24 Stories is an anthology in aid of the PTSD-related needs of the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017. It is a collection of works, written on themes of community and hope, by a mix of some of the UK’s best established writers and previously unpublished authors. It was compiled by Kathy Burke, Paul Jenkins, R. Martin and Steve Thompson in response to the fire, and published on the first anniversary of that tragic event.

Dear Reader,

The book you are holding came about in a rather different way to most others. It was funded directly by readers through a new website: Unbound. Unbound is the creation of three writers. We started the company because we believed there had to be a better deal for both writers and readers. On the Unbound website, authors share the ideas for the books they want to write directly with readers. If enough of you support the book by pledging for it in advance, we produce a beautifully bound special subscribers’ edition and distribute a regular edition and ebook wherever books are sold, in shops and online.

This new way of publishing is actually a very old idea (Samuel Johnson funded his dictionary this way). We’re just using the internet to build each writer a network of patrons. At the back of this book, you’ll find the names of all the people who made it happen.

Publishing in this way means readers are no longer just passive consumers of the books they buy, and authors are free to write the books they really want. They get a much fairer return too – half the profits their books generate, rather than a tiny percentage of the cover price.

If you’re not yet a subscriber, we hope that you’ll want to join our publishing revolution and have your name listed in one of our books in the future. To get you started, here is a £5 discount on your first pledge. Just visit, make your pledge and type 24 in the promo code box when you check out.

Thank you for your support,


Dan, Justin and John

Founders, Unbound

With special thanks to Jo Rowling and
Gary Lineker for their generous support
of this book.





Nina Stibbe


Paul Jenkins


Irvine Welsh


Julian Gyll-Murray


Dan Rebellato


John Fidler


Zoe Venditozzi


Joanna Campbell


Pauline Melville


Susan E. Barsby


A. L. Kennedy


Kat Day


Barney Farmer


Murray Lachlan Young


Yasmina Floyer


Daisy Buchanan


L. A. Craig


Mike Gayle


J. L. Hall


Christopher Brookmyre


Joel Blackledge


Meera Syal

33 RPM

Mark McLaughlin


John Niven


S. J. Thompson

About the Authors





PTSD Explained


Dean Martin once sang about what memories are made of. A fresh and tender kiss, one stolen night of bliss, one girl, one boy, some grief, some joy. Looked at this way, it sounds more like an elaborate recipe, perhaps something concocted by Heston Blumenthal. But despite the presumable lack of neuroscience qualifications held by Dean Martin or the original writers of the song, it’s a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the diversity of human memory.

I specify human memory because the word ‘memory’ is very common these days but often used more in the technological sense. The memory on your phone, your laptop, your hard drive, your SD card or USB drive. While there are some overlaps between the technological and biological ways that memory is processed, there are also many considerable differences. The memory on your phone or laptop is essentially a huge blank space into which useful information can be inserted and retrieved at will, and the files and documents you put in will (hopefully) be exactly the same when you retrieve them for use later.

A lot of people seem to think that the human brain operates on similar principles, passively absorbing the information we take in from our senses and storing it in a useful form for later retrieval and use. However, this is far from the case. Our brain isn’t some passive recording device that just logs anything and everything we show it. For one, this is technically impossible. Despite our brains regularly being portrayed as awesome, powerful objects beyond our understanding, the truth is that, for all their undeniable complexity and capabilities, they’re still physical organs, so are subject to physical and biological limits like any other. The laying down of memories depends on the brain forming new connections – synapses – between neurons. This takes time and energy and resources, and the limits of biology means the brain doesn’t have boundless reserves of these things.

Consider how vivid our perception of the world is. Every second we receive a full panoramic experience of our environment, complete with sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Life is high-def and multi-sensory. But, thanks to the limits of biology, to save every waking moment of this in precise detail is beyond the ability of the brain. What this means in practice is that our brain prioritises some memories over others; it has to focus on what’s ‘important’ and disregard anything more trivial or inconsequential.

This is not something to be taken lightly either; our ability to function in our complex environment is dependent on the fact that our brain creates what is essentially a ‘mental model’ of how the world works. This is what our brains use to determine how we behave and react in any given situation. For instance, if you’re sitting in a restaurant and you see someone walk past in just skimpy underwear, this would be very unusual – alarming, even. If you were on the beach, it wouldn’t be. Such attire is normal and acceptable there. This is because your brain has this mental model of the world, and it includes the relevant information about how things work at the beach and in restaurants, and forms your expectations accordingly. But this mental model is based on all our knowledge and learning and experiences of the world, and all these things are stored in our memory.

Therefore, it’s imperative to the brain that only ‘important’ memories get the time and attention available.

How does it do this? How does our brain ‘decide’ what’s important to remember, and what’s not? Given that our brain is ‘us’, you’d think we could just consciously decide what’s important and what isn’t. And we can, to a certain extent; if someone tells us a phone number or address, we can repeat it to ourselves over and over to retain it. But that’s a lot of work, and we obviously don’t do that with everything we remember. What happens is that the processes determining which memories should be prioritised and which should be ignored are largely subconscious, so are influenced by factors beyond our conscious control. One of these is that the more vivid or emotionally stimulating an event, the more significant it is to the memory system.

This makes a certain amount of sense: the more parts of the brain involved in experiencing something, the greater significance the memory takes on, because there are more elements involved in processing it and more connections to it that memory systems can work with. If something is emotionally stimulating and or substantially ‘vivid’, it occupies a lot of our brain, so can be remembered more easily later on.

Some argue that emotions evolved specifically for things like this, and that they’re essentially a shortcut for the brain, cutting down the need for intensive thinking and cogitation. If you’re presented with something dangerous, for example, you could study it at length and assess all the aspects of it, and slowly work out that yes, it is somewhat hazardous, or you could experience fear and leg it, saving your bacon for another day. The latter leads to survival, the former leads to extinction.

That our memory system is more influenced by stimulation and emotion explains a lot – like why learning important things for our exams is so difficult. You can read reams and reams of dry mathematical equations or historical events, and as important as it may be for an upcoming test, unless it invokes a stimulating, emotional reaction (and it will in some people, no doubt), your brain’s memory system won’t be especially bothered about all that. Hence you need to revise it over and over again, until the message gets through. But you go on your first holiday in years, or get into some scrapes with your friends, and these are the things you’ll remember easily, because they come bundled with a lot of emotional and stimulating information.

That’s all well and good if it’s a happy experience. It’s great to be able to remember your wedding day, or that time you scored the winning goal, or the birth of your first child with clarity and ease. These are the memories that we look back on fondly, year after year. But, of course, life isn’t always a carefree skip through the tulips. Bad things happen, we face hardships and dangers and threats all the time, even if the modern human has tamed the world to the extent that present-day threats are more nebulous and theoretical: losing your job to the recession, rather than losing a limb to a wolf.

Dangerous or threatening things trigger the brain’s threat-detection system, which essentially scans all incoming information and spots whenever something could prove a hazard to us in some way. When we experience a danger or threat, this system invariably triggers the fight-or-flight response, that well-known adrenaline rush where we tense up, the blood drains from our skin, our focus narrows, our heart starts pounding, and so on. This is a deeply entrenched mechanism in our bodies and brains: it’s kept us alive for the lifetime of our species and beyond, so it’s hard to avoid.

If our threat-detection system picks up a minor or potential threat, it causes the release of precursor hormones like cortisol, which sort of prime us to engage in fight or flight if the threat becomes more prominent. This makes us tenser, flightier, more irritable. This is stress. Stress is OK when we’re dealing with real hazards, but because humans have the ability to recognise more theoretical issues and have created this complex world where we’re bombarded by them constantly (career, relationship, financial, political, environmental and many other complex, abstract problems that are a daily occurrence for most), we can easily end up in a situation where we experience stress in a chronic, persistent manner.

If you’re stressed about losing your job because of uncertainty at the top of the company, what can you do about that? Not much, except wait it out, but it means that the source of the stress is persistent, constant, enduring. The stress chemicals are coursing through our brains and bodies all day, every day, and that’s damaging for our health, both physical and mental, because our bodies aren’t meant to be dealing with stress all the time. They can change, adapt and adjust, but often in harmful ways.

There are many short-term fixes for stress, like eating high-calorie foods or drinking alcohol to shut down the more worrisome parts of your brain, so people who experience persistent stress do these a lot. But these then have very negative effects on your health in turn, so your ability to function normally suffers further, which is in itself stressful, so you need to compensate for that, and the cycle goes on and on.

And that’s just with relatively low-level, if persistent, sources of stress. When it’s something big, like a major trauma, then it’s far more intense on every level, particularly when it comes to the brain. When we’re in the midst of a seriously stressful episode, be it an assault, a car crash, in battle, or whatever, our senses get knocked up several gears, any peripheral distractions get shut down, adrenaline and all the related reaction chemicals are flowing through our veins, and all the rest. One consequence of this is that our experiences are suddenly far more intense and vivid, given all the resources being shunted towards our senses and the related processing. They say time ‘slows down’ when you’re under extreme stress, and in a way, it’s true. Every element is suddenly much richer and more substantial; things that would barely be noticed in normal conditions are now crystal clear. It may be less than ten seconds of experience, but it’s much denser and detailed than any other ten seconds you’ve ever lived through, so there’s ‘more’ of it, and thus it feels as if it lasts longer. The brain is funny like that.

This is reflected in the memory system; events experienced during a traumatic, stressful, life-endangering event are extremely vivid and highly emotional, so the memory system has a lot to work with, and memories of said event end up being extremely pronounced and detailed as a result. Some refer to them as ‘flashbulb’ memories, implying that they’re as rich and detailed as a snapshot of the incident. Studies suggest they aren’t that detailed and thorough, but they feel as if they are, which is sort of the point.

You can see how our brains having such a setup would be useful for survival. When we’re confronted by life-threatening dangers, we don’t actually know what’s going to happen; it’s important not to miss anything about the situation, so our senses are ramped up. And should we be lucky enough to survive the incident, we certainly don’t want to forget anything about it in case we’re confronted by it again, so our memory processes follow suit. It’s a good way to survive and then avoid dangers.

The trouble is, though, our big hefty brains are sometimes too good at forming and retrieving memories. Sometimes the memory of an extremely traumatic experience is so detailed and complete that it’s almost, if not exactly, as traumatic as the event itself.

Every time you recall the memory it’s like reliving it, meaning you experience the same feelings and emotions and stress that you did at the time. That’s where we get post- traumatic stress disorder. Those who live through extremely traumatic events don’t just get to count their blessings and carry on as before; the event stays with them, and they often end up reliving it over and over again. Some people can slowly get over it and come to terms with what happened, but sometimes every remembering of the event is like ripping the scab off a wound, making it fresh and painful all over again.

This obviously has huge knock-on effects for the everyday lives of the victims. They will, perhaps subconsciously, avoid anything associated with the event, be it a place, object, person, or whatever. Mood is much harder to lift when a horrific experience is constantly being thought of again and again. Levels of stress are much higher, stemming from the memories of the event like the ooze from an infected injury. It also means your mental model of how the world works is compromised. Everything you think of and anticipate is now coloured by the harrowing experience that nearly cost you your life; it ends up being factored in to your every thought and prediction, causing further stress.

Your comforting self-serving delusions are no longer useful: you’ve experienced mortal peril first-hand and know how real it is. You can no longer tell yourself ‘it won’t happen’, because it did.

The mental-health field also uses something called the stress-vulnerability model, which states that each person’s brain is capable of handling a certain amount of stress before it loses the ability to function normally and has a psychological break, developing serious mental health problems. Those with PTSD are already dealing with a great deal of stress, so it wouldn’t take much to tip them over the edge, making them unable to cope (again). This causes a lot of stress, and so on.

If you were involved in a serious incident and ended up with a steel spike buried in your thigh, nobody would expect you to carry on as normal. The pain and restriction alone would stop you doing anything until it was dealt with. PTSD is like having the spike jammed into your mind, rather than your leg. It’s not a physical injury per se, but the pain and disruption are very real. And unlike a physical injury, you can’t just pull the spike out and patch things up. We can’t do that with memories. Not yet, anyway.

One of the most traumatic things to experience is the loss of a home. Even if it’s just due to lack of money or a change in career, it can be a deeply stressful and upsetting time for anyone. But to lose it in violent, destructive circumstances is considerably worse. Our home is a big part of who we are, our identity. It’s where we feel safest, where we keep our things, it’s where we retreat to when the world gets too much. Losing it rips a good chunk of the foundations of our lives out from under us. The only things more important to us are our loved ones, those closest to us.

The survivors of Grenfell lost their homes, en masse, through no fault of their own.

Many of them lost friends and loved ones too, at the same time. They ended up with nowhere to go, no resources to fall back on, and at the mercy of a system that clearly didn’t care and, from what we can see, still doesn’t. Not to have some form of PTSD would be more than unlikely – it would be borderline miraculous. But, as is sadly always the case, the mental-health needs of the people of Grenfell, understandably, come second to the immediate needs of rehoming and rebuilding their lives. There are many ways to help deal with PTSD, from counselling to therapies to medications, but all these things cost money, something the Grenfell community was often denied even when they were perfectly healthy, which is why the tragedy occurred in the first place.

But by buying this book, you’ve made at least some contribution towards making sure those who want it can get the help they need.

We humans are a social species, and our brains have evolved to encourage and facilitate this wherever possible. As a result, numerous studies have shown that a reliable way to reduce your own stress and improve your well-being is to help others. Hopefully you can take some comfort in knowing you’ve now done just that.


On PTSD and 24 Stories


I have lived with mental ill health for the majority of my life, and after going through various unsuccessful prescriptive therapies for bipolar II and clinical depression over twenty years, it was a sudden viral attack in 2008 which profoundly altered my health for better and for worse. Too fatigued to maintain the hard protective shell, layers of shock, trauma and grief surfaced volcanically; no longer stuffed down, my history confronted me head on; it had me in a corner and I knew the only option I had was to open up and find the right help.

I was formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2009 by a consultant psychiatrist specialising in post-traumatic disorders, and for the past nine years he and a colleague have worked with me to help process, reorganise, witness inner and outer changes, create a workable structure and give me the tools to create a happier life. It is a work in progress; sometimes I slide, sometimes I glide, but I’m always evolving.

My delayed diagnosis was the impetus behind this book. Literally minutes after expressing my desire to help the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, I joined forces with Paul Jenkins and Steve Thompson to create this project; then the sudden and unexpected appearance of Kathy Burke, who volunteered to edit this book, saw the project manifest at such velocity we had little time to stop and think.

This entire project has been born out of a collection of like-minded people: Paul, Kath, Steve and I joined forces and supported each other to see the project through to completion. Sometimes it was enormously difficult for me, physically and psychologically. At times I wondered whether it might have been easier climbing the north face of the Eiger in stilettos, yet along with the hurdles came opportunities and connections because everyone involved in the creation of 24 Stories shared a single, compassionate vision.

When witnessing man-made disasters such as the Grenfell Tower fire unfold, I – like many people living with PTSD – share an unfortunate bond with the victims. I recognise that for the majority of people, deep shock and trauma do not heal of their own accord and they don’t fade naturally; if trauma is ignored, time will compress it, solidifying it, layer after layer. Though the circumstances may differ, the symptoms of trauma tend to follow a common trajectory.

Throughout 24 Stories’ remarkable journey over the past year, we have had advice and support from many wonderful people. At one point I was at my wits’ end; I felt that giving up and walking away might be the only option to save myself. During a phone call with an associate, I asked, ‘Why would someone with PTSD take on a project like this? It’s going to finish me off!’ She replied, ‘It’s because you understand and you care. It’s because we all care.’

This project has proven that people do care; they care specifically about the psychological welfare of others, and they recognise the long-term emotional and neurological impact of events like the Grenfell Tower fire.

My journey won’t end with the publication of this book. I hope to continue in some capacity to help others who suffer from PTSD.



We moved from the town to the countryside after our parents divorced. Our plan to join in with village life was looking good in the early days, when a procession of curious villagers arrived with bunches of flowers. But we soon realised no one liked us. My sister blamed me for doing handstands up the wall. I blamed her for looking furtive, but it was my mother’s habit of talking about cricket that caused the most trouble.

Our first visitor – a woman in a long tartan kilt – appeared in our kitchen and bellowed, ‘Well-come to the village, well-come,’ and handed over half a tree’s worth of distressed lilacs.

The gesture should have seemed friendly, but the rusting lilacs said not. Through her smile she asked if any of us was going to fetch a vase. She pronounced it ‘vayse’.

She ran the tap hard and started to arrange the barky stems in our big glass jug as if it were her house. My mother asked if she’d heard the cricket scores and the woman swung round and stared at her. ‘There,’ she said, ‘they’ll last a couple of weeks at least.’

When she’d gone, our mother told us, in future, to always take people’s flowers and put them into water straight away, without being asked. Then she cursed the lilacs for being a bad omen and put the vayse outside the back door. A moment later, our dog sicked up what looked like a pair of tights. ‘See!’ said our mother, blaming the lilacs.

To prove it, she found her book The Language of Flowers and, flicking through, came to the truth about lilacs in the house. Nothing is so portentous as lilacs (especially white ones) in the house, it said, except a robin flying indoors. My sister and I pored over the book.

‘Never give marigolds,’ it said, ‘for this means a desire for riches.’

It told us that flowers could mean anything from ‘please don’t tell’ to ‘a deadly foe is near’ and that a flower’s meaning should always be understood before they are given. Or else God only knew what you might start.

Another flower-bearing caller in those early days was the vicar’s wife. She arrived flustered and held out a skinny bunch of spring anemones with bruised, oil-paint petals and juicy stalks wrapped in a limp page of the Herald.

On the ball this time, I plopped them straight into water. The vayse being occupied, I used a milk bottle, which was a bit too tall, and the flowers looked as though they were trying to keep their heads above water so as not to drown. It was stressful because the vicar’s wife seemed puzzled by my handling of the situation and never stopped frowning.

The vicar’s wife had bad news and good news. Our mother would not be permitted to join the Mother’s Union on account of being divorced. On the other hand, she’d be very welcome to help with the Bring and Buy, which occurred on the first Sunday of the month, after Holy Communion.

We consulted The Language of Flowers and discovered that the anemones stood for ‘abandonment’ and/or ‘lust forsaken’. But my mother said we could ignore the meaning because the vicar’s wife had probably just swiped them off someone’s grave. In response to that, the poor anemones slipped down into the milk bottle and were dead by teatime.

More visitors arrived. They’d hand over their primroses, take a look at us and scurry away – their worst fears confirmed.

‘Why does everyone keep bringing flowers anyway?’ I asked. ‘We’ve run out of vayses.’

‘They just want an excuse to come and have a look at us,’ said my mother, ‘and they’ve all got gardens full of flowers.’

‘It’s country life,’ said my sister. ‘In town they’d bring biscuits.’

A month or two later, an enormous bouquet of chrysanthemums in rusty orange colours arrived with the Dents, a couple who lived just around the corner. The husband, Jim, was quiet, but the woman, Ramona, was talkative and said, ‘Good luck in your new home.’

‘It’s not that new any more,’ my sister said and plopped the flowers into an earthenware jug. I offered tea, coffee or Ribena. The husband declined but Ramona went for a hot Ribena.

While we waited for the kettle to boil, my mother brought up the cricket, which pleased Jim but annoyed Ramona because she couldn’t join in. My mother noticed her annoyance but made matters worse by asking for help with the crossword, and again Jim was keen, but Ramona not, and they put their two heads together over her newspaper and talked gibberish for at least five minutes.

Ramona stood with her hands on her hips. I’d opened the book and looked up the meaning of the chrysanthemums. Orange ones weren’t listed, I told Ramona, but red ones meant ‘I love you’ and yellow ones meant ‘dejection’. Ramona couldn’t have cared less and looked at me as though I was stupid.

‘My mother likes to know what flowers mean,’ I explained, flashing the book’s cover.

‘Does she?’ said Ramona.

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘I expect she gets lonely without a man around,’ she said, and my mother overheard and said, ‘Yes, I do.’

The petals soon began to fall off the crysanths in clumps.

Like everyone else in the village, we had a garden full of plants and because flower-giving seemed to be the done thing, I began taking little bunches to my teacher. It started in the autumn term with a bunch of holly (foresight) and heather (good luck), and then a stem of jasmine (friendliness) and the teacher seemed pleased. I felt popular and welcome and soon it seemed terribly important that I arrive at the start of each week with a little floral offering. I’d pick them before breakfast and quickly check their meaning in the book so as not to accidentally tell my teacher she was about to die or run away to sea.

I really hit my stride in the spring though, and one day my bunch of daffodils (regard) in a peach tin so pleased my teacher that she built our whole school week around them. We sketched them, we read William Wordsworth’s daffodil poem and wrote our own stories and learned about bulbs and growth.

I took in dwarf narcissi (self-esteem), bobbly grape hyacinth (modesty, sincerity), a couple of dandelion leaves (not listed), a clump of forget-me-not (faithful, true love) and a frond of euphorbia (not listed) and would take them to my mother to assemble into a pretty bunch and tie in a piece of orange bale twine and put into a jam jar.

In the early summer I might pick a floppy, open pink rose (grace and joy), some cow parsley (weed), the odd poppy (imagination) and all sorts of dangly, whispery grasses, dusty buttercups, even an ear of green corn. I always presented them as if from my mother. ‘My mother sent you these from the garden,’ I’d say, keen to enhance her reputation. And there they’d be, on the teacher’s desk, dropping the odd petal, cheering us all up until Friday after lunch, when they’d be ready for the bin and I’d rinse out the jar.

One June day, a classmate copied me and arrived with a bunch of sweet williams. The following day I told the teacher the meaning of them (grant me one more smile) and she was more pleased hearing that than having the actual flowers and asked me to bring in the book.

We must’ve been in the village half a year when my mother jackknifed the car and pony trailer in the lane beside our house, and no amount of revving and manoeuvring seemed to help. The more she inched forward and back, the tighter the angle became. Just when she was about to scream or run away and never come back, Jim – the quiet husband of Ramona (who’d had the hot Ribena) – suddenly appeared. He jumped behind the wheel, sorted out the vehicular crisis and even patted the roofs of the half-dozen or so cars queuing to get along the lane as they passed. In return my mother gave him a glass of whisky and, as far as the village was concerned, stand-up sex in the back of the trailer. And the next day someone left a bunch of white roses (secret love) at our back door.

The nicest bunch of flowers ever arrived a few weeks after Jim and the jackknifed trailer. These were multi-headed white daisies with yellow middles, foliage all around and wrapped in doily paper. To my young eyes it was a true bouquet that you might only get from a proper shop and then walk along with people casting admiring glances at it and wishing they were giving it (or getting it).

The bouquet of daisies (loyal love, purity, faith) arrived at teatime one day in the hands of a well-dressed black man in a trilby and a brown suit who smelled of TCP. His name was William Thomas and he had an arrangement to meet my mother. It was the first we’d heard of it, but I put him at the kitchen table. My sister took the daisies, unwrapped them and put them politely in a vayse. I made him a cup of tea and asked how he was (fine) and ran up to alert my mother. She was in bed after a late night and needed time to get dressed.

William Thomas is here for your arrangement, I told her. ‘Who?’ she asked.

‘William Thomas,’ I said, ‘he’s come to our village on two buses, all the way from Trinidad, but he’ll soon have his own car.’

My mother came into the kitchen eventually, just as William Thomas was finishing his tea. He’d come to our village on two buses, he told her. But would soon have his own car. She said she’d heard as much.

‘The thing is, William, I don’t know who you are or why you’re here,’ said my mother. ‘Is there something I’ve forgotten?’

‘I’m William Thomas,’ he said, ‘you answered my advertisement in the Leicester Mercury.’ He fumbled in a secret jacket pocket, unfolded a page, tapped it and passed it to her. It was a typed letter. My mother read it and blinked rapidly. She handed it back to him.

My mother hadn’t answered his advertisement. It’s not something she’d have done and then forgotten. Someone had answered on her behalf and William Thomas had crossed the county on two buses to have a romantic date and to talk about cricket and flower meanings (as suggested in the letter) and would now have to get two buses back again.

My mother told him as kindly as she could that someone must have answered the advertisement on her behalf.

‘But why would they do that?’ William Thomas asked.

‘I don’t know,’ said my mother.

‘Because they don’t like her,’ my sister said, ‘because she’s having sex with their husband.’

William Thomas still seemed not to understand (I didn’t understand) and neither my mother nor my sister had the heart to explain it.

William Thomas picked up his trilby and left.

With him gone, my sister felt she could tell me why and how this situation had arisen and what it all meant.

‘It was just a cruel trick,’ she said.

‘On who?’

‘On Mum,’ said my sister.

‘Not on William Thomas?’

‘No, he was just a casualty of the trick,’ she said.

‘If it’s a cruel trick on you and he’s a casualty, why didn’t you go on a date with him and talk about cricket?’ I asked my mother.

‘She can’t,’ said my sister. ‘Jim Dent wouldn’t like it.’

‘What’s Jim Dent got to do with it?’ I asked.

I rode my bike to the bus stop and saw William Thomas standing there reading a small book, which I assumed was a Wisden but could have been a Bible. Buses came at a quarter past the hour. It was ten to.