Chapter 11 – Hartley Wintney, England Thursday 1 March 2012
Keith never needed to set his alarm, his pet dog Patch woke him with a soft bark as soon as she heard the dawn chorus. Patch was a rescue dog, a cross between a Springer Spaniel and a Tibetan Terrier and they had been inseparable for five years. She was a dark brown with white patches. At 33, Keith lived with his widowed mother in a Victorian terraced house in Hartley Wintney. The modern name for Hertleye Wynteneye. He quickly put on an old sweat shirt and jogging bottoms, and he and Patch were out the door before it was fully light. He loved this time, when he could walk in the open air with few people about. Patch led him on their familiar route to Hazeley Common, a vast open space of woods and bracken of over 1,300 acres. She was soon busy sniffing for rabbits and pheasants and Keith could focus his thoughts on his work. It was a lovely early spring morning, unseasonably warm.
Keith was a Senior Research Fellow at the UK Government’s prestigious Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford. Located about 60 miles west of London, RAL or ‘the Lab’ as it was colloquially known, was a highly respected scientific institution that had pioneered much of the world leading work in nuclear physics. Keith had never married, but was married to his work. He was considered one of the leading world experts on detecting deep space radiation by using advanced sensors on satellites to look back in time to the birth of the Universe – the big bang.
In fact, he looked every bit the boffin and the eccentric scientist. He was 6ft 4’in tall with long grey hair and a beard, thick set glasses and a dress sense that just said techy or nerd. Returning home his mother had his breakfast waiting. She considered him incapable of making a cup of tea, let alone boiling an egg. She still treated him as if he was 12 years old, and had cut up the toast into small bite size strips that he could easily dip in his egg, she called this soldiers.
‘Did you have a nice walk, dear?’ his mother asked as she offered her cheek for a kiss. But Keith wasn’t certain if she was talking to him or the dog.
Keith said, ’Yes thank you’, and kissed his mother and sat down to begin consuming his egg. He glanced at the headlines in the Daily Telegraph, the main story was about a budget overspend on the upcoming London Olympics. He couldn’t have cared less.
She said to Patch, in a way that adults often talk to each other through animals, ’here you are Patch darling, here is your breakfast, while Keith eats his eggy and soldiers.’ Patch wagged his tail as she placed his bowl on the floor filled with a mixture of dog biscuits and leftover meat from last night’s dinner.’ She patted Patch affectionately as the dog ate it all up with lightning speed. Then licked the bowl clean.
Keith said, ’honestly mother, I am not a child. It is egg and toast, not eggy and soldiers. Also, if you keep feeding Patch like that she will get fatter than ever.’
Keith’s mother pinched one of the toast soldiers from Keith’s plate, bit it in half and replied a she chewed, ’Dr Keith Maxwell, if I want to treat you like a child I will, and if I want to feed up this gorgeous doggy I will’. With that she popped the other half of the soldier into Patch’s upturned mouth. Patch wagged her tail, and Keith tried to frown, but couldn’t help but smile.