Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Slasher Zombie Adventure

On my travels about the four Kingdoms of the Orb I normally pack a few tissues in my back pocket for use in nasal emergencies. During the hay fever season there’s often a bulge in my trousers the size of a small Linford and people have been known to stop in the street, wondering if my pelvis has rotated a hundred and eighty degrees about the base of my spine (though they usually get what’s happening when they see my feet — and I sneeze).

Yesterday I was devoid of such mucus-busting luxuries. And yesterday, I had a killer nosebleed.

Stranded, half a mile from the train station (and tissue-vending shops), I began oozing blood like the leader of a horror zombie tribe, splashing droplets onto the pavement and spidery trails all over my fingers. Nothing I did could stop the flow. Very quickly, I realised it was Goodbye Fleece Time as I pinched the fluffy blue wuffiness of its fabric about my nostrils. “It will rinse out in the bath,” I thought, “as long as I make it home having not been drained of all fluid.”

But still the blood came, still it oozed, backing up against the top of my throat till I could hardly breathe. Every hundred yards I had to remove my fleecy bung in order to release the pressure. Sadly this also meant releasing a parabola of scarlet to shame the Black Knight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I suppose I should have knocked on someone’s door and asked to use a few sheets of kitchen roll — but there’s something about looking like you’ve just been in a life-and-death battle with a crazed Rottweiler that kind of kills the idea stone dead.

So I shambled on like a slasher movie victim (albeit without the eerie music).

Now, it isn’t every day you find a pair of white socks lying on the pavement, but I’m glad to say that yesterday, I did. It was a hot day for September — 27 degrees so we’re told — and I figured that maybe some svelte fitness freak had stripped them off during a run to cool herself down. Whatever the reason for them being there, I whipped them from the tarmac and bunged the least smelly up my right nostril, concluding that pride and emergencies share a mutual exclusivity along the lines of Little & Large and humour. Sadly the torrent-stemming effect turned out to be much the same as for my fleece, but at least I wasn’t ruining my own clothing.

And that’s when I encountered my first passer-by: a girl of nineteen or twenty (and possibly a student returning after the summer break).

My first thought was — are these her socks?, so I stared hard at her feet for a couple of seconds as my mind span with get-out clauses along the lines of hey look, I’ve found them — but then I got bitten by a horse.

My mistake here was to forget the golden rule of EYE CONTACT. Maybe if I’d thrown her a friendly smile, she might have wondered if my blood-drenched form indicated the presence nearby of a film crew, prompting her to clamber from her bike and volunteer herself as the victim of a zombie nibbling.

As it was, her startled eyes fell upon what was clearly the weirdo neighbourhood psycho killer, sniffing the foot fetish sock of his previous victim and hungry for the legwear of his next.

Her response was immediate, knee-jerk. Without pausing to gasp, she pedalled past me furiously, wailing, “aaaargh! Monster! Woman killer!”

Call me a quick learner, but that’s the last time I’m shoving a pair of women’s socks up my nostrils, prom.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Small World Stars

Is it me, or is a nasty screw being turned increasingly on our affairs?

I ask this question in the wake of news released this week that caning in schools is being mooted as a potential solution for dealing with unruly school kids, not just by the usual suspects with fond memories of how “birching never did me any harm”, but also (alarmingly) by increasing numbers of parents.

My stand on this is a simple one, namely that discipline based on fear is no kind of discipline at all. I’m long enough in the tooth to recall the cane being used at a few of my earlier schools and it seemed to me to offer no deterrent whatsoever — my friends and I still got beaten up and had our bikes stolen, and at least one of the kids responsible went on to murder a three year-old girl in cold blood. In that sense, the end of corporal punishment made no difference to me: I was never on the receiving end of the cane and never behaved in such a way as to fear its potential lash.

What disturbs me about all this now is my own naivety. I had always presumed that the abolition of corporal punishment in schools was a done deal, a necessary step in the advancement of human wisdom that would never be overturned unless the planet was invaded by space Vikings with a penchant for pliant wood. Like George Michael’s appeal to teenage girls after he put on weight and started crashing cars, the whole thing looked like a goner from the 70s onwards. But of course, the human race has a proud history of being a bunch of grubby little shits and I suppose it was only a matter of time before all that shittiness resurfaced, masquerading as “common sense”.

Where this leaves us now is open to question. My hope is that the punitive resurgence of which this whole caning thing is but one aspect is yet another spectre raised whose phantom spooking won’t make it to the rattling objects stage. On the other hand, five years down the line, we may all be party to parliamentary debates about the differences in degree to which children of varying ages may be lawfully chastised: raps on knuckles for the over 12s and light slaps for the foundation year, perhaps? Whatever happens, the dial is evidently flickering on this one (and others like it), and its new location on the scale is as yet unfixed. There’s still time to look at what we currently have and ask searching questions about its value. An overly lax and tolerant approach which is fuelling a national demise? Or reason in spite of our beastliest instincts?

I mention this because my novel (details in menu bar) is set against a softly pre-dystopian background which is registered as normal on the dial by all the main characters and world inhabitants. Quietly, I ask: What is ‘normal’ and how do we decide? There are no armed police enforcing the laws of a draconian government nor any kind or perceived oppression, yet in the version of England I present, the dials have been fixed in place for so long that no-one has the faintest recollection of where zero is. Acts of barbarism that you and I would find abhorrent are everyday events in this world of the numbed, and grubbiness hovers in the background of the plot, ever present and taken as read, like the low, incessant rumble in Eraserhead.

In one scene, my protagonist stumbles into a crowded market place on his way across town looking for romance. As he pushes his way past a crush of bodies outside a glitzy TV showroom, he finds himself party to a weekly social event taking place across the nation. Thursday night is National Execution Night — and this week, some hapless female from the underclass is being strung up from the gallows. Gangs of lads await the spectacle with their fags and lagers, businessmen discuss proceedings on their mobiles, and housewives squeeze their buggies to the front of the mob: it’s what you do. When I wrote the scene I had the intention of making things as impossibly grisly as I could — “turning up the dial to 11" if you like. So in addition to the to the central spectacle of someone being hung or electrocuted on live TV, there are X Factor elements and sprinkles of game show pizazz to jolly along the vengeful bloodlust. In my version of post-millennial England, you, dear viewer, can pledge cash to raise the stakes and vote for the manner of death, content in the knowledge that your hard-earned money will be used to help the needy. After all, you can recoup the lot by betting on how long the victims manage to string it all out — along with a range of other Double Yer Money variables. As the heartbeat and breathing stats flash from the HD over your fireplace like cartoon KERZONKs and KAPOWs, how pleasing it is to know your vote came top of the heap this week. Dirty chav stole money from a pensioner and now she’s getting her come-uppance: your come-uppance. So sit back and watch your quid being well spent. Look! A little Downs boy is initiating the proceedings. Officials point him to a lever and encourage him to pull — but bless his little heart, he needs some help. From the split screen, the victim’s brat of a kid wails into the night as her mum spins and kicks from the rope. The commentator makes a joke about women footballers and bemoans the “waste of a nice pair”. Then the body is cut down from the gallows. The Downs boy makes his way to the super sparkly lever as the crowd chants Go Spacker Go. Three. Two. One. And the hounds are released from their traps.

It’s still as much of an outlandish nightmare scene as when I wrote it in 2008 — only it kind of isn’t. Odd though it seems to me, the dial on reality is notching closer to that of the spoof world of my imaginings. Of course we’re not about to hang people in front of their kids on live TV as a way of fixing Buggered Britannia, but as a society we were once told didn’t exist, we do seem to be developing something of a hunger for a return to beating, shaming and incarcerating ourselves out of harm’s way.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hoover The Now With Your Brain

We’re barely into September and already the first crops of plastic pumpkins and ghoulie masks are making their way onto supermarket shelves. Back in August, I even saw an advert prompting one and all to BOOK YOUR CHRISTMAS MEAL emblazoned in a shop window on a 20' x 10' muralette. Thankfully, they only meant Christmas this year.

Why this urge to get things out of the way as quickly as possible? To prepare? To take the longest possible run-up?

What’s the problem with it just being now?

Maybe our preoccupation with warp driving out of the present is simply a way of fending off the oblivion merchants who insist on playing down the future. With a winter of strikes looming and the prospect of Feta cheese disappearing off the menu as the Greeks scour their economically barren landscape for a new currency, it’s like we’re gazing into a negatively charged crystal ball with positively charged eyes. No wonder we’re all going goggle-eyed about what’s immediately in front of us.

Staying focussed on the whispery business of our lives as they happen is by no means straightforward. Our senses bombard us with information all of the time and unless we gouge our eyes out with spoons, stuff our ears with cotton wool, place pegs over our noses, stick our tongues to the roof of our mouths, and excise all appreciation of the tangible (up to and including which way up is), being in the here and now is kind of the default setting for most of us. Trying to be here or get here is pointless because we already are. So why do we bother?

Maybe Buddha had it right when he said all those deep and meaningful things about serenity and not sticking your willy in a food processor (and if it wasn’t him, it was Batman — but you get the point).

I mention this because I’m now sitting cross-legged on a product I hope to roll out across the UK with the backing of at least one Dragon (though preferably not Duncan Bannatyne on account of the death threats and the terrier semen hair lacquer).

My patented Buddy Bag (tm) will soothe, relax and inspire like no other Buddha-festooned bean bag before it, transporting you to the eternal present on its abundance of pink vinyl.

As you lay spreadeagled upon it, mindful of its inner polystyrene ‘beans’ and their unique arrangement within the cosmos from Buddy Session (tm) to Buddy Session (tm), the enriching energy of NOW will flow within you (unless you have the wind or a salesman calls).

The first hundred Buddy Bags (tm) sold will come bundled with a CD of myself chanting while yogic flying atop it. Mainly, it’s rhyming koans and haikus but I’ve also thrown in a few football songs, some Amy, and a ten minute recording of myself brushing my teeth which is gently relaxing — like the waves on a distant shore slapping against a beached whale’s corpse.

Any takers? If you’re quick, I might also throw in the world’s most accurate wristwatch.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Gnats Of Irritation Invade My Brachial Plexus

For the whole of this morning my hands have been thrashing and twitching like the novelty Rose Pouchong tea I’ve taken to drinking recently has been laced by the pouchongers of China (or possibly Huddersfield) with some kind of Whirl-destroying nerve agent.

Any sentences I’ve typed ended up like thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis.

Or l i ke th i s .

When I came to drink my second cup round about half past eleven I was almost afraid to boil the kettle just in case I scalded the flesh from my body.

Then it dawned on me: this isn’t a weird kind of shakiness resulting from the onset of infusion poisoning — it’s because I haven’t posted on my blog for nearly four days and my fingers are itching for something to do other than churn out work-related crap.

So I cleared my desk immediately with a wild swoop of my arms (after several missed attempts karate chopping the wall like some fitting martial arts artiste) and sat down to set to with gung ho.*

* Not a martial artiste, btw — it’s just a turn of phrase. In any case, I never sit down to write in the same room as anyone capable of separating my head from my neck with the merest flick of their tongue.
That’s when I realised I had sod all to write about.

No prog rock lookalikes in my neighbourhood have been brutally assaulted recently, nor has Mr Do Something done something all over my life; Stoat no longer plays for Stilton, and if you think for one minute I toyed with dressing up in a kilt again just because Obama’s ratings are going through the roof of the Abyss, then you’ve got more things coming to you than a tambourine man with a red flag at the Pamplona bull run (and, yes — I nearly wrote ‘pavlova’ there).

Hmmmph. Conundrum

All I’ll say is that the shaking has stopped for the time being. Knowing my luck, I’ll be inspired to make a cocktail later this afternoon from a selection of exotic fruit juices and will no longer be able to summon any shakeability.

So — how was your Friday?

Monday, September 5, 2011

What Good Do You Imagine You're Doing, You Fools?

The problem with taking an early morning constitutional at the moment is that lots of other people are at it, most of them sporty types.

I’d love nothing more than to meander through a woodland glade at crack of dawn, alone with only my serenest thoughts and wisps of elves and unicorns billowing through the bracken — possibly in my cape.

What I can’t be doing with is fitness enthusiasts blasting their salty pheromones into the atmosphere as they stomp past, oblivious to the beauty of their surroundings.

Muscular duos of sinew-pumping, lycra-clad thrustoiditude, I say unto you: fuck off to the bloody gym so I can dream up some decent fiction alongside the ancient oaks, the spirits of woodelande beings and the occasional festooniment of the ridiculous.

Ditto Mrs Shouldn’t Be Walking Let Alone Running, clad in her bombardment of Mad Lizzie tracksuit colours! It’s one thing to jump out of the way for burly lads whose eyes are so fixed on some implausible metabolic horizon that they would willingly tramp into oblivion all other sentient beings, but quite another to have to be prepared to catch, and then resuscitate, some poor deluded old fool on the offchance that she might die, suddenly and violently, like a lawnmower engine fitted to a space rocket fired up to fly to Jupiter in under a fortnight.

Terra firma shuddered this morning, like the San Andreas fault had relocated to downtown Midlandio-sur-Mer, and instead of the sonorous breathing of imaginary dragons, all I heard was the puffing and panting of people who obviously haven’t discovered the fitness benefits of climbing up and down their own stairs a hundred times. That, my imbecile irritati, is the most energetic thing you can do this side of holding your own breath at the very bottom of the Marianas Trench for half an hour — so why don’t you all bloody well go and do that instead of pissing me off with your ludicrous displays of ‘fitness’?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Playing Nat King Cole On Your Own Face

For part of my holiday reading this year I chose Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku.*

* I also ran my eyes over a fair few restaurant menus (though never in bed for fear of prompting langoustine-riddled nightmares).

The premise of the book is that there is going to be a future — a future that will be happening soon.

In the spirit of Jules Verne, Kaku has taken his insider knowledge of the latest scientific breakthroughs and mapped out what the possibilities for the coming century might be if they work out.

Electric cars, magnet-powered telekinesis, morphing bras and mankinis: it’s all in there.

Some of the possibilities (like space tourism) seem perfectly plausible and are already happening in fledgling forms, and Kaku’s analysis of the demise of ever-increasing Silicon chip computer power seems sound. However, my concerns were prompted by the number of times Kaku referred to Star Trek, specifically in that “look how a lot of gooky sci-fi ideas from said hit TV show have evolved into science fact” kind of a way, and I’m reminded of all the hopeless inventions and innovations flagged up on Tomorrow’s World which died a horrible mid-70s death.*

* Like the Brian May detector box which kept going off in Judith Hann’s hand even though Queen were thousands of miles away live on stage in Detroit.

I have no wish to claim Kaku isn’t an expert (though if he does turn out to be a deluded fraud, there’s definitely a place for him in a future prequel series of Dr Who playing the first incarnation of everyone’s favourite time lord), but my experience of predictions of the future is that they are generally wrong.

The very best ideas falter and fail or are scuppered by chance disasters, weird things happen which no-one could have predicted, and the universal constants of the cosmos shift and change and turn around like Graham Norton playing a serial transvestite in a West End farce on a revolving stage lit by a zillion stroboscopes.*

* Why don’t physicists know that the one universal constant is Dulux magnolia emulsion?

Whether Kaku’s speculative expertise turns out to be right or wrong, I don’t particularly care. As I read the book my intention was never to bone up on the latest in theoretical physics and pump action nanodildos; primarily I read it to fill myself up with fiction fodder.

The point I’m getting to (because there is one) is that I don’t tend to get a lot of ideas for fiction from reading fiction. Fiction isn’t a raw enough material for my tastes. It’s too polished, too finished, too final — like a Barbie doll you can only play Barbie with — and I’ve always found it tends to feed back into real life more than into new real fiction. Like the nanoscientists Kaku mentions in his book, I prefer to start from the bottom up, with all the stuff that has zero to do with fiction.

As Son of Whirl would have it, I’m an “Elemental Mage” rather than a “Sorcerer Savant” or “Bloke With A Ridiculous Bloody Hat”.

So what about you, fellow writers? Do you recycle fiction into more fiction or start from scratch elsewhere? Or do both? Neither? Something else?