Sometimes you don’t see the significance of a chance meeting. You think it’s just another turn in the road, a way through the latest problem, not something that will change the course of your life. I was in a hard place, a difficult tutorial with a lecturer in the biochemistry department, had ended with me confessing I hated the course, and was sure I was unlikely to pass the exams at the end of the second year. Despite his reassurances, I knew I did not want to carry on into the third year. At best I would only scrape through my finals, and then what sort of future did I have. I didn’t want to teach and the suggestion I could become a forensic scientist left me cold. I was struggling as it was, bursting into tears when the strain of the work in the laboratory got too much for me. But going home and facing my parents, who were so proud of me was unbearable. The thought of my father’s face, trying to hide his distress, his pale blue eyes struggling with tears as he tried to tell me, that he simply wanted me to be happy. And my mother would be cross, the sacrifices they had both made so I could go to university would have been pointless.
I left my tutor’s room feeling sick as I wrestled with the problem of my future; the smell of formaldehyde wafting from the laboratories didn’t help either. I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other, along the corridor, through the double doors with the Krebs cycle etched in the glass above. I heard as if somewhere far away, the sounds of chattering voices and the clack of my heels on the black and white tiles floor of the entrance hall.
I walked along the path towards the Students’ Union, my mind whirled as I went through the alternative roads I might take. I crossed Western Bank, hardly noticing the traffic until a car hooted at me. Once on the far pavement I turned to cross the lawns towards the door to the Union. I was so distracted that I jumped when a voice said to me, ‘You look like you’re rather upset. Can I help?’
In front of me was the stocky figure of the Dean of the Law Faculty, Professor Wood. I knew him because, I had stood for and been elected to the Students’ Representative Council and the law Professor was the Staff Treasurer.
He smiled, encouraging me to tell him what was troubling me. I swallowed hard and then like a pipe bursting, the whole story came out; how unhappy I was, how I hated the long days in the labs; how awful the prospecting of failing and how upset my parents would be. ‘Come and see my on Monday afternoon and I’ll see what I can do. I think I can find you a place in the Law Faculty.’
Holland Walk is the scene of the murder of Shelley Paulson in my novel Crucial Evidence. I describe it as a being ‘poorly lit, the overhanging trees creating areas of deep shade; just the sort of place for a murder’ I am not the only one to describe it in those sort of terms. In 1845 the Kensington Gazette was receiving letters which described the Walk as a ‘dark sink hole’ dismal and dangerous owing to the erection of high fences and the lack of lighting. One correspondent wrote of apprehension of insecurity being such that his wife and daughters had to be warned not to use it. Yet another writer said he was ‘constantly afraid of forbidding presence of a thug’ and it was a ‘rendezvous for the obscene’
The Walk did not follow the same route as it does now, but at that stage turned across the front of Holland House but two years after the correspondence in the press the footpath was straightened so that it was as it is now.
There has been a death there in the distant past when after a robbery occurred in the Walk during one afternoon in October 1772, Lady Mary Coke who lived in Aubrey House (which also features in my novel) heard the sound of a pistol while she was reading in her library. A highwayman had been shot on the road outside her grounds.
It certainly is a suitable place for a murder.
I want to acknowledge the publication by Barbara Denny ‘Notting Hill and Holland Park Past.’