Afterlife

Abel Kane, a photojournalist who worked on the world stage, was renowned for the bravery and compassion of his images and considered a lunatic for his habitual early morning runs, even in the midst of war. Living alone, in a depressing afterlife, in a small bleak apartment in Narrow Street, London, he regrets not making a long-lasting relationship and envies those with comfortable boltholes. Latterly described as ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’, he’s unhappy, but understands its cause: he’s elderly and has cancer, but thinks, If only I could still run, I could live. 

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Paternoster Square

Jon, a recent graduate with a first-class degree in Philosophy from Leeds University, had not aspired to work as a private security guard protecting Paternoster Square in the City of London. He feels lucky to have found work, but disapproves of the private ownership of public space (POPS). This is exactly the situation in Paternoster Square which is owned by the Mitsubishi Estate Company. It is one example of the growing trend to privatise hitherto freely accessible public spaces, not only in London but nationally: the Duke of Westminster owns thirty-four streets in Liverpool city centre. 

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Gwyther House

In the time that Alfred’s been resident in Gwyther House, he’s observed the consequences of many depredations: the Great War, Spanish Flu, the Wall Street Crash, the Second World War, rationing, the global financial crisis, austerity and climate change. Covid-19 causes him little alarm. Alfred is self-centred, entirely self-sufficient and dead. 

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Lying In

It’s a late winter afternoon in 1921. In Violet cottage, one of an isolated terrace of eight tied-cottages, deep in Holderness, an oil lamp sheds a pale glow in the small front room. Orstine, dressed in a cotton shroud, lies in a cheap pine coffin, which rests on a trestle, with his feet pointing at the curtained windows. The women of the terrace have reluctantly laid him out in accordance with local tradition: a bandage around his head keeps his mouth shut; scraps of muslin are wedged up his nose and pennies cover his eyes. The GP, who’d taken three days to attend, attributed his death to natural causes.

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Flies

Stefan hears the distant sound of a bluebottle buzzing as he sits at a table staring at the phrase he’s written across the centre two pages of his notebook – All stories begin with a question. The sound grows louder. A large bluebottle lands in the gutter between the pages of the notebook. Imperceptibly, Stefan, holding his breath, slides his fingers under the book’s hard covers. With great speed he slams the book shut crushing the fly between the words he’s written. 

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Coltman Street

Houses were first built at the southern end of Coltman Street in the 1840s. The grand houses at the northern end were completed around 1905 and accommodated affluent middle class merchant and fishing industry families. By November 1980, after the Cod Wars of the 1960s and 1970s and decline in shipping, the northern end has slipped into multiple occupation and dereliction. Travellers’ horses are tethered on a patch of wasteland where north and south of the street converge.

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Chernobyl

On Saturday April 28th 1986, the number 4 reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power station suffers a massive steam explosion. The reactor core is exposed and vast amounts of airborne radioactive contamination are released. It’s finally contained on May 4th. At first the Soviet Union attempts to conceal the disaster. Facts are scarce and barely believable.

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Ryker

Ryker never allows the use of his forenames or the title of Mr; that would take up too much time. At school they called him Road Runner and beep-beeped each time he passed. In middle age he’s trying very hard to avoid endlessly repeating to himself: time and tide wait for no man, and, I’m late, I’m late for a very important date as he rushes hither and thither. Self-service in a restaurant is the only way he can cope with eating out. He does his weekly supermarket shop after midnight using self-scan to avoid queues. Someone once told him he should be a time and motion analyst. What an absurd idea, he thought, Watching others going slowly, no thank you! 

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The Black Shield of Falworth

Henry Falworth goes to the Central Cinema every Saturday, paid for from his paper-round earnings. This Saturday, in 1954, he sees ‘The Black Shield of Falworth’ starring Tony Curtis as Myles. He’s so excited: how could there be a big Technicolor film with his name in the title? He leaves the cinema, as usual, in a state of euphoria. What is different is that though he knows he isn’t Myles, as he’s only eight years old, he, like Myles, has to stop the baddies.

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