Anxiety, but mounting relief. Those were his feelings as he stamped down the final clod of earth and smoothed the surface. Some stones and bricks would lie around but who would pay attention to a scattering of those in a place like this? You wouldn’t give them a second glance. So, he’d done it! Literally buried a problem and no one would be any the wiser.
And nobody was until, years later, a group of men from County Durham started digging up the past.
The Beck on the Wear Arts Centre, known for ease and for effect as BOTWAC, and the brainchild of Ross Whitburn-Howe. Ross lay in bed and mentally ticked off items linked to BOTWAC’s Easter re-opening. People could visit all year round if they wished to, but the Centre’s location at the end of the lane that wound steeply up to Tunhead in the Durham hills was an icy deterrent during winter. Come spring, though, Tunhead shook off winter’s cold discomforts and looked and sounded full of life—even where it harboured death, for Tunhead had a church with a graveyard.
It might be asked why a tiny village that had never been home to more than a hundred people at any one time should boast a church, let alone a graveyard. The church was a gift from the family who, two centuries past, had owned the limestone quarry that led to Tunhead’s existence. The workers should have Sundays off, provided they prayed and listened to sermons instead, and as the nearest church was a ten mile walk from the row of terraced houses, it seemed sensible to offer an alternative on-site as it were. So, called St Stephen’s after the patron saint of stone masons, the church was used by the quarrymen, their families, the tenant farmers and farmhands who worked the fields adjoining the lane and by the old landowners themselves. St Steve’s was still consecrated although, now, disused. That didn’t mean that the graveyard had become a dismal ruin. Like the rest of the village, it looked neat and tidy, spring flower-full and ready to welcome visitors.
“Yes!” thought Ross. “Everything sorted. Publicity placed with the tourist board, leaflets ready for distribution, programme of events arranged, social media angles covered, and bookings already coming in for the workshops and for August’s week-long pottery festival.”
The man who lay beside him stirred, opened and rubbed two sleepy eyes and said, “Mornin’, Gorgeous.”
“Morning, Mike.” Ross smiled and returned the squeeze that followed the greeting. He snuggled down to enjoy a few more minutes’ warmth in bed. A hair dryer whirred into action from the bedroom across the landing.
“That Raith doin’ his hair? Better get a move on before he’s down and nickin’ me breakfast sausages.” Mike got up, pulled on a pair of boxers and went downstairs.
The ‘Raith’ was Raith Rodrigo Roberts-Balaño—known as Raith Balan: sculptor of erotic art and wearer of exotic clothing. The ‘Roberts’ section of his name was the surname of his husband, Phil, who in comparison with Raith was extremely conventional, and a surgeon. Phil was breakfasting on yoghurt, fruit and wholemeal bread when Mike entered the sunny kitchen.
“Mornin’ Phil.” A kiss on the cheek and a hug around the shoulders. Returned with a grin and a “Morning.”
And so, Ross, Mike, Raith and Phil looked forward to March with the optimism produced by mutual affection and the promise of spring.