Senseless

Having written a post about what a vibrant, international city London is — and having written a significant number of words for my novel that use London as a setting — I’ve been feeling physically sickened by the events over the past few days.

Many of the locations for the looting and arson (the criminal behaviour doesn’t even deserve to be termed rioting, let alone protesting or demonstrating) are places I know reasonably well, having worked there for a while (like Croydon) or been there recently to enjoy a drink (Clapham Junction and Hackney). (I was also in the Bull Ring shopping centre a couple of weeks ago which has also been broken into and looted.)

Pembury Tavern
Pembury Tavern, Hackney

As mentioned in a post below (with the bike photo) I was in Hackney around six weeks ago and started off an afternoon pub crawl at the Pembury Tavern.  This pub is apparently very close to the Pembury Estate which was a trouble spot last night.

The main flashpoint was apparently in Mare Street, which I travelled along on the number 30 bus a few weeks before and is very close to the Globe in Morning Lane, which was our next stop after the Pembury.

I won’t offer any in-depth opinion on the reasons behind the disturbances here except to observe, in the context of this novel and blog, that I’d been surprised that Hackney seemed to be nowhere near as intimidating a place as some people like to portray it and I enjoyed going there. But I’m also glad that I’ve already done that piece of research. Given the difficulties of throwing off a reputation for being insalubrious, it’s deplorable that the actions of a very few idiots will have so damaged the areas where they live — the physical damage can be rebuilt but the reputational and psychological damage will live on for decades. Areas like Ealing and Enfield are suburban enough to withstand the damage but the more deprived areas like Hackney and Tottenham will suffer more and a lot of the good that the Olympics promised to bring to these areas in terms of regeneration will have been outweighed.

Ironically, at the same time these events have unfolded I’ve been working on a couple of parts of the novel that discuss the living in the city versus the countryside question. I’ve been asked in feedback sessions why Kim, an artist living in Hackney and working in Shoreditch (thankfully spared from the trouble), would ever contemplate leaving those places to set up in bucolic Buckinghamshire.

This is a tension that runs through the novel but I do think it’s credible that she would want to move — and the causes of the recent disorder give some reasons why. As with elections in the 1980s, when everyone said publicly they despised the Tories but enough secretly voted for them out of self-interest (not me by the way), the debate about housing location is similar. Lots of people like to claim they like living in an ‘edgy’ area and few declare a love for the suburbs. Yet it’s an established demographic phenomenon that middle-class, university-educated people tend to leave London in large numbers in their thirties — particularly when they’ve had a family.

Also, while I recently read an article in the Sunday Times magazine (that I can’t link to because it’s a pay-site) about how some of today’s well-connected modern artists are doing quite well financially, I doubt if Kim would ever be able to come close to be able to afford to live in the sort of village where The Angel is the local. Such ridiculous property prices are a problem in the countryside where the preponderance of commuters and the retired creates demographic problems of another sort. But if Kim is given a cost-effective way of getting out of London, then I think she’d certainly consider it — which also gives the opportunity to leave behind problems of other sorts.

What’s most unnerving about the anarchy on the streets is it affects people’s sense of personal security — and, while, in

Pembury Tavern Handpumps
Pembury Tavern Handpumps

reality, the number of people causing trouble is very small, the psychological repercussions are profound. I’ve also been asked in workshops what attracts Kim to James.  One of the main reasons is, apart from his indefatigable admiration of her work, is that he boosts her own sense of security — something she doesn’t admit even to herself for much of the novel. A sense of one’s own personal security and physical vulnerability probably isn’t anything that’s going to be very honestly discussed in workshops but it’s something that, I suspect, deeply connects with a reader in the one-to-one situation that engages reader with a text.

I got too depressed about events to carry on watching rolling news on the television (which I think must examine its own role in the spread of copycat criminality) but have seen some hopeful reports about communities cleaning up and reclaiming the public spaces so here’s a photo of the Pembury Tavern’s line up of beers on its bars. I hope to go back soon.

Shardenfreude

Google Analytics tells me that there must be a lot of disappointed people who happen to land on some of this blog’s pages. Aside from my ardent and dedicated regular followers people land on the blog by via search terms that generally relate to subject that I’ve tended to mention in passing.

But today I can satisfy a  group of people who are fans of an iconic sight that’s slowly emerging by London Bridge — the Shard (otherwise known as London Bridge Tower).

The previous blog entry of photos of the Shard has had more hits than virtually anything literary (bar the write-ups of talks by agents and editors during the City Novel Writing course).

The Shard From The North Side of London Bridge
The Shard From The North Side of London Bridge -- 5th July 2011

So here’s another fix for those fans of the soon-to-be tallest building in Europe. All are photos I’ve taken while running from Westminster up to the City along the Thames — out on the north bank and back on the South Bank.

 

Shard from the North Bank of the Thames 5th July 2011
Shard from the North Bank of the Thames 5th July 2011

They’re taken on occasions separated by 20 days — and on initial impressions it doesn’t seem that the Shard has risen much higher over that period — perhaps they’ve all been on holiday? Or maybe it’s because the building is so huge that it’s an effect of its scale.

The Shard from Guess Where -- 25th July 2011
The Shard from Guess Where -- 25th July 2011

Actually, I’ve learned from Wikipedia that the concrete core has reached its ultimate height of 72 storeys and that it’s now the floors for each storey that are being added — at a rate of one a week. Three weeks’ progress can just about be discerned between the photos. (btw It’s not a cropping mistake that there’s so much of the River Thames on the above photo — there’s a little hint of where it’s taken from in the bottom-right corner.)

But why am I putting lots of photos of construction work on a blog that’s (meant to be) about my long and discursive journey towards completing my novel(s) — and, with a bit of luck, beyond that?

But I’d argue that the Shard is just the most prominent example of a theme that runs through The Angel. It emphasises the dynamic, changing environment of London — and, being designed by an Italian and financed with money from the Middle East, it’s also an example of the internationalisation of the city.

I have a character who’s been drawn to London because, compared with anywhere else, she really thinks it’s the place to be. And unlike many weary Britons who believe themselves over-familiar with the city, she’s enthralled by discovering the place and the rapid change that’s happening around her makes it even more enjoyable — there’s lots of tradition but there’s also a lot of re-invention.

It’s difficult to overstate the amount of prominent new building that has taken place in London recently — and how distinctive the majority of the new architecture has been. I happened to come across Kenneth Powell’s book ’21st Century London — The New Architecture’ in Tate Britain last week. It’s a superb book for anyone interested in the development of contemporary London.

The list of structures put up in the last 11 years is almost awe-inspiring – and, being an artist, Kim is going to have an eye for good architecture.

Firstly, there are the obvious but hugely popular Millennium projects, such as the London Eye, the Millennium Bridge and the derided but distinctive dome that has now turned into the O2 arena.

With public transport being a bête noir of Londoners, it’s easy to forget the huge investments in transport infrastructure. I was pleased to see that Powerll agrees with my appreciation of the Jubilee Line extension’s transformation of Westminster tube station, which is like something out of a science fiction film.

Westminster Tube Station
A Whole Series of Blake's 7 Could Have Been Filmed in Westminster Tube Station

Canary Wharf underground station is mind-blowing: it reminds me of the interior of a cathedral more than anything else — such a huge space suffused with natural light. The restoration of the huge canopy of the Barlow train shed over the tracks at St.Pancras station for the high speed rail link has been immensely popular, as has the development of the rest of the station — and there are much improved Thameslink and underground stations (I often used Kings Cross-St. Pancras on the way back from City University).

And there’s more on the way — right next to the Millennium Bridge (on the run I took the photos on), Blackfriars station is being transformed into something that will span both sides of the river. The corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street is also one huge building site (as I saw from the top of a number 24 last week), as is the area round Farringdon (and a few other locations) while Crossrail is being tunnelled. With Thameslink also being improved, London will have a couple of cross-city railways of the type people have always complained are commonplace in, for example, French or German cities. (There’s also the massive Heathrow Terminal 5, which like a few of these projects was derided at first and then eventually appreciated for being a tremendous piece of infrastructure.)

Then there are the marvellous renovations of iconic buildings: the Great Court at the British Museum, the Royal Festival Hall and, of course, most pertinently to my novel, the conversion of Bankside Power Station into the Tate Modern.

The office buildings in the City are probably the tallest and most noticeable developments. As well as the Shard, there’s the iconic Gherkin (30 St.Mary Axe), the newly finished Heron Tower, the Pinnacle (under construction in the City, which will be almost as tall as the Shard) and the Broadgate Tower (which looms over Village Underground — although less than originally planned as its height was scaled down).

The City Encroaching On Shoreditch
City Encroaching On Shoreditch

Not all the big office developments are in The City. There’s the colourful Central St.Giles development (those yellow, red and green faced buildings), the Wellcome Trust building in Euston Road (a place I know some of my writerly friends use as a congenial venue to discuss their novels) and buildings I never knew had a great architectural pedigree, such as Palestra, near Southwark tube station, which reminds me a bit of a broken Rubik’s cube.

It’s not all work — there’s plenty of play. Two of the best stadiums in the world have been built in London in the last ten years. There’s the new Wembley Stadium, which is the second-biggest stadium in Europe and probably the best in the world for facilities (and I’ve just been extorted out of £92.50 for two tickets there to watch England vs Holland in a couple of weeks time). The Emirates Stadium shouldn’t be forgotten. I often used to fly over and think it reminded me of a giant Arse — quite appropriate for a club whose name oddly recurs in the names of its staff: a manager called Arsene and a striker named Arshevin.  (I’m a Man Utd fan).

There’s a huge amount of redevelopment in London since 2000  — but there’s even more to come. At the start of the novelKim lives around Homerton in a tall block of flats (on the number 30 route) so she’s also been able to look out on the progress of the biggest transformation of the lot — the 2012 London Olympic park. This is home to some apparently incredibly inventive buildings — but the public’s not allowed near them at the moment. We’ll only be allowed in on the first day of the event itself…

…which begins exactly a year today. London will then be even more the world’s most international city.

And I hope I’ll be able to put my feet up and watch it, which I’ll have to do almost entirely on TV — although I did get a meagre ticket allocation out of the farcical process. Some will not be surprised to know they’re for beach volleyball — my excuse is I was working my way through the alphabet — I was also going for athletics! And in a year’s time I also hope to have long since put the finishing touches to The Angel too.

Fields Inspired by Eric Ravilious

One of my favourite paintings — and one that is very germane to The Angel’s setting is John Nash’s The Cornfield, which I’ve blogged about previously. It’s relatively well-known, providing a motif for David Dimbleby’s BBC series on landscape painting a couple of years ago and can be viewed here on a link to the Tate Britain website.

Clearly the painting captures a specific moment in the agricultural year — the bringing in of the harvest — and as it was painted in 1918 it predates any mechanisation. The Nash painting depicts a line of wheatsheaves (amazingly the word ‘wheatsheaf’ isn’t in my wrist-sapping Oxford Dictionary of English). They’re portrayed almost anthropomorphically as semi-human figures (a little like monks with hassocks tied around their waists) and they look tired, weary and irregular, but still form a semblance of a line, much as one might imagine was the mood of the country at the end of the First World War.

I took the photograph below at 6.30am on the 15th July (St. Swithin’s Day — as immortalised by David Nicholls) on the way to get the train. (This is my bucolic route to the local station, which is wonderful on a July morning but awful on a rainy, muddy January evening). I’d walked the opposite direction the previous night about 6pm, when the grass had been cut but not baled. One point about the reduction in the number of farmers is that when the remaining farmers are busy, then they’re really busy. When the wheat is ready to bring in the combine harvesters work through the night. So it’s not surprising that the cut grass had been baled over the course of the previous evening.

Modern Cornfield?
A 21st Century Cornfield?

Although these bales are of meadow hay and not corn (which meant wheat when Nash painted his picture) I later realised that there was something of a parallel. Rather than sheaves that are designed to be gathered in the arms, these cylindrical bales are so huge they can only be moved by a fork-lift truck (or its tractor equivalent) — there are no more than a dozen of them in the field, which must be a good three or four acres. So my photo, with its long shadows,  is similar in spirit to Nash’s painting but also shows the differences.

I was reminded of Nash because I paid a brief visit today to Tate Britain in Millbank, which is where The Cornfield is on display. I didn’t have time to go into their current Watercolour exhibition but I saw a few reproductions of the pictures elsewhere in the gallery. I was particularly struck by Eric Ravilious’s The Vale of the White Horse, featuring the genuinely ancient prehistoric monument which is just off the Ridgeway in Oxfordshire.

If you were to follow the Ridgeway from the Uffington White Horse north-east for about fifty miles, you’d end up at The Angel (in fact I might use a bit of artistic licence and have the Ridgeway go past the front door, as it does at The Plough at Cadsden). And Kim will be wonderfully excited about the connection between the land and  the art — she’s going to take the Nashes and Revilious as inspiration.

There’s also a profound irony about Kim’s interest in Ravilious — like the Nashes he was a war artist — but unlike them he died in action. He was killed in an air-sea rescue mission in 1942 off Iceland.

Another serendipitous connection is that there is a brewery named after the White Horse.Their beers include two that are well-known to me — Wayland Smithy and, er, Village Idiot.

On Your Bike Boris

Is it Art or An Old Bike in Hackney?
Is it Art or An Old Bike in Hackney?

A couple of weekends ago I decided, purely in the name of research for the novel, to research the area where Kim lives — what has been to me for many years the infamous borough of Hackney.

I organised a modest pub crawl (five pubs — a proper one for me goes into double figures) and was joined by my old drinking chums Andy, Jon and Simon (and later Antony) and Guy from the City course also joined in impromptu.

In my experience Hackney isn’t part of the ‘maggot-ridden cess pit that is London’s East End’ (as Alan Patridge described the land of jellied eels and rhyming slang). It seems less threatening than many areas of south-west London that I lived in or near in the late 80s and 90s (I had two Crimewatch murders within a couple of hundred yards of where I lived in Hounslow).

We started off at the Pembury Tavern — a cavernous beer hall of a place just outside the centre near Hackney Downs station. We then walked through the town itself to the Globe at Mornington Lane — a modern boozer opposite Tesco’s about whose staff the phrase ‘salt of the earth’ could have been invented. We went on to a couple more pubs before ending up in the marvellous Charles Lamb in Islington — something of a post-workshop regular now for Guy and myself.

Crossing the road towards the pub we got a glimpse of the Hackney that will have attracted Kim. An old bike had been painted and adorned with flowers and was apparently attached to a lamppost just over the pelican crossing. Guy was very taken with this piece of improvised street art — exactly the sort of object the artists in his novel would have created. Not a utilitarian street bike of the sort promoted by Boris Johnson but one that has no practical value whatsoever — it’s just mysteriously ‘there’ to make a statement.

And so it seemed to confirm to me that this is Kim’s domain in London — shuttling between Hackney and Shoreditch on the 55 bus — the one Guy and I took there from Mike B’s place after the Saturday morning workshop.

Having been thwarted twice by the incompetence of the Olympic ticketing system and having failed to buy any tickets for events at the nearby Olympic Park for 2012, I may go back to the area and have a look around at the changes associated with the games. Fish Island looks well worth a look.

Shoreditch By Overground

After the tutorial with Emily the weekend before last I decided to take a walk to see how things were around Village Underground as I’d not been there for a while. It was the first time that I’d had chance to visit the new Shoreditch station, which radically improves the transport links through the area. Only a week or two before I took a ride on the train, a new bit of line was opened between Dalston Junction (itself only re-opened for less than a year) and what used to be called the North London Line. This piece of newly re-instated line links to the old East London tube line at Shoreditch and that’s been connected to the rail network on the south of the river so that Shoreditch now has a remarkable train service  every 5 minutes with some trains running from Highbury and Islington to West Croydon.

The station is, as you would expect, very modern and, in a short time, seeing as it’s not far at all from the top end of Bishopsgate and the Broadgate development, could transform the character of the area in a short time. I’m not sure whether this would be good for my novel or not — I guess it could be a move behind property prices shooting up and pricing artists like Kim out into the country.

I looked out from the train as it left Shoreditch station and got an unusual rooftop level view of Village Underground (see below). I posted this photo on their Facebook page and they officially ‘like’ it.

Village Underground Viewed from the new London Overground

Village Underground Viewed from the new London Overground

The roof of Village Underground itself, where the tube carriages are placed, is actually part of a viaduct that carried trains into Broad Street station (which was next to Liverpool Street) until 1986. The railway bridges over Great Eastern Street and Holywell Street were only removed in the 1990s. A new viaduct was built crossing Shoreditch High Street and then joining the old track bed which runs directly north up to Dalston and this involved the demolition of an area opposite Village Underground to accommodate the curve of the track as it links the two together.

Holywell Street, which was a dead-end blocked off to traffic when I first visited Village Underground has now been re-opened as a red-route connecting the London Ring Road to Shoreditch High Street. So this area, despite looking like something of a neglected inner-city backwater, has seen a lot of change recently. Here’s the scene at ground level with the current toaster mural.

Holywell Street, Shoreditch
Holywell Street, Shoreditch

The City encroaches ever further towards Shoreditch and the Heron Tower, now the City’s tallest building, has been completed half a mile down the road. It’s the Broadgate Tower that looms most intimidatingly over Shoreditch High Street — here seen with the friendly shape of the Gherkin by its side. This photo was taken close to the church of St. Lenonard’s — famous for the line in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons — ‘when I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch’. (I’m going to have to work in a few references to this.)

Shoreditch High Street and the City
Shoreditch High Street and the City

I took the train from Shoreditch to Dalston Kingsland, a place I visited 20 years ago at night when it had no semblance of the gentrification that is hinted at today. From there I took the North London Line to Hackney Wick. I’ve been to Hackney before, which I’ve found nowhere near as intimidating as its reputation — there’s a good pub there called the Pembury Tavern, but never Hackney Wick.

Hackney Wick station is a desolate place, cut off by railways and road schemes, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable at all walking around there late at night — there’s just a boarded-up pub next to the station and a load of corrugated-iron motor mechanic shops of the sort you see on Eastenders. The Olympic stadium rose up quite incongrously in the background. I was told by Tam at Village Underground that Hackney Wick has the most artists per square mile (or whatever) in London (or maybe even Europe) but perhaps they were all round the corner somewhere as I didn’t see much artistic, although I could see why the rent might be cheap.

I walked around to the bus terminus, which at least had some houses and shops nearby, and got the number 30 from the start of its route all the way into central London — via Hackney, Dalston, Islington, King’s Cross and so on. I saw plenty of places on the route around Homerton which comfortably fitted the description of the flat where Kim lives at the start of the novel — they’re something of a contrast to where she’ll live at The Angel.

Passing Time in James’s World

I was in Docklands a week or two ago and took a few photos of the sort of corporate world that James escapes from in my novel. Here’s Canary Wharf with a Waitrose he’d certainly approve of.

Canada Square
Canada Square

And here’s a photo I used in a pub quiz I set last night. It’s the symbol of Thatcherite regeneration — number one Canada Square or what everyone calls the Canary Wharf tower.

Canary Wharf Tower
Canary Wharf Towers

I travelled back from Canary Wharf to the London Eye by boat, which was surprisingly quick. I’ve just written something that mentions rabies and I was wondering if it’s such a big issue these days so I was pleased to see the sign below at the pier at Southwark which shows that it’s something that anyone arriving in this country will be aware of.

Rabies
Port of London Rabies Notice

The skyline of the City is going through a period of rapid change. When my novel starts the Heron Tower was still half built (it’s now the tallest building in the City) and the Shard was just a hole in the ground. It’s now (I think) the tallest structure in London — it definitely will be when completed. I’m going to have a reasonable period of time elapse between the sections I set in London and reference to the Shard and others might be quite a nice way of showing passed time.

The City from Canary Wharf Pier
The City from Canary Wharf Pier

The height of the Shard can be seen on this photo. I think the Heron Tower is the tall building on the right and the Gherkin is standing immediately in front of Tower 42, the old Nat West building.

The Shard Rises

I was in London yesterday around Oxford Circus then went to St.Paul’s and Southwark to have a walk around the settings I’m using for the first few chapters of The Angel — including the Tate Modern again where it was amazing to hear the number of French and German speakers.

Walking across the Millennium Bridge I was impressed again by the height of the internal core of concrete core of the Shard, which I think I heard became the tallest building in London in the last week or so.

Here’s a photo I took from the Millennium Bridge and the scale of the Shard can be seen in comparison with Tower Bridge and One London Bridge (the square building at the foot of the Shard).

The Shard Rising -- 18th February 2011
The Shard Rising -- 18th February 2011

The literary agent Carole Blake  (who I follow on Twitter) tweeted about this interesting article on the Shard’s construction from today’s FT which is currently available for free.

It does present a conundrum for my novel though as when I started it the Shard was a hole in the ground and by the time it’s finished then the Shard will be an unmissable landmark. However, although my novel is set in the present the time elapsed in the plot will be shorter than the time I’ve taken to write it. I suppose it might be a nice little touch at the end to mention the erection of the tall, central shaft (also adding in a bit of the rest of the book’s symbolism there too!).

I also solved a slight problem I had in the early chapters where I have James and Kim around St.Paul’s but doing something that would probably need a bit more privacy than they could find in the piazza around the cathedral. I think I’ve found an ideal replacement location on the way between St.Paul’s and the Viaduct Tavern — Christchurch Greyfriars. This, like the Aegidienkirche in Hanover, is a bombed out shell and has a rose garden where the nave of the church used to be — although it currently is closed off for some sort of refurbishment. It will be a very suitable place for the two of them to sit and I won’t need to be too heavy with symbolism — the location will do it on its own. I read on Wikipedia that the church, before the war, had a huge angel on its spire, which now sits in the entrance of a nearby (non-ruined) church.

It’s also opposite the Boots pharmacy where Kim will later go — my research for this section is pretty anal!

Also to get to Christchurch Greyfriars they will walk through Paternoster Square and there’s quite a curious sculpture there that marks its ancient use as a livestock market. It’s by Elisabeth Frink, a sculptor who liked to specialise in the human male nude form — and perhaps there’s something quite symbolic for the book about that sculpture as there are plenty of sheep where the two will end up. Despite the German sounding name, Frink was English but I read on Wikipedia that she was taught by an Austrian refugee from the Anschluss. Amazing how it all comes together.

Shepherd and Sheep - Elisabeth Frink - Paternoster Square
Shepherd and Sheep - Elisabeth Frink - Paternoster Square

Wenlock and Mandeville — How’s About That Then?

Yesterday London 2012 introduced its two mascots, partly created by Michael Morpugo, who are called Wenlock and Mandeville. They look like metallic teletubbies.

Given that our City University group is based right in the centre of London, it’s quite interesting that not too many of us have set our novels in the city — it’s only the main setting for three people, if I remember rightly. There are two more of us who will use London as a partial setting, including me. Of those five, two people are setting their novels fifteen or twenty years in the past. Only three of us are writing about relatively contemporary London. This may be quite relevant as we look ahead a couple of years as the Olympics are going to make this country, and London in particular, a real focus of attention throughout the world. This has its good and bad aspects but there could be a big cultural knock-on effect as we’re already starting to see to a lesser extent with South Africa and the World Cup.

I’ve already written a passing reference in The Angel to the 2012 Olympic logo but I’m again quite intrigued by the serendipitous names that these mascots have been given in the context of my novel. Wenlock is apparently based on the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock. However, it’s also the name of a spit-and-sawdust real ale pub on the fringes of Hoxton and Islington that I’ve used as a setting — the Wenlock Arms. It’s the pub where Kim works — and I’ve just written a scene where she and James turn up there. I’ve slightly changed the pub name in the novel.

And Mandeville? It’s derived from the village of Stoke Mandeville, just up the road from me, which gives its name to Stoke Mandeville Hospital (strictly speaking that’s in Aylesbury) which was made famous for its spinal injuries by Jimmy Saville in the 70s. It’s apparently the biggest hospital site in Europe, although the Medizinischen Hochschule Hannover which is opposite the offices I frequently visited seems pretty huge to me (Kim was born there!). However, Stoke Mandeville is no doubt the only hospital that has a huge sports stadium. This is used for paralympic events — it was where they started — and has to be seen to be believed. It’s bigger than many football league grounds. I had a wander round the hospital buildings a couple of months ago when I had to find my way from A&E to the pharmacy, which are at opposite ends.

Stoke Mandeville is also the nearest hospital to where The Angel pub is set so I’m sure that one or two of the characters will find reason to end up there — I’ve already got a good plot opportunity for poor old Kim to be taken there.

Bender

Both Alison and Emily have said they think it’s a great idea for me to start ‘The Angel’ with James and Kim going out on a massive bender together (or at least have the sequence quite near the start). I’m certainly of the belief that there’s no bonding experience like a session getting completely plastered in the company of similarly afflicted others — something to do with the lowering of inhibition and probably why it’s an ingrained part of UK working culture.

In the discussion I had last Wednesday on plot with Guy, Nicole and Sue we discussed, amongst other things, how this might happen and how it might end. I think we all thought it might be good if the two characters ended up in a posh hotel suite but were too tired and emotional to consummate any latent attraction. I’ve thought about this a bit further and have some ideas about how they might wake up the next morning.

I’m now giving some consideration to how the bender might unfold. I’d ideally like this to be the opening chapter that I submit to Alison before Easter. I want to make it fast moving and, towards the end, quite blurry and increasingly surreal (as much as I can get away with within my genre).

I have to admit to recycling this idea from two Open University assignments — one short fiction and the other a longer screenplay —  from 2008-9 where two characters, also called, by chance, James and Kim, went on a bender in similar circumstances. They went from Mayfair to Canary Wharf — where Kim pulled James out of dock.

I’ve settled on having both work around Shoreditch/Bishopsgate so this version will go in the opposite direction. It will be quite picaresque in construction and I want to move up a spectrum of the vast number of options in London and the diversity of drinking/eating places. So I’m minded to start in somewhere really shabby and edgy (in the truest sense) and then move via better pubs up to posy bars and to a top class restaurant and thence to some top hotel — I think something very boutique and designer with massive rooms. I feel a visit to a bookshop and a flick through a Time Out guide to London might be coming up. Actually I’d quite like to base the hotel on the Hotel Rival in Stockholm, which is part owned by Benny Andersson from Abba, and is incredibly Swedish-trendy. I’ve stayed in it twice and drunk in the bar for the beautiful people of Stockholm — with beer at £7 a bottle. The rooms aren’t huge but very stylish and have Playstations and DVD players — with, of course, ABBA CDs to choose from. I’m sure there’s some similar places in London but I may make one up. I may also make up the restaurant as I’m quite keen to reproduce a scene in that from my previous screenplay which was rather satirical about celebrity chefs.

As luck would have it, there was a broken water main on Euston Road last night, causing traffic jams all the way down City Road. I was driving to City so I decided to take an alternative route back to the A40 Westway which is similar to the route that my characters are likely to take. I turned down Goswell Road, then down Clerkenwell High Street and carried on the road (whatever it’s then called) to end up at Holborn. I could have gone round the back roads of Fitzrovia and Marylebone but I stayed on the routes I knew so ended up going down Shaftesbury Avenue, skirting Piccadilly Circus, down through St. James’ and along Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner and then up Park Lane to Edgware Road. I think James and Kim might, for the sake of the readers’ interest in setting, hit the river at some point. I’ll maybe have them go to the Anchor on Bankside and then maybe into the Royal Festival Hall — maybe they could go up the Eye. Now that would afford me a lot of opportunity for the sort of descriptive setting that Emily was recommending to us last night.