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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Ok, bit of a weird one this. I have here the first 1,500 words of a story, battered out in an afternoon to no distinct end or conclusion. It's a first draft, it hasn't been polished or checked and, critically, it doesn't have a direction. I was thinking of a British version of Lost/Journey To The Centre Of The Earth kind vibe, but apparently there's a new film of that out at some point, so it might not be right.

I have a start, I need a direction. What do you reckon happens next?

It's nothing serious, just a bit of fun. This is probably the 100th story I've started in the last ten years and none of them ever get finished. It's more a kind of writing practice than anything else. But you never know...

Anyway, let me know what you think and who knows, maybe it will turn into something...

Stood alone in front of a pack of flashing cameras and barking journalists, Daniel Matthews gripped the lectern in front of him, stared into space and thought about his Dad. He thought about their conversations when he was in sixth-form college, the ones that always started with the line, "Why don't you head over to the site this weekend? We could do with another pair of hands."

Daniel didn't want to be a builder though. Daniel had always wanted to be a journalist, though he could never really explain why. He wasn't particularly good at writing and he rarely read books, but he had always seen a certain glamour in the industry and he wanted to be a part of it. He had wanted to be the one that shouted 'stop the press' at the top of his voice. He had always wanted to burst into the chief's room and tell him that the trail led all the way to the top. He'd wanted to hide out in abandoned warehouses, skulk in underground carparks and live his life on the edge, always one deadline away from The Truth.

His Dad thought he was daft, but then he would. Graham Matthews had worked his first shift on a building site at the age of 15, running errands and making tea. A naturally affable and enthusiastic man, he had eagerly applied himself to everything from carrying the bricks and mixing the mortar, to helping the owner file the contracts and even occasionally haggling with suppliers. After one particularly lucrative build of houses on the fringes of Colchester ended with a huge paycheque and a Friday off, he eschewed the offer of an afternoon in the pub and went to see the bank manager instead. In 1981, he formed the highly successful GM Construction Ltd, which was very handy because, later that same year, his fiancee Sandra told him that their summer break in Devon had resulted in a rather unexpected requirement for a larger house and a disturbing urge for Caramac bars and cheese.

The point being that Graham was a man who applied himself to life and, in another one of his stock phrases, "got things done." Daniel was quite the opposite and his charming view that British journalism was exactly like a 1940s American film had caused a number of arguments in the house. Graham, eventually convinced by Sandra to let his son make his own mistakes, gave up his attempts at luring him into the family business and grudgingly funded Daniel's three years at a tired-looking journalism college near Middlesbrough.

Naturally, Daniel found out the hard way that journalism wasn't anywhere near as exciting as television inexplicably made out. His one stint of work experience on a local newspaper opened up a creaking door to a dingy world of desk-bound lunches, tired and frustrated colleagues, uppity readers and a pay scale that an NHS nurse would turn her nose up at. He left University with an apologetic 3rd class degree and without the faintest idea of what to do.

A friend of his from the course put him onto a recruitment agency in London that specialised in something called Public Relations. With a degree that was vaguely in 'the media', sensible hair, slightly too expensive clothes and his father's friendly nature, they said that he was perfect for the industry. Unfortunately, his only attempts at finding out what this industry actually was were rebuffed with a series of mystifying keywords.

"Synergy," said the interviewer at the agency. "That's what we're all about. Communication. Hybrid communication synergy."

But with a promise of at least a twenty-five thousand pound starting salary on the table, Daniel wasn't about to make an issue out of his ignorance. He signed up with the agency and, four weeks later, found himself being introduced to his new colleagues at London Underground.

All of which had led him here, three years on from his first day of work, in a hastily opened up conference room at The Holiday Inn in Belsize Park at 5.45 on a Monday morning, blinking in the strobe of several photographers and wondering why his employers hadn't managed to find anyone else to do this, frankly, impossible job. With the damage reported to be widespread across the city, it was understandable to be short-staffed, but it was clear that this was the story that the media would focus on. Every natural disaster had a cast of characters. The man who just made it across the bridge before it fell. The flustered looking aid worker who becomes a regular on TV screens around the world. The little girl they pull from the rubble three days afterwards. Daniel didn't want to be the man who tried to explain this.

He had always wanted to find the truth, albeit a Hollywood matinee truth. Now he had a shocking, unbelievable and unpalatable truth to deliver to nine bad tempered journalists and a handful of photographers, all ratty through a lack of sleep and frustrated by the knowledge that there was some really good footage of a collapsed council estate near Camden. He knew what they didn't, that they were lucky enough to be at the big story. But he took no pleasure from it.

"Can you just tell us what happened?" sneered Alan Fletcher, a journalist who was unamused to have been tumbled out of his bed, quite literally, by the breaking of this story and who seemed intent on taking it out on Daniel. "The firemen won't make an official comment and the unofficial word is....well....look, what the **** happened?"

Daniel glanced down at the statement he had scribbled out a piece of A4 paper. The sweat from his hands had blurred the first line and he'd been gripping it so tightly that it was imprinted with the shape of his curled fingers.

"Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen," he croaked.

"SPEAK UP!" bellowed someone on cue.

"Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen," he tried again, his voice wobbling like so many of the capital's buildings had in the night. "As you know, the city of London was hit by an unprecedented earth tremor on Sunday night at 11.43pm. This tremor was considerably more powerful than the one that hit Dudley in 2002, which measured 4.8 on the Richter scale. It was also more powerful than the 5.2 in Market Rasen in Lincolnshire in 2008. Our initial information suggests a level of 6.2 on the Richter scale. "

He paused to take a sip of water.

"What kind of damage has been reported" shouted Fletcher again. Daniel had met Fletcher before, during a industrial dispute concerning a suspended tube driver and a wildcat strike. He was one of those journalists who, perhaps with good reason, assumed that everybody was lying to him all the time. There were some journalists, mainly the older ones, who thought that the route to a good story was a good lunch and few drinks. He liked those ones. Fletcher thought that righteous intimidation was the best tool of the trade and he used it well. Daniel hated him

"The British Geology Survey," he continued, trying to block out the noise, "have told us that the epicentre was in an area close to Hampstead Heath. Tremors of this scale can....can open up chasms. Cracks in the earth."

The journalists went quiet for the first time that morning. Pens continued to scratch at notepads, but their eyes never left Daniel.

"We can confirm serious damage to all the stations and tracks north of the Thames , as well as a number of stations south of the river. The deep-lying tracks are the worst affected, particularly...erm...the Northern Line where our early indications suggest that the...er...chasm opened up."

He reached for another sip of water, but the glass was empty. For the first time, he noticed all the dictophones in front of him, all shining their red eyes directly at him, patiently taking down every word, every tremble and every stutter.

"Thankfully, we have no serious casualties to report from passengers or staff," he said, over-enunciating slightly. "There are numerous reports of minor injuries, twisted ankles, cuts, bruises and several cases of severe shock. Erm...almost all of our trains are safe."

"Almost?" mouthed Fletcher silently, like an exterminator finally catching up with the rat.

"One train, the last tube of the Sunday service has not yet been accounted for. It was late running, the only one in service north of Kennington and, from what we understand, it was almost empty."

"Where is it?" asked Fletcher.

Daniel looked at him helplessly.

"It was almost empty," he repeated

"Where is the last tube?"

Daniel looked down at the floor and wished that he'd gone along to the site to help out his Dad, that he'd gone to work in the family business instead of in public relations. He looked up and stared at his inquisitor for what seemed like forever.

"We don't know," he whispered.

And then everybody began to shout at once.