Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Confirmament - Flash Fiction




The King listened impassively as the Royal Astrologer demonstrated how the star charts foretold the kingdom’s imminent doom.

“And who is this host that shall overcomemy all conquering army and where do they come from?”

“The charts do not reveal that Sire”.

“Do they have elephants like I do? How can anyone best an elephant? These charts with their child’s doodles are not worth the vellum they’re inked on. How is that supposed to look like a crab?”

“Sire, see the Scales here how unbalanced they have become?”

“Scales? It looks nothing other than like the end of my royal shaft!”

The King ordered for his astrologer to be taken away and executed. For good measure he had the astronomers so immured and Star-Chambered that they never saw the sky again, else put on the rack and stretched until their limbs and torsos resembled some of the angular constellations they had illuminated on their maps. He took these charts and erased their shapes and images and began drawing his own to link the stars.

“We need an elephant constellation to recognise the strength of our kingdom under Heaven”. So he drew an elephant with long trunk and huge ears across the firmament. “Then we need something to glory unto me. Orion’s Belt, the ‘Three Kings’ ha! A woman’s girdle for a man and nothing less. We need an orb and sceptre in the night sky to reflect my divine right”. Unfortunately the King though divinely chosen was not imbued with numinous draughtsmanship and the orb and sceptre were scrawled too proximate to one another so that they resembled a male member with just one sac.

And so the King continued on in this vein, rejigging the astral vault. He was so ensconced in his task, that he forbade any of his stewards and chamberlains to disturb him. Which was a pity as the invasion of his realm had begun. His elephants had proved no match for the army of mice that had been in the vanguard, causing them to turn tail and trample over their own frontline of defences. Into the breach came a mighty hunter shooting his arrows, flanked by a Centaur doing the very same. Next came a giant Bear, a hulking Bull and a humungous Lion tearing and raking and gouging at any massed phalanxes of the King’s troop. Finally scuttled an outsized Scorpion to clear up the survivors with each venomous sweep of his stabbing tail.

And when the kingdom had been levelled featureless and returned to the earth, the victorious conquerors ascended to their own celestial abode and took their places up against the stars so that again mortals could look up and sketch their outlines. Only the divines insisted on a new constellation being added, that of the humble mouse, pointed out by two astral ears and a stellar snout. The Smintheus constellation.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Lux - Flash Fiction


I have been exposed to the light just the once. The occasion of the expulsion of my birth. Tumbling from the primordial interstitial paradise, into a searing light that sundered the milky membranous veil from my eyes. Reflexively I averted my head and pressed it into the cold breast of my mother who had expired from the moil of evacuating me. Burying my face into her clabbered flesh blotted out the punishing light and stopped up my incipient breath. These twin inundations red-illuminated the arteries behind my own eyes and caused shooting spangles of stars. Another tunnel of light opened up before me, its adit beckoning me into its maw. Light beyond and light within. Fortunately I blacked out until the siege of me was somehow lifted by the midwives.
Since then I have only ever shunned the light. Reverse heliotrope. Abetted by the pollution in the air that strains the sunlight and turns it caliginous. Some say such fetid air reeked of brimstone, but such a notion struck me as fanciful though it enfettered me in my daily wake. Abroad at night, the reflected and depleted light of the moon pierced me no threat. While the spill of the gaseous orange glow of the street lamps served to smear and blanch the twinkling of the stars. I just had to ensure I kept my head down so as not to stare into the coronas generated by the bulbs. I had my catapult in my pocket were any street lamp to shine too brightly, but even that I knew was a harbinger of its imminent death as the filament teetered on the point of burning itself out. Light does that, it consumes itself bloodily.
So I inhabit the shadows and the gloom. I bask in the Cimmerian. It puts me proximate with other tenebrous brokers and stewards of the night. These creatures with reptilian eyes. Yet when they look into mine unshrouded by any lids, they misconstrue my gaze as unflinching and steadfastly abysmal. A trick of the, well light. Or lack of it. But the opacity of my gaze is sufficiently indurate for them to pledge me adamantine fealty. 

Nevertheless I am not one of their cohort. I promise them nothing, reward them less. Still they seek my sanction for their wicked acts. They propitiate what they imagine must be my appetite for blood. They see me vampire, when in fact I am more humble angel. 

Nor can I abide the fires they light to warm themselves, for there coruscates an accelerated energy giving rise to sharp stabs of light. Fulgurant embers rise into the air as an unsympathetic echo of the spangles which stamped my newborn vision. So when I am accused of presiding over a realm of persecutory flames, I shrug my wings in refutation. They dub me "Lucifer", the son of dawn, bringer of light. Have they failed to notice that I am usually long-gone before Helios has mounted his chariot? 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Whither The Labour Party?

The Labour Party have just been defeated in the UK election this week. The post-mortems will begin through the medium of a leadership election as the unsuccessful candidate Ed Miliband has resigned in defeat. As usual such a post-mortem will not address the real underlying issues and yield a leader who will in all likelihood be just as unsuccessful as Miliband.

1) Although they won the election, the Conservatives don't have a large majority so they potentially become vulnerable in Parliamentary votes on contentious issues if their own contumacious back-bench MPs decide to flex their own muscles and defy party discipline. Exactly the same as at the start of the last Parliament when the UK had it's first coalition government in 36 years. However, then Labour was so consumed by its own leadership election process that took a year or so, they were unable to apply any pressure on the fledgeling coalition government in its first year and it remained relatively unscathed. Labour has to avoid that this time round and maintain a rigorous opposition.

2) Proper post-mortems do not get conducted through the process of a leadership election. First of all the debate is internal, through MPs, Trade Unions and party members. The aspect of a proper post-mortem that is omitted, is actually consulting with the public. Asking those floating voters why in the end they didn't vote Labour. These are the crucial opinions and they are overlooked. The internal debate is only conducted with an eye to which wing of the party as represented by which leadership candidate will triumph in the final selection voting process.

3) The failure of a vaguely Left-Wing Labour election campaign has been pounced on by Labour centrists as proof that only their way can deliver Labour any future victory. This of course completely overlooks that a Centrist Labour Party has no real reason to exist. Tony Blair as a Centrist was only successful because he came to power in a period of economic boom. This boom was predicted by all economists as the corollary of coming out of the bust of the 1990s, when people were feeling bruised and fed up with the longevity of the Conservatives in power and weary of various scandals that had afflicted that party. They were ready for a change and it coincided with economic growth. But when the country is an a period of economic sluggishness, when savings are needed which implies a level of austerity, people will trust the Conservatives over Labour to deliver these cuts, because Labour are morally torn about cutting welfare and public services. Now you can argue with the narrative of austerity, but a Centrist Labour party's craving to appeal to the middle classes means they will not rock the economic boat of austerity. Yet they cannot outtrump the Conservatives in that sphere. It makes no sense to try and out-Tory the Tories. Austerity with a smiley-face.

4) So the alternative is to be a Left-Wing party, which Ed Miliband was accused of by his opponents with both Labour and Tory circles. He wasn't in many ways, because he accepted the austerity narrative as above. He just wanted to try and ameliorate some of its victims, such as those on zero-hours contracts, those accessing foodbanks and the like. But none of this plays to those in middle England, in the market towns that they desperately need to convince to have any chance of winning a parliamentary majority. England is a conservative (small 'C') nation, of Napoleon's famous shopkeepers and entrepreneurs. Any sniff of a Left-wing government is going to have those people fleeing for the mountains and doing everything they can to 'stop the socialists' gaining power. It's hard without an economic crisis seeing Labour ever regaining government.

5) At present, a left-wing Labour party has no real principles or ideology on which to base itself. The moment Tony Blair succeeded in expunging the 1918 Clause IV as a founding principle (so much so it was printed on every membership card) was not only the moment 'New Labour' replaced (old) labour, but the moment all its history was erased at a stroke. The history of its origins, its principles and what it stood for. Now whether you subscribe to the principle of Clause IV "To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service"  is not really the point. The point is it has ceased to stand for anything principled or distinctive, so that even when ed Miliband tries to take the party more leftwards, it's completely without context or focus because it's not based on any bedrock of belief. 

6) Looking at the demographics of the Labour Party MPs returned in the election, it has utterly become a party of the cities. All the major conurbations of England are solidly Labour. It has virtually no representation in the smaller urban areas and now nothing in a former heartland Scotland. London is a Labour City, yet London is a very rich (and expensive) city which goes against the grain that Labour can't appeal to the middle classes, although it is also hard to see what inhabitants of Labour constituencies like Hampstead or Islington have in common with inhabitants of Northern constituencies like Stockton and Bury. That makes it slightly schizoid in make-up. Scotland rejected Labour because it wasn't left-wing enough, London votes Labour because they like this cosy left-centrist Labour. London is of course the most ethnically diverse of all cities in the UK and draws much support from these communities, while there is also an element of having the wealth and privilege to desire to share some of that wealth with the less fortunate in a way that Tory voters in say Peterborough or  Swindon don't seem to feel. If London becomes more exclusive due to its property prices and hogging of the job market, if more oligarchs from around the globe buy expensive holiday homes, then that natural Labour tendency may evaporate and Labour will lose its second major core of parliamentary seats as it has just done in Scotland. How does it knit together  a strategy to represent Northern cities, Scotland, the wealth of Londoners who are already its supporters and then somehow to entice those of small town and middle England to come across from the Tories?

I say it's an impossible job and Labour has no real sense of any identity here in the early 21st Century. Nor will its leadership contest likely to furnish it with one. I don't know about a 1000 year reich of Conservative government, but it's hard to see it being limited to just the next 5, 15 or 25...

Monday, 4 May 2015

Zombie - Flash Fiction

She had the bagginess removed from her eyes, but as she also had a facelift to banish her wrinkles, the tightened scalp only served to bulge out her peeper from the thinned skin.

All the rhinoplasty procedures on her nose had denuded the cartilage until the nasal vestibules started rising back up until the whole structure fell off the central axis to one side of her face, just like her favourite pop star who she modelled herself on.

The second Botox had never worn off, freezing the whole lower half of her face in an incessant rictus.

The silicon implants in her breasts had started to leak and necrotised the flesh of her chest.

Augmented by her tummy tucks being unable to withstand the constant stuffing of nourishment causing her abdomen to burst and her viscera to hang out of the cavity. She was no longer able to stand fully upright. 

Apart from the patches of burned skin around her buttocks, the liposuction had removed so much cellulite that her muscles were tightly smothered by their subcutaneous layering, starving them of oxygen entailing that her movement was sluggish and laboured. 


The only flesh being consumed was her own. 



if you enjoyed this alternative take on the zombie myth, you may also like the take on the werewolf myth "Lupus"

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Weaponised Songs - 16 songs about weapons

Even Wham had a song called "Young Guns" although that was used of people rather than weapons of death. from shotgun weddings to protest songs at war and nuclear arms, music has been full of references to weapons. Here's a sprinkling for your listening pleasure.


1) "Mack The Knife" - Lotte Lenya & Louis Armstrong
Brecht, Weill, Lenya & Armstrong, does it get any better than this? You really can see that Weill was influenced by Armstrong in this.



2) "Poison Arrow" - ABC
Don't think ABC have ever turned up in any chart of mine. The 1980s really was the death of music. While you lot were liberally applying blusher and hairspray, a few of us were turning our battered eardrums to New York City and the grimy industrial brutalism of bands like Swans and Sonic Youth. Time has not mellowed me as to which was the more worthwhile... Everything about this song grates me, the 'Eastenders' drum sound, the cheesey organ sound, the feeble slap bass...



3) "Burning Spear" - Sonic Youth
See a man playing his guitar with drumsticks, now that's what I'm talking about! Currently I'm trying to decide whether to buy Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon's biography "Girl In The Band" or not. She was a tad more than just the guitarist's girlfriend, she was his wife! But they recently got divorced and I think the book's going to be pretty ugly on that score...



4) "Swords Of A Thousand Men" - Tenpole Tudor
I never quite got Eddie Tenpole's schtick. I think I'm right in saying he was in the sex Pistol's movie "The Great Rock And Roll Swindle" and then seems to have had a chip on his shoulder that he never made it to the big time. Except for a brief stint with this knockabout campery.



5) "Eton Rifles" - The Jam
The Jam were really quite subversive. They had so many Top ten chart singles, including this, appeared on mainstream pop shows constantly and all the while not pulling any political punches in many of those chart hits.



6) "Bazooka Joe" - Big Black
So there were these three bands who resolutely refused to have a drummer, but worked with a drum machine and all the performers were out at the front of the stage. One was Carter The Unstoppable sex Machine with their cheeky South London puns. The next was Three Johns with their Yorkshire political fist pumping. And then there was Steve Albini's Big Black who just out-powered them and went for the noise and the dark side of US life. I liked all three in point of fact, but now in my dotage Big Black have way outlasted the other two in my affections, even though they were the only one of the three I never saw live.



7) "Armalite Rifle" - Gang of Four
A throw-away B-Side really, but there's something about its stripped down almost football chant simplicity that sets off the significance of what they're singing about.



8) "6" Gold Blade" - Birthday Party
Well Nick Cave is forever singing about knives and killing isn't he? Always seems to be women on the receiving end of his knives as well...



9) "Love Missile X-111" - Sigue Sigue Sputnik
The debut single of the first manufactured rock band and they disappeared as quickly as they arrived. Named after a real US military weapon, I however am grateful since I initially used it for a title of a stage play of mine. When I rewrote it as a novel I changed the title for another song, Cindy Lauper's "Time After Time". See, I have mellowed... But not in my opinion of this song which is cack.



10) "Careful With That Axe Eugene" - Pink Floyd
It's not like Roger Waters hadn't served you all good notice with this long before "The "Wall" and "Dark Side Of The Moon'. Madness is an ever-present theme in his work. Is that mad grin just a by-=product of his vocal or is it for real? You decide.



10) "Mi Uzi Weighs A Ton" - Public Enemy
Wait, we've got to number ten before mentioning a Rap band with their loves for all things semi-automatic and drive-bys and tings? This was the song that really introduced UK audiences to PE I think. Even though they quickly moved away from this kind of gangster posturing and left that to the West Coast rappers like Ice-T. the beat on this really does seem to weigh a ton.



11) "Tommy gun" - The Clash
We say that about Rap, but every other song by the Clash seemed to contain a weapon or two; "Guns Of Brixton", "Washington Bullets", "Drug Stabbing Time", "sten Guns In Knightsbride". But then they were fighting the revolution I suppose...



12) "Yankee Bayonet" - The Decembrists
The Decembrists have pretty much passed me by. Sound like second rate REM to my ears




13) "Ten percent Pistol" - Black keys
Earnest musos or smash up your guitars as you cavort around the stage lost in the trance of your own thrash trance. Know which I'd rather have...




For which I give you -

14) "Little Man With A Gun In his Hand" - Minutemen
If you think these guys were just a thrash punk band making a noise as in this terrible recording ion a boat, then check out the acoustic version's musical complexity in the video after





15) "My 9mm Goes Bang" - Boogie Down Productions
And we're back with rap's fetishisation of the gun



16) "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" - Breeders
And bringing some calm to proceedings, we all prefer this to the Beatles original right? What do you mean no!!!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Occupational Hazard - Flash Fiction

Christian Surname called out to Glover up on the roof of the house as to whether he’d seen 
Trollop anywhere. Glover shook his head as he forcefully yanked out a wad of thatch and opened up his fist so that the straw tumbled down towards the ground as a bouquet over Surname.

Surname inquired the same of Joiner as he was mounting a newly made saddle upon a horse. Joiner cupped the pommel with one hand and inclined his head to inhale the leather seat with a resonant sniff which Surname took for his answer whatever it may have meant.

Surname spotted Fletcher with a cart on its side and queried if he had any idea of her whereabouts. Fletcher gave a hard pull on the nearest wheel and set it spinning round in continuous motion by way of his response.

Surname spotted that the door of the blacksmiths was open and entered his forge. He interrogated Cooper there as to Trollop’s perambulations, but the smith removed a glowing iron bar from the forge, held it horizontally up to his eyes pointing at Surname as the metal glowed and faded with the heat pulsing through it.

As the smith’s neighbour, Mason was fletching arrows in his yard, so Surname cheerily sought  some illumination from him. Mason delicately stroked the feathers of the quill before blowing and ruffling them.

Surname scurried on into the bakery. Skinner there was dusting flour off with a percussive clap of his hands so that he initially missed Surname’s request. When he repeated it, Skinner threw his dough against the table sending up a cloud of more flour, before he started kneading and pummelling it as his disclosure. 

Surname shook his head before proceeding apace to the workshop of Thatcher. Entreating him as to whether he’d espied Trollop, the joiner picked up a tenon and repeatedly slotted it and out of the mortise, while studying it with so rapt an attention, his tongue was poking out of the corner of his mouth.

Surname had been beginning to feel somewhat perturbed at the sullen silence of his fellow villagers, when he adjudged that they were just all so occupied with their craft to be bothered with his trifling quest. Also that they were so involved in their tasks that they were unlikely to have noticed her in passing anyway. Nevertheless, there was Baker sat on a chair outside his establishment, his hands buttressing the back of his head in relaxation, so he ventured to pick his brains. The glover immediately removed his hands which were bedecked in silk and studiously raised each finger of the fabric away from the flesh inside, before deliberately peeling the entire glove from each hand. 

Carter answered him with what seemed a lascivious smile as he honed his chisel on the whetstone, before scraping it with an agonised squeal against the stone. 

Smith’s rejoinder was a percussive slap of the hide hung out on his line with his tanning paddle. 

Sadler’s comment took the form of tamping down the lid of a barrel with his hammer. 


Surname had reached the end of the village marked by the Church. He pushed the heavy door open and came upon Sexton who advised him that Priestly was in all likelihood in the vestry. “Forgive me for asking Fath-“ His voice died on his lips as he saw Priestly with his raiment down around his ankles as he was administering to one of his flock. Surname skirted round the walls of the room to confirm his worst fear. That parishioner receiving the host was indeed Trollop. Living up to her name even as Priestly was not. But then neither were any of the other villagers pursuing trades not of their fathers, although unbeknownst to him, they actually were; of their birth fathers. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Road Songs

I don't drive. But where would modern music be without bands taking to the road in their early careers to play gigs, before they can swap the cramped sweaty confines of a van for a jet or a mammoth tour-bus? Here's 10 songs honouring the humble asphalt.

1) Nat King Cole - "Route 66"
The quintessential 'road' song, probably also one of the most covered tracks in music history. But do you know who originally penned it? I didn't, had to look it up - Bobby Troup. No, me neither...



2) Bob Dylan - "Highway 61 Revisited"
Dylan being Dylan right?



3) Tom Robinson Band - "2,4,6,8 Motorway"
From the band who sang of feminism and gay rights came this great road anthem. And we don't really have a trucking culture in the UK!



4) Kraftwerk - "Autobahn"
Perfectly captures the featureless, concrete tedium of motorway driving. Always one step ahead were Kraftwerk.



5) Eddy Grant - "Electric Avenue"
A street in brixton South London. it was the first street mraket to be lit by electricity. And that's about all I can say about it, other than I seem to remember this song was a massive hit.



6) Laurie Anderson - "New Jersey Turnpike"
Many people would struggle to name another Laurie Anderson song other than "Oh Superman". To judge by the views on YouTube, this gives further evidence to that. See if you can tip it over tyhe 100 views!



7) Cat Stevens - "Portobello Road"
Yeah, it ain't like that now, even though the market is still there... I worked there for 15 years or so. A very um lively part of London.



8) Gun Club - "Ghost on The Highway"
Roads through swamplands, yep the sound of Gun Club. With a driving rhythm too.



9) Meat Puppets - "Lost on the Freeway"
A thrash punk band that turned into a folksy band conjuring up the rhythms and landscapes of the US South-West, of deserts and pueblos. Luscious stuff.



10) Sonic Youth - "Expressway To yr Skull"
Not strictly about a real road, or maybe it is? the road of the mind... ooooh, spooky



Bonus Track:
Billy Bragg - "A13"
The British retort to "Route 66". Most unglamorous! Funnily enough, a lot of swing seats in the upcoming general election are name checked here.