Leatherback Copyright 2012 Thank you for downloading this eBook. Your support and respect for the property of this author is appreciated. This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or otherelectronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher,except in the case of brief quotations in critical reviews and other noncommercial uses.
Many thanks to my husband Karl for everything. I wrote this story back in 2008, when things were better, for a time when myfaculties wouldnt be... that time is now. Thanks so much for being here. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Authors note Leatherback turtles are a critically endangered species (IUCN List). Males spendtheir entire lives entirely at sea while females come to land only to nest. There are only25,000 adult nesting females remaining worldwide – in 1980, there were 115,000. They canlive up to 150 years-old and the species has existed for over 65 million years, second onlyto crocodiles. It is the largest of the sea turtles and can survive in the cold waters of the AtlanticOcean and dive deep for jellyfish, thought to be its main source of food. It has the ability toraise its body temperature so it can traverse the cold, deep ocean – the deepest it has beenrecorded is 1.2km deep in the Arctic Ocean. It can measure up to 1.8 metres long and weighabout 500kg, on average. In fact, the heaviest ever recorded was found drowned in a fishingnet off the coast of Wales in 1988 – it weighed 900kg. The habits of the leatherback young are quite mysterious to the watchful eye ofconservationists but they are thought to survive only in warm, tropical waters and be prey toa number of fish and birds, like seagulls. Typical nesting sites are in the Caribbean andWest Africa. Adult leatherback turtles have been recorded migrating as far north as Alaska and asfar south as Cape Town in South Africa. However, it is habituating the world’s oceans thatleave them susceptible to being caught in long line fisheries. Unlike other turtles, the Leatherback is different. It does not have a thick shell likethe others but has a thick black leathery covering, hence its name – Leatherback. Adult leatherbacks have few natural predators except for humans: manyleatherbacks die each year in fishing nets or on fishing lines and many nesting beaches arelost every year to tourist or residential development. The poaching of eggs and pollution isalso a danger to adult and hatchling turtles. Scientists estimate that only 1 in 1000leatherback hatchlings survive to adulthood. References: www.leatherback.org, WWF and BBC.
Prologue On a white moonlit beach littered with stones and seaweed, I walked. I didn’t careabout the relaxing sounds of the shore, the tinsel of stars streaked above me, the full moonsaluting the Earth with its cool resplendence. I would love to believe I was not relegatedhere. The western coast had smells of ember, of fruit and herbs and the air felt wet. Itstruck me how odd the night felt, very much unlike what I expected from Wales. Crests ofwhite water were breaking far offshore and the rest of the sea seemed still. A flap of wingsstartled me as I heard seagulls and other winged things distancing themselves from thecoast. I looked at my silver-plated watch like I would ordinarily in London and removed itfrom my wrist to my pocket. I was on holiday now, maybe to get my ‘head together,’maybe to ‘think about what I’d done.’ ‘Relax,’ I told myself. For whatever purpose I was there, the last thing I owedanybody was to admit error. I scanned my holiday destination. Nothing there except theocean: still, soundless and darkly violet in the night. I would never think I was there for asound reason though. And if my life had ever taken an unexpected turn, it was when shecame. Well, I wasn’t sure if it was female until she did what she did. She fixated my gazethe moment she arrived. Actually, my gaze was caught by a certain piece of seaweed floating in the shallowsof the water. It was nothing that would have interested me normally but I liked how itfloated in place as the tiny waves cupped the shore jingling like a lady rattling her goldbracelets. Soon all the sound of my surroundings shut out. All the rustling in the dunes, thewhistling of the wind and the lapping of the waves on the shore were quiet like they weretold to hush. I was left standing in hallows of silence. The piece of seaweed disappeared and was replaced by the pinhole nostrils of ahideous creature that grunted as it lugged itself out of the water, beads of water falling offits body like luxurious jewels. Resembling a noisy mechanical bull running out of batteries, its sluggish plight upthe shore was pitiful but instead of rushing to help the spotted creature, its leathery skindotted with white flecks, I only stood further back not knowing whether to run away orwatch what it was doing. As I stood back in a muck of panicky indecisiveness, I could see that it was quite asimple beast; the moonlight seemed to be illuminating the journey before it, dancing off itsback and made the sand appear serenely spread with a butter knife. It was clockwork, it waselementary. It grunted every time it muscled its bony front flippers forward. At length, itgrunted and lugged its body up the sand and it became visible under pale moonlight. Slidingup the shore, its head and shell were in sight. I could see its brown eyes crushed under its fibrous lids. Its shell that I’m surewould serve as protection and give it the agility to be swift in the vast glittering ocean
behind it, looked vulnerable in front of me, like it was made only of tougher skin raisedabove its body, offering weather protection at best when out in the open like it was. But it continued grunting as its broad shoulders and thick forehead turned awayfrom me and back to sea. It stopped – a peaceful repose from its struggle. Then I saw itsback flippers, its shell cut into a sharp point and a sad tail sticking out under it. Those backflippers heaved the sand to each side and its body twisted so it sank into the hole it wascreating underneath itself– I saw the turtle was making a nest, of sorts. No wonder the moon and the stars were silently lighting the sky above it andeverything else around me dimmed. Life was being dropped into the hole. Little slimy lifeegg capsules fell into the hole she prepared. And it was calm! So calm. And probably from the obvious age of the great creature,she seemed nonchalant in her endeavour. She looked as though the process was anawkwardness that didn’t seem to bother her. She began to fill the hole with the sand eitherside of her. It muddled in the cavern and pushed sand back in. After her nest became well hidden and the only sign of her visit was the ripples ofsand that she carved with her body moving up shore, its oceanic home captured herattention and she pulled and lugged and grunted again, as it was now evident it was herway; the turtle moved on. It thrilled me for an instant that the turtle was still there by the edge of the sea andhad left a puzzling chasm of eggs under the sand near my feet. I asked myself, did thatturtle leave a nest here in front of me? It took me how ignored I was even if the mother wasaware I was there. Soon the sounds from the waves returned, the impact of the wind’s bursts could beheard whistling through crevices, the rustling in the dunes resumed and the turtle haddisappeared. I let out the breath I had been holding in. What had I seen? The glow of the sun began to lighten the sky behind me, across the vast green field,behind the mountains. This was not a holiday anymore; I was not in a vacant abandon frommy day-to-day stress. Surely what I had witnessed was important. The beast’s appearancewas certainly a surprise. I had not expected a reptilian visitor to these shores. Now at the end of a long emotional journey myself, I was pleased to be at thebeginning of life. I did not have to put any effort into forgetting now. I had something toremember. I began, at first, without feeling tired and like it wasn’t past my bedtime, to put onefoot in front of the other, which sunk like lead pellets into dry custard powder, and pullmyself across the beach to the sandy road upon which my holiday let sat. I was staying at abeachfront terrace cottage. I stood on the street that linked the chain of such lets togetheralong the beach. And I suddenly saw myself in my dark window – a weary old dragondismissed as far away as they could get me. I walked up the steps to my flat with the cool breeze at the back of my neck bringingsmells of wet grass and rabbit poop. The gentle lapping of the shore did not sooth as I
thumped the wooden door with my shoulder until it opened with a loud cry. I pulled thecord under the only light bulb that illuminated the shackled room. The gaps in thefloorboards must have been a thoroughfare for the beach sand that carpeted the floor. Thedampness I smelt in the room was salty and was probably the reason why the fridge hadrusted so solidly at its edges. I collapsed on the naked mattress which made its springs tocreek like a seesaw as I bounced.
I A waddle of women in shorts, bum bags and caps walked down the loose stone roadunder the Welsh summer sun and stopped before the beach started. Having spent most of the night like I had spent most of my life – uncomfortable,wired, worried – and then being as far from London as possible, and meeting a turtle thathad to be the size of a small whale, I was in a daze. I was at first amazed, then feltprivileged, that I had witnessed a wonder of nature, and did not drink a drop of fermentednasty rum at breakfast from the bottles that filled my travel bag but sipped tea inappreciation of the surprising beauty of planet Earth. I imagined talking to the village folkand taking a bus ride to a library to learn about what I saw last night – a maternal nesting ofan ancient sea dweller that almost came to my door. But as I stood outside my Welshhideaway in my trusty black canvas culottes and decades old flowery blue shirt and flip-flops, I realised I was in the middle of nowhere with only two or three terraced homesattached to mine. And apart from that, there was nothing. Nothing but nature. I saw the waddle of women talking to a much younger, fresh girl in a big straw hatand summery High Street wear. She was effusing with the enthusiasm only seen in youth –she was pointing this way and that, all around the estuary. Why don’t I ask her? I steppedout to join the group. ‘Lloergan Traeth shares its sky with many species of bird such as the once-considered endangered Red Kite, whose population has skyrocketed here of late,’ said thegirl. ‘The return in numbers of a bird species is evidence of global warming in Britain. Theyare returning home because it is warmer. As you can see up there, the Red Kite is often seenhere because of the bird reserve fifty miles past the dunes going north. He must be here forsome foraging; the farmers nearby leave out some meat for it. This bird of prey is welllooked after, not a threat to the animals here at all, are you little buddy?’ I could see the majestic red bird pecking at my neighbour’s roof. Call it a buddythough? I wanted the Snow White to give it a rest. I moved to speak to her. ‘Ah and I seeanother walker here. I am Teresa. I have introduced myself on the bus, but I will quicklytell you now. I am an Environmental Science student. I’m working here for the summer.And your name?’ ‘Margarethe.’ ‘Okay great welcome. Now we can start our walk down the coast line here south tothe shell path that will take us up through the dunes where we can see a few varieties oforchids in flower such as the marsh helliborine. Here Margarethe,’ Teresa pulled a brochurefrom her clipboard with a quick snap of the metal clasp. I took it from her and followed thelot down to the beach southward. The ripples of sand the turtle left had completely disappeared, as did any sign of thenest; the old girl just struggled along the land and left last night. No one would ever know aturtle visited the beach the night before, much like no one would know I was visiting thebeach now.
I didn’t know but it could be a week or a month before those eggs hatched; maybethe mother would come back? How else would those babies be able to find their way up outof the airless hole, be in the new oceanic home and learn the ways of living in the sea – thedangers – the best places for food – how to avoid sharks? ‘The shell path,’ Teresa smiled enthusiastically still. I wished I had my sunglasses;perhaps I would be as cheery. ‘Crushed shells make this entire route as long as you can see up the hill. When wewalk up this path we are walking through what is known as the cloudy dunes because therocks bordering the path are for the most part grey. Lichen, you see?’ Teresa knelt to touchthe leafy moss. ‘But let’s walk up here until we get to the dune slack. And look out forCommon Blue butterflies too. If we’re lucky one will flutter by.’ ‘I was lucky last night.’ I slid up next to the student trying to be surprising, andsomewhat cheery, although I must have appeared awkward. ‘Sorry?’ The girl asked mustering friendliness, but not the sort reserved for birdsand butterflies. I started with a laugh, trying to be friendlier than I normally am with strangers. ‘Imean, I saw a turtle last night.’ ‘A turtle! Lucky you, they don’t normally come out to the shore here.’ ‘Really?’ I was amazed but mostly vindicated that I should feel as lucky as I feltwhen I woke up. ‘I was on the beach last night and this giant thing – a turtle – just crawledup to the top of the sand there.’ ‘Well, you are lucky,’ said the student, ‘Turtles only come to land really to nest orto die perhaps.’ ‘It did nest!’ I spoke in a higher tone now. ‘It dug a hole and plopped out little eggsthe size of ping pong balls.’ ‘But turtles don’t nest in Wales. It mustn’t have.’ Teresa sounded sorry. I wanted toprotest but she turned away. I was dejected that asking the bubbly animal lover turned tonothing. ‘Okay folks. Can I just direct your attention to the host of pretty orchids here thatare flowering only for the summer months? Here,’ Teresa knelt and swayed an exotic,purple flower between her first two fingers: its tiny branches adorned with miniature cups.‘This is the northern marsh orchid which only flowers in June and July since itsintroduction in 1918. And the brownish splotchy flower there is the western marsh orchid.’ Oh. I was ignored. I would explain that I wasn’t a liar if the tour guide wasn’t soengrossed with the flowers. This made me feel like when I was first in the home, ignored despite my standing upfor life as I knew it. I remembered the first day at the Shellingborne Home for Children in
Southampton. My baby sister was crying and the staff just so calmly bounced Penny ontheir shoulder. ‘Colic, colic,’ was all they could say, whereupon I appeared in the front doorhall demanding a doctor for my sick sister. As the eldest sister of five siblings I had nochoice but to protect the youngest. With all my muster I tried to push the staff memberaway and take the screaming lump, its face stretched in fury, but upon failing thatmanoeuvre I took a sheet of paper out of my cloth bag that had a rainbow and a unicornpatch pinned to the side, and started to compose a letter to the Southampton MP, requestinghim to be so kind as to find some other family member to look after Penny, Eddie, Ellie,Andyroo and myself so we wouldn’t have to venture any further into the dauntingly tall andcold hall. Its floor was laid with black and white tiles and it had stained oak all around itswalls, which smelt like cigarettes and was altogether strange. This letter I would deliver myself and discuss with the man because I was almostten and had learned enough to know that an MP would know what to do for us. I doubted Penny would be in absolute peril but would probably keep crying until Icould find a safer home for us to live, so I tucked the letter in my bag that contained justenough clothes for a summer week and my pyjamas and toothbrush, and crossed thesandstone path to the road. With the beach on my right and the green grass of the home tomy left, I walked with steely determination towards the main street I saw before when twoSalvation Army officers took me and the clan to the home; they were the two uniformedgiants who drove us through the main street and down the curly roads to the place. A minute later I was journeying through a sticky drizzle under smoky clouds. Myrainbow bag was only made of cotton; it could not shelter me from weather. Every step Ithen made and with every passing second, I thought of the children I was leaving in theclutches of the wrinkly women strangers who hadn’t even said hello. Shellingborne Homefor Children, the Salvation Army lady said, was a good place, very happy children livedthere, and some were lucky enough to be adopted into loving families. But a loving familywould take little Penny away. Eddie and Ellie were two-year old twins and it would not beright if they were taken away and even worse if they were not together, and my brotherAndyroo was my best friend. He was only a school year younger. He couldn’t go. I turned around reasoning that I couldn’t leave. From day to night, to months toyears, I was going to look after my family. Now that my parents had gone, it was up to meas the eldest to take charge. In the front garden, dampening from the drizzle, stood littleEddie and Ellie clutching their bags and looking with wide eyes at me marching back up thepath to the doorway. Andyroo looked just as frightened cuddling his tedi ba ba almostsmiling in relief that I was back and looked like I was going to do something. I stood up to a different woman who had taken Penny to stop crying and I held botharms out to take her and stood straight like a brave soldier. The woman placed thescreaming baby in my arms and I said: ‘Sh, sh, we’re okay, we’re okay.’ And little Pennyhushed. I knew at that moment that I had to stay with my siblings, as long as we weretogether, nothing would change. ‘Well, Margarethe. Looks like you should always look after the crying babies,’ thewoman said; the crinkles beside her eyes met together momentarily before the lines aroundher mouth came back. ‘If Penny is ever uncontrollable again, we’ll send for you, okay.Good girl.’ The lady patted my head.
A breeze crossed the path of the walking group; crickets tatted and a butterflywafted through the breeze and over my shoulder. The sun overhead was resting towards thewest enticing a twinkle off the water, bringing an extra brightness to the sand dunes andcasting a shadow over the grassland. Several rabbit-dropping mounds sat here and thereacross the green-carpeted plain and pink patches sat on the tops of the dunes, the pinkflowers were what Teresa named restharrow, ‘which binds to the sand fixing like clover onthe dunes,’ she said. Smells of wild aromatic thyme brushed past my nostrils, so fresh and awakening.Hundreds of birds flew in formation overhead. Seagulls? Sparrows? No, skylarks, saidTeresa. ‘Those abandoned rabbit burrows by the marram grass and scrub land at the skirtingof the field often make the best places for some bird species to nest, as you’ll notice therearen’t many trees to see unless you travelled all the way to the north horizon where theRSPB sanctuary is.’ The skylarks flew to the heavens together before curling to fly northwards thencircling and landing in a swift drop en masse. Across the clearing was a brown rabbit whosefur did not seem so soft to cuddle. It paused to nibble at grass and darted into obscurity onspotting the pointing women who huddled together to ensure all saw the rabbit. ‘Hundredsof rabbits take residence here,’ Teresa explained. ‘Thanks to them we are walking on shorngrass today and have many droppings to dodge. But see those grey mounds all over theplace? They are designated poo spots for the rabbits. They don’t relieve themselves wherethey live you see.’ We then made our way across the grassland to a boardwalk-viewing platform for allto take in the wide flowery vista – coloured by summertime foliage prospering under thesun. It was warm. I flapped my blue shirt with my fingertips and entertained the idea ofgoing back to my pad for shade and a cool glass of rum and coke – if the rum was in thefridge and I had coke. The 360-degree view was breathtaking even I couldn’t deny that, butmy avoidance of alcohol in the name of nature could not last long. From the vantage point I could see the entire coastline and far out over the variousshades of blue ocean as well as the grass field and sand dunes, which clipped the edges ofthe coast and linked it to the field. ‘Further up the beach down there, we’ll see a rather notable wave shape in the rockformed after millions of years of erosion. In fact, at that part of the estuary are many naturalwonders, we will make our way there,’ Teresa pointed out the next plan of action, down thestairs and journey to the north side of the shore. As we descended, a man dressed in khakis, pull up socks and a wide brimmed strawhat stood up. He seemed to be taking notes, looking around and foraging in the plant lifebelow: digging around the marram grass and finding a lone orchid, shaking it, inspecting itssides and then smelling it. ‘Smelling the bee orchid, John?’ asked Teresa. ‘Yes,’ he spoke like he was happy for the attention from the little group of cluckingladies. ‘I am taking note of the flora that has popped up over the summer. Hi,’ he wiped asingle wave in the air, ‘I am Dr John Robinson from the University of Exeter. I am aprofessor of marine biology.’
‘John is here to make observations of the estuary both on land and in the sea. Goodluck with it all.” Teresa nodded and took her group past John on the stairs and theydisappeared below. I stayed. This doctor was one more person to hear about the wonders oflast night. ‘I am hoping to catch you so I can tell you of the turtle I saw, last night.’ I started. ‘Oh you saw a turtle,’ said John, ‘Marvellous, they have been known to drop byhere. What kind of turtle did you see?’ ‘I don’t know. I want to tell you. It was large, probably eight feet, dirty scalyskin…. And it didn’t really have a shell of sorts, just a thicker kind of shield …’ John interrupted. ‘Well that’s probably a leatherback turtle. They have been noticedin the deep water around these parts…’ ‘A leatherback…’ I lost myself in the name, the name to the face. ‘Yes,’ John said and returned to his flower, he marked a tick next to several ticks bythe word ‘bee orchid’ and marked again next to two ticks by ‘sea spurge.’ ‘Yes,’ I repeated him, ‘and then it dug a hole.’ I caught the marine biologist’sattention now. ‘And it laid eggs.’ John held his clipboard closer to himself and shook his head disbelievingly at me.He was going to be firm. ‘First of all, dear, leatherback turtles may swim by here butcommon guests on our shore line? They are not. And to make a nest? Sorry we are not inWest Africa or the Caribbean.’ And with that, the straight backed marine biologist took his study away from meand I stood down to a platform built so the stairs could twist down the dune bank, in spite ofthe bee orchids, helliborine and the northern marsh orchids I could name and identify now.But the estuary had lost its charm. The estuary was nothing but a grass field, commonmarram grass, scrub, flowers and rabbit dung. A turtle was one of the highlights of myexistence, and the snobbery of Mr Robinson was not going to lessen all I had seen andlearned. ‘Well,’ I started. ‘If a turtle chooses this beach to lay eggs, then who am I to tellher it’s not the Caribbean?’ ‘Listen,’ came back John. ‘If you saw a turtle then that’s fine. But I’ll tell you this.This is not the season for turtles to nest, they’ll do that in six months time on the equatorialcoasts, and turtles always return to the same nesting sites year after year, so if that turtleknew that a Welsh beach was for nesting then it probably has been doing it for decades, andwhy hasn’t anyone seen it before? And besides, if the eggs hatched, the turtles would onlyrun into a cold ocean and be swept up by the current to Iceland. I beg to differ, madam.’And Mr Robinson tipped his hat and engrossed himself with the notes on the clipboard. I loathed John Robinson. I stepped down from the stairway back to the beach and Itook slow steps kicking up sand as I stormed. I walked home; I did not want to see the sanddune wave formation or any more delights on the far away part of the beach. I stayed by mydoorway however and presumed that the gaggle of nature watchers was having a good time.
When I was little and in my blue velveteen playsuit with the large appliquéd floweron the shoulder and I had returned home from a few hours playing dress ups with the girlover the road, I was barred from entering my home by a woman in a navy and red skirt suitand hat. So I sat on the rectangle of grass outside the front door with my younger siblingswhile another lady in the same costume held a sleeping Penny and walked up and down thefront hall. Where the hall met the front door, the lady could see us sitting in a circle chattingand she would smile a compassionate smile and walk down the hall out of sight again. A breeze tapped our heads, the sound of distant cars on the motorway rumbled andthe sun peered through a hole in the clouds and illuminated the suburban street, on which,we the Rainer family, lived. Homes were identical, rendered in a flocked white clad and thesymmetrical bricked doorways were a sign that everyone was equal to everyone who livedin an identical house. If it wasn’t for the distinguishable yellow wallpaper adorned withwhite hibiscus print in the kitchen, I wouldn’t know what home was or what it felt like. Itwas a warm place where we were looked after. But the continuous sight of the lady inuniform smiling at the door and disappearing again made me nervous. Soon one of the suited ladies appeared with a bag for each child. ‘Hold on to themdear. Here are clothes for you.’ I took my bag filled with the clothes I wore in the summertime and looked mystifiedat the older lady. Compelled to speak, the lady said, ‘We are going to go to a wonderfulplace. A place that is so lovely, you’ll be thankful your parents thought to send you there.’ I was mystified further. Our parents, I questioned silently, are they sending ussomewhere? The twins had no fear of this statement; they rolled on the grass covering theirbacks with the bits of dried leaves and stems that had once been hidden beneath thescratchy green grass. Their mother would tell them not to do that, I thought and told them tostop, which they did but then everyone grew bored. Andyroo looked as scared as me butwouldn’t hold my hand when I offered it. I felt alone. It was my own fault. I must have been away for a very long time to miss thesestrange women coming into my house. But mummy had sent me, I remembered. I wascertain I must have been bad – naughty – misbehaved. I should have been better behavedand cheered my mummy up when she was sad in the morning. Without a word my motherled me and Andyroo across the road to a place where we stayed for lunch. Now theuniformed ladies had taken over the house. I could almost hear them talking in muted tonesto each other. I moved to the front door to better hear what they were saying. ‘We will take them to Shellingborne now.’ ‘We’ll tell them first. Do you know what to say?’ ‘I do…’ I could hear the clacky heels coming towards the door and I rushed back to take aplace where I sat with my siblings before. The ladies approached us. ‘I have some news,’said the lady who introduced herself as Marion from the Salvation Army. ‘Remember weare here to look after you,’ she added.
Marion continued as the breeze pushed some of her hair out of its curls and acrossher eye. ‘I am sorry children, but your mother has been in an accident. She was driving onthe motorway and I am afraid she is not coming back.’ Andyroo looked horrified at the lady through tear stained eyes. The twins looked atAndyroo and the face of terror and confusion on me and were quiet. ‘What about daddy?’ Isniffed. ‘I am sorry darling, but your daddy was so sad, his heart just broke,’ said Marion. ‘Iam afraid he is with your mummy now, they are with Jesus in Heaven.’ The woman reached out to the shoulders of the children who were just out of reachand staring into their laps at the news. ‘We are going to take you to Shellingborne now.Only very good children go there, so all of you, and Penny, will have someone to take careof them.’ ‘But mummy?’ I cried. ‘I know dear,’ Marion stood, ‘Now everyone take your bags. That’s good children.And get into the car. We are going to go to the home now.’ I sat in the back of the large brown car, with four doors and a boot as large as ourfront garden, I thought. I sat by the window with one twin by my side and another one onmy lap as we all were driven dumbfounded out through the curling streets of our homesuburb. My friends from school seemed to disappear from my mind with every minute inthe car. Rows and rows of houses blurred by and stayed behind with our memories of ourchildhood home. As the car stopped at a corner, a rush of cars streamed down the motorway and meand Andyroo gasped, looked at each other and then held hands behind Eddie’s back. Whenthe car rolled into the busy thoroughfare, tears turned into sobs and then became painful forme as I could only think how our mother was lost to a busy road like this one. It was hard toimagine what happened. She was on a motorway and never came back? She could still bedriving? But daddy died of a broken heart, so I guessed, mummy was never coming back. I looked out the windows at the passing homes which became more sporadic as wecontinued along the motorway until nothing but farms and telegraph wires remained. Ishifted in my seat and Andyroo closed his eyes. ‘Not much further,’ said Sonia, the otherlady from the Salvation Army. ‘Shellingborne is a lovely, lovely home. You are very luckyto be accepted there. They must think you are very special children. ‘You know, I lived in a home like Shellingborne when I was growing up. I have somany happy memories and all the games to play and food to eat. But I knew it wasn’t asnice a place to live as Shellingborne. You are very special children.’ I was mixed with emotion and confusion by the time the car had turned intoSouthampton with a written billboard welcoming us there. ‘Nearly there now,’ sang Marionand turned the car into a wide road reminiscent of the roads we had left behind: the houses
still had rendered fronts but had more red brick exposed on the second-storey. Their frontyards looked bigger too. The power lines still ran above the pathways but there were lesschildren playing. Then the car continued on past the homes, through a high street, past a tall buildingthat looked like a place for men in suits to go and do their business work, like daddy usedto. I imagined my father and his broken heart: standing one minute and upon hearing thathis wife would not be returning, his heart just broke. He must have cried so much, Ithought. If you cry too much you can die, I reasoned. We could see the ocean now. ‘We are just getting there,’ said Sonia and the carturned down parallel to the beachfront and put its two tyres on the curb in front of a grandmanor house which had more ladies in smart clothes waiting to greet us. Penny started tocry as the car doors slammed behind the Salvation Army staff. And I became terrified of thewomen who bent to hug each child on our arrival at the front door. Their big teeth werehedged by dark brown lips as they smiled at us, like they could suck us all through thegrimy gaps in between.
II I was known as Margie once, and my grip on the memories of my past are patchy,as my feelings for them are too. When I was Margie I was key protector of the Rainer family: key protector of thebaby, twins and Andyroo. Behind the tall home were the ‘sleeping cottages’, halls namedafter poets: Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron and Tennyson. I was with Ellie in Keats;Andyroo and Eddie were in Wordsworth. The five-windowed dormitories were made up ofthe one room full of bunk beds and a communal shower room, and they were always underthe eye of Matron Clegg. In the green lawn square that sat in the middle of all the cottages, the gang memberswere named: I was the Hen. Andyroo was Rooster and Eddie and Ellie were the chicks. ButPenny was missing, so our first mission was to find and save her. It was after breakfast, the home’s time, so I rounded my troops and led them downthe back path through the green square to the main house. As soon as we were out of thewarm summer air, the coldness of the Great Hall hit us. Barefoot, our exposed anklesattracted small biting insects; I felt a nip and rubbed it away. Nevertheless, the team inchedup the stairs listening out for a crying baby or any staff member that could catch us fromtheir lounge chairs on the first floor. Andyroo Rooster was in charge of listening at all the doors to hear if Penny was inthere, while the chicks kept an ear out for danger – any footsteps, whistling, shouting – anystaff sounds – as me the Hen went ahead to lead the way if the coast was clear. Cautiously, I sidestepped through the hall, Andyroo pressed his ears against doorsand the twins stood guard at the top of the stairs. Downstairs the great door creaked open.Eddie and Ellie sucked in a breath and ran to me, who with Andyroo, ran along the hallrunner to the second flight of stairs and oh so quietly tip toed our way up those. Positionswere restored again on the top floor and I slid forwards again, back to the old oak panelledwalls, the back of my head occasionally grazing the floral pink and purple wallpaper. I reached the end of the hall undisturbed, not even by a sound of a baby. I turned toAndyroo, who was partly opening a door and scanning the room. He waved me over toshow me a room full of cots: side by side like showing pairs in a game of Go Fish. The team in the nursery whispered, ‘Penny? Penny?’ to each sleeping baby lying ina cot. Not one had turned up Penny. But I knew her. I picked up a sleeping Penny who wasgiven a start. When the baby started, its face swelled up and it began to wail, and we knewwe had a distance to cover to get back to the square. We picked up pace like rats scurryingto a hole in the wall. Penny wailed as I carried her down the flights of stairs. The staff awoke from theirSunday morning papers and saw the dash of children running out towards the sunshine. TheMatron used both arms to swing open the back doors of the hall and saw the scurry ofchildren disappear behind the cottages. She followed the children and saw me with big eyes
shooshing Penny back to sleep in my arms. The Matron took the baby from me and said,‘Penny will meet her adoptive parents tomorrow, you can say goodbye after breakfast then.’And with that the Matron, with Penny, left. The very next day, Penny’s adoptive parents were given a tour of ShellingborneHome for Children. Wasn’t it beautiful? Safe. Kind. Loving, they said. I followed theirevery step. I was interested in every facet and angle of the plans for Penny’s new home.‘When she grows up, will she like that?’ I asked often. It annoyed the adults after the fifthtime. ‘Margarethe,’ Matron Clegg snapped. ‘Of course she will. Don’t ask sillyquestions…’ She then laughed at the parents, wasn’t the child darling? First they went to an empty classroom where five children were pasting cut outsfrom wrapping paper to blank paper trying to express a story, yet as the old wrapping paperwas of the Christmas kind, it limited the stories the children could tell. The prospectiveparents nodded and smiled politely. Stories were told of Santa Claus climbing down theChristmas tree and Jesus sleeping under the chimney breast and other creations of that kind.Girls were also taught to sew by watching a staff teacher thread a needle to duck it in andout of cloth. Now it was time to see Penny. We went to the nursery full of sleeping babies in cots – Penny’s pen, us childrencalled it. We had to be very quiet before we went in the room and could not make a soundlest we wake the platoon. A staff lady dressed in a clean suit dress led us through the forestof cots to Penny’s crib. The prospective mother sighed and held her hands to her breast.This time as Penny was lifted she did not wake, but when the guests and the staff lady weredownstairs, Penny wailed. ‘The colic seems to be behind her,’ said the boss lady, ‘but she doesn’t like to bewoken as you can imagine.’ ‘Oh yes,’ the prospective mother was still touched. She smiled and held out herarms, ‘Can I?’ ‘Sure,’ and Penny was shifted from breast to breast. Penny will cry, I was certain; she hates strangers and always will. She still lookedlike a turnip and she wasn’t old: she was still a pink lump with streaks of hair and eyes thatrarely opened, but still, she was a Rainer and she will protest to this whole thing. But, she didn’t cry. ‘Aw!’ the new mother was happy, she giggled quietly to not towake the baby. ‘She must know you are for her,’ the staff lady said, ‘would you like to come to theoffice now and we’ll sort out the final papers?’ And with that the staff lady, father andmother and Penny went downstairs to the matron’s office.
‘Your sister is going to a better place now Margie,’ Matron Clegg placed her warmhand on my shoulder as they watched the new parents put Penny in their car. ‘A family tolove her and look after her. Hopefully the same will happen for the rest of you. I am sure itwill.’ * The twins never asked questions; instead they kept a docile open view to everything.They haven’t grown opinions, I thought. Every now and then, however, one of the twinswould ask me if mummy would like the picture they have made or if Pen Pen would cometo church with everyone on a Sunday. I would only answer ‘no’ and after a time they didnot ask about their mother or Penny again. They were lucky, I thought, they could play all day and have afternoon naps. Iwould have liked afternoon naps but at almost 10, I had to learn instead. Me and Andyroowent to the local primary school for learning. Mr Trundleson was my teacher and he wasnice to me, I was a good pupil – quietly to myself, though, I called him Mr Trumpet.Andyroo did not have a nice time at school. His teacher Miss Brown would always sendhim to the back of the class or send for the headmaster to wrap his knuckles. The staff lady, Miss Gurston, told me not to worry. “He is probably a bit slow; he’llgrow up to be very clever.” And that was that. Some of the games we played before dinner did not require much smarts, justlistening skills. Because a lot of the time I was speaking and the rest were listening. TheRainers would sit in a corner and discuss their day; that is, I would talk about my day.Andyroo would not want to talk about his, and Eddie and Ellie would have just woken upand would be a bit irritable. I would cuddle them. Games were games without toys and it was often the only thing to do; there wasonly one television and the staff watched that. No television was allowed during teatimeeither. After teatime all the children had to go to their sleeping cottage. Matron or anotherstaff member would make sure we washed and brushed our teeth before sending everyoneto bed. Sometimes a staff member would read a story, like those by Enid Blyton or theHungry, Hungry Caterpillar on the big red round mat in the centre of the room with all thebunk beds around it. Story time was lulling and magical and some girls would fall asleep on the circlemat. A staff member would pick the girl up and take her to her bunk after the story. I never talked to the other girls, instead I would be with my brothers and sister whenthey didn’t have to sleep, eat or go to school. Together we could be in our own world:pretend to sip cups of my yummy tea – all warm, milky and proper – all guests at the teaparty had to sit up straight. I would even prepare invisible scones with jam and cream foreveryone - they were delicious. The best game had to be when it involved running around to catch the little twins;they were so easy to catch. Eddie, dressed in his brown corduroy flare trousers and a little
yellow cardigan over his blue t-shirt, was clearly the faster of the two when Andyroo or Ichased him. He would dart behind trees or hide in a sleeping cottage, once he closed hiseyes so tight that the elder children played a trick, “I can’t see him,” I said. “Neither can I,”Andyroo chorused, until Eddie opened his eyes, darted looks at both me and Andyroo andburst out, “Here I am!” “Margie?” Ellie asked one day, “Are we going to be adopled too?” “I don’t know,” I said back, it was a fine autumnal day; I was relaxing back on thegrass. “Why do you say that?” “Miss Gurston said that one day we’ll get adopled.” “Well, we’d have runaway by then,” I had a plan – a dream to fulfil very soon. “Iam thinking that we can go back home and Andyroo and me will look after you and Eddie.”It was all planned; it just had to happen sooner now is all. We had been training: I knew we’d be okay. Andyroo would be the dad, me themum and Eddie and Ellie would be themselves. I had a kitchen by the tree and everythingwas in the fridge, I’d open it constantly to find things to eat. Andyroo would return fromwork, “I am home,” he would announce and sit on the grass. “What is for dinner?” “Oh, I don’t know yet,” I said, wiping the table tops around me, “I have been sobusy taking Eddie and Ellie to the toy store, they are happy now, and the car broke downagain. You’ll have to pay £100 to get that back again.” Andyroo growled “Rraarr!” and chased me about the lawn; I would hide behind thegiant oak tree – which marked the space designated as my kitchen - but Andyroo alwayscaught me and dug his knuckles into my arm. Andyroo was fast. It looked like rain again, so we would go inside the Great Hall and wait for dinner.The dining room was a big room; in it would be five or six round tables and each sleepingcottage group would have to sit around the same table. The dining hall wasn’t as grand as the rest of the hall, and the children were quitecramped in the muddy coloured room with green and yellow swirly carpet. On the walls,pictures of sea birds, the beach, waves and fish hung on an angle, but above the fire placewas a picture of the Queen in her white ball gown and medals, I would stare and stare atthat picture; it was so close. The children would take their dishes to the kitchen as long as all our dinner waseaten. I stood on a stool and prepared to wash the dishes when it was my turn, so I let lotsof hot water pour out the long tap into the large drum-like sink. Andyroo would talk to me:“I want to watch Doctor Who. I can’t believe I haven’t seen it at all here. I don’t know whatis happening now.’ ‘You should ask to watch it.’ ‘Yeah but I don’t know. What if they don’t let me?’ ‘They could, you just have to ask nice enough.’
A big adult arm reached across me and the hand twisted the tap shut. No morewater, no more suds. I looked at Matron Clegg. ‘We still have a water shortage Margie. Donot waste water. That is quite enough.’ When the plump lady left I said to Andyroo, ‘Don’t ask her.’ Andyroo never asked about Dr Who, I remembered. * One morning after the words of doubt had left my mind, when I came to terms withthe fact that the giant leatherback turtle was a truth only to my mind, I understood that I sawthe mother perform the most important act of all – and that was to bring life to these shores. It was now that I felt I was of a reasonable ability to protect the nest laid by amother who could be anywhere in the dark endless ocean, anywhere in the depths andanywhere as far as the sea is long. But I would not have baby turtles hatch to a heartlessworld. I would not have them awaken to a beach displaying the typical disregard humansbring to any location they visit. I was too agitated by the disbelievers who did not think itwas possible and thought it was impossible that a turtle would make her nest here. I saw itand a liar I was not. So under the noonday sun, I had ventured to the location where I remembered theeggs were laid. I surveyed the area. Litter had been blown in from the main street, probablyfrom the General Store at the top of the street by the strong westerly wind. A branch on alittle shrub on the dunes caught a page of newspaper. The same could be said for at leastfour plastic bags on other dune shrubs. I had also passed aluminium cans between myholiday home and the edge of the sand – faded by the sun and wasting away from theerosive elements that everything on Lloergan Traeth endured. I only had one skill I could draw upon for the incubating eggs – I could rid thisecosystem of rubbish. And if I was going to embark on that endeavour there was a lot ofwork to do. My shadow left a long dirty streak across the beach and to the road. I followed itstrail and walked by the white holiday lets to the General Store – a chalk board welcomedthe passers-by by stating in big cartoonish letters that it’s ‘OPEN.’ I pushed the door thatrang a small bell to which the store woman raised her head from behind a counter. ‘Hello,’she said, her accent obviously of the area: Welsh, friendly and dotted with colour. ‘Can Ihelp you, love?’ ‘No,’ I said and looked past the cereal boxes, sweetie tubs and dishwashing liquid. Ifound three shelves filled with tools, superglue and all sorts of handy things that I thoughtmen would find of interest. It must be a hardware section. And I started a search for mylitter removal project there. ‘Are you building something, love?’ asked the shopkeeper. ‘We have nearlyeverything there.’
‘No,’ I replied and kept looking. Gloves were the first things I saw and I saw bin liners. I reckoned they were all Ineeded to help tidy the beach. ‘Oh,’ said the shopkeeper as I approached the counter. ‘You off for a clean up, Isuppose.’ The woman still remained friendly despite my tight glare in response to theprying. ‘That is good, that is,’ continued the woman. ‘Things do need to keep tidy, if theroad isn’t covered with litter, the homes are untidy.’ Irritated still, I thought it better to prove the biddy - blonde, jeans and sensibleyellow polo shirt – wrong. I didn’t know her. ‘I am “cleaning up”, as you say, the entirebeach.’ ‘Oh that’s good, some people have no respect. Want tidier sunbathing? That is good.I would like a tidy sunbathe.’ ‘No,’ I said, taking some pleasure in disproving the lady’s assumptions. ‘I amtidying the beach for a turtle’s nest; I think it must be tidy for the hatchlings.’ ‘Oh!’ the shopkeeper exclaimed. ‘That is good. I don’t know anything about turtles.I know they come close to the shores and you could see one if you went scuba diving. But anest you say? Well I have never heard of that.’ ‘Yes, well, no one seems to believe me.’ I grabbed my shopping bag and mychange. ‘Oh well, I believe it. I just don’t know anything about turtles is all.’ The lady thought for a moment; her hands tapping her chin with straight fingers.‘But I’ll tell you what. I have to pick up my eldest girl from school at four and then we aregoing to the library. I can pick up a book on turtles that come here and I will learn. Butcleaning up is a good start I am sure.’ She nodded. ‘Thank you,’ I said. My expression softened to a tight lipped purse. ‘Come by later. I’ll have a book,’ said the shopkeeper. ‘Yes,’ I said and left with my gloves and bags and walked down the sunny loosestone road to the beach. The shoreline seemed much messier than when I first saw it. There was nearly a fullnewspaper that had blown onto the dunes and there were many more cans if I looked hardenough. It was a big job. I slid on my loose gardener’s gloves with stitched red and bluestripes down the back of each hand, unrolled a bin liner and waded into the dunes to snatcheach page of the newspaper away. This beach was not to be a tip any longer. The beeorchids could breathe and the skylarks could nest here, when I was finished with it. Cans reflected sunlight into my eyes as I scanned the dunes for each shining pieceof metal that could be hiding under any shrub or rock, or even the plastic bottles distortedby the sun’s rays could be hiding there. As I walked down the entire length of the beach Ipicked up more litter. Once I turned around after a couple of hours, I could see the impact I
had made on the beauty of the beach by picking up the litter. Down towards the wave shapeimposed onto the rock face I could see Professor Robinson knee deep in the water fillingtest tubes and placing them in his shoulder bag. Walking on a seashore at low tide made suction pop noises, making a surprise visitto John Robinson impossible. I navigated my way through the wet rippled sea bed that wasmuch flatter and longer than I perceived it from the shore. I did not feel like the uselesswheel on an ecology project that John Robinson made me feel like the last time Iinterrupted his work – which the biologist made me feel like again as I was stopped by hisflexed palm and the many sticks pointing out of the water by his knees. ‘Do not come any further,’ he kept his balance in the knee deep water whilstkeeping a hand out to stop me. ‘We can’t mess with the water gauges. These aretemperature gauges. Very expensive temperature gauges.’ ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I only wanted to say that despite any objections. I am cleaning thebeach for the baby turtles to have a clean environment when they hatch.’ ‘Excellent. Excellent,’ John Robinson did not take his eyes off a temperature gaugeby his feet. ‘Although the turtles won’t come, it is always good for people to take aninterest in keeping Lloergan tip top.’ I sighed. Of course that man would not change his opinion about what I saw. Butgone was the respectful layman who first approached him with the story. In her place stooda woman who had more faith in herself than any anorak or authority figure would have ifthey did not believe what she had to say. ‘Well, I know what I saw and I am still doing whatI can. I am offering you a chance to make sticking poles into the water a bit moreinteresting.’ John laughed to his chest; shook his head and picked up a thermometer, shook itaround and wrote a small note on the notebook tied to his belt loop. ‘Well,’ he laughed, ‘AllI can tell you now is that turtle sightings are not conducive to the sea temperatures that I ampicking up. Never mind that it isn’t breeding season for leatherbacks.’ Infuriating, I thought. I shrugged my shoulders at the man in khaki overalls andwellies, his hat still more functional than attractive, and I turned to navigate my waythrough the smoothed waves of wet grainy mud. My feet making gloop noises as I left. Like a holidaymaker, I sat by the spot where I knew the nest was and stroked the topwith a flat palm for a while. And although I saw the marine biologist wasn’t looking at me,I stood up and in a visible huff charged home. I threw pots and pans out of the cupboard, broke glass and emptied my bag contentsall over the dirty bed. I needed a drink and picked up one of the many bottles of rum I hadpacked. I had not been in this frame of mind since I first arrived at the holiday home. Mybottle of mixer was empty so I had nothing with which to enjoy my rum and I wasn’t keenon having the drink neat. I fetched my purse and flew out the front door. The sun wasreceding late in the day as I landed at the General Store. ‘Hiya,’ said the shopkeeper as thebell tingled and the door closed behind me.
Without saying a word, I walked straight to the shelves of evening beverages andgrabbed a bottle of ginger beer. ‘Need some tonic for a bevvie, love? Here’s somethingcheaper,’ said the shopkeeper who opened another fridge door and took a plastic bottle outfor me. ‘We went to the library too,’ she added. ‘I didn’t forget.’ And she took a large, flatbook from under the counter and put it in front of me. ‘It isn’t about Lloergan say, but ittalks about all the turtles that swim in these waters.’ ‘Oh,’ I looked at it. It had an illustration of a turtle swimming to the surface of anocean with green seaweed swaying on the floor. ‘Does this have information aboutleatherback turtles?’ ‘I think so if they come here,’ said the peering shopkeeper reading the pages beforeI flicked over. ‘Can I read this?’ I took the book by my chest and paid the lady for the drink. ‘Of course, if you bring it back. You’re at the first flat aren’t you?’ ‘I am,’ I took the bag of shopping. ‘I will give it back soon, it isn’t big.’ I left the woman, but not without asking her name, Delores, I repeated the name tomyself. Delores, Delores. At my flat, I twisted the cap from the fizzy drink and poured myself a large glassover a dash of rum. I sipped the drink. Sitting at the table, which served for everything -kitchen, dining, card, drinks - as it was the only table in the room, I opened out the bookand read the first opening paragraph. Turtles have a unique biology among the cold-blooded reptiles. I skipped a few pages to a story about leatherbacks. Leatherback turtles are critically endangered, in fact, at last count the globalpopulation came in at 34,000 nesting females. Leatherback turtles could be extinct in 20years. They have almost completely disappeared from the Atlantic Ocean, often nesting inFlorida, Mexico or the Caribbean. Therefore, coastal reserves and captive breedingprogrammes have been established to make sure the species do not disappear completely. Gulping a drink down, I felt relief that the day was at an end. I was learning aboutthe giant marine creatures now and no matter what that biologist said, I’d have some wordsto say next time I saw him. Just here, I exclaimed to myself, leatherbacks like the coldwater. Leatherbacks have the distinction among the other sea turtles in that they have thecirculatory system and internal shell structure to endure the cooler temperatures of theNorthern Atlantic and dive deeper than other marine creatures. This is why they are often aregular sight in UK waters. I mixed myself a straight drink of rum. I had drunk little of the thick chemicallybrew, like poison to the lips and fire to the throat, and I would mix the tonic with the nextone. My red-rimmed eyes scanned the room and I moved my heavy legs one by one to thefridge. My hair was burdened with weeks of unwashed grease but I had no mind foraesthetics. I opened the salted shut window with a heave and looked out at the north andsouth of the seashore; I could jump out of that window and straight onto the shore in an
emergency. Suddenly the wind blew into the room and lost my page in the book. I shuffledback to my seat and poured some ginger drink for my rum. I opened the book to where I had left it and read that turtles can live to up to 60years and the newborns do not rely on the light of a full moon for direction to the ocean.This was a myth. But when sea turtles hatch they have the instinct to move towards thebrightest direction, usually on a natural beach, it is the horizon out at sea. Therefore,beachfront lights must be turned off as it could confuse hatchlings when they try to findtheir direction. I turned my lights off but opened the curtains. The sun wouldn’t set at this time ofyear until ten – it was British summertime - no light to be turned on after that. This wasvery important. I read how a mother turtle would lay up to 120 eggs in a sitting – I thought I sawhundreds. I read more about what was becoming a sad life for the sea turtle, especially theleatherback, endangered, threatened, nearly extinct. The poor things confused plastic bagswith jelly fish – their one abundant food source. A clean up was a good idea. Interestingly, the eggs incubate for about two months on average. I had no ideawhen the eggs were laid – a week ago? A month? I had no idea but the grand hatchingwasn’t too distant; I could still do my best for those underground: leg forming, bodymaking brood ready for their journey to a tidy Welsh sea. The big turtle I saw all that time ago would have weighed about 1,300 pounds too, Iread, it was a giant. I vowed to look after those babies I said to myself, wiping my stringyhair from my glassy eyes. I took a sip of rum. Everything was going to be taken care of. Irepeated to myself: lights out, bags out, beach clean. Lights out, bags out, beach clean.Lights out, bags out, beach clean. I came to the chapter entitled Hatchlings. Only about one in 1,000 survive to adulthood. They may not reach the ocean quickenough decreasing their chance of survival either by dehydration and drying out; or theycould become prey to birds, crabs or other predators. However, there was some hope: once the turtles hatched from a particular beach,and once grown, they will then return to that spot to lay their own eggs each year. I almost wept now I had learned the turtle’s plight. Life had not even begun todisappoint them, in fact, life does not even rate for most of those turtles at all; they could alldie. Maths brought out a dyslexia gene in me only seen at times of counting. If only 100eggs were laid and there’s only one in 1,000 chance of survival then if any turtle makes it tothe shore it would be a miracle. I’ll save them. I stood up, swayed and stumbled out the door to the beach where thenest was. ‘Shh, shh,’ I said to the sand. The nest was about somewhere, ‘Don’t worry littleeggs, I will save you, not your mummy, but I will do it. Don’t worry.’ My whispers were not as quiet as I wanted. I plonked my bottom on the sand andlooked out to the moonlight dancing on the ripples of black sea covering all sorts of lifeunderneath its glittering facade. With a little help from me, I was certain, I was going to
make sure they had the best chance of getting out to sea no matter if a supposed expertlaughed at my attempts. I sat there on the sand for at least half an hour until I stood and toppled backwardsand then slept where I fell. A bass guitar sound streamed through the air and kept a pulse,rocking like a lullaby at an uneven count. Drums started the same beat but added a topcymbal flutter. Almost a minute later an electric guitar kept the same pulse as the bass. Itwas reggae music. I woke dozily. Had I slept? Voices sang along to what must have beenmusic on a stereo turned up loud. There was a party. I could hear shrieks and laughter andmale voices challenging, fighting and generally being boisterous. Young people, I wasintrigued, excited and interested. I hadn’t been a teenager for such a long time. If they wereanything like my neighbour in London then I had to prepare for a long night of this loudmusic. The turtles! I realised they may be threatened by the pulsating bass, it might beheard underground. I walked to the street outside my holiday home and counted that themusic was coming from two doors down. I would have to appear cool but firm with thoseguests, I thought. But I would have to be clear above all. If there were girls there, then theywould care about the turtle babies, I was sure. The music did not subdue. Fortunately there were not any other holidaymakers atthe terrace cottages now, but there was me, the shopkeeper’s family AND the turtles. Iknocked on the door, the same strong oak but less weather beaten than mine. I pounded on the door, each rap incrementally louder than before, until I foundmyself pounding with both fists to be heard. ‘Hello?’ the door swung open abruptly. ‘Can Ihelp you?’ The man looked like he had stepped out of a mini minor in the 70s, all the kids didso nowadays, I thought. ‘The music is a bit loud,’ I said. ‘There are people around here, notto mention there is wildlife. You are disturbing the wildlife.’ ‘Wildlife?’ the man said, ‘I thought there are only sheep here.’ I shook her head. ‘No, not just sheep, there are birds and rabbits and turtles.’ ‘Turtles?’ he pulled a face that said it was news to him. ‘Didn’t know that.’ He sounded well schooled and much more refined than me. I glared at him. ‘Oh,hold on,’ he said and disappeared behind the door. The sound was turned down. ‘Is thatbetter?’ he sounded impatient, almost patronising. ‘Yes, thank you,’ I said, and disappeared myself down the street. That rude kid. ButI was not finished and had to return another time. I had not even mentioned the light thatwas left on after the sun had gone down. It was an hour later and the music pulsated loudly again in a Tropicana style. I didtruly hope that it would stop. I was lying down in bed with my bottle and tonic pouringglasses and was only half awake. I groaned; the turtles! Rude kids, but I lay defeated. I wastired and paying the cost created by drinking too much the evening previous.
Glasses rattled to the off-beat. A melody cascaded down and then up making asingsong see saw that was only relieved by a voice of Kingston Town. In KeeengstonTown… it warbled. It was apt to say, I couldn’t sleep. Three o’clock in the morning and sadly it was notjust because of the reggae tones, but what it came to represent: people disrespecting mynewly found authority on the reptiles that were calling Lloergan their home. Not to mentionDelores’s young family who lived here.
III I knew early that Eddie and Ellie were to be taken that day - taken by lovely people,according to Miss Gurston. They couldn’t be lovely, I thought. If they were lovely theywould send me, Eddie and Ellie and Andyroo back home. They would get Penny and thenthey would buy dinner and maybe teach me how to use the washing machine. I sat with the twins and Andyroo behind Keats with our backs against the wall. Theautumn breeze was cool so Eddie wore his smart brown corduroy trousers and orangeknitted cardigan. Ellie had her hair braided and her best flowery pink dress on. The staffhad told them that morning to look smart, sharp. Eddie was handsome, don’t you think?And Ellie was the prettiest thing around - from Southampton to Portsmouth. I couldn’tsmile about this. They were waiting to be found by the Shellingborne staff to be taken awaylike a bag of apples at the greengrocers. We could hear the staff calling out for them from the square. Holding our mouthswith both hands Andyroo and I giggled with a snort. The twins did the same. Time, though,was now obviously short. ‘Make sure I see you again,’ I said, ‘Don’t forget us. Alwaysremember Andyroo and me.’ My voice was breathy, quiet, with an added hint ofdesperation. Ellie put her arm over my shoulder. I wouldn’t cry but I hated the business of beingseparated. One by one, the youngest children were being picked like plums in a bucket.Andyroo and me were all that was left. ‘Don’t end up like them and change and not be a Rainer anymore.’ I didn’t look atthem. It was no use saying this. The twins didn’t understand. ‘Here they are!’ a triumphant voice bellowed with a lilt of relief. ‘Hiding behindhere,’ Miss Gurston stood above us and waved the others over. She looked smart too. Herhair was tied up, her skirt suit was pressed and she wore bright plastic jewellery. The matron and the new parents came around the corner and saw the wide eyes ofthe twins and the wet eyes of mine. The jig was up. ‘Naughty children,’ growled the roundwoman. But we’ve never got into serious trouble. Just called naughty. I didn’t know why. Iwas making no trouble at Shellingborne Home for Children that the staff was privy to. The staff took Eddie and Ellie by the wrists and walked with the new parents backto the Great Hall. The twins followed but looked back at me. I did not rise and did notfollow them. I had given up. ‘Margie!’ cried Ellie not understanding what was happening. I sighed and struggled up from the grass and followed them to the main hall. I knewthe process; they will talk to the twins and then go to the office to sign papers. I waited bythe office with my arms crossed. ‘Uncross your arms and cheer up,’ Matron sternly instructed after the twins had leftin the car. The staff waved them off. ‘No games anymore. You and Andrew must do yourbest here and perhaps we’ll be rid of you too.’
She left and I, with straight arms, my head up, had grown a smile. I constructed itjust to make the matron leave. Only me and Andyroo were left now. With the little onesgone, we would have to wait until someone would like Big Kids. Who would want bigkids? I wasn’t so cute anymore but my mother used to tell me I was beautiful as shebrushed my hair before bedtime. No one brushed my hair now. The staff would tell me todo it myself, but I didn’t unless I was going to school and I only brushed my hair for schoolevery so often but not that often. Often enough, but it was my mother’s job. She used to doit really very well. One day potential parents came to see me but they wanted someone younger. I wasof the age now where I would have to do a lot of work around the home for prospectiveparents to like me. ‘They would need someone to sweep the floors and clean the windows.So you better practice,’ the staff would tell me. A cleanly house was next to Godliness.Miss Gurston would say, All girls have house chores. Now that the babies had gone away, Andyroo and I were left to talk to the otherchildren. I made a friendship with a younger girl called Renèe who was six. She followedme everywhere. Sat next to me at dinner and joined in the games I organised for me andAndyroo. She even tried to talk about her day after school. It should only be me who talkedabout my day. But Renèe made me think of what Penny would be like if she grew up to besix. But she wasn’t Penny. ‘I can spell nearly,’ said Renèe. ‘No you can’t,’ I retorted. ‘I can.’ ‘What can you spell?’ I knew that six year olds only learned the alphabet. ‘A, B, ssseee, kkkk,’ Renèe made letter sounds. ‘That’s not words.’ ‘C A T! Cat!’ Renèe was defiant, proud. ‘Well, you can spell one word, whoop de do.’ I felt a cloud grow over me then. I knew that seeing my brothers and sister wasnearly impossible – they would probably grow up not remembering me. My parents dyingruined everything. I felt that everything was ruined. The day was clear. Renèe’s hair was brushed. Long and straight. Not messy like theRainers, and it was yellow. ‘I hate yellow hair.’ I was grumbley. ‘Why?’ Renèe asked. Why indeed. ‘I just do.’
I sat cross-legged on the grass; it was dewy, still damp from the drizzle that fell anhour before. My elbows fitted between my shins. My chin sat in my hands. I sat up only topick at the grass; there was no point in playing. Andyroo was in the house, the rest werenowhere but anywhere. That yellow hair flew in a gust of wind that gave me a chill. I stoodand grabbed at that hair. ‘Ow!’ Renèe screamed and pushed me away. ‘Oh boo hoo,’ I taunted and pushed her to the ground. ‘Ow!’ Renèe said louder. She could catch the attention of the staff with those ‘ows.’ I pushed Renèe again when she stood up. ‘Ow!’ ‘Get up again. Get up again!’ I instructed. Renèe got up so I pushed her down. ‘Ow!Stop it!’ and Renèe started crying. Annoyed, I crouched down and pushed her again andagain until my pushes turned into hits. Pound pound pound, went my fists until MissGurston’s attention darted towards the girl laying flat and my hammering fists, ‘Stop that,’Miss Gurston screamed. ‘Stop that right now!’ The stern looking lady dressed in a shirt and knee-length skirt horse-stepped acrossthe grass in her high-heeled shoes and pinched and pulled me to my feet by the ear. I didn’tutter a sound but mouthed the words I hate you to the shakened girl on the lawn. ‘I will have your guts for garters, Margarethe,’ said the lady pulling me to the GreatHall. ‘You were always a good girl but the Devil is making work for idle thumbs. So I thinkthe appropriate punishment for hurting poor Renèe is to wash all the floors, varnish thebalustrades and wash all the windows top to bottom.’ Life at the home was never the same but some things were the same – Andyroo andme were inseparable. Under the giant oak tree we would congregate to talk about eachother’s day. Andyroo had something to say this evening. The sun was a couple of hoursaway from setting; the sky was almost silver from the slowly evaporating light. ‘It is strange how everyone is going,’ he started, ‘but they are happy I spose.’ ‘They are not happy.’ I said, neatening the fold of my skivvy neck. ‘I think weshould find where they are.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because…’ I didn’t add further to the because because there was no reason, no need to explain.It was Obvious. I was tired; I had been so busy doing chores. So busy caring. So busyplanning, mulling, scheming, working. Ever since I had started bullying too, the staff hadgiven me a lot of chores to do. Every time they saw a chore to do they would call for me, itseemed. I could see now why my father would spend time at the pub after his work. He wastired too. Going to the pub must have been a way to relax.
‘I bet in the office there are facts. There is where addresses and stuff are.’ ‘What addresses?’ Andyroo asked. ‘Where they are.’ I was tired. My words were hardly a call to action. ‘No,’ replied Andyroo, ‘But they are happy now. In a happy home. It is sad here.The staff don’t cuddle. They only give you work to do. I think getting adopted is good.Hope I get adopted.’ I scratched at the grass with a dry leaf. If I looked up my true feelings aboutAndyroo’s comment would be known. I was hurt by what he said. We were best friends.But I was not surprised. ‘You probably will get adopted,’ I said. ‘You will get adopted too.’ Andyroo would get adopted because he was such a good boy. I was told that goodlittle children get adopted. I wasn’t good. ‘You will be adopted cos everyone wants an Andyroo,’ I said; the sun wasdisappearing behind the perimeter fence. I sighed. ‘I am too naughty.’ Andyroo didn’t say anything in response to that - the statement of truth floated bylike a breeze washing silence across our mouths. No one looked at each other. I noticed thegeese flying in a loose diamond to their nests far away. Andyroo was picking the grassaround his feet. He stuck his nail through the middle of a blade of it. He brought it to hislips and blew. ‘Urgh,’ he sounded. It didn’t work; it was supposed to whistle. He broughtanother sliced grass to his lips and tried again. ‘Ffft,’ he made a sound. ‘Urgh,’ he grunted;he tried again. It took five goes before it worked. The whistle was surprising. ‘You’re not really going to get Penny and Ellie and Eddie?’ Andyroo asked, spittingbits of grass from his lips. ‘Probably not.’ I could feel an insurmountable weight of the thought of disruptingthe little ones in a happy home. I wouldn’t dare. The staff members were big. They wouldwin. ‘They are probably happy now,’ said Andyroo. He still looked to the ground,picking grass miserably. ‘We probably won’t see them again,’ I said. ‘We might, but they would have their adoptive parents with them. Having newparents is weird.’ ‘It is weird. I don’t like it.’ ‘I don’t like it either.’ I went to the kitchen to help with food preparation. Whoever was cooking wouldalways appreciate a hand, the staff had told me. I was sent to set the table and with anarmful of brown flowered tablecloths and fistfuls of cutlery, I entered the dining room.
Flapping the cloths over the tables first I then placed knives and forks and spoons in lines infront of each chair. Seven places for seven chairs on ten tables. That’s everyone. Tonightwe were eating stew. Stringy beef bits with carrots and potatoes and greens in gravy. Mylittle siblings probably ate the same AND had desert every night. That’s what a happy homewould have, I thought. Ice cream, apple crumble and custard and cake. No rhubarb.Children at the Shellingborne Home always had rhubarb and custard one night a week – onSundays. ‘Oh never mind us,’ said Delores when I came to see her the next day. ‘We live atthe main town a couple of miles away from here. But I’m sorry to hear some kids playingloud music. I will talk to them.’ She smiled. ‘That’s good,’ I said. I paid a visit to the shopkeeper as soon as I awoke midafternoon the next day. ‘I was more concerned with the turtles than me. I don’t know if theycan hear it?’ The shopkeeper looked bright with her makeup that seemed like a daily regime ofblue eye shadow, mascara, foundation and pink lipstick. She wore a lilac polo shirt todaywith the jeans she always wore. ‘Oh they could,’ Delores agreed. ‘They say babies can hearin the womb.’ ‘I didn’t even begin talking about their lights on after dark…’ I started but trailedoff. ‘Oh, I can’t tell them to turn their lights off,’ said Delores, ‘They might think that’sa bit much.’ I straightened my neck. I would have to tell the strangers the whole story about theturtles myself and why their house lights must be off to save the younglings’ life. ‘It wouldbe enough to tell them to keep the music down.’ I started a smile and left the General Storewith a readymade sandwich, bread for toast and another bottle of ginger beer. ‘I still havethe book…’ ‘You’ve got another week with that love.’ I walked unsteadily outside to the main street wearing the clothes I wore yesterday;I dragged my feet through the sand at the side of the road. I was wobbly, worried andperturbed by the sounds of a Caribbean songbook giving me a wakeful night last night.Before that, I put a bottle of rum away down my throat. The memories of the eventcompelled my eyes to shut. I stood at the beach and realised I had not presented myself well enough to speaklike the commander to the merry makers last night; I was a common sea harpy de la mer. I felt the warm salty breeze on my face and breathed it in. The sun was shiningabove the sea making the waves dance with light. It was good weather Wales was enjoyingthis summer. I returned to my holiday home but I stopped in my tracks. A long tailedunshorn shaggy sheep bleated at my plastic bag. The beast had a dark blue triangular shapespray painted on its coat and another shape spray painted on its head. Its ears weredeformed into twists. At a second glance it was clear that the ears were damaged and cut
into two. Quickly I disappeared through my front creaking door and closed it quickly.Meeee, I could hear the sheep outside. I rummaged through the cupboards and fridge. I didhave some bread. I saw it sitting brightly in my plastic bag. I grabbed a handful of slicesand quickly threw it on the road for the sheep. I peered out of the cloudy window by thefront door and watched the beast chew on the discards left on the ground. When it finished,it bleeted again. Why was a sheep wandering wild at Lloergan Traeth? The farm was notseparated by boundaries where the field finished and the reserve started. I wondered if therewere more sheep where that came from. Maybe they wandered the mountain range far inthe distance: its blue shadow protected the bay with a hug radiated by its sheer dominatingpresence. The sheep was shaggy; its wool had been left to grow until its coat nearly touchedthe ground. It was hard to imagine that the soiled mane would be shorn and one day spuninto a usable yarn. Its locks were almost knotted into dreadlocks; it needed a good comb.Meee, it said. It became as docile and still at my door like it was in a standing trance foralmost two hours. Then the reggae music started again and the sheep departed my frontdoor to follow its source. I stayed indoors all afternoon and listened to the bass sound again. It knocked theglasses and vibrated the floor of the home. I prayed Dolores would be annoyed enough todo something about the reggae music. This wasn’t an island party, I thought, although Irelished in the idea of sitting poolside with some rum punch in my hand, the music dottingstars in the sky. The music stopped. Delores, who I could hear faintly down the road said,‘okay, love, tar rah…’ I was just getting used to the music now but didn’t even miss it a little when it wasgone. I meandered out through the wasting doorframe with paint peeling away from it,down the steps and to the sandy road which was disappearing further under a cover of thewhite stuff with each passing day. The estuary was nothing but a rabbit infested grasslandto me today; nothing but green grass and rabbit droppings across to the musty darkmountains far into the distance. The dune banks consisted of a splattering of dry grass andsome red fish netting covering a corner of the plant life – that was rubbish, I would discardof that immediately. I loathed Lloergan’s disposition to attract muck from the sea. I slowly bent over topick the red net off the marram grass; I almost stood on a bee orchid as I pulled. I stayed onthe spot and surveyed the land that played host to all sorts of oddities: from rare andbeautiful flowers that find true perfection as they grow to the wild barnyard animals freefrom the confines of organised agriculture. The sun left its place in the sky slowly and clouds moved in overhead. I shiftedindoors and pushed the netting under the sink. I could not bring myself to finish anotherbottle of rum but twisted open the cap and poured myself a glass. The music grew louderagain. Could reggae music be relaxing, I considered. Its lulling beats and easy goingmelody enticed my head to sway and I repeatedly said no, no, no. A strong smell of deep chlorophyll filled my nostrils and intoxicated my driftingmind. It was a highly distinguishable odour of dry plant and fresh natural smoke: like freshchopped grass mixed with a drop of booze. Someone was smoking marijuana outside.Although it had been sometime since I had smelt anything remotely like it, the experienceof what it meant to me was of social togetherness, relaxation, a gathering. I could remember
that odour like I could remember the flats high in London and the purple walls in myneighbour’s home. Those kids must have made their way to my side of the beach. I whiskedmyself outside. I could see the impression of a lone man on the seashore looking out to a smallfishing boat anchored to the floor about 20 metres out to sea and he was smoking. ‘How areyou girl?!’ he exclaimed, he seemed almost in admiration of me. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I thought you were the kids.’ I turned around. ‘No, no, no,’ he said, smiling. ‘I am no keed but you stay, we’ll check out thislovely ocean.’ The black man had his trousers rolled up to his knees. He was bare foot and wore awhite tank top and his long dreaded hair was tied back. His voice rolled off his lips like thesmoke he blew to the sand. I wanted to leave and could not remove the look of polite frightfrom my face. ‘Don’t be scared. Look!’ He pointed out to his boat where fish flip flopped about it.‘Have you ever seen it? The fish just want to go in the boat. They want to be feeshed man.’He laughed at his joke and blew smoke through his teeth. ‘I don’t want to go back throughda water, you know? The fish might go!’ I stared. A most peculiar smell hung about the fisherman like dead fish poisoned bynettles, and green flies flew around his face and crawled up to his lips which he blew awaywith his stale vegetable breath. But as he pointed to his boat, he was amazed with theabsurdity of the fish, not quite flying but throwing their bodies out from the water to hisboat. Although he wasn’t there to catch those ones with his net, they fell back to the wateronly to try again. ‘It tis amazing,’ he said. He sounded Caribbean. He lit another joint and held it in his lips. I was quite taken by the tall, endlesslycasual man. He jotted his eyebrows up in a double salute and he waded back into the clearwater, the fish dispersing as he approached. He waved goodbye and climbed into his smallboat under the mellow sunshine. After a moment the fish returned to their sky bound playand the Islander brought out a small hand net and scooped some of them up, tipped theminto his boat and started the single motor. He turned the dinghy around and jetted away tothe deep of the dark blue ocean. He was gone. How strange? I told myself and the music grew louder as I walked back. The flieshad left with that man and so had the pot. I only had my rum to drink, but I felt the pull forsomething stronger. The moment I turned to walk back to my shelter I noticed the party hadcollected many bits of wood, including chair legs into a pile and were attempting to light it.A bonfire. A bonfire! Common sense told me that a fire would be worse than house lightsto confuse turtles. There was no time like the present, like the matron used to say, to get thejob done. Instead of walking to my holiday home, I made a path for the firebugs who werestruggling to light the thing. A boy crouched at the pile of wood, he snapped at a sparking lighter over and over,until another boy jumped to it with a box of matches. Covering the lit tip with a cuppedhand, he managed to light the scrunches of paper underneath the logs and blew and covered
with his hands and blew and covered. ‘It is a matter of controlling its air at this stage, nowind but wind, you know?’ the boy said. As I walked along the Lloergan shoreline, I felt like their mother, if their motherwas a harpy from the sea. The group of four boys and two girls looked up, their heads heldhigh like startled seagulls. I arrived to address the group who immediately returned to theirfrivolous chattering and upon my arrival. ‘Ahem,’ I coughed. Some looked at me, smiledand continued giggling. A taller man of the group stood up and walked to me. He seemedmature, I thought. ‘Can I help you?’ he said. ‘Ah,’ I started. I was a bit dry, a bit taught, and I felt a bit too righteous. ‘I am hereto see your fire. Bit much, don’t you think?’ ‘Oh is it a bit much?’ returned the youngling. ‘No, not for me,’ I said, ‘but I want to make sure it isn’t too distracting for theturtles when they hatch, you see?’ ‘Oh, it’s not distracting,’ said the boy who took my old arm and motioned for me tojoin them. ‘You’ll see, come have a drink.’ ‘A drink’ were the magic words and I rather weakly sat on the damp sand in thecircle with the others. ‘Hi,’ said a girl. ‘I am Emily.’ There was also a Mike, Travis,Dunlop, a Mary and the more charismatic male who brought me to the circle was David.They were all young and it was July, they must be students, I thought, on their summerholidays. All English and their accent sounded educated. ‘I’m Margarethe. I’m here to see your fire.’ The group giggled. ‘Yes,’ said David. He put a drink in my hand. ‘Have that. Relax.’ He jumped downinto an empty space in the circle and sat crossed legged. I took a sip of the sugary brew. Rum was in it, I could guess. Sweet, strong andwarming. I could garner a lot of information from a drink. Cheap, I concluded. These weredefinitely students. I studied the fire while the kids resumed chatting. Could it damage the turtlings’journey back to sea? There was not much I could ascertain when the sun was still a coupleof hours from setting. I knew the moon was waning and it was still a bright source of lightabove the ocean, but if this fire was brighter than the horizon, the turtles would soon misstheir miss their target – to return to the sea and be with their mother. ‘What do you do?’ asked Mary, her hair in pigtails, the rest of her garb all loose andflowing. Hippy ideals, I could assume. ‘Oh nothing. A PA sometimes,’ I said. ‘I am in between jobs, I suppose, I am hereon holiday until I would like to return to London.’
The group gasped sounds of envy and desire. Wouldn’t they like that, they agreed,only if they didn’t have to go back to university. ‘Why’d you like to do that?’ I asked, Isounded rather schoolmarmish. ‘If we could!’ Emily made animated faces. ‘My mum would have a fit!’ Mine too, mine too, echoed the young holiday makers. I had almost finished my drink. It left a sweet coconut taste on my lips. I shruggedand stared out to the long flat sea, the little waves played gently under the setting sun. ‘My father,’ said Travis, ‘Would cut me off completely if I left. I have had a gapyear. Now I must knuckle down,’ he impersonated a strict man, ‘I should be in finance.‘Make the big money,’ he grumbled his words again. ‘Good for you,’ I said. ‘Your father sounds very wise.’ ‘Yeah,’ Travis whined his words, ‘it would be cooler if he just relaxed. I am doingokay at school.’ The party had transformed into a therapy circle, the sort that someone would be paidto attend. I soon grew bored. I took another sip of my brew. I wondered if the General Storewas still open. The sun started its descent down the back of the sky and the fire started torage. It also sounded as though those kids have had this conversation many times before.‘You’d be lucky to be earning that sort of money those fellows in the City can earn,’ Ilooked into my cup. ‘Oh yeah,’ said Travis, ‘I would work in the City while I was young and then retireoff the money.’ ‘Once, you’re in there it might be hard to quit,’ was all I wanted to say to the boy,who just shrugged. These kids did not want to be serious. New music filled what space uncomfortably sat between me and the group. Davidsaid, ‘I love Lee Perry,’ as he returned from the house and jumped into his position again. ‘You people love your reggae,’ I said. ‘Reggae? Yes,’ said the young man, ‘But this is dub.’ He started nodding to thequick syncopated and broken beats. I started to feel uncomfortable. Reggae, dub, whatever it is, I scrunched up my nose.My bottom started to feel damp, the sun was setting, my drink was finished and the fire wastoo bright. I stood up. ‘First of all,’ I started, ‘That fire is too bright for the turtle hatchlings andyour lights should go off after dark – that will only kill the turtles.’ ‘Kill?’ said Mary. ‘Yes, kill. Kill, kill, kill! A bonfire on the beach is disruptive at the best of times forall the life around you. So it should go out or you should go home,’ I was commanding
now. ‘Turn your lights off in the house and do not have a bonfire lit after dark. The turtles,you see. The turtles will get lost and die. And my drink has finished and you’re all spoilt.’ Iturned quickly and marched back to my let to the mocking sounds of the turtles, the turtlesbehind me. The group laughed too. I closed my door behind me and I could hear the partyatmosphere and the music. Reggae, dub, whatever it was. * It was a special day. Matron Clegg had entered Keats and told the girls to put theirbest dress on – everyone had pretty dresses from their life of old. I had a white dress withpink flowers and a blue clover print all over the bottom half. It made me feel pretty eventhough the top cut under my arms and the spaghetti straps dug into my shoulders. I hadn’tworn the dress for a year and I had outgrown it. Out in the square the children assembled. All were in their good suits or best dressesand some of the lucky ones had a hat, even though some looked too small. The group had tolook good because the Queen would see them; the staff said they would tell if we weren’tneat and tidy. I didn’t believe them; I had been at the children’s home for a year withAndyroo. I didn’t believe the tales they told to make us behave: don’t make that facebecause the wind might change; the road to hell is paved with good intentions, cleanlinessis close to Godliness; the devil can quote Scripture for his own ends. But today was a special day. It was the Queen’s Jubilee and we all had special flagsto wave at the roadside. The walk we embarked on to Portsmouth was made longer for me as my stiff, whiteplastic shiny shoes refused to bend with my steps. Andyroo walked by my side, our headsdown, not talking, just walking step by step to the next town, the sun radiating burns ontoour heads. We could see the border of Portsmouth coming closer as we approached. Thetops of factory chimneys stuck out like lit cigars and small roadside homes sat very close tothe footpath. The sparse sproutings of rose trees neglected in gardens were littered withnewspapers and plastic bags blown in by the gusts of air whirled up by cars speeding downthe nearby M275. Entering the modest rows of red brick terrace houses the children walked single filein front of the homes on the narrow embankment of dried lawn. I held the hand of the boybehind as well as the girl in front. ‘Nearly there, children,’ alerted Matron Clegg, ‘one moremile and then we can see the Queen.’ When the main road in the middle of town was in our sights, we walked in the coverprovided by food stall covers hiked high on caravans. The smells of sausages and hameffused the hot air. I was tempted to beg for an ice cream and a cool drink from under thegiant umbrella keeping a fridge on wheels in the shade. ‘Here we are,’ said Matron Clegg,removing a tiny fold out chair from her large carrier bag onto which to place her largebottom. She propped open a parasol to balance on her shoulder and pushed her sunglassesup onto her nose so light didn’t shine in her eyes, although they faced the sun. She noticed aboy sitting on the bitumen. He bounced pebbles and pretended to catch them as they stuck