Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Great Unknown - UK politics and the 2015 general election

I try and avoid talking about UK politics because I am a disaffected voter who in the last few elections has spoiled his ballot paper by scrawling on it 'None of The Above'.




The upcoming election will be impossible to predict, since we just don't know what the effect will be of UKIP taking votes away from all three major parties. It will vary from seat to seat, depending on how tactical the local electorate will be. At least it should mean rather than 40 or so seats out of 600+ being genuinely contested rather than 'safe' for the incumbent party, we could well have many times more seats changing hands.


For what it's worth and please don't go down the bookmakers on the basis of what I say, I don't think there will be an outright winner at the polls able to form a majority government. Instead it will be a 3-party coalition, involving Lib-Dems and SNP with Labour Or LibDems and the Northern Irish DUP with Conservatives. UKIP will win no more than 6 seats, Greens will be lucky to hold on to their lone single seat. This is just how the first past the post electoral system works. UKIP will take votes away from both Labour and Conservative, enough to ensure either of the latter lose seats, but not enough to win the seat outright for UKIP. If Miliband weren't such a walking disaster as a leader, Labour should romp this election. But he is an electoral liability, so much so that the vapid Cameron has a greater popularity rating than Miliband. Also Labour will lose seats in Scotland as the SNP managed to sustain their post-independence bandwagon of support, which they really shouldn't be able to do since they lost the referendum, which removes a good portion of their raison d'etre. Instead we now have the irony of them potentially being kingmakers down in Westminster. They might be able to negotiate a devolution of powers from Westminster to Edinburgh so large that it becomes de facto independence in all but name.
As an example of how fragmented and inchoate the psephology is, take a look at London. London is a wealthy city, a natural constituency for the Conservatives you would have thought. And yet it is overwhelmingly Labour and Labour are predicted to take some more seats in May, off both Conservatives and Lib-Dems. And yet Londoners have voted to re-elect a Conservative Mayor in the form of Boris Johnson!




So, what will be the outcome? Almost certainly a lot of surprising results on an individual level and I reckon no one party will have a majority. I think there will be a lot of tooing and froing which may not result in putting a coalition together, or a coalition that is too strained and collapses quickly, so that we might actually have 2 elections within a period of 12 months. Which would crucify the finances of all the parties.


Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride.



















Saturday, 28 February 2015

Social Housing & London Property Prices



Mrs Thatcher made them an offer many couldn't refuse. Who wouldn't want to be a property owner, having their own house rather than being beholden to the local authorities to house you? And so in the 1980s the stock of social housing was at a stroke decimated as lots of people took up the opportunity for buying their Council House at a 30% discounted rate from its market value.

We'll pass over the misery of the quixotic rise and fall of interest rates and the point at which the sale value of their house was actually lower than the value of their mortgage, the dread phrase 'negative equity'. What if these new property owners had no inkling that they were exposed to the rise and fall of investments in the world of accumulation and speculation? That they'd had no education whatsoever for this sudden elevation to rentier capitalism that they'd been invited into.

London, due to its prohibitive property prices and rental costs is a de facto City-State. If you're not already a Londoner with one foot on the property ladder, you've got no chance of becoming one unless you have a big cache of cash. Labour's "Mansion tax", a tax on property's valued at over one million pounds, would fall largely on London compared with the rest of the country.

I was born and bred a Londoner. By sheer luck of when I was born, it was still just possible to get on the London property ladder. When I was in my final year of University and knowing I would be returning to my home city to live and work, I started scoping areas I might like to live in. In the Easter holidays of my final year, I looked at property prices in an area called Tufnell Park in North London. It was an overflow area for Kentish Town which had all been bought up, since it in turn was an overflow area for Camden Town which was a hugely desirable area and whose property prices had rocketed up. (Now all of London is an overflow area for some other borough in the city). Even as I walked the streets of N19, there was a huge amount of activity converting houses into flats so that developers doubled their money on their investment in purchasing the house. When I graduated 5 months later, the average price of flats in the area had already increased by fifty thousand pounds from when I'd first looked. I was already priced out.

In the end, me and my fiancee bought an ex-council flat in Kilburn. The original council tenant had bought it for seventy thousand pounds and quickly sold it on to us for one hundred and ten thousand. a nice quick forty grand profit. None of which the Council would see to be able to reinvest in replacement social housing. We lived there for five years until the birth of our twins meant we had to move to a bigger place. We sold for one hundred and sixty-seven thousand. Today, some 15 years later, my wife informed me our old flat there had sold for over half a million pounds.

Now imagine if the local council had been able to retain a share in all its properties like that one, so that each time they were sold on, the council would receive some money. Then there would be far less of a housing crisis in London and more available social housing through reinvesting the money. But no, local government was stripped of its assets for ideological reasons as Mrs Thatcher went to war with them.

It's ironic that for such a rich city, London has become a city of the Left. The Conservative held seats are pretty much banished to the leafy suburbs, with the exception of the two most central and desirable areas. Labour are predicted to make further inroads into London in the upcoming election. Maybe because it's London for all its wealth has a conscience about those who have been excluded through exorbitant property prices and the lack of viable social housing.


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Dreams - a Music chart



Well if it's good enough for Shakey (William, not Stevens) then it must be a subject rich for the arts. here's a music chart of Dream themed songs (but not David Essex's "Silver Dream Racer")


1) Sonic Youth - "I Dreamed I Dream"

An early SY song this, before their layered sound had really started to cohere. But it's still brooding with menace and the husband and wife swapped vocals is really effective. Kim Gordon's book "Girl in A Band" has just come out. She was anything but that in Sonic Youth.



2) London Underground - "Dreams Are Better"

Spacy, dubby soundscape does conjure up a dreamy sensibility.



3) Mamas And Papas - "California Dreaming"

Infinitely prefer this version than the Beach Boys, even prepared to overlook the fashion faux pas.



4) The Fall - "Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul"

If you're going to include a Fall song in any music themed chart, chances are Mark E Smith's sensibilities are going to cut against the grain of the theme and sure enough, here the Hip Priest warbles his disapproval of the Wigan Casino's soul capital reputation.



5) Gang of Four - "We Live As We Dream Alone"

A quote from Joseph Conrad and I always want to put a comma after the 'Dream' and before the 'Alone'. Talking of fashion faux pas... Still one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands.



6) Fire Engines - "Big Gold Dream"

Here's a band that somehow haven't featured in a chart of mine before even though I really like them. The perspective is very odd here, the band look like tall thin giants compared to the dancers in the front.



7) Magik Markers - "Bad Dream"

I only discovered this band relatively recently and their album "Boss" has gone into my all-time top 20. Usually wig-out noise merchants, this shows an alarming degree of disturbia through a much lighter touch. Fabulous.



8) Pauline Murray & the Invisible Girls - "Dream Sequence 1"

Pauline Murray sounding just like she did when fronting punk band Penetration, though with more poppy backing than the thrash 3 chords of punk.



9) New Order - "Dreams Never End'

Fascinating track that shows the partial emergence of the New Order sound from that of Joy Division, but still with its roots very much traceable. They all look so tentative here.



10) Suicide - "Dream Baby Dream"

If there was ever a soundtrack of nightmares, Alan Vega provided it.



11) Eurythmics - "Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This"

I wasn't really a fan of the 80s, most of my favourite bands expired in the early 80s. I always associate this song with the grim politics of the era. A kind of corporate sponsored vision of nightmarishness.



12) Supertramp - "Dreamer"

Before punk came along, I used to listen to stuff like this. Thank god for punk I say. These days this sounds like Leo Sayer  to me. Crime of the century? That this type of music held sway for so long.



13) Television - The Dream's Dream"

This was probably around a similar time to the Supertramp and represented a precursor of punk and new wave that swept away the old rock dinosaurs. But these guys could still play their instruments, apart from Richard Hell obviously!



14) Nas - "Sweet Dreams"

I like Nas, but he really needs to get himself a decent artistic director to make his videos. they're all the same and universally awful.



15) Chemical Brothers - "Dream On"

They're called the Chemical Brothers for a reason. Spacemen 3 would have killed for this song.



16) Electric Prunes - "I had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)"

Dressed like choirboys yet their sound was a distortion, fuzzed up glorious romp.



17) Tricky - "Bad Dreams"

And we're back with the paranoia latent in dreams. or not so latent in this case. Tricky regarded all life as a bad dream.




18) Lil Kim - "Dreams"

Oh do get on with it! Once she's 43 seconds in it really locks in to a remorselessly mean vibe.



19) The Bug - "Thief Of Dreams"

Dubstep is supposedly an edgy dreamy urban soundscape and The Bug is all that and more. But the vocalist in this spins a terrifying narrative that is anything but dream like.



20) Minutemen - 'Dream Told By Moto"

Or the 4 minute warning till the bomb drops... no dream this for us in the 80s, we really had these thoughts and anxieties.













Thursday, 19 February 2015

Breaking Up - Friday Flash

“… connection… Frustrating…” 

“What?… hear me… …out?”

“Difficult… trying… very…”

“… not enough… and… bars”

“… signal… You… … lousy…”

“Can’t fight… You… there?”

“… forget… us… bother…”

“… give… chance… might”

“…my… back… Unforgivable”

“Time…”

“… later…”

“Actually… meaning…”

“… much too…”

“Static… both… …”

“Oath?”

“… said ‘growth’…”

“Let’s… clear…”

“This…”

“Pointless… … ring… back”

“… waste… …precious…”

“… breaking up…”

“Sorry…?”


“Dumped”

Monday, 16 February 2015

Assassin's Veto - Friday Flash

We condemn their killing, but when you stir the hornet’s nest…

We condemn their murder, but they were fully aware of the risks

We condemn the lethal violence visited upon them, but some sacred cows are non-negotiable

We condemn the beheadings, but they knew the likely consequences

We condemn the journalists' executions, but such are the occupational hazards of covering wars

We condemn the cartoonists’ massacre, but they simply went too far

We condemn the bombing of the theatre, but the play was inflammatory

We condemn the hounding of that author to death, but he remorselessly refused to show restraint


We condemn the rapes, but if they dressed that provocatively what did they expect?

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Triptychs Cover Reveal

Writers often get asked where they get their ideas from. And if like me you write short stories and flash fiction, you have to come up with a whole host of ideas to feed all your stories. I get most of my ideas just by keeping my eyes open in daily life, especially when commuting and observing my fellow passengers; or from items on the news.

But when I was approached to become part of the Mind's Eye third collection of stories all in response to photos, that was a bit different for me. Because I'd had no prior relationship with the image I was presented with, I had to react to someone else's artistic sensibilities, that being the person who took the photo. (Mind's Eye 1 and Mind's Eye 2)

Even more interestingly, the participating writers were sharing the same images. The collection is called "Triptychs" because each image will have three different stories from three different writers. I haven't seen the stories yet, so I'm really excited to see what the other writers did with the images I was asked to create from.

Before I give the cover reveal for this collection and before I show the two images I was asked to riff off, I just want to give the blurb for the whole project:


Now this notion of three different angles on the same image is exactly what I love doing in my flash. I've always described it as like turning a gemstone to reflect the light in different ways from all its facets. In such a way I believe you can show all the subtleties and nuances of things in a way that is very condensed and compact, unlike in a novel when things like character perspective may limit just how many different angles you can show, or the effect is diluted through the sheer length of the story.

So, now the two images I was asked to create stories from.

 

credit: Martin David Porter                  credit: Helle Gade

Now, one was an absolute breeze, I was struck by an idea instantly (can you guess which one?) But the other, well I was racking my brains for months on end. The setting sun was the instant one, such a beautiful image. The only teaser I'll give you is the title, "Cloud Animals". But the teapot on a barge with some swans swimming by... Man I was struggling with that, as those who know me I tend not to write pastorals! And eventually that was my way into a story, to try and come up with something utterly opposite the tone of stillness and grace conjured up by the image. So I did! Don't think the title is much of a clue for this one, but it's called "Water Fugue In C-Minor". "Cloud Animals" is a flash story at under 1,000 words. "Water Fugue..." is a short story at 2,350 words.



So that only leaves the cover reveal for this inspiring project. I give you - "Triptychs"





You can preorder from AmazonUK AmazonUS

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Eyes In The Back Of His Hands



My blind lover reached out to light upon me. I stayed as still and as silent as I could, suspending my breath so as to provide him with no cues. I coveted the way he foraged to locate me. Without sound and motion, he zeroed in on my heat. The temperature of my blood. The cadence of my heart, audible only to him. Watching him search only further raised it, pulsing like a beacon. Thus we mutely reinforced one another’s avidity. In time, though our anticipatory senses had in actuality dismantled all incremental chronology between us, he attained the monolith of me. He clasped my face in his hand, gently dabbed his fingers to triangulate my mouth, before bombardiering his own lips to mine.


My eyeless lover did more than cup, contain and compass me. He carved me and hewed me from my block. His expert, unjudgemental hands moved to plot me, each a deliberate motion reforming the configuration of me. Wilfully I shifted and writhed so that my flesh would never settle in the same aspect. Making each handhold of my body a fresh exposure. My contours scaled and duly honoured, not as some milepost or waystation, but a sacred destination in and of itself. Even with my eyes open, tracking his parabolas over my skin, I could not feel myself as he graved me. As he raised the siege of me. 



My sightless lover became my eyes for me. For in no other possible way could I grasp my own outlines. My eyes were shut as he revealed me to myself. I enveloped his hands with mine and let him guide me over the unknown terrain of me.