I know it’s nearly Spring (in theory at least) but, although this is set on a day near Christmas, it’s really about how my mystery writer’s mind works. We were staying with family in a picturesque English village – thatched roofs, cottages, fields, all the images you’d associate with a typical Miss Marple mystery. In fact, it’s the village in which the UK TV drama The Midsomer Murders is filmed. Christmas was a couple of days away. The kids were excited. The overnight snow was quite thick. After breakfast, all gloved and scarfed, I set out to buy the paper – a walk of maybe a mile there and back. Not many people about. As I walked, various alternative scenarios unfolded. I’ll switch to the present tense to convey the immediacy, because all these things were immediate rather than considered restrospectively.
A burly man in a tee shirt comes wading through the snow towards me. He’s obviously crazy. No one can step outside the door in these temperatures without proper insulation. He clearly has no nervous system. I know for a fact that he’s going to produce a club, maybe an axe from the hedge beside him and I’ll become a stain on the snow and a headline in tomorrow’s paper (or, rather, a secondary headline because the burly guy will get the lead). As he passes me, he smiles broadly and says a very cheery ‘Good morning’. I smile back, wish him the same, we cross paths and I wait for the axe in the back of my skull. Nothing.
Further down the hill, a woman with an Irish wolfhound. The dog looks lean, hungry, huge. One wrong move from me and it’ll defend its mistress to the death – mine. We pass, the dog doesn’t even look at me. The woman smiles and I get a second ‘Good morning’. When they’re behind me I wait to hear the command ‘Kill’, the crunch of speeding paws in the snow and the hot canine breath on my neck. Nothing.
Near the paper shop a group of old women (not as old as me but old nonetheless) wait at the bus stop, no doubt on their way to their coven. Three of them stand well back, the other two bar the narrow pavement. These are old women, they’ve earned the right to stand where they like. It’s their pavement. I anticipate having to step into the road to get past them. I’m pretty sure that, as I do so, I’ll be struck a glancing blow from an SUV which will break my hip. In the event, as I reach them, they stand back. No ‘Good morning’ but I’m just grateful to get by without mishap or a malevolent spell.
I get the paper. On the way home, I notice a short, steep driveway leading up to one of the cottages and speculate idly about its owner being an old, bespectacled woman driving a Ford Anglia (Miss Marple sans bike maybe) who, in these snowy conditions, would scream round the corner, put the car into a broadside slide, hit the accelerator at the appropriate spot, crest the drive and execute a handbrake turn to skid to the front door and step calmly out with her shopping bag.
Further on, a man stands filming a young girl with a sledge and a dog. He’s looking through branches at her. As the unwelcome images begin to form, the girl calls ‘Hurry up, Daddy. It’s cold.’
I’m almost home and safe again. Striding down the hill comes a tall man with a brisk, military gait and bearing. He’s swinging a black walking stick. Here I should mention that the paper I bought is The Guardian. I imagine the man seeing it and setting about me with his stick, calling me a communist and hoping I rot in hell with all the other pinko, planet-saving homosexual intellectuals who are undermining the way of life he fought for. As I prepare myself for the assault, his face lights up into a big smile and, again, I’m wished a good morning.
Nothing’s wrong with any of these people. They’re good, friendly citizens. The problem is me. I’m the alien. I’m the one carrying the Satanic menace through this country idyll. I obviously read and write too many crime novels.