Post-Brexit Blues

One week on from the shock of the Leave Vote winning the EU In/Out Referendum, and the country is still reeling in a state of fury, dismay, confusion, denial and regret. There have been marches and protests against the result – one might say, against democracy itself.  Instead of sulking over the drop in the value of their shares and properties, the well-off should spare a thought for the deep seething discontent in the country, and realise that our current political system has created this and continues to fuel it. Brexit Protest1

Our political leadership has been exposed as lightweight and not up to the job of leading us out of this mess. Opportunistic politicians have chosen instead to plunge the knife into rivals with personal ambition uppermost in their minds.  We were not prepared for a Leave Vote because the Conservative Party in government were busy assuring international partners that they would succeed in threatening and bullying the electorate into voting Remain.  They failed, and now stand like rabbits caught in the headlights of a runaway truck, careering madly across the cultural, social and political landscape.

“Rarely if ever in our lifetimes has Britain faced such an uncertain and unpredictable future. Rarely have the main parties at Westminster been, simultaneously, in such chaotic disarray. Who can recall a time when such a large section of the public, and not only the 48% who voted Remain, was in a state of such furious anger, confusion, denial, regret or heartfelt dismay?” The Observer (03/07/16).  We could fight them on the beaches, but who should we fight?  And who are we, anyway?

Personally, I feel the country should accept the outcome of the referendum and get behind a settlement for the nation so we can move forward.  This settlement must include listening to the voices of those who voted Leave, many voices of protest from those who feel a deep rooted resentment against the London-based ruling elite, who carry on their merry way, regardless of which party is in power, with their capitalist agenda, marginalising and patronising those who get in their way.

The Conservative Party has opened Pandora’s Box and must now be ruing their miscalculation in believing they could manipulate the outcome of the referendum to come down on the side of political and economic stability – the side that would allow the preservation of the status quo and the continuation of the damaging policies of divide and rule.  Vote Remain was seen as good for business, despite the fact that many see the EU as an undemocratic organisation in the process of morphing into a Federal Superstate.  Their political objects are not ours, and so a Leave Vote appealed to many in the UK –  52%, in fact.

Brexit Protest2However, as a result of the vote, we find ourselves at a social.political and cultural crossroads, and need to ask ourselves the question, ‘Who are we?’  A national debate on who we are and what society we want to live in should be fired up, to curtail the forces of greed, nationalism, xenophobia and division who lurk in the wings waiting for their moment.

The main problem I foresee is our lack of leadership, as our two main political parties are riven with infighting and hopelessly ill-equipped to address the fundamental divisions in our fractured society.  The Labour Party, having shuffled to the centre ground of British politics, is now disconnected from the core working class, and have become accomplices to the seemingly irresistible forces of ‘free market economics’,  ‘International Capitalism’ or simply, ‘Thatcherism’, take your pick.

The mass influx of cheaper labour to feed the machine has caused widespread discontent, as British citizens have been told to ‘shut up and get on with it’.  Well now they have had their chance to protest, via the In/Out referendum, and have chosen to stick two fingers up to the Establishment, and the sham democracy that leaves them as powerless serfs in an age of greed.

Can the Labour Party shake itself out of its torpor?  What of the Green Party?  They should get together and start a national movement for change. Citizens Against Capitalism. For starters, school leavers should be given clear guidance and training to do the jobs required, and we should focus more on producing what we consume.  Let the business community find new markets through the world wide web – are trade deals even relevant anymore?  Some fresh thinking is required, but can we find the leaders needed to drive the process?

In my near-future novel, Devil Gate Dawn, set just 10 years from now, I predict increasing divisions in British society following Brexit, that leads to a mass General Election boycott, followed by a Government of National Unity headed by King Charles.  It was complete fantasy just two weeks ago, but now has been described as ‘increasingly believable’.  My everyman hero, George, gets dragged into helping the police track down a deadly terror group, as they are forced to flee their homes and hide in the countryside… let’s hope it won’t come to this.

DGD promo banner 06_2016

UK: http://amazon.co.uk/dp/B01EGDLHLW

USA/World: http://amazon.com/dp/B01EGDLHLW

Thames Valley Tales – Free Promo

Contemporary tales that echo the rich history of the flowing heart of England…

Thames Valley Tales is a collection of 15 short stories written by myself between 2013-2015 and first self-published on Amazon Kindle in July 2105.  To coincide with my presentation on Self-Publishing at Slough Library today (Thursday 2nd June 2016), and to demonstrate the ‘free promotion’ option on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP),  I have made the book a FREE download for today and Friday 3rd June…so what are you waiting for?

Please download, read, and leave a review, nominating your favourite stories…

UK: http://amazon.co.uk/dp/B011PQHJUQ

USA: http://amazon.com/dp/B011PQHJUQ

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The Search for Endorsement

DevilGateModifiedPixThanks to the 79 who took advantage of the free weekend download promotion of my new novel Devil Gate Dawn. Now I’m hoping this converts into reads and positive endorsement in the shape of favourable reviews!

As an unknown writer with a modest following, I feel this is a justifiable tactic to try and get those precious reviews on Amazon that will entice browsers (who’ve read the reviews, blurb and opening extract) to click on the Buy button… it’s gotta be worth a punt at £2.10/$2.99 surely?

UK:- http://amazon.co.uk/dp/B01EGDLHLW

US/other:- http://amazon.com/dp/B01EGDLHLW

 

Devil Gate Dawn…out now!

DevilGateModifiedPixMy first novel, Devil Gate Dawn, is now up and available to download from amazon kindle store.  It will normally be £2.10/$2.99 per download, but for this weekend, Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th April it will be a FREE DOWNLOAD.

I badly need your support to read and review this short novel, hence the two day free promo.

UK readers: http://amazon.co.uk/product/dp/B01EGDLHLW

USA readers: http://amazon.com/dp/B01EGDLHLW

also available in amazon territories worldwide.

Devil Gate Dawn is a tense near-future thriller set in the UK and USA in the year 2026.  Retired railway worker, George Osborne, is drawn into a battle with a terrorist group as the country slides into chaos.  Will he succeed in neutralising a deadly internet virus and help rescue the kidnapped King Charles III?  Find out as dawn breaks at Devil Gate Drive…

 

Don’t have an Amazon Kindle reader?  You can download their fee app and read on any device:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Apps-Amazon-com-Kindle-for-Android/dp/B004DLPXAO

Welcome to the New Gotham

A headline in this morning’s Mirror newspaper (11/04/16) caught my eye – Tories’ London ‘Now a Capital for Laundering’. Candidate for Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has finally come out and said what many have been thinking for some time: “We have people from around the world laundering money through London’s property market leading to hyper-inflation in property.”

Canary WharfIt’s almost as if he has broken a taboo by speaking out about our run-away property market, particularly in London and the South-East that actively seeks foreign investment, at the expense of the ability of citizens to buy a roof over their heads.  The insanely greedy buy-to-let spin off is causing much suffering amongst families and workers battling to survive in a divided city with a growing multicultural underclass of people forced into poverty by unaffordable mortgages and rents.  Homelessness is rising, and residents are being forced out by social cleansing.

The piece is accompanied by a colourful graphic showing how money laundering works:

  1. Placement. A criminal wants to hide sum of illegally obtained money, concealing the origin and ownership. The money is placed in an offshore account, usually in a British Overseas Territory.
  2. Layering. A complex network of transactions is created through several offshore company names making the money difficult to trace back to its origin.
  3. Enabling. UK professional services, such as lawyers, accountants and banks facilitate the transfer of the money into the UK.
  4. Integrating. The criminal uses the funds to buy UK property, luxury goods or art to integrate laundered money into the UK.

Khan goes on to say, “What possible reason could there be to buy a property using an offshore company? What possible reason could there be to buy a property from a tax haven?”

The Mayor of London would not have the powers to force buyers to be named, unlike in New York City, where they are ahead of us in this game of money laundering posing as ‘foreign investment’. Khan has called on the Government, “to ensure transparency.”

Meanwhile, over in the Houses of Parliament today, a cornered Prime Minister, David Cameron, will attempt to explain to the country his hitherto carefully hidden personal finances. He has benefited from his father’s tax-free offshore investments, from inheritance money ‘gifted’ to him in a tax dodge, and conveniently forgotten about a second property his family owns that yields income. His estimated net worth is over £40 million, but we will never know the full truth, or gain a clear insight into his privileged world. Wriggling like a worm on a hook, he has already lost credibility as a trusted leader who can lecture us on what is right and wrong. He is at the centre of a system that encourages the wealthy to hide their money from the taxman, whilst hypocritically lecturing us on the importance of paying taxes and the need for cut backs in public spending.  This is sounding more and more like an episode of Gotham, with its comic book characters, who seek to out do each other with their outrageous behaviour, whilst manically laughing all the way to the bank.

We can all understand the desire to pay as little tax as possible, and maximise on income. But here’s the thing. The majority of workers are employees who have tax and national insurance deducted from their earnings at source, and have no chance of wriggling out of payments for the running of the country (including MPs expenses). We are the cash cows of a rotten system. A system that encourages money laundering and welcomes ‘investment’ by murderous leaders of repressed countries with sham democracies; the world’s criminal elite. Picture a meeting of criminal gang leaders around a Gotham City bar room table.

We will all be made to regret the Thatcher legacy of the dismantling of the welfare state, the cheap sale of national assets, deregistration of the finance sector, and the whittling away of our personal rights and freedoms. Welcome to the New Gotham – where money can buy you anything, and no one asks where it came from.  It is a society divided between rich and poor, where criminal gangs battle with a shrinking police force and fear is used as a political weapon to keep the citizens in check.

A Pandora’s Box of sleaze has been opened, and the Joker has escaped.  Where is Batman when you need him?

Time to Panic, Mr Mainwaring?

dont-panicSince the dreadful Brussels Airport and Metro bombings on 22nd March, there has been much alarmist reporting in the media, aimed at, well, terrifying the citizens of Europe. It used to be the case that the media reported news events and went in for measured and balanced analysis, with the aim of helping us sheep understand complex events. Now they have thrown that aside in an undignified, disrespectful and hysterical scramble to out-do each other as they stoke up a huge moral panic. I’d prefer my news without the hysteria, please. I find it disrespectful to the survivors and victims’ families.

Check out this morning’s (28/03/16) usually calm mirror.co.uk (newspaper of the year and not the mail!) news report…

SPOOKS ON ALERT AS EASTER TARGETED… (page headline)

50 hardcore jihadis ‘plotting terror attacks in the UK’ (sub-heading)

“More than 50 hardcore jihadists are suspected of planning attacks in Britain in the wake of the Paris and Brussels atrocities…they are among 450 extremists across the UK…it is believed MI5 and counter-terror police are tracking as many as 25 serious plots in support of Islamic State or al-Qaeda…Investigators also fear ‘sleeper cells’ could be awaiting orders to activate plots to bring carnage to Britain’s streets…”

Parliament bombedHold on a minute! If the security services know who is a threat, where they live, and where their weapons and bombs may be stored, why are they not picking them up? European citizens are asking this question, particularly after the Brussels bungle following on from the Paris slip-up. Hostile settlers intent on destroying us from within are laughing as they use our freedom of speech, association and human rights laws to their advantages – laws that they wouldn’t tolerate in Islamist countries/societies.

Maybe it’s time to remind ourselves that our hard-won freedoms are the result of hundreds of years of citizens agitating for fairness and equality as we struggled to throw off the shackles of feudal/Victorian oppression. They are a part of our history and social development, and suit our western way of life. They should not be a wall behind which those who mean to kill us can hide.

The citizens of Western Europe do not want to be told to run and hide in fear. They want to hear that our security services are acting to protect them. NOW.

 

Devil Gate Dawn

Devil Gate Dawn, my debut novel, has been selected for inclusion on the Amazon Scout scheme!  This means that from now until 9th April visitors to their site can read the first 5,000 word extract and nominate my novel (plus two others).  The novel with the most nominations at the end of the promotional period will win an Amazon Kindle publishing package.  Please help me win this by clicking and nominating!  Thanks…

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3AC6627K4Q0B2

Devil Gate masthead_FB

Devil Gate Dawn

 

Devil Gate Dawn cover

My first novella, Devil Gate Dawn, is almost ready after a careful proofread and copyedit.  Currently it is with volunteer readers/reviewers for their comments prior to finalising.

The blurb describes it as, “…a pacy near-future thriller set in 2026 Britain, packing plenty of punch and wry humour.”  King Charles III is head of an interim government, and over in the USA Trump America is in full swing.  What mysteries lie behind the gates of Devil Gate Drive?

Set against the backdrop of a country in turmoil, recent retiree George battles terrorists to try and save his family… and western civilisation!

Watch this space for news of a March launch.

 

Thames Valley Brought to Life

Berkshire-based writer Tim Walker brings the rich history, culture and legends of the river Thames valley to life in his new book, Thames Valley Tales.  The collection of 15 short stories contains snapshots of contemporary life in the towns and cities along the river Thames, often including the re-telling of historical and legendary events associated with the flowing heart of England.

london april 2013 006London is represented by two stories – The Seesaw Sea of Fate (an historical pub crawl adventure) and Blue Sky Thinking (based on a real prison escape).  Further upstream, Runnymede Rebellion (recently short-listed in a national short story competition) examines the true meaning of freedom, and The Colnbrooke Caper is a fast-paced crime thriller.

The Long Walk coverThe Merry Women of Windsor is a humorous up-date of a Shakespeare comedy, and The Long Walk is a windy romance set in the shadows of Windsor Castle.  Maidenhead Thicket features the ghost of Dick Turpin, and The Devil’s Highway follows a man’s journey to Bath for a job interview whilst reflecting on the history of the Roman road, now the A4.

Swans at WindsorMurder at Henley Regatta is a good old-fashioned murder mystery and Marlow is represented by the story Swans on Parade. Deviating to the west of Goring, on the Ridgeway Path, is the setting for The White Horse, and further north in the famous university city Oxford, a shape-shifting tiger is on the prowl in The Tiger’s Foot.

Beyond Oxford, the river winds through country meadows steeped in history, marking what was once the boundary between the Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia.  Two stories are set here: The Grey Lady is a civil war ghost story and The Battle of Radcot Bridge has a school teacher attempting to enthuse his pupils with a locally set story from English history.

uffington white horse aerial picAll in all, the collection of stories paints a picture of vibrant and widely-contrasting communities of city, town and country dwellers in this important heartland of central southern England.  Many of the historical events that shaped England were witnessed along the banks of this mighty river as it flows 215 miles from source in a Gloucestershire meadow through nine counties to London and the North Sea.

Thames Valley Tales is available at the introductory price of £1.99 as an e-book download from amazon.co.uk.  Just put ‘Thames Valley Tales’ in the search box, and if necessary, download the free app for devises other than Kindle.  Happy reading, and please leave a review!

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.

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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?”