Monday, 22 December 2014

Alternative Xmas Song Chart

When you think of Christmas tunes apart from carols you probably think of Slade, The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl, Wham and flipping Cliff Richard. So for your relief & delectation I present a chart of alternative songs for Xmas

And in keeping with the season of goodwill, I shall refrain from my usual snarky comments appended to each song.

Festive greetings to one and all of my blog followers and here's to a good 2015

marc xx

1) Run DMC - Christmas In Hollis



2) Stiff Little Fingers - White Christmas



3) The Fall - No Xmas For John Quays



4) Poly Styrene - Black Christmas



5) The Ramones - Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight



6) The Damned - There Ain't No Sanity Clause



7) Glas Vegas - Silent Night



8) Hard Skin - Ding Dong Merrily Oi Oi!



9) Jackson 5 - I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus



10) Galaxie 500 - Listen The Snow Is Falling



11) The Knife - Christmas Reindeer



12) Death Cab For Cutie - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)



13) Tom Waits - Christmas Card Form A Hooker In Minneapolis



14) Snoop Dogg - Santa Goes Straight To The Ghetto



15) The Fall - Hark The Herald Angels Sing

Monday, 15 December 2014

Laundry List - Friday Flash

He’d always had beautiful penmanship. His mother had inculcated it in him at the point of a scourge across his knuckles. Reiterated by the Monks who were his teachers at the school, though they hit harder with their rattan reeds. They broke knuckles, yet still that could not stem the flow of calligraphy. Curlicues, flourishes and twirls, anything to banish the dread straight line of a letter. Even though Bibles and prayer books were all mass printed these days, still he was demanded to learn the ancient skills of writing for parchment and scrolls. “Fire and soul” that was the holy grail of scrivening, though to his mind it was unclear what promised land it begat. 

Perhaps his mother had been farsighted when she had invested her meagre savings in a fountain pen all those years ago. For he had secured an administrative job in the Civil Service. A precious sinecure in these days of dearth and scarcity. An ornate script for sparse times. Yet he was no longer scripting proclamations of the latest rationing ordinances. It was a different sort of quota he was fashioning in Baroque swirls and convolutes. A winnowing at the point of his nib. 

It would have been faster to use a typewriter, but his superiors were paranoid about leaving traces behind. Carbon papers and the ribbons themselves could be deciphered for their tidings. He did wonder if this hinted that they knew their supremacy would come to an end and were already taking precautions to entomb their actions. He pressed the blotting paper, another potentially incriminating humble mainstay of his work, down on to his finished page. He examined it and saw his words reverse imprinted. Their beautiful cursive flow had become blotchy and tumescent as the paper had absorbed and diffused the pressure of his carefully calibrated ink. 

Two copies of every list. One for operational use, one as a record until presumably the operation had been completed, when both would be set fire to. No lasting traces. Immolation, the same fate as for those listed on the paper. In this new incarnation of his job, he really was like the scribes of old transcribing copies of the Holy Writ by hand, junking any that were not divinely flawless.


From the interrogations, Señor Nunez begat Señora Ordonez begat Señorita Guillen to their inquisitors. And all their names were on the list in his beautiful swooping script. A single letter hard to read might mean someone innocent was taken for extra-judicial sentencing. Although the children on the list must have been innocent at the very least. The Junta were playing judge, jury and executioner. But only he could play god through manifesting mercy. With a few missing strokes of his pen, he could perhaps save a name or two, leave them off the list altogether. His hand was cramping up. There were so many names to write these days. He stopped writing to rest his aching wrist. He held up his half inscribed sheet of paper. He’d always had beautiful penmanship. 


Taken from the Flash Fiction collection "Extra-Curricular". Available in print and e-book from Amazon, CreateSpace and I-Tunes.


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Suspect Device - Friday Flash








“We have visuals”


“Okay, approach with care”


The men pored over their monitors at the image of a rectangular object coming more into view.


“Steady as she goes”


“Which plane do you want to scan first?”


“Go nearest, the short side facing us”


“Wilco”


“Hold her there”


“Seems like… I dunno… lots of ridges”


“Bit like terraced agriculture like the Asia sector”


“Nothing nourishing about this bad boy”


“Chemical traces?”


“Bleach, pigmented dyes, cationic starch, calcium carbonate, other unknown solvents, but no nitrous concentrations significant enough for incendiary combustibility”


"Radioactivity?"


"Background levels only"


"Biological?"


"Minimal. It's human but sleight"


“Obviously. We're not dealing with monkeys putting this thing together. Move clockwise on to the long side see if there’s anything to be had there”


“More of the same, though the ridges display more degradation”


“There!”


“What? Where?”


“At the corner, there’s complete degradation. The ridges have collapsed into each other. But that there looks to me like a partial fingerprint we can lift”


“You’re right. Zooming in to photograph now”


“Scan for light-sensitive sensors, in case the flash sets off the detonator”


“Nothing detected”


“Okay snap the print”


“Done. Now scanning through database”


“Good. Carry on round. We’ve absolutely got to spot the wires”


“Same as the other short side. Ridges. Same chemical make up. No evidence of circuitry”


“Okay. least it doesn't seem to be a dirty bomb. Anything on the print yet?”


“Nothing yet sir. Still rolling through though”


“Let’s go blindside to the other long plane, then after to the flat surface plane”


“Easy there soldier! You nearly drove the robot into the bloody thing!"


“Sorry sir”


‘Well this all looks a bit different. Is that wiring? Seems like a spaghetti if it is”


“Don’t know sir, seems more straw or hemp than-“


“No evidence of conductor material”


“What have we got then?”


“Traces of emulsion adhesives, resins, thermoplastic polymers, but again nothing overtly explosive”


“What’s that there, that splurge of black just above the corner?”


“Some sort of image or icon?”


“Zooming in sir”


“It’s a, I don’t know what it is-”


“Rotate 180, I think it’s upside down”


“It’s a penguin”


“Penguin? Do we know of any groups that use that for their symbol? Run a search of all terrorist groups and militias”


“Could it be Antarctic secessionists? The penguin was native to there after all”


“Okay include them too. Oh and environ-Mentalists since their flipping bird is no longer native to anywhere”


“Still nothing on the strands, just seems to be, well, string”


“Anything on my fingerprint search yet?”


“No matches sir”


“Impossible. Should have finished by now”


“It has. No one in the datatbase”


“Well either we’re dealing with a top terrorist who can wipe his records clean out of the system, or this guy is already dead”

"No, no. This has been deliberately planted here for us to find"


“Anything on the penguin colophon?”


“The what?”


“The mark sir, just the mark”


“Well just speak English next time man”


“Nothing yet from our records. We’re just about to scrutinise the Dark Web for anything in back channels”


“Okay. Let’s leave this vector for now. Elongate the arm and let’s take a look at the top surface”


“Elongating arm now sir”


“It’s an orange and white plane with writing on it and an enlarged version of the penguin identifier”


“Flush smooth surface, so no evidence of wires”


“Or explosive chemicals. Just dyes and sealants”


“Writing? What’s it say?”


“Dunno sir, seems to be an unrecognisable script”


“No language I’ve seen before”


“Are you a reader?”


“No sir”


“Is it code?”


“Again, don’t know sir”


“I haven’t got time to get a reader or a codebreaker down here. If they’re deliberately trying to communicate their poisonous message too us, whoever they are, I’m not taking any chances. Have the robot blow it to buggery!”


"Initiating detonation sequence sir”


“They’re trying to fuck with our minds and I’m not having it. Anything on any of the searches?”


“Nada sir. This is like nothing we’ve ever encountered before”


‘Well let’s hope once she goes up in smoke we never see the likes of it again”


"Fire in the hole!"


“There she blows sir!”


“Good job. Well done all. Don’t forget to scoop up the confetti, check it for radioactivity and then analyse it in full. We've got to find out what its purpose was”






Monday, 1 December 2014

Executive Toy - Short story (1500 words)



The divinity was sat at his desk admiring his handiwork. That perfect harmony of the spheres he had constructed all those eons ago. Each orb held up and impelled by the influence of its neighbours and then remaining mobilised under its own steam for eternity. A perfect model of equilibrium and conservation, even if He did say so Himself. It was His energy that was being conserved. Since setting things in motion, He had done nothing but put His transcendental feet up on the desk and observed His executive toy spellbound for millennia on end. Bliss exalting bliss.

All He'd wanted was a quiet life. But His creations wouldn't let him rest. The agglomerations of sentient bacteria and molecules He had sown the blue planet with, were always trying to track Him down. No doubt in order to complain about things. Bring him to book, waving His volumes under His nose, the bare faced cheek of it. They really were an ungrateful progeny. He'd sent them warning by way of that punishing flood, which wiped out all bar His chosen breeding couples. But they hadn't taken the hint.

Oh they continued to raise hosannas to the heavens in praise of the beauty of His creation. But they'd expected responses back from Him, which was patently absurd. He was all too conscious that they also raised their voices towards Him beseeching for favours and boons. Money, health, a beautiful spouse or bountiful harvest. Victory in their blood-letting disputes. They were utterly unaware of the disparity in scale between Himself, a builder of galaxies and infinitude, and they as little more than bundles of atoms. Such a gulf precluded any possible communication across the divide. Were He to speak, they all would have instantly been deafened. Or suffered cardiac arrests. The earth might have been knocked off its orbit. Hadn't the ineffable beauty of His creation on their behalf been sufficient to announce Himself to them?

Yet it was far worse even than mere petty selfish desires inserted into their prayers. There were those among them who wanted to dissect every part of His creation. To come to an understanding of its sublime works and in doing so, maybe arrogate such power for themselves. They worked out the parabolas of His spheres. So He tweaked their orbits to make them elliptical. Then they figured that out too. After some false starts which He was happy to imagine would lead them up the garden path, eventually they chased down gravity and the curvature of spacetime. It wouldn't be long before they came to an appreciation of the intricate complexity of multi-dimensionality and multiverses. 

Hand-in-hand with this inquisitiveness, came a more alarming scepticism. They dared doubt that He could ever have composed such wonders. Rather their very own innate physical properties would explain their coming into being. These little upstarts were getting a little too big for their booties. However the flood ruse wouldn't work a second time. Never revisit your past triumphs and besides, they had so messed with the atmosphere over their planet, they were raining down floods and tsunamis on their own heads and barely even blinking. Any weather-based cataclysm they would likely claim credit for at their own hands rather than His. He had to go deeper, bigger. More upscale. There had to be no doubt whose signature was on the next warning shot.

He stared at his arrangement of planetary discs but it sparked no new creative burst. Perhaps He should just sweep the whole thing away and start again. But He really couldn't face the prospect of all that toil again, it had been such a long time ago after all. To commit six days (in the old currency, when Methuselah really did live nine hundred and sixty-nine years), to labouring, when He had been off his feet for an epoch, well it didn't bear contemplation. Even if He decided to forgo seeding this version with back-chatting bacteria, that only knocked what, a day and a half out of the equation? No He would again have to make do and mend with the materials at hand. He suddenly apprehended that His calculations on a piece of papyrus the size of Texas, represented the first 'work' that His desk had played host to in generations. Gad His ingrate offspring had really got to Him. He would sleep on the matter, just for one day in the old currency, before that diabolic protozoa Albert Einstein had dared challenge His notion of time. 'Big Bang?' He'd see to it they'd all get a big bang in their comeuppance alright...

He awoke feeling refreshed and flexed His superhuman arms to banish the stiffness. By accident His holy outstretched fist smote an outlying planet in the Milky Way and sent it crashing into its neighbour. He held His perfumed breath as he anticipated a conflagration, but none was forthcoming. Instead, the two planets took it in turns to rebound and recoil off one another with each fresh collision. As there was no air in space, sound lacked a medium through which to travel and report these impacts. He leaned in over these two outlying planets and breathed some numinous air just in order to receive the sound effects. The two planetary bodies crashed backwards and forwards into one another with a sharp click-clack. He could not help but pull a little rueful smile. For had He not just conducted an experiment the likes of which He constantly berated his insolent young pups down there on earth for?

He ceased His miraculous breath. The two planets continued their 'After you Claude' dance across the celestial spheres in silence. He decided to introduce a third planet to their charming duet. And how pleasing was the result! The outer planet cannoned into the centre planet, halting its own progress immediately, while sending the centre one careering into the other planetary orb on the outside. It in turn was hurled out into the void, before reaching its zenith and swinging back into the centre sphere and stopping instantly, while for its part the middle ball retraced its weary steps back in the direction from which it had just come.

At a stroke, the Master Designer had His new executive toy. The pleasing thing was that this too was still perpetual motion. No degrading of energy of momentum. A perfect, frictionless system. The periodicity of the orbs never changed. Maybe He should have insisted that rosary beads were like this, then the believers may never have encountered any crisis of faith. He experimented with five planets and found the variety of combinations and effects for Him to observe increased exponentially. When he pulled back two of the planets on one side and three on the other, they thrillingly swapped back and forth between which were the threesome and which the pair. Everything was ripe for transferring to the earth.

He devoted some thought as to which of the five spheres the earth should be positioned as. It seemed to Him that the middle ball actually did the least travelling of all, transferring on the received energy almost immediately to the next orb. If it wasn't to be the middle rondure, equally it couldn't have the mighty Jupiter slamming into anything for it would just disintegrate poor old Mars. While Saturn was made of gas and therefore of unreliable solidity.

So His first move was to downgrade His design to just four planets. The first four closest to the sun. Earth would pinball between Mars and Venus. Additionally, the heavenly bodies had to be of identical mass to preserve the energy transfer. So the otherworldly One wrought His thaumaturgy and beefed up the internal mass of the other three less weighty planets and augmented their diameters to match that of Earth. If the denizens of that wretched planet happened to train their telescopes up at their familiar neighbours they would see that they had inexplicably expanded their girth. But He trusted their insufferable arrogance to prevail and that they would be casting their lenses further afield than the local neighbourhood as they tried to pierce the secrets of His craft. He couldn't suppress a smile from his supermundane features, as He thought of them seeing Venus and Mars looming large and ever closer with their naked eyes soon enough. That would scare the Bejesus out of their doubting hearts. He positively rubbed his hallowed hands together in anticipation.


So the Supreme Executive sucked in His breath and inhaled Mercury towards the Sun, at the maximum of the amplitude of the swing He had calculated was required. Just as He was about to let go the tension line of His empyrean breath, He suddenly remembered the sound effects hadn't been enabled. He carefully restored Mercury back to its orbit and breathed oxygen to extend the atmosphere of all four planets into one seamless plane. He regathered Mercury back to its full extension. And then He let go...

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Blinkered - Friday Flash

I heard the rasp of the man’s finger down the spark wheel. It’s true what they say, when you become blind, one’s other senses become heightened, for I imagined I apprehended it striking against the flint. I started heaving on the unfiltered tip between my lips but was only rewarded with a few dry tobacco grains suctioned into the back of my throat. Foolish sightless me, the man hadn’t yet brought the flame to the cigarette. No doubt his hand was probably trembling too much and he was afraid I might glean that. The grains were coarse and the paper began dissolving between my lips. I discerned I could taste the scent of the man who had rolled it up, the bitter tang of hatred and despair. Of an army with reduced rations of only the cheapest shag. His troops might be hard up against it, yet it was I who was up against the wall. A bullet pocked wall, that much I knew without having to engage any of my senses, compromised or otherwise. 

“What, not a Sobranie then?”

I didn’t anticipate the cuff across my chops that swiped the gasper from my bushwhacked mouth. Didn’t feel a presaging swish of air, didn’t hear his coarse uniformed sleeve scything towards me. The blindfold had done nothing to accentuate my alertness after all.

“I need another one now. I’m not having that up off the ground”.

This time I did hear the crinkle of his rough worsted, though his arm seemed to be moving slowly rather than with the torsion of violence. The gasper was rammed back in the corner of my kisser. I manipulated my lips to funnel the cigarette into the middle of my mouth, for I wasn’t going to smoke this like some barrow boy or stevedore. I was just in time to receive the flame, whose feeble heat I could feel against my skin. Now in addition to tobacco grains, I could taste granules of earth to boot.

“You Sir, are neither an Officer nor a Gentleman”. I took his silence for agreement. I didn’t even know if he could speak my bally language. 

And what of the rest of my reception and ultimately rejection committee? Do they all smoke in advance of their duty to shoot me? To steady their hands, numb them into unerring aim? I hear no matches or lighters sparking up, but then I no longer trust my senses clouded by the blinkers. Perhaps they will await until after my despatch, lighting up to celebrate a job well done. Or at least not botched. An easy kill, a sitting duck of a target. A cigarette to purge their distaste and their dishonour. They know nothing lies behind my execution other than spite, since the war is lost and no advantage can be derived by my slaying. I hope they choke on their smoke. No, that does not become me. Faced with their position I would act exactly the same wouldn’t I? No, I would never let myself be cozened into such a position.

Normally when one smokes a fag, one indulges in watching the smoke wend its sinuous trail up towards the sky. Such carefree motion helps shapes one’s thoughts at that particular moment. But behind the blindfold I could see nothing of its convolutions. I possessed only internal sensations to fix upon. I breathed the smoke as deeply into the alveoli of my lungs as possible. I imagined I could almost feel the fumes licking up against the pulmonary walls and osculating with its infernal embrace. It was very much like the sensation of the first ever cigarette I had sucked on. A sensation forever sought after again and again, yet never recaptured. Just like the first orgasm. The first parachute jump. The first freefall. The first of each and every one of my daredevil enterprises, pushing myself. Each seeking after that first thrill, never able to reproduce it subsequently. Instead moving on to the next risky exploit. Unaware that all the time adrenalin was my blindfold, the sweat running into my eyes, the accelerating heart serving to blot out all true feeling. Always the quest for onwards and upwards, ever upwards. Now come to a crashing halt, here with my back pressed against a brick splintered by shrapnel and varnished in dried blood.

Two days, maybe a week no more and this damn war would be over. We would win it, yet I am likely to be one of the final casualties for our side. All because I took this outlandish plunge off my own bat. Behind the lines of this beaten army, yet their ideology I knew deep down to be both remorseless and unforgiving. To the last they would not be able to stomach any challenge to the monolith of their assemblage, no matter how gerrymandered. Even with a dearth of numbers on the front lines, they would perforce by their own perverse logic have to take a small platoon away behind the lines to form a firing squad. To eradicate the abomination that my gall represents. The decadence and delinquency that my brazen action somehow symptomises my country and the alliance we are part of. 


I can feel the faint heat of the burning tip close to my lips now. The cigarette is almost done. The reek of it in my nostrils is more like that of the cordite and saltpetre of the recently vacated battlefield. The tobacco and paper fuse to my own destruction was burning down to my own discharge. Now reduced to a dog end, it seared my lips. My nostrils were filled with the scent of burning flesh and brimstone. 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

New Cover Reveal

In 2011 I published my novel "Not In My Name" about the genesis of a homegrown Islamic terrorist, in response to the bombing of railways in Madrid and London and the spate of suicide bombings in Israel that prompted the erection of the security wall.

Everything that I wrote in that book, about online recruitment, suicide bombers, beheading videos, martyrdom and the nature of a death cult, is more true today with the emergence of ISIS/ ISIL than even back then.

Recently I've blogged on the factors shared with the rise of recruitment to ISIS to the homegrown suicide bombers who attacked the London Underground, herehere and here. I despair of the pronouncements made by the authorities as they flail around trying to get to grips with the phenomena of 5 Britons a week travelling to join up with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. They seem to me to be utterly clueless with this manifestation of militant Islamic terrorism, but the point is it's not that new. My book lays out the journey from Yorkshire to Syria or Iraq.

I'll be honest, my book hasn't done terribly well up until now. I think part of the reason is not that people aren't interested in this subject, but that I did them a disservice with a terrible original cover that looked like the book was a cartoonish treatment of a serious subject. The fault was mine not the designer, since they were working from my brief. So I'm glad to announce that I have republished the book to Kindle with a brand new cover this time designed by Appleseed Images. It will be interesting to see if the cover makes any difference to sales.

Here's the new cover:






Saturday, 15 November 2014

Achromatic Landcsape #4 - Flash Fiction




The pylons stretching back like a forlorn wedding arch awaiting for Gog and Magog to breast them triumphantly. 

The slack skipping ropes of their sagging cables, since the escarpment chalk giants are off elsewhere playing hopscotch. 

A mesh of Babel towers all connected up to deliver the illumination for humans to generate their own blaze, glare and incandescence of incomprehensible communication.

Standing like Christmas trees stripped of their needles and baubles in bleakest January, still broadcasting their proudly erect posture but generating only barrenness.

A column of ramrod straightbacked corps disarmed by the ordinance to cats cradle their copulas. 

Multi-limbed blights snarled in the gossamer silk offered by their antecessor as a way out of this never-ending green labyrinth. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Drones - Friday Flash


The pipers settled the three drone pipes across their shoulder and struck up the threnody to the airmen in full regalia who marched into superannuation afore radio-controlled pilotless aircraft. The monotone of his mother’s hectoring had become so annoying to him, a perpetual vibration in his ear as if she were an insect lodged there. The male bees hovered uselessly outside the hive, lacking for any weapons to repel the waves of yellow jackets and robber flies, while their valiant brethren lay down their lives in useless hecatomb before these tomb raiders as they picked clean the  honeycomb’s treasury. He had grown stale to her, idle, unemployed which only increased his hankering for sex, yet his indolence had infected and corroded that one single activity too. He honed the rising and falling intonation of his voice against the continuous pitch of the shruti box, as if the two sounds were doing battle, that the envious drone wanted to suck the very oscillations of breath from him and reduce him to flatness, to prevent him soaring towards god. He had no spunk, no backbone, allowing himself to be pushed around, ordered to do this and that by all and sundry and she hated that she had initiated that and broken him. The villagers recognised the drone of the engine of a craft zeroing in on one of their number in the mountains, but these days there was no triumph in shooting down the foe, for there was no one at the wheel, no corpse to parade, yet still they were the ones accused of lacking humanity? The constant repetition, the sustained pitch, the buzz and hum that never seeks resolution but only to persist like a nag, a vexation, a pest and a pestilence, Aum seemed unobtainable in this life to him. 



Taken from my new flash fiction collection published September 18th


Available for pre-order from Amazon & I-Tunes

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Dr Who Plotholes

I love Dr Who, although since the man who revived it Russell T Davies left the job of producer, I've been less enamoured of it, mainly because the writing has been patchy. The show uses so any different writers , parcelling out episodes to different people, this is perhaps inevitable. And sure it's light-hearted family entertainment with legions of devotees who will gladly receive everything with critical faculties suspended, that perhaps the show shouldn't be put through any analytical wringer. But I'm a writer and I just can't help it. Equally the show currently has such an outstanding central cast I can't bear to see their talents wasted on leaden scripts. The current series has had a couple of excellent episodes, a couple of meh ones and some really terrible ones. But the penultimate and first in a two-part season conclusion was pretty good. The addition of Michelle Goes to an already stellar cast made this pure joy for e to watch. Well almost pure...




Since it was full of plotholes, or at least seemed to be, seeing as some of these might be resolved with the second and final instalment. Now normally I am not in the least bit bothered by plotholes, since plot itself is the least interesting thing to me as a writer. So for me to be aggravated by deficiencies in the logic of events, they must have been pretty glaring (and blaring). See if you agree with me.


1) Danny Pink - Dead!?
He's been killed in a road traffic accident. (Nice touch that it was Clara dropping the 'ILY' bombshell that inadvertently killed him). Okay, the premise was there's a waiting station in Limbo called the Nethersphere, because the dead can still communicate and hold conversations if you care to visit them. So Danny is dead, but still negotiating the terms of his post-life existence (with a wonderfully oily Chris Addison as his sales rep). All this is fine because it's really a front for harvesting bodies to turn into Cybermen.


So:
1a) Do Cybermen require still living bodies to convert, or can they process corpses? The delete option Danny was fretting over seemed to suggest the former, since 'delete' is as we know the first step in the cybernetic process, to remove human emotion. In which case how is Danny alive? If he was put into a coma by the car impact, why isn't he hooked up to tubes and drips in a hospital?


1b) The hoax front is to maintain the fiction that the dead don't die, and if telepathy is used to achieve the impression that they're still sentient in some way, who is the telepathy being transmitted to in convincing us that the dead Danny Pink is still hanging on in there at some level? Because we are inevitably going to get a happy ending, Danny Pink isn't likely to be dead, so that takes up back to the car crash. Did Missy somehow stage it, convince all and sundry DP was deceased, just to capture hi so as to lure in Clara & The Doctor to her lair?


2) The scale of death:
Missy makes the wonderful observation that the shortcoming of the human race is that the dead outnumber the living. Lots of corpses to turn into Cybermen for her fiendish plan then (suggesting that the answer to plothole 1 is that they are in fact dead and only trick projections suggest they are still alive). All well and good, but how do all the dead fit into the crypts of St Paul's Cathedral and how do they get there? We only see about eight Cybermen come down the steps, hardly the whole host of humans past now is it? How extensive were the dark water tanks and again I ask, where and how did they all fit into the architecture of St Paul's? Maybe St Paul's is Missy's Tardis, bigger on the inside etc... When Danny P & his salesman/minder/psychopomp Addison pop out on the balcony for a breather to get DP's head straight, the Nethersphere scape is suggested to be never-ending (as initially established by the view through a porthole). Now London, the city that houses St Paul's is big, but that weren't no London vista through the window. Presumably the Nethersphere too is just a projection.


3) Kids, always a tear-jerker plot device:
Danny Pink is reacquainted with the kid - aka unarmed non-hostile - he shot in Afghanistan. Nice bit of conflict and personal redemption issues there served up in a trice. But why is the kid there at all? He's too short for being converted into anything but a mini-me Cyberman. Why has he been kept alive all this time that has seen DP establish himself in a second career as a schoolteacher? So this swings the pendulum back into it being a telepathic projection into Danny's noggin, that he isn't dead at all, but just having his melon messed with. Chris Addison informs us it's very unusual for such a confrontation in the Nethersphere, while Doctor Chang tells Clara it's equally rare to receive a call on the inside when Danny P is calling her. I hear a plot clunking with the sound of a bolted on solution.


So I'm none the wiser as to how the episode holds together logically. Maybe it will be resolved next week. Sorry but a nerd orgasm induced by the echo of a 1960's Cybermen iconic image on the steps of St Paul's couldn't induce e to overlook all the bits that don't hang together for me.


I stand back and await y lapidation...

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Brief Meditation On Time - Drabble


Time gathered and heaped behind glass. Gravity was pressing down on the pile, driving the future  through the tapered present. Tiny grains of now. I try and clinch one in my sight, but it is too swift. Rapidly  supplanted  by another impelled from above. And then another. I can’t fix on any of these fleeting instants as they drop on to the mound of the past beneath. Whereupon they become swallowed and buried and I spend a lifetime trying to disinter any one lost moment. The future chamber is empty. Inverting  the hourglass I recommence the ungraspable passage of time.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Eyes Have it - 10 songs about the eyes

He gazes into her eyes and she into his and they burst into rapturous song about each other. Or something like that anyway...

Here's 10 songs extolling the eyes, or otherwise.


1) "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"
I first heard this original version on the soundtrack for Dennis Potter's TV drama "Pennies From Heaven" and although Big Band music isn't really my thing, I bought the soundtrack. There's something really fragile about this version.



2) "A Pair Of Brown Eyes" - The Pogues
When the Pogues first happened along, everyone thought they were just Plastic Paddies from the local pub, but in time Shane MacGowan showed what a fabulous songwriter he was. This song may have signalled the public recognition of that fact.



3) "Dry Your Eyes" - The Streets
Cheeky Brummie chappy Mick Skinner pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of writing a song about heartbreak and even tries singing it rather than his usual rap patter. Well the chorus at least.



4) "Gypsy Eyes" - Jimi Hendrix

How good is this? Nothing more to say really.



5) "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" - The Adverts
Probably the most disconcerting song in this list, a mental patient projects himself into looking through the eyes of death row inmate Gary Gilmore as he is strapped in for his execution. Wonderful stuff.



6) "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" - Crystal Gayle
As with Big Band music, I really don't go for Country & western, but this is saved by not having that Southern twang that to me always seems to undermine any sincerity or intensity. This was a song from my childhood that always seemed to be on the radio, but I never owned it.



7) "She's Got Dickie Davies' Eyes" - Half Man Half Biscuit
Oh those comedy punsters with their then pop cultural references. if you didn't know, Dickie Davis was a TV sports presenter, with a bouffant, two-toned hair style that seemed to put him a world apart from the oafs and lumps he was fronting live coverage of. This is spoofing the Kim Carnes song "She's Got Bette Davis' Eyes". Ah simpler times...



8) "H Eyes" - The Ruts
Malcolm Owen the lead singer died of a heroin overdose. His songs veered from an extolling of the drug, to a total antipathy as here. Sadly missed, though this isn't one of his best creations (for that I suggest you check out "Love In Vain")



9) "Junior's Eyes" - Black Sabbath
Yep, suitably over the top as per usual with the Sab, but just about manages to preserve its dignity without sniggering.



10) "In Your Eyes" - Peter Gabriel
I am so relieved that Gabriel still has a career and Phil Collins doesn't. What the latter did to Genesis was a travesty!



And what do eyes do, or sad eyes anyway? Why, they cry tears of course. Here's a mini chart of songs about crying.

11) "Boys Don't Cry" - The Cure
Proof that The Cure were a pop band before they became a pseudo Goth pop band if you see what I mean. And that they didn't take themselves too seriously as shown by the substitution of lookalike kids for the band members in this vid. Love it.



12) "Cry Me A River" - Julie London
Now this, rather than a C&W singer is more my idea of a chanteuse. Sorry Crystal



13) "So Many Tears" - Tupac Shakur
Not just a thug living a Thug's Life, but there is genuine sentiment in this song. Sounds like az man who knew it was only a question of time before he joined the list of fatalities.



14) "None A Jah's Children No Cry" - Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus
What a voice! Man I wish I'd been at that concert.



15) "96 Tears" - Question Marks & The Mysterians
Hey I'm a sucker for hammy hammond organ chops




Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Night Vision - Friday Flash

 






He pressed his eye to the thermal imaging camera’s viewfinder and peered into the distance through the flimsy curtains of the house opposite. Satisfied the optic was correctly appointed, he addressed his laptop monitor. Moving blobs of curdled colour. Contour lines of heat seared by the camera’s penetrating photons and thence picked out in pixels on his screen. Stratified clots pulsing and seething, the iridescent masses of two convulsing human beings.

He knew the outline of one of those forms intimately, yet he couldn't discern it from the other at all. They were too amorphous in their shifting stratified chroma. Hotspots (or cold spots) writhed in the centre of the two bodies. Shading into paler at the peripheries. Ectoplasmic as they squirmed and thrashed. Two bloated worms under his microscope. The heart and viscera eclipsed within the dark shades, the flimsy muscle and tendons hollowed out in the lighter complexions. Her dark heart possessed, it was hard to credit it was actually her in the room there.

Light didn’t code for sex, yet here one ranged through all the blue shades of the spectrum, while the other all the reds. Differing wavelengths, Dopplering away one from the other? Yet the two coagulations of colour were certainly proximate to one another. Where discrete fascicles overlay each other, the blue-red didn’t fuse into green. Each preserved its swirling integrity. A curvilinear puce yin and a teal yang. Or vice versa. Was it possible that she was blue with frigidity towards the man in there? Perhaps he was the one callously aloof towards her, but then his own dander raised as he thought of the monster just using her for his own ends. He returned to refocus the camera lens.

He resumed his gaze at the monitor. The heaving shapes looked like agar cultures in a giant square bed of a petri dish. These two bacteria, heaped twin bacillus cultures. Agglomerating. But not reproducing. It was as if another entity was walking through her body, working through it. Emptying it. Slowly eviscerating her. But then the pith hardened and reformed and grew bigger. A burst of passion perhaps, inflating the dark area. The cold-hotspot. He mustn't let his own emotions saturate their respective tints. Adulterating their complexions which otherwise might be far more complementary. The forms looked pregnant with another inside. Pregnant with each other perhaps? Swelling together. No longer possible even to determine dorsal from anterior. An infant’s shapeless painting. No longer human. The beast with two backs. With a single shot he could rupture those chromatic borders, bleed red into blue into red. Dark into light into crowning dark. 

But what if she had been similarly hued within his own embrace? He throbbing volcanic shades of red, her all ice-cool blue of detachment? A crystal sapphire of flinty indifference towards him. He had to know. He had to find out for himself. He had to get inside that house, pull the man off her and take his place. Then he would return here and consult the colour chart for her answer. For her true colours.



Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Gift That Keeps On Giving - Flash Story

JANUARY: To see in the New Year and to prevent her head turning and casting a roving eye, I bought her a heavy choke chain necklace


FEBRUARY: For the designated month of love, I splashed out on pearl drop earrings


MARCH: Easter came early this year as did my beneficence, since her egg was a Fabergé one


APRIL: Ducking inside from a particularly squally Spring shower, I found myself imprisoned in a jewellers and could only secure our freedom through the purchase of a gold (contra-) armband


MAY: For my faerie queen I bought her a filigreed wreath, albeit it more closely approximated a diadem. Actually it was a diadem


JUNE: Flaming June and another coruscation of light refracted off gem facets. This time a diamond encrusted watch. Yet still she was forever late, perhaps getting lost in gazing at the diamonds and losing track of time


JULY: To prepare for our Summer travels, she had to get her accessories in order for our evenings out. Several handbags were purchased in different materials while I silently implored there to be no crocodiles or snakes where we were heading for surely we would incense these animal gods by culling their progeny and then flouting the fact


AUGUST: I had anticipated an expensive Caribbean holiday to suffice for outlay this month, but she insisted on a memento of the trip and that meant some expensive pearls which may or may not have been locally sourced. Then there was the 'small' gift from the Duty Free, just to exploit the tax situation on offer, because it would be remiss not to.


SEPTEMBER: I was given a month off for good behaviour. However I was exhorted to make a sizeable donation to her pet charity for pets


OCTOBER: I didn't know she was Jewish, no matter how much she had strayed from that particular faith. They apparently have four different new years and this month saw not only one of them, but the most significant. Even though it was the month of atonement and expiation and a laying bare, so that on the High Holy day itself leather shoes are not permitted as man is not to raise himself above the beast. She purged all her footwear and after the ceremonies were over, we had to go out and restock her wardrobe for an entire array of soles


NOVEMBER: Arrogating as many holidays as humanly possible, we were also marked to honour Thanksgiving and more importantly the start of the headlong rush to shop. I had to show my gratitude with a generous purchase of a bracelet bedecked with precious stones. I was a tad charmless in the store I admit.


DECEMBER: And what did Santa bring her for Christmas? Why an eternity ring of course. A same- again for next year and all years thereafter cast iron platinum plated guarantee. And what did he bring for me? A pair of fur-lined handcuffs.






Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Importance Of Story Titles

When you've written a novel, the title is very important. It has to leap out at a potential reader, it ought perhaps also to suggest what the book is about. It represents the first hook, along with the cover design.

But when one is talking about a collection of short stories, then the title of each of the individual stories is released from such a burden. Then the author can think about the title's relationship to the story, whether it adds a layer of meaning, revealing something that isn't perhaps so accessible just from the text itself. Or perhaps it offers a counterpoint that takes the story in a wholly different direction from that seemingly in the text.

One of my favourite films Nick Roeg's "Bad Timing" is a twisting and turning non-linear narrative, which the viewer comes to realise all hinges around the title itself. I love that idea, that everything stems from and ultimately comes back to the starting point of the title.

I've published 4 collections of flash stories, some 128 tales. I went back over them and picked out my favourite ten titles and below explain what I like about them. The common theme is how they integrate with the thrust of the story, but that doesn't mean they all came first before I wrote the story itself. far from it. Some come part way through, many came only after the story was finished. it's quite rare that I have a title and that everything flows from that. But finding a title at the end of the process of writing often comes from a way of sewing it all up in a pleasing way, even if that way offers some echoes that reverberate after the story has ended. See what you think.

1) "Lunar Tic" (from the collection "52FF")
A man is in prison with the electric light on 24 hours a day so he can't distinguish night from day. My spin on werewolfism, as he is afflicted with a mental state where he longs to see the moon for the transformation it enables. The title puns his mental affliction with the catalyst that brings it on.

2) "Cry Baby Bunting" (From the collection "Long Stories Short"
A story about a child being snatched during a street party to celebrate a Royal Wedding. I originally wrote and published this on my blog in real time on the day when such a royal occasion was being celebrated up and down the country, though not in my area. Writing live, the title was "A Royal Weeding", but when I came to turn it into something more honed, the metaphor of bunting features heavily in the story as both celebration and mocking threat, that I knew it had to have a central prominence. Then a dim and distant recollection of the nursery rhyme came to me and it was perfect for the story.

3) "Ur, Um" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
I think this is perhaps my favourite ever title as it tickles me with its sense of playfulness. It's a literary story about language with a title that seems to represent a total lack of literacy and articulateness. The ancient city of Ur is taken as the first ever human city and the prefix has come to stand for the primal or the first in many fields - in this case an Ur-language, that is the ancestor human tongue from which all languages subsequently developed, which in my tale a man wakes up one morning to find he can only speak in this tongue. Since it is related to all our current languages, people think they recognise it, yet can't understand him. hence the 'Um'. The story is subversively comic as he becomes a celebrity and a diplomatic incident all at once.

4) "Strains" (from the collection "16FF")
Like many words, 'strain' has several shades of meaning. Firstly there is that notion of straining to attain something at full stretch. Then there is the notion of straining a liquid through some sort of filter or membrane. There is also the notion of a family strain, as in being related to the same (genetic) strain. Finally there is the meaning of strain as distant music or sound in the air. This tale combines several of those different strains of meaning (did you see what I did there?) It is about trying to recapture the quality of sounds heard while still in the womb, but forever being denied the membrane of the mother's abdomen through which such sounds were filtered. It's a simple one word title that perhaps suggests more than it reveals until you have finished reading the story.

5) "The Caller To The Bingo Caller's House Calls House" (from the collection "52FF")
I like the repetitions of the words in this, but each time the same word has a different meaning. The whole story is contained within the title, as the tale is told in bingo calls by a man who comes to prey on the Bingo caller's house while he is away calling numbers. This title was definitely the last piece in this particular jigsaw and only arrived when the story had been finished.

6) "Just Aphasia Going Through" (from the collection "16FF")
A pun on the word 'aphasia' as sounding like 'a phase you're' "Going Through". For a story all about creeping dementia and the loss of recall of words. unfortunately of course, dying brain cells are anything but 'a phase'. This title came about halfway through writing the piece.

7) "28 Grams" (from the collection "52FF")
This was an easy title to come up with, for the piece was literally that, 28 lines, each containing a word with the suffix 'gram' in it. It also was intended to echo other titles such as the movie "21 Grammes".

8) "Tendering Her Resignation" (from the collection "Long Stories Short")
Tender is a wonderfully multi-layered word. Nurses tender. Money is tender. Jobs are put out for tender, while when we've had enough of a job, we tender our resignation. When we are resigned to our lot, that such a job is not for us. In this tale, a daughter gives up her own life to stay at home and tend to her housebound mother. but her frustration bleeds out around the edges, much as with her mother's ulcerated wound staining each fresh bandage. The daughter is both tender and resigned.

You can sample the full story here.

9) "Calliopes, Caltrops and Cantos" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
This title took an age to come up with. It's a story about a poet-soldier and I knew I wanted to show that seeming contrast between the creative act of poetry with the destructiveness of war in the title and that I had it in my mind it should be alliterative. 'Cantos' represented the poetic, 'caltrops' (an anti-cavalry defence) symbolised the war and 'Calliope' interceded between the two, both standing for the epic muse of poetry and song, but also being a discordant steam organ emitting squalling sound as the antithesis of Calliope's divine singing.

10) "Per Capita" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
'Per capita', that slightly technical economic term derived from the Latin. Meaning per head, which is exactly what i wanted to allude to in a tale about a beheading video. I wanted to explore how these videos are designed to play on the emotions, they are recruiting ads within their constituency after all. The victim is a pawn in a much larger game of symbols, so that even as they are decapitated, their fate is calculated to boost support to the cause of the executioners. After 3 per capita videos, the US and the UK have recently decided to declare war on ISIS. I've blogged on the legality & impact of these videos here.

11) "Compulsory Consumer Choices Even Unto Death" (as yet only published to blog)
I wanted a long-winded bureaucratic title to reflect the world gone mad in this dystopian tale and yet one that also meant exactly what it said. How even in death and the manner of our despatch into the afterlife, we are faced with choices.




Is Viewing A Beheading Video A Crime?

While indisputably morally repugnant, viewing a beheading video is not a crime. Sharing it online however is a grey area. A crime has been committed, that of homicide. But who do you report it to? The act happened in Syria, so reporting it to your home police force isn't going to achieve much. The intelligence services of the West couldn't find Osama Bin Laden for 10 years and they're unlikely to track down "Jihadi John" unless a ground campaign kicks ISIS out of Syria. Sharing such videos, which after all are designed to inflame passions to the extent of recruiting more followers to the ISIS cause, could be deemed to be incitement to commit terrorist acts, which would constitute a crime. But no one took FB to court when they (albeit briefly) hosted beheading videos in the name of debate, until public outrage forced them to take them down.

There is a parallel here with sharing images from the London riots of 2011. Many people on the streets were not participating in the destruction, violence and looting. But they were stood there recording the action on their cameras and phones in order to share on social media and blogs. Again one could say they were committing the offence of not reporting a crime (or rather a lot of crimes), but who exactly would they have reported them to? The forces of law and order were completely stretched and overwhelmed by trying to deal with the riots. Phoning in an incident would not have prompted any police response. In that case, posting images to FB probably wouldn't be regarded as incitement and certainly not to terrorism. But the point remains, what is the responsibility of file sharing of contentious footage?

I've written fiction about a beheading video. But my exploration was about how these are designed to wreak an effect, what the symbolism is about and how it works. And of course existing solely in words, there isn't the instant visual force of a video, much as has centred around the argument this week over Hilary Mantel's short story about the assassination of Margaret Thatcher, which has seen senior political figures call for a police investigation into the legitimacy of the story as art, or whether it represents a crime. So I don't think I have to turn myself in to the cops just yet.

Clearly the boundaries need still to be defined.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Compulsory Consumer Choices Ceaseless Even Unto Death - Friday Flash

He hadn’t been shopping in a store like this for years. The last time must have been when he and his wife bought a king-sized double bed. As newly-weds they had ensured to try every mattress available, lying down and making out on each one. All in the name of test driving the springs. When his bride to be donned that Learner plate for her Hen night, she had already been thoroughly road tested. But their bed was one-sided now. He got lost in its voluminosity. The only place in this satellite system world where it was still possible to become lost. That is until they invented a GPS of the emotions. They probably already had, but presumably there wasn’t much call for it in this hurly-burly world. People were perpetually on the move and had no time to ascertain how others were disposed. 

She must have undertaken her own version of this shopping trip without him knowing. When it was still voluntary perhaps. She had opted for being dumped at sea and becoming fish food. A second mode of human transport sending her into the beyond after she had died in a multiple pile up on the motorway the size of a back alley. However the immersion in a flotation tank which he had just undertaken, had only made him throw up. He had never been terribly comfortable in water. And with this experience, he had certainly not fulfilled the brochure’s promise of losing all sense of his bodily boundaries and just gently flowing with the pacific swell. Nor had they introduced any fish to pluck at his flesh. But then the brochures never advertise that do they? 

So he wasn’t likely to be buried alongside his beloved. Even though a GPS could probably muster the location of her remains. These days humans were tagged like biological specimens in the wild. Now that they had no actual creatures left to tail after reclaiming their habitats for tarmac, leaving a mountain of tracking tags going spare. It wasn’t clear to him if the push for cars led to the upsurge in GPS devices, or the other way around. He was tagged of course, under the shoulder. But there would be no one interested in picking up his path now. 

The heft of this actually felt okay. None too weighty. He couldn’t sense the touch of the wood against any part of him. He hadn’t expected that. Maybe the wood was coated with some mild neural numbing agent. A bit of a cheat to encourage sales. Somehow he was possessed of the perception of a ton of earth on top of him, but he wasn’t experiencing it pressing down on him directly. The wood must be bearing the brunt. He could smell it though. Redolent in his nostrils, clammy, like potato skins. But he knew that he must have that inverted, tubers smell that way because they spend their whole growth in the earth. What did any of this matter anyway? He was only afforded his senses because this was a dry run.

Since he wouldn’t be able to feel the sides of the coffin’s wood when he was gone. Soil would possess no smell for his corpse to inhale. He wouldn’t be imagining he could feel the weight of anything by that point. And the contrivance of an ambient temperature, controlled by the store for the recumbent comfort of customers, would be irrelevant whether it was purchased for eternity, or not an add-on feature purchased for greater outlay. Besides, everyone knew this was a con trick. There were no cemeteries any longer. Devoured like the rest of the land beneath the ever hungry demand for roads. The human delusion of rushing around somehow forestalling the abrupt cessation brought by death. A coffin purchase could only entail a cremation, though he wondered how the authorities advised their authorised death service dealers to allow the customer to sample an incineration.

He reckoned that the ever more frequent motorway pile-ups, which had led the government to demand pre-planning with regards to body disposal, were also prompted by the car manufacturers. After all, the GPS devices should have been able to forestall most of the crashes shouldn’t they? But he couldn’t figure out how if the numbers of drivers were reduce by crash culls, how that could enable them to sell more vehicles. But what good did any of this speculation do him? He’d had the same car for a couple of decades now, so he was not a target customer dead or alive. He’d taken his wife’s wreck to a chop shop where they’d merged it with another chassis. Just so he could stay close to her. Inhale her dying breath every single day. 


Next on the menu was an air funeral. He had always liked buzzards and vultures at the zoo. Maybe there might be some spiritual communion to be had here. At least they wouldn’t try and hide the incontestable fact of your flesh being devoured by creatures with this one. He was shown into a gallery with a glass screen as a carcass of some poor animal was wheeled into the room beyond the glass. All he could see was his wife’s broken body there on the trolley. He was sick again. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Vanilla - Friday Flash

*Content warning*  Allusions to sex and violence


“I demand to see my personnel file”

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

“I w-a-n-t to read my file”

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

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

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

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

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

“Just give me the goddamned file”

“The missions are in another file-“

“I’m not interested in the mission stuff”

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

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

“Don’t flatter yourself”

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

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

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

“…Well?”

“Well what?”

“You’re waiting for me to say it”

“Say what?”

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

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

“Found what you’re looking for yet?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Ow, ow ow!”

“Fuck, there’s nothing in the file”

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

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

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

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

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

“No. I loved her too much”

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

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

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

“What the hell are you talking about?”

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

“Yeah, so?”

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

“You snap us having sex?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

“What, based on my sex life?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 14 September 2014

If Music Be The Food Of Love - Songs about food

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


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



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



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



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



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




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



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



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



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



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

Monday, 8 September 2014

Stem Cell - Friday Flash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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