Author Archives: charliecochrane

Day 70 Bushy Park to Olympic Stadium


It’s here. Both the big day and the torch, taking a last leg that included Hampton Court Maze and sailing down the Thames in a spectacular flotilla. I just hope the opening ceremony is as classy as that!

Today I’m going to celebrate the torch relay itself and the games to come. It seems a million years ago that it was cold and damp and the torch was wending a wet way through the country:


One of the things which has made me proud of my country is that the torch bearers have been such a varied bunch – young, old, able bodied and disabled, many of them chosen because of things they’ve done to serve the community. The guy in the second pic is a Paralympic triathlete. And, hopefully, the Paralympics will be just as big a thing over here as the Olympics themselves.

There have been lots of things going on to mark today including, at 08.12 this morning, three minutes of bell ringing all over the country, including Big Ben (which is the bell not the clock so not technically visible here. I was out in my front garden, rining some sleighbells we’d found in the Christmas box. Alas, I think I was the only person in Rownhams doing it…

So now to the games. I’m not sure which sport I’m most looking forward to (so many to choose from) although this is a fairly big clue. Thighs and lycra.

And I can’t leave without a mention of a story I’m really proud of, which takes place partly within Olympic Park itself, Tumble Turn. It’s set in the run up to and during the Paralympics (with me hoping like hell as I wrote it months back that I’d predicted all the details correctly!) and concerns Ben Edwards, a chunky S9 swimmer who might just be based on some of the hunky S9/S10 swimmers I’ve seen down the years.

Fate’s a cruel mistress. Or master. Or something. I got to my seat-eventually, after battling through crowds and then signing autographs for some real swimming fanatics-and I was settling in when something slapped the back of my head.

“Ben!” It was Matty, of course, looking pleased as punch and plonking his backside in the seat behind mine and two to the left. “That’s a stroke of luck. I’d forgotten I hadn’t got your number on my new phone.”

That made me even more angry. Matty pulling the “long lost friend” thing on me when he hadn’t bothered to keep my number. I scowled at him, and at the weasely looking bloke sitting to the left of him, who was evidently the ghastly Nick and every bit as horrible as I’d imagined him. There was another bump to my head and I spun round one hundred and eighty degrees, about to give some clumsy sod a mouthful. There was gorgeous-guy-withthe- coffees smiling at me and being terribly apologetic.

“Sorry, did I thump you?” He smiled, revealing the sort of set of lovely teeth that would have been all the better to eat me with, if I’d been lucky. “My fault. I’ve always been clumsy. I think it’s dyspraxia but Jenny just says I’m a prat. With dys-prat-sia.” He grinned.

This horrible hot flush-remember my habit of blushing?- started to clamber up the back of my neck, which is hardly my best look given that there’s more than a trace of ginger in my hair.

I managed to stammer something like, “No worries,” although I could have been spouting gibberish, for all that I was aware. All I could think of was that I’d nearly gone and cocked everything up with my, “Ring me but I won’t answer the phone” ruse. At least fate had saved me, and redeemed itself at the same time.

Unless I was buggering things up again by making an assumption too many, this must have been Jenny’s brother, and he wasn’t the spotty nerd I’d expected.

“I’m Nick.” This gorgeous vision of tall, dark handsomeness stuck out his hand. “You must be Ben.”

“Yeah, that’s right.” I managed to shake his hand without shaking too much myself. Sometimes I get a bit clumsy if I’m overexcited.

“We saw you on the telly-Paralympic World Cup, earlier this year. You won.”

“You don’t half state the bleeding obvious,” Matty chipped in, grinning. “I suspect Ben remembers that for himself.”

“Just a little.” I was hoping the red flush was starting to subside.

“Matty was so proud of you. Kept pointing at the screen and saying that was his best mate from school days. He started to cry when you won.” Nick rolled his eyes. “Great Jessy.”

I was starting to well up, too. Maybe Matty had redeemed himself a bit. “We said we’d be here, being a part of it. Even back when we were horrible, spotty schoolboys, we knew we’d have to

make London 2012 happen.”

Photos thanks to Bigfoto and me!


Day 66 Lewisham to Wandsworth


Today could be described as

  • I grew up there  >> Beckenham.
  • My dad lived there >> Wandsworth.
  • And now I live near there >> Sutton.

Okay, finished now. What do you mean you need more? *sigh* If I must. Let me get coffee first.

Whilst the kettle boiled my friend and dog sitter phoned me in outrage. She was trying to get across Penge High Street to walk some dogs but the Olympic parade was in her way. How dare it!

I am a south London girl. I’ve lived here all my life bar a few years down to Crawley. Whilst my family have scattered to the four corners of the UK, I have stayed within a few miles of where I was born. I grew up in Beckenham and used to walk to Bromley for shopping. My first McDonalds was eaten  in Penge. I worked in Croydon after leaving school.

This is so boringly domestic, isn’t it?

Would you like something slightly different? For two glorious years I was a New Romantic. What do you mean – am I that old? Yes, yes I am.

David Bowie was born in Brixton but he moved to Bromley when he was six years old. Did you know that Bowie’s first hit in the UK – 1969’s Space Oddity – was used by the BBC in its coverage of the moon landing. No, nor did I. It’s amazing what trivia you find out.

Now I was a Japan fan, and my all-time fangirl crush, David Sylvianwas born in Beckenham. Do you know how special that made me feel? Well yes, I was a tinhat about Japan.

Oooh and changing the subject completely. Have any of you read The Buddha of Surburbia by Hanif Kureishi. That was set in Beckenham and Bromley. The characters drank in my local. As I read the book I could picture the roads. Incidently, that was one of the first books I read with openly bisexual characters.

My French teacher used to teach Nick Heyward from Haircut One Hundred. Not only was she gorgeous and slim (cow!) but she had street cred too. Teenage girls and pop stars – a lethal combination.

If you are from my era you might rememberPoly Styrene from X-Ray Spex, another native of Bromley.  Sadly she died last year.

Now, you may be thinking this doesn’t really tell me much about the area. I guess not. This is my Beckenham, where I went to school and where I got married. Where I went drinking on Friday nights and where I slowly read my way through Mills and Boon and sixties thrillers in the old library.

Beckenham was a sedate suburb. Beckenham High Street used to have a Wimpy and old tearooms. The smell of coffee grounds from Importers coffee shop permeated the atmosphere. I hated the smell. I hated coffee at that point. *shakes my head at old me*

The cinema under a ballroom was where I learned to dance. I still have the photos and the certificates. Beckenham Recreation Ground was where I tried my first cigarettes and last. I hated smoking.

I love Beckenham even though it’s not *my* Beckenham any more. The place has moved on, and so have I. I moved about 10 miles west and Beckenham got a Marks & Spencers Food Hall. I always promise myself I’d move back. Maybe one day.

This time I’m promoting Mr. Plum. It’s set on my local station, even down to the coffee shop. Kai is fictional though.

Mr. Plum published by Torquere Press

Dave picks up coffee every morning at the train station on his way to work. He can’t help but notice when the man in front of him is given a plum-colored cup holder, as it goes perfectly with his own tie. There are other things he can’t help but notice, like how hot “Mr. Plum” is.

When Mr. Plum hands over a cup of coffee, exactly how Dave likes it, the morning he’s late getting to the station, it’s the start of a beautiful friendship. Or is it?


It was the color of the sleeve that Dave noticed, a deep plum that matched the stripe on the tie Tom was wearing. Dave always noticed things like that. He had a keen eye for detail. Dave was green with envy; he had never been given that sleeve. Plum was by far and away his favorite color, and yet the world and the coffee shop on the station had never seen fit to give him a plum sleeve on Dave’s morning drink.

He didn’t get it this time either. His was red. It was a deep red and it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t plum and it made Dave grit his teeth in frustration. He could hardly demand that Kai, the barista with a huge smile who made him industrial strength coffee every morning at no extra charge, hunt through cardboard sleeves until he found a plum one. Yeah, he could just see how well that would go down with the queue of bleary-eyed commuters behind him. So he just smiled thinly and, clutching his coffee, followed Mr. Plum, for want of a better name, out of the tiny coffee shop on platform four, to await the 8:50 to London Waterloo.

The lucky man wandered farther up the platform than Dave normally stood, his nose buried deep in his Kindle. He didn’t seem to notice the covetous glances Dave had been casting at his coffee cup. The train arrived and they both got on, Mr. Plum in another carriage. Dave was lucky enough to find a seat, and he sat, sipping at his coffee, with the crimson sleeve around his cup. If the coffee tasted a little bitter to him, maybe that was just an added dash of sour grapes — plum colored, of course.

You can find Sue’s HEAs here – well, kind of HEAs.


Day 65 – Redbridge to Bexley


I must admit when I offered to fill in one of the gaps with the Carrying the Torch posts, I didn’t choose Bexley. But, in beginning to read about it in order to write this post, I’m beginning to think it chose me.

Being from New Zealand, it’s fitting that I’m the one carrying the torch from Redbridge to Bexley as Bexley is also the name of a suburb of Christchurch. Several generations ago my father’s family emigrated from England onboard the Zealandia and settled in Christchurch. That family link between the two countries is one of the reasons I set my series ‘Hidden Places’ partially in England, in a village outside London. While Oakwood isn’t a real place, it’s definitely taken some inspiration from the area.

St Mary’s Church (caption)

Bexley is a place of interesting landmarks, and a mix of old and new, with Old Bexley still giving the appearance of a village from older times in contrast to the more recent suburban sprawl that is the main town centre.

Two in particular caught my attention. Firstly St Mary’s Church with its distinctive shaped spire, and the Red House which was designed by William Morris. Interestingly I’d already done research on the Red House as its providing some inspiration for a house set in another world further on in the series I’m writing.

Red House

It’s also home to several other stately homes, including Hall Place, itself a mixture of two different time periods. Again, very apt considering much of what happens in ‘Hidden Places’.  I do love it when research comes together like this.

To finish I’m sharing an excerpt from Cat’s Quill – as the railway station in Bexley, reflects perfectly just how I imagined Oakwood Railway station would look like…

TOMAS watched the train pull out of the station, his eyes following it until it was a memory under the glare of the sun. The platform was almost deserted, save for two old ladies talking, nodding, and laughing as they walked toward the ticket office, disappearing through the old wooden doors into the unknown of the outside world. A breeze ruffled his hair, and he swatted at the invisible hand, tilting his head in response to a whisper just out of reach, a feeling of almost déjà vu. There was no one there. He was alone.

This holiday had been his sister Kathleen’s idea, a chance for him to get in touch with his inner self and find the elusive muse which seemed to have deserted him for a better place. Tomas was a writer, but he hadn’t written anything in months. He’d start, type one or two lines, delete them, and start again, repeating the process for hours at a time. Nothing felt right; the magic was gone. Two bestsellers and a publisher who wasn’t taking too kindly to the non-appearance of book number three. Yes, Tomas knew it was a three-book deal. Yes, he knew he hadn’t decided what this last book was about yet. Actually, that wasn’t exactly true, but the idea was only a seed, a kernel just out of reach, a rainbow with colors misty after rain, not quite solid, not quite real, just frustrating as hell.

Not quite real because he didn’t want it to be. This book would come from the soul, his soul, and he didn’t want that on display. The muse could go to hell. He was not writing this.

He shivered as a chill ran up his spine. Sighing, he bent to pick up his backpack. It was old, tattered, and comfortable, yet still large enough to carry everything he needed; with each journey he picked off more threads which had come loose, yet the fabric still managed to hold together. It had accompanied him everywhere over the last ten years and was something familiar to hang on to. He needed that right now. Tomas liked the familiar; it made up for the feeling of not belonging, of being on a journey that he wasn’t sure was ever going to end. He traveled light, and always had; it made leaving easier. If he left first, others would not leave him. Not that that was exactly a problem these days. He had very few friends; his habit of switching off and ignoring what he didn’t want to answer had alienated most, but he liked his privacy, and if people couldn’t deal with it, that was not his issue but theirs.

One last glance at the platform and he walked through into the ticket office and out the far door. Kathleen was wrong. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere was not going to do anything. However, it was a way of avoiding his publisher, especially as Tomas’s mobile was still broken and he had not bothered to get it fixed. Hopefully, Fraser would give up and find someone else to hassle. The man was persistent, if nothing else, and while Tomas had not exactly been averse to their few meetings over coffee, he also felt bad in having to tell Fraser he was still not writing. Tomas took his commitments seriously, but this was different, and a matter on which avoidance could only work for so long.

The street outside the station was empty apart from a long-haired grey cat which was lazily washing itself. It stopped, looked Tomas up and down, and then returned to what it was doing, obviously deciding that this human was not worth the effort. Tomas wasn’t sure whether that should be taken as a compliment or not. Not worth the effort also meant he was not considered a threat.

Tomas preferred animals to people. They didn’t bother hiding under a façade of polite disinterest while nodding and pretending to care about what he had to say. Expressing himself through the medium of print meant that he did not need to deal with people directly but could still speak his mind.

Dumping his backpack on the ground, the messenger bag holding his laptop still across his shoulder, Tomas found a shady spot and leaned back against the wall, arms folded. His ride was late. He would wait. It wasn’t as though he had a deadline to meet. It was quiet here. After London, the village of Oakwood felt like stepping back several decades in time to a world less complicated and slower. For the moment, at least, he’d embrace that illusion and focus on the thought that perhaps this place might have potential after all. He could just keep to himself, find a nice tree to sit under, and catch up with some reading.


Day 61 Hastings to Dover


Today the torch passes through Hythe, in Kent. I love that place to little pieces, having gone there with Mr Cochrane and the whompers several times for family breaks. The Imperial Hotel did us proud on many an occasion and we hammered round the golf course (before the girls discovered boys and went off the game) and thrashed each other on the croquet greens. Doesn’t it look like something out of an Agatha Christie story? Now wonder it provided me with one of my key inspirations (of which more anon).

Just across the road (the other side from this view) is the sea. There’s something about pebbly beaches which reminds me of childhood and makes me all gooey inside. (Kent has that general effect, anyway.) But Hythe has more than that to offer. It has a special railway for a start.

A miniature one, which runs all the way out to Dungeness power station (star of a Dr Who episode and itself well worth a visit if they still have the visitor centre).

Then there’s the military canal, one of those lovely spots for just walking along doing nothing much. Hotel to town along the canal, back along the front – better than Monte Carlo any day.

The Imperial Hotel inspired me to write Lessons in Seduction. It appears as a thinly disguised version of itself – golf course, croquet and all – but relocated up the coast to Pegwell Bay, where I spent many a happy summer’s day on childhood holidays.

But memory is a funny thing. I was in the process of edits for the story when I thought I’d better check a bit of geography on google maps. Lo and behold hadn’t somebody come and put a whole load of cliffs in, just where I remember there not being any when I was a child? (Why must your brain play tricks on you, like it does by pretending summers were always sunny in the past?) Some swift re-writing was needed, although luckily there weren’t many instances of people leaping out of the hotel, over the road and straight onto the beach. They’d have broken their necks!

Serves me right for combining two locations…

Day Brighton and Hove to Hastings


The wonderful Frank Muir once mentioned on the radio a great misprint he’d seen – that great song from “Oklahoma”, “People will say we’re in Hove”. If you know anything of Brighton’s reputation as a place for liaisons (combine the easy train ride from London with the bracing sea air) or purported liaisons (the fodder of divorces) you’ll see why that misprint is inspired.

Brighton’s has a long history of being “the place to be”. Didn’t Pitt used to take his (possibly) boyfriend there for the weekend? It’s certainly had association with the gay community for a large part of the twentieth century. Like Provincetown on Cape Cod, Brighton manages to be both a family friendly and GLBT friendly resort. The days of the Mods vs Rockers punch ups on the sea front are, thankfully, gone.

The Auden poem “Oh Tell me the Truth about love”  contains several clues to the sexual nature of the love which he’s looking for, a love which at the time couldn’t speak its name so has to hide behind coded words.

I tried the Thames at Maidenhead, And Brighton’s bracing air.

If you were in the know, you’d understand – for most people, theBrighton bit would be obvious, but I never understood the significance of the Thames at Maidenhead until a friend who lives there showed me where the Guards’ boathouse used to be. Some of the Guards have long been known to supplement their income by obliging gentlemen of a certain persuasion. Now all becomes clear! No wonder there’s an old local expression “Is he married or does he live in Maidenhead?”

The other great significance of Brightion is that it’s where the 2012 UK meet for writers/readers/reviewers/publishers/etc of GLBTQ fiction will be happening, on the weekend of the 15th/16th September. Some grand folk from all over Europe – nay, all over the world! – will be attending and sharing their wisdom.

Day 59 Portsmouth to Chichester


When the Olympic Torch passes through Portsmouth, the torchbearer is going to see what I think is one of the weirdest public structures since Chicago’s Picasso sculpture:

That’s the Spinnaker Tower.

In 1805, when he set out for his rendezvous with Destiny at Trafalgar, this tower is one thing Admiral Lord Nelson would not have seen.

I’m not sure he’d have approved, either.  Classic architecture was much more the thing in Nelson’s era. What I think he would have approved, wholeheartedly, was this – probably the most famous ship in the Royal Navy – his own first-rate man o’war, the Victory:

It’s probably fitting – even if I’m not crazy about the modern architecture – that Portsmouth continues to have new landmarks popping up, because the city has been one of England’s major ports about as long as people have been sailing there, and its buildings reflect the changing eras.

Portsmouth itself is on an island – Portsea Island, where the Solent meets the English Channel.   The city’s nickname is “Pompey.”  Sources differ as to why – one is that the nickname is taken from Le Pompee, a captured French gunship that was the resident guardship, but I think the other explanation is more likely – that the navigational abbreviation for Portsmouth Point – Pom P – was adapted into slang.  In any case, you can’t read an Age of Sail novel without finding this reference – Portsmouth is mentioned in every one of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels.

I had the chance to visit Portsmouth in 2002 – before the Spinnaker dominated the landscape – and my own favorite landmark (apart from Victory herself) was the Round Tower – a much more human-scale building, built in the early 1400’s.

This was originally going to be the site of the slam-bang shootout that winds up my novel Walking Wounded,  until I sent a copy of the final draft to Charlie Cochrane for a Brit-pick.  It had been a few years, after all.  I wasn’t exactly thrilled to learn that the long stretch of beach where I’d intended to have a rainy-night chase was now “a block of posh flats.

However, as a local expert, she did offer a nearby stretch of road that worked perfectly, and I think in some ways the open space made for more suspense – and a couple of surprises.  Thanks again, Charlie!

Here’s an excerpt from Walking Wounded, with a little local colour.  John and Kevin, both military veterans recovering from less than successful careers, have rediscovered each other after their budding romance was cut short by assignments that took them away from each other.  But the joy of reunion is marred by a dangerous enemy from Kevin’s past…

They both felt the winter’s bite when they left the house the following evening. A sleeting rain was blowing fine as needles in the icy wind.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” Johnny said under his breath.

“I haven’t written a word yet,” Kevin countered. “And if you think I’m going to start with Snoopy—”

“Actually, it was Bulwer-Lytton, but you can go for dull if you like. ‘The sun went down hours ago, and the weather was inclement.’ That should cure anyone’s insomnia.”

It was a stupid thing to quibble over, but it was a distraction—probably why Johnny had started the foolishness. Kevin didn’t want to talk about what they were doing, making targets of themselves. He felt alarmingly exposed on the quiet street, and knew his lover must be in much the same state.

The walk to the pub should take no more than ten minutes. It wasn’t John’s local, just the closest to where they now lived. And it wasn’t as though they were unprotected, either. They were being watched every step of the way, by soldiers stationed in buildings and parked cars. The body armor hidden under their bulky sweaters and jackets gave an extra measure of protection. But none of it was enough to provide peace of mind.

“Think we’ll see him tonight?” John asked quietly.

“It’s possible. Not likely.”

“I almost wish he’d try. Be nice to have it over.”

“I wouldn’t object.” But Kevin didn’t want Blackwell to make an attempt tonight, not really. Body armor would be no use at all against the crushing force of a vehicle, and the narrow streets and alleys meant it might not be possible for them to avoid such an attack—or for Jones and his men to stop it.

They stopped at the corner. “Cross or turn?” John asked.

“Turn,” Kevin said. The cars parked on the near side formed a convenient barricade, and he knew that one of the team had strolled down the block just minutes ahead of them to make certain those cars were empty. Two more blocks straight ahead, then across the street to the pub on the corner.

A car’s engine growled as they cleared the last building before the cross-street at the end of the first block. Kevin caught John’s sleeve to keep him in the shelter of the building and scanned the storefronts, spotted a doorway a few yards back that they could duck into—

But the dark sedan that pulled up to the corner and paused before making its turn was just a car, the driver an older gent who never even glanced at the two tense young men standing a few feet back from the curb. The tail lights receded slowly until they disappeared around a bend in the road.

“That was fun,” Johnny said, his voice tight.

“Fresh air and exercise.” Kevin took a deep breath and stepped out again. The streets were very quiet—no one with any sense would be out in this weather—and they made it the rest of the way to the pub without encountering another soul.

It was quiet inside, too. Kevin felt himself relax a bit as they stepped inside. The aroma of something delicious wafted around them on the indoor warmth. After the days of isolation, it was almost strange to be out among people, but you couldn’t honestly call this a crowd. Half a dozen patrons occupied tables near the front windows and a twenty-something couple sat at the bar, the girl looking at her watch as her boyfriend talked to someone else on a mobile phone. Kevin saw one of their minders down at the far end of the bar, sitting at an angle that let him watch the entire place. Their eyes met, then moved on; neither acknowledged the other.

Kevin took a table near the back, beside the fireplace. He could see the entrance from there, as well as the fire exit beside the loo. There should be a covert team stationed out in the alley, just in case. A pity they weren’t just out for an evening; the pub was a relaxed, comfortable place, with its old oak wainscoting and dark green walls. A gas log flickering against the opposite wall completed the picture of a cozy retreat.

“It’ll be nice to have a meal we didn’t fix ourselves, and no washing-up after,” Johnny said, looking over the menu. “Hmm. This may take a little thought.”

“You’ve never been here?”

“No, never came down this way. Looks like I should have, it’s going to be a tough choice. They’ve got a lot of veggie meals, Kev.”

“So I see.” There really was quite a selection, Italian and Indian as well as the more usual fare. “Hm. Mushroom-walnut stroganoff. That sounds good.”

“I think I’ll have the turkey curry. Cross-cultural.” In response to Kevin’s puzzled frown, John explained, “American Indian bird, East Indian sauce. Oh, and they’ve got winter ale. Would you like a pint?”

“Sure.” While John went to get their drinks, Kevin checked his mobile phone for text messages. If there were an immediate danger, Jones would call; otherwise, whoever was in charge of communications would send them an update or all-clear every ten minutes. There were two all-clears queued up, and no voicemail.

Kevin had a hunch the Colonel had been waiting for them to volunteer for this sort of thing. He had accepted their offer of help without hesitation, immediately doubled the number of men assigned to the mission, and provided a few suggestions as to how and where they might begin appearing in public. He also recommended that when they were away from home a team of soldiers would be posted in the house, in hopes of catching Blackwell if he should attempt to set up an ambush.

They’d agreed to all of it. Anything that shortened this center-stage, looking-over-the-shoulder kind of life was worth putting up with, at least for a little while.

“Any messages from your secret admirer?” John asked, returning with two pints.

“All quiet on thePortsmouthfront,” Kevin said. “It’s what we could expect, at this stage.”

“I gave them our order, without starters,” John said. “Hope you haven’t changed your mind.”

“No, that’s fine. We’ll be served quicker this way, and I’d rather not stay out too long.”

“Same here. It’s funny, I thought I’d enjoy an evening out, but—” John shrugged. “I suppose it’s the teflon underwear—crimps one’s style.”

“No doubt someone, somewhere has a fetish for the stuff,” Kevin said. “Doesn’t do much for me.”

“Oh, so you want to take it off before we go to bed?” Johnny feigned a look of mild disappointment. “I thought all you special forces boys had surprising kinks.”

“That’s probably why I washed out,” Kevin said. “Too damned normal.” What was surprising, though not at all kinky, was that he felt not the slightest twinge when he said it.

Their food arrived. “That was quick,” John said as the waiter began transferring the dishes from tray to table.

“You picked two of our top favorites. There’s always curry on, and the cook just finished a batch of the stroganoff. Enjoy!”

As Kevin had guessed, the stroganoff was what had smelled so enticing when they first walked in, and the taste was even better.

“Looks like hobbit food,” John said. “Lots of mushrooms.”

“It’s excellent. How’s yours?”

“Tastes like chicken.” He grinned at the cliché. “Actually, it tastes like curry, but it’s good, too. Want a bite?”

They traded tastes, and decided Kevin’s entrée was more interesting. “But you know,” John said, “In our grandparents’ day, it would’ve been the other way around. We have so much Eastern food now that we take it for granted.”

“I wonder if QueenVictoriaever imagined the way the wholeBritish Empirewould wind up in our restaurants,” Kevin mused.

“I expect the old girl’s spinning in her grave,” John said. “She’d have taken a dim view of us, for certain.”

Kevin raised his glass. “Here’s to a long and happy rotation for Her Majesty.”

Sitting there chatting with John, he actually managed, for a little while, to forget about the threat that hung over them. But in too short a time, they were pulling on their jackets, paying their check, and preparing to go back out into the cold to make targets of themselves.

The entryway had a tiny vestibule space, an airlock between the cold outside and warmth within. Kevin closed his eyes as he stepped into it, counting off thirty seconds.

“What’s wrong?” John asked.

“In half a minute, I’ll have some of my night vision back. Three minutes would give more, but we don’t want to be too conspicuous.”

“Good grief.”

“I know—sorry, I don’t mean to be a nuisance.” He shouldered the door open into sleet, and pulled his watch cap from his pocket.

“You aren’t,” John said, winding his muffler up to his ears. “I didn’t realize how much was going on in your head—all the cloak-and-dagger details.”

“I just want to be certain I see Blackwell before he sees us.” The street had been checked minutes before they left the pub, but Kevin crossed so they’d be walking back on the opposite side. He found himself compulsively peeking into parked cars, just in case.

John snorted. “To hell with that—I want Sergeant Jones to see him before he sees us.”

“I like the way you think.” One block covered, no cars. “Johnny, I probably don’t need to say this, and I don’t want you to take it the wrong way—”

“Bloody hell. How bad is it? Did I do something stupid?”

“No! No, I was just thinking ahead. If anything should happen, the worst thing you could do is to try to throw yourself on top of me, or fling yourself into harm’s way.” He winced at John’s dead silence. “I’m sorry, I put that badly. It’s no reflection on your ability, Johnny—I was just thinking about what I would do to protect you, and realized you’d probably have the same impulse—and I don’t want us to trip each other up trying to save each other. We’ll both be safer if each of us just gets himself out of the way.”

“I understand,” John said at last.


“No, you’re right. We have to treat this as a potential combat situation, each of us has to trust the other to do his job.” The corner was approaching. “Cross or turn?”

“Turn. Of course, if you see something and it’s obvious I don’t—” Kevin glanced toward John for a moment, and the corner of his eye caught a door fly open just behind his lover, a man’s figure come charging out.

Completely forgetting what he’d just said, he reacted instinctively. He elbowed John out of the way and caught the stranger’s outstretched arm, dropping his own weight to throw the intruder off-balance, spinning him around and then pinning him against the brick shop-front with an arm around his throat.

Day 56 Portland Bill to Bournemouth


Dorset is the home of my childhood holidays. My dad and his lady used to take me to a farm in Winterborne Kingston, and we’d spend a week touring around Dorset and Devon in an old minivan that had seen better days. They were both chain smokers, so in hindsight, it was amazing we saw anything at all through the haze of smoke from Old Virginia tobacco.

Dad and my (now) stepmother had joined The National Trust, so we could visit places for free. As a child I wasn’t wildly keen about being dragged around all these old relics, but I could be pacified with a drink and a cake in the tea rooms. Nothing much has changed. I’m still easily pleased with coffee and cake.

Two of my favourite places to visit were Durdle Door and Corfe Castle, both places visited by the Olympic Torch today. As I write this the Torch has already set off on its journey. Torch bearers, I wish you a safe passage and no rain.

Corfe Castle was the stuff that my fertile imagination squirreled into stories. A thousand-year-old royal castle shaped by warfare, it stood strong and proud as the English Civil War raged around it. In my mind I was Lady Bankes defending the castle against Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads, only to be betrayed by one of my soldiers. I could see the pain as the castle was demolished, not by time and wear, but by gunpowder, as Captain Hughes of Lulworth packed deep holes with gunpowder to bring the towers and ramparts crashing down.

Durdle Door is stunning. Hard on the knees to get down to the beach, but absolutely stunning. Durdle Door is a naturally formed rock arch on an easterly section of the Jurassic Coast between Weymouth and Lulworth Cove. When I say Jurassic Coast I’m not anticipating Richard Attenborough to pop up, you understand. No velociraptors here(thank goodness), but the coastline is a wonderful place to find fossils.

Naturally, Durdle Door has played the backdrop to many films and music videos. I think it is rather indicative of my age and kids that the first film I spotted was Nanny McPhee and music video was Tears for Fears’ Shout.

It is also the image used by Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy to promote the 500 days to go to the Olympics opening landmark.

What do I remember about Durdle Door as a kid? Complaining a lot about how my legs ached climbing the steep cliff to the car park. But the view is so worth it. Even a seven year old, standing in the rain, could appreciate what an amazing sight was in front of her. As long as she got an ice cream at the end of the climb.

My story is set on The Isle of Wight, which is tomorrow’s Torch visit, but the idea of the summer holiday is just the same.

The Isle of… Where?


Blurb: When Liam Marshall’s best friend, Alex, loses his fight with colon cancer, he leaves Liam one final request: buy a ticket to Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, and scatter Alex’s ashes off the pier. Liam is tired, worn out, and in desperate need of a vacation, but instead of sun, sea, sand, and hot cabana boys, he gets a rickety old train, revolting kids, and no Ewan MacGregor.

Liam would have done anything for his friend, but fulfilling Alex’s final wish means letting go of the only family Liam had left. Lost, he freezes on the pier… until Sam Owens comes to his rescue.

Sam’s family has vacationed on the Isle of Wight every year for as long as he can remember, but he’s never met anyone like Liam. Determined to make Liam’s vacation one to remember, Sam looks after him—in and out of the bedroom. He even introduces Liam to his entire family. But as Sam helps Liam let go, he’s forced to admit that he wants Liam to hang on—not to his old life, but to Sam and what they have together.

Excerpt: THE conversation had gone something like this:

Alex: “You need a vacation after being stuck inside with me for so long.”

Liam: “Somewhere hot. Sandy beaches, blue sea, hot men.”

Alex: “I can promise you the beaches are sandy.”

Liam: “What do you mean? Alex, what are you planning? I know that look in your eyes. I thought we were talking about a vacation.”

Alex: “I’m offering you a vacation, moron.”

Liam: “Where?”

Alex: “The Isle of Wight.”

Liam: “Where the fuck is that?”

Alex: “The UK.”

Liam: “It rains there and the men aren’t hot.”

Alex: “Ewan McGregor, man, Ewan McGregor.”

Liam: “That’s a low blow, even for you.”

Liam’s vision of a tropical vacation with cocktails and cabana boys faded away with the tide and instead there was this, a special hell, surrounded by screaming kids and overweight moms. Alex really knew how to give his best friend a good time.

Liam leaned against the glass and sighed. Somewhere up there, Alex was laughing at him. The bastard could have given him a train ticket to anywhere; the Orient Express, for instance. The lyrics said a “Ticket to Ride,” not fucking Ryde. But no, Alex loved the Isle of Wight after a summer vacation during college and he would not be moved. So a ticket to the ass end of nowhere it was. Maybe Alex had secretly hated him all these years.

The Isle of Wight was obviously a popular destination for families, because from the second Liam had gotten on the ferry to the island he hadn’t been able to get away from whining brats. Liam wasn’t one of those men whose life was going to be completed by progeny. He liked Kathy well enough, even though he’d deny it if pushed, but she was Alex’s kid, so of course Liam liked her. Children en masse were hell on earth. Particularly the little fucker behind him.

The train eventually reached Ryde. Could any train ride be so slow? The island was the size of a handkerchief. The majority of the crowd got off, to Liam’s relief. He was particularly pleased to be rid of the evil kid who had spent most of the journey kicking the back of his seat. After days of riding this train from hell, he had no patience for some bored brat. He’d glared at the monster when the kicking had started, and then tried glaring at the mother. The woman had stared back with sublime indifference. Liam thought about moving to the seat behind the kid and kicking his seat to see how he liked it. He could just imagine how that would go down. Pervert On Train Attacks Small Child! Liam’s imagination ran wild as he visualized the headlines. It might even get on YouTube. Somebody would record it on their cell phone and upload it. Liam shuddered as he imagined the small clip going viral. His mother would never speak to him again. The nightmare had kept him occupied until the train disgorged the horrid child and his equally horrid mother at Ryde Esplanade.

For the couple of minutes it took to get to Ryde Pier Head station, Liam leaned against the back of the seat and closed his eyes. Forget the last few days riding this God-awful train. Today was the day to fulfill Alex’s request. Then he could go home and get on with his life.

Sue Brown