Authors: Raffaella Barker
âIt will make essential summer reading'
âRaffaella Barker's first venture into young adult fiction . . . is finely balanced, tuning in to teenagers' emotional wavelength'
âYou won't be able to put it down'
âPoetically and lyrically written,
sings the praises of Norfolk beautifully'
Eastern Daily Press
For Aurelia and Tallulah with Love
Also Available by Raffaella Barker
EASTERN DAILY PRESS
15 JULY 1969
The funeral service for James Jordan, aged 15, who was tragically lost at sea, was held on Friday 12 July at 3.00 p.m. at St Mary's Church, Staitheley.
It is the first warm day of April, the first possible day of spring, and it is impossible to watch any more telly. I feel as though I have woken from hibernation, and my senses are less slothful than they have been since I suffered the agony of having my ears pierced just before Christmas. Today I can actually smell spring mingling with the salt which is always present in the air here, and the village shop had primroses planted in tubs outside the door. Staitheley is quiet at this time of year, only fishermen are out at sea, and a handful of the heartiest sailors, but everyone else's boats are moored out of the water and lashed with canvas to protect them from the elements. Only the masts clang, a sound as much a part of Staitheley life to me as the call of gulls and the constant rippling whisper of water in the creek.
Staitheley is everyone's favourite place in the summer, when there are holidaymakers and birdwatchers and nature lovers everywhere. The tide floods in and suddenly the sea fills up with boats and the tiny streets are full of people eating ice creams and having barbecues, and laughter echoes off all the cobbled walls as every garden seems to have a party
going on in it. When the tide is in, people queue on the quay, waiting for the boats to take them to Salt Head Island and beyond it to Seal Point, to see the famous local seal colony, or as the tide recedes they stay, teetering on the brink of falling in, dangling orange nylon crab lines and scraps of bacon into the muddy water of the harbour. The six weeks of the summer holidays are when most businesses are making their money, but the rest of the time it's dead quiet and I sometimes feel like I am the only living entity, and I have to go into Flixby, our nearest town, to remind myself that there are a few people on the planet beyond the Staitheley pensioners. I usually get Mum to give me a lift to the bus when I want to go and meet my best friend, Nell, there, but today, when I asked Mum, she just yelled, âYou can go on your bike.' Charming. In fact, I'd forgotten I had a bike until she mentioned it and then it took me a while to find it, or rather to get Mum to find it, because it was right back in the back of the garage under a torn sail from my old Laser boat and two rank-smelling lobster pots. Mum always knows where everything is if you keep asking her.
âLook, if you want me to go on my bike, I need to know where it is,' I pointed out, quite reasonably, when I had looked in the obvious places, like outside the back door and outside the front door.
âWhy am I the only person who does anything here?' Mum shrieked as she strutted out to the garage. âIt's your father's job to look after bicycles, not mine.'
I think of Dad, out on the Sand Bar at the end of Salt Head, in his waders with his binoculars and
surrounded by screeching birdlife, and I know that he is far too busy taking care of the nature reserve that is the island to ever give any thought to my bike or anyone else's. He didn't even teach me to ride it in the first place â Jack, my grandfather, did that when I was six, and I can remember pedalling along the quay towards Grandma and being full of swooping joy at the new sensation. Dad lives for his job; for him, being warden to the coastline is a vocation, like they say being a nun is. I hope I never get a vocation; I just want a job when I grow up, to get me out and away into the world. Mind you, Mum had a job being a television journalist in London and look where that got her â she met Dad when she came to the North Norfolk coast to make a documentary. They got married and she gave up work when she had me. I think she's a bit frustrated now and it isn't really surprising. She certainly went off on one about my bike today.
âNo one is asking you to look after it,' I soothed, âI just need you to help me find it.'
Mum yanked open the garage door, chucked a few boxes around and located my bike beneath the sail. Unfortunately, seeing the bike didn't improve her temper, and she charged away towards the house again shouting, âThere's the bloody thing and I'm not mending any goddam punctures either.' She should really watch her language. Anyway, I got it out and was delighted that there were no punctures, but no one has been looking after it, least of all me. But now I suppose it isn't surprising that the bike is groaning and listing and its wheel is catching on something,
and I've only got a few hundred metres away from home. While I'm glad Mum can't see that I've already ground to a halt, I do also wish she would just drive past in her car and give me a lift to the bus stop after all because I've got to meet Nell, and now I think I'm going to miss the bus.
I gaze up and down the High Street, and as usual there is no one about except a very old lady with a tweed hat on taking a dachshund for a walk. She is Miss Mills from Bridge House, and I hope she can't see this far because I really don't want to talk to her right now. There is a gang of old ladies in Staitheley and they are all friends, or all sworn enemies, of my grandma. She and Jack are not in the thick of it, as they live just out of the village in their house on the edge of the marshes, but she knows every ailment and every complaint that is discussed by the Staitheley ladies. Their three favourite topics are: illnesses, their own and one another's; dogs, and whom they have bitten; and the vicar, Reverend Horace Wells, and what he has done wrong. I have been into almost every old lady's house in Staitheley in the fourteen years of my life, and apart from the holiday-cottage owners who are never here, I know just about everyone in the village. It isn't hard to know everyone because there are a few hundred permanent residents and my dad grew up here too, and my grandfather, so Staitheley is home to my family history as much as it is to me. This is one of the boring things about it.
I would actually like to live in a town where no one has known me since I was a baby, and where cinemas, clothes shops, chemists and cafes lined the
streets. It would be so great if I could go and buy a CD without having to make a special half-day pilgrimage on the bus to Flixby. And it would be great if no one ever made either of the following remarks about me again: âMy, with all that dark hair and those big blue eyes you remind me of your daddy when he was small,' or, âBut look at you now, Lola Jordan, haven't you grown into a fine young lady! I should ask your grandmother to buy you a nice new cardy, you seem to have grown out of that one.' This comment usually comes with a bony old hand prodding my waist which makes me squeal, so the Staitheley grannies think I am a true joker among them and seek me out again and again. It is a big pressure being one of very few children in a very small village. I think it was selfish of Mum and Dad to only have me. A brother or a sister would really take the spotlight off me. Mum is so not sympathetic; whenever I moan, she says I bring it on myself. âYou know you could cover up your midriff when you go round to get Miss Mills's shopping list,' she points out. And she's always telling me to take my coat when taking Enid Selby's naughty West Highland terrier for a walk along with my own darling Jack Russell, and friend through thick and thin, Cactus.
âI could wear old sacks all the time,' I agree, âbut then I wouldn't be being true to myself, Mum.'
That floors her, because Mum's big thing in life is being true to oneself. And communicating. God knows how she manages with Dad because he never communicates anything. He hardly talks. Come to think of it, Mum doesn't talk much to Dad, but she
talks to me, and she talks on the phone to her friends in London, especially my Aunt Jane, her sister. Sometimes she cries after that. I think that even after all these years, she misses the excitement of being a working girl in a big city.
Thankfully, Miss Mills has teetered away down towards the quay with Deborah the dachshund undulating along beside her, a bit like a worm on a lead, I always think, but each to her own. Cactus, who is more like a cement-filled rugby ball than a worm, because he is so greedy, is in my rucksack, but I've been hanging around too long and he has noticed a cat. Suddenly he wriggles out and dashes away after it. He vanishes down one of the little alleyways that criss-cross between walled gardens and courtyards which make up the heart of Staitheley and that I am sure must have been built by smugglers no matter how Dad insists they were just for taking coal to houses. Anyway, I can't be bothered to go after Cactus. He'll just go home when he's finished hell-raising and I'll see him when I get back. No one can get lost in our village, so I never worry about him.
Staitheley is small. It still spans both sides of the creek but once, as Dad has told me more times than I can be bothered to remember, it was a great port. All that is left of the port now is the quay and the merchants' houses that line it. They face out across the salt marshes to the limitless sea, as if protecting the flint cottages clustered between the two main streets, which reach back from the quay like arms wrapped around the heart of Staitheley.
âThere is nothing between us and the North Pole,'
Dad likes to tell me. In the winter I have no trouble believing him. Dad knows everything about this coastline and its web of creeks, which flow through the salt marshes, flooding them with the incoming tide and receding again when the tide ebbs so that mousse-thick mud oozes wherever you walk. It always feels to me like the marshes and the island, Salt Head, belong to Dad and not to the Trust for whom he works. Occasionally he puts on a tie with his tweed jacket and goes to their head office in Cambridge for a meeting, where they ask him stuff like, âWhere is the erosion happening?' or, âDo you have a policy on pollution?' but mainly they just leave him to manage it for them and so the huge sweep of sometimes land (low tide) and sometimes sea (high tide) which stretches from the tiny village of Salt along the coast to the west part of Staitheley and on to Hinkley Marshes and Beetley Creek and the weirdly popular village of Burdon Water is Dad's kingdom.