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London, my London

March 10, 2012

Drugs, cocaine use by the rich and famous, calls for a reduction in alcohol intake in the national interest, ethnic and racial unrest. Is this the London of 2012? Well it could be yet it is also a description of London circa the 1920’s and 30’s in a wonderful book called “London’s Curse” by Mark Beynon. This intriguing non-fiction book details the legendary mummy’s curse specifically the tomb of Tutankhamun and the deadly effect it had on most of those involved in its discovery and publicity.

I would urge readers to take a look at this detective like journey into that infamous saga although my purpose here is not a book review but a discussion on London itself over time. Many of the problems (not unknown to other large cities around the world) that faced Londoners from the great and the good to the downtrodden almost a century ago and before are still with us today. It brings to mind the old French saying, “the more things change the more they stay the same.”

Many of those who have never been to London have a very romantic view of the place which is understandable. Overseas visitors are prone to taking in the city as if it were some kind of tourist theme park. When I arrived there in 2002 to work for the government as a teacher of English I too had a few misconceptions. My early vision of the place was shaped by films like the Beatles’ ”A hard day’s Night”. For some reason I had this expectation that I would walk into a pub and see someone like Van Morrison playing by the fireside. It wasn’t to be and after teaching in a few bog standard schools situated near sink estates the hard reality sank in. Life could be bitter for many of my challenged students and became so for me after a couple of unfortunate encounters in classrooms, pubs and one or two serious health scares. I became a bit more wary and careful in the public drinking houses and nightclubs (and in front of the white board) and my health was in the best of hands under the remarkable NHS system (which includes some of the best medical specialists in the world) which helped preserve my quality of life in sometimes difficult circumstances.

So although not exactly a charmed life I made a few good friends and had a few laughs and no matter where you are you really can’t expect much more. Even if I did expect more I wouldn’t exchange the memories for anything. Over a period of three years in the UK I began to channel my experiences into creative writing and came up with a narrative which captures my time in Europe’s largest city far better than any photo or footage could. The multitude of ethnic and religious cultures in Ilford where I lived and worked for some time gave me some insight into modern London and would be largely inaccessible through other means like internet research.

My own book, a novel in the thriller/crime genre called “London’s Falling” (to be published by Caffeine Nights Publishing on August 20 this year) takes place in a contemporary, or near future, London beset by sinister forces and ethnic, racial and religious tensions. As well as corruption within the office of the mayor of London the novel also details ethnic and religious tensions that eventually explode into a city wide riot that is a partial reflection at least of the actual London riots of 2011. Additionally one of my characters is a nosey reporter who will stop at nothing in order to get a gripping headline story and here again considering the ongoing hacking scandal we have a case of art imitating life and (the novel was written well before these stories broke into the national and international consciousness) vice versa. This year brings the 2012 Olympics and, as they say, anything could happen although I have a gut instinct this year will be better all-round than last year.

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