I first became a fan of the author Herbert Theodoric Thomas, or H.T. to his friends and followers, when I read his book  The Dragon’s Destiny at the age of fifteen. Hiding the book inside my tattered copy of Trollope’s Barchester Towers I was thrilled by the writer’s ability to conjure up on the white pages of a book the world of kings, warriors, and warlords. Captivated, I read as many of his books as possible. His stories were set in many different parts of the world and were always full of fascinating detail about the people and their culture who provided the background to his tales of intrigue and adventure.

As I discovered when I researched his background it was little wonder that he was so knowledgeable about places far from my own small boarding school hidden away from the world in the Sussex countryside. Thomas was born in India, the son of a senior diplomat in the service of the British crown. His father’s work took him to many of the countries within the British Empire and a good many of those not painted pink on the maps of the world that stared down on the young H.T. from the walls of his classroom. For although Sir George Thomas was a much-travelled man his son spent his youth incarcerated in an educational establishment not dissimilar to my own. Thomas revealed in his autobiography, which  I have read many times, that the letters he received from his father describing the wonders of the world beyond the Sussex Downs inspired him to travel in his father’s footsteps. After leaving university and surviving the carnage on the Western Front, and much to his father’s chagrin,  he declined a career in the Civil Service and set off to travel the globe and see for himself those places his father had described in his letters. With his degree from Oxford and his command of the English language, he found work as a schoolteacher easy to find. In several European capitals, he was employed as a docent,  an assistant, lecturing in English Literature. While in the USA he worked as a guide at the Bronx Zoo and volunteered at the city’s great art museum, the Met. In his autobiography, he amusingly described one job as shovelling it and the other as spouting it.

The Second World War put paid to his travelling but he found employment with the intelligence service who had a use for a man who was widely travelled, especially in Europe. It was this experience that no doubt inspired his fascination with treachery and intrigue, Themes that ran through the books he wrote during those wartime years.

Shortly after the war and earning a decent income from his novels he resigned his commission and left London to live in the small village of Church Barsley. He fell in love with the bucolic lifestyle of a comfortably off country gentleman. The novels featuring heroes and acts of derring-do were replaced by a whole new genre of rural tales based no doubt on the places and people of his new surroundings. Not every critic approved of what became known as the ‘Barsley Chronicles’. He was accused of being a ‘poor man’s Thomas Hardy’ or as the Literary Critic in the News of the World put it, ‘More tripe than Trollop.’ This was strange because, as a boy,  I read his books instead of Trollop’s but read his new books as avidly as I had devoured his earlier works.

It was while I was at night school that I started to correspond with him. I aspired to become a successful author like Thomas and there were some similarities in our childhoods. I had received a private education to prove that my father, a self-made man and proud of it,  had risen in society. Whereas the young H.T. was sent to boarding school out of convenience and expectation. He was kind enough to reply to my letters and offered me some useful advice. Over time he moved from being a mentor to being someone I considered to be a friend and even invited me to visit him at his home in Church Barsley. I gladly accepted the invitation and we agreed to arrange a date and there the matter rested, until last month.

After I did my National Service and inspired by Thomas’s life story I travelled the globe following in his footsteps, reluctantly postponing my visit to his home. The world had changed from his day and some places like post-war communist  China were less accessible to the casual western traveller. Perhaps lacking H.T.’s confidence and connections I found the kind of work he did on his adventure difficult to find. Instead of jobs as a docent, guide, or tutor, I had to pay my way by hard physical graft in often unpleasant working conditions in the more unsavoury parts of the world’s great cities. Throughout,  I remained in communication with H.T.  by postcards and the occasional letter. I shared with him my ambition to get at least one good novel on the back of my experiences and he responded with his usual words of encouragement.

When I returned to England I got a job at a private school in the south Midlands, not far from Church Barsley. I wrote to him to arrange a visit. His reply, when it eventually came, was noticeable for the decline in his handwriting.  Throughout our correspondence, he always wrote in a beautifully legible old fashioned style of handwriting rather than using his typewriter. Now, his reply was brief and barely legible, He failed to respond to my suggested date and so I decided to take a chance and travelled in my newly acquired second-hand car Austin A40 to his home.

The village was just as he had described it in his first ‘Barsley’ novel, The Old Orchard and it was easy to see how H.T. had fallen in love with it. The village was indeed surrounded by the trees that produced the ingredients for the sweet, fruit beer for which the district was renowned.The stout, thatched, half-timbered cottages built with honey-coloured Jurassic Limestone, looked warmly welcoming in the late autumn sunshine. I found his home and knocked on the door, I was greeted by a man who looked the very epitome of a rural labourer. He was wearing an old cloth cap, striped collarless shirt with his trousers held up by a pair of ancient braces. Assuming he wasn’t my literary hero I asked.

” I’ve come to see Mr Thomas. Is he in?

“ No,” the man replied in a thick country accent, “ He don’t live ‘ere no more. I just does the garden now.”

I showed him one of the letters from our correspondence with the address, ‘ Orchard Cottage’ clearly shown.

” That’s right,” he said, “ Orchard Cottage” Then he shook his head and said. “ But ‘e don’t live ‘ere no more.”

“ Do you know where he went?”, I said, becoming worried that my trip had been in vain.

He said. “ I  saw ‘im go up the churchyard ‘bout an hour past.” Pointing to a rough stone path that led up to the church.

I was a bit confused but decided I had no option but to go to the churchyard. The small church with its square tower was just as H.T. had described it in The Missing Chorister. In the churchyard, I saw a crowd of people standing near the vicar. I tried to spot a man who I might recognise from my many newspaper cuttings featuring  H.T. Thomas but the mourners, for that was what they were, had their backs to me. I waited until the vicar had finished and the group dispersed. I stood by the lychgate and scanned the faces of the people as they passed me by. Finally, as the last mourner left I asked him if Mr H.T, Thomas was still in the churchyard.

“ I have an appointment with him,”  I said.

The man stopped, dabbed his eyes with a handkerchief, turned and pointed at a freshly dug grave.

“ If you want him he’s over there. But I reckon you’re a bit late for that appointment don’t you?”

I go back to Church Barsley every year on the same day.  I have a glass of fruit beer, or rather I did until the village pub closed down. As the years go by there are fewer mourners who come to the grave to pay their respects. Like clothes and hairstyles writer’s go in and out of fashion. Currently, H.T. Thomas is definitely ‘out’. I finally finished my book about my own travels. I have dedicated it to ‘ To H.T. My Mentor and Guide. Your words will continue to inspire me.”. But I can’t help feeling that like my appointment with  H.T,  I have arrived in the literary world too late.



The feud between the Mortens and Durnley’s ran like a taut thread through a tapestry of English history. Its origins were now lost in the borderlands of myth, legend, fact, and fiction. To do justice to the many twists and turns in the saga would require several large volumes but I am a busy man and people have short attention spans in these days of talking pictures, the latest dance crazes, and the motor car. So I will tell my story as briefly as I can.

I arrived at Ivel Minster School in the summer of 1904 at the same time as the youngest scions of those two warring families. Because my name was Thomas Motcombe, son of the Reverend Motcombe, I found myself in the same dormitory as A.H.Morten. We shared similar interests and soon became friends.  His opponent in this latest chapter of the saga, James Edward Charles Durnley, second son of the 7th Earl of Boughton, was installed in the dormitory across the hall. Both had older brothers who had recently left Ivel. Christopher Morten went on to Oxford while the Honourable Richard Durnley joined the Guards. In their own time at Ivel both had pursued the feud  with considerable energy and now their younger siblings took up the cudgels.

From the start, Durnley Minor made his intentions clear. He quickly acquired a clique of followers who took every opportunity to harass A.H. His textbooks were stolen and then reappeared badly defaced; his bed linen was periodically soaked in water in a bid to condemn him as a bed wetter. His sports kit repeatedly disappeared and on one infamous occasion was discovered behind the pavilion covered in excrement. His family background was mocked and his older brother’s reputation traduced. In response, A.H. chose more subtle tactics. Excelling in classes such as Latin, History and English, disciplines that were beyond the duller abilities of Durnley, he flaunted his superior intellectual talents. When he took over the editorship of the school magazine he seized the opportunity to mercilessly rib his opponent with satirical barbs. In response, Durnley took what revenge he could on the sports field where he had the upper hand.

In the Sixth, matters came to an unexpected head. To Durnley’s fury, A.H. was appointed Head Boy. Shortly after his appointment, he happened to spot Durnley bothering one of the local girls who worked in the kitchen. The girl was distressed and A.H. gallantly intervened. She escaped but her assailant and rescuer became embroiled in a fistfight that soon drew a crowd of noisily excited schoolboy spectators. Eventually, the brawl was brought to a halt by the Games Master who suggested that since neither of the combatants would explain the reason for the fight honour would be satisfied in the boxing ring. To the surprise of all A.H. won the bout by cleverly evading Durnley’s cumbersome angry lunges and securing enough “hits” to win on points.  A few days later the girl’s mother arrived at the school to complain about her daughter’s treatment and identified Durnley as her tormentor. She threatened to go to one of the newspapers with the story unless her daughter was recompensed for her ordeal. The school’s Board of Governors persuaded the 7th Earl to pay up and Durnley quietly left Ivel and England to work on his uncle’s cattle ranch in Australia. The scandal was quickly hushed up, the girl’s family placated and the school’s reputation preserved.

Before he left Ivel Minster Durnley aimed one last parting shot at his rival. On his final day he stormed into A.H.’s study room just as he and I were revising for exams and issued a furious warning.

“ Damn you Morten!” he shouted, “We have unfinished business you and me. Next time I see you prepare to meet your Maker. For it will be your last day on Earth.”

After we left school A.H. followed in his brother’s footsteps to Oxford although to study politics rather than medicine. His father had ambitions for him to stand for Parliament in the Liberal interest and a brilliant career awaited. I took a temporary job as an assistant at Ivel and in the process learnt much about the scandal from staffroom chatter before gaining a place at St. Andrew’s to study Divinity. I  saw very little of A.H. in those last few years of peace before the Great War broke out. I joined up, became a Naval chaplain, and saw enough of human suffering to challenge my faith in God. A.H. became a junior officer in the West Yorks, his families local regiment and we completely lost touch. I read in The Times that Captain the Honourable Richard Durnley had been killed during the Retreat from  Mons only weeks into the war and from another Old Ivilian I learnt that Major Christopher Morten, A.H.’s older brother, had been gassed in the second battle at Ypres and subsequently died. The old enemies at school had found comradeship in death.

Two years after the Armistice I bumped into the younger Durnley of all people in Oxford Street. He recognised my old school tie and insisted I join him for a drink at his club. I was reluctant to spend time in his company but I was intrigued to know what had happened to him since leaving Ivel Minster. The death of his father and brother meant he was now the 8th Earl. He seemed to have lost  some of the snarling arrogance that I remembered from our schooldays. The war  seemed to have  changed him somewhat as it had done so many others. We chatted about  schooldays at Ivel and he was surprised to learn that we had been in the same class. He only vaguely remembered me and I was happy to leave it at that. Settling comfortably into a couple of leather chairs with our whiskies, he began to recount his wartime experiences.

“ I was at Gallipoli”, he said, “ With the Anzacs.  The campaign was a complete mess from the start. I joined up in a place called Wilcannia out in the middle of nowhere. I was missing England and I saw joining up as a way to get back home. My brother had died and by all accounts the old man was looking shaky. They were great chaps the Aussies you know. Rough as hell but fought like demons. The Turks weren’t bad  soldiers either. I was wounded in a trench raid and ended up in a field hospital. All sorts were in there, Anzacs mostly but a few British, French, some Indian fellows and even the odd Turk. When I’d recovered enough to potter about one of the doctors said to me,

‘There’s a British officer in here who’s in a very bad way. It would be a service to him if you could sit with him awhile. I don’t think he’s got long’  

Well, I couldn’t say no could I? So I sat with the poor chap and he was in a terrible state, shot to pieces poor fellow. We managed to have a bit of a conversation and it turned out he was at Ivel too.  Archibald Morten was his name. I expect you remember him,  I certainly did.  He was Head Boy there you know. According to the medical chap, he was a captain in the Yorkies and a bit of a hero. Anyway, just before I had to leave Morten asked me to come closer.

“ He said, ‘  Do me a favour Durnley. I’m done for and in agony. It would be a kindness if you could finish me off here and now.”

I tried to conceal my feelings and said, “ What did you do?”

“Well”, replied Durnley draining his glass, “Let’s just say his Maker found a way to spare him any further suffering.”



MY BEST DAY AT SCHOOL by Bobby Crockett aged 9 years

I am chewing my pencil until the end is all soggy and I get bits of wood and flaky paint in my mouth. It isn’t very nice but it’s what I do when I think really hard. And I have to think really hard now about the question Miss Thompson has set me. I have to write about my best day at school. I think she asked me because today is my last day. Tomorrow my family are going to our new home in Dorset and after the summer holiday, I will have to start at a new school.  Some children, like my cousins, live in the same house all the time but I don’t. When my Dad was in the RAF we moved about quite often and 183 Sutton Road, Maidstone is the fourth house I have lived in, five if I include the time we spent at Auntie Eileen’s. So I am used to making friends and then leaving them. But I like this school and I like being in Miss Thompson’s class. I thought one day I might marry Miss Thompson but she told us a few days ago she was marrying Mr Lehmann during the summer holiday and she is very happy. If I was older, which of course I’m not, I might wonder how a man in his late thirties with a German name came to be teaching the top juniors at a school in Kent just ten years after the war. I might wonder if he had escaped Germany before the war started or whether he was a POW like Bert Trautmann the famous goalkeeper who broke his neck in the Cup Final last year. Mr Lehmann’s life might make an interesting story like the one I wrote about how I scored a goal for England at Wembley. Miss Thompson liked the story so much she said I could go to all the classes and read it out loud to them. Perhaps that was my best day at this school.

Or perhaps it was when we went to Hampton Court on a big coach. Miss Thompson asked me lots of questions about history dates and I knew them all. She said, “Well Done Bobby”, smiled and then nodded to the lady teacher sitting next to her on the bus and I was very proud. And we had fun at Hampton Court, we went into the Maze and we ate our sandwiches for lunch. Perhaps that was my “Best Day”.

Or perhaps it was when I had to read out my report about the football match against St. Andrew’s in Assembly to the whole school. I wrote it all by myself and said how good our goalie was. He is a lot bigger than me. Miss Ringer, the headmistress, gave him some extra praise and so he decided not to beat me up. That was a good day but perhaps not my best!

Maybe it was last year when I had to be a clown in Mrs Miggins Toy Shop. I didn’t really like being a clown but Mum made me a clown’s outfit and everyone said I was very good at being a clown. I remember there was a girl, I forget her name,  she’s left now for the big school where my sister’s go, she played the Christmas Fairy and I liked how she looked in her fairy costume. In our class, I like Josephine although I’m not sure I like her so much now after she and Laura started kissing and laughing at me. I didn’t say anything about that game Laura and I played in the woods.

One day I led the boys out of assembly first. I said to the boys in the class that I didn’t think it was fair that the girls always went out of the hall first and that we should go first next time. And we did, although only David Goode and Peter Took came with me. Miss Thompson wasn’t angry but she did say that Miss Ringer had said we were “very rude boys.” I  don’t think Miss Thompson liked us doing it so we never did it again. So I don’t think that can count as my “Best Day”.

It’s difficult because I can remember lots of “Best Days” at Mangravet School although I can remember some “Worst Days” too.  There was the time my head kept itching and Mum said I had headlice. And that time we all went to Billy’s birthday party and I caught the German Measles and was ill and had to miss school. Do you think Mr Lehmann had German Measles? And that time when.. .well I shan’t tell you about that time but it was certainly was my “Worst Day” and everyone was horrible and Tony Elliot was the worst!

I shall miss my friends though. I shall miss going to David’s house after school and watching the Lone Ranger on his television. His mum always gives us sandwiches and a drink but his dad sometimes grumbles about me being there “again”! I like David’s mum though. She’s always singing and cheerful and says “ Oh, he’s alright, he’s no bother.”

We don’t have a television. One day at school a man came to talk to us about savings stamps. The ones with Prince Charles and Princess Anne on them.  I said I couldn’t afford any because I was “broke”. Everyone in the class laughed but when I told Mum she didn’t laugh and got quite cross. So that wasn’t my “Best Day.”

So what was my “Best Day” at this school? I think it was every day, except for the bad ones of course. Just as every day at my last school was “ My Best Day”. And I hope I shall lots of “Best Days” at my new school wherever it is. It will be a new adventure and I like adventures. Perhaps one day I will be able to write about them. If anyone is interested.

The End.

( This is all true except some of the names)





Peter Henry Robinson loved cars. He’d loved them ever since his sixth birthday when he opened up a small, oblong package and found a yellow box inside with the words Dinky Toy written on it in red letters and in white the number 158 . In the box was a die-cast model of a Riley saloon in black paint. Peter Henry ran his fingers over the long bonnet, over the roof and down to the boot at the back. He liked the small rubber tyres that he took off and on so many times that his father warned he would lose them one day, which of course he did.  But it was the sweeping curves of the mudguards and the running boards that he liked best as he raced the black Riley saloon around the living room and into the hall making all the noises he thought a car makes as it revs its engine, changes gear or comes to a screeching halt.

For his seventh and eighth birthday and the Christmases in between, he was given a different Dinky Toy car. He put all the sixpences and thruppeny bits he was given by his doting grandparents, aunties, and uncles whenever he went to visit them for tea, and he visited them often, into his Strolling Minstrel money box. As he put ever more coins into the slot in the minstrel’s tin hat the weight of the coins made the minstrel’s tin legs become ever longer and so the Strolling Minstrel became ever taller until he became as tall as he could be. Then Peter Henry would empty out the coins and go on the bus with his mother to the toy shop in the town and buy another Dinky Toy car so in time he had quite a collection.  Although the black Riley saloon with the long bonnet and the sweeping curves remained his favourite. And when the weather was nice, as it often was in our childhood memories, Peter Henry Robinson would sit just outside his house, 155 Park Road Middlestone on a little wooden stool that his father made for him and watch the cars go by. Always hoping to see a car just like his favourite toy black Riley saloon. If it was wet or cold, which it sometimes was, he would sit in the bay window of his house and look out over the hedge which his father cut low so that Peter Henry could still see the cars going up and down the road.

Park Road led to the new council house estate, a big green park, an old cemetery with a little chapel in the middle and some small villages beyond. In those days very few cars went along the road so while he was waiting for the cars to go by, always hoping to see a black Riley saloon with a long bonnet and sweeping curves, he began writing down the numbers and letters on the  car’s registrations plates. He would write them down  carefully in his very best handwriting. His teacher, Miss Walker,  always said his writing was “a bit scrawly” but he could read it and that was all that mattered to Peter Henry if a Morris Minor or a Standard 8 went whizzing past at 30 miles per hour! Then one day from his seat on the pavement he saw a black car with a long bonnet  and sweeping curves that was just like his Dinky Toy Riley saloon. On it was a number plate that read “PHR 155”.

“ That’s my car” he shouted and rushed inside shouting at the top of his voice,

Mum, you’ve never guessed what I’ve seen.  A car with my initials and our house number on it. PHR 155!”

His mother, who was baking lovely cakes in the kitchen as all mothers did in those days in all the best reading books, said.

That’s very nice Peter. Now wash your hands and get ready for tea.”

Every day after that Peter Henry would watch from the pavement or from the bay window hoping to see if that car went passed his house again, but it never did.

The years went by and  Peter Henry Robinson grew up as we all do. He became an apprentice car mechanic and went to college at night to learn as much as he could about cars and how to repair them when they broke down. He got a good job at a big garage in Middlestone and one day he met a girl called Jane. They got married and lived in a small flat in a new block of flats on the outskirts of Middlestone which felt even smaller when they had twin boys.

But life has its sorrows as well as joys and first his father and then his mother died and the house on the quiet road that led to the council estate, a big green park, an old cemetery with the chapel in the middle and the new housing developments in the villages beyond stood empty.

“We should move there,” said Peter Henry, “We will have more room for the twins”, and so they did.

And as the twins grew older Peter would let them play, very carefully, with his Dinky Toy cars. On days when the weather was nice the three of them would sit on the pavement watching the cars go by. The twins would argue over who sat on the little wooden stool their grandfather had made and Peter Henry would tell them everything he knew about cars until they were happy to be called for tea by their mother. And then, when the twins got married and had children of their own Peter Henry would let his grandchildren play, very carefully, with his Dinky Toy cars. If it was nice weather he would sit with them on the pavement outside 155 Park Road, Middlestone and the children would argue over who sat on the little wooden stool their great-grandfather had made. If it were cold and wet they would sit in the bay window and he would tell them everything he knew about the many cars that went along the once quiet road until they were happy to be called for tea by their grandmother.

But sadness often follows joy in life and the twins and their families moved far away. The big garage where he had always worked became a dealership for expensive foreign cars and Peter Henry retired from his job. Jane fell ill and after a short illness was taken in a long, sleek black car decorated with flowers past the council estate, the big green park, the old cemetery with the disused chapel in the middle, along the new road to the crematorium and Peter Henry Robinson was left all alone.

He stayed at 155 Park Road Middlestone and he kept the hedge low so that he could sit by the bay window watching the cars go by on the road that was much quieter now they’d built the Motorway. Sometimes, if the weather was nice, he would take his chair and sit on the pavement and try to remember all the things he knew about cars as they went passed the house where he’d lived for most of his life.

But time slipped by too quickly and Peter Henry became unsteady on his feet,  his hearing and eyesight started to fail. One day he had a fall and hurt himself so badly that it was decided by his family that he must move to a retirement home with a warden on call. As he sorted out which of his possessions to take to his small one-bedroom flat and which to leave behind he came across his old Dinky Toy cars in a box in a cupboard under the stairs along with the little stool his father had made.

I know”, he said to himself,” I’ll give the cars to the  great-grand-kids as long as they play with them carefully.  It will give them something to play with instead of that computer thing they’re always on. And they can give them to their children one day.”

He picked out the black Riley saloon with its long bonnet and sweeping running boards and thought out loud,

“I’ll keep this one for myself though, just for old times.”

Then he found a little notebook full of car numbers and  “Peter Henry Robinson, 155 Park Road, Middlestone.” on the inside cover in scrawly handwriting.

“Well, I’ll be damned, “he said to his empty house, “Fancy finding this after all this time.”

So, for old times’ sake, he took his childhood notebook and the little stool and made his way outside to the pavement. He put the stool down and stood watching the cars pass by. He still hoped that one day he would see  PHR 155 again and on that day he did. Although his eyesight was not as good as it used to be he could see a whole procession of cars driving slowly along the road towards him. Many of them looked like the cars in his Dinky Toy collection.

Then he saw it. A black car with a long bonnet, sweeping curves, mudguards and running boards. Looking carefully he could make out the registration plate, PHR 155.

“ That’s it” he shouted to no one in particular, “ That’s my car! ”

In his excitement, he stumbled over the little wooden stool his father had made and fell right in front of the black car with the long bonnet and sweeping curves just as it was passing by his house.

Not long after the accident, the organisers of the first-ever Middlestone Classic Car Rally that was being held in the big green park, just past the mixed private and council estate, and the old cemetery announced that out of respect for the elderly gentleman who had so tragically died during the motorcade the event would be cancelled.  But, they promised, that next year it would be back, bigger and better than ever.

And at the funeral everyone said,

Peter Henry Robinson, killed by a black Riley saloon eh? Still, I reckon  it’s just how he’d have wanted to go, don’t you?”




Johanne closed the door behind him to keep out the chill night air, the roaring wind and the snow that was piling up against the stone wall of his cottage. With his few remaining animals safe in the barn from the ravenous wolf pack howling in the nearby forest, he could finally attend to his own needs.

He poured some sour beer into a mug and tore off a hunk of bread. Behind the thin curtain that divided the sparsely furnished room his elderly mother’s occasional snorts and snores reminded him why he was still trying to keep the farm going against all adversity.

As he cut himself a piece of cheese he reflected on the cruel fate that had left him with only his frail mother for company. The plague had taken his father and it was on a chill cold night such as this, five years before, that the screaming agonies of childbirth had robbed him of his young wife Martha and their stillborn son. He had thought to sell the farm and join one of the many mercenary bands that were rampaging through Bavaria caring not which Holy or unholy, Roman Emperor, King or Prince prevailed in the endless wars of religion as long as they had their fill of coin and women. But in all Christian conscience, he could not abandon his mother and so he had tilled his fields and husbanded his livestock and somehow, by God’s Good Grace, had fed himself and his mother through the five lonely winters since Martha’s death.

He was roused from his thoughts by a sudden knock on the cottage door. Johanne called out;

“ Who comes here at this late hour?”

From the other side of the door, a man’s voice replied,

“ A stranger, seeking shelter from the winter’s storm. ”

Johanne was wary but the voice seemed to carry no threat. He drew back the latch and there stood a cloaked figure, his face obscured within a deep hood. The stranger asked,

Friend, can you spare a little food and warmth for a lost traveller?”.

Johanne invited him into his home and put out a plate for his unexpected guest. For some time they sat in silence as they shared Johanne’s bread and cheese and enjoyed the fire’s warmth and a mug of sour beer. Then the stranger, his face still hidden, drew from his cloak a purse full of gold coins, enough to buy an army or a fine castle on a hill, and placed it on the table.

This is for you”, he said, “ in return for your hospitality”.

“I want no thanks”, said Johanne, eyeing the purse and it’s glittering contents, “ I have simply done my Christian duty.”

Although he thought to himself, “Who else should have a rich reward if not a good Christian soul such as myself?

“ Well,” said the stranger, “if you won’t accept coin perhaps you will accept this?”

At that the cottage door blew open and there, outside in the swirling snowstorm, stood Martha, dressed in a blue cloak with a  young boy, aged no more than five years old, holding her hand.

When Johanne had recovered from his shock he called out to Martha to come closer. The stranger beckoned the woman and suddenly, it seemed without moving, Martha and the boy were standing just inside the doorway.

Johanne stared intently at the woman and child.  Could it  really be Martha and their longed-for child? How many times had he prayed to the Madonna in the small church in the valley below to be with his wife again? And now here she was.

Then he looked away from Martha and glanced down at the bulging purse on the table and imagined himself dressed in fine clothes and dining at a table prepared for a winter’s banquet in a castle on a hill.

You must choose now and take hold of whichever gift you want “, said the stranger, “ for I must be on my way. I have a long journey this night.”

The light by my candle is dim.” said Johanne, “Can they not come even closer  so I can see if it is truly Martha and our longed-for child?”

Again the stranger beckoned to the child and the blue cloaked figure who silently moved to within an arm’s reach of Johanne. Close enough for him to see that beyond any doubt it was indeed his wife, looking as lovely as the day they were wed in the church in the valley below. The boy standing beside her, still tightly clutching her hand, had the same delicate features as Martha and hair as dark and thick as Johanne’s.

Johanne knew exactly which gift he would take from the stranger. He rose quickly from his chair and tried to take hold of Martha and the bag of coins at the same time. There was a flash of brilliant light that illuminated the room and momentarily blinded Johanne. As he struggled to regain his sight he heard the cottage door slam shut.

With his sight fully restored Johanne looked around the sparsely furnished room. He was alone. No stranger was sitting at his table. There was no Martha, no longed-for son and no purse of gold coins. From behind the curtain, he heard the familiar sounds of his mother sleeping. He rushed outside but of the stranger, Martha and the boy there were no signs in the snow of their coming or going.  Nothing but the chill night air, the roaring wind and the howl of the wolves in the nearby forest.






As one of King Alstan the Affable’s loyal henchmen, Thorston, Thane of Wealdham in the Kingdom of the Ingles, had been sent upon a most important task. He was to travel to a place called Biscopstone deep in the shire lands of Somer and collect a wondrous statue that it was said men had found buried in the earth and take it to the king.

So Thorston set off with Adric the carter, a wagon drawn by four of his strongest oxen, his  own two loyal henchmen and Wilfreed his holy man. After two days of journeying, they reached their destination and upon a conical hill, they saw a great cluster of the simple folk gazing in awe and wonder at a most miraculous sight. For there lying in the ground was a statue of The Lord of All the Heavens, exquisitely carved in the blackest stone Thorston had ever seen. The figure had its arms across its chest as if clasping all men to its bosom. Upon seeing the holy object Wilfreed fell upon his knees in joyous celebration and said to Thorston,

“ It is indeed a marvellous sight. See how the simple folk draw strength and comfort from it. We must do as our king commands and take this gift from the Lord of  All the Heavens straight away to the king’s capital and place it in the great holy chemple in  Heafordburg.”

Thorston did indeed see how the simple folk gazed in awe at the statue and though he was not himself a man of great faith he was a man of great ambition. He thought of his humble hall in Wealdham with its leaking roof and rotten timbers and considered how he might use the object that inspired such devotion to his own advantage.

When Thorston told the simple folk of Biscopstone of the king’s command they lamented loudly at the loss of the statue but dutiful in their obedience to the king’s wishes they helped lift the wondrous object onto the cart and sent Thorston, his two henchmen, Adric the carter and Wilfreed on their way.  However, when they reached a fork in the road not far from Biscopstone Thorston ordered his men to stop. One way led south to Heafordburg and one way led north to Wealdham. Impatient to reach Heafordburg  Wilfreed , in his excitement and devotion to The Lord of All the Heavens, ignored his Thane’s command and rode ahead pointing  southward.

“ This way my Thane, let us make haste and we shall be in Heafordburg this very evening.” For Wilfreed had for many years longed to see the great holy chemple in Heafordburg of which he had heard so much.

They were to be the last words the holy man spoke. For Thorston came up beside him and plunged his sword into his body. Then Thorston turned to Adric the carter and his two henchmen and told them that the previous night he’d had a dream in which the Lord of All the Heavens had warned him not to take the statue to Heafordburg or he and those who helped him  in that task would be forever cursed. However, those who helped him take the statue to Wealdham would receive many blessings and riches.

Adric the carter and the two Henchmen looked at each other and each thought of their humble homes in Wealdham, each with its small plot of land.They thought of their unhappy, thin wives and their hungry children and they said nothing and followed Thorston as he led them northwards to Wealdham.

In his palace in Heafordburg King Alstan became less affable as each day passed and there was no sign of the wondrous object that Thorston had been commanded to bring to him. As he waited impatiently word came to him that many of the simple folk and many of the grand folk were travelling to Wealdham to see a holy statue that Thorston had taken to there. The very same statue, it was said, that he had commanded should be brought to the great chemple in Heafordburg. So the king sent for  Godrigge, his Royal Standard Bearer in Battle, a man who had grown rich and fat in the service of the king and commanded him to go to Wealdham with a company of the king’s  bravest henchmen with orders to collect the statue and bring Thorston to Heafordburg in chains.

When Godrigge arrived in Wealdham he saw a great crowd of the grand and simple folk standing outside a large hut where they were making offerings of all manner of jewels, coin, and corn to Thorston’s  two henchmen. When Godrigge asked them why they were giving  the henchemen coin and jewels the grand and simple folk replied;

” So we can go inside and see the wondrous statue of The Lord of all the Heavens and draw strength and comfort from it.”

But when Godrigge called out to Thorston and told him of the king’s command the simple and grand folk  became angry and surrounded the king’s henchmen. They threatened to kill Godrigge if he tried to take the statue from them. Loud threats of violence and slaughter were made on all sides until Thorston strode amongst them and called for peace. He went up to Godrigge and spoke to him as a brother.

“Godrigge”, he said, “ We have stood together in the shield wall in many battles in the service of our king. Let us not spill each other’s blood or that of these good, pious folk and the king’s henchmen. I will come willingly to Heafordburg and see our king but you must leave the statue here. The Lord of All the Heavens bid me in a dream to bring it to Wealdham and  said that any who take it away will be forever cursed.”

When the king’s  bravest henchmen drew back in fear of the curse Godrigge agreed to leave the statue in Wealdham.  Thorston went to Heafordburg with him and stood before King Alstan. He bowed as deeply as any man could bow and offered his apologises so humbly that the whole court named him Thorston the Humble.

” Your Majesty”, he said, ” I beg your forgiveness. It was my intention to bring the wondrous statue to you but  I had a dream that troubled me greatly. Yet still, I was determined to bring the statue to you but when we reached the fork in the road not far from Biscopstone the four strong oxen who pulled the cart refused to go in any direction but to Wealdham.”

“ Did you not beat them?” said the king.

“ I did my lord  until blood flowed but they would not be turned.”

” And what of your holy man? Did he not remind you of your duty?”

“ He did my king, but when he called on me to travel south instead of north he was suddenly struck down dead though no hand was raised against him. I took this as a sign of The Lord of All the Heavens intent.”

At this, there was much muttering and consternation in the court.

Then the king called Thorston to his side and  spoke softly to him,

“ I hear the simple and grand folk leave many gifts in Wealdham so that they may see the wondrous statue. Is this true?”

“ It is true my king; they leave many gifts. All manner of  jewels, coin and corn”

“ And what will you do with all the jewels, coin and corn?” whispered King Alstan in Thorston’s ear.

“ I will keep half for the Lord of All the Heavens so that I may build a great chemple in his honour and I will keep half for …”

The king looked deep into Thorston’s eyes and then looked over to Godrigge, his Royal Standard Bearer in Battle who had grown rich and fat in the service of his king.

“ I have often wondered”, he said, “Just how loyal to his king Godrigge truly is.  Are you truly loyal to your king Thorston?”

Thorston followed his king’s gaze and whispered,

“ I am my king, but I hear say that Godrigge is very ambitious and yearns for yet more power and riches.”

Then Thorston leant closer and said, quietly so none but the king could hear.

“ My king, I will keep half of all the donations from the grand and simple folk for The Lord of All the Heavens in Wealdham and I will give half to you.”

And so Thorston the Humble became King Alstan’s loyal Royal Standard Bearer in Battle. The roof of his hall no longer leaked and the timbers were no longer rotten.  He grew rich and fat in the service of his king who men called Alstan the Avaricious, but only behind his back.

Adric the carter and Thorston’s two henchmen lived well on their small plots of land in Wealdham. Their wives were no longer thin or unhappy and their children were never hungry.

Godrigge remained the king’s loyal follower, only now he was a poor one.

But most importantly of all, The Lord of All the Heaven’s continued to bestow his blessings on all those simple and grand folk who travelled to Wealdham, bringing all manner of jewels, coin, and corn, so that they might see his wondrous statue in the magnificent holy chemple in Wealdham.




On June 7th, 2020 protestors involved in a Black Lives Matter tore down the statue of Sir Edward Colston (1636-1721) and rolled it into the harbour. The statue commemorating his life and his philanthropic contributions to the city of Bristol was erected in the city centre in 1985.

The statue and the many other buildings and streets have been the focus of controversy in Bristol for many years because of Colston’s connections with the slave trade on which his wealth was founded.

The erection and demolition of monuments, images, buildings, and books has long been part of human history. Reflecting changing attitudes and crucially the exercise of power in one form of another.

The conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity began with the accession of Constantine I in 306 AD and the campaign of destruction against pagan centres of worship intensified throughout the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries AD.

During the 8th and 9th Centuries AD images of Greek orthodox saints were destroyed during the Iconoclast controversy. A belief based on an interpretation of one of the Ten Commandments which forbade the creation of “graven images”.
During the English Reformation and the Civil War stained glass windows, statues and shrines in churches were destroyed and the walls whitewashed to obliterate paintings and texts.
In 1521 the Spanish Conquistadors destroyed the Aztec Templo Mayor and used the stones to build a Roman Catholic cathedral.

In 2001 the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed two giant statues of Buddha. During their occupation of Palmyra between 2015-2017, ISIS destroyed much that remained of the ancient city of Palmyra.
In 2020 US President Donald Trump threatened to target major Iranian cultural sites if they retaliated after the killing by the US of a top Iranian military chief.


“ Where have you come from?” I asked the old man as we shared what bread and water I had. “ I am a stranger to these lands.” 

He looked at me with eyes clouded by age and tears and pointed along the road I planned to travel. Knidos, where once I worshipped in the temple of Aphrodite and talked with men of great learning.”

It is a place I hope to visit,” I said. “ For the beauty of Aphrodite’s statue is known far and wide. Such is her exquisite form that they say men are known to spill their seed before her? ”

He sighed: “ So the story goes but alas, no more. Like you, I travelled in my youth to see wondrous sites. But you are too late. For she has gone, gone like the great temple of Serapis in Alexandria and the statue of Athena in the desert city of Palmyra. Destroyed, defaced, and smashed beyond repair. I hear that Nike, the Goddess of Victory, has been removed from the Senate House in Rome because she offends. Even the statue of the Divine Augustus in Ephesus has been scarred with a cross.”

“ But who would do such things?” I asked.

“ Christians”, he spat the word out so vehemently that I recoiled. “Christians, worshippers of the crucified carpenter. For centuries paid homage to the goddess then one of their number, a man called Theophilus, ”Loved of God”, came and preached to the people. He told them that men and women should not look upon each other’s nakedness at the baths. He railed against all beauty and Aphrodite, in particular, calling her a temple whore. Then later came strong, young men devoted to the Christian god. In Alexandria, they were called the parabalani. They came like an avenging army and tore down our temples and statues and abused Aphrodite with their violence”

But what of the emperor’s men?”, I asked “ What did they do to stop such an outrage?”

He shook his head. “ Nothing, they just stood by. But what else are they but uncouth barbarians and Arian Christians to a man. And the Emperor is no better. But that is not the worst of it. Can you see the smoke that arises from my poor city?”

I peered hard to where his bony fingers pointed and could just make out a column of smoke in the far distance. “What is it?” I said,

Knowledge”, he said, “They are burning the books, as they did in Alexandria, as they did in Antioch. The writings of the great philosophers and poets, Thales, Zeno, Ovid, and Epicurus those lovers of pleasure. For pleasure and happiness on earth is an anathema to these zealots who claim that even sex should not be a pleasure. For the greater a man’s pain on earth the more he will welcome the thought of heaven.”

Not if it is deemed heresy. True, the Christians suffered under the old Emperors but now it is they who define the truth and there is no room for dissent.”

Then he turned to me and smiled. Except amongst themselves.”

It is not known what happened to the original statue of Aphrodite in Knidos by the great sculptor Praxiteles. In the “ The Old Man of Knidos” I have used the statue and her fate as an example of the destruction wrought by the early Christians in their campaign to eradicate paganism in the Empire.



How did practice go tonight?”, Rick’s wife asked, briefly looking up from watching Nick Knowles and his team perform yet another miraculous DIY rescue operation within the allotted time span.

Dreadful”, Rick replied, slumping into his chair. “ There was a bit of an atmosphere tonight. It was Mark. He’s got himself in a real state with his singing.”

His wife, having reluctantly accepted that Rick would now give her a blow by blow account of the male voice choir’s latest drama in three acts, pressed the ‘Pause’ button on the remote and asked what had happened.

It was amazing. I`ve never heard anything like it”, said Rick. “At the start of the evening, Mark’s in his usual singing mode. Giving it the full Basso Profundo and by the break, he’s up there doing an impersonation of Julie Andrews. All we needed were a few goatherders on a mountainside in Switzerland and Stand by Me could have fitted nicely into a production of the Sound of Music! Seriously though, he went through the entire range from Barry White to that girl who sings the National Anthem at Twickenham. Every time he opened his mouth to sing his voice changed and of course, being Mark, he blushed bright as a cherry as his voice became higher pitched. It was really weird. Naturally, he started getting a lot of stick from the others. You know what they’re like down there.”

Sadly his wife knew only too well what they were like “down there”. Most of the so-called banter being, in her opinion, distinctly” down there”! Having endured several Christmas do’s with the choir she was already planning her excuses for the forthcoming annual event.

Rick though was now in full spate; “ We had all the usual jokes about him wearing tight underwear or his wife’s knickers.  And about Mark going through the early stages of transitioning etcetc. Of course, it all went down badly with the boss man. He has no empathy with any of us that Gerald. Just sees us as instruments with legs, nothing else. He’ only interested in this competition next week. He sees it as a great opportunity to promote the choir and himself of course.”

Rick was no fan of the choir’s new leader who he regarded as distant, self-promoting and not as approachable as the late much-lamented Norman. “Good old Norman”, who had run the choir as a social activity for men of a certain age rather than a competitive ensemble desperate for trophies and national recognition.

 “Anyway I took Mark for a pint afterwards” Rick continued.  “I thought he needed one. That’s why I`m a bit late. In case you were wondering.”

In truth his wife hadn’t noticed, being rather more absorbed in the problems Nick Knowles’ team were having converting the third bedroom of a terraced house into a downstairs shower room for a disabled pensioner.

I asked Mark what was going on. Do you know what he said?  Apparently, he’s been taking some drugs he bought off the internet that were supposed to make his voice go a bit higher. He said he was fed up with being in the bass section and spending his evenings going   “ Dum Dum, Da Da Dum Dum,” all the time. He said he just wanted to actually sing some proper lyrics  Take his opportunity to show what he could do.  Have a bit of the limelight like the glamour boys in the tenor section instead of just being a backing singer. Be a Diana Ross instead of just one of the Supremes. I told him he was well on his way to being Diana Ross if he kept taking those pills. He said that was the problem. It seems the tablets he’s been taking are affecting more than his voice. He reckons he’s started developing boobs, not just man boobs like mine but real ones. And he’s started plumping cushions and doing the ironing. All that sort of thing. Worrying or what?”

So, what did you say to all that?” asked Rick’s wife, who frankly saw nothing wrong with a man ironing but couldn’t bothered to raise the issue- again!

I told him he had to pack it in”, said Rick.  See a doctor if necessary. Otherwise, he’d be out of the choir.  He said if he couldn’t get out of the bass section he wasn’t bothered. He said he was happy to be more in touch with his feminine side. He was sick of conforming to male stereotypes and pretending he only watched Strictly because his wife liked it! It was a Brave New World he said, attitudes are changing,  barriers are breaking down, it’s all about finding out who and what you are, and he was proud to be part of it”.

I was a bit taken aback but I admired him really. Seemed like he was finding himself. I wanted to be supportive. Be a friend, You know, try and be a bit less stereotypic in my thinking. So I got him a white wine and asked him if he had any thoughts on the curtains for our spare room.  Do you know what? He told me to eff off and walked out. Can’t think why!”




The duty priest at the crematorium was surprised when he saw the coffin. For some strange reason, it appeared to have been secured with thick heavy chains. He looked at the undertaker, Geoffrey Peters, who shrugged his shoulders and nodded in the direction of the sole mourner in the chapel.  Her request had surprised him and had presented a considerable practical challenge, but her story had intrigued him and he’d been happy to oblige.  Especially as the heavily made-up blonde in a leopard print coat who had visited his funeral parlour two weeks previously had all the glamour and sex appeal of a Hollywood starlet. Not that she was nowhere to be seen this morning. Just a soberly dressed woman in her mid-thirties with short brown hair and wearing a rather shabby overcoat.

She had introduced herself as Mrs Dolly Phillips, the wife of Walter Phillips. Who, she said, had been a decorated veteran of the last war. When the undertaker nodded respectfully, she’d laughed and said in a husky voice ruined by too many cigarettes. “He always told people he’d been a POW and made a daring escape.” Leaning forwards and filling Geoffrey Peter’s head with an overly strong perfume she’d added “He also told me he wrote forged documents for special agents. You never quite knew with Walter what to believe.”

 As she told it Dolly had met Walter in London in the happy chaos of VE night in May 1945.  She was only sixteen at the time and had lost her entire family and all her possessions when one of Hitler’s “doodlebugs” had landed in her street. “There was no point crying about it”, she said, “You just had to get on with things in those days, we all did.” And so, she had. With a bit of thieving from bombed out buildings and a bit of whoring in the Black Out she got by. She’d grinned at the undertaker and said; “I was younger then and a bit on the small side, not much up top as you might say, but it’s amazing what you can get away within a tight sweater and a bit of padding.”. She’d lit up a cigarette and whispered; “They never took much time about it anyway.

She’d leaned back in her chair, taken a long drag on her cigarette and exhaled smoke through bright red lips. She’d coughed slightly and then continued her story.

“I met my Walter outside a pub near Piccadilly. Odd looking sort of chap he was, not very tall or handsome, with glasses and wearing a uniform that didn’t fit him properly. I was a bit cheeky and asked him if the uniform was really his. He just laughed. I didn’t care who or what he was though. Nobody did that night. We got drunk and ended up in one of those hotels the more expensive girls used, but he never tried it on even though he must have guessed what I was.

 “After that, we used to meet up regularly at one of those British Restaurants Churchill set up. He’d buy me a hot meal and we’d just sit and talk. I told Walter I had nowhere proper to live. So, after a month or two he put me on a train and sent me off to stay with his widowed Mum in Kent while he sorted out his Demob papers. She lived in a nice little house full of photos of Walter and her but none of his father. There was one room full of costumes and theatre stuff. His mother told me that Walter had done those ENSA shows during the war, entertaining the troops with magic tricks and impersonations. That’s how he’d got that uniform apparently. She didn’t like me much. She thought I was no better than I ought to be and treated me like a skivvy. Or at least she did until she fell down the stairs and broke her neck a few days after Walter arrived back home.”

When Geoffrey Peters had suggested that the tragic accident must have shocked them both Dolly had replied;

“Not really, I hated her, and Walter told me that she always tried to control him, and he now he could do what he wanted but we would have to leave the house. I had to go with him of course, I had nowhere else to go.”

And so, the two of them became The Great Mystic Merlino and Dolly. A theatre act that featured glamour, trickery, illusion and eventually escapology. Together they travelled the country for the next fifteen years. They stayed in Boarding Houses and the occasional hotel sharing a room as man and wife. “We even had a marriage certificate to prove it if they asked.” said Dolly, “Walter sorted that out.”

 “Not that we ever did anything as marrieds”, she’d confessed,” Walter wasn’t keen on that sort of thing. He was a dreamer though, always thinking the big time was just around the corner.”

Sadly the “big time” never came. At first, the public, tired of wartime austerity, enjoyed the escapism of a bit of magic and glamour. Walter performed his tricks and illusions while Dolly, all makeup, bosom and curves, distracted the audiences, enticing men, usually men, onto the stage to be willing stooges.  Eventually, though it became harder to get decent bookings. Sometimes they earned barely enough to pay for their digs and Dolly would have to offer the Theatre Manager what she described as “A little bit of extra” so they could make ends meet. On one occasion the wife of one of the Managers had walked into his office and caught them at it, much to Walter’s amusement.

As Dolly told it that was about the last time she and Walter had laughed together. She said; “Walter started drinking heavily, disappearing after the shows, doing goodness knows what and with men too. One of them started demanding money, threatening to go to the police. Poor Walter was beside himself with worry. He started forgetting bits of the act.  One night he messed up his escape routine and he couldn’t release the padlocks and chains as quickly as he usually did. He suffered a heart attack. Right there on stage and died a week later. I didn’t know what to do. He was my best friend and now he’s gone.”

“So, you see Mr Peters”, she’d said, after taking a long pause to compose herself, “that’s why I want the chains on the coffin. I loved Walter, but I never felt that I really knew him and I never was a proper wife to him if you know what I mean. He never wanted that and he was only ever really happy when he was on stage doing his tricks.”

Later that evening, full of curiosity, Audrey Peters asked her husband;

“Was the coffin really chained down? He replied, “No, we just made it look like that for her sake. The chains were just for show.  You know, the more I think about it the less I think I know the truth of it all.  I saw the death certificate alright and his name was on the coffin, but it wouldn’t really surprise if it wasn’t Walter who was actually inside that box.”

As she handed a cup of tea to the undertaker his wife said, “Do you think we’ll ever know if any of it was true?”



Remembering a faithful friend


There are no photographs of Doug the Dog just some family recollections that are in part contradictory. Whatever the exact truth for some twelve years he was a much loved and fondly remembered part of his adopted family. I say “adopted” because according to one family story it was Doug who decided where his loyalties lay.

During the Second World War, my father was in the RAF and regularly moved from one posting to another across southern and eastern England. My mother followed him from camp to camp with their two small daughters finding lodgings wherever possible. Travelling through Black Out Britain, along railway branch lines that Dr Beeching consigned to history, to remote villages deep in the English countryside. In 1944 a posting at RAF West Malling in Kent meant that my mother and my sisters were able to stay with one of my father’s aunts.

It was here that they met Doug. According to one family story, it seems that Doug may have been neglected. Perhaps he was seen an unnecessary mouth to feed during the shortages of wartime, or maybe his owners were unable to give a young black and white collie cross sheepdog the attention and exercise he needed. In my two infant sisters, he found some playmates who would give him the all the attention he craved. In return, he acted as a canine air raid warden who could hear the approach of the “Buzz Bombs”, Hitler’s V1 rockets, before human ears could detect their approach. The girls soon learnt that if Doug suddenly went indoors and sat under the dining room table that meant that they had to find shelter as well.

After the end of the fighting in Europe in May 1945, my father was sent to Italy to be part of the operation to bring the troops of the 8th Army back home so my mother remained in Maidstone and the bond between Doug and my sisters grew stronger. At the end of 1945, the time came for my family to leave Maidstone and follow my father to his new posting at RAF St. Athan. The story is that when the taxi arrived to take my family to the railway station Doug jumped into the vehicle and refused to budge. Doug had made up his mind about his future and so he went with my Mother and sisters to South Wales and with them experienced the bitterly cold post-war winters that struck Europe. Even in South Wales, my mother recalled that coal was in short supply so their lodgings were warmed by briquettes of coal dust mixed with cement.

In 1948 my parents, who were married in 1936, acquired their first proper home together in married quarters and shortly after my mother gave birth to a son. That summer dog, mother and baby would be often be seen on walks together around the camp. Doug would join in with my sisters and their friends as they all played together in the fields and open spaces between the houses. Doug was there when the family, having gone to meet my sister coming back from Sunday School, found her cold and wrapped in towels, in the company of a WAAF and a young airman called Ray who, it transpired, had dived in and rescued her after she had fallen into a water tank on the base.

In 1950 we moved to RAF Northcoates in Lincolnshire and Doug was now my play companion as much as my sisters’. He was a patient and gentle playmate who was happy enough to let me sit on his back without protest. I remember that he would look on in wonder and at the freshly caught flounders splashing about in the bath before providing that evening’s meal.

In January 1953 the camp, along with many communities along the East Coast, was flooded when the North Sea, whipped up by strong winds, came pouring across fields and roads and into homes. I remember looking out of my bedroom window and seeing the dark water coming towards us. As the water started coming under the front door Doug took one look before bolting upstairs for safety. With my father away on a training course it was left to my mother and my eldest sister to try and save what furniture they could before the water became too deep. Sadly my clockwork train set and Doug’s lead were lost to the North Sea. Wading through the bitterly cold water in the kitchen my mother made us all a hot drink, wading back again when she realised she had forgotten the milk. Then all four of us, plus Doug, dived under the covers of my parents’ bed for warmth and reassurance.

When the lorries arrived to take us away to a rescue centre at RAF Hemswell Doug repeated his taxi trick and was one of the first to clamber aboard. In one of the hangars at Hemswell, we were all allocated bedding and some floor space. Doug, unfortunately, didn’t really recognise boundaries and wandered off to explore this strange environment. I went to find him and had my first experience of anger towards our much-loved dog when I found him walking nonchalantly over other people’s bedding. Thankfully it wasn’t too long before the RAF arranged for us to have train tickets back to our relatives to Maidstone where we arrived after an overnight journey unwashed, unchanged leading Doug on a piece of rope. The family was then split up amongst aunts and uncles until our home back at Northcoates was habitable again.

In 1954 we were once more on the move. This time to Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire and finally a year later back to Kent when my father left the RAF after 25 years’ service. We had a much bigger garden in our new home in Maidstone, with apple trees and plenty of room for a boy and dog to play. By now Doug was getting old and one day I couldn’t find him in the house or in the garden. Eventually, I found him by the front gate asleep in the sun, asleep for the last time.
My sister who has more memories of Doug than I have remembers his deep bark and his loyalty. Not asking for much and just wanting to be one of the family. Just being there and being part of everything Until one day he wasn’t and we were just left with memories. No photos, just memories.

Doug was buried in the garden at Maidstone under one of the apple trees.
Two years later we left Maidstone for the West Country leaving Doug behind. It was the first time in my lifetime that I would move to a new home without him.
He was the first companion animal we had. Since then my family have had another dog and several cats. My wife and I are now providing bed and board for our seventh cat, Georgie. All loved and all remembered with great affection. Every one of them bringing something different to our lives and leaving fond memories when they go.