Saturday, 29 December 2012

Salt Peter

They called him “Salt Peter” because it had been his job to salt and so preserve the herring. He'd worked at the fish market up until it had closed a few years ago, he'd become a character there, not a popular one either. Salt Peter always had been a loner, his past was shady and once he'd settled in the town from wherever he came, he made few friends, he just salted fish and scared small children and stray cats and dogs. A short, thick set man, balding and hunched up he avoided conversation and socialising. He just cut and salted the fish and then packed them in tight in the oak barrels for shipment. His constant exposure to fish and salt had whitened and roughed up his skin, it was a peculiar and condition, hardly easy on the eye. The salt had not just affected his hands and arms but also the skin on his face and head, he was almost salted himself with dried up tear ducts and skin like a lizard but the whites of his eyes seemed extra glutinous and luminous, the pupils more watery and any hair or eye brow that remained was ginger crusted like the toasted skin of a kipper. Peter was slowly salting himself into becoming the local bogey-man. A reputation he did not deserve by any behaviour or action but had gained simply by his deteriorating look and chosen profession.

“The most important of all movements are your bowel movements,” said Mrs Macsween. She was taking in an automatic stream of consciousness way to Peter. Peter was concentrating on slitting the fish and rubbing salt. “If your bowel movements are irregular or difficult then you need treatment, you need freedom. It's all in the diet and of course the clothing. Your bowels need space and relaxation of operate and if you fail to allow them that then there can be dire consequences, almost too terrible to consider. The bowel is the key to good help in fact if you think about your system it's all like a long hollow tube running through you with the bowel there, at the very end finally doing all that last minute processing to keep you going. That's why it pays to be regular and that's, as I say, down to good diet and relaxation. Are you getting this Peter?” Mrs Macsween was a widow. Her late husband had expired in a domestic episode when crushed under the cast iron end of a Victorian bed frame, it had been a tragic accident that sent shockwaves across the cobbles and through the small town. The drunken funeral took place on a grey December day, the stormiest one anybody could remember. Since that day she had formed a tempestuous on and off relationship with the slow witted but compliant Peter. The local gossips had a bean feast.

Peter looked down at his fish and continued working. “I pride myself on my strenuous and robust regime,” continued Mrs Macsween, “It's a combination of planning and discipline and that’s key to keeping a balance, a regular balance and don't be afraid to check yourself, don't ignore the details, you need to be aware of what is right and normal in your body, how it operates, look out for signs and of course regularity and constituency are a large part of that. I'm not going to talk about smell because that is quite unseemly but it's still worth considering, it's a factor. You need to take all the factors into account. That's important, know the normal and keep the rhythm, times and things. You know you should follow my advice, a man your age, there are health problems that you're storing up and your posture wont be helping”. Peter grunted and looked away. Mrs Macsween was talking automatically, like a expert at a symposium, lecturing and describing, oblivious to the audience, their response, their interest. She ploughed on through with her topic – taking the right kind of care of the bowels. “Anyway”, she was almost finished now, “ it'll soon be time for lunch, where will you be taking be?” I'm not sure if Peter quite knew what he was doing but he quickly drew out his knife and sliced into Mrs Macsween like she was a wriggling fish. Then he applied the salt, then he put her into a barrel and shipped her along with another prepared consignment. I don't quite know where her final destination was and as for Peter...well nobody ever knew. All they found was a small white pile of Potassium Nitrate on the preserving room floor.


Her hand was deep in the inside of the handbag, the cold silk lining caressing her wrist on the way down but she hardly noticed that. She was touching that single pearl earring, rubbing it between her thumb and forefinger. The hard shining pearl, there in the dark innards of her bag, hidden, known only by her. It was a faintly erotic and compulsive act that, as the rhythm grew, she could not stop. It fed some hunger and she did not want to stop. there was this clockwork, inner compulsion, a deal she had made with herself to carry on, to continue. She looked out there, across the street, out into space, away from her immediate surroundings whilst deep inside that bag she still rubbed on that pearl. Over and over and warmer and warmer the finger tip heat grew though the pearl stubbornly stayed as cold as it could, as if the bag was some icy deep freeze impervious to her touch. She liked that thought and held onto it as the pearl kept on rolling between her fingers. Like a mantra for the sense of touch. The strange inner warmth and peaceful assurance that comes with the comfort of repetition, the comfort of repetition, hypnotic, like a pearl, rolling between the fingers.

You can say what you like about sex, it's always on the human or animal mind in the same way that god is. Sex is a silly, simple little word for a complex world of feelings and circumstances, always on the loose, tasty sweet and sour, stewing up nasty little storms, brewing up clouds and imagined outcomes. Set and unset situations, holding tight and letting go. Functions and looks and far away strangers, awkward and untouchable, rolling it all between the fingers, rolling it and never quite letting it go. She was thinking how in the city everyday she could rub against too many to find that sense of sex but she had found that now and it was all too big. It had to be reduced and distilled down to something much smaller and easier to handle. Tight and private, like the pearl in the handbag, a very personal pleasure, a very private moment, a point of focus stretched to the limit and then enhanced by the applied constant comfort in the repetition of that touch.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

On the Silk Roadway

So this is pretty much as it was told to me: “It seemed like a pretty stupid idea but he felt compelled to carry it out. It was a growing, throbbing kind of obsession. A feeling that he needed to capture, hold, sustain. Even if it was only a temporary fix it would be better than doing nothing. That was the thought and he was driven now to carry it out. He was uncomfortable in the shop, that in itself was ironic considering that it was a distinct discomfort that he wished upon himself. He braced himself and awkwardly wandered into the lingerie department and there was confronted by a baffling selection of ladies tummy and hips control pants. The sizes were of course a foreign language as were the shapes. He stared and tried to aid eye contact with the other shoppers, all of whom were obviously female. He took a silent deep breath, selected three odd sized pairs, all in black and headed to the check out. Of course nobody really took any notice of him or his choices of garment. Each female shopper remaining indifferent and detached in their own personal bubble. The girl at the check out hardly said anything but as he handed over the cash his heart was pumping and his palms and forehead sweating with unfamiliar and almost painful embarrassment. He relaxed visibly as the pants were stuffed into a green bag and effectively disguised as ordinary and insignificant shopping, as if anybody cared. Soon he would be home.

So what was the point? Why tight pants? Why the obsession? Harry had asked himself those questions many times and there never was a proper or sensible answer. That block of feeling couldn't be shifted, that notion of not quite right, that horrible sweated out heat and pressure, the gnawing and unfathomable need, one that stood against all that's normal or acceptable. The notion of being cursed. Harry wanted to be castrated and that was a pretty tough little fact to share. Right now he couldn't figure how that might happen but he just wanted to feel how it might feel. That was why he was wearing the too tight control pants right now (one pair had done the trick). They were tightly compressing his parts right now and though it was not the real thing it felt like...progress towards that imagined, elusive and unknowable state. He thought of himself as gelding, a horse, cut to become more manageable, more compliant, a better kind of horse all round. That was a part of it but Harry couldn't really get to the core of what he wanted or needed other than that he desperately had to have that big cut done.

Here in Doncaster his ideas were safely buried in the most private of places, his own churning head. Maybe in California or Thailand it would've been different, there might have been contacts , expressions, outlets, help lines and darkened rooms where there was discussion. Here he was a plain call centre worker, a voice and keyboard click, insurance advice and sales. On and off he switched himself but then in the spare, hungry moments the obsession arose again and again until it seemed like the only thing that mattered. It seemed that until he'd been done, cut and mutilated he'd feel incomplete, if that made any kind of sense. Like a man who wanted to lose an arm or a leg or an ear, surgically removed or pickled or buried at the bottom of the sea. How can a physically complete man man feel incomplete until he is physically incomplete? That paradox haunted him, troubled and tortured him and drove him. The tight pants produced a feeling, a temporary fix, a stop but there was no resolution here. Something else had to happen. Something that was real.

So Harry kept himself lost himself in daydreams and fantasy, he found cushions of comfort in here, worlds where boundaries had blurred and possibilities were stretched. There were days when it was all straight forward heterosexual sex that was there, calm and predominant, possible without the balls and the spray but all accepted just as a quirk. Mechanically smooth and easy, he imagined. Clean and free from care for both the partners. Harry did worry what any woman would really think, how would she react? Turn on or turn off? There were lots of tastes out there. He stepped across the deconstructed after sex small talk as if it was an alley covered in broken glass. It was a bizarre conversation that he'd design and savour. His justification, his longing, his past experience, the tough road that had turned him this way, it could perhaps be understood. There was maybe a tiny part of a female fascination to exploit, an acceptance, a desire to try and experiment, to feel out the freakish performance. It would be one time only and then never again, so he thought, and there was a strange comfort in that.

Some fantasies went too far; overcome and tied up by Amazons or the fanatical wives of Nazi officers, six foot six, dark hair and eyes, wielding knives and razors, handcuffs and silk scarves, determined to set the world straight on their twisted man hating terms. He was overcome, bound and knocked unconscious. They screamed themselves into a tribal, primitive and hateful frenzy. All shadows and shapes and dancing around. Then at the climax they ritually castrated him with their terrible razors and threw his balls out of the cabin window where they were devoured by hungry Alsation dogs. That played in his head in a endless loop somedays, oddly Technicolored but bloodless and painless. He sensed his own eyes spinning in his head as those images trolled on past. Like a woozy alcoholic nightmare played out in slow motion that turned back on itself in a loop of replay and time slip. Those Amazon's had their revenge time and time again, on the top of a bus, at the call centre desk, in queues and lines and checkouts, in a quiet bar and in the darkest nights. Hot and dirty and played out to the last reel but never truly consummated. It was a life, a kind of life and maybe, most of the time no kind of life when a slow uncontrollable torture runs on and on in the background all the time.

Harry grimaced, pressed himself to try to catch the version of normal that he'd chosen for himself. His daily rituals and compressed body parts mirroring his compressed aspirations. He took to the internet, drew in garbage, digested it, the faux researching was skimmed but kept disconnected. There were others out there, crazy groupings, cults and madmen. It was impossible to fathom it and Harry didn't trust anybody with his secret. It was all to too crowded here in his head, too precious and personal, too painful. Then there were the rare days of denial and forgetfulness. The castration passed away like some grey cloud, his head cleared and he functioned, for moments there were blue skies and pedestrian thoughts. Sports or politics, colours and food and pretty women. These days were few and fewer and Harry sensed a precipice edge before him. Here he was again, sucked into the narrow neck at the middle of the egg timer and then swamped and overcome and ready to fall. He looked at the phone, he pondered mental health help lines, doctor appointments, opening up to a stranger. Not possible, too costly was all he could think.

He browsed knifes and surgical implements on line, he looked at the procedures, medical reasonings, illness and injury, it was all stretched pink flesh and gory detail. That would all pass however as he journeyed through that pain and some sense of pleasant grief (he imagined) until he was set right into his own personal, ideal perfection. Existing in the secret shadow as the conflicted yet vigorous rare human gelding. For somebody special he would form up to be that desirable curiosity and unique experience. He contrived more disguised and improbable solutions and he began to build yet another more dangerous dream. He cloaked himself in ideas and drew up the details, like planning a gym or diet regime that built a perfect body. A one off, shit or bust opportunity. All the risk was his but the outcome could give him his desire. In fiction and in the red tops there always was a willing German surgeon or scientist somewhere who would rescue the tortured soul. He wondered if maybe somebody, somewhere had built a machine...

It was about a year after the pants purchasing outing when the headline and newspaper story caught Harry's eye. “Mystery man found dead on the street was a Mozambique refugee who had fallen from an aircraft landing at Heathrow.” He read the awful details and then noticed, down below that in a black and white tab box his eye was led to another. “Ex-Soviet scientists fix pervs with 'snap you later' ball burster technique”. The article told how a Russian scientist now residing in Switzerland was selling a tiny, self contained castration device to “clients” in the Far East. This one-time use machine, no bigger than a two cigarette packs apparently snapped on and then snapped off and simultaneously stapled, cauterized and sanitized the wound. You then disposed of the whole thing. It was soon to be available for sale on line for use in wider veterinary applications, mainly goats and dogs.

Harry filled in the application form very carefully, the delivery address and the price, 55 Euros plus delivery. Of course he'd lied about most of his credentials and was pretending to be a goat breeder curious to try the device. He clicked the order button and off it went. A week later the carton arrived complete with French, German and Flemish instructions only – no English for some reason. Harry's fingers trembled as he handled the small shiny surgical device. There was the red switch, two settings, a battery compartment (three AAAs) and most tantalisingly of all the opening. It was still all innocent enough looking, no obvious blades or teeth or sharp edges, just an aperture about the size of a cigarette pack and that red switch. Nervously Harry tried to read the instructions. He studied the diagrams and he explored the details and a film clip on their web site. It all seemed straightforward enough.”

Truly I don't quite know what happened next. I was told that Harry did try to use the device and whatever the out come lived to tell the tale...but simply chose not to tell. It just might be that when he got to the point, all systems go, ready to get that (?) thing, achieve that seemingly unattainable state, press the red button, something else kicked in, some other instinct. I don't know for sure. I do know that Harry quit his job at the call centre and headed east, back packing towards the Silk Road searching for a Buddhist teacher, or so some said. An odd thing for a guy his age to do but then again he was pretty odd anyway.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Confused by God

Today there were many things I didn't do. I could try to list them and examine the reasons why, in these areas I failed to...well do anything. Missed opportunities, some with good reasons, others down to laziness, forgetfulness, willfulness maybe. So those things were not done and now they are now there in an imaginary pile, somewhere close by. Of course that's only today's pile, there's also yesterday's pile and the day before and so on. There's a whole mountain of my undone things out there. Then there's your pile and yours. And God sees them all.

So, anyway one day God was out walking, looking around, checking on how things were going in the world. No big surprises, lots of fucked up things. As usual his chosen people, the Jews were whinging and playing up, the Christians and followers of Islam were quite prickly, various other cults and types too, but so were the Arabs, so were the European tribes, the Chinese, the Africans and Asians were also at it. The USA and South America were a confusing blur. It was all quite dispiriting. Then there were endless media and political debates and disagreements, business deals and trickery, downright criminality and here and there (and more prevalent than you might think) pure evil. God tended to get annoyed with the pure evil stuff. It operated and succeeded at all levels, from the school playgrounds to boardrooms to torture cells and in bedrooms and battlefields. There was a lot of it about.

The trouble was that God couldn't really get to grips with all this stuff. A long time ago he'd cut a deal and declared himself to be... well out of it. He'd agreed with himself (a very powerful thing to do) that he wouldn't interfere. He'd just observe from a distance and that observation would go on for a while until (and he couldn't quite remember all the details) a few significant events occurred and those, in the right order, would act as a trigger for him to go into action and wind things up. So every day he wondered around looking at all the major and petty wars, all the crimes and accidents, all the sparks and fires and then did sweet nothing about them.

At first he'd been indifferent, people fought and quarrelled but that was about it. They believed in magic and other things, they dabbled and did some bad things but it was all on a small enough scales not to make much of a difference. Time passed, he continued with his walks and every day, degree by degree, as history unfolded and people got”clever” it all just became close to intolerable.

“I'm just pissed with all of this,” said God. “The world is an unholy mess, everybody does stupid things, they don't learn from their mistakes and frankly all the religious types are the worst. What are those people thinking and why do they always have silly hats and ridiculous costumes and what's with all the singing and chanting and praying? Do they really think I get off on that and that I'm actually listening to all that drivel? Just because I can be everywhere that doesn’t mean I'm open to listen to every banal utterance, no matter how sincere and well meant it may be. Give me a break!”

So there I was thinking of my pile of ignored and outstanding things and how God might well regard it. A complete set of royally troublesome thoughts really and I'm still inadvertently bothering a beleaguered and confused God. Meanwhile God's still out there, walking and observing, occasionally counting up things, secretly wanting to swat the human flies that circle around him screaming for attention like drunken beggars and, with a patience that can only be described as divine or crazy still managing to ignore the clamour.

“Those people think I really love them, they think it's OK to do whatever, behave appallingly and that in some magnanimous way I'll just forgive them all and they'll go to heaven. I've no idea how that idea came about. They're all mortal, they're human beings, they're one up from apes, they're all going to croak sooner or later and then it's curtains but do they believe that? They've bought into a myth and fairy tale that says they'll live on in spirit someplace in the ether. Well I don't remember ever saying anything about that...or did I? I forget sometimes and they just never shut up.” God wheeled away from the clamour, hands behind his back and began to whistle some Mozart, he whistled and smiled. “That kid knew a thing or two, I'm actually quite proud of him but as usual it all went wrong for him. Nice tunes though.” He walked on and then stopped and thought a little, “I'm not really happy with the three score and ten, I think I'll do something about that...”

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Speaker

The speaker clenched his hands together and summed up, “...It's all the time. I feel like I should be doing something else, even when I first wake up I'm conscious of the fact (?) that I'm not optimising myself, not making the most of all of my energy. That sparks a crazy guilt, not squeezing enough out of the lemon, holding back, failing to multi task. It manifests itself in funny little ways; making coffee and a snack but supping the coffee and biting into the biscuit before sitting down (to read a book), worst case the biscuit is swallowed before I leave one room and get into another. It's like I've lost sight of everything and at the same time I can see everything and I'm deliberately trying to consume it, there on that spot. A simple target achieved is not enough, I question it's difficultly and it's validity. If there is spare time left then I've miscalculated something, not taken enough on board, not really tried. I don't want any of you to ever feel that same way.”

The speaker then stepped back from the microphone, got some distance between himself and the podium and open up his palms to the audience and slowly raised his arms. A ruffle of applause began and grew and built as his arms lifted. In the auditorium some folks were on their feet, some shouting now, flashes popped like silent machine guns, whistles blew off like stray grenades, more applause, more shouting. The speaker stepped a little further and began to turn away, ready to leave the stage. By now the audience were generating a huge sound that was reverberating around the hall. The evening appeared to have been a success.

The speaker gave a final wave and acknowledgement of the wall of praise and wheeled away to the left ready to depart the stage. In the flash of a strobe a single shot rang out, the sound cut across the din of the crowd as if a bullet had hit each individual, there was a stunned moment. People looked around and then gasped as they caught the big screen image and then translated that with the action of the stage. There was a whirl of blurting activity. People running and reacting, lights turning from stage lights to search lights, buzzing and gnawing into the confusion.

The speaker had been hit. A steady head shot. There was no miss or mistake, no time for reaction or recoil. The man fell where he had stood seconds before, falling like a felled tree and now spread across the stage floor. The big screen suddenly blanked as the security people began their reaction. The audience cried and surged forward. A stock message was broadcast but in the fountain of noise no one heard or reacted, limp and impotent advice that fell into a great chasm of enforced grim silence that was roaring in from the exits. A life was over, the night was over, some other dream was over.

The speaker lay where he fell. A crowd of officials were now around. Police and security personnel were swarming in the aisles, slowly building on their reactive template. The crowd were overcome by the first act were now coming to terms with the presence of a gunman in the theatre. A gunman who could be anywhere, anyone. There was a panic as they laid siege to the exits. The police tried to hold, aware of the haemorrhaging of witnesses, evidence and suspects but it was all happening too fast. And there may be more shooting. The commander quickly chose to evacuate and they threw the doors wide, each body tense against the unseen bullet, the shove, the finger on the shoulder. Heroes and villains blurred into a surge of moving panic like hungry locusts crossing and consuming a field.

The speaker was dead. His assistant was lying across the warm body screaming, she saw his face as he fell, she had been ready with the towel and the water. Another assistant was talking loudly into her ear, she was oblivious in her fresh pain. Now everything had changed. A hi-viz man who appeared to be a doctor was holding the dead head, shaking and shouting but the speaker was gone. Outside the limo engines were still running, the doors unlocked, he was only a few steps away from the safety of the wide open spaces of the outside world. A flurry of microphones cracked the stage cordon, there were fist fights. Questions and anger. The gunman was invisibly gone, nothing, it was too late for a lockdown now. There never had been a plan for this. Frustrated police combed what areas they could, reinforcements arrived, heavy duty detectives and more from the press contingent. A few arrests were made, petty crimes and silly violence, all on the fringes. About forty minutes after the incident, the hall clear, the body photographed and moved a statement was made.

“The Speaker was assassinated here tonight at 2205, it is my sad and unfortunate duty to tell you this. He was killed instantly by a single gunshot. It is believed that the gunman is still somewhere in the area and our officers are actively looking for that person or persons as I speak. I'm sure I speak for all who were here tonight and all devotees of the Speaker when I say that our search for his assailant will be vigorously pursued, a simple target achieved is not enough, I question it's difficultly and it's validity. If there is spare time left then I've miscalculated something, not taken enough on board, not really tried. I don't want any of you to ever feel that same way.” In the flash of a strobe a single shot rang out.

There she was

There she was again, sitting in that horrid mirror place, looking back and smirking over the top of a pair of tortoiseshell reading glasses. She didn't say a word, she never did. Apparently her style today was like some bubbly oyster coloured flapper of a lost thing, the dress was almost inappropriate with it's details and flounces, the cardigan shapeless and loose, the tights were dark and glossy and the shoes were...all wrong really. She'd been left behind after the party, shoulders exposed to a spotlight and fingers still tapping to an internal jazz heartbeat. There was this mish mash of jewellery, picked out in the dark and applied like blind make up, by necessity without design but it created some chunky special stay away effect. Maybe that buried smirk was really some kind of a knowing smile, disguised, either way it was hard to hold the ambiguous gaze for too long. Like putting your finger into a candle flame or touching your forearm against the edge of a hot oven, that inevitable sharp pain would come and then the scarring. It could last for weeks. That was the effect she had; if you were weak enough to acknowledge the coming of the pain. A lazy blond Medusa machine.

She was sitting back in the chair now, maybe ready to suck a pen, touch a typewriter key or light some illicit cigarette, perhaps she'd swig English gin and shake the noisy ice cubes in your face, you never knew. Was that not the kind of thing that modern writers did these days? Somehow her elbows seemed extra important, as if grappling as alien metaphors for harvesting machines or just pointing things that signed and threatened the casual observer to stay out of the way. Some respectful space was needed here or you'll get yourself poked. Her eyes still followed and there was no easy escape. The drama stained and sticky pupils were dark and beady with a muted centre, in behind those glasses, unflattering but practical. At some point everything gets distilled down to the unflattering and practical, it you let yourself go or get that far down the road. Her hair was piled up and held against it's will by two dark clips, like some forgotten hedge that had been teased and tousled into temporary submission, she'd get round to taming it some time, in some chrome and plastic parlour, maybe best done with somebody else's hands. She was that ex-Southern Belle type, spoiled, whatever that had come to mean. Her heart was anchored down home on the dreary plantation, perhaps just down in the plantation but if she was sweating for it in there you couldn't tell. She knew how to hold in her own heat.

An informed observer might have said that inside her, there was something stirring, a hungry itch, a big dirty sensation, a struggling, writhing thing that wanted and waited for the release factor of a public exposition. For a moment it wanted to live and catapult a strange alter-author out across this dumb universe into a sky full of fizzy fireworks and sparklers and squeezed up and compressed feeling. Then when those feelings grew too hot and out of control they could be pissed out back into a bucket of ice cold water. That guilty freeze and the vivid torture held up in a submissive cocktail of remorse and displayed in a polite state of less than fully conscious and less than stone dead. That was the ultimate goal, to meet up with those informed eyes, see through them into a golden and unattainable life beyond, hold it all in the mouth, swirl and then spit it all back out in a mess across the world. Not pleasant or civilised really but then we are such complex, depraved and forever suckling animals...and it just may be that she is the queen.


For the first half of his life James had collected screws and fasteners, from wherever they landed, half used, pulled from some wall or fixing, James picked them up. Sometimes they were the new, extra screws that came with products but were superfluous and unnecessary. The screws were stored away in the work boxes, sometimes roughly categorised, sometimes just thrown on top of other materials and so left to find their own level in the hotch potch of tools and redundant items. From time to time James would search for one or two to fix a shelf or a door hinge or carry out some other repair. More screws went into those boxes than ever came out.

Then came the day that James had a thought, in fact he had series of thoughts, one after the other. They tumbled into his mind, crashing into each other, splintering like glass or broken bottles. It wasn't painful nor shocking, just unusual, an unusual event and it made James stop. James had come across a screw, there, on the pavement outside of his house, he'd picked it up and was about to put it into his pocket and then it would be tossed into the tool boxes until, some day it was required.

James held back on putting it into his pocket, he looked at the screw, he held it up between his thumb and index finger. It was a wood screw, an inch and quarter, soft with a cross countersunk head and made from some cheap almost but not quite brass alloy. James had seen this type of screw many times before and he knew he had many squirrelled away in his useful boxes. His confused thoughts began to clear, like a Blackpool beach at six o'clock. He looked at the screw and thought; “Along with all the other screws, nails, fasteners and bits and bops I have, how or when will I ever use you, you little inch and quarter screw?” The screw didn't answer. James just rotated it between his thumb and finger, looking at the thread and head and knowing, for the first time, that it was unlikely that this screw would be put to any useful use by him, ever.

Holding that thought James put the screw into his pocket and went back inside the house. He took off his shoes put on slippers and opened up the cupboard under the stair. There were his DIY boxes of odd bits, he pulled them out into the better daylight of the hall and looked at them. Their contents stared back as dumb as just the random sweepings of an ironmonger's floor, a life's flotsam and collected junk. Suddenly it seemed a sad and pointless collection; odd brackets, packets of raw-plugs, bits of wire, half used rolls of tape, misshaped pieces of doweling, washers, panel pins, picture and cup hooks, dirty and slightly bent nails, roofing bolts and nyloc nuts, torn strips of sandpaper and screws (all shapes and sizes). James regarded them all, a big iron, timber and plastic puddle of discarded and unused, never to be used useful things. All useless in this current, slowly revolving version of James' world.

James then had a pantomime script thought, “maybe if I can't use all this clutter and crap somebody else could.” He pondered the practicalities versus the impracticalities. Nobody would really want this and surely almost every household carried a similar amount of accumulated junk somewhere in it's soft underbelly languishing there as everywhere else. Mountains of screws, washers and panel pins, rising up in great suburban heaps, waiting on a day of user fulfilment that would never come. So there was that and then there was James' own life, running down and useless, like the boxes of screws. Running down and useless.

James put the boxes away and closed the cupboard door. It was early evening, the sunlight was a copper glowing thing that played and strayed across blinds and furniture. The room was warm and peaceful. James drew himself a large golden glass of whisky and sat in the big chair. The sun made him squint for a few seconds and then bathed him. He looked at the family photographs on the mantlepiece. The light was good, just had God had made it and thought and reflected on it, some time ago, they say. James supped the whisky and allowed it to work it's earthy and alcoholic magic, a soothing and a primal spirit, perhaps some distilled rival to God's warm and deadly sunshine, for surely he had not created alcohol; that was man's doing (or wrong doing). James floated away, his life was more than halfway over, passed the marked milestone towards some three score and ten. He was nearly sixty and in those boxes there were at least another fifty years worth of household repair materials. Time was being cruelly measured in the mundane, in the consumable, in the petty and the irrelevant. No big event, no bridge to build, no flood to recover from, no hurricane or earthquake to rebuild after, just tinkering stuff, just stuff that you tinker with, that's all that's left.

In the future everybody may be famous for fifteen minutes but nobody will care how that picture was hung, if that shelf was straight or how well the carpet edges were held down. Details don't last. There will be none of that, maybe only a great explosion or a meteor driven dust storm, then a long and fitful sleep. The end, however unlikely will come from and inhabit someone's imagination, it could even be James'. James thought that was unlikely.

When you were a child did you watch and remember all the people who'd pass by outside your house? The important looking gents and ladies, the workers and labourers, postmen, policemen or nearby neighbours, kids headed for school, dog walkers and once in a while a mysterious stranger. People you saw everyday but never knew. Today, through some wilful mist you can still picture their faces, see their clothes and style of walking, hear their voices, even though you never spoke. Where are they now? James though hard about this and how he couldn't quite recapture the view, it was a dull picture with muted sound, it was the past, measured out in those trivial and nondescript events. It had meant something then, now it was just a mental exercise in recalling a travelogue that went to nowhere. James took another sip of his whisky. “Getting old is just something that everybody does, it's not an illness or a weakness. It's just a collection of things, picked up, some used, some stored, some discarded and the judgements you make on the usefulness of these things are all pretty much meaningless – in the grand scheme of things.”

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Last October story

The marks of Cain when he was unable.

It began with two arguments, one about old movies and one about the sell by and use by dates on supermarket produce. Avril Cain tended to take a traditional line on both topics and Fred Cain was getting a bit fed up with that. The arguments lacked flair and flavour he thought, sometimes their exchanges were far from being even proper arguments. There was shouting, steam and contradictions but not the depth and content that the subjects demanded. Fred was frustrated, Avril didn't really care. Their arguments were also fuelled by alcohol much of the time, that certainly took them way of track and into other, irrelevant and destructive areas.

“Kirk Douglas's best film has to be “Lonely are the Brave”, it's a watershed movie, a magnificent statement about the end of the old west and how it engages, or rather fails to engage with the 20th century and it's values. It's his best most complete role and it's all in black and white, perfect!” Fred trotted on for a while as Avril held his gaze obviously considering her response, “one word,” she said, “Spartacus!” I rest my case. The discussion fizzled for a while as Douglas's films were further compared with those of Burt Lancaster. “The Swimmer!” Shouted Fred. “Trapeze” Replied Avril. The steam dissipated as no clear conclusion was ever going to be arrived at. They slept off their differences and dreamt of other sub plots and criticisms.

“This pot of yogurt is three days past the sell by date, I am putting it in the bin.” Avril kicked the pedal and plopped the container in. Fred jumped to his feet, his hand quickly in the bin like an excavator claw and he pulled the pot out in triumph. “I'll be having it, no worries.” Avril was clearing out the back on the fridge. “Sausages! And look at this cold meat, these salad leaves and the cottage cheese. You'll kill us all with your stupid antics, you can't eat this, the kids can't eat it, it's all out of date.” “No it isn't,said Fred, well it is but it's fine, there's a safety factor, that's what they do, the manufacturers, they want you do buy more, you know about all the marketing and the conspiracies, trust me.” “Idiot!”

Through the day and into the evening they were still at it, they'd moved onto Roxy Music's albums and the best value brand of toilet rolls. There never seemed to be common ground as they raged at one another over the trivial and vital. Next morning, they had diligently and awkwardly mulled over the novels of John Steinbeck with no agreement. Following a practical lull in the proceedings Jack was coming back from his shower, Avril was sorting out her hair. The arguments had quietened as they prepared for the day but there was an uncomfortable but familiar tension in the air.

From out the deep blue dysfunction Jack began to criticise Avril's car, “Volvo? What are they all about?” There was no proper argument or methodical construction in what he was saying, it was just sound and fury. Avril was working with the heated curling tongs she used every day, concentrating, she allowed Jack to carry on, now he was criticising the colour of the car. Avril wasn't biting. “It's just like a big, stupid, puffy handbag, all restraints and cotton wool and it's gold!” Avril turned round quickly, inside it was as if some elastic band had snapped, some brake had failed, some retaining wall had crashed down and was thrown open. In her hand the tongs suddenly grew from grey and black plastic into some great medieval sword of power and vengeance. They were still plugged in and fiercely hot, wide open like the mouth of a wolf. She hurled a blow at Jack, the tongs following through. The roaring jaws of the burning wolf caught him squarely across each temple.

For a few seconds the room went mad around them. Jack was screaming like a wounded animal caught in a forest fire, Avril was screaming in a hysterical moment of mind snapping release and spent inner agony. Jack fell onto the bed clinging to his face, the scorching tongs still searing either side of his head. There was noise and babble. No argument, just confusion as all the air I the room seemed to be on fire. Then Avril ran out onto the landing, already she was drawing lines between actions and consequences, she was running from the scene of a terrible accident, that was that. In a blurred whoosh of panic and abandonment she was out of the house. Jack's face was burning, his heart was pounding, then it was stopping. The blinding pain just too much...all too much. Tick tock tick...

When the police arrived the fire had extinguished himself. Jack lay face up on the bed, smoke still dancing above his head like a black halo on the bedroom ceiling. He was a dead thing now, head charred black and marked, a heart as still as a broken and unwound clock. He policeman was careful to touch nothing, not to disturb the evidence at the scene, nothing could be done. Jack Cain bore the mark of Avril Cain, those angry burns across his head. The end result of years of pointless quarrels and debate, the outworking of the tension and their life time mismatch. Marked in life, marked in death. They found Avril about an hour later. The gold Volvo wrapped around a motorway parapet, dead and broken. Dangling in the ignition was a key fob marked with the logo of ISSA, “International Society for Argumentation”.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Fight

By some grassy knoll.

I remember the first time I got into a fight and got myself  a royal beating up. I was just about a teenager, I’d avoided fighting and as I got closer to the start of the fight I realised I didn’t know how to fight, not properly anyway. I knew how to wrestle, how to grapple, how to pull somebody over. None of that was really fighting or brawling, it was toy fighting. It was also likely to be ineffective but I knew none of this. Now I was facing up to the real thing, man to man, boy to boy, with clenched fists that were soon to be transformed into wild punches.

My strategy was formed as we strode towards the battlefield, a patch of ground down by the burn,  by a grassy knoll, all well flattened by previous fights. My strategy involved not really punching more back to grappling, like a Saturday afternoon wrestler, I would grapple my enemy to the ground as quickly and expertly as Spiderman  v the Green Goblin in issue #39. A small crowd had gathered, they could smell the blood already, they were eager for the spectacle, some action, some pain. I could also smell the blood, my own, fearfully boiling inside my pumping heart. I could feel it but I couldn’t give in to the wobbly and crippling doubt, the doubt that was churning, the doubt I had towards my grapple and punch capability. I wondered if I was a coward, if I should run. Somehow that didn’t matter, people were shouting, my supporters and the others. All boys there, no girls, that was good. I didn’t know why, it seemed useful.

My adversary arrived, bigger than me, a lot bigger. Maybe I was shrinking. He looked like he knew how to punch and punch ugly. Things were happening fast. The crowd, all of about a dozen spotty youths formed a circle. This was the ring, the bulls eye, the place were all the bad blows landed, were the victor would stand and the loser would lay and there would be blood. There were hands on my back, they pushed me around, the voices grew louder, hateful, excited, hungry again. There was no escape, no air, no sky, no air, nothing but the fight. It was all about the fight and it had begun.

Seconds were spilt, I had been looking him in the eye, trying to growl, I’d jumped at him, he’d punched my head. That was a shock, a violent shock. The world quickly went from vertical to horizon tall. I was falling sideways but still on my feet. That was what a proper punch felt like, hot and hard but all too fast to feel any pain. No pain, that was a relief, the feeling lasted a split second. Then there was a numb embarrassment. I’d been hit, I was going down like a burning Spitfire. Then I was up again, I’d bounced. Now I had to grapple, get to the neck, strangle this giant bastard, this punching machine.  I had his neck, the crowd roared, he swung me as my grip tightened, this was almost good. I wanted to punch but it wasn’t there, not even a slap. A slap would be mocked I imagined, stick with the neck pressure, stick with the plan.

Of course I’d failed to realise that he could still  punch, even with me hanging there. The sideways missile hit my cheek, pushed in my eye, I felt more numb embarrassment, that was possibly better than pain. I grip failed, I was spinning. Maybe this was pain but I chose to call it something else, hot face, busted flush, crash damage, bad feeling. I was on the ground, on all fours moving backwards towards the ring’s edge, the limit, the boundary of the battlefield. I stood up, he got one more good punch and I fell down. The boys shouted, a ring of nasty noise, I was now tasting blood in my mouth. I was aware of the sky and the grass.

The crowd parted like the Red Sea as he walked away. There had been swearing and stupid taunts. None of that hurt, not like the punches. I felt my face, it felt too big for my head. My skin was burning, my heart pounded worse than every. I was sick and dizzy. A few friends gathered around. They said I’d done OK, I’d fought well but he was just too big, too good.  I spat some blood and spittle onto the grass, no teeth, that was lucky. I wanted to sit there and touch my face, feel if it was OK, put it all back together, smooth the odd lumps I was now feeling. Just to lie back on some cloudy couch and smear my own face with butter like and old wives tale. At least I wasn’t crying and I could see, no tears, no blindness or spots or whizzing planets orbiting my head. Just the dull thud of landed punches echoing around me, resonating in the newly forming bruises and lumps.

My mates walked ahead, the pack leading a wounded fighter home. I walked a dizzy shameful walk, the glory hunter  home from the hill with nothing to show but the bruises, a gory hunter. The victor was already back in the playground, he’d moved onto something else. As I entered the school gate people looked, I saw the shock in their faces. Children don’t mind staring, don’t mind pointing and whispering. I knew I didn’t look good, I was trembling now but I was going to stay in control. I don’t remember going to the toilet or washing my face. I didn’t get cleaned up, no seconds towelled me down, wiped my sweat or whispered in my ear “You’re OK!” I just got those horrible looks.

I sat at the back of the class, torn and troubled, I let the time go. Maybe that was when I learned that adult trick, let the time go. Breathe like Buddha. The time will pass and sure enough it did. By about three thirty pain was creeping into my consciousness, real pain. All the adrenalin and vigour were seeping away, slowly like spilt milk running through cracks in the floorboards. None of the teachers said anything, they looked away, another kid in a stupid fight but still standing so it was OK.

I rode home on the bus, I joked about the fight, I made light but I was hurting. A good sleep tonight and I’d be fine. The wounds would heal like a  Fife sunburn, red as the Daily Record today, gone in the sink drain tomorrow and everybody would move on. I got home and my mum saw my face, then I saw my face for the  first time in the bathroom mirror. It was a Frankenstein moment. The person reflected, that bashed comic strip face in the mirror wasn’t me. All pink and red and black and blue like a newly born  monster. I studied the damage, tried to fit the marks with the blows but none of it made sense. I had a new fresh, ugly face. I’d be wearing this to school tomorrow and more ritual humiliation would follow. I lay on the bed like a dog and wished I could lick myself like a dog, lick that  wounded face all better. Nobody was going to kiss this better. Mum padded upstairs and  asked if I was alright. “Fine” I said. The words not really mattering.  Inside myself  I moaned a bit. I though about God and dead pets. This was true and agile teenage misery and the black realisation of it’s pain and ongoing out working. Then there were flashbacks, each one worse than the next. I steadied myself and tried to reflect, I was not much good at fighting. In summary I could see that  the main problem was that I had no idea how to defend myself. I hadn’t understood the part that defence played in fighting, now I did.

Maybe I ate my tea, maybe I drank something, maybe splashed my face. Maybe plastered Zinc and Caster Oil, white magic that fixed everything in our tiny family.  I don’t really remember. Maybe I went downstairs and watched “Till Death us do Part” or “The Saint” or “Tom & Jerry”. Maybe I slept for a thousand years or read  books about the exploring the moon or living with wolves. I grew into the pain, I absorbed it, sucked it all up and made it my own personal property. Then I slept a dripping, topsy turvy sleep and escaped from this dreadful chunk of reality.

Next day, next time, I was back at school, awkward on the bus with a huge black eye. My sore face against the glass, hidden from the passing world.  I existed as a brief  talking point and conversation piece then like yesterday’s newspapers was passed over, not really all that interesting to anyone. Today’s another day and there’s another  fight at lunch break, today, down by the burn. More combatants, more blood and drama. I’ll be going. Who knows what I’ll see, I’m hoping for  a spectacle, there will be a winner and a loser and  maybe at the end  of it I’ll know that I’m not alone.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Cheese in the Middle East

The road to Damascus and the Middle East Cheese Process.

I had a dream - I am a traveller in space and time. I seek the closeness of the truth, it's intangibly, here and there, some non-specific place on this winding ribbon of road. The broken hearted trail that runs along the desert ridges and valleys between Jerusalem and Damascus. I carry my tools and I make or break things on the journey. Slowly I dig myself in, I make repairs, impromptu, necessary, sometimes life saving as I burrow into your psyche. Sweating and keeping the highway open, clear and as straight as the complex terrain will allow. Pruning the signs so they can all be read and a consistent message taken; the only way for peace on earth they say. But this is the road that comes out of a place of enlightenment and then takes the trail of assumed wisdom and Pagan Voodoo, out of the way to very the heathen and non-believers that must be saved, all full of precious argument and principle.

The sun beats down on my bare head, on the back of my neck. Fighter jets fly low, some baffled helicopter gun ships on patrol, some Russian tank hulks lie dead off road, burned out by the desert. Thuds from far away and unexplained explosions. Borders, poles and wire, men with trucks and no company. Soldiers shoulder their arms, make nervous checks, blow dust from the weapon's breaches, rub in oil, smiles flicker across their faces. Peasants, beat up peddlers, Gypsy-like caravan people, donkeys, Toyota Land Cruisers and battered Mercedes pass me by. Drivers hidden by designer sunglasses, glowering in the reflected heat handing out bottles of Highland Spring water, bottled in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament, five Bucks each.

Once an angel came here and blinded a man just to get his attention, as if being an angel isn't enough to make an impact  - or so the story goes. To you it may sound far fetched but a lot of good people believed it at the time. I'm told that there's a weathered blue plaque on a mud wall at the petrol station. Commemoration is important, better than respect. I hear that the man took it badly and became bitter and sued the wider world and then wrote a best seller. So I just sit here in the dust and dirt, my advice ready for you, if and when you come. You can get me on my mobile though, did I mention the mast conveniently sited over there by the minefield?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

China shop bull

He's a bull in a china shop but he doesn't know that he's a bull and he doesn't know that he is presently located in china shop. I guess that it's my job to tell him, to pass on this message. To set things straight. I drove the police car across a few streets, the roof lights on but I kept the siren down. As I got nearer I crawled, past one shop front then another. On the pavement people were moving away, there was a sense of panic. Nobody seemed to react much to the car. I remember thinking that that was a little odd. I saw a girl and she was bleeding, another girl was helping her. Then there was a man holding his shin as if he'd just been kicked there. In the shin that is.

Then on my left I saw it. “Brewster's Fine China and Artifacts – Established 1974, Louis Brewster Proprietor”. At this point I didn't think there was much point in writing anything down, I'd commit these facts to memory and recount them at some later time. I did radio in my position however – that was the correct procedure. The control room just blipped affirmative.

I had stopped the car a few yards back, all was quiet but there seemed to a be a film of fine dust just hanging in the air as if some disturbance had occurred nearby. I checked my gun. I got out of the car and took a few steps across the pavement to the store front. Trucks were parked on both sides but by now nobody was about. The dust still hung. A few items in the window had clearly been disturbed, some porcelain was broken. The fine silver handles had been split from their cups, a cream jug sat on its side looking rather forlorn and the glass was cracked...from the inside. I moved over to the shop door, it was open. That was always a clear sign that not all was well.

I removed my gun from my holster and undid the safety. Under my feet there was the crunch of broken china. This wasn't looking good. Once through the door I caught the full vista of the shop's interior. It was in pretty poor shape. Shelves were dislodged, displays had crashed down, glass panels were splintered and all across the royal blue and golden carpet were fragments of white and silver crockery. Broken cups, teapots and sugar bowls, royal souvenirs and vases were just everywhere, hard to recognise and in pieces, all in the wrong place, all destroyed. The reports had been correct. Where was the culprit?

Then, towards the back of the shop I heard a tinkling and then a crashing sound. I moved forward gingerly, I was pointing the gun now, straight into that dark space at the rear of the shop where the source of these sounds seemed to originate. There was more noise, more breaking china and an animal snort. The snort had a wild and rather aggressive tone to it I thought. The snort was a bit of a warning to me but I moved forward, silently, my gun held out in front, clasped and locked in my two hands. It would have made a good photograph. Then I got to thinking, will one of my bullets really stop this animal if, just say, it turns out to be a real full sized bull, as the reports had suggested? This turn of thought made me uncomfortable. My pistol was a the regulation issue .38 calibre. OK to stop the average felon but maybe a little lightweight for dealing with a large cornered and angry farmyard beast. I thought about stepping back to the entrance way and calling up for some support. Maybe though (being a little too optimistic perhaps) there was more on the way but I hadn't had any more messages.

Then I heard more snorting and a stamping, like hooves on concrete, then hooves on carpet. It was an animal getting closer, there was no doubt. I peered through the shelves, across the bent racks and toppled display cabinets. There he was, about thirty feet away, two big bright eyes and white horn tips that defined the shape of a big black head. It was the bull all right, just where I'd expected to find him. I could see now that, despite whatever set of bizarre circumstances had led to this animal being in this place, that whatever else happened, for him to leave the shop (as I suspected was his intention) he would have to exit it via the route and entrance that I had used. He had to get past me, clearly I was in the way and blocking the acting out of whatever plan he was forming.

In keeping with the rules of engagement I steadied myself and called out in a loud and clear voice. “Stop! Police! I am armed and I will shoot!' I did this twice and indeed the animal did stop. There was silence from his quarter. I guess he didn't expect me to cry out like that. I presume that apart from the screams of shopping assistants and innocent bystanders he'd really been the source of most of the noise and carnage up until this point. Then there was more hoof stomping, that thing that bulls do just before they charge. A bit like a short countdown or a ready, steady, go, for bulls. I'd seen it on TV and in cartoons. Things were coming to a climax now.

The air around the back of the shop suddenly seemed to explode. The racks between the bull and I suddenly collapsing forwards towards me and his great black evil head and huge long horn horns were now headed into me like an oncoming freight train. I squeezed the gun and shot three times. The loud cracks of the gun in the confined space adding to the catastrophic chaos that was enveloping the room. I realised to, in the split second in which the action was taking place that, despite whatever effect my bullets might have, he already was moving quickly towards me and that his momentum wasn't going to be slowed by my bullets. I was by now however, automatically and instinctively moving backwards.

I threw myself to the side as my final coherent thought kicked in. His head and horns catching my legs and feet and propelling me into the air and across a broken counter. I sailed across the top and fell between the wall and the remains of the display. I was hurt somewhere but I was still conscious and alive. I also had my gun. I shot three more times into the dark ruined place where I thought he must be. As the gunshot reverberations ceased the dust began to settle and the smoke and fragments cleared, an eerie silence formed and I staggered to keep my feet. My hand was sore and quivering, I returned my hot gun to it's holster. Despite my fears I had a strong feeling it was all over.

Amongst the dust and acrid smoke there was now an animal smell, strong and unpleasant, almost overpowering. I looked down at the still carcass lying, covered in white flecks of wood and metal amongst the remains of the china shop interior. I looked at the head, it was odd, unreal, not a bull's head, not a living animal. Inside the head I heard a human sound, a groan.

In my short career as a policeman I'd never killed anyone, that was until today. Now two Hispanic men were dead inside of a theatrical bull costume. Drunk and silly I imagined, acting out an ill conceived prank for a few dollars for some cheap reality TV show. On the streets there were riots, cars were overturned and burned, shops looted but not by anybody in a bull suit. I was on TV and on the web, guilty of a murderous act of police violence they all said. How was I to know?

God located

Some news about the whereabouts of God and the changing of attitudes towards food, all assuming that one day tiny hands will emerge from an innocent looking yoghurt pot and then try to strangle you as you sup. The spotlight shone on stage centre, a middle aged man in a blue lounge suit walked out, there was some applause as he introduced himself, then he began to speak.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am here today to set before you my offering of a concept and premise that, once understood will shake you to the core of your very being(s). That premise is that, for sound Biblical and Theological reasons all food and drink is bad for you. Indeed I would go as far as to say that not only does food corrupt and destroy the physical body, it also destroys the human mind and gnaws away at the peace and integrity of the spirit and undermines the serenity of the soul. Food and drink my friends are trouble and no friend to you.”

Apart from a couple of nervous coughs and some rustling the hall was quiet. The audience were hanging there, tense and ready for the next part of the speech.

“Thousands of years ago, man and God were separated by man's own disobedience, man's wilful desire to find himself and his greed for power and the satisfaction of his appetites. Before this, in the mythical state referred to in the Garden of Eden, man was sustained by pure thought, by peace and by the benevolent love and sustenance provided by God as he walked amongst men. We cannot be clear on the details of how this operated, for want of a better term it represents an innocent, warm and magical time, a time before existing when being alive meant living, living in the presence of God. We believe that this God was a huge golden being who not only created the universe and all in it but was a tolerant individual who was simple in outlook and happy to share the secrets of creation with his own creations. It was therefore a dark day when God's people turned upon him and in an act of rebellion cast God out of his own garden by questioning his authority. This act was worsened by man's desire to taste the bounty of God's handiwork and to consume it. This man did, and the more he did it, the further he moved from God's plan and the more his own and earth's situation deteriorated. You can call it original sin but really it was a catastrophic event in which man devouring his own relationship with God and his environment.”

More coughs and a few sighs and further rustles.

“This downward spiral has now gone for thousands of years, distorting time, landscapes, the mind of man and his physiology – we have changed from a glorious man-god to a greedy, crawling lizard that sucks the ground, water and air in a desperate bid to satisfy a bottomless range of base appetites. These appetites led to war, poison, feats of distorted engineering and religion, sham spirituality, lies and slavery and the invention of markets and money. All of this fuelled by an unreal but vivid need to consume food sand drink and drugs in any form available. Now, when I take a piss it is as if I am some great white horse relieving itself on the cobbles of a French market. I pee a in a violent torrent of brown urine for at least twenty minutes that foams and circles and soaks the very ground at my feet. Indeed if I have partaken of the narcotic beetroot that same urine is as pink as Barbie's nipple and high in toxins and minerals. None of this is what God intended for us. If I have partaken in the narcotic beer the urine is as clear as a diamond cut glass and has the aroma of a Bavarian butcher's shop on a hot Wednesday afternoon. Good must look down upon this from his cloudy chromium chariot of fire and fury and can only detest these soft machines we inhabit.”

“I can say these things because I am his spokesman, myself and Ramases, Moses and Mohamed, we are in a direct line. A line of truth. A line of prophets and scholars of pragmatics and of committed, enlightening abstinence. We form the pure chain that links man to the heavens, to acts of ritual abstinence and beloved hunger, to the true and too long abandoned way of living, living on the air and breath of God. Ladies and gentlemen I offer you the chance to remove yourselves from the shackles of beans and sprouts, bean sprouts and whisky...and the Devil's own sweets and need the oxygen of faith in the God of your forefathers.”

There was a ripple of applause, not quite what he'd hoped for. It was a tough gig. A shrill female giggle ran across the back of the hall, there was agitation and then the whispers began. The speaker clasped his hands together, gathered his thoughts and tried to recover and to push home his point again.

“If you want it you can have it, freely and graciously given from the Holy Throne. Or you can remain here, left behind, banned forever from a world of marvellous invention and divine colour, bored and preoccupied only with the unhappy desire to fire live bullets into glass bottles full of coloured water just to watch the bright shattering and the splash. This is not how it should be.”

Outside in the theatre alley God was standing by a part open fire exit listening to the speaker, the words wafted out of the hall in the warm Californian evening air. In his jacket pocket a bottle of Jim Beam was wrapped in a brown paper bag, it was half full. God stepped back, stroked his chin and thought to himself “I do recall Ramases, Moses and Mohamed but I'm blowed if I can remember quite who this fellow is...” He lit a cigarette with a Van Halen Zippo and drew the smoke in hard, then he blew it out. “I never, ever thought that it would come to this but then what do I really know?”

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Water of life

“Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.” 

The old man sat back in his armchair. “That's what's gonna' be set on my headstone, Lenny C himself wrote it (he still talked about Lenny C like he was a close friend), I lived it, surely did.” Bobby didn't like it when dad spoke this way, it came around, regularly, seasonally or every few days, usually in some moment of slightly drunk reflection. Dad was now moving forwards in the battered chair, ready to share more wisdom. “Urine!” He cried, “never be afraid to drink it. Urotherapy, that's the answer to questions you may have never even have asked. Look at me, pushing seventy seven, a glass every day, you know what's in that stuff?” Bobby resisted the question's hook, “Dad, I know all about your thoughts and habits over urine, you're not going to convert me, mum tried that remember.” Bobby smiled and laughed a bit, giving dad the slightly mixed message of pleasant approval, the happy thought of mum all tinged with a degree of assumed adult scepticism.

Dad had always liked to share his theories, daily beetroot balls, cigar smoke, red wine, tripe cooked in milk, turpentine foot spas, exercise by fidget, dairy produce v vegetables, spending time at high altitude. Bobby had heard them all and in fairness he had observed his dad's health stay pretty stable over the years. He wondered if, this complex set of varying regimes and tastes actually was working. Dad was maybe onto something. He wondered if his dad was just a lucky, crazy man. That was the problem, you looked at people, knew them, clocked their behaviours but you never did really know, life remained a mystery.

Back home, Bobby's dad was labelling up today's batch of urine. He used the three day theory. Pee it and bottle it and let it rest up, then in three days, sip it early in the day and before your first pee of that day. Dad had come across the urine therapy when researching cancer treatments, he'd also heard about it used in conjunction with a yoga based regime. It was late, well ten thirty, eight hours sleep was also a lifestyle requirement, dad's various theories all knitted together, he felt he was on a roll. A roll to live a long, long time.

He looked one more time at the clock, the hands had moved just a minute, he turned to the laptop and clicked onto the health blog he followed. There was a banner headline tracking across...bull's semen...cereals from the New World...locusts and their protein content...Springtime in Malta...Dad blinked and looked away from the screen, the messages running on...endless bits of spurious and unproven advice, good ideas, bad ideas and scams, how could you ever tell? He sat on the leather chair, his head was heavy and it fell forwards and down into his upturned hands. All this living, all this struggling and playing, all the schemes and remedies, none were worth it. They were there like grey distractions, games and diversions he followed when all he really wanted to do was follow someone else; his Megan. Megan had been gone ten years now, ten good years he supposed. She was gone, too soon, but the words she'd left him with had marked and now he needed to be free and follow her, not these cherished ideas she'd held. She'd said, a twinkle still in her eye, still there, “I haven't had Champagne for a long time, I wonder if it would have made a difference?”

“Since the day of my birth, my death has begun it's walk. It is walking towards me, without hurrying.” Jean Cocteau.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The places we used to go

Thelonious Monk in Starbucks. He was there, the great man, they were serving coffee, he was looking for a spare piano. He should have been looking for a piano bar but here he was, stuck in this strange (now to him) city with an idea, there, sharp and acute in the middle of his head. He needed a piano but all he could find was Starbucks. Businesses move, bars and cafes come and go, time was also short. He was a stranger here thanks to time and the small matter of death.

It was 2012 and Thelonious by now had been gone from this mortal coil for over thirty years. His ghostly, unresting spirit form still roamed the earth however, composing from time to time. (There's an obvious “unlike” joke here that I'll avoid). Eagle eyed and curious as ever he spotted a young lady called Sarah with double Macchiato and an iPad. With the special intuition only ghosts possess he realised that she had on it a keyboard app. Nice work. He sidled up beside her, parked himself on the green leather couch and waited. She gave out a little shiver and gripped the warm white cup a little more tightly. Thelonious was on her shoulder now, watching the tiny screen, her thumb was pushing the changes across and after few faltering alternatives along came the keyboard. It was by Yamaha. Thelonious wondered if it would be quite man enough for his playing, then he thought about any port in a storm and today the clouds were gathering.

Supernatural powers tend to be just that. I can't really explain what happened next, it's all a fuzzy, ghostly kind of thing. You might call it a mind swap or a take over but those terms are clumsy, the belong in cheap Sci-Fi. Just believe me when I say that Thelonious could now operate the keys that were scrolling on the screen and hear the sweet and rough chords and notes via the tiny white ear piece. Sarah was of course somewhere else right now, near but far if you follow, detached or unplugged, maybe vacant. To the casual observer there was just a regular customer called Sarah working something out on an iPad. Nothing worthy of a second glance (other than to take in her cute red hair and a pretty but right now very serious smile). She broke away for a moment and took a big gulp of the coffee. Thelonious felt that tug and buzz and played on, his ideas coming in streams and splashes that gurgled across and into the shiny device. It was good to get this kind of work out an let that mechanical reverb sting into his ears. Good new science.

Sarah woke in panic, she reached for her handbag, iPad and phone. All OK. Coffee cold, half a cup left, she'd nodded off, stupid thing to do, in the city, close call. She gathered her stuff, checked herself again, where had the morning gone?

On Soundcloud there were quite a few new tunes uploaded today, decent stats. Wannabe demos, silly mash ups, earnest singer songwriters with their minor key dirges, sketches and ideas and strangely enough one eight minute jazz piano piece. A solo and virtuoso keyboard outing, uploaded from Sarah Pound's iPhone at 10:27. By 15:00 it had taken about two hundred and fifty plays and the comments were building up. By 16:00 it had been Tweeted and re-Tweeted another forty times. By the next day it was all over the Jazz Pages in social media, forums and all-sorts. There were questions and conversations, a late night DJ caught it and it debuted at 23:15 all across New York. Big things happening, fire spreading.

Sarah was asleep by then, tired and oblivious. Thelonious? He's just out there somewhere, catching ideas, trying to work out a few things, wrestling with the forces, inside and outside and all over. We never really know where music comes from, any of it, we certainly don't own it or the process that puts it altogether, all we know is how it sounds, what it touches and where it goes.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Other General

I never was sure what was supposed to be happening with the General’s plant and antique collection. It seemed to me to be an odd mixture of tired out succulents and dribs and drabs of Victorian and Georgian clutter that whilst interesting had no real value at all. The old man had other ideas and regularly regaled me with stories of how the vegetation and memorabilia he had collected had come to him via his family and, as far as was possible in a military career followed him around the world. Now of course the whole collection had come to some kind of abrupt and final rest in his bungalow in Eastbourne.

The plants, large and ugly, all green and yellow variegation sat in brass pot holders in the conservatory. Some were bruised and battered, others tough and gnarled, they looked tired out and pot bound but still each one managed to produce green shoots. They wee also subject o a strip watering and feeding regime. The General kept the details in a note book (each plant being numbered) and all had to be watered and fed according this complex rota. He still typed out a monthly rota that I had to follow. Naturally he typed the instruction on an ancient mechanical typewriter that thundered and chugged like a twenty pound Howitzer.

The typewriter  represented the more useful objects in the Victoriana collection. In truth there wasn’t much of it either. It all resided in the study, on shelves and in hampers; books, ornaments, medals and office equipment, cards and games and odd dirty looking boxes of rubbish. The General however treated it all with care and reverence and none of it, not even the typewriter ever left the room.

My duties were simple enough, keep the house running, follow the various rotas (all monthly), do some driving and collection work and, when he was busy or in some mood; overcome with nostalgia or reflection, leave him well alone. Once in a while he’d send me up to London, there I’d collect a large consignment of Cuban cigars, vintage port and malt whiskies and return them to him. These would be deposited in the cellar and consumed, bit by bit by the General. I was never offered a drop, not that I wanted one. Strong drink and it’s late night consumption never did appeal to me or indeed agree with me. He was happy to drink and smoke alone, tapping on the typewriter or thumbing through books and journals. He did occasionally hint that he was close to completing some project or other but I never did see any them (whatever they were) come to fruition.

On Thursdays, once the chores were done and the plants cared for I drove him up to the Conservative Club where he took lunch. Lunch lasted from twelve until about four thirty. This was my afternoon off and I quite looked forward to it. When I collected him at four thirty he was well oiled, tired and even more cantankerous than usual. He sit in the back of the Jaguar and try to pick a fight. He’d argue with my reflection in the driving mirror about UK foreign policy, welfare payments, the Euro zone or whatever the hot topic had been amongst his cronies. I’d try to humour him with polite banter in return but I wasn’t really interested, any engagement in this mood would not be constructive. Once I’d returned him to the house he’d spend the rest of the evening talking to himself and the plants in the conservatory.

It was a September Thursday when it all went wrong. The Olympic summer and the wet weather was over, he’d been to the club and the usual pattern of behaviour had taken place. I was in the kitchen making myself a coffee, I looked up at the clock, it was now about eight thirty. I was at the table ready to tackle the Times crossword, it helped me relax. It helped me switch off and think in other directions.
It was at eight thirty five when the first loud explosion occurred. It came from the conservatory, the door blew in, it flew past me and hit the far wall, a cloud of hot dust followed, then more debris. I was under the table coughing and dazed. WTF? I was shaking, stunned.

I struggled to my feet. That was when the second explosion took place, this one came from the study. The wall on my left bowed and spewed dust and plaster parts. There was more smoke and heat and I was back on my back, this time on the far side of the kitchen and I passed out.

I awoke in a hospital bed, a policeman stood at the foot. A doctor appeared and said a few words, he was reassuring me. “You’ve been through quite trauma, remarkably you’re escaped relatively unscathed, a few cuts and bruises, minor concussion. I’m sorry to say that your employer, err the General was not so lucky. I’m afraid he was killed in the explosion.” The shock of it all washed over me, I’d survived, he was dead, what the hell had happened? Who’d blown up the house and taken out the old boy?
The police officer stepped forward. “Opium!” He said, “what do you know about it?” I shook my head, it hurt, no ideas or answers were available either, my head was starting to spin again  and I slumped back into a disturbed unconscious state.

Weeks later at the inquest  I heard about the opium, the plants, the nick-knacks and the explosion. The plants were rare members of the poppy family. Humoronous Glycernia, apparently the only plant in the world of nature  that, at certain times gave of a mildly explosive substance. It seems it took a long time to be processed in the plants and mature into it’s most potent form, a volatile sap that dripped from the leaf ends that tainted and poisoned anything it touched. Over the years it had touched the General’s possessions, his journals, his skin, the pots and various artifacts and items. The slow build up, in the evening warmth of the late summer conservatory was just at the right mixture for detonation when the general’s cigar tip touched some dried out and mature sap resin. A chain reaction followed in the conservatory and the study, the explosions immediately killing the General, flattening most of the house and stunning me.

When the will was eventually read there were no big surprises, the Conservative Club got the biggest share. I believe they built a new wing with a modern conservatory onto the restaurant, it is  to be used as a  function room. That was  their share of the proceeds. There were other beneficiaries here and there, charities and various dull military associations. As for me, he left me the Jaguar, it had 135,000 miles on the clock and four bald tyres but hey I‘d escaped with my life…I also got the typewriter. It was bent, battered and in pieces when I collected it, in a brown cardboard box. There was an old, hand written and weather faded label on the lid, I struggled to read it…“Humoronous Glycernia Seeds: Bombay March 1947. Handle with Great Care, can be Flammable in certain circumstances.”

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Build a better airship

At first I was insulted by his taunt, his vacuous look and face, smirks and challenges. Then I thought about it, I went home, I walked, I paced around the house, head spinning. I drank some liquor, I drank some more, then it was as if Gabriel the White Angel had breathed upon my forehead and touched my fingers. I picked up my pen, rolled open my sketch pad and set to work. I was sweating as the ink touched the paper, it was the point of no return.

For two days I worked, I breathed life into those stains, those marks and numbers on the paper. Bigger, better, longer and stronger, so it would be. A world beater,  a record breaker, a head turner. Something that my fellow countrymen would see and applaud, find inspiration in, be proud of. A national symbol of our endeavour, our industry and most important of all our imaginations, joined for once.

Then I slept and dreamt a strange, patched up nonsense of a dream, great clouds and fog, steam and ice and water pouring on everyone, then fire, then water. There was no sound, only a monochrome silence broken by a single voice talking in strange, staccato language. Hysteria and blame, twists of crumbled construction and wagging fingers. I could see the black tipped headlines but I could not read them. It was not possible due to the covering vapour trail and blowing papers. Blowing papers, cartridge paper now, noisy in it's temper, objectionable as I screwed it up and rammed it into the wicker basket. The materials have come together and...separated.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The river stops

“The river always stops for the guitar's music. It's all an old saying amongst the gypsy musicians," said Carrie. “They believe there was an elemental power in music, if played at the right time, in the right way. A power. A magic in the spirit. I dunno, I heard that in Spain someplace, maybe in a film or maybe my parents told me.” Joel was quiet, in his own space, thinking odd thoughts staring at the cold dark water running by. He was thinking about his guitar, his music. The music he liked to make here, out here by the river. He fingered up a chord and began to pick and strum forming a tune. The hollow wooden box and metal strings cast out sweet sounds, sweet as nuts up in high trees, too high to ever pick. The tune was long and liquid, it followed familiar progressions and then moved, made odd jumps, changes in key and tempo, odd chords thrown in. Carrie was walking away, somewhere else in her own thoughts.

As he played he watched the river currents and water shapes come and go, swell, change and glisten with the music. Fish swam by, creatures and carrion, trees and sticks, twigs and wreckage on the tiny white horses of the waves and water heads. It was a hypnotic moment that stretched for hours. He played and the river paid attention, the river obeyed, the river gave way to the music and allowed the sound and rhythm to pick up an carry those movements, hold and then release the flow. Joel was in there, in the music, in the guitar and in the river. It was that moment he'd dreamed of, that perfect rapport. It had all come together for Joel. Poor Joel.

Three days later the Sheriff's men found Joel's body, carried ten miles or so downstream, he was laid out on a mudbank face down. At the edge the white prowler's blue flashing lights were visible from the road. Some folks stopped to take a look and then went about their business. It was a big river. Granddad identified the body when they brought it back to town, he needed half a bottle of whisky and time to himself before he could talk afterwards. “Three days in the water don't make a body look pretty.” Carrie cried for a week and then went back to school, it was going to be a long winter and the birds were flying real low. They never did find the guitar either. “It just floated away to some other place.” Said Carrie.

Illicit bimbo

Fortified by the olives, a slice of dry bread and a half bottle of Montepulciano, Richard asked himself why it had been so difficult to swop the peach coloured toilet rolls in the upstairs bathroom for the plain white ones that had been put in the downstairs toilet. It was obviously some kind of mistake but he'd had to force himself to make the change and so get things back to normal. Of course as soon as he thought about that it begged the question, what exactly was normal around here? Suddenly he was noticing little things, little things that pricked at him and grew until they became annoying, like insect bites on a summer's evening. Red hot circles in the flesh. He was seeing too much detail in this plainly imperfect world and the amount of work it would take to correct it all was overwhelming. The patterns on the curtains, the towels, the table clothes all seemed to be both soothing and at the same time infuriating. Why on earth had somebody commissioned and designed that design? Who had manufactured it, distributed it and then bought it? What kind of atmosphere were they trying to create or mood did they mean to provoke?

The experimental drugs that had been administered to Richard were clearly having side effects. He was part of the usual kind of live / placebo trial but based on a new male/female contraceptive pill. One that was effective, non hormonal and as a basic feature should not affect the users mojo or libido, a key selling point. These mood enhancing side effects were not welcome nor as far as Richard was concerned, understood. The brief and the trial literature had not mentioned this at all, though Richard would have admitted he hadn't read or listened to everything. He was home now for a few hours whilst the drug kicked in and as a vital part of the deal had sworn to avoid any sexual contact. It was, at this stage of the project all about feelings and most significantly making the mojo work. He had an app on his iPad with which to record these feelings and complete a set of questions, it was all simple enough but those feelings of agitation and masked purpose wouldn't go away.

He looked up from the screen and saw the furniture. I was all clearly in the wrong place, how had he not noticed before? He stood up a gathered and dragged the chairs, tables and couches into the middle of the room and pulled them this way and that concentrating on the shapes and the spaces. After about fifteen minutes of sweat and toil they were all back, back to where they started, but that was OK. The exercise had been carried out. Now the room, the house all seemed too small. He had to get out, he was hungry. He took a photo of himself with his phone, looked at it, deleted it, put on a jacket and headed out.

In the restaurant he watched her across the table. She was all blond and blue and brown running wet water colours and sparkling within a rainbow-like personal aura. She was squeezing half a fresh lime across a piece of roasted herb chicken. The lime yielded a surprising amount of juice, she stared into the meat as it absorbed the tart mixture of pulp and liquid. She tossed on some salt. Then she dug a fork in the flesh and began to eat. Across the table her bulky looking boyfriend or partner was sawing on a steak. Wine glasses were clinking, dull music played and people moved in and out, platters were carried between them and noises came from the kitchen's when the serving door opened. He couldn't take his eyes of her. She saw him, looked away and looked uncomfortable. The steak was still being eaten. She hung on the fork for a moment and their eyes met properly. For Richard it was an electric second but she just looked down, chewed food and opportunity a little and then he thought he saw that secret, illicit smile flicker across her face. That curious smile you may get just once or twice in a lifetime.

Steak Eater got up from the table and disappeared into the gents. For Richard it was now or never. Like a silently whirring mowing machine he moved between the tables and planked himself in steak eater's chair and grinned at her. Whatever he was giving off was powerful and reciprocated, with just a few words they were up and gone. On his return Steak Eater looked for her for a few moments, questioned a puzzled waiter and returned to his meal and sawed into more steak. He mouthed a “WTF?” to a watching diner across the field of glacier topped tables.

In the taxi, in the alley, in the room, in the inner room, in themselves; they were all over each other. The night was a blur for both. They awoke together in the sack in Richard's quickly rearranged apartment. She was laughing, tired, the world was such a small place, tiny and filled with happenstance and coincidences it seemed. Irony and encounter fell out of every vacant space. She reached into her handbag and pulled out her iPad. The drug test questionnaire wouldn't fill itself in and there was the full closure fee to consider.

“The approach used appears highly effective and is fully reversible, at least in the relative short term. The oral version used and trialled on a discrete group of adults is also preferable to the injected version we've been using on rodents. We're gathering more up to date data at the moment.”