I'm the author of three novels, “Out of Office” and “Fire Horses" (both published by Legend Press), my new comic novel "Kidology," and a collection of short stories and creative non-fiction, "Militant Factions." I've had hundreds of features and opinion pieces published in the Times, Sunday Times, Guardian, Independent, Mail, Express, Telegraph and many more.
|Posted on April 17, 2021 at 4:50 AM|
Sadly there’s no ketamine in the selection box. Having swallowed several tabs of acid Hook decides to leave work early to go to the Anne Boleyn and then on to Soho – anything, rather than face Monica - but just as he’s turning on his out of office he has a message from Karen asking him to pop upstairs.
Gloomily Hook knocks on the glass of his boss’s door. She looks up but doesn’t smile and beckons him in. She has a red face, which means she’s cross. Ominously, she doesn’t ask Hook to sit, so he stands, arms knotted defensively, a naughty schoolboy.
“Chris, I’ve just had Councillor Ahmed in here asking all sorts of questions! What the hell happened between you the other day?”
Hook swallows, then worries he’s swallowed his tongue. He sticks it out to make sure it’s still there. “Nothing much... I just asked him about his new role as council leader, stuff like that?”
“Did you ask him about that harassment case you were looking into?”
Karen’s Bolsover accent is poking through: a bad sign. Hook swallows again, sticks out his tongue. “Erm... I might have.”
“Councillor Ahmed also said you mentioned an alleged link to grooming, underage brothels.”
“It... came up.”
Karen looks aghast. “But why Chris, why?”
“It’s on his manor. I just thought he might have heard something. I didn’t... accuse him or anything.”
Karen puts her head in her hands and when she speaks her words are muffled by her fingers. “Jesus Chris, you asked our Leader if he runs underage brothels?”
Hook hates the upper case ‘L’ she puts on ‘leader’, even in speech – the way she talks about Ahmed you’d think he was emperor of some Pan-Galactic Federation rather than council spokesperson for toilet roll.
|Posted on April 16, 2021 at 2:40 AM|
As Hook emerges from the tube he sees the gang of youths outside the kebab shop and knows he must pass them or look weak. He tries to push by but the men murmur angrily and one pushes him in the back. Hook ignores him and walks on, hearing scuffling steps. Instinct tells him to turn round but instead he strides quicker, footsteps close behind. The street is eerily empty, Liddle Towers a beacon of false hope in the dusk.
Hook turns at last to find six or eight of the men walking quickly behind him, hands in hoodie pockets, scowling. Hook runs. Opening the gate he jogs as swiftly as he can through the scorched-earth gardens, not even seeing the mark where the block almost killed him. At the block entrance, as he pulls a mattress away from the doors, he glances back fearfully but the yobs have stopped at the road where they cluster laughing, swapping high-fives.
The foyer of the apartment block is dark, ghastly: in order to make the building more environmentally sound the communal lighting has been dimmed. As he waits for the lift Hi-NRG mozzies blitz his ears like atomic engines; Hook hears distant screams, breaking glass, and shivers in the sultry night.
Liddle Towers was erected at the peak of the boom and they’d paid peak prices to escape from the Georgian terrace off the Cally. This is meant to be their safe nest from which to look down on a city that has at some point become strange to them.
The day after Hook had put down a substantial deposit on the flat, Monica warned him blocks like these would one day be high-rise slums. Back then it had a concierge, potted plants in the corridors, and the lift smelled of scented water. Despite these enticing amenities, only two-thirds of the apartments (Hook can never bring himself to say ‘flats’) have ever been occupied. As a result there were soon calls by people who didn’t live there to move in families from the council’s bulging waiting list. Monica campaigned against the proposals; Hook secretly voted in favour. He won. At least the concierge hung around for a while; the perfumed water dried up after a week.
|Posted on April 15, 2021 at 2:25 AM|
There’s a weightlessness about the morning as if London’s floating on a sea of light: maybe it’s his limbs limbering up, adjusting to this new regime. For some days now Hook has abandoned watching what he eats and drinks and feels much better for it. Similarly he’s tried to stop worrying what he thinks, says or does, and already new worlds of possibility have opened up.
As he walks through a parched playground Hook realises he’s been censoring himself for so long it’s become unconscious; and, as his tinnitus is only noticeable now it’s gone, so his self-censorship has only become apparent now he’s stopped editing his thoughts and taken a fresh look at the world.
Across the park a row of shops cling grimly to a condemned estate; a newsagent is open. Mullen’s tabloid isn’t one he usually takes but today Hook buys a copy with Monica’s usual broadsheet and a can of SuperBrew to clear his head, and sits on a shaded bench in the tatty park to read.
|Posted on April 14, 2021 at 2:40 AM|
Hook waggles his feet at the ankles so they meet, part, meet, like Newton’s Cradles, until the balls of his big toes hurt. He answers sulkily, looking to escape. “Prof-whatever runs that estate. He’s not powerless: the little white lady who lives next door, she’s powerless.”
“Except she has the full weight of the system behind her.”
Hook snorts: the sound’s unpleasant, even to him. “Are you kidding? What the fuck are you talking about? Do you know how many old people freeze to death in this country?”
“Yeah, I wrote a feature on it, remember? Stop changing the point. Why are you threatened by black men Chris?”
Monica’s eyes fix on him from the mirror as she brushes powder on her reddening cheeks. The effect is ravishing. Hook feels sick with rage: for some reason the mortgage materialises in his head like a pop-up.
“OK Monica, bear with me on this. If a racist is someone who treats people differently because of their colour, everyone is racist. In fact, even the word ‘racist’ is racist because it recognises differences between races. You think that Collins guy doesn’t notice if the person he’s talking to is black or white?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll ask him if I bump into him.”
|Posted on April 13, 2021 at 2:45 AM|
“Look,” says Prof-SC, “I ain’t ashamed. I was a naughty boy, caught up in crime all my life. Blazing, shotting, marking, gettin’ in beef, repping me endz strapped, getting gripped by the feds, slipping through other ends, ripping and jacking for me P’s – but you gotta remember that was all we knew. We grow up on the street. That was our school.”
Whenever Hook encounters a black boy who speaks ghetto he find them essentially unpleasant; whenever he meets young black men with London accents they seem fine. Maybe it’s another racist sub-plot going on within his confused psyche, like his penchant for black women with straight hair.
He tries to write, but every time he looks down he sees his knuckles. In the end Hook closes his eyes and hopes for the best. His head throbs – the windows are closed, he’s put on a winter jacket that he doesn’t feel like removing in case he has to run away and he’s being both grilled and microwaved.
|Posted on April 12, 2021 at 3:15 AM|
“While Hook waits he looks out of the one remaining see-thru window. Cars skate across flat-pack blocks, the infidel sun presses the dirty air flat. Trees in the artificial park by the fake canal opposite Da Vinci’s wither and writhe and the leaves are browning from sunlight rather than season – the vacant sun refuses to vacate the sky. So many people at heights, in storeys, piled high and crammed in like Tetrus blocks, the empty sky shimmering; dreams pop up and are shot down like target ducks. St George’s flags flutter from balconies, red crosshairs and dirty whites: Come On England.”
|Posted on April 11, 2021 at 6:00 AM|
Too early for the sun: must be another bomb.
Impossible to say whether it’s the liver-pains or the familiar crump that jerked Hook out of his dream. From his eyrie the damage seems limited: a faulty car bomb or a quarantined suicide bomber, the latest in a line of hopefuls failing their audition.
Whenever Hook hears about suicide bombers he feels mildly vexed until he reminds himself of phosphorous sprinkled on Fallujah, bulldozers flattening Gaza. He feels sadness for the irrational, desperate act and for those left behind but he quickly moves on. Yet this morning he’s hopeful this latest bomber has succeeded in his task of shutting down the city, shorting all the circuits, because then Hook won’t need to go to work.
|Posted on April 10, 2021 at 4:55 AM|
#OutofOfficeQuotes 40: "Just as the plane hurtles into the White House, Hook is shanked awake by a sharp pain in the abdomen and opens his eyes on a world of fire. Orange sprites dance on the ceiling and pins of sweat puncture his forehead. He lies on his back dazed and spread-eagled as if nailed to the mattress by his own inertia."
|Posted on April 9, 2021 at 5:10 AM|
Watching Fitma the other night he begun to think Wilders had a point: there was something wrong, these medievalists, these freaks, these women-hating goons need sorting out – they needed a taste. And yet a more benign sector of his brain said: free speech and ban, same sentence? Fallujah, Najaf? Who’s braver: Saudi freaks with their pallet knives or American shock and awe? It didn’t help Wilders’ case that the film was so poor, its interpretations of the Koran so selective, Wilders such a prick.
|Posted on April 7, 2021 at 7:00 PM|
When Hook emerges into the haze of perennial dusk that serves for London night his stomach growls and he goes to the kebab shop opposite the station. As he queues Hook witnesses an extraordinary thing. The two chavvy Greek girls in baggy tracksuits who hang round the tube and giggle when he passes are knocking on the glass making faces and blowing kisses at the tall, spotty Turkish lad who fries the chips.
One of the girls lifts her jumper and presses her large, bra-encased tits against the glass; the young man smirks as he passes over Hook’s parcel of meat. Outside the two girls cackle. Here’s Hook with his good suit, his obvious money, and they haven’t even registered his existence, so engrossed are they in the heroic actions of King Kebab.
|Posted on April 6, 2021 at 7:00 PM|
The DLR is closed due to a security alert. It’s a relief for Hook to emerge into hard sunlight at the centre of the whirlwind that is the City. In the shade of a building resembling a root vegetable he swipes at the flies landing on his nose and turns on his BlackBerry, but there are no messages to say work’s cancelled. A line of buses avail themselves; Hook boards the most relevant and drowses on the top deck. When he resurfaces he’s floating on his invisible ship through the crystal canyons of Canary Wharf, like Hook sober and on the twelve-step programme after decades of extravagance.
When the bus stops at a temporary light Hook watches a young, business-like couple walk along the pavement beneath a monumental glass building; in its reflection he sees an escalator inside the foyer and his bus on the street, Hook gazing into space with a blank, urban expression. Then the woman ascends the escalator, the man walks along the street. Hook decides to get his eyes tested.
|Posted on April 5, 2021 at 7:00 PM|
After a final drink in Molly Moggs Hook feels he’s had enough. At Leicester Square he descends into the bowels, liver spiking and weeping. When the northbound tube thrusts through, Hook hops into the quiet first carriage and pulls out the fold-down by the driver’s door. Newspaper headlines fill the empty seats but his eyes water too much to read so he stares down the carriage, chest heaving, one hand ensuring the BlackBerry is still in his jacket.
As the tube accelerates out of the station he watches all the light, noise and dark being sucked out of him like a long intestine. The past isn’t a foreign country, decides Hook, it’s another world, where people don’t just do things differently but become their own guilt-edged ancestors.
|Posted on April 5, 2021 at 5:25 AM|
Stomping out of the town hall he walks, taking in new sights: cars skating across rooftops, yellow cranes saluting, dreary trees waving silent protests, garages and car docks and wine merchants, new apartment blocks abandoned, red-grey DLRs weaving tragically, Canary Wharf’s time-share cluster propping up the moon, the sun hidden behind a grey ceiling of concrete dust, the dense thick air carrying rain so thin it can’t be seen but you feel it cross your skin and wet your hair, you forget what weather’s like in this place it’s so good to feel this rain, these cool soft clouds like a grey paint brush splashed in water, anachronistic planes pulled along by propellers from Stuttgart and Leuven, piles of scaffolding build themselves up by day and into lofty towers then crumbling down to form new piles like sand beneath oceans –
|Posted on April 4, 2021 at 5:30 AM|
The absence of money is disturbing to Hook, but also exhilarating. After all, if he doesn’t have any money, he can’t give it away, spend it, worry about how and where to put it. Everywhere he looks experts say save your money, earn more, spend more... but then, who are these experts?
Under a railway arch Hook trips over a bunch of flowers laid to some fallen soulja. Young people are pricks. They live in the most exciting city in the world and they’re still sore. London, he concludes, is like youth itself: wasted on the young. Watering the flowers with his own steaming tribute Hook zips up his pants and walks away.
On a tube west Hook picks up a freebie but the sea monster has been relegated to page three by the latest celebrity breakdown. They’re now saying the creature might have been twenty miles long; creationists say the discovery’s a prop from an old film or a remnant of the Ark.
Hook watches a teen black girl with one hand on a pram handle, the other holding her Oyster between her fingers as she sucks her thumb. A foreigner makes himself known by wearing a jersey over his shoulders. Where are they all going? Is this the best they can come up with? How many of these people need to get to work, what do they all do that matters so much?
“We’re not going to work, you prick,” snarls a suit, “we’re going home.”
|Posted on April 3, 2021 at 6:15 AM|
The London bombings presented Hook with an opportunity he’d never realised he was waiting for: to disappear, leave Monica and Shelley behind and follow his dreams. He’d been gone two hours when he realised he’d made a dreadful mistake – he didn’t have any.
Hook checked into a cheap hotel off Berwick Street. Sat in his tiny room on that strange day, something on TV made him laugh. A helicopter picked out a train making its way to Essex; as the camera panned back he saw the whole of London sprawling, and it seemed hilarious that anyone had the arrogance to imagine they could take on this vast, ancient city and win.
Lying on a tatty single bed, defeated by the challenge of finding a dream, Hook tried to conjure up a new identity. After a few hours he realised he couldn’t even think of a name, let alone a whole new act.
It became apparent the police could name every one of the victims of 7/7, and they hadn’t found one cell or wisp of cloth from his shattered body. So he drank himself into a stupor, threw away his coat and went home, blaming what he’d seen on that terrible morning. It worked: Monica held him tight. She wasn’t to know, and CCTV hadn’t revealed, that he’d stood on the platform and let the doomed train go because it was full.
Over the next few weeks Hook went home each lunchtime to ensure he got to the credit card bill naming the Berwick Street hotel before his wife. That was the last time he tried to disappear. Maybe disappearing wasn’t something you could at will: you had to wait for it to happen.
|Posted on April 2, 2021 at 5:05 AM|
#OutofOfficeQuotes 32: “He turns off the TV and goes back into the living room, velvet shadow punctuated by tiny red lights and standby hums. Hook goes to the wall, pulls away a piece of card and looks over the city, feeling like a child lost at night in a Siberian forest.”
|Posted on April 1, 2021 at 2:35 AM|
A MILF-type woman passes between them pushing a pram, a baby in front and a two-year-old on the backboard with her long blonde hair streaming behind her like Boadicea, or Isadora Duncan, eating ice cream. The mum’s a size 18-20, maybe more of a BBW. All the new acronyms, all spelling out the same old story: M.I.S.O.G.Y.N.Y
|Posted on March 31, 2021 at 2:20 AM|
#OutofOfficeQuotes 30: Nerves shredded by the cheap coke, Hook swigs vodka from the bottle and turns on the radio, tuned by fish-boy to what sounds like a pneumatic drill with less melody. Hook looks for a dial, can’t find one, remembers he’s in the digital age, presses a button and scans the ether, settling on a talk-radio station whispering right-wing lullabies.
Hook’s concentrating so hard on driving under the influence that at first the intercutting monologues on the radio pass him by; then he stops at some late-night roadwork snarl-up (Ukrainians in orange vests shining search-beams, digging tunnels home) and realises the callers are talking about the monster.
‘…news once again, scientists involved in the examination of the creature’s remains now say they believe it to be The Devil. Yes ladies and gentlemen, that’s what senior zoologists, palaeontologists and marine biologists are saying right now. Have your say here on 92.2…’
On closer listening, it seems the allegation’s been made by a scientist no longer involved in the dive; apparently he felt an incredible sense of unease every time his boat floated over the search zone, and several members of the team claimed to have fallen ill. Since then this particular scientist has been struck off. Naturally, the late-night crazies who frequent the station take that as yet another ingredient of yet another conspiracy.
Calls come pouring in: it’s God’s way of testing humanity’s faith; it’s Gaia’s brain, more powerful than any super-computer and able to influence thought, to warn society of the perils of global warming; it’s the endlessly reproducing cells of Henrietta Lacks; there is no monster, it’s the government’s way of diverting attention from the mess they’ve made of everything.
|Posted on March 30, 2021 at 2:45 AM|
#OutofOfficeQuotes 29: “Shelley has her big pink cardie on, off to the Arctic. She’s slight, slim, like her mother, with Monica’s big blue eyes and her father’s defensive air. Her hair’s a tangle of dreadlocks and beneath the cardigan she wears a complicated system of fishnet and cheese-cloth, lace and linen; a life-sized Bratz doll.
She looks down on him with an expression of hurtful indifference. What is he to her, a whale, a sea monster from the depths of the past, fading before her eyes? She doesn’t even respond to the little notes he leaves her anymore - he isn’t just disappearing, he’s becoming illegible...”
|Posted on March 29, 2021 at 2:30 AM|
#OutofOfficeQuotes 28: “I sometimes think if we’d never met, fucked, got married, we’d have been better people.”
“You’re saying you think it would have been better if we’d never met?”
“I didn’t say that –”
“But how else could I hear it? If we’d each been better there would have been more... good in the world. That our sum is less than our parts.”
“Chris, you are so damn insensitive.”
“That’s not true!” Hook tries to lighten the mood. “I have a very keen sense of schadenfreude.”