Saturday, 1 August 2015

Storygust 1

A story based on the 8 Part Story-Spine for everyday in August.

No1. The begining
1.Once upon a time,
There was the echo of a man, a shadow man.
2. And Everyday
He walked up and down a silent beach in a deep gray fog and wondered... over an over again what it would be like to be real.
3.Until one day
He came across a shell, half buried in the sand, and put it to his ear.
4. And because of that
he heard the sound of laughter for the very first time
5. And because of that,
He heard people crying and falling in love.
6.An because of that
he started crying too... and began to fall in love with the Shell. It being the only thing around to fall in love with.
7.Until finally
He climbed inside to try and join the voices.
8. And ever since that day
The beach has been empty of shadow-men, but the shell has been full, and from it the sounds of reuniting drift out across the water, like a low flying birds across the sun.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

6EQUJ5 (Wow!)

She lives in a large township in what today we would call Northern Chile. She pre-dates the Romans, the Greeks and the Chinese. She lives about 200 years before Aristotle will begin the slow march forward towards the scientific method,  700 years before Jesus Christ will attempt to introduce emotional intelligence into organised religion and one and half thousand years before people fighting in his name will come across the ocean, bringing disease and slaughter to the world she lives in. She lives more than two thousand years before the concepts of modern medicine, antibiotics, painkillers and anti-depressants. She lives in a world without metal, without concrete, without glass, long, long, long before the birth of western civilisation, and she is losing her baby.

She’s no stranger to death. People die all the time, people die when they are young, they die in their prime. Sometimes they die for no reason at all. But to die like this, as you are being born, seems a cruel trick for the gods to play.

She comes from a wealthy family, they would have given the boy a good life. Her husband has power and resources, he has men that are sworn to fight for him, who hold axes with granite heads and wooden handles edged with gold. They garrison the walls of their compound against outsiders and enemies both man and beast. He has women and boys  who toil under his protection, they age themselves, hand grinding maize; rock scraped against rock, with life in the middle, the yellow white powder from which they make their bread.  They live a life of relative security.  And those in the fields too, the adolescents and middle class women who tend the llamas and weed and pick and sow corn…

All of them will talk about this as they work now. About how this has happened because of her. 

‘What is grown and dried and smashed in rhythm with the gods, shall rise and grow strong’, they’ll say. And they will tut and shake their heads as if to imply that corners must have been cut, savings made, sacrifices performed in the improper way.

Isn’t the bread and meat they eat it proof enough of his worth. She loves him and she knows the truth. She knows he is a good man. Just and fair. So why could the gods not have allowed his line to go on?

She looks at the lifeless body of her baby. Limp and soft and swaddled in blood.  Mistakes were  made. They should not have named him. They should not have allowed themselves to believe he was even real until he said his first words. It’s just that they were so excited. And late at night they would lie in bed together and make up stories about the man he would grow up to be. He will slay giants, said her husband, he will be kind to his wife and his mother she replied.  He would have been their first.

He husband enters the red room chaperoned by the priestess, and two elders. All three wearing the necklaces of their cast. Flat gold circles designed to reflect light onto the face, making them seem to glow; creating subconscious affinity between them and the face on the moon.

‘We have spoken, and everything is in order…  He will be taken and dressed now.’  Says her husband. 

For a moment she doesn’t understand, exhausted as she is. But she can see the pain on his face. He isn’t angry, he is just distraught. 'To be dressed…' Yes of course, it is bad luck for the first born to die, so the elders will make him immortal. So that he will continue to live with the family. It is a burden that the woman must bear, she will carry the body. Just as she has done for many months, twinning his life force with her own.  

The priests take her baby.  Behind closed doors they scoop it’s brain from its skull. They take and burn the internal organs. They bury it in salt, They use Ammonia extracted from human urine to tan his translucent skin to leather.  Then finally at the end of the process, they carefully they wrap him in cedar-bark and woven bandages until he looks like child’s doll.  It will take them three months to do this, to turn her baby into an object.

When they hand it back to her, it is lighter than she expects, but  once around her neck it hangs heavy with the remembered effort and sadness. As a penance and a tribute, she will carry him with her for the rest of her life. In the years that follow, she will have other children. There will be happiness and sadness, and like everyone else in her community, her teeth will become worn down by particles of stone chipped from the grinding stone and into in the cornbread. Eventually she will no longer be able to eat at all, and she will die, and her first great failure, her son, will be buried along with her.  Only to be discovered and exhumed by a team of men and oil-powered machines, looking for water deep in the desert soil.


“That’s just not how it happened” says the kid next to me the queue. I say “kid” but he is probably 25 maybe 26 years old.  He wears a Baseball cap, and knee-length shorts that hang above legs that don’t look like they’ve ever seen the sun.  He is a little over weight and sporting the beard of a man that should shave, but only really does so if require to by work. On his T-Shirt is a picture of her mummified foetus.

“What kind of deformed-ass baby has 9 sets of ribs, man… Scientists say that thing lived for a minimum of seven years!  And he’s six fricken inches tall! No human ass 6 six inch baby is living to see it’s seventh birthday, running around, stealing food probably…  that shit ain't no baby foetus… that’s a human alien hybrid, this is like the human WOW signal, man!  We need to take notice…So hell yeah I wanna see it.”

The wow signal he is referring to was collected by a volunteer at a radio telescope In 1977. A 72 second burst of information, spelled out in six letters that bore all the hallmarks of being contact from an alien world.  SETI (The search for extra terrestrial intelligence) was its infancy then, barely even born it was largely a focus of derision and ridicule. The ‘wow signal’ excited the scientific community and lead indirectly to official sanction of the programme and greatly increased funding. 

We’ve heard nothing since.

In 2012, on the 35th anniversary of the signal, we attempted to reply… transmitting 10,000 crowd sourced twitter messages into space, directly targeted at what has been calculated to be the signals point of origin. It will take them several hundred years to get there.

SETI doesn’t think the mummy is any kind of proof of intelligent alien life. In fact even in the Bristol museum the Chilean foetus, is not labelled as a human Alien Hybrid. It’s simply part of an exhibition of Chilean artefacts , on loan from an unnamed private collector, that thanks to the happy coincidence of being staged in the same month as an online documentary citing many of the artefacts as extra-terrestrial in origin, is garnering rather more interest than they were expecting.

Some cynics have criticised the museum for knowing exactly what they were doing  and demeaning themselves by lighting a figurative ‘woo signal’ above what should be a scientific institution. Woo signal is not actually a reference to the Wow signal, but rather the Bat Signal, with the exhibition serving as a beacon for “Citizen Journalists” and amateur UFOlogists from across the land.

Whatever their motivation, it’s been good for business.

 “We haven’t had queues like this since Banksey” says, Jeremy Deller,  the  museum’s current curator, in a recent Bristol Post. “These people have all just come out of the woodwork, I mean I imagine they are among us all the time, passing themselves off as normal… it’s just now they are out and about, in the sunshine,  wearing X-files T-shits, and making Spock hands at each other”

According to the people I meet in the queue, his comments haven’t gone down well with growing community of believers making their pilgrimage to the Bristol Museum. Though it is a true fact, that the nearby Sci Fi megastore ‘Forbidden Planet has more than doubled its business.  Earlier on… before the queue actually started moving, I noticed several people were sat cross legged on the pavement playing ‘Magic the Gathering’ to kill time. Just two rows in front of me in the queue is a man wearing a full Sylvester Mackoy, pre-cool era, Dr Who costume and next to him is a girl in a patched black bomber jacket... which from the recesses of my memory… (and a later check on google) I identify as his sidekick Ace.

 ‘I used to listen to the Dave Barrett phone in on GWR’ says a man next to me. He’s about my age, but in far worse shape… like a slightly younger George R R Martin. To those too young to remember or who don’t know Bristol, the reference to Dave Barrett might seem like a non sequitur … but it isn’t.

I too used to listen to the Dave Barrett phone in so I know what he’s talking about. In fact years later I worked with the man as his Broadcast Assistant and ‘second voice’.

Dave was a radio DJ who loved all things paranormal, in order for him to be happy we would book him at least one “woo” guest a month. Psychics, mediums and Telekinetics. Very often it was to do with UFO’s. By the time we worked together I was no longer drinking the cool aid, my eyes had grown weary from watching the skies, and I was pretty much done with it.  Years of inexplicably blurry camcorder footage of aeroplanes, blimps and other hoaxes had taken their toll, each one a brick in a wall of cynicism, realism or science that I built around the wide eyed child of my youth that basically took everything he was told as fact. Now he’s completely entombed, dry and lifeless, he lives on only in my memory, curled up under a duvet listening to radio in the same way kids who aren’t dyslexic read comics. The volume is only just audible so that my parents have no idea I’m not asleep at 2.30 in the morning on a school night. I am wide awake and dreaming of small grey-bodied men with tiny mouths, almond shaped eyes and skinny little arms that reach out and grab people as they wander back home from the pub. My god how I wished to be one those people. One of the 0.0001% who know for absolute certain if the infinite skies above us contain life, and not just fucking microbes either… but real life,  Life in the goldilocks zone of intelligence! Smart enough to get here, dumb enough to interested in the naked, flightless apes of Earth.

Bristol has a rich tradition of Astrobiology,  in a wide spectrum, all the way from amateur to professional. From lights filmed over Dundry that according to the Sun newspaper, dropped laser-beam pulses into the houses below (4th of Nov 2008). To circles dancing in formation over Hartcliffe and Withiwood (8th Oct 2003) UFO sightings were apparently so common for a time that, the police issued a writ asking for prior warning from anyone intending to send up one of those floating Chinese lanterns, in order to prevent the inevitable raft of calls that would come flooding into local law enforcement, GWR, BBC Radio Bristol and of course the Dave Barrett phone in.

At the other end of the scale there is Collin Pillinger who in 2004 masterminded the construction of the Beagle II, a failed mission to Mars designed to search for the signs of life on its red and dusty plains, once sea beds and river deltas or so it was believed. Beagle II was part funded by pop musicians and other romantics, but it carried with it the hopes of the scientific community too, who like proud parents believed it had the potential to make history. Instead, unable to communicate with earth after touch down, it left nothing but small crater in a landscape already full of them.

But it wasn’t a total failure, Collin died this year and in response to his death, the powers that be, named the western rim of Endeavour crater, Pillinger Point, in honour of his enthusiasm, energy and drive.

It seems that all children are destined to be a disappointment to their parents in one way or another, but who would have thought that a sizable chunk of Martian real estate would carry the name of a gas fitter’s boy from Kingswood.

The Queue shuffles forward. I am curious to know if there is anyone here because they actually hold a genuine interest in Chilean Artefacts… I start asking around.  “is anyone here because they love Chile?” The response is unenthusiastic.  One guy asks me if there is going to be a ‘cook off’.

This crowd is apparently all Woo.

“You ever seen one man?”  Says the kid in the baseball cap and terrible beard. ‘I thought I did once… ‘ I say, ‘but it turned out I was wrong.’ As he nods in commiseration, I immediately I realise that this is a lie. There have been three occasions when I have been wrong about spotting UFOs  and actually I’m not totally sure I was wrong about one of them although I was on my way back from a pub.

Weirdly it’s not that last unconfirmed sighting, the shifting stars that seemed to move an make turns in the sky, that moves my memory the most, but a 100% confirmed un-sighting that took place in 1993.

I was 13 years old, my parents marriage had just broken down and my father had moved out of the house only a couple of months before.  He was 40 years old and he’d bought himself a cheap motorbike and by way of bonding he used to put me on the back and take me bowling and sneak me into movies that I was legally too young to watch.

One night on the way home from ‘Demolition Man’, I spotted something in the sky, a glowing cigar shaped object, with a central bar of light that flickered and changed and was hard to make out. I pointed it out and in excited amazement and to my absolute delight and surprise, my dad decided we should follow it on the motorbike, and see if we could chase it down.

We accelerated towards the distant object through a flicker of streetlights, all the way up Gloucester Road, up through Horfield and beyond, towards Aztec west and out past the MOD, until if finally dipped below the skyline, somewhere in the vicinity of Filton Airport.  Throughout the whole chase, I felt alive and part of it all, like something in a movie.

My dream of a life less ordinary was sadly short-lived, as when I told my class mates how we had followed the UFO and that it may be being stored in Filton… and that we should go and investigated it like we were the Goonies or something,  I found out pretty quickly that, to the non-dyslexic kids, who were not going to find out in a few years time that they also needed glasses, the strange pulsing bar in the middle of the cigar shaped object was an LED display that read ‘Hutchinson Telecom’ and referred to the name of the company that had hired the airship. They never let me forget it.
At first I was mad at my dad for humouring me, but since then I have decide that that one night, speeding through Bristol when the dream was still alive, was worth all of the weeks of humiliation that followed.

My other sighting, my first, was over much faster. I was in the back seat driving with my family towards the Severn Bridge on route to camping in Wales. Around the Severn Bridge they have these very tall streetlamps which look a bit like a wagon wheel mounted on a pole but with a light at the end of each spoke. Coming from the service station, we were going around a roundabout, and as I looked up from my copy of Tim Good’s ‘Above Top Secret’ it happened that  a tree was blocking my view of the vertical section of the street light at the exact same time that motion of the car around the roundabout gave the illusion that the waggon wheel section was slowly spinning in the air. It was the most alien looking thing I had ever seen. I believe that I already mentioned that my eyes were bad, and also that my brain has trouble reading visual information sometimes…. Let me also add that I wanted it to be true. And so my first instinct was to yell ‘UFO!’ without a moment’s thought or hesitation.  Instead of proof and vindication that my faith deserved, I was once again rewarded with playful derision.

My sister still brings that one up at almost every Christmas.

Back in the queue the kid in the baseball cap doesn’t care about my stories. He says he was abducted and that he has a mind control chip in his leg. I don’t believe him at all. What kind of a mind control chip would allow the person wearing it to make reference to it.

Eventually we are at the end of the line, I hand over my suggested donation and make my way through the crowd, I’m not a tourist, and I didn’t come here to socialize… I came to find the Alien baby that clearly isn’t an alien baby, I came to look at and debunk what I’ve read about on the internet… I have driven here and braved the insane risk of parking semi-legally on Whiteladies road, all in order to be close enough to touch it, prevented from doing so by only a force-field of glass, and the staring eyes of everyone else who wants to believe it’s real.

For some reason, most people are just milling around below the “Bristol Biplane”  so it’s easy to brush past them. The plane is a fake, a replica of the real thing, just a film prop made for the 1963 motion picture ‘Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying machines'. Donated to the museum by the studio, it now lives suspended from the roof by clearly visible wires.

I’ve seen it before.

There is a buzz around the container. Like sperm around an egg, people constantly coming and going. Little gaps forming in the human traffic and then closing up again. I look for a way in…  I wriggle forward, and I am industrious yet patient and eventually I get lucky and I squeeze my way through.

And I am face to face with disappointment.

It’s so small, just six inches tall. I’ve lost the kid in the baseball cap and but I’m still surrounded by people who seem like carbon copies of him, all of them acting aloof or knowledgeable , cracking wise over the desiccated viscera of a deceased child.

“Look at how the neck enters the Skull”

“I’ve seen video of this guy called Dr Green saying this thing isn’t human and then like two day’s later he tried to take it back.”

“I’ve seen better” says a very skinny man in his twenties who looks like a starved and broken version of Frank Zappa, “This thing is a fake for sure”

“They took it to Stanford university… they could only find 91% human DNA and they had no idea what the rest was…”

And then suddenly I have a moment where I see this whole scene from outside of myself.  An my mind’s eye has left me and is looking from above. Looking down on myself watching this deformed and aborted foetus on a bed of white cotton, something sacred, the one time hopes and dreams of a prehistoric mother and father, made immortal by misguided priests.  And where has it ended up, dug up and dusted and surround by people from another world. Examining it, prodding and poking it, analysing the data.  Later laughing at it and comparing it to beef jerky.

But still it has lived a life that they could not have imagined. Bought and sold, placed in a private collection and flown through the sky at incredible speeds, moved on rivers of rock in gigantic machines powered by the petrified blood of the dinosaurs.

I back away from the display… half stumbling I have to apologise to a couple of people on my way out of the museum. There are a group of people on the steps vaping nicotine through virtual cigarettes with LED’s lighting up as they do so. A guy rides past on a Segway listening to MP3’s through a pair of oversize Beats Headphones.  I turn away and proceed along the Clifton Triangle, dazzled by the sun glinting from the neon plastic signs of the shops… carried along by the tide of humanity, dressing in bright colours and communicating across distances large and small via palm sized computers more powerful than those used to calculate a safe route to the moon.  It is all of a sudden… too much. A Sci-Fi world of aliens, alive and well and so similar to that which I dreamed of when wide awake beneath the sheets in 1993.

I walk as if against a wind made from a blur of faces, as close and pressing as deep flowing water… I am alone in the city, surrounded by an indifferent crowd. And for a moment feel like perhaps I can no longer breathe.

Until I am safely back in my car. The door closes with a satisfying thunk and the world falls back into perspective. And as I place the key in the ignition, and the sun beats down from space, I am glad that I parked in the shade.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014


I’m looking at the ‘wall of fame’ semi-legal graffiti area behind the old burned out Carriage works and abandoned Westmoreland House; Ashley Road’s ever changing backdrop to our ever changing lives.

Last week it was 6 foot songbirds. This week it looks like robots beating each other to death.

I’ve left my car on Jamaica Street, walked past Pizza King and Café Kino, (ideological opposites on the spectrum of Croft culture) and now I am shielding my eyes from the glare of the setting sun in order to look at the art. I feel like a tourist.

It looks like a still from a Transformers movie, one robot's head is being punched clean off by the other, leaving a trail of sparks and torn wires in its wake.  Despite losing his head, he is giving as good as he gets.  Decapitated, his iron fist reaches forward to pull out the battery-based heart of his assailant. Between them, barely legible and entangled with their pistons and tubing, are the words, ‘Electric Death KO’

Around the edges of the image is a forest of black tags and other wild-style scribblings…

Until very recently I thought these were just the artists names, in-jokes and gang threats maybe. What I didn’t know, despite having been a journalist here for several years  is that there is sometimes a code to it, a secret language of networked traveller/promoters, a set of calling cards that hints at message-board url names usefull for the hardworking tax-free economy that paddles hard beneath the surface of Stokes Croft.

Tonight it points to EDKO.onion the unusual URL that is typical of the Deep Web.
Tonight it’s fight night. Tickets available only on the kind of websites that search engines can’t find.

My companion gives the password and the gates are pushed open only just far enough for she and I to squeeze through. Then a very tall and thin man with circus-level skin damage, extends his hand towards us, . He holds his skeletal hand in the air and briefly I am fascinated with how easy it is to see how the muscles and ligaments connect and manipulate the bones.
I reach into my pocket and place both my money and my printed ticket in his palm.

He gives me a smile full of yellowing teeth and waves us through with unnecessary aplomb.

People like that, I think, are always out to try to frighten you, or make you think that they are something supernatural. But they’re not, they’re just funny looking guys who’ve made a few poor life choices and are now running with the aesthetic. These people are like king snakes, or  false-bees  wrapped in the trappings of venom but lacking the bite. It's a universal truth that they have to do their own washing up just like everyone else. To tell the truth, he reminds me of the teenagers that would tell me ghost stories when I was a kid.
I look back at him again. He must be like seven feet tall, even without the top-hat.  Perhaps he’s wearing stilts I think. 
Music is playing, a kind of Mexican style house beat that’s difficult to pin down. An arena has been roped out. There is a sign that reads ‘peak oil is already here!’ I am wondering what the hell that has to do with anything when I notice another sign, hand written on one of the caravans that reads 'Tequilla £2 a shot.'
No other refreshments appear to be on sale, however looking at the early arrivers, I am sure that if I wanted it, I could find a whole range of intoxicants and stimulants. I just want a bottle of water but when I ask for it I get nothing but a laugh and a shot of tequila for my trouble, served in a plastic cup.
‘Fine, Here you go’ I say… and hand over my two pounds.
I guess I’m kind of hot and bothered by the heat of the day, nervous to be out of my environment, but I find all of this vaguely juvenile. Why should everyone in Bristol pretend we are in 'From Dusk till Dawn' It makes me feel like this whole thing is fake in some way.  A kind set up for the camera’s.
I thought this would be less about theatrical posing and more about the sport and the gambling. Which would be fitting as right now, we are all stood in the shadow of Westmorland House.  Built in the mid-1960s by the Regional Pools Company, to house a bingo-style football lottery business. It turned out to be a bad bet and is now abandoned and has been empty so long that I have never even seen a picture of it in its heyday. (Nor can I find one online.)
Without walls and glass, some of the sunlight passes all the way through creating the kind of golden glow that makes even this most obvious and ugly of human failures seem almost beautiful.
Peak oil is already here… another gentle reminder of impending global apocalypse. Another bad bet.
I need a distraction.

Before the main event, there is always burlesque. Before that though there is a man with a handful of Ping-Pong balls and a weird wooden structure that he has clearly built himself.

At first the crowd seems uninterested; I mean, the guy is clearly a juggler. And the only thing people hate more than jugglers is mimes. But after about five minutes he actually has our attention.

He is bouncing Ping-Pong balls in and out of his mouth,  spitting them out and bouncing them off the floor, firing them into the air and catching the ricochets off the various panels on his jury-rigged prop all with his mouth. It’s fascinating, but also grotesque. Even the air is dusty and spit from his mouth can been seen falling between his feet and on his chest. And it’s not the kind you find on the tip of your tongue… but rather spit from deep in his throat. Thick and visceral.

As the balls fly around in a hypnotising virtual mesh of parabolic trajectories, I realise the tequila is going to my  head. I reel for a moment, stare at the floor to get my barings, but then suddenly, without warning everyone is clapping at once.
 It’s the end of the floor show…
And time to bring on the girls.

I’m sure that you have seen Burlesque before, that you have an idea in your head of what it’s about, but this is Bristol, the closest big city to the Glastonbury festival, A city that’s still pissed off that it now has to pay for tickets.  A town full of music, that riots when corporate interests threaten to spoil the unbroken line of thrift shops and record stores that stretch from here to Bishopston Hardware.  A city with an unpoliceable carnival that’s been voted the best place in the UK to live, more than twice in a row. A port town, with access to the sea only via a tidal river of mud and a floating harbour stuffed full of small boats making furtive trips to god knows where…. This is a somewhat psychedelic city, a city of  street art and street performance and I am reminded of this fact when the first dancer comes out with a giant papier-mâché eyeball instead of a head.

There are three girls in total, all tattooed and chauvinistic and interesting for more than the fact that they are going to be naked. The second does interesting things with a stapler, the last of the three is truly beautiful, she has an amazing figure, perfectly decorated  by a snake tattoo and henna-red hair. Long and straight it falls down her back like slow water over a stone.

She finishes her act by falling to her knees and leaning backwards, just as the tips of her hair touch the ground behind her, she pours honey down the front of her body. The crowd goes crazy and I go buy another couple of tequilas and touch my wedding ring to my heart to remind myself that I’m married.

In the time that we have been watching the mouth juggler and the girls do their thing, the light has changed. It feels cooler now. The yellow glare of the sun on the dust has been replaced by a ring of oil-barrel braziers.  We have all been here a while and it’s starting to feel more normal. The sky has transposed from pastel blue into the border-black indigo of spilt ink on velvet.
There are two truck mounted floodlights shining down on the centre of the arena. 
In the firelight faces flicker and are difficult to focus on…  but  closer to the front of the crowd, pressed up against the rope, expressions are easy to make out. As I push my way back thought to my companion I can tell that the crowd is restless. We came here to see a knock out. We came to watch electric death.  People are forming themselves into miniature huddles. Bundles of cash change hands under hunched shoulders. There is a murmur of soft-spoken activity as people discuss the form, and argue over what is fact and what is hearsay. Every so often someone breaks away from one of the groups and head towards the base of one of the flood light trucks where the bookies and banks and their bodyguards have set up shop

One of the bookies looks oddly out of place, tall and well built, blond hair and wears designer sports clothing. He looks for all the world like an oxford rower… or perhaps a personal trainer.

My companion tells me that they call him Bono, She says that he lives up on the hill, that it’s his money that provides the purse. That he started this whole thing as a kind of unofficial student society: FightSoc,  a group of trustifarian rich-kid students. More money than sense. Bored of rock climbing and the ukulele, they made a decision to get their thrills by experiencing life outside of the Clifton elite.
I look at him again, in the shadow of the spotlight. He looks familiar like maybe I have seen him at the Clifton Lido.
Looking around there are a few more rower types, wearing identical tracksuits and moving from group to group collecting bits of paper. More members of FightSoc I assume. They look to me like Romans soldiers strutting their stuff among the Saxon herd. Here they are, paying the locals to bash each other senseless and making a profit from the ensuing confusion. Good training perhaps for a future career in global politics.

Time seems to be passing slowly in the gap between strippers and fighters. It’s been a full twenty minutes since the honey incident but it feels like a lot more. People are starting to wonder if this is really going to happen or if somebody has chickened out. The murmuring increases…

Then drops to silence when the seven foot man from the gate, walks confidently into the middle of the arena and announces that Tommy Crib will indeed fight Angry Mike Farragher -AKA the Kentish Knob, over  a series of 3 minute rounds to be decided by knock out or retirement…
He bows low… and I look at where he bends and it seems to me like those really are his natural legs. Also I am surprised by how his top-hat stays on his head like that. It must either be too tight… or glued on or something.
As he moves up, either it’s a trick of the firelight or he actively looks right at me. Just long enough to say… you are not meant to be here, and your presence has been marked.

With all this obvious pageantry I am left to wonder,  if this a real thing why does it feel so much like some arts-council funded interactive theatre event?

Surely if it’s about bare Knuckle Boxing the opening acts wouldn’t just be strippers and jugglers but simply more bare-knuckle boxing.

Things are starting to take on a disturbing unworldly quality for me.  This may just be the effect of the tequila. But as the Top-Hat circles the ring… goading the crowd…  I feel like I am starting to believe in his ghost stories. Right now  I am less than a mile from my house, wrapped up in magic, twenty feet from a street I basically grew up on, and I have no idea where I am.

The first of the fighters comes out of his trailer to thunderous applause.  He wears a white sleeveless vest, black shoes, that look like penny loafers, with tall white socks, and what look like…  knee britches? 

They are held up by a cloth chord that ties at the back. I’m glad he doesn’t have an eyeball for a head but I’m still pretty confused. This looks like period costume, it looks like Victorian underwear.  I console myself with the rationale that he if  goes by the name of Tommy Crib,  surely a homage to Bristol’s famous Tom Crib, (after whom the Crib’s causeway shopping centre isn’t actually named… Though a lot of people think it is) then the clothes must be part of the act.

Angry Mike Farrager, also seems weirdly dressed.  Black leather boxing boots, tight blue spandex trousers and a red waist sash, It reads ‘TKK=KO’ surrounded by stars and stripes. It appears that the top-hat giant will act as referee, he makes the men shake hands. Both their hands are taped but not gloved.

This dress code, isn’t totally outlandish. Bare Knuckle boxing isn’t really like regular boxing. The modern version mostly came out of MMA cage fighting, which has some of the characterisation of pro-wrestling. It’s also not as brutal as you might expect.  It tends to be a much cagier affair than the Queensbury rules. Smashed and broken bones in the hand end more fights than glass jaws. It happens when over excited fighters swing too hard and connect with a bony forehead instead of a nose.

As a result, I am reliably informed, to avoid being hoist on their own petard fighters tend to go for body shots more often. They go for the face mostly to distract and unnerve their opponent, unless of course they are absolutely sure they can connect with something vulnerable..

This is what I have read.

During my extensive research on Wikipedia.

The Top-Hat is happy that both men are fully aware of the rules and backs away.
Then the bell rings.

The first punch of the fight is a hard Jab, direct to Tommy Cribs nose. It’s only as the fist connects that the reality of what I have come along to see starts to dawn on me.  
With an anti-climactic slapping sound and a brief spray of scarlet onto a pure-white sleeveless-vest, for all the smoke and mirrors and shots of tequila it suddenly looks like two drunk men punching each other, held up and caged by a baying, animal crowd.
Unused to real violence and trauma as I am, when I see the red on his t-shirt it is as if time stops.

At first, at home… when planning this article, the idea was exciting and dangerous, something cool to go and do and then write about, a deregulated off-the-grid break from our overly surveyed Google-cop world. This was a soiled nappy as yet undiscovered by the nanny state. Its just that now that I’m here, the stench of it has become all too evident.
I find myself completely mentally unprepared for even a single punch in the face by the supposedly desensitising beheadings of game of thrones.

The fight swings in my direction and the crowd moves away from the fighters as they brush against the rope, but I cannot move far  for the rush of people and then suddenly there they are, right up close, blood dripping from Tommy Crib’s nose, just a foot or two from my own.
‘I’d like to leave,’ I shout to my companion, but she doesn’t hear me, there is a lot of yelling and shouting going on… men and even a few women are pumping their fists in the air, waving money like they are a cliché of evil in some dark cartoon. The soon to be donkeys from Pinochio.

‘I don’t want to be here anymore.’ I say a little louder as the crown surges forward again when the brawl tumbles away to the other side of the arena. I feel slightly nauseous, wave tossed and seasick  as I am pushed forward and have to hold onto the barrier, suffering some slight rope burn just trying to stay upright. And then just as I think I’m going to embarrass myself by throwing up, it’s over… end of round one.

The girl with the Henna-Red hair walks around holding a card saying 1. She is wearing a branded T-shirt now:

What's her motivation for being here I wonder?

Mostly I just really want to leave. I'm feeling the start of a panic-attack coming on, but I’m hemmed in by the press of people behind me and the violence ahead. People surround me, who just a few moments I thought I was one of.. now seem completely alien to me.
Please… someone remind me again why we pushed to the front? I start to turn around with a plan to make a quiet exit when my Companion grabs my shirt. ‘No, she says… you stay.’

I don’t understand…. ‘You have a brief to fill' she says,  'Your here to cover something, not to enjoy yourself’ and then I remember that I only found out about this thing in the first place because my companion wanted it publicised. She doesn’t look very happy about how pale I look.

Trapped, but trying to keep a brave face. I steel myself for round two.

If the first round belonged to The Kentish Knob, this one is all Tommy. He comes out looking for revenge. During the interval they have shoved some tissue in his nose, but I notice it fly out with the exertion as he punches hard into Angry Mikes ribs. Presumably making him even angrier. Mike retaliates, swings and misses… Tommy connects again. The two men end up clutching each other and are separated by the Top-Hat. The rest of the round is spent circling with the occasional exploratory jab.

The next few rounds are very similar. Lots of energy at the start, followed a build up of lactic acid and tiredness, no-one really looking like getting close to a knock out.
I am told by my companion, who I am starting to view as a slightly sinister person, that the only way the fight ends is through knock out. This could go on for hours. Which is why there were no support fights.
Rather than rising tension as I had expected of an extended brawl, the excitement actually seems to dwindle. As the rounds go on, the crowd starts to thin out. In round ten people expect a knock-out blow to at any minute, in round twenty it all starts to feel a little samey.

By round thirty, they have been fighting for more than three hours, drinking nothing but shots of tequila.
It is less of fight by now and more a flailing of arms at one another in the hope of connecting. Both men look dead, lurching like zombies and bleeding from hands and face. I do eventually throw up. The man in the top-hat laughs, as does the red-headed dancer as she walks the ring between the rounds. My companion doesn't look pleased.

Eventually in round forty three, Tommy Crib, the local boy, falls to the ground and doesn’t get up, I don’t remember if it was even preceded by a punch.  Whatever happed before he fell,  Angry Mike Farrager has just enough energy left to hold one hand in the air and celebrate his glorious victory.

It is one in the morning.
‘Are you happy now?’ Said my companion…
‘I’ll write this up,’ I said…'but I don’t think anyone will publish it, people don’t really want to see something like this.'

‘You did’
I nod. I did. I was there. A pale face in the crowd, a nauseous accidental-traveller on a swelling tide of bloodlust and rage.

Finally I'm allowed to leave.
We push through the gate back onto Ashley Road and I look up towards the moon and feel the crushing weight of celestial disapproval. Not only was I the moth drawn towards the false light of a dangerous flame, but when I got there I found that I did not have what it takes not to get burned.
I have failed on two counts. Not smart enough to stay away, not stupid enough to enjoy the spectacle. Caught between two camps, I can only hang my head and walk slowly too my car.
On my way I pause between ‘Slix Burger’ and ‘The Croft’, shake my head and carry on walking, first past ‘The Museum of Stokes Croft’ , a highbrow hipster shrine to the urban experience, and then past the back entrance to the ‘The Massage Club', which I have known since I was 11 was a front for a brothel.

I don't stop. I walk on. All the way back to my car and drive home to my luxury flat in Sea Mills, where stuff like this just doesn’t happen.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Sponsored Write....

Oh god.

So I entered a sponsored writing competition. having not really written much creative work in a while. The brief was to work on the term 'Quality of Life'. Sponsorship went to Macmillan Cancer Support.

This resonated with me as I have been thinking about this quite a lot. I just quit my job to attempt to be more creative. I just had to deal with a house move, and a death in the family of someone whose, quality of life was a very real concern that effected many decisions on whether or not it should continue.

The story I wrote was meant to be performed on stage by actors and should probably have been uplifting and fun and funny and you know... Good and stuff.

The story I wrote however... it seems I feel into the trap of writing for my own therapy. This doesn't make for an entertaining story. And definitely not for on-stage work.

I am sorry... I'm pretty sure that they aren't going to/ didn't use it on stage... but in the interests of full disclosure..

Here it is... My training run... an early start. I will get better again. I promise.

still... It's not all bad.

Dundry Hill

A flight of Birds… tall and heron like, erupts from the reeds that surround the river bed. Startled by the passing of the helicopter which is filming these shots. It’s a necessary evil, but the brief knowledge of it’s existence, the juxtaposition of furious machine against natural serenity doesn’t fully distract me from the images. Not completely. 

Sunset yellow has seeped into everything. Like spilt ink. Where it has touched, the colours are all changed into something wonderful. The deep blue of the darkening sky… the deeper green of the twilight savannah. Either side of the river there are unmistakably African trees, pruned to look like umbrellas by the very giraffes that move beneath them. Right now on the edge of being visible, but on their way to fading into black. Preparing for the night. The camera pans up from the river. No longer distracted by the rhythmic flapping of panicking egrets, the lens pulls its focus onto the sun itself, framed by mountains. Too bright to be seen by the naked eye. Now the birds come up together. To swoop in formation across the sun, as if choreographed. My heart beats harder in my chest. I may be sweating a little too much,  and this may make me uncomfortable later… but I don’t care.

I thank god for HD Television because I am cheating. I have woken up for a moment, and I am not alone, I am just in time to share this quasi-religious experience.

I am in front of a screen experiencing a depth of feeling normally reserved for those who have lived the good life. The perfect life.   If we can sweat and toil and move and mascarade and work and spend and love correctly the these bright-lights and vivid colours, this swelling of the heart is the ultimate reward.

I am not alone and I want to share how I am feeling, in this brief moment of clarity… I try to think about moving. I think about moving. Even though I know full well that I can’t

My attention goes back to the screen. I am transfixed for a moment. I am slipping again it’s hard to know if what I am seeing is real or not. Then suddenly, Someone is squeezing my hand…

I am half in the dream. It is 25 years ago, or 10 maybe or no time at all. Some kind of amalgam. I am tired and happy on a hill side. Looking away from the city.  There is that hand squeeze again… I’m with her!

And I’m about to say something stupid telling her that my socks are magic… pretending I am fluent in Gildensterni… when I am suddenly struck dumb by the view. And we enjoy it together in silence and everything is ok.

I, the viewer, move beyond the silhouettes of birds over the river… and something else appears on the sun. Another silhouette. The words “Experience Africa. A land of unimaginable beauty.” And cliché for me becomes real. Unimaginable beauty.

I close my eyes.

My head falls to the right. I am able to open my eyes again. And there she is. Just for a moment. Still there, still beautiful, still squeezing.

If anyone does, She deserves Africa, I want her to know what I am feeling, not just see the image of it. She deserves the real thing… She deserves unimaginable beauty, and not be here with me, trapped in this room.

I try my best to convey this complex emotion with only my eyes. And then when I am just about sure that she knows exactly what I mean, I am gone again.

When presented with an anonymous survey… Most office workers admit to wasting approximately two hours a day. That’s 10 hours a week. A day and a half… in every five.  Around eighty days a year… just staring blankly, at the screen, zombie-like. Eighty days of pretending to look busy while scrolling down the Facebook News Feed, browsing Twitter, waiting for a conversation you can weigh into with some kind of witty retort. Pausing as you spy a picture of a rich relative looking resplendent on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Eighty days of Angry birds and longing glances across the car park, over beyond the rooftops and high-rises, out towards the lower slopes of Dundry Hill.

Dundry; that much closer than Kilimanjaro… but still in a galaxy far, far away, completely out of reach, yet embedded in my mind. I’ve never been there but it looks calm and green and is visible from almost anywhere this side of Bristol even from the BRI, that’s the hospital, I don’t work at the hospital, I just… go there a lot, at least once or twice a week.

It strikes me that you might not know Dundry Hill at all, let me explain that it’s green and pleasant and English, and special to me, and a half-day holiday waiting to happen that I have never taken. It comes complete - lonely oaks and silhouetted copses and quaint pubs with real Ale and charismatic staff. I am told there’s a pub out there that still serves Mild. And I know this because he loved mild, though I have no idea why. Some kind of throwback to the mythology of his northern roots.

Anyway, that should be enough of a description for you, let me know if you need more. I mean, I could go on, but some responsible impulse within me is demanding that I get back to the point before someone notices I’m not working. And now the phone on my desk is ringing. But I’m not going to answer it because I am still talking to you, the reader, about the mythical two hours of human waste a day.

I will let it ring. They will leave me a message. I can call them back in a couple of hours, when I feel better.

Two hours… Just think about that. That’s what people are willing to admit to. Multiply that by all of office workers on this planet, take your 80 days around the world… and discover a mountain of limp bodies that dwarfs Dundry, and mount bloody Kilimanjaro.

Millions of day dreams and duvet days later and we still won’t have come close to reaching the peak of this wasted potential. Because the actual reality is so much worse.  A European butter mountain so tall as to require more than just oxygen for the final assault. Something akin to a space suit probably. So many people. Stacked on top of each other… barely alive, watching the clock even when they have the option to leave.

I scrawl a picture on the pad next to the still ringing phone. A spaceman holding a flag on a mountain top. I add a goat. The goat makes me smile. He’s chewing on the flag.

I am sure that when answering a survey like this. People don’t even count the meetings in which nothing is achieved. The teleconferences where you fight against an involuntary nap with the head nodding inevitability that at some point someone will ask you where you are with the Cost-Benefit Analysis, or demand an ETA on the final breakdown of an inter-departmental time and motion study. You will have to be bright, on the ball… fully engaged. You will have to answer. I am not equipped to do any of these things.

The phone finally stops ringing.
Thank god for the lock on my office door.

I stare at a list of emails. Flag one for immediate attention then place it into a folder to deal with at another time. There are relevant tasks I could be doing. Jobs that need to be done. Pivot tables to populate and analyse. Stories to tell. All valid uses of my time and all much too involved for me now, in my current state. It will require herculean mental effort to even move the mouse. And these are ‘start in the morning’ type jobs, not for now. Right now, It is all I can do to just stare out the window until it’s time to leave.

I am too weak to even pretend that this isn’t what I am doing. Because the reality is, I have been in tears for two years but no one else can see them. It’s a poetic description of reality that also happens to be true.

Here’s another. I have been holding onto something with hands that seem weaker every day. Trying to hold on. That is my function now. Comb hair, smile at nurses…  squeeze his hand at the right time, and wonder if he even knows I am there. This, apparently, is what love feel likes.

When poetic reality becomes the truth… you know something is very, very wrong. When the whole world feels as vivid and moving as an African Sunset, touched up in photo-shop and entering my brain through a plethora of expensive filters… When the perfectly exposed image of even the most mundane of objects is too beautiful to bare. These are the worst of times… possibly the best.

Definitely the worst because part of you knows it isn’t real, is aware of its fleeting nature, knows that the memory will later turn on you. And the crippling starkness of its contrast will be the weapon with which you taunt yourself. A violent gear-change jerking you away from the state of mind you are required to adopt in order to function on a day to day basis.

I remember explaining this to her, trying to sound clever, acting every part the “real northern poet” in wine bar in Bath, tucked away on Green Street. I was, going for ‘a little bit crazy, a little bit dangerous.’ I made a point of talking to Ifor the owner, to show her how cool I was… how connected in the scene. She seemed to go for it… to be a little bit impressed. I was doing the Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa, she was doing Business Administration at the real university…

The road ahead was lined with milestones, paved with potential. Young, bright, beautiful and creative, she trumped anything I could think of to compare her too. And I tried.. My god I tried. 

Through out the years that followed. I built mountains of scrunched up paper… So many failed attempts, We laughed when I said “we’re going to need a bigger bin.” The truth was I needed a slag heap. Paper balls are the net product of a poet at work. You work the coal face for hours, days, weeks on end and most of the time nothing comes out, and you start to wonder if there is even anything there. And then in a moment of apparently wasted time the poetry comes. In a moment spent staring down at the city from the slopes of Dundry hill. With your mind in the middle distance, your fingers involuntarily reach into your pocket, take up the pen and scrawl down line after line, without mental interference, of what will eventually be your first published work.

Just as a town planner, business guru or administrative assistant, needs to day dream in order to function, so poets need to waste time working on metaphors that they are fully aware are far too cerebral to work. Like waste-paper being the ullage from some kind of imaginary poetry mine.

When we met I was pretentious, half-talented spotty and young. And to my surprise she seemed to like it. And she loved me and she nurtured me, and she read my work and made it better, and I was the dreamer and she made good money. And for years nothing was published because nothing was worthy, but in the end there was a book about a hillside I went to, just to clear my head… and there was adulation and public appearances and readings and finally commissions, recognition and the financial stability of a teaching post.

And so, so much of it was down to her. And then suddenly, with only a few weeks warning, all of that was over. Paradise lost in a single diagnosis, and that wasn’t her fault at all.

And now that day, the night of our first date…. Is the happy, vivid memory with which I like beat myself to death. And sometime I wonder if there can be a better tribute to her than that? And I curse myself for never quite finding the right words and Perhaps I am being too morbid right now, too panicked, but if a man dying slowly by degrees, and brain-first to boot, doesn’t have the right to feel sorry for himself, then I have no idea who does.

But it’s actually not all bad. Not all the time.
It really isn’t, weirdly.

I didn’t go into work today. I didn’t go to the hospital. I may go later on. I’m not sure. Instead I decided to go for a walk. Less of a decision, more that my legs were making the decision for me.

For the first mile I had no idea where I was going. Even though it was obvious. It was where he used to walk, when he was fruitlessly “digging in the mine ” pretty much two or three times a week if I am honest.

I remembered our first date. The Wine Bar in Bath. He’s never been more out of place in his life. His fumbling attempts to impress me. His awkward small talk with Ifor…. It was all so humorous, and despite everything he couldn’t hide, the person he was going to become. It was as if emanating from his charity shop leather jacket and ill advised hat was the intriguing lustre of an unpolished diamond, still half buried in the ground.

I fell in love with the spark of talent that I knew would emerge between the mass of juvenile comparisons between my neck and that of a giraffe. My body and that of a Cheetah in full run… My heart and that of a bull elephant, rampant and in heat. I never, ever understood that one.

As I walked the city got smaller and smaller. Not just the ones in the distance, but also the building around me Smaller houses, surrounded by more and more space. Space to breath. When he finally hit his stride I wasn’t even surprised. I’d seen it coming for so long.

There is something strange about walking through a place you have heard described so many times by someone you love. It feels like rediscovery, the reality of these once imagined objects makes all of it more true. The Ivy covered pub with the pit-bull for a barman. The lonely oak. I had not come before as I didn’t want it to fail to live up to my imagination but for the first time since the diagnosis, I was doing something that didn’t feel like a total waste of time.

Sometimes the experience is so real and so vivid that I forget that they are reflections of something that has already passed. The world stops being painful. Life, no longer fleeting.  And I stop hearing the noise of the hospital, the rhythmic beating of the EKG, I don’t feel the changing of the drip or eavesdrop on the quiet conversations between doctors and nurses. And I feel at peace. Because even when I come back around, I know that all those memories still exist and always will, inside both us and also inexplicably, somewhere else, somewhere very real that I cannot explain. I know in those moments that in spite of everything and from my admittedly skewed point of view, the past is not the past but also my present and my future. And then she squeezes my hand. And even this becomes a part of the memory and there suddenly there exists, in my beatific confusion, the fleeting possibility of a never ending… unimaginable beauty.

So yeah, as I said. It’s not all bad.

I was about half way home when I decided to hand in my notice, by text message no less. Later this got negotiated down to a career break but I may well decide to never go back.

And it was five days before he passed, that in moment of almost clairvoyant forethought, I bought the tickets.

But of all of that time, the moment that I carry with me, as I look out at the view, complete with giraffes and birds and golden suns… Is the moment in a small square room, when an advert came on, and after being unresponsive for days, I had the sense that he was present again, and together we watched a flock of birds take flight across a golden river, and I squeezed his hand as if to tell him that I was leaving. And he turned his head and looked at me. And I could see from his eyes, that it was going to be ok.


Saturday, 1 June 2013

Dear Diary

Last night I stayed up late and played the Walking Dead. Ali played for a while and then went to bed.  I played until I found the key to the pharmacy and then I also went to bed it was probably about 1.30AM
When I woke up I went to BnQ to pick up rectangle of Vinyl Flooring 3 Meters by 2 Meters. This is for a couple of breakdancing girls to dance on in a music video that through an odd set of circumstances I am to set to direct in just over a weeks time.
It’s a community song. It’s for the community. I can’t really say anything more about it right now without a Exec producer saying it’s ok. So I’m going to drop it now.
I will say that it is weird that my life has taken this turn. It is weird that I am being given this opportunity. It’s not that I haven’t asked for this opportunity. I may even deserve it. It’s just weird that I have the chance to do this.
It scares me a fair bit. I am constantly worried that whatever I am doing will turn out to be character building life lesson. An example of a mistake or floor in my character. Another snagged nail on the previously unnoticed Achilles heal of my trousers.
Emperors new clothes.
When I was working in tours the was a girl with mental disabilities who really wanted to read the weather. The weather segment of the tour involves adlibbing for a full minute while the map moves around behind you. She was really excited to do it. So I let her do it. As soon as the camera’s turned on. She froze. My worry is that I am about to do the same thing. Only on a larger scale, with larger consequences.
 I have a number of other projects on the go that are not making great progress. I have a few past successes in the bag. If by some miracle this all comes together, then it will open the door to more creative projects in the future. more of this feeling. more worry more stress... more successes in the bag.
If I fail, I fail and I can go back to processing documents for a living, it's just that bunch of people will be able to tell that I’m naked and having been bluffing all along. And I'll be back to the side-lines again,  watching in awe and wonder... with an increased admiration for the people that are able to make things happen.