Peter Steward's Web Site
Trust me to be on weekend duty when some nutter telephones and trust Violet to have just had a telephone installed so the aforementioned nutter could contact me.
"I've had a telephone installed dear so that your office can get in touch with you if they need to. I know you reporters are always on call 24 hours a day."
I didn't have the heart to tell her that us reporters liked to crawl away onto a corner at times, somewhere we couldn't be contacted. On the odd occasion we even cursed Alexander Graham Bell for ever having invented the telephone. At least it meant I could receive telephone calls from friends.
It was a rather chilly day on this particular Sunday. The phone began to ring. Robin had just finished lunch and, apart from the usual Sunday police calls, I had promised myself a quiet afternoon reading the paper.
"Oh blast," I said because I knew that if the telephone rang it could mean a spoilt afternoon for me.
"No rest fo the wicked," said Robin.
"Then why are you sitting with your feet up," I said with half a smile on my face.
Robin threw his newspaper at me as I walked through the door. It was his rest day and I knew perfectly well that it would still be laying on the floor when I returned.
"Is that the local reporter?"
"Hi. My name's Steve Brown. I was given your number by Mr Birkett. He knows me quite well and said you were on duty this weekend."
"Yes I am."
"Good. I'm glad I got in contact with you. It's like this. Have you heard of hang gliding?"
"Good. Well this afternoon I'm going to jump from the cliffs at the south end of the seafront. I wondered if you would like to come along and do an article on it."
Well I didn't mind because I was always on the look-out for off beat features and hang gliding had recently become very popular, especially amongst young people and it was amongst the young that we looked to increase our readership. I could do a colour piece on what it felt like to be soaring through the air in what amounted to a fairly flimsy cage.
"okay I'll pick you up in about half an hour if you give me your address."
I gave him the details and returned to finish reading the paper.
"Going out Eric. It's okay for some, getting all the action, "Robin said without moving from his supine state.
"Some of us have nothing do do except to do nothing," he added with a grin.
"Continuing to be a lazy bastard," I added
Forty minutes later a bright red beach buggy arrived with a smiling fresh faced youth aboard.
"I'm off now Robin, see you later," I said as I exited.
The guy in the beach buggy turned out to be a very jovial type and we were soon chatting about the intricacies of hang gliding.
"It's a fabulous experience, it really is. It's like being completely free without having to take drugs. You can sort your life out whilst you're up there."
"But you have to come down to earth again don't you?" I replied.
"Well yes there is that problem. But you can always jump again and again. I suppose it's rather like a young kid on a slide. You forget about the hard work of walking to the top of the cliff because of the pleasure of soaring with the clouds. It's all a matter of sensation. By the way we found the south cliff rather unsuitable so we're going to another high spot about four miles out of town. There's three of us and we'll just do the one jump so that you can interview us and get the feel of what it's like to be a bird. We'll take the buggy onto the beach so we don't have to cart the equipment up again once we're down. Then we can run you home. We need the publicity because many people around here think we're nutcases and that we're risking our lives and the lives of others around us. We always jump from deserted areas and, although there is an element of danger, we decide to take the risks but not endanger anybody else. The adrenalin rush makes it all worthwhile and, as I've said, it's less anti social than taking drugs to get our kicks. After all most sports are dangerous in some way."
He went on to explain the technical details of making a glider and how it flies. By the time this had been done, we were at our destination on a cliff top just a few miles outside the town.
"Of course here in East Anglia it's a bit difficult finding a decent area but we have to make the best of a bad job and round these parts it's not quite as flat as everyone makes out. Do you know I have a friend who always raises a laugh when he tells people he's a member of the local mountain rescue team. Very funny you might think but it's only a name. You'd be bloody glad to see them if you were stuck on a cliff ledge around here. Anyway I'll introduce you to Mike and Ralph and you can chat to them while I take the car down. They may have other reasons for doing the sport."
Mike and Ralph turned out to be just as friendly and delighted to talk to me about why they threw themselves off cliffs. By the time Steve returned I no longer wondered what possessed a human being to attempt to fly like an eagle and I had an answer for all those people that continually said "If God wanted them to fly like birds he would have given them wings."
The ancient Gods would have been mystified if they had been able to look down on these three men harnessing themselves to the giant fibreglass contraptions, donning crash helmets and staggering backwards to give themselves the necessary run up before taking off into the unknown.
Steve decided to be the last to take off so that he could explain what the others were doing and tell me about the intricacies of various movements and changes in direction and how to use the thermals. With Mike and Ralph by now safely on the ground below Steve announced that they would scratch out a target in the sand and he would attempt to land as near to it as possible.
"I don't know how close I can get because if a gust of wind comes up I could just as easily end up in the sea. Nevertheless I've been practising my target runs and I should land somewhere near, fingers crossed."
So saying he walked backwards and, with a measured if slightly clumsy run up, launched himself into space.
"It's fantastic, " he shouted as he gained height and began to circle round.
From that point he was out of conversation range and if he was saying anything I was unable to catch it. Silently but gracefully he circled round and round, changing direction by shifting the weight of his body. It looked like an exhilarating sport but one that was truly not for me. I preferred to keep my feet well and truly on the ground. The thought of throwing myself off a cliff rather upset my sensitive stomach.
Slowly Steve began to descend and eventually his feet came down and he landed just a few feet from the scratched out circle in the sand. With an exuberant grin and wave he indicated to me that he was safe and it was time for me to join him on the beach. So I walked down the coastal path to congratulate him.
"Not bad," I said
"No not bad. Could have done with a bit more wind though but it must have given you an idea about what we do and how it's all pretty safe. You may have noticed that not one of us made a mess of himself against the cliffs and apart from a bruise when I kicked myself accidentally on landing we all appear to be fine," Steve said.
I spent about half an hour chatting and joking about the sport and a further 10 minutes refusing my maiden flight on the pretext that I had some calls to make. Steve and Ralph smiled. They knew my reason for refusing a tandem flight with one of them and they accepted it.
"Okay mate it's not everybody's cup of tea but if you do change your mind you know where to get hold if us," said Ralph.
"Okay Eric let's give you a lift home and thanks for all you interest," said Steve. "The buggy's over there.
So we all piled over to the buggy and loaded Steve's equipment onto the back.
"Mike and Ralph are going to stay here and continue," Steve said.
Steve checked the gear lever was in neutral and fired the engine. His first attempt to move forward met with stubborn resistance as did his second and third. His attempts at reversing met a similar fate and by this time Mike and Ralph had trotted over to see what was happening or in this case what wasn't happening.
"You've overloaded it Steve," Ralph said in a helpful way. "The wheels are stuck fast. We'll have to give you a shove."
So we piled out and tried to push it, but without any success.
"Christ the bloody tide's going to come in soon," said Steve, beginning to panic slightly. Despite all our efforts we couldn't budge the thing.
"Have to call the coastguards out. It's our only chance. They might know what to do," said Ralph.
"Yeah suppose so. Listen Eric I'm sorry about this old mate but if you've got those calls to make I'm afraid you're gonna have to leg it back home."
I weighed up the possibilities. The calls could wait but I didn't fancy the prospect of waiting around to see if the coastguards could extricate the vehicle before the tide came in. So I took the coward's way out.
"yes sorry lads I'll have to go. Hope you don't mind."
"No you go ahead mate, we understand. Just hope we can get some help before the tide comes in. It's like you said, the trouble with our sport is that you do get brought back to earth with a bang."
It was a long walk back. I decided to go along the beach as it was a shorter distance than along the road. I kept looking back and thought I saw some activity on the beach. I only hope that they managed to get the buggy off in time. I wrote a story but I didn't mention this part of the day as I didn't want to queer their pitch and give ammunition to the "it's a waste of time" lobby. I admired these people, they were as nutty as a fruitcake but they had found some kind of peace in our mad world.
As I approached the town along the beach I couldn't help think about what it would be like to be able to soar like a bird. But those thoughts were pushed to the back of my mind by a tap on the shoulder. I had stopped for a short rest close to the pier. Anybody who has tried to walk three miles along a beach will know that it can be hard going. I stopped to empty the sand out of my shoes. I was aware of a shadow approaching me and then came the tap. I turned round to find Martin standing by my side!
"Martin," I said with obviously great surprise in my voice.
"Hello Eric how are you?"
"I'm fine but how are you and what are you doing?"
"I'm okay Eric, in fact I've got a nice job down here for the summer, working on the front selling ice cream. It's helping to sort me out and I've got one or two things planned. I think you could say I'm looking to the future."
"Just don't let Greene see you mate. He'll tear you into the same condition as your desk when you chopped it into little pieces."
"Yeah that was rather unfortunate but I do have these fits of temper you see and when I have one I can't control myself. I regret what I did to the desk but I was all worked up. I regret letting you and Louise down but something inside me just snapped and once I had smashed the desk up I knew there was no going back. I couldn't stay. At best Shad Greene would have gone on at me. He would have had every reason to sack me or even involve the police. At best he would have gone on about taking the money out of my pay. Anyway the job didn't mean anything to me. It was as easy to walk away as it had been to stay. So I've had a nice holiday. Wandered about a bit, had a rest and sorted out one or two things in my mind. All in all it's been a fairly good period. I have at least decided what I'm going to do."
"What are your plans then Martin?"
"Oh this and that. Can't tell you at the moment but you'll find out eventually Eric don't worry. You'll be one of the first to know."
I knew from past experience that it was pointless pushing Martin for information. He would just clam up. I then realised that he had said his piece and made contact but he now wanted to move off.
"I'll be seeing you then Eric."
So saying he strode off in the direction I had come from.
I couldn't help feeling a little bit uneasy about the meeting. There was something strange and calculating about his manner. He seemed more confident, more self assured than in the past, as if he really did have a plan and really did know where he was going and that concerned me.
Throughout the summer I cam across a number of ice cream salesmen along the seafront, mainly through a story about the increased level of sales. I never came across Martin and none of those I spoke to had ever heard of him.
I mentioned all this to Louise
"There was something about him. He struck me as being really cold and calculating as if he was trying to warn me. I'm worried about what he might do to himself."
"Darling I think you're over-reacting. He probably told you about the job because he's unemployed and embarrassed to admit it."
"Well if he's unemployed why tell me about a fictitious job? He was the one who brought it up and he was the one that approached me. No Louise he seemed different. He lied about having a job in the town and refused to tell me what his plans were. There's definitely something wrong."
"Well there's nothing we can do. Martin is a law unto himself now. We don't know where he is living, so we can't contact him. Just forget it."
"I suppose you're right."
Louise was always right and I cam to realise I was relying more and more on her. We no longer hid our feelings for each other. Our relationship was out in the open and the entire office knew and seemed comfortable with it. We were happy together and that is all that mattered.
I hated soppy films. Louise loved them. So we made a bargain. We went to the pictures once a week and we took it in turns to chose. She always led me to the weepies, I always led her to the psychological dramas and adventures. This Tuesday it happened to be the turn of the weepies and it turned out to be one of the very worst from my point of view and one of the very best from hers. It was a dreadful story abut young love. Soldier goes away to war but promises to marry his love on his return. Of course he never returns. She tried to get on with her life, gets married, has children and moves into old age where the film ends with her clutching a photograph of her love with tears dropping onto the surface - yuck.
It was all good box office stuff but seemed so pointless because the real world just wasn't like that. Of course Louise lapped it up and was in no state to hold a conversation on the way home. So we went back to Violets and had a strong cup of coffee.
We were watching some late night movie and Robin had gone out for the night and wasn't likely to return until the morning and Violet was safely in her room.
Midway through the scene where the werewolf was threatening to throw the heroine off the road bridge, Louise turned to me.
"Eric how long are you going to stay with the journal?"
"What kind of question is that when the heroine is in deadly peril?"
"Eric I'm serious. How long are you going to stay?"
"I've no idea love. Not for ever I wouldn't think but I haven't given the future a great deal of thought. I've got ambitions but they're not that great. I guess I would like to stay for a couple more years and then move on."
"And where would you go?"
"No idea. Hey why the third degree?"
"It's just that film. It's made me think."
"What that you're going to be carried off by a werewolf?"
"No not that one. The one at the cinema tonight you dummy."
"Oh that one. Well what did it make you think?"
"It made me think about what would happen if you decided to leave."
"I expect the office would collapse."
"Eric please be serious"
"Okay, but what are you getting at?"
"Isn't it obvious Eric. I am dreading the thought of you leaving the paper and leaving me behind."
"But I said it would be two years at least."
"Yes but two years seems to have a habit of evaporating very quickly."
"Well so what?"
This conversation seemed to be going round and round in circles.
"Eric are you being deliberately thick?"
"Louise what are you trying to say."
"I'm trying to tell you I love you Eric." The words seemed to be slightly forced out but they had their desired effect.
"Eric for God's sake I love you. I can't bear the thought of losing you now, in two years' time or ever."
And the next words I spoke would change both our lives for ever. They came out quite naturally.
"In that case Louise will you marry me?"
Being a romantic at heart I had always thought any proposal of marriage would be accompanied by bells and myself down on one knee. But in reality the words had almost slipped out.
"Oh darling yes please," replied Louise.
At that point the super hero grabbed the heroine and sent the werewolf into oblivion. On the television, however, the hairy ape like monster was still running amuck.
"Oh Eric do you really mean it," asked Louise.
"Yes I suppose I do," I replied.
"You don't seem too sure."
"It's not that, it's just I've never proposed before and I thought when I did I would kind of work up to it. I have always dreamed of this day. I wanted it to be special and to work up to it and now I've kind of just blurted it out. I'm glad I've done it but not in the way I have. I've been wanting to ask you for a few weeks. I suppose I wasn't really sure that you felt the same way about me as I do about you." I realised by this time I wasn't making all that much sense.
"Eric just shut up and kiss me," Louise replied.
So I did
So my idea of getting down on one knee had gone out the window. I really wanted to wind the clock back a couple of hours and do it properly. Louise didn't seem at all bothered about the lack of romance. She said it had been spontaneous and that made it much more romantic. Louise left shortly afterwards explaining that she wanted to be on her own for a while to take everything in. I wanted that too and in the quite of my room I felt happy and contented and got no sleep whatsoever!