Germany Calling

Pip, nicknamed Pipsqueak but Squeak for short, is five and living with his grandparents in a small village in Shropshire. It’s December 1941 and Squeak’s mother is a nurse in the Eighth Army. His father is a soldier somewhere. Squeak has no idea where, nor do Grandpa Tubs and Grandma Pud; the Joyce family are fond of nicknames. Squeak’s grandparents are normally genial but at odds about listening to ‘Lord Haw Haw’ on the radio. Squeak sits on Pud’s knee as Tubs turns on the radio.

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Pain

Sleep is not always David’s fail-safe escape; dreams are impossible to predict.

On an overcast afternoon, David stands dithering at an opening in a very long hedge of dense blackthorn. Uncertainly, he passes through the opening. A swirling quarrel of sparrows is deafening as they flit and skirmish in and out of the prickly hedges that dwarf him. Seeing paths running east and west, he wonders which way to go. He turns right and meets a dead end. Retracing his steps, he goes past the opening and, as this path splits into two, he hopes he’s in a maze. I like mazes, he thinks. With no sun to guide him, he loses any sense of direction and can see no landmarks above the high hedges as he searches for the centre of the maze.

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Ex Pat

Isaac Pearlman often thinks about his friend Patrick O’Connell. Both aged fifteen, they were unlikely school friends; Patrick stood at over six foot while Isaac was small for his age. Patrick took no prisoners; anyone showing disrespect for his Irish ancestry was given an opportunity to apologise; failure to do so was severely punished. Isaac was bullied until Patrick stepped in – his ability to split the lid of a wooden school desk with a single head butt intimidated even the most foolhardy of bullies. Most of all, Isaac remembers basking in the light of Patrick’s smile, something that saw him through the darkness as his black dog bayed. 

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Lawe

Lawe sits in the doorway of an empty shop on Salter Gate. Heavy rain falls; orange light from a street lamp illuminates each drop before it splashes onto the pavement. He stares at the rain thinking, It don’t look like rain, more like the bleeding sea falling. I never learnt to swim; if it was the sea I could dive in and that would be that. Nar, not for us. He makes a pair of fists and does a quick left-right-left punch into the splashing rain. He remembers how it began. He takes a good swig from a can of Carlsberg Special and shivers.

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A Change of Climate

It’s early morning in La Jolla, Southern California. A large shingled single storey house stands amid sub tropical plants. Clouds of spray from spurting sprinklers make rainbows in the sun while in the background there’s the perpetual whoosh of the Pacific Ocean. The front door opens. Mike yawns and walks, dodging the spray, across the wet grass to the mailbox. There’s a single letter, with the franked postmark: Hull – Great Britain. Postage Paid

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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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