Saturday, 30 June 2012

Ace Of Bass - 20 top bass driven tunes

     It's always the lead guitarists who get all the muso-glory. Drummer get the jokes made about them, singers do the interviews and bassists? Well bassists are like the invisible man of the band. Here's a list of 20 songs to partly redress the balance. They may not all be bass licks by musical virtuosos, but the song wouldn't be the same with a lesser bassline.

1) Buzzcocks - "Whatever Happened To?"
How's this for a bass intro? The instrument really came into its own with punk, since the limited musical abilities of the early punkers meant that the primitive sounds just merged into a noisy squall. But solo bass intros allowed some separation out at the beginning of the song and there were many punk bassists who suddenly stepped more into the limelight than in previous musical eras.

2) The Stranglers - "Nice'N'Sleazy"
This was the band who maybe made me really fall in love with the instrument. Jean-Jacques Burnel's bass was just so dirty sounding, as befit their lyrics. Yeah there were persistent rumours that he couldn't actually play and the keyboardist Dave Greenfield was actually playing the riffs, but Burnel was a classically trained musician so I don't buy it. The lowest of low-end bass!


3) Wire - "Like a Heartbeat"
Wire were always more arty purveyors of punk rock, musically stripped down. the bass pulse as a heartbeat, what could be simpler than that? Stunningly effective. Suddenly it was the upfront bass sound that people could dance to, just like in reggae. 


4) Talking Heads - "Psychokiller"
Meanwhile, over in New York where New Wave preceded punk unlike in Britain, there were some accomplished musicians showing a punk attitude but with musical virtuosity to boot. If I wanted to look like JJ Burnel, I wanted Tina Weymouth to be my girlfriend. Quite simply a psychokiller of a bass intro.


5) Pere Ubu - "Heart Of Darkness"
And just to emphasise New York's primacy of the accomplished New Wave sond, comes Pere Ubu and another paranoia-suffused bass intro. Both these tracks have the bass as the more primary instrument and don't they sound all the better for it? New York in the early 80s must have been one messed up city.

6) Public Image Ltd - "Poptones"
The brief flare that was punk rock was quickly replaced by New Wave in Britain with similar values to those in the US. Arch musical experimentalists PIL had the musical genius that is Jah Wobble on bass, heavily influenced as his name suggests by bass-heavy dub reggae. A bass sound that is both dense and fragile at the same time. Outstanding.     

7) The Ruts - "Love In Vein"
Part of punk and New Wave was a formal link up and experimentation with reggae and reggae musicians. Ruts were out and out punk but had very close local ties to roots reggae band Misty and the two shared many bills on the Rock Against Racism tour. Here the crossover is clear in one of the most achingly sad and beautiful songs by a punk band.

8) The Jam - "Funeral Pyre"
By now punk had gone all mainstream and bands like the Jam were having regular singles in the Top 10 of the charts. This song is unusually heavy and free-form for what was a tight threesome and everyone normally remembers the drum solo closing out the song, but actually bassist Bruce Foxton was also allowed off his tight leash to twiddle and thump away. Powerpop.
9) The Cure - "A Forest"
The Cure were never punk. A bit low-fi pop on their debut album and soon to move into stadium Goth. But in between was their second melancholy album and this track showing a bass also driving a song, but without the bluster and pose of songs with harder edge. The sound of a higher end bass. Who'd be a bassists though? The Cure's Laurence Tolhurst went to Court to sue over lack of royalties saying he contributed ineffably to the Cure sound. He lost.

10) Dead Kennedys - "We Got a Bigger Problem Now"
Hopping back over the pond and New Wave had taken the reverse journey and morphed into punk, thrash and hardcore. Progenitors of that were San Fransisco's Dead Kennedys with Klaus Flouride on bass. Here he has a little lounge music lick to satirise the right wing's music of choice. This song was a reworking of their earlier hit "California Uber Alles" written about the right-wing Governor Jerry Brown. But with californian Ronald reagan ascending to the Whitehouse, the US did as they say, have a bigger problem than that now... The West coast can do its own rather nice line in paranoia too.

11) Minutemen - "Anchor"
But US punk wasn't all thrash. The Minutemen were a trio whose musical abilities allowed them to include folk and jazz elements to their tightly blended mix. Guitar and bass alternated duties as leading songs and the band introduced Mike Watt, bass guitarist supreme upon the world.

12) World Domination Enterprises - "Asbestos Lead Asbestos"
If lead guitars can carry you along highways or out into space, the bass nearly always roots you back into the urban city. Here World Dom with their dub reggae penchant utterly nail the grime of their West London roots. Guitars are wielded like axes or played over the heart and chest, or even teasing over their sex, but bass guitars are always low-slung, closer to the ground. And of course they have a longer fretboard, to keep other people further at arms length...


13) Gang Of Four - "To Hell With Poverty"
The funk is introduced to New Wave. George Clinton and other funk bands were perhaps the only other precursors of punk who might bring the bass into the foreground. Since Gang Of Four's guitar sound was so choppy and intermittent, they needed a bass sound to carry the weight of some songs and fill in the gaps.

14) Beastie Boys - "Gratitude"
Hip hop could sample any sound it wanted. Yet when the Beastie Boys went back to their live instruments and punky roots, they brought delicious distortion to their bass sound. Ramp it up! RIP Adam MCA Yauch.

15) Birthday Party - "Mutiny In Heaven"
Punk, New Wave, Goth, what did any of it mean anymore by the mid-80s? There was a flowering of indie bands each pursuing their own underground tracks. The Birthday Party from Australia were one such blossoming that couldn't really be pigeonholed. But bassist Tracy Pew with his cowboy hat and biker fashion, sadly now dead from his grand mal seizures, was always driving the band forward with their off beat drum section, sometimes one drummer, sometimes two which he had to compete with as well as compliment. A bass rumble truly to soundtrack the rhythms of Hell!

16) Gun Club - "Sexbeat"
Psychobilly (UK) or swamp blues (US) was creative another offshoot and here the bass truly lends a quality of swampy sludge even as it drives the blues throb along in its train-driving manner.

17) Jesus And Mary Chain - "Sidewalking"
Meanwhile from Scotland, a band who wanted to be the surfer punks, the Beach Boys with a lot of reverb on top. I kind of liked their schtick, but the bass was always prominent among the feedback squall of the lead. It had to be, to keep it all together.

18) Cop Shoot Cop - "Shine On Elisabeth"
Two basses no guitars, this is a no brainer. 1 hi-end bass, one low-end bass, a heavnely heavy duty throbbing racket. This is my bass nirvana I think (the Buddhist ideal highest state of non-being, not Kurt Cobain's outfit).

19) Thee Johns - "White Boy Engineer"
There was a fashion for rock bands having drum machines instead of live drummers which definitely changed the vibe. Drum machines always sounded a bit tinny and brittle, so the bassist had to inject the weight into the musical grooves to compensate.

20) White Denim - "Let's Talk About It"
And so to the present day. I don't much about this band but we seem to be still where we were with permission for the bass sometimes to grab the glory in a song. Even with a geeky looking guy on bass like this one! Thanks for listening

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Night Terrors - Friday Flash

                                                "The Nightmare" - Henry Fuseli 1781

"Nada. Not a thing".

For added emphasis, the succubus shrugged her shoulders, reflexively curving her wings to shroud her breasts, though not the pearl of her sex.

"You're losing your touch".

"Well aren't we all in this epoch of the Worldwide Web? Brothers and sisters are doing it for themselves. But not to each other".

"Do you think he might have been one for me?"

"I dunno. It was all so much easier in the old days. When the Church told everyone what their orientation was. Or the Imams for that matter, Eastwards".

The incubus distended his wings with considerably less delicacy than had the succubus, not the least part of which was because his genitalia were thrust forward by the action. He cracked his knuckles and exhaled theatrically as he did so. He stretched his lips into a raven leer.

"Was he on his back or his stomach when you left him?"

"Neither. Balled up like a foetus".

"Oh god, not another one with a baby fetish? Grow up already!" And with that the incubus brought his taloned hand up to his mouth and blew against it, before quickly moving the hand to waft his breath back under his nose.

"How do I smell?"

"Fetid. Feculent. Foul".

"Splendid! I'm off to make baby wish he'd never been born!"


The incubus trudged back, wings between his legs.

"You too huh?"

He shook his head slowly in response.

"Not a bleeding sausage no".

"My Liebchen, it isn't always about sex. There are other nocturnal emissions to be harvested and other means to bring them about".

The two beings hung their heads, veiling them behind a leathered wing-tip.

"Yes Father".

"I shall take on this most trying of cases. You both now go seek out others we have marked for reaping".


The man was no longer foetal at least. Made for a smoother saddling. Before he mounted him, the first thing the Nightmare did was peel back the man's pyjama bottoms. There was nothing at the crotch other than the many ridged layers of a cicatrix of skin. He shook his head. His two imbecilic minions could have saved themselves a whole deal of effort if they had only checked for a root cause of the man's unresponsiveness. Although it was true that since the outlawing of castrati, it had somewhat slipped from their diagnostic checklist. Been a while since he'd seen one, but they had always healed very clean, in spite of primitive surgical instruments in the early days. This one looked more rather more mangled. Maybe it had happened when the skin wasn't so youthful and resilient.

He looked at the man's eyes for clues to any affliction. But he only saw his glassy, empty stare.

"At last we get to meet in the flesh".

"What? That is not possible. No one sees me in the flesh, because I only appear in people's dreams when they are asleep".

"Old trick we were taught, sleeping with our eyes open. Ever alert, we can still see shadows and changes in the light in case we have to snap into action".

The man jerked upright and the Nightmare flinched away. The human smiled with a rictus more grotesquely menacing than that of his own incisored incubus minion. The Nightmare regathered himself and tentatively inched closer to the bed. The man watched him but didn't react in any other manner. The Mare grabbed hold of the man's legs before springing up to sit on them, his tail dragging behind him still hanging over the edge of the bed. Using the man's legs like a pole, the Mare fed himself up to the man's waist, whereupon he opened his own horny legs and straddled the other. He bent his knees in to clamp his lower legs against the man's pelvis, the barbed skin looking to drive their spurs into the man's flesh as a goad.

The man didn't move a muscle. The Mare brought his barbed tail up and whipped it across the man's leg. Again the man remained motionless.

"What are you, paralysed or something?"

The man flexed his leg with a sudden jolt. The Mare toppled to one side, but with his demonic strength, managed to remain squatting across the other's legs.

"Not paralysed no. But numb. I can't feel sensations below the waist".

The Nightmare started jouncing his posterior as he tried to ride the man in the manner he was accustomed to doing on all humans. His gluteus maximus tried to manipulate the man's legs, but they stayed resolutely leaden beneath him.

"Yes well the reason for some of that is obvious. But the legs? This goes beyond tempered muscle control, even for Buddhists".

"Yes well your power lies purely within the dreamworld. When I am not dreaming. In the physical world you are absolutely puny to me".

The Mare picked up the fork of his tail and thrust it into the man's leg. The man tilted his head and offered a quizzical raised eyebrow.

"I think the misapprehension you are labouring under, is that you are here to terrorise me".

That stopped the demon in his tracks, his hand frozen in place on his own tail.

"All the terrible images and visions you credit you can thrust upon me, even if I were asleep, I have not only seen before with my own eyes, I too have inflicted them upon others. In this real physical world. So they could not possibly pose me any disturbance. The reason I am forever sleepless at night, has nothing to do with what you or anyone can throw at me. It comes from inside my own head. Replaying on an endless loop. Satisfyingly. Deliciously".

"Oh I get it! I've met your kind before, I've dealt with the likes of you at their zenith during the Counter-Reformation".

"Those amateurs? They were bound by their puny imaginations and an unswerving obedience to their gods. I am a bringer of true terror. I have no such allegiances. Not even to myself".

"You? You're all mouth and no trousers!"

"I did not want to merely triumph over those two infants you sent to taunt me. I wanted the master himself, that is you. A real trial of strength, though I find you in actuality somewhat of a disappointment".

"Now wait. You have to show me some respect. For the weight of history and tradition I bear". For all his bravado, the Mare had plopped off from the man's legs and was backing away from the bed.

"You know what I'm, going to do? I'm going to get hold of that boy and girl of yours, what are they, brother and sister, young lovers? Not anything I haven't incorporated  hundreds of times before. Not even the ugliest pair either. Anyway, I'll gradually dismember them, keeping them alive of course, so that I can feed bits of each to the other. Starting from the feet. After all, that's sort of how I was initiated into these dark arts. How I was tempered... That's got you choking now hasn't it? You're so weak. Your time in the job is up. You have been put out to grass by the likes of me in over half the countries of the world. Sweet dreams Nightmare".

Monday, 25 June 2012

Euro 2012 is boring - official

Euro 2012 has been a terrible competition, of uncompetitive matches, limited ambitions from teams and poor quality on the pitch. Below are 8 reasons why and none of them are because England went out tamely. Let's face it, England contributed very little to the tournament, but then they weren't alone in that.

1) All four semi-finalists came from two groups. The two groups without the host countries. When you seed the host and they are a weak team, you crowd all the decent teams in other groups, because at least two of them should have been seeds. England & the Czechs won their groups, but any of the four teams in Germany's group would have beaten wither of those two, and everyone but Ireland from Spain's group also would have won those groups had they been in them.

2) Who are the top 5 teams in Europe? The 4 who made the semi-finals plus maybe Holland. So the semis are entirely predictable. No shocks in this competition, no surprise packages. And incidentally, no emerging players to take our breath away like Gascoigne in Italia90. Partly because of the Champions League, PS3 football games, transfer gossip and wall to wall forums and fantasy football, everyone knows the names of every player in every team before a ball is kicked. The only player who caught my eye I'd never heard of was a Czech left-back and he was done for Ronaldo's goal that knocked his country out.

3) The quality of strikers in this tournament was appalling. Spain didn't even bother fielding one. France only had 2 in their entire squad. England had two kids, neither of whom nailed down a regular starting place with their clubs. Portugal, Ukraine and the Czechs had strikers who were playing 10 years ago, have they produced no one since? Postiga isn't even expected to score goals for Portugal. He's just there to occupy a defender or two to leave space for Ronaldo. Ibrahimovic graced us for about 10 minutes each game. Why? Because the Swedes had no one to pressure him for his place. The lone exceptions to this were Croatia's pair of Jelavic and Manzukic, the Italians going with a bit of unpredictable flair in Balotelli and Cassano and of course the remorseless Germans. The standard of finishing in the tournament was shocking. Are the only decent strikers in the world from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay? Yes, probably in truth.

4) There were so few world class defenders on show in this tournament, but teams progressed by playing defensively en masse by having their midfield prioritise defence over attack. I blame Chelsea, who beat superior footballing teams in Barca and Bayern by parking the bus. All four quarter finals were defence versus attack, as the 4 teams who ended up losing, all just tried to keep the opposition at bay and showed zero ambition to try and grab the game by the neck and impose themselves on the opposition. They were all beaten before they stepped on the pitch with such a mindset. If a team has no expectations of winning the thing and they make the knockout stages, why not go for it? How lamely did France go out of the competition?

5) Key to the above, is having a world class or pair of decent midfield holding players. That means a player who can break play up, but also one who can start the drive forward by incisive passing. Someone like Makelele or Gattuso. Scott Parker can't pass a ball accurately over 10 yards. I've never seen a tournament where the ball was given away so often by all teams and not just England. And why England blunted themselves by taking their best long-range passer since Beckham and putting him intp the midfield dogfight to rat around with Parker is beyond me. You don't need two holding players, as Germany's fluid midfield shows. they all pitch in with that team.

6) As do the Spanish. If Spain win this thing, it won't be because of their attacking creativity, nor even their passing game. It will because they are far and away the best team at closing down the opposition and stealing the ball back. But when they get it, they play a really slow tip-tap passing game that makes little forward progress. They are Barca, but they lack Messi to drive forward. Can't fault their work rate and commitment, but boy do they stifle the life out of any game.

7) There have been no good games. There I've said it. There have been maybe 2 good halves of football. The second half of Portugal and Denmark improbably became an exciting to and for as Portugal had to win to stay alive and ended up 3-2. The German-Holland first half was good, but the game strangely died a death after Holland dragged it back to 2-1. The Germans have consistently played decent football and of all the teams, though it pains me to say it, I exempt them from the general criticism.

8) EUFA are saying they're going to expand the tournament from 16 to 24 teams? Madness! There aren't 8 good teams to make a tournament let alone 24. Who were we missing from this tournament? The young Belgian team are emerging. Turkey are usually entertaining though not always for the right reasons. Past entertainers Romania and Bulgaria have lost their glory days. Who are we going to get excited at seeing in four years time - Norway and Serbia?

The lone thing I've appreciated about the tournament was the way referees have let a lot go which has cut down the diving because they're giving nothing. zMind you how the officials behind the goal miss Ukraine's goal against England and all the shirt pulling and fouling at corners makes me wonder why they're there. But for me to take as the only positive the refereeing shows how awful a tournament it has been.

Hey the two semi-finals and final may well be crackers of games. But I doubt it. When has any World Cup or Euro Final been anything but a slog to watch? Like this whole competition so far

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Human Marks Of Divinity - Fridayflash

He'd been following the short man with a limp for a few months now. Clearly both were creatures of habit, standing at the same place along their respective railway platforms each day. Boarding the commuter train in the same carriage, exiting by the same door. They never once acknowledged each other in that way men don't.

He only noticed the man's tattoo once the belated arrival of Summer entailed that the smaller man donned shorts. Shorts that came well down the truncated leg, but shorts all the same. Following in the other's wake at a distance that allowed for the splay of his gammy leg, he espied something winking at him from the man's calf. Whatever it was quickly resheathed itself beneath the trouser fabric, like a puppet diving back behind the curtain. But each forward motion hoisted the cloth up once again and manifested a tattoo to him.

His first thought was wondering why it adorned the back of the leg, a place where the man himself would seldom be able to view it. Perhaps the tattoo was some sort of plaintive runic inscription to cure his lameness. It certainly did seem to be calligraphic rather than pictorial, though it was an indeterminate script to his eye at this distance. He wanted to move closer to try and pierce the words, but the dragging leg formed its own natural buffer zone. Besides he was struck that were this a woman he was pursuing, any further incursion of personal space would have been both unseemly and threatening.

Perhaps the man's lover traced over the characters with her fingers when they were in bed together. That she 'read' his flesh, which would have entailed him lying flat on his stomach. He shook the unsettling notion clear from his squirming mind and dropped back a pace or two from the man. More of the tattoo seemed to be insinuating itself at him from beneath the fabric. Maybe his counterpart was speeding up, further stretching his twisted leg.

The inked flow appeared to run down the leg rather than across it. He speculated that it may have been Chinese. Some wisdom of Confucius or the I-Ching perhaps? The man himself certainly wasn't Oriental. But then David Beckham was hardly a denizen of ancient Rome as he misspelled his Latin inscriptions upon the vellum of his own skin. The harder he peered, the more the characters seemed to twitch and flex.

What he really needed to do was to wrestle the man to the ground and satisfy his own burning curiosity. But grappling with a dwarf? That was just too unseemly.


She sported the sandalwood paste Tilaka as a mark of her credo. Those in the know would recognise at a stroke her religious affiliations. Those not in the know demonstrated their ignorance by playfully pressing it and demanding what pushing the red button on her forehead actually did. Beyond pushing her invisible button that was. One didn't require a third eye to see into the closed hearts of these host citizens.

But recently even those of her own kind had inflamed her. Since they regarded her mark as definitively casting her into a caste and not one graced with favour as they went to war with each other in this land far from home. A displacement of the insecurities of exile as they turned in on one another. The host citizens turned away and let them get on with paying their blood debts.


He held the power of light in his hand. Concentrated, portable, the pent up energy of the universe cradled in his palm. Lean, streamlined and sucking the heat from his skin. He screwed the laser sight on to his sniper's rifle, brought it up to his eye and squinted the other shut. He started playing it over those in the market square some thousand yards away. As invisible as a god.

The red dab pinpointed various parts of people's anatomy as he ranged over them. The stigmata marking the power of life and death he wielded. God might fabricate tissue and muscles and organs, but with his high-powered projectile spitting fire, he could reverse that process and expose the hollowness of the Lord's creation in a bloody spume.

He trained the red laser on the back of a man's calf while he stood at a market stall inspecting its wares. No doubt haggling and chiselling with the vendor in their tired, time-honoured way. Solely serving to reinforce an etiquette of acquiescence and submissiveness. He could cut him down to true size, simply by delivering a shot right now. See him crumple to the ground, clutching his shattered leg. Make him- any of them- dance like the marionettes looped on string that they were. The man's life hung by a thread, he could bend him utterly to his will. The red Mark of Cain would see to that.

He veered his rifle away and bounced his laser into a woman's eyes. Reflexively she jerked her head away and put her hand to her forehead to shield her eyes. Another dumb puppet marching to his tune. She didn't even look around her for the source of her discomfort. Evidently such turning away of her face happened frequently enough for her not to challenge it. She clearly was not worthy of his divine imprimatur.

This wasn't some mote they can just bat away with a hand. For he was Lord of Flies. The movies always showed the devil with burning red eyes. They got that right at least. Although his oracular oracle was Cyclopean.

He matched his red spot to the cosmetic red dot on the forehead of a young woman. Straight between the eyes. Aligning it perfectly, the symmetry appealed to him. Were he to press the trigger now, the two red circles would be expunged by a hole of similar diameter, tingeing black around its perimeter. Until a fresh dribble of red emerged from the hollow. Third eye my eye he thought to himself as he swung the rifle across the vista. The red circle settled across the temple of a child. Was it a child, or just a very small adult? He already appeared to be limping...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Tea Mobile - Friday Flash

The bone china tea service had seen better days. But then which of us hadn't? Although the colour glaze had lost its original lustre, it had outlasted her own marriage, for which as a wedding gift it had helped launch and then faithfully service through the years. Not that her marriage had broken up prematurely, perish the thought. But cracked and chipped as the bone china was, it still retained more integrity than her husband lying mouldering in a grave.

Such china contained bone ash, from the calcination of bones. Her husband hadn't been cremated. The teacup she took out from the cupboard had a rusty ring lining its interior. But then the entire service was similarly tarnished. Since the pair of them had drunk a copious amount of tea over the years. She liked to imagine it was akin to the rings inside tree trunks that marked off years of life. The undertaker had asked her whether she wanted him to be buried with his wedding ring, or whether she wanted it back which she affirmed. Only now she thought she may have made the wrong decision. For every cup here bore a ring symbolising their union. Their hours shared in this house. Round this very table, even if she now only set one cup down on it, the ring reminded her of him. Sat alone, with her hands wrapped around a teapot full of warm liquid trying to derive warmth from it. She still brewed enough for two.

The kettle chorusing its boiled readiness, she poured the steaming water into the teapot, letting it stew for exactly the duration required for a perfect strength. At the precise moment she cupped a strainer beneath the lip of the spout, and dipped the teapot to decant the golden brown liquid into a battered thermos flask. She added some milk and stirred it in with a long handled steel spoon that she'd purloined from a restaurant when it had arrived accompanying a dessert sorbet. The handle made it the perfect length for just such a task. She screwed the plastic lid back on to the thermos, slipped it in a supermarket "Bag For Life", something she had availed herself of when she went shopping to prepare the food for the post-funeral convocation, grabbed her handbag and scuttled out of the house. The heaped leaves remained abandoned in the strainer. Left alone in life now, she no longer had any need to read them to discern her fate.

After a slow walk to the park, she plopped herself down on a weather-beaten bench. The bird droppings had long dried to blend lumpishly with the fibre of the wood. Like her china, it too had been stripped of its glaze. This had been 'their' bench. They had fed the birds from here together. Until the park-keepers threatened them with a banning order.

She removed the thermos from the rough hemp supermarket bag and set it next to her on a slat. Then she opened her handbag and removed one of her china tea cups. A jogger passing by caught sight of her manoeuvre and raised a quizzical eyebrow, though he didn't break his stride. It wasn't a reaction she hadn't encountered before. People couldn't fathom why with a ready made vessel in the shape of the flask's cup, this dotty old woman would bring out a teacup from her handbag. Like some unexpected conjuring trick. But if there was one thing she and her husband had always agreed on throughout their shared lives, it was that tea tasted best when served in bone china.

Have tea, will travel. Not quite the rituals of the Japanese Way Of Tea ceremony, but honouring the leaf all the same. Her little finger extended away from the teacup handle, though these days it was bent and gnarled by arthritis. Her head bobbed down towards the cup, rather than bringing the cup up to her lips. From a distance, she looked like one of those perpetual drinking bird toys. She must have taken tiny sips, for the imbibing took an age.

And yet despite the reverence displayed for the libation, for the memory of her husband, she rounded off the ritual in the most inelegant and unceremonious fashion imaginable. She inverted the teacup and thrust it repeatedly in the direction of the ground. This time any stray looks from passers-by registered a greater level of incomprehension.

If she didn't want the tea contaminating the inside of her handbag, provisioning herself with a tea towel or a less conspicuous tissue, would have served to ensure that no dregs could leak from the cup. She seemed so organised in everything else around this endeavour, concern for her handbag could not have been the sole issue. It was as if by such an action, she was banishing everything from inside the china vessel. Not just the liquid residue, but memories too. The brown ring of decay however remained ingrained on the white bone of course. She would never be able to shake that clear from the teacup.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

A Writer's Journey In Pictures

Yesterday I attended The Literary Consultancy's conference on Writing in A Digital Age conference, part of which saw selected literary agents and publishers having to do a 7 minute, 21 slide presentation & talk on their professional life and loves. I thought this was a really neat idea and so have nicked it for my blog, albeit with text rather than voice and 15 images rather than 21. But then hey, I'm a writer, although I nearly didn't choose that path...

I can't remember learning to read. I have absolutely no recollection of the process, whether it was secured through a combination of my parents and early schooling. One of my twin sons taught himself to read by the time he attended nursery school. But I don't believe he inherited that gene from me.

Yet learn to read I must have. Though I wasn't a child fan of reading. (even today the notion of Young Adult literature is utterly alien to me). I was more into playing sports in the garden. What little I did read as a child were the picture books Asterix The Gaul and Tintin. The only books I read without pictures were those I was made to read at school, all of which I have burned out of my memory other than "Stig of The Dump" and "Cider With Rosie" which I loathed.

One other thing I did read was the "Just William" series, after my Dad presented me with a family heirloom, his original 1920s editions of the books that he had inherited from a family member. I did read and enjoy these, though I wouldn't say I devoured them. I have subsequently handed them to my own bookworm son who has utterly devoured them. Sadly nearing 100 years old they are looking the worse for wear now.

If I wasn't sneaking my torch under the bedclothes to read, it was because that cache was taken up by a small transistor radio. I used to listen to DJ John Peel's radio show from 10pm to midnight as he broke punk rock and reggae to my tender ears. Books never even got a look in as even today (how very undigital of me) I can't read with music on. My first aborted novel paid tribute to this well worn adolescent prostration before the shrine of Uncle John Peel.
Music and reading finally coalesced at age 14, when an older cousin of mine suggested I listen to The Cure track "Killing An Arab" and then read Albert Camus' book "The Outsider". I dutifully did both in the quest for coolness points to spread around school, always fed to us by older brothers and relatives. I was blown away by the book and voluntarily, that is of my own free will, got Camus' "The Plague" out of the library and tore into that. Reading wise it means I have never looked back. Literally, since to this day I still have not read the vast majority of the Classics written in the nineteenth century.
Somewhat surprisingly to me even, I plumped for doing A-Level English Literature, despite my complete lack of any grounding in the canon. Shakespeare was okay, Chaucer was a linguistic chore but sufficiently cheeky to be tolerable, Milton's "Paradise Lost" was cool cos it gave me ideas about Devils and monsters to feed into being a Dungeon Master hosting games with my mates (yes we were sad pre-Geeks), but Jane Austen, Sylvia Plath and Tom Stoppard really didn't float my boat. I attained a very middling Grade B.
And then comes the great turning out. When you raise your head above the snail shell of domesticity and start confronting/engaging with the world. I got into politics, mainly through the increasing volume of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as American airforce bases on UK soil took root and politicians talked of neutron bombs that killed people but left property standing as they blithely considered mutually assured destruction. I wanted to be in a band, not that I could play any instrument. I was going to be the singer and therefore began to write cod lyrics, protest songs about MAD and even worse poetry. But they were quite conceptual. Early seeds...
I was so disillusioned with my experience at University, I was ready to walk out. What saved me was the fact that there were lots of free theatre stages and a plethora of wannabe actors and directors among the student body. So I wrote plays and could experiment with no fear of consequence. Having written a single 30 minute play, that year I went up to the Edinburgh Fringe festival with two new plays which I'd written in about 2 months. Crazy! 
When I left college, being a professional playwright struck me as a great way to avoid the rat race. I blagged my way into an exclusive reading card for the British Library on the basis of a paper I was delivering back at my old college on the punk and football subcultures, which needed, um research. For three years or so I read all manner of material in this amazing library. Under the Cupola dome and wondering if I was sat in the same seat as Karl Marx did (hope not as he had boils and piles), this was the most conducive space for learning and research that I've ever experienced. I haven't been in the new british Library, but I can't see how they could recreate the atmosphere of learning. On a couple of occasions I ordered what were considered naughty books, (one bizarrely was a history of the Tarot) and had to go to the special Reading Room where you were under strict observation. Alexander Trocchi's book "Thongs" was another such book that sent me there. 
Where did all that research lead? To a few productions of my short plays, and particularly my week long run of my full-length play "Walking With Mr Brownstone" at the Southwark Playhouse. A play about a fetus addicted to heroin in utero, which played with notions of reality and inner and outer. I became really interested in form and movement on stage rather than the words.
I had hoped the play would get picked up and transfer for a longer run. At the time my wife was pregnant with our twins and the actress playing the fetus who did most of the show on gymnastic parallel bars also found out she was pregnant during the week run. Must have been odd for her to be pregnant while acting a fetus spinning round on the bars. End of run and when my twins came along, end of theatre career as I couldn't really spend the time hanging out in theatre bars.
After finally emerging from the fog of rearing two babies through sleepless nights, I was ready to resume my writing. But writing what? I turned to prose as I set about an idea that had been gnawing at me for a while but which could never have been done as a play (apart from one scene which actually appears in the novel as a mini stage play). I have no idea where the idea came from, but its world was derived from watching those MTV programmes through the baby-rearing night such as "Ibiza Uncovered" and "Holiday Reps". The British behaving badly when they go abroad as tourists.

I self-published that debut novel and then took 6 months off from new writing for marketing it. Part of that did in fact involve new writing as I discovered the joys of flash fiction, stories of 1000 words or less. I could find time to do one of these a week, post it to the blog and keep up some level of visibility and traffic. After a year of this, I found that I had my second book title ready made, 52 flash fiction stories. Marketing turned out to be fun and creative after all. 

When I do live readings, I like to try and work out why I'm reading that piece to that particular audience at that time. This often means dressing up in costume, or as the photo above at Art Jericho in Oxford, performing in a style that fit exactly with the work itself. Here I'm slowly covering myself in the pieces of paper with my text while lying down as the narrator in the story is. I think I have quite a dull reading voice, so I like to put on a bit of a show to make it more interesting. There's nothing quite beats reading live to people. You can feel the atmosphere in the room change with your text.
I am a self-taught writer. I have attended no creative writing classes and as shown above, have read very little in the classical literary canon. But through my voracious appetite for contemporary fiction, plus maybe with my background in playwriting, I have a different approach to notions of story. The worst thing you can say to me is you have to abide by the rules of writing. The next worst thing, is that you have to know the rules before you break them. I have some very different ideas on certain established elements of literature, around story, character, character arcs, hero and the nature of fiction itself. I'm not trying to establish these as a definitive new set of writing rules, they are simply ones I'm interested in exploring through my writing. That's the future course of my writing life. Wonder what images it will cast up.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Middle Mass - Friday Flash

Just along from the everlasting tyre fire, was the electronic goods dumpsite. That pyre of the First World's hard-wearing hardware effluvia, loaded on to container ships and transported here for disposal. It was said that the country formerly hosted the sole man-made object visible from space (which was itself a fiction). Well now the country possessed the lone edifice properly able to lay claim to such a boast. Only it preferred to make no mention of its existence at all. A skyscraper of other people's scrap, was not held to be a feat for reflecting glory on a nation.

The congeries consisted of computers, portable devices and hard drives, e-readers, games consoles and mobile phones amongst other erstwhile essentials of life. I-Pads and I-Pods stripped of their individualising utility and discarded so as now presenting the collective problem of global riddance. All were simply poured on top of the extant cloud-bursting mound of the previous year's designs, like sprinkles on an ice cream sundae. Future archaeologists would have had perfectly veined strata to sift through and timeline our annual obsolescence precisely.

The sheer weight of the material served to compact the already digitally compressed. Degrading under the fierce heat, it had effectively formed a silicon compost heap. And one that also leached beryllium, cadmium. lead, mercury and all manner of toxic polymers. A syrupy river oozed out at the foot of the stack and coated the feet of the scavenger-workers. None of whom wore protective clothing. Many of whom were too indigent to even have their feet shod.

For there were tiny riches to be gleaned from the decaying e-carrion. Gold and silver and other precious metals could be reclaimed from the entrails. These could be sold to the itinerant scrap metal merchants. A more personal trove were the letter buttons that broke loose from computer keyboards. For in the few daylight minutes snatched away for breaks, the salvagers would paint characters and symbols on to the individual keys as they constructed mah jong sets of 136 of such tablet tiles. They were the cyber-scrimshaws of the modern age.

However, most recyclers died before they could complete their mah jong sets. Irrespective of the long-term toxic assault, they were more immediately liable to surrender their lives when pulling at something within the teetering pillar, or burrowing further in toward the middle of the monolith. Such actions would cross the precarious tipping point and set off a instrumental avalanche fatally swallowing them up in its tumulus.

Children with their sparrowlike mass and prehensile limbs, were highly valued for scrambling up the scarp face. But often they dislodged even a tiny component and sent it cascading back down the slope. Either lethally picking off a fellow forager below them on the ziggurat, or hitting an adult stood at its foot squarely between the eyes and killing them stone dead.

Yet such culls scarcely thinned out the workforce of collectors. For continual waves of the impoverished arrived from inland as frequently as the ships docked at harbour. The fresh grizzle-faced workforce knew the location. The pilots of the monster ships were also navigating to the destination with surety. Yet the rest of the world were seemingly not in the know. The deaths went unreported, entombed in the secret location just like the original builders of the pyramids of the Pharaohs. The downtrodden continued to be trodden down by the weltering mass of the world's detritus. A detritus that interlarded flesh and bone with the plastic and metal alloys.

Meanwhile, out in the online world formerly served by the equipment currently littering terra firma on the other side of the planet, an even greater albeit virtual tower was accreting at a yet swifter pace. A dump site where an ever-accelerating rate of depositing was taking place and one which fiercely, if not venomously, compacted and compressed its neighbours within the unseen dark heart of the steepling megalith. A megalith become cenotaph for the unknown souls impressed and lost inside. The middle strata condemned to invisibility.

This tower was made up of words. Written on the ether. Typed straight on to the face of the void. Since the First World required so much of its electronic kit in order to extrude and present its words. Words which they didn't conceive of as evanescent. Yet still in the main they disappeared without trace, against all their producers' wishes. Pressed instantly back and eclipsed by the next electronic onrush of published or broadcast verbiage. Overwriting the overwritten. The words actually possessed two levels of insubstantial chimerical existence. Firstly that effaced amidst the supersaturation of the information superhighway. Falling through the gossamer mesh of the world wide web. Compacted and pressed beyond sight by the heel of search engine optimisation jackbooting it into touch. The second, still cached within the RAM of those units heaped up in the electronic waste sites unseen. Virtual, potential words, not even extant in the virtual world.

Those who wrote warnings and reproaches about the exploitation and terrible conditions suffered by the landfill families, themselves suffered compression and accidental suppression as their words were submerged in the tidal flow. Their vaporous outpourings joined the virtual airfill, though unlike that of its material cousin on the opposite side of the globe, you couldn't see this from space. Or anywhere. Virtual container vessels docked at virtual ports, loaded up with the refuse of airy compositions and set off for the information dumpsite that exists, well where exactly? The last and lost domain, that of the middle mass. Future archaeologists of the virtual world, would have no possible way of unravelling these compacted layers.

"Middle Mass" - The Fall  (The song doesn't really have anything to do with the story, other than it's title which stuck inside my head when starting out writing this tale).