On Being Mugged

Lying flat on my back, with a man standing over me screaming, “Give me your f***ing money or I’ll f***ing hit you,” I should really have realised that I was being mugged. To be honest, I don’t think I did, even then. Call me slow, but it was all too much of a shock. After all, I’ve lived around here for thirty years, and walked this same route through the park, day and night, for as long with never a problem before. Besides, the man standing over, screaming expletives, had just a moment before been poking fun at his own inability to find the way to the tube station. The world had slipped and turned sideways, leaving me on my back.

My parents live a few minutes’ walk away from me. On Friday evening, I’d gone there to do some writing to escape the frenzy of noise at my own house as the children played, and played recorder, with their amazing recorder teacher Catherine Groom. The writing hadn’t gone particularly well, but my mother – as typical an Italian mother as you could hope to find apart from her ability to render pretty well any food group inedible – had given me two carrier bags full of the contents of the regular food parcel my uncle sends over from Italy – Italians are, of course, rightly convinced that it is impossible to find edible food anywhere north of the Alps (he may also have had to eat my mother’s cooking when he was younger, and has taken pity on his nephews). I had a pack with my computer on my back, and far more money than I usually carry in my wallet, as my mother had also given me money towards my children’s Christmas presents. Leaving their house at 6pm I could have taken the short route back home along roads but instead I turned right, to take the slightly longer route through Arnos Park. I’ve walked through the park hundreds of times and never had the slightest bother, so I thought nothing of turning off the lighted section of pathway that bisects the park and walking along Pymmes Brook, with the arched vaults of the Piccadilly Line viaduct running alongside me.

Walking along the path, I realised I was being followed.
Walking along the path, I realised I was being followed.

However, as I neared the turning over the bridge that would take me under the railway line, I realised that there was someone behind me. I hadn’t seen anyone, so where had he come from? My radar twitched, I glanced round, but he wasn’t closing, and I turned over the bridge and checked back. He hadn’t followed. I went on, under the viaduct and started up the path towards the park exit. He still wasn’t following. Must have been a commuter walking home through the park. I relaxed a bit.

But then he called me.

“Which way to the station?”

I stopped and looked back. The man had emerged from under the viaduct.

Now, the path to the station lay along this side of the viaduct, up past the tennis courts, so, as one does when giving directions I went closer to point to him the way to go.

“I’ve been going up and down looking for the station,” he said, smiling.

“If you go that way, past the tennis courts…” I began.

Then, the world tilted, and I was lying on my back with the man standing over me, screaming. I don’t think I even understood what he said first time round. The switch from a smiling request for assistance to snarling aggression was just too quick.

Here’s where my backpack came in useful. Because it is semi-rigid, it cushioned my fall, and it was probably one of the reasons I was back on my feet very quickly. I have no memory of getting back up again, but however I did it, it was fast enough to avoid being kicked when down.

“Give me your f***ing money or I’ll f***ing hit you.”

His vocabulary, which had before been perfectly adequate, was now rather limited.

I’d like to say that my mind assumed a crystal clarity, that everything slowed down and I carefully weighed the options available to me, but I didn’t. The thought of giving him my wallet did briefly flit through my mind, but it didn’t stick. I did remember that I was carrying quite a lot more money than normal – in the usual course of events all I’d be able to hand over is change.

“Give me your f***ing money or I’ll f***ing hit you.”

I wanted to tell him something like, your soul will rot in hell for this – a better man than I might have found some chink into his conscience, a promise of divine vengeance to waken the fear of divine consequences, but all I managed to say was, “That’s not very nice.”

The mugger, for such he was I now realised, continued on the same track.

“Give me your f***ing money or I’ll f***ing hit you.”

Scratches on my left shoulder show he tried to grab me – and pretty hard too, since I was wearing a thick coat and a jacket – but I don’t really remember shaking him off. Marks on my right shoulder indicate that he did throw a punch or two, but I must have blocked them without thought – the karate training I did when I was younger finally proving useful.

The useful part of this face to face, apart from making sure he didn’t land anything on me, was the good, long look at his face it gave me. So, I can safely say, he was not what I expected a mugger to look like at all.

My mugger looked about forty, thick set, in the region of five foot ten, with a London accent – a builder type. Given the practised way in which he’d lured me closer through asking directions in a friendly, indeed self-deprecatory, manner, he must have done this many times before, relying on the shock his victim feels at the sudden, terrible, change from friendliness to screaming aggression to ensure that the money is handed over quickly. In fact, if proof were needed of his age, it’s the fact that he demanded my money, not my phone!

This was where the shopping came to my aid. Falling over, I had dropped the plastic bags. The mugger decided that I wasn’t going to simply hand over my money and, however he worked out the relative advantages, came to the conclusion that fighting me for it wasn’t going to work.

“What’s in the bags then?”

This might be overly judgemental, but I don’t think he had read The Hobbit, so he won’t have known that Gollum made the same mistake with Bilbo. I knew what was in the bags, and decided to leave four packets of parma ham, two bottles of olive oil, a Panettone and two new pairs of glasses (my uncle is also an optician) to him, while I turned around and left. Besides, picking them up would have left me with no way to fight back.

But I didn’t run. I definitely wasn’t going to run. The bastard hadn’t beaten me, he hadn’t got my money or my computer, and I walked out of the park at my normal pace, without looking back at that pathetic piece of human scum once (although I did listen keenly in case he ran up behind me).

I live just up from the park. I got home, wired from adrenaline and fizzing with anger. My wife and children weren’t back yet – they’d gone round to see friends nearby – so I dumped my wallet and my computer, picked up a mobile, for a minute considered my replica Lord of the Rings sword but settled on a cricket bat (an antique signed by Don Bradman, no less, so something I really didn’t want to hit anyone with) while cursing the fact I didn’t have a baseball bat to hand, and set off back down the road to the park.

I wanted my stuff back, and I wanted to hurt that bastard. I called 999 as I went, and was told police would be along shortly, and to wait outside the park entrance. If I’d had a baseball bat, I would have gone in, but with only my precious Don Bradman bat, I waited. The police were fairly quick, about five minutes, but I made a few homeward-bound commuters very nervous as they passed the strange, dark man loitering by the park entrance with a cricket bat in hand.

With the Rapid Response Team in tow, I re-entered the park. Sadly, the mugger had gone, but we found the Panettone and the two pairs of glasses, and the glasses that I’d been wearing when I was mugged, which fell off when I fell backwards.

Then, my wife and children arrived. Harriet, for those who don’t know her, is the most wonderful wife in the world and, when we were engaged and I had a sudden attack of cold feet, I dreamed that night that I’d won the National Lottery and thrown away the ticket. She’s also as brave as a lion and a trifle excitable, so when she got home to find me missing, had rung my parents and learned that I’d left half an hour ago, she immediately realised something must have happened in the park. She turned right round and set off, with the children, to find me, imagining the worst.

Harriet was so relieved to find me, safe and well, that she immediately screamed at me, “You stupid, stupid man, I told you not to walk through the park at night.” She had too.

The sad part of this is that I’ve now had to promise never to walk through the park after dark again. I was lucky – the mugger didn’t have a knife.

As to my thoughts and feelings towards him, at the moment they veer between contempt for a man who is so hapless and hopeless that he can’t even manage to properly mug someone whom he took completely by surprise, to a certain pity for his hopelessness. Could I pray for him? Could I forgive him? Yes, relatively easily, in between adrenaline-spiked spasms of anger. Forgiveness is relatively easy towards such an abject example of mankind. I’d find it much harder to forgive him if he were a better man – but it would be all the more necessary then.

The Pigeon’s Revenge – a taster

Here’s an extract from The Pigeon’s Revenge, a tale of London.

The pigeon shook his head sadly. Poison was horrible.

The rat was rolling around on the ground by the drains, holding his sides, his face contorted with pain. The pigeon shook his head again. But there was nothing he could do to ease the rat’s pain. And was that some bird seed over there?

‘Hey, mate, you read this?’

The pigeon looked around. It was the rat. But the rat did not seem to be dying horribly. In fact, he looked rather healthy and surprisingly cheerful for an animal that had been rolling on the ground, holdings its sides a moment before.

‘Read what?’ asked the pigeon.

‘This,’ said the rat, pointing at the newspaper he was standing on. He giggled. ‘Reckon you’d better have a look, Mr High and Mighty Pigeon.’

The pigeon limped over. His right foot was not what it was since he had got a piece of plastic twine caught over his claw. The circulation had been cut off and in the end he had lost two of his toes. Still, can’t complain. That was the great pigeon motto. After all, he could be back where they had all come from in the first place, freezing his feathers off on some exposed cliff in the country, ideally placed to catch every arctic wind howling down from the north. Anything was better than that, even living in cities.

‘Go on read this,’ said the rat, shuffling backwards so the pigeon could see the headline.

‘Mayor Declares War On Flying Rats.’ The headline filled half the page.

The pigeon shook his head, trying to concentrate on the rest of the story. The new mayor of London had decided that pigeons were vermin, who spread disease and dirt, and he had vowed as part of his ‘strategy for a cleaner London’ to rid the city of these ‘flying rats’.

The rat snickered. ‘Thought we rats were the only vermin in the city. Looks like you guys are joining the gang. Reckon I ought to start calling you cousin.’

The pigeon looked up at the rat. ‘But I don’t understand,’ he said. ‘People like us. They give us seed and bread, and we clean up the mess they leave behind all over the place. Why do they want to get rid of us?’

The rat laughed. ‘Get over it, mate. That’s people for you. They just like killing things, that’s all there is to it. They’ve been trying to get rid of us since, well, since forever, only we’re too clever for them. So I reckon they’ve just got bored and decided to go after something easier. Personally I give you guys about six months and then – bye bye.’ The rat waved his paw. His whiskers twitched in a way that looked suspiciously like he was trying not to laugh. But then the rat gave up the struggle and he started to giggle, and then to laugh, and then to howl, until in the end he was rolling around on the newspaper holding his sides, with tears rolling from his eyes, wheezing through the laughter, ‘Enough… no, no, enough… flying rats….’

The rain that had been threatening began to fall. The pigeon stood there, staring at the abandoned newspaper as it slowly began to absorb the falling water. Water trickled off his feathers and dripped to the ground. A single drop quivered at the point of his beak.

Plink.

The drop fell, and another began to form.

The rat’s sides slowly ceased their impersonation of a bellows and he picked himself up and began to wash his whiskers and clean his toes and his leg pits.

The news print was all but illegible now, having soaked the water up like toilet paper. The rat looked sidelong at the pigeon. The bird was still standing there, without moving, and another drop was trembling at the tip of his beak.

‘Come on, mate,’ said the rat. ‘What’s wrong? It ain’t the end of the world, you know.’

But still the pigeon did not move or respond.

The rat sidled closer under the pretence of cleaning his bottom. He gave it a good wipe on the newspaper. The rat had always found newspapers particularly effective for such functions, and it meant he always had something to read while he was on the lavatory.

‘Look, mate, you can’t let yourself go just because you’ve had a bit of bad news,’ said the rat.

The pigeon continued to stare down at the paper.

‘Let’s clean you up a bit,’ said the rat. ‘Can’t have you all snotty nosed, er, I mean beaked,’ and he picked up his tail and began to wipe the drop from the end of the pigeon’s beak.

The pigeon exploded. Feathers, wings, legs, beaks (or at least it seemed like he had more than one beak it was moving so fast) they all thrashed out like someone had just plugged the pigeon into the mains and pulled the switch.

The rat fell flat on his back, then scrambled upright in less time than it takes to blink (a rat doesn’t stay a rat for long if it can’t get back on its feet fast). He assumed the position known as Crouching Rat, Hidden Cat, the primary posture of rodent martial arts.

‘Kiaaaaiiii!’ yelled the rat, ready to take on whatever had got the pigeon. He was not going down without a fight. Eyes flicked left, right, left, up and down. But there was nothing moving. Only the pigeon, standing there, quivering, every feather on his body standing on end. The rat sniffed. His ears twizzled around. His whiskers twitched. He tasted the air with his tongue.

All clear.

‘You all right, mate,’ he said cautiously to the pigeon.

The pigeon slowly turned his head and stared at the rat.

‘No,’ the pigeon said. ‘I am not all right. After everything we’ve done for them, cleaning up their mess, and I’ve seen them on a Saturday night staggering around like new hatched chicks, throwing up all over the place, making messes in doorways, throwing their rubbish around, and they have the nerve, the cheek, the sheer sheer… EFFRONTERY to call us, us, vermin. This is it. This has to stop. No more downy chest feathers, this means war, Mr Rat, I tell you, this is war. Well?’

The pigeon stared at the rat, looking suddenly more frightening than an alley cat.

‘Well?’

The rat backed away a couple of steps.

‘Well what?’ asked the rat.

‘Are you with us or against us, Mr Rat?’ said the pigeon. ‘Will you join in the struggle to free ourselves and our people from the curse of evil human politicians or will you return to your sewer and wait there until they drag you and all your kind out into the daylight and a long and lingering death. Well, Mr Rat, are you with us or against us? Now is the time to choose.’

‘Er, did you say, Mr Rat?’ asked the rat, his nose twitching.

‘Why, of course, Mr Rat,’ said the pigeon. ‘What else would I call you?’

‘Only, well, no one’s actually ever called me like, Mr Rat before,’ said the rat. ‘Usually it’s ugh, it’s a rat or eek! a rat or filthy rat. No one’s called me Mister before.’

‘In this struggle we are all equal, Mr Rat,’ said the pigeon. ‘You will be Mr Rat so long as you fight at our side.’

‘Right, right,’ said the rat. ‘Er, what will you be?’

‘I, of course, will be Squadron Leader Pigeon,’ said the pigeon. ‘Together we will unleash a new Blitz on the unworthy rulers of this great city.’

‘Can’t I be a Squadron Leader too?’ asked the rat.

‘I am sorry to say only fliers can be squadron leaders,’ said the pigeon.

‘Oh,’ said the rat, his tail drooping a little.

‘But you could certainly be a captain,’ said the pigeon, noticing the negative effect on morale this was having. The tail perked up a little. ‘Why, as leader of our ground forces you could be a major – ’ the tail perked up a little more ‘– or even a general.’ The tail lashed around in excitement.

‘What about Captain General Mr Rat?’ asked the rat.

‘Hmm,’ said the pigeon. ‘A trifle irregular I suppose, but since we are in a state of emergency I think, yes, we could allow that. So, Captain General Mr Rat. Are you with us?’

The rat stood up on his hind paws and saluted.

‘Yes, sir, Squadron Leader Mr Pigeon,’ he said.

‘Just Squadron Leader will do,’ said the pigeon.

‘Oh,’ said the rat. ‘Sorry.’

‘Quite all right, don’t worry yourself about it, my good fellow,’ said the pigeon. ‘Now, we must lay our plans…’

The rest of the story is available to download, in formats suitable for every e-reader including Kindle and as a pdf for a computer, here at Alfie Dog Fiction. It costs 49p (and I’ll receive half of that) so help keep a poor writer in birdseed and download it today (or tomorrow).

Rejection notes – no.20 in a series

This, on the other hand, occupies the ‘encouraging’ and ‘frustrating’ categories of rejection notes.

Edoardo,
Thanks for submitting “Ghosts” to […] but I’m going to pass on it. Every single assistant editor (and it went through all four of them, which doesn’t happen that often) had things they liked about your story and things they didn’t. In the end I decided it just didn’t quite work for our needs, and I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere. We’ll have to call this one a near-miss.

Rejection notes – no.19 in a series

One of the most interesting rejection notes I’ve received. This was a story I wrote many years ago and I suspect the criticisms are quite accurate – it’s just a question of whether I have the time to revisit and rewrite the story.

Edoardo,

Thanks for sending me your story “Immortal Longings”, unfortunately it is not quite right for [...].
An interesting idea and well written, but it was far too drawn out with little plot (beyond the guessing who was who). I’m afraid the ending did not come as a surprise, and as the whole story seemed to lead to that twist ending it was disappointing. I felt your story sometimes confused the novel and film version of a character (Rhett Butler?), as if it actually was an actor being cast in a part. I had hoped there would be more of a plot, like a murder of a character to be investigated by Sam Spade or something. A new story populated by old characters. The background is promising, but, for me needs more excitement and action, not just talking and guessing games. I also wonder what happens to characters who have had ‘parts’ but are now out of copyright?

Please bear in mind that this is only my opinion. I hope the comments help, if not there are many other editors with different opinions and tastes.

I wish you all success in placing your story elsewhere.

Rejection notes – no.18 in a series

And this is from a first-rate magazine.

Dear Edoardo Albert,

Thank you for your submission to […]. I thought your story had its strong points, including an interesting concept, but ultimately I didn’t think this was quite right for us. The voice, here, didn’t seem to be what we’re looking for: something lyrical, while being understated and emotive. I’m going to have to pass on this, but I wish you the best of luck placing your story elsewhere.

Best,

Rejection notes – no.17 in a series

I’m getting more encouraging rejection notes – see no.17 and no.18 in the series.

Hi Edoardo,

Thank you for submitting to […]. We regret to inform you that “Plausible Deniability” was not selected for publication in Issue #16. We received an abundance of submissions and had to make some very hard decisions. We liked your story very much and are certain it will find/has found a home. We welcome any future submissions to […].

Thanks again for letting us read your work.

Best,

Book review: The Eeerie Silence by Paul Davies

The full title of the book is The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone In The Universe? The fiftieth anniversary of SETI has recently passed and Davies provides a clear and well-written evaluation of where we stand now. Unfortunately, and despite the author’s optimism, the answer must be no further on than when we started. If anything, the evidence gathered over the last 50 years makes it less likely that there are many technological civilisations out there. In fact, we could well be the only one. The gap between non-living matter and living things has widened considerably since the optimism engendered by the Miller-Urey experiments (although Davies makes a good case for looking for second-start life forms right here on earth). Even should that gulf be somehow bridged, there’s still the Needham question (which Davies does not seem to have heard of): why of all the civilisations on earth did only the European one conceive and execute a scientific society? Scientists, being scientists, tend to think they are inevitable – I am less sure.

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New Back Cover Copy for Edwin: High King of Britain

Now my publishers, the lovely people at Lion Fiction, have had the chance to read the complete text of Edwin: High King of Northumbria they’ve written a fresh draft of the back cover copy. I’d be very grateful if you could read it and let me know what you think.

Edwin: High King of Britain | Back Cover Copy

Edwin is a king. Yet he is about to be betrayed and butchered.

Edwin, the long-exiled king of Northumbria, thought he had found sanctuary at the court of King Rædwald – his friend and now protector.

But as Rædwald faces the draw of riches and the fear of bloodshed, rumours abound that he will not hold firm to their bond.

As Edwin contemplates his fate and the futility of escape, hope is offered by a messenger from an unknown god. It is prophesied that Edwin will ascend to greater power than any of his forefathers.

Through cunning victory in battle and a strategic marriage to the Kentish princess Æthelburh, Edwin’s power grows.

But his new wife and her missionary priests bring more than political alliance. Where should Edwin look to for a power not of this earth: with their new God, or with the Anglo-Saxon gods of old? And can any power raise Edwin above all other thrones?

Edwin: High King of Britain is the first book in The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy – a riveting read seeped in the intrigues, bloody battles, and romance of the kings of Anglo-Saxon Britain.

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