The road to Porthleven
Old George wanted to make his mark. But he was running out of time, at least he thought he was. He had just turned sixty-four and the precipice of retirement was only a year away. George James Junior was staring down the barrel of this milestone with nothing but dread.
It wasn’t that he didn’t live a comfortable, privileged life. George came from a long line of achievers. His father now sat in the House of Lords after a lifetime in law and politics. Old George had wanted for nothing all his life and had been afforded the sort of opportunities and open doors that few could only dream of.
But you couldn’t tell Old George that. If you suggested he was a lucky man, he would be quick to tell you he’d had to work hard for everything he had. But in the deepest darkest recesses of his mind, body and soul, he knew he hadn’t taken advantage of all that privilege.
He was a relative failure. He was of course one of the wealthiest people on the planet, but in the world that Old George occupied he was anything but a success. Instead, he was the butt of a joke. And to those he held nearest and dearest, he was something of an embarrassment.
George had the best education that money can buy at Eton College and Oxford University. During his university days he was a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club, the members-only drinking society that existed exclusively for the wealthiest men at Oxford. Old George was a part of the class of ’87 that included such Bullingdon luminaries as David Cameron and Boris Johnson.
The class of ’87 was once immortalised in a tuxedo-clad photo out on the steps of Brasenose College. You can see Old George in that photo to this very day, staring out with optimism and arrogance in equal measure.
He loved his time at Oxford. He had his whole life ahead of him. But the reality was that life never got much better for George. While all of his friends seemed to go on to bigger and better things, George only ever got so far. So while others went on to run the country, and many were now CEO’s of major corporations, Old George felt like he was still out on the shop floor.
This had always bothered him. He’d never been quite able to let go of it. And two of his old Bullingdon chums were a constant reminder of just what might have been for Old George.
The most high profile of which was the countries current Prime Minister, Charles Beaumont. Charles was four years into his Premiership and counting. Having to constantly see Charles on television screens and in newspapers made George’s life failings feel inescapable. And despite each and every balls up, cover up and stitch up that arose for the Prime Minister, Charles never seemed to take the fall. He always survived. It was classic Charles, George thought. He never lost, and never would.
The other Bullingdon thorn in his side was his boss, the CEO of Enrich Pharmaceutical, Sir Anthony Heath. George had worked there for over twenty years. His official job title was Chief Liaison to the Government; but in reality, he was just a buffer that everyone and everything could do without. A bus boy taking the latest in medical innovation to the Government for consideration. A bit like a carpet salesman turning up on your doorstep with a book full of swatches.
Outwardly Old George liked to pitch this role as one of crucial importance. He had the ear of the Government, he’d say. Only he could get the latest in medical innovation through Government and out into the marketplace. He was the catalyst that made his company rich and the masses healthy, he would tell anyone who would listen.
But inwardly he loathed his job. And a big reason why was his boss who served as a constant reminder of his own short comings in life. Having to answer to this old university friend was a bitter pill to swallow. And it was made all the worse by the sheer enjoyment that Sir Anthony seemed to take from it.
He loved to humiliate George in meetings. In corridors. In pubs, restaurants and taxis. He’d humiliate him every chance he got. He’d make fun of him in much the same way they all did in their Bullingdon days; Old George was always good value. And the problem with working for an old friend in later life is that it’s often regressive; you can’t help but default back to the way you always were.
But it wasn’t just at work that Old George had failed. His thirty-nine-year marriage to Darcy had come to an abrupt end three years earlier. In truth they had been coasting lovelessly through life for most of the marriage. They were only twenty-five when they wed, as so often people of his generation did. Darcy had stayed at home and raised their two daughters Georgia and Dana in their private, wooded home gloriously hidden away in Virginia Water; a country escape on the outskirts of west London.
While Darcy made a home, Old George had been out working and enjoying all the freedoms and benefits that his work allowed. It was one such freedom that got Old George in trouble with Darcy. He’d had affairs though the years and had never been caught. He could be charming and oozed an authority to those more junior than himself. And as he moved up the ranks in his career, he had a knack for seducing the impressionable young women he got to work with.
As time and flings went by, he become laxer in how and when he did it. He had a couple of close calls but had never been caught. It made him feel invincible. A game he could play and never lose. When he finally lost it was down to technology, which had never been Old George’s friend.
He bought an iPad for the family home. He didn’t realise that its default setting was to sync with your iPhone, which is a great and useful function to have if it doesn’t house pictures of your head buried in a colleague’s tits. Tits a good twenty-five years younger than Old George’s.
Within a few days of having the iPad the damning, perky evidence popped right up in Darcy’s face. And as she scrolled back further, she found all sorts of other damning images. She had sensed on other occasions that George was up to no good and it was slowly eroding their marriage. But seeing it in the flesh was the final straw.
In a fit of rage, she posted the images over social media, disgracing her husband and her marriage for all to see. This was before she’d even had a chance to berate George in person. As the digital shaming took place, he was in a Westminster pub with colleagues.
His phone began to flood with calls and texts. Mainly from so-called friends who loved it when George got himself into just this type of unfortunate situation; Old George was always good value for a bit of inappropriateness. But even by his lofty standards, this was pure gold.
Because of the sheer volume of buzzes and beeps in such a short space of time, he knew something was wrong. So much so he dared not look at his phone for a good twenty minutes. It was only when a colleague suggested that he’d better take a look that he did.
A flush of heat swept through his body. He felt sick. He’d always rationalised his adultery as something that was simply a part of life. When you’re a man with relative power like him, women are attracted to you. Younger women who are infinitely more attractive than you are. It’s only natural to act on that impulse; it’s not hurting anybody. It was only in the moment of getting caught that the walls of this philosophy came crashing down around Old George.
When he returned home Darcy’s rage hadn’t abated and decade’s worth of resentment came flooding out of her. It was uncharacteristic and Old George was lost for words. The next day he moved out to a friend’s vacant flat in Kensington, a neighbourhood in which he’d been ever since.
When the full extent of his adultery came out, he hadn’t just lost his wife, he’d lost his eldest daughter too. Georgia still went through the motions of birthday and Christmas visits, but she didn’t spend any more time with her father than she had to. Old George had shattered all of her illusions about him. And she was revolted by the fact that the affairs were often with girls her own age.
His youngest daughter Dana was more forgiving. She often defended her father, much to the irritation of her mother and sister. Even though she was now well into her twenties, she still needed her father and didn’t want to lose him from her life, whatever his mistakes.
But the wrath of Darcy and the disappointment of his daughters paled into insignificance to Old George. It was his father’s shame that hit him hardest of all. George James Senior felt let down by his son. Let down in a way that only a man who names his son after himself can feel. He saw George’s short comings as a man reflect his own failures as a father.
Old George called his father The Captain. A nickname born out of his father’s love of sailing and the summer boat trips they used to take as a family. But also because The Captain is, and would always be, the pinnacle at which to aim for in Old George’s life.
As far as The Captain was concerned, it was his son’s duty to surpass him. To push the James family legacy forward to new heights, surpassing even himself. But Old George had fallen way short of this lofty expectation. George had wanted to succeed, but just hadn’t put the hard yards in to do so. Along the way The Captain had tried different tactics to jolt his only son into action; fear, aggression, cruelty and even on the odd occasion, an arm around the shoulder.
But nothing seemed to work. As The Captain saw it this was the danger of being born into privilege; you didn’t really have to do anything to get everything. It had been a long time since The Captain had tried to prod his son into life to fulfil his duty, and he’d now given up. Old George was sixty-four years old after all. If he hadn’t got his act together by now, he never would, The Captain thought.
And that’s what hurt George the most. He knew his father had given up on him. There was now an irreparable void between the two of them. The Captain was vacant; an eighty-six-year-old empty vessel. Which for Old George was worse than experiencing the wrath he used to get from his father. Anger and cruelty were infinitely better than nothing.
And so, this was George’s life. And it had been this way for years now. Doing a job he hated for old friends he’d now come to despise. Disowned in disgrace by most of his own family.
But with his own mortality, and more importantly to George, his legacy, now coming into sharp focus he had decided it was time to do something about it. Something that would make all the disappointment evaporate. Something that would make them all see him differently.
The first step in doing so was a drive down to Porthleven in Cornwall. A small and beautiful pocket of a town not too far from Land’s End. He needed to make the long haul down there from Kensington in order to convince an old work colleague to help him. Old George’s big idea would live or die by Nicholas Ward’s involvement. And Nicholas would take some serious convincing; particularly if the words were being uttered from the mouth of Old George.
It was 6am on a bright and warm summer Friday and George awoke excitedly at the thought of driving down to Cornwall. It was a drive he had taken many a time before.
Firstly, as a passenger in the back of his father’s car for long summer weeks along the Cornish coastline. Happy times spent on beaches and in boats with his parents, aunties, uncles and cousins. And then in later life he had taken his own family down there to their summer home in St Ives. A home which he now rarely got to frequent; another cost to bear for his adultery.
Before leaving Kensington for the coast George took his new best friend Winston, a chocolate Labrador puppy, for his daily walk around Hyde Park. Winston was only 4 months old and as such could not be trusted off the lead in Hyde Park just yet; too much could and often did go wrong when that happened in the early days of his puppy training.
He’d always had dogs and walking out of the family home without his Labs was tough for Old George. It was great to have a dog in his life again, he thought. Most weekends George and Winston could be found wondering around Hyde Park before ending in their local pub, the Tattersalls Tavern.
Here Winston would snooze at Georges feet, with a half an eye open for any treats coming his way, while Old George sunk a few pints watching whatever live sport was on offer. It didn’t really matter what was on; rugby, football, cricket, golf. It was all ambience that made sitting in the pub alone acceptable. Not that he was ever alone in the Tavern; all pubs have their regulars, and the Tattersalls was no different; the booze hounds were always around, and Old George was one of them.
But this particular dog walk wouldn’t end in the pub today. For one it wasn’t even 7am yet. Although George craved a pint after a dog walk whatever the hour. Today he was hitting the road and wanted to get down to Porthleven as soon as he could. The dog walk itself was a little shorter than usual. Just long enough for Winston to mark his way around Hyde Park and tire himself out enough for the long ride ahead of them.
As the two best buds strolled around Hyde Park, George excitedly ran through his pitch to Nicholas one more time. He knew just what to say to him. He knew that despite their many differences they ultimately wanted the same thing. And that through a mix of Nicholas’ genius and George’s contacts they would be able to achieve everything they had ever dreamed of together.
The idea as George saw it was simple; they were going to make Britain great again.
It had been eight years since Covid-19 had caused chaos around the world. And the planet had never really recovered. The virus adapted into other forms and strains. And other, new corona viruses had also sprung up. The latest being Covin-27, which had spread with similar pace a year earlier, if with a less damaging effect due to our newfound ability to just about function in a virus-ridden world.
We had all come to adapt to living a life with air-borne viruses. As we chased our tail for the latest vaccine to suppress any given strain, we had all gotten used to the prevention measures. Measures that were now a staple part of our everyday life.
Bars and restaurants were rarely allowed to run at more than fifty per cent capacity, and trains and buses at markedly less so. City centres around the world were a shade of their former selves; far emptier than ever before with less amenities open as the majority of the countries workforce now worked from home. Face masks were commonplace in most situations. It was like the entire country, the planet in fact, had powered down and couldn’t find a way to get itself back on its feet again.
The only upside of this was the effect on our environment. Co2 emissions had been significantly reduced over the last eight years. 2019 was a distant memory when there seemed to be no way out of the climate change emergency. The global pandemic of 2020 had put the brakes on the indestructible juggernaut that was human progress.
The downsides were sizeable, however. Mass unemployment existed in every country, and with it came civil unrest. Regardless of ideology, societies all over the world were suffering. In the United Kingdom unemployment was running at twenty-five per cent with the northern and rural regions of the union fairing worst of all.
But the big cities suffered too. Nowhere was impervious to mass unemployment. And this wasn’t just a United Kingdom problem; the world had changed forever.
But Old George had an idea to change things for the better. Well, it wasn’t his idea, it was an idea from the mind of Nicholas Ward. An idea that he knew could only become reality if they pulled together to make it happen. An idea that never saw the light of day when it was originally floated eight years ago at Enrich Pharmaceutical. But one that Old George felt convinced would now be considered as a possible solution to the country’s woes.
George packed up his car. He was only planning on staying down in Porthleven a couple of nights. He’d made a booking at one of the towns bed and breakfasts. He hadn’t asked Nicholas if he could stay at his home; they were never that close. He wouldn’t even call him a friend. And he knew that Nicholas would have just made up an awkward excuse as to why he couldn’t stay. He was just happy that Nicholas had agreed to meet him; he didn’t want to push things any further.
So with a light bag packed and Winston loaded into the boot cage of his Land Rover Defender, the most unnecessary of cars required for a single man’s life in Kensington, Old George headed out of west London with the sun shining brightly behind him, abound for Cornwall’s south coast.