Michael Fitzalan Head and shoulder shot.


Meet Me Later.

Chapter 1

Saturday Evening


The Italian restaurant has the longest name I have ever encountered: ‘The Portobello Garden Arcade Italian Restaurant’. It had been raucous and bright. Outside, it is a typical London night but surprisingly free of traffic, typical of that end of Portobello Road. Notting Hill like some Mayfair streets sees an absence of cars after seven. I step to one side of the door to button my coat. Taking a cigarette from the pack, placing the filter in my mouth, I check to my left and, out of the corner of my eye, above the street, I see the railway bridge with its iron facing of bolts, like the grey, Victorian, household water tank at my childhood home, looking like a painted metal screen, incongruous in that lovely road. It takes tube trains to and from Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park.

I am looking forward to getting home and unwinding a bit more with a Martello Tower and some Maren Davidsen on the speakers before bedtime with ‘Our Man in Havana’; rediscovering Graham Greene has been a joy. Getting home is the only thing on my mind.

That’s when I see him.

He looks just like me in 1993. Black Levi jeans, a brown Barbour jacket, a caramel cashmere sweater, Hilditch and Key white shirt and a pair of highly polished Loake, black brogues. At least that was what I had worn, and it seems, from where I stand, the outfit does not differ an iota. It was me, in the nineties, coming from Beach Blanket Babylon, The Portobello Dining Rooms or The Market Bar. He even looked as I had, rangy hair at the front, short at the back. It was uncanny. The spooky resemblance does not stop there, he walks like me, strutting confidently, a man on a mission, hurrying to meet a relative, a friend or a lover.

At the corner, I ask him for a light for my Marlboro, he pulls a vaping cylinder from his pocket, but being a gentleman, he also had a silver cigarette lighter that had belonged to his grandfather, a Zippo with his family crest embossed on its shell.

“Thanks,” I sigh, breathing the smoke out of the side of my mouth before inhaling deeply, “I’m Mike. We know each other but I can’t think form where and I can’t remember your name embarrassingly”

“Really? What a coincidence, then, I’m Finn like a fish,” he replies putting his upright hand above his head as if impersonating the dorsal appendage of a great white whale, “you do look familiar, I’ll give you that, but I don’t know from where.”

“I need to talk to you,” I insist, taking another drag from my cigarette, “I remember now, we’ve met before; it was at Patrick’s flat.”

“Sorry, I don’t remember, but if you know Patrick, that’s great,” he acknowledges, his original suspicion and scepticism ebbing away.

“Patrick and I are very close,” I insist, trying to sound nonchalant and then a thought occurs to me, a little white lie might help, “it was he who wanted me to talk to you, don’t tell him I told you, though.”

“I’m late for a date but call your number on my phone and then you’ll be able to text me,” he suggested, handing me his Apple i-phone, which was, of course, the latest model.

“Great, we’ll arrange to meet in the next few weeks,” I assure him, tapping in my mobile number and waiting for my phone to actually ring, “thanks, enjoy your date.”

“Don’t worry, I intend to,” he quips, taking his phone back before disappearing into the night without a backward glance.

Being young is wonderful, all the opportunities and pleasures awaiting you in your youth.



Sunday flies by in a burst of activity. I cycle to Chelsea to work on creative writing with a client, then back home within half an hour to start a zoom after a quick slice of toast spread with Patum Peperium, which I adore due to its anchovy flavour. After the Zoom, which lasts for two hours, I pedal over to Clapham for an hour of narrative modelling before returning home in fifteen minutes to settle in for three hours of teaching how figurative language adds to description. All very satisfying. Before bed, I have a ‘snupper’, a snack supper, the term first used by Suzi, by last girlfriend. Feeling exhausted, I only manage to read four pages of The Confidential Agent, Michael Fitzalan.

Monday is Circuit Training at 12:30 pm, which gives me a chance to work on my paperwork in the morning. It is one of the many days when I don’t write and I resent that, but not enough to do anything about it. Trying to contemporise Dante’s Inferno while trying to keep a verse voice constant for the narrator and the other characters is exhausting so a day off is always welcome. After the gym, I have the Food Bank to volunteer at and then my evening Zooms that last until 8.30 pm when ‘University Challenge starts’.

As I step off the 319 bus, I sing to myself the old nursery rhyme: ‘Don’t know was made to know, don’t know was hung, don’t know was put in the oven until he was done’.

It’s a damp and dreary evening. Winter’s chilled, icy hand still has its grip firmly around the neck of the city. I shiver involuntarily, feeling the bone deep dampness, freezing cold, that seems to seep invisibly from the Thames and flood my body, making me wish for the dry cold of a snowy ski-slope in April. I marvel at those who swim at this time of year, hardy or foolhardy, I am undecided.

The pub is cosy, aren’t they all when the weather outside is less than clement? A roaring fire contravening everything we know about global warming crackles in the grate, releasing methane, carbon dioxide, and black carbon into the air. We care about the environment, but climate change has not resulted in the millions upon millions of dispossessed individuals arriving on our shores demanding reparation and the water and food stolen from them by both drought and flood or asking us to feed and house their starving offspring, so we settle down by the fire. I am carrying two pints, he selects a seat so I can slide one of the glasses towards him before settling into my chair. He sits back feeling at ease, shrugging out of his blue Barbour, watching me with curiosity. Noting his tasteful choice in Bengal stripe Jermyn Street shirt worn under a navy cashmere jacket, I raise my glass in salute and he follows suit.

I have planned so much of what I want to say to him, I lean forward, smiling, choosing my words carefully and begin.

Chapter 2 – My point of view

-i- Tuesday

“It’s not legs, bums and tums but more abs, thighs and cries,” I announce breathlessly, half way through our ‘High Intensity, interval training’; no one has the energy or inclination to laugh, I just receive a few weak smiles from the weekly HIT group.

All in a row, twelve of us follow Marta’s instructions, high knees, planks, burpees and multi-climbers. Standing in front of her, we all feel inadequate, she had two advantages over us, she was toned, and she was young. None of us could compete. Some were toned, some were young but not one of us was both. Our guru had everything we wanted and needed. Following her was the closest we could get.

Despite my aching muscles, there was nowhere I would rather be than out on the Tooting running track at half past midday exercising in the weak winter sun. We were warmed up and are half way through the forty-five-minute session. Although, the weather is cold, the heat of the sun warms our faces.

“That’s it!” Martha announces, consulting her stopwatch.

We knew better than to assume that her class was over, she is just telling us that particular set was over. Inwardly groaning, I knew my body and my tailor would thank me for carrying on. When I say tailor, I mean the dry cleaners where a wonderful seamstress sews my buttons back on my trousers, moving the button a little to the right to loosen the girth of my waistband. At my age, it as the simple things in life. If you make it to sixty, one ‘realises that one survives only by compromise’. Another one of my jokes that needs serious refinement.

Everyone works from home, so we do not hang around after the session, chatting. We just thank Martha, promise to see each other next week and put away the equipment. Cycling back to the house, I shower and prepare for the evening sessions of tutoring English for entrance examinations, eleven-plus and thirteen-plus as well as GCSE. I have at least one tutee at their home, and I try to cycle there even if in a cloudburst. Eating a late lunch of avocado and brown bread, I mark, send emails and choose comprehensions for us to examine, explore and answer or come up with story titles for us to write. My favourite is ‘The Fence’. I have been sitting on it all my life.

It is my day off so I work on my other play for the rest of the day.

I am writing a play dedicated to Niko Louvros who was a shining beacon of humanity and humility.


It’s about an immigrant family who have made good in the UK, I have not decided whether they are Bangladeshi, Ghanian Indian, Jamaican, Kenyan, Malay, Nigerian, Hong Kong Chinese or Irish.

Anyway, the daughter is somewhere between Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil. However, she wants the government and the civil servants replaced by a citizen’s assembly made up or representatives from the 133 councils in England, supplemented by representatives from each of the professions and all the services, such as postal, rail and maritime, farming, fishing and technology.

It’s a screenplay.

Fade in, a large Queen Anne House with a gravel driveway.

Scene one: Elizabeth arrives in a white Tesla that drives up to the front of the house and stops opposite the front door. A woman in her mid- twenties explodes our of the passenger seat, thanks the driver, takes her small, expensive looking case from the back seat and closes the door carefully
She watches the car manoeuvre around and leave before looking over the house, turning on her heel to look at the fields, sighing and marching off purposefully towards the side of the house.

Elizabeth, Extinction Rebellion, caevi everybody.
Did she tell you she was coming home?
Certainly not, I would have shut up the house and whisked you off to Hook Norton for a few days.
Quick hand me the ‘Fairy Liquid’ and I’ll get the ‘Ecover’ out.
Where did you put the board for covering up the dish washer?
Behind the door in the larder, hurry, she’s coming this way.
Why can’t she use the front door like any other normal person.
She’s your daughter, that’s why!

Looking horrified Derek hides the dishwasher.
I keep forgetting. I suppose she was my daughter until she went off to university, do you remember when all she was interested in was horses and gymkhanas? Do you recall when she made upside down pineapple cakes and scones? What happened to those halcyon days when she was normal?
Those were the days. I’m afraid the rebellious phase led to their extinction.
When ER stood for Elizabeth Regina or Emergency Room, not Extinction Rebellion.
(Lizzie bursts through the kitchen door and grabs her mother squeezing her hard).
Mums, you look so thin, but your face so beautiful and your hair is gorgeous, I’ve missed you.
One can never be too rich or too thin, darling, but really, I’ve put on weight, we’ve discovered a vegan, organic, sundried sausage and I’ve been stuffing you father and me with them as if we were foie gras geese. We’ll both end up with fatty livers!
Pops, bet you’re still shooting and eating rabbits, bet you’re still stuffing steaks into your face; no wonder ten per cent of the population go to bed hungry each night!

Vegan thrice a week, now.


Quite right with Mum’s delicious red pepper and parsnip pies. By the way, I saw that disgusting, diesel Defender. You know diesel has killer ingredients like nitrogen oxides and aldehydes. You know they’ve found particles in the lungs and brains of children and the placenta of women.
Darling, all my tractors run on biodiesel and the Defender’s fueled by Macdonald’s chip fat, I’m not the enemy here, your majesty.

Off with his head Elizabeth, he’s been
using it far too frequently recently.


The brain or the Landy Poor lamb; he must
be totally exhausted! (Lizzie hugs her father).

I’ve been trying to make rewilding work near the bamboo plantation.
That reminds me, I bought a bamboo chopping board for Mums.
How thoughtful.
Bamboo is the fastest-growing plant on Earth. If I had my way, it would be in every office and on every piece of open space where solar panels cannot be sited.

How marvellous darling, that alone could make people in offices less prone to sick building syndrome.

Too right, bamboo can easily be used as
a building material and to make clothes.
It’s a scandal that anyone uses that ghastly
oil or nasty petrochemicals still. The nasty,
horrible fashion industry is still using toxic,
petrochemicals in the clothing whereas linen,
silk, and bamboo are naturally occurring. I’ll
get my dearest pops some bamboo socks.

You’re too kind my darling. (As Lizzie fishes for the board, Sarah darts a knowing look at her husband and rolls her eyes).
How practical, you mean and how ecological; I’m trying to turn you into Sustainable Sarah.
I preferred your mother when she was a lamb roasting lovely. How long are you staying darling? We’re so pleased to see you naturally, my sweet, but we have various social commitments and I have a report to write for my committee at the House of Lords. So, you see we need to know how long you are here, darling girl.
Long enough to make sure you have at least seven vegan meals this week.
We’ve got the Lloyds coming over for roast chicken on Tuesday and we’re going to a hog roast at the pub on Thursday.
(Lizzie winces, rolls her eyes)
What’s the number for Lloyds, I love Tom and Sabrina, I’ll tell them the menu has changed to vegan wellington, they’ll be up for it. They’re game and not the game you’re thinking, aren’t you Dads? I’ll make it Mums so you can have the night off. I’ll ring the pub and see what their vegetarian or vegan option is on Thursday. All sorted.
Thank you darling but I was going to get Alicia to cook, it seems such a waste to ruin her chance to practice her Pru Leith cookery school skills. The hog roast is a quiz night, with the boys from the local abattoir, they are supplying the hog for the event, they might be a bit miffed if we don’t eat their offering not to mention Giles, he’s paid for it and our ticket includes a helping.
What bad luck, best to ring and say you’re unwell and I’ll ask Alicia to do that amazing dish she cooked in Zermatt for those wealthy vegans who stayed the season. I wish you were as adaptable as your daughters.
Really, darling you’re most helpful.
Dearest Mums, I’m in charge now, and Pops if I dip the Land Rover and find it’s got pink diesel and not biofuel, I’ll be getting a cane from the plantation to rap over your knuckles.
All right. I’ll drain it now. You’re worse than the customs and excise.

Think of the flowers and plants you’re
saving. You used to take us on nature walks.
Do you remember that?


Of course, I taught you how to identify all
the trees and plants. You were the best at
recognising them.


Now you want to smother them in nitric
oxides, Sulphur dioxide and formaldehyde.


Of course not, they’re dangerous toxins.


With your diesel fumes, that’s what you’re doing,
Pops, plant lover.


You are infuriating.

I’m your ecological conscience Dads.

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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