Gwyther House

In the time that Alfred’s been resident in Gwyther House, he’s observed the consequences of many depredations: the Great War, Spanish Flu, the Wall Street Crash, the Second World War, rationing, the global financial crisis, austerity and climate change. Covid-19 causes him little alarm. Alfred is self-centred, entirely self-sufficient and dead. 

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Lying In

It’s a late winter afternoon in 1921. In Violet cottage, one of an isolated terrace of eight tied-cottages, deep in Holderness, an oil lamp sheds a pale glow in the small front room. Orstine, dressed in a cotton shroud, lies in a cheap pine coffin, which rests on a trestle, with his feet pointing at the curtained windows. The women of the terrace have reluctantly laid him out in accordance with local tradition: a bandage around his head keeps his mouth shut; scraps of muslin are wedged up his nose and pennies cover his eyes. The GP, who’d taken three days to attend, attributed his death to natural causes.

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Flies

Stefan hears the distant sound of a bluebottle buzzing as he sits at a table staring at the phrase he’s written across the centre two pages of his notebook – All stories begin with a question. The sound grows louder. A large bluebottle lands in the gutter between the pages of the notebook. Imperceptibly, Stefan, holding his breath, slides his fingers under the book’s hard covers. With great speed he slams the book shut crushing the fly between the words he’s written. 

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Coltman Street

Houses were first built at the southern end of Coltman Street in the 1840s. The grand houses at the northern end were completed around 1905 and accommodated affluent middle class merchant and fishing industry families. By November 1980, after the Cod Wars of the 1960s and 1970s and decline in shipping, the northern end has slipped into multiple occupation and dereliction. Travellers’ horses are tethered on a patch of wasteland where north and south of the street converge.

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Chernobyl

On Saturday April 28th 1986, the number 4 reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power station suffers a massive steam explosion. The reactor core is exposed and vast amounts of airborne radioactive contamination are released. It’s finally contained on May 4th. At first the Soviet Union attempts to conceal the disaster. Facts are scarce and barely believable.

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Ryker

Ryker never allows the use of his forenames or the title of Mr; that would take up too much time. At school they called him Road Runner and beep-beeped each time he passed. In middle age he’s trying very hard to avoid endlessly repeating to himself: time and tide wait for no man, and, I’m late, I’m late for a very important date as he rushes hither and thither. Self-service in a restaurant is the only way he can cope with eating out. He does his weekly supermarket shop after midnight using self-scan to avoid queues. Someone once told him he should be a time and motion analyst. What an absurd idea, he thought, Watching others going slowly, no thank you! 

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The Black Shield of Falworth

Henry Falworth goes to the Central Cinema every Saturday, paid for from his paper-round earnings. This Saturday, in 1954, he sees ‘The Black Shield of Falworth’ starring Tony Curtis as Myles. He’s so excited: how could there be a big Technicolor film with his name in the title? He leaves the cinema, as usual, in a state of euphoria. What is different is that though he knows he isn’t Myles, as he’s only eight years old, he, like Myles, has to stop the baddies.

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Hair

Blanche is thirteen years old, an albino, and tall for her age, but not as tall as her mother, Eugenie, who is a high-wire walker in the circus where they live and work. Blanche’s eyes are ice blue in an unblemished white face. Her circus costume is a black and red spotted leotard, crimson tights and red Dock Marten lace-up boots. Her hair is pure white, silky, heavy, and hangs to the back of her knees. She wants to wear black lipstick, black mascara and eye shadow to make the most of her natural attributes and look like a Goth. Eugenie will not, under any circumstances, allow this. We’re artistes, darling, not freaks, she tells her daughter.

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Crossing the Border

Robert is always anxious about crossing borders, runs on a short fuse and impatient with any obstacle. He shouldn’t have been on this train but, thanks to a drunk trying to get on the plane from Heathrow to Warsaw, followed by a delayed departure, he missed his connection to Minsk. He’s in a blue and yellow ancient wooden coach tagged on the end of the modern Trans-European Express from Paris to Moscow. It is the only way to get to Minsk by the next day – as is sharing a couchette with a stranger. Decision makers like me shouldn’t have to put up with shit like this, Robert thinks.

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The Present

It is 1970 and Trevor is engaged to Bethany (never abbreviated). He’s been saving in order to buy Bethany a very special, secret wedding present – this is over-and-above the other expenses he’s had for his wedding. He spent an age wondering what to get, but when he looks in the window of the shop on Paragon Square, his problem is solved; the shop agrees to put it in store until needed.

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