Breaking Up with a Little Help from Oasis

Journalist Harriet and charity worker Sanjay are two characters from my novel Hampstead Fever. Here’s what happened one afternoon.

“I’ve been thinking,” said Sanjay.

Another bad sign. Harriet already knew something was wrong before he came up to the flat. He normally looked full-on at the camera in the entryphone and gave a cheery wave or said, ‘I’m here with a friend. Can we interest you in a copy of The Watchtower?’ 

Today he’d ducked. He never ducked.

She buzzed him in. Then he sat next to her on the sofa, had the cup of tea she’d made him, and told her he’d been thinking. All the while, Be Here Now was playing. It had been one of her favourite albums for over fifteen years, but from now on she would always hate the Gallagher brothers and their grating Mancunian accents.

“Why, Sanjay?” It was the only thing she could think of. FreeImages.com/Thiago Felipe Festa

At first he stared at his feet. “Look. When we met, I thought I was a goner. Now I’ve got my life back, and… Well, I guess I want to be single for a bit.”

“I knew it!”  She’d even told him so about two years ago, as she reminded him. “We should have talked.”

He had the decency to look upset. “Yes, we should have. But we can’t seem to talk the way we used to.”

“Have we even tried?”

“I don’t know.”

Until October 25, you can get the kindle version of Hampstead Fever for just 99p/$1.30 right here. Or even right now.

Did a break-up ever put you up a particular piece of music? I’d love to hear from you.

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You Said it, Diane Keaton!

I must admit Diane Keaton made me livid at first. It’s what she said about the part of London in which the film Hampstead is set.

According to The Times, the American star who plays the main character found Hampstead a bit of a disappointment. “I thought it was charming,” Keaton is quoted as saying, “but I thought it was going to be slightly more unusual.”

For my money (there’s less of it since I moved to Hampstead, mind), this neighbourhood has the lot. Yes, it’s congested as well as expensive, and you can forget about parking.

But I’m sticking up for Hampstead. For one thing it’s cosmopolitan. Ambling down the High Street last week, I heard no fewer than eight languages spoken. NW3 is liberal, inclusive, and intellectual, with a rich literary heritage that takes in writers as varied as Keats and Ian Fleming.

There is, in Keaton’s words, “nice architecture”. The streets are also awash with blue plaques, as anyone can see on a short stroll – details here.

One house, two blue plaques: both Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna Freud lived here

Hampstead’s renown goes back a long way. John Constable moved his family here in 1827 as the area was said to have cleaner air than Suffolk. He lived in Well Walk, where he found he could unite a town and country life. His bones now rest in the graveyard of St John’s parish church, a cemetery crammed with notables.

The Constable family tomb

Hampstead Heath, where the squatter of the film lives, is an ancient parkland of 320 hectares. It’s an oasis of biodiversity and an area for sports. From here there’s an impressive view of London. The Whitestone Pond at the top of Hampstead Village is technically the highest point of the capital.

One of the ponds on Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath Pond Number One

Even if you don’t set foot on the heath, Hampstead is a delight. There are great pubs and it’s a foodie’s paradise. I don’t know where the scriptwriter shops, but I’ve yet to spot a shrivelled apricot in Waitrose.

Hampstead Butcher & Providore, Rosslyn Hill

You want unusual? This is Britain, yet open-air swimming on Hampstead Heath is legendary, with its ladies’ and men’s ponds being the only life-guarded open water swimming places available to the public every day of the year.

And how’s this for offbeat advertising in the heart of the village?

Just take a card from the little box near the top.

On reflection, however, Diane Keaton was right when she said Hampstead was nothing special. But I reckon she meant the film, not the area.

The movie’s basic premise – a well-turned out widow falling for a man who literally pops out from behind a hedge – is flawed, the hermitic heath-dweller is improbably hygienic, and, if you’re generous, you might call the acting uneven.

Worse, I found the character of Emily Walters irritating. She looks terrific (this is after all Diane Keaton), but she’s vacant and ditzy. Emily admits to being bad with money, so no wonder she can’t make ends meet. She seems to have no education, occupation, or aspiration, and her “personality” can be summed up in two words: goofy grin. She does however deserve a Brownie point for working in the Oxfam shop, and perhaps some credit for raising such a presentable son (James Norton is always easy on the eye).

Hampstead the area deserves better than Hollywood pap.

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You may also like:

Talking Location with Author Carol Cooper

Why Hampstead is Literally an Inspiration

… and next week: Progress on the Secret Project

A Day on a Hospital Trolley

Even though he’s a fictional character, GP Geoff is not so very different from most other medics. If he needs to see a doctor, all he does is look in the mirror.

hospital entrance

But the swelling and dragging sensation in his left groin have become hard to ignore, and today he’s going into the Day Surgery Unit of his local hospital. Hernia repair used to mean a sizeable incision and several days in hospital, but, with keyhole surgery, Geoff will be home the same day.

About 90% of operations are now done as day case surgery. Beds are as rare as unicorns, thinks Geoff as he meets Cecil, the day care nurse who’s looking after him today.

Today Geoff doesn’t get a bed, just a trolley on a six-bedded ward. If a patient turns out not to be fit to go home the same day after all, then he gets to stay overnight. On that same trolley.

Geoff has been qualified just 15 years and already things have changed beyond measure. Or have they always been like this for patients?

surgical dressings

A junior surgeon pops round with a consent form, then the anaesthetist visits. Geoff is distracted by her dazzling smile, her shock of red curls, but mostly by her multiple nasal piercings. What happens when she has a cold?

“With modern anaesthetic drugs,” she tells him, “you wake up so clear-headed that you can do The Times crossword.”

Which is wonderful because Geoff’s never been able to do The Times crossword.

He won’t get a pre-med, which is a shame. It used to be the best thing about having surgery, but there’s no scope for such things on the day surgery conveyor belt. Besides, Geoff needs to be in charge of his feet, because, when he’s changed into a flimsy gown and paper underpants, a nurse takes him for a long trek to the operating theatre. He hopes he doesn’t run into any of his patients.

Geoff meets the consultant surgeon for the first time in the anaesthetic room. He’s more Doogie Howser than Dr Finlay. Geoff resists asking if his mother knows where he is.

scalpel

When it’s all over, he can hardly feel he’s had anything done, but he’s lying in a large well-lit room where a nurse is telling him to drink. He had not realised he was clutching a small Styrofoam cup.

Back on the Day Surgery Unit, Nurse Cecil checks his pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen saturations every half hour, and reminds him to eat and drink. There’s an obligatory six hours before he can go home. There’s also the requirement to consume the tea and roast beef sandwich placed next to him.

The man on the neighbouring trolley is smiling at a film on his iPhone. Geoff can’t see the man opposite, as his girlfriend is busy delivering a prolonged post-op snog.

Geoff decides against powering up his phone. The pre-op instructions were clear: do not do anything important in the next 24 hours. The last thing he needs is a spirited twitter exchange with one of those anti-vaccine types.

Geoff doesn’t have a newspaper so he can’t test the anaesthetist’s promise. He brought the latest British Medical Journal, but he doesn’t much feel like it now. Or the sandwich. 

British Medical Journal

The patient by the window has already regained his appetite, judging by the takeaway his family brought in. The red and white packaging is already open, filling the ward with the heady aroma of grease, along with 17 different herbs and spices.

Eventually Geoff does what’s required of him: drink, eat, and pass urine. Post-op pain is breaking through by the time he gets to the tiny WC, where someone has already hosed down the floor.

In the corridor, one of the female patients is asking Cecil where she can find a nurse, oblivious of the fact that she is speaking to a nurse. “I’m a nurse,” says the nurse. The patient’s face is blank.

Finally Geoff goes home with a paper bag. It has spare dressings, a packet of painkillers, and instruction leaflets on not picking your scabs.

There’s supposed to be a responsible adult with him for the first 24 hours at home. Geoff, who’s single, fibbed about that bit. Luckily nobody checks, and he absconds in an Uber.

Nothing will go wrong, Geoff tells himself. Aside from the little lie he told the hospital, he plans to be a good patient and take careful note of all the instructions. At first, he is a little confused by the stated telephone times.

Then he realises it’s exactly like Sainsbury’s, trolleys and all.

 

Geoff lives in North London where he looks after patients, longs for a meaningful relationship, and rants about the NHS. You can find out more about him and his life in the pages of Hampstead Fever.

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Six Things my Camera Taught me about Hampstead

Hampstead is part of London that inspires much of my writing. So I set off to take a few photos of this beautiful area, armed only with an iPhone and the belief that I’d discover more through a plastic lens than I usually see just with my own eyes.

One of the ponds on Hampstead Heath

Oh, and a pair of comfortable shoes. Parking is scarce. Besides, there are some places only legs can reach.

The Mount

1 The street signs are rather special.

Like this one, many road signs in NW3 are made of individual ceramic tiles in shiny white on black, often chased into the wall. They’ve been there since Victorian times, and owe a lot to the Arts and Crafts movement. The tiles aren’t just letters and numbers. Some are nifty symbols like a pointing finger leading to places of interest.

2 If in doubt, zoom in. You may catch detail that’s often missed.

Ornamental gate

3 People tend to get in the way. Hampstead is crowded, especially outside certain shops and eateries.

Hampstead Butcher & Providore, Rosslyn Hill

Queuing at the Creperie

4 You may spot celebs such as Emma Thompson, Imelda Staunton, Tom Conti and Liam Gallagher.

5 Some of the celebrities are canine.

Two local residents

6 Even the prettiest parts of Hampstead can turn ugly with overspilling bins, fly-tipping, and uncollected rubbish. Sadly this is set to get worse with Camden Council’s new bin collection schedules.

#CleanUpCamden

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Other posts you may like:

If you want to know more about Hampstead, see my novel Hampstead Fever.

My London Book Fair 2017 #LBF17

Three days of trudging around Olympia with an increasingly weighty bag of goodies is too long, according to my feet, even when they’re well prepared.

well-worn Converse trainers

But two days, as I found out this year, isn’t nearly enough. While the London Book Fair is industry orientated, there’s plenty for authors to do. Here are some of my highlights.

1 Catching up with friends and colleagues, many of them from ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors.

With fellow author Helena Halme

with fellow author Helena Halme

 

me with cover designer Jessica Bell

with ace cover designer Jessica Bell

Making new friends is part of the fun too. Book people come from far and wide for LBF, like Aussie writer Rebecca Lang from Sydney.

ALLi authors

from L to R: Jessica Bell, me, Rebecca Lang, Glynis Smy

2 Talks at Author HQ.

Author HQ at LBF

The varied fare is excellent, and this year the seats even had proper backs for weary spines. Too bad Author HQ is once again tucked away at the far end of the first floor. You may need GPS and Kendal Mint Cake for the trek.

3 Author of the Day sessions.

They’re at the PEN Literary Salon, which is where I met the inspiring Alaa al Aswany a few years ago. Sadly, this year Roddy Doyle had to cancel his appearance, so, instead of a capacity crowd, there were half-empty benches where people collapsed to eat their sandwiches. As ever, there’s a dire shortage of seating, which is why visitors have to perch on the displays.

following the Yellow Brick Road

4 Learning more about organisations like the Society of Authors, Gardners the wholesalers and distributors, or the Booksellers’ Association. There’s a whole world outside sitting at a desk writing.

the Grand Hall, Olympia

With a bit of planning, you can also arrange one-to-ones with agents or publishers. There are other ways of publishing too. I should have spent longer talking audiobooks.

5 Admiring awesome new books. There are 20 new books published every hour in the UK. Some of them might even be yours.

General Practice Cases at a Glance

at the Wiley stand

6 Haggling over a bagel.

The sticker said £2.75 but it was £4.60 on the price list. In the end, I got it for £2.60. Nothing is quite what you expect at LBF.

salmon bagel

7 The bottle of Veuve Cliquot I won. This was thanks to Byte the Book‘s legendary networking session on the Tuesday evening. I also collected a dozen useful email addresses and a temporary tattoo.

With many friends and colleagues, I only managed snatched conversations between one meeting and the next. Others, like writers from the Romantic Novelists’ Association, I hardly saw. Next year, I tell myself as I get on the train home, it’s back to a three-day marathon.

On the subject of travel, I can’t resist a digression to add that my novel Hampstead Fever will be on special offer in selected WH Smith travel shops throughout the UK from March 30. That’s buy one, get one half price.

Did you go to the London Book Fair? What did you think of it?

There’s Something about Cranes

I’ll admit that, when I first began watching construction work, it was just to accompany three little boys who had an insatiable curiosity about how roads were dug up and relaid, and how buildings were put together.

My sons have long since grown into men. I don’t even know if they bother watching diggers any more. But I’m busy gawping at cranes.

Construction has many downsides, one of them being that much-loved buildings may need to be demolished first.

Strachey building, Newnham College, Cambrirdge

When a crane installed itself outside my flat, I was a tad concerned, as was Mishmish.

Mishmish with crane

But then I had the chance to observe the beauty that is a tower crane at different times of day.

crane-triptych

While the crane operator got to know the colour of our pyjamas and what we liked for breakfast, we got to know the crane and the things it picked up.

crane-diptych

Eventually, it was time for the tower crane to be dismantled. The operators waved goodbye.

crane

Sad? Not really. There are other cranes. London is full of them, as are other booming cities. 

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Of course over-development is a worry. But now, when I see a crane on the horizon, I no longer think of it as just a blot on my photo.

img_2277

Visions of Hampstead

I love Hampstead, so it’s no surprise that I decided to set my novel Hampstead Fever there. These are just a few images to give you a taste of Hampstead life if you’re not already familiar with it.

Hampstead tube station

Hampstead Underground Station, first opened in 1907, has the deepest lift shaft of all the London stations.  Here’s the view up Heath Street, towards the, er, heath (photos of Kenwood and Hampstead Heath will have to wait).

Heath Street, NW3

And down Pilgrim’s Lane.

Pilgrim's Lane

These friends are just enjoying breakfast on a Sunday morning.

Perrin's Court

Though some tables outside can be quite exclusive.

Hampstead High Street

Some street furniture (this Victorian postbox is no longer in use).

Victorian postbox

A couple of locals.

Dogs

Constable and his family once lived here too.  He’s buried in St John’s churchyard, NW3.

Tomb of John Constable

It’s not all blue plaques around here. Flower seller Maggie Richardson has this memorial to her name.

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Hampstead is nothing if not trendy. Queues often build up outside the Hampstead Butcher & Providore.

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This is the flower shop in iconic Flask Walk.

Galton Flowers, Flask Walk

And the barber shop.

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There’s a new restaurant in Church Row, where Le Cellier du Midi used to be.

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The Freud Museum – where both Sigmund and his daughter Anna once worked – is down a leafy street.

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Much of this scene will change with the new cycle superhighway. If CS11 is implemented, as looks likely, cars and lorries will be diverted away from the main arterial road and into Hampstead village, choking side-streets and polluting the area. Locals are as concerned about safety for cyclists as anyone else, but believe a better solution could be found.  

Protest against CS11

If you want to know more, click here.