Daniel stands in the funnel, a narrow path between two high brick walls that join the playground to the estate proper. On windy days, the air is forced through here then spun upwards in a vortex above the square of so-called grass between the four blocks of flats. Anything that isn’t nailed down becomes airborne. Washing, litter, dust. Grown men have been knocked off their feet. A while back there was a story going round about a flying cat.
Except there’s no wind this morning, just an unremitting mugginess that makes you want to open a window until you remember that you’re outside. Mid-August. A week since the family holiday in Magaluf, where he learned backstroke and was stung by a jellyfish, a week till school begins again. He is ten years old. Back at home his sister is playing teacher and his brother is playing pupil. Helen is twelve, Paul seven. She has a blackboard and a little box of chalks in eight colours and when Paul misbehaves she smacks him hard on the leg. His mother is doing a jigsaw of Venice on the dining table while the tank heats for the weekly wash.
He can see the legs of a girl on the swings, appearing, disappearing. It is 1972. ‘Silver Machine’ and ‘Rocket Man’. He cannot remember ever having been this bored before. He bats a wasp away from his face a car door slams somewhere He steps into the shadow of the stairwell and climbs towards Sean’s front door.
There will be three other extraordinary events in his life. He will sit on the terrace of a rented house near Cahors with his eight year- old son and see a barn on the far side of the valley destroyed by lightning, the crack of white light appearing to come not from the sky but to burst from the ground beneath the building.
He will have a meeting with the manager of a bespoke ironworks near Stroud, whose factory occupies one of three units built into the side of a high railway cutting. Halfway through the meeting a cow will fall through the roof.
On the morning of his fiftieth birthday his mother will call and say that she needs to see him. Despite the fact that there is a large party planned for the afternoon he will get into the car and drive straight to Leicester only to find that the ambulance has already taken his mother’s body away. Only later will he discover that he received the phone call half an hour after the stroke which killed her.
Today will be different, not simply shocking but one of those moments when time forks and fractures and you look back and realize that if things had happened only slightly differently, you would be leading one of those other ghost lives that sped away into the dark.