Cover image for All quiet on the Orient Express
All quiet on the Orient Express
Mills, Magnus.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Arcade Pub., [1999]

Physical Description:
211 pages ; 22 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.2 9.0 67372.
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Camping out in England's Lake District waiting for summer to end, an itinerant odd-jobber agrees to do a small painting job for the owner of the campsite, which leads to further tasks that enmesh him against his will in the complex mysteries of the placid local community.

Author Notes

Magnus Mills lives in London.

(Publisher Provided)

Magnus Mills is the author of A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In and six other novels, including The Restraint of Beasts, which won the McKitterick Prize and was shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and the Whitbread (now the Costa) First Novel Award in 1999. His most recent novel, A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In, was published to great critical acclaim. His books have been translated into twenty languages. His title, The Field of the Cloth of Gold, made the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist 2015.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For the hapless characters that inhabit Mills' fiction, the seemingly placid areas of Britain can be dangerous places. The unnamed narrator is hanging around a lake district campground at the end of the season. He is soon to be off on a trip to the East--to the Orient--to fulfill a dream. The owner of the campground asks for help with a paint job--simple enough it would seem--but one thing leads to another, and our narrator is tangled in what seems to be a local custom of barter and service that has no end. Of course, he never asks the important questions like How much? or How long?, which contributes to his entanglement. And, as accidental death is an unremarkable event, our character may be "filling in" for a long time. Though this novel lacks the sharp and black comic focus of Mills' The Restraint of Beasts [BKL S 1 98], it is an interesting second outing for an author who is sure to have a strong future. --Danise Hoover

Publisher's Weekly Review

The subtitle nearly says it all: on September 5, 1972, young men from a PLO faction called Black September infiltrated the Olympic compound and took Israeli athletes hostage, threatening to kill them all unless Israel and Germany released more than 200 prisoners. After a day on worldwide live TV, the terrorists and their captives were enticed to journey to Frstenfeldbruck airport, where Bavarian police staged a disastrous rescue operation and then a poorly managed firefight--all the hostages, one German and five Palestinians died. After some soul-searching, Israel mounted secret campaigns to assassinate the Black September leaders it held responsible. Portrayed here as inventive, effective and deliberately cruel, the Israelis of these operations (among them current Prime Minister Ehud Barak) "were trying to make it clear they could wipe out anyone, anywhere." (They also wiped out an innocent Palestinian waiter in Norway.) Reeve (The Millennium Bomb; The New Jackals) has written a splendid, disturbing and gripping account of these events and the world's reactions. He has interviewed (or caused to be interviewed) all surviving participants, from Israeli officers and athletes to the one surviving Black September gunman, Jamal Al-Gashey: a spate of quotes lets Reeve reconstruct, day by day and sometimes minute by minute, decisions and reactions on all sides, from the terrorists' initial planning to the German authorities' alleged coverups and the families' later grief. The film of the same title, based on the same set of interviews, took this year's Oscar for Best Documentary. Reeve's narrative also stands among the best of its kind. 36 photos not seen by PW. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In the past year, Mills, who works as a bus driver in London, has become a British literary sensation: his first novel, The Restraint of Beasts, was (among other things) shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award. This, his second novel, is even more compelling and absurd than the first. A young man goes camping in the English Lake Country to prepare himself for a trip he's planning to makeÄoverlandÄto India. But when he stays beyond camping season, he becomes trapped in a vortex of small-town life. The campground owner hires him to do odd jobs, regulars at the local pub draft him into their darts league, and his boss's teenage daughter wants him to help with her homework assignments. Soon, the young man finds himself transformed by the pressures of fitting into this tiny social cosmosÄin which money seems never to change hands and standards were set long before his arrivalÄuntil he finds he can't leave. Mills recounts the story with an eye for sensual detail and the absurd juxtaposition of utterly believable comedies and tragedies. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄFrancisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One `I thought I'd better catch you before you go,' he said. `Expect you'll be leaving today, will you?'     `Hadn't planned to,' I replied.     `A lot of people choose to leave on Monday mornings.'     `Well, I thought I'd give it another week, actually. The weather seems quite nice.'     `So you're staying on then?'     `If that's alright with you.'     `Of course it is,' he said. `You're welcome to stay as long as you like.'     I'd been wondering when he would come to collect the rent. Several times in the past few days he'd gone round calling on everyone else, but for some reason he kept leaving me out. Now, on the sixth morning, he had finally made his approach. I emerged from my tent, barefoot, and the conversation continued.     `Nice place you've got here.'     `Yes,' he said. `We like it very much. Of course, I've been here all my life, so I don't know any different.'     `Suppose not.'     `But everyone who comes here says they like it.'     `I'm not surprised.'     He opened the palm of his hand and for the first time I noticed he was holding a wooden tent peg.     `This yours?' he asked.     `No,' I said. `Mine are all metal ones.'     `Do you want it? You can have it as a spare if you like.'     `Is it nobody else's?'     `There's no one else left,' he said. `They've all gone.'     I glanced around the field. `Oh yes, you're right. Shame really.'     `One speck of rain and they all flee. Then the sun comes back and they miss it.'     `That's always the way, isn't it?'     `Almost always. Do you want this then?'     `OK,' I said, taking the peg. 'Thanks.'     `Would you like to pay some rent?'     `Oh yes. How much do I owe you?'     He adopted a businesslike smile. `It's a pound a night.'     `That's six pounds so far then.'     `If you've been here six nights, yes.'     `Right.' I took a five-pound note from my back pocket and handed it over, and then began fishing for some coins.     `That's quite expensive really, isn't it?' he remarked. `Just for you, your tent and your motorbike.'     `Seems alright to me,' I replied.     `I ought to be giving you a bit of discount if you're staying another week.'     `A pound a night's fine,' I said, giving him the balance.     `Alright then,' he said. `That's grand.'     Now that the transaction was over I expected him to make his excuses and move on, but after he'd taken the money he replanted his feet and looked up at the sky.     `On holiday, are you?' he asked.     `Not really,' I said. `Well, sort of.'     He smiled again. `Which?'     `Well, I'm between things at the present. I've been working all summer to save some money so I can go East during the winter.'     `You mean the east coast?'     `Oh, no,' I said. `Sorry. Abroad East. You know, Turkey, Persia, and then overland to India.'     `I see,' he said, nodding towards my bike. `You'll be going on that, will you?'     `Probably not, actually,' I replied. `There's a train you can catch a good part of the way.'     `Is there now? Well, that's handy, isn't it?'     `Yes, I suppose it is.'     He looked at my tent. `So what brings you to this part of the country then?'     `Well,' I said. `I've always fancied seeing the lakes, so I thought I'd have a couple of weeks here first.'     `And do you like it so far?'     `What I've seen, yeah.'     `That's good. You going out today?'     `Not sure what I'll be doing really.'     `We've noticed you go out most days.'     `Have you?'     `Yes, we don't miss much from our window.'     I was slightly surprised by this. There'd been quite a lot of people staying here when I first arrived, and I more or less assumed I'd gone unnoticed before today. After all, I was only one tent and a motorbike. Some of the families who'd been around during the week had set up huge encampments that extended across large areas of the field, with countless children running in all directions. By comparison I'd occupied hardly any room at all. Nevertheless, it had taken me some time just to find a reasonable space for myself, where I wouldn't be encroached upon. The previous evening a mass exodus had taken place following a brief spell of rain, but not until this morning did I realize I was the only visitor left. All that remained was an expanse of grass marked out in yellowing squares. The absence of other paying customers probably explained the proprietor's sudden interest in me, yet it turned out he'd been aware of my presence all along.     His remark about the window caused us both to look up at the house, perched on the sloping ground above. Behind it I could make out the outline of a very large barn, as well as some other outbuildings, and beyond them lay the upper slopes of the fells. The whole place was bathed in sunlight, but I knew after yesterday's rain that it wasn't always like this.     As we stood there taking in the view a thought occurred to me.     `What I'd really like to do is hire one of those rowing boats down by the lake.'     `Oh yes?' he said.     `Yeah, but every time I go down there the boat-hire place seems to be closed.'     `Bit late in the season really.'     `Suppose so.'     `Still, I've no doubt you'll find something else to do.'     And with that he gave me a smile and a nod before strolling off in the direction of the house.     `Nice talking to you,' I said to his back, and he raised a hand in acknowledgement.     I watched him go, then delved in my bag for a can of baked beans and set about preparing some breakfast. It was a simple affair, because all I had was a stove, a pan and these beans. I heated them up and ate them `cowboy-style', without a plate. Then I went over to the tap, washed the pan out and brought back some water for making tea.     While I was waiting for it to boil I sat in the grass and wondered how I was going to occupy myself today. That was the only trouble with this place: the scenery was great and everything, but there was nothing to do except `take it in', and, to tell the truth, I'd already had enough of that. I'd ridden round and round the area a few times on my motorbike, going along the edge of lakes and traversing high mountain passes, but there was a limit to how much enjoyment could be derived from this, especially with all the cars travelling nose to tail everywhere I went. Admittedly the roads would be quieter now that the majority of tourists had gone home, yet the idea of spending another day motorcycling didn't really appeal to me. The alternative, of course, was going for a walk. There were miles and miles of footpaths going off in every direction all over the fells, most of them worn down by sheep, but some, apparently, attributable to the Romans. I'd read somewhere that you could walk over the fells for a year and never use the same pathway twice. Impressive enough, but the disadvantage of going for long walks was that I'd probably never meet anybody all day long. So that wasn't particularly attractive either.     However, I was aware that my supply of baked beans was running low, so I decided to take a short walk along the side of the lake and get some more. There was a place called Millfold about a mile away at the northern end, with a shop, two pubs, a phone box and a churchyard. I'd taken quite a liking to one of the pubs, the Packhorse, and spent every evening there, watching people come and go. I had no intention of calling in for a lunchtime drink, though, as I didn't want the day to dissolve into an alcoholic blur. Once I'd bought my supplies I would have to think of something else to do in the afternoon.     I'd made up my mind about that, and was just brewing the tea, when a movement caught my eye. Walking down the narrow concrete road that led from the house came a teenage girl in school uniform. I looked at my watch. It was eight-thirty. I'd seen this girl go by every day last week, passing the field full of tents on her way to the front gate. Here she would stop and stand waiting with a school bag dangling at her feet. On previous occasions she'd paid no attention to me as she walked past, always looking straight ahead, but this morning she glanced in my direction so I gave her a friendly wave. She waved back and then continued to the gate. The tea now being ready, I poured it into my tin mug and added milk. A few moments later, when I again looked towards the gateway, the schoolgirl had gone. Behind the hedge I could see the roof of a blue minibus moving away along the road. * * * There was a modest sign fixed to the outside wall of the shower block. `HILLHOUSE CAMPING', it said. `PROPRIETOR: T. PARKER'.     After taking a shower I zipped up the tent and set off on my lakeside walk, going out through the main gateway, then across the public road to another gate leading into a second field. Until yesterday this other gate had been wide open and held that way with a chain, giving full access to the lake. It was even open late last night when I came back from the pub. Now, however, the same chain had been used to keep the gate shut, which seemed to indicate that the holiday season was definitely finished. I climbed over and crossed the field by way of a dirt track, passing between some mossy trees before eventually arriving at the lake, where a number of rowing boats were moored. There were seven boats all told, tied up one behind the other, about sixty yards from the shore. As usual the green boat-hire hut was `closed until further notice', but I went and stood at the end of the small jetty for a while, on the off chance that someone would turn up.     Nobody did, so after a few minutes spent gazing at the water I continued my journey along the shore. Finally, I arrived at the north end of the lake, passed through a kissing gate, and walked across a deserted car park to a sort of square occupied by the shop and the two pubs.     The shopkeeper was standing in his doorway, and appeared to be sunning himself. Above his front window was one large word: `HODGE'.     `Morning,' he said, as I approached. `No bike today?'     `Er ... no,' I replied. `I thought I'd walk.'     `You're the chap staying up at Tommy Parker's, aren't you?'     `Yes, that's right.'     `Not leaving yet then?'     `No, I thought I'd stay on a bit longer.'     `Oh, I see.'     As I came forward he made a move as if to step back into the shop, but then he paused and remained blocking the doorway instead. As a result I found myself standing quite close to him.     A moment passed as he glanced up at the sky.     `Not a bad sort of day, is it?'     `No, it's very nice,' I agreed, looking up at the same sky.     He seemed content with this answer, and moved aside. Then he followed me into the shop and slipped behind the counter.     `Now then. What can I do you for?'     `Just a few things,' I said. `Starting with six cans of baked beans.'     `Oh yes,' he said. `You like your beans, don't you?'     `Yeah, well, they save worrying about meals and everything.'     `Best things ever invented, beans are,' he announced. `Right then, six cans coming up.'     `Those eggs fresh, are they?' I asked, indicating a box.     `Quite fresh, yes.'     `OK, half a dozen eggs as well, please.'     I bought a carton of milk too, and then paid him.     As he handed over my change he said, `That motorbike of yours. You thinking of selling it?'     `Not really, no,' I replied.     `I noticed it's quite an early model.'     `Yes,' I said. 'Pre-unit.'     `But it's not for sale?'     `No.'     `Well, if it was, Tommy could sell it for you. Knows all about auctions.'     `Does he?'     `Oh yes. He's always buying and selling things.'     `Oh, right,' I said. `I'll bear that in mind if I suddenly decide to sell it.'     He gave me a funny look when I said this, but I wasn't bothered really because I thought his questioning was a bit too familiar. After all, I was only a temporary visitor passing though the area, who happened to be buying a few groceries. What did he expect? My life history?     I left the shop and headed across the square. For some reason I'd decided to return to the campsite directly along the public road. There was now a vague notion in my head that I would give the bike a bit of a check-over, and then maybe polish up the chrome. It seemed like a good idea while the nice weather held. Outside the Packhorse a brewer's lorry was making a delivery and collecting a few empty beer barrels. Beside it was one of the barmen, and as I passed by he gave me a nod of recognition.     `How're you doing?' he asked in a cheery manner.     `Alright, thanks,' I replied, and went on my way wondering what sort of lives these people would lead now that the seasonal throng had departed. Despite the sunshine and the chirping birds there was no one else around but me.     I'd just stopped to admire the sheer density and thickness of the churchyard wall, when a pick-up truck with an empty trailer in tow pulled up beside me. Behind the wheel was Mr Parker.     `Want a lift?'     I felt I really ought to decline the offer as it seemed to be my duty to walk on such a pleasant day. But I got in all the same.     `Thanks,' I said, joining him in the cab.     We moved off and then he said, `Don't mind me asking, but this job of yours you had.'     `Oh, yes?'     `What were you doing?'     `Nothing very special. It was in a factory.'     `Get away.'     `No,' I said. `Really. It was.'     `What, with chimneys and everything?'     `There was one chimney, yes.'     `But I thought all the factories were supposed to have closed down.'     `Not this one,' I said. `It was doing quite well actually.'     `Was that down south?'     `Well, south-west really.'     `But you're from the south, aren't you?'     `Er ... no,' I said. `Middle, to be exact.'     `Because most of the people who come here are from the north-east.'     `Yes, I've noticed that.'     `Not all of them, of course, but most.'     `Yes.'     It had taken me almost an hour to walk to the shop from the campsite, what with hanging around by the boat-hire place and everything, but in the truck the return journey took only a matter of minutes. We very quickly arrived at Mr Parker's gateway, where he pulled up. Slipping the gears into neutral, he sat tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.     `So what did they make in this factory of yours?' he asked.     `Well, factory's probably the wrong word,' I said. `It was recycling oil drums. You know, cleaning them out, getting rid of the dents, painting them up.'     `Then they'd sell them off, would they?'     `That's right.'     `And you say they're doing quite well at it?'     `As far as I know, yes.'     `I've got some oil drums up in the top yard. Do you think they'd buy them off me?'     `I'm not sure really,' I said. `How many have you got?'     `About a dozen,' he replied. `Picked them up in a job lot.'     `Well, I was only there temporary but I should think you'd need at least a hundred to make it worth while.'     `Oh,' he said. `I see.'     `Need a full lorry-load really, going all that way.'     `Yes, I suppose it would.' He tapped on the steering wheel again. `So what job were you doing then?'     `I was in the paint shop.'     `Painting?'     `Well, it was spraying really.'     `Not brushes?'     `No.'     A few moments passed.     `But you can handle a paintbrush, can you?' he asked.     `Not bad with one,' I replied. `Haven't done much though.'     `Well, we've got a bit of a chore for you if you're interested.'     `Oh,' I said, with some surprise. `What's that then?'     `This gate needs painting.'     I glanced at the gate that was hooked open beside us. It was a steel tube type, painted red and hinged on substantial concrete posts.     `It's already been painted,' I remarked.     `Wrong colour,' he said. `It needs to be green.'     `Oh,' I said. `Well, I can paint it for you if you like.'     `How much would you want for doing that then?'     `I'm not really bothered about the money.'     `Well, you wouldn't want to work for nothing, would you?'     `Tell you what,' I said. `Let me off the remainder of my rent and that'll do.'     `You sure?'     `Yes, positive. It'll be something to keep me occupied. I quite like painting.'     `Oh, right,' said Mr Parker. `Well, when you're ready come up to the house and I'll sort you out some paint and suchlike.'     `OK then.'     I got out of the truck and watched as he continued up the concrete road in the direction of his house. As soon as he'd gone it occurred to me that I'd probably diddled myself. What I should have done was charge him a fiver and he'd most likely have let me off the rent anyway. After all, I was hardly taking up any space in his field. Still, it was too late to worry about that now, and to tell the truth I wasn't really bothered. It was actually quite nice to have something proper to do for a change, and so as soon as I'd dumped my groceries in the tent I set off up towards the house.     The camping field was on flat ground, but the concrete road started getting quite steep just after it passed the shower block. It was flanked for some distance by sparse thorn hedges before eventually emerging in a hard gravel yard. As I came up the slope I was aware of the house looming above me, overlooking the yard, the road and the fields below. I passed the lower corner of the building and scuffed some gravel with my boots.     `That was quick, you must be keen,' said Mr Parker.     I looked up and saw him standing on a terrace at the side of the house, at the top of some concrete steps.     `Might as well get on with it,' I replied.     `That's what we like to hear.'     Having arrived in the yard I saw straight away that what I'd taken to be a barn was in fact better described as a corrugated steel shed. It stood opposite the house on a huge concrete platform set into the sloping ground. There were large folding doors at the front, and access to the platform was by means of a concrete loading ramp. Concrete had also been used to create the base for an ancient green petrol pump sited beside the platform. Glancing round, I began to wonder exactly how much concrete had been poured on to this piece of hillside. It seemed to crop up all over the place, like some form of indigenous rock.     Parked next to the steel shed was a Morris van that didn't look as if it had been anywhere for years. Further along there were several stone outbuildings, including a hay-loft, as well as a small bothy, apparently unoccupied. The higher side of the yard was bounded by a dry wall, with a gateway through to another area of hard-standing where I could see a group of second-hand oil drums. This, presumably, was what Mr Parker had referred to earlier as the `top yard'.     Not that I had much time to examine my surroundings in detail. Within moments of my arrival he'd come down the steps to join me.     `Right,' he said. `Let's go and have a look in the paint shed.'     He led the way to one of the outbuildings and pushed the door open. Inside, on a series of shelves, were dozens of tins of paint, some pristine and unopened, others not so new. He selected one, handed it to me, and then produced a one-inch brush from another shelf. In doing so he pushed the door open a little further, and the daylight revealed yet more paint stacked at the back of the shed.     `Now then,' he said, turning to me. `Do you know how to reseal a tin of paint?'     `No,' I said. `Sorry, I don't.'     `Well, I'm surprised about that. I thought you said you worked in a paint shop.'     `Yeah, but that was spray paint. It all came out of pressure pipes.'     `Ah, well,' he said. `It's easy enough done. When you've finished painting you put the lid back on nice and tight, and then turn the tin upside down for half a minute.'     `Oh,' I said. `OK.'     `And when you turn it back the right way up, it's sealed. See?'     `Yep.'     The tin I was holding had never been opened before. I also noticed there was no label.     `How do you know what colour it is?' I asked.     `It's green,' he replied.     `Yeah, but how do you know?'     `I got it in a job lot,' he said. `All the unlabelled ones are green.'     I looked across the yard at the green petrol pump, and the green-painted doors on the big shed.     `Nice colour,' I remarked.     `Can't stand it myself,' said Mr Parker. `But I haven't any choice.' * * * A quarter of an hour later, having walked down to the front gate, got the lid off the tin and given the contents a stir, I began my work. The gateway was quite wide, about sixteen feet across, presumably so that arriving campers wouldn't miss the turning. As a result there was a lot of painting to do. I decided that the best way to go about it was to be methodical, so I would start with the hinges, then do the outer frame of the gate before working my way inwards.     Not long after I'd begun, Mr Parker came by in his truck, again with the trailer in tow. As he passed he slowed down and looked at the job in progress, but said nothing.     The same sort of thing happened every time a vehicle went past on the public road. There wasn't much traffic, but occasionally someone would go by, and they always eased up a little to see who was painting Mr Parker's front gate. I wondered whether I looked like a professional painter. Probably not. A genuine tradesman would more than likely have had a van parked near at hand, with the back doors open and a radio blaring out. He'd be in proper overalls as well, whereas I was clad only in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. My equipment consisted of no more than a brush and a tin of paint. Obviously an amateur. Someone who'd been roped in to do the job because he had nothing better to do. Nevertheless, I was surprised at the interest my presence seemed to arouse amongst passers-by. There must have been thousands of visitors to the area throughout the summer, and the locals would surely be used to outsiders by now. Yet just because a stranger was painting someone's gate, he immediately came under local scrutiny.     Not that I was bothered by all this. The vehicles that went by were few and far between, and their passing broke the monotony of the job. It was actually taking much longer than I'd expected, and although being outside in the sunshine was quite pleasant, I began to find all the fiddly corners and underneath bits rather tedious. I was just working along one of the diagonals when I heard a clinking noise coming along behind the hedgerow. Glancing round, I saw a pick-up truck go by, loaded with crates full of empty milk bottles. It slowed down as it passed, and a moment later the clinking stopped. There then followed the clunk of a gearbox, and the truck came reversing back up to the gateway.     A man wearing a brown linen coat got out.     `Oh,' he said, looking at the gate. `Tommy's got you doing this, has he?'     `Yeah,' I replied, without stopping work.     `Well, it probably needed doing then.'     `Yes.'     `You're best painting the outside first and the middle'll look after itself.'     `That's what I'm doing,' I said.     He cocked his head sideways and peered along the gate.     `Yes, you're right,' he said. `You are.' At this time I happened to be working with the gate half open and half closed, so that I could get at both sides easily. The man now came round the end of the gate and stood beside me, observing. `Well,' he said at length. `You seem to be very handy with a paintbrush.'     `Thanks,' I replied.     `I'll just put this a bit nearer. By the way, is Tommy in?'     `No,' I said. `He went out earlier.'     `Did he say when he was coming back?'     `No.'     `It's just that there's something I ought to see him about really.'     `Oh yes?'     `Nothing very important, but I've got to see him sometime.'     `OK,' I said. `Shall I tell him you came?'     `No, I shouldn't bother,' he replied. `It'll keep.'     `Right.'     He fell silent for a moment, and when I looked up I saw he was gazing across at my tent. I'd been crouched down painting for quite a while now, so I stood upright to give my knees a rest.     `Camping here, are you?' he asked.     `Yes, just for a few days.'     `Do you want milk delivered then?'     `It wouldn't be worth your while, would it?'     `I don't mind delivering to tents.'     `Well, I've been getting milk from the shop actually.'     `What, Hodge?'     `Yes,' I said. `That's the one.'     `But he only does it in cartons. Mine's in bottles, straight from the dairy.'     `Oh, right. Er ... the thing is, I won't be here much longer.'     `Oh,' he said. `I see.'     `Thanks anyway.'     `That's alright. If you change your mind, just let me know.'     `Right.'     `I'd best be off now.'     `OK then. Bye.'     `Bye.'     He went back to his truck, then drove off after giving me a wave, and I resumed my painting. I now had only one short section left to do, so I swung the gate round to leave it hooked in the `open' position. As I did so it caught the tin and knocked it flat, spilling green paint over the concrete. I cursed and quickly grabbed the tin to put it upright again, then set about trying to transfer as much of the lost contents onto the gate as possible. At the same time I pondered how the accident had happened. All afternoon I'd been very careful about where I put the tin in order to avoid this very thing. Now, despite my efforts, there was paint spread everywhere. Then I recalled the words of the dairyman when he said, `I'll just put this a bit nearer.' I hadn't really taken any notice of what he was doing, but he must have moved the tin. I was sure he didn't put it where it would get knocked over on purpose, but nonetheless he shouldn't have interfered. I got the gate finished as soon as I could, and then turned my attention to the mess on the ground. There was a bright green splodge more than a yard long across the concrete, and it looked terrible.     I couldn't leave it like that, not right in the middle of Mr Parker's front entrance. So after some consideration I decided to paint it into a square. I marked out the shape with a piece of chalky stone, using one of my tent poles to get a straight line. Then carefully I began filling it in. By the time I'd finished doing this the gate was touch dry. I stood looking at the new green square and wondered if I'd done the right thing or not. Still, it was too late to worry now. After I'd cleaned the paintbrush I went and made a cup of tea. It struck me that I'd not eaten for several hours, so I prepared a pan of beans as well. Finally, I sat down for a rest.     About twenty minutes later the blue minibus I'd seen in the morning drew up outside the front entrance. My watch now said four o'clock. I saw the schoolgirl get out of the vehicle, wave to someone inside as it drove away, and then walk up the concrete road towards the house. This time she took no notice of me at all. After she'd gone I went across to the gate to see if she'd left any footmarks on the green square.     She hadn't. * * * Night was falling when I saw a pair of headlights come along the public road and turn into the gateway. I could just make out the outline of Mr Parker's pick-up truck and trailer, which seemed to be loaded with something bulky. As the lights flashed up the hill, I got my towel and went over to the shower block. There was an orange-coloured lamp mounted above the men's entrance, and I allowed its dull glow to guide me through the darkness. During the last few days I'd got used to passing between dimly lit tents in which muffled conversations were being held. Tonight, though, there was only me in the entire field, walking silent and barefoot across the grass. I entered the block and was at once dazzled by a powerful fluorescent light set above the wash basins. It shone on the white tiles and the whitewashed walls, making the place seem very stark and bare. When my eyes had become accustomed to the brightness I chose a shower cubicle and turned the tap on. Oddly enough I discovered it was already fully open, but there was no water coming out. I tried the tap in the next cubicle and it was the same. I was just about to test a third one when for some reason all the showers came on together. The water seemed quite warm so I got under one of them straightaway and began applying some soap. It wasn't as steaming hot as it had been on previous occasions, bur it would do for a quick splash. Half a minute later, however, the water ran cold so I quickly rinsed the lather off and came out again. I was standing there wondering what had happened when the schoolgirl walked into the shower block carrying a mop. Copyright © 1999 Magnus Mills. All rights reserved.