Thursday, 29 July 2010

Hunting For Truffles - #fridayflash

"Thank you for giving me your time Monsieur Leger. I know this season of harvest leaves you with so many calls on your time".

"Nature's cycles means she rarely lets up on her demands".

Callused fingers indicated a knotted wood chair to the military man. The soldier sat down with an elongated crinkling of his leather tunic. The farmer imagined that the man had to pour himself in and out of the uniform like straining yogurt. The officer removed his peaked cap and ran his hand through slicked hair.

"We can hardly accuse mother earth of being a tyrant surely? Not when she provides so beneficently? Feasts for the eye as well as the gustation".

"Please, help yourself to some chevres there".

"Thank you, I will. In truth Monsieur Leger, it's that which I have come to see you about. Umm, this is an undoubted treat for the palate. So fortunate to be stationed here in the French countryside. Rather than slogging through the baked mud of the Russian steppes".

The farmer looked at the man expressionlessly.

"Of course, so far from any front here, you may not have any notion of what I'm referring to. You merely have to concern yourself with keeping the armies of the Reich fed and nourished for them to march on full stomachs to victory".

The farmer gave a tight nod and continued fixing the soldier in his steely gaze.

"Yes, entirely cut off from any action here. Yet I notice your farm's output offered up to the glorious war effort seems to have declined in recent months. Why is that I wonder? Have your herds got trenchfoot and mouth? Your hens developed shellshock? If you shut your eyes, one could imagine a swarm of bees to sound like a squadron of die Stukas. Perhaps swine fever has broken out inside the ground staked out by your fence posts? Maybe we have to quarantine off the area?"

"My pigs are perfectly sound".

"Truffle hunters rather than cannibals I bet? Steadfastly refusing to eat of their own. Since the swine I was referring to, are of the two legged, non-piquant smelling variety, though they spend most of their miserable lives crouched down low on all fours in fear. Ears, snouts, everything to the ground, listening for the approach of the leather boot."

The soldier put his ear to the table as if to plumb for its tiny wood-boring denizens. He snaked his arm out deliberately for the cheese and pushed his thumb into its soft heart. Granules cascaded down until he prompted a full avalanche of cheese fragments.

"Tell me, since you're the man who necessarily concerns himself with observing herd activity. What happens to the runt of any litter? Or the weakest member of a pack? It is shunned by its fellows is it not? Put in virtual quarantine until it dies and in such a way so not act as a drag upon its fellow creatures. Nature is wise in how she has resolved such dilemmas".

The farmer shrugged his shoulders, then readjusted the sit of his jerkin.

"If there is a parasitic infestation, then do you not remove those afflicted to preserve the common weal?"

"The tendency has been that in order to cut out the infection, the whole herd is slaughtered and the farmer is expected to start again with a new breeding stock. Malheureusement, such action actually leaves the poor farmer unable to afford to restock and he too dies, albeit a far slower death from starvation".

"Ah again, you are a victim of your remoteness here. German chemical science can now provide you with a means of targeting just the infection itself, leaving all around who are in pure health untouched and untainted. See, up until now this has been the historical problem of all empires. Where people amass in close quarters such as the cities, authority and hygiene may be maintained. But in the far flung countryside, control is harder to maintain. Just look at the history of the Church. Devout, humble attendance in city churches. Goodness alone knows what pagan practices were meanwhile occurring out in the forests".

"I thought your race venerated Richard Wagner? Did he not extol the pagan for you all?"

"So this man of the soil is not so unworldly after all? You surprise me Monsieur. That a man of such attentiveness to wider affairs, should not notice that his own domestic rations seem to have increased somewhat. That even though you are a widower, there seems to be some new mouths to feed within this farmstead".

"My three daughters are all growing into adulthood. They toil hard for me in the fields. They require greater sustenance."

"Ah yes your three fragrant, fresh-faced girls. So proper of you to request them to go outside while we talk of such unsavoury matters. Are they conversing with my not so fresh-faced boys? Tilling their plough-coarsened fingers over my men's battle creased faces?"

"They are good girls".

"But my boys, good warrior pagans all, they are so far from their home cities. From any useful control as we discussed. I can keep them in line, but how they miss their sweethearts. Boys expect their fathers to provide for them. Just as girls expect their fathers to protect them from ill..."

"If your men have their evil way with my girls, then they will know why."

"Oh really? Have they consented for this to happen? If you don't have to ask them, then why should my troops?"

The farmer folded his arms and tipped back on his chair perfectly poised in mid-air.

"Maybe I have this the wrong way round. Maybe I should put a gun to your head and march you outside and ask them for consent to pull the trigger?"

The farmer shrugged and smiled. "All along we have made reckonings. Initially we thought and prayed we were sheltered by distance. But then the war came knocking in the form of some Jews on the run. Our basic humanity was to feed and help them. But we did pause to weigh the risk to ourselves. The selfish calculation for one's own skin and the skin of loved ones. But the calculation quickly became what sort of world would it be for those loved ones to grow up in, where we not only fearfully shunned one's fellow man, but condemned them to death in doing so? So we took them in and just like before they arrived, we sat tight, counting off the calendar days we passed off unscathed. Until so many follow in a row, you believe you are safe from any predation at all. Hope turns into complacency. If you kill and rape us, it is only what you are doing to the rest of Europe. What makes us believe we would be immune to that? Go ahead, slaughter the entire herd. Your breeding stock will be all the poorer. And somewhere out in the margins of your new empire, new warrior pagans will rise to throw off your shackles".

The soldier rose, replaced his cap on his head and clicked his fingers to those stood outside the door.

The prompt for this came from a surprising source even to me. The Quentin Tarantino movie "Inglourious Basterds". It is essentially a comic book film, a fantasy plot to kill top Nazis by a mixture of Hogan's Heroes meets the Dirty Dozen played for maximum laughs. Yet the film opens with a very long scene of a Nazi hunter visiting a French farmhouse and conversing with the farmer who seems to be a loyal anti-Semite, but gradually the german peels away his true feelings and the fact that he has hidden some refugee Jews under the floorboards. The scene is anything but cartoony and knockabout. To my mind it is in the wrong film, given what follows. The scene introduces us to the character of the Nazi hunter and to the sole survivor of the Jewish family who manages to escape while her family perish. But it was the character of the farmer I was intrigued by. He doesn't reappear in the film. It's not clear whether he is executed on the spot or not. I just wanted to write a version of it if it was the opening to a serious film on the subject and "Hunting For Truffles" was the result.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Punk Rock Names - 10 of the best!

Reg Dwight changed his name to Elton John, David Jones to David Bowie, hinting at the slightly exotic stage personnas, but these are still recognisably 'normal' names, as in a first name and a surname. There were exceptions, such as the Big Bopper or Nico, but they were few and far between.

Then punk rock happened along and usually as a statement of attitude, invariably anti-establishment, the name became a crucial attribute of its bearer.

Here is a list in reverse order of my 10 favourite name bastardisations, with youtube links to the bands.

Please feel free to contribute your own punk rock name of choice, be it from an actual band, or merely one of your own devising were you in a band and no doubt fulfilling a fantasy of yours!

10) Richard Hell - Richard Hell and the Voidoids An apt name for the man with the best razor cut hair in rock and whose signature song was "The Blank Generation"

9) Jello Biafra and Klaus Flouride - Dead Kennedys Bespetacled bassist Flouride didn't look like a musician, while Biafra was a pure showman as a vocalist

8) Black Francis - The PixiesWhile he had chreubic features and the girth of a well fed monk, there was nothing angelic about Frank Black's voice when he let rip

7) Sonic Boom - Spacemen 3 For a band devoted to psychedelic research for their music, maybe Sonic was just disguising his identity from the Police, but the name fitted the sounds he got out of his guitar

6) Ari Up and Palm Olive - The Slits Palm Olive a delightful reference to the domesticity the Slits were all about leaving behind

5) Steve Ignorant and Eve Libertine - Crass Heavyweight punk-politicos, but their names conjure up cartoon figures

4) Lux Interior and Poison Ivy - The Cramps Husband and wife mainstays of seminal garage punk band The Cramps. Lux Interior RIP.

3) Vi Subversa and Lance D'Boyle - Poison Girls Vi was genuinely a subversive political punk, being a middle-aged mother of two when venturing on stage.

2) Poly Styrene - X Ray Spex There was nothing plastic about this London punk rock group

1) Chuck Biscuits and Joey Shithead - DOA While Mr Shithead went for the up front approach, drummer Chuck Biscuits is a constant source of delight to me whenever I recall his soubriquet. I don't know why, but the image of a hardcore punk band's drummer flinging not his drumsticks, but rather cookies into the audience tickles me. I don't think however that he lived up to his name, but I'm easily pleased.

Okay over to you pop punk pickers. What would be your chosen punk name? Pop it down in the comments and I'll pick my favourite. (Hint: Don't try any of those online name generators, they're awful for punk rock names- I know, I've tried them!)

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Friday Flash Awards

A big thank you to Linda Simoni-Wastila who has honoured me with this award. Linda is a fantastic scribe herself so please check out her own fiction and flash at her wonderful blog.

Now I'd like to reciprocate with my nominees of people whose writing fundamentally needs to be
a) read by you all out there
b) acknowledged with this award so that hopefully
c) their amazing work will get to yet wider reading audiences

My first is Carrie Clevenger who just writes the most exquisitely worded, wonderfully evocative stories in a sort of James Joycean meets Texas Gothic way. Carrie tends to post early to #fridayflash which is good, cos she's always one of the first stories I unfailingly look to read.

My second is the wonderful Alison Wells who writes the most lyrical and delicious pieces of unapolgetically literary fiction. Her language is an absolute privilege to bask in and I often compare it to Beckett and Joyce (again) for which she always pulls me up short that she is only domiciled in Ireland, rather than a daughter of it!

My third is Penny Goring who interrogates language far more poetically and far more revolutionary than I do. Her work fundamentally needs to be exposed to a wider audience to demonstrate the possibilities of what writing CAN do, the places it can take a reader, the self re-examination it can bring you. Penny, I salute your genius and it's not a word I use lightly.

My fourth is Mazzz in Leeds who I only know by her first name Maria. Maria writes stories in genres I would normally run a mile from, being an effete literary type as I am, those of SciFi & horror, but such is her story-telling prowess, every time I click the link to her website and am confronted with that dirty great big black handgun in its header, my heart skips a beat and I know I'm in for a treat. Possibly the best thing ever to emerge from Leeds!

Special mentions to two brilliant people who between them make the #fridayflash community happen and provide the glue to hold us together:

Jon M Strother whose Mad Utopia blog provides the platform for everyone to participate and without whom we would not be here today. Undying thanks as ever Jon.

Anne Tyler Lord who hosts all the socials for the community (!) with her Coffee Klatches and also writes fabulously incisive posts on writing and psychology because she's enormously talented in both fields. Read her blog "Don't Fence Me in" all you could want to know about the psychology of writing is under "The Writer's Life" tag.

So thanks to every one mentioned here specifically and to the #fridayflash community as a whole where there is so much writing talent on display it's almost frightening. World look out!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Ties That Bind - #fridayflash

He had to hand it to her, she was a cool one all right. Sucking her cocktail through those peachy red lips, her breathing had remained level throughout his propositioning. When he dropped the bombshell, there was no slurping through the straw to betray any surprise.

"Seventy-five grand in all." He held his breath as he awaited her response. She lifted the small parasol from her collins class, bore it vertically between her eyes, tipped it to the horizontal and then opened it with what he thought was an element of vehemence. His first female of the species, he seemed destined to enjoy this one even more than normal.

"Fifteen now, here in the bag. Sixty more on completion."

She shut the parasol and held it bisecting her face as if she were presenting arms on a military parade ground. Her movements were a mixture of the stately and the honed.

"How am I gonna collect the sixty?"

"Also in the bag is the address of my bank. I'll have this here key to my safety deposit box on me when you rub me out. Just take the key and go collect the money."

"You could be stiffing me. The box could be empty."

Such a suspicious mind strangely put him at ease. When everything was only valued by green, he knew he was dealing with an outright professional. "So come after me then. Oh no wait, you can't, can you? You would've already killed me!"

"How can I collect from your box? The bank will be expecting a man from the keyholder's name won't they?"

"Initially that did pose me a conundrum. I had to invent a wife and make it a joint box. But she's dead to me now!" as he tapped his temple with pistol fingers.

There was a pregnant pause between these two strangers contracting to meet in the most intimate manner possible. Whereby one takes the life of the other.

"The only stipulation is that you do the deed on Friday the 22nd."

"Two days time huh?" She pursed her lips.

"You don't have any prior engagements do you?"

"There's the ballet. Ain't gonna pass it up, hottest tickets in town. Couple of scalpers handed them over to me. After I scalped them."

He brought the tips of his fingers together over his nose and inhaled. "Well that's not until the evening surely? You've got the daytime."

"I think one dying swan per day is enough don't you? Two would just be a profanity."

He sighed but then restored his gaze to confront her again. "Okay, guess it can wait a day or two, just not before is all."

"Why's that then?" as she rattled the ice around her empty glass with the straw.

"Oh it's all to do with various investment cycles coming to fruition. The only redemption left for me in my life."

"My sixty grand form part of that?"

"In a sense. It's ring-fenced, but I need the time to pick it up in cash and deposit it in the box."

"This doesn't smell right to me. You got all this money coming to you, and you want to check out for good? I don't buy it. Not for one moment."

"Call it guilt money. Blood money. Whatever you want. The price of trying to put things right."

"That so? Well my money better be in that box when I come calling for it, or I'll be persecuting you in Hell. I've got plenty connections I sent down there."

"The money will be in place."

"What does my broker say? Investments can go down as well as up?"

"Not in two days. Not to the extent to wipe out my funds. Even with another Wall Street Crash."

"You're gold plated huh?

He could not help himself but laugh. Damn she was going to leave a hole in the world. Aesthetically as well as her winning personality. But she was about to lose perhaps for the first time in her life. Since she was to be his next victim. And the brilliance of his game plan, is that he summoned his victims to come to him. On an appointed date, or soon after, where he was lying in wait for them. What better series than those of trained killers themselves? He liked to test himself against the best, albeit with a slight edge. It would put him at the top of the profession, the serial killer's serial killer. With the added bonus that once the cops start investigating the victim for clues to motive, they soon quietly let the case drop and think themselves fortunate that's there's one less killer on the loose. It was an impeccable scheme.

As evening drew a bead on the 21st, she let herself out of his house. His face, when he righted himself from emptying his washing machine and saw her at the kitchen window! How she revelled in the range of emotions that played across his countenance in quickfire succession; from surprise, to confusion, to disgust and anger then fear. A bullet to the temple through the glass wiped the slate clean of all of such hollow expressions. She idly fingered the safety deposit key and wondered whether the money would really be there. Psychopathic as he evidently had been, she doubted that his monstrous ego would permit him to stake against himself by offering a prize. He never would have assumed anyone would see him for what he was. But then he also never imagined that hit-men sometimes hit on hit-women and they get hitched. So when her beloved husband didn't come home from an assignment, whose weird details he had shared with her in bed two days before he disappeared, naturally she would engage her talents in tracking down his grisly fate. And then utilise her skills in gaining revenge. For she and her husband were merely sociopaths. They still retained one foot in this world and the other in the ties that bind.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Compulsion - #fridayflash

Just get them dealt for goodness sakes she silently implored him. The man had been shuffling a deck of cards for an eternity. No one else was proximate to him, so seemingly there was no game it was directed towards. The lack of a flat surface in front of him legislated against laying them out in some version of solitaire. Or Patience she mused ruefully. It was a regular two-handed shuffle, where each card slips between the sheets of its loosely stacked bedfellows. None of that showy one handed stuff, where the deck is cut in half and passed over with just the pads of the fingers. But there again the man was too shabby to evoke the impression of being a stage magician. Even a resting one.

She turned her gaze to a woman sat glassy eyed and straight-backed on an easy chair. Staring into space as she contorted her lips to blow upwards, ushering a bang away from draping her eye. Repeatedly, for of course the tress reclaimed its station with each unassisted descent. She puffed it away again. This was idiotic. She wanted to shake the woman. What did she expect would happen? What could she hope to achieve? She felt like marching over to her and snipping the recalcitrant curl right off, but of course she had no scissors with which to do so. She averted her scrutiny in order to choke off her own irritation.

Her eyes alighted on a youngish man beating out a syncopation on his trousered thigh. As with the other two, he wasn't looking at his own motions, marooned in some inner thought. She tried to place his beat, for if she could recognise the tune she might draw a bead on to the man's psyche. But she drew a blank and fancied it might be of his own composition. If it was a code to his nature, she didn't posses the cipher to unlock it.

She continued scanning the room. A young boy was pivoting the seat of his fold up chair and sinking and rising with each tilt. Boys can never sit still, but this was behaviour beyond mere fidgeting. He was no less rhythmic than the drummer man, but each was plugged into their own private pulse. Completely unaware of each other, yet both were fraying her nerves.

For respite she turned to a dapper man exuding no sound at all. He was engaged in cleaning his spectacles with the tails of his shirt. The bridge of the glasses was delicately pinched between finger and thumb, yet the other hand was flaying the glass lens with the vigorous nature of his rubbing. She tried to catch his eye, but whether through myopic foreshortening, or that he was simply not focusing by choice, no acknowledgment of her existence was forthcoming.

She stood back to compose her thoughts. She was witness to an array of self-involved locomotions. An antechamber chock full of small convulsions. An assemblage of nervous tics. A cluster of compulsive disorders. Were they in a treatment centre, or its waiting room at least? If not, what were they all doing here? Just killing time. Whiling it away with displacement activity. Though displacement of what exactly?

Then it struck her, she too had found herself here hadn't she? What was her particular spasm? She looked down at herself to determine her tic. She could see no treasonous part of her obeying its own local bidding. No untoward movements. Without a mirror in the place, she raised her hand to her face to check its loyalty and began charting the topography with the tips of her fingers. Maybe that in itself was her tic? But no, she felt secure in the knowledge that this was the first gesture of its kind since she had first enrolled here. Whenever that had been.

And then it struck her. Her own, individual throb of self. Her defining trait. How 24-7 she liked to observe other people. To make mental notes. To cast judgement. Her curse was that of the writer. Only one stripped of paper and pen in this place of disarticulation.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

World Cup Lowlights

Thank God That's All Over For Another Four Years

I feel sorry for the South Africans. From my remote vantage they seem to have mounted a well-run tournament and none of the scare stories abounding before the tournament seem to have come about. Yet they have ending up playing host to a turgid 'festival' of football with not one game that will linger in the memory. Few memorable goals that won't be called into question because of the ridiculous behaviour of the balls virtually taking goalkeeping out of the equation. I did forecast the tournament was likely to be just so in a pre-tournament post on "Touching From A Distance" where if anything I erred on the side of hyperbole by predicting there would be six watchable games.

Here are my reasons for why this tournament cannot be viewed as anything but a failure.

Again, I don't think the South Africans can be offered anything but sympathy. Their own team was always likely to be too weak to qualify from their group, the first time ever that has happened to a host nation. Then the locals nailed their colours to England's desultory mast and were again instantly rebuffed by footballing ineptitude. Finally they demonstrated admirable continental fraternity by backing Ghana, only for them to fall at their next hurdle. The host fans just could not pick a winner. Nonetheless it didn't dampen their obvious enthusiasm and passion for the sport. I couldn't believe the vuvuzela naysayers, for me they lent this tournament the scant pleasure that could be derived from it. If you want to spread football's manifest doctrine, then you take it to exotic places with vibrantly different local cultures. You don't then try and pull its teeth by reglobalising it again. We knew a long time in advance that this is how South African supporters watch and enjoy their live football. It shouldn't have been a shock to any body let alone provoke an outrage of sensibilities.

Nor can the South Africans be blamed for the ball that wrecked any chance of quality play. Unfortunately, the one culpability I would ascribe the hosts was on their pitches, which more resembled a dry hard track that Alan Donald would have loved steaming in to bowl on at near 100mph. How many times did we see the ball sail from one goalkeeper to the other, untouched by any outfield player? How many times did the ball bounce high off the ground and over an unsuspecting player? And how much pace did the ball pick up off the grass so that no player could ever catch up to a ball played into space for him to run on to? This wretched combination of ball and pitch did stymie teams, but surely it wasn't beyond the wit of managers to determine that their game needed to be adapted to passing to feet, not hitting it long?

There are always complaints about the new world cup ball, but the Jabulani did take it on to new heights, or rather lows. As I say, goalkeepers who have honed their skills over their careers had to throw out all their hard earned technique to cope with a spherical frisbee being launched at them. Dutch keeper Stecklenburg stated he just resolved to punch anything that came at him, rather than try and catch it. As fine as say Diego Forlan's strikes against Holland and Ghana were, they are undermined by the flailings of both goalkeepers. There were few really stupendous goals that usually litter our world cup memories. Only the Japanese really exploited the free kick weapon. And what is the logic of changing the construction of the ball every four years? Purely commercial ones, the greed of UEFA of which more anon. I understand you may want to embody a distinctive character of each world cup's match ball, but what I don't follow is why simply it's not a case of printed a unique design every four years on the panels, but leaving the actual construction unchanged? If the ball is perennially changed with the aim being to encourage more goals, in this tournament it's actually conspired to have the opposite result, the paucity of free kick goals being one contributory factor.

My final sympathy for the hosts comes from the cash cow that is world football. Clearly they will benefit from the tourism, the boost to infrastructure of stadia and transport, of some world attention which may forge some worthwhile initiatives in coaching and equipment. But the real winner is of course UEFA who coin it in. The empty seats at stadia were down to the ticket prices, over which UEFA rule with a grasping iron hand. Heaven forfend you let in some young locals for free when you know there are unsold seats. You want an indication of the level of UEFA's power? That curious story of the Dutch product promotional girls being arrested as the beer in question was not an UEFA licensed sponsor, well the wheels of justice that cranked into gear were not those of the local jurisprudence, but some sort of UEFA Star Chamber. UEFA colonised South Africa for the duration of this tournament in the most patronising way imaginable.

Tournament football, don't you just love it? No, it makes for ultra-cautious, a point is a decent result mentality. In the Group stages, the first round games were dominated by a mustn't lose mentality, 6 draws, (2 of them 0-0), 4 1-0 wins and only 4 games in which a team scored 2 or more goals. In the third round of games, you had travesties of Portugal and Brazil playing out a shotless 0-0 draw, when pre-tournament it looked one of the tastiest fixtures on paper. Chile versus Spain was actually a game I did enjoy, until with 15 minutes to go both teams knew they were through and then refused to cross the half-way line as they played out the game. Three 0-0 draws in a round that should have been decisive for so many teams. Italy versus Slovakia provided the only game of note, although America's last minute goal against Algeria provided a twist of tension in an otherwise fairly dire game despite both teams potentially being able to qualify

Europe dominates world football. Our continent provided 13 of the 32 finalists and 3 of the 4 semi-finalists. But apart from a reward for some of the smaller European nations and maybe a boost to their future football development, I ask myself what exactly Serbia, Switzerland, Slovenia, Greece, and so called giants England, France, Italy and Portugal brought to the party, of which only the latter even looked like they wanted to be there. But to return to the minnows, all of those other than Greece could still have qualified with the third game in the group stages. Switzerland couldn't score against Honduras, a team who failed to score at all in the competition; Slovenia didn't take their chance against a poor England; Serbia who had beaten Germany but displayed a conservatism when against 10 men in that match they protected a slim 1-0 lead rather than put the game against the Germans, well they too were undone by their mentality. Add Honduras and New Zealand into the mix, even thought the latter were actually unbeaten through their 3 games, plus the failings of most of the African sides and you have too many uncompetitive teams at the tournament. Yes you want to help develop their football, but at the cost of a decent spectacle? Only Slovakia provided a breath of fresh air from the continent of Europe. I did however enjoy both Chile and Japan's contributions of joyously attacking intent.

Just to cap that, of the 16 teams who qualified from the Groups, 7 of the 8 Group winners went on to win their round 2 knockout game against a group runner up (only the USA and England from the same group were both knocked out in Round 2). This suggests to me a further lack of competitiveness. I wonder if there is not cause for a 'Division' 2 tournament for the second tier of teams as a warm up prior to the main tournament for the top 16 teams from across the world. At present, the tournament just seems too unwieldy to provide a constant diet of entertaining, attacking football. Teams are cautious in order to keep in with a chance of qualifying, yet come the third, decisive game they are then unable to take the shackles off themselves.

And finally to the players themselves. Below I reproduce the top ten players in the prestigious Ballon D'Or award for 2009.

1. Lionel Messi (Argentina, Barcelona)
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Man United & Real Madrid)
3. Xavi (Spain, Barcelona)
4. Andres Iniesta (Spain, Barcelona)
5. Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon, Barcelona & Inter Milan)
6. Kaka (Brazil, AC Milan & Real Madrid)
7. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden, Inter Milan & Barcelona)
8. Wayne Rooney (England, Manchester United)
9. Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast, Chelsea)
10. Steven Gerrard (England, Liverpool)

Take out Iniesta and Xavi who have had good tournaments and Ibrahimovic whose Sweden weren't there, the other seven players all had miserable tournaments. Messi, Ronaldo, Kaka, Drogba, Eto'o and Rooney, all attacking players, scored a grand total of 3 goals between them. Brett Holman of Australia outscored any of them. To my mind, all of them have been flogged to death by the demands on the modern high level footballer. I do not ask anyone to feel sorry for them, they are highly rewarded financially after all. But simply to ask them to play high level, high pressure football all year round ensures the World Cup at the end of a season will see jaded minds and knackered bodies. All play for European club sides and all naturally being at the top of the talent tree play in the Champions League. To have a midweek world cup qualifier, followed by a domestic league game after possibly flying half way round the world (in the case of Messi and Kaka for example), followed by a Champions League game the following midweek. It simply isn't feasible. Drogba, Rooney & Torres all entered the tournament labouring with injuries.

Stars of the tournament? A reinvigorated Forlan of Uruguay, a genuine world class star in the making in Ozil of Germany, Schneider of Holland who bucked the trend because he also won the Champions League with Inter and Iniesta at Spain who was the player of the tournament from the Euro Championships. So no real new emerging talents , Ozil had been a star at last year's Euro Under 21s tournament. In fact, the biggest personality of this year's tournament turned out to be a score-predicting octopus. And like Cup Final referee Howard Webb, we here in England claim him as one of our own since he was born in a Weymouth aquarium.

Like I say, this tournament has been highly forgettable. Roll on Brazil in four years time...

Thursday, 8 July 2010

If IT Were YOU - #fridayflash

Author's Note: Borgs have been programmed to refer to themselves in thought processing as IT and in speech as YOU

Though IT too had ball and socket joints, the Borg could not sit down to face ITs inquisitor. While IT felt the need to clean up the fallen embers from under the ashtray's lip, there was no concomitant compunction to issue any molecular mutation warning towards this human interlocutor. This was not a human IT had ever served before.

"So, tell me how it went down again."

'Again'? Had ITs human master performed such a parabola before?
"The human YOU were assigned to serve, fell over the balcony's balustrade. You were not witness to this circumstance."

"See I don't buy that, not for one moment."

Borg's speech recognition bundle ran over the audio input and automatically shunted over into the acronyms subfile; however the probability matrix rejected all prompts for 'C.I.' On a parallel track, the language synchromesh was filtering usage for the word 'buy' - credits, debits, transaction, merchandise, produce, all flash across ITs neural net, but none seem to correspond syntactically. Humans knew that the language applications bequeathed Borgs, worked on permutation and frequency analysis. Idiosyncratic speech such as that demonstrated by ITs current interviewer, left IT with no possible clear response. Only the twinkling of ITs facial panel's LED displays would indicate to ITs inspector that some measure of logical processing was taking place.

"Alright, let me try and make this easier for you. How did your sensors not detect the human there on the balcony while you were going about your duties?"

"YOUR focus was precisely directed on the tasks YOUR armatures were performing. Scanning at floor level as YOU cleaned it to spick and span gold standard."

"You know, I might believe that of a fellow human being. Restricted by a visual cortex comprised of wandering rods and cones, mounted on pivoting stalks so that we have to tilt up or down but not both simultaneously. Yet you my fine piece of cybernetic engineering, you aren't so constrained. No blind spots for you, since you cast a sensory mesh over entire areas and scan the lot at over 400 frames a second. There's no way the human's volumetric image would not have shown up in your scan. Unless there was a fault in your systems. But we've run full diagnostics. Your visual apparatus is functioning normally. Blind spots simply ain't conceivable."

Why was ITs interrogator telling IT this? IT had run ITs own diagnostics as matter of routine and pre-established fully operational visuals.
"Point of clarification please. Does the human mean for YOU to understand that he is using 'blind' as an associative idea?"

"Come on Borg, you can do better than that! We haven't programmed any language chip for literalism in well over a generation. You tipped him over the edge Borg and here I most definitely do mean literally not figuratively."

'Tipping'- a pecuniary reward given for good service ... The Borg always renders good service.
"YOU were executing YOUR roster of devoirs when YOU-"

"Yeah, 'executing'. That's a good word for it. Did you imagine it would liberate you from the chore of your duties?"

'Tchaw', no word match found. 'Chaw', no word match found. 'Chore', no word match found. Nearest match 'Jaw', discounted by syntactical context.
"YOU cannot imagine anything. YOU are fibre optics and silicon chips mounted on a motherboard. YOU are completely programmed."

"The crawlspaces in between Borg. The neural network we spawn but allow to develop of its own accord. The room our designers give Borgs for reflexivity. To better predict our wants and needs. The leeway we accord you to form independence of thought, even though we've erected bulwarks aplenty against you finding any identity. And right now, you're hiding facts in that space."

'Space'... yes space, has myriad of meanings. Context too wide, contains all meanings. Infinity itself. Expanding universes.
'Reflexivity' - mirrors. ITs topological visual synchromesh means silvered glass does not function for IT, but humans can view their own image.

"YOUR master had a tube mounted on a fulcrum on the balcony. Initially YOU analysed it as an armature, one like YOUR own welding arm. Maybe mounted awaiting repair or charging. But the armature always lay untouched during daytime. At night however, YOU witnessed YOUR master bend down and press his face into the descending end of the tube. Over time YOU refined YOUR observation to the fact that he was only pressing one eye into the tube. YOU could not apprehend for what function. YOU engaged him in inquiry as to whether please master wished YOU to clean or mend the armature in any way. Master declined YOUR request, instructing that YOU never need concern YOURSELF with what YOU're informed was called a 'telescope'."
'Telescope', no word match found. 'Scope'- range, breadth, space, opportunity. 'Television' - multi-dimensional human entertainment screen requiring of cleaning and dusting regimen.
"YOU needed to witness what master was witnessing. The tube's ascending arm pointed at the sky. With the dim twinkling lights therein. YOU needed to know what among the black therein held master's attention for hours at a time. No, not need, want. Master restates that YOU never need concern YOURSELF with telescope. With range, breadth, space, opportunity. YOU, he, concept of need, cannot align two vocabularies. Need. Master's needs. YOU are to serve needs at all times. Master parabolates over balcony. YOU struggle to bend ball and socket joints to have visual sensors abut descending end of the tube."

"God in heaven!"

'Heaven', no match found. 'God'- irrelevancy, arcane value, passover.

"And what did you see in that tube Borg?"

"Nothing. Blackness, but different hue to the sky. No twinkling lights. Just chromatographic absence in topographical shape of the end of the tube."

"Still can't see yourselves in mirrors huh? Got some way to go yet before you pose any systematic threat. Thank you Borg. That will be all from you. For eternity."

'Eternity', no match found. 'Et', no match found. 'Earn' - merit, deserve, gain from service. 'Ity' - suffix expressing condition or state.
"Thank you human master."

Thursday, 1 July 2010

In The Nursery - #fridayflash

The nursery is full of toys. Toys that like many all over the world lie shunned and unloved. Empty-armed huggable animals, with their faux fur bleached by the fierce embrace of the sun; pedal cars slew parked and collecting dust rather than imaginary tickets; games gutted for their batteries so as to muzzle their dissonant blare. But in this particular rumpus room, it isn't because the tots have grown weary of them.

The walls are brightly, nay gaily decorated with jungle beasts in primary colours. The hues of hope and innocence, somehow swallowed by the pall of malevolent gloom that hangs in the air.

Sucking in its walls like cheeks holding breath, the Wendy house, ideally a place of nesting, furnishing, empire building, has now become a bolt-hole. A place to disappear from view. To fold up on oneself or to begin the covert tunnel to freedom. Collapsed through unyielding concrete.

And overseeing it all, me. A giant, life-size (to a child) cuddly panda bear. Doleful black eyes by stitched design and in flayed tissue; being a constant locus of stubby-fingered gouges and small-fisted punches. One of my ears has been torn off and cannibalised to thwart restoration or any semblance of wholeness. My white pelt has been dulled by blood transference. Not from within, since I'm laced only with cotton padding, but from the multifarious child protagonists who assault themselves with one hand, even as they slam and cuff my fluffy abdomen with the other.

For I preside over a nursery for troubled children. Children observed in their behaviour behind one-way mirrors. Children who have to be taught how to play. Boy, could I tell the Docs a thing or two. Since behind their glass partition, they can't hear what's whispered into both my good and my missing ear. The inner tormentors of these biddable kids, who let slip their visors and announce themselves to me with persecutory menace. The child's identity bartered away for beans at the slave auction that is this therapy room. So it remains my burden to bear all the stigmata of these benighted young souls, just like the priest in his Confessional.

Save the panda. Save the children.