Thursday, 28 July 2011

My Wives

This was the final load. Malcolm was up unnaturally early this Wednesday morning as he had been on this day every fortnight for the past few months. Throwing on yesterdays clothes and not bothering to take his normal shower he opened the curtains onto a dull day. He was now vaguely used to what six in the morning looked like and he did not find it tempting.

A heavy parcel was on the living room table where he had left it the previous evening. Then he had meticulously wrapped its contents in several black bin liners. Carefully picking up the parcel and lumbering to his first floor flats front door he opened it as silently as possible. He edged down the stairs, clinging onto his parcel, and out to the back of the block of flats. It was here the bins to the flats were located. He opened them searching for one that was half full. Having found something suitable he carefully moved some of the other waste bags to one side. Then he kissed his parcel goodbye before ceremoniously laying it flat in the bin. He covered his parcel with some other waste bags making sure it mostly hidden.

Looking down at his half covered parcel he now took time to say his farewells. Malcolm felt it was necessary to say a proper goodbye even so he was most fearful that any prying eyes should inspect his bin or see his deeply felt ceremony. Then he closed the lid and patted it, almost caressing it. The whole process was so much like loosing a much loved friend.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Please Don't Open the Box

Whatever you do, please, please don't open the box. I'm asking you, begging you, please don't open the box.

Erwin, that vindictive son of a bitch, put me in here. “A little thought experiment,” he said, “come on step inside, here, kitty, kitty. Look at this shiny bottle, here, kitty, kitty.”

That shiny blue bottle sure did look intriguing. He knows, that Erwin knows, us cats like to play with such things. He's had plenty of experience of tantalising us cats. I know that now, when it's all too late.

Then he slams the lid closed on me. Boy did I screech when he shut that lid. I fought back I did. I can be quick when I want – admittedly it's not that often – and I almost got away. But I was not quite quick enough this time.

I think I caught him a good one, just before he closed that lid, three right nice scratch marks right across his smug face. I saw the blood trickling down his cheek just as the lights went out. Serves him right now everyone will know I fought back. Yes, I fought back. And I heard him complaining, moaning, asking for help, help, help. Like a little baby he was, wanting it all bandaged up. Then he's crying like a little girl when his wife put iodine on it. Yes, I fought back.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Messages to the Leader

Shahid Rafiq Tarar was ensconced deep inside the Pavlov Institute. Here he reminisced about when this institute was bright, new and gleaming. Then it was teaming with students, with researchers and academic discussion of the most vibrant kind. Then it was something to be part of an institution named after a famous Earth scientist. The institutes' path breaking research into human and other life forms behaviour had long since ceased. Tarar was too old and cantankerous to consider moving and so he spent most of his weary final days deep inside one of the institutes' bunkers. There he might elude the worst effects of the drones.

The bunker he had chosen was large and almost empty being built when the Institute was first starting its decline. No star light could penetrate the kilometres of rock and the artificial light was extremely dull. To Tarar shame everything was covered in dust and he was too old – and too proud – to demean himself cleaning. Sitting at a makeshift desk he was writing a message in the ancient style, a style that was once fashionable well before the institute was ever conceived. Tarar was still unskilled in this ancient art of writing with Biro on paper.

Monday, 25 July 2011

I Want To Go

My little flash fiction story I Want To Go has appeared today on 365tomorrows. This site publishes a daily piece of flash fiction in the science and speculative fiction genre. It's something of a mix with miscellaneous types of science and speculative fiction. Also the quality varies from many intriguing pieces all the way to the occasional why-the-hell-did-they-bother.

The hominid life forms at 365tomorrows must be super brave and have hardened arteries of lead as this is the second story of mine they have dared published – such is their reckless abandon. The other piece was A Quiet Drive.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

14 February 2096

It was here again. After years of evasion; years of hoping he was free; years of knowing it was out there, somewhere, waiting, always waiting; Hasif knew it was here again; he just knew. It had found him. There was no real evidence, nothing you could say was proof, definitive; just a murmur, a rustle in the stillness, something watching in the blackness, waiting. It was back again allright. And it wanted him.

He would have to go on the run again; before it was too late. This really annoyed Hasif; he was just starting to get his life back together again; again after the last time. He had a new name, a new job, and a few new friends. The job was nothing special: he was just some anonymous clerk performing tasks considered too lowly for the main computer; still he got by, just about, and it was better then nothing. The friends, also, were nothing special: just some people he could have a conversation with; but he would never let them close, they could never be trusted. Could they have? No: he was sure he had given nothing away. It had just found him; hunted him down; just like the last time.

Hasif returned to his small cramped apartment and started, sadly, packing his things; he would not regret leaving this place, it was not much for all his years of work. So far he had not seen the whatever-it-was; the murmurs were enough, or was he overreacting? Then he glanced out into the walkway below the apartment block. And there it was; waiting, lingering, looking up. It looked older, more tired, battered; he supposed even androids or whatever-it-is must grow old, wear out. It was still recognisable from the first time he had seen it. That monstrous brown sludge of an android. The thick set legs; unaccountably fast from Hasif's past experience. The hollowed out muddy brown face; if you can call it a face, and Hasif did not want to get close enough to find out. Hasif stepped back and out of sight, then peeked, It was still there; waiting, lingering, looking up.

Friday, 22 July 2011

With God on Your Side

Father Nick Portman arrived hurriedly and late to take confessional. Wednesday was the day Pete intoned his weeks miscellaneous trivia and Father Nick was not looking forward to it. The one saving grace was that Father Nick had managed to twist his schedule so Peter Crane was the only Wednesday recalcitrant. The more interesting and mostly female reprobates being reserved for other days. That way Peter's monologue could be cut short with claimed urgent pastoral duties. Usually a comforting glass of sherry. But there would be no sherry today as Father Nick had a prior appointment.

Flinging the church door open and Father Nick did not see the dullard he expected. Harry Tate was anxiously pacing the aisle. The sudden sound causing the thick set Harry to spin round and almost loose his balance.

“Got to see you Father,” he said, his large hand grabbing a pew to steady himself.

Harry Tate was robust, mid forties and not one to argue with on his way home from the pub. A couple of times a week he had his regular nights out at the village local and this only encouraged him to become belligerent. Fortunately it was only late afternoon so Father Nick hoped there was some reasoning with him in his troubled state.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Fermat Solution

Eekhout pondered his solution, it was elegant, very elegant, he was pleased with this morning's deliberations. A simple solution to Fermat's Last Theorem. Short enough that even the eminent Pierre de Fermat might have scribbled it in the margin of some ancient manuscript. Nice.

Back in the late twentieth-century, three centuries ago, when a solution was first proposed, no normal person could understand it. None but the most hardcore mathematician grasped its real significance. Eekhout solution would have been understood by any twentieth-century geek. Nice.

Leaning against the cold tiled wall he dreamed of fame and glory, accolades and prizes; and a nice swanky office here on the 32nd floor of the Wiles Mathematics Department.

“What you doing?” Swanwick, his boss, growled.

“Sir.” Eekhout straightened himself up. If he had not been daydreaming he might have heard his boss coming, such was Swanwick's thundering ponderous walk.

“Think you're some kind of genius do you? Well I can tell you: there are hundreds like you. Not worth nothing.”

Eekhout grabbed his mop and started pushing it around the floor in aimless circles, following some random path. He did so wish he was back in the twenty-first century. Then he would have been considered a great scientist, would have won the Nobel Prize or something. But they had stopped giving those out when every school kid was getting one for their end of term paper. That's progress, he supposed.

Swanwick wobbled with indignation. “You want this job? Do you? Well, get that mop moving.”

Swanwick wasn't so bad, not so long as you kept quite during one of his rants. Later on, in the staff cubbyhole, he'd have forgotten all about it and, if Eekhout was really lucky, be almost pleasant.

Eekhout loved working at the university, in building 704, up here on the 32nd floor, just being around all those wonderful minds, and he did not want to give that up. Even if it did mean having to clean the toilets. To have done a proper job here, something recognisable, you'd have to do a bit better than solve Fermat's Last Theorem – yet again. Such feats were so commonplace.

* * *

With Swanwick gone Eekhout could relax once more. He lent against the cold tiles again, mop in hand just in case, and began to ponder his other favourite subjects; some that were even more perplexing. You'd think, with all those so very superior minds, they'd find a better method of cleaning urine off the floor. Mop and bucket: so very old fashioned. Eekhout had other theorems to ponder: why couldn't all those great minds aim straight? Why did they keep missing the toilets?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Always Leaving

From the first I was determined to leave. It was not the most comfortable of interviews. Alice was a thin and starchy and appeared used to getting her way. It was hardly the most engaging of jobs: being a trainee at a hairdresser's. A hairdresser's with pretensions of being an upmarket salon. Basically I was expected to sweep the floor and make the tea. Even for that role she made me feel distinctly unqualified.

She was not a pleasant interviewer. She looked at my arm.

“You'll regret that,” she rasped.

I did not need to look where she was gazing. I was proud of my tattoo. The pain was worth the wonderful green snake coiled through one eye of a skull and hissing joyfully having twisted its way through the frontal lobe. I did not dignify her pathetic attempt at art criticism with an answer. Being twenty years older she was unlikely to understand. At least that's what I believed in my naive late teens. She looked harshly at me.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “you will. In time.”

I can't quite remember why I got the job it all seemed such an inauspicious start. There must have been plenty of girls willing to work at a hairdresser's – even without all those pretentious.

At first I did little more than sweep, clean and be constantly admonished for loitering with a sullen expression. A few weeks later and I had saved enough out of my meagre wage packet for a second tattoo. I'm not sure if this was simply to spite Alice.

This time the tattoo was just above my ankle and was smaller and less painful. I remember strutting into the salon defiantly. Just waiting for someone to notice the blue and gold butterfly its wings emblazoned with large green eyes. Alice did not say anything and remained taciturn all day. How I felt so pleased with myself.

Alice had money, some kind of social position, mostly assumed. With that came her expectation of being looked up to, of being treated deferentially, as some kind of authority. Me, nor the numerous other girls who passed through the salon, ever reciprocated. This only annoyed Alice and cause her to escalate the haughtiness. Behind her back it all the became something of a macabre joke. A comedy quickly pushed aside when she strode into the salon. Soon followed by fleeting, knowing smirks.

Fast forward twelve years of drudgery and being looked down upon. It was difficult to hate Alice even though I desperately wanted to. All this time I wanted to leave but somehow it was never the right time. Next week, month, when I had a bit more saved, when holidays, Christmas, that weekend festival was over. Then I'll swan up to her and tell her what I really think. Then depart never to return. A shocked Alice left behind standing mouth open. It was only a daydream, a vague aspiration.

The cancer and Chemo were having their affect. Alice's hair was just starting to fall out. She was always thin and starting to look emaciated. Little absences become more frequent with her constant trips to hospitals and doctors. These made the salon a more friendly, chatty, place to work. At least until her haughty and brisk return.

It was late one Friday afternoon and time for the weekend to begin. I made the mistake of not absconding quickly enough with the other girls.

“Off,” Alice said, looking in a mirror, “take it off, all of it off.”

It was starting to get dark and really I wanted to be away. Alice untangled the tight mop on her head and sat in a chair waiting. She had never trusted me with her hair before.

“You're absolutely sure?” I asked, hoping above all she would have second thoughts. It was not like her to be impulsive.

Alice nodded. Her black hair danced for the final time. I picked up the shaver and started. Alice never once sneaked a look in the mirror. The black, presumably dyed, hair cascaded to the floor I had recently swept.

I felt the pressure of the confessional: to divulge my hidden life and troubles. But the moment was far too unbearably intimate for me. Some things, many things she had no right to know. Pity was not on the agenda, neither for her nor me.

“Done,” I said, not an instant to soon.

The pity remained unspoken.

She looked incongruous, the smart designed dress and atop the skinhead look. The fine black follicles waiting to bristle and the occasional white blotches where all hair had already departed. She looked so much older the lines in her face highlighted and now no longer in shadow.

As soon as was decent I left. Alice locked up the salon with a thin scarf tied round her head.

And those tattoos: how I so regretted them now. My tastes have evolved and they no longer express who I want to be. Forever they will be a reminder of what I never was. How Alice – sitting in that chair and with me shaving her head – would have gloated over that confession. But I could never have tolerated that. It's impossible for her to know now. That, at least, is one good thing.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Film Review – The Long Good Friday

I will admit I hardly recognised the name of the director John Mackenzie when I recently heard his obituary while driving. I will also admit his film The Long Good Friday had passed me by, unnoticed, both in the late 80s and ever since – despite it, apparently, being quite well known. However the obituary did make this film sound quite intriguing and the sort of thing I might find interesting. It promised (not in exactly these words) a gritty comment on Thatcherism and all its horrors. So something that now seems very modern, what with the current financial crisis, government meltdowns, and hard right wing cost cutting agendas. I wonder why I never noticed this film before? All I can claim, in mitigation, is that I looked upon Bob Hoskins, who plays the lead role here, as, shall we say, overrated.

Before we get to the above film lets have a little aperitif. I first watched Just Another Saturday. This was part of the BBC Play For Today series, in 1975, and written by Peter McDougall and directed by John Mackenzie. There is not much of a plot: a young protestant lad goes on an Orange order march in Glasgow with his lodge band; he encounters some protestant verses catholic violence and becomes disillusioned; at the end he desires to escape Glasgow. Still it shows a slice of working class life and has both humorous and gritty moments. In the film's final scenes father and son talk of how these conflicts divide and rule the lower orders. I agree with the political point being made here but felt it was put across in a far too didactic form. Even so a film worth watching.

So after all the hype what was The Long Good Friday like? It's not a bad film, watchable, but overall a bit of a disappointment. It started with a long menagerie of disconnected scenes where you're not quite sure what is happening. Having such an opening is not in itself a problem; it's just here it goes on too long before the main story starts.

Also the film appears to have no protagonist with which the viewer is supposed to identify. Who is the protagonist? If it's Harold Shand, the character played by Bob Hoskins, are really supposed to root for this gang land thug? Having an despicable character as the lead can make for a good film, but when there are no, absolutely zero, characters with redeeming features then you have a grim time of it as a viewer.

Again Bob Hoskins as an actor is allright but I did not find him that exciting. He only appears able to play himself which leaves this character somewhat insubstantial.

I wish I could say better of a film I watched as a result of hearing an obituary. It wasn't a bad film, better than many, possibly better than most, but hardly a great film. Of these two films you should only watch Just Another Saturday.

Blue Sky of Death

Big
bang
reboot.
Microsoft
virus caused error.
Switch it off and on again.

Answer Phone

Call
later
God's out.
Don't worry.
Please leave a message.
He/she/it/them could be some time.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

International Socialism 131

The latest issue of the International Socialism Journal is largely taken up with the current situation in the class struggle both in Britain and on the wider world arena.

Alex Callinicos, in his introduction, gives an overview of the state of the world economy and discusses some of its unresolved problems. He also examines the aftermath of the recent May local elections in Britain.

The balance of the class struggle in Britain today is looked at in detail by Martin Smith. He first sets the scene with a recap of how trade unionism was eroded with the defeats of the Thatcher government and subsequent downturn under the Tories and Labour administrations. He then goes on to look at how the rank and file movements can start being rebuilt during the current onslaught by Cameron and the coalition. One key aspect of this is how the working class can overcome the weakness of the trade union bureaucracy as well as take advantage those trade union leaders who suggest – but often fail to organise – some kind of fightback.

Knowing what your class enemy is thinking and planning is important in knowing how to respond to their attacks. Richard Seymour dissects the current state of the Tories and updates his book The Meaning of David Cameron written just before the election.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Book Review – Dubliners by James Joyce

The blurb for Dubliners describes these short stories as “candid, controversial and often disturbing.” Well maybe... that might have been true in Ireland before the First World War when these stories were written. But by modern standards this blurb is, shall we say, highly misleading.

In many ways these are not really stories at all. Not in the conventional sense of having anything as extravagant as a plot; you know, beginning, middle and end and all that paraphernalia. Really they are snapshots of life in Dublin. Though there is nothing necessarily wrong with that; why should every work of fiction follow that boring old convention?

The first group of stories are shorter and less satisfying. The later stories are longer and more interesting. Whether this is because they are in some kind of chronological order or Joyce was not so good at the very short short story form is unclear. There are no dates given for individual stories.

For me the most interesting story was Ivy Day in the Committee Room. A description of election canvassers returning at the end of the day and waiting to be paid. The cynicism was quite amusing.

Also of interest was A Mother. A story of someone protecting her daughter from being cheated by some concert promoters.

The story Grace somehow does not appear to end. You are just left there not knowing the outcome. As if one or more scenes for the story are missing or Joyce just could not be bothered to finish it off.

I can see why The Dead was made into a film. The fact that it is by far the longest story in the book is only a minor part of the explanation. More important is that it is the most conventional story in the collection. Also it inhabits the well-to-do world of balls and pretty dresses. It's not a bad story and can easily be turned into mush by any film producer. Ivy Day or A Mother would have made a better film.

The truth is, while these stories are of some interest, Joyce did not spring into the world as a fully formed or developed writer. If it was not for his later work I guess these stories would have been long forgotten. So: there might be hope for the rest of us.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Cathedral

Malcolm had, at last, made it up the hill alongside the Anglican Cathedral and was on the long straight road behind. Ahead his car and sanctuary was at the furthest end of the road. The few times Malcolm went to the city he parked his battered Volkswagen behind the cathedral. He usually found a spot there and it was still totally free; unlike the extravagant fees demanded nearer the shopping centre. But he only parked here when he was well and truly alone. It was a bit of a walk to the main city centre shops and passengers did not always appreciate his ingenuity or economy.

It had been a frustrating trip. Of all possible vices the one Malcolm hated most was shopping. And city centre shops on a Saturday were the worst iniquity of them all. Today was no exception and he trekked back to his car disgruntled and empty handed. So the necessity of some birthday present for his father had suddenly arrived; he only remembered this detail because of the constant nagging by his mother and only pride stopped him giving in to her offer to provide the necessary. The pride however would have to be swallowed as Malcolm was still empty handed as well as being fed up and totally disgruntled. Leaving everything to the day before the monumental day was not his best inspiration. Nor was having no idea of what his father might like; everything had seemed either tacky, useless or far too expensive – and often all three.

The side of the road opposite the back of the cathedral was dominated by once flourishing Georgian houses. Here they were clumped together ensconced in the tiniest of gardens, all due to the demands on city centre real estate. Once they had been the proud status symbols of the city's merchants. Now they were broken up into student flats and serviced the nearby university.

Standing, all alone, on a corner ahead was the prettiest girl Malcolm had ever seen, deliciously cute in a simple light blue print dress. As he walked he stared, almost stumbled, and again stared ahead intently. As he got closer the features of her small angelic face enchanted; the most beautiful face he had ever seen and clasped within short cropped black hair. The notion of 'love at first sight' was for trashy fiction. But... this was a unique and new experience. As he approached her incredible beauty only became more adorably enhanced.

Malcolm looked on and it almost appeared as if she stepped towards him. A delicious shudder of the most delightful electricity shot down his spine. He had never been in a situation remotely like this before. He was completely dumb struck. She would have to break the silence. The beautiful face looked up.

“Business?” she said quietly.

Another shudder ran through him, only this time of disappointment. Turning away, and without saying a word, he walked briskly onwards towards his car. He did not look back, he should have looked back.

Back safely among the cheep plastic and tin Malcolm composed himself. He regretted not having the courage to accept the offer. But was also pleased he didn't.

Then the thought crossed his mind: how amazingly convenient, two vices so very close together, the cathedral and 'business'.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Interrogator

Shiny, shiny shoes, a dead giveaway, I knew straight away nothing was right. In the fading light, among the desolate rubble, I looked closer, he was almost right, but not quite right enough. Those shoes, buffed, black, expensive, so diligently polished, they just glared at you. Then, immediately above, were the dirty jeans, tatty; those ill fitting, workman's jeans. The dirt somehow wrong, studied, applied, with freshly laundered patches showing through.

Then he started to speak, a Liverpool accent that was just a bit too studied. An actor's scouse learnt from B movies of sixty years ago. He was trying just that bit too hard. I never would have noticed were it not for those shoes. Those pristine shoes, those shiny, shiny shoes. On the surface he's chatty, friendly, your best mate, salt of the whole dam earth. Underneath so obviously hard, ex-army, maybe, maybe not, something similar, worse, manipulative, determined, on a mission, and what a mission. I know his mission.

I try to ease away, keep chatting, friendly like, slowly ease away without revealing anything. Above all, remember, don't turn your back, never run and never, ever, turn your back. Just ease away, pleasant like, into the shadows, facing, always facing, him. He kept on talking; would keep talking. Following me. Talking, quietly talking. Can't get rid.

What if... The Interview

There were tears rolling down her face. All day the press had been hounding her; asking impertinent questions. Deliberately taunting her; taunting her would you believe it; didn't they know who she was? And then in this TV studio, in the Early hours, the interviewer was goading her; so much for impartiality; it had all been too much, she just could not take any more. She had done what she feared. She had broken down; started to blubber; to cry uncontrollably. Here right in the middle of the interview. Right when when she should have stood up straight and walked out; in as dignified a manner as she muster. But no, here she was blubbering and the cameras were rolling; live on air. It was all so undignified; and the tears kept rolling.

Where had it all gone wrong? She had started out wanting to change history, wanting to change the country. It had seemed good at first; difficult, she expect that; difficult and good. Then came the crisis and she grabbed at the chance. The Falklands had seemed such a noble idea; a point of principle; a moral crusade. And a war can boost your popularity; especially if it's a quick one and you win; such cynics.

Then that lucky missile; striking the supply ship like that; it was always a possibility, a risk. But foolishly the Argentines were going more significant vessels. Then that lone pilot went for the easy target. The hit on the supply vessel necessitated taking the risk with the aircraft carrier; and the rest, as they say, was history. That got his; not sunk but disabled; unusable for aircraft. That was it, the war ended in disaster, the task force had to retreat.

All this only seemed to worsen her position at home; made her look week; made her unpopular. And the miners recognised this. The pickets getting stronger. The she had no choice; her hand was forced; she did not want to but she had to give in; give in to the militants.

And that had forced her to call a snap election. So here Thatcher was, in the middle of the night, in a TV studio on the day of the election. The press having hounded her all day. And crying, having lost the election. A broken woman blubbering.