Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ten Years On

With Tony Blair's expected departure being announced today, I thought I'd dig out the first chapter of my novel "High Wire", which begins on election night 1997 (and finishes 6 months later). This small extract sees the main character, Adam Challis, compelled to go to the Royal Festival Hall to see history in the making, as Blair arrives by helicopter from his constituency. It's a scene I pulled pretty much directly from memory - and wrote it hardly six months after the fact.

The radio was broadcasting from the Royal Festival Hall. Crowds waiting expectantly for the helicopter that was ferrying Tony Blair from Sedgefield to London, anointing Caesar.

'We've just had twenty cars from Millbank booked there,' the driver told him.

'Royal Festival Hall it is,' he told the driver. He stared out the window at London by night, taxis all heading to the river, everyone collecting there. He felt not so much alone as compelled by the mass, ant-driven.

He was on the Waterloo Bridge side, coming up towards the mass that was squeezed in at the front of the Royal Festival Hall. He thought momentarily: they weren't expecting many people, choosing here. He couldn't even see the podium. Around him people stood expectant, drunk, but mostly bored. Strange, at a time like this. He looked at the faces and saw students, tourists, many of them younger than himself, mostly the coming, and he already felt that he belonged to a missing generation. The beards and beer bellies that he remembered from Labour party meetings were curiously absent. He swigged on his blush wine as others shared bottles of champagne, or sipped Hooch slowly. It was like a Techno crowd after the electricity went, some still oblivious, most just stopped, obediently waiting the restart. This mob wasn't going to scream for anything. But that was where he was wrong - there had been the distant whirr of Police choppers inching in and out of the capital, but now the whirring was more insistent, our own Air Force One, and the whoop went up and off. He tried to make his way further into the crowd but he was pushed back, almost angrily, you won't get through mate, there's no room. Now it was a Live Aid crowd, a Billy Graham crowd, fierce, self-protective. He couldn't just stand there rammed in between jostling lines of people, seeing nothing, hearing only the echo. He turned and forced his way angrily out, pushing back the crowd to part them, moving with some force, oblivious to their complaints. He headed out towards Waterloo Bridge trying to find the way back down, past the Hayward and over by M.O.M.I. The numbers here were fewer, everyone who was coming was already here. Why had he even come?

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