The Opening Chapter of How To EAT LOADS And LOSE WEIGHT

To Begin With

Back in 2013 I found myself on BBC Radio Two, talking to Steve Wright (in the afternoon), about a book I’d co-written that seemed to promise the impossible: How To Eat Loads And Stay Slim.

Steve was very enthusiastic about the book. Or, more accurately, about the title. And the blurb. He liked that too. Little wonder; it promised a diet-free way to lose weight. This was everything that Steve, and potentially a large proportion of his listeners, had been looking for. But as the interview progressed, it became obvious that Steve wasn’t going to be reading past the blurb, because we hadn’t written the book that he really, really wanted. There was a look on his face, one that said “I’ve heard this all before.”

Thing is, whilst Steve wasn’t 100% right, he wasn’t 100% wrong either. How To Eat Loads And Stay Slim does indeed contain a lot of conventional advice that you might have heard before. But it also, I’m proud to say, contains a few ‘new’ ideas which I think we did a damn fine job of putting into layman terms.

That said, I’m the first to admit that some of the suggestions we made might have been a little too ‘out there’. Very few people seemed willing to give the ‘oil diet’ a go.

Looking back I realise that How To Eat Loads And Stay Slim does exactly what it says on the cover; if you’re already slim, then that book might help you stay that way. Maybe. If you follow the advice.

But what if you’re not slim? What if you’re overweight and desperate… what then?

Well I’ll be honest with you, following our advice might not work. And how do I know? Because four years after that radio interview I was fatter than I’d ever been in my entire life. I could no longer bear to see myself naked.

How did I get that way?

Simple: By enjoying food, by being happy with life, and celebrating the fact whenever I could.

Did I buy smaller plates to control my portion size? No.

Did I vary my meals as much as possible in order to confuse my taste buds and dull my appetite? No.

Did I have a protein rich breakfast? No!

Did I swap high fat products for low-fat alternatives—absolutely not!

Did I try anything that my co-author and I had proposed just a few short years earlier?

Yes. I gave my beloved oil diet another go.

Did it work…?


Then in September 2017, Valerie, my partner, did a very risky thing. She suggested that I needed to lose weight. You know you’re in a strong, loving relationship when one of you can say something like that, and get away with it.

I was shocked. More than that, I was shocked that I was shocked. Because she was right.

In the previous couple of years together I’d started to struggle with certain age-related ailments. The rubbish feet I’d inherited from my father were starting to play up. My knees had started to creak. To sleep through the night I’d have to take a good swig of antacid to calm my acid reflux, and then follow that with an antihistamine.

This was the new norm.

But it wouldn’t be like that forever. I could see where this was heading.

My father is an enormous man. He has severe dementia, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. He can barely move. I love him dearly, but my biggest fear was (and still is) that I might end up with the same physical ailments. On those occasions when I could actually bear to look in the mirror, it wasn’t me who I could see staring back at me, but my father.

I had no idea whether losing weight would prevent the inevitable, but it certainly seemed a good place to start.

You know what the most dangerous word in the English language is? Should. Behind every should there’s always an assumption, and I’ve noticed that nine times out of ten times, ‘assumptions’ are nearly always wrong.

Take weight loss for instance; when I came to try and lose all that ‘extra’ weight by adopting a simple ‘eat less, move more’ strategy, or any kind of calorie counting regime—advice that, so conventional wisdom had it, should work—my body steadfastly refused to play by the rules. I was hungry all the time. I had zero energy. I’d lose maybe a pound here and there, only to put it straight back on again. Somewhere along the line assumptions had been made, and clearly they were wrong!

I’ve always been a problem solver—a ‘fix-it’ man if you like. Much of my professional life has been spent figuring out why stuff that should work doesn’t, and then putting solutions in place. So faced with the problem of trying to lose a few pounds I did what I always did: I read a lot. Went in search of solutions. Found some! Made changes accordingly. And…

It worked.

In a few weeks I lost 18 pounds. Over a stone.

I was slim again.

More than that… I’m still slim.

And what’s more I’m still enjoying food. I’m still happy with life, and I’m still celebrating the fact whenever I can.

For instance; last night we went out to an Italian restaurant. I had a steak, with a blue cheese sauce. Val had the meatballs. We shared two bottles of Prosecco. Then today I had a ham hock omelette for breakfast, and for lunch I’ll probably have a cheesy meaty wrap. For dinner I’m cooking a broccoli bake in a heavy cream & mozzarella sauce. And there’s another bottle of wine chilling in the fridge to go with it. Tomorrow morning we’ll have our usual weekend fry up, or maybe scrambled eggs. And yet, for the first time in my life, whilst my weight might fluctuate from one day to the next, it has, by and large, stayed pretty much the same for an entire year.

Want to know how?

Welcome to How To EAT LOADS and LOSE WEIGHT.

If you’re fed up with diets, diet food, counting calories, and all that miserable weight loss malarkey, then this book might be for you.

If you suffer from any kind of weight related ailments—diabetes type 2, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, acid reflux, GORD—then this book is probably for you.

And if you want to take back control of your body, if you’re prepared to make some fairly painless (but nonetheless significant) changes to the way that you eat, if you’re prepared to do a little bit of reading, thinking, questioning, and re-learning—and if you really, really, want to eat LOADS (of lovely, proper, tasty food) and still LOSE WEIGHT—this book is most definitely for you.

But it’s not for everyone.

For instance, if you’re a lifetime member of a slimming club, follow some sort of calorie controlled diet, and that seems to be working for you… well, this book might not be for you.

If you think of yourself as fairly traditional, find ‘newfangled’ ideas difficult to swallow (pun intended), might have used the phrase ‘fad diet’ once or twice in your lifetime, have an absolute unshakeable faith in the medical wisdom and advice of the last five decades, and you prefer the taste of skimmed milk over full fat… well, this book probably isn’t for you either.

And if you’re one of those people who don’t like being told what to do, can’t stand change or ‘compromise’, of any description, might—once or twice—have been accused by friends and family of being a ‘fussy eater’, and would rather part with tens of pounds than hand over that packet of biscuits you’re currently munching through… yeah, this book: definitely not for you.

But you know what? You’re here now. You’ve read this far. You’re comfortable. And I’m not actually going to ask you to change anything… not for a few pages anyway.

All I’d like you to do for now, is read.

And think.

Give me one chapter. And if you find yourself surprised, maybe even a little intrigued, by what I have to say, well then give me another.

Because you too can EAT LOADS and LOSE WEIGHT.

The Big Fat Lie

Fats make you fat.

Everybody knows this. That is, after all, why they’re called ‘fats’. It’s a ‘fat fact’. One that’s easy to verify with other facts, and a little logic. Let me talk you through it.

Pretty much everything we eat is made up of three ‘macronutrients’. You will have heard of them, I’m sure. They are: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

So, for instance, a humble 100-gram stick of celery (let’s assume that it’s a very large humble stick) contains 3 grams of carbohydrates, 0.7 grams of protein and, wait for it, 0.2 grams of fat.

Each of these macronutrients contain energy, which we measure in terms of ‘calories’. The human body needs energy to function, and the more active a body is, the more calories it ‘burns’. In that sense, you’re a bit like a car.

So the more calories a food has (despite its size that enormous stick of celery only has a mere 16 of them) the more energy a food is, and the longer it can sustain you.

From this we can conclude what I’ve always known in my heart to be true; man cannot live on celery alone.

But there’s more to it than that.

Anybody with a basic knowledge of human biology knows that the body stores the calories it doesn’t use. It does this so that if there aren’t enough calories coming in the front end, it can use the ones in storage. Which is why we get fat. In that sense, you’re like a car with an expanding fuel tank.

So, to lose excess weight you merely need to eat food with fewer calories, or burn more calories than you consume, and you should get slimmer.

Or to put it another way, eat less, move more. Calories in (eaten) vs calories out (used as fuel). Simple.

Here’s the crucial thing though; whilst all macronutrients can be measured in terms of calories, they don’t yield the same amount of calories. Protein and carbohydrates both contain four calories per gram, whilst fats contain a whopping nine calories per gram! More than double.

So by avoiding fatty foods, you should, logically, reduce your overall calorie intake a lot quicker. Reduce those calories enough and your body will be forced to fall back on its reserves, use all those stored calories and suddenly you’ll be able to get back into those skinny jeans you had three summers ago.

And if that isn’t enough to start you munching on celery sticks, how about this: fats are bad for you. Specifically, saturated fats. Saturated fats clog up your arteries and raise your cholesterol. Clog them up enough and you might drop down dead. Still finding it hard to get excited about celery?

Except that… all that I’ve just told you might be nonsense.

For whilst it all makes total sense on paper, it’s not actually borne out by any solid scientific research.

Not one scrap.

For the last four decades at least, although the powers that be and the mainstream media have consistently cast saturated fats as the dietary arch-villain, preached the mantra of calories in vs calories out, and provided us with low-fat everything, as a nation we’re not getting any slimmer. We’re getting fatter. And sicker.

Some diet professionals claim this is because no-one is listening to the advice. No one, apparently, is buying diet books. No one is attending weekly weigh ins, or diet clubs. No one is eating those low-fat foods. No one.

Except of course we are.

So maybe it isn’t us.

Maybe, just maybe, it isn’t actually our fault at all. Maybe the traditional weight loss advice of the last half a century is total and utter bilge. Maybe fat DOESN’T make you fat. Maybe it’s something else?


That can’t be right.

Can it?


How To EAT LOADS And LOSE WEIGHT will be available in paperback, and for your tablet, phone, or computer (via the free Kindle App) from Boxing Day (26th January). Pre-order here, now.

The eBook is a mere £1.99. Less than the price of a cup of coffee. Click or tap here now.

Other ebook formats will be available in the New Year.

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The opening chapter to: The Truth About This Charming Man

IMG_0618Act I

Scene One

Zlata Ruzencova must be the worst theatrical agent in London. In five years she has only ever managed to secure me two acting jobs. A track record that’s even less impressive when you realise that:

  1. A) I’m the only actor she actually has ‘on her books’, and
  2. B) that first role was playing a part she’d devised!

Still, she did find me Nathia. And though working for Nathia can be something of a challenge (the role being somewhat unusual) I have had quite a run. And it does pay well. I should probably be more grateful. But it’s hard to be grateful when you’re sitting in the back of a cab fuming over the disappearance of your watch.

“Zlata – have you got my watch? Zlata?”

“Hello. Zlata is not here at the moments. She is very busy person. Please do leave nice message after the noise. Beeeeep.”

“Zlata – quit messing about. Zlata. Zlata!” But she’s hung up.

Nathia’s smiling when she opens the door. A big, warm, welcoming smile that promises an evening of laughter and cocktails. It’s fake, of course – she’s just rehearsing. In our four years together I’ve learnt more from Nathia than I ever learnt at drama school.

The smile falters when she sees that it’s me. “You’re late,” she says with enough venom to poison a small army. She turns and stomps back into her apartment, and I notice she’s already in full costume: slim-fit high-waist sleek-black trousers, semi-translucent shirt, killer heels – the usual Nathia attire. I glance at the ornate wall clock, which seems to glare back from inside its black wooden case. Even the pendulum is swinging back and forth in an impatient manner.

“We’ve got plenty of time,” I shout from the hallway as I hang up my jacket and turn off my mobile phone. “They’re not due for another forty minutes, and you know what they’re like; Rachel’s probably still herding Michael out the door.”

But Nathia doesn’t say anything, and as I enter her palatial kitchen she’s chopping carrots in a way that suggests parts of my anatomy could be next.

Tanya’s here. Of course. She doesn’t say anything either. Just leans against the fridge, watching the master chef at work whilst occasionally sipping beer from a bottle. She’s wearing a ripped T-shirt that seems slightly incongruent for a woman who looks every one of her forty-six years. When the slogan on the front catches my eye I fail spectacularly to hide a frown. Who’d have thought it was possible to get that many expletives into one sentence? Isn’t language a wonderful thing.

She doesn’t like me very much, Tanya. I’m an obstacle. I stand between her and what she wants – which, in broad terms, is an end to what she sees as a ‘farce’. She turns slowly to look in my direction and I give her my biggest broadest smile, but she turns away with a shake of her head, and I’m slightly disappointed when all those piercings fail to jangle.

“Look,” I say, “sorry about cutting it a bit fine. I lost track of time. Literally, actually. You remember Zlata – my agent? Well, she’s been doing an evening class in – would you believe – watch stealing! You know, right off your wrist? I mean, who the hell thought running a class like that would be a good idea? Anyway, it turns out my agent is the star pupil!” I proffer my naked wrist as evidence. Neither woman seems the slightest bit interested.

“Are you planning on standing there all night?” asks Nathia without looking up. “Only I’d quite like you to change for dinner? If that would be all right with you?”

“Sure,” I say. I know better than to question her authority, but I do so anyway. “We don’t need to catch up first? Nothing that I need to know?”

“Like what?” she asks after a moment. I shrug.

“I dunno. The usual: am I still working for Amnesty International? Has my Dad had his knee operation? Have I started writing that book I’m always going on about? That sort of thing.”

“Nothing’s changed,” says Nathia, and I swear I see Tanya wince slightly. “Just go and get ready.”

“Okay,” I say, and turn to leave.

“And Edwin,” adds Nathia, “wear the blue shirt tonight.

* * * *

My name isn’t Edwin. It’s William. Will to my friends. Though it could just as easily be Gary, or Roger, or Stephan – just tell me who you’d like me to be and watch me morph into someone else. It’s not lying. Lying is an untruth. This is acting. It’s telling a story, and stories are a good thing: they teach us. They help us to make sense of the world. They allow us to stay safe – in that way they’re better than the truth.

And sometimes – in order to tell the story as best we can – actors need to forget about the person behind the mask, let go of the person we would normally be and instead allow the character we’ve taken on to become as real as possible. Nobody knows this better than Nathia Brockenhurst. It’s how we came to meet, four years ago, in a dingy little south London pub.

“What’s this?” I asked, taking the folder from the scratched, beer-stained table and leafing through the half dozen pages. It wasn’t a script. That much was obvious.

“Non disclosure agreement,” said Nathia. I had only the vaguest notion of what that was, something that must have been evident from the look on my face. “It’s a legal document,” continued Nathia. “It states that anything we discuss is strictly confidential and must go no further or there will be… ramifications.”

“Er, okay,” I said. “Is that… usual?” Other than periodically working for Zlata and giving private drama lessons to spoilt brats, my glittering theatrical career had consisted mainly of waiting tables, pulling pints, or flagging people down on the street and persuading them to part with their direct debit details. If you’d told me that successful actors signed legal documents and secured roles in seedy backstreet pubs, I’d have probably believed you.

“Sign it,” said Nathia, producing an expensive looking pen from her handbag. “Then we can talk.” I did as I was told, and once Nathia had taken back the signed document and given me a copy, she took a deep breath, and fixed me with a look of solemnity. “I’m gay,” she said.

“Right,” I said taking a moment to consider how this might have any bearing on the so-called ‘interesting job offer’ that Zlata had told me we were here to discuss. “Okay.”

“And that’s a problem,” she continued.

“It is?” Nathia shuffled in her seat, glanced around the tired bar to see if the landlord or his other patrons might be listening, but she had nothing to worry about. Everyone else was either mesmerised by the large plasma television, throwing darts in the general direction of a dart board, or trying very hard to remain upright. Nathia put her arms on the table between us and leant forward.

“The people I work for… well, let’s just say that they’re somewhat traditional.” I nodded for her to continue, though I had no idea where she was going with this. “Sure,” she said, “it’s the twenty-first century, and they can cope with me being a woman in a man’s world – just – but homosexuality is a step too far.”

“That’s…” I said, running a hand through my hair, feeling it slide through my fingers, “…surprising.” Until now I’d always thought theatre had something of a reputation for attracting your more liberal types. I’d never once heard it described as a ‘man’s world’. Or homophobic. “Who do you work for again?”

“A small firm of venture capitalists, William. That’s all you need to know for now.”

“Venture capitalists?”


“But I thought… My agent said–”

“Are you going to let me finish?” snapped Nathia.

“Of course,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Anyway,” she continued, “even though my employer and his clients expect me to spend all of my daylight hours – and a fair proportion of my night time ones – doing their evil bidding, occasionally they need to know that I’m still human. That despite my ruthless business instincts, on the inside at least, I’m just an adorable little pussycat. And a heterosexual one at that.” She paused for a moment to take a sip from her orange juice; I picked up my beer and did the same. “There are functions,” she continued, “and fundraisers, and parties, and all manner of ‘after work socials’, and whilst it’s not compulsory to turn up to these events with a partner in tow, the absence of someone I can rather quaintly refer to as ‘my boyfriend’ is becoming a problem.”

“Right,” I said, trying and failing to keep a frown from forming. “Well – can’t you just invent someone?” I reached for my pint.

“Oh, believe me, I’ve tried,” said Nathia. “Within hours of inventing a fictitious love-interest, my boss’s wife called me up, and invited ‘Bertram’ and me to dinner.”

“Bertram?!” I said, very nearly spraying her with a mouthful of beer.

“It’s the first name I could think of! Anyway,” she said, glaring at me, “needless to say I couldn’t accept the invite. Instead I had to invent a plausible sounding explanation as to why Bertram and I wouldn’t be available, and then a week or so later an even more elaborate story to explain why ‘he’ wasn’t on the scene anymore!”

“I take it you’re not very good at coming up with stories?”

“On the contrary,” said Nathia, “I’m a master! Having introduced the possibility of a Bertram I’m now beating off advances left right and centre from any man with a drink in his hand who now sees me as your regular good time girl! After all, why else would I be foot loose and fancy free? Quite frankly, William, I’ve had enough!” She sat back in her chair, arms folded tightly across her chest, and fixed me with a look so intense I found myself trying not to breathe. “You look confused,” she said after a moment.

“Sorry, no. I mean yes. A bit. Look – I understand that you’re, well, that you have a bit of dilemma, with how much you can tell your colleagues, about ‘things’. I get that. It’s just… my agent said you had a job! An acting job! That’s what I do – I’m an actor!”

“I know,” said Nathia.

“So?” I said. “Do you have a job?”

Nathia sighed irritably. “Bertram!” she said.


“I need you to play the part of Bertram.” The words bounced around in my head whilst my brain made sense of them.

“Your made-up boyfriend?” I asked.


“You need me to be Bertram?”

“That’s what I said.”


Nathia raised a hand to silence me, and with the other reached into her bag to pull out a second, much larger document than the first. It hit the table with a distinctive thud, before she pushed it towards me.

“You would be required,” she said, adopting the tone of someone who’s spent far too many hours in corporate boardrooms, “to play the part of Bertram, my doting boyfriend, at various social functions – the schedule of which will be mutually agreed between ourselves.” I turned the first page and began leafing through the document. “In addition,” continued Nathia, “I will require you to come to my office, say once a month, to ‘take me out for lunch’, and to make the occasional phone call to my PA for suitably boyfriend-sounding reasons that we can work out later. I will also provide you with a mobile phone that you will be required to answer, as Bertram, during office hours. In return I am prepared to pay you a monthly fee which I trust you’ll find extremely generous, as well as reimburse you for all reasonable expenses, such as travel, phone calls, food and bar bills, and any clothes that you need to purchase in order to fulfil your ‘Bertram’ duties.” She paused for a moment to take in what I was currently wearing. “For instance,” she said, “I’m not sure Bertram would wear a coat that so obviously came from an army surplus store.” I ignored her remark and continued to thumb through the contract.

“So?” she asked. “Any questions? Comments?” I scratched the stubble on my chin, then raised my eyes.

“I’m still not sure about the name Bertram,” I said.

* * * *

For legal reasons I can’t tell you what was in that contract. Neither can I tell you my fee. I can tell you that at the end of month one I stood to earn more than I’d earned in my entire previous acting career. I picked up the pen and signed on the dotted line.

From that moment on, things got considerably easier for Ms Brockenhurst and myself. She had a boyfriend she could mention, receive flowers from, blame for all manner of things, and if necessary, point to. More than that, she now had somewhere she could conceivably be whilst actually being somewhere else. She was free to discover the real Nathia Brockenhurst, to be whoever she wanted, see whoever she wanted – people like Tanya. And all this behind closed doors, safe in the knowledge that someone else was contractually obliged to cover for her.

As for me – I could finally start paying back some of my more desperate debts. Enter stage left: Edwin Clarkson.

Much thought went into that name, and we decided early on that Nathia would always address me as Edwin to reduce the possibility of blurting out my real name.

Over the years Edwin has been introduced to most of Nathia’s work colleagues – the ones that matter anyway – at various work functions or get-togethers, including regular dinner dates with Michael and Rachel Richmond, her boss and his young wife.

Once a month I follow the river round to Nathia’s luxury apartment in Chelsea, don my Edwin costume, and spend a pleasant enough evening sinking bottles of Merlot whilst I entertain Michael and Rachel with torrid tales of Edwin’s life working for human rights organisations – all painstakingly researched on Google, earlier that afternoon.

The door bell sounds. My cue that the evening of duplicity has begun. I open my designated drawer, take out a pair of thick framed glasses and after a final mirror check, leave the bedroom to meet my audience.

* * * *

Michael roars with laughter, at the hilarity of his own wit, and slaps his palms on the table so hard I fear Nathia’s antique mahogany furniture may have finally met its match. He picks up his glass, finds it empty, and then attempts to reach across the table for the bottle.

“Oh, Michael – allow me,” I say, grabbing the bottle of port and refilling his glass. I throw him a smile, and not for the first time I study his face: he looks like he’s been chiselled out of granite. And whilst he wears expensive shirts, in pastel colours, with floral ties, they do nothing to soften features that are almost jagged.

In many ways Michael Richmond is a man out of time. A century or two ago he’d have a bushy moustache, impressive sideburns, and a belly the size of a small country. He’d spend his evenings smoking expensive cigars and talking about his time in Africa. Roll back the centuries still further and I can imagine him dressed in animal furs, sporting a heavy copper helmet, and wielding a blade high above his head before he conquers another village, and takes his pick of the wenches available. But instead Michael goes to the gym. He watches his weight. He pops statins. And on evenings such as this, he shares stories of boring corporate deals negotiated across expensive but dull conference room tables. Is it any wonder that he drinks too much, laughs too loudly, and always looks as if he might explode at any given moment? That granite exterior is holding a lifetime of frustration in place.

I hand him his port and glance across the table at Rachel, who’s watching me in that way she does.

Rachel’s altogether more interesting. On the surface she’s a working class girl, born and bred in the East End to a British father and Jordanian mother, destined to live a simple, honest existence. That is, until Michael booked a table at the bar and brasserie where she worked, and stole her away from a life of waitressing. But behind that shy smile, those beautiful soft cappuccino eyes, and her tall, lean, slightly Arabian veneer, is someone else. And sometimes, when she’s asked me an innocent sounding question, she stays quiet after I’ve given my answer, like she’s waiting for me to say more, waiting for me to give myself away. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t give me something of a buzz.

That’s not how Nathia sees it, of course. She thinks Rachel’s developed some sort of girly crush. One that might lead to all manner of complications further down the line if it’s not nipped in the bud. Which is ridiculous, but explains why she wanted me to wear the plain blue shirt tonight. Rachel prefers the striped one.

“Anyway,” slurs Michael, though I can’t for the life of me remember what he was talking about, “Nathia said we should check the place out, so check the place out we did. Didn’t we? Precious?”

“Yes,” says Rachel. “We did.”

“Fuck me Edwin,” continues Michael with a shake of his head. “What a fucking dive. Ghastly fucking people, eating ghastly fucking food. The owner… what was his name again? Oh for fuck’s sake… foreign chap. Wasn’t even a proper name. Just a collection of fucking sounds…”

“Jarad,” says Rachel.

“Yesss! That was it! Jar head! You’ve never met a more nervous man in your entire fucking life,” says Michael, waving his glass around so much it’s a wonder the walls aren’t splashed with port. “Whilst his business partner – the so-called brains of the operation – couldn’t even be fucking bothered to turn up! Left this mouse of a man to blunder through probably the most important meeting of his fucking life. Fucking idiot!” Michael shakes his head at the memory, before pouring half the glass down his throat, and suppressing a belch. “I mean doesn’t that seem a little fucking odd to you, Edwin? I have the power to completely transform their shabby, two-bit, here-today-gone-tomorrow, two-man enterprise into whatever they fucking want it to be. I’m fucking Santa Claus! I’m their own personal fucking Jesus! No wait – I’m fucking God! I’m granting them a fucking audience with fucking God! And yet one of them can’t make the fucking meeting – with God – because…” he makes air quotes with his fingers, “they’re ‘busy’! I tell you Edwin, there’s something fishy about the whole enterprise. And I fucking hate fish!” The belch he’s been trying to contain finally makes it into the open, and it lasts a full three or four seconds before Michael waves his hand about as some sort of apology. I look down into my lap and try and hide a smirk.

“He liked you though, didn’t he? Precious? That fucking… ‘Jar-head’ fellow. Couldn’t keep his fucking eyes off you.”

“I can’t say I noticed,” says Rachel with a smile. A false one, but convincing enough to the untrained eye. She takes a breath, and puts a hand on her husband’s. “Sometimes, darling, I wish you’d remember that these are people’s dreams that you’re playing with.”

“Oh fucking poppycock! Dreams? It’s business! There’s no place for dreamers in business! Don’t you agree, Edwin?”

“Well…” I bluster, accompanied with some appropriately vague hand gestures. I know better than to express an actual opinion. This way Michael’s imagination is filling in the gaps with whatever he’d like me to say.

“If anyone wants me to consider investing my money – or my clients’ money – then I need more than fucking dreams. I need to see potential! Real potential! That’s why Nathia suggested we invest in the fucking place! Because of their reputation for ‘outstanding cuisine’. And having had many a fine meal in these humble surroundings, lovingly prepared by her own fair hands–”

“You’re very welcome,” says Nathia, raising her wine glass.

“–I thought the girl knew a thing or two about food! But fuck me! Just how fucking wrong can you be?” Michael slaps both palms flat on the table and blasts us with another belly laugh.

“Well,” says Nathia with a sigh, “clearly I let my initial enthusiasm run away with me. I apologise.” Michael wafts away her apology.

“No need,” he says with the faintest of slurs. “But the last thing this country needs is another fucking chain of ghastly restaurants serving fucking foreign muck, to the fucking ghastly masses.” And with that he picks up his port glass again and drains the contents. I look across at Rachel. Her hands are in her lap, and the smile – false or otherwise – is gone. And not for the first time I have this piercing stab of regret that she’s so obviously trapped inside a marriage that makes her unhappy. If things were different, if we’d met under different circumstances, ones where I’m not contractually obliged to be someone else, I think we could be good friends. Maybe more than friends. Michael belches yet again.

“Nathia darling,” he says, “we need more port.”

“I think, Michael,” says Rachel, placing her hand on her husband’s for the second time that evening, “that we should make a move.”

“Already?” he slurs.

“Yes. Already,” she says, her voice wobbling slightly. She gets up from the table, and flashes me and Nathia a polite smile. “Excuse me a moment,” she says, and leaves the room. Nathia and I exchange looks, then she too gets up from the table and follows Rachel.

“Edwin,” says Michael, his voice considerably lower than its usual bellow, “whilst the girls are out of the room, have you ever thought about getting into the investment business?”

“Me?” I blink. “Really? I’m not sure I have the constitution for it.”

“Fucking nonsense!” says Michael. “You’re a sharp cookie. Anyone can see that. And the thing is, a rather interesting investment opportunity came across my desk the other day which I think might be just up your street; Vanadium Global.”

“Sounds very grand,” I say.

“Doesn’t it,” says Michael with a nod. “Ironically though, they’re too small at the moment for Steele & Richmond to climb into bed with. Which is a real fucking shame, because they’re going places. Anyone with half a fucking brain can see that. Which is why I thought of you, Edwin. It might be a good way to get your feet wet.”

I wrinkle my nose. “I don’t know, Michael,” I say. “I’m not really the–”

“Michael,” says Rachel. She’s standing in the doorway, her jacket draped over her arm. Michael gives a resigned sniff and eases himself out of his chair.

“Pop into my office next time you’re in the neighbourhood,” he says with a wink, “and we’ll discuss it further.”

“I thought I told you to wear the blue shirt,” says Nathia as we close the door on our guests.

“Did you?” I say, glancing down to look at my chest as if I’m expecting to see something other than stripes.

“You know I did,” she adds before walking back into the dining room.

I hate this bit. The obligatory deconstruction of the entire evening; what I said, to whom, and whether any of it might have, in some obscure way, undermined the elaborate fabric of fiction we’ve been weaving these past four years. All whilst we gather up dirty dishes and spent glasses and cart them through to the kitchen. If I actually worked in theatre I’d probably be in a cab right now. I take off my Edwin glasses and put them in my pocket.

“I don’t really like the blue shirt,” I say as I enter the dining room.

“Doesn’t matter,” says Nathia as she gathers up cutlery.

“I’m not sure it’s Edwin. It’s a little too conservative. In the political sense I mean. It makes me look like a… police detective… or something. Not Edwin at all.” I look at the destruction and chaos on the dining room table and let out a sigh. How can four people make such a mess? I reach for the empty bottles.

“It really doesn’t matter, William,” says Nathia, using my real name for the first time in so long it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Something isn’t right. I follow her through to the kitchen.

“Everything okay?” I ask. She turns and leans against the work surface.

“I’m tired,” she says. I nod.

“It was an extraordinarily long evening. How many bottles of Merlot did we get through? Three? Four? I think Michael finished half a bottle of port by himself.”

“No,” says Nathia with a shake of her head; she looks as if she has great invisible weights hanging from her shoulders. “I’m tired of this. This endless – farce. This isn’t me. It never was.” She lifts her eyes from the floor and gives me a long weary look.

“I was going to wait a few more weeks,” she says, opening the drawer where she normally keeps her collection of instruction manuals and warranty documents for the kitchen paraphernalia, but instead produces a white envelope. She passes it to me and resumes her stance against the work surface.

“What’s this?” I ask, though I think I can guess. Nathia takes a deep breath.

“Formal termination notice,” she says. “Effective immediately, your services are no longer required.”

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Chapter Four: The Truth About This Charming Man


Rachel has big plans for a chain of restaurants, and is all set to strike up a partnership with a small chain of London restaurants / coffee shops. Unfortunately, these restaurants are run by a pair of Arab Princes (brothers, and ‘special friends’ of Zlata). Being Arabian they will, of course, only negotiate business with another man, which is why Will, our hero, finds himself playing French Entrepreneur ‘Stefan Le Blanc’ at a business meeting. Everything is going perfectly until the Princes mention their investor – Michael Richmond – Rachel’s husband!

Read the previous chapter (three) here

Start from Chapter One here

Act 1

Scene Four

Thirty seconds after our Arabian guests have left I burst into the kitchen with only one murderous thought on my mind – Rachel and Jarad are only a few steps behind me.

Zlata, meanwhile, is completely unaware that these are her final moments. She sits at the far end of the kitchen, in a haze of cigarette smoke, her feet on an upturned bucket, whilst she watches a small black and white television.

“I thought you said they were princes!” I roar.

“Hush, William,” she replies, her eyes still glued to the screen, “we are coming to the best bit.”

I glance at the television. “Columbo!?”

“Yes, Columbo! He is about to find out who murderer is, and always he says, ‘just the one more thing’. It is my favourite part.”

“I can tell you who did it, Zlata – it’s the actor, in the kitchen, with,” I look around me, “the frying pan!”

“What are you talking about?” says Zlata, her eyes never leaving the TV screen. “There is no actor. And the body was found in the swimming pool.”

“They won’t find your body, Zlata. I’m going to put you through that blender and turn you into pies!” For the first time Zlata looks up from the television, first at the blender, then at me, then at Rachel, and then back at me.

“Oh no!” she says, spinning around in her chair to face us. “Not again! The meeting did not go well?”

“The meeting went fabulously!” I say. “They want to strike a deal. Everything went according to plan.” Zlata brightens. “– Except for the part where the Arabian princes aren’t actually princes.” She blinks.

“Of course they are princes,” she says.

“No Zlata, because if they were they wouldn’t need the backing of investors!”

“Well,” she says with a shrug, “maybe not ‘princes’, but they have the royal blood. So ‘almost princes’.” I can feel the rage inside me reaching a crescendo.

“You’re not listening to me, are you,” I say as I lean forwards and put my hands on her shoulders. “We don’t care if they’re related to the King of Sweden – we only care that they don’t need to involve anyone who works in investment, and by anyone I mean Michael Richmond! Rachel’s bloody husband!” Zlata frowns, takes a long slow drag on her cigarette, and blows smoke in my face.

“I not understand,” she says. “Why is this problem?” I stand up, part of me wondering whether she genuinely hasn’t grasped the seriousness of the situation, whilst the other part of me can’t quite believe that I haven’t killed her yet and is still chomping at the bit.

“What do you think Michael’s going to say when his client casually mentions that they’ve been in business talks with his wife?” I ask. “And that she seems to be operating under her maiden name? And is in partnership with the man he spent an entire evening ridiculing!?”

“Pfff. William. You worry too much.”

“I’m beginning to realise I don’t worry enough!” I reach up, take down the large cast iron frying pan that is hanging from a hook, and check the weight in my hands. Perfect.

“Will!” says Rachel. “Wait!”

“It’s okay, Rachel,” I assure her, “if I can convince the world that I’m the boyfriend of a woman who’s clearly gay, hordes of desperate men that I’m some sort of seduction expert, and two Arabian gentlemen that I’m the French owner of a Jordanian restaurant, I reckon I stand a pretty good chance of getting away with murder!”

“No, you don’t understand,” she says, “Zlata’s right!”

“Go ahead, William,” counters Zlata. “Bash out my brains with frying pan. Personally I’d use knife. Much quicker.”

“Too much blood,” I reply, “and I’ve had it up to here cleaning up after your mess.”

“What mess?” asks Zlata. “There is no mess! So they are not princes – so what? So they have the investors – so what? So investor is Michael Richmond! So what?”

“You haven’t been listening to a word I say, have you?! You never do! Never mind. This ends here!” I raise the frying pan over my head.

“Will!” screams Rachel. “Taylor isn’t my maiden name!” I pause, the frying pan still in the air, whilst I wait for the implications of this new information to sink in. “I picked a name at random,” continues Rachel, “in case something like this should happen.”

Zlata takes a final drag on her cigarette whilst I stand there frozen in thought. She flicks the dog end into the sink, where it fizzes for a brief second, and then crosses her arms in one final act of defiance.

“That doesn’t change anything,” I say, “As soon as Michael hears Jarad’s name we’re sunk.”

“No! He won’t remember it!” says Rachel behind me. “He’s dreadful with names. Especially foreign names. I had to remind him when he was recounting the story to you and he’d forgotten it again before he’d finished what he was saying! He ended up calling him jar head! Don’t you remember?” That was true. I lower my weapon.

“Okay, but what about Nathia?” I say, turning to Rachel. “She’s met Jarad twice! What’s to stop her reminding Michael who Jarad is?”

“And why would she do that?” asks Rachel. “She liked this restaurant. And the food. And Jarad.” Jarad gives me his best ‘that’s true’ nod. “She could see the potential – and then Michael made her look like a fool, just as he has countless times before. She’s the real brains of that operation. She should have been made a partner years ago, but instead she’s been held back by my husband, all while she pretends to be someone she isn’t. Trust me, when Nathia realises it’s the same Jarad she’ll do everything she can to push this deal through.”

I stand there for a moment longer, the frying pan still in my hand. You know, there’s really nothing quite as irritating as getting yourself worked up enough to commit the most heinous of all crimes, only to have someone talk you down. Zlata is already lighting another cigarette.

“So,” she says. “Now we will open a bottle of the finest wine – one with the sparkles – and later Jarad will bake fantastic pie, but without Zlata meat.” I put the frying pan on one side.

“Well,” I say, “seems like you’ve all got the whole thing figured out.”

“William,” calls Rachel as I turn and walk out of the kitchen, but I don’t reply. I’m not in the mood for talking, or celebrating, or eating pie; I’m exhausted. I walk through the restaurant, grab my jacket on the way, and leave them to their victory.

All I’ve ever wanted in life is to be an actor. That’s all. A proper actor. On a stage. With an audience. An audience that knows I’m an actor, and knows they’re the audience. Just to be paid by people who want to be entertained for a couple of hours. Instead, I’m a con-man.

That’s the truth of it.

And the biggest con I’ve pulled off in my dubious career is the one where I’ve convinced myself that I’m anything different. In therapy circles I believe they call this denial.

My mobile phone rings at least three times before I get home, and each time it’s Zlata. I don’t answer, and instead consider throwing the damn thing into the Thames, but that would be overly dramatic, even for me. In the end I just switch it off.

As I open my front door, the answering machine light dares to blink at me from across the hall – I stomp over, pull the power cable out of the back, and then yank the phone cable out of the wall. I’m not in the mood for talking, I’m in the mood for wallowing. And wallowing, as you might be aware, is best done with a bottle of cheap wine. The cheaper the better. It adds to that overall sense of suffering.

I walk into the kitchen, find an ancient bottle of wine that one of my old students gave me as a thank you for misleading them into believing that they could one day become a successful actor, pick up a vaguely clean glass from the draining board and fill it to the brim before taking a swig. Something rubs against my shin. And I look down into the eyes of my big ginger cat. He blinks back at me, then meows his general dismay that once again his food bowls are empty.

“At least you want me, eh Oscar. Even if it is only for my ability to open cans of tuna.” I start looking through cupboards for something to feed my cat whilst simultaneously allowing their emptiness to become a metaphor for my life and non-existent theatrical career. If I find a tin of tuna, then the act of emptying its contents into Oscar’s bowl will represent my soul being hollowed out to be devoured by an industry – represented by Oscar – that gives very little back and continually asks for more. On the other hand, should I fail to find tuna, or indeed cat food of any description, something which seems far more likely, well then, that too can take on some weighty symbolic significance which I will ponder whilst I drain the wine bottle of its contents.

Eventually I give up looking for tins, pour boiling water over some prawns I find lurking at the bottom of the freezer, and put them in Oscar’s bowl. Then I grab the bottle and move to the lounge.

When I’m done with wallowing I plan to crawl into bed and dedicate much of tomorrow to self-pity, a task that will be considerably easier with the thumping hangover I’m bound to have by then.

But my wallowing plans are disrupted by thoughts of Rachel.

And her lovely long dark hair.

And those eyes.

And her shy smile.

And the way that she makes me feel.

Whilst I want to fixate on the career I’ve never had, all I can really think about is how much I’ll miss Rachel now that my part in her ruse is over, and how I wish I’d been more to her than a stooge.

Thirty six hours later I’m woken by the sound of the door bell. I check the clock. It’s barely ten o’clock.

“Hello Will,” says Rachel as I opened the door.

“Rachel!” I say. “Well, er… this is a surprise!”

“Zlata told me where you live,” she says. “I tried to call but…”

“Oh, er, yes. My mobile; it’s… switched off.” There seems little point in lying about it.

“Right,” says Rachel. “Can I come in?”

“Yes, yes of course.” I usher her in. “Would you like a coffee?” I ask as I close the door and walk through to the kitchen.

“That would be lovely,” replies Rachel as she follows me. I open a cupboard and look at the large empty space where occasionally I keep things like jars of coffee. When I have them.

“It appears that at present I am all out of coffee,” I say. “I can offer you… um… water?”

“Water would be great,” says Rachel. I begin opening other mostly empty cupboards where I have in the past come across clean glassware. “You have a cat?” asks Rachel, looking at the empty food bowls on the floor.

“Er yes. He’s somewhere around here.”

“I never thought of you as a cat person. Oh, and er, here he is.” I turn, and there in the kitchen doorway stands a large black cat. It’s the sort of cat that looks as if it might have been hit by a car – but the car came off worse. It should have an eye patch. Perhaps even a hook instead of a paw. It’s certainly not the sort of cat you’d want as a pet.

Our eyes meet.

He knows what’s coming next.

“Out!” I yell, arms flailing. “Out now!” The cat darts under the kitchen table, onto the worktops and after knocking several items off the draining board, makes his escape through the partially open window above the sink. “Bloody animal!” I mutter. Rachel looks shocked.

“That was Spot,” I say by way of explanation. “It’s one of my neighbours’ cats.”

“Oh,” coos Rachel, looking considerably more relaxed. “Right. Odd name for a black cat though; Spot. Were your neighbours being ironic?”

“Oh, no. That’s my name for him.” Rachel frowns. “Because I’m always telling him to get out.” The frown deepens. “‘Out damn Spot?’ It’s a quote. Macbeth.” Still the frown. “Shakespeare?” Finally the frown evaporates.

“Of course,” she says. “Always the actor. Makes perfect sense. We actually studied that at school. Clearly it made no impression on me at all.” We stand there for a moment longer before I remember I’m supposed to be finding a clean glass. “Look, Will, I need to apologise for the other day…”

“No! No – you don’t,” I say, resuming my search and coming across an old vase that I hope I can pass off as an oversized, ornate pint glass. “If anyone needs to apologise it’s me. I was being an idiot. I just wanted to… I was just worried that… I…”

“You were right,” she says, “about Michael.”

“I was?”

“He remembered Jarad’s name. Not immediately of course, but last night he kept flicking through his appointment diary like he was looking for something. When I asked what he was doing he suddenly leapt out of his chair and yelled, ‘Jar head!’ Then he told me how two of his clients had been approached by ‘that effing ghastly Jordanian fellow’, and how he fully intended to tell them to ‘stay well clear’. It was all I could do to stop him phoning Abdul and his brother right there and then.” I say nothing for a moment, until I notice I’m still holding Rachel’s glass of water.

“Why don’t we go and sit down,” I suggest. We walk through to the lounge. Rachel takes the end seat on the sofa, whilst I sit in the armchair next to her.

“So, what did you do?” I prompt.

“I asked him whether they’d said anything else, whether there’d been anyone else at their meeting, whether they’d sent him any paperwork – anything to get him to concentrate on the actual business proposition rather than his dislike of Jarad!”

“Clever,” I say, as I imagine Michael all red-faced with rage as he turns the air blue.

“Maybe,” says Rachel.

“Did it work?”

Rachel sighs. “I don’t know. He just opened another bottle of port and sat there in silence for the rest of the evening.” I nod.

“So why are you here?” I ask, eventually. She turns and looks at me. Those lovely, lovely eyes, so sad.

“I needed someone to talk to,” she says. “And I didn’t have anywhere else to go.” I blink.

“What about Zlata?” I ask.

“Well, she’s lovely, but… you know what she’s like. She’d have started with one of her plans and right now I just need a friend.”

“Well, I’m delighted you think of me that way,” I say, though ‘delighted’ doesn’t quite cover it.

“Of course I do,” she says. “I always have.”

“But you only ever knew me as Edwin. I was playing a role. Wearing a mask.”

“Well,” says Rachel. “We all do that, don’t we? To an extent. And yet friendships blossom. And sometimes when the mask is removed they grow stronger still.”

“Very wise,” I say. She smiles, but the sadness is still there.

“Anyway,” continues Rachel, “it’s only a matter of time before my charming husband poisons the deal. He’s probably putting the knife in even as we speak.” She stares moodily across my apartment. And it doesn’t take a mind reader to see that she’s lost in thoughts of Michael. Intentionally or otherwise, this man has brought nothing but destruction to Rachel’s life.

“Rachel,” I say eventually, “can I ask you a personal question?”

“Of course,” she says, coming out of her trance.

“Why do you stay with him? Why stay with a man who you so obviously despise?” Rachel looks down at her hands. “I assumed at first it was because you’d become accustomed to a certain kind of lifestyle, but then it occurred to me that you must have an income from the flats he gave you – so why stay in the marriage?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” asks Rachel without looking up.

“Not to me,” I say.

“To put it right! Undo all that damage he did when he closed my old restaurant, and turned it into flats.”

“But what if you can’t?” I ask. “What if you can’t ‘put it right’?” Rachel’s face hardens.

“Then I want him to pay – in terms that cold hearted monster will understand!”


“Yes! Revenge!”

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“I happen to know a thing or two about revenge,” I say. “It’s a popular theme in theatre. It never ends well for ‘the avenger’. Death or madness are the usual outcomes.” Rachel lets out a single humourless laugh.

“I can believe that,” she says. “Most of the time it feels like I’m losing my mind.” She goes back to examining her hands.

“You know,” I say, “it occurs to me that if you really want to exact revenge on your husband for taking your colleagues’ jobs – for closing the restaurant that you all loved – the easiest way would be to take something from him. Something that he treasures. Something he’ll never be able to get back – no matter what price he’s willing to pay.”

“Yes, well, that would be wonderful wouldn’t it,” says Rachel. “And believe me, if I could think of anything…” she continues, her voice, soft and quiet, tailing off.

“But you’re forgetting,” I say gently, “this is a man who, when he couldn’t buy a certain restaurant, bought the very ground it stood on! And why? So he could marry a waitress! He must have really wanted to marry that waitress!” Rachel looks up. “Even if he doesn’t love you, Rachel, he does love showing you off. Of all the possessions he has, you must be amongst his most prized. If you really want to hit him where it hurts, walk away – and never go back.”

She looks at me for a moment, and as the tears start to roll down her cheeks I can see that she’s never thought of herself like that. She’s so used to Michael making her feel worthless that she’s completely forgotten she’s the most valuable thing he owns.

A few seconds later I’m on the sofa next to her, my arms around her. And as she sobs into my shoulder, I start to wonder if some good might come of all this subterfuge after all.

We spend the rest of the day together, talking, about everything and anything: how her years with Michael have just rolled by in one unhappy blur. How she feels trapped inside that moment when the brasserie closed for the last time, and the enormous guilt that she still feels years later. But also how she can leave him now, how she can start again, how there really is nothing stopping her other than her own fears. She has the business with Jarad. They can build that together – without investors. It’ll take time of course, but in the end it might be enough to make up for past mistakes.

At some point I get dressed, and we leave the apartment in search of something to drink other than water. Then we walk along the river, weaving our way through tourists, dodging the pigeons, and talking about London: our favourite landmarks. London’s rich vibrant history. How all the theatres used to be on the South Bank. Where the original Globe Theatre used to stand. And how it had been burnt to the ground during a performance of Henry VIII.

“I didn’t know that,” says Rachel.

“Apparently so. During the performance a cannon was fired, but the sparks ignited the thatched roof. The whole place went up in flames!”

“How awful!” she says. “Those poor people!” And I’m about to tell her how typical it is for her to think of the people involved, and how I really like that about her – when her mobile phone rings. She scoops it out of her handbag, flips it open and claps her free hand against her other ear to block out the sound of the tourists around us. And I can tell from the expression on her face that something isn’t right, and that the magic of our day together is about to be broken.

“That was Jarad,” she says, closing her phone. “Our Arabian ‘princes’ have been in touch.”

“Ah,” I say. “So the deal is off?”

“Actually, not quite,” says Rachel, looking across the river to the buildings on the other side. “It’s a little more complicated than that. Their investors – my husband – have given the go ahead.”

“He has?” I say, genuinely shocked.

“He does have just one caveat though.” Rachel bites her lip, then turns to face me. “Will,” she says, “Michael wants to meet Stephan LeBlanc!”

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The Opening Chapter to: My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend

Chapter One

Girls like mountaineers. I think that’s something we can all agree on.

And as a confident, twenty-first-century male, I can understand the appeal. Mountaineers are rugged, brave, adventurous, determined. They laugh in the face of danger. They have adrenalin where others have blood. They can pitch a tent on the side of a rock face, in the dark, with one hand, whilst fending off polar bears. I doubt even a woolly beard, chock full of frozen ice, is enough to negate all the innate female-attracting manliness that comes with the whole mountaineering gig.

Which is why I’m half way up a mountain. Somewhere in Tibet. Taking a quick selfie. If anything’s going to impress Paige, this is it.

Ken, my sherpa, is waiting patiently for me to finish capturing the moment. I have no idea what his real name is. Probably something like Kennunanmahindo. But it really doesn’t matter. When you spend your days lifting and hauling luggage through the Himalayas – the vicious frozen waste lands that divide Tibet and Nepal – well, you could be a guy called Susan and still be thought of as the rugged personification of everything masculine.

I wave to Ken that I’m ready to continue, pocket my camera, adjust my goggles, and on we plough.

That’s how we’re communicating now. Through a series of waves and gestures. I have no idea how much English Ken speaks but it’s irrelevant at this altitude. Just breathing is a challenge. Talking would be a staggeringly stupid use of breath.

It’s funny; even though the wind is relentless, and the snow here has more in common with razor wire than the pathetic flakes of partially frozen water we have back home, I’m barely even registering the pain any more. In fact I relish it. Every gruelling step along what Ken laughably describes as ‘the path’ is just testament to the fact I am alive, and beating the odds. I doubt even Paige will be able to leave me alone when I see her next. My God, beard or no beard we’ll probably end up doing ‘it’ on the luggage carousel at Heathrow airport! “Ade,” she’ll gasp, “I need you! God I need you! Let’s do it! Right here Adrian! Now!” And if that thought isn’t enough to propel me onwards I don’t know what is.

Not that I should be having thoughts like that. Not at this precise moment anyway. I can almost make out the temple through the blizzard, and I really ought to be in a place of extreme reverence when we finally get there.

I’m not really sure what to expect. ‘Spiritual enlightenment’ would be good. Or perhaps anything that comes under the broad heading of ‘answers’. To be honest, right now I’d settle for somewhere to sit, somewhere to sleep, and perhaps a meal that doesn’t come out of a tin. Everything else I need is waiting for me back in London – and probably having similar thoughts about that luggage carousel I shouldn’t wonder.

The temple is quite clearly made from stone, brought here – one presumes – by the monks, one boulder at a time. The doors on the other hand are made of oak. Each one is at least twenty foot high, ten foot wide, and looks as if it they could stop a tank – it’s exactly what I was expecting.

The doorbell, on the other hand, is a bit of a let down.

Okay, so clearly it’s slightly more than your average hardware store doorbell offering – it’s obviously been designed to withstand some pretty poor weather conditions – but still, surely a large wrought iron gong would have been more fitting?

I communicate all of this to Ken with a wave and a head toss, but he just nods solemnly, reaches out a gloved finger and presses the bell. From inside the temple I can hear a deep echoey ‘ding dong’, and then one of the doors creaks opens – just a crack; just enough for each of us to squeeze through. And it’s only when the door booms closed behind me do I suddenly appreciate how damn noisy it was out there. For the past two days I’ve heard nothing but the sound of a million damned souls screaming their eternal torment.

But not in here.

In here the only sound is the constant murmur of monks repeating the same four syllables over and over. It’s not exactly musical but at the same time it’s like someone has poked their fingers into my ears and is steadily massaging my brain, which would be fine were it not for the fact my brain is also trying to take in the splendour of the temple.

There are candles everywhere; they’re hanging from the ceiling on giant chandeliers, they’re wedged into crevices in the walls, they’re on ledges, and tables, and candlesticks, and all over the floor. It’s as if someone started with one candle, and then put another wherever there might be shadow. There are so many candles that my eyes feel like they’re being bathed in light and it actually takes me a moment to notice the sixty foot gold statue at the far end of the great hall… and I’ll be honest, it’s not quite what I was expecting.

“Welcome,” says a voice just behind me. I turn to face a monk, his hands pressed together just in front of his chest. He gives a slight bow and I do the same, though with considerably less grace. “Welcome, weary traveller,” he says again.

“Er, yes,” I say, “thank you. Thank you for allowing me… well, in, I guess.”

“All are welcome in the house of—”

“Yes, yes,” I say, “thank you. I do appreciate it. Really.” I squeeze in another quick bow and force a smile. “Look, I er, I wonder if… I don’t wish to be rude or anything, it’s just… I was… about the statue—” The monk looks over my shoulder, and as he does so his face is bathed in reflected gold light. His smile broadens as though he’s just slipped into a foamy bath.

“Our master,” he breathes.

“Right. Your master. I see.”

“And also your master.”

I nod my head from side to side. “I’m… not so sure about that,” I say.

“He is the master of all things,” insists the monk. I turn to look at the statue again. Just to make sure I wasn’t mistaken the first time. Just to make sure that the intoxicating combination of candlelight and incense and endless bloody chanting hasn’t somehow caused me to imagine a sixty foot gold effigy of a smug, grinning man in a three piece suit, holding – amongst other things – an iPhone.

It hasn’t.

“He doesn’t look very… Tibetan,” I say, through gritted teeth.

“No one knows where the master really comes from.”

“At a guess I’d say it was Basingstoke.”

The monk nods. “The sacred lands?” he says. “Perhaps you are right.”

“And I can’t help noticing that he seems to have an extra pair of arms.”

“To symbolise the many gifts he brings to the world.”

“I see. And what is that he’s holding in his right hand?”

“That is the true symbol for communication.”

“I meant his other right hand.”

“A ball of the finest yarn, to symbolise his warmth and generosity of spirit.”

“And when you say ‘finest’, I don’t suppose you mean regular sheep’s wool…”

“Oh no. Alpaca. The sacred beast.” I bite my lip, hard, and try not to explode.

“And in his… left… hands?”

“The ancient pendant from the land of Bavaria, with which he summons forth his holy chariot. Notice the markings.”

“Yes, that’s a BMW logo.” I say. “It’s a BMW key fob!”

The monk nods, and frowns, and nods some more. “I know not of this… fob… of which you speak.”

“And the bowl!?” I ask.

“The sacred chalice of holy sustenance.”

“Which is what exactly?”

“Sweetcorn fritters,” he says. “Food of the gods. Would you like some?” He claps his hands together so gently it’s barely audible, but as he does so two junior monks appear out of nowhere with bowls of, what I can only assume, are sweetcorn-bloody-fritters.

And then my mind makes sense of it; the four syllables that the monks keep chanting over and over. It’s a name. A name that I’ve come to despise. A name that will haunt me for the rest of my days.

Se-bast-i-an, Se-bast-i-an, Sebastian…

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What Would Your Three Wishes Be? (Chapter 6 of TGGGTGTG)


Michelle Ward (of Phoenix FM) asked me recently if I had a favourite chapter in my novel The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl.

I’m not sure if I’m really supposed to have favourite chapters – if I am then I’m pretty sure it should be either the first, or the last chapter… but in my case, I have to confess, it’s chapter six.

Chapter Six serves as a bit of a breather for the reader. The plot jumps back in time to 1988 when our hero, Jason Smith, is still in his teens, and – thanks in part to British Rail – finds himself accidentally on a date with his old school crush, Melanie Jackson.

Unfortunately for Jason, things aren’t going too well. You know what it’s like I’m sure; that moment the Universe has finally handed you the opportunity you’ve been waiting for your whole damned life, and you’re screwing it up!!!! Fortunately for our Jase, in a moment of complete brilliance, he manages to grasp back control of the conversation by asking Melanie what she would wish for, were he to be able to grant her anything.

Three anythings to be precise.

Three wishes.

Mind you, what she comes up with isn’t exactly what he’s expecting, in fact…

Actually, how about I just let you read the chapter for yourself?

Here we go then. Chapter Six. Hope you enjoy.

Friday 8th January, 1988

“Passenger announcement: British Rail regrets to announce that due to adverse weather conditions, services in and out of Liverpool Street are currently subject to delay. Passengers are advised to continue watching the information boards for further details. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

As I descended the stairs from the rainy streets, the station concourse was a heaving mass of suited bodies, most of whom were gawping at the words ‘cancelled’ or ’delayed’, but each one silently – or not so silently – doing what they did every Friday evening: hating British Rail.

Why was it always a Friday? The reasons varied, of course – overhead line problems, incident at Bethnal Green, engine failure, leaves on the line, wrong type of snow – but it always happened, always, on a Friday night, when all that I wanted was to get back to Chelmsford and join Alex in the Tulip. In a few weeks I would be twenty. And how would I be celebrating that particular milestone? If British Rail had anything to do with it I’d be standing on the concourse of Liverpool Street Station with the rest of the goons.

I threw my bag over my shoulder and headed back up the steps and into the city.

* * * * *

I was the only one in the Wimpy. Other than the waitress. And the burger chef. I sat by the window and watched the rain streak down the glass to the sound of the strip lights fizzing and popping over my head.

Kingsize and chips,” stated the waitress as she placed my food on the plastic table. I turned to look at her, but she’d gone.

Kingsize and chips. Normally I’d argue that this particular meal was a bite-sized portion of happiness on a plate. Right now, however, it was taking the place of several pints of Guinness, the company of my best friend, and the promise of a five minute stagger back to his mum’s house for as much toast as we could eat.

I let out a long, miserable sigh, picked up the burger, and went to take a bite.

“Jason?” I looked up into two gorgeous emerald green eyes, and froze. Those were her eyes. My field of vision widened to take in her nose. Regal in nature. That was definitely her nose. Then there was the slightly coy, but nonetheless playful smile. And those beautiful white teeth. And that hair, tumbling out from under a cerise beret – even though she was now a blonde my heart wasn’t fooled for a moment; it was still her. And all at once I was fourteen again, trombone in hand, looking across at her from my place in the brass section.

“I thought it was you,” she said. “You don’t recognise me, do you? It’s –”

I swallowed.

“Melanie. Mel! Hi! Of course I… of course – Hi!”

“I was walking by and I thought, ‘Is that Jason Smith?’ And, well – here you are.”

“Here I am!” I said. Nothing happened for a moment. And then she smiled.

“That looks nice,” she said, glancing at the burger in my hands. “Do you come here often?

“Here?” I asked. “No – I – there’s a problem. With the trains.” I jerked my head in the general direction of Liverpool Street Station.

“So you can’t get home?”

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll sort it out. At some point. They usually do.” I nodded. Then smiled. Then nodded some more whilst I tried to think of something to plug the gap in the conversation. “Is that why you’re here?” I asked eventually.

“No, I saw you as I was walking past –”

“No, I meant, are you stranded in London?”

“Me? No, I live here now,” said Melanie.

“In the City?”

“No!” laughed Melanie. “North London. I work in the City. I’ve just left the office.” I glanced at the clock on the wall – it was a quarter to seven. “I was walking to the tube,” she added. I nodded. And smiled.

“Right,” I said.

There it was again. A gap in the conversation. Only not so much a gap, more a bloody great rift. Something was supposed to be happening now, but I had absolutely no idea what.

“I suppose I’ve got time to join you for a bit,” Melanie said, taking off her mittens and matching scarf.

“Oh – really? That would be – Would you like a cup of tea?” I asked.

“Mmm – a Diet Coke would be nice.”

“Right!” I said, putting my burger down. “Let me get you one!” I stood up and started digging deep in my pockets for loose change but my fingers met nothing but tissues and screwed up receipts. I dug deeper, hoping for a miracle, but considering Melanie Jackson had just walked back into my life after a five year absence, two miracles in one night seemed highly unlikely.

“Here,” said Melanie, reaching into her handbag, “let me.” She produced a five pound note and passed it to me.

“Thanks,” I said, barely managing to conceal my humiliation. “I’ll be right back.”

* * * * *

“So you didn’t go to uni then?” asked Melanie. I shook my head.

“More studying?” I said, stuffing the last of the chips into my mouth, then washing them down with tea. “Give me a break.”

“But you were one of the clever ones!”

“Not really.”

“I always thought uni sounded like fun,” said Melanie, playing with the straws that poked through the lid of her Coke. “All those parties…” She leant forward to take another sip, looking up at me as she did so, which made her eyes seem all the larger.

“Yeah,” I said. Parties? Ugh. “Why didn’t you go to uni then?”

“Oh please,” said Melanie after a long noisy slurp of her drink. “And study what? Brain surgery?”

“Why not?”

“Nah, I needed a job. A girl needs shoes! They don’t buy themselves. Well, not unless you have a boyfriend.”

I’d barely registered what she’d said before I heard the words “You don’t have a boyfriend!?” tumbling out of my mouth with all the subtlety of a rhinoceros at a village tea party. But Melanie didn’t seem to notice.

“Not really,” she said, before hoovering up the last of her Coke.

“Oh,” I said, following it with a small nod to conceal my confusion. Not really? What did that mean? Either you do or you don’t, don’t you? ‘Not really’ sounded as if there was a bloke in Melanie’s world who thought he was her boyfriend but would discover, possibly in the not too distant future, that he wasn’t. Poor bastard.

“Nothing serious,” said Melanie, reading my mind. “You know what it’s like.”

“Yeah, yeah.” I said. No. I didn’t understand that at all.

“What about you?” she asked

“What about me what?”

“Any girlfriends?”

I laughed. “Me? No,” I said.


“Well,” I said, feeling myself flush slightly. “Nothing serious. You know…”

“Footloose and fancy free, eh?” said Melanie.

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

“I always wondered,” said Melanie, idly playing with her straw again, “why you never asked me out.” For a moment or two, time ground to a halt. Even the strip lights above us seemed to stop their manic flickering whilst they waited for me to respond.

“You did?” I asked, swallowing.


“Well…” I puffed my cheeks out. “I guess, I erm…”

“Maybe you didn’t fancy me?” said Melanie with a shrug.

“What? No! I mean, yes! Yes I did.”


“Do!” I said, correcting myself, then almost as quickly: “Did! No – Do! I mean –” Melanie’s smile broadened until it was a fully fledged grin and her eyes flashed like a card player who’s holding all the aces. I felt my face flush again, and took a deep breath. “You’re messing with me, aren’t you?”

“A little bit,” said Melanie, running her tongue along the edge of her lovely teeth. I could feel my face getting redder still. Other things were happening too: my heart was beating out a rumba, and a shy smile was sidling across my face. I looked down into my empty polystyrene cup to try and hide it. “Come on,” she said, touching my arm. “Let’s find a pub – I’ll buy you a proper drink.”

* * * * *

I staggered back to our table with another round. I was extremely drunk. Though not the usual blurry intoxication that followed a few pints. Instead everything, and everyone, sparkled with a magical sheen. The barman greeted me with a cheery wink. Fellow drinkers smiled at me as I passed by. Even my stagger was just a side effect of feet that were through with walking and wanted to dance.

Melanie grinned as I sat down next to her. It had been the only way I could hear what she was saying over the collective din of the Red Lion’s clientele. Now, of course, most of the after work drinkers had left but moving to the other side of the table would have seemed rude. At least, that’s what I was telling myself.

“So where were we?” I asked.

“You were telling me about computer games,” said Melanie, “the ones you would make – and how amazing they would be.”

“I was? Oh.” I scratched my head. “And yet somehow you’re still here? Enough about me – tell me what you’re doing.”

Melanie’s shoulders slumped.

“Oh, I just work reception for Harris, Harris and Harris. It’s a law firm.”

“Right. And is it good?”

Melanie gave me a long, serious look.

“No Jason, it’s crap. It’s the world’s most boring job.”

“Oh,” I said. “But is the money good?”

“Not really.”

“Right,” I said. “So what did you want to do?” Melanie sipped her Malibu and Coke, and stared into the distance.

“I guess that’s the problem,” she said after a while. “I didn’t really know.”

“Alex always thought you’d be in a band with Robert Palmer,” I said, bringing my pint to my lips. “Like one of the girls in that video…”

“Oh did he now?”


“Uh huh. And what about you?”

“What about me?”

“What did you imagine I’d be doing when I left school?” I felt myself blush again. Melanie saw it and raised an eyebrow.

“Erm, I thought you might be a model. Or something.”

“Really?” she said, that familiar evil grin working its way across her face. “And what kind of modelling did you envisage?”

“Just modelling,” I lied.

“Uh huh,” she said again, leaning forward to stare into my eyes. “Thought about this a lot, did you?” I swallowed

“Not a lot,” I lied again.

“Mmmm,” she said, and smiled. She leaned back and picked up her glass again. “Sounds like I should have come to you and Alex for career advice, rather than taking the first crappy job that came along.”

“You could always get a different job,” I suggested.

“It’s not… that simple.”

“Sure it is,” I said. But Melanie dropped her gaze to her lap and suddenly I could see that the crappy job situation was a conversational minefield that we’d wandered into, and only a miracle, or something similar, was going to rescue us from it. “Look,” I said, placing my pint on the table in a determined manner, “how about this – I’ll grant you three wishes.”

“What?” said Melanie, looking up.

“Three wishes. Right now. One time offer only.”

“You’re going to grant me three wishes?”

“Sure. But you have to make them now.”

“And I can have anything I want?”

“Well, I thought we were talking about your career but –”

“If you’re going to start handing out wishes, Mr Genie of the Guinness Barrel, I’m not going to waste them on work!”

“Well ok,” I said. “Three wishes, to do what you like with.”

“Right,” she said, repositioning herself and putting her hands in her lap. She looked past me and bit her lip whilst she considered her options and, not for the first time that evening, I suddenly wanted to kiss her. And it was more than a mere urge. I found myself having to exert considerable effort just to prevent myself from leaning forward and –

“Ok,” said Melanie. “Wish number one: I wish I had a pair of Jimmy Choos.”

“Jimmy what?” I asked.

“Only the best damn shoes on the planet!” said Melanie. I frowned.

“You’re going to use your first wish on shoes?!”

“Not just ‘a pair of shoes’!” said Melanie. “Jimmy Choos – they’re in this month’s Vogue and everything!”

“Yeah, but why didn’t you wish for a million pounds or something – then you could buy all the bloomin’ shoes you –”

“What? I can do that?” she asked.

“Well, of course you can do that!” I said, and I picked up my pint.

“Ok – I wish for a million pounds.”

I put up my hand whilst I took a sip. “Too late now,” I said, “you’ve made your wish.”

“What? No! That’s not fair.”

“Too late,” I said again.

“It’s not too late!” protested Melanie.

“Judge’s ruling, I’m afraid.” She let out a long exasperated sigh, then resumed her thinking pose, though this time her face was fixed into a determined frown.

“Ok,” she said after a moment. “Second wish – I wish I could have my first wish back!”

I shook my head.

“Sorry. No can do.”

“That’s not fair!” I held up both my hands. “Ok, ok,” she relented, putting her hands in her hair and massaging her scalp. My eyes dropped to her chest and for a second or two I was back at school, sitting in the orchestra, peering at her from behind my music stand. “Ok,” said Melanie, unaware of my leering, “wish number two: a million pounds.”

I frowned.

“That’s a bit boring.”

“What? I can’t have wishes if they’re boring? Who makes these rules?”

“I didn’t say you couldn’t have your wish – just that it was a bit boring.”

“But you suggested it!”

“Yeah, for wish number one – instead of shoes! I was expecting something a little more interesting for wish number two.”

“Well, I’m sorry!” said Melanie, folding her arms across her chest.

“No, no, that’s ok. You can have your million pounds.”

“Thank you!”

“What are you going to do with it?” I asked.

“I’ve got to tell you that as well?”

“No, I just thought you might have something in mind.”

“Jason,” she said, putting a hand on my thigh, “I’m a woman – it’ll be spent in no time.” She took her hand away and I glanced down, fully expecting to see some sort of glowing sparkly hand print.

“Ok,” I said, after taking a moment to compose myself. “Wish number three?” She sighed.

“That’s easy,” she said, turning in her seat to face forwards. Her shoulders slumped, and a chill swept through the room. “Somebody who doesn’t run out the door twenty seconds after… you know.” Her chest rose and fell as she took a melancholy breath. “Someone who will lie there, just for a little while and maybe talk to me for a bit?” A lump formed in my throat. I wanted to put my hand on her shoulder to comfort her, but – I couldn’t. This was Melanie Jackson. And I’m Jason Smith. Instead I watched as she traced her finger round the rim of her glass, acutely aware that somehow the magic had stalled, and that our evening had begun to nosedive into a black sea of despair.

No. I wouldn’t let it. Not this evening. Melanie Jackson had walked back into my life, lent me the money to buy her a Diet Coke, invited me out for a drink and spent the best part of two hours flirting with me. Either this was destiny or, more likely, destiny had her back turned! Either way, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wasn’t about to let it crash and burn.

“Would you be wearing… anything… at this particular moment?” I asked, with a cough.


“After, you know… the sex?”

Melanie blinked.

“Probably not,” she said

“Well, I can’t see why any man in their right mind would want to run off.” Melanie blinked again. “I mean – this one wouldn’t. Not in a million years. So, erm,” I took a decisive breath, “- wish granted.” She smiled. Not the cheeky grin that I’d seen several times that evening, but the warm, coy smile of someone who recognises when a friend is trying to be nice.

“Thank you,” she said, softly.

“You’re very welcome,” I said. A thought occurred to me. “Ok, look, I feel a bit bad about your first wish – I’m not saying that it was unfair or anything, but I think that in hindsight, maybe I could have explained the rules a little better –”

“Yeah!” said Melanie, poking me in the ribs with a finger.

“So in view of that, and on the strict understanding that this is a goodwill gesture from us in the wish-granting community –”

“I can have another wish?” she asked, clapping her hands together and bouncing up and down in her seat.

“I’m going to let you amend one of your wishes.” The bouncing stopped.

“Amend?” she asked suspiciously.

“Yes. But,” I said, as she opened her mouth to speak, “think about it first! Don’t just blurt out ‘I want another pair of Jimmy blahdy-blah shoes.’”

“There’s nothing wrong with wishing for a pair of Jimmy Choos!” said Melanie. “I don’t think you appreciate just how amazing they are!”

“Yeah, well, whatever,” I said, waving away the comment. She assumed her thinking pose. Her top lip curled and wriggled around under her nose whilst she considered her response.

“Ok,” she said.

“You’re ready?” I asked.


“So which wish are you amending?”

“The third one,” she said.

I moved backwards like I was trying to assist my eyes in focusing.

“The third one?”


“Wha- ok then. So what is it now?”

Melanie took a deep breath.

“I wish that one day I’ll meet a guy. And he’ll be… well, perfect – and by perfect I mean perfect for me. Not necessarily the kinda guy I would pick, because I always pick bastards, but the kinda guy that, I dunno, my mum would pick… if my mum had decent taste in men. Do you know what I mean? Anyway, I’d meet this guy and it’ll be ‘the moment’.”

“The moment?” I asked.

“Yeah. The moment. I might not even realise it at first, but looking back later I’ll realise that that was ‘the moment’ – when my life changed, and everything got better, and all because of him. There, that’s my wish. I want the moment. Can I have that please? Jason?”

“Sorry,” I said, shaking the entrancement out of my head. “I was distracted.”

“What by?” she asked.


“Tell me.”

“Your lips,” I said. “Moving.” She smiled. Not the cheeky Melanie Jackson grin, or the coyness I’d seen a moment ago, but the new, bright, sensuous smile of someone who knows just how powerful smiles can be.

“Melanie –” I said.

“Oh my God,” said Melanie, looking over my shoulder.

“What?” I said, swivelling round to try and see what she was looking at.

“Is that the time?” There was a clock on the opposite wall. I checked my wrist watch.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Oh Jason, I had no idea it was so late – excuse me.” She shuffled down the seat and stood up.

“Are you – are you leaving?”

“’Fraid so. Sorry. I was supposed to be somewhere else half an hour ago,” she said.

“Really? Where?”

“Oh, just this place.”

“Well, is it important?” I asked.

“Erm, yeah,” she said, checking for something in her purse and producing a travel card. “Look, I’ve really enjoyed this evening. Maybe we can do it again sometime?”

“Yeah, that would be –”

“Ok. Great,” she said, leaning forward to kiss me on the cheek. “Well, take care,”

“Ok, but when?”

“I’ll – I’ll call you,” she said as she squeezed past me.

“But you don’t have my number!”

“I’ll look you up.”

“But – look me up where?”

“Sorry, gotta run,” she said as she got to the door, and all but sprinted out of the pub and into the city streets. I stood there, rooted to the spot, my hand on my cheek where her lips had brushed, swaying slightly as if someone had just slugged me round the back of the head with something heavy. For a split second I wanted to run after her, grab her by the arm, and… something. What? What would I do? I felt my knees buckle and I slumped back into the chair. There was nothing I could do. Because she was Melanie Jackson. And I’m just Jason Smith.

My eyes settled on her wine glass, noticing for the first time the lipstick mark on the rim, and I thought about Melanie’s last wish – her amended wish – and ‘the moment’ she craved so badly. I picked up the glass and examined it.

“Wish granted,” I said.

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