A Cambridge Romance

Here is the first chapter of my new novel, provisionally – and not very originally – titled, A Cambridge Romance. I think I am going to try and write a Cambridge version of Notting Hill, without trying to make it look too familiar! Although, the main protagonist does work in a very unsuccessful book-shop. Oh well, I am sure I will be able to think of additional plot twists to set it apart from said movie …”

“It was a bright and breezy day in Cambridge. On Parker’s Piece, a few acres of parkland sitting in the very centre of the city, the day was looking particularly pleasant. The breeze rustled the crisp leaves of the trees lining the southerly edge of the park and the sunshine produced a glorious golden lacquer over the houses and hotels that lined the other sides of the park. Meanwhile, in the park itself, crowds of people provided a gentle hubbub of chatter and laughter. Some were playing sports, some walked casually along admiring the view and others were just simply lounging around on the grass, basking in the late autumn sunshine. It was a picturesque and quintessentially Cambridge scene, full of natural beauty and a perfect backdrop for romance. If, that is, one was looking for romance.

    Two people on Parker’s Piece today were most definitely not looking for romance. In fact, they were not looking at anything very much at all, really. And as they were both riding bikes, that wasn’t a very good state of affairs. They were riding in opposite directions along the two diagonal paths that ran across the park. At the intersection was a tall, black lamp post, known locally as Reality Checkpoint. The keen, knowledgeable Cambridge cyclist knew that crossing this intersection required a modicum of caution; a quick look along the other path to check for traffic before proceeding across the junction. But, this morning these two cyclists were modicums of carelessness and were blissfully unaware that they were on a collision course with each other and possibly the lamppost as well, or even worse both the lamppost and each other. 

    The two carefree cyclists were both heading to separate destinations. Professor Melissa Worthing was rushing to deliver her first lecture as professor of English at Caius College. Despite setting numerous alarm clocks, she had risen late and was now trying to make up for lost time by cycling as fast as she could across the piece. Meanwhile, Hugh Plant was cycling as slowly as he could. He was running – or rather cycling – early and before he arrived at the dusty old book-shop where he worked in the city centre he thought he would dawdle along the path and take full advantage of the autumnal resplendency of Parker’s Piece – Cambridge’s very own sun-baked savannah.

    As the cyclists neared the intersection of the two paths, they were unaware of the collision course they were on. Melissa had her head down, cycling furiously. Hugh had his head up in the clouds, cycling nonchalantly. One moment before the crossing, Melissa looked up and Hugh looked down. Finally, they saw the accident that was waiting to happen and took immediate, evasive action. Unfortunately, rather than swerve in opposite directions away from each other, they swerved towards each other.

Despite their best efforts at correcting their direction of travel, the inevitable collision happened. The gentle, unbroken peace of the piece was disturbed by the clank and thud of two bikes colliding and the combined shrieks of both book-shop owner and professor as they felt the full force of the impact.

Hugh was the first to recover from the tangled heap of metal and flesh that lay one bike-swerve’s width to the left of Reality Checkpoint. As he slowly stood up, he thought he could hear the nearby Catholic church ring out a peal of bells. Then he remembered that said church did not have any bells, so realised that the tintinnabulation must be in his head.

    ‘Oh my, oh my,’ he said as he held his head in his hands feeling slightly disoriented. He looked down and saw a lady dressed mostly in black, underneath an old, heavy bike. Both the bike and the lady looked slightly crumpled.

    ‘Can I help you?’ he enquired, as Melissa struggled to disentangle herself from her bike.

Melissa shot him a rather withering stare, implying that no help would be necessary. She squirmed a little and eventually managed to haul the bike away from her and bring herself to her feet. 

    ‘You could have killed me!’ were her first words. 

    ‘Good morning to you as well. In fact, you could also have killed me,’ said Hugh slowly and carefully, as that was the way that he always spoke. 

    ‘I tried to swerve away from you, but you swerved in the same direction as me and so the inevitable happened. I guess our minds are wired the same!’ He began to chuckle, which made his head hurt more and the non-existent church bells started to ring again, so he stopped chuckling and went back to cringing.

    ‘Oh, my. Oh, my,’ he repeated.

    ‘I am sorry, but I fail to see what is funny. Moreover, I can’t imagine that there is anything that we have in common.’

    Melissa gave Hugh another withering stare and looked him up and down a few times to ensure that he felt withered from head to toe. Then, she bent down and picked up her bike.

    ‘Well, I can think of one more thing,’ said Hugh. ‘Let me just check’. He bent down to inspect Melissa’s bike. ‘Oh, yes. We both have buckled wheels.’

    ‘What do you mean, buckled wheels? My bike is perfectly fine,’ said Melissa and she jumped on her bike and set off down the path. But, after a few turns of the pedals her bike came to a sudden, unexpected halt and she fell off the bike for a second time that morning. This wasn’t exactly what she had in mind for her first morning at Cambridge University and her distaste for the morning was further increased when Hugh started chuckling again. She tried another withering stare, although she quickly realised that withering stares don’t work particularly well from ground level.

    ‘What are you laughing at now?’ she asked. 

    ‘Well, I’ve just thought of a third thing that we have in common?’ replied Hugh who was beginning to see the amusing side of the situation and rather wished that his pile-up partner had a similar outlook.

    ‘Really? Another thing in common? What would that be then?’ said Mel as she picked herself up off the ground for a second time.

    ‘I think the best description is .. bloody-mindedness. Anyway, given that we do have so much in common, I suppose introductions are in order. My name is Hugh, Hugh Plant. I was just on my way to work. I work in a bookshop in Cambridge, not too far from here, actually.’

    Hugh picked up the prof’s bike and after a bit of tweaking with the brakes managed to ensure that although the wheel was still a little bit wonky, it was able to rotate. He looked up triumphantly as he gave the wheel a quick spin to demonstrate the success of the repair.

    ‘There you go, that should be fine for a few more miles. But I would recommend that you take it to a bike shop as soon as possible.’ He handed the bike to Melissa and noticed that she seemed to have discarded the withering stare she had for him with a more contented look that seemed to contain a little hint of gratitude.

    ‘Thanks. What’s the bookshop called?’

    ‘It’s called ‘Bumpty’s’, ‘Bumpty’s Books’. Best shop on Green Street.’

    ‘Sorry, I’m new to Cambridge. Not quite got my street names sorted out.’

    ‘Or your highway code?’ smiled Hugh.

    ‘Oh, yes. Right. Now, I really must dash. First day at the new job and all that. Bumpty’s, eh? Sounds more like a coffee shop?’

    ‘Well, funnily enough that’s what the owners think as well. They’re looking to sell it. I mean, Cambridge definitely needs another coffee shop don’t you think?’

    ‘Yes, of course. Lots more coffee shops,’ replied Melissa. Hugh raised a slight eyebrow. 

    ‘Oh, yes. Oh, You’re joking, aren’t you? Sorry, not quite with it this morning. Mind on other things, I suppose.’

    Hugh smiled at Melissa, but even this grimaced as his head still hurt and the bells began to ring in his head again.

    ‘Oh, the bells, the bells. I can hear bells again,’ he groaned.

    ‘Oops! No bells this time, just my phone,’ said Melissa as she pulled out her ringing phone. ‘I prefer traditional bell rings for my ringtone. Sorry. This alarm was set to go off when I got to work. So, now I realise that I must be late, so I really must, I really must  …’

    ‘Yes, you really must … dash?’ said Hugh, offering a suggested completion of her sentence.

    ‘Yes, dash that’s it. Thank you for fixing my bike. I will be sure to get it fixed. Thank you, thank you, thank you.’

    ‘Could I ask before you dash off? What’s your …’

    ‘Melissa, Melissa Worthing. Newly-installed professor of English at Caius College, and if I don’t get a move on it will be the shortest tenure ever recorded at the college.’

    Mel smiled at Hugh, took her bike from him and set off down the path with her black gown billowing around her in the autumnal breeze, leaving Hugh alone with his thoughts and his headache. After a short pause, during which he tried to recall exactly where he was and where he was meant to be going, he swung his leg over his bike and set off in a nonchalant and slightly wobbly direction towards the centre of town, thinking of nothing in particular – apart from Melissa and the rather elegant shape of her nose.”

Adding illustrations to my stories

Thought I would get a few drawings done to complement my detective stories. Quite pleased with the results. Here is a sample drawing from one of my recently written stories about the ‘Tiger in the Woods’.

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Of course, once you’ve done this with one story, you have to do it to them all. But, worth it, I think. Will post some more pics as I produce them.

Tiger in the Woods

Tried to start writing another story about the W&J detectives. Here is as far as I got. Think I will be able to make it a complete story, but need to do a bit of research about tiger trapping!!

It was a cold and wet Tuesday morning at the offices of the W&J Detective Agency. Walt and Jenny were seated at their desks. Jenny was reading a detective magazine and Walt was staring through the only window in the office and observing the rain outside as it lashed against the window panes.

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary; It rains, and the wind is never weary.

Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.’

‘Wordsworth?’ queried Jenny.

‘Longfellow, actually,’ said Walt. ‘He could be writing about this very day.’

‘Coffee, Wade? Time to get to work,’ said Jenny.

‘Coffee? Oh, yes. Good call. Just what I need to stimulate the old blockhead this morning. Although, I’m not sure what we can do to brighten this miserable day.’

Walt picked up the Times newspaper and started leafing through it. 

‘Perhaps a double-dose of coffee and the Times cryptic should be able to get my juices flowing. Let’s see …’ 

But before he could find the crossword, the phone rang. Walt smiled and rubbed his hands together.

‘At last, the day begins. Hello, W&J detective agency? Walter Wade at your service.’

A timid old lady started speaking to Walt, Her voice barely more than a whisper.

‘Yes, I wonder if you can help me. I appear to have lost my cat.’

Walt sighed. A deep, deep sigh. 

‘You’ve lost your cat?’

‘Yes. My cat.’     

‘Any distinguishing features?’

‘Well, he has stripes.’

‘Ok, we will look out for him. But, can I remind you that we are a detective agency, specializing in serious crimes. We are most definitely not a pet detective agency. We deal with missing persons here – not missing pets. Good morning.’

‘But …’

Walt hung up.

‘What a cheek. Missing cats. Who do people think we are? Perhaps we really do need to advertise our services a little more. Raise our profile or try to get some nationwide exposure. The crime of the century needs to be committed right here in Stourbridge.’

‘I’ll see what I can do,’ said Jenny smiling as she walked over and gave Walt his coffee.

‘Thanks.’ 

Walt had a sip of his coffee and took out a packet of Gauloise. The phone rang again. This time, Jenny answered it.

‘Hello, W&J detective agency? Jenny Jenkins speaking.’

Jenny listened to the caller on the phone while Walt finally found the Times crossword and began to ponder about the first clue.

‘1 across. Emanating behaviour of a beast. Three-six. Hmm.’

He wandered over to the window and gazed out at the high street in the rain.

‘Are we ever going to get a serious case here? Something to set the pulses racing. Something that draws in TV crews, where the police have to hold daily press conferences, issue public appeals, order body bags. That sort of thing.’

Walt turned around to face Jenny.

‘What do you think, JJ?’

Jenny was listening intently to the caller, but looked up quickly.

‘Wade,’ she said.

But Walt did not respond and turned back around and continued with his musing.

‘Can you remember the last serious crime we had here – much less a murder. This place is far too middle-class. We need to relocate to a hotbed of criminality. Apparently, Tambridge had a robbery, assault and battery the other day. Admittedly, it was two six year-olds fighting in the playground at the local primary school. But, give them another few years and they could graduate to gangster level thuggery.’

‘Wade,’ she repeated.

‘I mean, when  .. what?’

‘Wade. Back in the room, please. We have something.’

Walt turned around and went and sat back in his chair to face Jenny.

‘Oh, really? What?’

Jenny finished the call before answering Walt’s question.

‘It’s that woman with the lost cat. A Ms. Quantick.’

‘Her again. She still worried about Tibbles is she?’

‘Yes. But, he’s not called Tibbles. She calls him King Solomon.’

‘That’s a little grand isn’t it for a snivelling ginger tom? Or, whatever it is?’

‘Good name for a Bengal Tiger, though.’

‘A what? What did you say? A tiger?’

‘Yes, I know it’s hard to believe. But, she insists that she has a pet tiger. He is – or rather was – the star of the unofficial private zoo that she has at her country estate. But now, she can’t find him.’

‘Well, I’ve heard of ‘The Tiger who came to tea’ but this is taking it a little far, isn’t it?’

‘That’s what she’s telling me. She does sound very sincere and very upset.’

‘But, if that really is the case – and I still find it hard to believe – why doesn’t she call the police and let them deal with it.’

‘She is not registered to keep wild animals. If she informs the police, the whole zoo will be closed down. She needs this to be kept very quiet. Your auntie is a close friend and suggested that she contact us.’

‘Well, I didn’t know that we had a reputation for tiger taming or tracking. But, what the hell. It’s a quiet day. Let’s just go and round-up the missing moggy. Shouldn’t be too much trouble.’

Jenny looked confused.

‘Erm. Wade? It weighs three hundred pounds and is one of the most feared hunters in the animal kingdom. So, “shouldn’t be too much trouble”?’

‘Hmm,’ mused Walt again. ‘Good point, JJ. But, wait a minute … !!’

Walt suddenly sprung to life. He jumped up out of his chair and began walking back and forth across the office waving his arms wildly.

‘This could be it!’

‘It?’

‘Yes. This could be it – the case that we’ve been waiting for. Our ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ moment. We’ll need warm coats and I’m sure I’ve got a deerstalker somewhere.’

Jenny looked even more confused.

‘Warm coats and deerstalkers? Why?’

‘Well, we’ll need to wrap-up warm out on the moor hunting down this beast of the bridge and we’ll need, well, we’ll need victims. That’s what we need – victims. Shall we wait until there are a few killings? You know, just to spice things up a bit? Greiving mother and father, unconsolable teenage bride. That sort of thing. Bound to get us some media attention?’

‘No,’ said Jenny emphatically.

‘How about just one killing, then? Or, just a minor mauling perhaps?’ pleaded Walt.

‘No. No killings or minor maulings. We don’t have a moor here, either. This is Oxfordshire, not Dartmoor. We just have endless yellow fields of rape-seed.’

‘Well that’s going to make it easy to find him, then. There could be a hundred tigers in those fields and we wouldn’t be able to spot any of them. We’ll need something to draw him out. Perhaps, we really do need to wait for a few killings to occur, so we can locate him?’

‘Nice try, Wade. But, you’ve finally made a good suggestion. We will need something to draw him out. We’ll need some fresh meat.’

‘Ah, so we do wait for a killing, then?’

‘No, we just need something appropriate from the local butchers. That ought to do it. We can draw ‘the King’ out from his rape-seed den by placing a nice piece of juicy meat around the area, with a suitable booby-trap set for him. Miss Quantick said she has a cage we can use to capture him.’ 

Walt stopped walking around the office and went and sat back down at his desk, looking a little disconsolate.

‘Yes, ok, ok. I suppose so. I’ll put my deerstalker away, then. You are probably right. Some bait, a cage, a strong net and some camouflage ought to do the trick. I wonder what they like to eat?’

‘Only one way to find out,’ said Jenny lifting the lid of her laptop.

Walt resumed looking at the Times crossword. After a few minutes, he clicked his fingers.

‘I’ve just figured out 1 across. Three-six – emanating behaviour of a beast.’

‘Really,’ said JJ. Her eyes still fixed on the laptop.

‘Yes. That will be an anagram of ‘emanating’. So, ‘man-eating’ is the answer.’

Jenny looked up quickly at Walt and they both gulped together.”

My first petal to fall

After just under 12 months of writing.editing.writing,editing – you get the picture – finally got around to self-publishing my first novel entitled, ‘Three Weddings’. It’s available, here from Amazon:

Three Weddings.

Why the petal analogy, you may ask? Well, my favourite novelist and the person who I am trying to emulate in a very small way with my writing, once said:

“An author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon … and listens for the echo.”

So, here is my ‘petal’. I am hoping it won’t be the last. It’s been a very enjoyable ride trying to write something substantial that has some form of plot and contains moments of humour. It’s been hard work, but I am proud to have written it.

Oh, yeah. Favourite novelist. Well, PG. Wodehouse of course!