Volume 1

Chapter 1

That week a beastly eastern wind blew through Bristol. The squally cold rushed against the black-eyed faces of the nightclubs, bleary in the daylight. The morning sun, veiled, shone with the burning passion of a widow’s stare.

One look outside set her against the idea of getting up and instead she found herself guessing at his Sunday; was he dressed and out on a walk or was he lying delectably in morning’s idle bliss, only half-dressed, as she was; her languid body asprawl in the warmth of luxury and desire. What do those young men do on long cold mornings? In those lazy hours? She had not seen him at seen him the last two club Wednesdays and only briefly at last week’s drinks, when he had nodded with a polite hello as she had come past, then turned back to his conversation.

‘Rejoice!’ snowflakes in a flurry cried like choir boys. Suddenly upon his furs, each landed with a smiling pride and he felt the cheek of one or two as they nestled against his skin. Snow was a joyous thing, everything serious stopped, work, studies and even a car left halfway up Constitution Hill.

  It was cold enough for gentlemen, who wait all winter for just such a couple days, to wear their foreign fur-trimmed hats, brought back from youthful travels making them feel young again and the gentlemen with similar hats from similar places would nod to each other in subtle appreciation.
  His was a general’s papakha from Petersburg, for which he always received a compliment or two, answered with ‘thank you’. Once even, outside the Russian embassy in Kensington, a babushka had saluted…an old habit…he had answered with a knowing nod; one never knows with the FSB.

The snow was pretty for a morning as it tumbled; a glimpsed at virgin wandering through Clifton, chaste behind her wedding lace. In such beauty a couple took a walk to argue, both talking, not listening and slowly in twos and threes people came out to play, with children squealing, dogs and town wellies happily let loose. Two policewomen patrolled on old Cavalry Blacks, clip-clop, without hurry beneath the parish church; its steeple covered white rising like a swan’s slender neck kept chained, choked by a coronet of pinnacles.
    Later the crunch would turn to slush and snowfall to sleet but fatefully the university closed for good. Decided then, Charles would leave for his father’s house a week later, on St Docwin’s day.

Chapter 2

From Bristol Temple Meads, mortal strife played out beside him in Somerset tones. Mia was defending her unemployed, ketamine dealing boyfriend Brad, who was co-parenting with his ex Alicia. Elliot and his girlfriend were having a party and Mia wanted to bring Brad. Elliot's girlfriend said she did not really like Brad’s attitude towards Alicia. A quiet argument ensued which, hungover, amused Charles until they got off at Tiverton Parkway.
    Then he let his own thoughts run through the countryside. He had known she would slowly take over his desires, temper his existence. He had known he would long for her, that he would allow passion to consume his person. He had know this and had let it happen, finding there was truly as much to her as he had first felt that happy Wednesday.

Further south, it rained for most of the afternoon; a cold heavy rain, browbeat, sad-eyed and so exceptional. He grew bored and the rain bored too, lashed out against the empty carriage. Along the line only the Somerset towers stood steadfast, awash like rocks at sea.
    Dawlish was dour, grumbling in a reddish temper; the sodden promise of the English seaside.  
    Around Plymouth a couple old stone houses crumbled, crouched by the waterside, grey, damp and weedy like pieces of rotting driftwood.
    Deep past the iron wonder of Saltash, an evening sun cleared at last and the green clefts and cows were anointed with a holy oil. There, across the land, lay the fair truth of the southern counties.

In the steep, dark pine forest before Bodmin, Charles was lost again. The earlier revelation was benighted as he chugged through the shroud which hid away North Cornwall.
    Arriving late in Eglovon, the first thing he did was look up at the stars. To fhis augury above was always a soulful comfort.

Chapter 3

Waking to smell of wood-smoke in the village, the sun risen and the weather cleared, he felt free of all his bad little habits and late starts.
    The greensward glimmered across the fields cleaved by copses and hedges, flailed all too short in some parts. The little river was gorged and the land around it swamped; trees dipped like chilled bathers, raising their arms with shrill cries and shivers.
    Great ruminating clouds crossed his window, cutting out a triptych. Flies and a wasp lay dead beneath, their little bodies crumpled and grotesquely upturned, legs and wings like dusty gothic vaults; dead not yet decayed or, in the sunlight, one might buzz to life and carry on against the glass.

In that breath, he thought all week about writing to her.

Dear Ophelia,          

I am sorry I have been a bit distant of late. Remembering that I have your address, I write hoping ink will forgive what follows and do away with the erratic thoughts which hold me.

I can also only hope that you have not rushed home too and that this letter reaches you. Otherwise, I shall spend my days here only half happy, without your charming conversation, your hand to hold or at the very least a letter from you.

For what I felt was the last time, I walked through the Village along the way I always have. Clifton felt empty and traffic only trickled above the river; whose shattered surface dragged and pulled with such contradicting futility.
    In Leigh Woods the trail was damp and so were the trees, steaming in the morning sun. Spring had finally come to England’s woods.
    As I crossed back, I stopped to take in the gorge I have come to know which I will one day find again, I think, unchanged.
    Three years is quite a while, long enough to settle, not long enough to become home, though my rooms had almost come to feel familiar. Three years; strikes, snows and a pandemic, not much studying. It has all gone rather without ceremony; I did not pack much, only a few things, clothes I had brought up for a summer never to come. I left the rest, there was little reason for delay. In part I think I have not had much time to reflect on this end.
    In part, simply, I have little to say to Bristol and for the first time have no future, nowhere to be in September, nothing to do better in next year, no formal plans. Writing these things, one’s grip loosens around the talisman of university which, without you and a few friends, I had long lost faith in.

From elevenses, I started on the decanted drink. It had to go and seemed the thing to do and so I sat in amongst the ruined disarray of my fiction, my model life; flat, friends, societies, purpose; all washed away, harsh on the tongue.
    I pondered on it all staring out at the exalted body of the Wills. The hinting sun glazed the tower with its pinnacles half-shadowed in a gold like glint. Gulls fell and perched with grating cackles and pigeons like from a dovecote, fluttered between the nooks and the tolls cried out from gaping lancets. Bristol beneath, languid like a late sleeper, unwilling to wake.

I did manage to wake Peter, who came to spend the time. We sat at the Primrose cafe, warm in the bosom of the Village, on those little wooden chairs by those little wooden tables, playing out the last of such long afternoons which were a luxury this last year; the sunset days of personal empire.
    It was the relief of an addict who affords himself the habit, alleviated for a while, blissfully oblivious in the sun. Peter told me not to worry. He was right, I was letting the rush of things unsettle me.
    I have enjoyed university life and should have been better prepared to lose it; to lose this carefree youth to life’s changes. This one though had come sooner than expected.

To voice my misgivings I messaged Papa about my plans.

‘I have run out of options. There are no more horses running.’

‘Don’t despair. We’ll think of something good.’

‘No despair, no urgency. We can talk when I get down.’

‘Things will work out.’

‘They seem to.’

‘They will.’

‘They have so far.’

The life Papa and I share here is unvaried in silent understanding. He wakes early and I not as early, but early. We usually do not see each other until mid-morning, sharing a late breakfast. We also share late lunch and late dinner; happily quiet affairs around the little table, seated next to one another staring, apart from one or two political comments, other-minded at the middle distance. Then we go back to our own pursuits, I usually reading in the garden, wineful. Fortunate, this state of social leprosy is actually quite pleasant.

Around us the village bustles on. Soon the sheep will flock past the green, driven to pasture by the shepherd and the sheepdog over the small bridge and the stream.
    The shop is run by Elizabeth, the sub-postmaster’s wife, where in the corner sits the sub-postmaster’s station seldom manned. She keeps all the parcels and sells us eggs and in the first truly warm days, here now in time for Easter, when the sun goes cloudlessly from east to west along the garden, she sells us ice-creams and the hot cross buns. We try to get the goings-on from her but not one for gossip, knowing everything, at most she will give you a smile, only ever so rarely letting slip a happening.
    The pub too is part owned by them. He sits at the bar with Robert the builder and drinks and she works in the kitchen.
    The owner of the local bakeries lives here, in a modern house just beyond the conservation bounds. Thus the village is kept as it is and works as it does. Though the chapel is now someone else’s home.

Reading in the garden today, the ashes of the fire bowl twirled in a gust and I imagined you swaying on the hammock. I could not see you, only the delicate extent of your hanging calf, your foot folded and your toes, their scarlet paint glistening deliciously like forbidden fruit, promisingly ripe. I had to write.

If you do not feel the same then, with my honesty, end this here. You may see this as impatient still. I see no harm in it, a mere flitter of spring.

Yours for a time,


Chargé D'affaires - Depuis 2020