Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Eyes Have it - 10 songs about the eyes

He gazes into her eyes and she into his and they burst into rapturous song about each other. Or something like that anyway...

Here's 10 songs extolling the eyes, or otherwise.

1) "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"
I first heard this original version on the soundtrack for Dennis Potter's TV drama "Pennies From Heaven" and although Big Band music isn't really my thing, I bought the soundtrack. There's something really fragile about this version.

2) "A Pair Of Brown Eyes" - The Pogues
When the Pogues first happened along, everyone thought they were just Plastic Paddies from the local pub, but in time Shane MacGowan showed what a fabulous songwriter he was. This song may have signalled the public recognition of that fact.

3) "Dry Your Eyes" - The Streets
Cheeky Brummie chappy Mick Skinner pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of writing a song about heartbreak and even tries singing it rather than his usual rap patter. Well the chorus at least.

4) "Gypsy Eyes" - Jimi Hendrix

How good is this? Nothing more to say really.

5) "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" - The Adverts
Probably the most disconcerting song in this list, a mental patient projects himself into looking through the eyes of death row inmate Gary Gilmore as he is strapped in for his execution. Wonderful stuff.

6) "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" - Crystal Gayle
As with Big Band music, I really don't go for Country & western, but this is saved by not having that Southern twang that to me always seems to undermine any sincerity or intensity. This was a song from my childhood that always seemed to be on the radio, but I never owned it.

7) "She's Got Dickie Davies' Eyes" - Half Man Half Biscuit
Oh those comedy punsters with their then pop cultural references. if you didn't know, Dickie Davis was a TV sports presenter, with a bouffant, two-toned hair style that seemed to put him a world apart from the oafs and lumps he was fronting live coverage of. This is spoofing the Kim Carnes song "She's Got Bette Davis' Eyes". Ah simpler times...

8) "H Eyes" - The Ruts
Malcolm Owen the lead singer died of a heroin overdose. His songs veered from an extolling of the drug, to a total antipathy as here. Sadly missed, though this isn't one of his best creations (for that I suggest you check out "Love In Vain")

9) "Junior's Eyes" - Black Sabbath
Yep, suitably over the top as per usual with the Sab, but just about manages to preserve its dignity without sniggering.

10) "In Your Eyes" - Peter Gabriel
I am so relieved that Gabriel still has a career and Phil Collins doesn't. What the latter did to Genesis was a travesty!

And what do eyes do, or sad eyes anyway? Why, they cry tears of course. Here's a mini chart of songs about crying.

11) "Boys Don't Cry" - The Cure
Proof that The Cure were a pop band before they became a pseudo Goth pop band if you see what I mean. And that they didn't take themselves too seriously as shown by the substitution of lookalike kids for the band members in this vid. Love it.

12) "Cry Me A River" - Julie London
Now this, rather than a C&W singer is more my idea of a chanteuse. Sorry Crystal

13) "So Many Tears" - Tupac Shakur
Not just a thug living a Thug's Life, but there is genuine sentiment in this song. Sounds like az man who knew it was only a question of time before he joined the list of fatalities.

14) "None A Jah's Children No Cry" - Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus
What a voice! Man I wish I'd been at that concert.

15) "96 Tears" - Question Marks & The Mysterians
Hey I'm a sucker for hammy hammond organ chops

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Night Vision - Friday Flash


He pressed his eye to the thermal imaging camera’s viewfinder and peered into the distance through the flimsy curtains of the house opposite. Satisfied the optic was correctly appointed, he addressed his laptop monitor. Moving blobs of curdled colour. Contour lines of heat seared by the camera’s penetrating photons and thence picked out in pixels on his screen. Stratified clots pulsing and seething, the iridescent masses of two convulsing human beings.

He knew the outline of one of those forms intimately, yet he couldn't discern it from the other at all. They were too amorphous in their shifting stratified chroma. Hotspots (or cold spots) writhed in the centre of the two bodies. Shading into paler at the peripheries. Ectoplasmic as they squirmed and thrashed. Two bloated worms under his microscope. The heart and viscera eclipsed within the dark shades, the flimsy muscle and tendons hollowed out in the lighter complexions. Her dark heart possessed, it was hard to credit it was actually her in the room there.

Light didn’t code for sex, yet here one ranged through all the blue shades of the spectrum, while the other all the reds. Differing wavelengths, Dopplering away one from the other? Yet the two coagulations of colour were certainly proximate to one another. Where discrete fascicles overlay each other, the blue-red didn’t fuse into green. Each preserved its swirling integrity. A curvilinear puce yin and a teal yang. Or vice versa. Was it possible that she was blue with frigidity towards the man in there? Perhaps he was the one callously aloof towards her, but then his own dander raised as he thought of the monster just using her for his own ends. He returned to refocus the camera lens.

He resumed his gaze at the monitor. The heaving shapes looked like agar cultures in a giant square bed of a petri dish. These two bacteria, heaped twin bacillus cultures. Agglomerating. But not reproducing. It was as if another entity was walking through her body, working through it. Emptying it. Slowly eviscerating her. But then the pith hardened and reformed and grew bigger. A burst of passion perhaps, inflating the dark area. The cold-hotspot. He mustn't let his own emotions saturate their respective tints. Adulterating their complexions which otherwise might be far more complementary. The forms looked pregnant with another inside. Pregnant with each other perhaps? Swelling together. No longer possible even to determine dorsal from anterior. An infant’s shapeless painting. No longer human. The beast with two backs. With a single shot he could rupture those chromatic borders, bleed red into blue into red. Dark into light into crowning dark. 

But what if she had been similarly hued within his own embrace? He throbbing volcanic shades of red, her all ice-cool blue of detachment? A crystal sapphire of flinty indifference towards him. He had to know. He had to find out for himself. He had to get inside that house, pull the man off her and take his place. Then he would return here and consult the colour chart for her answer. For her true colours.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Gift That Keeps On Giving - Flash Story

JANUARY: To see in the New Year and to prevent her head turning and casting a roving eye, I bought her a heavy choke chain necklace

FEBRUARY: For the designated month of love, I splashed out on pearl drop earrings

MARCH: Easter came early this year as did my beneficence, since her egg was a Fabergé one

APRIL: Ducking inside from a particularly squally Spring shower, I found myself imprisoned in a jewellers and could only secure our freedom through the purchase of a gold (contra-) armband

MAY: For my faerie queen I bought her a filigreed wreath, albeit it more closely approximated a diadem. Actually it was a diadem

JUNE: Flaming June and another coruscation of light refracted off gem facets. This time a diamond encrusted watch. Yet still she was forever late, perhaps getting lost in gazing at the diamonds and losing track of time

JULY: To prepare for our Summer travels, she had to get her accessories in order for our evenings out. Several handbags were purchased in different materials while I silently implored there to be no crocodiles or snakes where we were heading for surely we would incense these animal gods by culling their progeny and then flouting the fact

AUGUST: I had anticipated an expensive Caribbean holiday to suffice for outlay this month, but she insisted on a memento of the trip and that meant some expensive pearls which may or may not have been locally sourced. Then there was the 'small' gift from the Duty Free, just to exploit the tax situation on offer, because it would be remiss not to.

SEPTEMBER: I was given a month off for good behaviour. However I was exhorted to make a sizeable donation to her pet charity for pets

OCTOBER: I didn't know she was Jewish, no matter how much she had strayed from that particular faith. They apparently have four different new years and this month saw not only one of them, but the most significant. Even though it was the month of atonement and expiation and a laying bare, so that on the High Holy day itself leather shoes are not permitted as man is not to raise himself above the beast. She purged all her footwear and after the ceremonies were over, we had to go out and restock her wardrobe for an entire array of soles

NOVEMBER: Arrogating as many holidays as humanly possible, we were also marked to honour Thanksgiving and more importantly the start of the headlong rush to shop. I had to show my gratitude with a generous purchase of a bracelet bedecked with precious stones. I was a tad charmless in the store I admit.

DECEMBER: And what did Santa bring her for Christmas? Why an eternity ring of course. A same- again for next year and all years thereafter cast iron platinum plated guarantee. And what did he bring for me? A pair of fur-lined handcuffs.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Importance Of Story Titles

When you've written a novel, the title is very important. It has to leap out at a potential reader, it ought perhaps also to suggest what the book is about. It represents the first hook, along with the cover design.

But when one is talking about a collection of short stories, then the title of each of the individual stories is released from such a burden. Then the author can think about the title's relationship to the story, whether it adds a layer of meaning, revealing something that isn't perhaps so accessible just from the text itself. Or perhaps it offers a counterpoint that takes the story in a wholly different direction from that seemingly in the text.

One of my favourite films Nick Roeg's "Bad Timing" is a twisting and turning non-linear narrative, which the viewer comes to realise all hinges around the title itself. I love that idea, that everything stems from and ultimately comes back to the starting point of the title.

I've published 4 collections of flash stories, some 128 tales. I went back over them and picked out my favourite ten titles and below explain what I like about them. The common theme is how they integrate with the thrust of the story, but that doesn't mean they all came first before I wrote the story itself. far from it. Some come part way through, many came only after the story was finished. it's quite rare that I have a title and that everything flows from that. But finding a title at the end of the process of writing often comes from a way of sewing it all up in a pleasing way, even if that way offers some echoes that reverberate after the story has ended. See what you think.

1) "Lunar Tic" (from the collection "52FF")
A man is in prison with the electric light on 24 hours a day so he can't distinguish night from day. My spin on werewolfism, as he is afflicted with a mental state where he longs to see the moon for the transformation it enables. The title puns his mental affliction with the catalyst that brings it on.

2) "Cry Baby Bunting" (From the collection "Long Stories Short"
A story about a child being snatched during a street party to celebrate a Royal Wedding. I originally wrote and published this on my blog in real time on the day when such a royal occasion was being celebrated up and down the country, though not in my area. Writing live, the title was "A Royal Weeding", but when I came to turn it into something more honed, the metaphor of bunting features heavily in the story as both celebration and mocking threat, that I knew it had to have a central prominence. Then a dim and distant recollection of the nursery rhyme came to me and it was perfect for the story.

3) "Ur, Um" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
I think this is perhaps my favourite ever title as it tickles me with its sense of playfulness. It's a literary story about language with a title that seems to represent a total lack of literacy and articulateness. The ancient city of Ur is taken as the first ever human city and the prefix has come to stand for the primal or the first in many fields - in this case an Ur-language, that is the ancestor human tongue from which all languages subsequently developed, which in my tale a man wakes up one morning to find he can only speak in this tongue. Since it is related to all our current languages, people think they recognise it, yet can't understand him. hence the 'Um'. The story is subversively comic as he becomes a celebrity and a diplomatic incident all at once.

4) "Strains" (from the collection "16FF")
Like many words, 'strain' has several shades of meaning. Firstly there is that notion of straining to attain something at full stretch. Then there is the notion of straining a liquid through some sort of filter or membrane. There is also the notion of a family strain, as in being related to the same (genetic) strain. Finally there is the meaning of strain as distant music or sound in the air. This tale combines several of those different strains of meaning (did you see what I did there?) It is about trying to recapture the quality of sounds heard while still in the womb, but forever being denied the membrane of the mother's abdomen through which such sounds were filtered. It's a simple one word title that perhaps suggests more than it reveals until you have finished reading the story.

5) "The Caller To The Bingo Caller's House Calls House" (from the collection "52FF")
I like the repetitions of the words in this, but each time the same word has a different meaning. The whole story is contained within the title, as the tale is told in bingo calls by a man who comes to prey on the Bingo caller's house while he is away calling numbers. This title was definitely the last piece in this particular jigsaw and only arrived when the story had been finished.

6) "Just Aphasia Going Through" (from the collection "16FF")
A pun on the word 'aphasia' as sounding like 'a phase you're' "Going Through". For a story all about creeping dementia and the loss of recall of words. unfortunately of course, dying brain cells are anything but 'a phase'. This title came about halfway through writing the piece.

7) "28 Grams" (from the collection "52FF")
This was an easy title to come up with, for the piece was literally that, 28 lines, each containing a word with the suffix 'gram' in it. It also was intended to echo other titles such as the movie "21 Grammes".

8) "Tendering Her Resignation" (from the collection "Long Stories Short")
Tender is a wonderfully multi-layered word. Nurses tender. Money is tender. Jobs are put out for tender, while when we've had enough of a job, we tender our resignation. When we are resigned to our lot, that such a job is not for us. In this tale, a daughter gives up her own life to stay at home and tend to her housebound mother. but her frustration bleeds out around the edges, much as with her mother's ulcerated wound staining each fresh bandage. The daughter is both tender and resigned.

You can sample the full story here.

9) "Calliopes, Caltrops and Cantos" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
This title took an age to come up with. It's a story about a poet-soldier and I knew I wanted to show that seeming contrast between the creative act of poetry with the destructiveness of war in the title and that I had it in my mind it should be alliterative. 'Cantos' represented the poetic, 'caltrops' (an anti-cavalry defence) symbolised the war and 'Calliope' interceded between the two, both standing for the epic muse of poetry and song, but also being a discordant steam organ emitting squalling sound as the antithesis of Calliope's divine singing.

10) "Per Capita" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
'Per capita', that slightly technical economic term derived from the Latin. Meaning per head, which is exactly what i wanted to allude to in a tale about a beheading video. I wanted to explore how these videos are designed to play on the emotions, they are recruiting ads within their constituency after all. The victim is a pawn in a much larger game of symbols, so that even as they are decapitated, their fate is calculated to boost support to the cause of the executioners. After 3 per capita videos, the US and the UK have recently decided to declare war on ISIS. I've blogged on the legality & impact of these videos here.

11) "Compulsory Consumer Choices Even Unto Death" (as yet only published to blog)
I wanted a long-winded bureaucratic title to reflect the world gone mad in this dystopian tale and yet one that also meant exactly what it said. How even in death and the manner of our despatch into the afterlife, we are faced with choices.

Is Viewing A Beheading Video A Crime?

While indisputably morally repugnant, viewing a beheading video is not a crime. Sharing it online however is a grey area. A crime has been committed, that of homicide. But who do you report it to? The act happened in Syria, so reporting it to your home police force isn't going to achieve much. The intelligence services of the West couldn't find Osama Bin Laden for 10 years and they're unlikely to track down "Jihadi John" unless a ground campaign kicks ISIS out of Syria. Sharing such videos, which after all are designed to inflame passions to the extent of recruiting more followers to the ISIS cause, could be deemed to be incitement to commit terrorist acts, which would constitute a crime. But no one took FB to court when they (albeit briefly) hosted beheading videos in the name of debate, until public outrage forced them to take them down.

There is a parallel here with sharing images from the London riots of 2011. Many people on the streets were not participating in the destruction, violence and looting. But they were stood there recording the action on their cameras and phones in order to share on social media and blogs. Again one could say they were committing the offence of not reporting a crime (or rather a lot of crimes), but who exactly would they have reported them to? The forces of law and order were completely stretched and overwhelmed by trying to deal with the riots. Phoning in an incident would not have prompted any police response. In that case, posting images to FB probably wouldn't be regarded as incitement and certainly not to terrorism. But the point remains, what is the responsibility of file sharing of contentious footage?

I've written fiction about a beheading video. But my exploration was about how these are designed to wreak an effect, what the symbolism is about and how it works. And of course existing solely in words, there isn't the instant visual force of a video, much as has centred around the argument this week over Hilary Mantel's short story about the assassination of Margaret Thatcher, which has seen senior political figures call for a police investigation into the legitimacy of the story as art, or whether it represents a crime. So I don't think I have to turn myself in to the cops just yet.

Clearly the boundaries need still to be defined.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Compulsory Consumer Choices Ceaseless Even Unto Death - Friday Flash

He hadn’t been shopping in a store like this for years. The last time must have been when he and his wife bought a king-sized double bed. As newly-weds they had ensured to try every mattress available, lying down and making out on each one. All in the name of test driving the springs. When his bride to be donned that Learner plate for her Hen night, she had already been thoroughly road tested. But their bed was one-sided now. He got lost in its voluminosity. The only place in this satellite system world where it was still possible to become lost. That is until they invented a GPS of the emotions. They probably already had, but presumably there wasn’t much call for it in this hurly-burly world. People were perpetually on the move and had no time to ascertain how others were disposed. 

She must have undertaken her own version of this shopping trip without him knowing. When it was still voluntary perhaps. She had opted for being dumped at sea and becoming fish food. A second mode of human transport sending her into the beyond after she had died in a multiple pile up on the motorway the size of a back alley. However the immersion in a flotation tank which he had just undertaken, had only made him throw up. He had never been terribly comfortable in water. And with this experience, he had certainly not fulfilled the brochure’s promise of losing all sense of his bodily boundaries and just gently flowing with the pacific swell. Nor had they introduced any fish to pluck at his flesh. But then the brochures never advertise that do they? 

So he wasn’t likely to be buried alongside his beloved. Even though a GPS could probably muster the location of her remains. These days humans were tagged like biological specimens in the wild. Now that they had no actual creatures left to tail after reclaiming their habitats for tarmac, leaving a mountain of tracking tags going spare. It wasn’t clear to him if the push for cars led to the upsurge in GPS devices, or the other way around. He was tagged of course, under the shoulder. But there would be no one interested in picking up his path now. 

The heft of this actually felt okay. None too weighty. He couldn’t sense the touch of the wood against any part of him. He hadn’t expected that. Maybe the wood was coated with some mild neural numbing agent. A bit of a cheat to encourage sales. Somehow he was possessed of the perception of a ton of earth on top of him, but he wasn’t experiencing it pressing down on him directly. The wood must be bearing the brunt. He could smell it though. Redolent in his nostrils, clammy, like potato skins. But he knew that he must have that inverted, tubers smell that way because they spend their whole growth in the earth. What did any of this matter anyway? He was only afforded his senses because this was a dry run.

Since he wouldn’t be able to feel the sides of the coffin’s wood when he was gone. Soil would possess no smell for his corpse to inhale. He wouldn’t be imagining he could feel the weight of anything by that point. And the contrivance of an ambient temperature, controlled by the store for the recumbent comfort of customers, would be irrelevant whether it was purchased for eternity, or not an add-on feature purchased for greater outlay. Besides, everyone knew this was a con trick. There were no cemeteries any longer. Devoured like the rest of the land beneath the ever hungry demand for roads. The human delusion of rushing around somehow forestalling the abrupt cessation brought by death. A coffin purchase could only entail a cremation, though he wondered how the authorities advised their authorised death service dealers to allow the customer to sample an incineration.

He reckoned that the ever more frequent motorway pile-ups, which had led the government to demand pre-planning with regards to body disposal, were also prompted by the car manufacturers. After all, the GPS devices should have been able to forestall most of the crashes shouldn’t they? But he couldn’t figure out how if the numbers of drivers were reduce by crash culls, how that could enable them to sell more vehicles. But what good did any of this speculation do him? He’d had the same car for a couple of decades now, so he was not a target customer dead or alive. He’d taken his wife’s wreck to a chop shop where they’d merged it with another chassis. Just so he could stay close to her. Inhale her dying breath every single day. 

Next on the menu was an air funeral. He had always liked buzzards and vultures at the zoo. Maybe there might be some spiritual communion to be had here. At least they wouldn’t try and hide the incontestable fact of your flesh being devoured by creatures with this one. He was shown into a gallery with a glass screen as a carcass of some poor animal was wheeled into the room beyond the glass. All he could see was his wife’s broken body there on the trolley. He was sick again. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Vanilla - Friday Flash

*Content warning*  Allusions to sex and violence

“I demand to see my personnel file”

“The Agency is sorry for your loss. If there’s anything you need to help with the funeral arrangements, you have all our resources at your disposal- ow!”

“I w-a-n-t to read my file”

“Well you can put in a request in writing to access it-“

“Take this gun at your forehead is my request. Six bullets in the chamber, that’s double triplicate”

“Real tough guy pistol whipping someone sat on a chair”

“That barely scratches the surface of what you’ve had me do in the past”

“Course the psych report did highlight certain ego issues. But not the id. That was all in order I’m glad to report”

“Just give me the goddamned file”

“The missions are in another file-“

“I’m not interested in the mission stuff”

“But if someone tried to kill you, you’ll need to look back over the missions to work out who”

“I know who tried to kill me. It was you fuckers”

“Don’t flatter yourself”

“How do I know it was you? I saw the timer and the device rigged up. It’s all Agency kit”

“On the job even when on the job eh? Ow! One of our enemies could frame us, make it look like we put the hit on you. I mean a beheading for goodness sakes. I know it's all the rage, but just not our style"

“I k-n-o-w it was you, because you screwed it up. Big time”


“Well what?”

“You’re waiting for me to say it”

“Say what?”

“That we screwed it up because we couldn’t put our best agent on it”

“Nice double bind play. Prove I really did have ego issues if I agree with you”

“Found what you’re looking for yet?”

“I never screwed up a single mission. So you can’t be icing me for that. Never disobeyed a directive, never gave you any trouble. It’s not about any money…”

“It’s always about you isn’t it? - Ow!”

“No, it’s about my wife who is lying on my bed in two pieces, fully bled out”

“Yes no more receiving head from her I’m afraid”

“You motherfucker! I’ll rip your head off your shoulders, see how you smile on the other side of your face across the room then”

“Ow, ow ow!”

“Fuck, there’s nothing in the file”

“Oh there’s everything in the file. Pass it me, let’s see if there are any clues there? Sexual orientation… Hetero”

“I was married for fourteen years. Longer than working for this backstabbing outfit”

“She wasn’t stabbed in the back- Ow! Stop hitting me”

“Stop playing games then. You know why this has happened. The directive would have come through your hands at some point, if you didn’t issue it yourself that is”

“I keep returning to the sexual orientation. You ever play away from home?”

“No. I loved her too much”

“Not even any honey trap missions? I’ll need that other file…”

“No. I never had any of those. You better not be playing for time here. Someone comes through that door and I plug you first”

“I’m simply trying to help you get some closure here. I’m telling you, it’s all about the sexual orientation”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You may not have done honey traps, but you’ve done enough surveillance work where you’ve recorded the mark making the beast with two backs before you lay him out on his back for good”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well we, um know the sexual predilections of all our agents as a matter of course”

“You snap us having sex?”

“Well it makes for good currency, or at least it did anyways before people started making their own porn and posting it online”

“You sick fucker. I bet you watched it in your downtime right? Made you all hot and hard did it?”

“Not really. And that’s kind of the point. In your case we didn’t have to update it. Ever. Like clockwork you two. Same night of the week. Exactly the same time at night. Same place within the house, the marital bed…”

“What’s wrong with that? We had a very loving marriage”

“If you away on assignment I bet you could just as effectively phone it in- Ow!”

“You’d know if I did, since you’re sure to have bugged my phone”

“It’s all just a bit… vanilla isn’t it? Ow! Well, tonight was the designated night of your termination from the Agency-“


“We felt you were, well, just too set in your ways. Not able to respond to our changing times. Gone stale”

“What, based on my sex life?”

“Of course not. But that was the exclamation mark on our analysis. Anyway, for years and years we’d seen you and your wife gently doggy. I ‘spose so she didn’t ever have to look at your face, while you couldn’t see her disinterest and going through the motions- ow! Ow! Okay okay, that was a bit gratuitous I grant. So anyways, on this one carefully planned night, with all the contraption rigged up and primed, there you guys go and change up on us and she’s on top, her head where yours was supposed to have been. And, well you know the rest…”

“If you wanted to take me out, why not just do it and dump me in an alleyway or the desert? Why was she supposed to have to witness it?”

“Because it would ensure her silence. She would know the price of opening her yap”

“You do know, you of all people, that I have been trained in all manner of torture. Affronts to the body. Grievous physical afflictions and psychological degradation”

“I’m fully aware of that. I wrote the textbook on it”

“Well you’re just about to become reacquainted with it. A refresher course”

“End of the Vanilla Man. I’ll have to make a note in your file before you get started on me”