The Odeon

It’s a Saturday afternoon in 1960 and the Odeon cinema is screening Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘Spartacus’ with Kirk Douglas as the eponymous slave. Oliver, fourteen, and his first girlfriend, Roxanne, aka Roxy, sit next to each other holding hands in the middle of the stalls. They have a great view; the two rows in front of them are empty. Oliver lacks the confidence to put his right arm around Roxy’s shoulders. He wonders if that’s allowed on a first date. Oliver whispers to Roxy, It’s a great film. She nods, lost in the excitement of the battle between the slave army lead by Spartacus and the Roman forces led by Crassus (Laurence Olivier). The camera pans across the many dead bodies of men, women and children. Roxy wipes tears from her eyes. 

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The Ossuary

Nick discovers the word ossuary when he’s fourteen in 1960 and delights in its euphony. Discovering its meaning, he finds it perfectly describes Candleton Boys’ Grammar School in which he’s imprisoned; what better description could there be for the old white male bones of the staff? Leo, a fellow classmate, and the only Jewish boy in the class, is less concerned with the sound of words than the ugly meaning of the whispering anti-Semitic innuendoes he endures. 

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Message in a Bottle

From the moment George, aged twelve, tastes alcohol, he is destined to be in its thrall all his days: there is nothing so sublime, as comforting and exciting as booze – especially if it’s stolen. At this early age, he’s too young to imagine what his destiny might be; the immediate present is enough. 

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Afterlife

Abel Kane, a photojournalist who worked on the world stage, was renowned for the bravery and compassion of his images and considered a lunatic for his habitual early morning runs, even in the midst of war. Living alone, in a depressing afterlife, in a small bleak apartment in Narrow Street, London, he regrets not making a long-lasting relationship and envies those with comfortable boltholes. Latterly described as ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’, he’s unhappy, but understands its cause: he’s elderly and has cancer, but thinks, If only I could still run, I could live. 

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Paternoster Square

Jon, a recent graduate with a first-class degree in Philosophy from Leeds University, had not aspired to work as a private security guard protecting Paternoster Square in the City of London. He feels lucky to have found work, but disapproves of the private ownership of public space (POPS). This is exactly the situation in Paternoster Square which is owned by the Mitsubishi Estate Company. It is one example of the growing trend to privatise hitherto freely accessible public spaces, not only in London but nationally: the Duke of Westminster owns thirty-four streets in Liverpool city centre. 

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The Mirror

Morgan mourns the loss of his wife, Caterine, who, without warning, vanished early one morning from their bedroom. He’s also exhausted and distraught by the police’s assumption that he’s guilty and involved in her suspicious disappearance. Caterine’s body is never found and there was no sign of her in the seven years after she went missing. Morgan thought he’d be pleased when the Declaration of her Presumed Death was approved by the High Court, but he wasn’t: he desperately needs to know what happened to her. 

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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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