“Lowca” by Geoff Stalker
The novel “Lowca” by Geoff Stalker was published in November 2021 by The Choir Press.
It is available from all major online portals including:
In the USA:
It can be delivered throughout the world in a few days through “print on demand”. A reader from Australia wrote that he had asked his daughter in California to buy him a copy for Christmas. It arrived three days later having been printed in Brisbane!
Comments from Readers
“An exceptional and powerful book: I was privileged to read this exceptional book. It powerfully reflects the culture and social heritage of a time and place and is a tribute and acknowledgement to the people of the area, past and present. Geoff Stalker has resurrected this with total vigour and devotion”.
“As a Lowca lass, needless to say I have thoroughly enjoyed your excellent book. Congratulations!
Thank you for giving us summat mair te be reet proud of being frae Lowca marra!”
“I commonly use the peace of the cottage at Cwmystwyth to do my reading and have now had the time to read “Lowca” properly. I am very glad to have it and surprised at how much, despite my different upbringing, to which I can relate. A big change from my recent non-academic fare (John Bunyan and Robert Graves).
I well recall marbled ledgers in my father’s office holding his rating/valuation data for 30 parishes, all entered in beautiful hand in crimson, blue-black and bottle green inks with steel nibbed pens that I was not allowed to use; clearly “Tom” and my father had much in common, both fastidious book- keepers, proud Churchmen and with an uncompromising sense of right and wrong. I recall my first 2B and 6B pencils and again, like Daniel, my first kisses as a gauche schoolboy, seduced by a school- girl slightly older physically but years older emotionally (joining a club of many members I suspect). I recall the societal consequences of the 11-Plus and the pros and cons of leaving my peers/friends for a boys’ boarding school – one consequence of which was that I never found a Miss Wildgoose or a Miss Klein in fact or fantasy and am duly envious. I had my own ghyll called the “crookly brook” (the Slade) but it was a source for pond life study, not the play of light on ditches, and then graduated to quarries and fossils, but both were sources too of muddy feet under clean socks and the odd surreptitious assignment.
We all come to know our parents (as far as one ever knows anyone) over very varied timeframes. My perspective and appreciation of them changed most during university/first job years so I was intrigued/ mildly disappointed as to why you omit Daniel’s years at Sunderland/ Reading and quantum leap to a marriage in the “Troubles”. Do I sense there is a second book (largely unwritten) within chapters 21-25. What I never had was an immersion in a community and perhaps Daniel largely broke with his at Sunderland?
Anyway, you did it all vividly and engagingly. Thank you”.
“A great insight into a West Cumbria mining community in the middle of the 20th century: I’ve got to be honest, I bought this book because I’m a proud West Cumbrian and an alumnus of the secondary school featured in the book. The story of the main character’s development from a young boy in a mining community on the Cumbrian coast to adulthood and life as an artist is a compelling account of life at the time. From the outside the mining communities of the north were hard and tough, which they were, but the book also illustrates that from the inside there was a warmth and great community spirit based around work and sport. Many of the scenes took me back to my youth and I can recommend it to anyone looking for an authentic account of life in a mining village in Cumbria”.
“Great story: As a West Cumbrian, I was able to understand the dialect except for the one word “asser”. I had never heard that one. Great read, typical of the area, unputdownable. Arrived overnight. I hope this author writes more similar books”.
“My son bought me a copy of “Lowca” to read and I am glued to it. I am about half-way. Daniel has just given some twit a severe black eye. Well done! I am loving clever Daniel and his story”.
“I LOVED LOWCA. It is a delightful read, alternately funny, lyrical, outlandish, and alarmingly honest. It paints a vivid picture of a West Cumberland mining town in the 1950s whose striking characters give us all sorts of dialogue, nearly indiscernible local dialect, posh “enunciated” dialogue, kindly, cheeky, salacious….. and then there are the spaces left by so many unspoken words. The beautiful and haunting concluding lines slayed me. Geoff Stalker has created a tender love letter to time and a place, and most poignantly, a person. “Lowca” made me laugh a lot, cry a bit and ponder the mysteries of family dynamics in this distinct cultural context. The book is so compelling and beautiful. I read it while on vacation in the California desert with my son Christopher. He and I would have book club every day. He said talking about “Lowca” with me was like reading it all over again as we discussed the fights, the romance, the rugby, the relationships. It’s a lovely piece of work!”
“I found the book absolutely mesmerising. I found the style and flow to be absolutely excellent, especially for a debut novel (and for someone who still has the bar set at Charles Dickens, I don’t say that lightly). The characterisation was insightful and the visualisation of character and places is powerful. The ride through the rain to Maryport and soggy sandwiches was so haunting and so realistic that I actually shed a few tears! My opinion cannot be typical due to living through those particular times. For me, fact meeting fiction was a collision resulting in a kaleidoscope of emotions. In the early chapters, with the focus on family relationships and experiences, it was compulsive reading creating a warm and gut-wrenching response. When time moved on and Daniel’s world got wider, I started to recognise events, places and people more closely and then the brainstorms started. Sometimes the event was so real that it took me right back to the place, with sounds, smells and feelings all triggered but I would be saying “hang on that’s not right”, and then I would struggle to remember that it was fictionalised experience”.
“A snapshot of a time and way of life now vanished: A well-written and honest account of a man’s journey from childhood to young adulthood. The relationship between father and son is movingly described. Highly recommended”.
“The reader will meet a fascinating family and their precocious and unpredictable son Daniel who grows from a lonely lad searching for his calling to an artist, writer and rugby player who learns to drink deeply from the deep goblet of life’s mysteries. Author Geoff Stalker figuratively paints a canvas rich in details, characters, and experiences. Read this book to learn about the striking portrait on the cover, who it is, who painted it and why”.
“I’ve just finished reading your book and I wanted to thank you for such a well-written and engaging book. I couldn’t put it down. I was impressed by your representation of the West Cumbrian dialect… It was refreshing to read Daniel’s story and I presume it is strongly autobiographical. I liked the way you described the artist’s approach to work and also the detail of the process of drawing and painting. Congratulations on the book. It is a worthy successor to Melvin Bragg’s books about the Cumbrian coalfields”.
I’m glad the book has been so well received. I read it over Christmas and it was unputdownable. Your style is so engaging and you draw the reader into the story. It was, by turns, comic and sad. I was particularly moved by the description of Daniel’s speech at his wedding. I think it stands well alongside ’The Hired Man’ by Melvyn Bragg. I hope you get an award.
“I have just finished your book “Lowca”. It was at the very least a great read. Having raced through it I’ll have to go back to it again, to read at a leisurely pace to savour the stories and the settings. As a West Cumbrian, there’s an obvious link with the book but I could also see so many of the scenes you described in my own life… sitting in my grandparents’ house at Keekle on cold winter days, watching the pipe smoke from my grandad and my uncles’ pipes rising up the chimney, and yes, it did eventually sink down and go up the chimney. It also filled the room so we could all enjoy the “aromatic twist” which all the pipe smokers seemed to enjoy…There is a lot more I could write but that might bore you. Thanks for all the pleasure the book has and will bring to me. It makes me even prouder to be not just a Cumbrian but a West Cumbrian”.
“A vivid account of growing up in a time now lost. An enthralling account of a local young lad growing up in an industrial area of Cumbria. He still manages to observe the beauty of his surroundings, the strengths and weaknesses of the community and the power and influence of his family. A delightful reminder of an often forgotten time”.
“This is a vivid, entertaining and at times genuinely moving series of vignettes telling the story of a young boy growing up and leaving a West Cumberland mining village in the mid-twentieth century. Daniel blunders to a greater awareness of himself and others through difficult, often painful adolescent encounters. Rugby and Art provide metaphors to guide him. There is painterly awareness in the writing; sharp, well-drawn details using a distinctive palette of colours”.
‘’A heart-warming page turner. Wonderful story, a humorous, yet heart-warming story of a young lad’s journey including family support, trials and tribulations in a coal-mining community with adventures and beyond…’’
“Lowca – a gift to the world. I was swept away into a very emotional world of pictorial descriptions, words unsaid, feelings unrealised, outright honesty, and a past history totally foreign to me yet made real by the precision of the details”.
“I have enjoyed thoroughly your book! It is a great read. It brought vividly back to life my own years at Whitehaven Grammar……Very well done, Geoff and many thanks for bringing back and putting into words so clearly, succinctly and with great honesty the years from your West Cumberland life. P.S. Great portrait paintings”.
“What are they talking about? Geoff is one of the Great Rugby Legends of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. He certainly has the attitude of a top notch hooker. And I’ve even seen him play fly half at 10,000 feet above sea level. There are thousands of young men and women who have played rugby because of him”.
“My book arrived, I ordered two, gave one to our Malcolm to read. He has just moved house so not sure if he has started it yet. I am half way through mine, really enjoying how its bringing back loads of childhood memories, like nipping through the ghyll as a short cut, and the rope swing and the den, and the tea party rocks down on number 3 shore and swimming in the dubs.
Lowca was a great place to grow up 😊
“I finished the book last night, and I have to say I really enjoyed it, I found it comforting somehow, to read it late at night before I went to bed when the house was quiet, it took me right back to my childhood in so many ways.
You wrote it with such feeling and honesty that I felt like I knew your dad and you, I have to admit I cried a few times as well, and although you say it’s not an autobiography, it’s a story, I felt like there was a lot of truth in there and that most of those things happened. I remember Lowca and growing up so well and I think it’s wonderful that you put it all down in words on paper for others to read.
I walked through each chapter with you, felt your joy, felt your pain, and the painting on the front cover of your dad is the one you mention at the end of the book, the one you paint just before his death, the last one, when I look at it now after reading the book, I can see exactly how you describe his mood on those last days, and I was moved to tears looking at it, made me think of my dad and how brave they are to accept death when faced with it, you have captured the strong man he was in those brush strokes, you are a very talented painter
This was a great book to read, written with such honesty. It took me back in time. It transported me back to my childhood growing up on Lowca. It’s written so well, I felt the joy, I felt the pain, laughed and cried. Highly commended”.
“I have hugely been enjoying your “Lowca” book: you paint such vivid and believable little scenes. Though frankly bringing Harrow School into it struck me as an implausible intrusion of one of the nastier sides of the outside world. But maybe you were offered a chance to go there? On the basis of great merit, you should have been. What an appalling shame the local media and booksellers are so determined to ignore the book. If there is any justice in this world and the book becomes well known to the wider world, they will regret missing potential scoops. I sometimes wonder if the slightly eccentric Westmorland Gazette is outside the newspaper monopoly. Whilst other Cumbrian local newspapers seem to be engaged in a slimming contest, the WG always manages a fat 100 plus pages. I follow local papers partly because I collect headlines. Typical ones are “Charity shops are killing us” and “There is more to life than your rhubarb.” An irritatingly large number of others of that ilk”.
“I have just finished reading “Lowca”. I was born at Lowca and even though our family moved to Distington shortly after I was born, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. As I read the book I have been transported back in time. I too was confirmed at St. Bridget’s church, I walked down to Howgate, my grandparents had a parlour where the fire was only lit on special occasions. My grandfather had pigeon huts on Meadow View (I wonder if they were the same ones). I could even smell the tar and remember the sound of the steam engines and taste the rice pudding as I was reading. Thank you, Geoff Stalker”.
“I sent “Lowca” to another West Cumbrian pal whose brother still lives there. Bob now has advanced Parkinson’s. His eye-sight is going, so he immediately ordered “Lowca” for his Kindle, so that he could read it. His brother took the book and read large passages to Bob. They were both amazed by how you could produce the vernacular in print. His brother immediately knew what you were talking about, so there are two happy Cumbrians, not a phrase you will often hear. Last night my friend in Penrith rang to say that he had started “Lowca” and can’t put it down”.
“You will be happy to hear that “Lowca” has been my bedside companion for a week or so now. There is something very comforting about a substantial book. I do love the cover and having been to the area I can visualise it all so very strongly. A very, very worthwhile enterprise”.
“Lowca by Geoff Stalker was given to me as a gift. I found it an interesting and emotional window into Daniel’s life, from an impoverished childhood through to adulthood. Emily appears bewildered by this very obviously clever, talented child, whilst she seems frightened by what others would think of her little family throughout Tom’s spell of unemployment. Tom seemingly wonders where this strange child of his had come from, but at the same time he is immensely proud but scared to show the full depth of his love, a tough northern man. Daniel, frightened, cold and wet, walking home in the rainy darkness got to me. Also the way the other children treated him. I felt he was sometimes a lost and lonely little boy until he discovered Art at the side of a wonderful Art teacher and finally it seems Tom and Daniel form a bond over the drawings of Tom after his stroke. I am left wondering what Tom thought of his portrait. A book I can read again and again. It brings the area surrounding Lowca to life. I would love to visit”.
I am almost finished “Lowca”. What a joy it’s been to read. Also brought up in Lowca and went to grammar school just a couple of years after the author”.
“Just managed to find some time to start reading Lowca and enjoying it immensely. The passage relating to the view of the sky over the steelworks reminded me of a painting by Conrad Atkinson, another WCGS old boy, while he was at Carlisle and as you can see is in the Tullie House collection”.
Extracts from Lowca
The Drawing of the Fish
Grandad would fill his pipe and let Daniel light the spill, then hold it steadily. They would both stare intently at the small yellow and blue flame and with half a dozen rhythmic puffs the pipe would be lit. There would be several minutes when they would both sit and watch the smoke set off on its way up to the ceiling before turning down in its path to go up the chimney with the fire smoke.
While his pipe was puffing away, William Carr would tell Daniel the news of the day, whether it be of some altercation outside the Queen’s Head the previous night, or Churchill’s latest mendacity.
‘’The man is senile and has to wear a nappy, he shouldn’t be allowed out into the daylight.’’ Other affairs of state would be related to Daniel as if he were an adult and knew what his great grandfather was talking about. But Grandad talked properly and his voice had a lovely nasal ring to it. Daniel just liked the sound of him talking, and when there was a pause he would think of a question, any question, just to keep him going. He wasn’t trying to be clever but when important national figures were mentioned by name, he would say, ‘’Tell me about Mr Attlee, tell me about Princess Elizabeth, or Stanley Matthews, how far away is London?’’ Keep talking Grandad.
Only when Daniel knew that he had squeezed all the talk out of his grandad that he could, would he reach under his armchair and pull out the roof slate, the six-inch nail and the piece of chalk. This was the signal for ‘’the drawing of the fish.’’
Grandad would dust the slate with the cuff of his shirt, and picking up the nail, he would rapidly draw a fish with one movement. His nail would trace a line from the left of the slate in a fluid arc describing the top of the fish to the right of the slate. A little squiggle would outline the tail before the nail would make the return journey round the bottom of the slate to join the line where it had begun, creating an open mouth for the fish, a kissing mouth or a smiling mouth. A couple of loud scratches would make a fin or two, an eye and perhaps some bubbles coming out of its mouth. This was magic as Daniel understood the word. It was all over in three seconds, and a life like creature was created. And his ancient great grandfather’s hand had moved with the speed and grace of a teenage ballerina. With the chalk Daniel would trace with fat white chalk lines the thin, elegant lines engraved by his grandad’s nail.
‘’Daniel has drawn a fish,’’ Grandad would shout to the kitchen with feigned astonishment, even though he had ‘drawn a fish’ every Wednesday for several months. Soon Daniel was adding scales to the fish and seaweed to the picture. Before long he was drawing the fish himself with the nail and Grandad would draw the seaweed.
Each visit to Distington ended with the ceremony of the hot scones, the melting butter and the gooseberry jam, made from the fruit of the two bushes in the back yard. While the grownups drank hot sweet tea, Daniel drank a glass of ‘’Aneurin Bevan’s orange juice,’’ as Grandad called it with a wink.
Emily and Daniel had to get the service bus back to Howgate, and this entailed a one mile walk down to the beck and up across the valley to the top end of Lowca. ‘’It’ll be two miles for Daniel with his little legs,’’ said Grandma and Grandad from the door. Every time.
The Prodigal Son
When Daniel next went to the library ‘his’ Rembrandt book was there and the painting of the ‘Prodigal Son’ was still on page 203. Why should he have expected that it wouldn’t be?
This time he was armed with not just an HB pencil, but, luxury of luxuries, a 2B and a 6B pencil.
The painting seemed more vivid to him in the weeks since he had made such a bad drawing of it. The kneeling of the son, the all-enveloping embrace of the father, standing, old. Daniel was too afraid of drawing the face of the father and of the head, in profile, of the son. Instead he drew the hands again.
This second time he very consciously paid more attention to the marks of Rembrandt’s brush strokes and the lumps of light paint which defined the knuckles and the sinews in the backs of the hands, and of the thin watery strokes which outlined the fingers and defined the shadows cast on the back of the ‘Prodigal Son’. It was such mundane details which put the hands so close to the surface of the back, the palms so gently pressing.
This was love.
This was love so precisely articulated. Daniel’s drawing had not repeated or recreated Rembrandt’s eloquence, but his drawing had allowed him to see it more clearly.
He didn’t see Rembrandt’s painting as a metaphor for himself and his Dad, it never occurred to him that it should. He didn’t know what a ‘Prodigal’ was, or what the lad had got up to when he was away to warrant such a beautiful forgiveness. Daniel was quite keen to do some ‘prodigalling’ of his own, as soon as he could find out what was involved.
The Concept of Zero
Tom lent Daniel some black indian ink and a good pen to work on his drawing and to work out how to make his marks on the scraperboard. Daniel thought about including a few lumps of coal, ‘flying through the air’, but his skills weren’t up to that.
Daniel took longer than he thought making the scraperboard, but Miss Palmer was delighted.
It looked more like a Constable sketch than a Bewick engraving. However, in his finished scraperboard, he had not included the stench of the cowshit slurry in the beck and he had left out the smell of the tar from the tar plant and coking ovens which were up on the hill, not far behind the trees on the right. Although he included the steaming train and the two men, their dog and the engine driver, Daniel did not include the fountain of coal or evidence that there were five hundredweight of coal being stolen by two very nice men from the village, two friends from Lowca School and their dog ‘Beaut’.
Miss Palmer sent the scraperboard drawing off to her friend at Durham University. When her friend replied she typed out his response and gave it to Daniel. She wanted him to write to him and thank him for his kind praise, but Daniel thought that doing the scraperboard was enough of a kindness.
This triggered a continuing dialogue with Miss Palmer after lessons about the direct and indirect confluence of Mathematics and Art.
Daniel borrowed a book on Mondriaan from the Art Room and showed her his flat colour grid paintings, but he also showed her Mondriaan’s earlier sketches of trees. In these paintings, he didn’t so much draw the trees, but the spaces between the twigs and branches. The ‘negative space’.
Miss Palmer excitedly answered by telling Daniel about the invention of the mathematical concept of ‘zero’, which she described as, ‘’more significant than the invention of the wheel’’.
‘’Where would you cricketers be without ‘ducks’?‘’ she laughed.
She brought Daniel in to a conversation about mathematicians and artists.
About seeing patterns in apparent chaos.
About the poetry of numbers.
About the purity of thought.
That sort of stuff.
‘’Sit down and I’ll get you a cup of tea and the paper,’’ said Daniel.
‘’ Er yer ganna dae a drawin’ ev ‘ez?’’
‘’Can do,’’ said Daniel, surprised.
Tom sat with the paper on his lap, not really reading it. Daniel picked a flat ‘’woodworker’s pencil’’ from the mantelpiece and began drawing. The flatness of the pencil lead guided his hand into straight lines and shallow curves and he soon found a rhythm for the drawing of the droops and the collapsed flesh of his dad’s face.
‘’This is me!’’ said Tom after a while. It was a minute or two later that he completed his sentence with an angry ‘’Fucked.’’
Daniel was well into the drawing before he realised that Tom was ‘posing’. Normally Tom would just get on with what he was doing, watching television, reading, fidgeting with the cast on his wrist, but staying as still as was appropriate for his ‘lad’ to draw him. But here, Tom was staring at Daniel with the gaze of a man saying ‘’Here, draw me like this, this is how I want to be drawn.’’
And Daniel responded. His pencil did not move any quicker than it normally did, but it moved insistently. Daniel had an eraser in his left hand, not to rub out any mistakes and exaggerations but to modulate the rapidly darkening tones of the graphite and to create highlights in the flesh and greyness in the hair.
‘’Ambipedaled.’’ Said Tom.
‘’Bein’ ‘ebble ter kick wid both feet.’’
Daniel just drew. There were no thoughts that this might be his last chance to draw his dying father, or that this drawing would be a preparatory drawing for an oil portrait. It was just another chance to sit and ‘’BE’’ with his dad again in an ordinary, mutually agreeable, activity. Like in his youth.
It Wasn’t Right
Sandra usually made Daniel breakfast in bed, but the next day Daniel was up at six, set the kitchen table for breakfast and was in his studio before Sandra and Rachel were awake. They knew not to disturb him, they showered and dressed downstairs, ate quietly and left for work, and school, in silence.
Daniel didn’t notice them go. He had a canvas primed and ready on his easel. He had traced one of the drawings of Tom into the damp paint. He set about laying a full palette on to an A2 sheet of thick white glass. The careful process of squeezing the paint out of the tube into small turds on to the pure white glass gave Daniel the opportunity to engage with and relearn each individual colour.
All the time he was working on Monday, Daniel thought that he was doing well. He was in a hurry, but he laid down his paint in a careful, methodical manner. He was only working from a line drawing, but he was pleased with the flesh tones. His dad’s life-long sun-tan had faded since his strokes, his skin looked dry now, almost transparent.
By the end of the daylight when Rachel came home from school, Daniel felt that he had built the structure of a good portrait. He happily made a curry dinner while Rachel practised her Mozart in her room. Before he changed out of his painting clothes he went into the studio to tidy up his mess and clean his brushes. It was dark now and the yellow light of the room’s bulbs changed the colours of the painting. He was shocked at how weak it now looked. He knew that it would look better in the daylight of the next morning. He knew that he would be a grumpy arsehole over dinner.
In the morning the painting didn’t look better to Daniel. The memory of seeing it in the yellow artificial light the previous evening haunted the way he looked at it. He was angry with himself and attacked the picture, challenging every mark and brushstroke he had made. The anger brought energy and he tried to use that. He sustained that anger throughout the day and by the time Rachel came home he had an exciting painting. The colouring was vibrant and accurately caught the chalky complexion and the dark shadows of the eyes. The drawing under the paint held the picture together and it did indeed look like Tom.
But it wasn’t right.
So You Did Find God
The studio was stiflingly warm. He had left the fan-heater on all night, but Wednesday’s paint was touch dry. He tidied up his palette and squeezed gobs of fast-drying clear medium into spaces between key colours. He had six new, thin, flat brushes. He pressed his thumb and forefinger round their fibres and began to paint.
There was no order to the making of his marks.
He was just painting.
He did not put right the exaggerations and mistakes of the previous day.
He had new painting to do and he would make new, better, mistakes.
He had shadows to bring to those deep spaces between the nose and the eyes. He had to give new shape to the lid of the left eye. But these were simultaneous acts with the need to repaint the frenum and other unnameable parts of the face and its flesh. Soon the six different colours on his six different brushes had to be cleaned, wiped and reloaded, each new colour to be addressed to its rightful place in the painting. The thousand calculations per minute involving size, shape, tone, colour, degree of transparency, gesture were Daniel’s litany and the music of the movement of his brushes would soon overtake the mathematics of his looking. This was painting. And Daniel trusted in his hands and his eyes and his vision. And in this particular time, he carried the vision of his father. Not his father’s ‘character’. Not his father’s ‘soul’. Just his father, Tom. Just a person reconstructed in paint. Daniel recognised when his brain was operating in top gear, and he knew, after twenty years of painting full-time, that his hands and his eyes understood things which his brain could not grasp, could not believe in, did not have access to. Sometime in the process of the painting of his dad, in the transition from fierce intellectual control of the drawing and the manipulation of the paint, to the surrendering to the authority of his natural gifts, Daniel recognised that he had finished the painting of his father. Something in the arrangement of paint was telling him that he had to stop.
It was only a painting.
It would not change the world or make people’s lives better.
It was just a painting.
It took some time for Daniel to be able to ‘see’ what he had done.
It would be hard for him to separate himself from the making of it. It would be hard for him to accept responsibility for the painting, to take ownership of it, to take pride in it.
He would be very nervous about showing Tom the painting, not because it was an inaccurate portrait or that it did or did not define a very fine man. He was afraid that Tom would recognise that ‘strangeness’ again which so alarmed him when Daniel was a boy. He was even more afraid that the painting had stepped into the realms of ‘spirituality’ and that Tom would say, with a hint of triumphalism in his voice. ’’So, yer did find God efter oah? Eh?’’
Daniel still had lots of technical work to do on the painting, but he was already planning to go on his own to Lowca for a quick visit after the Rugby game on the Saturday. Rachel had orchestra practice on Saturday morning and her Grade 8 violin test was coming up. Sandra’s headship was all-consuming, of her time and of her spirit. Taking the picture to his dad was a personal thing and full of risks. He didn’t want Sandra and Rachel involved in the emotional minefield that was his mam, his dad and his own self. He knew that the painting would drag up forty odd years of intimate family discordance, not because it was a bad painting, but because it was so fiercely good. It would remind Tom and Emily of so much pain. But getting the painting to his dad was still the most urgent thing in Daniel’s life.
The phone call at eight o’ clock on Saturday morning was still a surprise.
‘’He died at two this mornin’.’’
The Blue Biro
It might have been on the following Friday night or the Saturday night that Tom was watching the television from his chair by the side of the fireplace. Daniel got out a sheet of writing paper and a black biro to draw him.
Daniel sat in the chair beside the TV, ‘’Homework,’’ he said, ‘’Just carry on watchen’ t’telly.’’
Tom was used to acting as his son’s unpaid model. Daniel had done dozens of drawings of him. The drawings usually went straight to the bin. This drawing, just of his head, was for Miss Klein and it was quite good. Daniel’s biro ran out of ink half way through and he had to use another one with a thicker point. He was still very pleased with himself.
‘’Who’s that supposed to be?’’ said Emily, when she came back from her bingo. She immediately regretted saying it. It was a very good drawing.
The next morning, Daniel jumped out of bed to look at it. The second biro he had used was blue. It must have looked black in the yellow light of the living room lightbulbs. He couldn’t take it to show Miss Klein. She was gone to America before he could do another.