John Vane: Barking beckons

John Vane: Barking beckons

If ever I write a second London novel it will grow out of the scenario below.


Ben looked out at the River Roding and back at the night before. This wasn’t the London life location he’d had in mind, the far eastern end of the Hammersmith & City line beyond the sourdough belt. He knew without needing to ask that the same went for his parents. It didn’t even have a London postcode.

Even so…

He’d answered the supper club invite on a whim formed from a miscellany of speculations. Standing now in morning mist, close by the hopeful new Creative Quarter, he was uncertainly assessing the outcome of his decision. Had his social risk been rewarded? Had he been a hit or a miss?

Ben had arrived at the address in good time, walking briskly from the station before picking his way past the last knockings of the market. Finding the correct door, he’d pondered its novelty knocker, a metal likeness of a high-heeled shoe.

He hadn’t had to use it though, as the door had been left casually ajar. Stepping through into a tiny hall, he’d noted the junk mail carpet and the bicycles hanging on a wall. He’d looked up to see a silhouette watching him from the top of a flight of stairs. The silhouette had introduced itself.

“Good evening. Are you Ben? I hope so. Otherwise you are an uninvited stranger who might turn out to be unpopular.”

Ben had been briefly disconcerted. Yet he had mustered a reply.

“Yes, I am Ben,” he’d said. “But I am nonetheless a stranger and could turn out to be unpopular anyway.”

“Touché,” the silhouette had agreed, with just a tiny hint of a French accent. “But I’m prepared to take a risk. I’m Genevieve, by the way.”

Ben had mounted the stairs, a carrier bag containing wine from Waitrose swinging from his left hand. He’d tried not to over-smile: though pleased with his badinage, he hadn’t wanted this to show.

Genevieve had switched on the landing light, revealing her attire of a green frock with white spots and a sweetheart neckline. A feather fascinator topped off her ensemble. Ben had worried that his Marks & Spencer shirt and chinos betrayed him. As he’d reached the staircase summit, Genevieve had held out a hand. Ben had taken and shaken it. Genevieve had demurely looked away.

What had happened next was rather tricky to assess. Nervously reviewing, Ben felt he had held his own in conversation with a Bulgarian bicycle-repairer, the secretary of the local history society and two Italian artists in dungarees. He’d saved a piano from further punishment by taking over the playing of it from a Lily Munster lookalike called Ming.

That had been his moment of bravado, the opportunity he’d seized to surprise: he might have looked and sounded like the provincial, petit bourgeois Anglo-Indian swot he was, but he knew how to play A Foggy Day (In London Town).

He’d stopped the show. There had been cries of “Encore!” and “More!” Later, when Genevieve had asked him if he’d like to stay then showed him into an empty flat upstairs from hers to which she had the key, Ben had told himself not to get carried away. And just as well. But he’d woken in a state of excited agitation and decided he’d should go out for a walk.

And now here he was, wondering what, if anything, might happen next. He was full of doubt. Seeking reassurance, he found the old song on his phone, the Fitzgerald-Armstrong version, and plugged in. But barely had the British Museum lost its charm when a text message intervened:

“Ben! Where have you gone! We are making breakfast! Please come back straight away!”

It was from Genevieve. Ben unplugged and began retracing his steps. Suddenly, the sun was shining. Suddenly, Barking was beckoning.

My existing London novel entitled Frightgeist: A Tall Tale of Fearful Times can be bought directly from me or from my local bookshop Pages of Hackney.

Categories: Culture, John Vane's London Stories

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