One man dying of cancer. One struggling journalist. A group of single Londoners. One night that changes everything.
This is where journalist Harriet's story starts. She's got a commission for a series of features on 'The Seven Ages of Dating', and it all looks quite promising when she first goes to the Jacaranda Bar to write about speed-dating. Like the rest of Marylebone, it's an aspirational kind of place.
It is high summer in London and trouble is brewing. Chef Dan should be blissfully happy. He has the woman of his dreams and a job in a trendy Hampstead bistro. But his over-anxious partner, engrossed in their baby, has no time for him. Stressed doctor Geoff finds solace in the arms of a mercurial actress. Journalist Harriet’s long-term relationship with Sanjay hits the buffers, leaving each of them with serious questions to answer. Meanwhile single mother of four Karen lacks the appetite for a suitable relationship. Passion and panic rise in the heatwave. Who can spot the danger signs?
Parents-to-be often have unrealistic expectations. Babies and toddlers (not to mention children of all ages) can be awkward as well as needy. At 40, Laure is a new mother trying to understand young Jack, while her partner Dan just feels left out.
GP Geoff has a lot of worries, including his medical practice, and his estranged six-year old son, but right now he's concerned about when to take his Viagra, and how many tablets he might need for his first encounter with the lovely Daisy.
This is usually credited to women, but perhaps the sexes aren't that different. Charity worker Sanjay is at a crossroads in his life. He finds his cat Shelley a lot easier to fathom than the women around him, a cast of characters that includes his girlfriend Harriet as well as his mother and his sister.
Harriet thought she'd been invited to stop by Dan's restaurant. "Any time," he had said. But, when she made the effort to show up, at a moment when she thought it wouldn't be too busy, he had no time for her. Being misled was becoming a regular thing for Harriet.
Newly broken-hearted Harriet heads out to Hampstead Heath for some fresh air. At least it's better than sitting in her tiny flat where she and Sanjay had THAT conversation. But, everywhere she looks, there are loved-up couples and other reminders of what she's just lost.
Geoff studied medicine because he wanted to make a difference, but today his patients' litany of symptoms are in stark contrast to the actual saving of lives. I think every medic has had such moments. I know I have.
Work is not going smoothly for journalist Harriet. In fact, it's hardly going at all. Here she is pitching another idea to a commissioning editor who's not on the same wavelength. And Harriet's rent demand is looming.
Dan has something to hide. But now, at this party he's organised (and beginning to regret) he can't trust someone to keep quiet. He's going to concentrate on serving great food, mingling with the guests, and holding his breath...
In this excerpt, journalist Harriet does a good deed for Nora, the elderly woman in the flat downstairs. To begin with, Harriet's not sure how much she wants to get involved, but in the end she gets more out of it than she imagined. I wrote this passage because I know a lot of old people like Nora. They can be demanding, but they sometimes share their wisdom when you least expect it.
Chef Dan visits allotments in NW London to source some baby carrots for the restaurant. There he finds all the usual things you see on allotments: sheds, compost heaps, corrugated iron, rows of vegetables, and various scarecrows. That day he learns a lot about vegetables and about people.
Laure is now a stay-at-home mum looking after her one-year old. Jack causes Laure a lot of anxiety every time he stumbles and falls. Like many first-time mothers, she feels unsupported, and her partner usually comes home from work after the drama is over, just in time to play with Jack.
It's great to be civilised and open-minded, but not so easy to meet with your partner's ex, even on your own territory, and even when life has been good to you. Here Dan is preparing dinner for a small group of people, including Sanjay, his partner's ex. Just before everyone starts arriving, Dan knows it will lead to trouble. He isn't sure quite what kind.
There's a lot of stuff that Harriet and her boyfriend Sanjay haven't talked through. Now they've argued again, and Harriet has stomped out of the flat. They'll make it up in the end. They always do, but each time it's like another chip in a favourite mug.
Sometimes booze leads to a lot of trouble. Sanjay tried to appear sophisticated at a dinner party. He ended up drinking too much and telling a beautiful woman about his medical history. While few people have been through everything that Sanjay has, I'm sure many readers will identify with his situation.
Karen is a newly-single mother of four children. In this excerpt, Karen struggles to provide a family meal that is affordable as well as acceptable to her eldest, Charlotte, who has become vegetarian. I well remember trying to feed my own family, a complicated business as they didn't all like the same foods. And that was before one my sons developed serious food allergies.
Family doctor Geoff is one of six characters whose lives intertwine in Hampstead Fever. He's pushing 40 and he's not poor in terms of money, but he's short of time and job satisfaction, which I can relate to. Geoff is also a single dad trying to reconnect with his young son. From talking to a lot of people, I realize this is a common problem. Occasionally kids get taken halfway round the world by the other parent, as Geoff's son Davey was. More often, the rift is due to custody and access disagreements, which are just as damaging.
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