Monday, December 31, 2012

RIP Davy Jones, Whitney and Donna Summer - but Keith Richards is sill alive

2012 once again demonstrated the brittleness and fleeting nature of human existence. You can be a once time diva with the world at your feet like Whitney Houston and still end up dead in a bathtub.

You can be the queen of Divas and hot stuff like Donna Summer and still miss a beat on the big disco dancefloor.

You can wear the world's tightest pants like Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees but fail to wrap up your own mortality.

You can even transcend the Earth itself and walk on the moon like Neil Armstong, but the earth will get you in the end.

The death of Davy Jones of the Monkees caused quite a stir stateside. I had always been indoctrinated by my parents into the notion that the Americans created the Monkeys as a transatlantic rival to the Beatles. While it's true that the Monkey were one of the first manufactured boy bands, and as such have a lot to answer, for I just found out Jones was actually British.

Other high profile deaths included Andy Griffith, who I confess didn't mean much to me, but appears to have a cult following in sections of American society. I've since watched a few clips and am scratching my head about what's funny about this guy.

The older you get the more depressing the death list seems to be become because you find yourself losing cultural icons that made up your past. Dallas may not have been high culure but few Saturday nights in the 1980s were complete without the garish theme tune and the wide gates of Southfolk Ranch populated by evil oil magnate J.R. Ewing.

A large part of my adolescence seemed to go south west with the death of Larry Hagman.

Still it's not all doom and gloom. Despite ingesting every harmful substance known by man and quite a few yet to be discovered, Keith Richards of the Stones remains alive.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Flash Fiction - the Human Touch

I've never written flash fiction before... thought I'd give it a go anyhow.

Captain Jarrold Barnes lay back and the cyolene embraced him. He sunk deeper into the chair, there was a mechanical noise as its fine adjusters moved to meet his body. He breathed out and in, encapsulated by the moon - and then another.

Lo hung closest in the heavens, a brilliant orange sphere, half in darkness and half in brilliant light, stars twinkling around its dizzying circumference. Europa was smaller but less gaudy. Its pinks were subdued and paradoxically it was more attractive. Although pink from a distance, Barnes knew it to be a world of howling winds and blue ice. Barnes flipped through the pages of the feasibility study. Perhaps a colony all the way out there was not so far fetched.

"Beautiful," breathed the voice of the girl in his ear. He fell more deeply into the cyolene, a warm sleepiness moving over his features and he spoke back to the girl. "It's my favorite time of night."

And then he switched off the small speaker that hung on a long stem by his ear and the girl's voice was cut off. Sometimes he wondered about that voice. Had it ever belonged to anyone?

The pod was warm and he dozed close to the window, the craters and dead seas of the planet, sweeping away in all directions from the sweep of glass. Sometimes the idea of venturing out there seemed abstractly appealing. It didn't look like it was -480 degrees. He swatted away an image as if it were a speck of alien dust; the day Corporal Lizard walked out there and tuned to powder. Poor chap's odd utterances had been rattling round the base camp's usually silent walkways for weeks beforehand.

Barnes realized he had slept fitfully. A bleak, flat light was slanting across the bare plains revealing the nakedness of the land,. It was refracted from a distant sun. It was multiplication day. He would dutifully walk down to the clinic and help ensure his chromosomes were used to build the next generation. There would be a blast of high sounding flute music and the probe would come out of the wall, prick his finger and the cloning machine would do the rest.

He heard it was a much more painful and messy business in times gone by. Nobody cared to elaborate.

After his appointment with Docktor Anality, a buzzing and flashing machine that barked out instructions in metallic little soundbites, he received a neuromessage that informed him to go to the delivery bay. He'd almost forgotten about the shipment of belongings from his great uncle Arthur who had died a couple of years ago on Mars.

Barnes had little perception of Mars or desire to go there. All he knew it was close to the old place that perished and his uncle had a reputation as an eccentric who researched the old ways and spent a good deal of time in a reeducation program that wasn't entirely successful.

Even picking up the package could be deemed as subversive. In the delivery bay Barnes sighted another humanoid form behind a frieze of plastic swirls. Such proximity was unusual. He checked himself a couple of times and considered leaving before he engaged the dark little girl in conversation.

"I'm picking up a package from Joseph Arthur," he said through the barrier.

The girl giggled.

"You find that funny?"

"No. Just a quaint sort of name," she said.

"Can I have the package?"

A door opened and a ragged box moved down a conveyor belt.

Barnes took the package and moved off quickly to avoid suspicion.

When he opened it back in his pod, a series of strange paper bundles trapped between pieces of cardboard with words on them fell out.

The dust between the covers immediately aroused Barnes' suspicion.

The line drawings alarmed him even more. Men and women entwined in the most curious and unthinkable of ways. It was entitled "The Human Touch."

The cycolene creaked and he fell further into it. A cold, cruel and haunted light crept around Europa in its freezing swathe of space. The images of the people entwined caused a tiny pain deep within him, so small it was closer to an itch than a pain. There was a germ here of a memory and suddenly it was gone. He willed the lights to go out above him and he was in high lunar darkness again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tips for a Homicide Free Christmas Y'all from Skunktown, Alabama

Hope y'all's having a cool Crimbo. Darn South we have a few tips to make share ya have a Cool Yule. Fixing for a Christmas when noone gets shot this year. Nor poisoned by the raccoon pie neither.

  • Douse the Pop Tarts of the most troublesome relatives with Bud before serving breakfast. Failing that go upscale and use Miller Lite.
  • Seat Flatulant Uncle Dwain in a place where he can't harm noone or ruin lunch. If ye don't have a mud room, shove im in the Pit Bull pen.
  • Make sure the kids' new shot guns aren't loaded when Santa shoves them in yall stocking.
  • Don't repeat the mistake of last year when ya drank too much hooch before making Christmas dinner, couldn't find the cat but found the turkey outside 3 hours later next ta a glass a milk.

Yall have a great Christmas now....

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Orange boy disappears on a blue day

I woke to a clean, crisp Saturday of peerless blue skies. I thought it was cloudless until I saw a small benign puff of cotton wool to the west that failed to pierce the purity of the azure. It was cold and dazzlingly pristine.  it was perfectly formed and sculptured like a river of ice. Nothing could go wrong on this day.

But the idea of the blemish was at the back of my mind. I felt like a priest who looks into the turquoise, ice pool eyes of his most beautiful and devout churchgoer armed with the rumor that she works as a courtesan when the sun goes down.

What bothered me was not the heavens but the earth. The ragged street scene, the cheapened houses of flimsy wood with their rotting roofs, a bloated bag of trash, the grass now smeared with brown, the patched up car next door that rattles round the streets on drug deals. And there are worse neighborhoods in town.

More worrying still was the thicket figure of S. who was ambling toward the door. S is the flip side of the three wise men. He isn't wise and he ambles from the west. Invariably he brings bad tidings, or failing that, he traps you into a tedious conversation about how he'd rather be hunting bear.

He's at the door and in my face. Wide and bristly. Eyes with no color or substance or form. The clear blue sky is vanquished.

After my usual key fumbling act (The chain is too crowded. I should be a jailer) the barrier is removed.

"I hear your cat has gone," he tells me.

"Yes." Gigs vanished on Wednesday. At first I wasn't so concerned. Just like the neighbors' kids have sleepovers with my daughter at times, Gigs has sleepovers. But already I was getting worried. The boy had been hanging close in recent months and now there was no sign of him. He's a big, old dependable boy who has been around such a long time he's sometimes overlooked. He's always placid and friendly, apart from the time he bit my mother.

"Just three houses up they just lost two cats," he said. "Smokey and Tigger. Just gawn. They called the police."

It was three days ago. Just five days ago Smokey had a standoff with Gigs, a wailing affair that went long into the night. They had both vanished at the same time.

I sought some reassurance from S. You need that sort of thing at Christmas.

"A guy up by Seven-11 a couple of years ago was kidnapping um. He used to torture them," S tells me.

"God. Thanks."

The blemish grew all morning as we called the shelter and the police. It ate itself into a filthy, grasping black hole that turned itself inside out and showed us the foul entrails of the world or, more specifically, the dirty works of man. And while the world may not have died with the Mayan Calendar, we die a little every day.

The disappearance of a couple of cats on a day of breathtaking blue skies is small in the grand scheme of things but it once again makes me think of how the beauty around is soured by the ugliness of so many earthly souls.

I have never been to Eagle's Nest but I have heard it's breathtakingly beautiful. It overlooks the picture-postcard beautiful town of Berchtesgaden. Adolf Hitler stayed her when he wrote Mein Kampf, his sinister manifesto which would throw all of Europe into darkness.

Overlooking these snow covered mountains in Bavaria, he plotted World War Two and the destruction of the Jews. There can surely be no greater contrast than the clean and dazzling air of the Bavarian mountains and the dead end railroad line that led to the gatehouse and the towers and the satanic and foul smelling building that housed the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

This post has become far more profound than I meant it to be, and runs the risk of belittling the greatest horror of the 20th century by linking it to the disappearance of a couple of felines.

This is not the intention. Still it puzzles and disturbs me that mankind can dream up such mean schemes when such beauty is all above and around.

On a lighter note Blogger has this cool new feature in that all you have to do is press the + button and you can link to another blogger instantly like +Jennifer Bhargava or +Mina Lobo or +Tim Riley or +Lisa Vooght or +Betty Manousos or +David Macaulay - well I could certainly get into this...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Introducing Marty the Brittany Spaniel

I've always thought people fall into two categories - dog people and cat people.

I've always placed myself in the latter category and not just because I spend most of my life putting out fires with gasoline.

Cats are cool and self sufficient. Dogs are yappy and annoying. The last dog foisted on me, Yoda, a neurotic Chihuahua, was a nervous and extremely yappy, snappy man hater who would cozy up to women and go crazy when men entered the room.

I used to have this odd recurring dream that Yoda was a football but best stop before PETA stages a naked protest on the front yard. Yoda died and you can read about his demise if you trawl through the bowels of this blog, not something I'd recommend anyone does lightly.

Now I find myself the partial owner another dog after Marty, a Brittany Spaniel pup was given to us. At least he's from sort of British/French descent which was a plus in my book.

I was rather reticent about the whole spaniel thing, recalling vague memories of a friend who had one that would jump on me and slobber on my pants (as ya do). Indeed the fear of Slobber Dog became so great I gave up visiting. They were also dull friends.

Marty is a bit hyperactive and I recently found myself cursing a lot when I took him for a walk around the reservoir when he kept getting under foot.

But I do find myself thinking he's rather cute, even if he has that unpleasant, nose curling dog smell about him which I'm told is typical of dogs and the once pleasant back garden is now a minefield of puppy poo. He also has a disconcerting knack of delivering dissected slivers of squirrel on the doorstep, testimony to his breed's efficacy for hunting, although I can't believe he has actually killed them himself.

For all his downsides the boy seems to have a rather friendly temperament, shows no sign of being a yappy  man hater and is rather partial to a tummy tickle. Say no more.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hugh Grant is outed by Jon Stewart as a right Royal pain in the ass

Ever since Friday's tragic events I have been looking for an issue to blog about that's not at all serious or thought provoking and I think I have finally found it.

The Guardian reports Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show, has labelled the British actor Hugh Grant a "big pain in the ass."

I can't tell you how happy this report makes me because Grant has always frankly got on my tits, for want of a better expression.

For years Grant's foppish characters were projected across the Atlantic as the ideal British gentleman; a bit absent minded, lovable, dashing, silly haircut, upper crust and sardonic. There was the pratt in Four Weddings who fell for an American and the pratt in Notting Hill who also fell for an American (quel coincidence).

The movie annoyed me on a number of levels, not least because someone who ran a bookstore for travel books, wouldn't be able to afford to live in a tent in Notting Hill, let alone a terraced house with a blue door.

Of course there was this persistent rumor about Grant that he was actually not so lovable. The not so lovable idea gained some credence when he was arrested with a hooker called Divine Brown in LA. At this stage we were a tad shocked because we still clung to this lovable fop idea; plus there was his girlfriend Liz Hurley and that be considered. And reconsidered...

But slowly the rumors that Grant was a bit rude and a bit stuck up started to surface.

Still Grant managed to retain much of his British dignity, going on to be the Prime Minister in Love Actually, the cad in Bridget Jones, not to mention a few instantly forgettable things as well as his role in About A Boy that suggested Grant could act, before he reverted to type again.

He may have got his career back on course but he failed to win over Stewart who said he would "never" have the actor back on is show after a 2009 appearance. Stewart said Grant was his least favorite guest adding "And we've had dictators on the show."

Grant was apparently promoting a piece of dubious garbage masquerading as a film called Did You hear About the Morgans?

No I didn't nor do I ever want to thanks.

Stewart said the actor constantly moaned about being there telling staff he had better places to be.

"He's giving everyone shit all the time and he's a big pain in the ass," Stewart said.

When Grant complained about the clip being used to promote the film, Steward replied: "Well then make a better fucking movie," according to the Guardian.

Perhaps this can spiral into a series called Brits I Hate

And next week .... Jeremy Clarkson.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Unfinished Novel is Finished - What Shall I Call It?

I'm rather surprised to utter these five rather inconsequential words but it appears I HAVE FINISHED THE NOVEL.

To understand the import of these words you'd have to understand I've had a "great unfinished novel" in the works for about 20 years. In most instances I haven't made it past the second chapter. To give an idea of how long this forlorn project has been in the pipeline, on one occasion I lost all my three completed chapters bcause a clutter consultant threw away the floppy disk I had stored it on from the electronic typewriter. Yeah.

Usually I've had the genesis of an idea but haven't known where it was going. I had convinced myself I would never finish a novel and had almost given up on the idea that we all have a novel in us.

Ethiopia (Giustino)

The strange thing was I didn't have much of an idea where I was going this time either and I just kept writing. When I hit a dead end I drank brandy or any other nefarious substance I could get my grubby mitts on. Perhaps I should revisit these chapters. Oddly enough thoughts appeared to me at random intervals and I'd run with them.

I'm not deluding myself it's a masterpiece, but it's certainly better than my previous attempts and the plot goes somewhere. Given that I wrote it piecemeal while juggling it with freelance work and a day-ish kind of job, I was surprised it took me only about six months to write 96,875 words. But who's counting anyhow?

I can rely on the folks at writer's group to help me with inconsistencies. One guy pointed out I hadn't given the narrator a name, another girl pointed out the time frame of the meeting at the British Museum is inconsistent. Actually I'm aware I suddenly added two characters in the middle of Africa, who I should in all good conscience go back and introduce.

The other rather glaring omission is the lack of a name for the novel. So I hope my good blog friends can help me out here by suggesting one for me if I provide a synopsis.

I'm trying to avoid the inflated expectations so many writers have before their spirits are eternally depressed by two million rejection letters. But maybe one day I'll be doing book signings in a book shop near you if they haven't all closed down by then.

The life of Philip Brown, a listless 30-something paralegal, is inexplicably changed after he plays a game of squash with Paul Moriarty in suburban London.

His squash partner's taciturn and withdrawn manner hides a colorful past as a decorated former soldier.

A high speed car ride through London to take Moriarty to a rundown part of the city where his ex-wife is staging a suicide attempt from a balcony, brings Brown closer to Moriarty but the ex-soldier remains a mysterious figure.

Finally illness persuades Moriarty to tell his story and divulge his dark and terrible secret that will change Brown's life forever.

xx is a tale of adventure, love and lost civilisations that moves from England to Arizona and the heart of war torn Africa as its characters desperately try to get to grips with the meaning of life, death and war.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday Morning Rant : This is what concerns me about kids today

"What are you doing?" I ask Zara.

"I am playing a game."

"Well obviously." (If you hadn't been playing games 24/7 since the dawn of time, I would not have ended up spending $500 to rebuild the hard drive!!)

And I don't use exclamation marks lightly, and have a deep distrust of people who do.

"What game?"

"It's called Pappa's Hotdoggeria - you make hot dogs for customers."

"Sounds fascinating. Is there a game on there in which you can watch paint dry?"

And I check myself because I am almost getting all misty eyed for the days of Monkey Kickball and Angry Birds.

Then I start to realize I am becoming like one of those middle aged, cross people who stood at the garden fence when I grew up and grumbled about "kids today." The same types will normally tell you how life was better when they were growing up. You left your doors unlocked blah blah and there were no child murderers - apart from Ian Brady and Myra Hindley who killed kids on the moors etc.

Am I becoming like them? That is like most of them apart from Mrs Mills who dismembered my football when it landed in her garden.

There's a great piece by Michael Chabon about this, so rather than me banging out a pale imitation, I suggest you go and find it. I'd lend you mine but I've lost it.

Essentially it argues "kids today" live sanitized lives. They live vicariously through computer games. They don't live the adventure anymore, they do it in an airless room where they are safe from predators.

Whenever I suggest to Zara we might want to head into a state park the standard response is "why?" And can we stop off at Bouncy Castle World or the video gaming arcade. Why should our perfect virtual day be sullied with a slice of reality?

There's also the self analysis piece which is never good on a Saturday morning when one wants to just loll around in bed and shut out the world.

If they're capturing Aztec temples like pint sized modern day Cortezes - without the colonialism and needless bloodshed, I'm hoping - they are not in my face asking for interactive play time. It means I can spend most of my day on the laptop.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lame Post Tuesday - top images from London, Paris etc.

I've been too busy and pooped to post recently so I have been desperately looking for copout ideas that border on larceny, although not the kind that involves climbing into a transformer and stealing copper.

Gosh - where did that come from? Being a crime correspondent for a couple of years has some uses.

Idea one was stealing stuff from my Google+ feed that I seldom read because I've got more feeds going on that the local foodbank at Christmas. Here's one gem.

"John Taylor is my Mom and I's favorite guy from Duran Duran! Even though they are all hot!"

And British too Izzy.

So here's the idea. Enduring images of your town. Shove the name of the city in Google images and see what image comes up first. I guessed Paris and Rome correctly but failed miserably on London.



That wasn't predictable
A fail - I assumed it would be the big pointy building
A fail on grown men wearing teddy bears on their heads...
It had to be the world's biggest McDonalds
Another fail- This is a University campus, I assumed it would be that flat mountain.
Fail again - what about the pyramids dude?
So ends possibly the lamest blog post I have ever written. This does give me an idea for a blogfest, though - what was your lamest post?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Suede and the madness of house parties

Suede are so 1993 and in 1993 they seemed like the greatest band of all time. So funny, then that I should forget about them until on occasions a chord of one of their songs lodges itself in my distracted head and makes me ponder whether Suede were actually a lot more than the greatest band of 1993.

I was living in a bad part of Plymouth. It rained incessantly and the damp seeped into very fabric of the houses. Every day I drove to the newspaper past the council houses listening to Suede in the car's cassette player and the words of Animal Nitrate.

In your council home he broke all your bones
Now you're taking it time after time

Suede were certainly not happy bunnies. Anyhow the past is compressed and whenever I think of the angst-ridden parties I think of Suede, I think of cigarette ends in beer and dubious antics in the garden. The curious nihilistic excitement of parties where anything could happen - but normally not to me. God knows why. I'd even invite around the worst punks in the neighborhood only to see them sip G&Ts politely on the patio as if they were at the Queen's garden party.

Why wasn't I an essential 24 hour dark party person? Because you'd always find me in the kitchen at parties? Yes and no. Or perhaps I was just a dork but still I feel I was cooler than now, for although we didn't talk about Rousseau nor did we come out with classics like: "Go potty and you get chockie."

It doesn't work anymore. Perhaps it never did. But at least I can guzzle chocolates at midnight while the memory of the last party I went to hurtles down a dark tunnel of memory and disappears out of the other side.

The thing about Suede was I never really understood what their lyrics were about, least of all my favorite song Metal Mickey.

And I really thought Heroine was really about heroin, given Brett Anderson's spectral appearance.

The strange snapshots of parties come back to me. Dominick's crestfallen face when the gatecrashers stole his Spandau Ballet collection and scratched his parents' coffee table just hours before they got back to town, Lardy Mark trying to be in the in-crowd with his "Friends" T-shirt, but his party was pathetic and his fish tank stank; the odd and sinister night when a work colleague ended up with another work colleague in the back garden and she left with bruises on her face.

These parties always teetered on the edge of madness like the madness of OCD Dick when he stopped the party mid party after finding his bathroom mirror was broken. One by one Dick interrogated us, the light of a lava lamp glinting off his glasses which made him look obliquely Gestapo-esque us but nobody owned up. The next morning a photographer who had smoked too much weed woke up with glass in his hair.

Then there was the end of term party where four guys identified four girls and held a challenge as to who could score. I felt uneasy. Charlotte was on the list. Or jealous. Or confused. Peter had some modicum of charm; he wooed with his book collection. Something went on in his room. I'm not sure what. I was distracted by the Victoria stuff. Nick feigned an interest in me for the first and last time, although he looked through me to my girlfriend. In Victoria's prissy manner he felt a meeting of souls. Cold beauty is worse than cold ugliness because it masks and warps our perceptions.

and he said "she's not dead, she's gone away gone away."

And Charlotte too the next day when she broke down and her humorless boyfriend took her away in his Austin Maestro. Then I missed our long talks on the sofa in the empty room between classes and wondered, not for the first time, if I had missed the big picture.

There was one letter and nothing more. Just the sodden streets of Plymouth and the women with bad dye jobs pushing babies.

But we're trash, you and me
We're the litter on the breeze
We're the lovers on the streets

Saskia ripped out the cheap carpets of the rental home because wood was more ecologically sound. I'd walk downstairs to find her friends heating up spoons in the kitchen; so Suede drug chic. Already I felt too old for parties. I felt old for parties when I was young.

But in so many ways the madness of house parties had only just started.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Beyond the Help of Armies

It's been a while since I last posted a snapshot of my novel but it has progressed steadily, if not spectacularly. Nights of success in which I have written 3,000 words or more have been followed by days of inaction. But I have calculated it has now reached about 60,000 words and the expedition is embedded deep in the deadly heart of war torn Africa.

After another 10,000 words it will reach viable novel length and I'm guessing it will end up above that. Still there are plenty of reminders of the prosaic world around me that would divert me from my course. My novel, still nameless, is a means of escape to world of the explorers, that was long since vanquished. Even the conquest of the moon was eons ago and the first man to set foot on that lonely satellite is now dead. Without our dreams we are dead also.

They were only half a mile from the dockside but the city was deserting them and the jungle again slithered into the suburbs. There were abandoned houses which had been filled with thick creepers and burrowing ants and wicked looking razor wire fences that rusted into the jungle but could inject their corrosion into anyone unlucky enough to fall into them. 

Henri Rousseau

But although many years had passed since Salida had taken this path, he seemed to instinctively know each kink through the trees. He even found a small wooden bridge. After leaving the city with the small light afforded by flicking strip lights, they plunged into a teeming darkness where webs and creepers brushed their face. They put on the infra red goggles of the kind Moriarty had used years earlier in the Falklands War and the trees were transformed into quivering white mushrooms glowering out of a fuzzy green backdrop.

For two hours they negotiated the vines and thickness of the forest, feeling the sweat gathering on their bodies even in the early hours, brushing off hairy spiders and other nefarious creatures with their gloved hands. Then unexpectedly the trees petered out and they found themselves on a scrubby plain that crunched under foot. 

The early momentum was fading. Fighting through the thickness of the jungle had sapped their energy but the trees had protected them from the realities of a war torn country. Here they were in open ground and exposed with just the darkness to protect them. And a small milky light over the distant eastern mountains shone like a warning of time running out.

After stumbling over roots the party made quick progress across the open ground but stopped abruptly when a huge metal object reared up from the grass.

“Down” hissed Moriarty.

In front of them the gun of a tank had risen up against the sky. They lay embedded in the grasslands but there was no movement. Salida inched around to the right and finally stood up and gave them the all clear to move. The back of the turret had been blasted off and the tank still gave off a sharp tang of seared metal.

“If there’s a tank here we need to be aware of other hazards,” said Moriarty.

“Check the ground carefully,” said Michael.

His advice was cut short by small scream to his left. Moriarty made out Rebecca in his night vision goggles, an arm raised desperately in the air.

“What is it?” he said, moving quickly toward her. He felt something desperate in her manner and thought of the night in the cabin before he reached her.

“Look. I don’t know I stepped on something. There was a click.”

Moriarty breathed deeply.

“OK. You think it’s a landmine.”

“I think it’s a land mine.”

“You’re probably OK. That’s what happens in the movies. They click and when the pressure is removed they explode but that makes no sense. Actually you just step on them and they explode.”

“Right. I’m sure you’re right, but I’m not 100 percent,” she said, Her words were coming at him fast.

“I don’t want you to take the chance. Just stay there.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”


Moriarty got on his hands and knees and crawled toward her.

“Moriarty get back. I’ll take my foot off it. If it’s a mine there’s no point in both of us dying.”
“Don’t do anything,” replied Moriarty, an edge coming into his tone. “I’m coming to you. Don’t argue.”

He could see something metal gleaming under Rebecca’s left foot. Smooth and round. It could be ordinance. Moriarty was almost certain it wasn’t but the small margin for error was making him sweat. He got down under her boot. He could see an edge and something else; possibly writing.

“OK take your foot off it, Rebecca.”

“I shouldn’t jump as far as I can.”

“No. Just take your foot off it.”

There was no explosion or crunch of bone leaving tendon. Rebecca raised her long leg and Moriarty pulled a piece of metal from the ground and waved it in the air.

“You were right to be concerned. It’s diet Coke. Aspartame is a very dangerous additive,” he said.

The party giggled at the landmine scare but it made them think very carefully about their next step.

At 5 a.m. they found a dirt road. Salida paused. “It’s better to go across country but the light will catch us in open country. We should probably take the road but there may be government or rebel forces. If there are just one or two we take them out. If not we think of a Plan B fast,” he said.

By now a grey light was creeping over the land and it would be possible for a sentry to make out the party. Moriarty also knew war bred fatigue and complacency and it was common to see ragged bands of armed men roaming around. 

The low road took a straight path across the plain and disappeared over the ridge of a hill. An indistinctness glazed the hill that worried him slightly. The men could make out the black line of more trees beyond it. Salida said they were heading for the trees and had just a couple of miles to cover down the road, but they could be two dangerous miles out here in the open. 

Everywhere they saw tank tracks as well as other detritus of war such as abandoned carts and boots.

Salida stopped and looked at the tracks. “There was some heavy artillery here very recently,” he said. “And look at this.”

He picked up a dog tag and wiped off the mud. “This is from a soldier in the national army. If he lost his tag, he’s almost certainly dead.”

Half a mile down the road they stopped where a maelstrom of tracks and marks in the mud seemed to indicate a frenzied event that was out of the ordinary. Then they heard a distant muffled noise, a “bop, bop, bop” low against the hulls.

“Gunfire,” said Moriarty. “I would guess there’s a front line of sorts but it’s some distance from here.”

“Moriarty,” said Michael. He was pointing to a dark object by the road side.

They looked and saw what appeared to be a pile of old clothing. They looked more closely and saw teeth.  His eyes were as vacant and as white as the sky above the mountains and his body was kinked and convulsed. He was not much older than 15 but a rifle lay useless next to him in the road. Someone emitted a sharp gasp when they saw the lower half of his legs were blown, mutilated and bled into a sump of blood that had filled a ditch by the side of the road.

Moriarty felt Rebecca’s hand touching his arm lightly. “Moriarty. He’s alive.”

The boy had moved his position. Moriarty remained silent, but Rebecca saw his expression and understood they could do nothing. The boy was far beyond the help of armies now. Moriarty put his water bottle on his mouth. He wasn’t sure but thought he made out a flicker of 
recognition as much of the water flowed away down his chin to join the rivulets of blood.

They walked on in silence after seeing the boy. Half an hour later a pall of dark smoke coiled its way across the path. Moriarty remembered the haziness he had noticed earlier. They  smelled a terrible rottenness like a stench from the core of the earth. On the plain to the north of them a large mound rose from the scorched grass and smoke drifted from its innards. The path wound ever closer to it and although they could see no soldiers around, they dreaded every step forward. 

Finally the details became apparent. They made our forms, now grotesque and scarecrow-like, bloated and mutilated, abject hands and scraps of uniform. Moriarty felt a low clanging inside of him. He had guessed from half a mile away but he knew from the low sob that emanated from Rebecca she had only just realized. 

The bodies of the defeated burned up there high above the path. They didn’t know if they were government troops or rebels or if they died on the field of battle or were rounded up and executed later. Moriarty ignored Rebecca’s instructions back on the boat. He threw his arm around her and turned her face away from the pyre. He felt the sobs wrack through her and she fell slightly and leaned on him. Only when they had rounded a corner and were back in the trees did she move from his grip but it was less defiant than hopeless. He felt they were circling the very heart of the darkness.

It was light by the time they found a concrete house hidden by trees on three sides with a long dirt track that connected it to the outside world on the other. This was the home of Mariba, Andy Salida’s cousin and they place where they would recuperate before setting out on the next leg of their journey.

Mariba was a sad eyed woman who confirmed the war had come very close. Two days ago there had been a battle down on plain. She had hid in the forest with her children while rebel forces ransacked her home. But while the rebels had been firing their guns into the trees and shouting victory songs, they had been ambushed by government soldiers on the plain. Many people had died on both sides but the rebels had been driven back and their bodies littered the battlefields.

“We saw many bodies burning down there,” said Salida. “Were they the rebels?”

“Who knows?” the woman replied with a long sigh. “Just the dead. So many dead. And Marcel went to fight the rebels but never came back.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wildest Moments Blogfest - How I walked the line

In a rather wild moment I entered the Wildest Moments blogfest thingy hosted by Sharon Baylis and promptly forgot about it because I was too busy doing clinically unwild things like shopping for nasal decongestants at Walgreens.

Those harried and semi-delusional bunch of souls who still read my blog (bless ya) may be aware there is nothing wild about Walgreens, although there is a strange Walgreens phenomenon that means you see a Walgreens every 20 seconds when driving, unless you are actually seeking one, in which case it takes hours to find one. Walgreen isn't wild in itself but, at least in my town, RiteAid is rather wild.

Finding a wild experience that I can also write about here is something of a challenge. If we are talking hardcore danger it would probably be the time I asked a cashier at Wal-Mart if she could change $5.

I have done some wild things careerwise, although some would describe them as foolhardy - like giving up my kick ass job in the heart of London to become unemployed in North Carolina (yeah that was a trip).

I did most of my most wild and dangerous things I when I was a teenager, as good as age as any other to be wild. Not that I inhaled. Danger, by its inherent nature carries risk. But without danger there would be no safety. Without danger we would die of boredom just as we would surely not appreciate peace without war, although this leads me to ask myself would we need to appreciate peace then because it wouldn't be peace it would just be like normal, wouldn't it?

I digress. When I was young I was attracted to railways (translated as railroads in the US). For a while this was a relatively safe thing. You can't do much damage by running a train set, although those 47 model diesels in the fetching yellow and blue livery of British Rail, can cut a large hole in the pocket of a teenager.

Soon we moved on to more dangerous things like walking the tracks and dodging trains. If my friends had been better versed in any other subject than where to get cigarettes and which girls had the biggest breasts in our class, they would have christened me Johnny Cash, I walked the line so much.

Trains in Britain weren't like the slow moving beasts in the US. There were fast InterCity services that would appear from nowhere and hurtle by at at least 100 mph.

Still we'd crawl through a hole in the fence and walk up and down the line at Randwick Park in the twilight. When the lines started to rattle and hum like Bono's leather pants, we'd dive down an embankment as the aluminium wheels swished by above our heads. Train jumping was a big adrenaline rush, particularly as we never knew what kind of bush we would end up in and whether it would be full of thorns. There was the added thrill of knowing we could break a leg.

It all went wrong on one terrifying occasion when three of us where nonchantly walking down the line when we heard a shout. We looked behind us and a small local train had crept up behind us and was just feet away. Andy and I dived down a bank. Steve wasn't so lucky. He fell to the tracks and as we heard the swishing sound we wondered if he'd be electrocuted, although the lines did not appear to be electrified.

The train passed right over his body and we lay there horrified. For what seemed like hours, but was only minutes carriages swish swished over his body. When the train had gone, we clambered up the bank to where Steve's body was on the tracks. We expected a mess of pulpy blood, but we just saw his dark coat. Then miraculously Steve got to his feet. The train had passed directly over his body as he lay between the tracks.

Don't try this at home kids.

After the aforementioned incident we were more cautious about the tracks, although we hung out on the side of the rail bridge where it passed over the high street. One night a man came into the yard of his home close to the tracks and started yelling and shining a flashlight. The excitement of the escape made the incident worthwhile even though we could have been trapped on the bridge by an oncoming train.

Soon after that some kind of sensible gene kicked in and we decided to instead get our kicks from train mooning.

Later that summer we turned our attention to the golden fields of corn and a game that involved digging great burrows in the corn, while the farmer tried to cut us to pieces with his tractor and its vicious blades.

All sorts of smug people in business have since told me I need to be a risk taker to get anywhere. But frankly I can't see how walking down the railroad or burrowing through wheat was really progressive in any way, shape or form.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

From Gary Glitter to Emu - The stars of the Seventies turn out to be perverts

There's a novel I read some time ago that I can't recall too well but it involved a girl with a traumatic upbringing. The narrative gradually unfolds and she realizes piece by piece that she was forced to live in a rabbit hutch as a kid. But she had blanked it the memory until it came back to her.

I'm happy to say nothing quite as traumatic happened to me, but my cosy notions of childhood are slowly unravelling piece by piece with every headline.

The Seventies in England were an austere and joyless era of soup and white bread in which pasta was a luxury. You needed a bit of glitter to get you through; you needed to watch men in platform shoes and big hair. Like Gary Glitter. Except you didn't in any way need Gary Glitter.

Glitter (real name Paul Gadd) was convicted of possession of child pornography in 1999 and later of child molestation in Vietnam. He was recently rearrested as police looked into the activities of the late Sir Jimmy Saville.

I have blogged about Sir Jimmy before. It now seems the zany DJ, who later became an establishment figure, friend of Royalty ad charity fundraiser with access to secure hospital units was one of Britain's worst paedophiles.

Yet by the day more establishment figures from the 1970s are being outed as paedos and perverts. Sir Cyril Smith, a 200 pound plus former Member of Parliament who my parents always joked fondly about, is the subject of numerous allegations claiming he abused boys. The local police had a dossier but conveniently failed to act on it at a time when Smith was pivotal to the balance of power in a new government. It seemed the MP who died in 2010 was an overweight bully who preyed on boys.

The allegations about Leonard Rossiter, although less damning bothered me greatly, because Rossiter was a rare comedic genius who lit up the living room when the crackling television in the corner was often the only bright spot on those cold nights in the 1970s when my parents couldn't afford central heating. Admittedly the influence of the Fall and Rise of Reggie Perrin was not all positive. After watching the comedy I could never meet a mother in law again without the obtrusive mental image of a hippo at the watering hole.

The Daily Mail headline screamed: "Now Screen Legend Leonard Rossiter is accused of performing a sex act while watching three BBC staff try to rape 18-year-old TV extra."

The investigation into BBC linked perversion has also led to the arrests of individuals still living, a more delicate area as they as still alive and can, therefore, sue.

Over on ITV presenter Philip Schofield rather cleverly presented the Prime Minister with a list of alleged paedos he had gleaned from the internet, and unwittingly flashed the names in front of the cameras on live TV.

The Comedian Freddie Strarr - who should be arrested for crimes against comedy if nothing else - is under investigation following allegations from a woman that he abuse her in Saville's dressing room.

And the DJ Dave Lee Travis, whose shows kept Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, upbeat during her detention, was also arrested by detectives. Dave, known back in the day as the "hairy cornflake" gave an interview saying "us guys who are a bit older are tactile."

It seems even hand puppets are being outed as perverts. Saturdays simply weren't Saturdays without Rod Hull and Emu, even though they were an annoying duo.

Now in a new biography the ex darts player, Eric Bristow, who is admittedly seeking publicity, told the Sun, Hull was a pervert.

"He used the puppet to feel up women and stick his hand between people's legs. It was out of order," said Bristow, who went on to launch into a diatribe about how he would knock him out cold on live TV if his "f..... silly bird" came anywhere near him.

Hull drew 11 million viewers at the peak of his fame with his show. He died penniless in 1999 after he fell off a roof during a botched repair.

For me the news Emu was a pervert is the last straw. I'm getting nervous to even check out British news sites now because I'm scared I'm going to find out Basil Brush took part in orgies or Dougal and the Magic Roundabout was really about pot smoking, although come to think of it, it was wasn't it?

Don't forget the Wildest Moments bloghop is coming up. All you have to do is write about something really wild - or at least more wild than that time you had two lemonade shandies on an empty stomach.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wordless Wednesday : Fall in Newport News Park

This one's truly wordless because I'm out of time and out of puff...


Pictures David Macaulay