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UKIP biggest losers in latest Ashcroft poll

9 April, 2015 0 Comments

Is the ride over for UKIP?

UKIP lose out to the big two, Labour are on the up and nothing to cheer the Lib Dems in poll of Conservative marginals

Is the ride over for UKIP? Voters in Blackpool have certainly been having second thoughts. Just six months ago Nigel Farage’s party were riding high, polling 24% but… See the full article at The News Hub.

Benedict Cumberbatch Profile

1 April, 2015 0 Comments
SpotCumber

Man of the Moment – Benedict Cumberbatch profiled in http://www.spotlight-online.de/

My profile of Benedict Cumberbatch appears in the April 2015 edition of Spotlight magazine. The first two pages can be seen at http://bit.ly/SpotCumber.

 

Abbey Brass at the Brass Band Championships 2015

27 March, 2015 0 Comments

Shaky start from Abbey but recovers well and soon settles nicely. Slow movements flow nicely with good cornet and euphonium sounds. Strong start to the last movement with a well chosen tempo and good build up to the close. Another brave effort.

4barsrest

stevenage2015_1On Sunday 22nd March Abbey Brass went to the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage Arts and Leisure Centre to contest against 21 other 4th Section bands in the London and Southern Counties Region National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain.

The coach contingent set off early from Rye Farm car park on an ever brightening Spring morning, arriving shortly before 10. According to my iPhone app, the coach hummed at a fairly steady G (that’s C for the B flats!) for much of the journey.

The draw for the order of play took place shortly after we arrived. We were drawn 8th which meant we wouldn’t be required to play the national anthem (a requirement of the whichever band is drawn first) and would be on stage at around 1pm.

stevenage2015_2Shortly before 12.30pm we checked we all had our music, mouthpieces, registration cards  etc and had a final blow through the instruments to get them warmed up.

After a final nerve-settling pep talk from Rob, our conductor, it was our turn to play. The percussion team went on stage first to set up and then we were on.

Before a fairly spartan lunchtime audience we performed the 4th Section test piece An English Pastorale by Dean Jones. The piece begins with a 15 bar fanfare ‘Heralding the dawn’ that leads us into four movements evoking the English seasons. A spirited and playful ‘Autumn on the Plains’ is followed by a desolate ‘Winter in the Dales’. The mood cheers up a little in the third movement when we enter ‘Spring on the Lakes’ and we finish with a burst of hustle, bustle and sunshine with ‘Summer on the Quays’.

The general feeling on leaving the stage was that it had gone well and we had put our best into it. There were moments of hesitancy but it was a generally settled performance from all with some beautiful sounds. We had  a few hours to kill while the remaining bands did their pieces and after lunch some us went to hear the Championship bands performing on a different stage with much better acoustics and comfier seats.

We finished a creditable 15th in our section and here is the full table of results with the other Oxfordshire bands highlighted in green.

Fourth Section
Test Piece: ‘An English Pastorale’- Dean Jones
Sunday 22nd March

Adjudicators: Nick Garman & David Hirst

1. City of Norwich (Aandrew Craze)*
2. Castleton Brass (Peter Ryan)*
3. East Coast Brass (Paul Speed)*
4. Watford Band (Ian Graves)
5. North London Brass (Patrick Dodds)
6. Tadley Concert Brass (Paul Chapman)
7. Letchworth Garden City (Tim Welch)
8. Woodbridge Excelsior (Chris Lewis-Garnham)
9. Brighton & Hove City (Matthew Hackett)
10. Crystal Palace (Michael Gray)
11. Bradwell Silver (Brian Keech)
12. Snowdown Colliery (Christer Aberg)
13. Wantage Academy (Nikki Jones)
14. Godalming (James Haigh)
15. Abbey Brass (Abingdon) (Rob Tompkins)
16. Cottenham Brass (P. Mackley)
17. Witney Town (Rhys Owens)
18. Hadstock Silver (Lisa Jardine-Wright)
19. Royston Townd (Steve Earley)
20. Bletchington Silver (S. Barwick)
21. Ampthill Town (Chris Benger)
22. Marsh Gibbon Silver (Andrew Allcock)

Eclipse2015

20 March, 2015 0 Comments

eclipse7There was a very good turnout this morning for Abingdon Astronomical Society’s assisted viewing of the partial solar eclipse in the Abbey Meadows.

eclipse3Overcast skies threatened to put the dampers on the event but the clouds thinned out and even a little bit of blue came our way.

The crowd swelled as the 9.30am maximum coverage approached and the Society ran out of the safety spectacles they had been lending out. This didn’t seem to dampen spirits and the glasses were happily shared.

eclipse2The Society had brought along a range of telescopes including a fitted with one metalised glass filter that reduced the intensity of the sun’s rays by one hundred thousand and a portable solar projection device for people to get a better or different view of the eclipse.

Lots of press were in attendance, including a film crew from ITV, BBC Radio Oxford, the Oxfordshire Guardian and the Abingdon Blog

The Oxfordshire Guardian have produced an excellent video of the occasion.

You can an ITV Meridian news report on the event here.

Losing The Buzz

15 March, 2015 0 Comments

There’s a regular buzz against my thigh from the phone in my trouser pocket. Maybe it’s a text or maybe or a tweet or perhaps I’ve got a message on Skype. It’s hard not to check them all. Sometimes it’ worth fishing the phone out to check but mostly it isn’t. Sometimes there’s nothing there – no text, no tweet, no message. And sometimes there’s a buzz against my thigh and my phone isn’t even in my pocket. It’s like the ants that I spot but which aren’t when we have a summer of ant invasions. They’re the same as the real ants except that when I look more closely, they simply aren’t there. It’s just that my brain has become so obsessed with spotting ants that it jumps the gun at every crumb or speck of dirt. And now my brain is detecting buzzes against my thigh are simply phantoms, like an amputee feeling pain in a missing limb.

After a period of driving with my SatNav I find I continue to check the empty space in the centre of the dashboard where the SatNav even after I have stowed it away in the glove compartment. My brain has become used to this additional source of information and is still seeking it out even when it’s not there.

I can’t remember the name of the first video game that I played obsessively but it was something very similar to space invaders. An armada of alien ships descending from above. They had to be zapped fast before they blasted away my three lives or reached the earth. At night, the aliens descended still, in a never ending stream, blasting away at my attempts to get to sleep. Tracking screen aliens had let them into my head and my drowsing brain wouldn’t let them out again.

I’m not troubled by aliens these days but that reverse screen burn still eats into my head. Checking for the last email, tweet, news update before going to sleep has proved just as disturbing as the aliens. Sometimes I’ll be checking again if awake in the night. Inevitably I reach out for my phone first thing in the morning.

There’s a dark side to digital. It sucks at the soul like Faust’s devil. So much is offered, so much is given. But there’s always a price, there’s a price for everything. Maybe we are all beginning to understand this now, but it’s an industry that makes such riches and provides such wondrous tools that nobody is keen to examine the dark side too closely. Like not thinking hard about the environmental and human costs of assembling our devices, we don’t want to consider too carefully what digital tech could be doing to us mentally and socially.

I now leave my phone downstairs to charge overnight. It’s a wrench, but only by putting it well beyond reach can I make it let go of me. I’ve begun to think about the possibility of moving to something a little less smart. I really don’t know if I can do that, whether I can really lose the buzz. And what about the Apple Watch? That scares me indeed.

Bay of Biscay

13 March, 2015 0 Comments

First published in the October 2013 issue of Spotlight

He had been sleeping lightly for the past hour or two, his troubled mind rocked by the constant throbbing of the boat’s engine. Yawning, he looked at the illuminated dial of the big watch he always wore when sailing — the one she had given him for his 30th birthday. It told him it was now nearly 3 a.m. He got up slowly and felt the salty breeze on his face. The wind had picked up while he had been sleeping, and there was enough now to fill the sails, even if the direction was not ideal. He turned off the auto – pilot and the motor for the first time since the previous evening and set the sails.

Once he was satisfied that the yacht was more or less on course, he looked across from the softly lit compass to the blackness straight ahead. He picked out a pattern of stars that he could focus on. By making sure the prow was lined up with these stars, he would keep the little boat heading in the right direction, his steadying hands on the wheel.

Was this little group of stars a constellation? Perhaps, but not one he recognized. She would have known, of course. She knew everything about the sun, the planets and the stars, about the world and how it all fitted together. But she wasn’t here. He thought about the stars and what lay between him and them. Nothing more than a thin wisp of gas that clung to the rock and water of the earth — like mist across fields on a summer morning, ready to be burned away by the sun. After that, there was nothing but the loneliness of infinite space and scattered dust.

The lump that he felt in his throat made it hard for him to breathe. The stars blurred for a moment, and he blinked several times. The sails suddenly fluttered as the boat drifted briefly, until he turned the wheel hard to port, bringing the yacht back on course.

Where was he travelling to in this little boat? Somewhere that held memories, or somewhere that would hold nothing to remind him? Was it even important, just as long as he kept on moving?

Under his feet, the wood and fibreglass boat moaned. This was a strong pocket cruiser that could comfortably sleep a crew of four, a little family yacht for holidays and adventure. But the four berths lay empty, and he felt as if he were the only living creature breathing the cool air.

He looked at the horizon. Apart from the stars, there were no lights in any direction, no friends in the night in this dark bowl of ocean.

Below the boat, the rolling waters carried on down to the earth’s crust.

This was the right place for him, this cold emptiness, where he could think about all that had happened.

The deep quiet of his thoughts was broken by a sudden sound, a gently explosive rasp. Had he imagined it? He listened, and there it was again, just off to the side of the little yacht, to his right.

Keeping one hand firmly on the wheel, he moved to the side of the boat and looked down into the darkness of the waters. At first he could see nothing. But there, with the next rasp, came a shower of seawater through the air from a darkness more solid and smooth than the ocean itself. Up ahead was a patch of shining green, a reflection of his starboard light.

Slowly he could make out more of the beautiful living thing that had chosen to join him and keep him company on his journey — bigger than his boat, moving with gentle power at his side.

For the next hour, the great whale matched the speed and direction of the yacht exactly, keeping so close that he was sure he could have leaned out and touched it if he had wanted to.

Each time he looked out across the water, the sight of the whale’s steady presence brought joy to his heart, and he breathed in the cool night air deeply and easily.

Soon after the first light of dawn appeared in the east, washing the darkness from the sea, the whale’s head rose for a moment, as its back arched and the whole of it sank into the depths, the great tail following last.

The wind dropped, and the sails fluttered. He wondered if he would need to start the motor again, but very soon came a more favourable wind than that of the night, and he was on his way. The sails filled grandly as the sun rose, and the little boat moved eastward through the ocean towards the morning.

Wildfire

13 March, 2015 2 Comments

First published in the November 2012 issue of Spotlight

That summer was one of the hottest on record. The country was in the middle of a heatwave, and we hadn’t had any rain for nearly a month. The river was low, and it stank. The ground was bone dry. The newspapers were full of reports of long queues for water, and round the dinner table, grown-ups talked gloomily about the terrible effect it was having on the farmers. It was fantastic!

My friends and I were in our second week of the long, school summer holidays and having the time of our young lives. Sometimes, we played in the streets and gardens, annoying parents and neighbours with our noise and nonsense. More often, we went down into the parched valley and played amongst the trees, running across sun-cracked fields or lazing in the shade or sunshine, depending on our mood.

Most of our wild adventures were imagined. They were harmless games in which we played out the stories we invented as we passed away the long, hot days. Some of our adventures, however, were a little more real, a little more wild, a little more dangerous.

One morning, my Mum had taken me into town for a haircut, so I was late getting to the bridge where we had agreed to meet. When I got there, my friends had already moved on, so I wandered up the path past the rocks, guessing that the others were on their way to the playground. About halfway up, I saw them, two heads moving in the brown grass on the hillside. I charged over and found Ben and Chrissie huddled together round a wisp of white smoke.

Ben was my best friend. He went to the same school as I did and lived just two doors away. He had brought the magnifying glass from the detective’s set he had got for his birthday. He was holding the glass very still, keeping a circle of sunshine tightly focused on a dried blade of grass, while Chrissie, Ben’s cousin, gently blew on the spreading glow.

The glow continued up the blade and sprang into life for just a second. Ben then passed the glass to Chrissie and started tearing up bits of grass to make a small pile. In no time at all, the dry grass was burning. They carried on feeding the flame with more grass until they had a real little fire popping and fizzing between them. Despite the hot sun on my neck, I knelt down beside them and held out my hands to feel the heat better. I took the wrapper off a packet of peppermints I had in my pocket and held it into the flame until it burned briefly — a bright green colour.

Our little fire quickly turned into a black patch, but the friendly flames were now moving to the surrounding ground, and soon an untidy circle of flame began to creep outward, forcing us to skip back a little as it snapped at our feet.

Suddenly, we heard a voice from somewhere below. A man walking his dog on the other side of the river was waving and shouting words we couldn’t catch, while his dog barked crazily. We ran.

We ran up the hill, across the field and past the playground. We climbed over the gate and ran up Pope’s Way and into Shelley Street. We cut through to Brontë Road and heard the wail of a siren approaching fast. Then we quickly sat down on the pavement as though in the middle of a game as the fire engine raced past.

We jumped up and ran after the engine until it came to a stop where the road ended and the steps led down into the valley. Four big-booted firemen in yellow helmets jumped from the engine holding large brushes. They ran down the steps and along the path, we three in hot pursuit. As we chased them, we could see thick, white smoke rising ahead. When we reached the spot, much of the hillside was black and smouldering, while flames continued to cover the rest.

The firemen beat the burning grass with their brushes, and we used green branches wrested from the trees to help. We leaped and danced, hitting at the flames, yelling instructions at one another to help here or run there.

More children had appeared from who knows where, ready to join in, and soon, a second fire crew arrived at the top of the hill and started to spray water on to the scorched earth.

In less than half an hour, the fire was beaten into submission. In the blackened surroundings, we glowed with soot and sweat, our eyes burning, our shoelaces singed and our hearts filled with joy.

One of the firemen approached. “Know anything about this, boys?” he asked.

Eyes wide, we shook our heads.

“Well, thanks for your help, then.”

“No problem. Any time.”

Putting out fires was nearly as much fun as starting them.

The mountain railway

13 March, 2015 0 Comments

First published in the October 2014 issue of Spotlight

Julie blew hard on the whistle and slowly opened the throttle until the big, red steam locomotive began to pull on the ten coaches attached behind.

The engine started slowly, picking up the weight of each coach until the whole train was moving out of the little station.

The coaches were filled with holidaymakers enjoying a journey through the Welsh mountains in the late summer sunshine. The original railway had been closed many years before, but in recent times, volunteers had been rebuilding it bit by bit.

Julie was driving today, using all her care to give the passengers a smooth ride. She had spent every holiday for the past ten years working on the railway. Yesterday, she had sat at a desk in a windowless call centre in Birmingham, answering questions from customers about fridges, cookers and freezers. And now, here she was, under a blue sky, and around her, fields and mountains.

Once out of the station, the train thundered along the narrow track with steam flying from the funnel of the engine.

A mile away, farmer Sam Evans was driving his green tractor across a field. He was thinking about sick cows and low milk prices and how to pay for tractor parts. Not that he wanted to be rich: he just wanted to survive. His family had been running this farm for more than a hundred years.

He stopped to let himself through a gate into the next field, taking care to close the gate again before he drove on. Sam had been up before 5 a.m. for morning milking. He wouldn’t be finished until after 11.30 p.m. “And for what? It’s killing me,” he told the empty field.

As the train made its way through the hills and valleys between Porthmadog and Caernarfon, there were many places where roads, footpaths and farm tracks crossed the line. Even though this was a newly reopened stretch of the railway, Julie knew the exact location of every crossing, and at each one, she would blow the whistle to warn of the train’s approach.

Sam Evans drove his tractor across the next field. He was thinking about bank managers and high interest rates. He was thinking about arguments with his wife and his father. The mountains towered over him, and he felt their weight pushing down on him.

Sam’s tractor was a John Deere 2355, built in Mannheim in 1997. Not quite six metres long, it weighed a little under three tonnes.

Julie’s locomotive was a Garratt NGG16, built in Manchester in 1958 for South African Railways. Nearly 15 metres long, it weighed 62 tonnes.

Julie blew the whistle as her train came to a level crossing. When it passed, a little boy waved to her from a waiting car.

The tractor slowly crossed another field.

The train rattled across an iron bridge and into a bend.

The tractor moved towards a gate.

As the train came round the long curve, Julie saw the little, green tractor moving towards the crossing. It would stop in a moment or two. The driver would jump out, ready to open the gate once the train had safely passed.

Sam was deep in thought. Maybe it was time to make a change. When you find at the end of the year you’ve lost money again, it must be time to think about alternatives. He drove the tractor towards the gate he had opened earlier that morning. He hadn’t closed this one. There were no cows or sheep in this field or the next. He stared ahead, thinking of what he would do if he sold the farm. What would his father think? What would his wife say? The nose of the tractor rose up slightly as it moved on to the railway track.

Julie’s heart leapt into her mouth, and she pulled the emergency brake, bracing herself for the impact.

The train began its long screech to a halt, and Sam looked round at the terrible noise. He stared in horror at the engine. His mouth opened wide. His arms and legs froze. Black smoke filled the air, and as the engine roared in his ears, the two machines slid past each other.

When the train stopped many long seconds later, Julie slowly opened her eyes. She climbed down from the engine and ran past the carriages of stunned passengers. The tractor stood in one piece in the next field, its driver leaning out of his cab. It seemed he was being sick. “That was close,” thought Julie. “Well, no harm done,” she called to the passengers in a shaky voice. “Best be on our way.”

Sam sat back in his cab, his eyes closed and his hands trembling. “Yes. It’s definitely time for a change,” he told himself.

The break-in

13 March, 2015 0 Comments

First published in the September 2014 issue of Spotlight

Josh and Kieran sat in Mr Watkins’s back garden eating tomatoes. Neither of them really liked tomatoes, but these were stolen tomatoes from Mr Watkins’s greenhouse, so they were delicious. The high wooden fence hid them from the neighbours.

Mr Watkins was away again — gone to stay with his daughter in Leeds, Josh’s mum had said. They had seen him being helped to the car by his daughter, his sonin- law drumming impatiently on the steering wheel, and the grandchildren fighting in the back.

“We should get my ball back,” said Josh. “The one that landed in his roses.”

“What about my ball? And Liam’s?”

“Yeah, and Dan’s plane. I bet he’s got loads of things in there that he’s taken off kids over the years.”

“Yeah, loads,” said Kieran.

“Charlie reckons Mr Watkins used to be a bank robber and that he’s got loads of stolen money and jewels and stuff hidden in his house,” said Josh. Charlie was Josh’s big brother, almost a grown-up now.

“That’s rubbish. He’s having you on,” said Kieran.

“You saying my brother’s a liar?” said Josh and threw half a tomato at Kieran.

They scuffled for a few moments, before Josh said, “Let’s get my ball back.”

“How?” asked Kieran.

“We walk in and look for it,” said Josh, “and when we find it, we take it. It’s not stealing. It’s my ball. It’s my United one.”

“But even if it’s your ball, that’s burglary,” said Kieran. “We can’t just break into Mr Watkins’s house.”

“We don’t break in, we just walk in through the door. He always leaves a set of keys with my mum in case of emergencies. She’s put them in the cupboard in the kitchen.”

“What kind of emergencies?”

“How should I know? Hang on a minute.”

Josh peered over the garden fence before quickly climbing over and disappearing from view. Minutes later, he was back, holding a set of keys tightly in his fist.

It was strange walking into somebody else’s empty house. It wasn’t a nice feeling at all. “I don’t like this,” said Kieran. “Let’s forget about the stupid ball. You’ve got another one.”

Josh wanted to change his mind as well, but he wished to prove he was braver than Kieran. He liked to think of himself as the leader of their gang of two. “Don’t be a baby. What’s there to be afraid of? All the curtains are closed. Nobody can see us.”

They walked quietly through the darkened downstairs rooms, looking in cupboards and under furniture. “Got it!” cried Kieran. There it was, in a basket by the door, together with half a dozen other balls of different shapes and sizes.

“Great,” said Josh, grabbing it from Kieran. “Let’s look upstairs.”

“What for?” asked Kieran.

“For the jewels and things,” replied Josh.

“Let’s just leave it, can’t we?” But Josh was already halfway up the stairs, so Kieran followed, joining him at the top.

Josh pushed open the door to a dimly lit bedroom. There were cupboards along two walls and boxes piled up between the bed and the window. More boxes, bags and cases could be seen sticking out from under the bed.

Josh knelt down to pull at the handle of an importantlooking briefcase stuck between a cardboard box and a carrier bag. Kieran began to open cupboard doors.

“Bloody hell!” said Josh.

“Wow!” said Kieran.

Each looked around to see what the other had found. In the cupboard shone trophies, cups, shields and medals, all carefully arranged on two shelves.

“This is an FA cup-winner’s medal,” said Kieran.

“And look at this,” said Josh, waving the newspaper cutting he had picked from the pile that lay in the box. “John Watkins, scoring the winning goal for United in the 1948 Cup Final.”

“What? Mr Watkins played for United? Wow! Does that mean he’s really rich? Why does he live round here and not in a big, posh house?” asked Kieran.

“No, Charlie says footballers weren’t all rich in the old days. They just got paid normal wages like everyone else. Look, what do you think?” He placed his United football up on the shelf between two trophies. “Looks great, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, great!”

“What’s that?” Josh rushed to the window to peer through the curtains. “It’s Mr Watkins. He’s back! Run!”

After quickly shutting the cupboard and pushing the briefcase back under the bed, the boys ran down the stairs, through the house and out of the back door, locking it behind them before jumping over the fence.

Once they felt themselves safe, they collapsed in a breathless heap.

“Where’s your ball?” asked Kieran.

“It’s still in there,” replied Josh, “where it belongs.”

Summer floods

13 March, 2015 0 Comments

First published in the June 2013 issue of Spotlight

Earlier that day, Guy had walked across the bridge after buying his morning paper. He had seen how the river had begun to cover the meadow, making it more of an adventure than usual for the morning dog-walkers. Since then, the rain had fallen steadily on to the soaked earth, filling fields and lower-lying lanes. It had now stopped, but the river was still rising by the hour. After lunch, Guy took his camera and walked off to record the life of the town.

At the riverside water park, where the children had laughed and played in the sunshine just weeks earlier, the fountains were now under water. Guy took pictures of teenagers dancing in the deluge. On the bridge, he photographed water lapping at the high banks protecting the old houses clustered around St Helen’s, the spire of which had seen it all before down the centuries.

Heading out of town, Guy turned down a farm path. He looked up as he heard the distinctive mew of the red kites and watched the sky until he saw them: magnificent birds, once a rare sight in this part of the country. Now it was common to see them flying over fields, parks and gardens, looking for easy pickings.

“Like vultures,” thought Guy as he stared at the pair now circling in the sky ahead of him.

Although he was wearing wellington boots, he had not intended to walk far along the flooded lane. Interested to see what had attracted the kites, he made his way carefully, testing the waters ahead for hidden dangers.

At a curve in the lane lay a picnic area. By one of the two wooden tables stood a small, wet dog. It barked when it saw him.

“Where’s your owner?” asked Guy. Further up the flooded lane, in the direction in which the dog was looking, he spotted a movement in the water — a hand in the air, a hat on a head.

Moving as fast as he could, Guy waded towards the man, whose head and shoulders seemed to rise up from the road. The man’s face was the same grey colour as his hat. Only his head, neck and the tops of his shoulders were showing above the open drain he had stepped into. Putting his hands under the old man’s shoulders, Guy tried to pull him up. The man screamed. “My foot! It’s stuck!” he gasped. As Guy fumbled for his phone, it slipped from his wet hand and disappeared into the murky water.

“I’ll be back shortly,” he told the man and set off as fast as he could back up the lane. Reaching its end, he ran across the bridge and shouted to the teenagers still playing around in the water park.

“There’s an old man. He’s going to drown. Phone police, ambulance, fire engine — Rye Lane — now!” As two of the children took out their phones to call, the other three jumped out of the water and ran past Guy. When he returned to the drain, he found the two boys and the girl there. He could see that the old man was in a bad way, and the water had risen up to his neck.

“Hold him,” the girl ordered Guy. He squatted, placing his hands under the man’s arms.

The girl lay down in the water and pushed her right arm into the drain, fishing around, checking the size and shape. Turning her head, she called: “Hold my legs! Pull me up if I struggle.” With this, she moved slowly forward and down into the drain while the stunned boys held on to her feet. Her head and body disappeared into the water until only her shoes were visible, her friends hanging on desperately. After what must have been just seconds, but seemed much longer, her feet jerked and the boys pulled her up.

Gasping, she sat in the water for a moment while the old man moaned quietly. “No good,” she said. “Need to go back down. Hold tight!” With this, she turned and crawled once again into the churning water, the boys only just having time to grab her feet before she disappeared. She seemed to be gone even longer this time, and when her feet jerked again, Guy shouted: “Get her out, for God’s sake!”

They pulled her out. Her face red, she retched, unable to speak. She waved her arms and pointed at the old man, gesturing: “Pull him up! Pull him up!” The boys leapt to help, and together they were able to lift the man from the water just as two firemen arrived, followed by paramedics.

As they took the old man to a waiting ambulance, Guy looked up to the sky again for the circling red kites, but they were nowhere to be seen.

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