Secret - 'Everybody's Got To Die Sometime'

October 1962

The World hangs on the precipice of annihilation. Russian weapons on discovered on Cuban soil. The world holds it's breath as the United States squares up to Russia. It seems we are only seconds away from destruction.

Meanwhile in North Yorkshire, Tom and his Dad are facing life without Toms mother. Meanwhile the new early warning buildings are rising up from the moors above their home. Do they provide security or threat ? Threats seem to be both near and far and dark days roll across Tom's world. His world has been turned inside out leaving him a short step from disaster.

As Tom's Dad says "Everyones got to die sometime".

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10. Burnt Toast

October 18th

Evening

After worrying all Wednesday night that Dad would find out about me playing hooky from school but the school didn't ring. I didn't like deceiving him but needs must when the devil calls. Thursday morning, I was anxious about seeing Billy again but thankfully Thursday was Billy-less. It certainly was a relief to be able to go on the bus and not listen to Billy's voice making me cringe in the morning. I still felt bad about missing a day at school so put all my energies on Thursday into my studies. Getting home from school I sat down and tried to work out about radiation on my own. I wished dad could have been there to help me but he was late home again. In fact, it was nearly ten when I heard the door go. I put my pen down and closed my book.

I hadn't realised it had got so late, wresting with nuclear decay rates had half fried my brain with the complexity of the calculations. I massaged my face to get a bit of life back into it, pushing away the sleep. As if in sympathy my stomach rumbled loudly.

"Have you eaten?" Dad asked.

I shook my head. I'd had a few biscuits when I'd returned to school but then got stuck into the backlog of work.

"Should I rustle up my famous cheese on toast?" He asked.

I nodded in agreement. The 'famous' cheese on toast bit was a family joke, Dad was hopeless at cooking. Mum said he once even burned water. Well he let eggs boil dry leaving an acrid smell drifting around the house and a pan with a hole in the bottom. It wasn't that he was really bad at cooking, it was just he got distracted at times. The littlest thing took his mind away from the task at hand. Everything but work, which he perused with a tunnelled mind, focussing all his energy on the job at hand. Absent minded professor springs to mind at times.

I got up and started to make a pot of tea.

"Had a good day Tom?" He asked as he was putting the slices of bread under the grill.

"Yeah, doing particle decay at the moment, really interesting but getting my head around some of that maths takes some getting used to," I replied.

"We'll have to get you a new slide rule, that one of yours has seen better days. I used it for years at university." He said reverently stroking the rule between his fingers perhaps remembering the times he used it. It was just like Dad to get lost in his thoughts.

It was the acrid smell of burnt bread that brought him back into the land of the living.

“Oh god I’ve done it again, haven’t I?” he said rushing to the eye level grill. As he pulled out the grill pan I saw flames shooting up from the bread.

“King Alfred burned the cakes, I do it with bread,” he said scratching his head, “never mind I’ll put some more under the grill.”

“I’ll sort it Dad,” I said standing up. Sometimes it was just better to do it yourself.

“Sorry son,” Dad said shaking his head, “just left all that sort of stuff to your mother. You know even when I met her at University, she looked after me, fed me, washed my clothes, tidied my room.”

He shrugged.

“Well you know how hopeless I am. Not sure what I’m going to do when you go to Hull.” He carried on.

It was a thought that often crossed my mind. How would he cope with being on his own? I’d be OK, was looking forward to the course, but dad might not cope. I’d took on a lot of her jobs. I wasn’t nearly as good as she was. I tried not to think about her most days, but never succeeded. When someone dies you never realise what a huge hole they leave behind. Mum had left this great abyss that dad and I teetered on the edge of most days. It was more by luck than judgement that we’d got through this last year without too many calamities.

I scrapped most of the burnt bits off the toast. We’d run out of bread so couldn’t cut more. Making a mental note to get some more from the shop tomorrow, I added the last of the cheese to the top and put it under the grill.

“I always wondered why your mum put up with me,” he said as we sat eating the meal, “everyone thought she was marvellous, she could have her pick of anyone. Even when I went in the forces during the war she still stuck with me, even though I didn’t get to see her for two years.”

“Wow, I never knew that,” I said. I’d heard stories that they’d been apart while Dad was away but not for that long. There was always an air of mystery to what he did in the war. He’s tap his nose and say silly things like ‘careless talk kills lives’ or careless lips sink ships’, but not a lot of what he actually did.

 He hesitated, looking at me with a quizzical expression, maybe weighing up whether to tell me. It was silent for a few moments, the clock ticking on the wall the only distraction. Finally, after what seemed an age soul searching, he spoke.

“Well I was still at University, doing my Masters, when the war broke in 1939. At first it didn’t really affect us much. Even though Hull was a port there was a sense that nothing much was to worry about. Anyway, I was called up for service, conscripted, in January 1940 along with a few friends. We were sent to this camp down south to do our basic training. That sergeant we had was a real pain, always at our backs because we were ‘college boys’.”

His eyes misted over as he obviously remembered the experience. I thought I sensed him shudder but it might have been the cold which was now permeating the kitchen as night drew in.

“Let’s go and sit in the room with the fire on. Winter seems to be coming early this year.”

We didn’t use the front room of the house much since mum had gone. She liked to call it the drawing room and kept it all very nice and homely. These days we lived in the kitchen and rarely went in there except to watch the television, although the signal in the village wasn’t the best at times.

We settled down on the settee and dad switched on two bars of the electric fire. The bars soon glowed orange and with the warming up came the inevitable smell of burning dust. It must have been months since we’d used it last and although Mrs Hendry cleaned the room every week, the dust remained in places.

“So, go on tell me about your army service,” I said when we’d settled.

“He was a real hardnut that bloke,” Dad said eventually, “didn’t spare us anything. In the end I guess I was glad that he’d pushed us as a few years later I realised why we did all that stuff. Well after the basic training Walt and I, Walt was my colleague from university, were posted to this camp near Llanberis in Wales. It was a secret place carved into the hillside in one of the old slate mines. Walt and I were both physicists and this camp was all about trying to produce new weapons that we could use against Hitler. From there we worked on the first attempts to create fusion reactors. All pretty experimental at the time but intriguing. Didn’t get back to Hull much but Flo, your mum, kept in touch even though my letter writing wasn’t exactly regular. Guess even back then work always came first.”

I smiled. It’s hard to think that your parents were the same age of you at one time. Dad always seemed old and now looked like some kind of dementated professor you see in the films. His hair always was untamed, overlong and unkempt. Hard to think of him in army uniform.

“Anyway, after a year we both got moved to a branch of intelligence. They’d got a whiff that the jerries’ were developing these new super weapons and they wanted some physicists to join the team to make sense of all the data they were getting. They also thought we might be able to replicate the weapons and use them.”

“Wow you were in intelligence? A spy?” I gasped. I’d read spy thrillers, all that cloak and dagger stuff and here was my dad, an actual intelligence officer. My Dad, a spy!

“Well I’m not sure about the spy bit, but we did go overseas a few times until Walt was killed.”

Dad went all dewy eyed at this point as if the memory of Walt was still painful even after twenty years or so. I sat there waiting for him to continue.

“That bloody Farquharson, he shouldn’t have pushed him…” Dad mumbled.

“Farquharson?” I asked, “Lily’s dad?”

 “Mmm, always was trouble that one…”

“So you knew him?”

“Yeah, all I can say Tom is keep bloody well away from him.”

Dad clammed up then and didn’t add anymore. I wanted to find out more of his spy work but he was lost in his thoughts. Dad never swore and to hear him say those words was a bit of a shock. We sat in silence for about half an hour before I went up to bed.

“Sorry Tom, I’ll tell you more about the war tomorrow. Busy time at work and we both need our sleep.”

As I lay beneath the sheets that night I thought about Dad and mum. I wondered how much Mum knew about his work. I knew they’d met in Hull. Mum wasn’t at university but had met dad in the library. She worked there until I was born. It was about that time they’d moved to Goathland, Dad getting work at the RAF camp and Mum working at the primary school. Parents never cease to amaze you. Just when you think there’s nothing to their lives you find out the most extraordinary facts.

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