The Bridge on the River Wye
Chef Rupert’s picking up the pieces; he’s lost his love, his business, his home, and he’s trying to make a fresh start. Linking up with Jake on a whim he finds himself involved in a strange tale of organic farming, migrant workers, greed and even possibly murder – in the midst of which the attraction is still there, but Rupert’s not sure whether the feeling's mutual or if he's ready to try again.
" ... The Garden of Eatin'? What happened to that?"
"Not sure I can really tell you," was the downbeat response. "That lad that ran it, what was his name … Jason?"
"Jake, right. Something happened in his family – brother died, or something – and he had to go back and take over the farm. He started doing it part time from up here – got someone to look after the stall, and he was always up and down on the train - but in the end he decided he'd better move down there permanent."READ MORE
"Down where?" It was easy to sound casual, but the mention of Jake had provoked a frisson of reaction. He'd enjoyed a harmless flirtation with Jake in the past, both knowing precisely where they stood and that it wasn't going anywhere because Rupert had Cameron and no intention of ever being unfaithful. Nevertheless it had made the days pass, the occasional smile and wink and exchange of innuendo; only a fool would have taken it seriously, and neither of them was a fool.
Harvey shook his head. "Wales somewhere," he said. "Ask on the stall, he still sends them stuff from the country; they should be able to tell you, if you're interested."
"I might," Rupert conceded, feeling an obscure impulse to play down the curiosity he was experiencing; there was no way he was capable of making good decisions at the moment, and he felt he should play his cards close to his chest for the time being. Nevertheless there was no denying that he'd be very glad to see Jake again if it turned out to be possible. "I could see what they've got to say; I wouldn't mind catching up with him some time."
[ ... ]
Back in Gary and Steve's apartment Rupert put the honey on the worktop and found a bowl to decant the strawberries into. He was washing and hulling them under the tap, mechanically, one-by-one, the way his grandmother had taught him, when his eye was taken by the unusual name of the grower printed on the punnet – SHIP MEADOW FARM. The words 'organic', 'natural' and 'sustainable' surrounded it like a halo - and under that, in smaller letters, LOWER HEMBURY, MONMOUTHSHIRE. So much for being Scottish! But then again the women on the stall hadn't looked as if they knew or cared much about what they were doing, and he had a sneaking suspicion the people at Ship Meadow Farm would be disappointed in their sales team if they knew. After all their hard work nurturing the plants, picking and packing the fruit and putting it on the train to London, it ended up under the jaded eyes and in the lacklustre hands of individuals clearly only interested in how much they were being paid.
He'd met so many people in his life who were passionate about good food – to the point of fanaticism, in some cases – that such indifference was beyond his understanding. But then there were those who ate supermarket burgers simply because they were cheap, and had no idea and even less curiosity about what chemicals they might be putting into their systems and the long-term damage they might do. At least the guys at Ship Meadow were trying in their own way - with their large, sweet strawberries - to change that. He could picture them in his mind – young, idealistic, chronically short of money, working every hour of daylight and then some, making a massive daily effort only for the harpies on the stall to metaphorically throw it back in their faces. In fact, he'd half a mind to contact them and tell them how woefully they were being served by their front-of-house team, but the chances were they already knew and couldn't do a thing about it.
He was breaking up the punnet to recycle when it occurred to his exhausted brain that Monmouthshire was in Wales, and he went below and dragged his laptop and accoutrements up to the dining table. Putting the farm's address into Google produced a website showing an idyllic swathe of British countryside under an immaculate blue sky. It explained the odd name – it was a corruption of 'Sheep Meadow', which made perfect sense to him in a Welsh rural context – and gave a small amount of information about the village, too. It looked as if Lower Hembury - which sounded like a tiny spit and a fart of a village scarcely worthy of a dot on the map – was in a fertile growing area. Well, wherever he ended up working, he'd need good suppliers – and, since his UK database was three years out of date, these people would be a good starting-point. It was never too soon to get networking again.
He clicked on the 'Contact Us' tab. The usual address, postcode, telephone number: SPEAK TO MARTIN FISHER ON 01600 …
"We deal with a bloke called Martin," the woman on the stall had said. "We tell him what we want and he sends it." And this, presumably, was the same Martin. But Martin was not the proprietor of the operation; the owners were named as H. Colley and J. Colley, which was odd in itself - a married couple would usually be listed as 'Howard and Julia Colley', or whatever their first names might be. Brothers, perhaps? Father and son, or even mother and son? Uncle, nephew; aunt, niece; grandparent, grandchild? His tired mind wouldn't let it go, and he flicked away to another tab to look at pictures of the growing operation; of a little neat wooden house with an immaculate kitchen garden; of a polytunnel sloping towards the river; of chickens, ducks, children, dogs, all horrendously photogenic and all apparently having the time of their lives making sure that Ship Meadow's fruit and vegetables were packed with all the fun and sunshine the place so obviously enjoyed in abundance.
And there in the midst of it all, in jeans and a checked shirt, one foot resting casually on the shoulder of his spade, stood an attractive young man in his mid to late twenties with dark curly hair and blue eyes and a cheeky grin that could light up the entire county. He was devastatingly handsome in a rooted-in-the-earth Seth Starkadder sort of way, and looked like nearly every woman's – and most gay men's – ideal of a robust but ultimately non-threatening bit of rough trade.
To Rupert the attraction was immediate, but it brought with it the shocked delight of recognition.
There was absolutely no question about it. He was looking at a picture of Jake.COLLAPSE
"Adam Fitzroy has created a wonderful family here, and you will fall in love with them deeply as it goes on and on"
Rainbow Awards Honourable Mention (2014)
Length: 70,000 words/256 pages