Welcome to the Sunday blog! Unbelievably, we have finally come to the end of the questions I asked people to send me during my Christmas competition. I’d like to thank everyone who’s helped this blog become a much more active and fun place to be this year, and I’ll try to keep it going. We’re not quite finished with the “meet the characters” series, though – I’m happy to say I have had a couple of email queries for future editions, so watch this space.
Now I’ll hand you over to Aaron from Life After Joe, and CT Green, who said she’d like to meet him, because…
…he was such a calm, but incredibly charismatic character – the line about it not making the pain go away…oh, that just gets me every time! Plus this was the first of your books I read, so it’s a sentimental favourite. ❤
Aaron: Strange place to bring you for a chat, but I often come out here at lunchtime for a break and to get some perspective. This is the Grey Croft stone circle, and if you look that way – over the earth bank they built a while back to shield the old stones, or maybe to shield the monsters of the modern world from their mystical influence – you’ll see Sellafield nuclear power station. It’s not easy to visit this place nowadays. The land is private, and power-plant security increasingly touchy: some poor guy was trying to fly a drone across the circle to get some aerial shots, and they had him in the holding cells at Carlisle police station before he could prove he was an archaeologist looking for crop marks. I got involved in that ruckus, actually – the guy and his partner had stopped to talk to me before they started work, and I phoned a mate of mine who’d used to do security on the oil rigs and is now a sergeant on the Cumbria force. Told him I was pretty sure the guys they’d hauled off were legit, and I didn’t want anyone accidentally getting shipped off to G-Bay, or whatever they do with suspected terrorists these days. My friend told me I could relax: the archaeologist turned out to be some high-level prof at Salisbury University, and had clearly been arrested by far bigger things than the Sellafield squad. As for his friend, he was going head-to-head with the military police like a true pro, so I probably needn’t have worried.
My Matthew loved that story. I don’t get to bring many exciting tales home from work. “Hey, Matt, today we managed to synthesise a five-stage polymer link!” Doesn’t really compete with the stories of life and death he could tell. But the thing is that he doesn’t, not as a rule. He’ll come in like the east wind blew him, throw his coat onto a chair, grab me for a rib-creaking hug, then pour us both a drink and sit down at our kitchen table, genuinely enthralled to hear the latest from the front-line of radioactive-material containment research. I work at Seascale Reprocessing now, battling it out to beat the deadlines on the old underground tanks, which will decay to the point of leakage approximately twelve thousand years before their clicking-hot contents cool off. It sounds exciting – or terrifying, depending on your outlook – but the details of it, the chemistry and molecule-by-molecule advances, ought to be boring as hell to an outsider. But Matt rests his chin on his hand and listens as if his own life depended on it, not the lives of future generations.
Sometimes, if we’ve gone out for a walk in the fields after dinner, he’ll tell me a story in return. It might be something very good, a cancer remission, a kid waking up from a coma after a car crash. Far less often, something terrible. Between one drystone wall and the next, across a stretch of beautiful northlands moors, he’ll tell me, usually with his coat collar turned up, his hands pushed into his pockets, fixing his attention on the turf.
I’m always so bloody grateful when he does talk. About the bad stuff, I mean. Would he have been different if Joe had never left him, if he’d never had his fight with drugs and booze? Stupid question – of course he would. All our experiences change and affect us. But with my poor Matt, the transformation was radical, deadly, marrow deep. I was at his side for the long process of his rebuild. I don’t say recovery because he never does; he never makes that fundamental error. He can never drown his bad days in alcohol again. The man who rebuilt himself out of his own wreckage knows that, and instead – eventually – shyly, as if we hadn’t been lovers for years – he drowns himself in me.
I took a big chance, telling him what I did from the high moral ground of my bar stool in the Powerhouse on that first night. He might have walked away from me forever. I thought he had, when he stumbled off straight into the arms of his spiky-haired nemesis from Scotswood and gave us all that memorable floor-show. I suppose, technically speaking, he kept walking after that – across the city, into the underpass, and I’m not sure what would’ve happened if the Parfitt lads hadn’t interrupted his progress home. If – thugs as they were – they hadn’t given me the priceless opportunity to catch him up. The beauty about Matt, though, is that even when he’s on the run, he keeps thinking. No wonder he makes such a good doctor, rushing between other people’s crises, always alert! Wasted as he was that Powerhouse night, he’d turned over my one line of unsolicited advice – this won’t take the pain away – and instead of running on, or maybe punching me in the mouth for being a self-righteous prick, he let me walk him home.
Well, it’s the end of my lunch hour, and my polymers await. It’s been a pleasure meeting you here up among the old stones, CT. Thank you for coming and listening to me.
Harper: Thanks for that great conversation springboard, CT!