Sunday, 28 April 2013

TV Comedy & "The Big Bang Theory"

Those of you who follow me on twitter may have seen my occasional expression of hostility to TV sitcoms that depend on the stupidity of characters to raise their laughs. Take a bow "Not Going Out" by Lee Mack where all the characters other than the wise-cracking Lee (basically doing his stand up act and wedging in one-liners where the script can't support them), are pig thick and much of the supposed comedy ensues from their misunderstanding, nay mangling of the English language. But Shakespeare also employed the same device of characters who were mastered by words, rather than mastering them, but they retained more dignity than Mack's characters.

But it's not limited to this particular show. Even the hugely popular "Only Fools And Horses" had a roster of ninnies and well yes fools, also overwhelmed by their ignorance. Only the scriptwriters and actor skills investing them with enough humanity and pathos I believe swayed us the audience to embrace them to our hearts.

So "The Big Bang Theory" has to be by definition, comedy at the other end of the spectrum. Four uber-nerds with brains the size of planets and a concomitant plethora of absent social skills is the heart of the comedy. So no comedy of the stupid on show here. And I want to like it, I really do. The writing is witty and clever, but not laugh out loud even though I get most of the clever science gags. The performances are also top notch, particular that of Jim Parsons as chief uber-brain Dr Sheldon Cooper. His physical performance of someone with a host of tics, neuroses and an inability to evidence most of the everyday things about relationships such as apologising, keeping a secret, compromising, is something rarely seen on mainstream TV. I am in awe of his performance week after week. Actually I am mesmerised by it, to the extent I keep coming back to the next episode. But I don't laugh all that much.

The monstrous character has a proud centrality in TV comedy. Consider Basil Fawlty for example, a man consumed by petty snobbery, delusions of grandeur, primness, sexual frustration within marriage and an inferiority, not to say fear, before his wife. Fawlty is a comedy creation of sheer genius. 

Sheldon Cooper is equally monstrous, but not one I find funny. Fawlty always loses, he is a clown who falls flat on his face. Cooper rarely loses any situation, because his behavioural demands usually cause others top kowtow to him. Falwty is highly vulnerable, Cooper almost inviolable, because he doesn't understand most of the hurt he is causing and little can penetrate him in return. Fawlty keeps trying to realise his dreams; Cooper has no dreams because his vision is so narrow and he is 'successfully' living within its narrow parameters and rarely shaken from it.

Finally, I am a little uncomfortable being asked to laugh at the antics of a domineering and dominant character who is I believe, somewhere on the Autistic-Asperger's spectrum. He is so impaired in his social interactions, that one has to believe there is a neural cause behind it rather than a psychological one. So the comedy revolves around the monstrous behaviour of a character who in all likelihood has a neurological condition underlying it all. Hmmm...

Still searching for some intelligent TV comedy for the 21st century along the lines of Fawlty Towers (which is after all nearly 40 years old now). Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Homegrown Suicide Bomber- Sample

From my book "Not In My name" published 2011 - part 2, the new politics is being waged online where it is far more vicious and bloody...

"Blog: 17th May 2006 / 27th Rabia Awal 1427
Another- the last- fitting for my nuptial dress. Has me more than a little nervous. Only natural of course. My fingers are trembling and I can’t do up a single clasp. The seamstress clicks her tongue in sharp disapproval and says such conduct would be unbecoming on the big day itself. The girdle feels tight, even though I have barely eaten this last week, despite cautioning from those around me to maintain my strength. I have even surrendered up my beloved gelatis. But today I feel I can treat myself to a bombe glacée. A last trifling indulgence, before the most profound change occurs in my life. And if I spread a couple of inches under its calorific assault, then I’ll just have to suck in my stomach, which with the likely state of my breathing tomorrow, shouldn’t be too hard a task. I force myself to think pure thoughts by envisioning my betrothed before me, as the seamstress gingerly packs up my raiment. And in conjuring such happy thoughts, a smile breaks out to envelop the worry lines around my pensive brow. Now my lips quiver only with joy. Such a remedy never fails. Tomorrow we shall be conjoined for ever. I leave the premises to search out my ice cream, once I have safely stored the vestments. Now it is just a question of killing time.
With all the trepidation, it’s been a very long and sleepless night. As the light faded, my thoughts flared around me, projected into the formless shadows moving on the wall. Car headlights seared their way through my shutters and churned and roiled my ceiling, making me dizzy and disoriented. Shutting my eyes did nothing, as they managed to prise through the membranes of my eyelids. How thin and insubstantial all of my body feels at this time. My flesh a flimsy curtain, partitioning the unknown chambers ahead.
I rose from bed and am now carving this for the want of something to do. Of course they left me no means of communicating with the outside world. But they did leave me a knife for self-protection and when I had blunted that, I used the flints sheared off from the stone walls of the room itself. Had other brides and grooms to be, been put up here before me? Then the building will tell its tale as well as my own.
My overriding thought right now, would to please be permitted some sleep, so I am not too befuddled for tomorr- or later today as it now is. I’m going back to bed, doubtless to joust some more with my ceiling-borne demons overhead. Whence death seemingly always comes, in our insignificant part of the world. Where the sky is forever falling in.
A pealing siren outside woke me, even though it was far away in the distance. A presentiment of ill-fortune? But again I just marinade my mind with thoughts of my beloved opening his arms in welcome and all such anxieties melt away and me with it back into my furtive dreams. Wherein my Mother soon intercedes. Bustling and barging the angelic bystanders as she cuts a direct path to me. Standing now right in my face, eclipsing even the joy of my light, for she would not approve of such an espousal. This is not exactly an elopement, yet still she cannot know till after the event. I have recorded her a message to explain the matter. But her forceful image has demanded an explanation of me before she is even in the know. A lingering last vestige of guilt.
Mother, the sole message is I love you. Even as I seemingly repudiate you by this act. I am not propelling myself away from you. This you must understand. How I love you more than anything else on this earth and I am beaming this message to you, with greater force than all the generative force soon to adorn my belly, that will pull us apart merely on this plane. In my absence, you will receive only greater honour. Till we are ultimately reconciled in Paradise. My Mother and I hug, seemingly unconditionally as she did when I was a baby. And finally I fall into a dreamless sleep.
18th May 2006 / 28th Rabia Awal 1427
I imagine hearing another siren, but as I groggily come round, I realise it is my beeping alarm clock. An adhan summoning me to my calling. My salvation. I shut it off. I’ll be present at my union soon enough. Lying here, I try and evoke an image of the light of my life in the future, but nothing comes. It’s as if my thoughts are like birds, flying in confusion and without navigation during an eclipse, as my rapidly beating heart has blotted out the sun. So I do what I’ve been steeled to do and I use it to my advantage. I am to enter the core of this black sun, and ball it up in my hand. Driving the fingers till they seal my palm. Thereby readmitting the light to embrace me once again. Ha, already the quickened pulse recedes. Resumes its orderly place in the background. But do not be fooled. That faint tick, tick, ticking, is the sound of my seething heart, walled up behind the thorns and briars of my sin. How they dam up my heart from God. Now is the time to purge them like an infernal machine, back whence they came. Return my pure being back to the bosom of God. For He cannot be contained. My heart is fit to irrupt, its furious palpitations cannot be accommodated a moment longer.
I swing my legs out of bed. My bare feet meet the cold stone of the flags. All the more felicitous then, since a grave will be yet colder. I wash myself from a bowl of water, letting the precious liquid trickle back down to its source. Our adversaries would deny us even this most basic of elements. As I bathe them, I devote each one of the two hundred bones in my body to you my Love. And by my actions, I imagine we will share them in turn with five times that amount of suitors, dispersed like passing out wedges of wedding cake. Spearing into their trespassing hearts, as we entwine and are yoked together into death. Then there is the added confetti of nails and ball bearings, only this time it will be the bride showering the congregation. Even my virginal veil of modesty shall be aflame and sail through the air combusting all it brushes against. My flying blood will baste their foreheads with the indelible sign of their guilt. The liquid in the bowl is still once again.
I hope my laving is suitably thorough, but I am without any mirror for inspection. One isn’t to wake on the morn of one’s self-appointed expiration and glimpse dread in the eyes. No photos to kiss either, no earthly tugs at all to corrode the will. To blunt my whetted mind. Instead I picture weaving my own carpet. I who have nothing, can still donate this wedding gift. As they deny us the wool because we have no land to breed sheep and we have no looms to spin it within our flimsy, cramped houses, so then will I fashion mine from blood and bone. I aim to weave the largest rug that is humanly possible from my frame, to drape the entire tarmac between two bus stops. And my signature, will be my essence mingled in with theirs. They who are so precious about collecting and burying every last drop of their blood spilt, will not be able to determine if it is mine or theirs. Blotting me up with their paper as they do with their own. How they will waste such resources in taking precise, forensic care of my remains, it will almost be like they are forced to yield me the same worth as their own burnt offerings. But for all this, I will yield them no insights. Other than reinforcing that which they choose to remain wilfully blind to.
I’m ready. This time I rig myself with barely a faltering in my fingers. The clasps all snap home. The girdle still feels tight, but now hangs heavy, arrayed with the wedding gifts lavished last night by my escort. What a most generous gift he has seen fit to bestow upon me. The needles to unstitch with. The pattern in my mind. At last, for the first time in our despoiled land, my belly feels fecund.
19th May 2006
20th May 2006
21st May 2006
The requested resource
is no longer available on this server and there is no forwarding address. Please remove all references to this resource."

Available from Amazon UK  US

Monday, 22 April 2013

Animal Songs

Animals, don't you just love them? Pop stars certainly seem to, "The Birdie Song", "Hungry Like The Wolf", "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", "Eye Of The Tiger", even "Ant Music" made it to the top of the charts. Then there are those throwaway songs such as The Who allowing bassist John Entwhistle to pen a song and he came up with the fairly execrable "Boris The Spider", or The Pogues doing their Tom Waits spoof "Worms" and tucking it away as the last track on the album. Pink Floyd did a whole concept album called "Animals" which in my opinion remains their best album despite the praise heaped on "Dark Side of The Moon" and "Wish You Were Here". But being a concept album, the tracks are too long to upload to the blog for your listening pleasure.

So here are ten animal songs for your delectation and petting.

1) Patti Smith - "Horses"
The queen of New York New Wave that brought a poetic and experimental sensibility to early US punk, here has an urgently driving and rumbling song that still holds up today in its power. The lyric "The boy looked at Johnny" was incidently the title of a short book on UK punk rock penned by teenage Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons in 1977 (their Johnny being Johnny Rotten). And to think what those two have become now... Punk rock RIP

2) Iggy And The Stooges - "I Wanna Be Your Dog"
And still on the subject of 'where did it all go awry?', that sallow faced man who sells you insurance on the TV used to be a bit of an all-out punk rocker who usually ended up bloodied on stage from the intensity of his performance. I used to know a music journalist who lived with Iggy in London.

3) The Cure - "Love Cats"
I have a love-hate relationship with this song. The love is that in my misguided belief that I would be a bassist in a band, when I bought my instrument and tried to teach myself, the bassline intro to this song was one of the few I managed to master. The con, was that this song seemed to signal the demise of The Cure as a cool low-fi post-punk/pop band and enter the world of Goth with bad make up and bombastic music arrangements. Robert Smith in his retreat from fame and adulation had sacrificed Camus' "L'Etranger" of the band's debut album and instead regressed into a child's world as represented by "Charlotte Sometimes" for his influence. "Love Cats" was of course a huge hit for the band.

4) The Birthday Party - "Release The Bats"
If you're going to do Goth properly, obviously you require bats, but you also need a bit of oomph in the music. And though they were never really a Goth band, Nick Cave's Birthday Party had twin drummers in their early incarnation and that gave this song oomph a plenty. "Sex vampire, horror bat bite": Quite.

5) The Beastie Boys - "Brass Monkey"
Hey it was this or "Funky Donkey". I think you all get off lightly! One of their more Frat Boy songs, even though I don't beleive they ever were...

6) Jefferson Airplane - "White Rabbit"
Far out man!

7) Genesis - "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway"
Double concept albums, twelve string guitars, costumes on stage, ah they don't make 'em like this any more. Phil Collins used to be in genesis you know!

8) The Cramps - "Human Fly"
The signature tune of the Cramps that announced their arrival as the swamp punk rock band supreme. Swaggeringly good. This music was grungy before anyone had heard of Kurt Cobain. The stage clothes however were not. Lux Interior RIP.

9) Jah Woosh - "Woodpecka Sound"
Dub heavy, reggae has lots of songs involving animals, not least the Lion of Judah.

10) Pixies - Monkey Gone To Heaven"
No idea what the song means but I do love it!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Homegrown Bombers - Sunday Sample

From my book "Not In My name" published 2011 - part 2, the new politics is being waged online where it is far more vicious and bloody...

"Joe Bloggs’ Blog, London, July 8th 2006
The view from the top of the Clapham Omnibus
A year to the day. Plus one. In order to honour the memorial ceremonies passing off with due dignity.
But I can hold my peace no longer. Today I can ask the question, was that it??? A one-hit wonder? Is that the sum total, one atrocity?
Admittedly well-planned and co-ordinated, but where’s the sustained follow-up campaign? Apart from the four stooges who couldn’t even make a chapati, much less a bomb. And didn’t one of them, possessed with the courage of a lion, make his bolt by draping himself head to foot in a burka? How double-edged does the veil seem now?
It’s a bit of a well-worn tradition apparently. For I’m told as much as protecting female modesty, the veil can also help a vulpine lover secure access, to his off-limits but willing love in the harem.
Still, how we were all gripped by the thrill of the chase for a couple of weeks. CCTV footage of them plastered everywhere, rivalling a bad taste Benetton campaign. Blanket media coverage, till they were being led away under blankets. Extradited, locked up and forgotten about. News blackout.
About time they were coming to trial I’d say. How much more evidence do we need to gather? Caught red handed on camera. Up in the dock, so we can all see you for the pathetic specimens you really are! You’re nothing! We can’t even recall your names. Your prolix, unBritish sounding names, more verbose than any meaningful ideology you care to spout.
And, undaunted we’re still using the Underground aren’t we? Our wheels of commerce grind on. The fear and anxiety have diminished, cos you haven’t been able to repeat your heinous deed. Of course not, your top boys took themselves out in their one act. Your second top boys...are just languishing in our prison cells. I think you're done don't you?
So it showed that you could. Big deal. The Met Commissioner had been warning us for three years, with his mantra that it was a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’. Well, ‘when’ has come to pass. And past. In theory the threat must still persist. But London has shrugged its broad shoulders and got on with life. We’re battle hardened, first from the Blitz, then the spud-munchers throwing blazing fertilizer at us. Such outrages only firm up our sense of community and togetherness. A sense of belonging you can’t possibly penetrate.
When all’s said and done, ultimately you were no more than a mosquito or a gnat bite. A knee-jerk into the groin. Enough to make our eyes water, but no need for an overreaction of the body politic.
Since there’s been no lasting terror beyond the one-off incident, therefore it had to have been an act of vengeful spite. A token. A hate token to the country of your birth. Not even your adoptive or foster country, but where you were born, brought up and educated. A single act of bloody bloodymindedness.
Rather than play out your destructive oedipal fantasies on our bodies, you would have been better off blubbering on a shrink’s couch, except that is rooted in the other bunch of Semite cousins you claim to abhor. Hatred is always non-negotiable. Like prejudice.
One of you only ended up on that bus cos you neglected to charge the battery. Still, how redolent was that image, with its roof ripped off like a sardine tin? Powerfully symbolic, but symptomatic of not very much at all. Except your lack of understanding of our way of life, both marooned up there in Yorkshire and holed up in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan.
Only a tired old strategy of economic dislocation, targets the transport system. But every Londoner knows any three Tube lines are out of commission on a daily basis. Signal trouble usually. The bus ought to have been your cue, seeing as it’s our culture you’re at war with anyway.
For our part, we may not be able to win a war on a word called ‘terror’. But you can triumph even less through war against a culture. Does Grozny or Gaza feel any more liberated by your act of derring-do? No, thought not.
So it remains a stifled howl. The yelp from kicking a three-legged dog. A petulant display from infantile minds. No matter how downright angry I may be after what you’ve done, I’m still civilised enough not  to be coming after your kith and kin. An eye for an eye? My eye more like. And I’ve got it trained on you."

"I heartily concur with the sentiments expressed from the top of the Clapham Omnibus. Though I believe there is a little more behind the motivations of such men, other than petty vindictiveness. I would refer you to the dedicated network, small as it is but dispersed worldwide, as represented by a myriad of sites on the Web. Where exist hundreds of webpage bomb-making cookbooks and footage of IED (improvised explosive device) attacks from the Middle East, shot from the vantage of those pressing the remote control for the bomb. There was even, in English, a Powerpoint step-by-step presentation of how to construct a homemade device, till the URL was spiked.

So, in similar vein, I thought it about time the arsenal ranged against this network was laid out in turn. To wit, the eyes and ears of entire nations. If the requisite information can be got out, to you the public, then there stands more chance of thwarting the bombers. The Authorities want the populace to keep eyes and ears open to help in the fight against terrorism, but they don’t want you to open your mouths and question what lies behind such actions in the first place. So as with your Blog host, I can hold my peace no longer. I will furnish you with all the information you need to know. To hell with the Official Secrets Act. If they haul me over the coals for whistle blowing, so be it. At least what I have to offer will already be out in the public domain. This is what you truly call a civil service. Below are my credentials.

I am and have been for over thirty years, part of the Intelligence Services of this country. In the past, we have been all that lay between you and periodic bloody carnage throughout our sceptred isle. It started with tracking down the Angry Brigade in the 1970’s. Then outflanking both Irish Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries (in the interest of balance). Welsh Nationalist firebombers (remember them? I know, hard to credit Pembroke and Monmouth ever being more desirable for holiday homes than Tuscany and Provence). Animal liberationists, (never averse to serving up some slabs of well done human steak). Extortioners. Arsonists with delusions of grandeur and an accelerant career ladder. Those mail bombers and nail bombers, letter bombers bearing grudges and misanthrope purveyors of hate crimes. Oh and Libyans. Most were embarked on prolonged campaigns of repeated outrages, that it was our duty to stop dead in their tracks.

We operated from the painstaking reconstruction of each and every device, plus a consideration of the psychological cues contained in the targets, to catch our perpetrators. I could tell you about the fertilizer based bombs favoured by the Boys from the Bogside, prior to their roaring trade in Czech semtex. Or the respectable middle class Angry Brigades, who would only blow up property and institutional symbols rather than target people. Even as government scientists were simultaneously devising neutron bombs that killed people, but left buildings standing. However all of this has gone out the blast shattered window here and now. Our manuals have been ripped up and used for kindling.

For the current crop of antinomian bombers are radically different. They are not pursuing a prolonged campaign. Just the one abomination is ample for their purposes. Lighting the touchpaper but not standing back, seems sufficient to pass on a flaming baton to the next disciples. Now we have to interdict them before they ever carry out the dark deed. That is made especially hard, since my superiors have not seen fit over the years, to establish much in the way of a network of contacts within these communities. To my lords and masters, most of these beardy blokes are 'clean faces'.

Made tougher still by the annealing of the present antagonists. In the past, a bomber, no matter how adept, would normally only set a device after several practice runs. And an explosion is the type of ultramundane sound, that prompts people’s recall, once it has been suggested to them that it bears a greater magnitude than a car backfiring. However, this lot either have done their training abroad and out of sight, or they just go for it hell for leather, the first and only time of asking. I believe that’s what caught out the second quartet of would be Tube bombers. They’d read their Blue Peter bomb primers, but for the want of any stickyback plastique, hadn’t been able to put it into any practice. Thank God.

Nor is their psychology the same. Most bombers bear a signature hallmark in their make up, as to why they have particularly embraced the destructive power of explosives. Some may revel in the intricacies of their constructions, the timers, trip switches and detonators. They may even want their bombs to be discovered rather than detonate, so they can pit their fiendish wits with our expert disposalists. Others may get their charge, if you’ll excuse the pun, from enchaining the elemental force of the big bang itself. The red hot wind that for a brief moment, expels and purges the very air itself. Before the devastation comes cascading back to earth. Collapse of stout party. The bomber as Hephaestus at his forge. Perhaps Zeus himself hurling his thunderclaps and leaving huge craters in the earth. Though obviously such association is beyond the majority of most bomb throwers. For they remain forever, third spear chucker in a lame production of a modern-day revenge tragedy.

But this clump are not interested in the finesse of their design, nor the temporary divine power it may vest them. For they willingly sacrifice themselves immediately upon such divinity and are consumed by it. They are not around to relive their handiwork in their mind’s eye, or even congratulate themselves grimly on a job well done. Ergo no signature handiwork, because it is an act never to be recreated. For them, the bomb is a means to a singular, solitary end, pure and simple. Same difference ricin, anthrax or nuclear waste. Ordination by ordnance. Unlike most bombers who have long-since skedaddled from the proposed locus of their perniciousness, these men probably do look their victims in the eyes shortly before triggering their devices. Indiscriminate, but somehow intimate. This is coffin calculus, at its simplest, most stripped down algorithm.

Having said that, like I say there are underlying factors behind the atrocities. Though I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say they constitute a body of coherent ideology. You probably all know the mantras of incitement: Palestine/ Iraq. American/ Crusader imperialism. Other hotspots around the world and corrupt, unIslamic Arab regimes. There’s a critique of Western materialism and sexual mores, with which I have a modicum of sympathy, but their solution for which I find yet more repellent. What this hodgepodge of ideas actually means, is that the diffuse network that is Al Qaeda, can inspire any local sparkplug to tap into his own motives. Like a sort of pick and mix of malcontentment. In the 1960’s Buddhist monks protested American Foreign Policy by setting themselves on fire. Something about Islam insinuates they have to make sure we combust along with them. Again, Clapham Omnibus has it about right with his positing that as a one off, they did it because they could. It has a lot in common with the goalless death dealing of Russian Nihilism of the Nineteenth Century. Just witness the current bloody insurgency in Iraq. For Shi’a and Sunni, you could almost read Hutu and Tutsi.

However, don’t for one moment believe that it has subsided on our Isles with this one isolated act. Just as a poisoner ought to arouse suspicion with the chemicals he purchases, we should all be on the lookout for bulk purchases, whether we are pharmacies, garden centres, catering suppliers or even hair salons. I don’t think it’s faintly possible to prejudice the case against the second cohort of Tube bombers, the ones who lived to face up to justice, but I can tell you that the constituents of their bombs were humble household products; hair bleach, nail polish remover and chapati flour. All the more terrible for being so mundane in their genesis. Things we utilise in our lifestyles, repackaged and spat back poisonously in our faces."

Available from Amazon UK  US

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Idea Of A Man - Friday Flash

The mummified remains from the peat bog looked both like a man and yet very alien at the same time. The chemicals had preserved his body whole, but had tanned it like leather. It looked like one of Van Hagen's plasticised human art exhibits. His clothes were only preserved as shredded rags in places, but the bindings that shackled his hands behind his back were intact for all to see. Who was this man? Who had he been?

The detail of the fetters pricked people's imagination, as conclusions were drawn that the man had been executed as a prisoner. Or offered as a sacrifice. Science could analyse what the man's last supper had been. The remains of his clothes, or their accessories to be more accurate, suggested tantalising glimpses of his social status. His tattoos were felt to yield him a personal narrative depicted on his skin. The wear and erosion of his X-Rayed bones was interpreted for the way that he had walked and that he was left-handed. A profile of this man was built up and accordingly a name was conferred upon him so that everyone imagined they knew who he was. We conjured a full idea of who he had been. Had he known himself as much as we purported to know him? Had he looked inside himself as deeply as our forensic instruments?

There were queues snaking round the museum. A glass case, like a Damien Hirst bisected animal exhibit, contained the lithified remains of a man. A citizen of Pompeii, cured and petrified beneath volcanic ash. Who was this man? Who had he been?

No one of course, since his essence had long vaporised into the air. The ash had formed a perfect mould of his body, and the hollow mould had been cast with plaster of Paris to bring out his ghostly essence now on display behind glass. The idea and outline of a man. Slightly shrunken compared to our own contemporary well-nourished corpulence, his body bent into the unnatural angles of death. Hands protecting his featureless face, or perhaps clasped there in final prayer. Or maybe just blotting out the sight of impending oblivion. This sleeping man persecuted by unimaginably agonised dreams for eternity. Tourists travel to Herculaneum to see the lewd mosaics and graffiti, in order to transpose Pompeii's victims to the clues here about their lives. The wine coolers. The baths and water plumbing. They never saw it coming, but we have a pretty good picture. We fleshed him out, gave him a back story and inducted him into our collective history. This hollow man was now full of substance. Ornamentally displayed there under glass. Cast as an impure idea of a man who once might have been. Fired not in flesh but in gypsum. His body pockmarked with air bubbles and tiny gouges in the grain of his second skin. Turned inside out, like a death mask viewed from within. Glazed with our projections colouring him. Fusing him to our sensibilities rather than any he may have once held.

The TV channels had deemed that we couldn't view deep fried crispy human, but squashed flat as a pancake man was entirely palatable. Hence the cameras didn't zoom in on retreating armies burned in the cabins of their trucks and seared to the steering wheels by the heat of high explosive. However, the soldier who had presumably tried to flee from the troop carrier once the planes had been detected overhead, but ended up beneath the caterpillar tracks of his armoured vehicle, was fit for human goggle-box consumption. Who was this man? Who had he been?

He had been filleted, his vertebrae crushed beneath the multi-tonned vehicle, permitting the triumphant news crews of the victors to pun about his spinelessness. But his body had merged with the hardened banks of mud under the tracks, so that he was the same colour as the soil. It wasn't possible to determine if he was an unwilling conscript into this war, wrenched from his family, or a fervent defender of the motherland. Either way he was regarded as an implacable foe. Both sides could legitimately claim him as their kill. Whether he had perished underneath the tracks, a victim of friendly fire, or killed from above and his lifeless corpse tangled up in the desperately grinding caterpillar tracks, neither would be determined through any forensic autopsy, since this was reputedly not a crime scene. Despite the helpless turkey shoot it had turned out to be for the pilots and bombardiers.

He was scarce a man anymore, more of a caterpillar track. A skid mark. Fastened to mother earth, part of her topography, a contour of the local terrain. The war for the land, or more accurately the minerals and ores contained within it, had absorbed him into its maw. His bones pulverised, once again embosomed he could suckle toothlessly at the motherland's dried up-breast. An etiolated baby she offered up in her begging of favours from the victorious armies.

These men we never knew when they were alive. I'd say we only injected them with humanity posthumously, but posthumous etymologically speaking implies they were buried in soil, when of course two were merely shrouded by their murderous surroundings, while the third was blended into them. They were ashes to ashes, dust to dust on contact with their reaper. The only fleeting corporeality they evidenced was that they had died and ceased to be. That is the only pure idea of these men we were entitled to hold. Their quietus the sole element these mortal beings ever shared with us.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

New Editors - Friday Flash

I opened my email and there it was. Exactly a month to the day that I'd hit send. I may have sweated blood to meet my deadline for delivery, but the response seemed goadingly effortless in its precision arrival.

I always hated this moment. Even though it always redounded to my benefit and I usually could find nothing to argue against, not even for the sake of form. I downloaded the attachment. My original manuscript, though after this metamorphosis at the steadfast hand of my editor, could it still even be said to be mine anymore? The truth about my fiction lay at hand, highlighted on my desktop.

I think I was probably squinting through half-closed eyes such was my trepidation. Track changes was harder on the eye than the editor's former method of red pen. For such a stickler to the pre-determined standards of grammar, she wasn't averse to adopting the new technologies. My eyes could barely take in the text. It seemed to be dancing on my plasma screen before me. I blinked my eyes to clear the fug. The letters were still spinning, melting and mutating. What's going on here? No word seemed to stay still long enough in its arrangement of letters for me to be able to read it.

Damn, seems somewhere between her computer and mine, we'd contracted one of those viruses beloved of Microsoft Word that ensconces itself in the macros exchanged like lovers’ fluids. I immediately hit my anti-virus clean up app and trashed the document and purged it forever from my computer. I picked up the phone and dialled.

"Hi Clara? It's me Gil"

"Hi Gil". Now my editor was never one of those profuse in warmth or who called all her authors "Darling", but she sounded remote even for her. The voice resonated metallically.

"Look, I think you accidentally passed me a virus when you sent my manuscript"

"You got it alright then"

"No, I don't think you-" she sounded like she was calling from a railway concourse or something. One of those big open spaces that compresses the voice and scoops up all the background noise as screams and shrieks. Only I was sure I had called her on her office landline...

"It's settled down then?" she intoned.

"What do you mean 'settled down'? Is it just some new formatting thing?"

"No, it's only about the words and letters"

"What are you talking about Clara?"

"The Guild of Editors grew weary of receiving an endless stream of poorly written and composed manuscripts, fixing them up, or rather saving them, turning them into publishable books all with receiving nothing more than a thank you in the acknowledgements-"

"But that's your job. And thanks for saying we authors can't write". Again those high pitched, distorted squeals in the background. With plenty of banging. Was she at a child's birthday tea party? Who'd ever let her near children?

"So we did something about it. We developed an app that would mend your manuscripts with the minimum of effort on our parts. It takes your texts and runs its own analytics on the words and edits them. We call it the ‘Hundred Monkeys and their Typewriters’ app"

"Is that what I can hear in the background? A monkeys’ tea party?"

"Of course not. It's a silent computer app"

"Well what is that noise around you? And why do you sound so... odd?"

"Goodbye Gil. It was nice working with you". She hung up. What did she mean by that? Whatever lay behind it might explain why she was sounding so distant. I decided to take her at her word that it wasn't a virus and once again downloaded the manuscript from her e-mail and opened it.

I stared bemusedly at the jumble on my monitor. My text so irradiated, that it was mutating. The letters possessing a half-life as they decayed into different words before my very eyes. It was impossible to catch any word before it changed. I started a series of screen grabs to try and capture the process.

prison prism like ambergris... prison prism dike ambidextrous jism

Nip tuck plastic surgery chicken neck...  Nipple clamp tuxedo spandex sugary cock nectar

Oh this was hopeless. It's just gibberish. Would it never end? I tried ringing Clara again but I couldn't get hold of her. Time to nab me a new editor it seemed. I made some calls, but none of the editors would even pick up. Maybe she wasn't kidding when she said all the editors were in it together. I spoke to a couple of my fellow writer friends, but they couldn't confirm or rebut anything since they didn't currently have manuscripts with editors.

I contacted the Writers' Guild and while they said they'd heard rumours of the Hundred Monkeys app, they sniffily remarked that if anything it had put the editors out of work and that maybe that accounted for the automated sound of my former editor's voice. That she had already been replaced by a machine. My triumphantly human correspondent from the Writers Guild assured me that there would always be a need for authors no matter the black magic practised on out texts by other interlopers in the publishing process, since we were the ones with the creative ideas and drive.

While vaguely comforted, I still needed to decide what to do with my manuscript. While the literary Turing Machine on my computer had finally finished its churning, I just shut it off without daring to peruse its final version. I resolved to self-publish my original manuscript myself, but allowed that it could probably do with one last edit on my part.

Twelve weeks later and with gratifyingly few alterations to the book, I formatted it for e-publishing. But when I tried to upload it, I was informed that a book with the same title by the same author, to wit me, was already published. Publication date some twelve weeks ago. I bought a copy and started reading it. It was pure filth to be honest. Made me blush. I was struck by an idea and searched out the finished product of my manuscript after the 100 Monkeys' treatment. And word for word it was the same. They had published my book right after this edit. Without any input from me, the writer. The gall of it. My hard boiled thriller turned into this pornography. The only thing was, I caught sight of the book's position in the sales chart. Maybe the Hundred Monkey editors knew what they were doing after all...

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Staring At The Sun - Friday Flash

He pinched the bridge of his nose. When he removed his fingers, it seemed as though a flyaway strand of hair had been caught up in his pincer and now dangled irritatingly over his eye. He must have failed to dislodge the follicle, for it still caused his vision to writhe and squirm. He sent his fingers on a sortie, careful to draw his nails in like a cat with its claws when preening itself. And still the prickling sensation continued, as his brain fired barrage after barrage in protest at this trespass on its visual cortex.

It didn't feel like  piece of grit, since there was none of the usual burning sensation that usually accompanied such a thing. He bathed the eye in water and though that appeared to have shifted the interloper, soon enough back came the impression as he was drying his face with a towel. He pressed his face right up close into his mirror and lifted his reptilian lid to scour for the troublesome detached cilium. The problem was his hair was turning grey, so it was harder to isolate in contrast to his skin tone.

Still there was nothing there. He didn't like to do this much, since he didn't like to admit he was growing older, but he even put on his spectacles to try and bear down on the invisible interloper. It only made things worse, like a magnifying glass, though he still couldn't find anything trespassing across the focal plane of his lens.

He removed his specs and scanned them for fluff, dust or hair of their own. He wiped them clean on his shirt, maybe it was the little stains in the glass itself. But no amount of polishing yielded him any better vision. He inspected the goggles and was appalled at just how much gunk and grime was wedged beneath the nose pads. He cleaned it out with a pin and noted its flocculent texture. It was disgusting, especially when he considered that he donned his glasses so rarely and yet here was such an accumulation of his shed skin, pressed and layered beneath the pads' plastic.

But no amount of scouring ameliorated the hairline crack laying across his sight. If anything it had got worse, now taking on the appearance of some of the strands of a spider's web. He even convinced himself he could see part of the bloated body of the spider. Clearly his mind was running away with itself and playing tricks on him. He was so damn tired and that couldn't have been helping his overwrought brain.

As he turned his head in despair, his glass lenses seemed to catch the bathroom light in them right at the side of his vision. That was all he needed to compound his current inconvenience. He switched the light out and two tiny electrical flashes seemed to fizz across the periphery of his perception. Or just below where the glass lenses ended. This was getting ridiculous. Now his addled brain must have been overcompensating, or going into hyper-drive perhaps, as he failed to clear this agitation from its sensory apparatus. He could take a hint, he needed to go to bed and wake up fresh, when hopefully his brain would have settled and the hair itself might have been shaken free.

The next morning he awoke and while not quite a Gregor Samsa moment of imagining himself turned into a cockroach, it did appear as though an insect might have inhabited him and was busy crawling across his retina. He shook his head, partly to clear his watery vision, but also in terror. He slowly unsheathed the eyelid, but still some mote was fluttering and wafting there. It was like viewing bacteria under a microscope. That his eye had become a petri dish prison and insects were slithering over his eyeball. He felt turned utterly inside out. Tears on the inside of his peepers.

He sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. Again two shooting lightning bolts seared past him. He saw them and yet knew that they weren't there, so that it was his brain which had extrapolated or maybe constructed them. So much for his rested and clear grey cells. Perhaps such corsucations were an after-image of the brain's flare of distress. Perhaps he was being afforded an insight into the brain's electrical transmissions themselves?

He got out of bed. Standing on the floor, his eyes were filled with laboriously moving flecks, like the motion of a lava lamp. They formed shadows on his vision and this freaked him out as he wondered if he was losing his vision entirely? Was there a micro-organism living inside his eyes, scuttling over his irises so that they amplified their own size like when a bug crawls over a movie projector? Either it was on the move the whole time, or there were many of them. A veritable army of invaders parasiting his brain perhaps?

Though such notions made him feel queasy, he managed to stumble over to his computer. Squinting through his compromised eye, he managed to discover that he was probably experiencing floaters. Just like the degrading ozone layer that protects the earth from the sun's rays, the protective gelatinous barrier of his own eyes was deteriorating. Thus light was being refracted in strange, debilitating ways his brain was struggling to process. Or else it was projecting shadows where none had previously existed. He flopped back against his chair with relief, that at least he wasn't playing host to some alien invasion. He knew floaters were not themselves threatening blindness or any more serious impairment.

But then he was struck with a wave of despondency. It still represented a decaying, a degeneration of his physical being. Another marker on the migration towards death. And everyday now, he would have reminders of putrefaction's flies hovering right in front of him where they could not be denied. The veil of permanent darkness was drawing in over him.

Perhaps unsurprisingly this story was prompted by me waking up a couple of weeks ago and having these strange sensations appearing in my vision in my right eye. it took me a couple of days to figure out what they were and then I had to go get checked out that there was no retinal damage causing them, which it turned out there wasn't. This was merely a feature of aging and I haven't even reched 50 yet! 

Taken from my 4th published collection of flash fiction

Available from Amazon