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IT IS SAID THAT men look for their mothers when they marry. That certainly seemed true of Neil Entwistle.
His mother, Yvonne, was a moderately attractive homemaker who worked part-time as a school cook so she could be home with Neil and his younger brother, Russell. Fiercely protective, Yvonne was the type of woman whose family life remained in the home. She was not one given to gossiping over the back fence. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Located on a typical country lane in Worksop, a gritty town in the middle of England where many found it difficult to get ahead, the exterior of the Entwistles’ house received a fresh coat of paint every spring and had manicured lawns. Everything looked pristine on the outside, leading passersby to believe that all must have been fine on the inside as well. That was exactly the persona that Yvonne Entwistle wanted to present to her neighbors, and it was one that was not a huge jump from the truth, especially in light of her family’s surroundings.
A large number of the 40,000 or so people who make up Worksop’s population wander through the workaday town without the momentum of academic drive or career ambition. Government handouts are the norm, as entire generations have learned to survive off “the dole.” Alcoholism is common in many households, as is domestic violence and sexual abuse. But none of those problems would come near Yvonne Entwistle’s boys. She would not tolerate too many strangers near Neil or Russell, and was often spotted playing with her sons in the family back garden long after they had grown into tall, lanky teenagers. The sight of nearly grown men playing sports with their mum gave nosy neighbors plenty of fodder to discuss over afternoon tea.
Worksop, which is located roughly 150 miles from London and is situated on the northern edge of the fabled Sherwood Forest, was once a flourishing town where men came home dusty from a long day in the coal mines, and their wives nursed calloused fingers from their jobs in ribbon factories. It was once a proud place, a town with streets lined with neat terrace houses, where Sunday meals were served in the front “best room” and always included meat.
But in the 1970s, the mines were depleted of coals—and jobs. The women were out of work a decade later when the ribbon factories first became automated and then moved out of the country altogether, for China. Today, there are just a handful of coal mines. What few blue-collar jobs remain come from a plant that makes Campbell’s soup and bouillon cubes. As with any city that has seen its industry collapse, the infusion of poverty that follows unemployment brings all the problems associated with it: teenage pregnancy, prostitution, violence and drug abuse. And as Neil and Russell Entwistle grew up under the watchful eye of Yvonne and their father, Clifford, who still worked the coal mines and functioned as a local Labor politician, an influx of Eastern Europeans moved into the town, leading to overcrowded schools and a burgeoning organized crime problem. The once-tidy terrace houses that made up the town in its glory days are today ramshackle, crumbling and, in many cases, menacing, slums. Worksop is certainly not one of the destinations highlighted on tourist maps of England. Unless one runs into the town’s most famous resident, rock star Bruce Dickinson, a vocalist in the internationally acclaimed metal band Iron Maiden, there is not a hell of a lot to do there.
Coming from Worksop was nothing to boast about. And Neil Entwistle seldom did. In fact, he was so ashamed of his rough-as-concrete, Cockney working-class accent that he became quiet, a virtual shut-in. Much like his father, who only emerged from his shell while working as a labor union leader on the Bassetlaw District Council, Neil was reserved when speaking of his upbringing, but the truth was, he had plenty to be proud of. In a school where many of the students can’t read or write, Neil Entwistle’s name is emblazoned on an “honours plaque” that hangs in the assembly hall of the Valley Comprehensive School in Worksop. To this day, the headmaster points it out to visiting parents and new teachers, exclaiming over and over, “Neil Entwistle got top grades.”
Those grades helped earn him admission to the University of York to pursue a degree in electronic engineering and business—noble professions that would have landed him in a world far outside of the one his father was trapped in.
It was not just financial success that Entwistle’s university would offer him. His academic pursuits would also provide the path he needed to meet Rachel Souza.
The couple came together in 1999 in what they would later describe as a fated meeting at a tiny boathouse dubbed Love Lane, part of the University of York campus. Rachel Souza was a pretty and petite college exchange student studying English literature, reading aloud with a clipped New England accent honed on the South Shore of Boston. Despite her five-foot stature, Rachel had long, lithe limbs she’d earned as a track star at Silver Lake Regional High School in the suburb of Kingston. She would run through the crimson cranberry bogs that dotted the area around her home, each time pushing harder and harder to beat her last time. She usually succeeded. In fact, it seemed that she succeeded in nearly everything she did. She was on her high school’s honor roll. She was a peer mediator. But it was her athleticism that helped make her an excellent rower. She was so good at the sport, she managed to talk her way onto the men’s team of York University’s Boat Club.
Neil Entwistle, tall, raven-haired and noticeably shy, was her teammate. Rachel found his reserved nature cute where others saw him as standoffish. She could meet his eyes when he stared toward the ground, which is where his gaze often went out of habit. Their romantic connection was forged on the icy waters of the River Ouse in the hours that they pushed off from Love Lane and rowed for hours, facing one another the entire time. Rachel was a fan of Henry David Thoreau, which made sense given the New England author’s penchant for rambling through the woods and rowing along the Concord River not far from her Massachusetts hometown. Like her literary hero, it was clear to all who met her that Rachel aspired “to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life.” At first blush, Neil’s enthusiasm for rowing and his furrowed, scholarly brow must have reminded her of the type of man Thoreau describes in his writing, one who worked to “elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” Their shared enthusiasm for the outdoors, coupled with the serenity that came with repeated oar strokes along the river, helped give their love the perfect launching dock.
Rachel “was my cox, I her stroke!” Neil Entwistle would boast on a British website soon after their meeting. They quickly became a well-known couple on campus, strolling hand in hand across the university’s 200-acre landscaped park. Neil, who was nearly a foot taller than his coxswain, would always introduce Rachel as “the woman I’m going to spend my life with,” and then smile at her with a devotion that made the tiny brunette the envy of many unattached females.
“The boat club was a bit of a breeding ground for relationships, with romance popping up all over the place,” the club’s former president Owen Rodd boasted to reporters. “But few lasted as long as theirs.”
The couple’s lives had been hopelessly intertwined for just over a year when Rachel was pulled back to the States so she could finish her final year at the prestigious College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. But through those final semesters, Rachel’s heart remained in England. In 2001, she left her tight-knit family and the life she’d built in Massachusetts to create an entirely new one in a foreign country with Neil. They moved into a small cottage, paying $1,000 a month in rent, and Rachel began teaching English and Drama in September 2002 at St. Augustine’s Catholic High School in the rural town of Redditch. Neil worked for QinetiQ, a recently privatized technology company that was a subsidiary of the British military’s Research and Development arm. It was a huge laboratory that conducted top-secret military testing on war planes and aircraft carriers, along with defense training. The facilities included anechoic chambers, reverberant rooms and a transmission suite—all of which needed top secret clearance to enter. For some, the company was a controversial one because of its alliance with British government, which gave it access to lucrative contracts. Rachel thought it was the bad press the company got that made Entwistle cagey about what it was he did for the firm.
He went as far as to joke about his job like he was a modern-day James Bond. On one British blog he wrote:
Making bombs and other stuff for a living—would tell you more but I’d have to kill you.
Living together proved what Neil had been saying since his first date with Rachel. Within months of her moving to England, he posted another message on the British website www.friendsreunited.co.uk:
Getting married to the most amazing woman in the world this summer: Rachel.
That day came, on August 10, 2003, with a quaint ceremony at the Second Parish Church of Plymouth, in Manomet, Massachusetts. The reception was an affair that even Rachel’s hero, Henry David Thoreau, might have enjoyed, as it was held at the Plimoth Plantation, a village that was built to reenact what it was like to live in 1627. Weddings held on its grounds are elegant, yet simple. The hall had high ceilings and glistening antique chandeliers. Even in the summer, a small fire crackled in the old stone hearth. The wedding invitation sent by Rachel’s mother and step-father was printed in ornate script:
Priscilla and Joseph Matterazzo request the honour of your presence at the marriage of
Rachel Elizabeth Souza and Neil Entwistle.
On Sunday August tenth two-thousand and three at five o’clock in the evening,
Second Parish Church of Plymouth, Manomet, Massachusetts.
Reception to follow the ceremony at Plimoth Plantation, Gainsborough Hall.
Rachel had never looked happier than she did craning her neck to look into her new husband’s eyes as they danced to “Come What May,” the romantic song from the movie Moulin Rouge. She even mouthed the words as they swayed slowly together … “And there’s no mountain too high, No river too wide. Sing out this song, I’ll be there by your side.” It was one of those perfect summer nights in New England. The darkness brought just enough of a chill that partners inevitably pulled closer to one another. Even the loneliest, the most disheartened among the guests, could not help but feel buoyed by love that night, wrapped in the glow of a crackling fire and dimly lit chandeliers as they watched the beginning of what all in attendance surely thought was a match made in heaven.
After the wedding Entwistle’s parents, Yvonne and Clifford, posted a note on the couple’s website reading:
Hello darlings, the wedding was elegant. Neil you were the perfect gentleman. Rachel you were stunning. We are very proud of you both. We love you from mum and dad …
The couple honeymooned on a luxurious Mediterranean cruise, and made sure that everyone could share in their happiness by creating their own website, dubbed www.rachelandneil.org. Just like Yvonne Entwistle, Rachel liked people to know how well her life had turned out. She was married to a handsome Englishman. She was going to live overseas. Life was perfect. And she had the pictures to prove it.
The photographs on the couple’s website were like the flowers that Yvonne planted in front of her family home in Worksop: a symbol that all was well, that everything was in control, no matter what the circumstances or surroundings. There was a picture of Rachel and Neil beaming on deck of the cruise ship, their sunburned cheeks framed with the kaleidoscopic oranges, reds and purples of the low sunset behind them. They clutched each other’s fingers so hard in one photograph that the knuckles on both their hands were red. The embrace had the look of two people who never wanted to let the other go.
Neil had finally met a woman who not only physically resembled his mum, but seemed just as willing to take care of him. And while some women live for work, and others for love, Rachel seemed to have both as they settled into a life in an area that Brits refer to as the Midlands. As a high school teacher, Rachel quickly earned the respect and the trust of her students in both Drama and English. Catholic schools could often be rigid, but Rachel was anything but. She would chat and joke with the pupils, smiling when they would tease her about her New England accent, and was delighted when they would teach her decidedly British words like “flibbertigibbet.”
She was one of those rare people who seemed to have a joyful energy, with never a cantankerous moment. Many of her fellow teachers attributed that to the love story that she had with her new husband. They didn’t see much of Neil, who had some sort of secretive job with a military company, but Rachel simply glowed when she talked about her husband, to the point where the school’s principal would later remark, “Her joy was infectious for all of us, staff and students.”
The couple couldn’t wait to have a family. Less than two years after their fairy-tale wedding, Rachel gave birth to a baby girl more incredibly beautiful than either of them could have prayed for. Lillian Rose Entwistle was born in England on April 9, 2005, at 12:57 a.m., weighing in at exactly 7 pounds. It seemed the baby began smiling within minutes of her birth, a grin that filled her fat little cheeks with air. Her face looked exactly like Rachel’s, with eyes that were certain to become as dark as her mother’s. She was an irresistibly happy baby and her parents couldn’t help but take endless pictures of her—beginning within minutes of Lillian entering the world. A nurse snapped a photo of Neil with his arm draped around Rachel’s leg, tiny Lillian between them wrapped in a white blanket. Then there was the picture of Lillian dressed as a skunk for Halloween. Another showed her crawling across the carpet with tiny overalls and a green ribbon in her hair. There was Neil pushing an English baby pram with Lillian inside, and Rachel clutching Lillian to her chest protectively, her own face crinkled into a joyful smile. There was a family photo of the three of them on a picnic and another on a boat, all wearing matching sunglasses, with Lillian snuggled into a pink snowsuit with a pom-pom hat on her head. Another snapshot shows the trio on a grassy green knoll sharing a picnic lunch.
Lillian made the rounds to meet the grandparents back in Worksop, a visit that was of course photographed. Yvonne looked as if she would burst with pride holding her granddaughter as her husband leaned into her shoulder and Neil wrapped his arm protectively behind her back. Rachel was behind the camera. That same afternoon, Rachel snapped Neil with Lillian, his chin rubbing against the back of her soft head. The sight made her exchange smiles with her mother-in-law. All was well in their world.
The pictures were all posted on the “Rachel and Neil” website with messages like:
Lillian is now crawling with confidence. She’s enjoying three meals a day of her Mummy’s home-cooked food and is already eating a variety of finger foods … .
We love hearing from you!
By then, Rachel had already earned the respect of her pupils, who felt comfortable enough with their American teacher that they nicknamed her “Enty;” she in turn lovingly referred to them as “Fraggles,” the name coming from the fun-loving Muppets on a long-defunct American television show called Fraggle Rock. Her students called her at home for advice on not just their studies, but problems in their young lives. Rachel was a welcoming spirit and had a way of drawing people to her. As a result she had already developed a tight circle of friends, other young mums and teachers.
But Neil still felt isolated, much as he did as a teenager playing with his mother and brother in the back garden. He was filled with a sense of impending doom, and began to pass that foreboding onto his wife. Just months after Lillian was born, he began complaining to Rachel that his hardscrabble upbringing was going to hold them back from any real financial success. He had become convinced that his heavy Worksop accent pegged him as a failure, even to perfect strangers. During one argument with Rachel he ranted, “I am never going to amount to anything here because of my accent. I’m a coal miner’s son from a working-class background, and everyone knows it.”
Neil’s sociolinguistic fear seeped into their marriage. For him, the only solution was getting out of England, he told her, at least for a while. Ultimately, he was hoping the family could have homes in both countries. Returning to the United States was fine with Rachel, especially now that Lillian was in the picture. Rachel wanted her daughter to be raised as an American, surrounded by family on the Massachusetts coastline south of Boston, just as she had been. Already, the phone bills were bloated by ceaseless calls to her mother in Massachusetts, and the cost was getting out of hand. In September 2005 Neil Entwistle told executives at QinetiQ that “domestic problems” were pulling him to the United States. Rachel cried when she said goodbye to her students, many of whom also had tears welling in their eyes as they presented her with a bon voyage bouquet of flowers. With that, the family packed up their lives in England and moved in with Rachel’s parents in a spacious home on the edge of a wooded area in Carver, Massachusetts.
When they arrived, Neil would confide in Priscilla Matterazzo, Rachel’s mom, over a morning cup of coffee, saying with a hint of self-pity, “Rachel was always more family-oriented than me.” It was sitting at his in-laws’ kitchen table, far from home, unemployed and desperately scrounging to support his young family that it became increasingly clear to Neil Entwistle that it would be not be easy living across the pond.
Copyright © 2008 by Michele R. McPhee.