Crosschester’s Souls

Not everything makes it into the second, third or fourth draft, let alone the finished novel. Here’s a section I removed because it over-explained and stopped the reader’s ability to imagine, to fill in the gaps. I still enjoy reading it on its own though.

Next to Crosschester Cathedral (and held in only slightly less esteem) was Crosschester College. Ancient and revered, formed on the bones of a monastery. It had been disgorging students into the nation’s top universities for centuries.

Its pupils went on to infest the heights and depths of the Civil Service, the Armed Forces, the Church, the money markets, the spy services of various states, the bars, shacks, brothels and offices of the British Empire.

Crosschester’s reputation was made in the mouths of the people who passed through it: wealthy students at the College, soldiers at the barracks; tourists, pilgrims, barristers at the Crown Court, bishops at the Ecclesiastical Court. Outsiders mocked on the idea that there was any kind of poverty in the city or the county.

The Old Money, caught in a net of its own interbreeding, lived in the large houses that sat like shrapnel from old wars, embedded in the countryside, dominating the villages and hamlets, overlooking the all-day-everyday from the seven hilltops that surrounded the city.

There were poorer areas of Crosschester, of course, as there were everywhere no matter how hard everybody seemed to try and hide that matter. The public housing dreams called Stanhope Gardens, The Montgomery Estates, and Churchill Downs festered in the north, west and south of the city. They were noticed every so often, usually before and after wars or threats of civic upheaval, when they were given licks of paint or possibly some slightly less life-threatening swings and roundabouts for the children. People who worked hard or slacked harder lived in Stanhope, Montgomery and Churchill. The agricultural workers who were the motors for the great arable and not so great cattle farms that patchworked the rich land around Crosschester lived in villages.

The city had sat in its place for thousands of years in the Leon valley, the rivers Icene and Rousel flowed through it and into the villages and hamlets that surrounded it and supplied it with food and workforce. It had been a Roman stronghold, settled on the bones and sacred stones of pagans. The Romans had departed never looking back leaving it to chaos. Their work had then been cannibalised by Saxons, and copied by the Georgians. War in and war out, Crosschester largely slept through history and histories. While everywhere around it was pounded and disfigured by German bombers, the Nazi pilots flew low over it, using the cathedral as a signpost toward the Royal Naval shipyards in Porthampton.

Crosschester was contented. Crosschester was portly and gouty. It was green and had two famous authors, a painter of distinction, an aviator and one famous sportsman, all now in the graveyard of the magnificent and ancient cathedral. The city sat there, not minding anything that didn’t get out of hand, not starting anything nor ending anything that had once been started. It didn’t snore so much as it talked in its sleep, and the talk was always about memory but never about regrets.

The soul of the town that was a city was cast and stolid. It welcomed anybody who knew the unstated rules and was prepared to abide by them. Those rules catered for the occasional inevitable squaddie-civilian battles that erupted at The Crown and Anchor, The Fighting Cocks or The Green Man pubs. The County’s own regiment (not long for the world) had its home on Shalford Road, downhill all the way from the Royal County Hospital. The squaddies who were not already in Northern Ireland in terror and of terror, were either preparing to go or were preparing to quit altogether. It was not a regiment of serene traditions or soldiers.

The reason it was defending the union of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland was down to a junior minister and ex-Crosschester College boy. He had a poorly mended, fractured leg that niggled him every time the weather turned damp. It had been broken, horribly, by two privates and a corporal for not fighting hard enough. Forty years ago that was, and he’d sworn all kinds of revenge with his face down in the gutter outside The Crown that night. Finally, after decades of graft and obsequiousness in the right places and faces, he had persuaded his minister not to deploy the Crosshesters to Cyprus but instead to send them to Londonderry.

Noel Murphy

I'm Noel Murphy. I wrote this novel. Please do get in touch if you need to know any more. I've got no agent, so you'll be talking directly to me.

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