Friday, 24 July 2015

Slit Slot Aperture Gash Vent Perforation Shutter Foramen Chink Cleft Peephole Outlet Eye - Friday Flash

Seephole: He rang the door buzzer. While he waited for footfalls on the other side of the door, he weighed up the buzzer tone as to whether it was like that of a quiz contestant jumping in to answering a question, or the production team blazoning an incorrect answer. Or even just calling time. He saw the cover of the peephole being moved aside as the light changed and he fired his pistol straight through its glass as to where the target’s eye and a bit further back his brain, would be. The mark had got the question asked by his executive producers entirely wrong according to their way of thinking. It was not ever a question he could have answered entirely to their satisfaction, but a better answer would have seen him fire the gun through the letterbox and into the groin. Scarcely a consolation prize, but you would get to live to fight another day. Blood started to seep out into the hallway from threshold. That could do with sealing by a door sweep he thought to himself as he turned and left.

Pea Shooter: The archer stood pressed invisible against the arrow-slitted casement, raining his shafts down on the heads of the besiegers. They in turn brought up their bombards in the shape of church bells and chamber pots and prised him out of the masonry like shelling whelks.

Concentration Camp: The perforations of the leaves’ stoma were gently respiring, when along came the aphids. Their stylets shot forth through the vent of their rostra, as they proceeded to puncture the vessels of the plant and siphoned the liquid sugars under the pressure of the breach. In marched the legions of ants to palpate the aphids to release the concentrated honeydew from their rectal orifices. Any aphids that threatened to sprout wings to secure more lebensraum for themselves, were stripped by the vigilant soldier ants and held in place.

C Camp: Her smile was permanently imprisoned behind her brace’s steel bars, only ever seeing the light of day in the exercise yard of a yawn.

Convex: He could prescribe the sitter’s emotion, for he was the lord of light. At his whim he determined the shutter speed of his camera, shining the light on this aperture of their life they had exposed themselves too in this one fleeting moment. He himself had no chink in his own emotional makeup, shuttered off and shadowy as befits the omnipotent. 

Collide-o-scope: She was dilatory. For a full two seconds after the metal screen had juddered clear there was nothing on the other side of the window. Finally she mooched in and started rubbing herself. He tried to fall in step with her rhythms, but found her motions too laggardly for his own pace, more listless than lingering. And then the screen guillotined her display. He struggled for coins in his pocket and then to penetrate them into the slot. The screen began its withdrawal, revealing her feet planted firmly on the floor and slowly exposing the rest of her body in stasis. Like corroded clockwork she rose up from the chair and began her slow coursing over her body. He found himself quickening all the while, contending not with her rhythms but against the dread drop of the shutter and the one-armed fumble for money to put in the slot. He was timed out again. 

Catherine Wheel: Sputum was emitted from the gash of his mouth like a girandole. But it wasn’t being showered in spit that concerned her. Nor was it the amount of perspiration welling up from his pores and running in rivulets down his skin. She remained unperturbed by the imminent discharge of semen from the blinking meatus of his member. No, she was anxious about the stork-bite vein bulging in his forehead that it might burst and cull him. Not that she would be upset over his grand mort following on immediately from his petit one. She was alarmed by the prospect of his deadweight crashing down and fracturing a rib or two. Adam’s revenge finally assuaged by Eve’s forfeiture in kind. 

Bar None: What he had come to realise was that it wasn’t a stork which delivered your family’s lot, it was the slot machine. The never so aptly named ‘One-Armed Bandit”. That which stole away your adult life so effortlessly, it was as if it did indeed have one arm tied behind its back as it prised away your pleasures and spited your future happiness. Unless you hit the jackpot with your offspring. Three ‘Lucky Sevens’, and you might, just might land the perfect, undemanding, self-sufficient child, but the odds are just about that, seven times seven times seven, or seven cubed,  one in every 343 of your kids turns out like that in your drop bucket. Three bells, that’s a doozy winner too right? Not if she’s female, more like Hell’s Belles as in Macbeth’s three witches all rolled up into one. A couple of cherries and you got a nymphomaniac on your hands when she hits teenage. The watermelon? Don’t tell me that don’t look like a woman’s pudendum? A lemon, well I don't have to tell you what that means… It’s also called a fruit machine for a reason, if you catch my drift. Chances are good, or bad, you may end up with a son who goes a different way through the catflap. What? Yeah, me and the old lady will give it another spin I reckon. Our last chance saloon. 

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Interrogation - Flash Fiction

We’ve seen you… caught red handed in the act… got you on film… we just need the names… Who’s that? Who did you just say? Stay with me now. What was that name again? … Damnation! … We’ve lost him again… Revive him! Oh not now! Who’s that? Oh hello Sweetie… Yes… yes, not now love… I’m conducting an interview… I’ve asked you repeatedly Sugarplum, please don’t call me at work… Wipe that smirk off your face… No, not you Love, just talking to my colleagues here… They seem to find something funny about the situation… What? For a job yes… Um, a secretary… No not it’s not a woman… Categorically not… What? You’re joking? No alright, alright, I’ll do as you say… Bring him round! … No I was talking to my colleagues here… What? Well um he’s sat the other end of a long table, so he needs to come to the phone doesn’t he? … Well yes, I suppose I could go to him… Hang on then a sec, I’ll go give him the phone… I’m just walking over there now… It is an awfully long table my pet, we’re in the, um boardroom… Loosen the bindings… I was talking to the interviewee Baby Cakes. Just how we’re um prepared to be a bit flexible on the terms of his contract… What? Oh that was just me snapping my fingers… To um, turn off the, um video recorder… They don’t need to hear our conversation… Yes, we record all interviews for training purposes… I know Dear, I’m a model interviewer and my technique is used throughout our organisation… Sit him up a bit… What? No, he’s slouching in his chair. I’m afraid your call has rather broken the mood of the interview… No, I wasn’t criticising you my Honeybun… What? yes, I’ll put him on the phone now… Say hello to my wife Mr Timpson… What was that? What? … Yes I know Cherie… Grunts yes… But you could tell they were male grunts right? … Well he was just er helping my guys move some things… His hands were full… Big heavy boxes full of files… Well we want to get an idea of how he responds to orders don’t we? Whether he’s a team player… No I can’t just bring the guys over to our house to help us shift the lounge furniture around… It’s unprofessional… And an imposition…Well yes, I have the authority, but in truth Angel it’s a bit of an abuse of power… I will do it, I promise I’ll get round to doing it… Yes I swear on our children’s lives… My Treasure, was there a particular reason you called me? I really must get back to work… What? No that wasn’t a whip you heard… Knock it off you clowns… No, just my colleagues having a bit of fun at our expense my Dumpling… See this is why I prefer it if you didn’t call me while I’m at work. There’s no privacy here… What? We’ve got a leak? Just call a plumber. Or get hold of the Water Board, tell them it’s an emergency… No! No! No! Take the towel off him. It’s too much! Turn the hose off! … What? No, I wasn’t talking to you there Lambchop. Towel? Um yes we had a spill here too. A cup of um tea… Don’t want it staining the carpet… You’ve had to put towels down too? Yes that is a bit spooky… Do you know where the stopcock is Kitten? … That’s not funny boys… The electrodes, with all this water around are you mad? No not you Frou-Frou… Look Buttercup, I really need to hang up now. Just I’m right in the middle of this thing… You fools, you loosened them too much! That bang? I think one of the boxes of files just fell on to the floor… Pick it up would you? Set it back on the um table. Bye bye Button, I’ll see you tonight as normal…

if you'd like to hear me reading this, click here

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Review Of "Terminator- Genysis" movie

I'm a huge fan of "Terminator" so much so I paid homage to it in one of my novels. "Terminator 1" would be in my all time top-ten movies. "Terminator 2 - Judgement Day" had a few flaws, but the Terminator (the new improved T-1000 that could alter its own molecular structure to flow as well as move like a solid) itself was an extraordinary imaginative creation. "Terminator 3 - Rise Of The Machines" put some more meat on the bones of the backstory, how SkyNet arose in the first place to start the war of machines against man. "Terminator 4 - Salvation" was pretty poor in the same way as "Godfather 3" let down the side after its supreme two prequels.

And now we have "Terminator 5 - Genysis". A pretty redundant exercise in every one of its aspects. It brings nothing new to the franchise, in terms of plot, world-building, visuals or characters and some of these I believe has actually made a retrograde step. The film ostensibly tries to knit together narrative strands of all the previous movies into one coherent story across the timelines inhabited by those films. But what it ends up doing is a sort of "best bits" mess of a movie, plucking familiar tropes and scenes and referencing them in a way that isn't lazy so much as unimaginative. For example when the protagonists travel through time they are encountered by three street punks as in "Terminator 1". But there is no confrontation, and the naked time travellers come by clothes without having to battle anyone for them. 

The time travel paradoxes are never really explained satisfactorily, despite the brining together of all the various timelines of the other movies. Not only that but the original terminators, the T-800 (from T-1) and the T-1000 (from T-2) seemed to have become really weedy in the interim and both are dispatched really easily by pretty unremarkable guns. This movie does see a new breed of Terminator, the T-5000, which is pretty similar to the T-1000 in its powers (and nigh on invincibility), but is more of a human hybrid than its predecessor. I won't spoil it for you by telling you which human populates its character. But again there is the issue of what it's doing while the human characters take a time out in the movie to stock up on guns and discuss their tortuous personal family relationships made complicated by time travel. One can only assume the T-5000 is oiling itself or filing its nails or whatever Terminators do on their down time. 

But most jaw droppingly scandalous itself are the characters. Gone is the Amazon warrior Sarah Connor played by Linda Hamilton in T-1 & T-2. instead we get someone who looks like she breezed in from "Twilight" or "High School Musical". She might posture hard, but disturbingly there is more sexual chemistry between her and Schwarzenegger's friendly Terminator who she calls Pop and basically reared here as a child in this version of history, than between her and Kyle Rees. Utterly unbelievable no matter how much belief you suspend, considering he is 67 years old and she looks like she's 21. This Sarah Connor has lost the spur of doing anything to protect her son and instead is looking after her old Dad, who happens to be a Terminator and reasonably adept at looking after himself. It just doesn't work.

The film also references either visually or in idea films like "Speed", "Bladerunner" and "Avengers", when the "Terminator" series has always thrived in its own visual and imagistic presentation that makes it stand out from other films working in the same arena.

So this film has nothing to recommend it to either die hard fans, or those coming to the franchise new and wondering what the fuss was all about. Save your money, watch "Terminator 1" on YouTube and read my novel "Time After Time" instead. 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Memoirs Are Made Of These - Friday Flash

He didn’t know where to pitch his personal statement. He could legitimately tilt it to the depths of impoverished misery, but if he overplayed his hand then that might be cause for refusal. What did it matter where he had come from anyway? The whole objective was to shed that burden and to start a new life here in the new world and to build up a new story and a new being wholly from scratch. But then he remembered the grainy satellite reality TV shows he’d siphoned back home and how the back-story perennially counted for more than the talent being displayed.

This wasn’t any story he recognised, not least his own. The monks were offering him words and when he pursed his brows trying to find any familiarity bearing to his life, they clenched their straps and made his whole body pucker with agony. Under such a preceptorial regime he learned the intricate details of the rituals he had partaken of, the blood and the babies, the bestiality and the sacrifices. Laid prone there on the rack, he saw himself stood attending the Sabbats, a whole shadow life he must have previously sleepwalked through. But then he had always struggled to recall his daily activities because they seemed so unremarkable.

He narrated his story in tattoos. Each year he had another chapter inked to his flesh. It took him twelve months to compose the layered image that would encapsulate all the nuances and dilemmas of the event he was indelibly marking. But the scroll of the parchment of his own body meant that, unlike most pictorial scripts, his tale was non-linear. And only ever fully revealed to a lover abed. Nor ever complete, unless his embalmer cared to append the epilogue to his skin.

‘Good sense of humour’, which supplicant at the font of dating agencies would fail to proffer that? Even when it wasn’t true. The worst ones are those who proceed to try and be amusing and fall flat on their unfunny faces. No, maintain a level and even tone. In keeping with his claim to ‘professional’. But there again that epithet could conceal a whole host of sins. A professional darts player, or a professional sanitation engineer actually translated as a good old fashioned dustman. This was so damned hard, one hundred and fifty words to describe himself clinchingly without lapsing into cliche. Didn’t really matter, it all came down to the photo anyway.

Their surveillance meant that they had infiltrated every aspect of his life. Names, dates, places of meetings and supposedly sub rosa communications. Every forensic link and association with just about every activity he’d ever been engaged in, was laid out before the rest of the village. These sessions were called ‘Self-Criticism’, but it was just a forum for peers to lay into one verbally and break the spirit. Based on time-honoured  jealousy, greed and petty vindictiveness rather than any more lofty ideals. They constructed a treasonous, deviant persona that he couldn’t recognise as himself, but which by the end he had to admit to and then recant. Which was a pity, as he found himself drawn to such a person.

The composite that the online data capture  had constructed of him, made for a veritable Frankenstein’s Monster. An ethical environmental consumer with a huge appetite for sweatshop and non-renewable sourced products. A technological Luddite with a penchant  for electronics. A proud Baby-Boomer militantly cynical about the 1960s and 70s. A vagrant homeowner. A pet-owning misotherist. From the cradle to the grave contradictions. Arrhythmic algorithms. Capitalist umbilical cord and monstrous Long Tail both conspired to clamp around his neck and constricted the life out of him. 

He had been charged with delivering the notes for the Priest to compose into the eulogy. The Priest had never met his late father, so he could get absolutely anything past him. So long as it conformed to customary bounds of taste and respectfulness. Taste and respect, yes this would not be a speech admitting to any great passions. Whatever his own feelings towards his father, the priest would not be able to lamintae any of his own. Any whiff of ardour conveyed by the Priest could only be a sham, a performance on his part. Like an actor reciting his lines, lines written for him by a playwright. He was now the dramaturge, He could make this funeral ceremony take any course he decided. For now he, not his father, was the great Director in charge,

Monday, 22 June 2015

Unprofessional Mourners - Flash fiction

She would ache more than any other there at the grave. But none present might acknowledge that. Since she was eternally tagged the mistress rather than the love of his life. The scarlet woman who broke up a family, yet it was perennially he who would not accede to her pleas to marry her once he had left the marital home. So today she was not even an official mourner. Only his own family, despite them to all intents disowning him, adopting his ex-wife as if their blood kin and treating him as the imported in-law. 

Hence she had brought a gaggle of grandchildren from her own spent marriage. Her children refused to support her illicit love, taking the side of her lame duck husband in some misguided sentiment of keeping the family intact. But their progeny were of an age to remain blithely unaware or unconcerned with relationship politics and with just a few material inducements had been importuned to accompany her so she would not have to stand in isolation at the graveside. A human shield to protect her from all the daggers inevitably being cast at her. Even his family would give pause before making a scene in front of die kinder. They abided by received notions of the right way of behaving, which was why the two of them had been held beyond the pale. Thus they could never concede that passion could out-trump miserable convention.

She marched her juvenile cortege to take up their place on the cemetery grounds. There was a clear divide, an unbridgeable Red Sea, ironic echo of the two sides of wedding guests in a church, bride or groom. Why did he have to go and leave her? To expose her like this? She huddled closer to her kiddie entourage. As the coffin was lowered on its ropes, her emotions were such that she wanted to push past them and jump in after it. His family’s emotions were such that they wanted to push her in and heap the soil over. 

And when the ceremony was over and he had disappeared from sight for good, they trooped back towards the car. The kids whipped out their phones and plugged themselves back into the world, after obediently heeding the presiding priest’s enjoining all phones to be switched off for the duration. As their attention was arrested by their tiny screens, one by one they fell away in pace, until their aegis had melted away entirely. The family formed into attack formation and lay siege to her before she could reach the sanctuary of her car. She should have coughed up more funds and hired some professional mourners.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Customer Swervices - Friday Flash

The Customer Services Liaison was explaining to him why his scheduled journey had been cancelled. He realised he was stood there with his arms were crossed which seemed a touch vehement, so he unfolded them and clasped them behind his coccyx while he listened to her bull. Her words jangled and reverberated in his ears even though they were delivered with mellifluous cadence. It was like being informed of a family bereavement in sing-song tones. Not that a family bereavement equated to a cancelled journey. Yet him being stood still in place rather than in motion was the bottom line, so all the rest was florid superfluity. Nevertheless he knew from previous experiences with the likes of this customer’s swervices ilk, that it behoved him to remain calm and not lose his temper, if he had any shot at satisfactory redress. He scrutinised her corporate uniform. He wanted to see if it was shoddy or sleek. Although neither really determined the heft with which he should treat her words. She could still be slick with her disavowals even shod in a flimsy manmade fabric, just as clad in quality wool twill might make her complacent in her pre-ordained patter. He wanted to see beneath the tissue, to scan for any guilty pigmenting of the skin. He wanted to smell her fragrance, to see if he could sniff out her respiring lies, but the synthetic terminus atmosphere prevented any scents from spooring on the air. She had paused in her soliloquy, adjudging for his response, with moistened finger held up to the windsock of his face. He grasped her hand and shook it. A brief connection solely in order to break their engagement entirely. A man shaking a woman by her hand felt all wrong. He wanted to kiss her, to stop up her insincere mouth, but knew that was unseemly. 

He marched back over to his partner. She stood there with her own arms crossed but made no move to relent her angular fury. He began to relay the bare bones of what he had been told. Her eyes widened as she challenged him to the usual semiotic interpretation of a handshake at the end of transacted business. He could not admit to her that it merely signalled his desperation to end the unsuccessful conference. Instead he found himself giving a fuller rendition of the liaison officer’s justifications. He had taken her role and was reiterating the very same discourse, with his partner playing him. Only a superior more imposing version of him. How had he wound up being the proxy for the corporation that had failed him, them so unutterably? He too was professionally besuited, but not branded like the liaison. he had very different stakes in this exchange than had the functionary. He knew the arguments he was mustering would brook no weight with his partner, how had he allowed them to do so with himself? Had he become distracted by her peregrinity and so allowed her to daintily ride roughshod over him? Whereas his partner knew him intimately, so would in no way be swayed by his allure, more familiar than institutionally unctuous. She was fully aware of just how and where his body blushed, while she could unfailingly detect his reek of petty deceit. He could see it in her eyes, her determination to sweep him aside and march over to the woman and have it out with her. Maybe woman to woman she might garner satisfaction, where woman to man he could not, with either of these females. He knew he had two options. He could grab her arm and pull her back. Or he could just shake that hand and take his leave of his partner as he had with the liaison officer. And in this situation, he could in fair propriety stop up her all-to-sincere mouth with a kiss. 

Monday, 8 June 2015

My Ten Favourite Stage Plays

Before I wrote fiction, I wrote stage plays. I used to see a lot of contemporary plays staged and also read a lot of scripts as part of my self-education programme. Though I don't go to the theatre much these days, here is a chart of my favourite plays. I've only included plays from the post-Second World War period onwards, otherwise it might be pretty Shakespeare & Brecht heavy in the chart!

10) "Royal Hunt For The Sun" - Peter Schaffer
I only ever read this rather than saw a performance, but I remember being struck by the amazing visual images that came across from the stage directions alone, the main one being a giant sun. It's the story of conquistadores in Latin America and the political dance around the Meso-American god-king to try and ensure a successful conquest with a tiny amount of men against a whole nation.

9) "No Exit" - Jean-Paul Sartre
I love Sartre more as a playwright than a novelist. But in truth most of his plays while readable, are unperformable. However this perfect little nugget of a play sees the threeway power struggle of prisoners in a locked room, trying to manoeuvre for power even though they have none in their situation. By turns they seduce, wheedle, cajole each other, always forming and breaking alliances. It's an early precursor of the "Big Brother" TV show, only with a killer pay-off line, "Hell is other people".

8) "The Balcony" - Jean Genet
Genet understood the illusion of the theatre better than most and a recurring theme of his was characters dressing up and acting as other characters. Here a revolution is taking place, but the action is being mirrored in microcosm inside a brothel, where punters are dressing up in fantasy roles as Judge, General and Priest, replacing the very same outside who have become victims of the coup, thus perpetuating the status quo. Sex, death and corruption, what more could you want on stage?

7) "Accidental Death Of An Anarchist" - Dario Fo
You've got to have a bit of humour haven't you? I always thought theatre audiences were so desperate to laugh, they would go into fits at the weakest of jokes in tired drawing room dramas. But this was a genuinely funny, laugh throughout the 90 minutes satirical farce with some acute political observations. All the more remarkable that it was based wholly on an incident from Italy and dissected Italian politics, yet it absolutely managed to translate both its message and its comedy to other countries. Part of this was down to recognisable character types, such as the dim-witted policeman, or the hero who disguises himself, the sultry temptress, but the nature of farce itself is also quintessentially recognisable.

6) "Comedians" - Trevor Griffiths
I only saw a student production of this, but it was still terrifying and visceral. A play about alternative comedy before anyone had even come up with that term. The premise is that an old pre-war comic is coaching a night-class of comedian-wannabees for a talent show night, when his star pupil throws his whole act in the bin and performs a brutal and in the face of the audience menacing routine instead. The only weakness of the play is the short and cop-out third act, when the old comic talks about the nature of humour set against and grounded in his own experiences of liberating a concentration camp when he was in the British army. I don't think that apologetic third act was required at all.

5) "White Rose" - Peter Arnott
I saw this at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and of the 40 shows I crammed in my time there, this was head and shoulders the best. But you won't even find a copy of the script available on Amazon. It was in a theatre so small that it didn't even have a stage, but that perfectly suited its small scale for 3 actors. Set in World War Two Russia, a male fighter pilot, a female fighter pilot (the eponymous 'White Rose' and their shared female engineer, beautifully enact their triangular relationships, taking in the war, gender, love, patriotism, politics and just what it means to be human in the face of extremes and the prospect of death.

4) "AC/DC" - Heathcote Williams
The enfant terrible of the UK stage in the 1960s, which is saying something given the obsession with sex that abounded once plays were no longer censored by the offices of the Lord Chamberlain after 1968. This play was so prescient about all things that would go on to become our obsession with celebrity. It's visceral and yet has stunningly powerful visual imagery. I'm not sure how it would hold up to scrutiny today, simply because what it portrayed has now become so commonplace. But a work of genius to be sure.

3) "Marat/Sade" - Peter Weiss
A powerful play about the French revolution and how political dissidents were locked up in insane asylums. Thus it explores that boundary between revolutionary/radical thinkers and the mad, while also examining the propensity for change within the individual and across whole societies.

2) "Geography of a Horse Dreamer" - Sam Shepard
I think of all playwrights, Shepard has my favourite body of work. It's hard to pick just one. But there were a few plays he wrote in exile in the UK, looking back at his home country of the US and this is one from that period. It's small but perfectly formed, as a cowboy is kidnapped by gangsters because he has a special gift for forecasting winning racehorses so they can clean up at the bookies. However, cut adrift from his Wyoming home, the cowboy is losing his mind and his touch, whereupon the gangster captor is getting more desperate to restore his powers, while his doctor sidekick is more keen to isolate the creative energy by culling his body parts. The cowboys' brothers turn up to rescue him and return him to the range. Shepard's psychic pain at being cut off from his own home roots are encapsulated in this perfectly.

1) "Endgame" - Samuel Beckett
No one 'got' theatre like Beckett in my opinion. I think because real life amused him and was absurd and illusory as the stage itself. Life was a play and not a very logical or coherent one at that. Everyone cites "Godot" of course, but I believe this is a far superior play. One character Hamm is unable to stand, his antagonist Clov unable to sit. Hamm's parents both live inside dustbins. It's bleak and dystopian and nihilistic but it is also funny and moving and has stark, stripped down visually imagery that is so powerful. When life is so painfully absurd, all you can do is laugh at it, which is exactly what Beckett has us do. It's one of those plays that is so all-absorbing, the audience are no less captives in the theatre than the characters on stage, until the houselights come up to release them... into a world as absurd and illogical outside the theatre's doors. For the duration of the play, there is no outside world, no fourth wall of separation. A masterpiece.