Thursday 6 June 2019

How Soon Is Now? Chapter 5: London

Chapter 5: London

The Clash - London Calling

London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls
London calling now don't look to us
Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Meltdown expected and the wheat is growing thin
Engines stop running but I have no fear
London is drowning and I live by the river

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, you can go it alone
London calling upon the zombies of death
Quit holding out and draw another breath
London calling and I don't wanna shout
But when we were talking I saw you nodding out
London calling see we ain't got no highs
Except for that one with the yellowy eyes

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error but I have no fear
London is drowning and I, I live by the river

Maggie had dropped me off at Schiphol Airport Amsterdam to board my early morning flight to London for my interview with the BBC's Today Programm. Maggie had returned back to my apartment to work on her incredible book. As I sat waiting to board the plane memories of the place of my birth came rushing back to me, I was excited to be going home. England was not the England I remembered, much had changed over the time I had spent away, London, for instance, had gone from being one of the safest capital cities in the world to be one of the most dangerous in just a few years. London had acquired the unenviable nickname "The New Wild West." Gangs of drug pushers were riding around the capital, not on horses but on motorbikes and scooters, attacking unsuspecting citizens on an ever-increasing frenzy, Police cutbacks brought on by lack of government spending had exasperated the problem, turning much of urban London into no-go areas.

Knife crime had exploded. London police could no longer respond to the sheer number of stabbings. The victims, often young boys or teenagers were being admitted to hospitals with life-threatening or serious stab wounds on such an alarming rate it was stretching local hospitals to their limit. The latest statistic from 2024 recorded nearly 100,000 stabbings or knife attacks in that one year, or around 274 per day, or more than 11 an hour. A brutal, deadly knife attack epidemic was overwhelming residents and police forces throughout the United Kingdom. These statistics were just from the capital but, a similar epidemic had hit the large urban areas of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and other sprawling inner-city areas. Other violent crimes, including murder and robbery, had also increased by double-digit percentages. Data also showed the number of homicides in which a knife or sharp instrument was used had increased by 45 per cent just in the last year. There was little agreement about what was behind the surge in violent crime. Some experts pointed fingers at gangs and the sale of drugs; others blamed recent mass migration, with little or no vetting and few resources with which to care for the new populations which had poured in from the Middle East before Britain had left the European Union. Yet another theory was that police resources were stretched due to a plummeting number of officers. Embattled London Mayor Richard Lockwood warned it could take a generation to solve London's violent crime problem.

Another shameful crime was darkening the UK, grooming sex gangs were spreading at an alarming rate across the country, horrific abuse exposing young girls in the country's poverty-stricken inner cities. There were mounting calls for nationwide action to combat sexual exploitation, with authorities accused of playing catch-up after ignoring victims for decades and decades.
It had become an issue for every town and city in the country, as more and more young girls had been failed.
Recent figures showed that in Bradford 3,153 referrals were made to its child sexual exploitation team in 2023/24 – a 92 per cent increase on the year before.
Authorities behind an investigation that identified more than 1,700 women and girls as potential victims of sexual exploitation in North East England believe the abuse was happening far beyond areas where perpetrators have been caught. And the fact that most of the grooming gangs who had been arrested were of Pakistani or Middle Eastern descent was driving a deep wedge into already festering tensions between so-called "Nationals" and their Islamic neighbours.

I boarded my KLM flight to Heathrow London, a robot scanned by ticket, I was a constant flyer but I didn't fly for fun, I flew because I had to, I was well aware flying was the safest form of travel but still, the thought of being locked up in a massive machine with a skin a little thicker than a tin of beans projecting me at 40,000 ft above terra firma did make my stomach butterflies flutter. I decided to make good use of my flight, however, I sat back for the journey, opened up my laptop to check my emails and updated my website, giving me something else to think about instead of flying.

The summer had just started but I received an update on the wildfires already hitting the U.S. UK, Europe and Scandinavia which caught my attention. The latest California wildfire had now reached almost 175,000 acres in just a week. Forty-five people were dead with almost 700 missing, it was now officially the worst wildfire in California's history.
The so-called East Santa Rosa fire was only about 56 per cent contained.
Meanwhile, more than 2,000 firefighters aided by water-dropping helicopters battled a wind-driven wildfire raging out of control further south, threatening homes and other structures as thick black smoke drifted across the San Francisco Bay Area.

In Europe, the situation was no better,  Norway which was in the grip of an unprecedented heat-wave had cancelled train and bus travel due to a huge forest fire which was causing major transport delays.  Wild-fires were not considered a threat in the UK just a few years ago due to their Marine West Coast climate, however, a two-week long heatwave and tinder-dry vegetation and high winds had caused destruction among large swathes of the UK. Fire crews were returning for a seventh day as a 'rapidly developing, aggressive fire' had ravaged moorland across Lancashire and Yorkshire.

An email from the British met office caught my eye, it read: Astonishing temperatures are being recorded as the entire Northern Hemisphere is witnessing an unprecedented heat-wave as global records tumble! The astonishing temperatures are being reported as warm records are being smashed across the entire Northern Hemisphere in the later part of June. Record-breaking heatwaves have been reported in Canada, the U.S. UK, Europe, Russia, Armenia and Oman.
And the global heatwave is not about to stop anytime soon, according to The Met Office, the swathe of new records are believed to be connected to the intense heat dome that has consumed most of the United States and southeast Canada since late June. Officials in Montreal and the Eastern Townships are urging people to check on their neighbours and loved ones, especially those without access to air conditioning, as the heat wave gripping the region's peaks and is being blamed for 78 deaths. Montreal recorded its hottest temperature since records began when the mercury hit 40 deg C, (104 deg F). Over the border, Denver reached 44 deg C, (111 deg F), thermometers up and down the eastern coast of the United States were peaking at more than 35 deg C (95 deg F) and more than 37 deg C (100 deg F) in isolated places.
Across the pond Belfast, Northern Ireland, recorded its highest temp on record when the mercury hit 40 deg C, (104 deg F) meanwhile Motherwell in Scotland hit 37.2 deg C, (99 deg F).
A UK heatwave which has been blazing for more than two weeks now shows no sign of slowing down as temperatures are set to reach 30 deg C, (86 deg F) with Britain set to boil until the MIDDLE of July.
While the islands in Western Europe smouldered in its own heatwave, Eurasia was baking as well. Yerevan, in the previous Soviet state of Armenia, saw temperatures soar to 115.6°F (46°C). Russia, meanwhile, is also in the midst of a heatwave. Several spots across the south of the world's largest country either matched or exceeded their warmest June temperatures. The Middle-Eastern nation of Oman, recorded the hottest night temperature ever on the planet on June 28 when the mercury hit 109.7°F (43.°C) in the coastal city of Quriyat.

The flight from Amsterdam to London was short, no longer had the airliner reached its optimal height than it began to descend toward Heathrow Airport.
I looked out of the window, I could see the River Thames snaking off into the distance, the incredible urban spread of London was below me and always the sheer size of the city blew me away, as we descended I could pick out historic buildings of the most famous city in the world and of course the incredible skyline.

I walked through arrivals at Heathrow, a large crowd had gathered in front of the sliding doors waiting for their loved one or business colleague, I could see a large man at the back in a dark blue suit holding a plaque above his head which read, "BBC, Mr Watson," I walked up to him and shook his hand.
"Hi, I'm Cooper, "I said.
"Hellow, I'm Mike and I will bring you to Broadcasting House Sir," he said.
We walked outside to the car, the early morning sun hit like a bolt of fire. A black BMW E-Car was waiting for us. Mike opened the back door for me.
"Thanks, Mike," I said.
"Welcome, Sir."
Mike climbed into the driving seat and we pulled away soundlessly, on the back of Mike's seat a screen came to life showing BBC Live News, the California fires were being shown.
Mike turned East onto the M4, passing through Hammersmith, Kensington, past Hyde Park and Westminster and onto Marleybone and Broadcasting House.
The original impressive building was made from grey stone, Art Deco style with more modern extensions added since it's first radio broadcast back in 1932.
We left the car and Mike assisted me through the front glass doors and lead me to the Reception area, he whispered a message to the receptionist, she looked up at me and smiled, I smiled back.

Ten minutes later I was led to a studio and asked to sit at a large table with computer screens and microphones, red and white BBC logos were everywhere, the table could seat six people but only the interviewer and I sat there opposite each other, he introduced himself and shook my hand, the studio walls were a relaxing grey colour, the wall facing me was of glass, through the glass I could see another room with a woman watching us wearing headphones, she also had a computer on her desk and a bank of monitors above her head.
I sat there opposite the interviewer with headphones on
The woman from the behind the glass panels whispered softly into my headphones, "Ready in And Go."
I heard a music introduction and then a very stylish woman's voice announced, "Good morning, you are listening to the BBC's Today program."
The guy opposite me took over procedures. "Good morning and welcome to the BBC's Today Program, this morning we will be talking to the prominent writer and owner of one of the worlds most popular geophysical websites, Eleven: 59:, which covers everything from major earthquakes to volcanic eruptions, climate change, extreme weather, spaceweather, hurricanes and cyclones, animal die-offs, disease, wildfires and just about anything else which appears to be ailing our planet.
"Welcome, Mr Watson."
"Good morning," I replied.
I shuffled in my seat.
"Firstly can I mention to our listeners, the fact that you and a friend were recently caught up in the Paris terror attack, is that correct Mr Watson?"
I looked at him confused, "yes," I said.
"I wonder, Mr Watson, would you explain to our listeners just what it felt like to be involved in a terror attack like the one in Paris last week?"
"I, erm, it-it was terrible," I stuttered.
I looked at him angrily.
"99 people died that night, how did it feel to be a survivor, please tell the listeners," he went on.
I stared at him.
"Mr Watson?"
I regained my composure.
"I was invited here to talk about climate change and that is what I would like to do," I replied.
"Oh yes, of course, I just thought you might want to tell the listeners of your terrifying ordeal."
"No, I came here to talk about Climate change," I said.
He went on.
"Mr Watson, I am so sorry, your website, Eleven: 59: has hit the headlines recently after documenting some pretty damming reports on the state of our planet, would you like to explain to the listeners just how bad the situation has developed in recent years."
"I most certainly would," I replied.
"Five years ago, it was announced our World had lost more than two-thirds of all its wild animals."
"This amazing and frightening statistic from The Living Planet Index was largely hushed up by governments around the world when the report was issued five years ago since then the situation has worsened," I said.
"According to a new report, part of the mass extinction that is destroying our natural world is upon us and cannot be stopped."
I began to relax.
"The analysis, the most comprehensive to date, indicates that animal populations plummeted by nearly 70% between 1970 and 2020," I replied. 
"Researchers from WWF and the Zoological Society of London compiled the report from scientific data and found that the destruction of wild habitats, hunting and pollution and climate change were to blame."
"In another report released by journal Science, advances are claiming the world's primates face an "extinction crisis" with 70% of species now threatened with extinction, according to research and is accelerating," I said.
I went on, "a global study, involving more than 30 scientists, assessed the conservation status of more than 500 individual species which also revealed that 85% of species have populations that are declining at an unstoppable rate."
"Add to this the unprecedented death of billions of tons of marine life around the world’s oceans and waterways all point to a crisis which has crossed the tipping point, a point of no return, so to say."
I smiled at the interviewer.
"Just last month NOAA along with NASA claimed 2024 marked three consecutive years of record warmth for the globe with the first five months of 2025 unprecedented warmth!"
"With 15 of the 15 warmest years ever recorded coming in the last 25 years, it is fair to claim climate change is, the climate changed, it will never recover."
We carried on for a few minutes more, discussing the current heatwaves along the northern hemisphere this summer and the crippeling wildfires, he didn't mention the Paris terrorist attack again.

I asked Mike to drop me off at Oxford St, it was still morning and my flight home was later in the afternoon and I wanted to buy Maggie a surprise. 
Mike who was the quintessential English gentleman obliged, driving South from Broadcasting House along Baker Street passing the home of the world-renowned detective Sherlock Holmes and leaving me alone on Oxford Street, I shook his hand and wished him a good day.
He looked back at me and apologised for the arrogant rudeness of the Today program interviewer, I smiled and tipped him my imaginary hat. 
I stood there in the most famous shopping street in the world, baking in the hot sun, I looked around for a jeweller.
Immediately to my left was Selfridges, a little outside my budget I thought, I walked over the road dodging hordes of bright red double-decker buses and black taxi cabs.
Topless double-decker buses carrying sightseers looking down on the pedestrians below pushed slowly through the congested street. 
Oxford Street was bursting with tourists and shoppers, walking was similar to swimming against the tide and the crush was making me feel a little claustrophobic.
I entered North Audley Street and walked for a while, it was much quieter here, eventually, I came to a place called Red Street with a beautiful Victorian looking Antique Jewellery shop tucked away in the corner of the square, this was just the kind of shop I was looking for.
After perusing the old jewellery shop for what seemed like hours I found a beautiful surprise for Maggie, I stepped outside, feeling good about myself and hailed a cab to Heathrow.

I arrived back at Schiphol Amsterdam at 5: pm after a smooth faultless flight, Maggie was waiting for me at the arrival gate, we kissed and hugged like a couple who hadn't seen each other for weeks.
"How did it go?" she asked.
"It went, ok I think," I said smiling to my self.
"Oh it went better than ok, I streamed the interview on the laptop, you were wonderful and good for you not talking about the terror attack," she said.
"Haha, yes, he was a little bit naughty wasn't he," I quipped.
Maggie's car was waiting outside in the hot sun we got in, Maggie whispered "Navigation, take us home" we pulled away silently from the parking lot and headed back to my apartment.

My apartment had been transported from a scruffy bachelor pad into a chic living area fit for two busy professional people in the few hours I had been away, Maggie's feminine touch and design skills breathing fresh life into the tired living room.
A leg of lamb was slowly cooking in the oven along with a tray of roast potatoes, the smell was incredible.
We retired to the relative coolness of the balcony cold beer in hand.
 "Oh boy did I miss you today," I said.
"I know, time seemed to slow right down, "she said.
"Did you do some work on your book?" I asked.
"Yep, I did a bit, I spent most of the day making the apartment livable,"
We both giggled.
I looked deep into her sparkling happy green eyes, "Maggie," I said.
She looked back,  "yes hon."
"You make me so happy, thank you."
We cuddled up together on the bench looking out to sea.

We finished the beer and sat down for dinner. Maggie had set the dinner table in the living room and not on the balcony for the lamb roast which was cooked to perfection along with vegetables and roast potatoes, she had also chosen a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape which was perfect with the lamb, we sat there enjoying the food and sipping wine for what seemed like hours in candlelight, discussing Maggie's book, climate change and the general state of the planet.
She told me about her childhood, a prodigy from an early age she had grown up in the affluent Jordaan area of Amsterdam.
Both her parents were doctors however, they had died in an automobile accident when she was a young woman.
Maggie had told me how she had been interested in the Bible from a very early age after getting a kiddies picture, Bible for her 5th birthday and had read the whole King James translation by the time she was twelve years old.
She had had several relationships in the past, all had fizzled out, there was a special someone but he had let her down badly which lead her to throw herself into her career obtaining a Doctorate in both History and Theologie at an early age.

After dinner and coffee, we cleared the table.
I asked the house-port to switch on the wall monitor in the kitchen to watch the news while we cleaned up, The BBC was reporting disturbing news from the Middle East suggesting Israel had bombed the Arak heavy water reactor production plant in Iran killing many Iranian workers, Maggie stopped what she was doing and looked at me concerned.
We stopped clearing the table and stood there together watching the report.
Israel had gained information regarding Iran's clandestine nuclear program, acting on intelligence Israel had taken upon its self to raize the Arak heavy water reactor production plant to the ground. Iran had replied, claiming Israel's action was a declaration of war threatening Israel with annihilation,
The world was holding its breath once again.

The book is a rough draft at the moment, I don't have a publisher, I am serialising the novel on The Big Wobble, looking for constructive criticism, maybe if the book is good enough it will land on a publishers desk!

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