head start. It was well after midnight and he had been speaking with his wife on the phone just a few minutes earlier.
Now he was heading across the remote moor where there is no mobile-signal at all. Most people, for that reason, don’t travel over Dava Moor overnight.
At a narrow part of the road, with tall trees, at either side, his headlights indicated a tree had fallen over the carriageway ahead, blocking his progress forward. It would be some task to reverse back 10 miles and so he stopped about 50 yards from the fallen tree, got out of his cab, and walked towards the obstacle. It was now around 1.00 am. Lorry Man was isolated, on his own, and had no phone signal. He had left his keys in the ignition.
From the light coming from his lorry headlamps he examined the heavy tree-trunk that was stretched completely over the single-track road. As he looked around at the fallen tree, to see if he could somehow move it, he thought that the lights from his vehicle perceptibly dimmed. He had switched his engine off but had left his keys in, to keep the lights going. He thought perhaps that the battery was getting low and so he walked back towards his cab to start the engine up again and get some charge into the batteries and then maybe make a phone-call. He was assuming he had a mobile signal but didn’t have much local knowledge about this stretch of road.
As he walked back to his cab he could hear the gentle bleeping of an alarm coming from the dashboard. On entering the cab he saw that there was, in fact, no keys in the ignition and that was the reason for the gentle bleeping sound. This surprised him as he felt sure he had left the keys in the ignition. He got out of the cab and walked around a bit, checking all his pockets for his lorry keys. And then, about 20 yards away, he saw them on the ground, sparkling in the light of his headlights. He must have dropped them absent-mindedly while he was heading along to check the fallen tree.
It occurred to him that he hadn’t noticed that there had been much in the way of strong winds about and no signs of any other debris blown around on the road. In fact it was flat calm as he made the steps to pick up his keys from the ground. As he came closer to his keys they appeared to move, almost as if they were being dragged along by a piece of wire. The keys were slowly being pulled over the verge and into the edge of the woods. He started to panic a bit and instinctively followed the keys that were travelling along the grass. The keys speeded up a bit as he followed them and they were getting out of his reach. And then the ground gave way underneath him.
He plunged downwards with a thud, straight down into a deep pit. Stunned, he looked up from the pit to see a whole bunch of piercing eyes looking down on him from above and shining a bright light on his face.
4. HAUNTED ROAD
A new section of road was laid on the A41 to divert traffic away from a small town that was not that far away from Aylesbury. But, shortly after the building-work commenced, reports of strange happenings began to surface in the local community. The road became notorious for paranormal activity, but also for the many lives it would claim. This is a story about a haunted road
It was the 27th of November and the sun had long since sunk below the horizon. There was a tepid darkness all around. A glow appeared over the tree-line; the distant lights of a car, cutting their way through the darkness. A young woman was travelling home along the isolated road. She had been working at the local hospital. The clock on her car-dashboard read 2.15am. The young woman yawned, and glanced into her rear-view mirror. Then her car headlights danced off a road-sign ahead. There was an unusual combination of numbers and letters on the sign. She wondered why she even bothered to look into her rear-view mirror as it was all pitch black behind her. Nothing to see. The darkness made her feel very alone.
Common reports about this stretch of road is that Faceless Monks appear in the middle of the road or on bridges. Dancing children are often seen under the electric pylons in the middle of the night. Strange signs appear, and drivers report distorted times on their watches and clocks and disorientation and intense feelings of unease.
There have been 25 deaths on this short stretch of road. Usually solitary drivers swerving off the road for no reason. Many investigating Police personnel and Security Officers have left their positions or taken complete breakdowns.
5. GLEN AFFRIC
Glen Affric is one of the three Great Glens that join up the West Coast with Loch Ness. If you feel hardy enough you can walk the 45 miles from Beauly right across the mountains to Kintail, then down to Cluny, then further south which takes you into Glen Affric. But maybe you don’t want to try this in winter no matter how tough you are. And give yourself three whole days to do the walk even in the summer.
All these glens are now damned after the completion of the Hydro project that began in the 1940s. The powerful clan of Chisolm created the village of Cannich to house 1500 hard-drinking, and even harder working, navigational engineers; that is the manual labourers who built the dams with their bare hands, more commonly known as navvies. Cannich village is in the heart of Strathglass. In 1947 the men moved in specifically to build the huge structures for the Hydro project. By 1951 the power started to flow in what was the first phase of this ambitious scheme.
Glen Affric is full of birch trees and pine trees which are remnants of the big primeval forests of Scotland that have now nearly all disappeared, possibly because of the early burning by man, but more likely it was climate change, which is by no means a recent thing, as the climate has always been changing before there was any industry to speak of. In fact, Scotland used to be a very sunny and dry place and the evidence for this is held in the peat bogs and the forests of Glen Affric are indeed relics of Scotland’s ancient past.
Glen Affric is untamed and when I stand there it seems to me that no-one else in the world exists apart from myself. When you get to the end of the road it becomes no more than just a footpath for 18 miles which takes you to the shore of Loch Duich and then it is another good 10 miles further on into the wilderness to get to the banks of Loch Quoich where I camped overnight. Next up you have to carry your mountain bike over the highest hills in Scotland to finally get to Knoydart peninsula. Most people take the easy way to Knoydart, that is by getting on the ferry from Mallaig.
I walked this journey many times of the years. I did the same route on a bicycle, later riding a motorbike, and eventually I got soft and used a car. After seeing William Arthur Poucher’s photographs of the deep blue water of Loch Quoich I wanted to go there and experience it myself.
6. DINGWALL WEDDING
The year was 1984. Me and my mate Chas packed our Big motorbikes with camping gear and headed off from Dunfermline. I rode a Honda Goldwing, Chas strode a Honda CB900. These powerful bikes don’t hang around on the road. There were very few speed cameras in those days and so it didn’t take us that long to complete the 200 mile journey north from Dunfermline to Dingwall. Is was mid-August and bright and warm and so the run "up north" was enjoyable. We only had the clothes we were wearing, camping gear, and a toothbrush (each).
We arrived at Dingwall mid-afternoon after a four-hour journey (takin’ it "easy" on route). We parked the bikes near to the centre of Dingwall in a central car park and began to walk around the town to seek refreshments. But soon we were approached by a male and female couple who attempted to engage with us as we walked along the High Street. The couple looked like they were in their mid-forties and dressed for a wedding. Indeed, they were.
"Lads, lads..." then man said to me. "Can you help us?" We are from Buckie and we’re here to get married in the Registrars Office down the road very soon. We didn’t want any fuss with family and so have come here to get married on our own. Would you be our witnesses?"
The guy seemed genuine enough and I understood his reasoning and so we agreed to go along with it. We followed them a short distance to Dingwall Registry Office. Inside the Office the four of us were shuffled into a small room were a po-faced and officious-looking old-style lady glared at us in an unwelcoming and irritated way.
The soon-to-be married couple looked the part but Chas and I both had our helmets in hand and our biker gear on. The officious wifey glared at us with disdain. The wifey asked for the addresses and details from the couple and then asked me for my name and address. She was huffing and puffing all the time and was battering away on an old-fashioned typewriter with carbon copies in it. She wasn't happy that the couple had Buckie addresses and I had a Dunfermline address. However she became quite hostile when Chas tried to convey his address as it was all in Welsh. His home address was Aberporth in South Wales and his house address and everything was in the Welsh language. Chas had to very deliberately spell each part of his address to the officious wifey who was really losing patience as she continually kept trying to type the address properly for the official document. Eventually, and grudgingly, the officials completed the ceremony in a perfunctory manner and the four of us were hurriedly gestured out of the Office onto the brightly-lit street outside.
The newly-married groom shook our hands in a grateful and friendly way. "Can't thank you enough guys" he said and presented us both with a giant packet of Embassy Regal and a big box of Matchmakers chocolates. And off they went. End of story. Or that was that we thought.
Until about a week later when I was back in Dunfermline and Chas was back down in Wales. I got a phone call from Chas who sounded concerned. He said that he'd just received a confirmation through the post that he was actually married to the woman from Buckie. There was a complete mix up at the Registrars and they put Chas’ name on the marriage certificate by mistake. And so there he was down in Wales, a legally married man, to someone he didn’t even know.
7. GOING OFF-GRID
If you do this, you will feel stuff. Deep stuff. No distractions. I think we should all have a try at this. And I have led by example. I have cycled all around Scotland - that is pedal power - and camped out in the wilds each night in a wee tent. I did it for a month with no contact with anyone. No phone or radio or any other form of communication - for a whole month. And that is when you experience things deep in your soul.
I started off in the centre of Glasgow, then cycled north to the Campsies, then Aberfoyle, Tyndrum, Rannoch Moor, Glencoe … all the way up to Durness Lighthouse at the extreme North West. Then back down again, around Loch Ewe and over to Skye. Eventually heading south and east and ending up at Dunfermline, then over The Bridge to Edinburgh. A 1000 mile trip. Always outside. Living in a wee tent. It changed my perspective on life. Everything became vivid and real for the first time. Something as simple as a bottle of water became beautifully fascinating and precious.
I spent one whole day at Balmacara. It rained heavily for twelve solid hours. And so I pitched my tent and stayed inside all day and read a book. I had my wee stove, a tin of food, and water. I spent the entire day reading and have never felt so relaxed in all my life.
A few days later, I dived of the cliffs at Durness, straight into the water. I almost died as the water was so cold and I suffered instant shock. Then it was quite a struggle to get back on land as the current was strong and the rocks were razor-sharp and sliced my body like a shredder.
One day last year, during an extended cold snap, I set out on a mission to get some pictures of swans at the Secret Loch, a remote stretch of water that only I knew about. I suppose I risked it just a wee bit too much on that occasion.
I was wandering over the frozen lochan surface (to get nearer to the swans at the centre) when the ice sheet gave way under me and I plunged into the icy water. I was aware, at that point, that I was two miles away from the nearest single-track road and no-one else knew where I was. It had taken me a good hour to walk there (after leaving my car at the end of a small track). I had tramped through deep, and powdery, snow and I hadn't seen anyone else around (not that I'd expected to see anyone anyway).
I had no mobile phone with me (I never carry one) and I was making a very good impression of a man who was trapped by his own icy body-weight, wearing boots that now felt like concrete blocks.
When I plunged through the ice sheet I lost my wool hat, my gloves and my designer snow-glasses. But, fortunately, I didn't lose my mind. I knew that in around only two minutes my limbs would lose all power. After five minutes I would have no feeling whatsoever in my whole body. And within fifteen minutes I would lose consciousness completely. This certainly focussed my attention on what to do next.
How I actually got out of my predicament is another story in itself. Suffice to say, I managed, somehow, to save myself from turning into just another winter casualty statistic. Although when I finally got back to base four hours later (with only one boot left) I had to cut my way out of my clothes with a Stanley knife. I then sat in a hot bath for an hour and afterwards took to my bed for a while. I'm still chittering today at the thought of the event, but somehow I feel so much more alive because of it. I even managed to save my SD memory-card at the time. And that has to be a good thing because I never lost my photos.
9. THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT
I found myself standing in this eerie graveyard at 6.15 in the morning. It was deathly silent as only a graveyard can be. Dawn was just about to break and the atmosphere was cool and misty. As I walked around I felt silky cobwebs brushing over my face and I could smell the damp earth under my feet.
I began to take a closer look at the unusual cross-like graves. Something peculiar was revealed. Some of the graves were from recent years, but some went way back, sometimes hundreds of years. Other graves were so old that I could not read their inscriptions. But the peculiar thing was that the people buried here were old men who had died at exactly the same age. They had all left this mortal coil at the age of 84.
Apart from one grave, that is. This grave had the inscription "Baby Petrie". I bent over and peered closer to see if I could fathom why this gravestone was different. And then I heard a whispering voice from behind me.
My heart leaped. I turned around to see a tall, hooded, figure standing right behind me. I hadn't heard anyone approach. The figure just seemed to appear out of nowhere. Under a long dark coat and large hood was the face of an old man. He was looking at me very directly. It crossed my mind that my number was up. (but I wasn't 84 yet I thought).
"It will be hard for you" he said.
I made a mental note at this point to stop hanging around in remote locations at six in the morning.
I kept my voice steady.
"Eh, sorry?", I said to the Hooded Figure. I know this was pathetic but it was all I could muster.
"Our guests find the first week hard" the Old Man repeated.
"Really?" I stuttered. I didn't know what else to say.
"Do you wish to enter?" the Old Man asked me…
And then another man appeared, and some more Hooded Figures. This Other Man looked “spaced out” of his head but super fit and lean like an SAS type with his close-cropped hair. He had a back-pack strapped to him as if he had been camping outside somewhere overnight. He came very close to me and stared right in my eyes and said, "We want you". His gaze was intense and his eyes were strangely hypnotic as if he was under a spell or in some sort of a trance.
I ran. They chased me.
I certainly wasn't hallucinating. I had felt the SAS man's breath on my face ... and his desperation. I ran as fast as I could over fields and walls and fences until my legs were burning hot, and my heart was ready to pop, before I collapsed of exhaustion on the ground. I think I must have covered 3 or 4 miles in my running fear. And I never looked back once.
I looked up now and fully expected to see a bunch of crazies ready to pounce on me. But there was no-one; only deathly silence (again).
10. SEEING THE LIGHT
The distinguished couple that I met at Loch Garten were well-spoken and obviously highly-educated professionals. After all, they arrived in a Mercedes-Benz. In fact, he was a Diplomat and she was a Scientist.
I chatted with them. I mentioned that it was a particularly beautiful September evening because, even although it was flat calm, there were very few midges about. The lady suggested to me that it was maybe because of the "long winter" that the midges were reduced in numbers this summer. It was a good year for the visitor, she said, but a bad year if you were a midge.
We spoke about Perth (where they came from), their friends in Elgin, and also how stunning the West Coast is. We talked about how beautiful the Loch is and how peaceful it was that evening.
They asked me if I knew where the Osprey's nest was. I said I did, but that I could not possibly reveal that to them. They accepted this with good grace. They said that they had been watching some deer and it was fascinating. A charming and cool couple. They had that worldly sophistication of people who are well-travelled, intelligent and successful.
Later I wandered deeper into the woods where it was surprisingly quite dark out of the direct sunlight. Ahead of me, a shaft of light burst through the trees lighting up a small circle on the ground. At first I thought I was imagining things. But I wasn't. On the ground was a small shrine with flowers and poems and little statues. There was also a container of someone's ashes and a card telling the story of a young man who had died in action during the Second World War.
The card explained that the spirit of the man was laid to rest in the place he loved. The shrine was obviously visited regularly, and maintained, judging by the pretty flowers in the little vases and the immaculate condition of the display of memento mori.
The shaft of light piercing through the trees had isolated the shrine, lighting it up in a way which gave it an almost spiritual quality in the darkness of the woods. I crouched down, pointed my camera close, and framed the scene. But I never pressed the shutter. The lighting was remarkable but I thought it would be inappropriate to photograph such a private thing, even although it was in public view. And so the only record is in my memory.
11. PARISIAN WALKWAYS
You are in Paris and surrounded by interesting architecture and beautiful people, and you have your camera with you. Your battery is fully charged and your memory card is empty. You are about to take some photos. Because that is what you came here for.
You whisper to yourself, “I’m going to get some great shots if I get cracking. I can see amazing opportunities all around me”.
And then you spot an elegant street lamp, still glowing in the dim early morning.
“This looks perfect” you think to yourself.
But you suddenly freeze. How do you capture this street lamp creatively for maximum impact? Do you shoot it up close, or from a distance? Do you include the other street-lamps down the row, or shoot this one on its own against the sky? Or, do you climb up the nearby stairs to get an higher-level perspective, or more interesting angle? One street lamp; infinite possibilities.
You could maybe shoot every possible combination and just hope for the best. But that’s no guarantee of a final great photo. And, don’t forget, you have an entire city to explore. You can’t really afford to waste time. Perhaps you should follow one of the proven rules for composing a photo? These rules come from the knowledge of what the human eye finds attractive. You can use these basic rules anywhere, on any subject. Classic painters have used them for hundreds of years. Think, the Golden Section, or the Rule of Thirds.
But then you look up from your camera and discover that, rather disconcertingly, you are surrounded by a SWAT team of military police with live guns pointing at you. You quickly get bundled into an armoured-vehicle and rapidly get taken away, and locked up, for being a threat to the Free World.
12. THREE FRIENDS
The beautifully vulnerable and gorgeous cat lives on the street, surviving on scraps and the kindness of an old man, a street-musician, who plays his flute wonderfully for just a few coins.
The little orphan-girl is relentlessly bullied by her horrible foster-mother who is more interested in painting her toenails, drinking, and playing bingo, than the welfare of the wee girl she is supposed to be looking after.
Consequently the wee girl spends most of her time out on the street to get away from her uncaring and nasty foster-parent with her constant horrid comments. The Welfare System cannot cope and turns a blind eye to the wee girl’s plight.
But she does have a friend in the cat. And the girl adores the cat and is very protective of it. She also has a friend in the kind and caring street-beggar.
However, a bunch of young thugs kick the girl about for their own gratification and amusement and then they beat-up the street-musician so badly that it puts him into hospital. Next they viciously threaten to “break the neck” of her only friend left, the cat.
The young girl seeks refuge in a broken-down telephone box with a long-ago disconnected line. And she takes the cat inside the phone box with her to protect it from the thugs.
In her desperation she speaks down the line and asks for courage and help from a source which is only in her imagination. Will help and support come back to her, down the line, giving her the strength to stand up to the thugs?
13. THE BUNKER
I worked as a scientist down in The Bunker. It was located several thousand feet under the City. To get there you walked through the doors of a traditional, innocuous-looking, castle on the edge of Dunfermline (military camouflage).
You were required to shout your name, rank, your officer-in-charge, and your serial-number, into a voice-box on the wall. You then got scanned, deloused, decontaminated, given your Goon Suit, and issued with your ID card. Then you sat on a tube-transporter-unit and dialled your destination using a coded ring.
15 minutes later you passed through the 40ft thick Blast Door, which locked you in for a month, and then you descended several hundred stone steps before finally arriving at the Operations Centre deep underground.
Your purpose was to defend your county from a nuclear attack and you wouldn’t be seeing daylight for weeks. All underground corridors were coded with symbols and colours. I had quite a high clearance and was free to walk around most of them, but not the Crypto areas.
Most long corridors (60 miles in total) had wall-racks with triple bunk-beds and shelves packed with wafer-biscuits and big containers of water. When you got to your desk you were handed a manila folder that said on the front “For your eyes only.” An authority figure stood next to you with a hand-gun in his possession. You knew the drill. You opened the file, took note of the content, and then signed the document. If you didn’t comply you would be shot. You were under military law now, not common law or statute law.
Working overnight in an unused wing of an Old Hospital could be creepy. As an electrician this was something I experienced a few times. Big hospitals can often have dark pasts, and they store historic memories in their bricks.
When you worked underground you would go through a small hatch and then it was locked from the outside. The small lights were controlled from above ground and could be switched off at any time plunging you into the pitch black. And then it would just be you and the rats in total darkness.
Fully-served "Sparks" would switch the lights off on you as an "initiation ceremony" to scare you.
The past records in the mental wing of the hospital showed that patients were only allocated one hour of therapy a week. But if you looked back to over 100 years ago you would see that therapy was more akin to torture. In those days they immersed patients in ice-cold baths and force-fed them medicine by putting funnels into their mouths to wedge them open. Most patients were tied to their beds or just chained to the wall. Many patients died during these barbaric practices but the vibrations of their spirits remain in the building. The patients were often gifted artists and writers but were seen as dangerous, and not even human, because of the ideas they expressed.
The big power cables ran in tunnels underground. Very few people ever saw these areas. They keys could only be gotten if authorised. A lot of corridors and rooms had been closed for over 100 years. The ventilation shafts underground carried the voices of those above and so, when underground, you could always hear eerie chatter. There were miles of dusty corridors below the hospital, almost as many as above ground.
15. DISAPPEARING MAN
The year is 1972. The place is London. John feels like he is disappearing.
He walks, head down, out of the Housing Department building, and descends the big stone grey steps, into a busy street of bustling traffic. Cars, trucks, and red buses are jam-packed together. They thunder past him.
John is around 5ft 8 in height. He’s wearing a light-blue shirt, with a dark blue, plain tie, a dark jacket, and a lighter-grey over-coat, which is unbuttoned and blowing about in the wind. He looks at his best. But downtrodden. He’s 46 and still has all his own hair, albeit it’s a bit flat and dullish-looking, and it has quite a bit of grey running through the mousy brown.
John shows a stern expression, perhaps he even looks a bit indignant, as he walks along the pavement. Motorbikes, Commer vans, and black taxis, whiz by him. He doesn’t notice them. They don’t notice him. He walks along the crowded street, trying to avoid bumping into other people. He mutters away to himself. Now and then he waves his hands about to emphasise the points he’s making to his inner-self.
Somewhere else in London, there is the sound of a police siren. A Rover P6 swerves to a halt outside a council house. The flash white car is unmarked, but it does have extra spotlights on the front grill, and blue-flashers attached to its roof.
At the end of this grubby, and mostly deserted, street there’s a big factory, bellowing out thick smoke from its huge chimneys.
A tall man, with thick-black, straight-hair, briskly exits from the passenger side of the vehicle. He slams the door shut, leaving his driver still sitting behind the wheel. The tall man is wearing a light-grey plain coat, a white shirt, and dark tie, and he has purpose on his mind. In the distance, a couple of young teenagers clock the car and the man in the grey coat.
Meanwhile, while this is going on, John is sitting, on a bench-seat, inside a London Underground carriage. The coach rattles away, swaying his body from side to side. John is a bit tense. Every now and then he leans forward, and then sits back again. He seems to be experiencing some sort of inner turmoil.
The tall CID detective is now standing in John’s living-room, talking to John’s wife. He towers over her. A frumpy little lady, in a dark-blue, plain dress, has just picked up an old black and white, square, glossy photograph from her dresser. She walks over to the grey-coated detective with the picture. The CID man stands there, with his notebook and pencil, and a serious look on his face.
“That’s funny” she says, in a shrill, and slightly confused voice. “I was sure he was in this one.” The photo shows a plain-looking lady, standing in front of an unsightly wire-mesh fence, which lies beneath two council-house iron window-frames. She wears a dark head-scarf and a dark coat. Her handbag dangles from her hands at the bottom of the picture. But the lady is not centrally-framed, she stands to the right-hand side of the photo. To the left, there is a gap, and just the non-descript background.
“Perhaps he took the picture” the detective says, showing a bit of impatience.
“Ted, my brother Ted, took it. John never owned a camera.” She goes on, in her shrill voice. “Perhaps you know Ted? He runs a very successful business up Dawes Road” she flicks her head to indicate the direction of where she is talking about.
“What would your husband be doing with a gun?” the detective asks. He speaks to the lady, slowly and deliberately, as if he is making allowances for her not being that bright.
“I’ve no idea” she replies, with doubt on her face. “He wouldn’t know which way to point it.”
The detective persists, “Why should he threaten someone at the Ministry of Housing?” he says, rolling his eyes a bit.
“He wouldn’t; not John. But, our Ted, he was a crack-shot in the Army.” she answers.
“Can you describe your husband?” he says, now looking bored.
“John?” she gazes into the mid-distance, as if trying to picture him.
“Well, I mean … he’s not exactly Rock Hudson.” she trails off as she can’t think of anything else to say.
“Has he got any distinguishing features?” he’s losing patience.
She struggles. “No … nothing. You’d hardly notice him really. Nobody ever does.
John is sitting on the bench-seat, in the dimly-lit underground train-carriage, his body swaying with the motion of the train. He sees his own perturbed face reflecting back at him from the window on the opposite side of the aisle. Then his own face begins to change into that of his wife. She has an expression of disproval on her.
In a nagging tone his wife’s reflection says to John “People don’t notice nobodies, you know, you’ve got to impress yourself on them.” she says, sternly.
John suddenly snaps out of the dream he was in, and becomes aware of the train, and the others in the carriage. He slowly glances around. In front of him, to his right, sits a smart-looking man of about thirty-five who has slicked-back black hair. The man in wearing a dark suit, a white shirt, and a tie with small checks on it. The man’s head is nodding with the motion of the train.
To his front-right there is a woman of about twenty-five who has long, straight, brown hair. She’s wearing a thick white polo-neck jumper and she has a medium-blue wool coat on. There is a “No Smoking” sign just above her head. Right next to her is a bearded man in his mid-fifties who’s got a dark casual jacket on. John is wondering if these people are more significant than he is; more striking or important than him perhaps. “Are they making a bigger impression?” he asks himself.
He quickly takes a look at a younger man, standing, near the carriage door, to his right. This man seems to have self-confidence, he’s got curly hair, which is longish, but neat, and he’s wearing a thick polo-neck jumper under his dark coat. As John slowly turns his head away from the younger man he sees his own dour face reflected in the carriage window again, sitting there, with his dull over-coat on.
John decides to stand up in the train-carriage to avoid looking at his own, furrow-browed, reflection. Now, fully stretched, his hands are above his head as he hangs onto a strap at either side, and stands upright in the aisle, trying to keep his balance. He glances, again, at the young woman with long, light-brown, hair and the man with the beard.
He’s still uncomfortable, and so he walks forward out of the carriage and stands in-between carriages, next to the automatic door that swings open at a station. He looks down at a prim-looking women, with black hair, nearby, who has glasses on. She’s in her forties and is sitting in a twin-seat reading a newspaper. John bends right over in front of the lady. She doesn’t even look up. John looks uneasy. He was very close to her but she just kept on reading as if he wasn’t there. John goes to the other side of the aisle and peers over another lady’s shoulder and tries to read her newspaper. There is no reaction from her.