The UK’s island mentality has once again been mobilised by the British media, this time led by The Telegraph (‘Global Migrant Crisis’, 02/08/15), quoting Home Secretary Theresa May, and the ever predictable Mail (‘2000 Migrants Storm Tunnel’, 29/07/15). Prime Minister Cameron waded in by referring to the Calais migrants as a ‘Swarm’, further alarming his white English Shire supporter base.

They are merely playing catch-up, as the disgruntled white working class in Southern and Eastern England have already recorded their (largely ignored) protest at having to share their living space with ‘loadsa effing foreigners’ by voting UKIP in the recent general election (anti-immigration UKIP picked up close to four million votes). By doing so they effectively handed an election win to the strutting Tories who have now inherited the immigration crisis hot potato.

However, for many in Britain the news footage from Calais of desperate migrants risking life and limb to board trucks or trains bound for England, merely provides a visual fixing point for the belief that the country is experiencing an invasion of foreigners not seen since the Norman Conquest. Britain is already creaking under the strain of a population approaching 70 million, with over six million recent arrivals already crowded into the South and East of the country.

As with the futile resistance put up by Anglo-Saxons against the Normans, and before them the Briton tribes against the Romans, our current crop of political leaders seem relatively helpless to stop the inward flow of people fleeing war zones, third world poverty and post-Soviet Eastern Europe. Add to this the practice from settled commonwealth citizens of sending for families and friends that has been going on over the past 40-odd years, and you begin to get an insight into the retreat mentality of the ‘White British’ (a new census category, not needed on previous surveys). Home Secretary Theresa May has recently sent out a strong message aimed at these hardy travellers that the streets of Britain are not “paved with gold”, and that those who fail the asylum-seekers test will not be able to claim benefits.

How do you stop someone coming who is prepared to risk their life in doing so? Add to this the cut backs in border control by this and the previous government, sprinkle on a dusting of a failed computerised immigration system, and you have a perfect storm. Where will these people live? How will they be supported? Already the Government is putting the squeeze on its own citizens with harsh austerity measures (whilst ring-fencing the wealth elite).

The rampant greed-inspired capitalist system we have in the UK will only deepen the crisis, as foreign settlers will be expected to crowd into inner city areas and swell the pool of cheap labour to be exploited by those in search of bigger profits from lower wage costs. Already Health and Safety is going out the window, as Britain slowly slides back to Victorian values, and inner city ghettos will soon emerge. It all smacks of hypocrisy as the white Tory Shires, who have grown fat on cheap foreign labour, attempt to halt the spread of foreigners to their neatly mowed village and town lawns. Exploit them, yes, but we don’t want to see them.

The Divided Society has already arrived and the language of fear and mistrust will continue to escalate from our alarmist media. The question of ‘how many is enough?’ has been superseded by events. The dam wall has broken – the flood is upon us. Is Britain heading for a Johannesburg-style two-tier society, where the wealthy whites live in private security guarded compounds? Britain is squirming uncomfortably – not wanting to be seen as racists, but unable to articulate that enough is enough. Small numbers of settlers who are willing to assimilate into British life have always been welcome, but we are now witnessing the unravelling of the idealised myth of a happy multi-cultural society in the face of large numbers of culturally alien peoples. Biological programming will kick in and people will seek security in their tribal groups. A tipping point has been reached. Where are we going with this?


The Seesaw Sea of Fate

RED IS SUPPOSED to make you thirsty.  So say the psychologists, Stephen Joyce thought dryly as he surveyed the flock wallpaper on the wall of the pub.  Old and dirty, it had an unloved look about it.  The walls between the cream chipped paint sash windows had framed prints of scenes from Old London.  The one nearest him had a Victorian gent in a top hat promenading along a pavement with a parasol-touting lady on his arm.  Glancing at his smart phone, he checked the time again – a quarter past two.  Sean was late.

Pub pic1

It was Sean who had proposed that they meet up for a pub crawl on his birthday.  They had used to work together from the late 80s to the mid-90s on Fleet Street when he was a young reporter on the Daily Mail and Sean Malone was a printer in the dungeons of Associated Newspapers.  By the mid-90s the golden age of newspaper publishing on Fleet Street had come to an end, with Associated moving west to Kensington as the financial sector spread its tentacles outwards from the City to meet the legal firms clustered around the Inner Temple, squeezing out the wheezing alcoholic newspaper men.  Both Stephen and Sean left the company at that time and moved on to pastures new.  They had kept in touch, but now only met a couple of times a year as their lives moved on divergent courses.

He was in one of his favourite City pubs, the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street in the heart of Fitzrovia, once the bohemian centre of literary inspiration from the Romantic Poets right through to twentieth century figures including Dylan Thomas, George Orwell and Anthony Burgess.  Yes, inspiration in the bottom of a glass.  How many of the great poetic and prose works of English literature were inspired by beer, wine and high spirits?  His musings were ended by the bustling figure of Sean, who brought a draught of cold air with him as he burst through the side door.  “Sorry I’m late, Northern Line, you know.  Anyway, great to see yer and happy birthday!”  He shook Stephen firmly by the hand.  “What are yer having?”

They settled into a corner booth and started to chatter like a couple of excited teenagers.  Now both in their mid-40s, they had not lost the timeless pleasure of sitting in a pub, sipping on a pint and enjoying the company of a friend.  Sean’s Irish accent was as strong as ever, despite having lived in London for over twenty years.  “Oi’ve been workin’ for a printing firm up in Kilburn, not far from my digs.  It’s not as well paid as Associated but it’s walking distance from where I live, and has the best pubs in North London.”  He took a long draught from his pint of Guinness.  “What have you been up to?”

Stephen described his ups and downs.  He had left Associated after completing his training as a news reporter and went to work for Reuters News Agency.  This had enabled him to travel to some of the worst war zones on earth – Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.   He had lived in tents and army barracks and reported on the lives of soldiers in the field, as well as on the wars themselves.  He had come to understand the utter futility of these stage-managed conflicts, and seen the shattered lives and despair absent from the steralised war rooms in London and Washington.  He now worked as a home-based freelance feature writer, from his cluttered office in a cosy flat in Islington.  He had also found the time to get married to his girlfriend and fellow reporter, Julia, and they had a six-year-old son, James.

“So what’s the plan?” Stephen asked his friend.  “Oi thought we would go ‘round the pubs in this area and end up in the Tattershall Castle – y’know, the boat on the river by the Embankment.”  He grinned as he raised his glass and had a mischievous twinkle in his eye.  “Oh yeah, I remember many a boozy night on the floating pub on the river – good call,” Stephen laughed and they clinked glasses in a toast to old times.  “Drink up, let’s move on,” Sean said as he downed his pint and grabbed his coat.  Outside they turned north up Charlotte Street, crossing over the road and round the corner into Charlotte Place and into the Duke of York. “Ahh, one of my favourite pubs”, Stephen said, “A decent pint of bitter and the place where Anthony Burgess was alleged to have found inspiration for A Clockwork Orange, following an altercation with some knife-wielding thugs.”

They found elbow room at the bar and stood supping their pints.  “Have you tried writing a book yerself?”  Sean inquired.  “Well, actually, I have copious notes from my war correspondent days and it is in the back of my mind to write up an account.  But you can’t separate the politics from what happens on the ground.  War is what happens when the political process breaks down.  Getting stuck into the motives and machinations of self-serving political leaders like Bush and Blair kind of puts me off from starting.”  They drank quietly for a couple of minutes.  “Come on, let’s move on.”  They drank up and wandered down Rathbone Street to the Marquis of Granby.  They entered the grand old pub, with pictures of prize fighters adorning the walls.  Sean said, “Now it’s my turn to tell you something about this pub.  It was here that the rules of boxing were first thought up by the Marquis of Queensbury and his high society friends.  A gentlemen’s sport, fought by poor men for money.”

Stephen was not to be outdone and added; “Literary figures also drank here, including Eric Blair, who wrote as George Orwell.  He worked for the BBC, just ‘round the corner, during the Second World War, helping the war effort with propaganda programmes and where he no doubt got his ideas for Animal Farm and 1984.  This pub inspires me, Sean.  To think that one of the great English novels – 1984 – may have been dreamed up in here, that Orwell rubbed shoulders with working class men having a pint after work, and sketched in his mind the character of Winston Smith.  That TV programme – Room 101 – is based on 1984. It was the place where political prisoners, including the unfortunate Winston Smith, met their fate.  ‘A boot stamping on a human face forever’ was Orwell’s bleak description of what happened in Room 101.  The fact that they’ve made light entertainment out of it cracks me up.”

“Never read it,” Sean said in a nonchalant manner.  It was as if the entire works of English literature was nothing more than a colossal waste of paper.  He tried to move the conversation back to sport.  “The only English literature I’m interested in is the form on the horses in the Saturday paper.  This is more of a sporting pub, with the pictures of boxers on the walls.  You got any interest in sport?”  Stephen paid for the beers and sipped the frothy top of his pint.  “Only the fortunes of Arsenal.  I used to go up to the old Highbury Stadium and stand on the North Bank.  Those were the days – the Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Dixon back four, and David Seaman in goal.  Those ugly buggers scared off all attackers.  No wonder Arsenal boasted the meanest defence and the most humourless manager in George Graham.  I like the current manager, Arsène Wenger, but somehow I can’t summon the enthusiasm to go to the new Emirates Stadium.  I hear the ticket prices are astronomical.”  “Yeah,” Sean chipped in, “I only watch the horses in the bookies and the footy in the pub.”

From there they stopped in The Wheat Sheaf on Rathbone Place, a narrow pub which used to be a coaching inn in days gone by.  “This was the pub in which Dylan Thomas met his wife-to-be, Caitlin.”  Stephen had not given up trying to educate his Irish friend.  “She was with another man, but Dylan chatted her up and started seeing her.  After a whirlwind romance they got married and lived happily until Dylan’s early death from the demon drink.”  “Sounds like a man after my own heart,” Sean chuckled.  Stephen continued: “I brought Julia here for a drink one time and told her the same story, about Dylan Thomas.  She surprised me by reciting a few lines from his poem Under Milk Wood.  I can still remember it:

The only sea I saw

Was the seesaw sea

With you riding on it

Lie down, lie easy

Let me shipwreck in your thighs.

I knew from that moment that I was in love – I was destined to marry her.”

IT WAS A CHILLY, blustery October day and it was already getting dark at 4:30pm as they headed towards Oxford Street.  Stephen, whose 44th birthday it was, had already had four pints to Sean’s three, and he was starting to rock from side to side, like a ship caught in a heavy sea swell.  “Whoops! I’m rolling on the seesaw sea!” he cried as he stepped back onto the pavement as a Boris Bike sped by, splashing some rain water onto his shoes.  It was crowded with shoppers, and he turned to see Sean dodging his way past a group of five or six Muslim women, clad in black from head to foot, who hurried by, not replying to his “Oops, sorry!” as he nearly walked into them.  “Bejesus, they can’t even acknowledge you,” he muttered under his breath; “London used to be a friendly place.”  They navigated their way past black cabs and red buses to the south side of Oxford Street and headed towards Soho Square.

As they hurried down Dean Street into the heart of Soho, Stephen decided to have some fun with his friend; “You’re a fine one to comment on the multicultural society – you Paddies are everywhere!”  Sean let out a loud guffaw and replied, “Come on, the Brits and Irish are practically cousins.  We’re all from the same wet and windswept islands off the north coast of Europe.  London’s now full of  those who tink they can bypass hundreds of years of development by taking a short plane ride or bunking through the channel tunnel just so they can get subsidised housing, free education and healthcare.  They’re spoiling it for the rest of us.”

They pushed through the door of the next pub on their journey, the Coach and Horses on Greek Street.  A busy pub with an upstairs restaurant frequented by actors, actresses, playwrights and theatre workers.  Sean muscled his way to the bar and ordered the round.  Stephen had been reflecting quietly and said, “You know, London has a long history of absorbing waves of immigrants, going back hundreds of years.  But there’s something not right about what’s happening now.  In the paper this morning it said that there are already over 600,000 unemployed migrants from EU countries.  Add that to the millions from Commonwealth countries and you wonder if this island will sink under the weight.”  “Yeah, and they won’t even talk to us.  Integration my arse”, Sean added as he supped his pint.

Stephen decided to change the subject: “Now, let me tell you something about this pub.  The journalist and barroom raconteur Jeffrey Bernard used to drink here, and it is where playwright Keith Waterhouse got his inspiration to write the play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. It is set in this very pub, where Jeffrey awakes in the early hours of the morning and emerges from under a table to reflect on his life-long association with booze.  In fact he died from alcohol-related complications shortly after the play opened.  Like I said before.  There is a strong relationship between booze and English literature.”

Sean put his empty pint glass down on the bar and said: “Sounds like the sort of play I should see.  OK, we’ve done literature, immigration, politics, religion and sport.  Let’s take a break and get something to eat.  How about we go over the road into Chinatown for a Chinese?”  Stephen nodded and they made their way across Shaftesbury Avenue and through the archway into Chinatown, walking along Gerrard Street and into the Four Seasons restaurant.  The ground floor was full of diners, and they were ushered up a rickety wooden staircase where they were seated at a large round table with other recent arrivals.  “Service is rubbish but the aromatic duck is to die for,” Sean whispered.  Stephen briefly scanning the menu, before Sean leaned over and pointed to the ‘Set Menu for Two’.  “That’ll do,” Sean said, ordering two pints of lager from the tiny waiter.  Stephen opened up a new subject: “You haven’t told me if you’re seeing anyone at the moment?”

“Erm, no, not at the moment.  I’m between relationships,” he smiled.  “I had a girlfriend, Molly, until a couple of months ago.  She’s from County Clare, and works behind the bar in The Jolly Miller.  It didn’t work out – she worked long hours on evenings and weekends; it was impossible to get a date, and I became jealous of all the lads chatting her up.  I bet you’re loving it, being a husband and daddy.”

“Yeah, it’s great and it has given me new purpose and direction in my life.  You can’t go on being young, free and single forever.”

“Don’t know about that,” Sean said, “London’s the place to be if you’re single.  There’s plenty of distractions here.”

They laughed and joked as they rolled their duck pancakes, and tucked into bowls of fried rice and things swimming in monosodium glutamate.  Sean insisted on paying as it was his friend’s birthday and he had invited him out.  “You’re a bad lad Sean, but it’s good to see you again.  I remember our drinking days around Fleet Street and Blackfriars.  We were young then – work hard and play hard, spending whatever we earned in the pubs.  This is a timely reminder that it’s all still here. Life goes on; it’s just that the punters get younger.  Let’s head on to that pub next to Charing Cross Station and then down the alleyway to the Embankment and onto the Tattershall Castle.”

Sean took his opportunity to say what was on his mind.  “Steve, you couldn’t help me out could yer?  I hate to ask, but I need a job – do you have any contacts in the production side of things?”  Stephen eyed him cautiously, feeling he had been ambushed.  The alcohol had made him slow to engage his brain and think of a reply.  “I can’t think of anything offhand.  Let me give it some thought over the next few days.”  There was a slightly awkward and embarrassing silence, broken by Sean, “Yeah, of course, sorry to ask, but yer know how it is.”

“No problem mate, that’s what friends are for.  I’ll help if I can.”

They walked out into the well-lit narrow street and turned their coat collars up against the wind and rain.  Theatre-goers hurried by, smartly dressed in their evening wear, on a special night out.  They returned to small talk about the people they had worked with and the nights out they had had.  Time changes things, the intervening years had taken them in different directions with differing fortunes.  The excitement and energy of youth had given way to a more circumspect and practical view of life.  ‘For one night only!’ a neon sign shouted above a theatre.  Stephen pointed to it and said; “One night only for me, my friend – I hardly get out these days.  I’m really enjoying this nostalgic stagger across London!”

The Tattershall Castle swayed gently at its mooring next to the Embankment riverside walk.  The old iron boat had been colourfully painted in blue and yellow, and they had to duck their heads as they went below decks to the cosy bar.  It gave the sense of being somewhere away from the city, the illusion of travelling to faraway places.  They were both pretty drunk by now and Stephen in particular was feeling the effect.  “I think this’ll be my last, I’m as pissed as the proverbial newt.”  Sean eyed some attractive office workers giggling across the bar as they moved to a standing-only table.

“I feel the sudden need for a fag,” he said.  “You haven’t smoked at all this evening, I thought you’d given up,” Stephen said.  “Ah well, you know, after a few pints I still get the urge.  I’ll just go up on deck for a quick smoke.  See you in a bit.”  Stephen smiled as his friend bounced off the wood panelled walls and followed an equally-drunk woman up the stairs.  He fished out his mobile phone and checked his mail, replying to a message from his wife.

He was distracted by shouts, screams and a splash coming from the deck.  Most of the drinkers responded and ran up the stairs.  Stephen followed.  A distraught, inebriated woman was pointing into the river, and Stephen saw his friend Sean, bobbing up and down, arms flailing as he struggled to keep his head above the murky water of the Thames.  Stephen ran along the deck and pulled a plastic life ring from the railing, throwing it to his friend.  “Here!  Grab hold of this!”

They managed to coax him around the bow of the boat and hauled him out onto the pontoon.  “Are you alright, mate?  What happened?”  Stephen was sobering up fast in the cool night air.  Sean looked up at him and rolled over, vomiting brown river water mixed with Chinese noodles.  “Come on, let’s get you home.”  Stephen managed to get him to his feet and got him to put his coat on – at least that was dry.  “We’d better get a taxi back to my place.”  Sean just groaned.

After a shower and with a hot mug of coffee in his hand, Sean sheepishly apologised to Stephen’s wife, Julia.  She tutted and fussed, blaming her wayward husband for what she assumed was a drunken prank that got out of hand.  “Come on Sean, tell us what happened, and get me out of jail!”

Sean groaned and said; “Stephen’s not to blame, Julia.  In fact he wasn’t there, as I was on the top deck, flirting with a woman who I’d just bummed a fag off.  Well, I leaned backwards on the rail, and it opened like a gate, and before I knew it I was falling down into the river.”

“Oh my God!  You must have been terrified!”  Julia said, shocked.

“Yeah, my life flashed before me, and it wasn’t a pretty sight!  Anyway, now I know what the Thames tastes like, and I won’t be bottling it.”

Stephen suddenly sprung to life: “That’s it!  I think I’ve got a job for you!  Honey, you remember your friend who works for the bottled water company?”

“Yes, you mean Lucy at the Essex Spring Water Company…what about her?”

“Well, she said they were looking for someone to organise their publicity leaflets and advertising materials…well, young Sean here is a publishing guru and is looking for a new job.  It could be a perfect match!”

Sean brightened up and managed a smile: “Wow, a job referral is almost worth taking a swim in the Thames for.  That’s the only thing missing from my CV.”

“What’s that?”  Julia asked.

“Good contacts and word of mouth recommendation – that’s the only way to get a job in this unfriendly, divided and deeply suspicious city.  Another coffee?”

The Colnbrook Caper

This short story is taken from ‘Thames Valley Tales’, a collection of 15 stories, now available on Amazon:


THE GENTLE SEA swell lapped on the shiny white hull, nice in Nice, nice in Nice.  Rami Raja leaned on the polished chrome railing and surveyed the bay, smug in the knowledge that his yacht, the sleek and fast Arianna, was the best and most expensive within sight.  In the Bay of Nice he was the Big Dog, and other yacht owners waved enviously at him.

He sauntered with the gentle swaying motion back to his tablet and sipped ice tea, in a bubble of contentment, not disturbed in any way by the squawking gulls, dive-bombing the scraps thrown on the lower deck by his chef.  Although technically on holiday with his wife and daughter, he always spent the first hour after breakfast checking the financial markets, before calling his CEO at his business, Travel Cash Limited, in Colnbrook, near Heathrow Airport, to discuss the day’s objectives.

The Arianna, a Class B type-luxury yacht, was his indulgence – his reward, for the successful management and growth of his now international travel cash business.  The yacht cost a cool two million pounds and was built to order by Italian firm Benetti.  Sixty-five metres long with three decks, six luxury cabins, swimming pool and helipad, it was the ultimate status symbol for the Travel Cash millionaire boss.

On the upper deck his beautiful daughter, Jasmine, wearing a yellow bikini, rubbed sun oil onto her slim bronzed limbs, as she casually surveyed the walkers on La Promenade des Anglais, swimmers splashing in the surf and sunbathers on the crescent-shaped beach.  Ahh, so nice to be in Nice, she thought to herself.  Maybe I’ll stop playing Miss Casual and take up the offer from one of Daddy’s friends to appear in a Bollywood movie.  A brief walk-on part could help launch my career as a model.

Rami, resplendent in palm tree motif Bermuda shorts, looked up from his tablet.  Now he could relax.  The Travel Cash share price was up, following a slight dip, and he was assured by his stockbroker that it would continue to trade strongly following good quarterly turnover and profit figures.  Money makes money.  As long as travellers needed to change currencies, he was assured of a cast iron income from his chain of bureaux.

EIGHT HUNDRED MILES north, in Colnbrook village, on the north bank of the River Thames just west of London, David Willis put on his cycling helmet and surveyed the grey morning sky as he pushed his bicycle out of the front door of the worn brick terraced house he shared with two others.  It was drizzling lightly, not enough to put him off cycling.  He would change out of his cycling gear and into dry clothes in the locker room at work.  He worked as an Order Checker at Travel Cash in Hounslow, West London, fairly close to Heathrow Airport where most of their customers were based.  He was a temp, modestly paid at £9.00 an hour and with no job security.  In fact, his employers preferred a steady turnover of staff – it was a soulless moneymaking operation and people were just cogs in the cash-counting machine.

Travel Cash was based in a large warehouse, occupying a block in a grey, featureless business park about two miles from Heathrow.  It was an ugly breeze block building with blacked-out windows and thin metal roof sheets.  The building was surrounded by a three-metre-high wire mesh fence, with electric fencing around the top.  Outside the fence were concrete bollards at intervals of two metres, designed to stop the most determined ram raiders.

David pushed his bike through the security checkpoint.  He was eyed suspiciously by the guards as he swiped his ID badge.  No friendly “Hi, how are you?”  These guys never smiled.  Funny, he thought – Eastern European guards protecting Indian money from British employees.  There was an absence of trust when money was involved.  This lack of trust deepened when tribal factors were added in.  He locked his bike in the shed provided and walked through the revolving front door into the high-ceilinged reception area.  At least here there was a friendly face – fake-boobed Sheila, the morning shift receptionist, gave him a warm smile: “Hi Dave, how are you today?”

“Just fine Sheila, and you?” “I’m OK”.  She smiled at him and he had to restrain himself from staring at her ample cleavage.  I wonder how much they cost?  I could park my bike in there.  He continued moving through the lobby during this brief exchange, to the door marked Staff Locker Room.  As he got changed, his eyes were again drawn to a notice on the staff noticeboard.  ‘Computer Equipment and Printers for Sale’.  It had been up for a week and had got him thinking.  He didn’t need a computer as he already had one at home, but he was drawn to the offer and a mischievous possibility.

His workspace was in a large open-plan office with a dozen desks, each with an Order Checker.  In the corner of the room there was a large cage in which boxes were piled high.  Each box was labelled with a major currency and contained bundles of cash.  A small, sweaty Indian man called Randeep delivered bundles of currency to each Order Checker on demand, with a small trolley he wheeled around the floor space.  The Order Checkers would receive an order for foreign exchange, usually from a travel bureau, by email on their computers.

DollarsThese order sheets were printed out, then bundles of cash were requested from Randeep who would deliver them to the appropriate desk.  The Order Checkers would then count out the exact amount ordered, less commission, and the bundles were banded together with elastic bands, put into large envelopes with the order slip and the details written on in black marker pens.  The packages were then put into a chute, similar to laundry chutes in old hotels, where they tumbled down one floor to the Despatch Area, where they were wheeled in big blue bins to waiting security vans for delivery.

There were no security guards in the room where David worked, only CCTV.  The guards were guarding the entrance and exits to the building, checking people in and out.  During the morning shift David processed on average six orders per hour – about one every ten minutes.  By lunchtime he had handled US dollars, euros, yen, yuan, Turkish lira, Thai baht, Indian rupees, South African rands and Canadian dollars.  Big orders were quite common, maybe two or three a day with a value of over three million pounds.

The largest order he had ever processed was for five million euros (£4,237,288 on the invoice) and it was surprisingly small in size and weight.  He received twenty bundles of 500 euro notes, 500 notes to a bundle.  The 500 euro note was by far the highest value note at that time.  He picked up one of the bundles and could easily hold it in his hand.  It was about two inches high and weighed no more than 300 grams.  Hmmm, he thought, if I could figure out a way to get twenty of these bundles out of the building I’d be four and a quarter million pounds richer.  Without a doubt this was a life-changing amount.

He had never stolen anything in his life, and generally conformed to the British norm of respecting other’s property and accumulating stuff.  He was a dutiful worker and consumer, paying taxes and supporting the system whilst being patronised by politicians.  Could he possibly break out?  Could he make the quantum leap from this dull but safe life to one of a criminal on the run?

At the end of his shift he got changed and wheeled his bike out through the security hut.  He had his backpack searched by a bored-looking guard.  No words were spoken, and he still had to swipe his ID card to open the outer steel doors.  There could be no carrying bundles of cash out of this place.  At home that evening, he got a screwdriver and took off the back of his PC hard drive tower unit to see how much space was inside.  Actually, quite a lot of space.  Particularly if you remove the cards on which circuits, switches and wires were mounted, there was an empty cavity behind it.  He got some old newspapers and made up some bundles of similar size to the ones he had handled earlier that day.  He was able to fit twenty bundles into the cavity and then replace the circuit board.  It was a bit of a squeeze, but it fitted, and if the back was taken off there was no sign of the paper bundles.

HE DECIDED TO ease his rising anxiety with a pint at his local pub – The Ostrich in Colnbrook High Street.  It was quiet on this mid-week night, and the friendly publican, Steve, was happy for someone to chat to.  David picked up a booklet on the history of the area, and Steve drew his attention to the chapter on this very pub.

“This pub has a long history, dating back to medieval times when it was a hospice for the sick of the parish.  It was known as the ‘Ospice, which gave way to the ‘Osbridge Inn’ when it became a popular resting place for travellers going to and from London.  This road outside, Colnbrook High Street, is actually a part of the old Roman Road, now the A4, that runs due west to Bath.  Travellers have been passing this way for close to two thousand years.  Some years later the name was further corrupted to ‘The Ostrich Inn’.”

David, happy for the distraction, sipped his pint of beer and skimmed over the section on the pub.  He stopped at the mention of the word ‘murder’.

“What’s this about murder?  Does the old inn have a dark past?”

Steve brightened up:  “Oh yes!  This place gained an infamous reputation.  During the eighteenth century, when highwaymen roamed the road from here to Reading, this was a popular stopping point for weary travellers on horseback.  The landlord was a man called Jarman, and he made a good living with his wife providing a room and a hot meal for the night.  They had also earned a reputation for their delicious pork pies.

“One evening, a merchant from Reading arrived, one Thomas Cole, and he handed over his pouch of coins to the landlady for safekeeping, as was the way.  He was given the best and warmest room – the one above the kitchen, and tucked into his dinner of pies and ale.  That night the evil and conniving couple carried out their plan.  They prepared a large vat of boiling oil and then crept upstairs to see if their guest was sleeping.  Satisfied that he was in a deep sleep, they tipped up the bed, and slid his body through an open hatch in the floor, right into the vat of boiling oil.  The poor merchant was killed instantly.  They then removed his body, quartered it and cooked it in an oven, ready to be mixed with other ingredients for their delicious pork pies!”

“How ghastly!” David said.  “To think such a horrific murder was committed here, not far from where I’m sitting.”

“Well, the local sheriff was alerted when the dead man’s horse escaped from the stable and made its way home, and an investigation into his disappearance took place.  Other travellers had also mysteriously disappeared, and Jarman, fearing their discovery, fled into the Windsor woods.  He was tracked down by the sheriff’s men and confessed to as many as twenty such murders of travellers with his wife, who cooked and served them up in their famously tasty pork pies!”

David was suitably impressed with this gruesome story: “I’ll have another pint, but I think I’ll pass on the bar food!”  They both laughed and David was grateful to have his mind taken off his predicament.  Was this a warning tale that criminals eventually get caught?  He decided to sleep on it, but knew if he went ahead, he would have to make sure it was the perfect crime – and a one-off – never to be repeated.



Thames Valley Tales… now on KDP!

Yes, I’ve finally done it.  I’ve managed to let go.  Like dropping your child off at school on her first day.  Like hanging on to that favourite but tatty old coat.  A time comes when you have to part with something you love.  Set it free.  Let it go.

And so, I have finally pressed the GO button and sent my collection of precious short stories out there…into the virtual global world of Amazon.  I have self-published my book of 15 short stories on Kindle.  They are no longer mine, they are yours.

Please be gentle with it!  I’d be grateful for all reads and reviews.  Don’t beat my child up on her first day!  Yikes!!!

Thames Valley Tales pics

Arthur King and the Holy Grail

The Cornwall County Fair was in full swing, a twirl of colourful distractions, as Arthur and his mates strode purposefully through the throng of laughter.  Their destination was the Holy Grail marquee and their aim was to win one of four tickets to try out the new computer game, being unveiled here, today, for the very first time.  They had slept in tents at a makeshift campsite on a grassy meadow beside the rippling waters of the River Camel.  Arthur had not slept well, his imagination no doubt influenced by a local farmer telling them that the place where they camped, Slaughter Bridge, was so named because it was the site of a battle that had taken place way back in the Dark Ages.  He had dreamed of an ancient king, of knights in shining armour, of swords, shields and helmets littering the blood soaked meadow.  Since morning the visions had continued to invade his conscious mind.

Waves crashed on the granite cliffs, gulls circled, buffeted by the wind.  He looked out over the stormy sea, not seeing where the grey skies met the maelstrom, an all powerful force of Nature, pounding against the World of Man; relentless and eternal, before us and after, unbeatable, untamed, supreme.  Kingdoms may rise and fall, but the power of Nature is an ever present force and must be respected.  Behind the walls of Tintagel Castle he felt safe and secure, but soon must ride out to do battle.  He felt uneasy – a sense of foreboding.  king_arthur_wallpaperKnights who had deserted him, led by his own kin, were coming for him.  There could only be one King, and it was his head that wore the crown.  He must defeat his own son in battle and reform the Knights of the Round Table.  He must ride out in the morning and face down those who were once his loyal followers.  It would not be a pleasant business.  It was beyond talking.  He was determined to end it once and for all.

Dozens of computer gaming geeks jostled at the entrance to the Camelot Marquee, anxious to get inside for the two o’clock launch by legendary game designer, Marvin Ambrose.  The stale and rancid air caused Arthur and his friends to gag as they pushed their way to the front.

“Oy!  Stop your pushing!” someone said.

Arthur just glared and squeezed past.  He would not be deflected from his mission.  Four computer terminals with stools were behind a roped off area, and outside a generator hummed a self-satisfied tune.  Marvin suddenly appeared, as if by magic, resplendent in a flowing white robe, and the group of predominantly young men applauded enthusiastically.

“Dear friends, you are here because you are the few true followers of my games.  You have successfully decoded the clues I placed in my last game, ‘Arthur’s Test’, that have led you to this very place at this time.”  A sweep of the arm fired up the PCs and the words ‘Quest for the Holy Grail’ appeared on all four screens.  The youths leaned forward to see and sporadic hand clapping and ‘oooing’ and ‘ahhing’ broke out.  He held up his hands for silence.

“Dear gamers, today I am launching my latest game, which contains recently developed features as yet unknown in the industry.  I want to select four worthy players from amongst you to be the first to battle through four levels to achieve the ultimate prize of finding the Holy Grail.”

Arthur and his pals were enthralled; hanging on the older man’s every word.  His keen grey eyes moved over the rank of eager faces and he held up his hands again for calm.

“I will ask you all a question, and if you think you know the answer, put your hand up, but do not shout out.  The question is: In my previous game, ‘Arthur’s Test’, what was the name of the damsel in distress whom Arthur had to rescue from a fire breathing dragon in level five?”

The mighty King rode out in regal pomp and majesty, his banners displayed at the head of a small army.  His heart was heavy as he reflected on the origins of the feud that had torn his Court apart – the secret love between his Queen, Guinevere, and his mightiest knight, Launcelot.  He had no choice but to condemn her, but his authority had been undermined by Launcelot’s rescue and elopement with her.  How he missed them both – his beautiful wife and best friend – now his sworn enemies.  There could be no reconciliation.  His bitterness and unhappiness had been exploited by his ambitious son, born out of wedlock and brought up to hate him by his sorceress mother, Morgana le Fey.  He had been bewitched into fathering this malignant son by his own half sister.  A tangled web of deceit and betrayal had led to this day – a day of reckoning.

A dozen players shot their hands up, including Arthur, and the crowd surged forward.  Marvin appealed for calm, and two security guards appeared by his side.

“Can those twelve hands please come down to the front.  Alright.  Now, whisper the answer to my glamorous assistant.”  An attractive blond haired young woman had also appeared, dressed in a long flowing medieval gown of green with gold trim.  Starting at the end farthest from Arthur, she bent forward to hear the whispered word and either tapped the shoulder for ‘Yes’ or shook her head for ‘No’.  When Arthur’s turn came, he whispered, ‘Demelza’.  She smiled at him and tapped his shoulder.  The twelve had become eight.  Marvin beamed happily and said; “We have eight loyal and worthy players who have correctly named the damsel in distress as Demelza; also the name of my glamorous assistant!”  She bowed to thunderous applause.

“But now, dear friends, we must halve their number to just four brave knights who will take on the quest for the Holy Grail.”

Demelza produced a velvet draw-string bag and handed it to Marvin.  He rooted around inside and removed some balls.  “Dear friends, we must take on a game of chance and be guided by the hand of fate in making our selection.  In this bag are eight balls.  Four are red, and four are gold.  Our seven young men and one lady;” he said, nodding to a blushing young woman in the group, “will draw for the privilege of playing the game.  A gold ball will give you a seat at a terminal!”

Arthur was second from last in line, and had to wait anxiously as six others drew balls.  When it came to his turn, only two balls remained – one of which was gold.  “My moment of destiny,” he murmured as he swirled his hand around, feeling the two balls, whilst holding eye contact with his hero.  He extracted a ball and held it out, as if having drawn a sword from a stone.  Marvin smiled at him, and then shook his head sorrowfully at the eighth gamer.  “Sorry my friend, the last ball must be red.”

In this meadow, beside the River Camel, at a ford called Camlann, the two opposing armies faced each other.  A thick mist enveloped the opposing forces, and they moved slowly forward until they could make out the outline of their foe, like ghosts emerging from the fog.  A cry went up and they charged.  Bitter fighting ensued, with many men slain by their own side as confusion reigned in the thick mist that hung ominously all around them.  Cries and shouts became fewer as men died of their wounds, until only the mighty King remained with one Knight standing, the loyal Sir Bedivere, facing their only surviving opponent, Mordred.  The King bade his loyal knight to stand aside as he fought in mortal combat with his own son, neither holding back nor showing any signs of weakness.  Finally, the King struck down his foe, but in delivering the death blow, was himself fatally wounded.

“We have our four brave knights, and fittingly for this New Age, one is a lady!”  The crowd clapped as the four lucky winners were ushered behind the rope and allocated terminals.  “And now let me introduce the game,” Marvin said.  “They will all play the same game, each as a different knight, and will compete against each other for points on four tasks that lead to the Holy Grail.  After each level the knight with the fewest points will be eliminated.  The two finalists will fight their way through a maze and the winner will be the first to find the Holy Grail.  Now, log in and name your knight!”

Hunched forward with thumbs twitching manically, the four gamers set about fighting dragons, armies of the dead, competing in a jousting tournament and then through an enchanted forest.  After level three, just Arthur and Melanie were left.  After a brief respite for drinks, and amidst cheering on from their supporters, they started level four.  The tension in the marquee was palpable, as the game fans watched on a big screen.  The two remaining knights approached a heavily fortified castle and fought their way through a maze of corridors, dodging goblins and fighting dwarfs, before entering the chamber of the Holy Grail.  A glittering golden vessel stood on an altar, but the approach was beset with traps.  Arthur made a judgement call, and gallantly allowed his rival to go first.  When she fell through a trap door, he made his way to the magical cup and lifted it to the sound of trumpets and a choir of angels.  To rapturous applause, Arthur stood up and squinted shyly at the crowd, raising his hand in salutation.  He had won; he had found the Holy Grail – he was their champion.

Marvin presented him with a replica golden goblet, engraved with ‘Holy Grail Game Champion.’  Arthur felt this was the happiest moment of his life – a champion at the tender age of nineteen.  “Our winner, aptly named Arthur, not only wins a copy of the game and a console, but can also accompany us, if he wishes, to the O2 arena in London next week to give a demonstration of the game and take on other contestants.  Thank you all for coming, and remember the game is on sale from all major retailers from Monday!”

Arthur followed Marvin and the Damelza out of the marquee and into a caravan behind, where they relaxed and got acquainted.  Marvin had researched the Arthurian legend when developing his latest game, and now studied the shy but happy youth.

“A young man from Cornwall called Arthur, one thousand five hundred or more years ago, pulled a sword from a stone, and was proclaimed King, not far from where we are now sitting.  A Wizard called Merlin guided him and kept him safe from harm, believing that he was destined to be a great leader who would unite the People of the West against the invading forces of Saxons who were pillaging the land.”

He gleamed at his new protégé: “Maybe you, young Arthur King, have been chosen by fate to be a new leader for your generation.  You have a quick mind, exceptional hand-eye co-ordination and have smashed the previous high score on this game, set by our best games testers.  You have a bright future, my boy, if not leading armies in the field, then inspiring the youth of today in other ways.”

Demelza squeezed Arthur’s shoulders and he was already feeling accepted as one of the team.  “No promises, but you could have a future as a games tester.”  The old man winked at him: “’Arthur King and Marvin the Games Wizard’ has a ring to it, don’t you think?”

King-Arthur-ExcaliburThe noble Sir Bedivere carried his dying King to a nearby lake, and rowed him in a boat to an island where a healer received him.  On the way, the brave Knight assisted him to fulfil his final wish – to throw the mighty and magical sword, Excalibur, into the lake.  To the knight’s surprise, an arm emerged from the calm waters.  The Lady of the Lake received the sword, and King Arthur, mighty ruler of the West and hammer of the Saxon invaders, died soon after.


Arthur accepted the offer, and wandered off to tell his friends.  Maybe it could be the start of something – the possibility of a job as a games tester, or some other unknown destiny.  As they walked over Slaughter Bridge and back to their camp site, he did not tell his friends about the visions.  He had seen the dying King throw his sword and the arm of the Lady of the Lake rise to receive it.  A Golden Age had ended in that moment and the lands fell into a Dark Age as barbarian invaders swarmed over it, destroying all traces of learning and subjugating the people to their harsh pagan ways.  He felt a curious resolve to do the best he can in life and to stand up for what he believed to be right.  Legends live on for a reason and the deeds of mighty men continue to inspire those who come after.

The Grey Lady

I ARISE FROM my bed with a sense of dread.  Something troubles me, but I know not what.  A shaft of silver moonlight crosses the woven mat on my wooden floorboards, giving me enough light to find my shawl, and I walk out the door.  My two little ones are sleeping soundly, and I pass unheard and unseen over the landing.


My bare feet take me to the narrow wooden stairs and I descend into the oak-beamed hallway.  My way is clear and I feel drawn to the garden door, trying to remember what it is that alarms me.  I sense that there is danger nearby, and go in search of my husband, James, the innkeeper at this place, the Maybush in Newbridge.  I pass through the barred door into an enclosed garden and hear the distant sound of men fighting.  The Roundheads have come to take the bridge.

I am drawn towards the sound.  Clashing of swords, cries and curses assail my ears.  We live in dangerous times, in this year of our lord, 1644.  I hear my husband’s voice.  I must go to him.  I close my eyes and feel the cool night breeze play with my hair, a tickling sensation on my neck.  I curse Cromwell’s thugs, tearing at the heart and soul of merry England, bringing terror to simple God-fearing folk.

A shiver runs through me as I pass through the solid wall and find myself outside on the pathway above the river.  I see my husband on the bridge – he is fighting desperately but is overwhelmed by greater numbers.  He falls, and two men are upon him, cutting and slashing with their swords.  Through his dying eyes he sees me, and a look of sorrow, regret, helplessness is conveyed to me in that briefest of moments.

Then he is still.  I cry out.  The two men are upon me.  I am too terrified to move.  They seize me roughly by the arms and drag me past the blood-soaked body of my dearly beloved, onto the bridge over the river.  One of the villainous Roundheads, stinking of sour ale, tells me: “You and your husband have harboured Cavaliers at your inn and plotted against our leader, Master Cromwell.  Now you will pay with your life – a death to all Papists!”

With that, he drew his knife across my throat and I swooned, feeling my warm blood spill down the front of my nightgown.  “Oh God, dear Jesus, receive me,” I mutter as I fall down, down spinning silently into the dark murky waters of the Thames.

A curse on these lowly wretches who see a chance for self-advancement in chaos!  But my last thought is for my children.  What will happen to my beloved Geoffrey and sweet Annabelle?  I must search for them.  The cold waters envelope me and a silver ribbon lights the way to my watery grave.

Poor Africa…

It was hard to watch – BBC’s Panorama programme on the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa.  The programme makers conveyed a sense of helplessness and ignorance of the deadly nature of the virus amongst the population, and almost criminal complacency on the part of African Government representatives.  A Guinea Government Minister admitted that their initial response to the outbreak was to keep a lid on it for fear of scaring away foreign investors.

The only heroes to come out of the programme were the Medicines Sans Frontier (MSF) who had experience of dealing with Ebola outbreaks and understood the deadly nature of the virus.  Whilst they were shouting and waving their arms to be heard, politicians, aided by dithering representatives of the World Health Organisation (WHO) conspired to down play it.  Fear swept through communities and rumours spread that there was no Ebola, only mass murder of people in makeshift hospitals and cannibalism.  Riots ensued, leading to more deaths of patients and more infections.  Traditional burial practices served to intensify the spread of the deadly virus, said to have crossed over to humans from infected bats – either their consumption or through contact with their bodily fluids.

Only after six months when the outbreak had spread from Guinea to neighbouring countries Sierra Leone and Liberia (and a small outbreak in Nigeria), with over 800 dead and many more infected, did the WHO reluctantly declare it an emergency.  Is it because poor Africans simply don’t matter?  A similar outbreak in Europe would be identified and dealt with quickly, and there would be calls to the European Union (EU) to intervene.  In this West Africa horror story, there was not one mention of the African Union (AU) – Africa’s equivalent organisation.  Finally, after intervention from the USA and some European countries, the outbreak was contained and the number of deaths and new infections decreased to a point where the emergency is now over.

Come to think of it, the AU has not even been mentioned in the current mass migration of people from Africa to Europe – most are simply escaping poverty.  Are poor Africans doomed to suffer from famines and disease, whilst the wealthy elite just look on with mild disdain, bordering on contempt?  When the Africans themselves jokingly refer to the AU as the ‘African Dictators Club’ then you know there is little hope.  That joke isn’t funny anymore.

For too long the West has turned a blind eye to post-Independence African leaders fixing elections to stay in power so they can rape and pillage their countries, denying education and information to their people in order to control and exploit them more efficiently.  Their sham elections are accepted by Western Governments, the IMF and World Bank because it ticks the boxes.  They have ‘democratic’ elections so they qualify for loans and aid.  Mugabe and Museveni are laughing at us.  We have failed to help Africans realise the full meaning of independence, development and personal freedom.  They have simply swapped one form of dictatorial rule for another, with African leaders using the full might of Western technology to control and suppress the people.  Power and money corrupt.  This we know.

How can Europeans and the rest of the Developed World help Africans to be empowered and improve their quality of life?  Surely this massive gulf between the poorest countries of the world (most of which are in Africa) and the wealthiest should be addressed.  The current attempted migration of thousands of Africans prepared to risk their lives to get to Europe shows that something must be done.  The bizarre ‘solution’ proposed by EU officials to accept African economic migrants and send them to different countries on a quota basis will surely send a green light to Africa for more to come.  By next year the numbers will have doubled or trebled, and the Mediterranean Sea will be a graveyard of floating corpses.  The underlying social and economic causes must be addressed and the Human Trafficers neutralised.  Hello AU, are you listening?

A proper plan for Africa must be made, involving African Leaders, academics and professionals.  Yes, Africa must be encouraged to lead the process, but the West must be prepared to back it up with real investment.  Hard decisions must be made, even to the point of regime change and international interim administrations.  Vested interests must be swept aside.  Unless quality of life improves for the masses, Africa will continue to be the poor relation of the World, slipping further behind as the rest progresses – South East Asia and South America have fared much better in the last seventy years than poor abused Africa.  Perhaps the time has come for a re-appraisal of post-Independence rule (and the AU) to see what can be improved.  Clearly, the whole Free and Fair Elections thing has been massively abused.

Perhaps this Ebola epidemic story, only ended by direct intervention from the USA and Europe, is a direct parable for ailing Africa to have its ongoing problems finally addressed by the international community.  The current Aid programme is simply (and cynically, some might say) putting a plaster over a gaping wound.  China should get involved, as they now have substantial mineral mining interests across the continent.  Surely the time has come to stop the heartless pillaging of African resources and economic oppression of its people.  They deserve something better.  ACT NOW FOR REAL AFRICAN FREEDOM!

NB ‘Ignorance’ means the absence of knowledge, and does not imply stupidity.  State owned media still exist in many African countries, as Governments actively control information flow to the masses…a barrier to achieving an empowered and educated population.