Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Fetish Garden - FridayFlash

I am 'a force' you say? 'A force for good', well that is good. Follow the trails. Happy trails, yes why not? Blaze your own trail and you can come upon giant flowers which if you lie underneath, will bathe you in a cascade of perfumed wax petals. Hot wax during the day once the sun has heated them up. Blazing a trail indeed! Or see if it can lead you to trees, whose canopy modulates the drip of raindrops so that it provides the most piquant of water tortures.

Perhaps you prefer to stand naked beneath pines and let their arrowing needles scarify you. Or stretch out prone on top of those already tumbled as a bed of nails, while conifer cones drop on you from above. Find your way to the gently swaying palm fronds and offer them your bare back for exquisite flaying. Or similar with more spinous briers. Discover gossamer leaves large enough for you to pluck and place over your face like a mask. And feel the fibres deliciously contract.

Go seek out plants to rub up against and coat yourself in their pollen. Sweetly honeyed to draw an army of ants to crawl over your flesh and milk you. Or other plants with so acidic a sap as to blister and skin peel you. Sprouts with vesicles of seed that burst open and blind you temporarily, inducing you to rely on your other senses. I won't even broach the obvious array of berries, currants, fungi and fruits which will derange your mental functions should you opt to ingest them. Yet even brushing unwittingly against certain shoots may release emissions and scents that will unpick your consciousness.

I can guide you to roots which will lash your feet and tendrils which will manacle your hands. They can twist and convolute to have you writhe upon their naturally constituted strapado. Seek out vines that snag your feet and then sweep you up high into the foliage to remain suspended, dangling among the scourging branches. Or stand hard up against creepers which will bind you round the throat and choke you to within an inch of your life. Shrubs with their barbs to pierce your flesh. Conferring a crown of thorns to complete your divine stigmata. Or plenteous giant spiders' webs for you to hang from, being squeezed by your own weight like a silky crucifixion. Or a floral mucilage that will cause you to adhere in so tight an embrace so as to feel like a paralysis of your whole being.

Speaking of which, I further possess trees with knot holes of perfect dimension to wholly contain you and cut off your light and air. To return you to an unforgiving ligneous womb. Truly tree hugging. Outsized Venus fly traps to swallow you up and dissolve you in their sweet digestive tract.

'Why do I offer you all this'? Not because I am 'a voyeur'! How so, when I can see such scenarios played out everyday between the current ecology? What need I of intromitting human life with all its animus, into the present disposition? Ah yes of course. You are desirous of righting the crimes against me. You, my apocalyptic acolytes, apostles, advocates and agitators (apologists?). All on my behalf. Fetishising me. Anthropomorphising my progeny. Well now we fetishise you. Now you are our playthings, in our image. Still credit that I am a force for good?

This story appears in my second flash fiction collection

available on Amazon Kindle

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Blur V Oasis (Part 94)

After the televised Brits Award, my wife came upstairs, pronounced herself a convert to Blur and then asked me if I was a fan of theirs. My own wife!!!

We all remember those Blur versus Oasis stories and call outs between the two bands. I couldn't have and didn't care less. I detested them both. Part of Tony Blair's "Cool Britannia" set, Noel gallagher's invitation to cake and drinks at Number 10 Downing Street, sort of underlined exactly how unsubversive both bands were.

But my dislike was deeper than any notion of sell-out.

Let's start with Blur shall we? Like Primal Scream, in the early days here was a band that changed their whole musical style with each album, not as some great artistic statement, but more a desperate lunge to ride the crest of whatever commercial music wave was prominent. From Madchester to Shoegazing until finally they found their sound, cheeky Cockney guitar pop. And fair enough they made the sound their own, but their sub-Kinks nostalgia for elements of working class life just didn't ring true. Especially Damon's vowels. They were from Essex not London after all.

And now Oasis. Boorish, thuggish, "Northern" Oasis. But their unrestrained, newly monied behaviour wasn't my sole reason for disliking them, after all it's about the music right?

Now I am a proud Londoner as anyone who knows me, or pays heed to my tweets will have realised by now. But the one realm where I acknowledge London's inferiority, is in the recent history of music. Manchester has produced amongst other bands, Joy Division, The Fall, Magazine, Buzzcocks, Patrik Fitzgerald, Durutti Column, Section 25, 808 State, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses... I never liked the Smiths, but they were huge as well and could be added to the list. None of these bands could have emerged from London, with the possible exception of The Smiths, because of their sound, their lyrics, their attitude.

And then there was Oasis. Who wanted to be The Beatles. Not Manchester, but Liverpool! Who betrayed Manchester's proud tradition of music that could only derive from the city and its satellite towns. In the same way that Blur wanted to be from London, Oasis doffed their flat caps- or rather threw them away and prostrated themselves towards the Mersey. The irony being if The Beatles were all about Peace and Love, Oasis were all about drink and aggression.

So yes I thought both bands had no soul about them. I didn't care who won the battle between them that seemed to have the whole country split down the middle. I just hope Blur's appearance at the Brits, doesn't give the media an excuse to reintroduce a spat that is over ten years old.

My wife has just become a fan of a band who split up ten years ago. Sigh.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Friday Flash, New Book Trailer and COMPETITION!

It only took two years, but here is a brand new trailer for my novel "A,B&E". As before, I've tried to go for a visual language that is suited to YouTube and the like, bearing a similar relationship as the pop video does to the song it's there to promote; related, but with its own distinct narrative and style. Click on video for full screen

I've performed this piece live a few times now, using a camera phone of my own to snap the audience as part of the performance. I really enjoy doing it, as it's quite a liberating piece that lets me move around the stage and really interact with the crowd. This video makes more direct reference to the relationship of the digital and the fleshy, with the butcher's meat hooks alluding to slabs of meat which ironically we have become to one an other when we snap our camera phones on an "interesting" event in an instant.

The torsos were made for me by a brilliant sculptor called Carlos Espana and you can win one in this competition - In the comment box below, just leave me which single word in my novel "A,B&E" is your favourite and why. (No words from this video which I'm excluding!) I'll hold the competition open for 6 months, that's until 16th August 2012. I'm afraid the competition prize is only for UK residents, but any overseas entrants who would have been in the shake up otherwise will get an honourable mention. If you could leave me your Twitter name as well when you enter that would help me contact you when the time came.

Hope you enjoy the video

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Think Drunk Tanks

So the Conservative Government claim they to go to war on binge drinking. Partly as a measure of economics, to save the NHS the costs of sewing up people injured while insensible, the Police for dealing with the drunken violence and vandalism and generally to reclaim the centres of cities and towns up and down the land for 'decent' citizens. Binge drinking they say, is a symptom of the country's moral decay, another indicator of "Broken Britain". As analyses go, it's probably not too wide of the mark. But where do they think it stems from? This moral decay and Broken Britain. One doesn't have to go too far back into recent history to trace its genesis. And oh yes, it almost certainly arose during the last time the Conservatives held power, though ensuing Labour Governments did nothing to halt its inexorable tide.

After the post-war austerity of the 50s, there rose a new economic class with purchasing power, that of the young. Music and fashion, though overseen by Svengalis, was largely generated from the grass roots, as this new class flexed its creative and purchasing muscle.

In the 1980s, again a new class was empowered through their earning capacity, as Conservative economic policy targeted bringing the upper strata of the working class into a home and share- owning Shangri La. This was not grass roots generated in terms of what the money was spent on. Harry Enfield's "Loadsamoney" character, a get-rich plasterer satirised the times with laser precision: all spending power and no idea what to buy. Apocryphal tales of banners being unfurled at the opera bearing the legend "Bring On The Fat Bird", city floor traders necking champagne in bars as if it was lager, with spritzers for the ladies and the rise of the brand and the label as some sort of proof of material Election.

The 80s heralded the consumptive age. When aspirations were met through material purchases and pleasure was measured in terms of quantitive units. Yet for one not insignificant part of the country the 80s were as blighted as their communities, with job losses and a benefits dependency culture. Yet the aggressive acquisition culture was still being broadcast to them as worth striving for (and perhaps reached its apotheosis with the riots of last Summer). Between both the culture of excess and the culture of deprivation, the British ceded the arts of pleasure. That is we could no longer rely on our own creative energies to summon up a good night out. Not one that wasn't soused in drink anyway. Alcohol somehow was supposed to provide all the entertainment one could wish for. It was the genie that granted wishes, or at least unlocked the inhibitions to such wish fulfillment.

The Labour government that followed did nothing to reverse the trend, continuing to neglect those in need and doing nothing to tamp down the excesses of those with money. If anything they made it worse through loosening the legislation on alcohol, by permitting alcopop drinks to be sold to under 18s and allowing 24 hour licensing of premises. Teenagers who had experienced cheap, accessible foreign holidays, brought back their copious drinking habits to Britain with them and helped turn our city centres into no-go areas at the weekends. Girls as well as boys now embraced the abuse of alcohol too.

I wrote about all these trends in my debut novel "A,B&E". Part of the novel is narrated by a nurse in Casualty, stitching up all the pugilists to return to their drink-fuelled fights. The other is narrated by a woman abroad, watching the staggering amounts drunk by British youth on holiday, with the inevitable consequences. I started that novel over 12 years ago. There is nothing new that Prime Minister Cameron is talking about, though as usual the politicians look at the conspicuous symptoms and a quick, superficial sticking plaster, rather than the deep underlying causes. I would and did go so far to say that we are an unhappy and unfulfilled nation. We don't know what makes us happy, or possibly even more worrying, we don't know what happiness is. And with the current economic stringencies, we have just got a whole lot more unhappy as we feel the pinch so we can't even buy the white goods in such prodigious quantities as we used to.

Cameron, or someone in his cabinet, ought to read my book. Of course they won't. But his lightbulb moment of 'we have a problem here with binge culture' is something that artists, writers and cultural commentators have been expounding upon for many years, only to fall on deaf ears.

"Alcohol, the paint stripper of civilisation’s veneer. Bottled up rage, uncorked and decanted"

"The trouble with A&E is that it’s full of insensible people. Those off their trolleys and straight on to ours. Out of their minds with alcohol or drugs. Or a Carefree in the Community policy. Simultaneously anaesthetised and adrenalised, oblivious to the pain signals radiating from within their bodies"

Sunday, 12 February 2012

While You Were Sleeping - Flash Fiction

Your first night on earth was under my eyes. Swaddled in blankets in your Moses Basket, like a tortilla wrap. Your breath so fragile, I could detect no trace of it, which served only to quicken my own throughout the long hours. Your alabaster lids so transparent, the shadow of your eyes beneath were visible. You were wholly still, save for your flinch startle reflex. What dreams could you have had, less than twenty-four hours old? Ones brought with you from my womb no doubt. Rhythmic dreams.

And somehow you soon migrated from the basket to my bed. For my ease of feeding you as much as your neediness. And how I was too terrified to go to sleep and roll my weight on top of you. So I watched you instead. My eyes accustomed themselves to the scanty light. Your dreams were now attended by little whimpers from your mouth. And I could see your chest rise and fall with your strong heart. Was I yet in your dreams, or was it only my breast? Was I glorious to you, or monstrous?

When finally you were decanted to a bed of your own, I would read you magical stories to convey you into sleep. Always I would linger by the bed and continue to marvel at your seeming contentedness. Finally retired to the bedroom next door, I never once heard you cry out in your sleep. Peaceful, agreeable dreams seemed to be the order of your night. And thereby I contented myself.

Oftentimes I snuck in under cover of night. In the guise of tooth fairy or Santa Claus. Leaving you gifts while you slept on unknowingly, yet expectant. The exchange of tooth or milk and biscuits for bulges in the stocking at the end of the bed or under your pillow. Waiting, suspending my breath until your twisting frame was positioned just right, so as to grant me access to slip the gifts under you. I am not a follower of religion, but in those moments you looked like an angel. And my soul floated up to the ceiling.

Those times when you were struck down by childhood diseases. How I maintained a tender vigil by your side. Mopping your brow with a damp cloth, trying to contain and drive down your inner heat. Catching the blocked cadences of your breath, feeling its release diverted through your mouth. Watching your pinched features as you struggled to overcome the snags and snarls of a body turned against itself in order to garner the necessary restorative sleep.

Once you disappeared off to University, I occasionally visited your room. To be confronted with the crisp lines of the untouched linen and the dry smack of cold, uninhabited air. I cocked my ear for any of the various of your pulses I had matched to my own, but now my breath lacked for its filial echo and filled my head with discordance.

Came that time when I visited you in hospital after you'd been knocked off your bike. When your arm was in plaster and held in a harness. How we joked about your involuntary salute. And that the steel armature holding it together would set off metal detectors in airports sparking shakedown searches. But it hurt you to laugh. Pushing spluttering air through mangled ribs. I could see the soreness etched across your face in spite of the analgesic deadening. In the end the pain would wear you out into an uneasy and throbbing sleep. I watched you and the years fell away as we resumed our mutual stations. Albeit until the nurses asked me to vacate the ward, since visiting time was ended.

And now it is you who sits at my bedside, though I cannot see you. I'm unclear if my eyes are open or not, but they are assuredly unseeing. My breathing too is irregular. Straining not to the pulse of my heart, but to lungs labouring out of synchronicity. Sometimes shallow breath, sometimes deeper. Trying every possible variant patterned after yours. As I try and reach out for the last time, to fall into conjunction with your stout heartbeat here and now. But I can't hear it. Are you even in here with me? I sense that you are. I think you may be holding my hand, may be softly purring words at me, but I can't tell. If you are, it is you who is awake and I am the one asleep.

I can hear one thing however. Deeply recessed in the back of my barely functioning brain. The sound of wings flapping. I always said you were an angel.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Girls' Names Songs

1. Christine - Siouxie and the Banshees
There were two Siouxie And The Banshees, the hard-edged guitar and drums of Kenny Morris & John McKay suggestive of a mix between the Velvet Underground and Can and the poppier-Gothic version with Budgie on drums and a whole host of guitarists including the Cure's Robert Smith. This is from the latter incarnation and is one of the better songs from a patchy ouevre.

2. Mary Anne - Spacemen 3
One of my favourite bands even if they did sing about drug trips all the time. Not quite sure why this has been uploaded with a picture of marianne faithful, as the song isn't about her.

3. Alison - Elvis Costello
This came out in the middle of Elvis' punk stage and maybe signalled the softer direction his music was to take. However it does contain some of his killer lines, "like those other sticky valentines". Great stuff.

4. Delilah - Tom Jones
Um quite simply a classic. Even the football fans of Stoke City belting this out from the terraces can't harm it.

5. Geraldine - Glasvegas
Fuzz guitar pop that sounds a bit like Jesus & Marychain, must be something in the Glasgow water.

6. Polly - Nirvana
I was never a huge Nirvana fan, but maybe of all music acts during my 20 year stint working in a record store, we followed the daily gossip of this band more keenly than any other band. My boss had tickets to see them in Paris, a gig that got cancelled because of a likely suicide attempt. But no one seemed able to put all the facts together and prevent the inevitable. perhaps that simply wasn't possible.

7. Samantha - Hole
And not to be undone by her other half, Courtney Love's Hole offer this ditty. I always preferred Hole to Nirvana, but this isn't one of their better numbers. "Violet" is a hugely better song, but although Violet is a girl's name, that particular song isn't really a paean to the female of the species.

8. Josephine - Ghostface Killah
Wu Tang member Killah shows his sensitive side (sort of).

9. Deanna - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
How many of Cave's songs are about girls? Bad girls or girls he'd like to kill? Most one way or another I'd say. "We discuss murder and the murder act" - see, told you so!

10. Kitty - The Pogues
Slowing it right down now with Irish ballad Kitty. And a rather lovely lament it is too. Shane Macgowan actually wrote rather touching love ballads, such as Rainy Night In Soho and of course A Fairytale Of new York. Did you know Pogues bassist Cait O'Riordan married Elvis Costello. For a while anyway.

Special Bonus Track
11. Julie's Been Working For The Drug Squad - The Clash
There's something modern music hall about this song, but I love its knockabout flippancy.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Give Me Your Hand - Friday Flash

People keep passing me with broad beaming smiles and telling me how happy I look. I can't see the smile I flash back in response, but I know the flesh at the corner of my mouth, where the dark hue of the lips gives way to the lighter pigment of the face, crinkles desiccatedly. I have no handbag, so I have neither moisturiser nor salve to hand. I need a drink. But it's champagne only for my wedding reception and I don't think that's going to rehydrate me somehow. Besides I have a sweetly-sick taste coating the membranes at the back of my throat.

And now spun on to the dancefloor. Again those gleaming smiles detonate around us like paparazzi flashbulbs. My husband of ninety minutes takes my hand. We pause frozen in motion, like the two figures atop our tiered wedding cake. Waiting for the band to strike up. The miniatures cresting the cake await the sharp knife. For the spongy ground to be cut away from under them. Of course they don't, they're made from marzipan and have no thoughts at all.

In the stasis he clasps both his hands loosely round the nape of my neck. My lone island of exposed flesh adrift from the copious swell of fabric of the backless dress. (Actually it's not the lone flesh promontory, but he could hardly cup my cleavage in front of so many eyes). I had been rash in discarding my veil, for its train had at least filigreed my nape when pushed back from occluding my face. Another, gossamer membrane. My husband has strangler's hands. Big, clubby appendages that can entirely cincture my neck. Those bulbous fingers impressing their livid rage on my quivering, rasping flesh. The band hit the first chord.

I am whirled through a succession of sheepishly lupine grinning dance partners, as if I am a lot at a benign slave market. Naturally, none dare to embrace my neck. Settling instead for just above my waist with one paw, and either my shoulder, or hand linked in hand outstretched before us like the prow of a ship. Or an antenna. I scan each consort's clasp of me. For some reason I'm reminded of Ingrés' sketches of hands. But none of the mercantiles here possess artistic mitts. None of them are exactly callused either. No horny handed sons of toil in this gathering.

My father-in-law of one hundred and forty minutes cuts in for the next dance. His grip is encased in leather gloves. To conceal or cushion fingers curled by arthritis. Our dance too is emotionally stiff and painful. His leather cracks with each motion as we alter our bearing on the dancefloor. I hear this above the din of the music since his hand cups where my clavicle meets the shoulder close to my ear. Or do I only conceive that I can hear it, because its menacing appearance strikes a resonance that plucks at me like a harp string? I scrutinise the wrinkles in the animal hide and imagine the cracks in the human flesh they house beneath. I wonder if they mirror one another. Like the impression of a death mask. I know arthritis to be a degenerative disease.

My husband of one hundred and fifty minutes has the hands of a strangler. But for how long I wonder?