Monday, 19 December 2016

Contingency - Drabble

The terminally ill child bears her fate with far greater acceptance and equanimity than her mother, who after all, has spent her longer lifespan neglecting the import of her own attendant mortality. The child has had less time to become beholden to the reasons for life, or make the deals with herself as to why it might be held to be valuable. Her thread is not as extended as that of adults. Her sense of permanence less entrenched. Her mother had calculated to plug the void of meaning, by rearing a child. And now that stratagem was collapsing around her.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Songs About Heaven And Hell

You'd figure that heavy rock and metal would dominate songs from the Abyss, but not a bit of it. As for songs about fluffy clouds, would that be the province of fey indie bands? A few surprises possibly on the way between halos and horns.

1) Husker Du - "The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill"
Husker Du were the powerhouse band they were because all three members were songwriters. Not too often these days you see the drummer is the lead singer. Not the greatest sound quality, but you can see the energy of this genuine power trio.

2) Mobb Deep - "Hell On Earth"
Well if it's not Heavy Metal singing about Satan & Hell, obviously it was going to be Hip Hop and Rap decrying the hell on earth that are the urban ghettos. As here.

3) The Cure - "Just Like Heaven"
Did someone say fey indie band? Of course the Cure's Gothic look might have them pegged in the camp of devils and demons, but no, here's a jaunty ditty devoted to more Elysian Fields.

4) The Fall - "New Face In Hell"
Shame there's no footage of this being performed live, but it's just one of the tracks off the Fall's best of their 30+ albums "Grotesque After The Gramme". Divine stuff.

5) Stone Roses - "Breaking Into Heaven"
Songs with 'Resurrection", "Heaven", "I Wanna Be Adored" suggest a passing interest in religion and divinity, or maybe just Ian brown's god complex. This is not one of their better songs imo

6) White Stripes - "Catch Hell Blues"
The clue perhaps is that they always wore red and black, Satan's home colours. And the other clue being The Blues, Satan's own in house music.

7) MC 900Ft Jesus - "I'm Going Straight To Heaven"
Taken from his album "Hell With The Lid Off", again another with a god complex seeing himself as a 900ft tall Messiah!

8) Gang Of Four - "To Hell With Poverty"
and don't they make a glorious infernal racket in this song, even if their concerns were always very much grounded in the temporal and political rather than esoteric.

9) Bob Dylan - "Knocking On Heaven's Door"
Did they let you in Bob? Is that why you changed religion?

10) Killing Joke - "This World Hell"
Beginning to see a theme develop here, Hell is very much located on Earth, while Heaven is the wistfully viewed place to escape our tribulations.

11) Led Zeppelin - "Stairway To Heaven"
Severely doubt that the road to Heaven is paved with twelve string guitar solos. The Butthole Surfers released a wonderful homage/spoof album called "Hairway to Steven".

12) The Pogues - "Boys From The County Hell"
Doesn't Shane MacGowan look fit and well back in 1985? One of the best live bands ever, this was definitely one of their stomping dancefloor tunes.

13) Tricky - "Hell Is Round The Corner"
The music for this sounds just like a Portishead track. In fact the Tricky/ Massive Attack/ Portishead symbiosis suggests that Bristol trip-hop bands were all very incestuous, musically I mean.

14) ACDC - "Highway To Hell"
Run out of Heavenly songs, it's all Hellish from here. Well I did promise you some heavy metal...

15)  Three Wize Men - "Urban Hell"
British hip-hop was really really sad wasn't it, trying to ape Old School US stylee.

16) The Clash - "Straight To Hell"
As sampled by MIA for her song "Paper Planes"

17) The Streets - "Heaven For The Weather"
This song name checks both Heaven & Hell, so seems the perfect song to conclude with.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Pica - Flash Fiction

The man was lying asleep on his side, his handd tucked under his facee for a pillowwww, when he was shakennn awake. His whole bed was aquiverrr and he sufferedd that shooting vvertigoo as hiss block mattress was hhoistedd vvertically. The tetherss bound himm in place. Hee knew what was to ffollow. 

The mmetal probe projected horizontallyy towards hhim. Its stylus started ccutting into his sskinn. His wwounded fflesh responded by ppatching the cavities with bloodd, but thee duct mounted beneathh the stylus ssquirtedd some sort of aanti-coagulantt to sluice the blooddd away as ssoon as it tried to dockk with the sskinn. 

He shuttered his eyesss and gave into to the llapping swish of the cchemicall reagent jjets. He had eendured the ssensation so many times, his nnnerves had ceased to firee at the trespassss of the sspike. It was ggougingg out characters on his sskinn, some of wwhich he could flick his eyes to rreadd, others which remained bblockedd from his purvieww. Because of the iiirregularr cccontours of fleshhh, the words speltt thereon were not arranged in ssentencess. He was not a flatt pplanee like the lleavess of a bbookk. And that seemedd to be the veryy pppurposee.

When the sstyluss had finished its ccalligraphicc ffurrows, there was the ccustomary ppopp as the lliquidd stream was shut offff and replaced by a more vviscouss fluidd. Here it comes, as a blackkk inkkk was ssprayed into the sscoress in his sskinn, until the ffurrowss were ffullll to the bbrimm. The pprobee pperformedd its shuffling rretreatt as it was wwinchedd back. He leaned his hhead back against the mmetalll blockkk and turned to one sside. He saw the aaarrayedd ranks of others ttrussedd and ccoloured exactly the sssame as him, though he could not make out the iiinscriptionss on their ffleshh. A pprinting bblockk aarmy. A typeset ttextual host. And then it bbegan.

In rrrapid ffire, the ttypebars were llaunchedd fforward headlong, pppressingg the composed hhhuman mmmonotypes against a giant wwhitee ccanvass of indeterminate ffabricationn, to createe the iimpressionn of tthreee-dimensionalll llletteringg. For this was the jjusticee ssystem’s's rrecordd—kkeepingg of its ppproceedings, or at least the fffootnote aaannotationss thereoff. SSince it was important tto have the sssentencess pproducedd with dddifferinggg dddepths and aalignmentss and not just necessarilyyy llegible in a linearrr fffashionn. This rrace’s's jjusticee rrresonatedd with ggreaterrr and moree intricate pprofundityy in that wway

The iimpact at rrapidd vvvelocityy against the ccanvass always kknockedd the human printtt stampss immediately ssparkk out. They came to when a ssprinklee of waterr wwashedd over their ffacee. An alertt that the cleansingg and mmaintenance pproceduress were upon tthem. Now their bblockss were ppositionedd to the hhorizontall and they ppassed through a vverticall pplanee of some mmuslin like mmmateriall ingrainedd with ann aastringentt tthat sservedd to flush out any vvestigess of inkk ssquattingg in sskinn recessesss. A blast of hheatt was quickly aaappliedd to evaporateee any surface lliquidd and scourrr the fflesh prior to silkyyy ssspurts of an aqueous ppolymerr ccoatedd the ddegradedd ffleshh and qquicklyy flowed to seal it ssmoothh. The ffusible sskinn would hhharden and set within an hhourr and the hhhuman composite stickk would be gggood to go once again the fffollowing day to rrecord the jjudgements hhandedd ddown. 

Except, only he possessed the secret delight of knowing that his typebar was uniquely warped. That the presence of his conjoined twin, albeit dead though largely shrivelled, distorted the output of their impressed script. Clearly the clerks and notaries of this giant race didn’t set much store in proofreading their verdicts.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Trump, The Emptying Of Meaning And The Degradation Of Language

Progressive/Left politics is in retreat. Not only has it ceded power in government, it is getting its collective behind kicked by the AltRight or harder line Conservatives, gleefully deriding every sacred cow of progressive/Liberal societies.  The Left is unable to muster any kind of debunking of the AltRight’s declamations and lacks for the fundaments of any coherent political ideology or policies to offer an alternative vision of government.

The Left simply cannot understand the rise of the AltRight and struggles to engage against any of their tactics. As a writer I would like to point out to them how some of these tactics work, coming from my own perspective of language. For language is under attack as never before in this blustering post-truth, post-expert era. Language, like truth, is being emptied of any consequence and meaning. Deliberately so.

1       Like any politician, Trump uses words to stir the emotions, to rally people to his side. But Trump attaches nothing of substance to his words. There is no policy, no ideas linked to his declamations. Instead he slates something as being wrong or he doesn’t like it and that is enough to have his supporters agreeing with him, punching the air and shouting ‘Hell yeah!’. It doesn’t matter if he does anything about the issue, the mere fact he has highlighted it is sufficient to secure allegiance to him the man, not him a man of ideas or action. But surely it will matter when he fails to deliver anything of substance? Well apparently not, merely stating that something is anathema in a way that it has never been quite so openly derided before, is enough. He has already backed away from building a wall with Mexico, yet no one is really calling him on the backtracking, trying to hold him to his word. They can’t since the word was as empty as the promise, it was only ever just raw, undiluted emotionalism. To distance from the suggestion of an actual brick and concrete wall being erected, it is now being said that the wall was only ever a metaphorical one. Look back on his speeches and there is no indication of it being metaphorical, but it doesn’t matter, it got the message across, job done.
      Trump annunciates his litany of dislikes and things that need changing, but he is only really a figurehead and will leave it to others to bring about these changes. He provides the headline ideas, without any steer and his minions will go about trying to expedite these headline actions in whatever way they see fit, since they are given carte blanche, the only proviso being to please their lord and master for whose favour there are competing with others in his cabinet. This is exactly how the Nazis operated, Hitler would throw out the top line aim and then leave it to his henchmen to fight it out to bring the details and the practicalities to make his desire come true. And since those henchmen in their various departments were all competing with one another for favour and status within the regime, it only encouraged for more and more extreme actions on their behalves to out-trump their rivals. Trump is not a Nazi or even a Fascist, though he shares some of the cult of the personality traits of a Hitler or a Stalin, but looking at several of the names of the people he has brought into government, this could get very nasty indeed. There will be promotions and demotions of individuals throughout his Presidency, as the competition to realise Trump’s ill-specified vision gets very cut-throat indeed. Delivery is all, more than the actual politics of it all. Trump is a businessman first and foremost. It’s all about sealing the deals and not losing a battle or losing face.

3       Trump will sideline the mainstream media. He has no need to address them and permit them to mediate his words to their viewers/readers. Which is just as well since they are empty words anyway. He can go directly to his support base, through his own access to broadcasting (currently situated in Trump Tower – will he even bother to move it to the Whitehouse?) and of course social media. Both allow him to speak and therefore be represented entirely as he chooses. His postings on social media already are completely without fear of being taken to task for them. He defends VP Pence over the “Hamilton” theatre booing. Already the counter-feeling is that this was a diversionary tactic to sprinkle smoke in the electorate’s eyes to cover up claims of election fraud, fake news stories, voter disenfranchisement (the new Jim Crow Laws) and possible foreign power hacking of vote machines. Again the mechanism of an inflammatory tweet or FB video is that Trump doesn’t have to hang around to debate the outraged ripostes in the under the line comments. He has made his proclamation, let the outcome fall where it will. He spent an entire campaign making outlandish threats and the more he was attacked for them, the more it solidified the notion that he was an outsider from the political elite, didn’t play the game they all did and told it like it really was. Only without any sincerity behind the outbursts, he wasn’t telling it at all.

      Much of this emptying of meaning from our language chimes with the approach of the AltRight  (even that appellation is an emptying of the substance of meaning, since elements of the AltRight are White Supremacist). The AltRight delight in taking to task political correctness in deed and in word. They do it with a cheery countenance that they say is the opposite of the serious minded nature of politics everyone is so fed up with. It’s fun, it’s a laugh, it’s what we need in politics and it’s what people like. It is what we Brits call banter (bantz) and again dovetails effortlessly with the mien of social media. Sawn off name-calling and jibing rather than more developed and extensive debate and argument. But this is the clown make up of John Wayne Gacy, because in appealing for it as a bit of a laugh, when it is in actuality violent, hateful language directed at non-white males; that is people of colour, non-heterosexuals, or women who put forward arguments about empowerment or inequality. Hate-filled language may be legal in the US, but it can never be light-hearted. They would counter that their targets need to grow a thicker skin, or some greater genitalia. And because there are sections of society who lap all this stuff up, who regard it as both knockabout comedy and expressing the previously inexpressible (and of course buttressed by the 1st amendment for free speech), to them the language can be parroted because it is just having a laugh, it doesn’t mean anything – they may hate you, but they won’t go on to kill you for your otherness. Even if that last mental calculation were true, it still makes for a divisive, hate-filled society, now given air to breathe. Again, a specious argument that they are merely words emptied of substance and consequence, that they are ‘just words’.

The progressive Left as yet has not been able to muster arguments against this approach. Hard to muster arguments when the value of words (let alone truth, fact and reasoned argument) has been denuded. Anytime a progressive chances to open their mouth to defeat an AltRight opinion, they can be immediately derided for taking it all too seriously. These are two points of view which operate on different levels which cannot possibly meet head on and deal within the same terms of reference.; serious mindedness versus having a bit of a laugh. So is the solution to get equally comedic and irreverent with counter-arguments to the AltRight? Then you lose your claims to moral authority. The winner is not the person with a clinching argument, but who is the funniest (or the shoutiest). TV Reality world, phone in your vote. Words mean nothing in the new America. Promises, if even made, mean nothing, but no one seems to mind (although in 4 years time if the specific grievances of Trump voters haven’t been met, then perhaps then failed promises or lack of commitment to anything of substance) might actually come home to roost. With its First Amendment, America currently has many more outlets for views to be expressed. But don’t be surprised that in a world where the word is devalued, no one is actually listening to any one else expressing their opinion. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Occam's Wet Razor - Flash Fiction

                                                                                                                 Image from Maggie Chang

You stand at the precipice. Albeit at sea level. Beached. A tsunami of anxiety elevated at your back. An overwhelming welter of nausea bearing down dorsally. A monstrous water-breathing dragon astern. Poised with bated froth for your embrace. The spume laps at your quivering neck. Or maybe it’s a runnel of your own sweat. Salt kissing salt. Siren summons into the bosom of the brine. You can’t bear to turn and face your leviathan. Scylla or Charybdis, one or other has calamitous claim on you. A miasmic ménage à trois. Tears walk the plank from your lacrimal channels. Else it’s artfully piloted spindrift. Bombardier and navigator the twain. Co-piloting your life towards crash-landing in the drink. Charter a gallant on white winged seahorse to come sweep you up off your feet and away to safety. Yet that’s precisely what plunged you into these straits in the first place.  

That older ensign long consigned to the Davy Jones locket at your throat, semaphores how the terror is always more colossal than the reality. You need to clear the opacity of your vision. Conceive of your fear not as a cataract but as a fountain. One you can cup your hand through the spurt and bring some cool refreshing drops up to your lips. -  A font you say? Like a modest spout of mechanically mannered spray? You’re fooling yourself with such a conceit. Just take a look at the dimensions of the roiling qualm. It’s not going to merely drench but drown. No King Canute act is going to hold that at bay. It’s not going to be allayed by three coins in a fountain. It’s a hateful spate effacing all before it. Including the balm of the memory of you. - Mayhap, but you know there is always a place to stand behind a cascade. Safe from the surge. Then you just walk back through. That’s what you have to conjure up in your mind. Where the gush can’t get you. - There is no such haven. A fountain is not a waterfall is not the ocean. - You do realise you yourself are mainly composed of water? So what is there to fear from becoming one with the main? There’s your ballast for you. Air-breathing is not all it’s cracked up to be, especially when you are suffocating inside. From stale, putrid, corrosive air. The second-hand oxygen respired by your lovers. Altitude sickness. They induced this Fata Morgana afore you. Blood is supposed to be thicker than water, but your blood is being curdled and poisoned by those closest to you who would transfuse you their corruption. No no, you don’t have to tell me again. You are in love with both of them. And yet here you stand stranded solitary amidst this quicksand.

King Canute. Damocles’ sword. With something something comes responsibility. Only you do not possess the authority and level of control conferred by a throne. Supposedly conferred. You do not even hold the security clearance to dub yourself “I”. As in, ‘I need the waves to recede’. It currently (!) remains in suspense hindmost over your head. Planar. Primed. It is not a mere parting of the Red Sea ways you supplicate. It’s more elementally primordial than that. You are seeking a recrudescence of the Antediluvian. The Prelapsarian. A period before the ego of I. A time before forces acting on the body, whether at god’s behest or non-denominational gravity’s. Until appetence’s apple sunk them both. Which is where you find yourself today. Here and now. Carnally compromised. You cannot return to the rockpool of your mother’s womb. Even if tiddler you could go back and begin again, higgler you would end up here in this very same place anyway. On the brink of being deluged. Marooned on an isle fast being sepulchered with the tide. Cupidity is your very nature. You’re like the fish that hooks itself twice on the same line. - Greedy you mean? - More… instinctive. All creation seeks after nourishment in order to survive after all. - Oh, hungry… for love. You got that right. - Not, trichotomous love however. You cannot devote the entirety of yourself across a brace of separate swains. - Why, is Poseidon’s own trident not three-spoked? A divine with a pair of consorts of his own. - So just like he, you are not feeling discomposed by the menace of the water then? There can be no ‘we’ betwixt three. And with no ‘we’, the ‘I’ is also submerged. The wave of your fluctuation will break over you. You made your seabed, now lie in it. Take me from your throat and cast me into the deep. - But you are the only one I have ever truly loved. 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Mid-Life Crisis = Standup Comedy Routine

So in September my twin boys went off to University and suddenly my wife and I had the house to ourselves again for the first time in eighteen years. Empty nest syndrome? Not on your nelly. Mid-life crisis (my parents divorced after 25 years once their only child disappeared off up to uni), no, not on your life. I don't just seem to have a richness of free time, I seem possessed of more focus and energy with them gone. After not a single live reading through until the start of September, by Christmas I would have hit double figures. I've written a lot, including starting a new project and coincidently landed a first publishing deal for one of my novels with a small independent publisher (more of which in future). So I guess I'll be busy with preparing a marketing and promotion campaign for the book in the new year.

So business as usual for me, except maybe more so. Only... a couple of nights I performed my first ever stand up comedy routine. Now that surely is a symptom of mid-life crisis, bursting out into new territory, trying something completely different from what has gone before? Except writing and performing a comedy routine really wasn't that much different from writing and reading live. Unless you're one of those comedians like Tim Vine who just gets up on stage and tells joke after joke without much in the way of narrative, comedians are story tellers. More often than not, their stories are based around the character of themselves that they project on stage. So in many ways little different from a protagonist created by an author in any novel. Except that there is this tension between the character they present on stage and the true life person, as the audience try and figure out how much of the act is an act and how much they are really like the persona coming through the mic. I make the same calculations as a writer, because I believe no matter how far seemingly removed from yourself a fictional character may be, it still represents some part of your psyche. So for my routine, I did draw on my own life and then had great fun playing and distorting it into, well a fiction. The character is a 50+ year old geezer (that'll be moi) looking back to his youth and the influence of punk rock. That much is true, as is maybe the character taking a slightly sad hypocritical, non-dewey eyed look at what he is now compared with the ideals of punk. But in doing so I exaggerate for comic effect a lot of that tension between then and now, (for example this character talks about no longer being able to pogo on account of a skiing accident, when in fact I have never been skiing in my life). I also bring punk ideals up to date in a way that is probably completely specious, in talking about them in the context of Trump's election and the influence of social media. The Jam get a hammering in the routine but at the time they were the band I saw play live more than any. Sham 69 getting a pasting is in fact representative of my true feelings about them.

In terms of the genesis of the routine, I was watching a live show by my favourite standup comedian Stewart Lee, who deconstructs his comedy even as he performs it (echoes with plenty of my own fiction writing). And in the middle of it - I can't remember the exact prompt - I started composing a routine about punk lyrics (I know, heresy to be writing material of your own when watching your favourite standup performing his act). I mean these were songs I've been listening to and occasionally singing aloud for the past 40 years, so I was able to put my hand on to their lyrical content and started imagining performing a running commentary on some of them. Added into the mix was a couple of twitter hashtag puns I'd made in the past when the hashtag is band or lyric themed and suddenly a whole routine was coming together. Was I really going to try and perform this myself, live in front of an audience? Well if it stood up to the test of me writing it out and it still seeming like a good thing then I already had the perfect open mic night for trying it out. So on my tube journey home from Stewart Lee I wrote out in my notebook what had been in my head in the course of that Thursday evening. On the Saturday I sat down to transcribe those notes and write a full version. Since that was completed by Sunday, I felt this thing was a goer. Now the only thing was to memorise it.

That is the main difference between performing comedy and reading prose live. You don't have the book/script in your hand. Now I'm used to acting out my own stories with gesture and expression, so that aspect didn't pose me an issue. But here I'd had to learn 1500 words perfectly, because as all good comics show, the exact word choice can be very important and funny in itself. So I rehearsed all week. At night with my head on my pillow, I went through the routine in my mind. Didn't get much sleep last week. But I managed to memorise it all and at the show last Friday was pretty much word perfect and raised a few sniggers and snorts from the audience. A couple of people came up afterwards and said they enjoyed the set. I don't think this represents a career change, but was both a really useful thing to do from a writing point of view and though I don't have a bucket list, I think it was something I'd always had a sneaking desire to do at least once.

One final point, I knew that if I was going to perform it live, I would also record a version back home to put on YouTube. Yet there is a huge difference between performing into a microphone where you only get one shot at it in real time and recording to camera where just a few hours after I'd been word perfect in front of an audience, it took about 15 takes just to get through the first 2 of 7 sections. There's is nothing quite like the prod of a microphone and an audience to keep you tightly focused.

So here is the probably one-off standup routine for your delectation and pleasure.

The songs referenced in the routine:

Sex Pistols "God Save The Queen"

The Clash "White Man In Hammersmith Palais"

Talking Heads "Psychokiller"

Ramones "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker"

The Adverts "Gary Gilmore's Eyes"

The Jam "Down In the Tubestation At Midnight"

Gang Of Four "Guns For Butter"

Art And Iconoclasm

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, giant carvings out of cliff sandstone. Monumental art, reduced to rubble by Taliban dynamite. Zealots who could not permit the existence of images from apostate religions. Their minds utterly certain, they felt not a pang of regret. They recorded it as an instance of religion crushing and reasserting its authority over art and expression.

Two men, musicians and dedicated trickster artists of chaos, travel up to a remote Scottish island to burn one million pounds of banknotes they had earned. The act was intended as an artistic statement and was filmed, but otherwise there were few witnesses. Though they proceeded with their act, the men have since expressed that they were racked with doubt. Such an act was hardly blasphemous, but it did still seem to be an abomination. The film testimony only had a sporadic release and rarely sees the light of day. 

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Gathering - Friday Flash

No one at this party sported name badges. More’s the pity. They all appeared tightly bonded, hierarchically indentured, Jacob's social ladder to employment heaven, though with all feet firmly planted on the ground. Me, I felt adrift amongst the tide, these children of the Promised Land where I am the lone one of Pharaoh’s cavaliers not swept up in the swirling waters of the Red Sea. Amidst these entrepreneurial elect, I feel I have drowned anyway. I would rather once again cross the Red Sea than cross the floor of this room. 

So who do I make for? Which one of these cynosures of the chosen people holds my fate in his hands? One of them possesses the arcanum that will unlock my future. Could it be him, with the burst blood vessels in his nose, surely he is too much yoked to the fruit of the vine to be entrusted with such salutary wisdom? Or how about him, though to hear him pontificate he appears as mad as a plague of frogs? This third has no morals as his financial locusts descend on an enterprise and asset strip every last spike clean. While the chap next to him I see wincing and shrinking, presumably as a farmer who suffered at the likes of just one such at his hands. Though his uncallused digits suggest his loss was less of reaped wheat and more of murrained livestock. I feel his pain, not of his absented herds and flocks, but as to how he can best remove himself from this social cartel. How to shuffle and sidle away without appearing peremptorily impolite. The trick being to seem endlessly hanging on every word of the pack alpha so that you curry flavoursome favour. A clarified buttering up of the Pharoah who grants such favours, morsels from the top table. Top tips tantalisingly hovering just at the extremes of range of your fingertips. Don’t reach too importunately for the parings or the bait will be pulled away, for what can I but offer him in return? The Prisoner’s Dilemma pertains here. I don’t know the pecking order, whether I am asking for too much or too little. Whether it is even in the grant of this potentate or another. For none bear the mark of the Paschal to enable me to effortlessly passover them. But then it’s hard to credit that any of them could be lambs at all. A plague on the rest of them’s houses.

But who am I to be so exacting on those in the room? They may display the ten pestilences of Exodus, but I embody the deadly sins of the hindmost Testament. The venal weaknesses of my own anxieties. Sloth, need one say more? I am not so much out of practise at networking as virginal. I envy the sleek, slick professionalism of all here, even as I vaingloriously congratulate myself for remaining unsullied by their materially tainted mores and jealously resolve to preserve my own imagined purity. I know my vulnerability, that if I expose myself to the magnetism of these semi-divinities, I hazard unbuckling my lust and falling wholly under their orbit. And avarice and gluttony? This is where I lose my confidence since such features are the preserve of my interlocutors and circumnavigators in the room. As Old merges and acquiesces into New, a hostile takeover. Sins and plagues blend immaculate and smear us all. 

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Knife Fork Spoon

My spoon a shank. My shank a spoon. Sharpened. Honed sweet honed. Spoon as knife. Feel protected now. Able to cut any lairy fucker who tries it on. Funny how something that feeds you becomes a deliverer of death. I am nourished on into further life by striking blood. Stick 'em good to their guts. Yank it back out still with organs attached, then spoon-knife becomes a fork also. The full set. Prison wares. For eating your porridge. No honey or sugar to sweeten it. No salt to season. Just a blood glaze. For eating in the trough.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Vault - Flash Fiction

Once we were gymnasts. Vaulting, tumbling and scissoring. Our bodies soaring, in defiance of gravity’s leadenness. Each was the other’s asymmetric bar containing their flight. Soft landings and angular handholds. Tucking, twisting and pivoting around each’s axis. Contrapuntal convolutions consummately confluent. Heads over heels over hips and all manna in between.

But eventually our mutual routines became routine. Repetitive, rehearsed, rehashed and rote. We became arrhythmic. Hand supination taken for supplication. We floored one another. Me with my fabric ribbons, you with sports ball. You wanted to club me, while I wanted you hanging at the end of a rope. And not even inverted. Each V-sitting at extreme opposite edges of the parallel bars to keep one another at legs' width. Our anatomies reasserted their asymmetricalness to one another on the bars, on the few occasions we made hate, our bodies clashed and collided rather than being cushioned. We flic-flac'd past one another in avoidance. You pommel horsed me, swinging round to keep me at bay or slice me in two. While I lost my balance when straddling the narrow beam of you. The white spray taking leave from your hands was not chalk dust. We stuck the dismount on one another.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Dad's Net - On a milestone in Fatherhood

A couple of weeks ago I delivered the second of my twin sons up to his university and at one fell swoop my wife and I were plunged into 'Empty Nest' syndrome. Even though I have been the main child rearer over those 18 years, the prospect didn't fill me with trepidation, since I have plenty of writing projects to occupy my time. In fact I was looking forward to getting my life back, or at least the great chunks of time perviously devoted to homework, cooking and shopping for them, helping organising themselves, teaching shaving and cooking, running their youth football team, general chaperoning and accompanying and of course those chats on life and stuff, not to say political discussions-cum-arguments. I'll miss 'em of course I will, it is a big wrench, a big change for me from the routines of the last 18 years. But I genuinely also feel a sense of liberation as I had always put them and their needs/concerns ahead of my own. Don't get me wrong, it was hardly a case of putting my own life on hold for those 18 years, I still worked part-time and published 9 books with three others completed and ready to go. But it's hardly coincidental that within a week of Twin 2 disappearing up to uni, I gave my first two live readings of the year at the end of September. I just seem to have more time, energy and attention now to address things in my own life.

Within the first two weeks of his uni stint, Twin 2 had come down with what was probably "Freshers' Flu"; where they cane it so hard on all the free booze on offer in Freshers' Week that their immune system takes a hammering and they succumb to some germ or other. There was a concern that it might have been meningitis as this is not unknown to hit Freshers for much the same reasons. My wife had set up immunisation injections for both of the twins before they went up to their respective colleges, but it is quite possible that Twin 2 Just didn't bother to turn up for his (we were both at work and besides he's 18 now so the responsibility lies with him and we also have to show him trust). If I'd challenged him as to whether he'd made the appointment he would have certainly lied to us if he had ducked it. At one point I played over in my mind that I might go back up 250+ miles on a train and see for myself what the state of play was with him. Perhaps I ought to point out that the word 'meningitis' stirs up deeper resonances for me, since I had an older sister who I never met die from it at age one month back in the 1960s and the shadow of that tragedy loomed large over my parents and therefore also over my upbringing. But I didn't make any 250 mile mercy dash. It occurred to me that this was the same mechanism as when the infant cries in their cot at night hoping the guilty parent will be drawn back into removing them from the cot and into their arms at least or perhaps into their bed. Because we had twins, this really had never been a viable option for us, making it easier to remain strong and resist the wails than for most parents. I didn't make the trek, but advised him which of the pills I had provided for him in his first aid kit he should self-medicate with. Previously at home, me or my wife would have simply handed him the medicine ant the water to swallow it with.

Still unsure as to whether how well fully recovered Twin 2 was, I had a dream this week which proved auspicious. I'm not a great one for the significance of dreams, partly because I don't remember many of my dreams and secondly having studied Freud at Uni, I remain unconvinced by his explanation of them as having the purpose of unlocking our subconscious. However, the mere fact of remembering this one seemed to proffer its significance, while the two main symbols were outside my normal frame of reference so again piqued my curiosity. In the dream a greenhouse was dismantled and replaced by something I wasn't quite sure of the details, but some sort of mechanism for controlling traffic flow and parking. Now I neither drive nor do I do any gardening so both of these symbols baffled me. I went on Twitter asking for any wandering psychologist to offer an interpretation but no one responded. I kept musing on the dream throughout the day and then I figured it out. A greenhouse is also known as a hothouse, so for me I realised it represented the structure of parenting that I provided for my boys (hopefully not in 'hothouse's' sense of unduly pushing their development towards high achievement, which I think I avoided doing). The dream seemed to be confirming/affirming that I had done my job, the boys had flown the coop, so I could finally take down my structure and 'park' that aspect of my life. The struts of the greenhouse were folded and preserved, so maybe they could be re-erected into another framework for a different purpose in my life. I believe the dream was telling me that it was perfectly fine that I hadn't undertaken any mercy dash. The boys have their independence now and I had done my work as a father to get to them to this point where they would be taking it on for themselves. Of course I recognise that such a role is never over, that you are always going to be a father to them, that the family home will always still offer itself as their home, even though they are unlikely to ever come back for any protracted period to live here. Right from the day they were born, I knew that a part of parenting was a letting go; to allow them to develop their own personalities, their own sense of self in their own space and not to impose my values or beliefs on them with a demand for their adoption. I have let them go to fledge and do you know something, for all the love and involvement of the last 18 years, that it's just fine to do so.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Bestiary Of You - Friday Flash

What’s your favourite colour? – Death – Do you mean black? – No, Death. Any colour represents the runt of the litter, those wavelengths not absorbed by host objects but spat back out into our beggarly, misappropriating eyes. But Death, Death is incontrovertible. There are no shades. Not a jot of any filtering out. Death is the absence of everything, not least all colour.

What’s your lucky number? – Don’t have one. Human behaviour on one mundane level is highly predictable, but as to its minutiae utterly inconstant. Beyond algorithm and stochastically unpermutational. Like infinity itself.

It was only when interrogated on your favourite fauna that you entered the game, if not entirely engaged in its whimsical spirit. You offered five specimens, uncountable on the missing fingers of your right hand, unable to fix upon an apex animal. The full quartet were untamed, non-caged. Predators, most beasts are one supposes, but typically none of your selections were so classically trite as the leonine.

Your first was the shark. You liked that it lidded its eyes when executing its attack. Like lovers who close their eyes when kissing, for what is a kiss but near kin of a bite? Consanguine kithing cousins. Also possessed of the best immune system in Nature. Sharks never get ill, they just get hunted by man deludedly seeking the elixir recessed deep in its cells.

Your second, not truly a predator it ought to be pointed out, the vulture. You were taken with its functionally ugly evolutionary determination, for glabrous pate and featherless scruff. Can’t reach its own bonce to preen the blood transfer off see. Which given that it cleans its legs by pissing on them, just means the bird is not a fan of golden showers. The vulture’s stomach acids resist all proxy chemical warfare that god throws their way with his pestilential carrion.

Your third meditative identification was the jellyfish. Serenely floating wherever the pull of the tides took it, a passive predator much like yourself you claim. Indolent energy saver, doesn’t breathe for itself and even its food is swept up for it in the dragnet of its filaments. It also offers the key to immortality, since it can regress from its diving bell mature form to the fully sedentary polyp and preserve itself intact.

Your fourth was the Biblical locus of evil. The snake with its panoply of adaptations. Snakes that spit, engorge, sidewind, play dead. The constrictors that squeeze and suffocate the very air. The sporting rattlesnake which gives you fair warning. The black mamba which uniquely of serpents will not duck a fight with humans, but turn and pursue at pace. The Taipan whose single bite contains enough venom to smite a hundred humans, but with only a single mouth containing just two fangs, it remains moot as to how it could bring about such a decimation squared, but you appreciate its commitment to overkill all the same. You married your own Medusa and quickly devoured her whole and took on her ophidian attributes. She had an Ouroborus tattoo across her spine. You have your fingers crossed that it proves prognostically auspicious. The fingers of one hand that is. 

Your fifth was the one that accounted for your fingers. The only creature you have actually met in the flesh, fur, scales, plumes, mesoglea. The tarantula also has an impressive array of weapons. You ignored its cascade of propelled hairs launched towards your eyes, brought tears to them. And while you floundered around temporarily denied of sight, overbalancing and unseeing of forest floor hazards, you toppled and fell. That human reflex derived from the apes of putting out a limb to break the fall, threw your hand back within the bailiwick of the tarantula who upgraded from its arsenal and sank its fangs into a couple of your fingers. You could have sought help, but you had been introduced to prodrome  Death. You were keen to watch its unfurling. The swelling, discolouration and blistering. The gaseous pressure from within the vesicles. The gangrene and putrefaction. Only when the fingers couldn't be saved did you go in for treatment to preserve the rest of you. You were grateful to the arachnid for smoothing your fears for Death lest the other four fail to deliver you perpetuity. 

Friday, 30 September 2016

Parsing Fantasy - Friday Flash

At first I thought you might be casing the joint. But returning day after day after day, I realised you were studying me. What could you possibly want with me? What in my life, my being, is of such interest that you devote all this attention to me? Don’t you have a life of your own? Patently not if you can waste this amount of time rubbernecking. 

What do you imagine observing my actions through the window pane? It must be like watching a mime show? Or the frustration of witnessing someone else on the telephone, hearing their responses but not those of their inquisitor down the line? I’ve no idea what your bag is, dogging my every move. I won’t yield you whatever it is you’re after. Not that I actually merit any such scrutiny. You must have noticed that I lead an utterly unremarkable life.

I know you’re there. I’ve caught glimpses of movement in my peripheral vision. When I’m stood at my sink washing up, I see flashes of you reflected in the glass. You constantly walk through my mind. Trespassing. Leaving your trail. The spoor of you. The same as you do outside. The lawn grass trodden down, although there is no footprint. Each time I hear the leaves rustle, but there isn’t any wind. That confoundedly perennial clicking. You probably know my name, while I don’t know yours, but I shall christen you ‘Russell’. Since that is the sound I associate with your presence. That and your susurrations. I honestly believe I hear you licking your lips. But you’d have to be virtually stood with your mouth pressed to my ear for me to hear that.

No matter how careful you are, you’ll end up revealing yourself to me. Funny, I have no idea what you look like, yet I have a highly developed mental image of you. I may not know your exact motives, but your character’s coming through loud and clear to me. For all your surveying of me, I reckon I know more about you than you do about me. Not that I want to. Just you are more transparent than me. And I aim to maintain my opacity to you.

The chair’s moved! Infinitesimally but it’s definitely moved off its spot. You’ve been in here haven’t you? Sat there at my table, while I was out. Availing yourself of my, well I’m not sure quite what. But you took up an invitation that was never made to you. It’s all a fantasy in your head. Whatever you conceive of me, I am a figment of your imagination, even if unfortunately you are not one in mine. 

So you’ve been in here, had a good look around. Sniffed the air and then the surfaces. You’ve clocked my clothes. Had a nosey in my bathroom medicine cabinet. I bet you scoured the plughole for stray hairs. If you were a policeman you’d be collecting evidence on me. But you’re on the other side of the law, so you’re probably using it to make a voodoo doll impression of me. Well you don’t require any poppet. Your mere presence acts as a needle jabbed into my flesh. I will not cede you any part of me. Not a single piece. You’ve got me collecting up all my parings and offcuts. So they don’t come into your possession. Your fixation can’t be anything based on desire. Since I look an absolute fright. Though I suppose you might celebrate that. The effect you’ve visited on me.

You are little more than a shadow, yet you loom outsized in my imagination. You supposedly have no dimensionality, yet as I shrink and wither under your creeping assault, it is I who lack dimension and you appear to inhabit everything everywhere. My flights of fancy run amok. I dream up way more terrifying persecutions than you could ever inflict on me. Your sickness has infected me, made me take leave of my senses.

Time to shut the curtains on you. Regular as clockwork. A creature of habit. You I mean, not me. I really need a blackout lining sewn into them. Instead of this flimsy tiffany. Anyone could look straight through them and into the heart of this room. Veiling nothing, actually only helping frame everything I do in here. Making me utterly conspicuous for anyone who chooses to gaze in. Like you. Yet no one else seemingly feels the compunction to do it. You force me to sit in the dark with the lights off. But then the colours from the TV screen wash the room and floodlights me further for you. So now I don’t even watch TV anymore. Instead your shadow dances across the blank screen. Maybe I’ll get wooden shutters fitted, a good solid wooden block on you.

What goes on in that head of yours? No you know something, I shouldn’t ask. Or speculate. After all you know nothing about what goes on in my head. And that’s just the way I want to keep it. So the corollary is I inquire or know nothing about you. Seems a fair and reasonable non-exchange. Only there’s nothing fair about this whatsoever. The power is completely lopsided. I’ve changed absolutely everything about my daily routine. Not just to throw you off the scent, but also as I try and work out what it is about me that you’re pursuing. I’ve broken down every facet of my behaviour. I’ve made lists. And then set fire to them. To stop them falling into your hands. 

You think you make me march to your tune. Like some marionette you control and manipulate. But in reality you’re a lousy puppet master. You got me all snagged. Snared in my own lines so I can hardly move. So snarled I can’t dance for you. I won’t dance for you. I barely make it out from my bed anymore. No, damn, I don’t want you to be aware of that. But you probably know already don’t you? 

You’ve made me install a whole battery of detection devices. Motion sensors and lights. Alarms and tripwires. Closed circuit cameras to close off my house to you. In order to capture any perturbation at all. All to catch you in the act of watching. I may not be able to look you in the eye and face up to you, but all these lenses here can do it on my behalf. While you track every one of my movements, my devices only need to freeze a single one of yours. Get you put behind bars where your goose will be cooked. Roasted in the red glow of my laser cameras.

The triplights constantly illuminating my house like a Christmas tree. Shining a light on to every aspect of my life for you. Having me up and down at every beam like a jack-in-the box. My face lit up in the rays as I pulled back the curtain to see if it was you. Putting myself in the spotlight. In your crosshairs and marked the ‘X’ for you. No not a spotlight, a flaming strobelight. Freezing me in place. Sending me into convulsions. I disconnected the contraptions inside the rooms. Ripped the cabling from their sockets. The wiring is still exposed, drooping from the brackets like jungle tendrils and creepers. Like snakes. The disorder of my formerly orderly house. Of my life. I’m sure you’ve monitored the change. Made full mental note. Recorded in your stalker log. Every time I look up at the ceiling now, I encounter how tangled my mind is. And how you the predator lies in wait above.

Finally a clue in which you announced yourself. You committed your thoughts about me on paper. Well virtually. On a book review site. Not a very flattering impression. And then I realise why you have been stationed in my life, trespassing inside my head. Your sickness means you are so deluded as to regard me as a fictional character constructed from words rather than flesh. That anything you do to me has no effect because it’s not real. I’ll get an injunction. A restraining order against you. Set a precedent. The book which bans readers.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Oldest Profusion - Flash Fiction

I paraded in peignoir, basque, thong, stockings, garters and heels, along the catwalk of his imagination. Clotheshorse me, when his seasonal design is to me saddle me naked. Ultimately to leave no lingering lingerie eclipsing my flesh from his solar flaring gaze, his sidereal probing fingers. No celestial bridge of sighs, but mere pumping caisson, pontoon poon. As his hands perform a stiff dance of the seven veils, starchily dismantling the silk garlands and wreaths he had insisted I caparison myself with, my mind drifts as to where he came by such a hackneyed assemblage. Mail order catalogues? (That precisely dates his vintage). Doorcrack glimpses of his mother? Camera Obscura erotica or illicit daguerrotypes? (I am reaching too far back in time). Nonetheless, whatever the deep lying wellspring, still a dreary, trite imago from which his particular grubby bedbug emerges. His bromide afflatus supposed to becalm me, only serves to stroke my dander. My scabs, scales and less than immaculate macula, thrust themselves beseechingly at him as proof of flawedness, a stiletto stab of subjectivity. But he is lost inside his head. Where I am entombed. Behind his hyaline eyes I have no substance. Me mere stained glass window (with the emphasis on ’stained’), to stop up his gaze and interdict the light that would adjure me depth. The lifeless wrinkles of husked silk on the floor bore more dimensions than the stripped me. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

It's Not Me, It's You - Personal Pronoun Songs

1) De La Soul - "Me, Myself & I"
When I was at university, there was this party where some young kid was going round anyone who'd listen brandishing this cassette tape (Yes I'm that old) in which he claimed he'd recorded a song that de La Soul had ripped off to become "Me, Myself & I" and a huge hit. No one would give him the time of day and of course there's no proving the provenance or the timing of his tape, but it was virtually a clone of his version. Don't know quite how De La Soul from New York came to hear a home made tape by some kid in East Anglia, but there you go. We begin this playlist with a conspiracy theory.

2) Delta 5 - "You"
I wish this band had made more records. Part of that new wave scene from leeds that included Gang Of Four and Mekons, they made great funky, angular music with potent lyrics.

3) Sly & The Family Stone - "Thank You Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin"
And talking of peerlessly funky... Just a point on the economics of rock music, as great as it it, when you have this many members of a band, it is impossible for them to make any money, apart from the writer of the songs who has music publishing points.

4) Stone Roses - "She Bangs The Drums"
The second best Stone Roses' song

5) Gang Of Four - "He'd Send In The Army"
I wish guitarist Andy Gill & singer Jon King weren't always falling out as they could have made loads more great music than they actually did. They made the album "Content" after a hiatus of some 20 years and then King promptly left the band again.

6) Ice Cube - "Now I Gotta Wetcha"
Most helpful of Mr Cube to explain at the start of the song that "wetcha" is not referring to the hosepipe start of a wet t-shirt competition.

7) Public Enemy - "Miuzi Weighs A Ton"
Did you what what they did there? Mi Uzi elided into Miuzi. As they say in the North of England.

8) MC 900Ft Jesus - "The Killer Inside Me"
A white rapper who largely went under the radar but produced two rather wonderful albums.

9) Pink Military - "Did You See Her?"
This song gets me every time. One album wonders.

10) NWA - "Express Y'self"
For all the confrontational angst of their first album, this little dance gem popped out as well. And great it is too. Not just because it rhymes "Moving like a tortoise, full of rigor mortis"

11) Gang of Four - "It's Her Factory"
perhaps not surprising that Gang Of Four whose songs were all about the politics of the personal appear twice in this chart. This was only ever a throwaway B-Side but packs an off key punch, but then Gang of Four never really did anything throwaway.

12) Norris Reid - "Protect Them"
Environmentalism in reggae before anyone had really coined the term let alone formed a viable political movement. Like so many religious theologies, the notion of the precious interconnectedness of all life as god's creations, somewhere gets lost along the lines of religious practise.

13) Cop Shoot Cop - "Heads I Win, Tails You Lose"
Celebrating bands with two bass guitars rather then the usual guitar and bass line up. My favourite type of music noise!

14) Arctic Monkeys - "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor"
Didn't they used to be a thing a few years ago?

15) Clipse - "I'm Not You"
Clipse's debut album is fantastic rap but then they seemed to suffer from the pressures of success and subsequent albums seemed to have them on the point of emotional breakdown as revealed by their lyrics. Definitely a rap group to track down, coming from neither the bloated hip hop traditions of New York or California

16) Boss Hog - "I Dig You"
Husband and wife duo in soppy mood, though being Boss Hog this is completely out to lunch.

17) The Tubes - "I Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk"
Were they punk? Were they Meatloaf in a band format? Either way they did have a couple of top tunes.

18) White Stripes - "I'm Slowly Turning Into You"
I never really bothered with the back story, playing at brother and sister when actually they were married, but I did like the songs.

19) Funkadelic - "We Hurt Too"
I think Funkadelic were my favourite of all George Clinton's incarnations. The "America Eats its Young" is a fabulous album without a weak track on it.

20) Sonic Youth - "Protect Me You"
People bang on about the signature guitar sound of a Johnny Marr (Smiths) or Slash (Guns N Roses) but there's nothing quite as unique as Sonic Youth's guitar sounds with their odd tunings.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Shibboleth - Flash Fiction

He charged five bucks a head. Frat pledgers, his fellow medical students of course, criminology majors who wanted to experience something beyond dry textbook case law and the freaks, voyeurs and pervs and drunks on a dare. Didn’t matter what their motivation, they all behaved so predictably around the cadavers. So unimaginatively. Posed in tableaus non-vivant they credited would demarcate them as animate set against the lifeless. Asking him to snap shots on their phones, you don’t get red eye from the dead that’s how you tell the difference. Though their mouths were smiling, their flesh betrayed them with lines and rucks of tension as against the smooth, unpinched mound of the dead. Emboldened, drunker or lightheaded from the embalming fumes, then they became more outrageous and yet more trite. More base. They started playing with the appendages. Dreary little skits and mockeries of sex. He wanted to charge them an extra five for the privilege but deferred seeing how ramped up they were. He merely issued a plea that these snapshots remain private and never see the light of day. No matter what the degradation heaped upon the corpses, they still bore more dignity than their abusers.

He now a fully qualified doctor of the flesh. Yet he was present as a medical officer not to heal, rather to insure that the ‘correctives’ left no visible sign of injury. He had to advise on when certain instruments and techniques threatened to leave their imprint on skin and how to forestall that. After all even in this secure facility, loose cameraphones could sink ships. But what he hadn’t reckoned on was a reprise of the tableaus from his past. Only this time with still living flesh. And this was not downtime activity, but part of the interrogative process. The torturers recreated mounds of human carrion with the living prisoners and asked him to snapped shots of themselves manhandling the breathing carcasses with the same scorn as those back at school did with the lifeless. He’d say their scenarios were no less vapid and asinine than with the corpses, but this was qualitatively different. This time he would not be charging a viewing fee. And he took the photos that he snapped and leaked them at the first opportunity.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Geriatric Or Treat? - Flash Fiction

He knew he would never ski again. Nor ever take a swim in the sea. No more playing football, not even kicking a ball around in the garden with his grandson, doddering versus toddling. And tonight, he gathered, was to be his last occasion of carnality. 

As the woman divested herself and confronted him with her nakedness, though hardly a mirror, her quailing, failing flesh reflected his own. She looked no less ravaged than he did, even though he adjudged her considerably less advanced in years. Her rot was presumably more protractedly drawn out, the pain more blunted than his own onrush. Nudity presented her scars, both surgical and unqualified corrective and regardless that he himself currently had no wounds, he knew his senescent body was beyond any ability to heal itself.

Prostitute propriety had proscribed kissing which probably represented a joint reprieve. A mocking respiration as each would be moiling to breathe some life into the other. His mouth usually so dry, was now brimming precipitantly with a necrotic bubbling of mucus and deliquescing squamous epithelial cells. She had her own earthy tang, but he certainly didn’t want to be trajecting his own inhumation reek into her mouth. 

Incrementally he winched himself atop his mount like a chainmailed cavalier of old. Immediately his body protested the (im-)posture. Muscle memory evacuated his tissue like vermin from a holed ship. Fluid drained from the interstices around what was left of his sinew definition. Blood fleeing his capillaries going god knows but where. Replaced by rheum and serum. Watering him down. Diluting his puissance. Depleting him. Swelling skin and tumescence everywhere except where it was required. He was drowning from within. Saturated and suffocating. He wheezed an appeal to swap positions, if she might otherwise mount him. Wordlessly she hoisted her dimpled flank and allowed him to burrow beneath. 

Perhaps this had all been a fiendish plan by his son. To kill off the old man. An Oedipal closing of the circle, from when he himself had inducted him into the art of lovemaking by taking him to a prostitute on his 18th birthday, as many fathers were charged with back then. Now returning the favour in full knowledge of its likely fatality. If the blue pill accelerant he had slipped into his hand wasn’t fit to burst his heart, then the exertion against the rockface of the woman might see the endeavour through. Dying while on the job, passing over with a smile on your face, wasn’t that supposedly the dream of every male of the species? His facial musculature so atrophied, that a smile was beyond it, rather it being set firm in a permanent rictus. But how could his son possibly possess such precise knowledge of the extent of his physical decay? Could he have precociously gleaned the indignities that come with age? He hoped for his sake he did not. 

She was jouncing costively over him, with each crush landing buffeting his legs as though he were on a Medieval torture rack. Her pigmentation atop him never altered a jot, while he felt his own becoming pallid and bloodless. He looked down at himself and saw the spreading bruises. His body was collapsing. Putrefying before he had actually died. He imagined the bones of his skeleton becoming disarticulated, no longer bound together by sinewy ligatures. Her hollowness was so stark, he couldn’t ascribe to her any intentionality, but it was if her movements were trying to shuck him from his body. In a quest to leave what, to distil his soul? He snorted mordantly, or perhaps it was his own inner corrosion that eructed forth the snort. 

Tears filled his eyes but were too insipid to break over the levees of his reptilian folds of skin. Tears elsewhere on his rind, stretched taut by desiccation until the rolls and wrinkles of his puckered ancient parchment rent. Where there were lesions he could only picture writhing worms. Where there were blisters he envisioned scurrying flies laying their eggs. He conceived his own stench to be even more flagrantly putrid now, beyond the parochial hook of his own nostrils. None of this exhumed any lust. Liquid discharge from every place on his body except the essential, focal one. His own member was the ultimate recruit to the army of worms, mucilaginous, shrivelled and blind. He closed his eyes. 
The best (?) sex was that in which you surrendered awareness of your body. Either your mind was so transported in bliss that it could no longer register its containing husk. Else your whilom wrapping had melded with that of your lover so you could not tell where one ended and the other begun. But here he was utterly conscious of each grievous corporeal symptom. And not because it was borne out of the commercial nature of the congress, nor down to the lack of intimacy through being two complete strangers to the precise nature of each another’s mien. The best (?) sex could either peel you or melt you sweatily clean away. But always at the agency of the other’s body rather than your own. Yet gravity’s grubby force was archly engineering this cast. A geometry of failed configuration and solipsistic arrangement. Two incongruent bodies, blankly bearing neither surfaces nor curves, instead succumbing wholly to the pressures brought from within. Mutual self-absorption without any design on autonomy. Lacking any stout tensility, his vermicular organ kept squirming out from her shaved crevasse. She must have been sensate enough to register this slippage as she bevelled her pelvis to try and handlessly re-inter it into her catacumbal vault. But her stubbled apron only served to triturate and thresh, as if his stub were a cigarette she was grinding extinguished under a booted heel beneath her lamp-post. Sometimes in the past, sexual agonies could be thrilling. Tonight they were just annihilating.

The brain would be the last thing to go. But then it would be forever persecuted by the constant realisation and acknowledgement of each preceding deficient organ and wanting apparatus. Of all the activities its courier was no longer capable of. Lashing it cruelly by constantly revisiting unobtainable memories. His ausgespielt body was too decrepit to sustain his rage against it. It shouldn’t be like this. It was never like this. The act of coition which ceded life and germinated cell reproduction, now disintegrating his cells and culling into death. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Eleventh Century Forest Folio - Flash Fiction

In the days before their wood was pulped for paper for recording our stories and lore, the trees ranged tall and proud. Their canopied shrouds woven so dense as to shutter the pagan sun and shackle its chains of stippled light like that inside a cathedral. Thus was it hallowed and christened a Black Forest. The heathen wind beat at the foliose awning demanding its own profaning passage, but it too was unable to part the green sea’s verdant vault. Its bellowing huff only gusted voice to the foliage, made the leaves prattle and prate. Suspire and susurrate. Their excited descant the canticles of the forest. Cowled monks up in the gods looking down on the Mystery Plays enacted on the apron of the forest floor. Their incantational exegesis prompting the actors yonder, the same as ants palpated the aphids marching up and down their bark. Those actors, they are the shadowy figures without shadows, moving across the leaf litter in the perpetual crepuscular gloom. Red crosses embroidered the length of their surcoats. Or crudely bodkined into the coarse jerkins of their peasant retinue. Emblazoning the furious stigmata of a turn-the-other-cheek god. Their hearts basted in Christian love and blood. And then this tenebrous cortege is gone like dissipated rime. Without any especial acknowledging comment or commentary from the congregation above. For all the inflorescent chatter, do you notice what is absent from among this verdure? Not a single birdsong to counterpoint the sonorous umbrage. For even a goshawk would be hard pressed to navigate any arrowed path through the copious legion of tree trunks. The aerial choir has been denominated utterly for the arboreal and to stand no avian squatters. Without birds, the forest floor was assigned the unchallenged kingdom of insects. Beetles, spiders, woodlice, weevils, earwigs, ticks, grasshoppers, crickets, centipedes and millipedes, patrolling the fallen leaves of oblation. In light of the lack of wind to disseminate the pollinated spores, and the dearth of birds to have the seeds strewn from their brimming maws, the insects are bringers of life and futurity to the trees. But still they also retained their customary character as equerries of putrefaction. The leaves they worked on the ground were desiccated, shrivelled and withered. Wizened blades curled back over, in contorted supplication for vain grant of continued life. Adrift and cut off from their ligneous lineages. Packed down upon one another. A tumultuous tumulus. A more brittle rustling patter under the tread of unseen trespassers, than that of the crepitation high above. Parched voices. Dried out and arid, their swathed wreaths are not those crowning triumphal evergreen firs and pines, rather those marking death. Preserved, frozen in the convulsive bearing of their deathly descent. A stopped up scream, released and reprised solely under the boot of human tread, or the padding of insect tarsus and palp. But they are not solely respiring about their own demise. They have preserved an echo across their wan brown corpus. Every crispy purl a murmured lamentation to a person slain by those shadowy knights. The hatred locked in their breasts, passing down like sap through their stride and graving its impression into the skein of the leaf litter. Each sepal a memorial flame for those who have no altars or grottos of their own to hold any such candles of commemoration. The Jews’ churches having been razed, their quondam settlements erected in clearings in the forest now themselves cleared and returned to the bosom of the earth, the bones of their people to the soil. Soon there would be no sign that they had ever dared to carve out some land for themselves they had once called home. It was as if the knights had been summoned up by the forest to reclaim its dominion from these trespassers. Their sacred mutual blood bond to extirpate all usurpers both here and in the holy land. Each year retold by the tramp of the local villagers, the woodcutters and charcoal burners, the poachers and smelters who are deaf to the tale drummed up by their own boots. A fresh carpet folio of leaves each year, though gradually more of the forest would be cleared, greedily gobbled up by the town of Mainz, where in time the printing press would arise to preserve a definitive record and the leaves would have to recite their litanies of death no more. But in a deeper time, considerably removed from before trees were culled for printing paper, their ancestors lay pressed and pulped far subterranean and submerged. A fuel source markedly outstripping that of charcoal and timber and one that would power the factories of death that would burn the descendants of the surviving Jews of Mainz, Worms and Trier. 

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Olympian Spirit Moneygoround

If you're British, you're almost certain to have rapturously enjoyed the Olympic jamboree and Britain's record medal haul. When international tournaments go well for Britain, we bask in success and indulge in flag-waving nationalism. So we crow about how our tiny island race of some 65 million people defeated the 1 billion plus population of China in the medal table. So did the 350 million population of the USA and India, which also has a 1 billion + population, notched no gold medals at all and a paltry 2 in total.

What this chest-thumping whooping fails to reveal is that if you averaged the amount of financial investment in elite sports performance by the government across each head of population, then it should be no surprise that Great Britain out-performed China and that India barely registered at all at the Olympics. GB spends heavily on sports, ever since our humiliation in the 1990s when we secured a solitary single gold and then Prime Minister John Major (a big sports fan himself) committed to a programme of investment, buttressed by National Lottery money, to ensure the country never felt so humiliated again. In 2012 of course we had the extra expense of staging the Olympics and Paralympics in London, whose costs went way over budget because incompetent politicians had missed basic factors like including Value Added Tax and which as a Londoner, I knew we were going to have to end up paying the shortfall out of our pockets. And yes, the shebang was a great success and showed London off to its best side, but still not worth the money in my opinion. If you wanted any evidence, look no further than the white elephant of the Olympic Stadium itself, not offering any imagined heritage to future generations of Olympic sportsmen and women, but sold off for a song on a peppercorn to a professional Premiership football club earning multi-millions in its own right as a member of the most successful sporting franchise outside of the USA and incidentally to a club owned by two ex-pornographers.

As our gold medal success has been plastered across the front page of all our newspapers and dominated television news programmes even though the BBC has been broadcasting the events wall to wall so there is no escaping it as news anyway, the social commentators tell us it isn't just about patriotism. They claim that after the bruising Brexit campaign that has split the country right down the middle, the Olympic success has healed and united the nation and brought us all back together as one as we get behind our athletes. If that was one of the purposes of all that investment, how is it any different to when Iron Curtain countries used to invest heavily in their sport to flim-flam their citizens who were going without and for propaganda purposes? The only difference I can see is that our government aren't pumping our hammer-throwers full of growth hormone and our gymnasts full of growth-retardant hormone as a matter of course. Oh and it's not true by the way, our faultlines and splits are still present as evidenced by the row over where to hold the victory parade with demands for it to be away from London, one of the major pressures in the Brexit campaign, of London being viewed as needing taking down a peg or two and the rest of the country not getting its due.

So to me all this rapture over success misses the point. While there are never any guarantees in the outcome of sporting contests, we pretty much bought our success. While our defeated opponents in the cycling Velodrome carp and whine about it being an unfair playing field in track cycling because of the investment, the technological advantages and the sheer professionalism of GB cycling, they do have a point. Golf and tennis are in the Olympics, possibly the two most well-paid individual sports and a million miles away from the amateur Olympian spirit of yore. Yes the world has moved on, but in the GB hockey team, some of the players are going to return to play professional hockey with their club teams in Holland and Germany, while another is going back to her accountancy studies, so while some of the amateur spirit lives on, it really is professionalism that equates to success. And while we're talking about GB hockey success, I have never seen a British team so white and blonde haired as that. That suggests to me a problem of access and a lack of diversity and critically a lack of heritage as was promised by us hosting the 2012 Games. Maybe their ultimate success this time round will open up their sport to all comers, but I doubt it.

And just to put the tin lid on money's centrality to the modern day Olympics, Brazil was the first country in Latin America to host the event, yet it is so financially straitened, it is now saying that it can't afford to run a full Paralympic Games. Stadiums were half-empty because its citizens couldn't afford the prices and yes while they may have no tradition in Greco-Roman Wrestling, neither does Britain but our greater income levels meant we could still afford to pack out the event in London 2012.

Today as our newspapers go wild with their wraparound photo spreads of our triumphant heroes, on those same front pages they carry stories of our National health Service having to cut back on operations it can offer in the winter through its perennial funding crisis and there is a story about schoolgirls' stress levels being through the roof, so not much evidence there of any heritage from sporting success.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Accentuate The Positive - Flash Fiction

He received a smack across his chops. A sonorous slap acutely stinging his kisser. Imprinting a scarlet macula upon his crimson labia. Her immaculate acrimony no longer shellacked behind a pacific patina of civility. An accumulated tumulus of bruisable wisecracks, now she had come back with an unacceptable contusion of her own. His lack of accolades for her literary accomplishments had snapped her self-accord. Acted as an accelerant to her lashing out. Ransacking her own pitch-black love sump, she offered him an ice-pack to which he circumspectly acceded. The hack’s grammatical prose may not have been accurate, but her uppercut was.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Jive Mind - Flash Fiction

At last the pattern analysis had come back from those stoners operating the lighting rig. Under the guise of a strobelight, his little gizmo had captured the brainwaves of the orgiastic on the dancefloor below at their peak euphoria levels. Now the bastard offspring of Paul Morley and Trevor Horn could set to work on creating the irresistible song for the whole Western world to shake its booty to. He would have the whole hemisphere marching to his beat. He fed their results into a copy of Herdware TM (pirated from the military) to filter outliers. He uploaded the brain signals and set the sampler to record their firings and beefed up their amplification. Then he set in motion the software to key for the brain’s receptor chemical bindings. When he had a fistful of these, he fed them into Protean Tools’ tempo translator to turn them into programmed beats and mixed them into the brain firing soundscape. Twin pronged Physical and chemical sonic assault, there could be no immunity against that. He did a sub-bass check, after the last incident when an unforeseen resonance had caused the reverberation of people’s skeletons until they shattered and felled them in droves across dancefloors. Fortunately on that occasion he had released it from the underground so that it could not be tracked back to him. He was tempted to dub a ‘kerching’ FX into the final grooves but desisted. All he needed was a title now. He settled on “Jive Mind”. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Dear Teen Me

A few years ago I was invited by the fabulous "Dear Teen Me" website to pen a letter from my contemporary self, addressing the teenage me. Sadly the website no longer functions, but I'm reproducing that letter I Wrote for the site.

Dear Marc from author Marc Nash

Seeing as like the primitive tribesman you have a dislike of having your soul captured by a camera, tracking this shot down from your Gap year back in 1982 was something of a coup. Fortunately even though you have no pictures of your youth, your mother clung on to the few photographic morsels you granted her. This is you sat at the top of a cathedral either in Paris or Italy in the days you used to travel. And yes you are wearing a music T-Shirt, that of Joy Division a band who were to play a very important part in your life, not least because one of your first plays was about them and the fact that their lead singer committed suicide. But here at age eighteen, the sun is shining, you’re underneath the sky on top of the world where anything is possible ... and you’re wearing summery black!


1977 aged thirteen and the year of family parties sitting in marquees in back gardens talking about punk rock. Well Marc, you never did master the paltry four strings of a bass guitar and fulfill your dream of being in a band, but you did make it into the arts. You didn’t write any lyrics, but you did still compose words in the form of stage plays and novels. Even though you have still never read a classic novel other than the handful you studied at school. At the age of fourteen, it was a recommendation from one of your cool older cousins to listen to The Cure’s song “Killing An Arab” and then read Albert Camus’ novel “The Outsider” that kindled your love of modern novels, while still burning the fires for music from which you have never looked back.

Teenage years were when you finally turned your head away from the childish world centred around the home and started to think about the wider world. You discovered politics through a concern with the nuclear arms race and mutually assured destruction. That fusion of the political and the fear of death has never left you and permeates all your writing as you now approach the age of 50. Cleaning the blood up off the floor of a parent after a serious suicide attempt in your last year of teenagehood probably saw to that. Though a terrifying and brutal initiation into other people’s misery, it has set you up for not shying away from tackling dark subjects in your writing and probing the extremes of human behaviour. When you wrote about suicide bombers in “Not In My Name”, you could balance the ‘bomber’ aspect with the ‘suicide’ part like few others possibly could.

There were wars a plenty around the world while you were a teenager. On your doorstep there were the charmingly euphemistically named “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. There was the ongoing conflict in the Middle East which was of grave concern to your family, but which you couldn’t engage with as you held an opposite point of view from them. In your Gap year Britain sailed an army halfway around the world to bafflingly fight over some barely inhabited islands against the Argentinians. That was when you realised you had a love-hate relationship with your own country, another theme you would go on to write about extensively, particularly in your debut novel “A,B&E”. Interestingly you chose to write that from the point of view of exile from Britain, even though after extensive Gap year travel as a teenager, you resolutely decided to stay in London and set your face against further travel. These days you don’t have holidays, you only write in your time off. You travel extensively in your imagination.

Yet it was a another conflict about which little was reported because journalists couldn’t gain access to the closed country, which really caught your attention, perhaps because you could not confront these other wars which were supposed to prompt your allegiances more directly. And that was the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the subsequent horrors of the Killing Fields and the disastrous famine. That warzone resonated more than any other with you, but you could never find the words to express such a scale of depravity and horror. It would take you 30 years until you were finally able to write a story about it. Before then you had written on Northern Ireland and the Middle East, intricate, complex works making no judgements of the various parties involved. But your story on Cambodia pulled no punches in delivering its searing condemnation of the cult of death.

And where did this passion for writing and particular the novel develop from? Well you got into Britain’s supposed best university to further you hunger for knowledge, But your were appalled by the closed and prejudiced minds of many of your fellow students. You were also disillusioned with your History course as you felt the teachers were not really interested in teaching, only in pursuing their own research. You were on the point of walking out, when a new student theatre stage space was opened and you decided to try your hand at writing stage plays. Even then with no experience, instinctively and temperamentally you opted for some radical staging and the whole play was performed behind a wire mesh fence separating the cast from the audience. And because you had difficulty casting it, you decided to back up your words by stepping in and performing yourself. You even learned to smoke for the part and scaled the fence to confront the audience at the play’s ending. From that short 20 minute piece, you then went up to the Edinburgh fringe Festival with two new plays, which in retrospect was complete madness, but you had no fear. You were hooked by creative writing back and you also completed your degree, as playwriting kept you in college.

You knew an office job wasn’t for you, so playwriting seemed like a good way to avoid that, which of course it wasn’t as there was no money to be made. After four years you secured a job in an independent record store to pay the bills, but the number work there left the word side of your brain free to continue writing in the evenings. You kept pushing the boundaries in what you did, moving away from dialogue and more towards movement and dance. The dancers looked at you like you were mad, what need did they have of the written and spoken word? It was only cut short when your beloved twin boys arrived and you became the main carer for them. No more hanging out networking in theatre bars for you, with bottle feeds and dirty diapers to see to at the double.

So you turned to writing novels through the night, interrupted only by feeds and changes. The books you liked to read weren’t really out there in the market, so you set out to write them. Stories that pushed the narrative form into new places, books of ideas and a rigorous pursuit and examination of language. And once self-published, you started giving live readings, the closest to the dream of performing live in a band. And you put on a show live. You inhabited the characters, you dialogued with the audience through the way you staged your readings. 

So it wasn’t quite how you imagined it might turn out, but looking back a lot of the seeds were in place in the teen you. Here’s to our salute of the old age us, pen in arthritic hand still writing and challenging the status quo.

Love and respect

marc x