Friday, 30 September 2011

We Sell Boxes

An unexpected calm always came over Albert at times like these. He was a natural fidgeter, a proficient fretter and a valient worrier but at those moments when he should be pushed to breaking point, it all fell away.

The day he'd arrived at the exam hall to find the place locked and not a student in sight, he'd sat on the front step, smoked a cigarette and mulled the matter over. There weren't many alternatives. The exam was plainly not that morning, probably not that afternoon either, the place being so deserted. Maybe yesterday, maybe tomorrow. The only way to be sure was to set off all the way back home and hope he could find a timetable. He smoked another cigarette and went to the pub.

On the occasion of his only experience of international crime, all had seemed over; a short European flight, an eighth of hash secreted under the plastic black spine of The Charlatans' Tellin' Stories cd and a trio of sniffer dogs wrestling their leads away from adolescent customs officers. Years later the dogs of his memory had morphed into the Meanie dog from the Yellow Submarine movie. In the seconds it took to approach those eager noses a whole future had passed through his imagination: Barks, a cell, a lawyer, another cell, a judge, another cell and years later, a job stacking shelves forever. All this he accepted at peace and he passed between the customs officers as if stoned.

When a hungover shower gave rise to the discovery of an unfamiliar lump on a genital he ran through the telling the family, the quitting the job, the psychedelic experience in the desert, the sympathy fucks, the one final album, the great British novel and the early funeral where words from his own pen brought pride without tears.

So when, forty years on from that shower, Albert stood on a bridge with the business end of a handgun between his eyes, he didn't piss himself. He didn't collapse into a heap of sobs. He stood writing an heroic obituary, taking in not one of his assailant's words.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Agressive Flush

“There are fences everywhere. Good god! I don’t know where I am anymore. They’re all covered with white netting. It’s like looking through to the other side. You know; the other side. Or like Chinese walls, except when you push at them they don’t tear.

And the noise! Engines. Engines and wheels and panicked voices. We’re being herded through a maze. I’m a rat in a maze, surrounded by other rats, confused rats. I guess I’m a confused rat too. It’s just I don’t let it show.

A man in a yellow vest, a scientist I guess, said it’s for our own good. He’s probably right, but Jesus. Is this what it’s like to be a Mail reader? Like this every day? Or an anarchist maybe? Or a child? I don’t know. I really don’t.

There are pockets along the corridors; pockets of sunlight, pockets of tobacco or exhaust fumes. I stopped for a fag myself back there but didn’t get half way down. Couldn’t hear myself smoke.

I don’t know. I really don’t. There’s green ahead, pale through the screens. The maze will lead me away from it though, even if I did want to find it, to bask in it. Whatever, I’ll be turning around soon.”

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Shake, Settle Whole.

Somewhere, 30,00 feet nearer the stars than he, was she. She would be squashed, neck crooked, between two perfect strangers in an aluminium tube hurtling above the clouds. On a tiny screen she would be watching a film they had seen just two days earlier in the palatial surroundings of the Vue Westfield. They'd both agreed the film was shit, but she would plump for comfort and familiarity.

Somewhere, a few miles to the east, a man lay on his back atop Parliament Hill watching vapour trails. He was revisiting the past and considering a cigarette. His tee shirt, unchanged in two days, was dampening. He smoked the cigarette and considered bacon.

Seven or eight miles south east a man ignored his monitor. A tiny window and a gap between two other offices gave him all he had left of the outside world. He remembered the outside world quite clearly. It was big and smelt odd. He hoped to see it again sometime. She would be there now.

Seven hours later and some three and a half thousand miles to the west a man dozen on a bench next to the Hudson River. He hugged to his chest a brown paper bag containing an empty bottle. When his eyes flickered open the city towered above him but there were momentary glances of distant craft between the skyscrapers, piercing the blue sky. He'd only ever experienced that once.

Fifteen miles to the east another man sat in a tower watching dots on screens and, through the window, plane after plane kissing the tarmac hello and goodbye.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Pelican Fenzy

Chk chk chk, the machine told me. I didn't understand; not one word. All I knew was that it wouldn't give me my money. I needed that money. I tried saying please but was rewarded only with another chk.

I considered my options. How about a kebab then? This time there was a vvvvrrrrrr and I became aware of the sweet sweet smell of long grilled animal fat. I waited. The street was deserted. I checked my phone, reread some txts. The vvvvrrrrrring stopped and into the tray dropped the perfect doner. Moist and rich fillets of donerbeast sat snuggly in the pitta bread, topped with a thin layer of lettuce and spring onion and a drizzle of chili sauce, scarlet, flecked with seeds. In my hands the pitta held firm and there was no overspill, even when I took that first bite.

I turned to walk off but paused. Sorry I... . The machine chked. We shared a moment. I didn't want to leave, I really didn't, but there was no more to be done. To stay is to betray, as my father once said.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Bottle Stop

Michael watched from the skyline, wings wrapped tight around and shivering in the cold. He watched frenzied shoppers, lonely night walkers and flustered mothers. He followed pairs of police from five stories up. They circled as if at random, skirting the areas where, from his vantage point, he could make out violence. He resented violence.

When he fed it was a brief and intense relief. He swooped and as if swinging and was back on the rooftop before anyone could register the event. The taste was bitter, metallic and divine. That was the word.

He had watched this city rise from the ground at his feet and he was grateful. He had watched the people pacified as the earth was tamed. Revulsion was learnt and unlearnt and remorse was institutionalized. He watched as confusion set in and disatisfaction grew and knowledge was wasted.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

18 Feet and Counting

Major Richard Barnham had overshot. There was no going back and only a long journey forward. "Fuck" into his whiskey.

Juniper Richard Barnham was born in a four story house in East London in the early seventies. Depending how you counted, there were five families living in the building. Parentage was a fluid notion in those parts. The kids all played together as brothers and sisters and the adults, not as brothers and sisters.

Schooling was non-traditional but Richard was smart. He took in the Buddhist lessons and data from the outside world equally. Through a cloud of marijuana fog he alone saw clearly, he thought.

The extended family weren't isolated of course. Much of their time was spent out at workshops or handing out flyers at marches against the military industrial complex, the inhuman and unnatural complex whose sole purpose was to enslave the living. Failing this the nukes would fly.

The latter option was what concerned Richard the most. Even could the military industial complex be properley identified and described, he found it unclear what strategy could possibly be used to dismantle it. He was big on clarity and strategy. What was clear was that the nukes could fly unless stopped. From an early age Richard was realistic about the challenge ahead. He couldn't eradicate the nuclear threat, nor did his voice add much to the protest he regarded so highly.

When he signed up for the military not a word could placate the family. He tried desperately to explain but in their eyes he was lost to the great satan and would most likely be the one to destroy them.

The life suited Richard, in fact he excelled. His strategy he kept in mind but, lost in the moment, he was a loyal servant to his men, to the forces. It wasn't easy to chart a course towards the button. Circumstances took over but he plotted a course until, when his career needed levelling, he made his mistake. It was a small thing, only small, but the military industrial complex took notice of his potential and before he could protest, promotion, and the button was behind him and receding.

He watched it, aghast. He watched it disappear even as the weight of his failure became apparent; the men killed, the men sent to die, the lives destroyed. By him.

"Fuck" into his whiskey.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


Somebody in the room shouldn't be there. Julie tried to pick out the off note; heads down, keyboards tapping, mouse clicks, fans whirring, phones tringing or humming or rapping and outside the window a seagull in some distress. Check. No voices. Monday morning. Nearly lunchtime.

In the cafeteria she felt it too. Chatter here and the clink, clunk, chime of cutlery. Familiar. The comforting relief of warm food. There remained a presence.

At the afternoon meeting she counted faces. As expected; one obnoxious boss, one Christmas fling, two hideous racists, one shrinking violet, one bitter divorcee, three, frankly, children, one love of her life, one ruthless climber, one fretting mother, one secret texter and one projector technition, struggling.

That the love of her life and the christmas fling were different people was an unfortunate, though not coincidental, fact. That the love of her life was not a hideous racist was a lucky escape. That the obnoxious boss was not a shrinking violet was a shame. That the ruthless climber had failed to climb was heartening. That the three, frankly, children were a temptation was disconcerting and that the projector technition, struggling, was the love of her life, well, that was not out of the question.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Oh My! Something Blue

When she played people listened and when she sang people wept and when they wept the floods came and the avenues filled and cars floated past penthouses and but a few looked on. Still she played until yesterday's ideas returned and today's news was forgotten.

Every note was different to every passing ear. Every word took root and stayed with every worker as they went about their day. Around and around they circled, repetition unnoticed. Only with sleep did that cycle end and a moment in the greater cycle was lost. That the moment could be retained was the fallacy, that the moment was ever there was the faith, that there would be another was the hope.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Where the Trees Drive Tractors

Somewhere between a Sainsbury, a cemetary and a derelict gas works trouble is brewing.

Of the assembled crowd only Boris appeared to expect the trouble. It had begun in a cafe, log jammed with prams and running low on skimmed milk. A minor disagreement about who would buy the brownies escalated and soon two customers were being pulled apart by the staff. Children screamed and struggled and soon they too were being pulled apart by children, parents and staff alike. The line between puller and pullee was obscured and it took the sound of a siren to slow the melee. A community police officer simply held door while the patrons located their prams, loaded their charges and filed out, heads down.

Boris remained in place in his corner. He had a briefcase on his lap and a newspaper still folded in front of him. When the cafe's owner realised he was still there he brought a fresh latte and a pain au chocolat and apologised profusely for the fracas. It really was an unusual event, quite unlike the area. Things like that very rarely happened around here, at least not in quite such an aggressive manner.

Coffee and pastry finished Boris had stepped back onto the street and trailed a couple of prams down the hill, across the canal and onto this plot of wastleland. The weather was pleasingly mild for October. Ignored by all, he lay down with his briefcase as a pillow.

The crowd milled around discussing families and politics as if at the local library's fundraising cake sale. To the canal boaters inching past there would be no indication of the earlier skirmish but even had he not been in the cafe, Boris would have sensed it. There was a smell of malaise. Shoulders were tensed, fingers fidgeted, eye contact was rare and voices clipped; things Boris noticed. When the first blow landed it went unnoticed by all but the recipient but after the second deterioration was rapid and the fallout fierce.

Boris watched the last human standing stagger backwards and trip over a motionless body. He watched the moment of realisation and the wash of remorse and the flicker of decision and the raising from the dirt and the search for the correct pram and the final glance at what had been done, before leaving the field.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Contemporary Melt

"Agents were released into the concrete wilds and followed the protocols to fade seemlessly amongst us. Their training was flawless. We never stood a chance, even those of us who knew they were there.

The first sign of a third wave was the disappearance of squirrels. Most wouldn't notice their absence for weeks but I have a certain backgound and was suspicious within hours.

Those early days tested my will power, any move might expose me and if this happened the consequences would be devastating. So I dug deep and continued as a was. It's funny, it became easier after that but the situation was untenable and the events which later transpired on Westminster Bridge were, in type, inevitable.

I reached the bridge shortly after midday. Traffic was one way. I looked it in the eye and it looked back, every one. When they turned I was ready and when I jumped so were they. The nets came out. I often wondered at the nets, at the technology thousands of years old. I suppose there was never a need to advance, no drive for progress, no mechanism for change. In a way I admired this as much as I resented it. Cold hands took me in and hold me here still. It's funny." William S. Simpson on the eve of his seventh marriage.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Cupid's Stool

The sheer scale of the crowd was mindbending, as if the entire population had simultaneously locked itself out of its flat. It was 2 o'clock on a Monday morning, inverted.

Everyone was in rather good spirits considering. There had been a light drizzle for most of the morning but the accumulated bodies had reached some sort of critical mass and a constant and comfortable temperature was created. Some bright spark had rigged up contraptions along the telephone lines above the streets to harvest the thermal energy and then used it to power the omnipresent pa system.

"You are not lost, you are blue
You are cornfed, addled, it's true."

went the voices. This was a new one. New ones seemed to be released every couple of days without fanfare or announcement, only a slow growing murmur around us, dropping again as we listened. I suppose the music never really varied that much. There was a formula to be followed, there always is, but a new one always brightened up the day.

Most days we don't even think about the inside, not any more. Very adaptable creatures human beings; once it became clear that the outside was now ours, well we jolly well just got on with it. That day though, and I don't know why, I did.

The building next to me was a regular terraced house, the kind I grew up in. The windows, of course, had been blacked out but in places the paint had flaked and enough daylight seeped in to make out the room beyond. It was a small but standard kitchen in layout but otherwise tranformed. Since we came outside, the city's parks and open spaces have been trampled into the ground but it seems the flora had found another way. Vines twisted away along the work surfaces. Elephantine fungi had burst from cupboards, bulbous stalagtites swallowing space. Every remaining inch of the room was covered with a thick moss.

"Come back, come back my friend.
Come to the barricade.
We have a city to defend."

Monday, 19 September 2011

Meat wrench

"Christ I recognise today."

Marvin spat out an olive stone and wrapped his hood tighter about his neck.

"I remember this day seven years ago, no, six."

Across the park a homeless man was wrestling with a bin. Something at the bottom was evading his short arms which were also hampered by several layers of jumper. At the man's feet a dog took the opportunity to get it's head down for a bit.

"I mean, look at him. That's a hell of a face. That's a face against which gallions could wreck. It's the visage of epics. Every crag a story."

"Every crag is another year waiting for pneumonia Marv. It's a face that says: I never wanted this face"

"Well he should want that face. It's unique, special, a monument to a life that's his alone. When I see most people, I recognise them like I recognise today. I see a drop of the shoulders from a girl I worked with or a scowl crossed with a grimace from a a guy at university. When I dream people merge, you know, including me sometimes. It's so easy, seemless. See that lady over there? With the pram. That's my mum. Don't believe me? You've met my mum. Watch how she shakes her arms down so that the bangles drop to her wrists. That's my mum, without question. No, that guy's lucky. That's guy's unique."

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The pro is conformity

"When I look for god I find only me. It's a grave disappointment." William S. Simpson on the eve of his sixth marriage

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Essential Credit Battery

A bank of screens, roundly ignored, showed various angles of bag-laden families grazing on the fertile west field. They shuffled for space, occasionally bumping one another with a grunt and a change of direction the only result.

One end of the counter in the watchtower had been commandeered for today's game. A table cloth purloined from one of their charges below covered the surface and around it sat the four players. Mugs held irish coffee, apart from one, and a saucer a pile of digestives. A heap of cigarettes sat in front of each player.

"Do you ever think about love?"

"More often than the wife would like."

"You know what I mean."

"The kind of love that would drive me to kill for my kids or the kind that I would kill to win?"

"Are they different?"

"I don't know. The kind that makes us special."

"You think you're special?"

"You ever seen a wildcat defend its kittens?"

"You've never seen that."

"No, but I bet they go mental."

"Is that love?"

"You'd have to ask them."

"And what would that prove?"




Friday, 16 September 2011

Unfold. Fold! Unfold. Fold!

"I can't believe anything about that time. The city wapped around me, a comfort blanket, and then dissolved: candyfloss in the rain. My skin was sticky and the flies came.

Everything was daydream for a bit, people incidental. Both hands laid flat on the table, my body a tripod. Records weren't kept, not by me anyhow. When I see photos they're, well...I don't see photos.

You see the job was good, the job was safe, the job was prime, the job was a big one but I'm not built for that sort of shit. What sort of shit am I built for? Hah, I guess I wasn't built, just fell into this seat. Then it was mine."

The Portly Traveller

"Perhaps he really was a time traveller. All I know is that I didn't have any spare change."

When Douglas G. Arthur gave evidence in the case of the Knightsbridge strangler his evidence was confused and, in the end, struck from the record. Until he set foot in the court room he had never laid eyes on the accused. His testimony was purely intended to establish where the accused wasn't, and when.

The accused wasn't in the beer garden of the Earl of Lonsdale at 23.30 on the 24th October as he'd claimed, neither was he in the deserted Sainsbury car park on Ladbroke Grove at 01.15 on the 25th October. Douglas G. Arthur was in these places though he was, as previously reported, confused.

He had left the pub alone, he believed, but by the time he reached the supermarket he had company. He also had no coat. The walking companion was male. The accused was female. He was sure of that. It took three hours of questioning to get these tiny scraps of information out of Douglas A. Arthur.

I remember thinking that night that Douglas A. Arthur was hilariously drunk but now, watching proceedings from the gallery, I'm convinced he was just confused.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Selective Mourning

When the car smashed through the wall I was composing a text and when it came through the table I was toppling backwards on my chair and when it went through the bar so that spirits and glass showered onto the bonnet I was losing consciousness.

Through the inebriation, the shock and the oxygen, pumped down a tube, a sentence wormed it's way, devouring all before it:

"The pub, the pub, my father, the pub; it slides into the cemetery!"

To my mind it was penned by a poet of the 19th century but I have googled it since and if it was then that poet has failed to achieve immortality.

I spent only one night in hospital. The prognosis? I was drunk. The driver fared less well: Two broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, three missing teeth, a broken nose and severe bruising to the face. He wasn't drunk, despite what the next morning's free papers would suggest.

"Scandalous!" one exclaimed "How can these people behave like this?" it asked "They have too much." it explained "They don't deserve it!" it judged "This must be stopped." it demanded without sincerity.

A week later I returned to the pub which had been patched up with mismatched panelling. The barmaid was new and turned when she saw me coming in a wing mirror, an early warning amongst the bottles of spirits. She poured my pint, scowling.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Once Was Spared

From the mechanical crack below us to the flickering lights in the next carriage it was obvious that the tube was in trouble. Soon after the lights in our own carriage suddenly gave in, the train ground to a halt and all signs of power were gone. That's not entirely true of course; once our ears had adjusted it became clear that the silence was only apparent. From along the seats came the tiny, tinny voices crying and rhythmically clattering for attention, the audition stages of a reality show in a collapsed building. But one by one these voices were extinguished as screens lit up in the hands of my fellow passengers, the dancing lights a shrine to the music, pop star the angels.

Conversation was conducted in whisper at first. Partner leaned in to partner with comforting words, pecks and strokes. 'Fuck's sakes' could be heard from commuters checking their phones for a signal just to find another reason for irritation. Somewhere in the dark a joke was told and then, at failing to get a reaction, an expletive thrown.

How long we sat there none can tell. The smartest phone in the world can't tell you how long 10 minutes in the dark in a 15 foot tunnel under thousands of tonnes of Islington takes, but after some indeterminable period it was over.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

When they came, they came with shovels.

It's sixteen years to the day since they first set foot in Kensal and fifteen years to the day since they met. People take anniversaries seriously to greater and lesser degrees. For Marvin it was a matter of order; you keep the years easily categorised as a bare minimum and then work on the months. After those are mastered you can move on to the weeks, days and, for the truly adept, the hours and minutes. So a year after first passing it on the bus he stepped into the Greyhound for a gin and slimline.

Sally was different, of course. She had no such system but knew only that she had arrived on her birthday and a year later it was her birthday once more. The two friends with whom she might have spent the day were out of town. The Greyhound was nearby, served Kronenbourg and had a stack of the day's papers to read. She was immersed in the letters page of the Times when he walked in. It was only when she rose to find the sports section that she became aware of him, and he of her.

That first moment was one which would stay with them for at least a decade and a half. For both the moment held an instant and overwhelming feeling of distrust and though the intensity would fade, as it invariably does, that distrust would provide the foundation of a beautiful relationship. Her friends would later tell her that to make such a coupling work there are other ingredients, but she knew in her heart of hearts that this profound suspicion would carry them through whatever life dealt.

There was something in his expression as he toyed with the tiny slimline can which spoke of dark secrets and malevolent intentions. There was something wrong in the way his scarf bunched around his neck like a brace and his glasses sat flat on his face, almost against his eyeballs.

For his part he immediately noticed the hesitancy in her movements. She acted as if she knew that what she was doing was wrong and questionned only whether she would get away with it. Over the years he would often watch her move around their flat and mull over her true motives.

How they first got talking was unclear and though they never voiced it, each suspected that the other had engineered the whole situation.

Monday, 12 September 2011


It was only the second Residents' Association meeting, the first having dealt solely with the question of the apostophe. Twelve members took their seats along one side of the long table so that all were looking out through the french windows. The lawn out front sloped gently down towards a tall, dense hedge inhabited by blackberries, foxes and footballs. Only the chairperson would give the meeting their full attention, each of the others kept half an eye on a child or two scrambling around on the grass.

"Order." The chairperson said counterproductively, the quiet broken by whispers and sniggers at one end. When the sniggers subsided the chairperson continued:

"We have a matter of utmost importance to come to a decision on today, one which I feel we have neglected too long. Who would like to begin?"

The only reaction was further sniggering.

"Then I shall make some a few remarks before opening up for discussion. Ever since the events of last sumer I have felt that we are ready to move to the next stage. We have a unity of purpose and being that other communities can only dream of and which I feel we should celebrate in the appropriate manner. As such I propose that we formally declare our community happy."

No sniggering this time.

"I've investigated the requisite formalities and the mechanisms and found that we can achieve this with minimal cost. It will take commitment, yes, but the rewards will far outweigh the investment. I'm sure I need say no more at this stage but perhaps there are some questions?"

The chairperson rested back in the seat, hands together as if to pray.

"" The voice came from the sniggerless end of the table "Last summer...last summer we..."

"Last summer was a blip" The chairperson interjected "A blemish yes but a blemish on an otherwise untarnished record."

"A blip? It's more than that! We can't take it back." From the other end of the table "How can we declare happiness when we did...that."

"They need not know."

"I know! You know. We all know. Every day we wake up knowing and go to bed knowing so hard that sleep is just a distant dream."

"If we declare..."

"Then what? It will patch everything up? Will the paperwork make it real?"

Outside there was a scream and a child on the grass crying and fifteen or so other faces throwing guilty glances inside. The scrape of chairs and the committee entered recess.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Angel Leaves

Three meat wagons Melissa counted in her street. She flicked the dog end down a drain, lifted the collar of her coat and the police tape passed along on her right. An ad hoc wrestling ring had been constructed outside the newsagent. In the ring was a mêlée of activity, uniformed and boiler suited men and women ran backwards and forwards, a tag team match descended into anarchy. This she took in without looking up from the tarmac, avoiding any eye contact or cameras.

The place was familiar. Not this place in particular but places like it; places with scenes like this. Melissa never travelled. She saw no need. The streets swam around her, presenting variety every day but there were themes, always themes. Rarely did exotic streets appear. Only on a couple of occasions had golden beaches arrived at her feet and only once did a snow covered mountain tower above, before retreating again to a haven of magazines and movies.

But that was long ago. These days it was only London which fussed at her feet, sniffing her shoes and begging for attention. Sometimes it would disappear for a few hours but it always returned at meal times. If she was honest, she liked having it around.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Speed Healing

Every train was going the wrong way. I couldn't work it out. Everyone else on the platform seemed at ease with the situation but I was frankly perturbed. I approached a lady who was watching her two little boys playing precariously close to the edge, taking it in turns to run as fast as they could towards the tracks and then halting just before the yellow line, sometimes, with a victorious grin back at mummy, a step over the line.

"Excuse me. Excuse me."

When I touched her gently on the arm she turned and removed earphones hitherto concealed under curly hair the colour of ripe fruit.

"I'm trying to get to Surbiton."


"Excuse me?"

"I'm trying to get there too. Philippe, leave your brother alone! No 'buts', just stop it."

"But this train goes to Balham."

"Philippe, get off the tracks right now! I mean it. If you stay down there we're going to get on this train and leave without you!" She turned back to me. "Then I'll go there."

Friday, 9 September 2011

Four Captive Robots

"When I see cars flying,
Civilisation dying
And all of my friends lost out to sea
Still, I'm still
Dreaming of you dreaming of me.

All of them chasing
Me down through the basin
Where the river has dried I believe.
Still, I'm still
Dreaming of you dreaming of me.

All these strange unlikely sights
Which stalk my mind throughout each night
Can bend and twist the world around
So sound is vision and vision, sound
And colours blend and morph in time
And I wonder if they're only mine
And all of a sudden I shudder, then breathe.
Still, I'm still
Dreaming of you dreaming of me."

Boris really does have a wonderful voice. He followed the song on the radio note perfect, his baritone complimenting the husky female voice crackling from the car's speakers. Work hardened hands thudded on the steering wheel in a beat offset against the lady's sharp clap. With each impact the dashboard dimmed.

Leaving the hotel at midnight had been a struggle but after a brief struggle with the tuner the hours had flown by as the old car swallowed the miles north. When he wasn't familiar with the song he quickly found a melody and harmonised with whatever piqued his fancy; sometimes the vocal but sometimes a lonesome saxophone or a strolling bass.

Only once did he click the radio silent, when blue flashes in the rear view mirror announced the approach of the emergency services. His eyes remained fixed on the road ahead as the ambulance passed, but his left hand clutched the shotgun.

Thursday, 8 September 2011


"I have it." he muttered from atop the pile of car parts.

"I have you." came her voice from behind.

He wrenched a rusted exhaust from under a Volkswagon bonnet and used it to lever the box, jammed tight under the debris of a road accident, forgotten by all but a few. When he put his full weight into it, the box came free and he fell forward wih a crash. He reached out but the box evaded him and clattered down the heap to the gravel below.

Blood emerged from a gash on his forearm and he brushed flecks of rust away while clambering down. She beat him to it, flipped the box over with her foot and waited for him.

"Why did you bring it here?" he asked the top of her head as she examined the wound.

"It seemed safe enough."

She had a handkerchief out and was patting at his arm. He grimaced at the sting and wondered at the fact that she carried a handkerchief. He buried his nose in her hair looked beyond to the box.

"You know we have to return it."

But she looked up at him and he knew they wouldn't.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Total Immersion

"David fucking Bowie! David fucking Bowie!" right opposite me in the pub, literally and I mean literally, at the table opposite me. So Bowie, or Bowie if you prefer, how do you do it?"

"Do what friend?"

"Be it, you know. How do you get to be it? You know, for so long?"

"I've been nothing for so long."

"No, you know what I mean just there, putting that shit. How do you get there?"

"Well, I suppose I'm just pretty."

"No, bullshit. I mean, you are certainly pretty, but that can't be it."

"I don't know. I Suppose I just did it friend."

"Just did it?"

"Yeah, I just did it. I grew up on a council estate in Leytonstone where my only friends were the feral dogs who stalked the night and slept or ate the day. I slunk into their life sleeping behind the bins, chewing grease sodden newspaper holding the memory of forbidden meat. Some nights I ventured as far as the park, only with the pack, always with the pack, I chased the foxes from their territory. Heady days. heady days friend."

"It sounds rough."

"It was rough but that's not it. That's just where I was. We knew no better."

"Is this some some kind of metaphor?"

"No friend; no metaphors here. That's just where I was. It was fun, exhilerating, but sometimes painful. You've got to understand I was bottom of the pile. I mean I was the runt, the runt of the pack, still am."

"Bullshit Bowie. If you don't mind me saying."

"No friend, that's okay, but it was a rough few years. For all of that though, I have great fondness for that time. I still go down there sometimes, removing all the ridiculous garb of what I've become. All those characters have changed of course and I have age on my side. Or not. Depends which way you look at it but when I'm down there and the game is on there's nothing better. I can live with the dirt and the grime and the smells, the scrapping in waste vegetation. My friend those days, those days I live."

"But Bowie, that's not what I'm asking. How did you get here?"

"Friend, I don't remember that."

Some Bright

'Each storm that passed was greater than the last until came the next which rocked us less.'

Throughout the morning I'd read of the dead guy or rather of those who had known him or seen him in his final hours. There was little to say of him now.

On the 13.45 out of London Paddington a family of four remembered a smell pervading their coach, infecting packed lunches lovingly put together by the children themselves: cheese sandwiches with large chunks of tomato whose juice soaked through the bread so that clumps stuck to their fingers, bags of square crisps from a multipack and bottles of supermarket brand water.

The smell was also noted by the guard passing through, tapping earphoned commuters into producing documentation. He nudged the dead guy on the lapels of his overcoat and the guy produced his ticket from a bundle of business cards.

In a greasy spoon in Swindon the owner presented a plate of scrambled eggs to the guy who responded with a broad smile. When he delivered a second plate the response involved a mumbled sentence, possibly: "That will do it".

The final person known to see the guy alive sold him a copy of the Swindon Advertiser and was told to keep the change. The police were baffled by this last exchange. They puzzled over why a guy who an hour later would put himself on the railway tracks would need a newspaper. This made no sense to them. They scoured the edition for anything that might act as a catalyst for such a decision but nothing showed up and they concluded that the decision had already been made.

When a guy's decided he has no future why take interest in the news? The shopkeeper suggested to an enthusiastic young journalist that the newspaper didn't contain the future, it contained the past. The shopkeeper's husband asked whether the guy didn't already have a past.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Boris and Marvin sat hunched forward, leaning bow-armed on their knees, eye to eye. There had been no more movement than a blink since I entered the room. Certainly my entrance made no impact. My presence was irrelevant, my demeanor comfortable. I took a seat over in the corner, slightly nearer to Marvin, and watched.

There was daylight between their noses but it was marginal. I could imagine a snooker referee leaning over them, cupping his hand to cut the glare of the room's strip lighting. Tiny follicles were probably making contact, bridging the gap and send urgent messages to brain and genital, the very real stimulation of virtual contact or the thrill of an accidental brushing of arms.

The longer I watched, the more I realised that there was no such feeling for either. I watched for an age as both grew old, Boris the quicker, and I watched as their bodies were drawn together without thought. Nasal hair sprouted and intertwined vine-like, pulling them together. Hair tangled and tugged and hands slipped off knees so that the two figures leaned against each other, balanced by a forced embrace.

On leaving the room I turned off the light before stepping onto the street, submerged by the morning commute.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Coffee Jar

When they came it was without ceremony or melodrama. They didn't exactly sneak in the back door but they were sure to shut it quietly behind them. They whispered sweet nothings in our ears and then harsh truths and then tried to engage in constructive debate but by then it was, indeed, too late. Our pride was dented and we shut them out. They had pride in spades themselves but lacked the concept. About this at least, we felt good.

Their craft were industrial and non-descript. They sat in our streets unnoticed, invisible to most passers by like betting shops or libraries. Those few who did notice might give them a tap or a pat and be surprised by the unusual texture and pulsing warmth, but assume they were just a temporary structure for yet another building project or set of roadworks. Those who chanced on seeing one in flight were consigned to a life of anal probe jokes.

I was ITK, in the know, of course. My role was administrative. I dealt with low level bureacrats, efficient in opertion and civil in manner. They were hard to read as might be expected. They laughed constantly but it took a long while to work out whether this was what the sound denoted. It was unclear where the humour lay. Besides pride they lacked other concepts essential for human jokes. They seemed to suffer not schadenfreude. Personally I think they fed purely on the absurd. Perhaps that's why when they left they took only the office photocopier.

We laughed too but it was nervous laughter, often the case when the other party has a clear height advantage, and a tail. I couldn't really think of them as friends. They existed in the middle ground of colleagues or acquaintances, but not quite either. I was sad the day they took flight, I won't deny it, sad that I would never see them again. I take a crumb of comfort in the knowledge that they somewhere in the expanse of space and time they are out there amongst the stars. This they would find hilarious.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Are Still Children

"There is a bridge and on that bridge there is a man and that man he says dive and what do you, what do you do? You dive my friend because that man he stands there for a reason, he doesn't stand there for his own plaisir; he stands there for your benefit, for you my friend and how are you to receive this man? You are to dive and as you plunge you are to turn your head retaining that streamline, that glorious figure, that perfection of man spoiled only by cheap clothing and lowered standards and you are to look him in the face avoiding eye contact and you are to say 'thankyousir' and he will nod but you will not notice because by then you will be beneath road level and passing the supporting girders which arch high over the river and you will turn forward and you will pick up speed just a fraction and in that acceleration you will see where you have been led."

And then she launched into a thrilling rendition of 'There She Goes', her lips kissing out the lyrics in a prim English accent and her bare arms stroking the harp strings.

I tossed a pound into the padded guitar case and continued down the tunnel, oblivious to any acknowledgement.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


Suffice to say that crows don't like me.

There's a gadget shop down the road with a window display full of stuffed toys concealing cameras, motion sensors and microphones. Deep in his heart the owner really wanted to own a pet shop or work in a zoo but it could never be. He discovered this on applying to train as a veterinarian. "It wouldn't be appropriate for you to work with animals" they had told him. Nothing else, just that, but he was a compliant type and accepted their words on trust. These were professionals after all. So he took the only other path open to him and joined MI5.

The service, once he'd graduated and gone through basic training, was a grave disappointment. He was promised long, in-depth analysis of international affairs but instead found dawn chases through foggy streets and cold nights in Berlin closets. There were perks of course but sex with glamorous double agents was never really his bag and without burning too many bridges he jacked it all in after only five years.

Those bridges would come in useful when the shop got off the ground. A steady stream of international personnel passed through to pick up whatever gizmos their own people couldn't, or wouldn't, provide.

I plucked up the courage to go in myself once. It's a bizarre experience. As the door closes the street sounds are silenced and the electronic eyes of a hundred cuddly toys activate. You've stepped into the jungle and it's not your jungle.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Conspiracy Drive

"'She's Elvis!" yelled the woman with a haircut pencilled in by an infant. But could I believe her? Well no, not yet. I didn't know who the she in question was? Had someone asked, I would've shrugged and said: "Erm, Elvis?"

Nobody asked.

The woman was pointing at something far over the Thames in the direction of St Pauls. A police helicopter crossed the North Bank but neither her eyes nor her finger followed it. I watched it drifting south and passing under a small passenger jet making its way to City Airport. The sky behind was bright and blue with a few wisps of cloud, and the city below shone, cleaned, spring cleaned, autumn cleaned.

Nobody remembers the cleaning, which never happened. Nobody remembers anything. They save it. Ctrl S.

It's a dirty word 'cleaning'. Too much over-enthusiastic cleaning. Too much confusion over dirt. Dirt is what we don't like. Some people don't like moules. Some don't like to eat chicken with their fingers. Dirt is naughty sex. Dirt is any sex. Dirt is three days at a festival and not being able to feel your skin. Dirt is lots of things to lots of people.

There's nothing to read into the dirt or the cleaning here. Yesterday London sparkled.