A member of U3A Calpe Writing Group, Chris Hare, has completed his first novel, which is to be published in August. Congratulations to Chris on this splendid achievement.
- Sample chapter of Chris Hare Book - Crabbe in all Innocence
High, high above the skies in a secret place hidden even beyond the imagination of man, The Three Fates paused in their spinning of the tapestries of men’s lives and looked down.
They smiled at the success of their labours. In a large deep hole among the graves lay the body of Lancelot Arthur Crabbe, poisoned, gassed and battered, but not quite dead.
The gods would miss him. Crabbe’s innocent blunderings, his indiscretions and calamitous attempts at trying to please, had made the skies ring with laughter.
But now, it was nearly over, and the search would begin for a new Heroic Failure to take his place.
Crabbe’s tapestry, like the millions of others they had created, was full of the bright innocent colours of childhood that slipped into shades of ever deepening black as the time and manner of his death approached.
It was all there, so intricately and carefully woven. The dates of his short life, his parentage, education, and all the events that would lead him to the place they’d selected for his demise.
However, in Crabbe’s tapestry there was a significant difference. Once again, the deep, grim lines of the weavers’ ancient faces gave way to smiles, for here and there, particularly in the pattern of his teenage years, they had spun in some grey thread.
Grey. The colour of doubt, of the unknown, and of choice. The colour between the black certainty of death and the white purity of the innocence of life.
Not that Crabbe ever knew or ever suspected even for one moment, that he had been selected as a victim of The Fates, as their special plaything. It was a rare distinction (if ‘distinction’ is the right word) and The Fates had chosen well. Crabbe hadn’t let them down.
In the countless tapestries they’d woven for ordinary human beings there was no grey. Everyone else’s existence was predictable, unalterable. For the vast majority there was no choice. Their whole lives were determined, preordained.
But, for Crabbe, there had been times of choice. And, Crabbe, being Crabbe, usually made the wrong one. But it was almost at an end. He had travelled his path and his journey was nearly over.
As decided, he had suffered much during his final day on Earth. Now, he lay in someone else’s grave, unconscious and unaware of what had happened and of what was due to happen very shortly. The final, fatal explosion.
His breathing was shallow, barely noticeable. In fact, he already looked dead.
It would appear to the casual passer-by that the ‘arrangements’, as a burial is so delicately termed, had been carried out in the traditional way. The body was lying on its back, with its hands clasped in supplication. The eyes were closed, although that detail couldn’t be seen from above since the face was hidden deep in the shadow cast by the early morning sun.
This particular passer-by, being an Englishman, paused and doffed his hat, then bowed out of respect for the deceased before continuing on his way. He reached St. Mary’s church at the top of the path before his brain gave voice to the doubts. Pausing again, he turned to look back at the churchyard and at the hundreds of gravestones and memorials and then at the open grave in particular. A questioning frown appeared on his brow and he stroked his chin in puzzled thought as he took in the scene.
All was not as it seemed. Not as it should be. This was England. There shouldn’t be anomalies.
But there were.
He asked himself why, for example, the grave hadn’t been filled in immediately. That was the usual practice, as far as he knew. Just as soon as the mourners left for the funeral tea, uncaring mud-encrusted strangers appeared with their shovels. That was how it happened when his granddad died.
The passer-by glanced round to make sure he was alone. His curiosity had been aroused and he wanted another look. He began whistling quietly to himself and arched his eyebrows, which, he thought, made him look like a picture of innocence.
Not that he had anything to feel guilty about, but he did think he might be accused of intruding should the gravediggers suddenly reappear to finish the job.
Still whistling softly, hands clasped behind his back, he strolled back down the path as nonchalantly as he could, righteousness all over his face as he approached the grave once more.
He looked down in prayerful contemplation even though his mind was racing as he tried to put his thoughts and questions in a logical order that would make sense of this mystery.
Presumably, he thought, this chap was laid to rest yesterday. Therefore, this man had been lying in his grave all night, exposed to the elements, and vultures, and fair game for a body snatcher.
He realised his imagination was running out of control and he forced his mind to concentrate on the known facts: body snatchers belonged in Scotland, in the reign of Queen Victoria, and so were a thing of the past. This was Harrow, 1932, King George the Fifth was on the throne. Were there vultures in Harrow? Or did they just fly round in circles over dead cowboys in American films? Momentarily his eyes darted to the sky, just in case.
Suddenly, something else occurred to him. Why was the body just lying there and not encased in a coffin? Granddad’s had been polished pine with brass fittings and a nameplate.
Then, there were the clothes. Nanny had insisted her late husband should be dressed in his best suit with a freshly starched wing collar holding his chins in place, with the help of his club tie. But he, whoever it was down there, wasn’t even wearing a cheap shroud. Only a mismatch of old, stained and torn rags. The kind you wouldn’t be seen dead in. Although, in his case…
A shiver ran down the passer-by’s spine and he decided suddenly, it was high time he was somewhere else.
Being English, he did the English thing. He decided to ignore what he’d seen and pretend there was nothing unusual. After all, it was none of his business. They’d never been introduced. It would be different if it was Granddad down there. He would be concerned and would certainly report it. But it wasn’t. Granddad was miles away in Potters Bar, safely planted in his best suit and starched wing collar, polished pine coffin, brass handles and nameplate.
The passer-by took up his whistling again but this time, a march, and resumed his passing by, only now with noticeably quicker steps. He drew a deep breath filling his lungs with the fresh morning air, feeling the need for a change of subject.
He glanced up to see if there were any rain clouds about, or vultures. There were none of either. It was going to be another perfect day. Free of clouds and birds of prey.
He returned his gaze to earth hoping to see another Englishman with whom he could discuss this fine weather, as Englishmen did when they didn’t know what else to do.
Discovering he was still alone, he started at a run back up the path, anxious to get away and calling out ‘Lovely day!’ to the church spire towering over him as he made his escape.
The clocks of The Fates don’t slow down as the time of death approaches. They just stop ticking as the thread of life is cut. Stops dead. Just like a human heart.
In the open grave, the almost late Lancelot Arthur Crabbe was totally unaware of anything as he dreamed dreams of memories. He gave an almost imperceptible smile as he remembered the first great love of his life – Miss Peach.
Chris was educated at a boys’ school in Harrow, an experience which, for the most part, he did not enjoy. After leaving school, he trained as a ‘people’ photographer, which he loved, and went on to enjoy a very successful career, running his own business and latterly training others in the photographic arts. Chris covered weddings, from the local registry office to St. Paul’s Cathedral, witnessing many memorable events, such as the bride’s waters breaking as she signed the register and a grandfather’s ‘famous last words’ at the start of the wedding reception: (Slurp) “Yummy. Nice soup!” before dropping dead!
Chris loves the theatre, French Impressionism, Test cricket, animals, Luton Town F.C. and red wine – not necessarily in that order! He also enjoys foreign travel and got the idea for this book whilst on a trip to America. In 2002 he retired, and he and his wife Hilary moved to a lovely villa here on Spain’s delightful Costa Blanca – Hilary to paint in water colours, Chris to write, albeit somewhat slowly. After one or two hiccups along the way, twenty years later, he’s about to become a published author.
You will find the first chapter of the novel below. It is called “Crabbe in all Innocence”. An elegant and witty return to pre-war England, it tells the story of Launcelot Crabbe, a pupil at an English public school, who, in all in innocence, stumbles through life as the chosen plaything of the gods. Life for Launcelot never runs smoothly.
Chris’s publisher writes:
‘This is one of the funniest books ever written – the pages simply drip with humour. The author belongs to a generation that doesn’t rely on crude language to entertain, which is why he writes using the axioms (accepted rules) of the time by excluding all profanities (four-letter words)and ensuring there are no references to horizontal jogging (raw sex).
This is the kind of book you could safely give your maiden aunt at Christmas. The author would like to prove the veracity of this statement by giving a copy to one of his own maiden aunts, but unfortunately,they’ve all gone (snuffed it).
He hopes that you will enjoy reading about Crabbe, but even if you don’t, you’ll have to buy a copy of the book to find that out, which might be something of a dilemna for you (tough!)’
Once we have further details of the local launch of Chris’s book in August, we shall publish the information on our U3A website. A limited number of copies of the book, price 9 euros, signed by the author, will be available at the launch. However, to avoid disappointment, please reserve your copy as soon as possible, either by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or on the Facebook page – pollysbookshopjavea. Remember, it makes an excellent Christmas present for maiden aunts or any other relatives of a nervous disposition you may have!