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 sweetmeats...you 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.