Thursday, 23 August 2012

Flatpunchline - Friday Flash

Zimmer frames are not funny. He challenged any of his erstwhile peers to make them so, on stage in front of a thousand people in the auditorium. Without resorting to some lame pratfall clown routine. Not that any of his peers could rise to the arthritically thrown down gauntlet. Since he had outlived the lot. Seen them all die for that final time both on and offstage. Whatever the manner of their exit stage left, the final curtain had come down on them all.

Ceding the ground to all those Young Turk comedians. With their 'Observational' comedy, Jesus Wept and then hopefully rather than turning the other cheek heckled them and maybe threw a pint glass for good measure. 'Have you ever noticed how all supermarket trolleys seem to have three wheels pointing in one direction and a fourth in the complete opposite?' The only thing cutting edge about that gag, is it makes the audience want to slit their wrists. A joke about how many gears an Italian tank has on the other hand... Observational comedy was so damn cosy and self-congratulatory. The comedian going, 'look at me, aren't I clever for noticing this everyday thing' and the audience recognising it and sharing in some sort of community with the comic. Yet there is no joke to be in on together. Just a bland, unremarkable statement of fact. You want an observation about everyday life? Ageing is a bastard. See, not funny at all. The punchline is "four" by the way, "all of them reverse"...

Tears of a clown? Don't you believe it for one second. There's none more competitive than a bunch of gagmeisters. Funnymen take their rivalry extremely seriously. There may be no disputing which name is the headline act, but those on the bill below will contest whose stage entrance garnered the loudest cheer, who was called for the most or longest encores, each with an imaginary clap-o-meter in their head to back up their claim. We all punch the air and bellow a satisfied "yes!" when it's our one liner or punchline that goes into a script when you're sat around with nine other comic writers sat with thunder on their faces that their witticism didn't make the cut. I'm glad all those other fuckers are dead. Proves my burning desire to live and share with the world was stronger than theirs. Lightweights of comedy all.

See that's what these young comics lack. A bit of fire in their bellies. Tough clubs full of miners just re-emerged from the Pit, wanting only to slake a thirst, not listen to some dinner-jacketed dickey-bowed smart-arse talking about what they've got waiting for them at home in the form of their wife or mother-in-law. This lot go to University and fall straight into a television contract. The best comedy is splenetic. Bile spat across the room that picks people from being slumped over their drink and shakes them silly. 'Oh my aching sides' rather than tickling their ribs. It's called a punchline for godssakes, a blow to the guts that takes the wind out of you, not a pat on the back.

See us comedians knew our humour was a buffer between us and the world. Instinctively we felt the world wasn't set up right and we needed to tilt it off its everyday axis. But we weren't entirely clear what it was that needed lancing. Well we do now. It's bleedin' Death isn't it? Death always has the last laugh. If only we could factor that into our hilarity from the outset. But then we probably wouldn't be wisecracking anymore. Wiser and more cracked in the head probably.

Good comedy is the gauze and iodine liberally applied to help drain the pus of a raw wound. To own it, defang and deplete its crippling power. Only eventually death's grinning visage can't be deflected anymore. The infirmities of the body tear the gauze away and expose it once again to putrescence. Laughter as the best medicine until your failing body builds up total immunity to it. Your bile congeals inside you into gallstones.

The man regards his zimmer frame. If he were more august with the spoken word, he could make like a character out of a Samuel Beckett play and bend down inside his frame and act as if it were a cage or a prison. Instead it confers the illusion of mobility. Him the tortoise in his metal shell here. He grips the handbar with one shaking hand as it has to support his evanescent weight, while with the other he leans over to pick up his walking stick that he no longer uses. He brandishes the stick above him, with a shooting agony in his shoulder as the stick raises above the horizontal. With the heavy rubber tip of the stick, he taps the shade over the central light of his room and sends it swinging. The bulb is too weak to give him the spotlight trail after him that he craves.

Ah to hell with it. They may all be sat there pissing themselves before he even enters the room, their hearing aids squealing with feedback, but there's still an audience in his old people's home to be entertained goddamnit. He would slay them tonight... 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

25 words

the girl's unsuctioned velcro sneaker straps were flapping insolently as she walked. the winged feet of a cherub unable to elevate her above the terrestrial

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Off Colour - Friday Flash

He was told in no uncertain terms that his language was off colour.

Not in the sense of turning the air blue with profanities. Like Lenny Bruce or Buddy Hackett. Those wilful kite flyers and lightning conductors sending up their crackling charge of forked tonguery. Straight down the spines of the audience who dare not credit what has just passed between their ears. Blushing red, immediately thawing the frisson of disbelief. Make no mistake, they know exactly what it was they heard. The language of obscenity was targeted with the precision of a heat seeking missile. And boy did it lock on to their respired vapour trails. So no, in that sense it couldn't really be said to be off colour. Or even blue.

Nor was it his flat and colourless talk once exhibited when sat with his wife at the kitchen table, dousing the last embers of their marriage. Head slumped between his hands, braced against the failure of their two worlds ever to collide any more. She enunciated her domestic burdens, while he dreamed of the exotic. Especially his lover who was no longer prepared to wait for him. She bemoaned the lack of real red letter days in their grubby little affair, as they skulked around in the grey world needing to blend in. His wife's face alternated between puce rage and puffy cerise when the tears absconded and burnished the skin channels they ploughed. Flat and wan his words may have been, but at least they followed faithful speech rhythms to preserve the shape of their meaning. Unlike those words of his wife shredded into sawn-off syllables and babbled phonemes. As determined by the serrated punctuation of her heaving sobs, or her welter of tidal emotion that swamped all utterance entirely.

Moreover it was totally removed from the condition when his sister had finally awoken from her coma. The lone persistent symptom was a loss of her colour perception. She viewed the world through monochrome, (so if there was any genetic predisposition, it didn't appear to be gendered). Nevertheless, her mind remembered how things looked. She still knew the words. Hues, tones and colours. And she felt a compunction to paint the world with those distantly remembered chromatics, trying to salvage the full register of her perceptions. But since they emerged from the wavelengths of her thoughts rather than those of light, more often than not they were impossibly inflated. She often obliterated objects behind an intensity of colouration. Her words were like the drawing book of a child who has shaded beyond the solid black borders of the image contained within. Her words lent pulsation to fixed objects and violence to still life ones. Spectrums of colour, narrow as they might have been within entities, were blown apart by her daubing of them with an all-consuming colourific tincture.

No. His words were now foundering upon a very different distortion. Like ships wrecked on littoral rocks, his words were breaking up from beneath him. His language was off colour, because it ceased to function as language at all. Bites of words, mangled and strangled morsels of sound, that had been split asunder from their host words and resutured together like Dr Moreau's teratologies. His words, making perfect sense inside his own head, were heard only as white noise in the ears of his listeners. The grand mal surges had plucked the wavelengths of his brain and sundered his ability to emit coherently. Some called him gaga, and though madness is a form of dropping completely off the known spectrum, he wasn't deranged, merely unable to express his sanity.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Kafka's Wound

"Kafka's Wound" is a multi-media collaboration on a new Arts Council funded digital site called The Space, hosted by the London Review of Books and partnering with Brunel University.

At its heart is a literary essay on Kafka by Will Self, but there are lots of links embedded behind icons that take you to the work of other artistic practitioners, in the form of photographs, music, animations, art works and videos all commissioned for this piece. It's very exciting, a magical mystery tour and well worth a look. And deeply flawed of course...

Self's essay is quite brilliant. A confessed non-academic literary critic, it's more of his personal relationship to the writing of Kafka, clearly a seminal influence for him. As Kafka is for me. And like me, Self eschews trying to analyse Kafka's work, as sublime and uncanny and beyond any forensic authorial dissection. In my case, Kafka is perhaps the sole writer I have never read with an analytical eye. For where his voice is otherworldly, mine is lumpenly rooted in the material world around me; where his words are lean and taught, mine look to bludgeon each other into insensibility.

Self points out that "Kafkaesque" is THE adjective that prevailed into our modern idiom from literary modernism, more than "Proustian" or "Joycean". And Self also lambasts lazy thinkers who all too easily resort to the adjective for anything intricately labyrinthine. He suggests that Kafka's representation of the individual overwhelmed and disoriented by faceless bureaucracies and unseen legalistic powers, was perhaps only supplanted by George Orwell's depiction of Totalitarian states putting the jackboot and the granite face on to these restrictive, oppressive forces.


But I feel Kafka's vision is back in place of primacy as Orwell's dread regimes crumble away and the technology of the internet atomises us all amid a welter of discombobulating data and information. With the Totalitarian regime, everything was prescribed, limits were in place, the eyes of the State assumed to be everywhere; the reason I struggled with "1984" was that the power of the State was so all-encompassing, I never believed Winston Smith had a chance of getting away with his transgressions. Hence the book had no tension for me. But with Kafka's "The Trial" and "The Castle", the forces of oppression are like ectoplasm. They are powerfully indistinct, chokingly nebulous, so the individual never knows at any moment exactly where they stand and that is far more punishing to the mind.  I feel we are back at that point now, not at the hand of any government nor overtly oppressive agency. Merely the power of the free market.

There are no limits to production and consumption of virtual goods. But with that bombardment of data and information online and in digital form, how do we know we are getting the bits we want or need? We may be missing something in the deluging torrents that pass us so quickly. Even if we have the 'right' text at our fingertips, we may be so desperate to look out for the next piece in the jigsaw, we only read it cursorily, missing things buried inside.

And this is what I feel with this whole project of "Kafka's Wound". The essay at its heart is as I said, brilliant. Initially every time I clicked on an asterisk, it brought me an instant pop-up footnote or explanation which was convenient. But soon it brought up a video, an animation or a photo. As was designed for the whole project, to function like a treasure hunt of association. Yet in doing so, each time I was taken out of Self's essay. There was simply no way of being able to read and digest it as a whole. I was, at my own clicking fingers, bombarded with tangential connections and associative flavours. Narrative was utterly fractured. Now this might work well with a fiction piece, giving it further layer upon layer of meaning. But for an essay, a tightly structured throughline of logic and argument, even one as non-linear as by Will Self, such diversions become digressions and detours which shatter any coherency for the reader. Argument and logic proceed by linear steps. The multi-media egg hunt is anything but linear.

I would welcome such a multi-media, non-linear approach to a work of fiction

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Baby Steps - Friday Flash

Like everyone, on entering the world I was overwhelmed by the inundation of oxygen and burst out into a mewl. For we do not yet possess the means to register our protest in any more cogent manner. Yet such a reaction also shows that all the mechanisms are in place. It represents the maiden launch of our lungs.

Once the rods and cones settled down sufficiently to allow me to process the light, I zealously observed everything around me. Gradually the details cohered, of hair, wrinkles, smile, teeth, teat, skin and hands. Additionally I managed to compose their patterns, to contour them into faces and bodies. In time I learned to distinguish them from my own. Discovering the reflexivity of mirrors helped. Now I could plot my own features and I realised that what was presented before my eyes was very different from the picture held in the mirror. That the flashed smile I was gazing upon, was not intimately tied to me. That I had a choice now whether to reciprocate with one of my own, or to withhold. There was me, then there was not me. And I was only responsible for me. Thus did the world shake out heuristically.

Whereupon I was disgusted at my own neediness.

Since my studies were punctuated by severe lapses. There I could be, scrutinising hard, when my eyes would grow heavy with the labour and I would slip off my sentinel's perch and drift off to sleep. Right in the middle of an assignment! My raging tummy too would also override any watching brief, since I could seldom keep my peepers on the main prize for that afternoon, once ol' misery guts decided to pull rank. Even though it had an eye of its own to see out, it was usually shuttered by my baby-grow, so it started its bellyaching. Entailing any further surveillance on my part, being occluded by the juddering mound of flesh I was propelled towards. Filling my purview with mottled skin and a faintly perturbing pulsing blue line running its length right up to the grizzly knoll stuffed into my mouth. Was it pumping me full of some nefarious blue liquid? The solitary saving grace about this stage, how I could still evacuate my insides without taking my beadies off the chosen target under inspection. But that wouldn't last for ever either.

Yet I was to ascertain further wily contrivances behind these adult tactics, intended to stunt my development. That same teat which was jammed into my mouth to heed the call from the muezzin deep in the minaret of my stomach, turned out to be a false prophet. In the guise of providing me with more energy and staying power, to prolong my viewing bouts, it was actually designed to constrict my burgeoning consciousness. For the longer I continued to solely imbibe milk, the greater the delay on the anatomy of my throat changing to accommodate the aural into the oral. I could hear clearly enough, but I was unable to contribute to these one-way dialogues. All the time this deceit was being practised, my deep-throated mother was cooing and eructing noises at me. Ostensibly offering me her gift of invocation. An endowment my milky-dependent anatomy could not possibly acquire. A creamy libation to my continued dumbness. Is it any coincidence that as verbs, both 'milk' and 'cream' have the meaning to cozen or swindle?

But came the time that my body demanded gritty, more granular nourishment, in such a way that it could not be ignored. My throat finally permitted to perform its pre-programmed meta-morphology. Now Mater could no longer produce inside her own body the liquid blue foodstuffs which alchemically turned to golden yellow within mine. Deuced, she was forced to decant me to my own umpire's high chair. However it was not only my food she mashed with the back of a plastic spoon. She continued to slice and dice her own words even as she served them to me. Cooing to me like a pigeon, as if it were strictly for the birds. A mummy-bird regurgitation of a bolus of phonemes, dripped directly from her tongue on to my own. Babble talk. Non-Language. I could only move in the narrow furrow of imitating her sounds. Distending my muscles, waxing my larynx, disinterring my tongue from the floor of my mouth. Hefting the weight of syllables. Hoping the alphabetti spaghetti I was periodically consuming, would rub off its runic wisdom and coat the membranes draped across the inside of my cheeks.

Eventually I scaled the pinnacle. As with my Lego, I was able to snap into place the building bricks of lexemes in order to harvest sentences. There was no holding me now. Sure I still had the odd nap and the occasional interruption of flow caused by the failure to control that other flow of nether regional evacuation. But boy could I launch into a litany of 'J'accuse' against my parents. I cast brickbats at them like Thor hurled his hammer. I tore into the history of their indignities visited upon me, of their conspiracy to keep me held under. They don't call it the "Terrible Twos" for nothing. Yet mine were not hissy fits, but perfectly articulated arguments. I did not make a scene, but rather delivered a perfectly weighted broadside. I knew that conniption was mock Latin, even as I unveiled my fine arts of Greek rhetoric.

POSTSCRIPT: He went on to win every youth public speaking competition in the land and captained the Oxford University debating team to victory in the Varsity match. Whereupon he entered politics, securing a Parliamentary seat, but had to resign after a scandal in which he was caught suckling at the breast of a suburban prostitute, while dressed only in a nappy and baby's bonnet. 

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Welcome to London! Ten Capital Tunes

Since the London Olympics are on I thought I'd welcome you to the city of my birth and residence with some tunes landmarking various parts of it. There are plenty of songs with "London"or "Cockney" in the title and many others referencing it in the lyrics, but I haven't included them. There's an extensive list of them on Wikipedia if you're interested.

1) The Kinks - "Waterloo Sunset"
The Kinks were THE quintessential London band, beloved of the Mods who when theyw eren't fighting with Rockers at British seaside resorts, made pilgrimages to the boutiques of Soho and Chelsea to buy their sharp Italian clothes. This song is a beautiful love song to London, one of the few as it turns out when you consider the rest of my list...

2) Elvis Costello - "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea"
And can you blame this man from Liverpool? Chelsea, home to the London smart set, but also the home where punk rock broke out from (Malcolm McClaren's and Vivienne Westwood's shop "Sex" was on the Kings Road in Chelsea and where the fledgling Sex Pistols hung out). This was from when Elvis Costello's punk phase. Pity it didn't last really.

3) The Clash - "(White Man In) Hammersmith Palais"
The Clash wrote many songs about their West London origins and of course the call to action song that was "Guns Of Brixton". West London was original home of London's Caribbean community and punk and the Clash in particular sought to fuse reggae with punk and this is one of their homages to the symbiosis. "They think it's funny turning rebellion into money". Quite! The Hammersmith Palais was probably the venue where I saw more live gigs than any other in London. I have many happy memories of the place.

4) The Ruts - "West One"
The bright lights of London dissected as no other. Ruts singer Malcolm Owen died young from a heroin overdose, but here Henry Rollins from California pays tribute with the original members of the Ruts. It's a bit of a rough live sound, so track down the original studio version. For a so called punk band, it's really rather beautiful.

5) Carter USM - "Twenty Four Minuted To Tulse Hill"
Post-war, the UK has always looked towards American films and music. Here South Londoners Carter USM nod in the direction of Americana but reclaim it proudly for London with a dose of healthy dark London humour.

6) Eddy Grant - "Electric Avenue"
Electric Avenue is in Brixton. From a time when all things reggae ruled the world, joining hands across the ocean between Jamaica and London. A little wistful thinking? It wasn't back at the time...

7) The Jam - "Carnaby Street"
Ah there's nothing quite like nostalgia and bemoaning the decline of things. Here The Jam, who went on to have about ten number 1 songs in the national pop charts, bemoan the commercialisation of Mod Central's shopping street. I recently, ie in 2012, saw a flotilla of Mods in parkas on their lambretta bikes. Seems its the tribe that just keeps coming back. Like I said, nostalgic... I did actiually like The Jam a lot, "A-Bomb In Wardour Street" is a much better song, but I was feeling fickle today.

8) Stiff Little Fingers - "Piccadilly Circus"
Four boys who grew up with the Troubles in Northern Ireland have the cheek to complain about violence in Piccadilly Circus in London? Actually they were a great band, but this maybe isn't one of their better songs.

9) The Pogues - "Rainy Night In Soho"
If frontman Shane MacGowan didn't have such a gruff delivery and more of a potential pin up, the Pogues would have been the natural successors to The Kinks. That they weren't is why I like them. This is still a beautiful song even without the normal edge in Pogues' songs.

10) Sham 69 - "Hersham Boys"
Um... er...
I never called them "The London Cowboys"...

Bonus Track in run off grooves:
Burial - "South London Boroughs"
There are those that say dubstep IS the sound of London today. Brooding, lurking in the shadows and the spaces. I'll let you make your own mind up, but this is South London the artist is referring to here!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Shake A Leg - Friday Flash

The peep show shutter scrolled back. Still blackout beyond. The coffin may have parted the curtain, but it had yet to enter the cremator. Jewish holy scrolls still encased behind cloth, even when the doors of the Ark are thrown open. The membrane of sleep remains drawn across consciousness, all the while as the brain slowly surfaces from its night porterage.

Sense data lack. Eyes closed off. The tripwire of the ear extends unplucked. Slight tang in the nostrils, the sourness of the body warming up and simmering the stale night juice marinade. The taste of mucus inside the mouth, a hardened nugget cloven to the roof. Tongue playing over it. A half- swallow reflex trying to dislodge it back down the gullet. But the globule isn't playing ball.

Slipping back into consciousness. An apologetic clearing of the sinuses. Involuntarily rattles the grey matter further up the line. The senses aware they're now scanning for data and that the processor is firing up. Still hard to credit. A flat denial of opening the eyes for confirmation. The extremities up the ante on the anterior organ of the brain. The bladder launches its blunt yet insistent prod. Pinned shoulder radiates a twinge along the pinched pathway before hitting the numb wall. A hand tingles with the recommencement of blood flow as the fingers flex and ball. It cranes sightlessly in order to lance some thigh itch. Pathfinder signal zeroing it in. Temporarily knocked off course by scrambled signals. A prickly patch of dry skin unreachable in the lumbar zone pressed against the mattress. Score one to the unscored scaly bed sore.

Crick begets crack. A throb behind the eyes. Dull smart. Banging on the lidded windows from inside, demanding ingress. The corners of his sockets tug by way of a twitch. Would-be blinking behind the blinkers. But the skin there is constrained by a viscid overlay. The kid who always woke up in a blind panic, unable to open his lids because of an allergic mucilaginous overproduction. Memory, or dream? No, it was that same summary circumstance day after summery day which always reaffirmed him to himself. That nothing sinister had overtaken him during the night, no matter what dreamscapes he roamed, which metamorphoses he undertook. He always returned the same 'me' in the morning. Rowed back over the other side by the ferryman, just with sticky coins placed over his eyes the toll. Though it takes longer to regain even that awareness these days.

His torso refuses to rise from the supine. Even though the bed was no longer granting him asylum. Abjures cradling him in its linen embrace, jabbing at him with indeterminate granules. Its wrinkles and ridges impress their exhortatory semaphore into his flesh. Nor is the quilt any longer sheathing him. A minimal leg movement tries to shuck the material. The emergence of a blind pupa from its chrysalis. But the fabric is too heavily cloying. It clusters around the foot, stifling it. The limb strives to wiggle itself free. Eventually a satisfying 'flump' as the quilt transfers its heap to the floor. Cold air inundates his skin. He can feel the crusted outlines of evaporated sweat on his stomach and navel, plastering down the hairs. While those on his arms stand up as if to attention. The dermal layers beneath pop and burst its own rind with goose bumps, once stripped of the duck down shroud.

Soon he would have no other choice. The ache behind his eyes tweaks the cord and ratchets up the pain siren. A spasm shoots straight to the middle of his forehead and attempts to burrow out the other side. His bladder scales the ladder, as it furrows his urethra frankly into further discomfort. The desire to conserve energy means  habitually he tries to wait for his sluggish bowels to catch up, to kill both flying the cooped-up at once, but has never synchronised them yet. If only he had a bedpan to soothe the urgency transmitted to his brainpan by the nether regions of his body.

Still a dearth of sense data from beyond the bed. Only heightened reports of the insurgency within. If he opens his eyes, he hopes to be bombarded with stimuli, if only to banish the goads from inside his own being. Hebetude in the guise of fortitude. He chances it. Unfurling his leaden lids like a portcullis. The light inroads and dazzles. Illuminates the blood vessels behind the overwhelmed lenses. His vision a gauzy, seething red. Reflexively he brings the lidded drawbridge crashing back up.

He retracts the shutters again. Slowly. Red tinged, quickly eclipsed by the natural light. Traffic light change, red to amber. A column of dust motes ascend spotlighted in the stripe of light pressed through the crack in the join of the drapes. A petit mal wave leaping the gap like the one he feels between the two disconnected hemispheres of his brain. The light shaft remains in place, but as his eyes adjust the motes are no longer visible. The early morning has filled in the outlines of the day ready for him to face it. To colour it in as he may. He swings his legs over the mattress and plants them on the carpet. The day has finally dawned.