Michael Fitzalan LowSq


Meet Me Later 21 Days in Winter Michael Fitzalan

If a statue is toppled into the sea
Make a new face from a foundry
If someone sets your flag alight
Weave anew with colours bright
Injustice must make you seethe
I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe

For those like George Floyd and those of us who do not get a fair wage for a full day of work; the rest of us must always remember injustice and inhumanity are our greatest enemy.

Day 1 – Chapter 1

i – Saturday Evening – October 1st

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 has a silver cigarette lighter that had once 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.

“I’ve just had supper with him and Annabel at the Italian up the road. You know Annabel, she runs the Corfu Literary Festival that Patrick goes to each year, I continue, not letting my younger self escape. I am at surprised by his coolness and remember I was like that once.

“Patrick’s great, yes and I do know Annabel and her sons, what a small world,” he murmurs.

“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 are awaiting you in your youth. The old have memories but even they can fade or be stolen. My job is to ensure Finn does not have his future ruined and will have nothing to regret. I wonder if I am up to it.

Chapter I – ii – Day Two – October 2nd – Sunday for Me

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, my long-suffering wife. Chicken soup and brown bread is all I need to sustain me. Over the meal, Suzi tells me about her mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease and with whom Suzi spends one day with every weekend.

Coming home late, she has already eaten. We have mint tea and a square of chocolate before going to bed at ten thirty. Feeling exhausted, I only manage to read four pages of Our Man in Havana. I have read The Confidential Agent and The Third Man. My reading is now in blocks by author; Greene is a relief after the dark world of Camus. Putting the book on the chair beside the double-bed, I roll up into a foetal ball.

Having never suffered from insomnia, I fall asleep immediately. What I dread is waking up in the morning, early, at four and then the thoughts start spinning in my head and although, I’m in bed and feeling stupefied, I know that I will not be able to get back to sleep, no matter what I do. Of course, being a man over sixty with prostate problems, there is an inevitable early morning visit to the bathroom.

If I wake early, I am doomed to examining my current life, too little money and too many commitments; my past life, too little compassion and too little commitment; and my future life, too little pension and more commitments than I could ever dream of, with a burgeoning family and my frailty, I know failure is on the horizon but hopefully not with Finn.

Chapter I – iii – Day Two – 2nd October – Sunday for Finn

Because he left early for work every day, and the pub on the corner of Lavender Gardens had deliveries daily, he was allowed to park in front of the cellar flaps by the manager. His salesman’s car blocked anyone else from parking there overnight.

Normally, he would have a shower the previous night, shaving and changing into a fresh, clean shirt in the morning and wearing one of his three suits, which he rotated daily. He had a different silk tie for every day of the working week. Out of the house by five thirty, it took him less than forty minutes to reach Victoria Park in the East End where the brewery was located.

On Sunday, he had a lie in and showered in the morning as well as the night before. Leaving the house at seven, he decided he would drive down to his accounts along the A3. Heading for the Hautboy, he skilfully manoeuvred his ‘three series’ out of the space and drove down Lavender Hill towards St John’s Hill.

All his relationships ended in disaster. No one in their right mind would stay with Finn. He worked seven days a week, he worked from six in the morning to half past ten at night, sometimes he worked until two in the morning, chatting to existing or potential customers.

His strategy was simple: Little and often. He would see his existing clients, the publicans once every three weeks without fail.

He would even say, “See you in three weeks, if you need anything in the meantime, let me know.”

Prospective clients, he would visit once a month or if he was passing.

The would remark: “Finn, I see you more than I see the reps who are already selling to me.”

He would reply: “I’ll see you in three weeks and by the way what’s the best time to come and see you for a chat.”

They might quip. “When I’m not busy.”

He would insist that he was available any time, “I’m visiting a pub in Maida Vale at six thirty in the morning and a pub in High Street Ken on my way back at six this evening, so I can see you when all your staff come on at six thirty.”

Frequently, they would smile: “Come and see me at seven in the morning, I have a delivery then, we can talk after, I’ll put the kettle on.”

He would reply: “I’ll bring the biscuits.”

He did and he would convince the manager to give the beer a try.

If Finn could get one beer in, that was it. The customer would be pleased with the sales and the draymen would help the manager or cellarman put the beer on the stills and spile it for them, too. Lorraine would charm them on telesales, and they would get the best service from him and the staff at the company.

It happened every single time.

Getting in the door was the hardest part. Once in, the beer sold itself and they would look after the customer. Bright beer for an event, no problem; more carbon dioxide cylinders, no problem, run out of beer before your next delivery, no problem. Frequently, Finn would pick up a nine-gallon cask and place it carefully into the back seat of his beloved BMW and drive to the pub, deliver and set up the beer so that it would have settled for the lunch time session.

Nothing was too much trouble and Finn could get to most of the pubs they supplied within an hour or an hour and a half because all of their customers were within the M25. It kept things simple and allowed the company to service the customers properly. Wholesalers took their beers beyond that point. The owner of Three Chimneys, in Kent, would drive and collect six barrels using his car with a huge trailer attached.

Sunday was relaxed, weaving from The Haut Boy to the Half Moon, The Kingston Mill, The Kings Arms at Hampton Court and then onto the pubs in south west London. In each one, he would ensure he bought the bar person a drink, preferably a half of Wilmot’s Hop Cone, Godson’s Black Horse or one of the other beers they sold for other breweries.

It was a simple strategy, he appreciated the bar people selling his product and he wanted to show them that appreciation. Finn realised that he was only one line of the sales team; there was Lorraine in the office, taking the orders, the draymen delivering the beer and setting it up for the managers and then there were the managers and their team. They could sell anyone’s beer but with great service, kind and encouraging words and the odd half, they might be and generally were more inclined to sell his beer.

His generosity was never abused, the money would be put in the till for later or the drink would be held ‘in the pipe’; no one ever asked for more than a half of beer of some sort or a juice or coke. Working on a Sunday never bothered him; he was building up his business. It made life easier for him. If he could see the clients down the A3 and in Kingston and Richmond over the weekend, then he could concentrate on the central London postal districts during the week.

Put simply, he loved his product, he respected his colleagues and, as the salesman, he bore the responsibility for their employment. Therefore, he had to work as hard as he could. He was building a business that he could hand down to his children just as his grandfather had for his mother.

Chapter I – iv – Day Three – 3rd October – Monday for Finn

The Monday morning before the drink on Tuesday.

‘Eye contact smile, eye contact smile’ Finn repeated to himself as he approached the Chairman. He extended his hand, fumbled the handshake, the grip was not right and instead of a firm reassuring grip, he gave a rather ineffective effeminate squeeze. As Finn was looking at the important individual, he saw confusion register on the customer’s face. Finn smiled, again.

“Shall we try that, again?” asked Finn, extending his hand, glancing down at his, which he stretched out.

This time they grasped each other’s hands like warriors sealing a treaty; that would set the tone. Neither of them crushed each other’s bones and neither of them had sweaty palms. In business terms, the tone of their talks had been set and Finn had shown that any mistakes he made. he would try and rectify.

They sat, twelve of them, around a table that had been in the brewery for over a hundred years, a tan sea that glistened in the harsh fluorescent light of a modern office.

“Officially, we’re not allowed to take products that are not from our parent company but the Greenwich general manager you persuaded to try your beer for a beer festival has asked that we provide your product in some selected pubs, one of them being the North Pole,” the Chairman announced.

“I’m sure that we can sell a lot of GBH in your pubs and draw in extra customers,” he assured the Chairman confidently.

Three of those gathered were area managers who had Godson products in their pubs. It was a retail decision to boost sales.

“Have you any evidence of this?” asked the Chairman, “we do have to sell our own products.

“Just ask the other breweries or your publicans; our beers are stocked by Chef and Brewer, Finch’s, Friary Mieux, Hall and Woodhouse, Taylor Walker, Whitbread and Charrington Group, pubs all of whom, officially at least, should only stock products from their nominated suppliers. Most of the pubs that are Free houses within the M25 stock one or more of our beers.”

“I talked to the Taylor Walker and Chef and Brewer people at the Annual Brewer’s Dinner, they agree that stocking your products have made a difference in some of their outlets, notably the Crown and Greyhound in Dulwich and Sawyers in Paddington,” he replied, catching Finn off guard; he had done his research.

“We can offer you the same level of service and product as they have, without doubt,” Finn asserted, beaming, even though his words had changed Finn’s whole approach and thinking.

He had expected a hard sell, but he continued talking up the service the brewery could supply, being less than an hour from most of the pubs in the M25, whereas their main supply route was three hours away at an out-of-town location.

There is a saying, sell and shut up. Finn did. He wanted to hammer home the unique selling point of the brewery being a depot in London, a hub that could be called on at any moment for any support needed, but that done he stopped for questions. Of course, he was prepared to talk about free cellar services the brewery could offer, he had often cleaned the pipes at Porter’s in Covent Garden on a Saturday morning; the efficient telesales provided by Lorraine; the helpful draymen employed who would set up the beer on the stills and how wonderful the brewery’s new pump clips looked. There was no need. He could tell by everyone leaning forward on the flat, brown shiny sea of the boardroom table that he had convinced them that stocking his company’s beers would boost their retail sales.

There was one catch.

There was always a catch.

Finn was expecting it, who would not?

“I’ve heard good reports, don’t worry. What I want to know is the discount you’ll be offering,” he stated, staring Finn straight in the eye.

“Of course, with volume, we can offer a discount. Anyone can give beer away, we all have to make our margins. What sort of figure are you looking at?’

Coming out of the meeting, Finn felt he had been through the clothes -wringer. He had secured a deal that gave them the same discount as University of London Union, that subsidised its beers but not as much as Tim Martin at Wetherspoons.

He was satisfied. The breweries were no longer manufacturers who sold their products through their pubs, they were retail organisations. They knew better products than those produced at their breweries were out there.


They knew the accountants had moved in and ruled the process of production.

‘Let’s not use yeast, enzymes are cheaper; let’s not use malt, rice and sugar are cheaper; let’s not use English hops; Czech hops are cheaper.”

“Won’t the consumer notice the change in quality?”

“Of course not.”

Of course, ‘they’ did, ‘they’ tasted the difference, ‘they’ knew they were being fobbed off with an inferior product at a higher price and they moved onto continental, imported, stronger beers.

“We can save money on the duty paid, three per cent alcohol pays less tax to the customs and excise man than five per cent.”

“Good idea but let’s do it gradually over two years and they’ll never notice.”

Of course, ‘they’ did. The customers deserted brands. Accountants always believe consumers are fools and they will never wake up.

Chapter I – v – Day Three – 3rd October – Monday for me

Monday is Circuit Training at 12:30 pm, which gives me a chance to work on my paperwork in the morning. I send emails, create invoices, and mark copy. 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 but my other projects, a play advocating a citizen’s assembly to replace our backward looking and bloated government and civil service and a book about a strong heroine giving her male counterparts a run for their money, fill me with joy and determination to finish them.

After the gym, I have the Food Bank to volunteer at and then my evening Zooms that last until 8.00 pm.

After that, I eat with Suzi, she has cooked some brilliant bolognaise, which we enjoy, chatting about her mother and her worsening dementia. At this stage, we are not sure if it is full blown Alzheimer’s Disease, however, it looks likely. After eating, we compete in answering questions from the evening’s ‘University Challenge’, which we watch on BBC i-player. I understand that we need to get out more. I have arranged to meet Finn at a pub in Battersea on Tuesday. I feel nervous, obviously anyone would.

I know that Finn works had; he is committed to his job, but I feel he must not neglect his personal life, turn his back on his family and put the company first. The most important consideration is to save Finn from himself and from a fate worse than death. You think I exaggerate. I wish exaggeration might help him. I want to avoid telling him. I need to stop him from ruining his life. If I can convince him to avoid the catastrophe, I will die happy.

Broaching the subject, is a problem. It is such a delicate matter and how can I explain that I know what he is going to do. Will he listen?

Chapter One – vi – My point of view – Day Four Tuesday 4th October

“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. All of us want the pain to end but thanks to Martha’s persistence and patience coupled with stern and genuine encouragement, we carry on, we persevere. Inwardly groaning, I knew my body and my tailor would thank me for carrying on.

When I say tailor, I mean the local dry cleaners on Franciscan Road 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 do some marking, 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 and founder of The Corfu Literary Festival.

Let me give you the title:


It’s about an immigrant family who have made good in the UK, the father has been knighted for his services to the food industry. 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, teaching, technology, and medicine.

As a screenplay, I think the first scene works well, though it will end up as a radio play perhaps or on the cutting room floor, I like it though.

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 out of the passenger seat, thanks the driver, takes her small, expensive looking case from the back seat and closes the door carefully. Breathing in deeply, she seems to appreciate the air.

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. This causes panic inside the house, and everyone leaps into action.
DEREK – Elizabeth, Extinction Rebellion, caevi everybody.

SARAH- Did she tell you she was coming home?

DEREK – Certainly not, I would have shut up the house and whisked you off to Hook Norton for a few days.

SARAH – Quick hand me the ‘Fairy Liquid’ and I’ll get the ‘Ecover’ out.

DEREK- Where did you put the board for covering up the dish washer?

SARAH -Behind the door in the larder, hurry, she’s coming this way.

DEREK – Why can’t she use the front door like any other normal person.

SARAH – She’s your daughter, that’s why!

Derek hides the dishwasher behind a panel.

DEREK (Looking horrified) – 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?

SARAH – Those were the days. I’m afraid the rebellious phase led to their extinction.

DEREK – 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.

LIZZIE – Mums, you look so thin, but your face so beautiful and your hair is gorgeous, I’ve missed you.

SARAH – 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!

LIZZIE – 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!

DEREK – Vegan thrice a week, now.

LIZZIE – 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.

DEREK – Darling, all my tractors run on biodiesel or methane and the Defender’s fueled by Macdonald’s chip fat, I’m not the enemy here, your majesty.

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

LIZZIE – The brain or the Landy? Poor lamb; he must be totally exhausted! (Lizzie hugs her father). ‘Mums’ is right though, you need to walk more and drive less. You’ve got to get active or you’ll become tubby and obstreperous, activity is the key.

DEREK – I’ve been trying to make rewilding work near the bamboo plantation.

LIZZIE -That reminds me, I bought a bamboo chopping board for Mums.

SARAH – How thoughtful.

LIZZIE – 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.

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

LIZZIE – 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 all those nasty petrochemicals, still. The disgusting, horrible fashion industry is still using toxic, petrochemicals in all its clothing whereas they all know they should be using linen, silk, and bamboo, all naturally occurring. I’ll get my dearest pops some bamboo socks.
You’ll be part of the new movement. Soon, the mere act of wearing polyester will become as awful as wearing a fur coat. No doubt ‘Dads’ could do with a few pairs of socks come Christmas.

SARAH – You’re too kind my darling. (As Lizzie fishes for the board, Sarah darts a knowing look at her husband and rolls her eyes).

LIZZIE – How practical, you mean and how ecological; I’m trying to turn you into Sustainable Sarah.

SARAH – You’re kindness I may forget, yourself never.
Sorry, yourself, I may forget, your kindness never.

DEREK – 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.

LIZZIE – Long enough to make sure you have at least seven vegan meals this week.

SARAH – 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.

LIZZIE – 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.

SARAH – 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.

LIZZIE – 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.

SARAH – Really, darling you’re most helpful.
LIZZIE – 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.

DEREK – All right. I’ll drain it now. You’re worse than the customs and excise.

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

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

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

DEREK – Of course not, they’re dangerous toxins.

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

DEREK – You are infuriating.

LIZZIE LAUGHING – I’m your ecological conscience Dads.

That comment is met by silence.

The play examines the need for social justice in our society, coupled with the need to look after our planet more carefully, making its our lives more sustainable. I know that these are two task that face us, but I am confident that they are not insurmountable. We just need to prioritise. Is it more important that a family goes to Mauritius on a holiday financed by a bank bonus or is it more important a nurse can finish a twelve-hour shift and is not forced to visit a foodbank to eat because her wages are inadequate.

Give the bonuses by all means but make sure those who look after us; get us to work on time; keep our houses, offices, and streets clean, a decent, living wage that actually allows them to pay their rent, eat and spend on the odd luxury. We take so much for granted, we have so much privilege. Where is our ‘Noblesse Oblige’? Where are the philanthropists like Guinness and Peabody building homes for the poor? Where has society’s responsibility for the less fortunate gone?

We explore the whole ‘me’ generation in the script, hopefully, in a playful way. I get ready for my night shift. I suppose I have a hybrid life like many office workers, I ‘Zoom’ at home and go around to people’s houses, the equivalent of going into the office. Finn does not have a choice, he has to go to the office every day, he has to help brew the beer, or at least dig out the mash tun. He has to chat to the draymen about the customers and their needs. He has to talk to Lorraine about the sales and if there are any complaints or problems, then he has to talk to Andrew and George, the rest of the sales team.

Working from home and going in three days a week, are not an option for someone like him and for so many other people. The list would go on for several pages. Suffice to say that I work inside and outside of the home, and he works exclusively at the office and in every decent pub in London.

Chapter I vii – Day Four – 4th October – Tuesday for Finn

Every Tuesday was the same routine, up to a point. Rising at five o’clock, in the morning, he would leave at quarter past, drive up to the brewery, his route was along Wandsworth Road, past Covent Garden Market, past Vauxhall and the South Bank through to Waterloo Bridge where he turned left and crossed the river. Using The Strand Underpass, to get to Kingsway, and turning right into Holborn at the A40, Theobald’s Road, he would then head for Smithfield Market; he would whizz past the Barbican and Old Street and onto Hackney Road and within ten minutes would have turned into Kenilworth Road, reaching the bottom of the rod where Chisenhale Road started, parking outside the furniture veneer factory. It was about six and Patrick would be mashing in.

The main gates would be shut. A black, corrugated wall in the brick and glass edifice, a rectangular, white wooden sign with a black Suffolk Punch plough horse standing inside it was the only clue to the identity of the building. It was as anonymous as when the building was producing propellers for Mosquito planes in the Second World War.

Towards the apex of the two, traditional, Victorian side roads, there were clues of the building’s purpose. A flue stuck out of one of the steel frames of the windows and pungent fumes seeped out, rising up high into the sky.

A smell of mashing malt filled the air. An Ovaltine mix of oats and steam. The smell was delicious and on that cold and frosty morning Finn was looking forward to dipping a cup into the soupy liquid that filled the container that they had bought from Ruddles or Rutland for a bargain price.
Running along the whole length of the building from the sliding steel door to the adjacent building was a fierce looking fence which was six-foot tall and topped with spear-like vertical bars. The gate on the far left was open.

There was a small, black, wooden side door directly behind the open gate, which was slightly ajar. It was through this entrance that Finn found access. His egress on the other side took him into a magical world.

The floor was a slick sea of cooling water, less than a millimetre thick, Finn was able to walk across the oil-slick surface. Natural light streamed through the glass panes sitting in a framework of steel squares. Above his head were three floors of checker plate that clung to the painted, white wall of the factory on one side and was surrounded by fencing, two horizontal metal bars secured by vertical stays on the other.

The wide stairs were painted green, Finn stepped from the slippery surface onto the first step and heard the reassuring clang; every step had a resonate ring. There was a landing and a change of direction before he found himself on the smooth deck, it was literary like being on a cross-channel ferry, same green floor, same white steel banister rails and same upright rods, a skeletal but safe system of rails that kept anyone from plunging onto the cement floor below.

At the top of the stairs, he took in the bottom of two steel vessels that would have been at home in a food factory or oil refinery, which were confusingly called coppers. He looked at the hoses weaving from their bases before snaking over the floor leading downstairs into the fermenting room. Another flight of stairs saw him confronted by the steel augur that corkscrewed malt up from the bottom of the brewery to the top floor, he stood on. A huge squat, steel cylinder like a bunker with its lid blown off sat in front of him.

Steam was pouring out of the top. A copper arm that covered the diameter of the squat drum, spun around and around squirting hot water over the grains or mash. Delicious malty cooking smells filled the air and beyond the mash tun as it was called, stood the pair of coppers, the other half of their bodies sticking up through the smooth, steel floor, both of them had hatches in the top for the hops to be added to them.

This was brewing. Finn reckoned it was the closest anyone could get to farming in London. Both he and Patrick wore brown Barbour jackets, not the fashionable ones but the old Beaufort style and they both wore black wellingtons. It was wet work. Immediately, he saw Finn, Patrick smiled up at him and hooking some liquor into a glass sampler, he handed the hot container still held in its metal frame and Finn took a sip of the sweet, hot liquid.

It was better than tea. It was better than coffee.

Chatting to Patrick, Finn bought him up to speed on the accounts, which were doing well, the pubs that needed new beer engines for their handpumps and whose beer was not kept at its best. After that, they clanged downstairs to the tasting rack where there were four beers set up, Local Line, Lords, Hop Cone and Blackhorse. Each was in a tapped and spiled steel pin, four and a half gallons, that had been brewed over four days. There was a box of half-pint glasses, and the top of the carton was open.

Helping themselves to a glass, Patrick splashed some beer into the bottom of each glass by opening the brass tap. Holding the quarter full glasses up to the light, they both examined the beer for clarity and tasted it for quality. These samples should match the clarity and freshness of the product in the pubs where it was sold. It was an important process, the slightest deterioration, cloudiness or a vinegar aftertaste would have to be reported back to the customer and the product replaced.

“All delicious, I’d say,” beamed Patrick, proud of his brewing skills.

“I agree,” replied Finn, glad that he had four outstanding beers that could take on any of the other beers on the London market.

After mashing in, it was Finn’s job to dig out the mash tun, still dressed in his blue jeans and white, GBH t-shirt and black Dunlop wellingtons. While the wort steamed in the coppers and Patrick added the hops to make bitter, Finn stood on the spent grain and shovelled the husks of the malted barley down a shoot into a huge bin, the contents of which would be picked up by Mudchute Farm to feed their animals. This was further farming connection Finn felt, he always liked to think of his brother and he as urban farmers.

It was hot work, the grains had just come off the boil and so when he clambered over the rim, he found himself standing on a hot steaming mushy porridge. The grains that filled the tun were so tightly packed that as he stepped in, he only sunk a few centimetres into the mire. He could feel the heat rising up through his boots but digging for two hours was going to make him a lot sweatier. It was his only work-out and he enjoyed the physical activity.

Standing in pubs or sitting in his car did not provide much exercise. Using a garden spade, he started to shovel the grain husks into the chute that led to the big bin destined to become free fodder for farm animals. Sweat beaded on his brow and within half an hour, the white t-shirt was soaked and clinging to his body, the jeans were sopping and had become a darker indigo.

After an hour, he took a break and drank some hot tea that Patrick brought for him.

Once the mash tun was emptied, Patrick started to clean the tun, taking out the copper plates at the bottom to clean them thoroughly, They were arranged like segments cut from a birthday cake and lifted out with ease but were quite heavy. Stomping down the clanging staircase, Finn strode off to the changing rooms to go to the loo, shower and change into his suit, a white shirt and silk tie. His bank shoes shone. He had to make a good first impression.

Some say selling is not a science. Maybe they are right. For Finn, it was a science. He had all his pubs in his head, but their particular details were recorded meticulously in his ‘prenote’ diary, manager’s and bar staff’s name, average order, typical day off, best times to call and service given, such as a new beer engine or spiles and corks or carbon-dioxide cylinders.

With all the information that he had on each individual pub and preferences for visits, Finn was able to visit ten pubs a day, seventy pubs a week and 140 pubs every fortnight. The average pub took between two nine-gallon firkins and two eighteen-gallon kilderkins a week. That contributed fifty barrels a week, or two hundred a month to the table.

The city pubs were entirely different. They would take ten barrels, that is thirty-six gallons in each, 360 gallons or 2,880 pints of bitter and two barrels of GBH. There were two city pubs to deliver to on Friday. The Three Bucks, Gresham Street and the Talbot, London Wall. The Talbot took 12 and the Bucks took 10 barrels each week.

Seventy-two barrels of beer sold each week. Finn was pleased with that. The brewery provided work for two other salesmen Andrew and George, Lorraine on telesales, four draymen, the two Roys, one nicknamed Fatty, the other Grandad, John, Six Eyes, and Derek.

John was called six eyes because he wore contact lenses and sunglasses. They were a fantastic crew and Finn would have breakfast with the draymen on every third Friday to catch up and enjoy bacon, black pudding, sausage, fried eggs and chips, which was a real indulgence for him.

It was only seven o’clock, but the draymen had already arrived, and the two Heavy Goods Vehicle or HGV trucks had left the brewery at about six thirty. Finns first three appointments were at 9:00. 9:45 and 10:30 and 11:15, which were all quite close in north London.

At lunchtime he crossed over to west London to visit a pub at 2 pm that was quiet after the 12-2pm lunchtime rush, The Frog and Firkin in Tavistock Crescent had been in a scene from the film ‘Withnail and I’ but Finn only cared that he could get his breakfast of a bap with cheddar cheese and lettuce, wolf it down and chat to the manager.

Just before three he made it to another pub in the area. From three to five was fallow time, managers catching up on ordering, sleeping, going to the bank, it was not conducive to conversations if the decision maker was distracted by thoughts of business and the things he had to do. It was a holy hour or two and it would have been sacrilegious of Finn to interrupt that space and time unless specifically invited to do so and that was as rare as a blue moon.

Returning to the brewery, Finn chatted to Lorraine about orders and any managers who were complaining about problems so they could be sorted out or sold to. She gave him a list of those customers who had not paid their bills and he headed off at four thirty to get to the Sekforde Arms at 5pm before the five thirty rush to pick up a kite from Gary, the owner. A kite was a term used by Gary, Finn suspected because he was unsure the cheque would not bounce, or fly.
Then, it was off to The Yorkshire Grey in Gray’s Inn Road, which started the movement west with The Princess Louise next on the list. He could not break until he had seen his ten pubs.

It was only as he left the last pub in Battersea, at 11 pm The Woodman, that he remembered he had been invited to a dinner party. So wrapped up in his work, Finn’s social life suffered. Any long-suffering girlfriend had to put up with late night liaisons, falling asleep in chairs anywhere, extreme fatigue and an almost obsessive dedication to his job.

Thankfully, for me, Finn allowed himself a night off once a week as well as Friday and Saturday evenings. He could do business on Saturday lunchtime, but it was pointless being in a pub on a Friday or Saturday night or a Sunday lunchtime, the time of roasts and brunch foods.

Chapter I viii – Day Four – 4th October -Tuesday Evening

As I step off the 319 bus, I sing to myself the old nursery rhyme Mike Greenspan, not the American one, taught me when I was selling perimeter advertising in the early nineties: ‘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.

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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