Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Island Of Stability - Flash Fiction


As dead as the dinosaurs. Though not of course coeval with them. In laboratories chemists create super-heavy elements which exist for mere milliseconds before transforming back into more stabile arrangement of protons, neutrons and electrons. Such elements, if they ever existed in Nature, have such rapid decay rates that they have long ago become iron, lead, radon and the like. Their half lives played out into immutability. Why do the scientists bother when these elements have such a short lifespan, they offer no practical use at all? Because they quest after an ‘island of stability’ at some point on this spectrum, where elements exist with increasing half-lives that mean they have a much more stable existence, only no one has figured out how to create them, nor found them existing naturally. 

Such decay would have taken place by the time man appeared on the earth, but hey who’s present to say what time is at this pre-temporal stage? We use carbon dating and other radioactive decay metrics to back-define chronology, so this cavil still holds in real time. Not that there is such a thing of course. Experienced time is not stable. Only in mathematical terms is it regularly sequenced and segmented.

Ug had mined some lead by cracking open a rock. Unsurprisingly he was unaware that it was a radioactive isotope of lead (210), as he used it for a pillow to cradle his head at night. His body absorbed its decay and would have sparked off carcinogenic mutations within his body, only the era’s low natural life expectancy meant he would not outlive the lead’s twenty two year half-life that would have ravaged him unto death.

Ug pointed to the animal skins on his feet with the very spear that had smote the beast. Unk just assumed he was boasting and flouting his fortune from the recent hunt. Ug danced from one foot to the other, waggling the raised one in Unk’s direction. Unk’s blood was rising at the perceived continued sleight. Ug emitted some sounds, but Unk just shrugged his shoulders, or scratched his head, or held his hands out wide while crinkling the lower features of his face, the precise gestures not having been set in mutual comprehension as such. Ug threw himself at Unk’s feet, then struggled to lift one of them off the ground, sending Unk into a frenzy of hopping trying to keep his balance. Ug pointed at the scars and scabs and blisters on his confrere's foot, then pointed to the skins wrapped around his own and emitted some more sounds to convey the comparative weals of skin. Look Unk, we went through all this yesterday, remember, the petroglyphs? Unk smashed him over the head with his club as his final indecipherable and yet inviolable thought on the matter. 

Wait, hold on a minute Sonny Jim, I can smell it on you. Spliff. Skunk. Yes you do. Marijuana. Sinsimilla, Mary Jane. Grass. Cannabis. Bud. Weed. Collieweed. Reefer. Chronic. Blunt. Draw. Ganja. Herb. Whacky tobaccy. Oh this is hopeless. Let me open my Urban Dictionary translation app… What? Give me a moment here. Is that ‘dope’ as in isotope 13 or 15? Come on, throw me a bone here please. Open your mouth wide and enunciate clearly. As if any imaginary doobie between your lips would fall out… Do you mean ‘bad’ in the sense of isotopes 6, 8 or 10…? Damn youth and their rapidly mutating argot. Or is it ‘ergot’? Either way I’m getting a migraine… Not least think about how much money you waste on that stuff. No not waste, ‘spunk’. What? Money, you know, money? Oh sorry, English as a second language. Bank (isotope 72). Swag. Scratch (isotope 52). Dosh. Readies. Moolah. Lucre. Lolly. Loot. Booty (isotope 107). P’s. Spondoolicks. Skrill. Ah we have lift off! Docking with the mothership. Docking your pocket money might be an idea… Hold it, I’m an ‘askhole’? What the hell is ‘askhole’ when it’s at home...? Oh here we are. Hmmmm. You’re lucky I heard that right first time mistah, see you can enunciate when you choose to… I may be your mum, but even I can see that’s a fauxpology. See not quite as beyond redemption as you might think… How do you spell that…? No, nothing, guess Urban Dic hasn’t even caught up to that one yet goddamnit… Would you care to enlighten me as to its meaning…? Pretty please…? Oh, so it’s just the silent treatment now is it? Words fail me….


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

A Bucket List - Flash Fiction


The milkmaid entered the barn carrying a three-legged wooden stool in one hand, a metal pail in the other. She set down the stool, sat down and decorously arranged the hem of her bodice and smoothed the apron of her dirndl. He wasn’t sure why she was clad in a bonnet, surely it wasn’t as protection from squirted milk? Perhaps it was a covering against straw from the thatch above. Whatever its purpose, it conjured up in him images of hair nets worn in bakeries, that trepanned the wearer and in doing so changed the proportions of the face in unwholesome manner. Always enough to put you off your bread. Now it further induced in him the image of bank robbers who pull stockings over their faces to distort their features. No, enough of this bane, hair is meant to be witnessed! The milkmaid untied the straps of her bonnet under her chin, threw the linen away carelessly and shook out her liberated tresses with such flourish that necessitated a reprise of her raiment redress.

She brought her hands to the cow’s teats. She started plucking and drawing then back and forth like organ stops. The sound emitted was the metallic syncopation of the milk striking the metal sides of the bucket. I shuddered at the thought of her hands working me with such vigour, although the cow was seemingly unmoved by any discomfort in the contact. You were briefly stirred by the tribadic association of two females, however the alien nature of the udder, looking like some sort of deep marine creature shattered any imagining of the human mammary. In addition the stream of jism whizzing evoked by the unending jet of milk was further off-putting and confused any desired picture with him at the centre of it. And finally the soundtrack. That strange stretto effect as if the liquid percussion bifurcated into two notes on impact. To your ear it elicited somewhat the same as that of the men’s urinals with all that entailed. So while the milkmaid’s dress may be playing host to milky white drops resiling from the pail’s steel sides, no happy correspondence can be drawn because of the many occasions of urinary splash-back I had encountered. 

CRITIQUE:

  1. First, second (too passive?) or third (voyeur) person perspective? 
  2. Sounds other than human?
  3. No animals
  4. Keep in mind the visual qualities of fluids (colour)
  5. Consider precise motion and vigour of hands at work in symbolic activity
  6. The images (both experienced and imagined) held before any scenario even starts can knock it off kilter through less palatable associations

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Funeral Rites of JZKU-712 Flash Fiction


Both the digital recorders and our own analogue bodies inform us that gravitational force on planet JZKU-712 operates more strongly than that of our own. We deduce that is the main structural determinant of the aliens’ spherical body shape. They do not have protruding (facial) features as such. The distinctions are to be found in the patterns of tiny raised surface nodules or speckles which vary from individual to individual. We assume this is is also functional, in providing more surface friction to enable their locomotion. They operate with two modes of motion, by bouncing with a forward movement, or by orbiting, in which presumably they give themselves to the gravitational force of each other and large objects in order to cover greater distances. To see this is rather beautiful, like dancers or ice skaters passing on a partner to another, though of course they lack for open hands with which to do so. 

We have also observed their funerary rites. The point to keep in mind is that all stems from their body shape. They have no need of rectangular coffins and graves as we do. Nor do they opt for interment in the ground or cremation by fire. Instead they have what we surmise is a rather touching send off that engages the whole community with grace and due dignity and won us over form our initial irreverent treatment of their race as glorified basketballs. 

The first thing that obtains with death is they seal the departed up in a transparent membrane, which is also perfectly round. This is for the wake, which takes the form of each individual spending time with the deceased before gently and precisely rolling them on to the next mourner. The actual interaction can seemingly take many forms, from their form of whispered locution, which can best be approximated by the sound of letting air out of a ball, through to gently nuzzling or a slightly firmer contact which can induce rotational spinning of the decedent. Now you can see the reason behind our initial irreverence.

But from the wake we move to the funeral ceremony itself. The late individual has ended up with geometric precision unnoticed by us, right in the epicentre of the community. They all move to form a series of concentric circles radiating around the corpse orb. With military exactitude, they all start bouncing on the spot in rhythm with one another. That tempo changes repeatedly, but not a single creature misses its beat, the transitions are mellifluously smooth. The volume is not deafening, this is not a tattoo, instead it is clearly respectful. We conceive of this as their form of lamentation.  

Then on to the funeral march. No pall bearers and no jazz bands to serenade the way. Rather the concentric circles break up as everyone moves into one long single file, with the deceased at its head. Again, with flawless uniformity, each rondure takes a single pace (if ‘pace’ can be applied to brings of curvature), so that the file nudges forward exactly one pace, with the deceased at the head also rolling one pace only. The march inches forward with heart-breaking (to us) agonising slow solemnity. We imagine no individual can feel a personal grief out of whack with the rest, for to do so would be to send the decedent ricocheting off in the vanguard.


Finally they arrive at the burial grounds (‘burial’ again being an inappropriate term). It appears to be a lake of some sort. There is a gentle lap, but it is certainly not tidal. For lined across the water are rows and rows of spherical corpses to which this one is added. The lack of tumultuous swell means that just as with our graveyards, the dead retain their position in the ranks so that private grief can be visited upon them at a later date. While we infer the membranous skeins to be waterproof (and also to  prevent any damage of an inert entity being rolled, nudged and all other funereal impact given the lack of rigor mortis), we have no idea if the corpse decays within. Do putrefying gases within provide the flotation upon the water, where we might presuppose gravity to otherwise press them down into the depths? Whatever the physical processes at work, there is an undeniable delicate propriety to their final resting place. 

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Tilt - Flash Fiction


Naturally I have no recollection of this, being pre-neuronal and rod and cone focal, but my head shoved through the membraneous flaps of my mother’s mucosal vestibule on its way to inaugural appointment with light, air and future memories.

I tromped through an interior gloom barely illuminated by radioactive decay’s palpating the stencilled phosphorescence of the word ‘Exit’ and pushed through the cinema doors. The screen was so distant from the back of the auditorium it was barely visible, but a cone of light was appointed towards it from the projector and I froze, transfixed by the play of the tiny figures held captive within its beam just above my head.

The restaurant was busy and since my company was uninteresting to me, I settled for watching the waiting staff barrel and weave around tables with trays high above their heads like funambulating jugglers. Whenever they surged through the kitchen’s doors, dangerous stabs of flame briefly fulgurated, before the return swing of the portal eclipsed and re-sheathed them. 

With me supine on a hospital trolley, my porters used the metal frame to ram through the doors and plunge me straight into the harsh glare of the overhead surgical spotlight. My paper gown parted of its own volition with the impact’s vibration shaking it free from my quailing body, my shaking fingers trying to pincer its hem back in place.

The belt began its dolefully sedate rolling towards the shutters, inching the wooden crate along with arthritic solemnity. However any serenity was dissevered by the hiccup motion of the coffin bumping up against the incinerator doors, like a stage actor doffing his hat before taking his final leave and then battering through door and curtain lining. 


I threw my whole body into the two side buttons of the table to distend the flippers to their maximum, yet we were thwarted by the pinball shooting straight down the middle out of reach. I couldn’t even access my two remaining silver orbs since the flashing lights announced ‘Tilt’. 



Sunday, 17 December 2017

Standing Up For Readers

Over the last couple of days I've read two articles bemoaning the decline in literary fiction and offering reasons behind the trend. The first was The Guardian newspaper's coverage of an Arts Council report on declining sales of literary fiction and which I'll touch on at the end of this post. The other was Larissa Pham writing in The Village Voice that readers are failing to read 'properly' to judge by the reaction to a New Yorker short story "Cat Person" that went viral and prompted a lot of response. How very dare she claim that readers don't know how to read properly.

Why do readers read books for pleasure? Why do they devote a not inconsiderable chunk of their leisure time to a book? If you'll forgive me, from this point on I'm going to elide the pleasure/leisure reading motive as 'pleisure'. A reader can derive pleasure from a book in many different ways, so much so there is no typical reader. Myself I enjoy language, metaphor, voice (character and/or authorial) and innovative narrative structures in novels. I'm less bothered by story or endings (twisty or otherwise). Nothing gives me more pleasure than being sent scurrying to a dictionary to look up a new word I've come across in a book. Now I know plenty of readers who object to this as it drags them out of the story (I know this because my own writing has prompted this entirely legitimate response). Different strokes etc. The spectrum of readers' pleasure is very wide indeed.

"Cat Person" went viral, but does that mean every single reader and sharer committed their thoughts publicly on social media? Of course not, so why does Pham use the comment evidence to represent all readers? Her claim is that many of the commentators took the story as non-fiction and responded accordingly. So what, they still derived pleasure from the read, enough to continue the conversation after finishing it by commenting on line. She blames literary criticism for failing to educate readers to be able to read texts properly, so it's no wonder the readers missed the point. Again, how very dare she! There may well be a crisis in literary criticism, but is there only one way to read a story and that is through a literary criticism lens? Of course not, readers derive pleisure in many different ways as we have already established. I would put it to you that if a litfic novel is so up itself that it can only possibly be read in one single way, it has failed the reader, not the other way around.

Furthermore, who is to say what is and what isn't fiction? Plenty of litfic books are consciously written to give the impression they are fact: the very excellent "House Of Leaves" for one. Historical Fiction actively blurs the boundaries, since it is avowedly fiction that must appear authentic to the historical age in which it is set. And even memoir, which is filed under non-fiction, actually veers into fiction through the mere act of organising a life into a narrative, which means foreshortening, omission and the like. The very term 'creative non-fiction' is a nod in the direction of this admission.

Readers are entitled to read just what books they want in whatever way they choose. Writers are (or at least should be) free to write whatever book they choose. The trick is to make the two dovetail. If literary fiction is failing to do so (as falling sales might suggest), then the fault is that of the writer not the reader. Fiction writing is an act of the imagination. If it fails to engage the imagination of readers, then the fault does not lie in the readers' imaginations, but that the writer has failed to reach them. Good writing draws the reader into the author's imagination, if it doesn't happen, again the failure is with the writing.

I have no idea if the world is dumbing down or not, but one segment you would proffer as immune is those who read for pleisure. Reading and literacy are two fundamentals of intelligence. So even if the world is dumbing down, there is no evidence that readers are, whatever Pham alleges. And as to The Guardian's reporting of reduced litfic sales, this overlooks a different way of reading that is not included in sales figures. Readers as consumers have become cute, there is plenty of free literary content available for them to read. I myself publish my flash fiction online for free and they are well read. But that will not register as sales, yet it is still literary fiction being read. The growth of book bloggers and booktubers wanting to share their love of books would suggest both that fiction is in a very strong place (admittedly many review genres other than litfic), but also that the literary criticism so lambasted by Pham has just become more democratic. That has to be a good thing, since so much of academic literary criticism is inaccessible (both physically and in terms of legibility), what is so wrong about having a more legible literary criticism? I myself offer a BookTube review site for litfic which I would peg below the academic level but hopefully all the more accessible accordingly. A final hopeful indicator of literature's future health is the expansion (explosion?) in Young Adult fiction which augurs that there will be new generations of readers brought up on this remarkably successful genre. Pham presumably would offer that none of them will graduate on to litifc, but remain reading YA. Well if they do, all well and good. Then you need to ask the question why haven't litfic authors manage to hook them on to their adult wares?

It seems to me this all part of the snobbery and elitism around literature that keeps people at arms length from it. Look at the snobbery aimed at graphic novels or fan fiction. Yet in a way litfic also is a form of fanfic. The works of Jasper Fforde with its literary games and references is to my mind absolutely a literary version of fanfic; Fforde's employing characters and books of those who came before him in a celebratory way. Canongate ran a series of novels by literary authors such as Jeanette Winterson and Michel Faber, reinterpreting classical myths for the modern age. Not what you might classify as fan fiction, yet predicated upon a love and respect of the original literary myth from each of these authors.

Lastly on to the Guardian article. Several reasons are offered for declining litfic sales. The competing pull of other digital entertainments is one cited. But if a novel is not able to compete with reality TV, meme videos, Angry Birds or whatever, then I would posit that it's because the novel is not entertaining enough. Reading as a pleisure activity is a form of entertainment, probably the least passive of those cited above. People living on their phones does not inevitably signal the death knell (ringtone?) to novels, but novelists do have to respond to its attraction and offer an enticing alternative. As that article signs off quoting Will Self, the by-the-numbers rote writing of MFAs (creative writing courses) is a very real reason underlying why litfic is failing to connect with readers. But MFA's are far more relevant to the US than UK writers, while the article also points to the growth of independent publishers as feeding the appetite for engaging lific where perhaps the large publishing houses are failing. But of course, that is not reflected in a significant sales uplift since the typical first print run of an independent is 500-1000 copies. And hypocritical of me as this is, I would suggest the Guardian article entirely missed the point of the Arts Council report, by focussing on the virtual impossibility of a litfic author making a full-time living from their fiction. For a start, this has been the case for some considerable time predating the digital publishing revolution, with many authors having to supplement their income from other means: Kafka worked in insurance; Larkin was a university librarian, several are journalists and literary critics. But I say the article missed the point, since Will Self has so much more to say about the current state of literary fiction than just MFAs. His analysis goes into the the way we read on the printed page compared to a digital screen, how language is organised and arranged digitally; "why are people going to continue writing {novels} for a medium that people no longer read it on?"

I haven't read the Arts Council report which The Guardian was reporting on. As per usual the response to a supposedly endangered art form is to suggest it needs some sort of (financial) support. Not having read the report, I'm curious how they propose to do this. Given how many books are published each year and how many authors there are, what is going to be the selection process for supporting individual authors? To plough through the inevitable welter of submissions for funding would require the Arts Council to employ an internal staff of the order that Facebook and YouTube are finally getting round to do to weed out extremist content on their sites. it just isn't practicable and in the way of these things, will likely tend to settle for elitism in their final choices of lucky recipients, since their labyrinthine application system will weed out all but the most savvy of bidders.

In a digital age you cannot just measure people consuming litfic just by sales. If there is indeed a crisis in litfic, perhaps gainsaid by book bloggers and independent publishing house growth, then the fault is with the authors and those who produce their work for them in the form of publishers and editors. The fault is not with the readers.

*

My new literary fiction novel "Three Dreams In the Key Of G" will be published by independent publishers Dead Ink Books early in 2018



Thursday, 14 December 2017

Confessional - How Can Artists Confront Death in their Work?


I have two great passions in my life; being a parent and writing fiction. And I will have both snatched away from me at some point in the future (or sooner if Alzheimer's strikes at the core of me). So my passions, my loves, as with anybody's, has death and cessation at the other end of its lens.

We all die, hardly a blinding insight Marc. While that is of course true, I have been stricken with that awareness for virtually all of my life. Most people function fully because they never think of death in their daily lives, until maybe they start approaching it in their old age. Me, I think of it almost every day.

We are all exposed to death, introduced in childhood through the death of pets and grandparents. Me, I had a cat who lived until he was 23 and the first of my grandparents didn't pass until I was 18. So I wasn't prematurely exposed through the customary course of events. 

Young children with plastic imaginations are very suggestible to terrors and assaults on their body's integrity, even if they don't fully understand the ramifications. My own young son given a lesson at school on food health, including dangerous levels of salt intake, consequently went on to develop an eating disorder since he shunned food on the basis of its salt content or sell-by date under his own investigations, as his fearful imagination ran wild. I had a similar experience that instilled in me the awareness of my death and cessation at the age of 6. 

My bedroom abutted my parents' and my Dad always liked to listen to BBC Radio 4 at such a volume I could hear the BBC enunciation clearly through the bedroom walls. At about 10pm the programme he was listening too announced that some people would not be waking up from their night's sleep next morning and - here it gets a bit hazy, I think somehow the actual words got conflated with my own childish imagination - this was because they would have turned into dragons. Terrified of the possibility of never waking up again, I kept myself awake through the rest of the night. Thereby not only catalysing a preternatural awareness of death, but also laying the seeds for a lifetime of insomnia. After all, if you're terrified of surrendering to the great unconsciousness that is death, that also may make it a might trickier to surrender to it even on a temporary basis in the form of the unconsciousness of sleep. 

So I was, and have always been terrified of death. Just to be clear, not the act of passing itself which to me is a minor detail no matter how agonising or supported by loved ones gathered around. (Both of which were the case with the death of my beloved grandmother, as the congestion in her lungs led her to two hours of agitated motion around her hospital bed trying to free up her breathing, wrenching her hands from ours in her distress). No, I'm talking about the eternal cessation, unconsciousness and dreamless sleep that is death's annihilation of the self. *

So how does this black hole awaiting me and all of us actually manifest itself in my daily life? Well it's not every minute of every day as that would clearly reduce me to a gibbering wreck. But I would say the awareness strikes me at least once a day, sometimes more. It can be simply looking at my son and feeling crushed that we will be parted permanently, or something on TV, or even no particularly conscious prompt at all, it just comes upon me. And such an awareness drags you out of your immediate state of consciousness and into another, overwhelming one that blots out all other thought and offers only a single emotion - terror. 

The only way to combat it for me, is to counter blot it out. Not by thinking nice things like flowers or gambolling lambs since they too will inevitably succumb to death, but by sort of overloading my brain with an internally generated white noise. I say white noise because it is not constructed of any rational thoughts, but literally a buzzing interference (are these brainwaves I have no idea?). There is no telling how long these are required to go on for in order to tamp back down the mortal thoughts, but somehow the terror subsides. Using one void to efface another. In such a state, I am fit for nothing else. 

So much for the distinct incidences of mortal awareness. It also pervades so much (if not everything) about my life as a whole. On a mundane level, I don't fly, am not particularly drawn to speed or other activities where your feet leave the ground. Yes I know you can get hit by a car when crossing the road, but then my optician died in a skiing accident... Though I have always written about death a lot in my work, yet as I wax on into my 50's I have found this year to be dominated by writing stories about ageing, infirmity and death. If Picasso had blue and red periods, I seem to be in a literary equivalent, my death period. (It is only interrupted by a body of stories about the wider politics of the world, which the way things are heading represents a global scale of extinction, so form a parallel version in many ways). 

So far so depressing right? I may even be a depressive (there is a family history of quite a spectrum of mental illness and mental conditions). We'll get to the contrary in a moment and even throw in a bit of fun. But if I am a depressive, I must be a reasonably high functioning one, almost never missing a day's work through sickness and having turned out 10 books and been the main child rearer to my twins, including coaching their youth football team for 3 years. Suicide is not an option for me, because I am so terrified of death I could never hasten my appointment with it. I don't mean this flippantly, I cleaned my father's blood off the kitchen floor after his serious suicide attempt that left him hospitalised and strapped to his bed to prevent him repeating the act... 

How do I cope with my own internal terror? Largely through comedy and a sense of the absurd. When the terror of death is your ultimate emotional scalar, most other anxieties abounding in life seem insignificant and indeed I remain imperturbable in the face of most of life's foibles & travails. I can go a stage further, I can derive the absurd about them. I am not ashamed to say that most things we human beings get aerated about I find amusing, including those of my own doing. I can defang most things in life and derive a measure of mental calm accordingly. It is the counterbalance to the deep core of terror that lies just beneath.

However there is also a serious side to absurdity. As stated above, the human condition is absurd: whatever relationships you form and whatever you build or achieve materially, will be sundered from you. Maybe that's more tragic than absurd, but Samuel Beckett seemed to find it the latter. (Indeed tragedy derives from hubris, that is human beings daring to get above themselves and approach the semi-divine, destined to failure because humans can never aspire to the immortal). 

I also find it absurd that more people are not as terrified of death on a daily basis as I am. It should pervade each of us as per our human condition. Now I understand fully why this isn't the case, because it would utterly impair daily functioning. Not to do so is actually a pretty good coping mechanism. But the downside of this is that we are largely left both unprepared and unreconciled (except for the fortunate few of deep faith or those blessed by a 'happy death') for our own demise (or the death of a close loved one). And also we don't necessarily work back from the end point to consider what the purpose/meaning (if any) of life is. Death really ought to preface and put all the rest of life into context. 

So I in addition to the outburst of white noise moments, I have also erected a system of mirrors that keep conceptualisation of death reasonably remote; I write about it and I derive humour around the margins of what it leaves us in life. And contrary to the idea of possibly being depressive, I actually enjoy life and am amused by it. But as I grow old, I seem to have reached a stage where these refractions are unravelling. As you notice slight changes in the body's elasticity, it's harder to keep awareness of sometime impending death at bay. Will my sense of humour continue to immure me against a slowly failing body? I doubt it. You realise it is just a form of misdirection, of your own conscious thought.

I am proud of everything I've written, but literature while it can move us, always retains an intellectual element; that of the material having to be ordered into a narrative, word choice, the rules of grammar, editing etc. And such an intellectual element necessarily introduces a distance no matter how slight. I've written about death a lot so far, but I can't help feeling that the intellectual part of the approach leaves me falling short of really getting to grips with Death. All art metaphoricalises its material, and metaphor is just another refracting mirror so that you're not directly confronting Death, just as we cannot stare directly at the sun. 

And yet to go deeper invites the phenomenon that requires my white noise response to be ongoing throughout the duration of any such writing project. That way lies only madness. Probably. Do I undertake such an endeavour, with the potential risks to mental health attached? I don't feel I have any choice, not that I have a project currently in mind to broach this with. I don't have a choice because the physical process is clearly in motion anyway (I say this as someone who in my 54 years to date has had the incredible fortune/ genes to have never had to spend a single night in a hospital. But the markers of decline, however slow, are evident to me. 

Watch this space...

* Does perhaps technology offer us modes of cheating death? It's a possibility, but uploading one's entire stock of memories to some sort of smart interface does not preserve life. It would solely be an existence as newsreel, that is unreflexive and static; the essential 'you' would have no real relationship to the memories, unable to add to them. I imagine it would be like a form of Alzheimer's, where the active relationship to your memories is split asunder, so that you are cast adrift from them; the memories are preserved, they still exist, but they no longer are 'your' memories, because that 'you' has ceased to exist in any meaningful way.





Friday, 10 November 2017

Alternative UK Citizens Test -

People from abroad who want to seek British Citizenship have to sit a test of 24 questions, drawn from a booklet chockfull of factual errors. The chapters of the booklet cover the following:

"Values and Principles of the UK" -  a task any indigenous Briton would find hard to define and politicians certainly struggle with, particularly when trying to define and legislate against extremism opposed to British values.

"A Long And Illustrious History", which a) is a rather Whiggish view of British history and b) presumably stops at around 1948 or the late 1960s at best, cos there ain't been all that much illustrious since.

"A Modern Thriving Society", our infrastructure is largely still Victorian rather than modern and as for thriving...? I bet you spat your tea when you read that right, given austerity and the complete amputation of our social services.

But fair's fair and we British love a sense of fair play (allegedly). If people from outside the UK have to demonstrate their love and knowledge of our nation as proof of Britishness, then so should our indigenous natives. Especially since they have loudly asserted it in the recent Brexit referendum, proclaiming we want our sovereignty back.

So here is a test for autochthonous (look it up) citizens to take, in order to prove they merit living in our beloved country. Answers at the end.


Q1 Where was the Patron Saint of England born?

Q2 Which of the Home Countries' flags is not contained in the Union Jack?

Q3 To the nearest full year, how many of his ten year reign did King Richard The Lionheart spend in England?

Q4 Which writer is known as "The Father Of English History"?

Q5 Who were Gog and Magog and which legendary founder of England battled them?

Q6 After which post-Roman occupation tribe is England named and which part of England still bears their original name?

Q7 Name 3 Imperial Weights and Measure units which are double entendres

Q8  When did slavery cease in Britain?

Q9 What percentage of the globe's landmass was covered in the pink of the British Empire at its height?

Q10 What language does the word Blighty derive from?

Q11 King Henry VIII's notion of empire was a Britain independent of continental Europe and the Papacy in particular. His daughter Queen Elizabeth I was persuaded to expand the concept into what we understand today by the term 'empire'. Which mathematician, magician, wife-swapper and alchemist persuaded her to this expanded concept of empire?

Q12 Who was the first Englishman to translate and publish the Bible from Latin into English?

Q13 Which of these authors didn't write a version of the Arthurian Grail legend?
a) Thomas Malory
b) Alfred Lord Tennyson
c) Edmund Spenser
d) John Milton

Q14 Before the introduction of all-seater stadia, several grounds had a 'Kop' open-aired terrace. After which colonial battle in which colonial war were such ends named after?

Q15 The great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Christian names were patronymic (Isambard) and matronymic (Kingdom).  What country did his father come from?

Q16 Who was Joseph Chamberlain and what was his proposed "Triple Alliance" based on?

Q17 Which languages have contributed the most words to modern English vocabulary - put the top 5 in order of contribution:

Celtic
Norse/ Danelaw Danish
Anglo-Saxon
Latin
Norman/ French
Dutch
Hindi/Persian
Arabic
Hebrew/Yiddish
Jamaican Patois
Ancient Greek

Q18 Of the 67 "Distinguished Flying" Medals awarded, how many were won by Poles and other non-British and Commonwealth airmen? 

Q19 Which Briton was Washington Irvine describing here?
"(A) plain, downright, matter-of-fact fellow, with much less of poetry about him than rich prose. There is little of romance in his nature, but a vast deal of a strong natural feeling. He excels in humour more than in wit; is jolly rather than gay; melancholy rather than morose; can easily be moved to a sudden tear or surprised into a broad laugh; but he loathes sentiment and has no turn for light pleasantry. He is a boon companion, if you allow him to have his humour and to talk about himself".

Q20 The image of Britannia (shown on an old penny below) as the female personification of Britain, comes from a goddess from which culture? (Clue, the Union Jack on the shield is a much latter addition).

Answers:

A1 The man who would become St George was a Roman soldier born in a Roman governed province of Turkey. He had absolutely no interaction with the Britain of the time, but we patronised him for our saint because of that whole slaying a dragon mythology. The Cross of Saint George was established in the 15th Century, somewhat retrospectively from his lifetime.

A2 The Welsh. Wales has been united with England the longest of all the four home countries, which meant when the Union flag was formed in 1606, it wasn't a separate kingdom but a mere principality, hence its exclusion.

A3 A big fat zero. At best it's estimated he spent 6 months in England, too busy fighting the Crusades, escaping from captivity and shoring up his French royal responsibilities.

A4 The Venerable Bede. A partial history to be sure, but then what history isn't?

A5 Gog and Magog were giants with associations to the Old Testament and were slain by Brutus; no, me neither... Effigies of Gog and Magog are paraded annually in the Lord Mayor of London's parade.

A6 The Angles and we still call it East Anglia even today. They were a Germanic tribe from
Denmark / Northern Germany (The Angles that is, not East Anglians).

A7 Take your pick: rod; perch: pole: peck

A8 As reported last week, slavery still goes on in Britain to this day. Legislatively, it was supposedly abolished in 1833.

A9 24% of the world's inhabited landmass, with 23% of the world's population of the time were under British rule.

A10 Hindi, from the word 'bilayati' meaning 'the country', as in the home country.

A11 John Dee was an official advisor to Queen Elizabeth. Alchemist, occult philosopher et al, you can read about him here.

A12 William Tyndale. The first copies were ceremoniously burned in St Paul's Cathedral as heretical texts. Tyndale was forced to flee to the continent and never set foot in Britain again. He was eventually captured and executed by the Pope's forces. On the plus side, he was front and central in John Foxe's "Book Of Martyrs" an equally crucial propagandist piece of work establishing English as the language of formal record instead of Latin, paving the way for its standardisation of form.

A13 d) John Milton, he went route one on the redeemer/saviour/hero front, in portraying Jesus rather than Arthur or Gawain or Lancelot.

A14 The 1900 Battle of Spion Kop from the Boer War. So named because of the steep slope upwards resembled the hill at the centre of the battle.

A15 Marc Isambard Brunel was French. He preferred to be called by his middle name. A fine engineer in his own right. Isambard derives from Norman French for "Iron Bright", so a bit of nominative determinism for an engineer working in iron and steel.

A16 Joseph Chamberlain was an MP and Cabinet Minister who crossed the floor of Parliament (changed party allegiances, as did Oswald Mosley). He was the father of Neville.
The Triple Alliance was a proposed alliance between the UK, America and Germany based on race - saying

a new Triple Alliance between the Teutonic race and the two great trans-Atlantic branches of the Anglo-Saxon race which would become a potent influence on the future of the world."

A17 Latin & Norman French both come in at about 29%, followed by Anglo-Saxon at 26%, Greek at 6% and then you can't split Dutch, Norse/Danelaw Danish, though the latter are mainly made up of place names in Britain.

A18 There were 8 of the 67 "Distinguished Flying Medals" awarded to non British and Commonwealth airmen: 5 Poles, a Norwegian, an Icelander and a Czech, all of whom took on the Luftwaffe. As Churchill said, "Never was so much owed to by many to so few".

A19 John Bull. He was replaced as an "Everyman" figure by Tommy Atkins from the trenches of World War One. In the social media age, hard to maintain the concept of an everyman speaking and representing us all.

A20 Britannia was what the Romans called the four parts of their colony below Hadrian's Wall and Britannia became embodied as a Roman goddess. The Corinthian helmet she sports is the clue.

Ratings:
1-5 correct answer - You know more about your country than the average UKIP member
6-10 correct answer - Call yourself a patriot?
11-15 correct answers - Call yourself a nationalist?
16-20 correct answers - Call yourself a racist?



Bleed For Me - Flash Fiction


Cascading blood occludes his wound from my gaze
Scrabbling with my hands to excavate the crimson glaze
Two ring fingers stumble into the crevice of the gash
Now it’s my very own flesh veiling the slash
I bring the bloodstained tips up to my lips
Flick out my tongue like a skittish thrips
Wincing at the cupric sting salted mix 
Elliptical drips floor splash sero-eclipsed
The weep has ceased
His soul finally released
I rake his trunk up to my breast
Clench him fiercely against my chest
The glutting blood abutting my chemise
Blotting an etched scarlet frieze by degrees
Singularly my overhanging cornice so engraved
My navel neath twin promontories unscathed
I demand to match the exact contours of your wound
Attune you to see why my blade had you harpooned
How very dare you withhold your pain self-seeking
Matching weddings rings demand we share everything

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Last Night A DJ Saved My (And Your) Life - Flash Fiction




Satan’s royalties had dried up. Despite Milton giving him a fair shake of the whip and though a bit anthropomorphic, William Blake had etched him a reasonably fair hand. Baudelaire’s litanies had promised much but turned out a complete bust and don’t even get him started on Screwtape. But since then, nothing. While his other nourishment stream of human souls had also become completely debased. What need of an unredeemer when the race had already become utterly irredeemable? Even if it all came straight out of Satan’s own playbook. So much had come to pass from his manifesto, unfortunately just not in his infernal name. He should have created lawyers earlier on in the piece, to sort out copyright.

Trusty Mammon had secured for him a power meeting with an agency to relaunch his moribund career. A reality TV show lay potentially in the wings. “Pro-bono?” Inquired Satan, being down on his uppers. (The fires of Hell were on a timeshare basis to slash running costs). “Nobody is pro-Bono are they? Even God has distanced himself”. “No, I mean gratis, as a Charity account”’ “Charity?” “Well, more a mates’ rates sort of thing. After all did I not create PR and marketing direct from my sulphurous realm?” 

Satan is sitting on a beanbag in Reception, leafing through piles of house clearance auction catalogues. Dreaming of what sort of monarch’s throne he would take possession of.  Something a la mode for the new kingdom of darkness. One that could comfortably cradle his spreading posterior and avoid agitating his accursed haemorrhoids. A dentist’s chair, baby’s bucket carseat, bus station tip-up. Tanning bed recliner, milkmaid’s stool and tuffet, a commode. The Bishop’s cathedra… once profaned with some purgatorial pimping of course. He inquired of the receptionist if he could take the brochure with him for reference. Mammon whispered that it was all online now for his convenience, though Satan murmured that he didn’t get on with the internet what with his bedimmed eyes. Which was why he didn’t have an I-Phone, which Mammon felt a pity, since it could so very easily co-ordinate his revolution to retake Earth at a stroke. 

At last the pair were ushered into the meeting room. The account manager was sat atop a tennis umpire’s chair. “Please, sit down”. “I can do no other” Satan responded, on account of his inflamed lumbago and fiendish sciatica which had condemned him to a sedentary life in the main. Which was probably why you could add piles to his heaps of pathologies. He turned  round to catch sight of a sex harness swing that was the only seating on offer. Mammon dived into the minimal clearance beneath its leather. As Satan scrambled on to the contraption and rocked unsteadily back and forth, Mammon fiddled with the straps and buckles. At least with this particular seat design there was no material chafing his sore plums. What the hell was Mammon doing under the leather beneath him?

“So Mr Lucifer-“ (a nom de guerre), “I’ve been taking a squint at your social media presence. Few followers, even less ‘Likes’, what on earth have you been doing to establish your brand? Even God has a spoof Twitter account”. “I don’t want ‘likes’, I want ‘dislikes’”. “No Master, for your heinous deeds you actually want ‘likes’”. “Gentlemen, perhaps you can save such quodlibets for later, we are on the clock here. Now tell me, what talents can you bring to the table?” “Talents? I was under the impression this was all on someone else’s dime”. “Not those sort of Talents Master, we’re all in your fiendish Eurozone now. He means abilities”. 

“Oh, well I’m gifted down below, tupping, fornicating and all manner of carnal reprehensibilities”. “Well yes, that’s a given for any Reality TV show, the sexual shenanigan subplots for the Tabloids. What else, for example, can you hold a tune… you know sing?” “Only angels sing!” “Weren’t you an angel once? I’m thinking The Voice”. “Alas no, since the accident, he’s gone from contralto to basso profundo. They did call him Snakehips Satan back in the day”. “Which day was that, before The Fall I take it…” “He can still throw some shapes”. “What are you his agent, Mr 15%?” “I handle his business affairs yes, but only to reinvest so as to advance the greater glory of Hell”. “Okay, I’m prepared to get you a shot at Strictly Come Dancing, if you show me your moves on the dance floor. I’ve got comps for Stringfellows so we can-“ “How is Peter the randy old devil?”


Satan dug the optics. The strobes reminded him of the shadows flitting between the licking flames of Gehenna. But the music made his ears bleed, he was supposed to have all the best tunes, no wonder his fortunes were so low if this was what was being churned out in his name. “Let’s get this Ragnarok and Roll started” as Satan commandeered the PA and from the deadened air conjured up the sound of fifes, tabors and Jericho Trumpets. They pounded out their martial sounds, yet not in military rhythms. This sonic assault was not about unison for keeping a marching beat, rather it targeted atomisation. The punishing pulsation located itself inside each dancer’s head, obliterating any sense of  their own heartbeats, their breath or their thought processes. Cutting them off from any other sensation of the world. Mutinous skeletons in thrall to an inhuman reverberation. Many began to convulse uncontrollably, grand mals brought about by the Grandest Malevolence of them all. Satan stomped over to the DJ’s booth, snatched up the mic and bellowed exultantly “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin now pleasure headed sinners?” The DJ, protected by his Beats™ headphones was unaffected by the cacophony and began to sample and splice el Diablo’s rhythms into a catchy breakbeat. He wrangled Satan’s fractured discordance into a danceable tune, so that all the floored casualties were able to slowly raise themselves, before throwing their arms in the air to the tempo. Satan hobbled away, taloned hands over his ears. The PR agent hurriedly bit into his arm so as to draw blood, before chasing after Satan waving the Reality TV production company’s contract in his direction. 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

My Sax(ophone) Is On Fire - Fire Songs

So to mark my ambitious project to take on TS Eliot's "The Wasteland" for the 21st century, starting with "The Fire Sermon", here are songs about fire and flames. Enjoy.

1) The Doors - "Light My Fire"
I think this may have been the song that Morrison was singing when he er whipped his 'fire' member out on stage in Florida and got busted for gross indecency. They said Joe Orton's member was in a terrible state when they autopsied him. I suspect the same would have been said of Morrison, if that is indeed him in the grave at Père Lachaise. The Doors are a remarkable entry in my record collection, seeing as they were a) from the 60s, a tedious musical decade and b) had no bass guitar



2) Cop Shoot Cop - "Fire In The Hole"
If like me you're missing the sound of the bass guitar, here's a band who had two of them! There, i feel like musical equilibrium has been re-established.



3) The Prodigy - "Firestarter"
I sort of like The Prodigy, but always feel they cut themselves short in their songs, the volume needs to be turned up to 11 and the song to go on for just a bit longer to really imprint itself into your cranium. But you gentle reader may feel you disagree...



4) The Jam - "Set The House Ablaze"
The Jam were the band I saw most regularly play live (until The Fall came along). This was always a show stopper live, but sounds a bit thin on this recording. You can always check out the studio version.



5) Lee Scratch Perry - "Soul Fire"
Love, love this song. That is all.



6) Gun Club - "Fire Of Love"
Confusingly this track is off their second album "Miami", even though the debut album was called "Fire Of Love". Primordial rock and roll. 1-2 Bash, plunk



7) Jimi Hendrix - "Fire"
And the master of the smoking guitar... I notice there is a Bruno Mars song of the same name, it better not be a cover version...



8) The Bug - "Catch A Fire"
More seductive than Jim Morrison's leather trousers.



9) The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown - "Fire"
This must have freaked folk out in the 1960s. No wonder they say rock and roll is the Devil's music.



10) Section 25 - "Friendly Fires"
Let's calm things down a bit shall we? Actually, this tale of aerial bombardment is really unsettling in atmosphere.



11) Einsturzende Neubauten - "Feurio"
A play on the German word FUEUR meaning fire, but I looked up the lyrics and it counts for the purposes of this chart. Anyway, my chart, my rules. Singer Blixa Bargeld's voice really is a musical instrument in its own right, not a soothing one, but what sounds come out of his larynx...



12) Talking Heads - "Burning Down The House"
The intro is way better than the rest of the song, but what you gonna do?



13) Johnny Cash - "Ring Of Fire"
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Johnny Cash... Hate to think what "Viz" comic would make of the lyrics, the character Johnny Fartpants in particular. From the sublime to the ridiculous, mea culpa but that's how I (rock and) roll.



14) Marc Riley & The Creepers - "Baby's On Fire"
I know Brian Eno did the original, but I prefer this i finger on the piano version that shows it stripped down bare.



15) Public Enemy - "Burn Hollywood Burn"
On the one hand the timing is unfortunate with the recent devastating fires in Napa and surrounding areas, but then with the issue of Harvey Weinstein's white male patriarchal domination of the movie industry, then perhaps the timing is apposite.



16) Meat Puppets - "Lake Of Fire"
Always had a soft spot for Meat Puppets with their blend of punk and country rock.



17) Big Country - "Fields Of Fire"
Or rain in this case by the look of it. No one needs a drumkit that size. This is the Scottish version of The Meat Puppets methinks. Do you spot the essence of The Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" in the tune?



18) Sylford Walker - "Burn Babylon"
Reggae at its finest.



19) Birthday Party - "Sonnys' Burning"
A song truly from the bowels of Hell. Rowland S Howard's guitar is astounding as it builds up. RIP Rowland and Tracey Pew.



20) The Ruts - "Babylon's Burning"
My karaoke song at a work's Xmas Party (it was a punk karaoke). My voice is quite similar to Malcolm Owen's.



Bonus Track
MC 900Ft Jesus - "The City Sleeps"
Lots of songs here about sexual conflagration and emotional arson, but here's the real thing. The most chilling narrative about an arsonist.







Sunday, 15 October 2017

"Paternoster Row" - a drabble



As our forces advanced to reclaim the city, a dazzling patch of green sat at its heart. Had the suffocating high rises been temporarily eclipsed by the remnants of the smoke? Or perhaps they had been levelled by the aerial bombardment, restoring the city to its Medieval origins. The green park, the former common lands choked off by private capital, now unshackled so it and we, would be free to breathe freely once again. But as we converged on the city centre, we saw that the green was pulsing. A host of iridescent green blowflies colonising the city’s charred corpses.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Etiquette Of Party Bags - A guide





        

        



                  













                                             





        


          


            



     




  
From the forthcoming novel

published by Dead Ink Books

out soon 


Saturday, 7 October 2017

Manichean Synchronicity - Flash Fiction



The jeroboam smashed into the hull, signalling the liner’s launch ~ as the pub brawler wielded a jagged broken bottle to slash his foe’s face.

The HiFi was playing Mongolian overtone singing ~ as the lover’s fingers snapped the hyoid bone in her throat.

The sculptor’s chisel released the form that was inside his imagination from the marble ~ as the prisoner plunged a self-fashioned blade into another man’s gut.

The dignitary pulled on the sash to part the drapes so revealing the painting ~ as the burglar tightened the curtain tie around the homeowner’s jugular.

The mayor cut the ribbon to declare the arts centre open ~ as the barren woman drove the scissors into her rival’s pregnant belly.

She laid the final rocks in the Zen garden ~ as the crowd pelted the adulterer with stones in the public square.

The farmer was handed a machete by his field labourers for symbolically reaping the final sugar cane of the crop ~ as the genocidal slaughter was propelled by machete wielding militias.


William Burroughs shot paint tins to Jackson Pollock his canvases, (not his best work) ~ as the gambler shot fifty-eight concert-goers in Sin City

Paingyric - Short Story


Like a suicide bomber, regard this video to be my last will and testament, only unlike him I do not proclaim myself martyr and will not be ushering anyone else into death with me. I have spent a lifetime wreaking both effects on those unfortunates in my orbit in any case. I have taken to the camera lens since I can no longer cradle an actual pen between fingers, contorted by freshly minted muscle memory of clenched teeth and cramped hands. Cruel perhaps that this reflex strikes at such strategic loci for the production of words, when both are the furthest peripheries removed from the actual epicentre of the pathology. My pathology, the rest of my corpus in revolt against me. And perish the thought of my digits ever dancing across a keyboard ever again. But my mouth still functions. Little surprise to those colleagues and peers in the industry that it would be the last constituent of me to seize up and relinquish the fight. Alas however, the pen is not mightier than the sword, judging by the rotisserie blade that has impaled my liver and convolutes it above my internal infernal fires, sending off a shower of metastasised sparks to all other parts of my benighted body. Particularly having a liking for and coming to rest on my brain. Because it’s relatively spongy up there I suppose. Soft landings for terminal take-off. 

Even though my name bears considerable commodity value, there will be no pecuniary charge to access this video, as it shall be made readily available on the free file sharing sites. My offspring have been well provided for already by my career, though it cannot compensate for the other incommodious dearths that came about in its wake. Was one contingent upon the other? I already know their answer, so that my response matters not, for it carries no weight. This may be my testament, but only they can testify to the fallout of its contents. See who turns up to my funeral I imagine. A veritable dead reckoning.

Every so often you’ll have to excuse me as I pull on my metal straw of liquid morphine. Here in my sippy-cup, forged from metal as betokens the status of a seething adult. I have to adjudge the optimal time to imbibe, as close to the Richter Scale peak of crescendoing spasm as to be able to maximally alleviate it, without leaving it too late from evacuation so that the pain quake obliterates all other competing consciousness. In such a way the opiate serves as an inkwell, dipping the pen in to prevent the flow of words becoming sundered and surrendered. A sharpening of the senses emerging only with the assistance of anaesthesia.

So, to the meat of the matter, albeit marinaded in morphine. Reading is a hybrid art form. That I say this might surprise you since the author’s sole tool, his only palette, is that of language, which makes it perhaps the purest of art forms, unmediated by its materiality; no coloured pigment on canvas; no 50-piece orchestra, conductor and opera singers; or no electrified amplifiers for the screech of guitars. No, it’s hybrid because it requires both senses of sight and hearing, without privileging one over the other. We read the words with our eyes, but ‘hear’ them sounded inside our heads and that way we hear the voice of the absent author. Alive or dead. Or somewhere in between, soon to pass from one state to the other. It’s a different mechanism from listening to an interlocutor who is stood there in front of you. So why have I taken to this filmic medium that most definitely privileges the optic sense over the aural? Because in one respect there is very little visual variegation to keep your eye entertained, so you would ordinarily have to focus solely on the words. No mis en scene, no carefully constructed image within the frame. Yet what ocular paucity on offer, is, I rather feel, vital. You see before you a middle-aged man in decline. Though unless you are a part of my serrated inner circle, you would not see me incrementally enough to be able to discern any such decline. I was fortunate enough to be an artist in the pre-social media age. My putative audience had and have no idea what I really look like beyond the fly leaf photo with all its high production values. A fiction for a fiction. So it is not this image of a crumbling man that you should or could fix on. It is this flask. Because the flask is the central image. Even though it has no magical powers. It is no elixir restoring me to life. Nor does it hold back the press of barbarian hordes of tumescent incoherence from the Palatine redoubt of my upper stories. At best it allows me to reach the end of my sentences.

But why it is so important for this image to be front and central, is because it represents something that no amount of skilfully composed words can ever achieve; it stands for death. It represents and embodies pain in a way I could never harness simply through language. Morphine, the tincture of dreams, the realm of Morpheus after whom it is named, when actually it serves as the very antithesis of dreams; death as the eternal dreamless sleep. Palliative care while the pall-bearers are merely suiting up. No matter how intricate and resonant I articulate, death resists my metaphors. Here I am, throwing liquid analgesic down my gullet to try and allow me some fleeting joined-up seconds to contemplate what it is I’m grappling with. Yet it is really too late in the day to really come to grips with the intractable. Interesting word ‘palliative’, it bears a sense of extenuating or mitigating pleas in law, or apologies of which I have none. And yet its Latin root is the word for a large mantle or cloak, that you’re concealing or shrouding something. Which brings us back to the pall cloth over a coffin. As if we could tuck death out of sight. Like an unsightly coffee stain under a doily. Or look here, a morphine smear on the table’s glass top. See, the flask is to be in plain sight at all times during this broadcast. The flask is the motif of this talk; motif of course as in motive… Oh the pain siren is a howling… Motile, as in both one’s fructifying semen and the free movement of metastasising cancer cells, which is most assuredly unfructifying. 

Sometimes I wonder if these twinges are the prod of some sort of internal critic or censor, outraged at myself. Even though I have never once felt any compunction to retract what I have written. I stand by everything I say, or in this present case, sit doubled over in agonised throes… There, that’s better, sucking succour. A blessed modicum of damnable relief. Until even Morpheus’ soothing powers are dulled through what is laughingly called ‘tolerance’. At that point you can only beseech morphine not to relieve you, but to release you. For you will probably self-medicate yourself to death before the cancer culls you. Ironic that the root of the word ‘release’ is to loosen or relax, which is what you count on the drug to do for you in these last knockings, yet the apposite word ‘relief’ has a connotation of getting you back on your feet, of raising you up from being prostrate. Neither are related to the word resurrect which has an etymological root of resurgence. More’s the pity. The surging going on is in one direction only and it’s to my absolute detriment. There, that hits the spot. You know, the most galling thing about this self-medication, is that as an inveterate smoker of cigarettes, which as you can see, I still do because, hell what’s to lose, but the action of lifting the flask to my lips and puffing on the straw, is akin to vaping. I suppose I could have opted for an audio only rogation, but who listens to the wireless these days anyway? The word wireless now standing instead for networks of frenzied, swarming airwaves that have superannuated the original wireless with its singular stentorian voice. But no, I rejected the Godcast, because the flask has to be up front and central. A flask will and testament if you will. And you will, unless the disarticulations of Alzheimer’s gets you first. 

I had always thought I was offering our species profundities in my writing. But this pewter flask tells me I fell oh so far short of that. Not that my work wasn’t more insightful than the drivel the vast amount of other writers produce… Excuse me… That coughing jag would have been produced irrespective of my current blight. The carcinogenic splutterings of most other writers stops up one’s breath, through the audacity of their musings being so feeble. Some of them even choose to pontificate on the contents of this flask, yet couldn't see what was staring them in the face. Reflected in the adulterated silver sheen. Alloyed with lead, the supposed barrier against radiation but proffering a differing poison of its own. Same duplicity as morphine, on both counts… Even abutted hard up against it, yet still these so-called writers (with apologies to the ‘so-called Islamic State’) couldn’t see what was clearly right under their noses. Or in it in the case of some, trying to shortcut the creative process, to get to the lesser seen parts of their selves, when in truth they weren’t worth accessing in the first place and even if they were, just put in the requisite bloody work! You can't mainline genius! Instead they all plumped for the fanciful altered reality vistas offered by Morpheus, rather than the ineffable singularity of death.

But who am I to cavil and carp, when in the greater scheme of things, I now question the merit of my own endeavours and even that of all possible writing? In the manner of the Classical Greek philosophers and the Christian theologians who squatted on their shoulders, I was pursuing the wrong lines of inquiry. It is not a question of what constitutes a ‘good’ life, or an ethical one. It is just the question of life itself we should be interrogating. As framed by our flagrant mortality. I’d employ the word ‘blatant’ rather than the hyperbole 'flagrant', only its root is to prate and babble, when we never speak of death at all, so the word does not befit. Yet ‘flagrant’ isn’t quite right either, with its sense of flaming and fulgurant, iterative of an enlightenment that is anything but. Words fail and break down in quietus’ vestibule. You have no power to lobby once in Death’s lobby. At this late stage I am afeared that writing and language itself just isn’t up to the task. Sculptors of stigmatic saints and martyrs have got to better grips with pain and agony and their corollary of surcease. Whether theist or humanist in their outlook, many rendered the wound of humanity right on the nose. Because it is non-lingual. An expression of pure emotion which always eludes language that has to take the roundabout route of metaphor. Pain etched into skin is far more pertinent than printed words etched into the grain of paper. Let alone on a monitor screen which possesses no grain at all. The pain wreaked across my features says more about life than my entire wrote oeuvre. Wrought for nought… 

How we are obsessed with origins. Ting. With original sin. Ting. With formative Oedipal relations. Ting. With identity and founding myths. Ting. When everything should in fact proceed from eschatology. Ting ting. Flask your father, oh you can’t, he’s dead. While we're about Herr Freud, if we are to invoke his Oedipal theory, why not also his oral, anal and phallo-genital stages as well? We writers should play with ludic language with orality, with anality as well as genital gay abandon. In our linguistic sandbox, we should throw words around like our own shit. James Joyce did, not that I'm comparing myself to the master. We ought to bite and gnaw and lacerate text with our teeth, I mean words emerge from our mouths right? But we don't, we meekly succumb to the superego of grammar for arranging our words into syntactically governed, linear sentences, instead of bloodied smears and seminal gobbets. In doing so we mute language’s energies. But cancer won’t stand for that, for it is a mutiny against any and every muted energy. So I also am not immune from such criticism, as I too yielded before the publishing proprieties suggested by my various careworn editors over the years. Consider the beginnings and ends of novels. Every reader is thrown in the deep end at the opening of a novel. They have to find their way into the world and the language of the book, enter into the voice of their character guide. Consequently authors devote a lot of attention to the beginning, to hook the reader in. But the ending of books? How many endings have ever truly satisfied you the reader? They just seem poor apologies for concluding the book there, like it ran out of steam, or offered a lumpen twist to try and give the novel some last minute perspectival weight. The attention given is the wrong way round. The beginning will always remain inchoate as the reader comes to it blind. But the ending...? The ending must be utterly defined, even if it leads to inchoateness beyond the final full-stop, for after all, death ushers in the inchoate. 

Oh, the flask is empty. Out of juice. Out of words. Out of time. I'll just unclip my throat mic here and set the flask upon the table next to it.