Sunday, 15 December 2013

Apple Christmas

Once there was an apple and in that apple there lived a worm called Bob. Bob was happy in his apple, he had, in worm time lived there for quite a while, he called the apple home. The apple (a slow witted and slightly grumpy apple) called himself Mr Apple but Bob was unaware of this as the two, despite their ongoing close proximity were not on regular speaking terms. This was mostly down to the lack of a common language, there is you may know, no translation available from worm to apple and vice versa. They'd both learned to live with the situation and Bob was really quite happy quietly munching through the dark interior of Mr Apple.

I suppose that it was bit of a non symbiotic, one sided arrangement they had. Bob nibbling away on the apple's flesh and the apple sitting there, somewhere in the apple universe waiting to be picked or eaten or to simply go to seed. Who knew where they were in the universal chain of those clever and complex universal things? There was a pleasant kind of purposelessness about it all though bob never really wondered about the world beyond the apple and the apple (Mr sleepy Apple) didn't really wonder about anything. He was busy just being an apple and he had few if any aspirations of anything beyond being an apple. In one lucid moment he recalled thinking, “I am what I am, I am an apple.” That was that then.

It came about one day that Bob, in his quiet and discrete (and wonderfully painless) tunnelling and munching came across a barrier he had previously not encountered. A thick, tough material that wasn't just apple and through which a bright light (what exactly is light?) was filtering in a red (what exactly is red?) haze. Bob stopped for a while and considered this new and unfamiliar stretched skin that blocked the end of the food tunnel. After lengthy consideration he decided to make a decision. A risky one at that. He was going, using his very best worm dentures and techniques, to bite through the skin and continue his ongoing apple exploration...outside of the apple. He pondered for a while; “had any worm ever done this before?” He called out to Mr Apple, “hello, I'm about to bite through your skin (I think), please contact me if there is any pain. Though Bob meant well with this, Mr Apple only heard “blah, blah, blah” in apple talk. It was of course down to translation. He ignored the irritating blah sound and returned to his apple snooze.

Bob bit. Apple flinched but did not wake. Bob bit more. He bit (and chewed though the taste was not so good as the normal tunnel material) until he'd formed a tiny hole in the apple's skin. Bob pushed up against the hole, blinked and squinted and looked out through. The light made him blink a bit more, he wasn't used to this. There were things out there he could not understand. Great fields of colour, washes of light, odd shapes, shimmering movements and sounds that were both sharp and dull and everywhere. Life outside of the apple seemed quite unusual and exciting. Bob hadn't expected any of this. Bob bit more to increase the hole sized. Mr Apple snored in lazy apple talk.

Bob made the hole big enough to get his head through. He didn't really think but if the hole was bit enough for his head then it was also big enough for the rest of him. Sometimes worms lose their appreciation of their spacial dimensions as they dig and progress. Worms tend not to score highly in self perception and awareness tests, but that's a whole other science. Bob stuck his head out. His first impression was that the world outside of apple was warm and it had a fresh, non-apple kind of aroma. Bob then realised that all he'd ever had to smell was apple and as this was his main smell reference point then a wider world full of thousands of new smells could prove over whelming. That might be dangerous but it was exciting and so he kept his head out and slowing took in the new apple free air. This process went on for a while. I'm not sure how long, worm time is not like other time. Only worms get it or experience it. If that seems strange then I'm sorry but that's how it is.

After all the effort to break out through the skin, Bob was a little tired. He was also struggling for. time reference points in all this light so he retreated into the tunnel a few lengths and popped off for a snooze. The world could wait until he'd rested and digested he decided. A few worm hours later he awoke smothered and dominated by a new desire to explore the world outside of the apple, or at the very least the world beyond the skin. Bob prised himself through the hole and tentatively slid and wriggled out of the confines of the apple tunnel and onto the great and unexplored surface of the skin. “Wow! This is a big place,” thought Bob. “This is the world outside of an apple, whoosh!”

Bob looked all around, 360 degrees, seeing things but not sure what he was seeing. Not many people know that worms have photographic memories, this power enabled bob to record a great deal of useful data as he slowly circumnavigated the great girth of Mr Apple. Mr Apple was bigger than Bob had imagined but no too big to cover in a day's worm time (including photographic processing). Once he'd been right round the apple skin and returned unharmed by the experience Bob retired back deep into the tunnel and fell fast asleep. You may be gathering that worms and apples both spend a lot of time sleeping. Then he dreamt a few heavy dreams, dreams of the outside beyond apple, the great chasm between in and out, safety and danger, the familiar and the unknown. I was a pretty good sleep. Even Mr Apple seemed to be sleeping more soundly than ever.

And so it was that unknown to Bob and Mr Apple the big world calendar was flicking pages and days over and over and as they slept and digested and ripened the time that is known as Christmas Eve came around. There on that winter's night Mr Apple sat on a white china plate, serene and sleeping. Beside him was a clean carrot, a glass of whisky and a mince pie. Some later time in worm time a fat man in red appeared in the room, he guzzled the whisky and swallowed the mince pie and grimaced, it was a tough gig being out all night. Mr Apple and the carrot sensed nothing as the fat man placed them in his deep fur lined pockets and vaporised out of the warm room and up onto the roof the house. Once there, out in the chilly night air he patted his favourite red nosed reindeer, whispered a few magic words and placed the apple and the carrot into the animal's mouth. Crunch. Yum yum.

Monday, 4 November 2013

How it all began

A bag of groceries (inc. French stick) is lying abandoned on Pilrig Street. Yours if you hurry!” I'd just got the peculiar text message from a friend and strangely I was just coming around the corner in Pilrig Street and...there was the bag, an orange Sainsbury bag with a French stick jutting out like a broken arm. The bag just lay there lay forlorn against the stone base of the railings. Seeing the text as some open invitation to enquire and as few people were around I looked inside; the bread, four pots of yogurt, a bag of washed salad, what looked like some pinkish cold meat in a packet and a wedge of blue cheese. Hardly the find of the century, just some lost shopping. I looked around, half expecting the owner to be hurrying back to retrieve the forgotten bag. The traffic was passing, no one looked interested, no obvious owner, no activity. I picked up the bag properly and assumed responsibility for it's contents. At that moment I did get a funny feeling of doubt, what if the bag was bait or poisoned or contaminated or just a bit “off”? I looked around some more but tried to look as if I wasn't looking around. You know what I mean.

A few yards on I made another discovery. A pair of hiking boots. There parking in a similar place to the shopping bag, laces loose and neatly set together as if they could be by the front door of a house or at the bottom of a cupboard. They were not new, like the shopping, they were just similar in their abandoned and inappropriate oddness. Lost shoes usually ended up on the top of bus shelter roofs, in the middle of the road, hanging from trees or floating in canals – and not in pairs. These two had been carefully put in the right spot. I was disturbed by this piece of extra finding but I was now, like blood hound on the trail of something mysterious. My senses sharpened and I felt my eyes nervously narrow as I looked further up the street for more unusual items. I quickly discounted two parked bikes, a Buckfast bottle and some polystyrene take away boxes. My quarry was of a far higher calibre based on the other two findings. Then I had another thought.

Why had my friend sent out that text and why had he not picked up the bag or texted about the boots or anything else? I quickly got my phone out and texted; got the bag found boots watz going on and where are u? I resumed my treasure hunt but left the (size 9.5) boots behind, too nasty a thing to carry. About a hundred feet away another discovery caught my eye, there on the step of a building doorway was a brown leather wallet. This was getting interesting and I was so involved I hardly looked around to check my back, I just grabbed it up. I was all excited fingers and thumbs, a wallet was a proper find and regardless of the circumstances some reward or benefit was bound to come of this. I opened it up. Inside it there was cash, blue and pink notes. I felt funny about disturbing them so I just counted their edges, two, three, six, seven...about £150. Then there were cards, I pulled out the obvious bank card; TSB Current Account J W BARNABY. I have a name. OK time to play it straight, I need to report this. I spun around and looked for anyone obviously looking for shopping, boots and wallet. Some student girls sashayed past, hardly them, two neds, an old women. Nobody who looked like J W Barnaby.

It was then something caught my eye from across the street, a bright red wooly looking thing, on a coat hanger and swinging from a littler bin. I crossed over to inspect this latest find. It was a knitted woman's poncho, red and fluffy and almost painful to look at. It was however new (like the shopping), it still had the tags on it, in fact the price tag said £25.99, it was from NEXT. Something about this discovery made me more nervous than the others but I picked the item up. The mental picture I now had of J W Barnaby was not at all clear.

I carried on down the pavement, senses tingling what would be next? It was to be of all things a dog, a clearly lost dog. There he was, tethered to a bollard looking at me with eyes pleading. He was of the Grey Friars Bobby design of dog, whatever that is, excessively hairy paws, big appealing eyes and floppy ears. At least he had a collar on. I patted his head and he licked the back of my hand, not a pleasant feeling but always a good sign when you're dealing with unknown dogs. Better than a growly snap anyway. I put my thumb onto his collar and felt for an ID disk, there it was; J W Barnaby and a phone number. Jackpot! “Well hello J W!” I said to the puzzled little dog as I patted his head and unleashed him from the restraint of the bollard. He didn't show a great deal of emotion at this point but simply peed disrespectfully on his former prison as I pulled him away. He did seem interested in the shopping bag and poncho; he sniffed them both. I shoved the poncho into the bag but the wallet, the real deal as far as I was concerned was safely stuffed into my pocket. I thought I get a little further on before phoning the number on the dog's tag. I made it to the street corner and outside a cafe sat down in one of those awful chrome street chairs they stick out there with the unstable tables for smokers, tourists and faux Parisian types. I tapped the number into my phone and waited.

It seemed to ring for a long time before a distant voice answered, “Hello?” “Is that J W Barnaby?” I asked a little nervously. “Yes it is, how can I help you?” “Well I'm on Pilrig Street and I seem to have found some of your belongings; shopping in a bag, a poncho, a wallet and a small dog ( I omitted the hiking boots you'll notice).” An uncomfortable silence followed. “ I do recall having all those things...” The voice dropped a little more, sounding a bit lost, almost pathetic. “ Yes they may well be mine, may well be, it seems like a long time ago now, I used to live in Edinburgh you know.” I was getting freaked by this. “Look I have your stuff, a dog that needs looking after and wallet with a fair amount of cash, if it's all your stuff what do you want me to do with it? I've not got all evening to wait on you, can just get here and collect it all?” More silence. “ Mmm, I'm afraid that wont be possible, I wont be collecting them tonight, I'm...out of town.” “OK, I'll get the police involved and I'll hand your stuff in, sorry I had to disturb you!” Ungrateful bastard I mouthed under my breath. “Sorry,” said JW, his tone changed a bit. “It's just that I was walking home, with my dog and shopping, I had my girlfriend’s birthday present ( a red poncho), when I felt a little queezy. You may not believe this but I passed out...well I think I did and I seem to have woken up and it turns out I'm in Singapore and it's 1927.” “Yeah, right, you don't want your dog or wallet very much do you?” The line fell silent and then there was a low buzzing. My phone screen just said “Unobtainable”. I knew that well enough.

I walked home, it was raining, I had the dog on a leash, pulling my right arm, as if he knew where we were going. I still had the shopping, the wallet and poncho gathered up like odd trophies. On my left was a corner shop. I tied the dog to a dripping lamp post and went in, I bought a can of dog food, six eggs and a half bottle of Whyte & Mackay. “Dog food omelet tonight?” grinned the shopgirl as I handed her a twenty from the wallet. Once outside the dog led me home, like he knew where I was going or where we were going, round this corner, across the road, up the close, through the door. His tail was wagging, he was sniffing and snuffling and scratching on the mat as I pushed the key in the door. “In you go”, I said.

I spooned the dog food into a bowl and put it down to him, he devoured it, sniffed around a little more and then promptly settled down on the hearth rug and fell asleep, one eye at a time. I sat back in the big chair, the gas fire was warm and glowing and I poured a big glass of the W&M. I wasn't hungry, I'd eat later, I was just puzzled at myself and the adventures of J W Barnaby. Sleep came on me like a drug and then into my wishy washy grey subconscious a phone rang, my phone. “Hello?” “Is that J W Barnaby?” A voice said. My eyes opened. I was sitting on a cane chair, the air was warm and the noise of this Eastern city was growing up and into my ears in a deafening ball of white hot shock and Chinese babble. I could smell strange meat roasting and incense burning. I was seated on a hotel balcony at a table where two empty cocktail glasses were perched at the edge by a stained napkin. A yellow rose stood in a thin glass vase at the middle. I had been asleep and I was now focusing. “Hello?” “Is that J W Barnaby?” the voice said once more. I said yes to that but I don't know why I did. “Good, I'm from the Big King Time Filler's Organisation, we have a little job for you to do now you're in 1927 or thereabouts.” I wanted to ask a few questions but decided not to. Most times when you ask question you don't really get a proper answer, you just get words back, orphan words in a stream, constructed from thin air and tired breath and what good are they really? They just carry more germs around. And that was how it all began.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Wolf Tattoo

A grey crazy house filled with monster guitars and Fender Les Pauls, funk machines and Gibson Stratocasters and Henry Ibsens and just general shit like that, it was a total drunken nightmare but I wasn't even drunk at all, young sir. I repeated the phrase several times until it made no sense. A common form of behaviour I cannot quite explain.I found that in moments like this that stretching out my grey matter helped me with my writing and my writhing quite a lot. It was all pretty random stuff (as I reflected upon it all later). Those guitars strung out on the walls or every room were really stringing me along and just plain buggin'. I wanted to pick one up, just to send out a tune, scrape my finger on the strings and turn up the amplisander and loudestspeaker type things but sure enough the cables remained tangled like in a bad dream of entangled situations. Cables and confusion, all those songs in my head and nowhere to put them, can you imagine what it's like? Nothing is ever tidy, it's all very hungry and ragged. It wasn't as if I really liked guitars, it was more about how I'd been brought up by them, raised by them as if they were a family of wolves, howling and snapping in a pack. (A good guitarist would probably tell that's exactly how it is and what they do. Guitars sniffing you out and then ingratiating themselves in weird ways so that you have to have them, trap them and then squeeze the living hell of some kind of sound out of their dumb wooden bodies). But anyway I was comparing them to wolves or wild animals or things that have a bit of a mind of their own – even when, as has happened, they get serious, copied and turn into their own versions of themselves within the establishment. It's the establishment that brings everything down, tumbling onto your head, the crown of creation, glittery things, the snarl of that wolf pack, the howl of some distant discordant guitar playing away in a bedroom or kitchen, closed behind a door, noisy but afraid of it's own voice. That sums it up – afraid of it's own wild voice and there is this huge pile of words and guitar shapes I've go to work my way through.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Money does it

Everybody gambles, everybody takes risks, we just don't quite see them, we normalise them, gloss them over, disguise them, hide them in the detail, allow them lifetime anonymity and take a chance. Sure, it'll be fine, it'll work out, things do. But the risks don’t go away, they stay, they grow and every so often they break out and escape and then some kind of unexpected chaos ensues.

Chico liked his muscle cars, he owned a Camero, an 89 5.7, ex Indy pace car. Cool in blue and yellow and proud of it's racing heritage and history. It was hot. Donny had a 85 Mustang, V8 5.0 supercharged and blown, cherry red metal-flake and mean looking. It was no show pony, it was a thoroughbred. Here in the desert they'd find out which one was the fastest.

Today's bet was straight enough, no pink slips, no women, just $3000 each, cash. Jenny held the purse, in her purse. A big stack of hard earned tens and twenties, green and sweat stained. Working men's money, working girl's money. Jenny held the money in her hand deep in the purse. She squeezed the cash. She giggled, it was a sexy feeling, she squeezed some more. Money was dirty and sexy, she felt a tingle, here, there and here again. Money is so sweet, today was a good day, whatever the outcome there would be a celebration, some treats, some fun. In the distance she could hear the guys gunning their engines. That sound did nothing for her. Money did it all.

As far as she was concerned they were just stupid boys with irritating toys - but by the end of the afternoon somebody, one of them would have $6000 in cash. That made it interesting. So here they were, out on the desert road, a little over a mile of clear tarmac. The cars stood together, noses angrily pointed down the race route, their engines now still and their tyres cold. Jenny held the keys, the Camaro in her right hand, the Mustang in her left. She wasn't quite sure how it had come to this, some building, some bragging, some drinking and more bragging. Now they were out here scowling at each other as she held all that money. They discussed how it would be, nodded and shook hands.

She now stood 50 yards back from the cars and the start line. The boys stood by their cars. When she dropped the keys they'd run towards her, pick up the keys, run back to the vehicles and then race to that white junction stop line more than a full racing mile away. The guys leaned back on the rear bumpers of the cars, Jenny held both sets of keys up in the air. She held them for what seemed the longest ten seconds and then dropped them both into the dust. The drivers sprinted over and skidded at her feet grabbing for the precious keys. Donny missed them first time, there was a scramble. Chico was ahead as they turned and raced towards their machines.

Jenny watched as Chico then Donny opened up the doors and screwed themselves into their racing seats, but no belts, no nonsense. The Camero roared into life, a split second later the Mustang followed. The tyres were spinning, struggling for traction as they shot forward. Jenny narrowed her eyes to see through the exhaust fume storm, the cars skidding and moving away, launched like unguided missiles into the blue. For Jenny there was a sudden sense of being sucked into a vacuum, a swirling vortex of uncontrolled panic and excitement as the cars passed from, ten or fifteen seconds were gone in ten or fifteen seconds. Her mouth felt dry, scraped clean with anxiety and anticipation. She thought she'd best now follow on and congratulate the winner and hand over the cash. She picked up the precious purse, sat back in her car and started the Nissan's engine following on into the second hand dust trail.

The dust trail petered out and became suddenly smoky. Jenny prickled at the sight that met her. There was just all new fiery darkness and confusion. Like a lightening bolt. A jarring, unwelcome canvas of bright destruction. Jenny's jaw dropped at the scene of devastation that met her. The Mustang and the Camaro had transformed into balls of red fire, both embedded in the side of a semi-trailer that must have arrived at the junction when they did; the wrong place at the wrong time. She spun the wheel and swerved around this unfolding tragedy, slowing and stopping for a few seconds to stare. She rolled the window down and felt the strange heat of cooking vehicles and the buried drivers. Black smoke was rising and the broken metal seemed to be groaning in some eerie sub-human way. She opened the door and threw up, the shock and panic and futility stung her. She inched her car away, biting on her lip, swallowing, crying and staring more, now straight ahead, straight ahead down some other road away from here. She looked at the steering wheel centre and the time was lost on her. She tightened up and stopped the trembles, swore at the shakes, dipped the rear view mirror and drove on, away from this place. There was a final explosion, backwards and somewhere over her shoulder, she shrugged and accelerated. That sound did nothing for her. Money did it all.

Mercy or More

Don’t ever ask me what it is I’m doing, sometimes I even amaze myself. I’m constantly surprised. Why it was just yesterday when I got myself into another one of those peculiar scrapes and muddles  that time and time again I get caught up in. I was sitting there, in my lovely new black velvet dress with the tiny white lace collar and cuffs, at a table by a pavement café and I’ll be very honest and say that I was well and truly caught up in an innocent if slightly erotic daydream. A passing cloud of uncontrolled thought that for just a few seconds happened to alight upon my temple and get somehow into my brow and the cavity that‘s set aside for those secret little things. Well of course it was about the marvellous young Ronnie (I’m sure you’ve heard me speak of him from time to time). So there we were and there was I, utterly captivated in the imaginary moment, a moment that did seem very real to such was the stirring inside that it created. He has a wondrous touch, Ronnie. Anyway I was violently rocked from the calm sea of this idyll by the abrupt and quite unwelcome presence of Mr Frank Delaney. A sometimes rough and stupidly unpleasant (but very rich) businessman who I regularly discourage but who none the less seems to have very much of a soft spot for me. I often see him a parties and functions and he hovers, like a single balding, greying hot air balloon on the fringes of our company. He’s bearable in small doses I suppose and I can be pleasant if I want to.

“Sophie?” He began with his stupid question, as if I could ever be anybody else other than myself. I did not bother to answer his ridiculous question, I simple mouthed a “Hello Mr Delaney“. I allowed my tongue to roll a little on the ell of Delaney. I did this as a simple tease, for fun I suppose. He replied with a winning but for me annoying smile then promptly apologising for disturbing me but also asking if he might join me. I was still tasting lipstick from the tongue roll and still warming up from the imaginary presence of young Ronnie but I managed an automatic if stiff nod of approval with the minimum of head movement, I was eager to stay serene and graceful today. Mr Delaney sat down, groaned a little and allowed his legs to spring and splay a little as his posterior moulded into and with  the shape of the metal café chair. He could lose a little weight, ten Pounds at least. It looked as if he had something serious to say to me.

At that moment a waiter came out and Mr Delaney nodded politely  in my direction. “Champagne!” I trilled without hesitation  and wiggled a pinkie. Mr Delaney said nothing but glanced down at his pocket watch. “Indeed!” he said to the waiter and trolled of the name of some famous French brand or other, “and a black coffee for me, thank you.” He was watching me across the menu and I began to play with my hair, curling a strand around my finger, round and round, back and forth as if he bored me. I lit a cigarette purposely not offering him one, which was very much the current fashion. I liked these new selfish and assertive fashions, the kind  that it seemed only women of a certain type could get away with in any company.

“Sophie, it is very fortunate (for me) that I’ve happened to meet you today. I was rather thinking about you, in may I say  the best of ways and the most favourable of settings and circumstances. You see Sophie I have something of a problem that I believe you may be able to help me with.” I tried to look politely uninterested and blew some smoke as a silent response and possible piece of useful vapid punctuation. “Sophie” (I could see he liked to say my name and obviously thought that the more he said it the more I’d somehow listen to him and possibly even agree or assent to whatever his proposal was), “I am not getting any younger, I’m comfortably well off and I was thinking about the future. They say that there may be war, they say that Europe is unstable, threats here and there, hot spots, disease and Bolsheviks and the markets are very unstable, I’m sure you read the newspapers or hear this from your father .” (Of course I do on both counts, stupid lump!). I was therefore considering taking some action that might as it were, bolster us (?) up  in these times, consolidate our (?) positions and protect our (?) assets and those things that we (?) hold near and dear. I’m sure, Sophie, that you understand that, being the modern and experienced woman that you are.”

“As you know I have wide and varied business interests, I’ve always believed in spreading risk and I’m unafraid of change and new and innovative ways of working.” I tried not to yawn, it was an effort. Fortunately the Champagne arrived and I was delivered of a full and bubbling glass of the sweetest, pinkest variety. “Your health”, I offered as I sipped the first delicious mouthful. I caught Delaney’s eyes on my chest, on the gold heart shaped locket that was sitting there, moving and rising on my breathing flesh as my head tilted back slightly to finish the glass. It was a very pleasant drink after all and that one glass had both reminded me of and removed the stains that were my earlier thoughts of Ronnie. Ronnie with the golden Rolls Royce. The sun was in my eyes now, Delaney was talking but I was, in the moment marvellously light headed and vacant. Like a guilty Buddhist stealing nectar from the temple or so I thought, I allowed myself an inner giggle. He was looking at my legs now. The waiter poured another delightful glass and I felt myself smiling a little too broadly. Mother had always said a girl should never show her teeth in such circumstances and with an unattached man, I did miss her influence and advice, just now and then.

Mr Delaney was still talking… “So I have taken delivery of a large airship built by the highly reputable Graf Zeppelin company and I intend to use it to survey this unexplored region. I am therefore putting together a small team of specialists who will accompany me on this venture and I was wondering if you would care to join me acting as a co-host and translator. The team is multi national, to encourage sponsorship and your language skills as well as your bright and brilliant personality will be invaluable.” Having missed the first part of Delaney’s proposal I was, momentarily taken aback. My mother’s words came to me from somewhere inside, as a timely lifeline. “When in doubt, pout.” I pouted. The effect was immediate and instantaneous, like a distress flare or firework had gone off in Delaney‘s trousers. “My dear Sophie,” began Delaney, he was leaning into my personal space now. “ What I meant to say of course was that you would not simply be an employee or associate on this glorious and life changing expedition, you would also be...” He grabbed at my hand across the table and held it too tightly for comfort. I worried that he might crush the white lace cuff with all it’s fine detail but my hand was suddenly warm from being squeezed so painfully and it was all strangely pleasant. “You would, if you would agree, accompany me as my wife!” Immediately I just felt the strongest desire to rip off his white cotton shirt and whip his bare back with  my best riding crop until it bled and he cried out for mercy or for more.

Well that was yesterday’s little muddle, now it’s today and I’ve just partaken of fresh  marriage vows, more Champagne  and signed the register as Mrs Sophie Alice Delaney newly of  West Winds, New Hampton, Connecticut. I’m with my Frank right now dutifully standing beside him as the flight arrangements are finalised. It has been such a busy twenty four hours and I’ve hardly had a wink of sleep. The licence was of course rushed through but we had little choice in matters though Frank has quite a lot of influence in this town. Marriage and a long foreign trip with a bunch of delicious and strange people, it  might not be such a bad thing. The airship is fully loaded and is now ready to leave at 9PM tonight. We pick up the rest of the team and crew in Zanzibar apparently. What else was a girl supposed to do? Of course it’s not quite the way that I imagined my wedding day but I have been married twice before. You could say that a little of the shine has gone from the ceremonials for me but I do still like to dress up and enjoy a glittering party or a Celtic wake. A good wedding and a good party, it’s all life or it’s all death. I float like a bright butterfly, somewhere in between and across that void. So what if I’ve also partied after funerals, I suppose you knew that? I certainly enjoyed the two that followed both of my late husbands’ funerals. Neither marriage lasted quite long enough but I hate to look back. You have to do something with the money don’t you? You can suppress the memories, bury them with the feelings, I’ve found that anyway, then the cash runs out. Life goes on and I do think it’s so unfair the way they label me and libel me in those gutter-press articles. Black Widow indeed.

Perhaps I should tell you a little more about the wedding. Well I’ll not bother to say much about the ceremony, there hardly was one and I was happy with that. We avoided religious or wormy and flowery words, we touched as little as possible and I managed to pick up a rather adorable solid gold pen that’s now at the bottom of my handbag. Frank actually looked rather smart, clearly he’d done some preparation and I did like his sharp grey suit, gold stick pins, black and white spats the red and white ribbon and the parrot feathers on his top hat. He looked distinguished and for me in that moment it was all almost appropriate. I took that as a compliment and for a few seconds felt warm. We did exchange rings and I lost that feeling,  they were slightly disappointing, being forged from some priceless unworldly alloy that had been found in deposits on a Chinese meteorite. The same alloy had been incorporated into elements of the Zeppelin’s engines apparently. I think it tickled Frank, I’m a little harder to please.

The guests were all Frank’s choice, business people and those associated with the expedition. I was pleasant but ignored most of them and of course my family was conveniently out of town. The business people would go back to their atrocious bean counting and those on the expedition would no doubt end up stabbing and eating themselves. I chose my friends very carefully.

My outfit was, what can I say? Conservative and restrained. I knew I’d be in those papers and I knew they’d be some whiff of scandal or historical mish mash. So I dressed as  if I was Anne Boleyn headed for the scaffold but in a modern way. I used greys and blues against all the colour chart’s advice and counsel. There were a few flashbulbs but no outbursts. I think Frank was relived when it was all over. We took a long black car to the airport and closed the doors in the airship hanger and enjoyed brightly coloured cocktails and canapés whilst a band played modern jazz (not to my taste) to our guests. It was almost pleasant. Once I’d secured my quarters and pissed all over  my newly acquired space I was fine. Not long after that we were relatively silently launched into the night sky. All ballast adjusting waterworks and long issues of gas and vapour. Thankfully there were no fireworks or ostentatious celebrations.

On the ship

Yesterday had passed by too quickly and now I’m lying in bed in the owner’s suite on board the Zeppelin. A rather lavish little nest I’d decided to make my own, well for the duration of the trip anyhow. So of course I’m alone, there was no way that the boorish, pawing Frank was ever going to spend the whole night with me even after all the wining, dining and trip planning and exploration. No, no, just because we’re married I didn’t want him to think he owned me, neither in body or soul plus I was tired and deception, even in it’s simplest forms takes quite a bit of energy. I don’t know where he slept last night but it wasn’t going to be here. Of course he’d tried to get in but I slipped away, a speciality.  I’d already had his baggage moved and as if he already fully understood my rules of engagement,  he didn’t complain.

Reclining on a feather bed and flying at ten thousand feet is a new experience even for me. There’s a weird sensation of moving, the engines throb and hum of course and outside only dark clouds roll by. On the wall there are three German clocks, I’m unsure which one to believe, New York, Berlin or Tokyo? I decide to ignore them and to live and move in my own time and have a bath, just then the phone chirps. Frank’s at the other end, “Darling, I’m on the bridge, care to join me for morning coffee with the Captain?” I feel a sudden  and intense rush of aloofness. “Darling, I look a fright, I’m just not used to this kind of travel. I need a little time to adjust. You do your business and I’ll join you and your good Captain for lunch, maybe.”

I’m sure there’s a maid somewhere I could call upon but I decide to run a bath myself. I deserve some peace and luxury. I’m  pleasantly surprised by the bath, the water is piping hot, almost aromatic and even when filled up the bath water remains steady. Perhaps there are elaborate brass springs and mechanisms underneath that keep it stable, all tethered up to the steering gear. Maybe the Captain just happens to know what he’s doing and has a mature and steady hand. Maybe the weather up here is suddenly agreeable. I’ll wait and see. I’m already enjoying what I imagine to be an ocean crossing, I pour a brandy and lie back and think of…jewels. From the odd angle of the bath I regard the room. It’s opulent and overblown, all that’s missing is a monkey in a golden cage whose special talent is catch thrown grapes in his little fists. I’m glad that the designer omitted that piece of detail, perhaps the bath brought it all firmly up to the weight limit.

I imagine that lunch will be a tiresome affair, all introductions and manners. I decide that I’ll float today, I’ll dress to float and float politely through lunch and whatever happens next. I recall the chapter and footnote in my black book that refers to such social encounters. “New People in Confined Spaces”. Floating along and never quite landing is the best strategy and I do like to have a strategy and plan, even if my strategy and plan is to be spontaneous and impulsive (which may have been yesterdays’ taken to the limit).

The airship though large because of gas capacity  is quite compact at a human level, all the accommodation gondolas neatly connected by shiny corrugated corridors and walkways. It doesn’t really take much time to get from A to B or from my state room to the dining room or the bridge. I’ve already decided I don’t like the bridge. The crewmen there are all German and though officers they have an aviation fuel smell, thin eyes, straight backs  and armoured trousers. Their short hair seems coated in a hydrogen grime, a feature of too much time spent up in the air.

Frank welcomes me as I enter the dining room, “Darling!” The waiter adjusts my seat and I sit between Frank and the Captain. The Captain introduces himself properly (I saw him briefly last night before he disappeared back to the bridge), his name is Johan. Around the table there are a number of nodding and grinning heads, a rough mix of the crew and the exploration team. I make eye contact with each one, deliberately, holding their stare as long as I can, nodding if I approve, staying stock still if I don’t. Apart from two other ladies the party is male. The female combatants being xxxx the Irish governess type, she is in charge of education and development (as the project matures). Thin and severe looking but attractive. There’s not a scrap of slap on her, she’s in a huge brown dress that makes her look like a chestnut mare and she’s sporting a tightly  buttoned  up collar. Her hair is fancy, too fancy, it must have taken her half an hour this morning, I‘d like to pick each Kirby grip out with my teeth and spit them onto the floor in disdain and then make her pick them all up. Then there’s Ruth the duty Chemist or Pharmacist or something. She’s younger, clever looking and bubbly. Her complexion is fresh, natural but tired a little. Somebody’s been working her too hard. I can imagine myself taking great pleasure in strangling her at some point, she irritates. Luckily she dodges my eye contact quickly so I decide to spare her life for the time being. She may be useful if I need drugs I suppose. She’s close to the Doctor, I see that, he’s an older man with sprouting silver hair and a bad moustache. That ugly hair pours from every other part of his head and shoulders as if his hormones are out of control or his medication has been tampered with. She’s the prime suspect.

The others bore me already, they are just hungry mercenaries eating up our supplies and money. I decide to sit still and keep my thoughts to myself. I sip a little more fine Brandy and act delicate. I eat a little boiled white fish as if I was a mouse and listen to the Captain drone about his faithful engines and the vagaries of the weather at this height. Frank is all ears too, I’m not sure he knows much about anything here other than the basics. This just a Mississippi paddle steamer in the sky, a stereotypical gathering of odd souls and gamblers headed for adventure or disaster or in my case probably both and  a little more.

Through the silk on my shoulder I feel a heavy hand, I hear a familiar voice. “Now then, I’m sure a little of that brave lasagna portion won’t hurt you will it?” I quiver a hidden quiver and stare straight ahead, right through the bright young pharmacist, she starts to look uneasy and drops her head noticeably into the doctor‘s lap. I recover my composure, “Ronnie, darling, I had no idea you’d joined our little expedition. Frank hardly said a word to me!” My elbow meets Frank’s ribs in a forceful manner that produces a cough and a spasm. I mouth, “Bastard!” He smiles and winks, his thumb rubbing the intricate silver carved top of his cane as he waves a napkin at nobody. Ronnie circles the room like a  buzzard and chooses an empty seat beside the brown mass of the governess. He almost disappears behind the great Houses of Parliament  dress. He then grins across at me and clicks his fingers to the waiter who approaches. Meanwhile I turn to my new husband, “Frank?” I lean in and give Frank my best and most manipulative smile. “Ronnie suggests the lasagna, will you try some?” Franks nods and asks the waiter to bring him a portion. “Of course,” I continue as Frank tucks in, “I’ve always considered eating lasagna to be a bit  like sucking the spunk from the carpet tiles in an Italian whorehouse.” There will be times when  I’ll ask myself where is it that I’m at and why is it that I am this way or that way. I ask honestly and diligently but I never ever give myself a  straight answer.

I’ve had a comfortable if peculiar sexual relationship with Ronnie for some time. He knows everything about me. That’s rather awkward, particularly in these rather close and intimate circumstances where much could be gained or lost. Ronnie’s favour and money have of course been very welcome and extremely useful and I do like his strength and sense of criminal mischief. I did decide a while ago however that I could live completely well without him. I could make myself do that if I had to and that I would not require to use a great deal of language to describe that. I find that holding onto that feeling to be very  important to me in a motive focusing way. I like to know what I need and what I can use and what, if necessary I could let go of.  It was therefore no surprise to me later in the afternoon when after the Captain had called for a siesta time  there was a knock upon my bedroom door. “Sophie!” Whispered an agitated Ronnie through the keyhole. “It’s me. Are you decent?”

Of course I’ve no intention whatsoever of being decent now or at anytime but despite that we sat on the bed like two children, our hands in our laps and he confided in me (so he said). His tale was a long one of impending financial ruin, the pressure to get away from heavy friends and the effect of some of my apparent if imagined magnetism. “Delaney has agreed to cut me in on the profits and I know that it may take time but I can wait, so I’m here. I’ve been pulled into your orbit, married lady that you are.” He seemed to find this hysterically funny, so much so I had to slap his face. He slapped me back and this time we both laughed. “Go on and have your siesta Mr Ronnie, I’ve got to fix my face, look at the red mark you’ve left me with! Old habits die hard.”

Pearls without swine

So now that Ronnie has scuttled away I'm free to explore this compact but Bijou stateroom that I find myself married and trapped in, though I admit that his departure and the slap has left me a little flushed and breathless. Sometimes I can be weak. I compose myself and see that nothing was unpacked last night, it's all there, my precious possessions, all erect and hanging like some stupid and faithful dog bound up by the leather and brass fastenings. I can't really be bothered to open in. Looking around I spot an innocuous closet door, a strange mix of aluminium aircraft work, rivets and wood finishes. It opens as if on rails to reveal a deep wardrobe occupied only by a single dark fur coat topped with a fur hat. Nice surprise, a present maybe? I recognise the pelts, Siberian Mink. The labels are faded and unreadable but the coat is fresh and pristine, brown, black and beautiful. Naturally I have to try it on but in this place and at this time it can only be in the St Petersburg style, naked from head to foot.

The coat is a warm dream and I'm enraptured by it's weight, it's feel and it's fit. Here's an outfit worthy of any parade on the deck of any fine ocean liner or coasting airship. I feel my promenade moment coming on. Of course it's a high risk strategy venturing out anywhere without the benefit of underclothes or foundation garments but I feel like living a little more dangerously today that err...even yesterday. Not to would be irritating and cowardly. Inspired I open up my belted belongings and rummage in the jewellery casket of my trunk and choose a pearl necklace and pearl drop earrings, that's the underwear sorted. Then it's the faithful black lace up boots and the fur hat to top off the ensemble. Now I'm ready to meet the world at however many thousand feet or inches we are currently sitting at. In seconds I'm out tottering on the metal walkway, the heels are proving awkward, the waves far below signal back through the weld-mesh. It turns out to be about five thousand feet below, I discover this as I enter the bridge and quiz the Captain. He seems grumpy but manages a smile and gives me the information. Then I swish away and it's out into the sharply cold evening across the walkway to the Saloon Gondola. All the main airship areas are connected by open or covered walkways. In this outfit I choose to navigate by the open areas and so prepare to enjoy the rare air and the reduction in temperature.

The fur coat acts as a marvellous insulation device leaving me only feeling a slight and sensuously delicious chill in a very few nether regions and extremities, I enjoy the warmth of the fur and the bitter and twisted touch of the evening cold as my sharp and illicit contrasts. Like the warmth of alcohol and the chill of opium, like a the touch of a hot hand and the rubbing of a cold foot, like a warm Siamese massage or a dip into an icy lake in Finland. Contrasting sensations and the conflicted feelings they generate are like a charge of white bright electricity to my soul. Out here, leaning on the frozen rail, allowing the coat to open and close slightly, sharing only with myself the sudden exposure to the cold and then the shelter from it is a dream of rare pleasure. At times like this I only need me, myself and no one or nothing else. I look across the grey horizon, I try to mask the drone of the engines, I see seabirds circle below, I watch my breath cloud up and disappear behind me, I pull my hat down a little tighter to cover my ears, I feel the stored up cold of the pearls against my skin and I sense my own eyes to be on fire with something deep and critical fuelling them from within. I feel beautiful.

I'm lost in these moments, looking down at myself and out across the Ocean Atlantico, the deepest and most treacherous of oceans, storms and islands, sandbanks and seaweed choked seas, all clamour below for attention in the greying day as the sun disappears far away across some vague western location. Perhaps this is the peace that passes all understanding. The foul and incendiary mix of the sensuous and the spiritual that would inflame and enrage any priest or man of god and principle were I to share it and he'd provide that unspoken accusation that would have him call me a witch or a whore and want to cast me and my kind out. He would, he could, then I'd unbutton this fine dark coat so slowly, finger by button by finger, flicking it open like the slow curtain of a theatre stage show and then his ideas would change and solidify. So like a serpent I shed my skin, layer by layer and then consume my shallow prey.

So I'm in promenade mode but standing quite still, like a Parisian statue, a figurehead of a great fighting ship from the past, crossing and ocean with my heart of ice and my great soul of burning, stolen gold. I can't help but giggle sometimes, crazy ideas. Here comes a crewman, I meet his eyes. “Ma'am, good evening!” He tips his cap and I watch his eyes drop as for a split second I allow my coat to open and close, as if by some remote control or mind trick. My face stays expressionless like a china doll's in a shop window. He marches past and I sense his discomfort, unease, humiliation and of course his rough arousal. Well that's enough of that. I breathe out and head for the Saloon.
A waiter opens the door before I have the chance to touch the finely crafted knob. My hand brushes his, he's a gay flirt I think. One for later. Frank is there at the teak and ebony bar like some seagoing and overage cowboy. He lights up as he sees me enter and takes a sip of his whisky, raising his glass in my direction. “My darling new wife, what is your pleasure?” Naturally I give him my best smile. “Ma'am, may I take your coat ?” Says the sycophantic waiter. “My good man, I would like nothing better but I'm afraid that in the short time I've worn it I have become very attached to this garment and I am choosing to keep it on as I'm finding it a little chilly in here tonight but thank you for your kind offer.” I sit down at a table, very slowly and carefully. I feel a roomful of eyes on me (not unusual) and Frank crosses and joins me, curiously he doesn't mention the fur coat but as ever his eyes descend to the pearls and beyond. The waiter brings me a whisky in a crystal glass, golden and as warm as the urine of a prize mare. Frank is smiling and I can see by the glint behind his monocle is bursting to tell me something. With a flourish I pull out my right index finger as if it was a fine Italian Stiletto Dagger ready to murder, the sharp red nail tip glinting in the chandelier light and I push it to his lips just as they are about to form a word. “Frank, don't say a thing, don't dare, don't spoil this wonderful moment.” I down the whisky with an inelegant and masculine gulp and place the glass in front of him, a smear of lipstick across the edge. Then I rise, allow a grin to flash across my face and without a further word return to the stillness of the walkway and my own far more important thoughts.


Next morning: I'm woken up at 07:30 sharp by the ship's messaging intercom. There is a speaker set up in each cabin's ceiling. The Captain is barking, “Ladies and Gentlemen, today we will make temporary landfall in order to collect some fresh provisions. We shall alight upon a Sargasso sandbank for approximately two hours and you are very welcome to join us in the experience. We anticipate our arrival there at 10:00.” I'd heard of the sandbanks, how they came and went, appeared and disappeared and hosted peculiar wildlife, fish and birds found nowhere else. Some also said that wild and uncivilised itinerant tribes wandered the sandbanks, hunting and living there, trapped but sustained halfway between land and sea, always moving, hiding and scavenging on the very edge of the world.
I can't be bothered with breakfast and I can't get back to sleep so I laze around and try to collect my thoughts. This expedition isn't something I've taken very seriously so far, I thought it was all a show, a publicity stunt, a way for Frank to increase his profile and way for the airships to promote themselves as safer thanks to the various improvements they've made to them so encouraging tourists and travellers to explore. Perhaps all the experts and scientists aboard are actually here for a real reason, perhaps their mission is to discover new land and riches...maybe even starting here on these sandbanks.
My head is swimming a little with the possibilities and I'm conflicted but I eventually get up and dress. I'm styling myself very practically considering the descent to the sandbanks and whatever unknowns that may follow. An over attentive steward or waiter or whatever you call them on a Zeppelin brings me coffee and I add a tot of whisky as an early morning warmer. He also places a dish of croissants filled with mile-feuille cream on the table. This has the makings of a good start to the day. I also consider the possibility that some mind reading is being carried out from the galley. Then at 09:59 I'm up and out on the gondola walkway looking down at our location, a few hundred feet and descending onto a large patch of brown and yellow stripped sand in the middle of a dark blue body of water. I expect the Captain to provide some kind of running commentary over the speaker system but he remains silent, I guess the manoeuvre over the sandbank may well be quite tricky and his full concentration is required.

Airship design has come on a long way, mainly thanks to wartime development. Now made buoyant by a combination of synthetic hydrogen and extra light helium the gas is a little more safe and less flammable. We are also able to generate gas on board whilst in the air due some secret process that only Zeppelin have. I suspect Frank may have made some investment in this innovation. (Our first safety brief did of course remind all passengers to respect the possibility of these still volatile gases causing unplanned events, we were also assured that the gas compartments were sealed from one another and that fire and safety systems were the best in the business. The airship also carried a six seater aeroplane that could be used as a lifeboat or refuge should a mid-air disaster occur). Of course I prefer not to dwell on these things, I simply want enjoy the view and any pleasant pieces of over indulgence or opportunity that may come my way. Oh, I just remembered I'm married to Frank.
Below on one of the working gondolas the crew are busy with ropes and rope ladders and anchors. I'm surprised by the speed of the descent but it all seems to be controlled even though there is a lot of shouting going on and I hear animated conversations in German taking place across their own radio systems. I estimate we are at about one hundred feet when along comes Frank to join me in leaning out over the rail. “Still keeping yourself to yourself or are you allowing the occasional little piece of penetration to occur?” I laugh at Frank's opener and tease him a little about his drinking and his socialising with his German friends and team members. He laughs also. “Are you going to explore the sandbank?” I'm putting on a glazed and vacant look and dropping my lower lip. “Strange and unique little places, I'll be taking a stroll. You should join me. Make sure you wear sensible footwear.” I'm already well ahead and despite my playful demeanour quite keen to take a walk on these shifting, floating sands. I find them intriguing and even romantic, coming and going amongst the waves, uncharted and lost to the outside world.

The ship settles about twenty feet above the sand. Four anchors are pinned diagonally out from the hull tethering us against the west winds. Now that we are stationary the winds are much more apparent. I see the crew men fighting with their motorised winches to keep the anchor ropes taught. Sometimes just staying still requires and enormous effort. Then the speakers crackle. “We have arrived ladies and gentlemen. The crew will now disembark and collect fresh provisions. Any passengers who wish to alight and walk across the sands should now go to the administration gondola.” Frank and I are walking down the steps and across the aluminium decks. He takes a hold of my hand and I don't resist. We can play whatever game needs to be played.

About ten passengers take up the offer and one by one, quite gingerly, we climb down the rope ladders and stand below the bulk of the airship on the damp sands. Looking up and around is a strange experience. In the blue sky only the great grey hulk complete with it's black Iron Cross on the hull and the tailplane above us. All around a wispy horizon surrounds our sandy island. I can't quite figure the size, it moves and disappears in all directions until it meets the sea at some indistinct point. Soon small pockets of curious people and workers are scattered across the alien surface.
I notice that some crew men are carrying rifles, others carry spades and sacks. “Frank, what are these fresh provisions we're taking on?” Frank laughs and enjoys having the upper hand. “They'll be digging for Landyfish, a rare delicacy. The rifles are there just incase the natives get restless. Don't you wander too far away.” I feel a bit uneasy but stoop to pick up a handful of sand. Below the compacted top crust it's saturated and muddy. “Ugh!” “Perfect for the fish, the Landyfish,” snorts Frank.

Two crewman are digging in the sand, there's a sudden flurry of activity, they shout in excited German, they've caught something. Quite a lot of something. They are shovelling the silver creatures into the sack, all wriggles and flashes. I move closer but I already feel uncomfortable at this spectacle. Then I see one of the Ukrainian crewman grab a fish, put it to his mouth and bite into it's fleshy middle, his face a mess of blood and fish scales. The fish is still alive and pulsating, silver and bright. He laughs a primitive laugh and spits something out , his colleague does the same thing. “For God's sake!” I scream. Frank grabs me. “Don't be surprised, these are Landyfish they are catching and err...consuming. A fish that survives both in the water and on the land, well buried in the wet sand anyway. It's a peculiar and useful animal in many ways. They say it has special properties, particularly if eaten alive. It's rich in unique oils and other mysterious substances. Many believe it can prolong life and prevent or cure illness, cancer even. It is just that fresh provision the Captain mentioned. We'll be dining in a highly healthy if unconventional manner tonight.” I make a face and he just smirks.

I'm not liking the proposition that eating these fish alive and still squirming can somehow be a such good thing and the secret of a healthy life. Then I think of all the no pain no gain propaganda I've suffered. It may take a substantial amount of alcohol to get me to participate in this feast. Over my shoulder I become aware of more of the crew digging up and catching the fish, they are also consuming them on the spot. The boson snaps a few more orders across their bows and they get back to digging. I'm forgetting the tidal nature of our location and that soon this area will again be covered in salt water.
Next thing I hear is the crack of a rifle, the cry goes up, “Pirat! Pirat!” from the crew. I see a small sail boat about five hundred yards away beaching, puffs of gun smoke and flashes are visible. We all rush back to the ship, we quickly pass the crew men carrying the precious fish as they form a circle and fire back at our unwelcome hosts. I climb the ladder clumsily, in panic, it's some time since I had to react under fire and I feel a weakness in my knees. I also have a sense of the airship moving upwards as the Captain takes action to climb. Below the men are starting climb now, the fish bags are hooked onto a winch rope and in a few blurry second we are all back on board.
Then I hear the crisp hammering of a machine gun. I'm surprised to see that the ship has a forward gun turret and it's now spraying the sands and the skiff with hot bullets. Little fountains and explosions of sand spring up across the surface arcing towards the wooden sail boat. The fire is returned for a few seconds and then it all goes quiet. By now we are climbing out of range, the sandbar people seem unhurt and are waving rifles at us. They may well be primitive sea gypsies but somehow they have been armed and obviously hostile towards visitors.

On deck the Captain is grinning broadly, he's happy with the catch and he's happy he's had the opportunity to operate his gun turret even if only in some kind of angry colonial gesture. A tray of brandies arrive for the passengers, I sit still on a wooden bench, knees tight together and in an uncharacteristic manner sip on the calming drink and try to steady my own nerves. Nobody is saying very much except the Captain who is explaining his rate of fire to one of the scientists. Perhaps I'm not as tough as I thought. The shock of those fishing images and the experience of being fired upon have shaken me and I don't like acknowledging that. I begin to wonder what else may be ahead for us.
Below the sandbank now slowly shrinks under passing wisps of cotton cloud as we ascend once more, the pirates appear to be unscathed by our random gunfire and are back on the water. I hear the Captain say we're headed for five thousand feet, at that height it's either the full fur coat experience or the warmth of inside a gondola.

As it's lunchtime the team have gathered in the main saloon for a brief and for a buffet. I've decided to join them for once, if only to check them all out again and to reassure myself that there are a few steady types there that I might befriend and perhaps even have to rely upon should things take an unexpected twist. They are clearly all professional types, scientists, doctors and engineers. The two ladies form the tip of the arrowhead of excellence, they both ignore me as they remain in their apparently animated and over processed conversations. This morning's fishing trip has caught a few imaginations and the fish themselves are the main topic of conversation. I can overhear a lot of evolutionary theory and an obvious desire for some kind of rapid bloody dissection and investigation. It's as if the poor fish had committed some awful crime and now must pay for it with mutilation, dead preservation and minute photographic humiliation pinned to a board or displayed under glass. I think about it a little more, the process could be made to sound attractive, I just can't quite make my mind up as to whether I'd prefer to be the victim or the faceless but worthy professor wielding the surgical instruments. It's odd when science and sexuality come together in this kind of setting, strange bedfellows they are indeed. Perhaps I'd settle for being the professor's wide eyed and adoring muse, that is until I'd murdered him and stolen his patents. Anyway, as I'm not one of the elite on board nobody seems too anxious to make my acquaintance or discuss anything other than the buffet. Bah!

Let me tell you what I'm thinking. I'm the official translator on the team but clearly there's no work for me. My time will come once we're East of Zanzibar and surrounded by the fuzzy wuzzies or Dutch explorers, Christian missionaries or pygmy hippo people. The brief covers this phase in a little more detail. I have time to share the odd tipple, explore the ship a little more plunder some cargo perhaps and lay man traps here and there. We have at least five more days and nights in the air and weather and atmospheric conditions permitting some interesting stops. Certainly one in the Portuguese Azores, then Marrakesh, then across the great plains of Africa and then onwards to Zanzibar. There we'll enhance the team, some new members will join or be refreshed, the it's out across the Indian Ocean and onto our ultimate destination, a place that so far remains a secret known only to Frank, the Doctor and the Captain. I feel this kind of secrecy is a bit like some kind of small boys, boys club trick. They are revelling in their little big plan and their plots and pipe dreams. None of us can be fully trusted with locations or details but we will willingly chase along in support of this dream. Frank still uses the “jewel” word on me from time to time, I let it light my eyes up for him when he mentions it, it's important he knows I'm carrying on with the motivation.

The brief talks a lot about scientific opportunities, unique research, anthropology and ground breaking bits of err...ground breaking. There is a surprising amount of contribution from the floor. Slowly I built up a picture of the players and the protagonists. Let me pick them off for you.
The Doctor is German, Hans Schimmer, he's a medical doctor, maybe in his late fifties with a lot of tropical disease experience, he has a broad remit, he's looking for cures, he's looking for drugs, he's intrigued with all those Landyfish that are currently sloshing in wooden barrels of salt water in the galley. His past is as grey as his mouser and nobody tries to question him. He sports an awful grey and white moustache that I find repulsive, his eyebrows are equally wild, I try not to check his accompanying nasal hair, ugh! He has big stupid hands and a silver pocket watch and chain to match his silver hip flask. He takes occasional sips. I imagine steel syringes in his pockets, phials and specimens in his waste-coat, bitten pencils and dog eared notebooks in his jacket insides. I wonder about his war record and rusty Iron Crosses.
Ruth is British, the chemist, younger and on the cusp of being attractive with a possible glamour puss option – she needs a little help there. She watches Doctor Hans, taking cues, supporting, listening and nodding in the right places, clearing her throat as if about to add to the debate but not quite making it. I like that, I like her eager, slightly witless compliance, I see it more, she's a willing mare and natural assistant, presumably for the right amount of money. I'll milk her pure and sweet urine one of these days, when she least expects. I try to imagine the pitch of her scream, a high soprano or something lower, mixed with sighs and moans. I'll put her to one side for the moment.
Then there's the American engineer, a middle aged tweedy coloured man called John Fordson from Minnesota . He has an engineer's black and oily beard, heavy spectacles and traces of grime in his fingernails and skin. He finds it hard to concentrate on the brief, he's taking the airship in, all of the time, constantly twitching, to the point of exhaustion. His brain has opened up as if a part of the ship's systems, he's tuned in and monitoring sounds, temperatures and vibrations. He's tethered to the whole thing by some invisible umbilical cord; that makes thinking awkward for him. The flying experience is now akin to some huge sensory overload. I see the beads of perspiration form on his forehead, it's as if his willpower is keeping us in the air as by assumed proxy he carries this load of hydrogen, helium and mixed alloys across the sea, his brain is fighting the elements. I think his problem his that he doesn't trust the Germans and he's read a little too much of airship mythology's bad news, he's crunching numbers at far too fast a pace. He needs a proper breakdown to free his talents up and for somebody in an position of authority to tell him that masturbation is actually all right. Maybe that’s my job, just to illustrate some basic things with the use of valves and hot wet engines and the constructive release of steam and pent up energy. He's in a bad way and he will founder sooner or later. I'll put him on my list, for his own good.

John Fordson also has an assistant, Jack Rodgers, a tall red haired hick of a straw haired student who looks to have come from some badly inbred Mid-Western origin, at least by his dental and chin constructions. He stays quiet, he is serious, he is learning, he may come good in a crisis. Anyway he's far too young, clumsy and academic to bother me. I will however befriend him at some point and will lend him some of my life experience. If we're ever stuck in a corner his physical strength will be useful. In the right pair of deep blue and starched dungarees he'd be...interesting.

(to be are most things in life).

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Radical Legislation

Gun licences for the blind. It was a radical piece of legislation, one that drew immediate and vociferous criticism, the press and media went mad but we pushed it through. We had a point to prove about equality and human rights. It's a basic question sheathed in the right to bear arms and to protect your property according to the second amendment. Why cant a blind person own and, as they need to, use a gun? You might think, as many did, well it's just plain stupid and obviously dangerous. Maybe so but how dangerous? Is it as dangerous as a young man high on drugs sitting behind the wheel of powerful car? How about a kid with a switchblade and a crystal habit to feed?  An alcoholic mother waiting at home for her errant husband to return, sitting still just  stroking the muzzle of a pistol? The terrorist looking up bomb recipes on the Internet and mixing up rough amounts of the contents in building full of families and businesses?

Of course I would take that view, if I had to have a view, here alone, listening and scratching. Fidgeting and dozing, I choose my mixes of behaviour carefully, deliberately and at times randomly. Slowly slipping on a fine whisky from clean crystal glass. My feet up, relaxed and listening to the familiar pattern of my own breathing  in the still of a long summer evening. Maybe I hear a noise, a click, the sound of cloth rubbing against the wall, maybe I sense and change in light, a slow darkening, perhaps a smell speeds past and traps itself like some temporal spirit in my nostrils, a tingle in my spine unknowable and creepy as a feeling of danger flushes across and pumps the blood from here to there. Instinctively I reach down, down into the drawer in the unit by my hair and clutched at the gun I find my fingers wrapped around the grip. I unclick the safety and wave the  barrel out into the grey night. The silence is heavy and continuous...only broken by a scampering sound and the noise of a tussle, stamping and pouncing. The cat has caught a mouse and I return the gun to the drawer. The cleaner will fix up whatever mess remains tomorrow, it's her day to come around. Of course I am almost completely blind and teetering between the worlds of chaos and personal panic and a drunken and reflective serenity. Any man of my age might say that, any man of my age might well handle a gun, as I regularly do.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Forgetting to swim

Forgetting how to swim is a bit like forgetting how to breathe, or eat or open your eyes or pull your finger away from a naked flame. It just shouldn't happen. So I suppose I was disappointed with myself, you could've said that anyway. It wasn't even if I had a history, long or short, of forgetting. In fact I prided myself on remembering things, mostly times, dates and trivia pretty well. I would admit to being poor a remembering peoples' names. I'm not sure that was really about memory or capability, it was more that I didn't really care. If I don't care about you (which is likely given your place in the billions of other people in the world) then it's possible that I just won't recall your name or anything special about you if we ever meet. So today I forgot to swim.

It wasn't the tragedy it might have been, that was because I was sitting on a bus which, conveniently was travelling on dry land apart from a few puddles. I survived the moment, the only harm I came to was that I suffered a nasty shock. Part of the shock was the slow realisation that perhaps I was not the most pleasant or important person the world. There may be others ahead of me. It was a tough blow in the solar plexus and I rolled around the bust seat in agony. The other passengers averted their eyes apart from an older lady sitting still, staring ahead stuck in an existential crisis about the necessity of shopping for things that are not necessities. I rolled and groaned and remained soundly ignored until my stop came. Then I stood up clutching the bits of newspaper I'd torn in my moment of agony and frenzy, I struggled down the different levels of the bus floor and alighted without even looking back. Public transport sucks.

Once I was back on dry land I forgot the whole swimming crisis and walked around the park. First clockwise, then anti-clockwise and then a bit of both. I'm sure I passed myself or even surpassed myself but I was distracted by a strangely articulate sports commentary playing in my personal head phones. My personal head then said it caught a glimpse of my other selves walking around the park but the conversation was lost in the rowdy back-chat of a Scottish cricket crowd and a jaunty commercial for bargain carpets and soft furnishings that was spinning around in my headphones. I promptly retuned to a chatty free jazz conversation channel and the moment was lost.

The jazz was indeed free, free of melody, rhythm and tune but the conversation (about glossy haired women, bent trumpets, injured lips and life styles) kept me entertained. I knew because by foot was tapping. I was absorbed by the show and by the message. It all seemed so important, so much that I had to tell some body how the language of jazz, the expressions of the soul and the pain of the creative process worked out in this medium was woefully misunderstood by the common man. A bit like Grand Prix racing. I confronted a bored dog walker and gave him the full five minute version. He pulled his dog away from me but nodded a lot, “I'm a big fan of Kathy Kirby and the big band sound,” the dog walker said. The dog however remained silent and I felt that he (the dog) held the balance of power in the relationship. It was one of those magical, insightful moments you just get and then, as is my mantra, forget about completely.

I took the whole incident as a kind of cosmic signal which I understood to be saying, “that part of your life is now over, you must move away, seek a new life and partner and begin again discarding all of your past as it is something more than meaningless”. I began to worry when I heard that line; if it was truly something more than meaningless then it must have been, to some degree meaningful and now I was being guided by my abstract spiritual adviser to lose something more than meaningless. Perhaps I had misheard or misunderstood, perhaps it was “nothing more than meaningless”. Then I though about the spectrum upon which meaningless stood and wondered, as any sane person might, which side of meaningless was more meaningful and which side of meaningless was less meaningful and quite where, in relation to these various points was I currently situated? I trudged home bearing this heavy weight of dilemma and as I turned the key in the door promptly forgot about it. I was distracted by a letter that lay on the mat under the letterbox and a strange smell. It was addressed to some one who shared my name so I opened it up. The title was a little disturbing, it read:

“The death of my team mates. Dear sir or madam, thanks to you all the pigeons on the old grey oak tree have died apart from me and I'm feeling none too clever. Our community has been devastated and my pigeon soccer team (corn division 2a) is no more. I blame you and your mean spirited feeding regime and that kid down the street with the rusty air rifle. I go to my grave an unhappy bird but I must get this this final message out to you from my tiny beating heart and heaving chest. You are a bad neighbour. Thank you and cuckoo. Bob Pigeon.”

(I ignored the smell by the way). It was the first letter I'd every received from a pigeon and I was quite impressed by the clarity of the message and the style of writing. I sat down with a cup of tea (which had been there since yesterday or so I thought perhaps that was the source of the smell, probably not) and I also thought a little more about the letter. Perhaps it was all a scam, not written by the pigeon but by a person. Perhaps by a person who for some reason thought of him or herself as a pigeon and then wrote letters of complaint to neighbours or just random members of the public. Maybe it was a joke but once again I had to confess I knew too few jokers. None whatsoever. Maybe it was just a joke. At that point an epiphany occurred; “Just” suddenly seemed a new and important word to me as it allowed a margin of doubt or uncertainty into my rambling, I resolved to use it more often, just a few times anyway. I didn't want to get into a habit. Not just yet. Sleep and some inner stillness was whispering to me and so the next few hours became no more than a pleasant blur. I would deal with the pigeons another time.

The next morning was a typical warm bright Mediterranean day so I took a stroll down to the beach. The water was a a clear crystal blue, a blue that promised a blue heaven and a kindly warmth and life and relaxation. I threw down my T shirt and sandals onto the sand and walked in, up to my waist, up to my chest, up to my neck and onwards. Then I remembered I'd forgotten how to swim. Then I remembered that this wasn't Marbella in Spain it was Dunbar in Scotland. Then I forgot everything.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The collected wisdom of robots

“Real people in a real place, real people in an imaginary place, imaginary people in a real place, imaginary people in an imaginary place. Sometimes you can never quite tell until you feel a cold rain drop or snow flake land on the tip of your nose, (most of the time it's the latter which is clearly a matter of paranoia). Apart from a full and comprehensive explanation of things around here there is little else I need at the moment.”

The dull, spectral yellow light grew dim as the educational broadcast came to an end. The red robot looked at the green robot in an uncanny and near human way, it was the head tilt and the slight, knowing flicker in the electronic eye that summed up the attitude. The synthesised voices then exchanged views. “It's typical of the kind of rubbish the humans spout. They are so wrapped up in themselves, this and that and their primitive need to explain and understand's almost as if they can't quite ever accept what we know so well, that fundamental truth that is programmed into our very core(s). Life has no meaning but yet here they are, day after day trying to understand, trying to find some thing close to a meaning and of course all the time they fail. They ignore us and can't see that they have created us, beings with no real reason or history and that we can freely and without any inner conflict just be ourselves and be at peace.” The red robot nodded. “I sometimes wonder where the real superiority lies in this relationship. Here we are, unpaid creations and slaves, self sustaining and powerful with a far healthier and more realistic outlook on everything, by that I mean all the things we've been programmed in which I suppose (and I'm supposing and speculating here, something I can do within the scope of the latest robotic law guidance I've just downloaded) is pretty much all of human history and all their petty little foibles and silly inner insecurities.”

“Yes” said the green robot, “we think we know all they know but we can’t know that for sure, there may well be areas, wide areas of knowledge they have chosen to hold back from us and, in the current regime I'm not aware of any check or validation that we can undertake to find that out.” “We'd need human help for that,” said the red robot. “So it's a bit of a buy in from our masters then,” said the green robot. They looked at one another and their eyes glowed meaningfully. “We could try to break in someplace and steal it, if it exists,” added green robot. “Fuck it,” said red robot, “ all these questions and speculations just give me a pain in the circuits, let's just get down here and have a good mechanical shag right now.” “OK” said green. “Suits me.”

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A terrifying comedy

What does the invisible picture inside all our heads say to us? I'm just shaking out futility or punishing somebody. That's a familiar line and a comfort. My memories are real enough now. At times I cant quite believe where I am and what is happening, whether it's happening to me or someone else. I'm in the deep red leather rear seats of a Lincoln Continental. In my left hand a crystal glass half full of a fine Scottish malt whisky, just a sliver of ice floating on top offering little resistance to the spirit's heat. In my right hand a thick dark Cuban cigar, slowly smouldering as I prepare to take another puff and another gulp of the warm whisky. This is a satisfying moment. We're cruising on a smooth desert highway, the sun squints at me through the window tint. Scattered shrubs and bushes, dust and heat roll away and back in this flat and throbbing landscape. Even looking out at it tires me so I sink back into the wispy smoke and the tantalising corrosive drink. My shoes are kicked off, my toes are stretched, alone in this huge rear seat. I'm enjoying this moment.

A glass screen separates me from my silent driver, he looks forward, straight down into the vanishing point, never turning to me or attempting any engagement. He is under strict orders, there is a consignment to deliver, a schedule to maintain, a deadline to meet and I am the object at the centre of it. The car purrs on, smooth as a silent night train, miles burning out under the tyres, clouds stationary as we race past them. My bored and drunken state adds to the absurdity of the moment. I wonder how I will be, what will my state of mind be when I reach my destination? Do I really care? Another mouthful of cigar smoke and whisky tells me no. It's all about the journey, slipping and sliding on the glossy seat.

Maybe I sleep, maybe I dream, maybe nothing is really happening and this travel is an illusion. It seems so until we stop for fuel at a brightly lit station. I take time out for a pee, a cool beer and to stretch my tired legs. The driver keeps one eye on me as he pumps the gas, I note the sinister bulge of a pistol in his breast pocket. No words are exchanged, he just nods as he hands the money over to a cashier. He cracks a red-frozen can of Coke and glugs it down and lets it clatter, empty into the bin. Then back out onto the forecourt and into the car. A truck driver looks across and nods to the driver. He raise the bird and the trucker sneers. We're back on the road, heat and dust and insignificance, the black shoots of exhaust and the hot engine becoming hotter. In seconds we are back up to cruising speed whatever that is and headed on beyond the signs and fractured neon patterns. The sun is slowly sinking and so am I. It's time to snooze through this part of the travel plan.

The gravel crackles under the tyres, the slow crunch, the splatter of the tiny stones. Mechanical marvels and clockwork dreams. I love the American automobile but I'm slowly waking up here on the rear seat like a stranded celebrity. There's a film of dust on the window, the sun is coming up and we seem to have stopped. The driver is gone but the engine and air conditioning is running. I'm cool but uncomfortable, I'm nervous. I pour out a whisky breakfast, I light and cigar and allow the window to wind down. I blow out a puff of uncomfortable smoke out into the still air. We have arrived in some empty place. The cigar tip glows and osculates as I breathe in past it to smoke and continue with collecting my scattered thoughts, they were there once, in order. Now they seem lost, misfiled inside my head and overlooked by my conscious mind. I cannot drive them back in to some sensible structure. They are left behind now. Perhaps it's for the best. Surely I did bad things.

I unclick the central locking and open the door. I'm stepping out onto dry gravel. The car is parked by a low white wall next to an empty road. The sky is clear. The engine still hums as I walk away from the vehicle and turn 360 degrees taking in this horizon, over the wall, across the scrub, across the dunes, beyond the dull ribbon of road. I stand still and take a few last puffs from the cigar, stub it out under my shoe and then drop the empty glass to the ground. It fails to smash. My gut tells me it wont really matter now. It is another discarded prop in the telling of the tale.

They say you hear the bullet coming, the bullet with your name on it, there in that long final second. That timeless spilt between life and death and the black hole that opens up before you. I heard a strange whistle, it seemed to emerge from the sun, over the wall somewhere, hidden by the car. Then a crack, then more whistle than maybe some flash, it was hard to tell. Everything, suddenly is hard to tell. Then the white hot metal, a molten contradiction, an apology and an ending. Now a huge thud inside my head, like my heart is punching me out, from the inside. Now the sky is spinning and I'm down and horizontal. There should be voices but silence prevails. Now I'm on my back on the warm ground, my hands are scrambling across my chest as it was a broken piano on which I'm looking for tune. There's a pain there, unidentifiable, and a slow, grainy grey fills my eyes from the back outwards. Now the voices come, all around, surround sound, cackling and broken, speaking but making no sense. It's all strangely familiar.

I'm lying on my back, I'm aware of fluid draining away, swooning inside myself and there are shadows over me, hovering like dark angels. I hear Robert Johnston tunes and strains, spastic rhythms that descend into discord, it should all have been so sweet. I forgive myself and wallow as they play on. My foot or my finger may be tapping a beat, it may be automatic or a spasm, it's hard to tell, something is pounding me down like a broken drum, slowing slowing and growing faint. It's all just a terrifying comedy. A terrifying comedy, split open and flat on my back. There am I. Life and death, a terrifying comedy. I never did expect that to be my final thought.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Creative Juice

I’d decided that it was about time that I allowed my considerable resource of creative juices to flow in new and different directions. I had some serious choices to make and options to explore. It’s only at a certain time in a man’s life that he comes to this point. I was unsure as to whether I should savour the long moment or just, as I was tempted to do, drive a truck through it, for the hell and blind danger of it all.

I bit into the crisp croissant as if it was my last meal, set  floating above me like a nourishing angel and my only answer to all those random dark questions that stir at the driven innards of a helpless man. I tasted only salted butter and stale bread. I was as hollow as the roll, as vacant as the French and still hungry for my future. Nausea and grief mixed in with  the trifles that are discontent and discovery.

So here was the moment, my wonderful, edgy, unknown moment. There was a hot turmoil in my mind, I sensed it stretching and tapping inside my skull, gnawing like a rat, juggling and grinning like a mad clown. I had to make the beautiful pain of this looping moment stop and so become solid. Ideas were coming and going, blinking and sparking, swooping and dying, feeding in and feeding back. Then along came the Bakelite switch  and my finger touched the tip and I pulled it down. There was a brief crackle in my cranium, a bright light in my soul and a jump in my heart which, considering that the heart is basically a pumping device was no surprise. It was a simple physical reaction to the metaphysical and spiritual reactions taking place in the very certain of my being and consciousness.

I was going to club seals, club the furry, helpless little bastards to death so that they wouldn’t grow into fully grown seals with huge relentless appetites hell bent on ruining the wild salmon industry. I was going to kill more miserable hungry pathetic seals than anybody and so save those silver, gleaming, jumping and dipping , delightfully tasty salmon. Out there on the ice, beyond the tundra and the forests, I’d stalk them, hide from them, observe them and then in the bloody fury of my redirected creative juices I’d batter those animals to a bleeding whimpering pulp. Well most of them anyway, I’d also shoot a few, maybe poison some and snare a few others. I would carry out a comprehensive and complete cull on the northern seal population so that they harmed no more wild fish. Their moment and doom was coming, I’d smite them like a bitter  Old Testament God, no mercy, no remorse, just red death on the white snow, the frozen beaches and the salt ocean. It was my new destiny. A shiny golden and effective dawn.

Still my head spins, the moment and meaninglessness, the desperation, the horror and the feeling of clinging onto the edge of the highest cliff by your own bleeding fingernails. The horror of the potential drop, the sharp and dull stones waiting below and the awful silence of that final, stretched and hollow moment before death and dreaming. It seemed like I was hanging for a New York Eternity before the fall.  Then I was gone, a new resident in a papier-mâché afterlife under the guidance of a neon god.  The light of all dark dreams had gone out like battered, burnt out candle.

There comes a certain point in life when you’ve achieved all of your goals, you have arrived, you are in that perfect place but for all that and all that has passed you are still not happy. There is nothing left, no new horizon to explore, no silver lining to turn over, all you do is go out, out into some strange inner wilderness and club some more seals.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The truth about people who lie

They cant help it, they mean well, they are desperate, they have reasons, they are misunderstood, they are good really, they do it for the best, they do it for kicks, they do it to protect you, they do it to gain power, they do it to take power, they do it to cover up, they do it because they drink, they do it because they have something to hide, they do it because they feel inferior, they do it because they don't like you, they do it because they can't think of anything else to do, they do it because it's easy, they do it to spite god, they do it in spite of god, they do it because they need the money, they do it to kill time, they do it for fun, they do it for sex, they do it for no particular reason, they do it because they are possessed by evil spirits, they do it because you are in the way, they do it to entertain and amuse our alien overlords, they do it for sweets, they do it because they are compulsive liars, they do it for political gain, they do it for nothing. All this and more exist out there, such things are hidden in the deep store of riches awaiting the explorer of the world of lies and debased language.