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Gold-digging in Brixton by Eva-Marie Grace

© Eva-Marie Grace

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A Ball

When Bramble found out that the heir to France's largest mustard company was living in a squat in Brixton, she knew she had to get him to marry her. She'd never met him and knew nothing about squatters but times were frugal and a change of scene imperative.

She was at a charity ball when she heard the nugget of gossip: the yearly charity ball of the Terence Jones Foundation, which campaigned for rare birds in danger of extinction. Not that she cared a bit about birds. Her preferred cause was a small organisation in East London that helped young offenders to find a way out of crime. But their annual event was a small gathering in a local pub, with charity director Nick in his best shorts, sporting a bowler hat. Great fun, but no celebs, no VIPs, no good to her at all.

So she'd looked around for a more high profile cause to sponsor and had found the Terence Jones Foundation, whose board of trustees read like a page of Who's Who and which was chaired by Dame Lilian. Bramble came every year to this ball, using it as a networking safety net in case something happened to derail her life with William Hardwicke. And something had happened – she was still reeling from it, scrambling to gather together the shards of her exploded future.

It had all happened too recently and she still felt shaky. But this evening was important and she forced herself to focus. She planned to network her way through the drinks reception and charm her table. She'd been supposed to be sitting at Scott Dubier's table – a hedge fund manager, nothing to look at and firmly married, but with strong links to J.A. Starling. Yes, the J.A. Starling, the finance wizard. A job with him would do nothing wrong for her career and wallet.

Anyway, when she arrived it had turned out she would no longer be sitting at Dubier's table.

"So sorry," Diana, the events manager, had said with a thin smile and steely eyes, "last minute rearranging. It's been an absolute nightmare. But as one of our fervent supporters, I'm sure you'll understand..."

Of course, Bramble on her own did not carry the same weight as Bramble and William Hardwicke, future lord. She was socially a dead weight and Diana had offloaded her to a more obscure part of the room. Penny Holland, a one-time reality show star, was hosting her table. A big supporter of bird conservation, apparently, though more admirable was the support provided by her bra – it was pushing up a pair of soft, inflated boobs that looked like they would be more comfortable sitting ten inches lower, nearer to her stomach than to her chin. On Bramble's right was Imran, the presentable guy she'd brought along as a replacement for William. On her left were Terry and Jean, two activists who were passionate about bird preservation.

“Do you care about biiiiiirds?” asked Terry earnestly. “How did you get involved with the Foundation?”

“Well, yes, I find birds are fascinating creatures!” She trilled in answer. She’d not done her homework about birds. Hedge funds and money she knew about, enough to dazzle Scott Dubier & co. Birds, she knew they flew, laid eggs, and tasted good roasted with thyme. How unfair, she thought, squirming under Terry’s quizzical gaze. How could she be expected to know about bird preservation?

“The menu looks fantastic.” she enthused as a diversion.

“Yes, well we’ve chosen the vegetarian option, of course.”

The room went dim, just in time, and the director of the Foundation stepped up for his preliminary speech.

Bramble sat collecting her thoughts, a pleasant expression on her face as the director’s speech unfurled. Then she leant forward as Dame Lilian, the chair of the Foundation, walked up to the stage to say a few words. Bramble sighed as she took in the resplendent, figure-hugging silver lamé dress split down the leg – outrageous yet classy, it had so obviously cost thousands of pounds. Dame Lilian had come from absolutely nowhere and married the richest man she had met. Now in her seventies, she was a bitch but a rich, stunning one. Applause erupted and Dame Lilian gave a tight little smile to the crowd before floating back to her table. After that they beamed a video about wild ducks onto a large screen and Bramble’s attention drifted.

The room looked dazzling, all chandeliers, thick pink linens and flower arrangements exploding with lilies and fragrant lilac. But she knew that the glitter was superficial. She had it this evening because she’d bought the ticket, but it would not carry on into her daily life. And even tonight, her guests were only grudgingly accepting her.

She looked around the table. It was so Z-list that it might as well have been zapped out of the room and into a Saturday evening at the Croydon bingo Hall. She took in Terry’s glistening face and eager expression as he watched the stage. He was holding scrawny Jean’s hand. Her dress was a stiff taffeta that screamed ‘charity shop bargain.’ Z list indeed, thought Bramble. The speed of her downfall struck her. Three weeks ago William had broken off and been pictured with Lady Jasmine in the Evening Standard. A few days later Appleton and Pye had given her a month’s notice due to ‘restructure.’ And with the speed of a combusting dynamite fuse, the word had gone around that she was no longer important.

Throughout dinner she caught up with Jan. He was a jobbing actor who’d recently had a small part in Eastenders. He was very good-looking with a pretty boy’s face and an ultra-toned body. Quite vain, very bitchy and excellent company. He’d never liked William and his crowd and was on a mission to comfort her – while enjoying the free meal and entertainment provided. He was tucking into his sea bass when she was drawn to a conversation between Jean and Penny.

“I always thought of squatters as dirty and on drugs!” Penny shuddered.

“No really,” Jean said, “they are the most socially conscious people you can find. They try and fight for the environment and take a stance against unethical property ownership.”

“So, do you squat?” Bramble asked. She wouldn’t be surprised, that would explain Terry’s bad skin and Jean’s limp hair. They probably never washed.

“No, we don’t but we meet a lot of squatters at environmental campaigns.”

“It’s so sad to think of the families they come from, said Penny, comfortably sipping her wine, which was a shade darker than her dress. They’ve never had a chance and never seen the example of someone working and paying rent.”

“That’s not how it is at all,” said Jean, her voice sharp.” All sorts of people squat. They’re just less selfish than others. For example, the son of one of the richest families in France is living in a squat in Brixton. He couldn’t stand his bourgeois family so left it all to try and do something positive”

“Is that so?” Bramble said. “I’m sure he can’t be that rich.”

“Oh yes he is. Have you heard of Moutardes Papales? His family own the company, have done so for centuries. It’s massive. They sell it in Tesco and all.”

“He must be a fascinating person, very selfless,” said Bramble. “How old is he?”

“In his mid-thirties, I’d say. He’s been an activist for years.”

Terry interrupted. “OK, let’s talk about something else. Some people only get interested in squatters if they’re rich or in the news.”
He cast a venomous glance at Bramble.

“Ooohhh, well I must say it’s very interesting of you two going on about your squat connections when you’re here gorging yourselves with fine food,” Bramble answered before turning to Penny with determination. She had wasted enough time with these two losers, now she would see if the reality show star could yield any contacts.

Chapter 2 – A Plan

Bramble stood in her bathroom on the morning after the ball. It was some bathroom, all marble and glittering mirrors, with a flat sink unto which the water sprinkled from golden taps. She had got used to it since she’d moved in a year before but now she saw it with fresh eyes, remembered how dazzled she had been when she first saw the flat. She shared it with Ticky, a friend of William’s who’d been looking for a flatmate. The flat belonged to Ticky’s family, the Morgan-Blakes. Mr Morgan-Blake wanted his daughter to live a normal life and although he let her live in the flat for free, he expected her to have a job and refused to give her any more money. Ticky was a receptionist in an art gallery and supplemented her small salary by renting the flat’s spare room. Bramble got on well with her but hardly ever saw her. Ticky was away again; she had flown to LA to be with her current boyfriend.

Bramble wondered how Ticky would react when she heard that Bramble and William were no longer an item. She wondered, too, how she would go on paying the rent. It was cheap for Mayfair but still, she had only been able to afford it because Appleton and Pye paid her an inflated salary in order to keep William sweet. And although Bramble could easily have done an outstanding job, she had got lazy, popping out every so often to chat on the telephone to William to organise their evenings out. Her lunch breaks often transformed into shopping trips and dragged on for two hours. As a result, her manager only trusted her with admin tasks so she didn’t have much to put on her CV. When she’d seen how much other employers paid for similar jobs, she wondered how she would be able to keep paying her rent.

She sighed. She had looked into a few options, but none was good. The Sloane set had turned their back on her, making it clear that they had only tolerated her as an appendage to William. They had hoped she was a university fling and it had turned out that they had been right. It was the aristocratic thing, she thought with annoyance. Now if he had only been rich, it would have been fine. But these old families protected their own. She wasn’t a snob and had not cared about William’s title. Money was what she wanted. She liked being able to book tables at good restaurants and gossip about the other customers. Or, best of all, walk down New Bond Street and pop in to any shop to buy whatever she wished. Chanel...She sighed. She had had high hopes of owning a Chanel Fantasy Tweed jacket. After the wedding, she had promised herself she would own one. William’s allowance didn’t extend to Chanel quite yet. Now there’d be no wedding. She slammed her Elemis cleanser on the shelf and splashed water onto her face. No wedding, no money, possibly no flat. No bloody Chanel jacket. She had to do something, and quick.

Even a mustard heir would do. She thought again about what she had heard at the ball. She had tried to find out more online when she had got back but there was very little about squats and squatters. She supposed that what they did was illegal so they couldn’t draw too much attention to themselves. There was some information about Moutardes Papales though. She found out that the family who owned it, the Bourdons, was indeed extremely rich. They lived in Dijon, a town renowned for being the capital of mustard. An unglamorous business but stable; people would always buy mustard. It made you wonder what their son was doing in Brixton. Imagine walking out on all that...

She had a brainwave during the night. Lance Murphy. He had been her anthropology professor at university. His research dealt with urban life in Western societies and he might know about the London squat scene. He was used to infiltrating these groups of people – participant observation was the official term – so he might be able to give her tips to blend into that world.

She put on a hint of mascara, and still wrapped in a fluffy bathrobe, went into her bedroom to look for Lance’s number. She reached for the telephone, an exquisite Bang & Olufsen that looked like it was about to jet off into space. She got Lance’s voicemail. He wasn’t in his office so she left a message for him.

She thought back with amusement at their friendship. When she had seen him first, walking in to a classroom with an abstracted look, she’d thought, “Wow, he’s all right!” Dark and tall, she could imagine him breaking hearts in academic circles.

He had only seemed to notice the expectant students sitting facing him when set his books on his desk. Then he had seemed to wake up from his reverie and had looked at them like they were nude dancers springing out from a birthday cake.

“Oh, hi,” he said then, ruffling his hair, “I’m Lance Murphy. Going to teach you all about, er, the general principles of anthropology.”

He was charismatic and popular. One of the other students had fallen for him, turning bright red whenever he addressed her in the seminars. He never seemed to notice and Bramble had thought what a nice guy he was. Other professors would have taken advantage. All that young flesh, and some of the girls actually looked like they were gagging for it...

He started to notice her properly because her comments in the seminars were always spot on. If she hadn’t been bright, his favourite student would have been one of the others – spotty Rebecca or John with the dark-rimmed glasses.

Sometimes, for fun, she tried an ironic flirtatious banter on him; she loved the way he would look at her through his glasses with surprise, as though faced with a strange new type of tribeswoman. She wondered if he was the first man ever who genuinely didn’t fancy her.

The delicate ring of the phone brought her thoughts back to the present.

“Hey Brambles, Lance here.”

She settled herself comfortably against the cushions. She had never asked Lance for a favour before but he would be pleased to help. After they had caught up she got to the point.

“Lance, I’m interested in the world of squats in London. I’m wondering if we could meet and chat about it – I’d like to do research and blend in and stuff.”

“You, blending into a squat!” Lance laughed. “You couldn’t wear those high heels there, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m serious about this. I’m thinking of studying again...”

She blushed as she said it. Why was lying to him so unpleasant? He was only a man, after all. Lance’s voice became even warmer and he agreed to meet her that evening in their old pub.

After she had hung up, she got up and walked to her wardrobe. She selected a pair of jeans and a striped Breton top. She wouldn’t have to dress up much for Lance; he was probably the only man in the world who did not seem to notice her looks. She had never once caught him glancing at her chest and he rolled his eyes when she turned up in high heels (“Not very Naomi Wolf, these things, are they now?”) To him, she was a pure brain; he used to urge her to continue her studies, to do a PhD and become an anthropologist. He was upset when she refused.

“But what will you do with just a degree?”

She couldn’t explain that she was going to be a rich wife. He believed in her so strongly that she even considered following his advice at one point. Having a PhD, or studying for one, with her looks, would be a good way of attracting a rich tycoon. The differentiation factor in a crowded market...She weighed it against seeming too intelligent – might it be a little too nerdy and count against her? But then she met William Hardwicke.

Chapter 3 - Before

Meeting William had been the culmination of months of experimenting with the effect her beauty had on men. Her looks had blossomed late, when she was around 17. All of a sudden her face, which for years had been childish and characterless, had slimmed down. The features seemed to finally decide what to do and from a nondescript banality had firmed up, revealing a delightful bone structure with high cheekbones. Her eyes had always been large and blue and now seemed slightly slanted, giving her a mysterious look. As a child, adults had approved of her but her contemporaries had not thought her good-looking – she didn’t have that sexy teenage look that needs a little vulgarity to be appealing – a slight snarl, or challenging bored eyes. She’d always looked neat and quite prim.

Her body had developed late but there too, had delivered the goods. After years of being scrawny and flat chested, she finally had them...boobs! She panicked at first. What was she to do with them? They were kind of there and impossible to ignore. She couldn’t just pull on a t-shirt as she’d used to. Now she was...emphasising her looks in a figure-hugging simple white top. Like she’d planned it all, was some sexy enchantress. She got used to it. Whatever she wore, the boys looked at her chest now. Boys...That was another discovery. They seemed to pop out of nowhere. She’d never known there were so many boys in the world before. Like flies, they were – maybe they’d all hatched out at the same time.

She saw the village people staring, the other girls whispering. Before, she’d walked to the library on a Saturday with her books, just a normal child going about her business. Now she was a pied piper suspected of infinite guile as she lured swarms of young men in her wake, as though the walk to the library was an excuse and chatting up the boys the real aim of her trip. She got her books, anyway. Never had the ancient Roman section of the library seen so much activity – boys leafing through yellowing tomes, watching her from the corner of their eyes.

Once she’d got used to the new her, she observed what she’d got and experimented with the reactions of every boy she met. She started giving them orders and they obeyed. Some cried, some pleaded, one threatened to kill himself if she didn’t go out with him. She couldn’t understand it, but there it was, she had been granted this superpower, and it seemed more powerful, certainly more immediate, that the intelligence adults always raved about.

Could this be her way out of the village and the tedious life she’d been leading? She had never before considered living from her looks, but looking like she did was rare and coveted. It got you places. It was not something she should be modest and silly about – beauty was a hard currency. Her heart quickened the first time she realised that she needn’t ever live the life her mum had lived. A single mother, in love all her life with one man, the already-married Czech artist Artur Novak, living off donations of her family or of the cheques Novak would send when he’d sold a painting. A life of dependency.

She was too short to be a model and she couldn’t act at all, as she discovered when she joined acting classes in high school. So, like it or not, she decided on making ‘a good match.’ And she would have to arrange it on her own. Her mother was totally guileless and believed in marrying for love so wasn’t about to push her into a suitable marriage.

Bramble started reading a mix of Vogue, the Tatler and the Financial Times, studying the market for rich men. If she concentrated, she could easily get married in her twenties to a millionaire and divorce him in her thirties. With a bit of luck, she would never ever have to work. Of course, she did not tell anyone of her plans – no one should ever know of them. She wanted no mercenary stories popping up later on.

She had enslaved the boys in her village. All she had to do was colour her hair a clear pale blond and she would capture the world.

William was unremarkable in every way. Tall and thin, with nondescript brown hair and the kind of skin that got pink easily. She hadn’t ever noticed him, until:

“Don’t look now but that’s the son of Lord Albert Hardwicke.”

The loud whisper came from two girls standing in front of Bramble in the queue to the student cards office. The girl who’d spoken had a prominent chin and limp blonde hair. The other had a mass of red curls.

“Where, I want to see him!” She squealed. “Does he look like his father?”

“Not a bit. He’s the guy with the stripy jumper, just about to go by.”

Bramble spotted the guy ambling towards them in the bare yellow corridor. His body seemed disarticulated, his limbs too bony in the tall body. He glanced at her and their eyes met. She looked down – she’d never done demure before but it came naturally. No brazen looks with that guy, she thought – time would do it. But her heart quickened as he walked past her. A Lord! That was way better than Harry, son of doctor Brown in her home town, who kept texting and emailing her. She forced herself to concentrate on the book she was holding.

The girls resumed their conversation, giggling.

“I’m disappointed! Not at all like the father!” said curly hair.

“When you think of it, it must be hard to live up to,” said jutty-chin sagely. “He’s only studying history, not music or politics or anything. And you’d expect him to be in Oxford or Cambridge...Here’s not bad, but it’s not Oxbridge.”

Bramble digested this. History student, possible inferiority complex, apparently not playing up to the grand life he was born into – shouldn’t be too hard, should it? But first, find out who the hell this Lord Hardwicke was. She’d never been a royalist or a social climber and the name meant nothing to her. Google, as usual, turned out to be a font of knowledge.

The Hardwicke family’s seat was in Wiltshire. A castle set in a sprawling landscape, acres and acres of land, it had been the setting for a few period dramas. The Hardwickes had been a traditional family, spewing MPs for centuries like a volcano on speed, until Lord Albert Hardwicke came of age in 1968. A good time to be young, and Lord Albert certainly seemed to agree. Not a good time to be a Tory MP, but perfect for anyone wanting to launch a record label in New York. As soon as he left Oxford, he made for the States, followed months later by every paparazzo in Fleet Street.

The record label did not survive these times, but somehow Lord Albert did. He blazed through the seventies in a trail of parties, drugs and women – he had a predilection for the disco singers signed up by his record company. Google images brought up tons of photos of the handsome dazed lord on the arm of some platform-heeled beauty who seemed to have been sprayed with glitter.

In the eighties, it all stopped. He sold his record label for a huge profit, dropped his latest conquest and returned to England. No one knew why. There were whole forum threads devoted to speculation: ‘Lord Albert riddled with STDs’ was one. ‘Lord Albert murdered hooker cover-up,’ was another. He followed the family tradition and became famed in the House of Lords for his strong conservative opinions.

A few years later he married into a neighbouring family, the Lindhurst-Smiths. Bramble stared at the picture of his wedding, amazed at the change in the man. Lord Albert was dressed in a suit, standing straight and looking like he’d never travelled farther than Pall Mall, let alone smoked weed with Jimi Hendrix. His wife was a sensible-looking young woman in virginal white.

“I wish he’d married that disco singer,” thought Bramble. “Think of the stunning children they’d have had!” She imagined a dazzling, uber cool William Harwicke who would take her to exciting clubs and introduce her to DJs and actors.

But she’d have to do make with what she had. Time to read up on her history and bump into William at some lecture or other...

It happened just like that. She heard of a lecture given for history students by an eminent historian who had also worked as an anthropologist. On the afternoon of the talk, she ambled into the lecture room, stopped inside the doorway and looked casually around until she spotted William seated near the back. He was sitting in the middle of a row of seats and she perched on the last seat of his row, looking down at her books with a studious look. As the room filled up, other students asked her to move down and she ended up sitting next to William, as planned. He shifted around to make space for her.

“Sorry, I hope you don’t mind,” she said. “This lecture seems very popular. I’m not surprised – professor Ferreira is amazing.”

William stared at her with round eyes. Was he really gulping? Did men still gulp nowadays?

“I see you’ve got his latest book,” she went on, glancing at his desk. “I still prefer the first one he wrote.”

William’s jaw dropped. He still seemed incapable of proper speech.

“The one about the Incas. Are you studying history then?”

That was a question he seemed to understand. At any rate, a small light of intelligence lit at the back of his eyes.

“Uh, yes. Second year.” He scratched his head. “No idea who this professor is. My tutor said I should come. Hope it’s not too boring. Had a bit of a party last night.” He gave a strange grunting laugh.

Okay, Bramble thought, he’s that type of a student. She shrugged of the demure intellectual act.

“Partying mid-week? Wow, you’re hard-core!”

He leaned forward.

“Yeah, well you have to have fun, that’s what being a student is all about! We were at the Horse and Radish, then back to mine.”

So he was one of the square crowd who hung around at the Horse and Radish, behaving like medical students. Not her scene – it explained why she’d never come across him before. She smiled up at him with admiring eyes.

“I wish I was as wild as that, but I want to make sure I pass my exams. You’re lucky that you can do both.”

She caught his gratified smile before a voice boomed and silenced the chattering students; professor Ferreira had arrived.

They went for a drink after the lecture and she found that the way to his heart was to be as un-threatening as possible. Soon they were constantly together. She once glimpsed the two girls, curly-hair and jutty-chin, nudging each other as the couple approached. She could just imagine their comments. “What is he doing with her? Who is she anyway? The father will be so disappointed...”

The father was disappointed. The good thing was that his blatant rudeness was at least direct. The mother...Now the mother, that had been another story. Bramble had never been aware before that you could be rude to someone without once raising your voice. That you could insult someone just by asking in a mild voice, with a certain look, where the Novak family grounds were, and what was the origin of ‘Bramble’ as a first name. One evening, the mother organised an impromptu lobster supper, suspecting rightly that Bramble would struggle with cracking open the shells. She asked Bramble in a sugary voice whether she needed help, and suggested that William help ‘that poor girl’ with her lobster. Bramble flushed as she observed two guests, young women called Poppy and Tara, exchange smirks. The mother was a pain in the arse from start to finish. She’d apparently given Bramble a nickname, ‘Novak from Nowhere.’

Chapter 4 – A Transformation

Bramble stared at the pictures on the table in front of her, her thoughts intent. She moved the photos around with the tip of her finger. Lance had given her tons of material relating to world of squatters and travellers. So these were the girls who hung around with squatters... She looked at the tattooed arms, the pierced brows and noses, the hair that was either shaved, cut in a punk hairstyle, or dreadlocked. There were no two ways about it – to become a credible squatter, she would have to alter her appearance in drastic ways. It was not a disguise you could slip on and off. Lustrous locks had to be butchered, skin nearly mutilated, body painted. She would have to drop out of her life entirely, could no longer pop into the Savoy for a tea, to Claridges for a drink. She considered calling it off. There were thousands of millionaires in London and she didn’t have to settle for this one, after all.

But her schemer’s mind balked at throwing away this precious piece of inside knowledge. Here was one heir, a ticket to a golden life, who had no other mercenary blondes after him. She thought of the hard work needed at Boujis and at the Ivy to seduce a tycoon. You had to be constantly on your toes, and there were a lot of beautiful East Europeans out there. Now that she was out of university, she had lost the glow of disinterest (“Oh, we’re just students hanging out together”). The hunt was more ruthless, it was nearly obvious prostitution, really, and she didn’t have all the necessary skills yet.

She’d blundered badly the other evening at a private view at the Serpentine, speaking to that Kazakh gas baron. She’d contradicted him when he said Tracey Emin pickled dead animals, and he had cut the conversation short, just turned his back on her and left her standing there. All that after she’d been charming for a good half an hour, smiling enchantingly at his anecdotes. He’d been snapped up by a dark-haired Amazon who looked like she knew that you never contradicted gas barons.

Bramble was used to idealistic students who got turned on by an opinionated woman. She had a lot to learn, and she balked a little at having to pander to ignorant men – for the first time, she’d felt a little cheap, not the glamorous sophisticated woman she wanted to be. But hey, Dame Lilian must have started just like her, all claws out, hanging out as a young woman with the crème de la crème. And look at her now. The penthouse in Regents Park, the diamonds, that dress, that sumptuous dazzling thing of a dress that had outshone everyone at the ball.

She leafed through Lance’s ethnography of squats in London and Berlin. “As in a traditional environment, women do cook, although this task is shared, often equally, with the men. A mastery of cooking sophisticated vegan dishes will be looked upon extremely favourably. In that, their role is harder than that of a traditional housewife as making something tasty out of the vegetables that the men have scavenged from the market leftovers requires inventiveness and imagination. Vegans spend more time cooking and making sure that they get the right amount of protein. Squat restaurants are very popular...”

Then on another page: “In this environment, women here are prized for their courage, as opposed to mainstream society in which a woman’s courage hardly ever has a chance to emerge..”

Bramble read on, frowning. “Male squatters like their women to be able to keep up with them, be in when jumping into moving freight trains, taking part in demonstrations in favour of animals or the environment, or being in the midst of clashes with the police. This is reflected in the bodies and appearance of the female squatters. A very feminine appearance is derided as collaborating with mainstream ideas. Hair can be dirty or shaven, arms tattooed. Women will purposefully sit with their legs apart, like a man, and stand well planted on both feet, looking people straight in the eye. One female explained to me that traditionally, women have been brought up to take as little space as possible, while men make full use of the space around them, spreading to take up as much of it as possible...”

Bramble chuckled. Now if she’d looked the gas baron in the eye, standing like a lorry driver, he might have died from the shock. At first glance, it seemed impossible for her to turn herself into the type of women she had just read about. She was so polished, so feminine. She had refined everything about herself, buffed it, made it shiny and sparkling. It was odd, when you thought of it. She could have done just the opposite, letting herself go, and ended up being the arm candy for some dirty smelly punk. In fact it would take far less upkeep, once the basics had been laid out. The basics. She would work on these. Her hair would have to go first. It made her sick, she didn’t want to part with the glossy sheets of clear blonde hair that were her trademark look...

Well if someone was going to butcher her hair, it had better be Dimitri. She dialled the Mayfair salon.

“Hello, Bramble Novak here. I’d like to make an appointment with Dimitri. When?” She hesitated, glancing at herself in the mirror. Then her eyes hardened. “As soon as possible, please.”

The streets of Mayfair were aglitter with sunlight, a week later, when Bramble made her way to her favourite salon. She’d walked through sober Savile Row, enjoying the manly luxury of all these discreet traditional tailors where proper men had their suits made to measure. Very soon, an unwitting Julien Bourdon would join their ranks, she was sure of it. She would cure him of this activist nonsense...

She was taking the long way round. She realised that she was dreading the hairdressing appointment. But she couldn’t delay it much longer – Dimitri did not tolerate lateness. She’d already had a final breakfast at the Connaught with her dwindling funds; her goodbye to Mayfair, the place she loved most in the world. With her hair in dreadlocks she’s be persona non grata in this part of town.

Dimitri was horrified at her request.

“Dreadlocks? Are you crazy? What the hell is going on?”

“Listen, I need to change my look for six months. I’m looking for a style that will cause the least disruption to my hair, so I thought that dreads would be the best choice.” She smoothed her hair, catching sight of Dimitri’s set face in the mirror. “I mean, it’s that or get most of my hair shaved off. Not much choice, you know?”

“OK, so first of all, are you aware that dreadlocks will totally ruin your hair as it is now? This hair we have been working on for months will be tied into little knots or whatever and to get rid of it you’ll have to cut it all off.”

Bramble swallowed.

“I have to, Dimitri. There’s no other way. I’ll just have to have extensions when I get rid of the dreadlocks.” She smiled “I’ll be able to afford it then, anyway. Let’s go for it!”

“It’s not my specialty. I’ll have to ask Mario to do you today. He does Lady Gaga and them types of people. He’ll sort you out.”

Dimitri vanished with one last peeved glance. He was replaced by a stunning dark haired man with a ring in his nose. He assessed her with a cool glance.

“I’m Mario. Dimitri said you wanted dreadlocks?” He sounded disbelieving.

Bramble cleared her throat.

“Hi Mario, I’m Bramble. Yes, I’d like dreadlocks, but not too shabby looking. I want to still look like a natural blonde so I’d like to be able to come in at regular intervals for root touch ups.” She glanced at him and saw that he was listening, his eyes half closed. “The look I want is casual, like I never do anything to my hair, but to still look as good as possible. D’you think that’s something you can do?”

Mario whistled lightly.

“I can do everything. Let’s get started.”

She immersed herself in Vogue while he did things to her hair that felt alien and unnatural. Lots of pulling and jerking. She didn’t feel pampered at all. These bloody activists were nuts! Luckily she had decided that tattoos were not necessary. But she would still need a nose piercing to look like the real thing.

She did a mental ticking of what still needed doing. She had cleared out her flat and asked her friend Carol to store her possessions. She’d met Carol at uni, where the older woman was taking a degree as a mature student. She worked with young offenders and had two children in a house off the Harrow Road. Bramble had got on well with her from the start. She told Carol she would be doing fieldwork and may need a cheap room to stay in from time to time.

“You can use my spare room, my last lodger has left! Sure it’s only tiny but if all you need is a base...”

As soon as her hair was done, she would be able to activate her plan. She had found out where Julien most likely lived and Lance had told her of an anarchist bookshop where squatters congregated.

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