Friday, 21 July 2017

The Grenfell Tower Fire

I am 50 years man and boy a Londoner. Let me paint you a picture of my once fair city. The West side has always been regarded as the richer part. People say they're going 'up West' when they're going shopping or out for entertainment. From the shops of Oxford and Regent Streets, the cinemas of Leicester Square, the theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue, all in the West End of the centre of London. Keep moving west just beyond Marble Arch that marks the beginning of this West End, and you soon leave the borough of Westminster and arrive in the even more expensive borough of Kensington and Chelsea, known as a Royal borough because of a clause in a monarch's will, even though it only holds one Royal palace compared with Westminster's two. RBK&C has some of the most expensive real estate in London, in Chelsea, Belgravia, Notting Hill and Kensington, which are also supported by exclusive upmarket shopping areas in Knightsbridge, Sloane Square and the King's Road. Harrods is located here.

But in the northern margins of the borough, lies an enclave of poorer communities, around Ladbroke Grove, Kensal Rise and North Kensington. Densely populated, mainly in high rises. centred around a raised major trunk road the Westway, which carries you out of the area as fast as possible into the West End.

The raised Westway and tower blocks
This area is culturally diverse and vibrant. It is the creative heart and soul of the Notting Hill Carnival (the council are trying to neuter this, moving it inside an arena or commercialising it in other ways). It was the launching pad of punk rock, with members of the Clash living in squats off the Portobello Road, while Sex Pistols svengali Malcolm McLaren ran his shop "Sex" with Vivienne Westwood, located on the Kings Road. The Jam were not even from London, but affirmed their punk credentials with the cover of their album "The Modern World" being photographed under the Westway. While 'Dystopian Modernity' author JG Ballard's works are suffused with the Westway skyline, whether in "Concrete Island" (based on the Westway itself), or books like "High Rise" and "Crash". There was also in the 90s what was called London's frontline of drugs, on the infamous All Saints Road. North Kensington is a symbol of soulless urban modernity and blight, yet it has always forged a community who have used that to spark off their creative imaginations and to utterly transcend their surroundings.

I lived on Ladbroke Grove for two years (above a funeral director's) and worked in the area for about 16 years, splitting my time between a record shop just off the Portobello Road and their skateboard warehouse on Latimer Road (a stone's throw form Grenfell Tower). During my time there, the local Council twice waged war on parts of the community as they sought to further gentrify what was already an expensive area of Notting Hill. Portobello Road is the site of a world famous antique market, but it only runs over the weekend. For the rest of the week, a small section of Portobello Road plays host to a fresh fruit and vegetable market, who also ran their stalls at the weekend an island deluged by the antique stalls. The Council decided they wanted rid of the fruit stalls. First they shut the public lavatories so that the stallholders on their feet all day were inconvenienced to the maximum. Sympathetic shops and pubs allowed them to use their facilities instead. Meanwhile 7 minutes down the road the local residents commissioned a top architect to design them a public convenience and produced the so called "Turquoise Island" with a flower shop woven into its structure.

Compare & contrast, these are the Portobello toilets closed by the council

When the Council targeted the stallholders more directly, wanting to remove them in favour of more antique stallholders, I was involved in a community campaign to defend them. I volunteered our shop's photocopier for producing the leaflets (without seeking permission of my bosses) and stallholders came in and out frequently to get or drop off their petition sheets, standing out like a sore thumb among all the punks and techno DJs picking through the record racks. I attended local meetings and we won this particular round. I haven't been to Portobello for 10 years or so, and wonder if the fruit stalls are still there or not.

What has any of this got to do with the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy? It's indicative of the attitude of the local Council, who have for ideological reasons undertaken a policy of the economic equivalent of ethnic cleansing, to drive the poorer residents from the area, because its most valuable resource is land. Land for building houses on, in the costliest property area throughout the whole of the UK. But to restate, it's not solely an economic greed, it is also ideological. This all started in the 1980s, when Left and Right were diametrically opposed to one another on either of the far ends of the spectrum. The Right were in power under Margaret Thatcher, with a multi-pronged programme to change the face of this country. The Parliamentary Left were in no shape to offer effective opposition, instead their power base was centred on the major urban metropolitan local councils, including at the time, the Greater London Council which was a unitary body for all London. The Thatcher government disbanded the GLC and returned responsibility to each individual London borough. At the same time, they attacked the funding of local councils and starved them of the means of providing their services. The drive was to privatise everything, such as rubbish collections to traffic wardens. Councils were further starved of funds, through the Right To Buy policy, whereby their housing stock was sold off to those tenants who applied to buy it from them at discount. Councils lost the rental incomes from houses they no longer owned and although the sales income was initially given to the councils for building replacement housing stock at a level of 75% of sales proceeds, this was continually reduced so that councils received less and less return for their sold off properties. This was ideological in that a whole upper strata of working class people were creamed off by being invited to join the property-owning class, twinned with invitations to become share owners by buying the heavily underpriced stocks as nationalised industries were sold off and privatised. This was an ideology of converting traditional working class Labour supporters into middle class Conservative voters. Though it suggests a class egalitarianism, it was only achieved at the expense of those who weren't able to buy homes and shares, who were to come to subsidise their more fortunate neighbours through cutbacks to the services they needed. More of which below. The Conservatives also deregulated the housing market, lowering the standards for house conversions, having cheap money and credit to facilitate mortgages and constructors taking out loans. London had a housing boom which has changed its economic and cultural landscape forever, like Paris, New York and Tokyo making it almost impossible to own a house now without significant funds and turning it into a de facto city-state. My first flat was an ex-council property, we bought it off the tenant who had purchased it at a 30% discount before selling it on immediately to us, making a nice tidy profit on a windfall that fell in her lap.

Before I consider a specific initiative by Conservative local councils, I just want to finish the story of national forces on the state of housing. Once Thatcher left power and Tony Blair came in for Labour, make no mistake, he did very little - despite huge 100+ majorities in Parliament - to reverse the policies of the previous Conservative regimes. Right to Buy had run out of steam anyway, since those who could afford to buy had done so by now. Deregulation was not reversed, standards within selling property remained low. Credit was still cheap, so that now property was regarded as much as an investment as it was the place for you to live and call home. The budgets of local councils were not refloated, low public housing stock not significantly replenished. Let's be clear about this, Labour failed the most distressed communities that the Conservatives had created. And when the Conservatives returned to power under David Cameron, the UK economy and level of debt was in a very parlous state. Austerity became the watchword, with cuts to every aspect of the public sector. The commodification & privatisation under Thatcher was even more central to Cameron who looked to make budget savings. Rather than go after their allies in Big Business to make them pay appropriate tax, they trimmed and slashed services already at critical levels. This includes the many aspects that notionally fall under the responsibility of local councils, but had in fact been contracted out to private firms and agencies whose primary motivation is profit. Add to that that Cameron declared war on what he called the health and safety culture and standards slipped even more off the bottom of the scale. Everything was done on the cheap, with little scrutiny since the numbers of inspectors had been cut as a cost saving, while ideologically there was not only no appetite for due oversight, but downright hostility to it.

So now we return to the local council level. Despite its property riches, London is a Labour city. Consistently since 1997 it has voted for a majority Labour representation, with the sole exception of two terms as London mayor for Conservative Boris Johnson. The Conservatives are in the main restricted to the richest central boroughs and those well-off suburbs around the fringes of the city. Three of the central boroughs are Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Wandsworth. In the 1980s, bolstered by Right To Buy and the property boom sending house prices shooting up, the Conservatives undertook the most ideological (and craven) of policies to try and ensure these boroughs remained Conservative in perpetuity. While the poll tax that replaced the local rates system of local taxation went up in most London boroughs to try and make good the shortfall of government funding, in these three boroughs the poll tax was at negligible levels. This was subsidised by an incentive from central government, allowing the councils to run a low level of local taxation. But in Westminster it went further. The then council leader Dame Shirley Porter ran a clandestine scheme of "Homes For Votes" , trying to socially engineer parts of the borough to make them guaranteed Conservative wards. This was a more naked, far-reaching expression of the class cleansing that RBK&C were envisioning in the next door borough. On the border between the two, was the Harrow Road tower blocks which were condemned for containing asbestos, yet still undesirables and the homeless were moved into them, immortalised in song in 1988 by RBK&C squatters World Domination Enterprises in their song "Asbestos Lead Asbestos". Eventually Porter's regime were taken to court for their flagrant gerrymandering and found guilty. Like all good patriots with a stake in their country, Porter immediately fled overseas to avoid sanction and financial punishment. Wandsworth at a Parliamentary level has two Labour MPs and one Conservative, RBK&C for the first time in history returned a Labour MP a fortnight ago as one of its two MPs. Westminster also has one MP from each Party. So the Conservative initiative has not taken, Londoners have retained their independence of mind.

And finally to the Grenfell Tower fire. All the above factors feed into this tragedy. Private management of housing, austerity and cutbacks (though RBK&C has a contingency fund of £300 million so that it has no excuse for being too cash strapped), and class cleansing. RBK&C didn't have to be as blatant as Westminster, since it was under less threat of losing control to Labour and its poor and impoverished were already grouped together in a specific locale of the borough, that of North Kensington. Every council has a legal requirement to house the 'unintentionally homeless' and because those that could buy their council homes have, this means that all councils now only really house the most vulnerable and needy members of society. Look at the survivors of Grenfell Tower on TV, or consider the list of names of the missing and unaccounted for and this is abundantly clear. In some places such areas might be considered ghettos, but not here so diverse was the local population, truly representative of all continents of this earth. But they were vulnerable, mainly economically rather than social and cultural. The Council just did not care or value them like it did its private householders. Local residents had warned for years about the deficiencies of their housing, including safety issues. No sprinklers. Shortage of lifts and so on. They were ignored and palmed off as troublemakers. The Council allowed their private contractors to 'upgrade' the fire safety of Grenfell Tower with a cladding material that saved the measly sum of £6,250 on the total budget. If the death toll is of the likely order of 100, that works out to be £625 saved at the cost of each life. Read that and weep. Really really weep. The sight of people waving for help on the top floors and babies being thrown out windows to those down on the ground, echoes the imagery of the Twin Towers during 9/11. Our terrorism was not based overseas and the low level campaign against residents was to unsettle rather than terrorise, but our terrorism is named corporate manslaughter. It is a campaign waged for profit and ideology that has been running since the 1980s and the people responsible must be brought to justice. It is time for all people's lives in this country to have a genuine equal value, rather than this faux rhetoric of Thatcherite egalitarianism, or Cameron's "we're all in this together". If Britain isn't moved by this tragedy towards a whole different way of thinking and regarding of our fellow citizens, then we have not only missed an invaluable opportunity, we are actually lost as a nation for good. 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Behind Glass - Flash Fiction

In the window the woman was sat on a chair, legs crossed one over the other at the ankle. It might have been elegant and dainty, were it not swept up in a beam of red light flooding her from a lamp in the floor. Her basqued torso was fixed in its beam, red enhancing red. However she had  managed to rake her body at such an angle that her face was bathed in shadow. She declined to move, unlike her neighbours swivelling on their chairs to open up their legs, or undulating to imaginary music only they could hear their side of the glass. The Physicist pushed his glasses back up his nose as he returned his gaze to her. He bobbed his head left and right, trying to animate her by parallax. But she remained frozen and determinedly immobile. He decided she approximated a shop mannequin. But unlike fashion dummies, you would not be able to determine the season of the year, since he presumed she was arrayed in a bodice all year round. He wondered if her pigmentation never changed during the course of a year, that like mannequins her skin too never saw sunlight. She still hadn’t shifted and in that he felt she was red shifting away from his grasp, even though he had a fistful of carmine hued banknotes in his pocket. The game “What’s The Time Mr Wolf” from his childhood came into his mind. Or was he confusing it with the game “Statues”? 

He dropped the cheque into the open end of the recessed counter and was careful to remove his fingers as the teller slid the metal lid to close off his half and gain herself access. She reached in to forage for the cheque and brought it up to read. He scrutinised her behind the glass. Only her face and upper body were visible sat on her high chair, desk ledge guillotining off the more compelling half from his vision. Her layered make up, her bank-issued uniform of indeterminate swatch shade of blue and amorphous twill, the rectangular bar bearing her overlong name osculating the corporate logo. She resembled nothing less than an automaton like you used to get on piers or in arcades. They were coin operated too. She stamped his cheque. 

Looking out from the window in his top floor apartment, he owned the vista of the whole city. No mortal could meet his eye level, for his erection crowned the cityscape. Only he possessed the untrammelled skyline, while the glass of his edifice reflected the city back to itself as mere surface. When he deigned to descend from the opaque glass of the skyscraper, it was only to transfer smoothly into a limousine with tinted glass of its own. Yet the breadth of his acquisitive eye was necessarily blinkered by dark glass. His invisible hand in the markets was perforce erased by the operation of the glass, his imprint effaced as he seamlessly brought companies crashing down or resurrected them puissant and thrusting. He shrouded his own eyes behind polaroid lenses, even though the interior of his car was already tenebrous. At ground level he inhabited a permanent world of shade. Up in the clouds, the gleam of the sun glinting off his glass panes blinded him.

The meat in the glass sandwich of microscope slide and lens, bubbled, writhed and pulsed. The bacteria were pullulating. Only the repulsive colour might tip to an untrained eye that these were not flabelliform flowers budding and blooming. But the microbiologist had a most trained eye. Mind you, only with the facilitation of lens-mediated magnification. Glass communion with glass. He pushed his glasses back up to sit on his balding pate as he refocused his squint into the vertically offered eyepiece. He admired the structure of the single cells concatenating into ever expanding chains. Extending their reach. Through history and time to preserve and persevere even until now. Fighting off the chemical warfare that the pharmacists dispensed against them. Coming back leaner and more robust, ready for further incursive action on living hosts. A resistance movement that could never be quelled. ‘Persevere’ includes the etymological root ‘severe’. For this was an army way more disciplined and resilient than the human forces arranged against it. Single-celled organisms defeating the mighty technological battery at mankind’s disposal, for all the complex, specialist braincells we are endowed with. It ought to be humbling. For the hell of it, he turned the ratchet of the microscope to lower the lens until it kissed the slide. He continued to apply pressure so the lens punched further down onto the slide, crushing the bacteria through sheer brute force. The microscope itself was now beyond use. A casualty of war. 

People couldn’t be trusted. An immersive art that is begging to be touched as well as viewed. Brush strokes, paint layered on deliberately, sculptures in carved stone or metal. So some like the Mona Lisa are placed behind glass, beyond caress or gouge. Controlled environments. Museum art that never ages. Pickled in aspic. Dinosaur DNA preserved in amber. But Marcel Duchamp outflanked them all with his The Bride Stripped Bare By her Bachelors, Even. Painted on glass itself. A vertical plane like the museum glass case itself. Spectators could walk and view behind the painting. The glass was not sealed (not even behind a second outer frame of glass), so that it could collect dust and mark the passage of time. Being placed in front of a gallery window means its own hyaline canvas can filter and channel the daylight funnelling across outside. The work was originally broken in half when the museum took delivery of it. Duchamp repaired it, but favoured the cracks being left in. 


The book from antiquity was kept under glass to preserve its delicate papers and inks. Only two pages a day were ever offered up to read to visitors. However the museum curator was conscientious in starting each new day by turning over to the next two leaves in the folio. He disapproved of the content, particularly the illustrations. It certainly wasn’t how he conducted his own marriage. Yet he felt a sense of cultural pride that such a precious volume had emerged from his ancestors and drew curious visitors from all over the globe to pay homage. I, being determined to read every single verse and aphorism had to return day after day after day to drink in my rationed two pages. I traversed the book over the course of a year. I went when I was ill, crawling on my hands and knees like a supplicant. From down below, I could see the pages reverse written in the glass and multiplied by several refractions at the odd angle I was at. The curator had to help me upright to be able to see into the  case. Some days I patiently awaited my turn, while tour parties made their guidebook-mediated pass at it. Other days I was asked to cede my station by those chafing behind me, as they gleaned I had spent an unhealthy amount of time poring over the glass case. They might have been right, sometimes my breath misted up the glass. Only the curator shared the daily vigil with me, since everyone else was transient. I knew he was scrutinising my behaviour, my reactions, observing me as if an annex to the tome, that I was an exhibit under glass also in his charge. For my part, I kept our verbal interactions to a minimum, but when we reached the second part, ninth chapter, I did scrutinise him in turn for any sign of recognition, but his expression never changed. 

Marcel Duchamp's "Bride Stripped Bare By Bachelors"

Saturday, 8 July 2017

My Diffuse Library - A Visual Tour

I live in a very small house, too small to hold floor to ceiling bookshelves to house all my books. So I have to spread them out im various nooks and crannies. Take the tour with me around my 'diffuse library'.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Eclipse - Flash Fiction

My son’s drawing from the nursery had pride of place of the refrigerator. It probably still does. Just I am not coincident with that fridge anymore. Having climbed into an icebox all of my own with the divorce. That cold-storage of permafrosted love which had once thawed child me into an tepid adult. 

I did manage to snatch an image of the daub on my camera phone. Before my ex removed me permanently from the house with ice tong fingers, while her free hand pincered her nostrils closed. Apparently I smelt more mephitic than whatever vegetation was putrefying in the fridge’s salad compartment, because she refused to provide our son a balanced diet, instead of a sugar-coated and salted quiet life.  

I had to get one of my nieces to load up the image on to my desktop and serve as the screensaver. The resolution wasn’t great, but his palette of coloured crayons illuminated the whole workstation. Pixels brighter than nuclear fusion. Daddy (stick man), (big-stick wielding) Mummy (cropped), beautiful boy (cherubic, seraphic angel), house (forfeited by mulct), tree (fit for a gibbet) and the sun improbably haloing the lot of us. It never failed to uplift me. Except when even the screensaver could no longer save its diminishing energy and the computer winked itself out. If I was in the room, I would rush to stroke the mouse and revive it. Mouth to mouth resuscitation as I planted a kiss on to the boy’s gaily coloured image of the illusory intact. But when night finally culled my own energies, the monitor was left to blinker itself and snatch him from me. Except we romped and capered together undimmed in my dreams.

She denied me updates. Both digitally captured and verified in the flesh. Reports from the school and sporting medals garnered. I hired my new best friend, expert counsel. At his behest I kept a calendar of broken arrangements. I maintained a catalogue of petty cruelties. I devised a register of behaviours deemed detrimental to his development. I made an inventory of lies and calumnies she got him to parrot down the phone, or by mispelled SMS text. My legal docket was overflowing in my computer’s dock. Folders spilling out into the body of my monitor. Each grey-blue rectangle eclipsing another segment of the screensaver. Dead pixels. I was losing him even as I fought tooth and nail to keep hold of him. My screen was saving nothing. Least of all the dying of the light. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Spires And Minarets - Flash Fiction

The Spires and Minarets of pre-war Sarajevo

Music had ceased emission from both campanile and minaret. The bells had been melted down for bullets, one of which had carried off the muezzin from the neighbouring turret.

But neither tower was bereft of more atonal sounds calling people to god. Gunfire's syncopation had played hell with the resident bats' echolocation and driven them from their belfry. Soldiers launch their slivovitz empties towards the minaret as further desecration, the tinkling of smashing glass as brandy drops impregnate the ancient brick. Down below devout and non-devout alike laid out in rows, summoned not by the Iqama, but by Death.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Tome Raider considers Georges Perec's Infamous novel "A Void" & asks whether it's gimmicky

The lipogram is a piece of writing that omits one or more letters. Imaging 285 pages of a novel without a single letter 'E' in it! Then imagine it in translation. Such a book is Georges Perec's "A Void".

I consider whether the lipogram is just a gimmick, a stylistic flourish to no particular effect by comparing "A Void" with two other books using the same literary device.


Monday, 5 June 2017

A Maggot - Flash Fiction

“I pluck the last apple from the fruit bowl. I wash the apple then have it sit, presenting spherical in the palm of my hand. The water globules shimmy shimmeringly as I turn the apple by its stunted stalk in the course of my inspection. They seem to draw up the apple’s red hue within their vesicular protuberance. An osmotic trompe-l’oeil. The skin appears pristine. I move into the study and am struck by a thought, what if a water droplet is precisely aligned over the wormhole caused by a boring larvae, so as to diffuse beyond my sight? I shake the apple vigorously and watch the spray of moisture fly off like a swarm fledging. There remain fewer, but more tenacious drops, elongated by their smearing perturbation on the surface of the apple. I briefly think of Newton. The stem bowl, already a recessed tunnel of sorts, is particularly hard to descry, being of similar hue to larval frass. However this whole morsel does indeed seem untouched and virginal. Apart from the chemicals waxing it verglas of course. Confident that there would be no codling moth larval Amundsen defeating my caterpillary Scott in the race to the core, I sink my teeth into the red peel. A mist of the apple’s own juices flies out into the air. Too fine to echo the beads of water purged by the action of my earlier convulsion, also they leave no darkening umbrage on the carpet. As I chew the pulpy mixture of soft rind and crisper pome, I inspect the lacerations in skin collapsed like a mine shaft and see the borders picked out by the indentations of my teeth. Ordered like a file of marching insects. Why are my mind’s associations with this fruit always insectival? Liquid beads on red skin could so easily conjure up the flesh of a mate emerging from the shower, or a swimming pool. I blame my mother. Or Eve. Or the serpent. I take another bite which has a more percussive sonance, presumably because there is no muting by the softer outer casing. My teeth impressions have vanished, as has the red skin to reveal the white seam beneath. I revolve the apple to its south face in order to offer me its unscaled scarp, but in doing so I must have pincered it too hard and the pads of my fingers are sunk into the tender flesh. I pick at the puckered rind with the point of my fingernail until I have abraded it away. Sure enough the cells beneath have bruised under the imprint of my digital pressure. I marvel at the celerity of the discolouration, even as I am disgusted by my clumsy adulteration of the fruit. I reduce the span of my bite to nibble the flesh either side of the blemish, as the appetising pleasure falls away, reducing to just the chore of consuming it. I'm beginning to think I would have been better off with a glass of draught cider. By its end, the habitual aesthetic satisfaction of scrimshawing to the hourglass core, remains still denatured by the canker of the bruised protrusion. Like a chrysalis awaiting to hatch the apple’s seeds buried beneath. I throw the core into the recycling bin. No, that’s the wrong appellation. Into the organic waste receptacle”. 

I woke the next morning and readied to edit the manuscript. I picked up a red biro and steeled myself that this draught would involve no proofing, but solely focus on a purge of the metaphorical element. For I had tossed and turned half the night, concerned that the piece contained too much symbolism, rendering it far removed from the actual experience I was trying to harvest. Having said all that, the very first amendment I made, was to add a comma within the second sentence. Sure enough in no time at all the paper was soon spotted with red warts. But these were all superficial syntactical markers. I was irritated with my own ill-discipline. I had plumped for the surface soft rind rather than the crisper pome beneath. I plucked the sheet of paper and wafted it in the air away from me, by way of symbolic gesture to have the spray of red corrigenda fly off like a swarm fledging. That in my imagination the paper would return to its untouched and virginal state, prior to this premature waxed verglas edit. My head now cleared, I reapplied it towards fresh inspection of the text. However it was as if my little ritualistic conceit had taken actual form, for I seemed to have been left with a mote in my eye. The characters on the page, both the red and black, started to diffuse. They shimmered shimmeringly. Momentarily confused, I shut my eyes trying to clear their wateriness in order to return the apple of my eye that was my own writing, to its pristine, stable state. But the caterpillary convulsion continued. The ink, surely dried from yesterday’s initial application, was beginning to run. The letters elongated by their smearing perturbation on the surface of the paper. Re-ordered like a file of marching insects, peeling themselves right off the folio. A few, more tenacious letters clung on in place, while their neighbours bored tunnels of their escape. I imagined that I could almost perceive a mist of deliquesced letters flying out into the air. The few remaining letters looked stunted, pit props vainly trying to brace a collapsed mine shaft. Lacerations amid the text wherever you looked. The red and black inks now blended and merged into an unsightly discolouration. An ever-darkening umbrage, my script had the appearance of nothing less than insect frass. My ideas were evanescing in front of my very eyes. The paper regressed back to its pulp. Even the pen’s indentations formerly filled and occupied by ink, were smoothing out their puckered selves and returning to first flush of a pristine white seam. An unscaled scarp. How do I know this? Because I rushed to seize a pencil from my writing bureau and began to shade across the grain hoping to reveal the vanished letters. But to no avail. I pincered the paper hard between the pads of my fingers and shook it vigorously. This only ruptured the tender tissue, as if it really had become degraded through moisture undermining its integrity. This pulpy chrysalis had no seeds of creativity left to hatch. My text denatured by the canker of words. I balled the leaf up wrinkled spherical, sat presented in the palm of my hand where it proceeded to unfurl some of its serpent coils. Its insectival wings. I threw its empty core into the recycling bin. No, that’s the wrong appellation. Into the organic waste receptacle. 

Friday, 2 June 2017

People Just Don't get It - The British general Election

This election like recent votes, will be decided by a mindset that I just don't think people have cottoned on to. Folk who are doing okay for themselves just don't care about anyone else. The old social ties that bound us together began to be dismantled in the 1980s and now that process has come to fruition.

Ironically for a party that stand for traditional values, the Conservatives are benefitting from one of those values being utterly torn up and discarded; that of religion. If anyone attends a religious service in the UK today, chances are they are from a recent immigrant background. Active Christianity is a negligible force in the UK. No one believes in heaven and eternal life. We all know we're here for a one-shot deal on earth and this has contributed to the sensibility of making the most of your one terrestrial spin. People don't care about the future beyond their lifetime. The state of the planet; the preservation of a Welfare State and the NHS in particular (if people can afford private health cover, then they're not bothered about the NHS, despite the fact that it will still bear the onus of treating their cancer or stroke rather than a private hospital); talking about pressing the nuclear button in a way that no one has broached since the 1980s, where's the future in that?

But surely people are  concerned with the legacy to pass on to their children you say? Well rather than a class divide, we now have an age divide. As long as you can leave money and or a house to your children, then you credit that is legacy enough. Parental job done. The planet and our welfare can just go and rot, our kids will be buffered by money just as we are. That's why the dementia tax caused such uproar, it threatened financial heirlooms. With rising house values and protected pension locks, the aged have done very well in the 21st Century, despite low interest returns on their savings. Their children and grandchildren on the other hand, have seen the prospect of home ownership disappear, their education cost them dear when their parents probably had the state pay for theirs and a shrinking job market with no jobs for life anymore and all manner of exploitation such as unpaid interns, zero-hours contracts and the like. 

People just don't care about anyone other than themselves. That's why they vote Tory who service this sensibility. The sooner you realise that, then you can stop railing ineffectually about media bias and start to think creatively how to combat this.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Tome Raider asks if there's such a thing as experimental fiction? Considering the books of BS Johnson

Owed To Joy - Flash Fiction

She: You know what they say…

Chorus (sing): Oh why are we waiting? Why are we waiting?

She: Two’s company, three’s a crowd

He: Oh really?

Chorus (sing): For he’s a jolly good fellow

He: Just leave my mother out of this

Chorus (sing): Which nobody can deny

She: I wish she would flipping leave our relationship. Take her nose out of business that doesn’t concern her

Chorus (sing): Heads, shoulders, knees and toes. And penetralia

He: You’re jealous of her aren’t you?

She: What, that I can’t possibly snap the apron strings that still tie you to her? I wouldn’t apply the word ‘jealous’ as such

Chorus (sing): One for the master, one for the dame and one for the little boy who lives down the lane

He: So what word would you use?

Chorus (sing): You’re once, twice, three times a lady

She: Oedipal

Chorus (sing): They all ran after the farmer’s wife, who cut off their tails with a carving knife

He: Is that right? 

Chorus (sing): Which nobody can deny

He: Well at least I’m faithful. There’s only the two women in my life. Unlike you

Chorus (sing): Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry

She: What do you mean?

Chorus (sing): Fuck e’m all, fuck ‘em all. The long, the short and the tall

He: Do I really have to spell it out?

Chorus (sing): Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate?

He: Maybe you think being in the arms of another woman it doesn’t count as infidelity?

Chorus (sing): One two, buckle my shoe, three four shut the door, five six, pick up six, seven eight, lay them straight

She: Well maybe if I was showed some affection in my marriage, my eye wouldn’t have to rove

Chorus (sing): Show me the way to go home. I’m tired and I want to go home

He: Affection is a two-way thing you know

Chorus (sing): This little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none

He & She (to chorus): Shut the fuck up and butt out will you? (sing to chorus) You’re going home in a big white ambulance

Tome Raider Book Review - Scarlett Thomas' "Our Tragic Universe"

Sunday, 14 May 2017

How One Of Them Remembers The Conversation - Digital Fiction

That break-up conversation. Desperately replaying it in your mind over and over, trying to sift it for any clues. But it's impossible to remember it verbatim. Then there is also the fact you break up every nugget of every word for meaning, can we get back together again?

From the initial ten lines of the break up conversation, those words are sliced, diced and re-spliced back together as one voice takes on both parts of the dialogue, trying to parse for hope.

Words and concept by Marc Nash
Animation by Caitlyn Redden
Soundtrack by DJ Allmoe

Click here for my essay on modern literature and the possibilities of drilling to the level beneath words, that of the letters that compose words, as in this video.

Friday, 12 May 2017

None Of The Below - The UK Parliamentary Election, Questions for Candidates

Less than a month to the election and to date I've received two leaflets from the Conservative Party and nothing from any of the other 4 candidates, but that may be due to the leaflets not yet having been printed as the deadline for candidates to announce their standing was only yesterday. The Parliamentary seat I live in is a marginal; in the last 4 elections, two have been won by Labour and two by Conservative. Currently it's number 46 on the Labour target list, which they would need to win a majority at the election. So there's very definitely something to play for in this seat. Yet I suspect the odd leaflet aside, as for the past 4 elections I will not see hair nor hide of any Party court my vote in person. I work part-time, so it's not even a case that I am always out when the canvassers are on the trail. No, this is just the faceless nature of UK politics in the twenty-first century. I've had more visits across the years from jehovah's Witnesses than Parliamentary party candidates. And this is in a competitive seat remember...

So I'm just going to offer you the questions I would pose each candidate from the 5 standing parties were they actually to show their face. I am not going to offer their responses, if they want, their parties or supporters can respond in the comments section. For the purposes of this exercise, I'm not going to proceed along my belief that the election result is a foregone conclusion.


When did you cease being a progressive party? Everything about you is reactionary. It's as if you yearn for a return to a vision of 1950s Britain, certainly your leader seems to come from that age (which is odd as she was only 4 years old when the sixties commenced). Mrs Thatcher was a reaction to the politics and freedoms of the 1960s (as was Ronald Reagan in the US). May seems to be a reaction to 1970s Britain, which no longer exits (not even in Labour Party leader's Jeremy Corbyn's vision for Britain), yet that is the picture the Conservatives are painting of the current Labour leadership. I see no progressive policies or aspirations, other than a vague notion of Britain getting its identity back once Brexit is concluded. But can you define what that identity actually is? The notion of a singular identity in our culturally diverse 21st century nation is obsolescent. Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major's appeal for a return to 'Family Values' was an unmitigated disaster and contributed to his defeat & the Conservatives' exile during the Blair years, partly because no one could define Family Values and moral hypocrisy by Conservative MPs undermined any possible notion of it being instituted.

So what apart from an all out assault on the Welfare State, the NHS, and a reinstitution of selective education do you stand for? A reaction to the post-1945 Labout government which set up the modern Britain in other words. All under your mantra of balancing the books, instead of going after corporations and rich individuals who are not paying their fair share of tax. I think part of the reason for that is you don't want to drive such 'patriots' into tax exile, just in case Brexit turns out to be a disaster for the economy, so your sole response will be to set Britain up as a tax haven, so you need these people to stay onside in the interim.


 You know Jeremy Corbyn's policies such as nuclear disarmament, greater equality of pay, certain re-nationalisations of  some failing industries such as rail and energy provision, are ones I could fall into line with very easily. However there is no way I could bring myself to back a man who has palpably shown no leadership qualities and surrounds himself with political cronies of no ability whatsoever, such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbot who hold shadow cabinet briefs in two of the most important positions, the Treasury and Home Office. No matter how visionary (or not) you are, without a great slice of political nous and the powers to persuade not your core voters, but those who are in two minds, your ideas will not take the day. Corbyn showed a complete lack of leadership during the Brexit referendum, Now I understand why Corbyn did this, after the disastrous consequences of the Scottish Independence referendum campaign, where Labour were slaughtered by their supporters for appearing on the same platforms as Conservatives, Corbyn didn't want to be seen making the same mistake for the Brexit vote. But it was a miscalculation; Labour voters were left without any rallying point, allowing UKIP to turn some of them and once you've made such a drastic move once, it's not so difficult a second and third time. Finally, his commitment to allies has seen a lamentable failure to deal with anti-Semitism within some parts of the party, his support of Ken Livingstone being testament to that. Labour has failed to either appreciate, or make clear the differences between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. In doing so, it has managed to alienate one of its steadfast support bases of London Jews who are split down the middle as to their current disposition.

So much for political praxis, what about the ideals of this visionary? In some ways the Conservative Press is right, that the programme is an echo of where Britain stood in the 1970s, which after all was the crucible from which Corbyn's ideas were formed in the field of local politics. So far from revolutionary, Labour too seem to be reactionary and hanker after a past golden age. They want to, not unreasonably in many cases, turn back many of the Conservative policies from the 80s and last seven years. But there is not much forward thinking behind these declarations of intent. I also suspect that the manifesto represents a fairly watered down version of Corbyn's true political vision, which in itself is not a criticism, since it does at least nod its head to the art of the possible and appreciating that winning power first is a key requisite to any radical change. Is Corbyn anti-capitalism? I suspect he is, and his right hand man John McDonnell is a confessed anti-capitalist Marxist. But this manifesto seeks to work within capitalist free market, merely filing off some of its rougher burs. This cuts against Corbyn's impassioned ideals and echoes so much of the failed last campaign of Ed Miliband. I see very little difference between the two and it didn't exactly go well last time round now did it?

Liberal Democrats

What do you actually stand for? The oft asked question of many recent elections. An anachronism, a vestige of a once proud party in the nineteenth century that provided us statesmen like Gladstone and Lloyd-George. Historically the Liberal Party was a rigorous free trade/ free market party, a role subsumed by today's Conservatives. Around the turn of the twentieth century, the definition of Liberalism changed; no longer freedom to do such and such, but freedom from being prevented to be able to do such and such. That is it became reactionary, defending and upholding rights that were under threat. A vital function, but one that has been unable to sustain them as a meaningful party of power. So much so that they jumped into bed with the ideological antipodes of the Conservatives in 2010 to form a coalition, in which their only claim was that they managed to shave off some of the rougher burs of socially punishing austerity measures. The party of putting your finger in the dyke to hold back the flood...

But now as they look to rebuild after their massacre for joining up with the Conservatives, they have eked out a genuine position, the only one of the three parties to commit to reversing the Brexit decision. A reactionary position disguised as a radical one. They want a return to the status quo previous to June 2016. I was a Remainer. I would never vote Liberal on that one policy. First the people have spoken, however misguidedly I credit it to be and it is fundamentally undemocratic to go against their popular will formally expressed in a ballot. Many other feel like me, or just accept that we've got to get on with Brexit and so the numbers do not stack up for the Liberals in their calculations. What else do they stand for? I couldn't tell you and even if I could, their recent record is they could tear it up in an instant if they make a similar political calculation to participate in power sharing through a coalition. Besides, it's never sharing, and the junior partner always gets punished in the following election - either your claimed strength for moderating the majority party's nastier ideas is taken as interfering and preventing the business of strong government, or people just think why vote Liberal, we may as well vote Conservative and get a proper government rather than a half-baked coalition, which is exactly what happened in 2015.

Green Party
I almost voted Green in the last election and in a way they most closely match my personal vision of society. except, like Labour I'm not quite sure how much they do. Are they a fully anti-capitalist party, which in truth is really the only way a genuine environmentalist party can be, or are they plying a gradual transformation to build up support? A genuinely Green economy would be so radical a shift from our current state of affairs, it would be a revolution of values, of employment, of well economy. Have they articulated that end point of their vision at all, let alone the manner of the transition to that? No, is the answer.

UK Independence Party
(They're not getting their party logo, I despise them so).
Now that Brexit has been secured, with the two main parties committed to delivering it, what reason do you have for even existing? None. Your spurious claim that you are needed to steer through a satisfactory vision of Brexit is a) subsumed by the Conservatives who can act without concern for your views and b) would you then just fade away after Brexit is complete in March 2019, no of course you wouldn't, cos unlike the outsider politicians you claim to be, you still lust after hanging on to what moderate power and influence you wield.

This purposelessness is doubly so in London, which being a cosmopolitan, diverse, outward facing city, has consistently rejected your inward, homogenous, chauvinistic values. Then there are the personal beliefs of your leader, who baldly states that the NHS should be privatised, that climate change does not exist, that the endemic sexism expressed by former (ie "sacked) members of the party is also shared by your glorious leader.

So, there you have it, the sort of discussion I might engage in with any party candidate were they to show up at my door. If they did, do you think they'd engage me in a debate of these points? No, me neither. They just want to tick or cross your name on their voting intention list. They're not going to devote/waste twenty minutes it would take to even skirt these issues. Even Jehovah's Witnesses will take the time to engage me in discussion of their beliefs for twenty minutes (in fact it's hard to break off debate with them, but that's my fault for engaging with them in the first place)> So I will most likely spoil my ballot paper by writing "none of the above" across it.


Political theory in 153 words blog post

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Rareripe - Flash Fiction

“Their firm bodies exuding faith in the future” - Laurent Binet “The Seventh Function Of Language”

Sunken bloodshot eyes. Heavily lidded like an escarpment. Only the sempiternal rheum moraine, suggestive of occupation within the caliginous orbs. A vestigial liquefying blink reflex. Dried out, desiccated and doped. Blunted through the constant triggering of those miasmic fumes, like a smoke alarm having its batteries removed. But also through any possible experience of surprise having atrophied. Like all emotions. Never any tears to drive runnel cleansing trails through smut smirched faces. Supernumerary tics erupting elsewhere on the countenance, as if to compensate for the mouldering nictation. 

Noses constantly impressed with a finger at the nostril. As if trying to expectorate their coagulate soul, which is of course an impossibility. Unable even to break down the sclerotic wall, that so immures their heart, that they cannot detect their own pulse beyond. Perhaps that's why they breathe shallowly like a panting dog, in spite of a low heartbeat rate. No pulse means no adrenaline response engendered. Thereby no perspiration either. 

Mouths that eschew any movement of the top lip. Lest a scintilla of such expansive enunciation above an uninflected muttering, offer the utterer as jumped up beyond their station. Asking, no demanding, to be slapped back down for his pretension. His aspiration. A disarticulating anti-intellectual radar no less sweeping than that of the Khmer Rouge.

Heads unable to be hoisted by necks forever pinioning gazes down at the pavement. Partly locked in place, through scanning palm-cupped phone screens like dowsing twigs piloting their journeys. But also to ensure avoiding challenging eye contact with knife-wielding sentinel peers, demanding the shibboleth of your postcode before grudging grunted grant of passage. 

If the emissions are imitative of the tubercular, the anatomies verge on nineteenth century rickety. Liposucted by nourishment-free fast food. Willowy bodies with Dutch Elm fungal paunch. Uniformly sallow skin trespassed only by florid roseolas and pustules. Baggy and saggy clothes ape/accentuate the flesh's amorphousness contours. 

Penetralia scooped out by surfeit, sensual responsiveness hollowed through habitude. A degenerative self-negation through the flesh of another, also negating themselves reciprocally. Sexless sex. No corporeal double helix convolutions, to ignite and conjure the chemical angels stood on the pinhead unseen within. 

Their flabby, formless bodies exuding no presence in the present, let alone any awareness of futurity.  

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Just Aphasia Going Through - Kinetic Typography Video

Thought I'd repost this, my first kinetic typography telling of a flash fiction story "Just Aphasia Going Through", as the second is about to land imminently and I can't wait to share that one with you.

Update, you can view the new one "How One Of Them Remembers The Conversation" here

For a some thoughts on the current relationship between literature and kinetic typography, my post here

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Extra-Mural Studies - Flash Fiction

It was old-style graffiti. Before it became an art form. If you can call a canvas solely consisting of the artist’s signature, his brand, his logo, his spoor, ’art’. This was spray painting as a tool of communication. Mural messaging. Words rather than calligraphy. Plaintive or outlandish. 

Walls have always provided a surface begging inscription. Whether thrown up to keep others out, keep your own in, or just to hoist up numinous edifices inviting God in. In the atrium to God’s chamber, Jews write their messages and prayers on paper, rolling them up and inserting them into the mortar of the Wailing Wall rather than profaning it directly. The Wailing Wall, one of just four retaining walls retained. A remnant. Yet each ersatz prayer scroll mulcts a wisp of that mortar, so that at some point of critical mass of the entreaties of a people, the Wall will collapse. Not from weight, but from lack of coherence.

Closer to home is another wall, that is currently being dismantled brick by brick beneath sledgehammers brought from home. A people united. Families gleefully repatriating themselves into the bosom of loved ones not seen for a couple of generations. One side of this wall was directly graved upon by ink and the blood of those shot trying to scale it. The other was inscribed with graffiti, an expression of freedom of speech and a plaintive plea against conflict, division and injustice. After the initial flurry, I returned nightly to secrete away a couple of the bricks and add to my burgeoning collection. Only those with graffiti on, hopefully none with captioning blood. Few of the bricks were intact. Words sawn off by a hammer blow. 

Du kannst den Bruder nicht vom Bruder teilen. Es macht uns mehr entschlossen zu arbeiten, um diese Mauer zu zerreißen. Um unsere Brüder frei zu machen. (You cannot divide brother from brother. It makes us more resolved to work to tear down this wall. To set our brothers free).

I moved around the pieces in my collection. Trying to form new words from the serrated letters. Coalescing new slogans. Reminded of my toy letter bricks as a child. Though there, each brick was only stamped with a single letter per face. Multiple bricks stacked in order to construct a word. A word that could be subverted, simply but turning another face of the brick to face front. Surprising words when the edifice was read as an acrostic. But these fragments were not hewn smooth enough to sit on top of one another without cascading back down. 

I made mosaics of the bricks. Moved them around one another to form blotches of colour. My wall was spelling out the new freedoms. Or perhaps the new repressions. When a dividing wall comes down, somewhere on the earth another one goes up. I hear Mexico is to have one. And of course, the Wailing Wall has its modern accompaniment all around the biblical borders of the nation that last existed when the Wailing Wall was intact. Strange geographies. Anomalous echoes from history.

arbeit macht frei

For every wall, there always have to be wall builders. 


Some wall themed songs

Pink Floyd - "Another Brick In The Wall"

Mickey Dread - "Break Down The Walls" 

The Style Council - "Walls Come Tumbling Down"

Tom Robinson Band - "Up Against The Wall"

From the Berlin Wall

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

"Apoptosis: The Things We Lose" - Flash fiction

The webbing between our toes and our innate ability to swim as a neonate, swiftly disappear as we begin to ground ourselves in the world. 

When our gullets are no longer reliant on being coated by our mother’s milk, the sounds shaping words can start to form, but in doing so we lose our singular pre-vocal communion. 

And until our infant eyes and brain can attest to the material permanence of an object, babies are blessed by not being immured in fixed notions of reality. 

And on entry into the world, we surrender our immortality and start approaching death.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Sovereignty - Flash Fiction

It was easy for the Fascists to insinuate themselves into the street unrest. They just donned the same Guy Fawkes’ masks as the ultra-democrats. Their own death’s head insignia was more discreet than the skull and crossbones of the pirates and anarchists and more anatomically correct, as they went on unerringly to prove with their clubs and bludgeons. 

Their first act in power was to pension off the old queen. The beloved crone was replaced by a sixteen year old and to solidify her ascension to the throne, the government cut off the internet and tore down phone masts. Sovereignty established with a steampunk aesthetic.   

They ensured this English rose's throne was outsized so that she couldn’t cross her legs as they photographed her with fisheye lenses from floor level. They had her cupping the testicular orb and lubriciously gripping the erect sceptre. They forwent silhouetting, so that men could lick the back of her head when sticking her stamp on a letter, or by stretching out the crinkles in banknotes they could make her flash her pudenda. And when the rape fantasies projected upon her wrought her haggard and drawn, they simply replaced her with a clone. The Royal Line now secured for all eternity, the preservation of pure autochthonous genes sealed. 

They needed no grand gesture to establish their new power, for they didn’t have to blow up Parliament, merely let it crumble away beneath the erosion of the River Thames. However as was their wont, they remained preternaturally superstitious. Accordingly they culled the ravens in the Tower of London to signify a thrusting new kingdom dissevering that of the past. But synchronously the red rose standard and emblem of England was struck by a blight, never to return to the soil of the land, while the Barbary Apes left Gibraltar’s rock to underscore the end of England’s last colonial vestige, gobbled up by the mythic European superstate. Scotland, Northern Ireland and now Gibraltar, a small price to pay for recovering sovereignty in English eyes.