Born in the suburbs of south London, Gerry Cox had lived and worked in London for most of his life. On leaving university, he had started with the family business in the city learning the intricacies of stockbroking until he had taken over the running of the company, following his father’s death from a heart attack. Some years later, Gerry had been forced to take early retirement after the cancer had struck. A popular, friendly man, no one, including himself, had been more surprised as he had never smoked, drank only in moderation and had always maintained a healthy lifestyle. His family had rallied round and, after two operations and some months of chemotherapy, he had made a good recovery. A brother in the business had taken over the running of the company and Gerry was now enjoying his retirement in the large detached house in Ferring-on-Sea on the Sussex coast with his wife of many years, Jenny. Gerry kept himself busy working in the garden, riding and maintaining his vintage Triumph motorbike and played regular games of bowls on the local green. The couple had just the one child, Samantha, and were very proud of her for she had grown into an intelligent, beautiful girl. Today was Gerry’s fiftieth birthday and he was looking forward to enjoying it with Samantha and the rest of his family and friends.
On Saturday morning, Samantha rushed to get the shopping done in time for her hairdresser’s appointment and left Dover for the drive down to Sussex in her Mini Cooper, resplendent in its Italian paint job. A gift from her parents for successfully completing her studies at university, she cherished the iconic car built during the seventies. On the way down, she wondered if her dad would have time to check the battery for her, as Charlie had suggested. Her parent’s lived in a house in Ferring originally owned by her grandmother, Catherine Darcy, who had died a couple of years ago. The Coxs’ had inherited the place from her and had used it as a holiday home. After her father’s illness, they had sold their property in Surbiton and moved in.
Samantha arrived and squeezed the Mini into the only space left in the long drive, next to a large Nissan all terrain she recognised as her uncle’s. She took out a small suitcase from the boot and went inside to meet her family. She caught up on all the family news over drinks and nibbles, and everyone sat down in a jovial mood around the table for the birthday dinner. Before long, her Uncle Matt, one of her father’s brothers, who ran a transport business in London, asked about her new job.
‘How are you getting on at the paper, Sam?’ he asked ‘Have you made any good scoops?’
‘Not yet, but I’ve just started working for a new boss, Charles Britton, who used to be on one of the daily’s up in London.’
‘Do you mean Charlie Britton? Wasn’t he the chap that did all the investigative stories for the London Herald?’ asked another uncle.
‘Yes, the same.’ confirmed Samantha. ’He’s exposed quite a few scandals.
‘I know, but didn’t he get drunk and thump the mayor of London in some brawl.’
‘That’s right, he did. But he’s a reformed character now, well, he’s acting like one, anyway.’ joked Samantha.
‘Now be careful, dear?’ said her concerned mother, ‘You don’t want to go getting yourself into any trouble.’
‘I’m OK, Mum. He’s teaching me a lot about the job.’
Before the trip down, Samantha had bought her father a new, discounted watch from Amazon for his birthday, as the ones she had looked at in jewellers in Dover had been far too expensive. To her great disappointment, when her father unwrapped the present and went to strap it on his wrist, they saw that it had stopped working. Her father suggested they go out to his workshop to see if he could find what was wrong with it, a small blessing in disguise as it gave them an excuse to get away from the others in the busy room and spend some time together on their own.
‘I’m glad everything’s going well for you in Dover.’ her father said once they were in the garage.
Putting the watch down on top of his workbench, Gerry, who had always been good with his hands, pulled open a drawer underneath and took out a case of miniature screwdrivers and a pair of pliers. Prising the back off the watch, he put his glasses on, peered inside and soon found the problem.
‘It’s got a loose battery connection, dear. It’s a good quality watch, but I’m afraid they don’t make them as well as they used to.’ he sighed.
‘Sorry Dad, it was working before I wrapped it up.’
‘Don’t worry, dear, it’s not your fault. I’ll soon get it working again.’
‘Oh, that reminds me Dad. Will you have time to look at the battery on the Mini? I’ve had to call out the breakdown service, as she won’t start if it’s a cold morning.’
‘Sure, I’ll have a look tomorrow but it sounds as if you will need a new one. Not to worry as Halfords will be open in the morning in Worthing and I’ll treat you to a new one.’
‘Thanks Dad!’ said Samantha and gave her father a big hug.
He fixed the battery contact and put the watch back together.
‘It’s a lovely present, Samantha.’ acknowledged Gerry and gave his daughter a kiss on the cheek.
‘You deserve it Dad, for all that you’ve done for me.’
As her father was putting the tools back in the drawer, Samantha noticed a beautiful old carriage clock sitting on the corner of the bench.
‘What’s this, Dad?’ she asked as she picked it up.
‘That’s your grandmother’s clock. It was on the mantelpiece in the living room when we moved here. I’ve got to find the time to fix it.’
‘Is there anything else left of gran’s things? I wouldn’t mind a keepsake.’
‘There was loads of stuff here but we cleared it out and gave it to the local charity shop. The house is a bit too big for the two of us, but it made sense to move here after we sold up in London.’ said her father.
Samantha pointed at a door in the end of the garage.
‘Where does that go, Dad?’
‘Oh, there’s a room above. I don’t think I ever got around to clearing it out as I hadn’t got over my last operation.’
‘Can I have a look, Dad’
‘Of course you can, dear, the light switch is behind the door. Mind how you go, the stairs are steep. I’d better get back to my birthday guests.’
‘OK Dad, see you in a minute, I won’t be long.’
As her father went out Samantha walked over and opened the door, switched on the light and climbed the stairs to the room above. Entering the room, which smelt of mildew and damp, she opened the window that overlooked the front garden. Looking around, she saw an old bed, some cardboard boxes of bed linen and a dressing table in the corner boasting a cracked mirror. Samantha knelt down and saw an old, battered suitcase under the bed and brushing some large cobwebs away in disgust, for she nursed a phobia of spiders, pulled it out. Lifting it on to the bed, she released the fasteners and opened it up with a squeal from the rusty hinges. Inside she found some faded curtains and dusty robes and was about to close it when the light reflected off something bright. She reached in and pulled out a beautifully bound red leather book secured with a golden clasp. Opening the cover, it surprised her to see her grandmother’s name written in fine script on the title page. Flicking through the gold edged pages, she saw that it was a five-year diary covering the years 1939-1944. Samantha’s journalistic instinct stirred as she realised she was holding in her hands a piece of history from many years ago.
Back inside the house, the party was going well and Samantha helped her mother to clear the dining table. As Samantha stacked the dishwasher in the kitchen and her mother turned the coffee percolator on, she told her what she had found. Jenny Cox only half listened as she was rummaging through the cupboards, more concerned with finding enough bone china cups to serve the coffee.
‘That’s nice dear.’ she mumbled.
‘I found it in the room over the garage, Mum.’
‘Oh, I’ve been on at your father to get someone in to clear that room ever since we moved in after your gran died. We’ll never use it with all the other bedrooms we’ve got, and I don’t want Gerry doing it because of his health.’
‘That’s all right, Mum. I’ll get Uncle Matt to help me do it tomorrow while Dad looks at my car. We can load it in his truck and take it down the dump.’
‘Would you dear that would be so helpful.’
The evening drew to a close and the guests said their goodbyes and went outside to their cars. Samantha’s father, feeling slightly the worse for wear as it had been a long day, made tracks for his bedroom while her Uncle Matt and Aunt Jackie retired to the guest room as they were staying for the weekend, leaving Samantha and her mother sitting at the table.
‘Have you met your great aunt Miranda yet?’ her mother asked.
‘Yes I have. She lives in a lovely big manor house up on the cliffs above Dover with fantastic views, Mum. I’d love to live there instead of my small flat down in the port.’
‘She’s still living in that pile? I’d have thought she’d have been in a nursing home by now at her age.’
‘No, she’s pretty switched on, but I found her rather prickly. She told me a bit about her side of the family but seemed very protective of them. Perhaps it’s my inquisitive nature, which is why I want to be a journalist, and it probably put her off.’
‘I know Lady Miranda was good friends with Catherine, my mother and your grandmother, as they grew up together living next door to each other. I remember mother telling me she was very close to Miranda during the war, but after she married Bill Darcy, your grandfather who had made a fortune in the city, the Barker family regarded him as new money, slightly uncouth, and would have nothing more to do with us.’
‘She said nothing about that but she mentioned her husband who was killed early on during the war. She still seemed very sad at losing him.’ said Samantha.
‘That would be, let me think . . . your great uncle, John Faulkner. He was a pilot in the RAF. I think there was some scandal and he died shortly afterwards. It all got hushed up by the families who never spoke about him anymore.’
‘My great uncle was a pilot in the RAF during the war? I expect she mentions him in the diary. Can I keep it, Mum?’ asked Samantha, pointing to the diary she had placed on top of the sideboard and thinking about the feature her boss wanted to write.
‘Yes, of course you can, dear. It will make a nice keepsake for you.’
’When I get back I’ll see Great Aunt Miranda again. Maybe she’ll know something and there’s no harm in trying to repair burnt bridges, Mum.
They both went up to bed and Samantha started to read the contents of her gran’s diary and, fascinated, continued into the small hours of the night.