... first published work was in the St. Johns’ Parish Magazine, Harvest Festival Edition, circa 1965. Before embarking on a career in literature she decided to gain more life experience. In order to do so she has worked as a shop assistant, secretary, civil servant, market researcher and most recently at Harlow College where her duties included learning support and clearing up after a Guide dog.
She has scribbled in secret for the last half century and has been a member of the Harlow Writers’ Workshop for the past three years.
Her literary influences include Emily Dickinson, Stevie Smith and Wendy Cope.
John was crashing
and banging around the living room
I lost it
Can you just pack it in?
Just five minutes peace?
The silence lasted four minutes and thirty-three seconds.
It’s October and I’ve just turned seven. It’s a reassuring world of family and Brownies and school, of course.
Lavender Road Infants - Victorian red-brick buildings, railings encircle a tarmacked playground with a white line painted around the coal heap. It is supposed to stop the boys climbing, retrieving miss-hit footballs. If you disturb it the whole lot comes smashing down. Black crystals glinting in the autumn sunshine. It never does stop them. Hazel and I quit our French skipping and gawp when Danny backchats Mrs Bell, telling her it’s not dangerous. He gets the slipper for cheeking her.
Later that week Trevor sticks his head through the railings and the Fire Brigade come to rescue him.
It’s so exciting.
We all look the same in class photos. Pudding basin haircuts, drooping socks, the boys in grey shorts, ties askew, the girls in gingham frocks. All wearing jumpers handknitted by our grandmas.We were going to sing and dance and travel and write books. We became nurses, teachers, civil servants, parents, grandparents anticipating pensions now.
One teatime the newsreader says something about coal waste slipping on to a school. My mum turns the telly off. We eat beans on toast in silence. I know something bad has happened.
Next day Mrs Bell cries when she ticks off our names on the register. And stranger still we have a whole-school assembly. Ninety children stand in silence. The headmistress tells us about the mountain of coal slurry that moved in the rain at Aberfan. She tells us the children hid under their desks, that the teachers tried to protect them.
We pray for them.
At break time Hazel and I play quietly, avoid the coal heap, and think about the children in their blackened uniforms and the jumpers knitted by their grandmas.
Waiting for the kettle to boil, I stand by the kitchen step and inhale the morning, quiet save for the buzzing. Bees feasting on blousey red poppies. Each flower tissue paper thin yet resilient enough to withstand the heat, the wind. I should have weeded them out weeks ago.
Bob used to say they were his late mum’s favourite flower. I never met Joyce, could never ask her why. I imagined her a big, brash woman. Domineering even. All that vulgar primary colour.
And why poppies? Poppies for remembrance. Splashes of blood spilt in battle. Poppies sprung up from tank-churned soil. Afghan poppies ruining lives.
Yet, today I see the poppies and think of holidays. Suddenly I understand.
Colour singing from hedgerows and embankments on the journey to the coast. Flowers signalling the approach to Poppy Land that mythical place east of Cromer where the sun always shines. Days out for Joyce and Albert and their little lad. Knitted swimsuits and paste sandwiches, swigging bottles of pop. Sand scoured, lying in the dunes laughing, posing against breakwaters in tiny monochrome photographs – slices of forgotten time, windows into a quieter, less anxious world.
So, when the poppies fade, before the pepper-pot seed heads dry completely and fling their contents where they will, I’ll collect some of the tiny black seeds, sprinkle them around the flower beds. The birds will take some. Some won’t germinate. And some will grow and bloom next year, and for another season Joyce’s flowers will fill the garden with the simple joy of Norfolk holidays.
Jenny's story, as printed below, was placed second in The Cooper Prize 2017, run by Norwich Writers’ Circle of which she is a member.
It arrived in Thursday’s post. Harry found it, buried under reports, and endless efficiency directives from the Commissioner – DVLA confirmation. Millie Davis had owned a pink Mini Cooper. It wasn’t his problem, they shouldn’t have got involved. Kelly was too keen by half, trust her. She’d ordered the document without his authorisation. Now if they didn’t pursue it further, they’d never know if there was a link.
He scribbled a list of phone calls he needed Kelly to make, handed them to her and began another ordinary shift.
They had been dealing with yet another missing person enquiry. Jodie Wetherall, 27, working in the City, flat sharing in Stoke Newington. Not vulnerable, no mental health issues, just not at work, not answering phone calls from her distraught mother in Ipswich. Not a priority. It needed to be checked, added to the database, then forgotten.
The flat was close to the nick. Harry was supposed to be upping his exercise – type II diabetes loomed. Shift work and snatched meals had taken its toll on his waistline. Harry decided to walk– took the new kid, Kelly, with him.
Stomping past Tesco on Stoke Newington High Street he told her “You’re a bloody idiot if you want a career with the Met. Who needs it? I can’t wait to get out”. Kelly smiled sweetly. She’d just graduated from Hendon, working alongside Harry was just a stepping stone to greater things.
Kelly regarded Hackney as chic – urban regeneration, yoga studios and artisan bakers. Even she was shocked at the house prices. Harry remembered when the buildings were decayed, graffitied, full of rats and squatters. Back then London had proper criminals doing burglaries, assaulting each other and dealing dope on street corners. Now it was all refurbishments, bifold doors, scams and cyber-crime.
They found the address opposite Clissold Park. Harry wasn’t impressed. “Half a million quid to live in a cellar” he wheezed. Kelly walked too fast for him but he refused to tell her.
She corrected him “Phil and Kirsty would say it’s a garden flat”
Harry raised an eyebrow, “Same thing, dodgy steps, damp, rubbish chucked over the railings. Nice”.
Kelly had him sussed. He was a grump, just like her dad, you could wind him up like clockwork. “They tank the cellars nowadays. Look at the plaster detail. Lovely. Nice area, vintage shops, café society”. Harry hoped she was being ironic. Did these people need old frocks and expensive coffee? “and such nice cars – shame about that mint coloured Fiat over there with its side stowed in. Bet she’s fed up.” she continued.
“Whoever owns it. Got to be a girl driving a pistachio Cinquecento. Still, ees naice here, no?” she continued in faux Italian.
Harry grinned. Kelly reminded him of his daughter, feisty, funny, bloody annoying. “Nice, my arse, nothing here. No “clues”.”
Harry had made quotation marks with his fingers – he regretted that now.
He should have looked. Done something – checked who owned the vehicle - taken paint samples – good old-fashioned police work by officers who really knew the local community. Thank God Kelly had run the number plate through PNC – the Fiat belonged to Jodie Wetherall.
Harry just hadn’t bothered. Desperate to leave after 27 years’ service, his health wasn’t up to going out on the beat. But they wouldn’t retire him on medical grounds – obesity was an “issue” with which he could be “supported” according to HR. Although it wasn’t HR any more, it was People Services. He’d been parked in a tiny room in a redundant police station sorting out the dross that no-one else could be bothered with; counting down the pay packets until he was free of it all.
And now, he’d never be free, not unless they found her alive.
He’d been cynical. He’d told Kelly “We’ve got dozens on file here. Each year 250,000 people go missing in the UK– most come back within days. The old biddy in Ipswich is just worrying. Her beloved daughter has probably met some bloke and forgotten to ring in sick at work”.
But there were other, odd statistics. At least four young women from North London had vanished in the last two years. Walked out, with nothing. Everyone assumed they’d gone of their own free will – making a new life, reinventing themselves. Then, four days ago, one of those girls, Millie Davis, had been found in Epping Forest. The pattern fitted Jodie Wetherall’s disappearance too.
Millie’s fiancé had been interviewed by Police immediately after dogwalkers found the body. As usual the police offered him up to a news conference, distraught, begging for information. The public expected him to be arrested any day now. It usually worked like that.
Harry knew that wasn’t going to happen. Yes, the boyfriend lied about a stag weekend in Prague; he’d been in Edinburgh, with some tart. Tickets, room reservations and CCTV had alibi’d him. He couldn’t have abducted Millie the weekend she disappeared. Harry knew the truth would out, just that the truth wasn’t always what was expected.
Harry read and thought. Kelly made her way through the list of calls. Her chatter got her way further than him, asking questions they had no right to ask of other officers in other divisions. People liked her, she had the gift of the gab, she’d go far.
“Got it Skip” Kelly bellowed putting the phone down.
“I’m not Skip and don’t shout. This room is so small a sparrow could fart and I’d still hear it.”
Harry’s mobile rang. Seeing his ex-wife’s number, he ignored it. She’d leave a message. “Edmonton nick say “yes”.” Kelly whispered.
“Yes, what, Kelly?”
“Millie’s mini had a dent in it, just like Jodie’s. And someone in Whetstone told me that they interviewed a bloke from a garage when they were looking for one of their missing persons. Female, 23, Amelia San something.”
Harry nodded. Amelia Sanfillipo – another of the girls who didn’t fit the usual profile for missing persons.
Kelly continued. “Her flat mate said her VW Beetle got hit, thought the bodyshop man might have fancied her. Some bloke rang her a couple of times before she upped and left. Still, as they said, no body, no further action. All the other calls drew a blank”
“Too many mis.pers, not enough resources.” Harry murmured.
The question was, why had Millie left home, apparently without a struggle, without her handbag. Why? Harry felt he should know – she must have left with someone. Why would a young woman trust a stranger? Or maybe it wasn’t a stranger. Millie’s murderer hadn’t been her boyfriend. Who then?
Harry’s mobile pinged - voicemail. Diane would be wanting money for Sophie - again. Fresh out of uni their daughter was waitressing, living somewhere seedy near Hackney Downs. He’d agreed to go halves with Diane on a second-hand Smart car for Sophie’s graduation present. Diane had deluded herself into believing Sophie would return to live with her, drive to work - once she found a proper job, of course. Sophie was having none of it, took the car keys, announced she was off to live “nearer the action”. Harry was furious. Diane said nothing. Diane’s new husband seemed delighted.
“Soph knows you’re livid, but ring her, please?” Diane’s recorded voice asked “Something’s happened, nothing major, just would you ring her. She asked my advice but I said you’d know, as a policeman.”
“As a policeman” Harry echoed turning his phone off. Not as a father, a policeman. A failure as a father, obviously. He sighed. No point in ringing Sophie now – not when he felt so gloomy. He’d ring later.
Harry made eye contact with Kelly, tried a joke, “So, Watson, what have we got?”
“One dead woman, two missing women, and three damaged cars.” She emphasised points with her fingers “Sounds like the garage man to me. Are we going to arrest him, Holmes?”
“Not without finding out if he even priced up work for them”
“No Sherlock, we’ve cracked it, it’s the mechanic. Obvious. We could get mentioned in dispatches for this”
“It’s too easy Kels, trust me. Insurance makes you get a quote, exchange it with the other side, faff about, get another quote. It’s virtually impossible that the VW garage man in Whetstone picked up work from other parts of London and other makes of vehicle. Leave it - we’ve wasted enough time. You need to get on with inputting for the statistical return and I need to buy sausage and chips to keep us both going.”
“Righto” Kelly grinned.
Heading for the takeaway Harry kept mulling things over, stepped off the pavement without looking. The driver of black BMW blared its horn. Harry automatically stuck two fingers up. The vehicle swerved around him and roared off. Unperturbed, he bought food and returned to their shoe box office.
Slapping the polystyrene containers down on Kelly’s desk Harry said “I just risked my life for you – say “thank you”.”
“Thank you. What happened?”
“Some bloke in a Beamer almost mowed me down.”
Kelly pretended to take up a pocket book and make notes “Registration number?”
“Description of the driver?”
“Nope – tinted glass.”
“Ahah, not a bloke then, an assumption on your part.”
Harry flopped into his chair as though defeated. “Er, yes.” Kelly was getting good at this “but he was driving a blokey car, officer”.
“Funny that, you can virtually predict who drives what, can’t you?” Kelly reflected returning to her office persona. “Oldies drive Skodas, dealers drive Beamers and pretty girls drive silly pink cars.” She crammed her mouth full of chips “By the way, your daughter phoned. Said don’t be cross. Someone ran into the back of her at traffic lights. She wanted to know about what she had to report and when. She’s already given the guy her name and address.”
“You all right Harry, it’s only a car. She told me to tell you she’s not hurt. He seemed like a really nice bloke, everso apologetic. I said you’d ring her, soon as”.
“Stop, go back a bit”
“They’ve swapped details …, for insurance …, you know section 170, Road Traffic Act, 1988.”
“Kelly, that’s it. That’s how he does it,”
“Sorry gov, you’ve lost me”
“Assailant, murderer, whatever, sees what you call “a girly car”. It’ll be mint green, pink or a baby blue Beetle with a flower on the dashboard – no self-respecting man would be seen dead driving any of those.”
“He bumps them, or rolls back into them at traffic lights. The beauty of this is that he doesn’t even have to see his victim. He just knows the driver won’t be old or male. It’s a woman, and he probably hates women.”
“Right, not sure where this is going gov, but keep it coming?”
“So, he hits his victim’s car, exchanges details like the law says. False details, obviously. Chats, gets their confidence. He’s a nice bloke, he’s admitted liability. He’s got their address and phone number. He pops round, with flowers, maybe. They open the door, he’s not a stranger. They trust him. That’s how it works! He abducts them and …. ” Harry stood abruptly, began to scribble something.
“So now we know the how, but not who. Right?”
“Yeh, will you ...”
“And every other sad sap processing the Met’s missing persons paperwork needs to know too. Needs to go back over the girls who’ve just walked out of their nice lives and disappeared.”
“I’ll tell them to look for dented cars, not damaged people – they’ll think I’m mad.” Kelly grinned, this was something big. A transfer to CID beckoned.
“And someone’s got to search for more bodies in Epping Forest …,”
“Shut up!” Harry bellowed over Kelly’s excited chatter, threw a note at her – an address. “Phone. Wanstead. Nick. Tell them to get round to Sophie’s place. Do it Kelly, do it now!”
Harry slammed out of the office and ran.
Catkins in January
In the dark dank end of the year
As the solstice drew close
We would walk hand in hand
Smelling the leaf mould
Finding mushrooms and fungi
Searching for Christmas holly
Or collecting kindling
Above us wind whirled branches stripped bare
Boles creaking ominously.
I longed to rush home
To the fire and the warmth
But you made me stop
Pointed out the buds
The promise of spring leaves
Summer soon to follow
I hopped from one leg to another
Nodded, pretended to understand
And then today
My own private epiphany
Catkins dancing in the breeze –
Like lambs tails
Or the fat legs of that impatient infant
I realised I had been transformed
The adult you had hoped the child could be.