Wednesday, 30 December 2009

None Of The Above

On my Review Of The Noughties post, I lambasted us all for buying into the promise of hope seemingly offered by Obama. This coming year we will have similar promises of economic and moral redemption presented by Cameron and Brown, since to get elected, none of them can present too negative a picture of our current disposition in the UK and the requisite medicine to attempt to alleviate it. After 10 years of little in the way of actual legislating, other than making war and with so many MP's snouts in the money trough, I had hoped for us voters voting with our feet by staying away from the polls, or even spoiling our ballot papers, whereby the politicians would finally get the measure of our discontent with them and change the political system. But most likely it would only be a superficial rebranding of the Parties like they did periodically in Italy in the 80's and 90's. Besides, such is the polarisation of people in our country, Mr and Mrs average in Worcester will be keen to exercise their vote to get rid of Brown, even if their are unenthusiastic about Cameron; as happened in 1997 when people were desperate to sweep away Major even if it meant letting in Blair by default.

So not much will change and why should it? There has been no new political theory since Marx. Western politics still boils down to the following:

Conservative/Tory/The Right: believe in the concept of 'Original Sin', that mankind is essentially flawed and in order for us to live in social communities, there must be laws to prevent ourselves falling rapaciously upon one another and robbing each other blind. Poster Boy - Thomas Hobbes

Liberal/Whig/Progressive/The Left: believe that man is essentially a noble creature and that only inequalities of education and opportunity stratify man into classes and lead to problems. Sweep these away and society will blossom and there will be genuine peace and goodwill among all people.

The Left view is that people only resort to crime out of economic need. Create prosperity and you take away the need for criminal activity. The Right view is of course that there will always be criminals and you need the deterrent of Law and punishment to prevent a total descent into anarchy.

The Right view on economics and opportunity is that there will be a trickle down effect from the rich and powerful, spending their money and employing their lesser well off brethren. The American Dream is held up as example of the openness of entry into prosperity and success. While it is not impossible to move up in economic caste, the trickle down effect has never really been in effect as the rich and powerful are very keen to hold on to what they have for themselves. There may have been some altruism with 19th Century industrialists motivated by certain Christian beliefs about charity, but these are long gone in our modern age. As for the Left's view, if the State taxes the rich to provide funds for those less well off, that will inevitably close the inequality gap. They postulate the rich are social minded enough to accept a higher tax rate in the spirt of fairness. Of course the rich have no such feeling and either evade paying tax or just migrate. Such policies only close the wealth gap by dragging everyone down to a lower level of prosperity.

What we have now is an interesting amalgam of both Left & Right philosophy. The Left do actually now incline to a belief in "Original Sin" and rather than empowering all the community, they seek to protect its weaker members with their 'progressive' platform. Liberalism itself has changed from its original Cobden & Bright notions of the free market, untrammeled by any interference (the economic praxis of the modern-day Conservative Right) the freedom TO do anything as a libertarianism doctrine and now become a freedom FROM, a protectionist platform to protect individuals from the worst predations of both State and fellow citizens. The Right have kept closer to their original orientation, but now dress up their elitism behind a veil of paying lip service to helping bail out the most vulnerable members of society, though of course they do next to nothing for them in practice. A pox on both their houses I say. You all stand intellectually bankrupt, with nothing that can contribute to the common weal of our modern day society. I shall of course exercise my hard fought right to vote by spoiling my ballot paper and writing "None of the above".

Care to join me?

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Drying Out (Flash Fiction)

Isaiah 3:1: "For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water."

I stare into my compact mirror. Staunch chaperone, with tarnished verdigris islands in its vitreous sea. The glass itself corrugated by its own fluidity over many years. I find this is the only embodiment of me I can face these days. Shrunken and in miniature.

I stare at my thinning hair. The pigmentation having long given up the ghost, fating me to resemble one in life. Silver-blue strands making my deathly pale face appear spectral. Arrayed beneath the hairbrush, the wiredrawn silver gild serves only to frame a permanently fissured brow. Wrinkled topography suggesting dried up fluvial streams. Scooped out trenches from an abandoned archeological dig for self. Colour aside, I sardonically regard there is no lack of follicle vigour. To judge by the hair sprouting from every pore on my cheeks. I am endowed with the whiskers of a cat. But none of the sinuous liquidity in my stiff old bones, for them to navigate me by.

I breathe on my image in an effort to efface it behind a wall of fog. But as is increasingly the case these days, my internal water table is too low to condense sufficient droplets for forming a spume. Perhaps that accounts for the myth of vampires. Dried up desiccated old sticks that they were. They had no vapour left to mist up a mirror either.

I avert my gaze to fall by chance on my hands. The dermis there is particularly cracked and gnarled. Ligneous like twisted tree bark. Too many years of renewal, so the skin has dried out and lost its elasticity. The moisturisers ranged across my dresser achieved nothing then. The barren scrub of my body now utterly rendered a desert wasteland. The glacial smoothness may have been replaced by ugly ridged moraines of skin, but my permafrost beneath remains unthawed.

Not that I didn't have forewarning of this. All those carefree years under the hot Holy Land sun. Barefoot across the burning coals of the arid earth. The soles of my feet shredded and infected and horny scaled hard. Dead skin that never could heal. Deadened feeling against the ground when back here in carpeted and concrete Britain. Time has merely permitted the rest of my body to catch up.

That one possibility. Before the creeping drought. My Coptic lover who desired me to give him the most intimate of foot massages. He liked the rasping, sandpaper feel I could impart his parochial flesh. A serendipitous discovery like the best of them; my bulk proved too heavy for the oriental massage walking upon his back as he had initially requested. But if only he could have stayed with me, then the bird-like waif I have shrivelled to, would likely have sent him into the all-over body ecstasy. But our guilt riddled relationship couldn't hold water.

I drain my tumbler. I no longer bother to water down my gin through the day. It has less and less affect dissolving my pain. Insoluble and unsolvable. The alcohol stings my cracked lips. Must be the tart me. My acidity becoming more and more concentrated as I lack for aqueousness. At a hundred percent purity, I will become fully unreactive, that inexorable glacial trajectory of my life. Must be close by now.

I am slowly being desiccated. More raisin and wrinkled prune than fine vintage pressed grape. Yet they have prescribed me water tablets for my swollen ankles. To make me piss more. To get the flow going throughout my body. But I am all silted and dammed up. My body greedily hoards its ever-dwindling reservoirs. I am wanting for the meltwater, but the glacier is impermeable.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


The car journey had been interminable. I'd drifted off in the amniotic embrace of damp air warmed by the car's heater. My head must have been leaning against my passenger window, since it richocheted away at the thud which seemed to presage the window caving in. Eyes bolting open, I saw Momo heading off towards the garage shop, flicking a signeted-ring middle finger up at me behind his retreating back. My woolgathering well and truly snapped, doused in petrol and ignited, I found myself staring befuddled through his vacated driver’s side window and saw another car parked by the pumps. Couldn’t see much of its sole occupant for the rain pulverising both our windows, but from shape of the hair it was a woman. Redhead, though hard to determine exactly what hue, in the duplicitous shimmer afforded under flourescence.

She had it bunched over on top of her head, that much I could tell. So much so I couldn’t see its apex beneath the interior of her roof. Perhaps she was a nurse, hair pinned up for her shift. Or maybe she was on her way to a Xmas Do, though you don’t want to be filling up with petrol in your posh frock and the Heavens have burst. Poor planning that is. Maybe she had a puncture. I could see the outline of her face in profile, but couldn’t make out any of her features.

And then it happened. She did that thing all women have in their armoury. A female version of shock and awe. I never even discerned her hands moving up to her head, but I saw the hair come cascading down alright. Like the gentlest of rockfalls when you’re scuttering down the slope, barely able to keep your feet. Or maybe more like a cataract and you wanna just plunge right in. Oh man! Don’t do that thing. Don’t do-! She only went and flaming did it! Shook her head from side to side, to further free her tresses now carouseling round. Ringlets concealing the hub of her face in a whirl of motion. My senses given over to a centrifuge.

Now I followed the indeterminate pink clump of her hand pecking at the locks. Distending them before letting them coil sinuously back into place. And then it was over and everything was unmoving inside her motor once again. Except for the raindrops nuzzling her window. Forcing me to peer hard. To penetrate their opacity. Rather than drawing back their curtain, I began to perceive how these pearls served to bead her hair flowing down her neck. Each one seemed perfectly located, regular and proportionately spaced. Even the elements were harnessed to her. Kismet or what?

By now I was leaning right over into the driver’s window and had steamed up a middle-sized portion of it, in an unimpeachable, misty oval. A manifestation of bated breath pushed through pursed lips. I made to clear the glass, but instead found myself etching a heart within the condensation. Suddenly this contour of my soul was being filled in and blotted out from outside. The woman and her car were also being eclipsed by the intrusion of a bodymass into my purview. My left hand hastily effaced the shape on the window, while I scrabbled with my right for the door handle. I almost fell out at Momo’s feet as the door swung ajar and the interior light came on to spotlight my self-incrimination. “Cheers Aki. Shift outta way yer lump”.

I’d regained my own seat cradling and squinted out the corner of my eye beyond Momo. The motion of him peeling soggy denim from his legs and sweeping droplets from his hair, kept breaking up my field of vision, but I could see smoke billowing from her direction. My goose was well and truly cooked. She was making to leave and though I craned my neck for one last gander, all I caught was the car moving off across the apron. A dark, oversized bubble, among slanting raindrops illuminated like tracer. I eased back to face front and stared at her receding chassis. Repeating her number plate inside my head over and over. This wasn’t done with yet, not by a long chalk. Finally I couldn’t pick out her taillights anymore. I turned to grin inanely at Momo, but was really sneaking a clandestine peek at the window behind him. The faint outline of the tip of a heart could still just about be made out. A single rain drop traced the hook of its contour and then plunged off. Momo turned the key in the ignition. "You owe me a score for the petrol brother".

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Could Someone Tell Me What Just Happened?

The Noughties are drawing to an end. Asinine name, asinine decade. Nil, nihil, nullity. A void after all the ballyhoo build up towards the millennium. The world didn't come to a cyber end. The Millennium Dome remained a white elephant until being rehabilitated by commerce into a perfectly serviceable branded entertainment venue (with good transport links), so we can watch American wrestling and Russell Brand and pay through the nose to do so. Still, it did have an indirect role in finishing off M.Jackson (deceased).

It's hard to do a review of a decade of drift and listlessness in which very little happened. But here's my stab at it (with no pun in reference to point 6).

0) Despite Madoff waltzing off with ill-gotten swag and the sub-judice sub-prime fiasco bringing down the property and finance markets, the world has not ground to a halt (other than Iceland, ha ha West Ham United). Unlike the South Sea Bubble of the 1720's and the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the world has demonstrated itself to be in rather robust health despite this latest economic crisis. It's pulled its belt in, but the world has carried on spinning and trading (and waging global warfare). Depressing really. Corruption and unalloyed greed represent just a blip, requiring a readjustment of the market, but no real measures to prevent them being repeated in the future. Anyone remember Nick Leeson? And now the bankers are on the warpath again, demanding huge bonuses to reward their efforts, otherwise they'll be off to pastures new. Behaving like pouty footballers seeking more money and a fat transfer fee.

1) Reality TV as a relatively cheap programming option had a foothold on the schedules prior to this dreary decade. But the rise of the Talent show has established a stranglehold over all media outlets; not just the TV transmissions and the backstage/green room/behind the scenes add ons, but discussions on radio, in the newspapers and magazines and of course online. In fact such shows are nothing without them being supplemented by the coverage in the press, revealing the holes in their publicly aired back stories, kiss and tells and Mothers who aren't really on disability and the like. They are all about manipulation. After all this was the decade that saw fixed public phone-in votes being outed - Ant'n'Dec to Blue Peter for godssakes. As with everything else, such shows seem to open up a democracy of access, that anyone can make it to the top and realise their dream. But like the Premier Football league, there can only be one champion at the end of the series. The strength of such shows seem to offer its audience sat barricaded at home, the chance to play a Greek God of old and manipulate the fates of other demi-gods and reduce them to mere mortals once again. So the question of exactly who is manipulating who is a tangled one, though if Max Clifford and Simon Cowell are involved, you've a pretty good idea where to look for the puppeteers. I don't really care about any of this trend, were it not for an insidious coccus infecting the dreams and aspirations of our younger generations. No longer do they want to achieve and fulfill a vocation through hard work and honing their talent. Now they just want to be spotted and become famous. Fame is the only vocation.

2) Our licensing laws were put in place during the Great War of 1914-18 to ensure munitions production was not affected by drunkenness. All drinking establishments had to shut at 11pm with very few exceptions. The violence outside pubs and clubs at throwing out time reached such proportions by the start of this decade, the Government decided the best response was to stagger it across more hours so now you can be randomly thumped at any hour of the day. My novel deals with this to some extent, so I don't want to bore on about it here - I've written about it on another website if you're interested. I just want to offer this economic analysis since the drinks industry has changed radically in the Noughties through the new legislation. Old style pubs are closing left right and centre, being replaced by theme pubs and chains, where the emphasis is on selling units and happy hours and promotions. (Did some one say parallels with the Net Book Agreement being abolished?) Reaganism-Friedman economics in the 80's built its growth on just 3 industries: private health insurance, fast food and Silicon Valley. Well by the time we reach the Noughties in the UK, we can't compete with Silicon Valley's scale; fast food leads to obesity, so not a good one to follow and our complex relationship to the NHS means private health is fraught with impediments. But one thing we can do is drink, and I would offer the untrammelled, rampant drinks industry as our version of Reagan-Friedman economics. Even the tobacco industry has had to reassess its morals. No such compunction for the brewers and drinks retailers. Alcopops anyone? Down the hatch.

3) Since the collapse of Communism and Socialism's retreat towards a soft left position, there has been no new intellectual theories emanating from the Left. Since Reagan-Thatcher-Friedman economics, which were just an updating of John Bright and Richard Cobden's Free Trade ideas of the 19th century, well again the Right have come up with no new ideas. Thank god for that you may say, where have ideologies ever got us other than strife and societies split down the middle? What are all these think tanks doing I ask myself? What's a Labour Government with 10 years of huge majorities actually using that power to push through as legislation? Very little in truth, too afraid of alienating Mrs average in Worcester as she sits on the latest focus group. 10 years of otiosity and inaction has fostered a culture of corruption and MPs getting what they can from the post, since sure as hell any dreams and ideas they may have entered politics with will not get addressed. So here's a notion, sweep the lot away seeing as they're not actually doing anything anyway. The internet means we could run ourselves with plebiscites on every aspect of government. We take the decisions and have a Civil service to do the people's will. No more delegating. Now I admit as things stand there is a class bias in this that not all households have computers, internet broadband or are necessarily well versed in how to surf it effectively. So there would have to be some educating of future generations in what used to be called Civics. The terrestrial shutoff in 2012 should see to the computer/broadband access issue being dealt with satisfactorily. But we know the biggest obstacle to my suggestion. Apathy. Who wants to read a 526 page EU document on fish quotas for something that will only affect the good burghers of Grimsby? Not if it takes us away from getting bombed down the theme pub or our vote having to be diverted from Strictly Come Prancing. People like to depute their responsibilities for bureaucracy to others, leaving themselves free to have responsibility-free fun. So we get the politicians we deserve, stop moaning and whining. And if you want a better calibre of MP and to stop them putting their fingers in the till, for goodness sakes pay them properly - just ask the Bankers about the higher echelons of the labour market.

4) Shopping online, the lure of the unexpected find a la car boot sales without having to drag yourself down to a cold school playground at the crack of dawn. The chance to satisfy the completist and the collector within you as you locate that piece of 60's kitsch crockery (and we thought only boys possessed the 'football stickers' album mentality). And finally the thrill of the chase as you sit there, fingers hovered over the mouse to counter somebody's bid on e-Bay. A veritable joust and so much more exciting than trawling musty antique shops. More of that flexing omnipotent god muscles that we had with voting in TV reality shows. I've used e-Bay to find cheap props for my upcoming book trailer shoots. It's an invaluable resource. If book and record shops are dying, it's not solely down to online shopping. They cut their own throats in other ways too. For music, the record companies were creaming their artists for so long, (remember George Michael trying to sue his record company?), that it was inevitable musicians would not only record at home but distribute it for themselves and cut out all middlemen. But back to online shopping itself. I associate e-Bay very much with this whole retro thing, looking to reconnect with one's childhood artefacts. There has always been a trend for this, as each new generation of bright shiny things come to control TV and other media, they foist their parochial tastes upon us which normally means revisiting their childhoods and what appealed to them back then. (Hollywood remakes of Bewitched, Brady Bunch etc). But this urge among the common man to own things from their past, well it suggests to me how cut off from the here and now we all are. We cannot connect with the helter-skelter mayhem of the technological world that changes day by day. Our I-Pod is obsolete after a week. Instead far easier to regress to a perceived idyllic time, when your parents may even have still been together. A (recent) mythical past, a return to a womb, albeit one outside the body, swaddled with toys and other soothing familiar landmarks with kitemarks. We are all infantilised (aka dumbing down) because we fail to think socially, but like a buffeted windsock, allow ourselves to be fragmented and atomised in a world that seems ineffably complex to our overhelmed individualism. Hence we want our pacifiers, to rebuild the nursery of familiar landscape around ourselves. Hence we shop for retro. There, I've said it.

5) Climate change is rapidly becoming the new holocaust denial. I won't apologise for such hyperbolic comparison, firstly I'm of the faith of the holocaust so I don't use it lightly and secondly it is merely a question of pace at which we are currently snuffing out not just one race but the entire species. Aha foot in mouth diseased one I hear you cry, prove it! Of course I can't. Both sides of this argument bring out their expert witnesses and ground the debate down into stalemate and playground name calling. All I can offer you is the interest groups ranged behind keeping things just as they are; the oil companies, the timber industry; the GM producers. Politically, the debate is fatuous, since there is no real opposition to the capitalism that devours all the earth's resources with huge social costs. When owning your own car and having a foreign holiday every year are pedalled as an aspiration to tilt for, it actually elides over in to being a human right. No government would dare overturn either of these two hugely polluting sources, for it would have to completely overhaul the basis of society. More significantly, no political party could get elected proposing either platform. To be honest, there is no point outlawing private car ownership while public transport is not free, plenteous and efficient. The bus I travel to work on every day probably pours out more pollution than any car, so antiquated is it. In my formative teens when I was reading quite a lot of political theory, I imagined a 21st century that was post-industrial and post-labour. Automation and robots would manufacture and maintain all our physical needs and we could relax back into a leisure economy, a bit of playing sport in the morning to get the heart and lungs pumping, followed by a social lunch and debating platform among our peers (pausing only to cast our internet vote on the plebiscites of the day), before being followed by a trip to the cinema or theatre to see the latest artistic representation of some important moral virtue within a very real social situation. Um, I was wrong... We seem to be labouring harder than ever, in fear of losing our jobs. Our commutes seem to be taking ever larger chunks out of our day. Who wouldn't seek to go and get bombed out of their craniums after work within such a scenario? I neither drive a car nor take foreign trips. Not quite so worthy as might appear on the surface, I never passed my driving test and I have a phobia of flying. Still, how big is your carbon footprint?

6) Britain used to make a cultural contribution on the world scene. We always had a push me pull you dynamic on rock/pop music for example. Originating from the blues in the US, we followed suit, but then we unleashed the Beatles & the Stones on the world. The Jesus & maryChain wrote a song called "Sidewalking", Stephen Malkamus called his band "Pavement". A creative fission between our two Anglo cultures. But now we are in thral to US globalisation; Hollywood, US sports, HipHop culture predominate. Most depressing of the US global imports is youth gang culture. Yes we have put our own spin on it, but this is not the UK pastoralism of the Beatles or Blur for godssakes. We lack for the subtle immigrant diversity of ghetto-based community gangs, so we employ post codes. We still don't have the right to bear guns, so our kids arm themselves with knives. We may not have Crips and Bloods, but our yute display their colours of allegiance all the same. Bandanas instead of cummerbunds. I have written extensively on this subject but to date no one has taken up my challenge to publish me. It should be mandatory, not in the schools, but a manual of how not to parent, pocket sized since "Thresholds" is only a novella. It's all about the language (and therefore the logic) gap between the generations and is written in the language of hand-wringing parents that even they can decipher. Right, rant over. This one was for all the kids who bled to death on Britain's streets and outside schools in the NOUGHTIES. Those whose lives came to NOUGHT. The knife in the back pocket or up the sleeve is a minotaur that demands its blood tithe.

7) Obama will not change one thing about the world or even America. You, we, voters all, fall for it every time. He is a figurehead. An inspiration to get up and back to work. To make it happen for yourself. Nothing wrong with that at all. But just don't expect him to deliver anything. He is a welcome change from the previous incumbent is all. Didn't he award himself 8 out of 10 recently? More like 1 out of 10. Still, that's one more than Blair and 6 more than Brown. In a world economy and even with America at the centre of it, political leaders can do very little to affect the world market. Instead they can build monuments to themselves like French presidents, or they can make a name for themselves by making wars. My wife left work early to come home and watch his inauguration speech. It was on my birthday. I spent the duration of the speech having a nice hot bath and reading a book. I was right and she was in error. I forgave her because the book I read in the bath was mighty fine and it was her present to me. (John Burnside "Glister").

8) Football's bubble will burst. The people's game. Wall to wall coverage will exhaust appetites. If it's not English football, it's Spanish football. The Mickey Mouse league in the US for the insomniacs evidencing withdrawal symptoms. Veteran matches. Schoolboy matches. Celebrity matches. If Sky aren't covering your team live, you can watch it online or go to a pub and watch an Albanian feed and admire the local adverts at half time and excitable commentators. Football is uncompetitive. It is entirely determined by bank balances and purchasing power. Standards have dropped - just look at how none of the powerhouse teams in the Premiership can defend this season. When England fail accordingly in the World Cup, will people still believe we have the best product in the World? Why do I say the bubble will burst? Simply because of glut. Growing up male in this country means the longest relationship you will have with anything in your life will in all likelihood be with your football team. 40 years for me and now I've fallen out of love. I don't even seek occasional visiting rights. I didn't used to care what my players (note 'my') did of a friday night, so long as they performed on the pitch on the Saturday. But now it is thrust in your face when players stagger out of nightclubs at 3am, such is the ubiquity of the coverage. 24-7 we have the private lives of the stars fellated in our faces and we can't but help link it to when they perform poorly on the pitch. Players are contracted to so much money, they don't have to bother - the worst that can happen is they are given a transfer for more big bucks. I do not lay this accusation at the hands of foreign players, it is the British ones who are abusing their bodies with alcohol, they don't even have that minimum level of professionalism and pride. Referees have been left behind by the stakes of this multi-million pound industry and are simply not up to the job and the level of responsibility. But for all that, the murderous assault on their authority by the Managers of teams undermines any rule of law within the game and reduces it to a win at all costs, cheating aplenty 'game'. I for one will don a black armband when the game goes tits up, but I will also have a smug grin on my face. The only question is whether the death blow is delivered by the sport gorging itself on money til it explodes and the market cannot sustain it, or whether its audiences turn their back on it for its uncompetitiveness. Get your bets on.

9) A curiosity really, but adverts on TV and in the cinemas don't seem to have developed at all in this decade. When I was at College, the majority of my friends wanted to go into advertising. Creative and well paid. Then there were periodic culls in the 80's and 90's as the economic rise and falls meant advertising was often the first item on the Corporate budget to be cut. But it left a leaner and meaner industry. One that seems to have stabilised with digital TV opening up so many more slots for advertising. And yet, car adverts remain the same. Drink adverts haven't managed to come up with any new ways of enticing us while staying within the legislative strictures that mean you can't show someone enjoying a drink on screen. Look, don't get me wrong, I don't really care that their art form hasn't developed in any way. I am not their target audience since I have very few material possessions and don't drive, travel or drink. But I find it amusing that my 11 year old son channel hops through adverts as this fate must await most adverts on TV for the short-attention spanned generations of today. Just don't tell me copywriters and creatives that you are CREATIVELY fulfilled.

And so onwards to the next generation, so full of hope in our hearts that we cannot even come up with a label for it.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Green Zone - Flash Fiction

I'm standing at the French windows giving out on to the rear garden. My view fettered by iron bars of security. Only I of all the householders here, have the right to step out into it. But it seems like far too much effort to draw back the barred gate. My parents used to own the whole house as a single dwelling. But as the slow burning fuse of senility consumed them, we converted the building into four flats in order to fund their fumblings towards a dignified death. That was back when it didn’t take long to throw up a dividing wall and double your money, though predictably enough we bucked the trend and garnered very little return. Mum was finally released from her declension before we’d flogged the final unit. I press my nose against the cool steel bar. Its chill admonishment serves to abort a tear.

The garden beyond is overgrown now. Untended. Rampant. My Father would be turning in his self-generated humus if he knew. Nature has wreaked a swift and full vengeance, for all those years held in check at his horticultural hand. She has reclaimed what was rightfully hers.

For I notice how in the mornings, there are now plenty of birds in the larch trees at the back of the garden. Too many, were a fearsome Nimrod of old still prowling. But of course she too has long since departed the scenery. The beauteous song, so sweet to many, merely posts a mocking braying to my ears. Since next door’s cat from years’ gone by, was truly my Siamese twin from whom I had been separated by birth.

For, as part of his campaign to streamline Nature’s offshooting growth, my Father’s pride and joy was ever his two-tone manicured lawn. The type you might imagine only exists in airbrushed adverts. Every god-given minute he had, he was out on that turf, patrolling against any local incursion. Entreating with the larches not to casually shed their leaves like devil-may-care, litterbugging teenagers. Negotiating with the worms to tidy up their casts after themselves. If the fires were ever to be momentarily extinguished, this I’m sure would be the pattern of the disco floor in Hell.

Only with the distance of being squirrelled away at university, finally could I clearly observe my parents locked into their own separate cloisters on my infrequent visits home. That the lawn really did represent a life-sized chequerboard. Only he moved along the dark squares and she along the light. I had spent my childhood trying to straddle both.

The biggest threat to this finely calibrated arcadia came not from native insurgency, rather from untameable domesticated life. How Father cursed the she-devil of a cat raiding from next door, for sweeping our garden clear of birds and their joyous music. Species cleansing it might be dubbed today. My father actually believed he could creep up on this lithe predator and surprise her into a salutary lesson she might never forget. The cat invariably maintained her haunched poise, head cocked not in the direction of my Father, but at some target monitored on a low branch. How Father would grope for whatever hand-held tool he could seize upon, thereby stripping it of its nutritive function at a stroke, as it sliced through the air.

The cat would nonchantly pick herself up off the grass and continue a skulking progress somewhere out of sight. For she reaped from my Father functioning as a kind of inverted scarecrow. Misdirecting birds into believing it was safe within the confines of his fences. Re-engrossed in his work, Father would only ever turn to catch sight of the cat dragging away some crumpled carcass in its jaws. Apoplectic with rage, another steel instrument would trace a flat trajectory, that almost always forced the feline to abandon her trophy in flight. Leaving a crushed avian spume disfiguring the crisply mint lawn. Deuce. Father and cat had fought themselves into another stalemate, leaving the gladiatorial arena to be swept clean by the carrion crawlers on the ground.

Confronted with the limits of paradise. Ripe only in those not bound in spirit, nor weighed down by prohibition. Such as a cat crawling serpent-like on her belly. It became clear to me how the array of implements laid out on the lawn, intimated that he had swapped me for the cat. Deep down, he was happy to be continually outsmarted by the beast, for somehow it encapsulated a relationship of sorts. A rough and tumble, wily battle of wills. The likes of which he could not indulge with me, a female of his own species.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Writing From Exile In One's Own Home

Disregarding teenage poetry and angsty lyrics, I started writing in College because I was disillusioned with the higher education system I was being meat-ground through. I wrote stage plays as there were lots of wannabe thesps and wannabe directors to match up with wannabe playwrights like me. Of course we were the fewest on the ground of the three proto-professions. My first play was about football violence, set behind a wire fence (this was just pre-Hillsborough days) and enabled er me, as the lead character, to scale it and hanging just by the crook of my armpit, to hurl abuse at the audience from a height. Heady days. Flushed with confidence, I then wrote 2 plays in about 6 weeks to take up to the Edinburgh Festival. I spent Live Aid composing the upcoming programme notes or my plays; a furious diatribe against the nature of mass entertainment and the perversity of a gig in the name of famine relief, with all those bloated lifestyles on show in the hospitality tent backstage (and a no-doubt more inconspicuous tent for scoring their drugs). My cast refused to let me give out the programme for our shows and they were probably right.

I left college and ridiculously imagined playwriting would be better than a desk job to earn a crust. The first two plays I wrote were both in American idiom, I had been very influenced by David Mamet's approach character through dialogue. As much as I had been alienated by the untheatrical diatribes of British playwrights like Brenton, Edgar and Hare; better suited to dinner party discussion than being staged. Or perhaps to theatre programmes that your cast refuse to be associated with. One of these 'American' plays was about male conception of space; a sort of if it's not me or mine, then either I will appropriate it, or I will destroy it if I can't have it. The other was about a female concept of space, where boundaries were muddied by the experience of pregnancy, of having something 'other' inside your body. The female one got produced, the male one didn't. Both were effectively monologues played by multiple actors.

I wrote several other plays, moving more and more towards explorations of movement, space and dance - you may be picking up a theme of perversity on my part by now - and away from dialogues and speech. In the end I fell between two stools; the conventional theatre wouldn't touch my stuff as being too leftfield and the physical theatre brigade couldn't see the need for a writer. Exit me stage left.

And entry into the world of prose writing. I hadn't forgotten everything learned from the theatre, I just chose to ignore it. I can do dialogue, but I don't see it as working terribly well in novels, when you have to keep helping the reader see who is speaking. Also, having started writing 'American' plays, I was now determined to write a novel free of American cultural and linguistic influence; much like the band XTC had tried to make an album free of American rock and roll influences in a vain quest to find a British music pastoralism that wasn't folky. (Though I'm all about the British urban rather than pastoralism). I just want to interject here that my quest to write a novel free of American influence was simply in order to explore the possibilities and the ramifications within our global culture. .The overwhelming majority of my favourite contemporary authors are American - Delilo, Baker, Selby Jnr, Lutz, Cleveneger. Foer, while with honourable exceptions Winterson, Peace and Mitchell - the latter two who wrote from exile in Japan - UK authors leave me cold; Amis, Barnes, Swift I find as intellectual and dry as the marxist playwrights of old.

So I write this novel "A,B&E" as a journey into the modern British soul. Stripped out from its contamination by mass culture of films and TV. And a very wrinkled, shrivelled walnut of a soul it is too. One of the things I throw into the pot is an expansive language (that old perversity thing). Language as a living, mutating beast, plunging from highbrow to the lowest slang, but defiantly British as against Mid-Atlantic. Grappling to make language stand up ramrod straight and salute; trying to pin down and communicate precise meaning, instead of slipping away out of our grasps, leaving only the sebaceous candle tallow to mould, instead of the limpid flame from the wick. But the British don't seem to approve of having to work a bit for their meaning. We take our language for granted, like we expect the rest of the world to know what we mean, because they should speak English damn it! A legacy of our imperialist past, when to know what being British meant in terms of identity, our forefathers would merely unfurl a map of the world smeared in British pink and tap the areas for their answer. Well those pink areas of the globe have gone now, but the attitudes haven't been replaced by any reflective notions on identity. We still colonise, this time as tourists relatively flush with currency and imposing Little islands of cultural Britain in far flung holiday resorts. The caesura between this and the lack of self-knowledge as to who we really think we are forms the spine of my novel.

Okay, so I've done the American thing in plays. Attempted to quarry a British literature for the current century and that seems to have split opinion down the middle too. I appear to be struggling with my own opaque presumption of identity, as the psyche I wrote about in the novel. But then I was Twitter steered to a wonderful transcript of the Nobel Laureate for Literature's Nobel lecture and I feel reinvigorated. I have to admit I have never read any Herta Muller - the German-speaking ethnic Rumanian - but to judge from her Nobel lecture I will soon be putting that straight. She expounds on what she calls the "Every word knows something of a vicious circle", of words that inform other words, or serve to leach their power. She was persecuted by the Communist forces of repression, and gives examples of how they emptied words and symbols of meaning and invested other words and symbols with frightening new resonances. Her lecture offers wordplay and words within words. She slides effortlessly between different languages and the links between word roots. She indicates the possible power relationships that lie behind all words, whether originating 2000 years ago, or refurbished in recent history. I will be intrigued to see which has the greater primacy in her novels, story, character, voice or language.

But finally I feel I could just be coming home. I may be British and have an unending appetite for the language of my birth, but seems I may have a European sensibility. My formative reading was Camus, Beckett, Genet and Kafka, I even read Sartre novels to the end, although I prefer Houellebeq's fencing with large, philosophical ideas that the French have never shied away from, unlike the scepticism of the British. I may not even have to go into exile like Peace and Mitchell, who presumably both found intimate resonances within their souls while located in Japan. If I feel a bit more rooted, then maybe I won't feel the need for kicking against the pricks quite so much.

But there again, maybe not.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

"Our Song" 3400 word short story

He pelted down the grassy knoll at full tilt. He didn't stop until he ran slap bang into the car door. The sickening slap of flesh stopping up hard against glass reverberated in the still air. Head splayed against the passenger window, legs pinioned against the steel door like a butterfly mounted on a cork. If she didn't know him better, she'd believe him to have had the very life crushed out of him. But she knew him very well indeed. It simply wasn't possible to know another discrete human being better than they knew one another. This was him doing his outsized bug squished against a metal carapace routine. Again.

She herself took more dainty steps down to knoll, since it was icy underfoot. As it unfailingly was at this frozen time. The frore grass crinkled as she tiptoed along, a sound that conferred shivers down her spine that owed nothing to the temperature. Lovers Lane always had that effect.

She arrived at her mate spreadeagled against the unyielding barrier. She canted her neck just enough to see that he had interposed his hands between his temple and the glass. Skillful sleight of hand, consonant with him being a wrestling devotee. Where all along you knew the violence was dexterously implied. The two of them hadn't implied or faked anything however.

Finally he bobbed his head. His hands now serving for blinkers, as he tried to pierce the darkness within. He arched his shoulders back in order to unclamp his pate from the window. Affording his breath some range to wreathe itself against the glass. Then he rubbed at it with the elbow of his puffa jacket. He returned to his scrutiny, moving his hands around the window like a doctor tapping a chest cavity. He shot her a grin, then blew breath out towards her, yet it never arrived. Freezing and petrified in the air before being able to lick her with a burning raw kiss. "It's on the inside alright". She contented herself with a tight nod and concentrated on working her chin deeper into her coat's muffler. "Same as it ever was" as he rapped on the window. His knuckles were covered in rime.

She walked over to the driver's side. She gave it a cursory gaze, before she too blew on the window and then rubbed away at it. Her woolen coat didn't emit the same nerve-shredding friction squelch as had his puffa. She wrapped her hands around her shoulders and tried to hug herself warm. Nothing doing. He shifted over to the side of the bonnet and bevelled both fists down on to it and stared into the space between his arms. As if consulting an imaginary map. Or trying to remember the co-ordinates of some blurred memory. She was burrowing deeper and deeper into herself. He couldn't catch her eyes. He extended his hands across the bonnet's partition out towards her. She didn't break her obtection, the pupa yet to bloom into a butterfly. He wiggled his fingers. He would unthaw her. He always did.

She tried not to break into a smile, but she couldn't steel herself enough. She branched out her arms to meet his hands. Palm to palm, his dwarfing hers. They brought the pads of their fingers together, steepling their hands. He quickly manouevred them into interlocking and before she knew it, he had raised them into a vault over the bonnet. She knew what this was a signal for. They both started sidling along their respective sides of the car, hands joined in a wedding arch, canopying the car beneath them. On reaching the boot, back they turned once again. Picking up the ceilidh's pace, moving into a skip. Wheeling this way and then that, rocking their arms as their exertion trails hung in the air like unspoken sweet nothings. Like confetti frozen in mid-flight.

They collapse across the bonnet. Steam rising from both of their bodies chafed at by the cold air. Great beaming grins on their empty faces. He winks at her. They slide off the bonnet and resume their vaulted arch. Two grooves diverging from the slick ice on the bonnet mark their wakes. As they dance, they bring their arms scything down over the bonnet and boot and raise them back up to clear the bubble roof. This time they do not keep to their side of the car, but carry wildly on round the chassis, Dipping their heads into their respective front seat side windows. Seems they are possessed of enough boundless spirit to keep this reel going for eternity.


The hand , pinned between a shoulder and passenger seat, has developed pins and needles. Colloquially termed 'going to sleep', when in fact it is feverishly pounding its pain gong to rouse the rest of the body which is in slumber. The tiny stabs at first are absorbed into a persecutory dream, but somehow the overwrought brain manages to convey the internecine nature of these forces and stirs the boy into consciousness. He can't believe they've fallen asleep, tonight of all nights. He tries to extricate his hand from its press. "Mmm, don't. I'm comfortable" she murmurs. He contents himself using his free hand to pick away a curl that has fallen across her closed eye. She curls up closer into his puffa padded warmth, still in the land of nod. He takes the opportunity to extricate his hand. It feels swollen, though he knows this only to be the interruption of the blood flow yielding untrustworthy impressions for his gray matter. He holds it against the quilted weave of his other sleeve. It is hard to determine which of the two is more inflated right now.

He fumbles with the key in the ignition. The problem is he can't calibrate his movements with a hand that's not only awry, but also shaking. He grabs its wrist with his good hand and steadies himself. he manages to turn the key. "What, so soon?" she inquires dreamily. "No, I'm just trying to warm you up". "Cos I'm not ready-" "No, it's okay. I'm not ready either. Nothing's connected up". "Oww, oww oww it's blowing cold air you wally!" "Sorry. The engine needs to warm up first". "It's not worth it. And I was having a lovely-" She looks up at him, panic in her eyes. He smiles gently and dabs once again at her recalcitrant fringe with reassuring fingers. "No. It doesn't really matter does it?" He entreats his lips to hold their smile, but cannot see that they still betray him by blanching themselves of honest colour. But in the crepuscule she fails to regard this and besides, she is engaged in wiping sleep from her eyes.

"It's okay to feel a little bit scared". Some part of her yearns to raise her head from his shoulder and confront him, but its leaden heaviness only yields torpor. "How can you tell?" His smile widens genuinely into a grin, that crooked grin he knows she is unerringly smitten by. "You're trembling!" "Well I'm freezing aren't I?" "I can feel your heart pounding too!" He mimes the motion of her ticker, breasting his hand against the skin above her heart, then veering it sharply away with the systole. Neither are aware that it more approximates the action of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. She snakes her hand out and rests it on his jacket. "I can't feel your heart through your coat. Shows how thin mine is". He arches his shoulders back and makes as if to shuck them from his coat. We can swap if you like. I'll wear yours". "Don't be daft. It's too small for you. It'll rip at the seams". "So what? What difference will it make?" She tilts her head to look up into his face, pressed back into the headrest since he is still frozen half-in and half-out of his jacket. Her face appears to have dropped ten years of ageing, to a time just before he knew her. To a time when she would most definitely be regarded as a little girl. But now, such part regression back in time, when still planted atop a young woman's body... God she is beautiful, even when drained of her usual sparkle. He wondered what his face revealed of him right now. He decompressed his upper body back into his jacket.

"I'm so tired. I want to get it right you know? Is this what it will be like?" This is an impossible question to answer, but he feels some response is called for. His whole upper body naturally puckers towards a shrug, but he manages to depute his fingers to stroke her cheek. She recoils under his touch. "I'm very scared. Hold me". "I'll never let you go". Finally she lifts her head and lasers her eyes on to his as surely as were she tugging his chin with her fingers into direct alignment. "How do we know? How can you say that for certain?" He has to hold her gaze or the moment, the lifetime will pass for ever. He can't even allow himself to blink. Can he risk holding her shoulders to demonstrate his resolve? "Cos we love one another and nothing can change that. Absolutely nothing". They hold each other's stares, looking for a chink. Praying to be steeled in the forge of their eternal love. To have the impurities of thought burned off. His fingers span her cheeks and he pulls her into a kiss. Searing and unfamiliar in the freezing air, even the sound rasped beyond wonted flesh on flesh. Her lips were quavering. He held steady and soothed her tremors. She blinked her eyes shut. He fancied he could discern what was expressed beneath the closed lids and exhaled softly. The breath should have gently stirred the shutters over her eyes, ruffled them open as was the norm. But it was sideswiped and beaten down by the chill.

"Give me your hand". She blindly gropes a hand to fumble into the open cupped embrace of his. "No, no. You need to open your eyes for this". She complies, more with weariness than either irritation or curiosity. Still holding her hand, he leans away from her towards his driver's side window. He breathes on it and brings her hand up to the fogged patch. He uncurls her index finger and uses it to incise through the condensation. He etches a heart from the opacity. Then he extends a finger of his own and draws a second, interlocking heart on the window. He appends their intials and considers an arrow. But by now the breath has evaporated, returning the window to its single translucency. "Very symbolic" she snorts, dragon vapour trails of breath emitting from her nostrils. "We've disappeared in the blink of an eye." He smiles and leans once again to gently exhale over the area. Their hearts of course rematerialise. He keeps up his conjuration by breath over several waxes and wanings. She stares fixedly at both the empty void and the recurring proclamation of their love. "That's all well and good, but it will only last until they tow the car away, scrub it down for clues and then crush it". "No, they'll give it back to my parents. And don't forget the mix CD. That will have to get them to see". He reaches inside her coat and pulls out a caseless CD. It's silver sheen seems alien in the gloom.

"Shall I put it on?" She bites her lip but doesn't respond. "Heroes" starts palpating the speakers. "I've been thinking about the music-" "Bit late to make any changes now". "No, not the track listing. But how do we know which song will be in prime position?" "What do you mean?" She has turned away from him and now she scrolls breath on to the passenger side window. Her gnawed nail trails its wake, but he notices that her finger is shaking. Is she trying to convince herself, as she executes her own twin hearts to posterity? "I mean, which track will be playing when we finally drop off the charts? Which will be the ferryman's song?" "Who knows? It will be on continuous play. Bit like Russian Roul-" "Until the car battery gives out. Then it will all go dead and they won't know". "Who cares? Just as long as we know which song is the last to ring in our ears?" "But this is all about providing definite answers for them. Making it so unutterably clear to them that they are hopelessly wrong about us. There can't be any loose ends. As sure as eggs are eggs, they're going to turn everything over and look for any inkling." 'Look, it will be obvious. Short of us doing with a samurai sword and daubing a message in our blood on the lounge wall-" "Don't! Just don't. This is hard enough".

He moves in to hug her silent. He dips his head and bevels it into her abdomen. It does seem to take the fight out of her. Or maybe just her breath, tugged and wrenched from her by the wincing cold. "Are we sure this method is going to work? Not the aftermath, I mean the actual journey itself?" "It's foolproof. It's probably the most common method". "Well how come, even with the heater on, it's so damn cold in here? That must mean the air from outside is getting in somehow? That the car's not properly sealed?" "It's fine, I promise you". "Then what about where the hose comes in? It won't be a perfect fit and enough air might get in to spoil things. We could end up vegetables. Alive but cut off from one another". I'm not feeding the hose in through any windows. I'll hook it up so that the warm air blowing through the heater here will deliver us the exhaust fumes". "Exhausted fumes". "What?" "Nothing".

She hits the track button and returns the disc to the beginning. He has a flashback image, normally when she's leaning forward like that, it's to reapply her lipstick using the driver's mirror. He's normally the one tasked with the soundtrack for any stationary passage in the car. He looks at the dashboard's clock. It will be light soon he thinks to himself. "If we don't do it soon, someone might see us" he offered flatly. "It's still too early. Who else would be up at this time?" "Well us for one". "Apart from us?" "I dunno, doggers maybe". "Don't! Always you have to cheapen it don't you?" "I'm sorry babes. I'm sorry. I'm so sorr-"


They cease their dance once again facing their respective side windows of the car. He raps his knuckles on the driver's, his fist precisely in the centre of the love hearts. He receives a thumbs up from inside. He drops her hands and walks slowly over to the rear of the car. A rubber hose lies limp and forlorn under the chassis. He sinks to his haunches and has to prop himself up against the car to prevent himself overbalancing. His hand is trembling, but he manages to thread it over the rusty exhaust pipe. Corroded or not, the metal chastises his flesh with an icy touch. He steps awkwardly out of his crouch and trudges back to the driver's door. He knocks on the glass once again, but this time with less percussion. The engine revs once, but then settles back into its contented purr. Evidently it is having no truck with the cold affecting its performance.

She pops her head up over the roof towards him. "Which one is playing now, can you hear?" He places his ear against the glass, but it is shaken free by the car's vibration. "It's hard to tell. It's all a bit fuzzy. That might be the gas dampening everything. See told you there was no problem with it being sealed". "Oh yes, you were so right about everything". She holds out her fingers and waggles them at him. Whether her intent was to mock, he gives no indication of being affronted but merely grasps them. They massage each other's fingers while entwined. "You didn't stay with me!" He yanks both her arms towards him, forcing her chin on to the bonnet. "You went first, leaving me on my own. Looking at you and not being able to have you". He swivels her wrists in his, twisting and contorting her arms, elbows pointing outwards like question marks. "Well you'd already let go of my hand. More concerned with your own throat than us going together". She strains to reverse her upturned hands, but he holds fast. Her wrists exposed from their sleeves appear vulnerable. The veins enticing and goading. "It was an instinct. Nothing I could control. Your throat constricts..." He drags her forwards wholly on to the bonnet. With its slick rime, she slides right up underneath his face. He looks like he could either slap or kiss her. "Yeah well I must have gone first cos of lower body mass or something. The monoxide overpowered me faster". He distended his arms and sent her skidding back across the bonnet away from him. He brings one hand up to his throat, she still fully extended at the end of the other hand. "Things we never thought of. Could never have thought of". Still gripping his hand, she works up on to her haunches and slides back across the bonnet, scissoring her legs a straddle round his hips. "The body puts up a hell of a fight. But our love overcame it all the same". He wheels away so her body whips round away from the car. He starts rotating on the spot, spinning her round the fulcrum of his body. They wheel around ceaselessly, until alerted by the car's engine cutting out "Stop! It's making me dizzy. I feel... light-headed".

He gently levers her back to the ground. She dismounts from him. They each return to their respective sides of the car. He grasps the door handle, but is careful to buttress his body against the panel. He only wants to inch the door open. The door clicks open with a sodden clunk. He slithers his hand in to prop up the boy inside. He gapes the door further open. The boy's body sags towards him but he is able to brace the slump. He repositions the corpse upright. Then he reaches across it to gently cup the girl's head turned away against its window. He gets his hand beneath her cheek and gingers her head away from the window. Her matted hair erases the faint imprint of the interlocked hearts. He places her head so that it is sitting on the boy's shoulder. He leans across, down into the footwell. He fumbles sightlessly around the floor until he is able to grasp the coarse stem. He brings the rose up and interlaces it between her fingers. He slowly extracts his hand as he backs away from the open door. He is outside the car once again. As he places the flat of his hand against the edge of the door, his face is parallel to the driver's window. He realises that the initials within the boys' hearts have not been reversed, in order to broadcast to the outside world. Little matter he shrugs, since the hearts are barely discernible within the glazed smudge condensed by the gas. "I remembered to do mine though" she chastises over his shoulder having come round to his side of the car. She leans her face on his shoulder, her chin nestling on the bone in order to peer beyond. He does not protest the driving pain.

"Ah the afterglow". "They do look pleased with themselves". "Positively radiant." "Angelic cheeks of the innocent". "Of course! What have they got to feel guilty about?" "Don't start that again". "Do you think they're dreaming of each other?" "No, I think their sleep is dreamless". "And eternal". "And eternal, yes. Except for the anniversary. When we turn over to avoid the coffin sores". "We were just two young kids really." "Exhausted kids". "Exhausted kids indeed. Up way past their bedtime". She jabs her chin into him to vacate. She slams the door shut. Unseen inside, the two corpses flop away from another again with the impact of the door wresting them apart. The rose drops into the footwell.