Thursday, 15 December 2011


I haven't really been blogging since the beginning of November and a lot has happened since then.  The biggest thing is that we have finally moved home.  After five years of renting in Newnham, we are now the proud owners of a mortgage once again.

The move has been traumatic and very disruptive.  We are planning to build an office and studio in the garden, but until then I am in a room that reminds me of the office in Terry Gilliam's Brazil where the person next door is moving the walls in their favour.  My wife's studio looks like a storage cupboard full of boxes.

Our house in Newnham was a long way from being perfect for us and it was very frustrating to be unable to fix anything permanently or change anything to suit our tastes, but I produced all the Tales of Terror books there, as well as The Dead of Winter and Mister Creecher.  What books will this house elicit from me I wonder?

And we will miss Newnham.  Or we will miss some of it - our little bit of it.  There is a part of Newnham that is far too pleased with itself, but we made some very good friends there nonetheless.  And it is a unique area.  At the last party I went to there, Stephen Hawking was in the kitchen.  It's that kind of a place.

We will miss the quirky, grumpy, chatty, bossy, loveable Derby Stores and the butchers and the fish and chip van on a Tuesday night.  We will miss Lammas Land and the walk across the little oasis of feral fenland to the centre of town.  We will miss the amazing variety of birdlife we managed to attract into our tiny garden and the easy access out on to Grantchester Meadows.

But now we have our own house.  We are reunited with our paintings - many of which I had forgotten (especially the ones I actually painted) - although we have had contend with breakages and losses.  We have our books back, though we do not have anywhere to put them yet.  We have far too much stuff for such a small house, but we do have a cellar luckily.  We are in a quiet and very friendly little street.

The photograph shows the chimney sweep's brush emerging from the chimney pot.  He insisted on showing us this, as sweeps do.  They say it's lucky to see it.  Let's hope so.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

My brother

My brother would have been fifty-nine yesterday.  He died many years ago now and I am ashamed to say that months will go by when I don't think of him at all.  We were not close for much of our lives.  In fact we did not see each other for years.  He was in the army - in the catering corps - and stationed in Germany for some of that time, but it was more that we seemed to have nothing but our surname in common.  I arranged to meet him at Waterloo Station one time, to go and see our other brother, and I walked past him twice.

If you have not experienced it yourself it is very hard to explain what it is like to outlive an older brother - and he was six years older than me.  When I reached the age that he was when he died - forty-four - it felt wrong.  And I can never see him old.  I cannot imagine him as fifty-nine.

He had survived a heart and kidney transplant and was progressing well when he fell victim to an infection.  This was his second heart transplant.  The new kidney was down to the fact that the existing one would never have coped with another round of the drugs involved.  I saw him the morning after and marvelled, as I had at the first one, at how well he looked.  The new heart seemed to refresh every cell in the body making it look ten years younger.  It was a welcome distraction to the huge scar creeping up his chest.

This was his second heart transplant because the first would have failed in the donor had they lived long enough.  It was just one of those things.  My brother did not get many breaks in life, although to be fair, much of that was down to his own recklessness.  He was wild when he was young.  Just the mention of his name was enough to protect me on the estate where we lived.

He died very shortly after my son was born.  It was a cruel confluence.  I drove to the hospital with one of those brick-sized mobile phones we had in the 90s fearing that my wife would go into labour while I was gone.  It seems like only moments later in my memory that I see my mother holding my baby son against her black dress and I am driving my parents through relentless rain to my brother's funeral.

My memories of my brother are almost all conversations.  We would go to the pub if we were home (he from the army, me from college) at the same time and then, over the years, we seem to have had a series of long conversations, too many of them in a hospital of one sort or another.  For some reason, although I was younger than he was, he would open up to me.  I think he trusted me.  His life was always full of drama - mostly tragedy.  I'm not sure he ever really knew what he wanted from life.

One time we met up just the two of us and went for a meal in Soho in London.  He was really taken by the little pasta place I took him to.  It was the kind of place he would have liked to run, he said.  Maybe there is a parallel universe somewhere where that dream came true.  I hope so.