Category: Uncategorized

Darkness.Chill.Silence.Bliss

Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

Summer isn’t ice-cream and beaches. Not to me.

The summer forces windows wide, admitting birdsong, creaking gates, the whirring of mowers, the madness of hedge trimmers, and the rhythmic cawing of noisy birds.

Neighbourhood children add to this with shouts, as do their mothers, while the grinding, grating power tools amplify their white noise backing track.

The skies are bland and blue, adorned with swathes of dove-grey clouds.

We wake early and retire late, and doze through the heat of the day, to be wakened by the ‘Greensleeves’ of the ice cream van.

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Houses remain empty while gardens fill with barbecue smoke and the snuffles of meat-obsessed canines.

But, to me, summer’s not ice-cream and beaches.

Neither are the darker months merely times pre- and post- the manic expectancy of Christmas; the craziness of shops, the worries of the poor and the extravagance of the rich.

It’s more than that.

Winter brings its own silent, deafening beauty and the comforting sounds of rain and wind.

Summer’s muggy blankness is a barrier of brightness.  

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Yet I’m drawn into winter skies; as tangibly solid and grey as my bed sheet. Winter rises late and snuggles down early in duvets that wrap us in their womblike comfort, while streets echo with cloistered emptiness.

I celebrate the differences of our seasonal extremes, but winter’s majesty, winter’s peace and winter’s rest are the introvert’s perfect backdrop.

Winter’s chill factor warms and energises my soul.

And autumn is a welcome transition.

Only five months more…

#lesleyatherton, #summer, #winter, #scottmartinproductions

Lesley Atherton’s Review of ‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ by James Lee Burke

The protagonist of James Lee Burke’s ‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ is a man called Dave Robicheaux. He sounds a good guy who is trying to put a ‘life of violence and crime behind him, leaving homicide to run a boat-rental business in Louisiana’s bayou country.’

So, that’s all well and good. Potentially interesting, even.

Within the first few pages we read of Dave who is out fishing with his wife, Annie, and how they observe a small plane crashing into the sea. It isn’t long before Dave dives to the wreckage and finds four bodies and a little girl, barely alive.

At this point I was still thinking I might enjoy the book. After all, the first few pages set a colourful scene of bayou fishing and Louisiana life, but things quickly went downhill. The largest part of this novel was truly awful. Of the 350 pages in this edition, I found only 25 or so in any way compelling…

Why?

Problem #1 – Sex

The film of the book was described as an ‘erotic thriller’ and it is obvious within a few pages of beginning the book that that the reader would be subjected to more than the average number of sex scenes.  To be fair, those scenes aren’t badly written, but there are far too many. Also, they are relatively tasteful, but not at all erotic!

Problem #2 – So Dated

Though the book was written in the 1980s, the style and language of the writing were far more reminiscent of the early 20th century, say the period between the 30s to 50s. I wish I could say that I enjoyed the dated feel as generally I do love early 20th century work, but it was irritating. Almost offensive.

Problem #3 – The Race Issue & Lazy Writing

I don’t think I’ve read another book where the writer thinks it is adequate to simply describe person after person as ‘Negro’ – as if that is the only character point of any relevance. I would definitely have preferred to hear how white sweat drops dropped onto a black man’s skin while he did something or said something, rather than hearing yet another simple telling that there was a ‘Negro man’ over there. Within two chapters I was getting VERY annoyed. Within four, I was bored. And I’m a person who NEVER gets bored.†

Problem #4 – Cliched Seediness

Most of the book is about revenge, low-life people, drinking, drugs, crime, murder, whoring and eating. Sigh.

Problem #5 – Pointlessly Complex Yet Far Too Simplistic

The book begins with a crashed plane, but the plot (such as it is) soon deviates from this. It should have been the focal issue, yet instead served merely as an introduction, and as a way of bringing a little girl Alafair (who was largely irrelevant to the story) into the life of Dave.  Instead we get plots and sub-plots, wonderings, erratic action and pointless crimes. None of these seem to drive the story forward, instead just confuse the reader. Despite the plot’s meanderings, the writing style was far too simplistic and regularly incorporated a ‘the sky was blue’ feel which was deeply unsatisfying to the reader.

In Summary

‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ – I’m not even sure I understand where it got its name. Neither writing nor story were heavenly and my attention was at no point held captive.

I was utterly gobsmacked to discover it had been regarded so highly that it was made into a film. One word comes most readily to mind – ‘Why?’

In short, ‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ was dated, dull and not at all deep. The front cover made a tasty snack for my guinea pig, and that’s the best I can say about the book and its contents.

#lesleyfridayreads

Love You, Mummy

‘Love you, mummy,’ he said, and threw his chocolate-covered arms around that most favoured parent. It was snuggle-time – a time they both loved, chocolate arms or not.

Trudie tickled Alex’s feet, sang ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ a couple of times, and gave her son exactly what he needed and what her loving heart happily granted: time, attention, love and cuddles. And Alex spoke back to her as if she were the silliest but most adorable pet – a naughty puppy, perhaps, or a cat that had insisted on scratching the leather sofa. ‘Mummy, silly sausage,’ he gurgled. ‘Lalalala, mummy moo, mummy moo, mummy mummy mummy poo!’

It was mother/child bonding at its best. Trudie knew it. Alex knew it. But somebody else was not so sure. Trudie knew that because of the smashing sound that shocked mother and child out of their reverie. Shocked but not entirely surprised by the noise, Trudie turned and followed the eyes of her son to look towards the source of source of the smash – her husband, and Alex’s dad, Mark.

‘What’s going on?’ Trudie shouted. The vase he’d smashed against the sideboard was scattered in sharp and dangerous pieces all over the floor, and Alex had already jumped off his mum’s lap and was making his way curiously towards the mess. Trudie began to rise to retrieve the brush and dustpan, but Mark pushed her back down.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I was just… shocked.’ Mark scratched his beard and looked down at the mess, shaking his head.

‘Shocked? Why? Nobody was doing anything wrong.’

Why could this man never talk to her about anything?

Mark said nothing, just pointed to little Alex who toddled over to his daddy with arms outstretched.

‘What’s Alex done that’s so bad? What on earth could a little boy of two years old do that was so bad? I know I’ve not done anything wrong… so it’s obvious,’ said Trudie. ‘You just can’t bear to see us happy.’

He shook his head. ‘No. No, it’s not that. It’s just… inappropriate.’

You snowflake, Trudie thought. In what way was it EVER inappropriate to hug your baby, specially if he was gurgling happily in his loving mum’s arms, as Alex had been?

Mark was just so different. So irritable. So annoying and so incredibly annoyable – and a victim of his own restrictive thoughts. Nobody could get anything right. Not ever.

He didn’t like Alex’s bedtime routine. Apparently, it was wrong to give and receive kisses and hugs between parent and child. It was also not right to hold that child’s hand in public, or to affectionately ruffle his light brown curls.  

‘Why are you like this, Mark? It’s got worse every month since we got together. Is there something I should know?’

‘What do you mean?’ Mark turned his back to her.

‘Well, you know, some reason why everything about me and Alex irritates you?’ It was a question often asked and never answered, not even in part.

‘It isn’t you. It isn’t him. It’s just…’

‘Just? Just..? Come on man, look at him. He’s just a little boy. He needs his daddy to hug him sometimes. To play games. To laugh a bit. To tickle him. Why don’t you? Why can’t you?’

Mark walked back into the kitchen. Trudie glanced at their son who was transfixed by Cbeebies on the television, and made the decision that he would be safe from the broken vase for a moment.

She followed Mark and stood in the doorway, leaning against the raw, unpolished wood marked with the growth record of their home’s previous residents.

Her hand automatically went to her hip in a ridiculous representation of her own mother. ‘Well. Why can’t you? Why won’t you?’

Her husband stood, clearly shielding himself from her inquisitions with the fridge door. Nothing. Just a deep, agonised sigh.

‘Come on, Mark. Why? Please…’

The door was slammed, and for the second time that evening, Trudie jumped.  ‘Mark, stop slamming, and just talk to me. Talk to me. Tell me.’

And that’s when it all came out. After all their years together. Her big, tough man. Her sheltered, physically hung-up man. Her man without positive loving feelings towards either her or their child.

Mark cried. Trudy cried. Alex rushed to comfort them, and fell, cutting his knee, just a little on the shattered vase.

‘Mummy moo,’ he cried, and his mum scooped him from the floor, placing him straight into the arms of his daddy.

‘Do it,’ she said. ‘Feel it… Be the dad you know you should be.’

Mark’s body, overtaken by tremors caused by thirty years of backed-up tears, shook and near-collapsed, but Trudy gently guided him up to the wall, supporting the weight of her two loved ones.

‘Go on,’ she said. ‘Comfort him… your past isn’t your future.’

Mark looked at his ever-patient wife and then to his beautiful son. The pair of them slid to sitting position on the floor of the kitchen, and Mark’s arms wrapped round his little boy for the first time ever. Both sobbed quietly till the sobs transformed to giggles and tickles.

‘Love you, daddy,’ said Alex. Another first.

And somehow, something was healed.

‘Love you, mummy,’ he said, and threw his chocolate-covered arms around that most favoured parent. It was snuggle-time – a time they both loved, chocolate arms or not.

Trudie tickled Alex’s feet, sang ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ a couple of times, and gave her son exactly what he needed and what her loving heart happily granted: time, attention, love and cuddles. And Alex spoke back to her as if she were the silliest but most adorable pet – a naughty puppy, perhaps, or a cat that had insisted on scratching the leather sofa. ‘Mummy, silly sausage,’ he gurgled. ‘Lalalala, mummy moo, mummy moo, mummy mummy mummy poo!’

It was mother/child bonding at its best. Trudie knew it. Alex knew it. But somebody else was not so sure. Trudie knew that because of the smashing sound that shocked mother and child out of their reverie. Shocked but not entirely surprised by the noise, Trudie turned and followed the eyes of her son to look towards the source of source of the smash – her husband, and Alex’s dad, Mark.

‘What’s going on?’ Trudie shouted. The vase he’d smashed against the sideboard was scattered in sharp and dangerous pieces all over the floor, and Alex had already jumped off his mum’s lap and was making his way curiously towards the mess. Trudie began to rise to retrieve the brush and dustpan, but Mark pushed her back down.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I was just… shocked.’ Mark scratched his beard and looked down at the mess, shaking his head.

‘Shocked? Why? Nobody was doing anything wrong.’

Why could this man never talk to her about anything?

Mark said nothing, just pointed to little Alex who toddled over to his daddy with arms outstretched.

‘What’s Alex done that’s so bad? What on earth could a little boy of two years old do that was so bad? I know I’ve not done anything wrong… so it’s obvious,’ said Trudie. ‘You just can’t bear to see us happy.’

He shook his head. ‘No. No, it’s not that. It’s just… inappropriate.’

You snowflake, Trudie thought. In what way was it EVER inappropriate to hug your baby, specially if he was gurgling happily in his loving mum’s arms, as Alex had been?

Mark was just so different. So irritable. So annoying and so incredibly annoyable – and a victim of his own restrictive thoughts. Nobody could get anything right. Not ever.

He didn’t like Alex’s bedtime routine. Apparently, it was wrong to give and receive kisses and hugs between parent and child. It was also not right to hold that child’s hand in public, or to affectionately ruffle his light brown curls.  

‘Why are you like this, Mark? It’s got worse every month since we got together. Is there something I should know?’

‘What do you mean?’ Mark turned his back to her.

‘Well, you know, some reason why everything about me and Alex irritates you?’ It was a question often asked and never answered, not even in part.

‘It isn’t you. It isn’t him. It’s just…’

‘Just? Just..? Come on man, look at him. He’s just a little boy. He needs his daddy to hug him sometimes. To play games. To laugh a bit. To tickle him. Why don’t you? Why can’t you?’

Mark walked back into the kitchen. Trudie glanced at their son who was transfixed by Cbeebies on the television, and made the decision that he would be safe from the broken vase for a moment.

She followed Mark and stood in the doorway, leaning against the raw, unpolished wood marked with the growth record of their home’s previous residents.

Her hand automatically went to her hip in a ridiculous representation of her own mother. ‘Well. Why can’t you? Why won’t you?’

Her husband stood, clearly shielding himself from her inquisitions with the fridge door. Nothing. Just a deep, agonised sigh.

‘Come on, Mark. Why? Please…’

The door was slammed, and for the second time that evening, Trudie jumped.  ‘Mark, stop slamming, and just talk to me. Talk to me. Tell me.’

And that’s when it all came out. After all their years together. Her big, tough man. Her sheltered, physically hung-up man. Her man without positive loving feelings towards either her or their child.

Mark cried. Trudy cried. Alex rushed to comfort them, and fell, cutting his knee, just a little on the shattered vase.

‘Mummy moo,’ he cried, and his mum scooped him from the floor, placing him straight into the arms of his daddy.

‘Do it,’ she said. ‘Feel it… Be the dad you know you should be.’

Mark’s body, overtaken by tremors caused by thirty years of backed-up tears, shook and near-collapsed, but Trudy gently guided him up to the wall, supporting the weight of her two loved ones.

‘Go on,’ she said. ‘Comfort him… your past isn’t your future.’

Mark looked at his ever-patient wife and then to his beautiful son. The pair of them slid to sitting position on the floor of the kitchen, and Mark’s arms wrapped round his little boy for the first time ever. Both sobbed quietly till the sobs transformed to giggles and tickles.

‘Love you, daddy,’ said Alex. Another first.

And somehow, something was healed.

Viva Miss Merryweather – Politics Warning

Joanne Merryweather’s speech to the Republican-Democratic Party Conference in Blackpool, 2021, promised to be quite a spectacle. Not only because Joanne had triumphed brilliantly in her most recent commons speeches and had transformed the stubborn British electorate from a fragmented, angry mass into the most weirdly aligned voter-pool this group of countries had ever experienced…

Not only that. But also because it was to be her inauguration as party president (for life). Such was her reward for the reversing of the previous two years’ worth of both pro and anti-Europe decisions, in a way that each and every person on all sides of the argument could nod their head and say. ‘Well, well, well, that’s one hell of a solution. Of course. That Miss Merryweather’s a genius, for sure.’  

And as befitted such a major inauguration event, the like of which had never before been seen, the ceremony promised pomp and ceremony to exceed even the most jingoistic of American electioneering, with accompanying preachy speeches and crowds of overly-enthusiastic supporters. Two weeks before the event and Blackpool was already awash with slogan t-shirts, specially-written conference anthems, flags, posters, and banners. Even more unusually, there were no dissenting voices and no disrespectful slogans. The Indomitable Joanne Merryweather had managed to get her message absorbed by the inner souls of each and every Briton. All now met in the middle, yet nobody lost any ground.

Five days before the scheduled event, gigantic portraits of the dynamic Miss Merryweather appeared on every billboard in the Blackpool area, winning the universal approval of all residents and visitors. And every pole flew a flag of her face, overprinted with the words: Unity through Federalist Independence.

Joanne Merryweather’s speech had been eagerly awaited by politicians on both sides of the house – male and female, youngs and old, and both front and back benchers. The media in all its forms dedicated hours to detailed anticipation of the speech’s content, mainly during radio and television programmes usually more well known for pig-headedness and bigotry.

Historically, and internationally, no speech had been more theoretically dissected, and all political commentators were claiming insider knowledge of its contents. The broadsheets congratulated Miss Merryweather on the speech’s energetic intellectualism and analytical capacity. The tabloids simply stated ‘Jo’s got balls’.

The Republican-Democratic Party Conference was soon in full swing. Blackpool was buzzing, but for Danny Beacon, Miss Merryweather wasn’t just a well-respected party leader with an uncanny ability to entice compromise. She was his life. A long-term Republican-Democrat, Danny had never before allowed himself feelings for a fellow party member before, let alone an MP of such high-standing.

As was his usual practice, Danny had purchased his Party Conference ticket five months earlier, and had also booked his room in the Royal Hotel, where the curtains were referred to as ‘drapes’ and the bed linen wasn’t only  changed daily, but was also hand-sewn organic Egyptian cotton with a thread count of 1200, and was topped off with a high quality duck-down duvet. He’d advance-purchased his train ticket, and had booked a week off work. His boss asked ‘Where you off to, Danny-lad? Canaries again?’ – and Danny had nodded absently. Although the country was buzzing with Merryweather mania, he was reluctant to share his interest with his workmates. Why should he? Every person in the country seemed to have something to say about Joanne Merryweather, but nobody knew her as he did.

Danny had sat next to her at the bar twenty years earlier when she was simply a local party member who was considering taking baby steps towards a political career. And Danny had provided a sympathetic ear for her semi-drunken ramblings. He had walked with her along the sea front, and had even rescued her from being hit by a late-night tram. She became the reason why he retained his party membership card, why he attended each year and why he told all his friends he took a yearly trip to the Mediterranean. Each year they’d meet up, chat and enjoy each other’s company. Always innocent, and always intense. Perhaps she’d been a little busier in recent years, but she always made time for him. He knew she loved him, and this year was to be ‘their year’.

Of course, the key note speech was a rip-roaring success. Danny had been there to congratulate her, but was just one face amongst the crowd of acolytes. She scanned the crowds, but failed to notice his face. He watched her stand on tiptoes and saw her talk, knowing her lips formed the words, ‘Danny, where are you?’ He watched her brows twitch. He saw her shoulders hunch and noticed how she scratched her scalp. A nervous twitch that nobody else would interpret as he would. He knew more clearly than he ever had before – she needed him, and him alone.

‘Joanne, Joanne,’ he called, his voice lost in the melee of glib shouted questions and sycophancy.

That night was to be their first night together, and a fitting celebration of her untouchable victory against all she despised. And only Danny knew that night was to mark the end of her political career. He’d purchased tickets – one way to Tasmania. He’d found them a home and had arranged their marriage licence.

It therefore came as a shock when Danny found himself escorted roughly from the conference centre by a battalion of eight soldiers. He was forced to the ground in the delivery area of the converence centre, and whined at the large man who sat on his back. As the man brutally rummaged in Danny’s pockets, Danny moaned.

‘Mr Danny Beacon?’ came the man on top’s voice. ‘We know all about the tickets and the marriage licence. Oh yes, Danny. Miss Merryweather told us all about your stalking, your letters and your internet messages. Now perhaps you could tell us who you really are.’

The flattened man shivered. ‘Never,’ he whispered. ‘Long live the revolution.’

And the pistol held to the back of his skull was activated. The danger of Danny was no more.

‘Hard Times’ by Charles Dickens. A Review

What is the point in writing yet another review of a classic? None. Other than for personal satisfaction and as a reminder of what I managed to finish. Just.

This isn’t one of my favourites, even though I feel as though it should be. Written in 1854, ‘Hard Times’ was originally serialised in 20 parts, and explores the world of fact and a simultaneous neglect of the world of the imagination – and does so in a way that is clearly a satire on the society of the day. ‘Hard Times’ (originally called ‘Hard Times – For These Times’) was Charles Dickens’ tenth novel and the world it explores is a fictional northern England town, Coketown. So far so good. But yet not good at all.

I have little time and even less inclination to read books I don’t find compelling, just for the heck of it. Unfortunately, I became impatient quite early on in my reading of this book, my inclination being very much reduced.

Because of this I went onto YouTube and decided to listen to an audio version first – just to get me in the mood, and to see if I could better connect with the story and the characters. But even this didn’t help.

‘Hard Times’ is a terrifying voyeuristic tromp through the realms of good old-fashioned Victorian misery. The fear and stifling practicality of Mr Gradgrind’s school destroys the joy of many of its children. The foul-smelling canal accompanies Josiah Bounderby’s rise from the gutter and his proposal of marriage to the much-much-younger and ground-down Louisa. I’ve read elsewhere that strong-yet-pathetic yet likeable Louisa is a fictionalisation of John Stuart Mill. But I just found her incredibly sad and depressing, and not in a way that I could extract inspiration from her.

Ok yes, this is an intricate and complex story. Sub-plots abound.  Personally, I wonder if it might be a better book if the sub-plots (such as Sissy’s story) were to remain in the foreground and not be side-lined.

My reading group were irritated by the dialect writing, and so was I. I was even more annoyed by the writing of Sleary’s lisp. Stephen Blackpool with his alcoholic wife and his sweetheart Rachael were a good and endearing story, but the way the dialogue was written removed any softness and identification by me. It is as if Dickens uses dialect as a substitute for deep characterisation. And it grates.  

To me, ‘Hard Times’ is a essentially the constant and predictable moaning of opinionated middle-aged, middle-class, annoying old men: shallow characters who go over the same ground over and over and over and over again.  The book could have been reduced by about a third and not have lost anything substance-wise.

There is enough morality and politics in this book to satisfy anyone who enjoys that kind of social commentary, but perhaps not enough story and humanity to satisfy those of us who enjoy psychological depth and complexity.

Minute Poem – ‘Upside Down’

Minute Poem

1 (8 syll) The straw that broke the roofer’s back

2 (4 syll) A roof of thatch.

3 (8 syll) With match to watch, his aerial 

4 (4 syll) Came unattached.

7 (8 syll) First mend the fault, then watch the sport.

8 (4 syll) That was his bid.

5 (8 syll) First roof, then tile, then aerial,

6 (4 syll) That’s when he slid.

9 (8 syll) He clung to life on gutter weak.

10 (4 syll) And fall he did.

‘Hot and Cold’ – short story by Lesley Atherton

Perfection. That’s what she was, and I was sure that today would work out just the way I’d planned.

I first saw her on the castle walls and our eyes met, just for a second.  I yearned to catch up and not to lose sight, but her tour party was turning the corner, and mine was five minutes behind and still being forced to listen to the John Major impersonator who masqueraded as a tour guide.  I knew the history of the King’s Tower as well as he did.  When you live in a tourist location and have a season pass, you tend to come every day, just for somewhere funky to eat your lunch. This is my place, and I knew she’d come today.

But I stayed with my group of misfits for a little longer: the elderly and the bored, the kids who wanted to be on the beach, and the mums who wondered if incorporating education into their annual vacation was necessarily a good idea.  As if to answer, a boy of about six elbowed his mother in the thigh. She turned to glare as he moaned ‘This is boring’ at the top of his little voice. Donald, the tour guide pretended not to hear, but I knew how often such things happened, especially to Donald.

It didn’t matter. She was the one, and today was the day. My shoulders hunched as the tour guide droned on about the monks who had built the castle’s brewery and had supported their order with the proceeds. I followed each word, and mouthed them along with him.

I adjusted the hoody around my face, then smoothed it down around my waist. It was of a snorkel style that wasn’t at all appropriate for a summertime holiday destination, but it suited my needs.

Pushing a black curl behind my ear I tried to disregard the heat emanating from beneath the matching fleecy black fabric of my hoodie. It was too bad that the day of her visit was also the warmest day of this Welsh summer, but I had coped with worse in my life, and for worse reason. 

Walking like a drunken crab, I followed the tour party, while poking my head round each gate and turret and wall to catch a glimpse of the girl and ensure I didn’t lose her.  I thought I’d been mistaken and she’d gone already, but no. We arrived at the second west-facing tower as the girl’s tour party was just leaving. She lingered, just a little, at the rear, and I took advantage of the crowds to change my tour group allegiance. It went without a hitch.

There were only two more stops to go on the tour. We’d just been to the north tower with views over the kelp-covered rocks of the defended coastline, and our group were passing in and out of the gatehouse dungeon, before being directed to the inevitable gift shop and tea shop. Never a café.  Always a tea shop.  I moved closer to the young lady, and we stood alongside each other at the entrance to the dungeon. I nudged her Indian-cotton-clad arm with intention.

She turned, expectant, and smiled at the face inside my hood.

‘You’re Tarim.’ More a statement than a question.

‘Marta,’ I said. ‘Shall we do it?’

She nodded with vigour. ‘I’ve built myself up to this for weeks and can’t change my mind now. It’s the right time.’

The tour party had already begun to move off, and I could see my original party leaving the north tower to walk over to join us at the dungeon. We didn’t have long but I was ready. My camera was ready. Marta was also ready.  Allowing the remainder of the earlier party to leave ahead of us, I stood with my back against the now-closed heavy wood door and sighed deeply. We’d be lucky if we got a couple of minutes. As agreed, Marta moved to the far end of the underground room – the end with the wonderful sunlit rays emerging through the skylights – and speedily arranged herself on the straw-covered stone slabs. She placed the chains next to her arms and legs.  With just a little Photoshopping, I could make it look just as it should.  I took photograph after photograph, as I walked over to Marta and gently pushed up her skirt.

‘Tasteful, Tarim,’ she said, posing as I clicked.

Suddenly, the dungeon’s door creaked open and a Scottish couple giggled about finding us alone in there.

Marta raised herself from the straw bed, brushed down her skirt, and in a calm, unflustered voice announced to the couple ‘Sex pics. For an art magazine. We pose somewhere different every day. You should try it’. She winked, and the bearded, anoraked man watched with clear admiration as she left the dungeon. ‘Lucky sod’ he said to me as I followed Marta out. For that he earned a slap on the head from his lady.

But I was not lucky. Things weren’t as Marta had said.

In 1998, precisely twenty years earlier, the body of Marta’s mother had been discovered in the dungeon, bloodied and beaten. Marta had been five then, and a little girl, but now, as a young woman, she was the spitting image of her lost parent. We’d met on a cold crime web forum and it didn’t take long before we got talking properly. Eventually I persuaded her to meet me, and she agreed to come to the castle on this special day. She’d wear her mother’s clothes, and style her hair just as her mother had. I’d dress myself in a black hoody because, on the murder day, there had been a man creeping about in one just the same.

The murder had quickly sunk to the realms of forgotten and unsolved, and not even into infamy – as not once had any of the tour guides mentioned the fate of Marta’s mother or responded to questions asked by the tour parties. A woman’s death had been forgotten and a little girl was forced to live her life without her mother. No cold case team had ever been assigned to discovering more. So it was down to us. The pair of us would make things right.

For the first time in years, I was putting my journalistic skills to good use. My article was written and scheduled for publishing the following day, and the reconstruction photos would be a perfect accompaniment to the headline: ‘Who Can Solve This Twenty Year Old Mystery?’

Marta and I walked together towards the exit, flushed with excitement at our recent activity and with anticipation of tomorrow’s headline . ‘Fancy joining me for tea and a scone?’ I asked. ‘A tribute to your mum?’ She nodded with enthusiasm. ‘I’ll pay,’ she said.