Kathryn Simmonds – Love & Fallout (Seren)

October 5, 2014

Love & Fallout  Kathryn Simmonds Seren £8.99

Love & Fallout

Those of you who know Kathryn Simmonds from her (brilliant) first two collections of poetry, Sunday at the Skin Launderette, and last year’s The Visitations, might well be surprised by Love & Fallout, her first novel. It isn’t that it’s good, it’s that it’s so good. It’s not peculiarly common for poets to be able to manage a novel, and novelists vice versa. The structure and the rhythm of each genre is different. Sophie Hannah has done it (but I still think she’s a stronger poet); Adam Foulds has (but I don’t think he’s a successful poet, and I don’t mean as in reputation: he won the Costa. I just think his poetry is over-rated). Helen Dunmore does both (I like, guardedly, both genres by her). I know one could go on (yes, Plath; yes, Lawrence; yes, Hardy, although Hardy was interesting in that he effectively stopped the novels and turned on the poetry instead).

But this is no jobbing poet’s novel. It’s an arresting debut, quite the match of (and in a curious way, related to) Marina Lewycka (A Short History of Tractors in Albanian, Two Caravans, Various Pets Alive and Dead). I’ll come back to the problematic title at the end, but it’s intended to tell us there are parallel experiences – that of Tessa Perry, a forty-eight year old mother and wife whose relationships with both her husband and daughter are fracturing (her teenage Goth son is rather more amenable), and whose best friend has just persuaded a TV makeover show to give her a lift she doesn’t need or want. Or does she? The doubts that are filtered through Tessa’s perceptions of what is around her (it’s all told by Tessa) are really skilfully handled, handled with a wit that is very like the wit in Simmonds’s poetry. Simmonds is an ironist. She doesn’t do the ridiculous: she stages scenes so that the dialogue is teasingly on an edge between thoughtful and the comic (dialogue and structure are two of her strengths).


Kathryn Simmonds

Once she has established Tessa, who agrees to go along with the makeover because it will give television airplay to a campaign against the local common land being prepared for developers, Simmonds starts the novel on a gentle oscillation between the 1980s and the present. In the 1980s, Tessa has been dumped, has been a university refusenik, but has found some self-respect by joining the Greenham Common peace campaign. This is laugh-out-loud but mockery-free. It’s a wonderful talent to depict absurdity without ever lampooning it, and the trick is the believability of Tessa. Tessa is a far from perfect individual, but she has good, honest doubts about everything, and her seriousness (and innocence) make her an expert narrator.

Unhappy in the present, ill-equipped in the past, Tessa is nevertheless an engaging presence. The Greenham months (the novel switches exclusively to them at one stage) are documented as a kind of rite-of-passage tale. Tessa experiences all kinds of conflicting emotions, including the important one, love; we are shown how Tessa finds out what satisfies and dissatisfies her, and what helps us understand her edginess in the present. It is a dissatisfaction that goes much deeper than having her friends suggest she is the next best thing to a bag lady. Emotionally, she is tethered to the past, although the Greenham experience is a tag she would rather not wear. For her, Greenham has been about love above all else.

One of the pleasures of reading Love & Fallout is the inventiveness of the language. ‘The nearly full moon was encircled by a fuzzy white halo.’ ‘[The cold spaghetti] has congealed, solid and contoured like a section of brain.’ ‘… the particular tang of woodsmoke, a smell like old kippers…’ ‘I pictured her face, so small and pale and closed; it made me think of a shop in sunlight with the blinds pulled down.’ For page after page, these images appear, reminding you that Simmonds is above all else an observant writer. The observation is equally good when it comes to the relationships – perhaps most brilliantly of Tess’s mother and father, but also of Tessa’s husband Pete, of her teenage children, of the well-individualised characters at the peace camp. There is not a whiff of stereotype anywhere. Even the TV makeover queen is deftly handled, silly but believable. And Simmonds (whose research is impeccable) also lobs in treats, such as that the now-ubiquitous absolutely was posh-child speak in the early 1980s. I had deep-sixed that in my brain.

The novel is also remarkable for the way it fuels itself with narrative lines. As the present and past intertwine, we bare led to speculate about several aspects of the future. What will become of Tessa and Pete’s marriage? What will happen to Tessa’s relationship with her daughter? What will become of her latest project (Tessa is constantly taking on new challenges)? How will the past reach forward and snag her (when it does, in reuniting her with one of the most testy Greenham women, everything is a brilliant surprise)? What is the real nature of the friendship at the camp with Rori (short for Aurora), the relationship that makes her have a powerful emotional flashback when glimpsing a girl of twenty, Rori’s age at the camp, at a swimming pool – the incident that triggers the unfolding of the story? Simmonds braids all these plot-strands together with panache.

The cover of the novel is an invitation to chick-lit readers, I think – the curly shower, the suggestion of wallpaper, the pastel shades; and I’m not sure that ‘Fallout’ works, as the pun on nuclear fallout doesn’t really work at the Greenham end. But it will be a great pity if readers give this a miss because of supposed genre. This is a fantastic novel – so sure of its ground, so astute in its understanding, so emotionally true, and all this with a light, deft, amusing touch. If this is chick-lit, or a women-only novel, then I am a hobbit. My favourite novelist is Liz Jensen, and structurally, this first novel (for that’s what it, unbelievably, is) is quite the equal of early Jensen. This is perhaps the first novel to feature Stevenage (!) but I think it deserves first-novel plaudits, and prizes, and above all, as many readers as hope to find themselves happy.


Eric Burdon, The Animals, Colne

August 31, 2014

I’ve liked – that isn’t strong enough, since as a young teenager, I used to celebrate his birthday – Eric Burdon for such a long time that it seems a little strange that I haven’t seen him since 1968, when the five original Animals reunited for two sets at Newcastle City Hall, for charity. I was 16, and not quick enough off the mark to get a ticket for the later performance; but I did see the first one (the second was said to have been better, by a friend who bought a ticket for each). So going to see Eric Burdon, now 72, at Colne – his only UK date in three or more years, as far as I can work it out – was an overdue kick. (He headlined on the Sunday night, August 24th.)

Colne, in East Lancashire, was having its 25th anniversary ‘Great British R&B Festival’. (Actually, it wasn’t, it was having the 25th consecutive festival – it can use the 25th anniversary tag next year, since it began in 1990.)

This was the first gig for Burdon since the end of nearly a decade in court came to an end in 2013, with a judge overturning a 2008 decision that the original drummer, John Steel, had the rights to the name ‘The Animals’, something he claimed in 2004. You can read the judgement here. Fittingly, he appeared as ‘Eric Burdon and the Animals’, although any hopes that the one original Animal with whom he is still speaking, guitarist Hilton Valentine, would be there, were soon put to one side.

The venue – ‘The International Stage’ – at Colne turned out to be a pleasantly down-at-heel municipal theatre, capable of taking about 500-600 people (I would say there were fewer), including a balcony, although I opted for a place by the stage, until the pressure on my left eardrum was so severe that I moved away.

The last time I saw The Animals – or Eric, at any rate, since I’ve seen Steel’s outfit, ‘Animals and Friends’ a couple of times – they had grown apart in every way. Steel and Alan Price had left the band (I should say ‘group’, shouldn’t I?) before the end, and been replaced by two musicians, Barry Jenkins and Dave Rowberry, who I thought were actually better. Their last album, Animalism (sic, not to be confused with Animalisms) had been released with no fanfare in the US only – in fact it has still had no official release in the US or UK on CD, and it has never had a release on vinyl in the UK, a weird fact about the best R&B band of the sixties. In 1968, Chas Chandler (died in 1996), the bassist, and Valentine were in denim. Steel was in a smart-casual button-down shirt and tie. Alan Price was in a dinner jacket. And Eric Burdon had long hair, and was wearing a striped poncho. He’d also forgotten the words to ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’.

It has always been a mystery to me how Price was ever allowed to appear onstage with the others, since all the royalties on ‘House of the Rising Sun’ accrue to him. All four of the others say that he wasn’t keen on the song, while Price claims he did the arrangement. It’s suggested that the manager, a truly shady character called Mike Jeffery, and who died in a 1973 plane collision over France, in some way colluded with Price to place his name on the ‘traditional’ song as the arranger. No-one is ever going to know the truth, although Price left the band the moment his first royalty cheque arrived, and on the eve of a Swedish tour, without telling the others. They had to rope in a teenager called Mickey Gallagher for the tour – Gallagher subsequently ended up in The Blockheads, and currently plays for ‘Animals and Friends’ with Steel. But they reunited twice more, once for a tour in the early 1980s, which must have messed with Burdon’s head in no small way, since the song is identified so much with him (I have lost track of the number of times he has re-recorded it, and so has he, I would guess). There is a Japanese CD called ‘Last Concert’ in which you can hear how fed up Burdon is with the venture.

Burdon was asked in a local Colne interview if he had any advice for his teenage self. He starts ‘Never trust your bandmates.’ You can see why.


Burdon’s band at present must be one of the strongest – he says it is the strongest, but I guess he would – ever to back him. Terry Wilson on bass, Wally Ingram on percussion, Billy Watts on guitar, Tony Braunagel on drums (the last three have all won or nearly won awards) and the veteran Red Young on keyboards. I am going to except Ingram from what follows – he was terrific. But the band was accurate and passionless. It was an average performance, and perhaps the result of the unconscionable time they took setting up – Burdon apologised for them, and said that he would sell any one of them into white slavery if we emailed a name in. He did the right thing. The audience had become restive enough to slow-stamp-their-feet and to sing ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ while the band members tweaked everything. ‘You want it to sound good, right?’ tried Braunagel. The audience wasn’t impressed. Perhaps some of them, like me, had to catch the last train to Preston at 2330.

Is there any good news? Yes. The band may have played without fire (it is bizarrely the case that Mickey Gallagher would have been far, far better), but Eric, all 5ft 6 of him, was in ridiculously good vocal shape. Surprisingly (since he has made three brilliant CDs in the last decade, the most recent, ‘Til Your River Runs Dry, being the best), the balance of the show was a crowd-pleasing hits package, with just three, maybe four from the new CD, and only two (When I Was Young and the curiosity Spill The Wine) from the later sixties. We had Don’t Bring Me Down, Inside Looking Out, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, It’s My Life, We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place, and, inevitably, this being its fiftieth anniversary, House of the Rising Sun. Nothing else came from any time else, unless you count ‘Shake’, which is on that ‘missing’ Animalism album, but had been in the Animals’ repertoire for much longer, and which turned up in an encore that combined Boom Boom, Shake and Around and Around. The surprise, and for me the oustanding number, was I Believe To My Soul, the Ray Charles number that The Animals did so brilliantly on their second album. That was the icing on the cake.

Burdon is a shouter. He doesn’t train or rehearse his voice. He just lets it rip. His idol as a young man was John Lee Hooker, who lived to be 83. (Hooker wrote Boom Boom.) With a bit of luck, Burdon may go further – I hope so. You have to respect a singer who has sustained his enthusiasm for singing songs he first tried out half a century ago.


A Life Of Jerome K. Jerome: Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton

January 6, 2013

At long last, a writer has given JKJ (or ‘Arry K. ‘Arry, as his contemporaries rudely dubbed him – “‘Arry”, as Oulton explains, being more or less on a par with “chav”) a decent biography. The earlier efforts have been hobbled by JKJ’s destruction of his own papers, and also by the way in which he concealed himself, either playfully or deliberately or even mistakenly, in his own autobiography. His name alone is a problem – He was certainly named Jerome Jerome, although his father was born Clapp, and changed it to Jerome not long before JKJ, his last child, was born (his previous biographer gets that completely the wrong way round). The middle ‘K’ disguises the fact that he (the son) was Jerome Clapp Jerome, something he was still admitting to census-takers and the like until well into the 1870s. The story he put round was that a Hungarian general called Klapka had been a family friend. There was a Klapka, but the dates are all wrong, and the connection is beyond implausible.

Three Men In A Boat (Not To Mention The Dog) was perhaps a mixed blessing for Jerome, because it made his name and defined him as a comic writer (ironically, the book was intended as a sort of travelogue, offering glimpses of the history of the Thames, but a good editor, and good sense changed all that). Little of his other work was taken very seriously, although he did write a much-performed (and now little-known) play, The Passing Of The Third Floor Back. As a working journalist, however, he defined a new and entertaining style, and influenced a number of other writers, including Robert Lynd, the mainstay of New Statesman from 1913 to 1945, and who wrote for ‘Today’, one of JKJ’s magazines. Another, now-forgotten journalist, Gerald Gould, was also much influenced. Indeed, JKJ had a profound effect on the very magazine that took a critical cleaver to him more often than most: Punch.

JKJ cover_0001

Below The Fairy City: A Life Of Jerome K. Jerome by Carolyn W de la L. Oulton (Victorian Secrets, 2012)

What I love about Oulton’s study is that it gets under the skin of the man. Sometimes, as Oulton admits, he can be hard to like. His views on women and suffrage were far from breezy, and his views on race contradictory: nonetheless, he can be found denouncing the lynchings that took place in the southern USA, and, in his very private life, he protected his wife and his children – there is almost no trace of them, merely stray references by others. And yet their courtship must have been extraordinary, since she divorced her first husband – far from easy then – a husband who was actually related to Jerome. No real trace of it survives, and what little there is is dealt with with a really impressive caution by Oulton, who is not given to speculation. (Jerome also believed he had, as a child, met Dickens. He believed it. I doubt it. Oulton is properly careful. If he didn’t, he should have.)

I first came across the oddity of Jerome’s life when I had the idea – about the only one that has ever attracted a publisher – of writing vignettes of a variety of figures in the 1881 census whose lives were becoming ‘lost’ – misunderstood, confused, subject to rumour. Quite often this was, it’s true, because the figures had tried to erase their footsteps, as Jerome did. I had a great two years, and then was swallowed by a job, and simply put the outcome up on the internet for anyone to have a go at. In Jerome’s case, it was the wonderful Frank Rodgers who set me straight (he is the fount of almost all Jerome wisdom, and what’s more, possesses Jerome’s mother’s diary). And if there is a family relationship to get tangled up in, it’s Jerome’s. I thought my own family had a stunner in that my great-grandfather’s cousin married her father’s brother-in-law. The Jeromes created a web of marriages and cousinry (no such word, but there should be) that it would take a genius to put it simply.

Oulton, like me, has had Frank Rodgers on her case. He ticked me off very generously.  Unlike me, she’s completed a full-scale biography. That curious Amazon trick of letting you read what feels like a lot of the book had the desired result: press Order Now. I didn’t regret it, and read the whole thing straight through. I really advise you to do the same. Do it here.

Spartacus in Darlo

November 18, 2012

It looked like another pizza advert, half-pushed through the door.

It was no surprise. Most days, living as I do in the takeaway zone of Darlington, there is a glossy flier poking through the letter-box: Chinese, Indian, but mainly pizza. Sometimes they go straight to the bin. Sometimes, because I’m one of those troubled people who cannot pass print without reading it, I have a gander at the contents. A quick one. Oddly, however, I could see no obvious reference to food. I was surprised, therefore, to see that I was in fact being invited, the festive season being almost about to wash over us, like effluent, to buy into a new scheme. In fact, into private policing. Here’s part of the cover:

Happy Christmas!

Yes, if I wanted guys in berets and bulletproof vests to be the ‘eyes and ears of the streets’, to ‘detain trespassers’, and to ‘enhance resident’s [sic] peace of mind’, I could get all this for £15. I am not quite sure whether the detention of trespassers is legal, but most things are. I wondered what they did. Came in and restrained your trespasser, and phoned the, er, police, I assume. A later part of the glossy leaflet does say they are in communication with the police, who possibly envy their thermal imaging, and training in Conflict Management.

Still, wondering vaguely why they had gone for the lean, mean, rather puritanical Greek state of Sparta for their inspiration (why not the less cerebral Visigoths or the Vikings?), I spotted an insert slipping to the floor. This was something else again. It was a bargain offer from Sparta, and here it is:

‘Commander of Darlington’

I don’t quite know how successful this is going to be. If there really is a man dressed up as a Roman centurion, all beefcake and slightly dicey padding, I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to go up to him and say ‘Spartacus Domesticus Protecticus’, in the hope that he will hand out a discount card. For one thing, if you try saying ‘Spartacus Domesticus Protecticus’, it is pretty hard to do it without exuding spit, and that’s a big sword he’s carrying.

The weird thing is that Spartacus (nothing to do with Sparta, alas: but the classicists have to cope with this kind of limited understanding of the ancient world) wasn’t Roman, wasn’t an official soldier, but (by most accounts) a gladiator who went a bit Robin Hood and wished to end slavery, and was killed when the authorities turned their attention to him. Besides, I find it impossible to take Spartacus as seen here seriously, because he hasn’t got a dimple, the defining feature of the Kirk Douglas rendition (if Kirk Douglas was roaming my streets, I might be tempted). There is no sign above of a hammer and chisel having been taken to that chin:

This is the kind of thing we need round here.

I think I’ll go and check the door’s locked.

The Ord sisters and Ethel Stokell (2), May 2 1897

November 7, 2012

It was, as I suggested, pretty easy to find more on the story behind the Piercebridge memorial. Given that the four girls drowned on Sunday, and late on Sunday too, the reporter from Darlington’s Northern Echo was pretty swiftly on the scene. The first account is in the newspaper the very next day – before, in fact, all the bodies had been recovered:

The reporter does pretty well, all things considered. He gets the surname ‘Ord’ wrong (he has it as ‘Auld’); he doesn’t know which girl has not yet been found; and he doesn’t know Ethel’s first name. He does get the nicknames of the Ord sisters: Hannah is Hannah, but Genevieve is ‘Vevie’, and Winifred is ‘Winnie’. Nor are the details lurid, but they are of course sad, and a little sentimental – probably the two details he picks up on would now be treated with the same eye for detail, but with a lot less respect. The four girls had been collecting flowers: gathering primroses. Four bunches were found on the bank. They’d taken off their boots and stockings, and – although, as the reporter says, this is surmise – decided to test the water for a paddle. Did one slip, and the others try to rescue her? he asks. He also makes an illogical remark (well, I find it illogical): that they had not spent long on the bank, because, close to where the shoes and stockings were found, the name of one of the girls was found ‘written in the sand’. (This factoid is never repeated.) Two of the girls have been found in shallow water, but 600 yards from the shoes and stockings, in the Darlington direction; the other is 150 yards further on.

It was finding the shoes and stockings that started the alarm, according to the reporter, although this story is to change. What subsequently turns out to be the true story is that a Colonel J.G.Williamson – not Wilson, as first reported – of Cliffe Hall, has been out for a late Sunday afternoon walk with a friend and two of his sons, when one of them, Maurice, has spotted a body. He and his brother have pulled it out, only to discover a second. And at this stage, the alarm is raised, the third body is found, and the search starts for the fourth (it is still going on late on Sunday evening, before being abandoned). In the meantime, Ethel’s father, who has been over to visit the Ords with his daughter, and has left her with them, has blithely gone homewards in a train – from Piercebridge Station, leaving at 8.30. This doesn’t fit with the suggestion that the alarm has been raised. He has been stopped before reaching home – either Whitby or Hartlepool, it never says, and I’m not clear – by a telegraph sent to Bank Top station. You have to say that this is all amazingly efficient. And that the fact that you could hop on a train at Piercebridge seems somehow admirable. I suppose a mobile phone call would have reached him more quickly, which would have been awful (he was informed of the drowning by a railway official, not by a random call). Always odd to contrast the technologies.

The bodies have been taken to a local farm (Low Fields Farm, the property of a Mr. Dickinson). The search for the missing fourth girl is resumed at first light on Monday, by which time, they know they’re looking for Hannah, the eldest. She isn’t found until three o’clock, ‘in a deep pool  … close to a large rock’. By deep, about ten to twelve feet is meant. Grappling irons have been used in the search, but they don’t seem to have been used in the discovery. By the time Tuesday’s Northern Echo has reported this, the inquest is already fixed for Wednesday, at The Crown Inn, Piercebridge.

Not surprisingly, Mr. and Mrs. Ord – particularly the former, who was in poor health, and who had only a year or two to live – were horribly distressed. ”The father and mother seem[ed] almost demented.’ They were spared having to identify the bodies, which were laid out upstairs, above the inquest – for viewing by the jury. Their bodies were unmarked, according to Annie Thoroughgood, who had laid them out. A young girl called Annie Graham says that she saw them at four o’clock, near Cliffe Hall, on the Durham side of the river. This in itself is odd, since the original reporter clearly says the boots and stockings were on the Yorkshire side. He may have been wrong, as this is never challenged. There is some speculation that they have walked along a stone shelf, when one has fallen into deep water; there is some speculation that they were thinking of crossing the river (the river incidentally had no footpath, something perhaps we take for granted).  As the coroner remarks, the only thing they can say is that ‘these bodies have been found drowned, but … there is no evidence how it occurred’. The foreman assents.

Two odd things turn up at the inquest – one is that Ethel Stokell has had 2s 8d (quite a lot for a 14-year-old!) on her, a silver ring, and a watch that had not stopped. The other is that only one pair of boots has actually been found, one additional boot, and five stockings. But to look into that mystery, relatives would need to be called, and the Coroner doesn’t wish to involve them.

After this, the Northern Echo – preoccupied not only with the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria, but also with a pit accident at Kelloe, and plenty of other incidents (the death of a young girl falling off a trap, as in pony and trap), moves on. The funeral is not mentioned. However, about a fortnight later, the members of the Victory  Harmonic Social Club organise ‘a smoking concert’ – the Mayor in attendance – in Darlington, proceeds to the parents of the girls. (Actually, the parents were quite well off. Stokell owned houses in Hartlepool, and Ord had a reputation as a decorator and photographer, having originally been a hatter and mercer in Bishop Auckland.) It would be interesting to find photographs of the four. And also to find out what on earth a ‘smoking concert’ was (actually, this last bit proved to be easy. It was a musical concert only attended by men: rather odd, in the circumstances. The term is apparently still in use in obscure men-only circles).

The Ord Sisters and Ethel Stokell, May 2nd 1897

November 5, 2012

For no good reason (as ever) Chris and I went to Piercebridge last Sunday. It was a bit chilly. It’s just on the north side of the Tees, about five or six miles west of Darlington. In its cemetery was a most unusual memorial stone:

And here’s the other side:

A bit of trawling through ancestry.com and FreeBMD makes clear that this reads

“In memory of HANNAH, aged 17 years,/WINIFRED MARY, aged 15 years,/GENEVIEVE, aged 14 years/

(WINIFRED seems tohave been spelled WINIFREDE)

The Stokells were living in Whitby in 1891; they had two sons; he was a painter and brick manufacturer. The younger son had died two years earlier (the elder survived till 1957).

Ord was a photographer from Bishop Auckland; he had one elder and one younger daughter, and a younger son in 1891 (when they were living in Piercebridge). He died in 1899, aged 52. In 1901, Harriett Ord is still in Piercebridge, and is a poultry farmer. Her younger daughter and son are still with her. In 1911, she is still in Piercebridge, ‘of private means’. She is listed as having lost four of seven children.

It is very odd that a tragedy like this has not slipped on to the internet. Ord – was his early death cause and effect? – was a photographer at a time when it is almost inconceivable that there will have been no photos taken of the girls. And the Northern Echo must have reported it (an inquest seems likely). So, to honour these poor lasses, I’ll keep at this one.

Sorry for my 18 month-plus hiatus. I’ll answer the queries posted as soon as I can. I’m back …

Brush with death

January 23, 2011

The lazy blogger resumes …

I was driving back from Cumbria the other week, when I lost my way, not in a dangerous fashion, and besides, the scenery was beautiful. I just added thirty minutes to the trip. I went through Sedbergh, and only with an extreme effort of will (because it’s advertised as a book-town) stopped myself from parking up and losing every last penny in my pockets on new purchases. My bedside is stacked up enough as it is. The road brings you back to the road to Brough, which in turn, when you turn right,  connects you to the A66, and so to Darlington. Where the road from Sedbergh joins up with the Brough road, there is a steep incline as you come to a junction. The road on which you are about to turn is quite heavy, in both directions, with traffic.

In front of me on the road was a very long lorry, loaded with pale green girders. It was going to take some time for it to find a gap in the traffic. For a moment, unbidden, an image flashed into my head (I don’t know why) of a girder slipping off the back of the lorry, and passing through my windscreen and decapitating me. I don’t normally go in for these lurid daydreams. And anyway, a second thought erased the first. If I drew alongside the lorry (since there was space), I would not have to wait so long. When it made its lumbering break for the far side of the road, I would be able to sidle into its slipstream, rather than wait my turn at what would be by then the front of the queue. So I moved my hands on the wheel, and pulled over to its left.

After five minutes (it seemed), the traffic did one of those coincidental both-way breaks, and the lorry found its gap. I duly drew out to the left of it, and slowly drew in behind it as it started to grind slowly into the distance. I was about thirty feet behind it, about to start on the journey east. And at that point, a girder did unfix itself, and crashed through the air towards my car. It landed in front of my car with a thump. I hit the brakes, but since I was hardly moving, this was easy. The girder landed six to nine inches in front of my bumper with a clatter. I got out to look at the car. I hadn’t heard anything, but it seemed possible that it had hit the front of my car, hit a light, hit a bumper, hit a tyre. But it hadn’t. The car behind me had squealed to a stop. I had to reverse a little to pull back out and round the lorry. The lorry-driver was too focused on the girder to do much more than wave vaguely at me.

It wasn’t really till I was back on the road, maybe past Brough and on the A66, that I realised that, had I not pulled to the lorry’s side, I would probably have been driving right behind it when the girder detached itself (and its trajectory was the driver’s side of my car). I suppose there’s a bit too much in that ‘probably’. It was a strange evasion though: a moment of precognition. I saw what might happen, and it happened. Enough to make me wonder about how many different meanings there are to the word ‘luck’.


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