Not London Book Week ~ reflections on the book industry (part one)

Not London Book Week ~ reflections on the book industry (part one)

I didn’t go to London Book Week.

I didn’t go to the Indie Fringe event, either, though I made half-hearted plans to go and meet friends. I wavered so long I missed the window of opportunity to get cheaper rail tickets that might have made the whole thing a little less harsh on the wallet. Then, on April Fool’s Day (of course) I yawned, stretched and forthwith popped my shoulder out. It popped back in again, leaving me with enough pain to warrant the Big Guns of pain control that mean I don’t dare leave the house for fear of wandering aimlessly into oncoming traffic, or of seeing giant scorpions in alleyways. If I stay home when I take them, I can at least ask family if what I am seeing is real and if it is, I can valiantly sacrifice myself to save them because I can’t run as fast as they can. It took the best part of a fortnight for the pain to recede enough to return to normal levels of baseline pain, and the idea of using sparse energy to trog all the way into the capital to an event that (apart from meeting friends) simply failed to thrill me, was not one that seemed appropriate.

I did however go into an actual book shop during that time and I bought a few actual books. Go me, eh? I was in Lincoln for the day, and having bought a selection of fossils and minerals in a rather wonderful shop, I found the new independent bookshop Lindum and bought two books. I then managed to leave them behind just as the shop closed and for a short time, felt it was perhaps a small sacrifice to atone for my sinful use of Amazon to buy books. You see, while talking to the very nice store owner, I used the taboo A word a couple of times, and we briefly discussed it. That’s to say, she told me how Amazon was basically responsible for destroying book shops, and I (too much of a coward) listened and nodded in an understanding way.

You see, while I love books, I don’t actually love bookshops any more. Even the excellent independent ones like the one in Lincoln or the even more wonderful Book Hive in Norwich. The rot set in really when the supermarkets started selling books. Books heaped up like so many rectangular apples and oranges in pyramids of paper, pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap. Good, I say. The arrival of the paperback was heralded as the end of books, but it actually made books accessible to readers previously unable to buy highly priced tomes. Books are a luxury when you struggle to feed the family. Most books sold this way aren’t ones that will change your life, but they might give you an escape from reality for a few hours or days, depending on the length of book and how fast you read. And some of the time, that’s all anyone wants of a book.

However in response to the perceived threat of online stores like Amazon, many bookshops have gone into what I call “precious mode” where books become something with a mystique, the province of the special something, magical, almost elite, and it feels as if they have forgotten that they, just like Amazon, are purveyors of a PRODUCT. Their piles may not be of common apples and oranges, but of exotic dragon fruit and pomegranates and acai berries and so on. And the prices reflect this too. They remind you that you are here in this temple of Bookishness to partake of superior fare to the cheap and cheerful sold by Amazon and supermarkets. You can’t have it both ways: bookshops of all kinds, real and virtual, are ALL aiming to persuade the punters to purchase something, whether it’s for a penny plus post and packing (I buy a lot of second-hand books that way) or brand new, in a sumptuous dust-cover inscribed in gold ink and promising glories within.

Would you like to know what books did tempt me to open my purse and part with hard earned cash?

There wasn’t anything on offer that I felt I could justify the £15 or more for the rather lovely looking but totally unfamiliar book on bee-keeping, or on the history of herbal medicine or the thousand page novel in hardback, (its name and the author’s name now escape me). I wanted a book to sit and read while I waited for my coach home; I didn’t want to buy into a literary extravaganza that might well have been more smoke and mirrors than substance. So my selection for just over a fiver were two Wordsworth Classic paperbacks: Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Dante’s Inferno.

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*Cities that never sleep*

Cities that never sleep

Last week I went to Paris.

Whenever I say that the reaction is almost universally, “Lucky you!” and I concede that I am grateful that I get to go but I’ve never quite figured out why people get so excited by cities, however famous, beautiful or supposedly romantic those cities might be.

Since I was heading out on an early Eurostar train, I’d been billeted in a hotel next to Euston station in London. I got there in plenty of time so I had a little walk down to the British Library and down to St Pancras also, before heading back to wash my hair, eat my dinner and get an early night. I’d hoped to find some ear plugs but failed. I regretted it. The window in my room was defective and wouldn’t shut properly. It wasn’t a cold night, but the noise never abated to anything less than a dull roar all night. I got up at around 4.30, unable to snooze more than an hour at a time. It’s not so much the noise as the continuous low level vibration. Everything shakes ever so slightly, ALL THE TIME. I suspect you get used to it if you live there. But for a visitor it was unsettling. I felt all the time as if I were shaking, and it made me more nervous and uneasy.

When I left the hotel at 6am, London seemed to be already in full motion. The night buses had been replaced by the normal day ones, the pavement shook with the rumble of underground trains and the constant passing of traffic. There were more people visible on the streets at that time than I see normally in the course of a week or more. At no point did the city ever seem to sleep.

Paris comes to life at night too. As the sun sets, the lights come on everywhere, and people head out. Going up the Butte of Montmartre for a meal at the artists’ square, it was still quite quiet. By the time we came out to do some sight seeing, the place was heaving. The steps in front of Sacre Coeur were filled by people sitting enjoying the view, the company and a drink or two. Inside the basilica, an oasis of peace and tranquillity, the nuns were about to sing the office of Compline, the last office of the day before sleep. But Paris too never sleeps. Even in our quiet hotel at the edge of the city, traffic thundered past most of the night.

I’ve lived in a couple of cities in the past, sometimes close to the centre, sometimes in the suburbs, and while the amenities and so on are great, I’ll never forget when we first moved to deep countryside, miles from anywhere. We’d brought sleeping bags and a few bits with us, ahead of the removals van, and that first night, without a plate or fork to our name, we walked through fields to get to the next village and the nearest pub to get our dinner. The sun set as we ate, and when we got back out, full of dinner and a few drinks, we headed out confidently to follow the little paths back through the countryside to our new house. Half a mile on, it dawned on me that it was VERY dark indeed. There were no street lights in our village at that time, and the fields and copses were utterly black. Above us, the stars shone like diamonds on a jeweller’s velvet, and a sliver of moon. We found our way home, cautiously, and when we crawled into sleeping bags, and lay down to sleep, I realised that with the window open, it was almost silent. It was quiet enough to hear the wind blowing the half grown wheat in the field behind our house. The sound of owls, and once or twice the guttural cries of foxes, and very, very faintly, the occasional car passing. and then close to dawn, cockerels, were the soundtrack of almost every night after that.

I learned to walk the woods and fields in almost total darkness, using the glimmer of starlight on the tip of my dog’s tail as a guide, or the bright white glow of moonlight. I learned to tell different sounds apart, so that the call of one owl was different to that of another of the same species. I listened to nightingales singing, and heard the huff of distaste when a deer came upon my scent in the middle of the night as I walked alone but for my dog.

Some people are city people. Some people are country people. I wonder if you can guess which I am.

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Baker Street Blues- a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes

 

Baker Street Blues- a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and to Sherlock Holmes

 

I confess. I’d never been to Baker Street in all my long years as a fan of Sherlock Holmes. I’d travelled along it in a bus, or in a taxi but never set foot there until this Sunday.

As I stood on the escalator coming up from the Tube, a tune began in my head. It was almost involuntary and a bit of a surprise to me. Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street is a total classic and has bitter-sweet significance to me, which is a story I shall keep secret for the moment. As I reached the station exit, the soaring guitar was being overtaken by the saxophone solo and as I stepped finally onto Baker Street, the lyrics began….

Winding your way down Baker Street, Light in your head and dead on your feet…”

Pretty much summed up how I was feeling. I’d had a thirteen and a half hour working day the day before and had the same that day, though in effect I was free to do what I felt like, while remaining on call. Tiredness notwithstanding, a massive grin spread across my face, the first spontaneous smile I have had for a long while, or so it feels. I joined the queue at the museum and continued to grin for the next hour.

 Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most famous creation of the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but its easy to forget that Doyle was responsible for another fabulous creation too, Professor Challenger, the hero of the novel The Lost World, that has been made into many films since. Sir Arthur was a medical doctor, graduating from Edinburgh, and had a questing mind that took him to many places that were unusual for a man of his class. He did a tour as a ships’ doctor on a voyage to the West African coast, which probably opened the mind of the young Arthur greatly. His lack of success as a medical doctor gave him time to write; he had written as a medical student and his long hours waiting for patients when he first set up practise in Southsea gave rise to the first appearance of Holmes in A Study in Scarlet. Later, set up as an ophthalmologist and recorded he had not a single patient! In total, Doyle wrote four Holmes novels and 56 short stories. Many have been made into films and TV shows, and writers have produced endless tributes and pastiches to the great detective.

Visiting the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street was for me akin to a tongue-in-cheek pilgrimage as I fell in love with the great detective when I was nine years old. I passed on this love to my daughter who had the stories read to her as bedtime stories. What makes me love him so?

 It’s hard to explain but there was such hope for me in the discovery of a truly clever hero to look up to and aspire to be like. Holmes is thought to be based on Professor Joseph Bell, Doyle’s old university professor, and the fact that while the man himself is fictional, there was a real person behind the stories, gave me a lot of hope that somewhere intelligence is valued above other attributes.

Holmes is a perennial favourite for film and TV and a recent BBC mini series Sherlock relaunched the iconic Holmes to a new public, updating the tales to be set in the present day with huge success. I can only hope that the next series is as excellent as the previous one.

Anyway, if you are not already a fan of Holmes, then what are you waiting for? It’s elementary, my dears!

 

Perfect Timing

You know those days when nothing goes according to plan; you miss the bus by ten seconds, you fail to see your friend in a crowded Starbucks, you lose a tenner when the wind catches it and blows it away? Those days when everything goes wrong? Had it ever occurred to you that there are the equivalent days when everything goes right, goes your way, effortlessly?

I had one of those sort of days yesterday, one of the ones where things go so smoothly and effectively you are waiting for the disaster that rebalances the universe. I had resevervations about packing so many things into one day but I figured I’d go with it and see what happened.

First thing that went according to plan was getting into London itself on time and no hold ups; second was finding a parking place at the Tower to drop off safely. Then we split into two groups; one going into the Tower and one going on a perambulation round London. Guess which I got? Right, the walking one. We walked. Over Tower bridge, along the south bank of the Thames, past HMS Belfast and back across over London Bridge and on to try and find the Great Fire monument. Easy. It is 202 feet high but then the buildings are higher…but there it was, exactly where we wanted it to be.

Retrospectively, given my dislike and fear of heights, I ought not to have risked going up as it gets narrower and narrower as you go up the 311 steps to the top…but I went anyway. I guess the Eiffel tower was in the bag, so this didn’t scare me…much:

  Bars helped, let’s put it like that.

Down again we headed towards the general direction of St Paul’s where we ate lunch and a drug squad undercover officer tried to arrest one of my students. Seriously. He thought better of it when shown the rollie was simply tobacco…One more thing that could so easily have gone horribly wrong… 

Then onto the Tube for a short trip back to Embankment and rejoin the whole group to start the official walking tour. This was now 3pm and I said I could do the essentials in an hour. This was optimistic because there were two protest marches taking place and also they were setting up for the marathon. By that lovely blind chance we crossed Parliament Square a minute before the March closed it…Onward to St James’s park and towards Buckingham Palace. As if for us, they had shut it off for traffic so we could saunter unimpeded. Back down the Mall and towards Horse Guards. My heart sank as it appeared to be blocked till I discovered this was because they were changing the guards. In all my many (50+) London tours I have never landed here on time for this. Just as Big Ben struck three o’clock moments after I explained what Big Ben is, the timing could not have been more perfect . I nearly did myself an injury perching with my legs stretched out with a foot on a ledge either side of an arch to raise myself to a decent height to see over heads.

I finished the tour at just after four fifteen giving the students enough time for a quick trip to either Oxford Street, Chelsea football ground, British Museum or Covent Garden, and finally meeting them all down in Embankment Gardens at 5.45pm, and just as we counted heads, the coach arrived. We even had time to have a services stop to eat. OK, so it was Mc Donalds but you can’t have everything.

Not a perfect day by any means but a day of perfect timings. I wish I knew the secret of reproducing them….I’d have a great deal less anxiety in my life.

How I was almost thrown out of the British Museum…

I’ve had a couple of people ask me about that throwaway sentence about being almost thrown out three times on one afternoon, so it has clearly piqued curiosity a little.

Here’s the story:

Back in pre-history, in the 80’s I had a good friend who I met on my Cambridge interview and we kept in touch via long letters almost daily. Neither of us got our desired places at Trinity and in the autum we headed off to our respective places (for the record, he went to Durham, gave up  after a term, started again at Oxford the following year, discovered port and got thrown out after  a year or two. I haven’t heard from him since I was 21)

But during the summer we met up a couple of times in London and went round the museums. The British museum was where the trouble started. You see, while I am not at all a touchy-feely person with people, I am with  objects and immense statues are very attractive to the fingers.

First warning: I reached out a shaking finger to touch the feet of Rameses the Great and a guard materialised behind me(I hadn’t perfected the Miss Piggy karate chop back then) and politely asked me NOT to touch. We fled to the room with all the mummy cases and spent an agreeable few minutes with synchronised jumping to see if we could make the seismographs flicker. Then we returned to the hall of the statues.

Now Stephen could read hieroglyphs and there was a tomb frontage almost complete so he started to decipher the hieroglyphs using a finger as a pointer to show me. Cue the guard, less polite this time. Much less polite actually, quite hostile in fact. We slipped away to the other end of the hall.

There used to be a fabulous Eye of Horus out of basalt (now replaced with a giant scarab) and I couldn’t resist putting a finger out to stroke the smooth stone. That same guard had been following us and made me jump by suddenly declaring, “If  I see you (pesky) kids touching anything one more time, you’ll be out of here and you won’t be coming back in a hurry!” I think I went brilliant red and we fled for the open air at this point.

I do understand why they don’t like you touching but I shall tell you one thing; that was my last visit until I went back almost three years ago and I was nervous that the same guard would spot me and ask me to leave before I came in!

Oh and he probably didn’t say “pesky”. That might be imagination.

A good day

“A good day, ain’t got no rain….. A bad day’s when I lie in bed, and think of things that might have been.” – Paul Simon, “Slip Sliding away.”

I can understand this. When you’re very down, you can only conceive of good as being barely OK. I have had plenty of days lying in bed and thinking of might have beens, but generally, something restless in me kicks me out while there’s still daylight enough to have any sort of day.

Sunday was a good day. First, it didn’t rain. Second, despite the fact that I had an anxiety attack the night before, I was looking forward to it enough(but not so much that any sort of reality check would have ruined the actuality of it) to get through the anxiety and not decide to stay under the covers.

I don’t get many perks but Sunday was one: a free ride to London and effectively a free day. J and I arranged to meet and due to traffic decongestion, I got there first and was waiting for him at Covent Garden. I planted myself squarely against a pillar on the premise that he’s a sneaky beggar and might try and creep up and surprise me. The Miss Piggy karate chop is pretty lethal and I didn’t want to start our day by decking my friend. I have a hair trigger. He was a bit sneaky and almost caught me out by appearing from the side and not from the front.

We had a coffee and then started to meander our way towards Bloomsbury and the British museum. I can heartily recommend The Thai Garden on Museum Street for a lovely and affordable meal. We headed into the Museum itself and I took J to meet an old friend of mine, Ginger.

Ginger is someone I visit every time I go to the British Museum. He’s getting on in years now and I think sooner or later they’ll have to retire him. He needs a rest and some TLC. He’s been there since I first visited when I was 17 and he’s still there. He doesn’t change much but then at his age, what’s a few decades? Ginger is over six thousand years old, after all. He’s one of the earliest mummies, naturally formed in the sands of Egypt and almost perfectly preserved.

I visit Ginger to put life in to perspective. It sometimes upsets me that people snap away with cameras and never seem to think this was someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s husband….But I always come away feeling strangely relieved. While I have aged and am not the girl who got threatened with expulsion from the museum three times in one afternoon, Ginger remains the same. He’s come to represent something to me I find hard to explain. The permanence of impermanence, maybe. Or that while we live we make a difference and when we’re dead, maybe even then our works may live on. I don’t know. Anyway, I think J understood why I took him to meet my oldest friend.

Downstairs in the old reading room I managed to upset the lady who was showing exhibits to the public. I did NOT mean to but I did put her nose slightly out of joint by seeming to know more about the artefacts she was handing round than she did. If you ever read this, lady of the Hand Axe and Samian Ware Dish, I am so sorry. I’m actually quite nice when you get to know me. She probably wanted to bury the Hand Axe in my face….

We sauntered off and out into the sunshine and took the route the girl took in Someone’s Watching Me https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/someones-watching-me-short-story/ down into Victoria Embankment gardens where we flopped down on the grass, inhaled the scents of wallflowers and exhaust fumes and avoided being biffed by pigeons. Underground trains rumbled beneath us creating utterly weird sensations as the grass and earth trembled where we sat.

Too soon over, my coach pulled in and we said goodbye and I climbed aboard my ride home, feeling gently happy and very tired from all the walking. 

In my life, one good day is worth ten  bad ones. You have to store them up like treasure to mull over when the grey clouds block out the sun. This was a good day, without drama or over-excitement or  expectations.

Who can ask for more?

Someone’s watching me…(short story)

Warning: not for the faint-hearted!

 

Someone’s watching me….

 

   As I turn onto Great Russell Street, the whole of Bloomsbury behind me seems to echo with my footsteps. There’s something about frosty nights that seem to make sound travel further and faster and for a second, I am sure that the echo is more than an echo and a second set of footsteps follow at a distance behind me.

   Nothing.

   The immense bulk of the British Museum looms, oddly bereft without the usual hoard of visitors milling around; a faint odour of old fried onions still fills the air as I approach the gates, but the hotdog seller is long gone and maybe the smell is my imagination, like those footsteps. I consider my route for a moment, and turn back a little and head along Museum Street.

   Click clack click clack…my heels would strike sparks if I walked any faster; little Segs nailed into them to slow the inevitable wear. I’ve only got one good pair of shoes for going out and they cost me far too much to let them wear down as quickly as they will otherwise do. I can’t bear seeing girls wearing heels that are half worn and uneven, stumbling because of the poor grip. I’d much rather wear good running shoes but out in my glad rags, they don’t exactly go, if you know what I mean.

   It’s also cold and I wish I had worn a proper coat instead of this excuse for a jacket. But you have to look the part, and I hadn’t originally intended to be coming home this late or on foot for that matter. I’m not the first girl to walk home because she’s run out of money for a taxi and I won’t be the last. At this time of the morning, the tube is still shut and I’d never go down there alone at night anyway. Brave I may be but I am not either fearless or stupid. Up here, I can hear anyone or see them before they see me. Or at least I think so. Those footsteps are beginning to bother me but it’s late and I’m tired. I worked a long day yesterday (or was it today when I got off shift? Can’t remember now).

   I cut across New Oxford Street and down into Shaftesbury Avenue and think about Shaftesbury the man, and how today’s London would thrill him. None of the dreadful, mind-blowing poverty is left; even our poor are better off than the poor of his day. I’ve gone past the turning for Neal Street now and I curse softly. I want the most direct route and if I continue down Monmouth Street I’ll be funnelled straight down to St Martin’s and Trafalgar Square. If I cut through Neal’s Yard, I’ll be back on track.

  Neal’s Yard is eerily quiet and unnerving; the massive potted trees rattle their twigs at me and I shiver as I pass through. At the other side of the yard, I pause, sure I have heard something, but a small black shape races across the gap and I relax. It’s just a rat; you’re never far from a rat in London (or any city) but you seldom see them by daylight.

   But daylight is a long way off, and I want my bed and I cut across Long Acre and down into Covent Garden. It’s deserted, as you’d imagine, and silent, how you could never imagine it being in the day. Litter blows across the cobbles and I can hear music somewhere. It’s past closing time for just about everywhere, so maybe it’s someone’s car stereo.

  Another rat darts across. Despite the best efforts, food waste attracts vermin and I wait to be sure the rat was alone. Something that might once have been a burger is so mashed into the cobbles; another small black shape detaches itself from its meal and starts to run.

  “Nothing to fear from me, mate,” I say, and begin to walk again.

  There’s traffic noise now coming from The Strand, but only intermittent and again I am certain I can hear footsteps. I still myself as I walk, willing myself to be calm and to listen. I’m going slower now, even though as my heartbeat begins to race I want to break into a run.

   Yes.

   There is indeed someone behind me, maybe thirty yards or maybe a bit more. They are keeping pace with me, keeping out of sight in the shadows. Oh crap. Whoever it is he (or she, because I can’t see them) is very good at this. When I stop, they stop. No wonder I thought it an echo. As I round the corner and come close to the shuttered Jubilee Market, I know that whoever it is will have to cross the open space and be visible, so I take the road next to the Market and walk down very fast till I get to the Strand, where the lights are brighter and there is a little traffic.

  It’s not a lot of use really, because as soon as I get there, I know that I can’t even hail a taxi. I have about thirty pence in my purse, and no means of getting more, so I can’t even say, “Take me to a cash point!”. I’ll just have to hope that my follower is slower than I am. I can run pretty fast if I need to, but in these shoes? I don’t think so.

  I cross the Strand and take the alley between buildings. I can sense someone behind me, the other side of the road but I’m damned if I give him the satisfaction of turning round to try and see him. The alley is steep and has a flight of steps, and I nearly fall as I negotiate the steps. It’s horribly dark down here and I wonder if I have made a mistake. But Embankment Gardens are at the bottom of this alley and once through those, I’ll be down on Embankment and into brighter light.

  At the bottom I realise my mistake too late. They lock the gardens at night. I consider my options. I could climb the railings and cross like that. But I am in a tight skirt and I don’t think it’s going to allow me to do that. Short of taking the damn thing off while I hop over the fence, I’m stuck.

  It’s then I make my big mistake. I turn right and start to follow the gardens roughly west. I’ve forgotten that if I turn left, I can cut through and join the Embankment near Waterloo Bridge. I am thinking that maybe one of the other gates will be open and I can cut through. Like I say, I’m tired. Turning right takes me between the Gardens and the backs of the properties in the streets behind the Strand. Once, hundreds of years ago, the Savoy Palace stood somewhere along here and further back in time, the Strand was indeed a sort of beach.

  My heart nearly bursts out of my chest; the footsteps behind me have got a lot faster suddenly and like an idiot, I instinctively begin to run, cursing both shoes and skirt as they impede my speed. To my horror, the way ahead plunges into a dark lane, leading to parking garages or something for the buildings that tower above me. Dim orange lamps make more shadows than light and as I stumble, I fall headlong into a darkened corner. I scramble onto my knees, poised like a runner at the start of a race, trying to see who’s there.

   I hear breaking glass and the dim lights vanish and I am in almost total darkness. All I can hear is my own breath rasping in my throat and the sudden slowing of footsteps. The bastard has broken the lamps so I can’t see him, and after a second, a bright light appears directly in front of me, ten or so yards away. He’s holding a powerful flashlight, shining it deliberately in my eyes so I can’t see him. I can feel bile rising in my throat and I think that maybe if I throw up on him, then he’ll be so disgusted he’ll let me go. I’m also feeling so angry that I could burst; some anger at myself for letting this happen to me but simple, atavistic fury at the old, old story of the subjugation of women by fear.

  Something glints as the light wavers and I know he has a knife. Oh well. The fury passes and I am left with resignation; if I can live through this, then maybe that’s something. There’s nowhere left to run after all. My mouth is so dry but I open it anyway to scream.

  “Don’t scream,” he says.

  His voice is flat and deliberately accent-less, as if he doesn’t want me to know his origins. That’s good. It might mean he intends me to live. I try to control my breathing but it’s coming out ragged and rough and I retch with fear and I sense him smiling. Don’t ask me how I know that, but when he speaks again I can hear his pleasure in my fear.

  “Throw your bag over there,” he says and with shaking hands I comply, fumbling a little.

  “Don’t hurt me,” I say, and am shocked. I sound like a little girl.

  He just laughs. The torch dips a little and I hear him moving towards me and then I hear the unmistakeable sound of a belt being undone. I swallow hard and brace myself for the inevitable.

 The next few seconds are chaos and yelling and even a bit of blood.

  But the blood is not mine. The knife clatters across the concrete; I even fancy it sparked a little, and my attacker stares at me in shock, clutching at the side of his head, cut open when I hit him with the torch I retrieved from my bag. But he only has a second to investigate his wounds, before I wrench that arm into a firm hold behind his back and secure it with the other hand in cuffs, and because I am only human, and because my knee is in the middle of his back (my skirt has now ripped beyond repair), I lean over and press his face ever so gently into the dirty floor and whisper,

  “You’re nicked.”

   And I get to my feet and walk away and leave my other followers to drag this animal to the van waiting outside in the street.