Thursday, 26 November 2009


This is the brochure for Free-E-Day on Tuesday December 1st 2009. A day to celebrate independent artists in all forms of art. Free-E-Day does so by independent artists giving away a sample of their art electronically to any fan who requests it.

On December 1st itself, between 9-11pm GMT, I will also be hosting a webchat on the Year Zero Writers on "Reigniting Modernist Literature". The starting text for consideration is reproduced below. You can send in questions into Year Zero Writers as comments and we can use them throughout the chat. Hope to see you dropping by. We can make it lively with your input. And here's to a great Fee-E-Day.

"Reigniting Modernism In Literature"

There is much discussion about form in literature with all the new publishing media available. But these mainly concern themselves with production and distribution.

I want to broaden the debate to form on and within the page, as part of our artist's palette as writers. To revive and carry on the experiments of modernists such as Joyce and Faulkner which seem to have ground to a halt after William Burroughs' & Terry Southern's cut-up techniques. My call is to drag the novel into the 21st century artistically, as well as in its distribution and production.

So what do I mean by experiments in form? There are plenty of 20th century novels that play around with either or both space and time, Faulkner being a wonderfully rich exemplar. These are experiments in narrative structure. I am interested in the possibility of going more quantum, down to language itself.

Sentences are linear, yet human thought and even our speech is far from linear. Can you tackle the flurry of simultaneous bombarding thoughts and still remain legible to a reader? Personally, I write 'Voice' rather than 'characters'. Straight away the level of reality that the words are describing is plastic and unfixed. The words may not describe any material reality whatsoever, but purely sculpt using language and human thought. I favour words that have more than one meaning, or at least have a secondary echo (maybe in their original root) that works against the main, established meaning. Sound is a very important feature for me as a writer. What is the precise relationship of us writers, petitioning the private, intimate space inside a reader's head as their minds process our words 'silently' inside their mind. This is where drawing on some of the features of poetry's lyricism can be of use.

some examples:
"The idea of brewing the kettle (to pour over a sleeping ex-lover) briefly flittered behind my eyes. But I simply wasn't favoured with the element of time."Here, element has two tracks, the second echoing the notion of kettle.

"I patted the soil into the configurations I required, before gently threading each decapitated rose stalk into some strategic salient, thorns primed to press the flesh. Dug in, and out of sight. Cameo-flagged, in order to carve my relief on his body." Play on word camouflage, with cameo and relief sparking off one another and relief having a further meaning in relation to emotional relief from the act of revenge.

"That’s sex for sale so cheap, they’re giving it away. The bottom’s dropped out the market. A perfect knicker-elasticity of supply and demand." There is no material reality being expressed here, yet the knicker-elasticity of supply & demand, I believe conjures up something very clearly in the reader's mind. Simply through the power of new word associations, rather than a visual sense from description.

"Binge drinking is just bulimia for those too squeamish to put their own fingers down their throats. What with their demure paunches and their chary beer-bellies. Watch them wobble past. That flesh jiggle corona, in the no-man’s land between abdomen and hips. ‘Love handles’ being just so wide load of the mark. The ensemble rounded off by the peeping thong. An inverted arrowhead, directional rather than warning."
I'm just going to describe this as riffing words and meanings off one another.

As writers, what is the relationship of the spoken word and verbally constructed thought, to those words ordered and set down on a page? We acquire language verbally through imitation as infants and only retrospectively are the symbolic approximations of alphabets and spelling applied to the spoken language we already confidently possess. As writers we can do all sorts of visual things with these alphabets. Spatially we could render words non-linearly. The book cover for "Everything Is illuminated" hints at the possibilities, but leaves it at the cover rather than continuing inside. Alasdair Gray performs spatial things with his words and he is also a visual artist. Of course, some of what I am proposing appears to be very hard to reproduce in online representations, where software options are far more restrictive. Yet it is not just to be thought of an exercise in graphics and typography. There must be reasons for breaking up the uniformity of the written word.

How many books do you read where the metaphors seem tired and second hand? Most metaphors have probably been constructed in some novel or other. Time for us to forge some new ones. Language being to the fore in this endeavour. Again, without wishing to being seen wedded to science, but I would point at so much of modern scientific theory in astrophysics, theory of mind and microbiology, themselves being wonderful metaphors, where the actual hard science is less easy for them to express (particles that have no proven existence other than they 'should' exist etc). How come it is the scientists who are forming these rather wonderful metaphors and not us writers? Using our imaginations, we should be informing them and giving them the tools to further their own expression. Seems we have the language, but scientists have the creative imagination. Time for us to step up. Scientists tend to specialise within just one scale, be it quantum, microbiological or cosmic. We writers can skip across any within a single paragraph if we are so minded.

Where I do deviate partly from the modernist tradition, was their tendency to try and reconfigure new meanings by ripping established understanding from the moorings of its context and to cast them into new guises. (maybe a reason for Modernism running out of steam was that they took this as far as they could go with it). While I'm not against that as a path of inquiry for writers, I am interested in the linguistic roots behind those original contextualisations. They are not random. They are not neutral. They embody hidden relationships, often to do with power; for example the split of Anglo-Saxon and French Norman words in our language, often reveals the dominant power wielding Normans to have much of our vocabulary in religion, law, cookery, property and the like, whereas the AS words tend to be more humble and down to earth. Here it seems to me is a very rich source for stripping away 'meaning', the very nominalism that organises our world around us. Striking at the very root of 'realism', rather than flailing around fettered by it. Think of the word 'table' and all the different contexts of it; from a glass coffee table with "Ideal Homes magazine resting on it", the same table used in a sex act, a dinner table, a soldier eating his rations off an upturned ammo case, a table created by an artist out of an animal's ribcage, an unopened Ikea flatpack table - all a table according to Plato's ideal forms nominalism, but all with very, very different contexts and in the case of the Ikea one, a potentia of table only...

The modernist project has had a sabbatical for some 40 years. Time to put it back to work and reinvestigate the written word and its subunits, sound, rhythm and etymology.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Assassination City - Flash Fiction Glinting Glaze

An entirely different theology, but they honour the hashishi of old. Though choice being what it is, their blunt is cut with sharper chemical prongs. Adulterations of purity by these child soldiers.

For they fail to spend their day honing the blades. Or directing thrusts into imagined effigies. Not even hefting the handle from hand to hand, ambidextrous seeking after a chink of an opening.

Instead a desultory shambling around home like wraiths. The kitchen being their favoured haunt. Near the cutlery drawer. Sheffield steeling themselves. Until they get the call.

Then their reflexes reveal a razored acuity, belying the rest of their body's slouch. As each slides open a drawer and slips a knife into their waistband. Ramrodding every embraced spine to attention. Then they pull the sweatshirt sheath around it and shroud their own bowed head within its hood. Off to prayer, to heed the Street muezzins. A fibre optic mediated doxology. Yet still summoning the immemorial demand for sacrifice.

Now out on patrol. Sweeping the perimeters. The reconnaissance doesn't take long. Through the glass of a corner shop. Bedecked in pointillistic stickers, 2p a global minute, situations vacant, fireworks inside and lucky lotto. Parallax weaving their target as he moves like a puppet beyond. Time to cut his strings.

Still no name. No matching photographic likeness. But his camouflage is blown. Though he shoplifts from the same Chainstores as they, the blip of colour leaching from his back pocket coyly betrays him as he intended. Donning desert fatigues in the jungle; urban bootblack leaving tracks in the snow. The bandana ribbon binding the package in which he delivers himself up. A label bearing just a four character cipher. Ticker tape passing across their scanning cortex; SE17. May as well be wearing a high visibility jacket. With or without kevlar underneath.

In two houses, the isotopic elements of melted down nuclear families sit down to lunch. Both are without son and heirs who are absent as is Sabbath custom. But neither family can find any decent whetted blades to carve their Sunday Roasts.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Bread And Circuses

I don't watch TV Talent shows. But the rest of my nuclear family are irradiated by them. (Value judgement?) Of course, if one of my twin 11 year olds, with his penchant for rather wonderful improvised raps actually made good his threat to a) film one for YouTube and b) Audition for Britain's got Talents, Shekels and Reichsmarks, then of course I would attend the recording in the TV Studio, Spanish onion and CS gas cannister in hand to ensure I wept tears of pride that he had evaded his genetic programming and fallen utterly under the sway of environmental factors such as globalised American culture...

My notion is that the hordes of kids and middle aged adults who sit at home of a weekend evening to participate in these shows, do so from a position of anxiety and neurosis. The streets awash with 24 hours alcohol become in their minds no-go areas. Thus disempowered, they seek some semblance of control by acting as the Greek Gods of old and legislating over the fates of mortals on TV. An even greater sense of omnipotence if it's a celebrity talent show, where some third-rater who disappeared from the public conscience for good reason, discovers they can hold a rhythm or look good in rhinestones...

Kids act this dynamic out all the time. The shoot 'em up and knock 'em down games on their consoles, fantasise returning them a vestige of control over the troglodytes and minotaurs outside the school gates, who demand tithes and taxes from them and again return them scurrying back to the relative safety of their homes, rarely to emerge once it gets dark (unless of course they are members of said press gangs).

If I may be so bold as to make a connection amidst all this so called interactivity. When insurgents post vids of raw war footage, of bodies among bombed out rubble, of exploding IEDs and beheadings of hostages, are they not also courting the vote of the audience sat at home? You the voters at home have the power to decide, is this a just war or not...Call in on our premium rate, or sign a petition on or stage a hunger strike etc etc.

I think I'd rather than kids answer questions such as "Madonna: Discuss" in their GCSE Media Studies, that actually they apply their forensic instincts to studying grainy video footage of IEDs and decide whether it's just smoke and mirrors and that the device did no damage to its target, or whether the bodies have been posed in a bombed out house and come to their own savvy conclusions. Then they could still legislate over the fate of others, but maybe to more pertinent effect.

Me, I don't need either an onion or a CS gas cannister to shed tears over such issues.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Tertiary Education - 500 word fiction

He was idly practising his new signature. Repeatedly getting snagged by the graph paper’s blue blocks, curbing his shaky flourish of the pen. Even the ink seemed reluctant to submit to his will, preferring to cling to the sides of the biro. But that may just be from the cold. Seeing as his scabbed knuckles were swollen.

He had to make this fluid, unlike his own real signature. How that had always been tentative, never fully inhabiting those hateful syllables. His shy modesty seemingly mocked and goaded by the expansive swirls and arabesques demanded of his patrimony. But now he could inscribe himself lean and taut. It was just a question of becoming accustomed to it. Of enfleshing it with his actual sinew.

He didn’t really comprehend why he should need to underscore his stolen identity thus. Even furnished with cloned credit cards, deposits on rent and vans were still to be paid for in cash. He was sure of it. Yes, back here in yesterday’s notes, his doodle of a van on which he had drawn ‘Go Faster’ racing stripes and giant rims. Before he had quickly obliterated it into a fireball, on seeing the instructor craning that vulture’s neck over shoulders in order to inspect studiousness. But not in time, for he had received a slap across his cheek that he could still sense smarting a whole day later. How different from the self-defeat of Secondary Schooling. Where he would be repeatedly hit across the knuckles of his hand with a ruler and then commanded to take up a pen and write once again. This was not about humiliation and breaking the spirit. This was about application and fortifying it.

For he was here of his own free will. Dedicated to the divinity of course. That was why he was putting himself through this fresh bout of schooling. Facing his terrors, superficial as they now appeared in the light of what true purpose was being unfolded to him. That was the key of course. Finding the purpose behind anything. At school he just never had it, couldn’t see the point. He did regret such oversight now, since it might have eased his present path to learning. But here were grasped unarguable certainties. Of the unfailing actions within the event chain, of circuits, currents and chemicals.

Each signature varied from its predecessor. His fingers were hurting, so he unclenched them from around the pen barrel. He looked up and saw all the other heads bowed in indelibly recasting themselves. PP a much bigger entity. Death’s signature by his hand. By all their hands. Appending their spectral names to the never ending petition. Two names for every supporter, one in life and the other in the afterlife. The petition won’t be treated seriously if adherents just sign it with an ‘X’. People have to be literate and knowledgeable to fight this war. And the enemy are still prosecuting it with dog tags and blood groups. No need to know his blood group, for he will be beyond mortal transfusions. People just need to know his name. Both of them. He picked up the pen.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Rich Pickings - Flash Fiction

The day had begun oh so very languid, even for a vulture. The golden egg was nesting at its perch in the sky, but the barbecue plumes rising from the feeding zone were playing havoc with any upthrusts the egg might be engendering. The clouds seemed to be all upside down, originating from the landing strip rather than just above their heads. While grey and black leaves were floating up to their heads and emanating heat. None of the wake had left their roosts and half of them hadn't bothered opening their eyes and unblinkering them from beneath their wing. Without sight, a vulture is blind. But although there was nothing to see down there for now, it didn't take their colony's human familiar to whisper in their ear about the whereabouts of a fine banquet large enough to feed them all. They were used to fires burning the ground. It seemed to usher in the greening of the earth, which drew the animals which meant they would not go hungry. But these particular fires promised more instantaneous victuals. The ones that usually stood tall like shrunken trees, but were forever shaking their branches and emitting fire. The larger versions of their own familiar and he seemed particularly excited this morning. They all knew they just had to wait for propitious winds. The food wasn't going anywhere, unless the hyenas got wind of it. Curse them and their scent senses so close to the dust.

* * *

The human familiar seemed to be in capricious mood today, for he whispered the rendezvous in the ear of his very own mate. Dutifully she took to the air, her petite wings forking a wondrous flabelliform in order to harvest the air. Beady eyes up and down the branches crept open like sprouting buds, tracing her elegantly soaring spirals. Fanning salivary impatience in each of them. The familiar was dismissed with a promise of propitiation, as each in the squadron took to the wing and felt the warm wafts cradle their undercarriages. Convinced of the inertness at ground zero, the she Scout initiated her spiral earthwards. She landed just a talon's stretch away from the repast. Fresh if a bit smoked by the look of it. She hopped demurely on to the man shank. It was for show really, since she knew she would have to defer to those accustomed to High table and await her place in the pecking order. Even being the lead in taking her place couldn't afford her the first slice. Her beak wasn't vigorous enough to make the cardinal sawing cut. This offering didn't seem to gape any ready mouthfuls. Basic rations it would be then.

For as fast as the rest of the clump descended, they were still outwinged by a crack battery of lappet faces. How ridiculous they looked with their dangling skin flaps. If they weren't so belligerent in pulling rank and preventing their smaller cousins from dining alongside them, such pendulous bonnets might be mistaken for a tasty pink morsel on offer during the frenzy. His mate duly hopped back off her mounting and stood aside as the lappets set to work with their slash and gash. There was nothing for it but to wait in sufferance for some graciously neglected tidbits. That is where their smaller beaks would reward them, since the so called elite forces for all their heavy ordnance, couldn't finesse their dragooning. Still required the lighter infantry to go in and tidy up afterwards.

Now they were joined on the sidelines by the ossifrages. These weaklings could be shooed around easily enough, but as they tended to incline their scrawny necks after the canned stuff - to the point where they were known to fly off and drop the indigestibles from a great height to splinter them open - the two groups weren't really competing for the same pickings at all. The odd one from the combined corps made a show of pecking towards the fare, but the lappets weren't bucking any insubordination and hissed and growled them away with an eclipsing span of their wings. The forbearers would just have to await the signal. When the lappets stood down, pissed themselves clean and sat back to bask the blood on their crowns dry.

His mate had taken it upon herself to daub herself in soil. Smirching her beautiful white feathers towards a dirty pink. Was she attempting to mimic a lappet's apron perhaps? Camouflaging herself for a daring raid. But as she lifted a wing in order to anti-preen herself, the human familiar could once again be descried insinuating into her cocked ear. She began to pad away from the margins of the spread and over to some bushes. He crooked a crafty glance around and saw everybody else's attention was fixed one way or another on the dismantling in the open. Then he followed his mate. The pair of them awkwardly picked their way through the buffeting thorns and bowers, that up in the sky would normally present them such comfort. And there it was. A special table reserved just for the two of them. More modest in size than the communal trough, but that ought to mean softer meat for carving. Thank familiar it didn't seem to have been cooked in any way, so much more pleasant on the palate that way. A veritable raw treat.

The pair of them approached the buffet. The eyes were pointing upward, but had the telltale lack of reflected blue sky and gold egg in them. He loved to start with the eyes, such a delicacy for hors d'oeuvres. The orbs rolled back to the corner of their sockets. Both birds jumped back startled and were immediately rebuked by barbs. They stood in place, staring very hard, trying to pierce for immobility. He silently cursed the human familiar who was nowhere to be seen. His wife was more daring. She waddled up towards the heap and he could see her hanging feathers begin to congeal with the red marinade issuing from it. That in itself was a good portent. She hosed herself down even as she continued walking. She circled around its smaller protuberance, avoiding the eyes, until she was poised at its apex. Then she gradually unkinked the crook of her neck as she elongated it over its head and bent her crest so that her eyes were directly over those of the esculent.

And there she stayed imperturbably frozen. He kept looking back to see that none of the others had caught on to their find, that's indeed if find it turned out to be. But they were either engaged in feeding or peevish biding. He returned his gaze to his mate. Still she perched ineffably still, craned out at full extension. Not one feather ruffled by any tension in her neck. If he himself were currently soaring on the gyres, he might look down and see her so transfixed, as to conceive her to be a ready meal as much as the lump she was verifying. The sauce had reached his legs now. He raised one then the other as he was void of urine. He chanced to look up at the sky. The gold egg had also shifted on its foot across the azure. His wife must be near a definitive course of action by now? Here she goes. Unfurling her wings like a shroud. Like an lure reserved just for him. She didn't jump back when brunch's eye rolled forward to meet hers. She merely contented herself with holding its cloudy gaze.

"Are you an angel?" thought the boy to himself. He couldn't smile for all the blood in his mouth suctioning his lips shut. "You've got dirty wings. Is the path through the clouds up to heaven covered in dust? The same dust as lies here on the earth? At least it can't be lined with garbage like here... Is it a ladder? Or a tunnel? Oh my god! It is a tunnel and it's straight into Hell isn't it? Conducted through your dark eye. That's the exit from this earth. My god forgive me!"

His eye fell back into the recesses of its socket. The levee of his lips burst asunder as the blood surged out. His mate hopped back a pace. He ventured to join her behind the head. They watched the blood tide ebb, at which point she dipped her crown and delicately pulled back the wormy upper lip. An open invitation for him to bring his beak to bear and tuck in. The human familiar walked away, cupping something unseen in his arms.

This story taken from my first flash fiction collection

available from Amazon Kindle 

Thursday, 5 November 2009

"Songs From The Other Side Of The Wall" by Dan Holloway Book Review

"Songs..." is a sumptuous feast for readers interested in unravelling the tangled human notion of identity. Its heroine is Sandrine, born to a Hungarian father, absconding English mother and given a French name by way of compromise. Since the parents split up after just one week into her life, this unknowingly sets up an itinerant cathexis in Sandrine before she even learns to walk. Growing up with just one parent and never knowing the other geographical and cultural 'half' from which she derives. But always wondering... When she is a teenager, Sandrine embarks on her own wanderlust, unconsciously trying to unite the dissevered halves of herself. To do so she leaves her father and her family home and takes tentative steps to approach her mother.

But what really elevates this above angsty teenage coming of age, is Holloway's almost forensic dissection of the externalised cultural choices Sandrine and we all make to wrap our self-explorations in. For example she is begins the novel as politically active, participating in the freeing up of Eastern Europe from State Communist rule. That well-worn teenage vehicle for outwardly directing anti-authoritarian rage, when you really just want to target your parents and the values of the domestic family life you are emerging from. But Sandrine quickly sees the hollowness of this intellectual posturing and the atomisation of its adherents content to squat in virtual communities and snipe (or support) into the ether. Sandrine is a singer-songwriter, with a personal following and fanclub who relate to her words and seek to wring every last drop of meaning from them to fit in with the schemata of their own lives. Through personal tragedy around the political liberation of Roumania, Sandrine comes to view her songs as hollow (that word again) and she sloughs off the skin of musician-wordsmith and seeks skin afresh.

She turns her hand (and fractured soul) to art. Wordless and silent, in contradistinction to her musicianship. She is in mourning and art's plasticity of design seems to permit her to find a way to memorialise what she has lost. But through the new relationships it brings about with people, she is seemingly able to bury the past and move on. Until at the very end, a fiendish twist in the plot plus another personal tragedy, implies that for every two steps gained, it's also two steps back. Interestingly, for all her artistic and creative drives, her scheme to propel her fully fledged into the adult world, involves rather more of a commercial spin on her art in the guise of fashion design, maintained hand in hand with a purely commercial wine-making venture she inherits (even if the dream is to return the craft to its more refined and rarified heights after being compromised by Communist restriction). This suggests that all the artistic pursuits were the folly of youth, of a young soul trying to represent itself to itself in order to discover who it is. The end of youth being coeval with surrendering notions of wanting to change the world.

The intriguing undercurrent to all this, is that Holloway's writing also weaves in the less-external pursuit of identity. Just as the external representation of art turns out to be very much bound up with personal quests of self-expression, love too is suggested as partly reaching out to relate, but also as a mirror to reflect back on the self. Absent parents try and connect with their dead children and Sandrine becomes entangled with both in order to locate herself. She confronts her own absent mother, initially in order to be closer to her own dead ideal love. An absent father communes with Sandrine about his dead son who was her best friend and the brother to her dead love. All the time is a sense of Sandrine trying to see her own reflection in the absent faces she is conversing with. Even when she does find love with Yang, the way it comes about is startlingly undermined by Holloway so as to just throw up a whole host of yet further questions for Sandrine by the book's end.

The book is lyrical and intricate. A tone poem meditation on what it is to be human in the modern, atomised world of mass culture, that is still somehow parochial as well. All the characters are adrift and searching for what they imagine they have lost, but first have to try and establish exactly what that may be. For all that the reader's guide to this world is a seventeen year old, it is a very grown up book in its maturation of insight and philosophical inquiry. I would like you to bear precisely that in mind seeing that Holloway has gone down the route of self- or independent publishing (call it what you will) this book. A label that normally has the professionals of the book industry turning their noses up in disdain. Their stock arguments are that there is no quality control over such products, well in this case I would like to categorically refute that. They also decry the lack of collaboration that is involved through traditional publishing, of editor, proof readers, art departments. Well Holloway credits the even larger collaboration of various almost anonymous contributors, through the tireless and endless suggestions given to him by peer reviewers online. Very simply, if the quality of the writing is high, as this is, then the traditional publishers have no real weapons to hurl at a self-published book.

I have one cavil about "Songs", that does probably owe its existence to the mechanics of being self-published, but not in the way one might imagine. At the story's end, Holloway provides 20 pages of what I suspect are 'print version only' added bonus extras (think DVD extras). I assume this is a bit of a hook to make the book more valuable to own in comparison with the free downloads Holloway has been indefatigably offering in parallel. But while a remix might work for a dance track, several 'gestatory' openings from earlier drafts, plus an explaining away of the mysteries of the subtext I feel actually take away slightly from the complete piece that is the novel I have just read. The explanatory text acknowledges its sources, but in rather philosophically reified language that detracts from the crystal clear prose of the novel. The bonus feature strategy may need a rethink for Holloway's next novel, which I look forward to him publishing himself.

The book is avaialble from Lulu or as free download from Smashwords

Monday, 2 November 2009

5 Items or Less (Flash fiction)

One stop shopping. I have almost everything I require. I am faced with which till to patronise. Most folk would try and adduce the relative lengths and speeds of the queues, momentarily becoming tenderfoot physicists in order to attain escape velocity the soonest. Me, I plump for a different sort of fluidity. If I am to be forced to linger, then I want to have the most pleasing parallax to look out on while I wait.

I start with her feet. Three stars tattooed on the longitudinal arch. Where the skin is so very thin, that their inscription must have hurt. I can't see if she has them on her other foot, since that is shielded from me behind the curve of the aisle. They sit in a neat row of three, rather than suggesting any astrological constellation. The stars are not inked in. They do not twinkle. Down there, they look oh I don't know, diffident. Unless she has one at the apex of her neck or beneath her hair, from top to toe, seeing herself every inch a star. But in isolation? I muse on just what they might signify to her. I note both achilles are scabbed, suggesting she is in the habit of wearing shoes more punishing than the practical flats she has donned for shopping. The stars would be eclipsed by anything more elliptical curving over the instep. Perhaps they come out only at the apex of night.

She sports black cotton trousers, pleated down the front. They are quite baggy, almost Viet Cong style. But she cannot be of that generation of protest and remote empathy. Besides, her jacket is sharply cropped with razor sharp lines. They hang acute over the seam of the trousers, like a restraining harness in a rollercoaster. I take it she is of a breed that eschews the prospect of ungirding the flesh around the hips, between cropped tops and hipster jeans. Still, the divergence between the body thrust of the upper and lower arrays are intriguing.

I turn my attention to the tale of her trolley. Poised in the five - a veritable handful - items or less queue, yet she has steered clear of a handbasket. That may reflect her having a clutch bag occupying one - her left - hand. I peer between the grilles and I count them off. Indeed there are five items right on the nose. Two of them appear from their packaging to be the same, yet she has not been thrown by the unwritten rubric whereby they still count separately. She hasn't tried to buck the system. Nonetheless, this trove is dwarfed by the expanse of space in the trolley. Though they do not appear with the sharp angled sprawl of having been tossed within, neither are they stacked in any systematic way. Inside the ribcage of this metal beast, I would say more of an anorexic aesthetic prevails.

Five items is too low a spread for sampling, as to whether they are components of a shared meal or the entire constituents of dinner for one. But at least there were no foods for children's palates on show. The ring finger was still curled around her handbag, wedged against her jacket and cut off from view, so I could not determine whether it did in fact host a gold band. Her other hand suddenly started dancing in a whir of motion as she extracted the purchases from the belly of the steel beast. She ranged them along the entire length of belt spread out afore her. The first item out, did not go at the apex, but somewhere in the middle. The second one went in the van of it, while the third was placed in between both. Item four - a bunch of bananas - was set down at the rear of all. The last was the twin of the first and poised alongside it like soldiers marching on parade. She was very deliberate, as if she were playing speed chess. Seemingly demonstrating a long prescribed habit through her motions, I fancied these were regular purchases. I didn't credit she varied her menus all that much, from week to week, month to month. Again, that same sweep of appropriated space. A lebensraum. She brought the divider down like a guillotine blade to buffer her things from her neighbour in the queue. I noticed the bananas, the last in her parade, had a considerable clearance between it and the divider.

The scanner beeped into life as it read the first barcode. The till monkey informed her that the item was on offer, "two for the price of one". I could not hear her reply, so soft spoken was she and with the din of scanners and a rasping "Unexpected item in the bagging area" ringing out around me. I could see her shaking her head at her inquisitor, but then appended it with a smile. Further indicative bifurcation. Item one eventually disappeared into a carrier bag - not a bag for life, non-environmental, or just not a patron committed here for life - and by now the till monkey was working at item two's price reduction sticker with her nail. I could see the slight curl of her mouth as she watched this grocer's liposuction in action. Clearly she didn't like the thought of the contaminating touch of another on her food. Items three and four passed without incident, before she juggled one handed with the bananas. Spinning them on their axes like a body popper across the run off after the belt, in order to facilitate their best angle of entry into her carrier bag without bruising them. I silently applauded the performance, half charming, half affected, wholly hyperbolic.

"Sir! Sir?" my own till monkey chirruped at me. I turned to face him and in doing so my scanning of her was terminated. I didn't see her hand free itself up from the clutch of the bag, nor how she paid the bill. Me, I was being chided for having more than five items in my basket.

"Unexpected item in the bagging area" rasped a computerised voice feigning the female, from the aisle beyond mine.