A Tribute to Peter Shure

Although he died nearly 20 years ago, before the Web was even invented, the work of Peter Shure was made for YouTube. His performances are nearly all short cameos rather than starring roles. His most memorable scenes are never long, always intimate, often involving intense closeups. One can imagine a channel with dozens of short videos, each one from a different film, possibly without audio, every time with the camera falling inevitably and obsessively in love with Shure’s stillness and mysterious power. The library would contain contributions from many of the most famous film-makers across several generations.

From the mid 1950s onwards, Shure was never out of work and was always sought out by directors who wanted to take on the challenge of capturing the essence of the actor’s method. It was often said that each performance by Shure inspired someone new  to invent a role or, in one famous case, to undertake a complete rewrite of film, in the hope of securing his talents.

He appears in any number of roles – the prisoner, the soldier, the bank robber, the jilted lover, the hitchhiker, the hippy, the middle-aged businessman, the old saint.

And yet he is not what one would call a versatile actor. Many might say he was a bad actor when required to actually speak and perform. But in one mode that he was ethereal, magnetic, much lauded. Peter Shure was always peerlessly magnificent when he was asleep.


How does he do it?

In days gone by, it was simply accepted that a Marilyn Monroe or a Cary Grant had something mysteriously magnetic about them that was beyond categorisation. 

But in today’s world, increasingly governed by money and metrics, focus groups and film school seminars, the actor’s ability to connect with audiences is constantly put under the microscope.

Many tricks of the trade are already known – different lighting setups, filters, lenses, the presentation of a particular aspect of the face, catchphrases, signature expressions and body language, a timbre of the voice that is immediately recognisable, specialist microphones for distorting the voice, voiceover artists for replacing the voice, specialist makeup that might take hours to apply, prosthetics and wigs, body doubles, digital avatars…

Actors have a growing arsenal of techniques they can apply in order create a recognisable screen persona that audiences can’t help but be drawn to. In more recent times, various ‘methods’ of character immersion have been adopted famously by the likes of Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman, all of which one can now learn from a book. In the 1980s, Michael Caine offered masterclasses in how to be Michael Caine on screen. And Oliver Reed memorably gave away the secrets of being an effective screen villain (straight, short hair, very little mouth movement when speaking and no blinking).

But just how Peter Shure secured his hold over the viewer, through the simple act of being asleep, has never been explained. And most directors he has worked with you can’t tell you his secret either.

One might assume it was the result of things Shure himself has learned along the way working with particular directors or DoPs.  For example, from the early 1970s onwards, Shure would often lobby for revered cinematographer Jack Cardiff to be on board for any project he agreed to. Producers quickly learned, though to laugh this off as a delusion of grandeur on Shure’s part. Cardiff was far too grand to be associated with the kind of movies to which Shure was attached. Cardiff himself only learned of these requests much later, after Shure and the director Michael Powell had become friends. There is no evidence, in fact, that Shure ever actually met Cardiff and certainly never worked with him.

Where there are clues about Shure’s secret method (if indeed there was one) is in his diaries. We do know for certain, for example, that Shure was a great admirer of Powell and Pressburger films, and it’s safe to say that ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ was an important point of inspiration for Shure. He mentions going to see it during the Christmas holidays in 1946, accompanied by his fellow PoW Robert (later Roberta) Cowell:

“Cowell was rather upset by it. I calmed him down afterwards with a few scotch and sodas in a pub just off Piccadilly. For my money, the film was jolly good. Niven is spectacular, even though he spends a lot of the time just lying about the place. And the whole thing is rather fantastical. I don’t know why, but it reminded me of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, a strange comparison to make about a war film I know. Cowell couldn’t see it that way. It just made him think of burning planes and motor crashes. And it must have dug up stuff from Barth, too, although the less said about that the better.”

For Cowell and for many others who watched ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, the film must have triggered appalling memories of bomber raids gone wrong. Yes, the tone of the film is unnervingly light, with a soundtrack which is for the most part rather jaunty, and characters that speak in a quick and quippy way. But the backdrop to the whole film is the hundreds and thousands of dead men and women queuing up for the afterlife. They too are chatty, full of laughter and backslapping on their way to eternity. But the sheer number of the dead, turning up every day every hour, can’t help but be sobering. And for Cowell it must have been a difficult watch.

At the time he was dealing with his own trauma of bailing out of a plane, not knowing whether his parachute would open, the screams of his mates burning alive ringing in his ears. Like many who went to watch that film in 1946, Cowell was almost certainly struggling with an undiagnosed stress disorder. As he sat in the dark cinema all the trauma and pain of war must have washed over him, threatening to drown him in a wave of horror and helplessness. The attempt of an upbeat romantic ending, with Niven's final line being 'We won!', would have been no consolation. In 1946 many like Cowell would have seen the victory as hollow.

For Shure, there was no such emotion. Something else awakened in him – not just the possibility of becoming a screen actor, but the foundation of a new mythology about himself.

He watched David Niven, the lead actor,  floating unconscious in the shallows on a beach, sat sleeping in a library chair, laid flat out on an operating table, and he must have instinctively understood that screen acting wasn’t just about hitting a mark and remembering lines. Many of the other main actors in the film spend time as frozen figures, suspended in a moment of time whilst various angels and other inhabitants of the world beyond argue the case for whether Niven/Peter should be allowed to live or die. It must have occurred to Shaw at this moment that it might be possible to become the lead actor in a big film and yet spend most of your time on screen either asleep, unconscious – or dead!

Other elements of the film will have chimed deeply with Shure.

Niven’s character is called Peter. He is a poet of some promise and a squadron leader who has flown over 60 missions. Shure was a navigator who flew 29 missions before being shot down. He counted amongst his friends several poets, some of whom he’d befriended during his time as a ‘kriegie’ (the terms PoWs liked to use about themselves)

The film opens on 2 December 1945, the exact same date that the Russian army arrived at the gates of Shure’s POW camp to signal the end of the war and the start of a new life. And the film is inspired by the true story of a bomber pilot who jumped from his burning plane from several thousand feet without a parachute and survived. Records show that Shure was in a compound at Stalag Luft 1 in 1944/45 with someone who did exactly that.

Later in life, Shure would refer to ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ as one of his all-time favourite movies. But he’d always remain deliberately cryptic about where his sleeping powers came from, and he never let on about his preparation before shooting a scene. In later years he clearly enjoyed the idea of his own mystique and came up with several different stories about how he had come to develop his unique skill.

He wasn’t averse, either, to mythologising his own wartime record, with several tall stories about incidents that took place during bombing missions. He once claimed that he and the rest of his crew had been temporarily knocked unconscious by a blast of flack on the way back to Britain from Germany, but they had all survived because the plane had miraculously flown itself across the North Sea without once getting knocked off course.

In one interview, Shure talks about transcendental meditation as something he adopted well before the Beatles and others started to extol it. In another he mentions astral projection. Another story involves him suffering from insomnia at his prep school and being sent to a sleep expert by his headmaster.

His wife and children have gone on record about a certain amount of drug use, which Shure always vehemently denied. Shure was a drinker – which actor of that generation wasn’t? – but there are no stories of Shure turning up on set drunk.

Certainly, Shure was a man of ritual and his P.A. of many years has described in his own memoir a routine that involved listening to specific pieces of music, a fairly strict diet regimen before filming and – intriguingly – time spent silently looking through a series of personal photo albums and scrap books that have failed to ever make it into the public domain.

Whatever his secret was, from 1968 onwards film directors and multimedia artists were queuing up to secure Shure, even for just one day or one scene, not only because he was guaranteed to boost the audiences for their work, but also because they were all keen to discover his secret.  They’d hire him in the belief there was a definite  technique or a trick. But nearly all of them came out of the experience talking about Shure’s abilities as something natural, unmannered and, in the end, unknowable.

“I guess I was thinking there might a load of preparation and technique in what he did, but no. He was quite unprepared actually. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. In fact, if anything he taught me that you can prepare too much. I realised that a lot of the other scenes I was planning to shoot in that movie were simply too premeditated. I was trying too hard to actively ‘present’ them rather than just let them be. Peter was great at that – just being. I’ll always remember his catchphrase just before he settled down into a take. “Just keep it rolling,” he’d say. I made a note to steal that as my own mantra.” -  Terence Mallick

And here's Peter Greenaway talking about Peter Shure's extraordinary performance in the lost arthouse classic - 'Architect, Body and Mind

“There are basically only two subject matters in all Western culture: sex and death. We do have some ability to manipulate sex nowadays. We have no ability, and never will have, to manipulate death. But with Peter Shure I think we gave it a bloody good go. What was great about that scene was it didn’t rely on script. My memory is that we barely spoke at all and certainly Peter was serenely quiet. He didn’t need any words. He just lay down and told me I should just start filming whenever I thought the time was right.

And as he drifted away, I couldn’t stop watching through the camera. I remember seeing his eyelids twitch, and noting that his breathing was rather artificially steady at first – in through the nose, out through the mouth sort of thing - and I was worried it wasn’t going to work. But slowly and surely his face relaxed, and I want to say he started to shine from the inside, except the more you watched the more it was like the life going out of him, of the light escaping him and leaving him dead to the world. A chilling effect - because it felt exactly like watching someone you love die. I was so shocked I almost forgot to roll the camera and whisper ‘action’. And all without any reference to lines, or any dialogue or script. Just a human being in time and space and light.

You see, it doesn’t matter whether you're Godard or Almodovar or Scorsese, what you’re so often battling with is text, text, text. Everything begins with the text, and this was always a great source of great anguish to me. What I always wanted was for cinema to get on with doing what it does best, which is expressing ideas in visual terms. Working with Peter was one of the few times I thought I was really getting somewhere with that."


Ivre de la vie. Gelé dans la mort.

Sleep is something we all do. Some of us better than others, maybe. But we all sleep. Peter Shure slept like a baby. Like an angel. He slept the sleep of the dead. He was the ultimate sleep artist.

He was first caught sleeping on film in 1956, in a forgettable British war movie that actually did mysteriously well at the box office at the time. The somewhat primitive market research team at Rank put the success down to the appeal of two relatively unknown young actors who supposedly stood out – Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. It was only when Shure appeared again as a drunken crew member in a second-rate pirate movie, that producers and directors started to notice his effect on audiences.

They were helped by an article in the influential French magazine 'Cahiers du Cinema' which dedicated half its word count to analysing one scene in which Shure is passed out from too much rum and his captain (Yul Brynner) is forced to admit that all his men are more than likely doomed to death in battle the next day.

“In a more realised version of this scene, the camera would focus less and less on Brynner and draw in on the prone figure, lying on the deck, his body thrown into a shape that prefigures what is destined to happen the next day. The sleeping drunk is the essence of the scene, the only real thing in it that a contemporary viewer can relate to. Brynner is a symbol of the past, starchly reading out his hero lines, his false concern about his underlings, the dummy belief in their sacrifice for his honour. Even his peacock buccaneer outfit with tall boots and flouncy sleeves places him in a world that is dead to us. Meanwhile the man playing dead on the floor vibrates with meaning. He is dressed in plain colourless clothes. He is splayed out with arms and legs outstretched as if he has been falling in air. He is the fallen everyman. Drunk in life. Frozen in death. Despite the grossity of Technolicolor he withholds an inner light. We see him peaceful in his cups, serenely lost to the world, but held well in his dreams. For us who look up to the screen, he is a captivating example of a moment in all our lives when we are both stuck with what has been handed down to us and yet also free internally to roam the new mental universe of the future. As the camera holds on the sleeping pirate, we consider our own moment of rest and respite, and wonder how thoroughly and effectively an actor can communicate a moment of humanity without actually doing any acting at all!”

The young author of this lengthy encomium was, of course, Francois Truffaut. Only a year later he would give the world 'The 400 Blows', with its own important sleeping scene, sadly cut from the international release of the movie that most people will have seen.


Preface, 2004, Enhanced ‘Memography’ Edition

When my father died, it was revealed that he had nominated me as his executor. No-one was more surprised than me, given that we had been estranged for a number of years.

I can only assume he had no-one else in his life who he felt could take on the responsibility. This, I believe, demonstrated both the parlous state of his personal relationships at the time of his demise, and also his negative attitude toward others in my family, notably my mother and my brother.

I took on the job of sorting out his affairs with something of a heavy heart, but also with a certain amount of curiosity about what I might find.

My father had never been very forthcoming about his past - or indeed about his present – and I wondered innocently whether I might at last unlock the riddle of his personality through the personal papers, photograph albums and business documents that might be awaiting me.

I found much more than I bargained for. Yes, there were personal papers, photographs, postcards, bills, contracts. There was also a set of diaries dating back to the 1930s. And there were many letters too – from my mother, my brother, from me, from his agent Martin and from various fellow actors, artists, directors, producers.

I realised quickly there was something of value here that a publisher might be interested in. And, lo and behold, a rather public auction for the publishing rights took place very quickly (with indecent haste, I know some might say), raising funds sufficient to  to cover the cost of executing my father’s will and also pay any outstanding taxes and other bills.

Once it had been agreed with a publisher that a book about Peter Shure was of some interest, the question arose about who might be the author of said book. Various names were mentioned – Philip Norman, Craig Brown, Janet Maslin, Claire Tomalin. I was an admirer of them all, but none of them seemed quite right. It was my preference to find someone who actually knew my father personally, given that to many he was such a cypher.

It should be mentioned at this point that Martin Chielzowicz, my father’s long-time agent, would have seemed like the perfect candidate. But alas Martin had a few years before been diagnosed with dementia and had already all but forgotten who Peter Shure was (Perversely he remained full of anecdotes about Noel Coward right to the end).

My father’s personal assistant was also considered briefly, but he had announced very soon after the funeral that he would be writing his own memoir, including his own somewhat partial view of various events, including the peculiar circumstances of my father’s death. It was therefore very clear that it was not going to be possible to collaborate with him on the kind of book I had in mind.

In the end it was the publisher who came back to me with the surprising suggestion that perhaps I should like to write the book myself.

I have been a writer all my adult life, publishing a number of historical novels, plus a biography of Mary Shelley which was well received at the time. But to take on the task of writing about my own father in an honest and dispassionate way was initially unthinkable for me.

I had to admit, though, I was very well placed to deliver a good book. I had access to all of the personal material you would ever want. I had some personal experience of some of the key periods of my father’s life. I knew most of the people who it would be necessary to talk to (if they were prepared to talk to me). And I had a proven track of delivering.

The outstanding question was whether it was sensible for me, as Peter Shure’s daughter, to act as his biographer. Could I write the book without veering too far into the realms of a personal memoir? Could my own personal role in some of the situations that I would inevitably have to write about allow me to remain dispassionate, unbiased, accurate?

Initially, I had my doubts. But my publisher seemed confident that I could do it. And time was of the essence. Commercially there was only a short window of time after my father’s death when there would be enough interest in him, as a minor celebrity, to merit publication.

I would still refute to this day the accusations made at the time that I was somehow profiting from my father’s death, or that the book was too hastily written and therefore not of sufficient quality. The book, in fact, took longer to write than my ‘Mary Shelley’ and, as to profit, readers can be assured that I am hardly a person who lives in the lap of luxury – and half the royalties from the book have always been handed back to the estate of Peter Shure and then divided equally with my brother.

In the years since publication in 1992, I have come to think that I was, if anything, too responsible in the way I handled the material - too distant and too dispassionate. So keen was I to act as a professional biographer that I sometimes failed to capture the whole truth about situations in my father’s life, some of which involved me.  

The nature of biography has changed a great deal since that time. Writers now have licence to be more imaginative about how to present a life. Readers, too, are a bit more accepting of an approach that allows for subjective expression and imaginative projection.

With this in mind, I have been encouraged to publish a new updated edition of ‘The Sleep Artist into which I have decided to weave a number of more personal pieces of writing that I hope will provide further illumination as to what my father was really like, and how he related to his nearest and dearest.

I like to think of this new edition as half-way between a biography and a memoir (a memography? a biogoir?!). This feels like a much more honest approach to the  remembrance and honouring of my father than my previous attempt could ever be.

At that time, his death was still very fresh in all our minds. There was a certain amount of noise around the manner of his death. And frankly I was burdened – if not overwhelmed - by a strong and stiff sense of duty when it came to handling and editing the material that had been handed over to me as his executor.

In my somewhat old-fashioned desire to do the right thing, I produced a work that was sensible, straightforward and honest. I see now that these are not qualities that a book about Peter Shure really needs, in order to communicate what he was like.

By adding my own thoughts and feelings, recovering my own memories of sometimes painful, sometimes joyful times, I am hoping readers will gain a much richer understanding of what Peter Shure was like.

It is often asked of me whether I ever did get to the essence of an understanding of Peter Shure’s remarkable talents. A few years ago I would have said categorically ‘No’. But with this new edition, with its radical new approach to the presentation of a life (several lives!), I am hoping tentatively now to say ‘Yes’.


Peter Shure is not dead. He is only sleeping.

WHAT WE KNOW

  • The body they found on the beach back in 1990 was never formally identified as Peter Shure.
  • The only people who say the body was definitely Peter Shure are his ex-wife, his daughter and his P.A.  There is no independent identification of the body. FACT.
  • Director Devon X has refused to ever comment on Peter Shure and what happened that day. WHY?
  • Peter Shure’s official biographer has confirmed that there are no entries in Peter’s diaries for 1990, despite Shure being a religious diary keeper for over 50 years.  
  • Look carefully at outtakes Peter Shure’s scene in ‘The Angelic Upstarts’ (available on our YouTube channel), and you’ll see a small boat going back and forth in the background of that day’s filming. There is no formal record of any boat being in the area that day. FACT.
  • The coroner’s report is a crock of shit! (Read it on our website and DECIDE FOR YOURSELF)
  • Peter Shure’s P.A. was arrested in 1992. It wasn't just for stealing Peter Shure's property, but he was also done for possession of a number of illegal medications – including  propofol. FACT.
  • There have been at least 17 confirmed sightings of Peter Shure since 1990. FACT. (check out details on the website). 

We – the True Friends of Peter Shure – hold all this to be True

THE TRUTH WILL OUT

WE LOVE YOU PETER!


"You cannot look at the sun or death for very long"

I have discharged myself from hospital and have come back to an empty home.

Well, not entirely empty. As I sit in this room that serves as my kitchen, dining room, living room and study, I am surrounded by my possessions, everything that remains after thirty years of working as an independent artist and filmmaker.

There are many books, of course. Several shelves packed with the volumes I’ve acquired over the years. Some time ago I had a purge and kept only the ones that either I hadn’t read, might read again, or might need for creative research purposes. I did allow myself a few sentimental keepers:

- A biography of Oscar Wilde I’ve had since school

- An ancient hardback copy of the collected poems of Keats with etched illustrations, bought from a second hand bookshop in Chichester

- ‘Les Enfant Terribles’ by Jean Cocteau – bought for me by an ex-lover containing a bitter-sweet and cutting farewell remark written in the front

- My mother’s copy of Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Belljar’

- My childhood ‘Noddy’ books

Also on the shelves:

- VHS copies of all my films

- Countless Super8 reels, store in marked envelopes

- Three box files containing invoices, bills and other tax-related paperwork

- A jar for coins/loose change

- A hand-designed thank-you card from Marianne Faithful

- Three postcards bought at the Uffizi

- Two finger puppets  - a horse and a dragon - made by my sister

At my work desk I find the large metal desk lamp that I rescued from a skip in Bermondsey and repaired with my own hand. It is chipped and dented, with only a few flecks of its original racing green paint remaining. It has done fine service, beaming on into the long nights of writing and sketching.

Here, too, is a stack of artists books, notepads and sheaves of A4. Most are full of scribbled notes, doodles and diagrams. I like to play a game of opening one of them at a random page and trying to decode what is there – What project was I working on? What project is being described? What ideas am I reaching out for? In most cases, the pages make no sense and I have not a clue as to what I am scratching and scribbling on about.

There is a pot of pens of many colours. I use only the blue and the black and the red. The others have sat there for years unused and unloved. There’s also a childs tin of watercolours  with two spindly thinning brushes and pretty much every cell of colour washed down now into a muddy brown.

Looking around the walls, there are just half a dozen paintings and photographs left. The rest were lost in the fire at my last studio.

David-hockney-yves-marie-in-wicker-chair
I possess two small paintings by Hockney. One is an interior, looking towards  french windows in a living room, with garish wallpaper. The other is me sitting in a whicker chair in 1973.

Next to them is a Calder – bright blobs of orange, blue and yellow. Exquisite and mood-lifting. Probably worth more than the bloody house.

Next, a Keith Haring print with a bunch of his multicoloured anonymous figures bouncing around at a club and lifting up a giant figure that looks not unlike me, but with giant Mickey Mouse ears.

Then two black and white Chris Killip photographs taken in rural Ireland only a few years ago. I have no idea why I like them so much. I have no connection with Ireland, or indeed with Killip, but there is something about these images that takes me – pilgrims with staffs struggling down rock scree, a lone tree on a hillside, an empty track.

Killip
There, also, is the last image I ever took of Peter Shure, asleep on the beach. The best image I ever captured. He speaks to me every day. He says ’Death is not the end’.

The last thing on the walls? A death mask. No, not of Peter. That story is just a myth as far as I'm concerned. This is a copy of ‘L’Inconnue de la Seine’ – one of thousands of copies that used to grace the walls of late-Victorian households. The petit bourgeois Mona Lisa. The dead tart with the enigmatic smile. I look at her every day and wonder what she had to smile about as she sucked water into her lungs and sank into the depths of the Seine. Who knew a drowning could be so peaceful, so sweet?

And now I am struggling. Struggling to list what's left of any value. And also struggling to breathe! (Fortunately I have acquired a small oxygen tank and mask that I keep with me at all times). Let me catch my breath...

Now let me see...

Upstairs there is a wardrobe of old clothes, some of which might be described as 'vintage'. There may be costumes and props up there that the V&A might appreciate.

Outside a shed of garden tools. Over in the kitchen area there are pots and pans, a drawer of cutlery, kitchen knives and other utensils. Nothing of value. I don’t even own a toaster or a kettle any more. I use the grubby old electric cooker to heat water and grill things.

I suppose there are the vases. Some of them might be worth something – gifts from potters I have known, or picked up cheaply at exhibitions. They allow me to bring the garden into the house - one of the true consolations of my current life: to still have flowers and grasses, twigs, buds and berries to surround me in my solitude.

Here I am in my armchair, upholstered years ago a in a deep blue corduroy that has faded and flattened into Quinky blandness. My slippered feet rest on the Moroccan carpet, brought back to commemorate a hash-hazed sexy trip with two of the boys from art school. It has moth-holes in it now and is frayed at the edges. A metaphor.

Is this the sum of all my years? All that I leave behind? I suppose it is. At least I leave this and no debts. I should be proud to have made it this far and to have maintained a life as a free and independent artist all that time. So many before me have died in the gutter, died of syphilis, boozed their way into oblivion or, worse, gave up and lived on as shop assistants or shelf stackers or council workers. Yes, I have become diseased and will die soon. But I never gave up. I never stopped working, making art. And I kept this roof over my head, and these beautiful things around me, until the end.

When they find me here, expired, what will my expression be? I am hoping it will be like Peter’s – content, slightly puzzled, but content, and with the idea that I am thinking about another place, a better place. And perhaps with some inner light still shining out of me. That’s how I would like to be remembered. For a kind of brightness. A light that could never entirely be extinguished.


Show me the money! Show me the money!

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Isabella

I find it hard to go through this with you all over again. We’ve had God knows how many battles since Peter died. I’m tired. Aren’t you?

To be clear – yes, it was me who directly told Chris about his grandmother. No, I didn’t do it in order to upset him or drive him mad, as you suggest. You, perhaps, weren’t aware that your brother had been asking himself some deep questions recently - about where he came from, and why he’d ended up the way he was. This involved him wanting to know a lot more about his father's roots, and I was happy to tell him what I knew.

Christopher is – was – a rule unto himself about many things. It was he who made the choice to come to me when he was in trouble in 1994, rather than to you or his mum. I put a roof over his head – a roof that you tried to take from me. I sorted out his financial affairs so that he was essentially solvent again. You tied up his inheritance, so he found it hard to access funds without your permission. I connected him to the art world so he could develop his ideas for installations and exhibitions. Yes, the critics were harsh – as were you – but Chris could be resilient in the face of criticism. At least he had been in the past.

I also tried to help him with his addictions and mental health issues, but I’m afraid in that one crucial area – like many who came before me – I failed. Perhaps his tough talk and spiky wit made him look and sound stronger than he was. Do you think I would have mentioned his grandmother if I thought it was going to be so emotionally disastrous for him?

As much as anyone, I was duped by Chris. You may not choose to believe it, but in the end it was him manipulating me, not the other way round.  You say that my revelation about his grandmother ‘tipped him over the edge’, but if we’re both honest, we know that Chris was a boy who never really knew where the edge was. Everything he knew about being a human being seemed to come from films and music and comics rather than real life. And, as such, he couldn’t really cope when anything went off script or out of the frame.

In that he was more like his dad than he might have wanted to admit. That gift of sleep was also a defence. Many a time Peter would avoid difficult situations by conking out. The more stressful the situation, the quicker he’d doze off. He’d even do it in meetings. Altman once accused him of using it as a negotiation technique. The more sleepy and uninterested he looked, the more desperate producers were to hire him.

Your brother never had the same narcoleptic gene, or maybe the drugs and the booze had blunted it, so instead he opted for running away. Three days, usually, wasn’t it? Three days missing. Just enough to get everyone’s attention. Then mysteriously reappear. Where are we now – day seven? We both know that’s not like him.

I don’t want to accept at all that he has gone forever. And I understand why you wouldn’t either. But when we lost your father we had the same challenge – to let go, to accept that he wasn’t just sleeping for a while, but that he’d gone forever. It took me quite a while to come to terms with that. And you, Isabelle, were not kind.

As to money, I consider that all to have been settled between us quite some time ago, thank God.

If you really must know, the regular monthly payment to your grandmother is something that I inherited from Martin Sr, when he was Peter’s agent. The money was never paid directly through any of Peter’s accounts. It always came through his agent. When I took on that role, I made sure a standing order was set up for Dorothy in one of my personal accounts, and Peter always made sure that I was paid enough by him to cover it.

This is why it will never have showed up in statements you had access to as executor, and comes as a surprise to you now. It was me, I was paying for her. And you might as well know that I still do.

Given the generosity of Peter in leaving me the house and a relatively small lump sum (all of which I had to fight you for), I thought it only right that I should continue to send regular money to his mum. It didn’t sit right with me that she would suddenly be without funds. And I didn’t fancy having another awkward conversation with you about an outgoing that you might not be so keen to honour without tedious lawyers getting involved for months first.

Anyway, I figure she’s already in her 90s so it won’t be for that long. Although by all accounts she sounds like a tough old bird. Perhaps the rhino skin is something you’ve inherited!

So you see, Isabelle, I’m not the nasty grasping vampire you make me out to be – well, not all the time anyway. I’m happy to keep that standing order in place for as long as granny lives. You need not worry about that. And I’d be very happy for Chris to continue to live under my roof again should he return from wherever he has gone. Which I fear he won’t. But at least he will always know that for once in his life someone was ready to take him in and treat him with care.

Ok, that’s enough digs. Perhaps it’s time we stopped the fighting now. Soon it will just be you, me and Helen left. All of three of us deserve some time out of Peter’s shadow; that is, if you think you can live in the light all on your own. I’m going to try at least. One more go at living, really living, before the eternal sleep.

I’m sorry for your loss, Isabelle. Or rather your losses. Let this be the end of it.

Martin


No Fixed Abode

I’ve been to the places that nobody goes

When it rains it rains, when it snow it snows

I took myself to a serious side

I took the best of my friends for a ride

No-one was waiting, nobody knows

There’s nothing but white lines at the end of the road

        No fixed abode

 

I took a job just to keep from starving

Kept me from crying, kept me from laughin’

They offered me hope and a fat pay rise

I said I won’t stay, whatever the size

One hundred percent of nothin’ is nothin’

And I can’t earn nothin’ of what I’ve never been owed

        No fixed abode

 

So I took my self to a place up North

Tryin’ to learn a limit, enough is enough

You can’t go further without goin’ round again

And whatever you carry, you carry your pain

I’ll give you one nugget, for all that it’s worth:

The thoughts in your head are the heaviest load

        No fixed abode

 

There’s a search for the mother, a search for the sun

A search for the other, the search for the one

I gave up looking for the man I couldn’t be

He wasn’t it. It wasn’t me

I’ll take my chances on a girl and a gun

We’re breaking the bank. We’re cracking the code

        No fixed abode

 

So I ended it all in a place by the sea

Where I went after that is a mystery

I left you with nothing, there was nothing left

But the shirt on my back and a holy mess

Not sure how you’re hopin’ it’s gonna be

But wherever you’re livin’, it’s gonna explode

        No fixed abode

 

Humber

They took me into a shabby office area and offered me a cup of tea. When they showed me the CCTV footage, my stomach turned.

A grainy figure with Chris’s ratty silhouette and slouchy gait stuttered across the screen at a very small number of frames per second - up a ramp, towards the bridge.

The footage switched to a camera on the bridge pointing down at the pedestrian walkway. A smudge of blue-black slurred its way through the scene in three jumps and then was gone. That was all they had. 

“Are you sure it was him?” I asked.

“We have clearer images of him approaching the bridge,” said the police sergeant.

“And what about at the other end, on the other side?”

“Nothing I’m afraid.”

“But…” I stopped myself.

The obvious questions welled up – why didn’t anyone raise the alarm? Why didn’t someone get out there and challenge him, ask him if he was ok? Why didn’t someone stop this?

The police sergeant read my mind, He’d been through this before. Many times.

“Unless someone exhibits obvious signs of distress it’s hard for our staff. They can’t just go out there and challenge every person walking across the bridge. They do their best. In fact, they do escort at least one vulnerable person off the bridge pretty much every day. But I’m afraid it’s the law of averages that they miss a few.”

The law of averages.

I made my way back to Granny’s house along the coastal path. The wind was splattering sea-spray  onto one side of my coat, half soaking me. I stopped in an arcade promising Vegas-style ‘rock n’ roll’ fun. For about half an hour I pushed old tuppeny bits into a machine, watching them zig-zag their way down a perspex wall, then clink onto a thin metal sheet to be shoved by a plastic bumper into a melee of other coins.

Each time they were shoved, they folded and rolled into the mass of coin, causing the occasional one to tip over a small drop into the next level, where the same mechanical process would repeat itself – clink, shove, fold, roll, drop.

A load of coins dropped into the payout slot of the machine next door to mine, without anyone having to play it at all, coughing up coinage with a sudden metallic upchuck. I grabbed a fist-load and fed my machine with more shrapnel. Nothing came out. I came away with nothing.

I tried to explain to Granny what had happened, but she'd forgotten who Chris was. I could feel myself already forgetting who he was. I thought about Daddy and tried to remember what he looked like, what he sounded like, but I couldn’t bring him back. 

I couldn’t quite think of Chris as dead. He might be out there still walking. My little Frankenstein monster, heading relentlessly north.

I tried to find some photos of him in Granny’s scrap books. There weren’t any, except of him as a baby in Peter’s arms. A magazine photo shoot from 1968.  Everything here was about Peter in the end. All we had left of Chris was his own voluminous folder, left deliberately for me to find. Cruelly, I thought about how  it might have helped to weigh him down when he jumped off the bridge.

I hadn’t bothered looking at his notebook til now. You don’t read a living person’s private diary, do you? It's a naughty thing to do. Intrusive. Picking it up now was an admission of a kind. That he’d gone and couldn't complain anymore about anything. It was the start of letting him go, maybe. Or rather the mark of his escape.

Titled on the front, in scrawly marker pen it read:

ThOUGHTS

From the Mind of

CLEM MEDIA

(Whore)

No Fixed Abode

New York/London

US/UK

Solar System

The Galaxy

The Milky Way

The Universe

All Future Universes

BEYOND TIME!

Tucked in the back were two sheets of folded Basildon Bond letter-writing paper, yellowed with age. Scrawled across one half in Chris’s unsteady hand:

PROOF.

THEY DIDN’T WANT ME.

I was getting tired of all these discoveries - these scraps stored up as some kind of ambush. I couldn't read anymore. I went out, saying to Gran I wanted to clear my head. But my head was clear. It was empty. Rejoining the coastal path, I walked north, past Butlins, past the concrete flood defences with the tea-brown waves whacking and shushing into them and away and into them and away, past the derelict Reggae Bar, the shut-up Zombie Shootout arcade, the empty £1 a pint drinking barn with a mock galleon outside, its figurehead wrapped up in a bin bag and masking tape ready to be dumped in concrete or driven off to the woods.

I was trying to imagine Chris walking past here, but I couldn't. I was already losing him.

Instead I reached a row of beach huts with silly names - Den's Den, Wendy's House, Beth's Barn, Molly's.

I stopped walking and tried to think of what my beach hut would be called. But I couldn't.

And it made me cry.


“Well, she wouldn’t even harm a fly”

When she turned her head for the first time, I immediately saw Daddy in her eyes, in the small round chin, in the slight tilt of the head. I think I gasped. It was if he’d risen from the dead in a ladies wig, with poorly applied makeup and a cheap floral dress. Peter Shure’s first drag role. It was wrong of me, but I immediately thought of Tony Perkins. 

Psycho2

She looked like a tough old bird. Not in her physique. She was rather slim and frail, as a 90-something year old should be. She had stainless steel-grey hair, carefully coiffed into a wavy cloud that whirled around her surprisingly smooth face. She wore rimless glasses that gave her an austere quality. The hard stare, when it came, communicated a toughness that was not to be challenged. I imagined haggling for an extra go on the shooting gallery. She had a cheap set of pearls around her neck and quite expensive - but aged, scuffed, unpolished - navy blue leather shoes with noticeable lumps and bumps where the toes within had swelled, curled up and bent out of shape over the years. Thick flesh-coloured tights hid her legs. There were two plain gold rings on her bony wedding finger.

I could not stop staring at her.

Granny. My Granny.

Once Janet had got what she wanted and hoofed off, I stayed on. She softened when it was just me. She knew who I was. Or at least she sometimes knew who I was. Things drifted in and out – understandably at her age. Sometimes she called me Helen, sometimes she called me Vi. But when she settled on Isabella and connected that name with the face in front of her, she brightened up and made me feel special. It made me feel sad to think I could and should have had this all my life.

I decided to stay in Skegness until some firm news of Chris came. It was either that or go home to mother. And once Janet broke her story in the nationals, there’d be journalists doorstepping us every day in London, begging for statements, for answers. I couldn’t bear that. Besides, there was some catching up to do. A whole lifetime. Several lifetimes.

I visited Granny every day, and each morning she dug out yet more stuff to show me. She seemed excited to have an excuse to go through it all again, having previously secured Chris to practice on for several days - a captive audience of one.

There were scrapbooks going all the way back to the 1920s, crammed full of press cuttings, photographs, postcards, ticket stubs, flyers, letters. She was a natural jackdaw, nesting away every shiny thing she could find about the people around her, about the places where she worked and lived, about the holidays, the concerts, the works outings, the weddings, the funerals - but above all about Peter, Peter everywhere, at all times of his life -  at a fairground, at a motor race, in a uniform, in overalls, in trunks, in every film, at every premiere, with our without Mother, with Chris, with me, in London, Paris, New York, Rome, every press interview, every review good or bad. And wide awake all of the time. Here he was ageing page by page starting from a severely scrubbed slightly under-nourished little boy in shorts right through to the balding old roué in cords he became just before he left us. She’d collected and kept it all.

As she turned each page and fingered every photo, Granny would burble on about what we were looking at.

“What you need to know about this one….,” she would say.

“I think Norman must have taken that one...”

"Christopher liked that story..."

“Peter probably doesn’t know I know about that...”

She talked about Daddy as if he wasn’t dead. And she did indeed know everything - so much more than I would ever really know. Chris was right. I did like to be in control of the narrative, and for a little while I was starting to think I really was in control. Of everything - all the papers I found in Daddy’s house; all the things Mummy had confessed to me, all the things that I’d forced out of Martin. Now that we could see the whole arc of Daddy’s life from birth to death, I had become vainglorious and delusional, believing I was in position to see all and tell all about his complete life.

I could even take Chris’s warped take and accommodate that into my universal Goddess-like worldview. Meanwhile this little old lady had been sitting quietly in her house amassing all the evidence of what had really happened. Here was the gospel. The bible! But could she understand what it really meant? Could any of us?

Chris had come here looking for answers and not found what he was supposedly looking for. Yes, he’d had the same presentation from Granny, the full show and tell. But within it he couldn’t find solace. He couldn’t find a reason to rest. 

Then came me.  And after all the stories of Granny working on the hoopla stores, Granny moving to Skegness, Granny working for Butlins, Granny marrying Norman, Granny not talking to Peter any more… I was none the wiser. How could it happen? How could he have told us all those lies?

Tower-cinema-demolished
He’d told Chris and me that his mother had died in 1941 when a bomb had dropped on the local cinema. He’d told us he’d roamed the streets of London like he was an urchin til he was a teenager.  He told us he had no family to turn to when he came back from the war. All fiction.

Here was Granny and her scrapbooks to provide an alternative version. And all the time she had promised Peter to hide away, not to be a bother to him. She was happy just to admire him from afar. And build her own little shrine to her darling boy.

“There was money sent every month after Norman died,” she said. “He was a good boy like that.”

Money?! He sent money?! Did it mean I was meant to do the same now? Was it my role to make sure Granny was looked after?

Perhaps I could insist she started keeping a scrapbook about me. But then, what on earth could she fill it with? A few damning book reviews. Even fewer interviews in obscure literary magazines. Perhaps Mother had photos to contribute. But I'd never seen them. Were there any family albums that Helen had lovingly made? Unlikely.

So it was Granny who was to be the keeper of the truth. And it was me playing the role of Peter now. Sleeping my way through life.


"Let your feelings slip boy/ But never your mask boy"

SISABELLA!


Meet Grandma. Be gentle with her cos she’s not all there. Check out her scrapbooks tho. FULL of stuff. Photos, letters, press cuttings. Not just about Pa but about all of us. She’s been watching us, sis. All these years.

They fucked us up, sis. Not just ma and pa. It goes way back. The movies, the music, the tv shows the books – all of it. I been here a few days going through it all, and sometimes granny talks about it, but most of the time she’s too loony. When Martin put me onto her, I thought she’d give me answers. Things might make sense about why we’re like we are, about where it all comes from – the fuck-ups. But I don’t even know where I’m going any more.

Granny

It's no use. She’s got a whole pile of crap stored up here, but in the end it weighs you down, right? I’ve got crap of my own. It’s all in my rucksack if you want it. My version. But even that doesn’t make me feel any better any more. So you can have it. Finally you can have it ALL, sis, and be the official holder of THE TRUTH. It’s what you’ve always wanted to be.

I reckon I’ll push northwards. Feels like the best way to disappear. Maybe I’ll get to Dundee and see those planes! (just kidding). If I’m totally honest I’ve spent most of my life running away from things. Not running TO anything. At least I know now I’m happiest is when I’m moving.

See you on the other side, sis.

 Cx


Lost in Skegness 1996

“I was always trying to get lost as a kid. But I soon found out you can’t get lost.”

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Flowerskeg
If you want to get to Skegness you have to cross the platform at Grantham – Thatcher’s home town - and exchange the grubby InterCity train for a grubby regional putt-putt that curves its way off the mainline, away from the red tile roofs and the sea of chimneys that surround the cathedral spire, away from the Trumpton-style tall white townhall clock tower... and then your course is set for Sleaford and the flatlands beyond.

The train plods along with an old-fashioned sway and a kerplunka-kerplunka-kerplunka soundtrack over warped tracks. At Sleaford you'll see derelict maltings of palatial proportions on one side, and a vast expanse of tarmaced nothingness on the other. And from then on it is flat and it is brown, is flatter and browner, is flattest and brownest – with only the spiky church spires jutting out from the blank horizon to break the monotony of the view,  and perhaps to let you know there is some form of civilisation out there. Or once was.

Gray and brown sheep dot themselves across ochre and dirty cream field sof maize stubble. After the windmill of Heckington the train runs along a straight fenland-style drain for miles and miles, with nothing but flat ploughed brown silt laid out as far as the eye can see.

Occasionally you'll pass a remote copse drowning in a lake of floodwater,  a collection of farm buildings huddled together against the elements, and then a stretch of giant greenhouses. Giant piles of scrap and heaps of aggregate warn you that Boston is imminent.

Here the few young people on the train disembark onto a station that appears to be missing a platform in the middle. Groups of older people get on. The hubbub of accents soften and go north suddenly.  The largest church – St Botolphs? – stares at the trains like a giant barn owl considering a vole - or like Sauron’s eye -  as we head off across yet another vast stretch of soggy ploughed soil, lightened only by the occasional lazy murmuration of scruffy starlings. We clunk on through a landscape of abandoned caravans  - and drain after drain after drain. I wonder what a child would think, sitting there with the promise of a magical seaside kingdom waiting for them at the end of the line. Could they believe anything lovely existed out here? Wouldn’t your faith in adults be rocked?

Even in the emerging watery sunshine - Chris used to say ‘sunchine’ when he was small – with daffodils and primroses trying to add a dash of optimistic colour, I can hear the one child in the carriage chanting in a voice of doubt over and over again – ‘Where are we? Where are we? WHERE ARE WE?’

A single straight road appears at an angle on one side, with cars and lorries darting at speed, presumably, towards the sea. Chris couldn’t have walked across here, could he?

I try to picture a lone figure leaning against the wind, pacing intently down the road. He hears the windy engine noise of an approaching car. He turns, straightens up, wipes his hair with his hand in a weak attempt to smarten up, and sticks out a thumb.

He hitchhiked. He must have hitchhiked.

==

Welcomeskeg
A short woman in a grey suit and wine-red blouse met me at Skegness station - blotchy face, cheap ‘Rachel’ haircut, nerdy black glasses, flat shoes. Not my idea of a regional journalist. I always assumed they were tubby, bluff types in cheap wool jackets and polyester ties, who’d doorstep their own granny for a story. And all blokes, depressingly.

“Janet?”

“Ms Shure?”

“Yes. Isabelle. Hello.”

“Welcome to Skegness. D’you fancy a cuppa tea?”

We trundled across to the high street. A crowd of sick-looking people were staggering up and down staring in the windows of fish & chip restaurants, charity shops, discount hardware stores and arcades.

Single metal and plastic NHS crutches supported many of them. Every few metres we had to make way for someone in a disability scooter. The men were mainly dressed in black – thin track suit trousers and cotton hoodies. The women waddled along in brightly coloured anoraks, drip-dry trousers and tacky trainers. There was a strong smell of old cooking oil, skunk weed and cheap bubblegum perfume.

I admit I hadn't been out of London much, so was easily shocked. I’d only ever really been to literary festivals in places like Hay, Halifax, Edinburgh or Chichester. I had no idea about places like Skegness. As we settled down in a little bakery café, I told Janet as much.

Janet was immediately keen to meet me as a fellow writer. She told me she was writing a biography of Ted Lewis.

‘He’s a crime writer from these parts. Maybe you’ve ‘eard of him. He wrote t’ book that the film ‘Get Carter’ was based on – wi’ Michael Caine.’

‘Oh yes?’

I pretended not to know.

“A load o’ people ‘member tha’ film as set in Newcastle, but th’ book, it all ‘appens in Lincolnshire – in and ‘round Scunthorpe. An’ th' old brickworks on’t estuary. Not so many folk know that.”

“Yes,’ I said.

I changed my mind.

“I did know that,” I said.

“D H Lawrence used to ‘oliday ‘ere. As a child. I can show you the ‘ouse if you like. It’s still there.”

It took a while to get around to the business of Chris. Janet wanted to play her cards somewhat close to her sadly flat chest. This was obviously a big story for her – an exclusive that she could sell to the nationals maybe, and now she had Chris’s sister on the hook too.

“How did you find him?” I asked.

“I was walking out Wainfleet way, checking up on’t storm damage and I see ‘im just out of Jones’s Arcade. I knew who he was. Straight ‘way. I used to be a Fuggers fan when I were younger.”

I looked at her unconvinced. Could 80s punk so easily turn into 90s nerd? Chris would be sad about that.

“I watched ‘im go down the street and go in t’ouse. He ‘ad a key so ‘e was livin’ there. Or rentin’. And then I checked up th’ address. In’t phone book.”

“And you went to the police.”

‘E’s a missing person, so that’s th’ way we do it. I tell ‘em what I know and then they do me a favour. Let me know, like, when they've got summat.

“You scratch my back…”

“’Xactly.”

She took a long slurp on her tea and stared down at her half-eaten bun. What they'd got was me.

“So…?” I asked.

“Well, they visited th’ property two days ago. Then, course they called you. And yer mum.”

“Yes.”

“An’ then they told me -  they give you me name, so I waited. Til you phoned. That way I could get the whole story in one go.”

Another slurp.

“I mean it’s not like anyone else round ‘ere is chasin’ it. My editor wants me on robberies and all th’ accidents at the holiday park – CS gas attacks now, y'know, not just knives. She don’t wan’ me chasing after the likes of 'im. Sorry I dont mean to be rude. But I already know th’ Mirror will tek it. They want photos tho.”

This one wasn’t quite as dumb and regional as she looked.

“Well, if you take me there and Chris is OK, then maybe we can come to some arrangement.”

I looked at my watch meaningfully.

“It is getting on. Should we go?”

“Oh nah,” she said, with a look like I was stupid. She’d decided I was stupid. A stupid southerner. “We can’t go ‘til Monday mornin’. I’ve got family t’ see to.”

‘Oh, but I wouldn’t have come now if I didn’t think…” I trailed off as I looked into her mottled nerdy face, smudged with cheap foundation and blusher. I decided to be business-like rather than angry.

“Perhaps I could go on my own and we could meet up again on Monday.”

“Oh no. No. I can’t do that. I can’t give you th; address. That would be unethical.”

“I’ll just go to the police then.”

“Oh no. No. They can’t 'elp you. Like I said, I did them a favour…”

Now I was angry.

“So you’re withholding the whereabouts of my brother so you can break the story when you feel like it?”

“Now calm down Ms Shure. There's a way of doin' things round 'ere. And I din’t ask you t’ come ‘ere. It’s you what called me, weren’t it?"

"Yes. OK"

"And it’s the weeken’. I’ve got a family to go to. ‘Sides, we’ll get better pictures on Monday – with you and ‘im together I mean. Don’t look like e’s goin’ anywhere.”

“And what am I supposed to do til then?”

“Well, where you stayin’?”

“A hotel. On somewhere called Scarborough Avenue.”

“Ah you’re right in town. Loads goin’ on. There’s the arcades, the cinema. Happy hour in the pubs. And Natureland’s open. There’s an oilspill lately so they’re cleanin’ up a load o’ seals and birds an’ that.”

She could see I wasn’t happy. She didn’t care.

“There’s some rare bird been sighted down at Gibraltar Point. A Slavonian Grebe. My colleague got the short straw on coverin’ tha’ one. You could go down there. It’s nice down there. If th' storms ‘aven’t messed it up.”

‘What time do you want to meet on Monday,” I asked briskly.

“I’m happy with bright an' early. Nine o clock?”

She started putting on her coat and grabbing her bag from the floor.

“If you get to where the big Spa is on Roman Bank, opposite the campsite. You’re more or less Wainfleet way. You can get the bus from the parade. Driver knows where ‘tis.”

One final slurp of the tea. The last glob of bun in the gob, and she was off. Without paying.

I was alone. Alone in Skegness.

==

Towerskeg
I didn’t fancy going to my B& B immediately. I suppose I felt I had a writer’s duty to take the place in. Down near the clocktower was a building site: mini-diggers, heaps of sand, stacks of road bricks, row upon row of bollards. Some kind of park or gardens was being built with a pile of off-colour rocks piled up in the middle of it. Posters on boards explained how jolly and wonderful it was going to be in the summer.

A sign read: ‘This way… our watery world of Pirate adventure awaits’. The walled-up Pleasure Beach had been put into hibernation. Water had been drained from the scuffed water flume. Neon signs had letters missing:

TOW_R

O_D R__ER

_OWL_NG

The swing seats of the merry-go-round shivered to-and-fro in the sea breeze, as if a dozen small ghost-kids had just finished their go.

I mooched along the parade. All the shoppers from the high street had gone home. What was left were gaggles of lads and old gits. One pissed up loon on the other side of road shouted out to me – “WELCOME TO SKEGGY, LASS. IT'S FUCKIN' TOP 'ERE! And then he pulled down his shell suit trousers and pants and waved his dick at me.

A few hundred metres down the road a couple other lads were even more direct and asked me if I wanted to go back to their chalet and blow them off. “We’ve got vodka,” one of them said.  I told them to fuck off. They told me I was an uptight bitch. Of course I am. I’m thirty fucking six you little wankers!

I decided I might be safer in a pub and tucked myself into a corner of the Jolly Sailor, nursing a lager. An old man came and sat down next to me with a pint of John Smiths. He asked me if I was from round here, and I said no. He told me he’d lived here all his life and started to list all the changes. About ten minutes in he put his hand on my thigh and leaned in. “Don’t suppose you could gofer an old man like me, could yer?”

I spent the rest of the evening in my room at the B&B. Through the grubby window I could see a pigeon perched on a sill that was thick with the dirt and shit of decades. The bird puffed its chest up, cocked its head to one side, gave me the eye and pumped out a macho coo-coo, coo-coo-fuck-me-coo.

Was nowhere safe?

==

In the morning I awoke to water dripping onto the carpet by the bed, leaking steadily from the blood red fire alarm fitting on the ceiling.

I needed to get out. I thought of Chris doing the same. Getting out. Walking.  In reception there were brochures with a map of the coastal path. Wainfleet was marked on it. If Janet could bump into Chris, then maybe so could I.

There was light drizzle as I set out. It became thick rain, driven by a sharp wind, as I got nearer the sea. I scuttled between the pier and the pleasure beach to the coast and turned north. The wind and rain battered my right side.  The sea woosh-ooosh-shushed incessantly, the under-milked tea brown water churned up into breakers that became the colour of a sick man’s urine and then frothed wildly onto the vast expanse of dirty sand.

A few feisty dogs sprinted gaily across the wide space. Owners looked on mutely in their stuffed anoraks. I stuck to the concreted promenade, but the concrete quickly disappeared under an inundation of sand, blown against the sea defences in the storms and stacked up into hard-to-traverse dunes. I trudged on gamely with an increasingly damp and grainy itch in my shoes. My back hurt. My hands were cold. A sign for the golf course warned of flying golf balls that might ‘render you liable to suffer serious injury’.

Tatooskeg
Every few hundred metres a sign pointed me inland towards a bar or an arcade or a tattoo parlour. On the path railings I noticed  a bunch of fake flowers secured with tough zip ties. A drowning maybe? Daddy has once told me unwanted dead babies were regularly found  on the beach when he was a kid, before the war. He also talked of a day when a boat-load of grapefruits washed ashore. All I could see were dog turds and cans.

Not much farther on there were several more bunches of fake flowers, this time with plastic holders engraved with messages to a darling mother, a much-missed brother, beloved grandpa. The number of bunches kept growing as I progressed, bunch after bunch after bunch, death after death. The caravan park dead. The mighty many-numbered caravan park cowered behind the sea defence, watched over by a giant knot of curvy curly multicoloured tubular big dippers.

I got as far as the Jones Arcade that Janet had mentioned, and I sat in the café for a while with a disgusting coffee and a sickly flapjack. I sited myself as close as I could to the two women working behind the counter, hoping to avoid another groping incident. A man playing the penny falls next door leered at me through the glass partition. I sat there for as long as I could bear the bleepy bloopy kakakakakakakaka cacophony of the arcade machines, all the time hoping that Chris would shuffle past. He never did.

When I got back to town, I was too afraid to eat out or walk down the streets, so instead I bought a ticket for the local cinema. I thought maybe ‘Trainspotting’ would be on. I’d read the book and liked it, even though I didn’t think it was really for people like me. I thought I might get an insight into what twenty-somethings were into – what the future was going to look like. But Trainspotting hadn’t made it as far as the Skegness Tower Cinema. Instead, it was the new Scorsese. De Niro as a gangster as usual. Joe Pesci as his psychotic pal again. And an unhinged liability for a girlfriend - Sharon Stone playing a drunk cocaine-addicted harridan. I spent the whole film wondering what the fuck was wrong with men, and dreading the thought that some bloke might try and sit next to me.

When I got back to my B&B the randy pigeon was waiting for me.

==

Houseskeg
As Janet had promised, the meeting place wasn’t hard to find. The bus stopped outside yet another giant drinking barn. On the other side was a Spa supermarket and yet another giant fish and chip shop called ‘The LingerLonger’.

A long wide avenue of low-rise houses forked off the main road and stretched out down to the sea. They must have been the last solid homes built before the blizzard of caravans and chalets arrived. I waited in the drizzle for about ten minutes before a cream-coloured Mini turned into the avenue and parked badly. It had not occurred to Janet to give me a lift. I crossed over the road to meet her. She ignored me and leaned into the back of her car to gather up her mini-recorder, a notebook, a bag and a coat.

“Hello!”

She pretended to be surprised.

“Oh! Morning!”

I waited for an apology for lateness. She waited for me to say something, anything.

“So shall we go?”

It felt like I was being shown a house for sale by a disorganised estate agent.

We passed a house that was advertising Sunday Roast Dinners for five pounds. Another had a trailer outside with a phone number on it for ordering Peggies Pies. A man, a woman and a teenager all dressed in Skegness black sportswear got out of an old Vauxhall and shambled into a residential care home, the man holding a cake box. The home had a damp mossy wooden bench outside it, three chipped gnomes a bucket of plastic daffodils. At the end of the avenue in the distance I could see the flickering neon blue and red strip lights of the Jones Arcade I’d visited the day before.

At the junction of a side road marked ‘For Residents Only’ stood a detached house, rendered in grey.

“So have the police been already?” I asked.

“Not sure I know,” said Janet sullenly.

“But shouldn’t we wait for them…? … In case there’s anything… illegal …?”

Janet stopped walking and looked at me quizzically.

“Can I tell you… Isabelle, is it alright if I call you Isabelle? … at the police station they have a notice a’ th’ front desk and it says - ‘All targets met. All customers satisfied. All pigs fed and ready to fly’. Some of ‘em down there wear Mickey Mouse tie pins for a laff. D’you see what I’m saying?”

“Oh,” I said in as meek a tone as I could muster. There was no getting around or indeed through Janet. My respect for her as a journalist creaked up a little. She was going to milk this for as much as it was worth and keep the local cops firmly in her pocket.

Janet strode up to the front door of the grey house and rang the doorbell. It played ‘Easter Parade’ in the same synthetic electronic tone that all the arcade machines were programmed with. A few moments later the door opened and a middle aged woman with badly hennaed hair, a white sweater and black slacks appeared.

“Yes me duck?”

“Oh hiya. I’m Janet Scott from the local newspaper. Is this Mrs Hayter’s house?”

Who the hell was Mrs Hayter?

“Oh aye. What you want her for?”

“It’s about her grandson Christopher.”

WHAT?!

“Oh bless me I dint even know she ‘ad a gran’son! Is he alright? It’s not bad news, is it?”

GRANDSON?!

“Oh no not at all.”

WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS GOING ON?

“Well you better come in. I’m Ellen, by the way. I’m ‘er negithbour. I jus; like t’ look in on ‘er in th’ mornings, jus’ ter mek sure she’s ok.”

“This is Ms Shure. Isabelle. Mrs Hayter’s granddaughter.”

Janet looked at me, all pleased with herself. She’d kept her secrets well. Got me to the door. Now she could have her story. The photos. The whole thing.

“Is it now? Well delighted I’m sure. Come in, come in. Doris! Doris! There’s people here to see yer.”

I wasn’t sure I could move my legs. My ears and brain were still trying to process what was happening. Grandson, Grandaughter. Mrs Hayter. I could feel my face flushing red. All that time sitting in the high street bakery watching Janet scoff the bun – that  I paid for  - and she’d kept it from me. No mention of a Mrs Hayter. No mention of a grandmother. Did she think I already knew? Perhaps she’d thought I was playing my cards very close to my ample bosom, not letting on that I knew all about grandmother’s house.

But if that had been true why would I waste my time with her? Why wouldn’t I go straight there and find Chris? Or maybe she thought I knew about a grandmother, but didn’t know her address. Yes, maybe that’s what she thought. She probably had some judgemental idea about how show business families treat each other, or maybe she was just trying to make sure she stayed in the game and could get her exclusive – the tale of the two little kids heading into the great north wood in search of grandmother’s house. A family re-united after the death of Peter Shure. Why did everyone want to make a story out of all this. Why did I want to make a story out of all this? Why was I here?

“Are you coming in or not, luv?”