Terry is turning 43, but he doesn’t feel very much like a grown up. Most of the time even when he’s at work, even when he’s in a suit and tie, for heaven’s sake, he feels a bit like a gormless teenager. Naive and awkward. Goofy even. Terry’s wife Anna wears a suit to work too, but she is spookily efficient and seriously mature. Terry imagines what it would be like if they weren’t married. What it would be like working with her. He imagines her saving her secure files to come out of her office for his birthday cake and ten dutiful minutes of workplace bonding with the team. She’d have a thin slice and a cup of tea and she’d wish him many happy returns while assessing Terry’s haircut and shoes and thinking up clever questions for his performance review. Thank God we are just married he thinks, but the doubt has begun. Terry longs for Casual Friday and his oxblood red sneakers and doesn’t realise that the rot’s setting in, the way it does, the way it will.

Ash sits at a table in the beer garden of a pub called The Twa Corbies. He’s not bought a thing from them, not even a half, and so he sits there in the warm wind, with his paperback and takeaway hot chips, feeling pleasantly wicked. It’s two o’clock or so. Ash is watching two surfers head down the ramp into the water. The tide is going out, he thinks, as the two heroes of his novel are plunged into danger. Two seagulls are eyeing off his chips. The surfers are pointing at two other surfers who are already riding two small waves. A couple of Ash’s chips have fallen on the grass by his two feet, and the two seagulls swoop over to capture them. It’s all too much for Ash, the weight of all these signs and portents. He dashes into the pub where he buys two pints to see him through the rest of his paperback and maybe into the next one, because he never travels without two books.

This is what Robert was like. He bit his fingernails and drank too much coffee. He spent way too much time reading cycling magazines and not actually cycling. He secretly believed that Game of Thrones was the best book he had ever read and he knew that to say so out loud was asking for trouble. He enjoyed looking at his girlfriend’s girlfriend, and he hated how he often thought his father was, well, a fool really, when you take into account the feeble grasp of the real estate market and his Dad’s affectation of joining something described as the Country Club but which was located in the northern suburbs 20 minutes from the CBD on the train. Robert wore very hip stovepipe jeans, but felt it was really quite likely that he was just a dork who thought that wearing stovepipe jeans would give him street cred. It was a minefield. The things Robert hated about himself were mounting up. He was knackered noticing everything that’s wrong with him. So he grabbed his copy of A Clash of Kings and headed out for a double espresso.