Janet And I Meet For The First Time

4 February 2010

My good friend, Dr Erica Smith, a psychologist, says two very important things to me when I speak to her about Janet’s missing five days – or fugue state.

She says that no-one buries good things that have happened in their lives, only bad things – although these things can be brought back to the surface again with good psychological therapy, possibly including hypnosis.

She also tells me that anything unlocked by psychological therapy needs to be dealt with using good follow-up therapy.

Very good advice. These words will haunt us in the following months.

12 February 2010

It’s the date of our first meeting.

I drive an hour or so from my home to the village of Disley, a few miles further on from New Mills, Janet’s home town in the Peak District and eventually find my way to the car park where Janet has suggested we meet.

It’s a grey day, made even greyer by the rain lying in a greasy layer on the stone terraced cottages.

I’m looking for a blue Nissan pick-up truck. I see it in the distance and can just make out the woman at the wheel although why she’s sitting so low down in the seat I can’t imagine.

But then she gets out of the car and I realise why – Janet is less than five feet tall but as stocky as a weight lifter. Forty years of farming has taken its toll and as we shake hands I notice she doesn’t have a problem with eye contact. Her eyes are blue and her short, curly hair looks as if it was once blond. She reminds me of a cross between Imelda Staunton and Sandi Toksvig.

Janet doesn’t realise that there isn’t a coffee shop in Disley, which I find a bit surprising, but after asking in the bakers and the newsagents we realise we’re going to have to go to her home town of New Mills after all, which is a few miles back down the road from where she’s just come.

For some reason I expect people in New Mills to know Janet – she has lived here all her life, after all – but if they do, no-one says anything. She tells me later that there was a ‘bit of talk’ in the village when Fred disappeared. I realise later that this is the understatement of the year so perhaps people are talking about us, right now, behind our backs?

I am aware that I need to take things gently after her tears on the ‘phone but she is surprisingly open. Janet is entertaining company, quick witted and warm, but it’s her innocence that I find most appealing. When she tells me what her best friend, Mary, said when hearing that I’d suggested meeting for coffee in Disley rather than going to Ball Beard Farm straight away Janet says, with a childlike glee: “Mary said you were worried about my sanity; that I might be like a character in the ‘The Hills Have Eyes’”. Her laugh is so reassuring I tell Janet that Mary is absolutely right!

She hints at the stories doing the rounds in the village at the time of Fred’s disappearance but by now she’s telling me about her 20 year affair with local solicitor Miles Ingleby.

She looks ashamed although I’m not sure if she’s ashamed of the fact she had an affair with a married man or ashamed because she was taken in and fell for someone who eventually let her down.

And then she tells me about going to prison in 1997. I know, after reading Janet’s original manuscript that Janet defrauded Prickett’s solicitors of £50,000 and I also know it was because Miles ended the affair.

As we chat I feel that Janet has an almost old-fashioned quality that is totally endearing. She is not the sort of person who would ever seek out a compliment. She appears to respect authority and gives me the impression she has nothing to hide. (But I have to keep reminding myself that she has very effectively hidden something from herself for almost 35 years so I should be careful.)

She assures me that I can ask her anything I want to and with that we walk back to our cars ready for the short drive to Ball Beard Farm.

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