Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Vanilla - Friday Flash

*Content warning*  Allusions to sex and violence

“I demand to see my personnel file”

“The Agency is sorry for your loss. If there’s anything you need to help with the funeral arrangements, you have all our resources at your disposal- ow!”

“I w-a-n-t to read my file”

“Well you can put in a request in writing to access it-“

“Take this gun at your forehead is my request. Six bullets in the chamber, that’s double triplicate”

“Real tough guy pistol whipping someone sat on a chair”

“That barely scratches the surface of what you’ve had me do in the past”

“Course the psych report did highlight certain ego issues. But not the id. That was all in order I’m glad to report”

“Just give me the goddamned file”

“The missions are in another file-“

“I’m not interested in the mission stuff”

“But if someone tried to kill you, you’ll need to look back over the missions to work out who”

“I know who tried to kill me. It was you fuckers”

“Don’t flatter yourself”

“How do I know it was you? I saw the timer and the device rigged up. It’s all Agency kit”

“On the job even when on the job eh? Ow! One of our enemies could frame us, make it look like we put the hit on you. I mean a beheading for goodness sakes. I know it's all the rage, but just not our style"

“I k-n-o-w it was you, because you screwed it up. Big time”


“Well what?”

“You’re waiting for me to say it”

“Say what?”

“That we screwed it up because we couldn’t put our best agent on it”

“Nice double bind play. Prove I really did have ego issues if I agree with you”

“Found what you’re looking for yet?”

“I never screwed up a single mission. So you can’t be icing me for that. Never disobeyed a directive, never gave you any trouble. It’s not about any money…”

“It’s always about you isn’t it? - Ow!”

“No, it’s about my wife who is lying on my bed in two pieces, fully bled out”

“Yes no more receiving head from her I’m afraid”

“You motherfucker! I’ll rip your head off your shoulders, see how you smile on the other side of your face across the room then”

“Ow, ow ow!”

“Fuck, there’s nothing in the file”

“Oh there’s everything in the file. Pass it me, let’s see if there are any clues there? Sexual orientation… Hetero”

“I was married for fourteen years. Longer than working for this backstabbing outfit”

“She wasn’t stabbed in the back- Ow! Stop hitting me”

“Stop playing games then. You know why this has happened. The directive would have come through your hands at some point, if you didn’t issue it yourself that is”

“I keep returning to the sexual orientation. You ever play away from home?”

“No. I loved her too much”

“Not even any honey trap missions? I’ll need that other file…”

“No. I never had any of those. You better not be playing for time here. Someone comes through that door and I plug you first”

“I’m simply trying to help you get some closure here. I’m telling you, it’s all about the sexual orientation”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You may not have done honey traps, but you’ve done enough surveillance work where you’ve recorded the mark making the beast with two backs before you lay him out on his back for good”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well we, um know the sexual predilections of all our agents as a matter of course”

“You snap us having sex?”

“Well it makes for good currency, or at least it did anyways before people started making their own porn and posting it online”

“You sick fucker. I bet you watched it in your downtime right? Made you all hot and hard did it?”

“Not really. And that’s kind of the point. In your case we didn’t have to update it. Ever. Like clockwork you two. Same night of the week. Exactly the same time at night. Same place within the house, the marital bed…”

“What’s wrong with that? We had a very loving marriage”

“If you away on assignment I bet you could just as effectively phone it in- Ow!”

“You’d know if I did, since you’re sure to have bugged my phone”

“It’s all just a bit… vanilla isn’t it? Ow! Well, tonight was the designated night of your termination from the Agency-“


“We felt you were, well, just too set in your ways. Not able to respond to our changing times. Gone stale”

“What, based on my sex life?”

“Of course not. But that was the exclamation mark on our analysis. Anyway, for years and years we’d seen you and your wife gently doggy. I ‘spose so she didn’t ever have to look at your face, while you couldn’t see her disinterest and going through the motions- ow! Ow! Okay okay, that was a bit gratuitous I grant. So anyways, on this one carefully planned night, with all the contraption rigged up and primed, there you guys go and change up on us and she’s on top, her head where yours was supposed to have been. And, well you know the rest…”

“If you wanted to take me out, why not just do it and dump me in an alleyway or the desert? Why was she supposed to have to witness it?”

“Because it would ensure her silence. She would know the price of opening her yap”

“You do know, you of all people, that I have been trained in all manner of torture. Affronts to the body. Grievous physical afflictions and psychological degradation”

“I’m fully aware of that. I wrote the textbook on it”

“Well you’re just about to become reacquainted with it. A refresher course”

“End of the Vanilla Man. I’ll have to make a note in your file before you get started on me”

Sunday, 14 September 2014

If Music Be The Food Of Love - Songs about food

American Pie, songs about women called Candy, bubblegum pop... food is meat for coverage in music. So feast your senses on this cornucopia of nourishment, or not as we tuck into a chart of ten songs about grub. Enjoy!

1) Lee Scratch Perry - "Roast Fish & Cornbread"
Traditional Caribbean repast, traditional (ie pre-commercial) reggae. If you listen to some of the songs of this era, you can hear the water background as befits an island culture. Moreish.

2) Gary Clail - "Beef"
A song lacerating the treatment and slaughter of cattle for our consumption of meat. People preferred Morrisey's reedy exhortation that "Meat is Murder". I know which one gets my vote. Juicy.

3) The Undertones - "Mars Bars"
Throwaway song on the B-Side of the "Jimmy Jimmy" 4-track 7" single, but it grew a life of its own. More boyish than laddish which encapsulates the band. Toothsome.

4) Pink Floyd - "Apples And Oranges"
One of Syd Barrett Floyd's last offerings, this is a curious mix of the Beatlesque and psychedelic. it almost seems that the vocals are trying to catch up with the instrumentation, or that there are too many words to deliver and fit into the rhythm. Very odd. Tart.

5) Gang Of Four - "Cheesburger"
I love Go4 but they really seemed to have lost it by the time of their fourth album "Hard" where this track came from. Maybe they'd just sung all their protest lyrics that they had and run out of ideas, while the punk-funk vibe jarred with the critical nature of their lyrics. Since their recent return however, they seem to have rediscovered their mojo and their first album in years isn't half bad. Gristle.

6) Cop Shoot Cop - "Eggs For Rib"
If you want a bit of beef in your music, or even a bit of full English behind it, takes a bunch of Americans to deliver this glorious greasy spoon fry up of a song. No idea what the lyrics are on about, but love it all the same. Calorific.

7) The Carpenters - "Jambalaya"
Carpenters do Cajun, who knew? Hey it's the Carpenters, so what could be bad right? Is it in bad taste to include anorexia sufferer Karen Carpenter in a food-themed music chart? Piquant.

8) Jack White - "Sixteen Saltines"
Do the English have saltines? I love my crackers, Ritz, Water Biscuits etc, but can't say I've ever knowingly bitten into a salteen. To me it sounds like a dried fish or something like anchovies. Still it's a good riff and a half decent song. Seasoned.

9) Squeeze - "Pulling Mussels From The Shell"
A classic. I myself don't trust seafood as to its healthiness given the pollutants pumped or jettisoned in the seas, so don't indulge. But then I guess this song warns against trusting too much as well so I seem to be in step with its sentiments. Squeeze were one of those bands who you were glad populated the charts with a level of edge and quality that kept the bland pap music in check, but you never actually went out and owned any of their records yourself... Brackish.

10) Portishead - "Biscuit"
Not sure what this has to do with biscuits, but oh my what a voice dripping emotion. Savory.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Life Class - Friday Flash

They seem to keep their pets in two display cases towards the top of their countenances. Some double reinforce the case with vitreous frames, while others provide a little vitreous porthole for greater viewing. We had thought the creatures to be fish, but their range of movement seems very limited within their restricted space and really only laterally, as if bobbed from side to side by the waves. So perhaps they are planted and therefore closer to anemones or jellyfish. They don’t do much these pets, just press themselves against the perimeter of their cases forlornly. Occasionally some water is displaced through imperceptible movement and leaks out of the case and down the countenance. Peripheral flesh sluices react very rapidly to this from below and sweep the water away, but the surface beneath remains shiny, although there me be residue of salt. Little shutters come down at night veiling the pets from sight, presumably to allow the keepers access for maintenance and feeding. These shutters themselves seem organic as they can flicker and vibrate at various points during this period. Perhaps that is resonant from the pets’ sheer pleasure at being fed. Perhaps the keepers are visiting unimaginable acts upon them.  

The next structure is a mystifying one. We had thought it to be some sort of chemical grow bag, with two holes at the bottom for infusions and we have certainly seen the powdered white fertiliser and nitrates inserted. There must be some internal duct piping for channelling the nitrates up against gravity. Yet we have also seen red liquid dispensed back down through the apertures, so the crop yield seems to be a liquid one, though we have never observed this liquid being properly retained and stored in any systematic fashion. We have also regarded a heavier, more sludgier green deliquescence emanating through these outlets. They get swept up with a white plane of fabric and balled up and tossed as compost. This fluid is so viscous, we wonder if the white powder might actually be insecticide, or rather simply salt to assault the slugs that may plague the contents of the chemical grow bags inside. Yet we have never seen any dead slugs tumble forth from within the chamber. Truly it must possess some remarkable properties to so defy gravity. Further study is required.

Are the sides of the ensemble are two opened mother of pearl-like shells, although they lack for any nacreous sheen. Maybe there is some muscle memory at work here, for the cores are frequently plugged with tiny white buds dangling from the end of white strings. Boxed sounds emerge from these, perhaps to conjure up the lost sound of the sea the shells have been parted from. That the shells stand upright on their points, may suggest that they have been specially carved in the shape of the relief that receives and holds them in place. This is unclear at present. When they are not sealed with the recreations of pearl, sometimes wispy strands of seaweed can be seen creeping out of the cavity. Others, rather than the tiny nacreous boulders sealing the cleft, instead have huge architectural erections covering the whole of the shell. Again the sound of the sea is pumped through these dolmens, though these waves seem to be crashing far more voluminously. Sometimes these shell caverns are completely covered up by the creepers and vines that trail down them from above and they disappear from sight. Only a hanging groyne or buoy right at the tip of the isthmus marks them out as such and sometimes only one of the pair is thus pointed. Usually in those with less dense tendrils and shoots overhanging. Presumably since there is less unseen danger to signal.

The last feature is a grotto leading on to a series of miniature tombstones. Some tombstones are draped in metal presumably to protect the stones from grave robbers and other scavengers. Stringy green moss and lichens adorn the stones after they have been plied with scouring materials on the end of tridents thrust against them. A second wave of cleaning happens when night falls and a white abstergent is applied via a brush and then hosed off with water. None of our scouts have ever observed the transformation, but we know that when these miniature tombstones are removed from the grotto and planted in the earth, they grow and become much larger tombstones. Initially they darken in colour, but develop a glossy sheen to them, but in time this sheen fades and becomes dull. The elements and in particular acid rain bite into the tissue of the stone and leave marks with either straight lines or curlicues, which superficially could be misconstrued as some sort of symbolic communicative system, but these soon become eclipsed by mosses and lichens adhering to the stone that are not this time attempted to be erased.

The level of evolution is adjudged to be low to middling and therefore no further time studying them is proposed.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Stem Cell - Friday Flash

He was going stir crazy here. Which was odd since this hotel room was infinitely more luxurious than any jail cell he’d occupied. A double bed which was both too spongy for a spine seasoned against prison cots and which moved on its castors rather than being chained in place to the floor. The space afforded by it being ‘King-Sized’ was also fazing. A bed fit for a king, but a king currently without a realm to lord it over. He couldn’t settle either in its middle, which seemed too far from either edge for any emergency exit, while to favor clinging to one side over the other still unnerved him, as all that expanse behind left him feeling vulnerable to any shiv attack from that direction. Even turning the bed and moving it against the wall hadn’t solved that unease. 

The carpet was too plush under his feet, which entailed he had to keep his shoes on to cut out the excruciating feel of the pile against his callused flesh. The curtains were made from such a flimsy fabric, it meant too much sunlight came through the tiffany material and stopped him from sleeping, when he was used to the pure prison blackout at night. And the en suite bathroom with the fluffy robe, let’s not even begin to dissect the alienness of that set up. He supposed hotel rooms were not intended to have their guests holed up in them twenty-four seven, hence their design of punishment through sumptuousness. Frills rather than thrills. 

Yet there were some compensations. Not least the mini-fridge, though that was finite since he had banned the maid-service from entry which meant that his fridge couldn’t be restocked. Neither could he risk room service, besides his supplies of jerky and chips were holding out just fine. So he was rationing his consumption of alcohol. But it was hard man, so damn hard. He stared at the fridge door but it was early yet. 

He spun off the corner of the bed and scooped up his knife from under the pillow. He strode over to the dresser and picked up the block of wood and resumed his carving. Another habit he’d carried over from prison life, though out in the free world he was afforded a better quality of blade. Scrimshawing it was called, practised by sailors on the high seas to while away the tedium of days without any land being in sight. Those fellas were just as incarcerated as any guy with three strikes and out on his rap sheet. And they hadn’t gone into it any more willingly than cons; they’d been press-ganged by thugs, just as crims were by cops.

The wood hadn’t yet taken any firm outline to suggest what it might be in the shape of. At this juncture, it could become an image of anything. Like human stem cells. Odd name that, ‘stem’ implied it was a stopping up of something. Like stemming the blood flow. The gush. Stemming the source of a leak. The snitch. And of course the word ‘cell’, the single word that had most defined his life up until now. The cell as a unit of one, of isolation and punishment, yet here in biology just one of a huge structure built by millions of replicas. There was no uniqueness in that. He knew ‘stem’ also meant the trunk of something, the solid structure at the centre holding everything together. From which all else sprouted. He couldn’t hold both meanings of the word together in his mind. Stemming was unutterably to do with lopping off a body part. Deadheading. Pruning. 

Though unformed, the wood was definitely erring towards the human. Blockish voodoo. Though it wasn’t a conscious impulse, he knew that it was heading towards a simulacrum of his wife. He even had a lock of her hair in his wallet that he could append to the figurine if he chose. But it would be pointless since she was already dead and beyond the persecutions of sympathetic magic. Or shouldn’t it really be unsympathetic magic?

He looked at the blood red digits of the digital alarm clock by the bed. Yes at last, it was time to allow himself to crack open the fridge.  He opened the door and was aghast to see there was just a solitary miniature bottle left. Nine pins down on the bowling lane, no chance of either a strike or a spare. The label announced it was a tiny bottle of Chardonnay. Wine wasn’t really his bag, but one thing he knew was that if it came with a screw top rather than a cork, it was likely low-grade. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers. He hesitated, for while he felt at ease pitching the spirit measures straight from the bottle down his throat, it didn’t seem quite right doing it with wine, miniature or otherwise. He retrieved a glass from the bathroom. It was meant to stow a toothbrush, but he hadn’t brought one with him. He poured the wine, its puddle barely covering the bottom of the glass. 

As he sipped the drink like a bird, he opened the tiny freezer compartment. In between the ice cube trays lay another miniature bottle, though one without recognisable label or branded shape. He removed it and held it up to the light of the window. The blood had frozen to a darkened hue. He knew the cells were all dead, for he’d not added any chemicals to remove the blood’s water content. Yeah he’d stemmed this leaky cell for good. Iced one bitch snitch that would never testify against him. His knife had wrought much more direct unsympathetic magic on her flesh. No spousal immunity for her.

He drained his glass and transferred the blood miniature from the freezer to the chill part of the fridge instead. He had one more bottle left to drink after all, then he’d hightail it from this place.

from The Masquerade Crew's prompts, Chardonnay, a hotel room and a knife

Friday, 5 September 2014

Will We In The West Never Learn? - ISIS a triumph of manipulation

Two beheading videos and the threat of a third with a British victim this time have changed the whole political landscape. Politicians are now talking about military intervention in Iraq and the war-weary public ground down by body bags from Afghanistan and Iraq before it are not shouting them down quite as vociferously as they would even six months ago. Well those were some video productions then if they have provoked such a response. ISIS have played the propaganda war perfectly.

Because they want Western troops to engage them in battle. They know that nothing will recruit numbers to their cause, more than infidel soldiers in the cities with holy Muslim shrines, or aerial bombing killing innocent civilians. It happened in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein being booted out of power. I called it a "Grand Tour", the opportunity for Muslim sons to kill a GI in every holy city. ISIS initially represented a perverted version of the International Brigades, going to fight the tyrant dictator Assad as against Franco in Spain. But reports are now beginning to filter back about how disillusioned some British recruits to ISIS have become, because they are not nobly fighting against Assad. Instead they are engaged against other Jihadi sects, or off fighting in Iraq and a party to atrocities they didn't necessarily sign up to. Western Jihadis are second class citizens in ISIS, since they are seen to lack the military skills having not fought in previous campaigns stretching back to Bosnia, Chechnya and of course Afghanistan. While culturally they are not well versed in notions of a Caliphate and certain Medieval practises such as forced conversion and beheading.

And this is the point. The Caliphate left alone to its devices would in all likelihood collapse under its own violent excesses. (It reminds me of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia which cut its own throat by continuous purges for in the name of purity). But if the West dedicate itself to destroying the Caliphate, that can only inject new life and support to its cause. The West may eventually be able to bring it down, but at what cost and what future fertile ground for continued extreme islamic opposition to all things Western? You might cavil that we cannot simply let the Caliphate exist while it carries out mass executions in cold blood of any sects who won't convert to their religious ideology. But that is happening right now without much in the way of the West being able to prevent it. And it only further makes the case that ISIS continuing to function this way will push all its opponents with Syria and Iraq to unite against them, just in the name of self-preservation. I understand the case that the West could never trust the Caliphate not to try and expand its borders from where it stands now, but there is nothing to stop the West acceding to the de facto Caliphate borders as they are and protecting from further incursion with suitable defensive forces. Give the Caliphate time to destroy itself.

I am not a politician, I have no military background nor do I work in Intelligence.  I am just a writer, doing a bit of research from open sourced information and then taking a pause to actually think about how this thing might play out. I wrote a work of fiction back in 2011 about suicide bombers and the recruitment to a death cult and ISIS is the next development out of this. It is very clear to my mind that if the West went to war with the Caliphate, it would be an unmitigated disaster. It would play into the hands of ISIS strategists and rather than allow the Caliphate to fall under its own stresses, would ensure people rallied to its cause and therefore a much longer campaign to defeat it.

Breakdown of ISIS fighters by country of origin

"Not In My Name" UK US - The journey to recruitment for radical Islam

"graduation from a human being, into a human bomb. The knack, is to change the bomber’s desires from embracing life, into a hankering after death.
Interview after interview, I was presented with similar, reedily intoned versions of how this was brought about. One strand had them sat drooling at the feet of some hierophant in a madrassa, as he categorically untangles the frayed threads of life, while they scratch their carpet-fluff beards and nod accordance. I’ll tell you something, if I was promised myriad virgins in the Afterlife, I’d probably enlist myself. Blissfully blow myself to Kingdom Come. Presumably, it’s one virgin to tend each bit of the body atomised by high-explosive. Of course, rather than nubile women, why couldn’t it equally be the ghosts of the 72 camels slain for Fatima’s wedding? That’s the drawback with numerical symbolism. It’s open to double counting.

Alternatively, they paraded before a paramilitary hawk, sharpening the recruit’s claws on his steel gauntlet. The logic he advances, is that the mission should be beyond fear, for no other soldier has such certainty of whether he will return alive or dead from his next action. Whereas the suicide bomber knows to the precise minute. What a boon.

By whichever method, these fellows are striking a deal with their egos. They don’t shut them off, rather they believe they are swapping a pretty squalid life not for death, but for another, improved life up in the clouds. A literal leap of faith. Trouble is, when their heads are blown upwards off their body towards Heaven, sure as hell it hurtles back down to earth under the prosaic ministrations of gravity. Does each bomber actually possess the finer shades of understanding, exactly what the Holy Text suggests is in store for them? Ultimately, they remain just teenagers on the most extreme and ugly of promises. And as to the secularist bombers, they too are left in no uncertain terms that they will become pin-up poster boys on the walls of Gaza and Baghdad. This is the poor man’s version of celebrity. A pension from Iran or Syria will see that their family is well provided for, a sort of posthumous dower. Or a divorce settlement."

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Wrist-Watching - Friday Flash

The perfumer sprays her scent on to her own wrist and then offers it to the man to incline towards her in order to inhale its bouquet. He only smells the aroma of the rest of her. 

Leather straps had always rotted away in time, so he had opted for the segmented metal strips to cincture his modish watch. When he removed it at the end of the day, he liked the inhuman indentations left in his skin, like an insect’s thorax, or a barcode. 

The man shot his cuffs with great deliberation. The aurora of his diamond encrusted cufflinks twinkled before their eclipse beneath the jacket’s sleeves. She was attracted to them as to the eye spots of a butterfly which draws down a predator into the miasma of confusion.

The man slammed against a wire mesh fence cutting off his escape. He beat it in despair before turning and offering his forearms for the cops to cuff. They whipped him round and bound him behind his back, spurning his supplication.

The man brought his wrists together perpendicularly, making the sign of the cross to ward off the invisible tormentors who were whispering in his ear. In his agitation, he rubbed them together like sticks, as if trying to ignite and purge himself.

The woman studied the veins in her pallid wrist. As her finger traced the filaments, she felt like she had been knitted together in yarns of blues and reds. Only somewhere along the journey she had misplaced the knit pattern.

Having scanned the room for the invigilator, the girl surreptitiously eased her blazer’s sleeve down and consulted the cheat notes she had inscribed on her wrist. Sweat had made the ink run. 

The woman raised her arm to her mouth as if to wipe away some mote, or bite off some frayed strand on her cuff, but as her jaw muscles jagged behind her half-baked occlusion, she was fooling no-one. She was conversing with her unseen controllers.

She had nails and bloodied stigmata tattooed on to the underside of both wrists. She was still awaiting her Mary Magdalene to come tenderly bathe her wounds, though there seemed legionnaires aplenty ready to skewer her with their long-stemmed spears. 

She inverted the knife so that the blunt edge was against her skin and moved it up and down the length of her wrists. The blade chafed harshly against the scarred levees of previous communions between the two.