Alan had been irritable again all day. He put it down to the heat. July always made him tired. This afternoon he hadn’t been able to think straight for more than a few seconds. The office was simmering with tension. Behind him Jenny pulled a beaker from the stack and the water dispenser gurgled loudly for the hundredth time. Closing his eyes he pursed his lips and blew.
“That’s a big sigh Alan.” Ignoring her, he rubbed circles on the nape of his neck over a tense muscular ache. Suddenly he flung his pens into the drawer and pushed the lock. As he shut down his PC he called out to anyone listening, “If Gary calls about that contract again, tell him I’ve fucking died...” Alan had been acting strangely for weeks.
Thumbing the car window let in a scorching blast of July. He touched the knot in his neck again as he swung into the early rush-hour. If pressed later, he would have been unable to recall the ten-mile drive.
Someone had painted his garage door dark green. It was a furnace inside. He peeled off his shirt in the kitchen and dropped it. Tugging the refrigerator door brought delicious cool waves over his glistening chest. With deep concentration he chose a Diet Coke. Cold vapour spilled from the open fridge as he snapped the ringpull and drank.
Suffocating air filled the house. Alan climbed the stairs to his bedroom, leaning heavily on the rail. The curtains were closed and the window open yet the bedroom was an oven. Flinging his jeans into a corner he flopped onto the bed panting from the exertion. Eventually he slept.
Tail aloft, a pretty black cat stole silently into her master's bedroom. She crouched briefly then sprang noiselessly onto the bed. It was empty. Sheba smelt his sweat on the crumpled sheet and stretched out to wait.
At 7:00 am the radio came alive: “Eye witnesses report a giant orange V-shape in the night sky...” Alan heard this and snapped awake. Total paralysis gripped him, movement was impossible. “The Military is studying home-video footage of the craft, said to be longer than a football field...”
“...made no noise, while others reported a faint hum and a smell like electrical burning.” White hot pain stabbed through his head. His eyes followed the slow rotation of the ceiling fan. Sheba crept close and sniffed his face.
Blood trickled from his ears. There was something prickling in his neck...
"He buzzes like a fridge
He's like a de-tuned radio."
Radiohead - Karma Police
30 June 2005
28 June 2005
This is my favourite dictionary. My infuriating eye for detail compels me to tell you it weighs in at sixteen pounds and has 450,000 definitions. If it isn’t in here, it hasn’t been coined. Sometimes the words tumble over each other in their excitement to get out, at others they must be coaxed gently...
Writing scares me. I fear the blank page and the blinking cursor so I am forever noting interesting potential titles and preparing subject matter. A tall glass of ice-cold Diet Coke, beaded with condensation sits at my side as I trawl my list. Music off to permit total concentration. If the family is in I wear tight elbow/forearm support against my dreaded RSI and type, if they’re out I plug in the mic and speak aloud and freely to the PC.
Ready, steady go...
Once I thought more words made better sense. Now I understand they only confuse. The clever trick is to make your point using the fewest words possible. I can’t banish adjectives and adverbs entirely from my page, so I try to choose them carefully. A noun improves with qualification but becomes muddy with an adjectival clause. A verb is perhaps not the right verb if it requires an adverb.
An image forms in my mind, part of a story I want to tell. I want to describe the view so the reader sees it too. I Imagine videotape rolling, describe exactly what I see, especially the trivial and keep to the plot. Painting a picture with words that approach the subject from an unusual angle can make it spring off the page in colour.
I select a recent photograph (from the five or six I take every day) relevant to my thoughts. Next I define the limits of my subject. Now I plot a beginning, a middle and an end. Finally I am ready to write. The shorter the better, a reader will grow bored after a thousand words. I dream up enough phrases to attract attention but hold some back. Over-egg the cake, and that rich diet makes everyone bilious. The best results come quickly and without effort. No good hurrying the words, the harder you chase them around your head the deeper they hide.
Kill the PC, slip on my trainers and take a walk. I pick up my MP3 player on the way out, press in the ear-buds and scroll through four hundred albums. ‘Kaiser Chiefs’ will do today. Listen hard to the lyrics (don’t forget I need a lyric quote for my blog too.) Today’s words will emerge later, when I have stopped thinking so hard and the coast is clear.
Middle-aged forgetfulness often robs me of my best, most startling thoughts. Now I know I must snatch them from the space between eyes and screen and commit them to Word© before they are lost forever. Spell-check, proof read etc... I want beautiful prose, deep thinking and iron-clad, copper-bottomed accuracy. Mostly I fall short of my aspirations. I pour another impossibly tall glass of ice-cold Diet Coke.
I am a true Virgo, demanding perfection in myself as well as others. I keep writing and refuse to admit I am human...
"I know, I feel it in my bones,
I'm sick, I'm tired of staying in control."
Kaiser Chiefs - Everyday I Love You Less and Less
25 June 2005
I started riding motorcycles in 1979. I rode three hundred and sixty five days a year, rain or shine. My fingers turned yellow with poor circulation. Everywhere I went I arrived cold, wet and asking for somewhere to hang my leathers. We did the weekly shop by bike and rode the bus when we took the kids out. Finally in 1987 I succumbed to the inevitable pull of four wheels and a roof. I sold my last bike, a Yamaha XS750 and bought a Ford Cortina.
Eighteen years later I am hopping nervously from one foot to the other in a Yamaha Dealership. The guy says I can test ride the FZ6 just by showing him my licence! Thank fuck I passed my test in’79. Nowadays it’s all Compulsory Basic Training, Practice and Theory and wiggling between traffic cones. Even if you pass they make you ride a miniature sewing machine for two years!
Slinging my leg over the seat I start to feel apprehensive, Eighteen years off a bike is a long time. These things go like rocket-ships now don’t they? What if I’ve lost my nerve? The guy thumbs the starter for me and the four-stroke burbles.
“It’s running in, keep it below 5,000rpm.” He advises. “See you in an hour!
I peer at the dial, hell this baby sings all the way to 14,000rpm!
With just a touch too much throttle and a precautionary glance over my shoulder I pull out onto the highway. For ten minutes I snake through a deserted industrial estate, familiarising myself with balance, weight and power at low speeds. This is all coming back to me...
Now I take to the main roads again. Two gear changes and its pulling seventy mph. I ease off for a roundabout and take it like a chicane, flick left, right then left and accelerate hard. I feel the old familiar buffeting of the wind and tears streak from the corners of my eyes. God this is fun!
Back to residential streets and I zip around the houses feeling the brakes and suspension working. After half an hour my gear changes are quite smooth and I’m at home again. Yep, I’m sold. This one’s for me.
That was two weeks ago. Right now a spanking new example sits in my garage. Nice new leathers, crash helmet and gloves too.
For the technical this is a 600cc four-cylinder fuel-injected, four stroke. Liquid cooling makes it nice and quiet and its fat 180mm rear tyre sticks to the road like glue. 98bhp and six gears haul it from 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds. Disc brakes all round stop it from 130mph on a sixpence (dime.)
I’m gonna be a fair weather weekend rider. Sure I’ll slide a knee on the road for fast, tight corners that’s what you do! But I know I’m mortal and I have no plans to bring forward my departure date! I intend to have some fast(-ish) safe fun. Twenty years ago I had a huge ‘off’ which put me in hospital so I know the limits.
This is an old interest rekindled, a link to some good memories and happy times. I believe this is a good move for me. I have music and now I have a bike. Life is getting richer and fuller. Not a cheap investment at all but add up what a drinker spends. In a future post I’ll explain how I saved a small fortune in the last eleven years by quitting booze.
21 June 2005
Part One: Today I know there is no point to anything. Nothing I have ever done was worthwhile. I am incapable of accomplishing the simplest task to my satisfaction. Future days bring hell. I can never make myself understood. My worth is approaching zero. A glance in the mirror reveals the face of an idiot. I am my own harshest critic. A forty seven year old man speaking like an eight year old child...
Fifteen years ago I admitted defeat. My doctor prescribed Temazepam and Lofepramine. I systematically reject most offers of help and so of course I rejected these. The addictive properties of anti-depressants did not make sense to me. Detect the faint whiff of burning martyr? Yep, right on. I asked for help and when it was offered I turned my back. All I accepted was a sick note for work. I declined to talk to any form of counsel...
I am independent to the point of stupidity. I would perform my own dentistry if I knew where to buy novocaine. I don’t need help. I told the world to fuck off and I shuffled backwards into a shell of denial and misery. I lost friends. Who needs friends when you have misery to enjoy?
Part Two: I’m a lucky guy. The sun is burning my neck from high in the sweetest, bluest sky ever. I have two supportive sons and my wife, enough money and independence to indulge my passions to excess and a lovely house. I have the electronic gadgets I need and some I don’t. I am blessed with a loyal best friend.
I am free of addiction and I have reached middle age without losing any limbs. I have all my own teeth and a few remaining hairs. I have friends in the blog world. My corporate employer has yet again reached the point in the business cycle where they might consider paying off a load of old-timers. Just gimme that cheque...
Part Three: Which one is the real me? You know the answer, both are me yet both are faulty. Monday I am so pissed-off I can barely mutter a greeting to anyone. I want to hurl out all my prized possessions. Tuesday I listen to the best music ever driving with the windows down, write beautiful words and smell the sweet mown grass in my garden.
I am good at swooping from euphoria to misery, often within hours. I like the way I am. I don’t pretend to be anything I am not. Work colleagues think I’m unfathomable, I talk in riddles and appear aloof. Stuff ‘em, I know which people I value, they are right here.
And just when you think you know someone they unload all this... No, now I think about it you guys all read between the lines anyway.
"I’ve got a little black book with my poems in."Pink Floyd – Nobody Home
I scribbled this several months ago and some will already have seen it. I was inspired by the sights and sounds of a recent long day out in London. Always impressive yet still good to get home...
Pitch black lark calls, buttered toast with blackest coffee
Drying roads and pale blue skies call strangers to the smoke
Limo ditched at regal Kew and silver tube to town
Riding grey steel rails we are ticket-holding folk.
Vaulted halls hold timeless works of brush and oil
A nation’s treasures staring back with tired eyes
Guards of ancient age asleep by priceless charge
Room by giant room we mark them off, each prize.
Heavy surge of grey and green slides under famous bridge
Bobbing craft ply upstream against its mighty weight
Then turn and race the homeward leg with ease
Pavements mirror skies as dark as grey wet slate.
A pin-stripe holds his lunch in tiny carrier bags
Power-dressing blonde clicks by in tall black heels
White beard tinged with yellow smoke stares as
Rider swoops through red lights, locks his wheels.
Canary Wharf recalls the days of cutters hauling loads
Of ginger spice from islands never seen
No dockers carry barrels now but still the traders profit
Their wares remain unseen except on screen.
Isle of Dogs now glitters, a city of glass and steel
Half a million souls at work from fifty storeys high
Peering over Limehouse Reach or gazing over Greenwich
So far over London that I think a man could fly.
Eyes smarting from the wind, feet numb tired and sore
So Hampshire seems a better place to spend the evening hours
Say farewell to crowded roads and streets of shabby style
A shire boy has had enough today of spires and towers.
"London calling at the top of the dial,
After all this won't you give me a smile?"
The Clash - London Calling
19 June 2005
17 June 2005
“I once called you my friend, now I'm stumblin' once again
I'm slurrin' words & bustin' bottles over the heads of saints.
I know it's been so long, but I still see you when your gone
I still feel the weight of that look upon your face almost every day.”
Slobberbone – Stumblin’
15 June 2005
Normally I avoid these questionaires but when the sender is none other than Doughgirl how can I possibly refuse? I wouldn't dream of disclosing all this stuff to anyone else you know!
What time did you get up this morning? – 07:02 (approximately!)
Diamonds or pearls? – diamonds to give as a present
What was the last film you saw at the cinema? – Jurassic Park! (watching DVDs on the big TV is better than any cinema)
What is your favourite TV show? – Cracker/1990s (I've now almost stopped watching TV)
What is your middle name? – Francis
What is your favorite cuisine? – anything vegetarian
What foods do you dislike? – but not beetroot or celery
What is your favourite crisp/chip flavour? – salt and vinegar
What is your favourite CD at the moment? – it's still Green Day/American Idiot
What is your favorite song? – of all time its The Libertines/Time for Heroes (2003)
What kind of vehicle do you drive? – Ford Mondeo (old and black/green)
What is your favourite sandwich? – grated cheese and tomato
What characteristics do you despise? – arrogance, selfishness
What is your favourite item of clothing? – my leather jacket
If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would you go? – Alaska
What colour is your bathroom? – white, black and grey
What colour pants are you wearing? – long grey bermuda shorts
Where would you retire? – Mars (or anywhere with no people - but internet access!)
What is your favourite time of the day? – twilight
Most memorable birthday? – I ignore my birthday
What's the last thing you ate? – cheese omelette
If you were a crayon, what color would you be? – black
What is your favorite cartoon character? – Bart
What is your favorite flower? – tulip
What fabric detergent do you use? – Surf
Coke or Pepsi? – Coke
Do you wish on stars? – no but I do wish
What is your shoe size? – UK12
Do you have any pets? – Smartie the new kitten
Last person you talked to on the phone? – my friend
What did you want to be when you were little? – grown up
What are you meant to be doing now? – nothing at all. I have a free evening
What do you first notice about someone? – eyes, beyond any shadow of doubt
What was your favourite toy as a child? – I had none that I remember
Summer or winter? – winter (colder and darker the better)
Hugs or Kisses? – hugs. Long and tight
Chocolate or vanilla? - chocolate
Living arrangements? – married with 2 grown up sons, 1 still using this hotel
What is under your bed? – a very narrow gap
In how many cities have you lived? – Poole, Bournemouth, Truro, Southampton
Favourite movie of all time? – Memento
Mountains or beach? – mountains
Full names of your potential kids? – grown up and planning their own kids
What is your usual bedtime? – 22:46 (approximately!)
Now you know just a tiny fraction more about me.
12 June 2005
After the Slaughter of Mary Jane Kelly:
This is my guess at the events following a savage episode. I post it because I have always felt overwhelming sadness for Mary Jane. She drifted into the wrong place at the wrong time. I have not posted a picture today but if you would like to see photographs of the Kelly crime scene then visit this page of the Ripper Casebook. Be warned, a couple of the photos are very grisly. The Casebook website holds all documented facts, reports, statements and photographs together with a wealth of other information on the Whitechapel Murders.
Whitechapel 9th November 1888
The empty, broken corpse of an Irish rose lies on grey sheets drenched in its own blood. The radiant beauty of youth hacked away, leaving in its place a carcase devoid of organs and a face stripped of identity. Exhausted and stripped to the waist, he stands tall and stares at the carnage in a detached way. The embers of her open fire still light up the horror but already his fury has waned. He picks his great coat from the floor then rolls his knife in a rag and stows it in the pocket.
As he crouches and stokes the embers he hears the creak of floorboards above. Sweat runs on his face but he pulls on the coat, covering his slick body. He thumbs the door latch off, clicks the door softly shut behind him and slips into the early morning dark.
He takes care, turning up his sticky collar. Even at this hour Londoners are about their business. Pools of dim gaslight illuminate street corners but the narrow lanes are black and safe. Head down, he passes a group of lurching revellers, hats askew and bumping walls in a passage. Moving south from Whitechapel Road he mixes with the first dockers but turns east at Wapping. He runs through dark alleys in shadow, fleeing the devastation his hands have wrought.
After a mile he slows his pace and stops to lean on a wall. Nausea overwhelms him as usual. Soon he will put great distance between himself and the Inspector’s inquiries but first he must sleep. In the corner of a dark yard he curls on the cobbles and shuts his eyes for an hour.
Morning reveals a cold grey mist settled over the hulking iron steamers in St Katherine’s Dock. Already, emigrant passengers are filing nervously over the gangway, shifting heavy cases from one hand to the other. Amid the clangs and shouts a tall man passes onto the upper deck, almost unremarkable save for the streak of blood behind his ear. He sits on deck and looks back at the City.
How easy to have tied a sack of rocks to his ankle and jumped from Westminster Bridge in the night, to have sunk into the icy brown Thames and ended this. But his wretched cowardice had spurned that solution long ago. Bile rises in his throat as he remembers her whimpering pleas for mercy.
A shudder in the ship’s timbers tells him the steamer is moving. As she turns in the basin her deep horn bellows over the East End. The echoes cannon off warehouses and ring across open water, yet even as they subside his keen senses catch the shrill persistence of a Metropolitan police whistle announcing a dread discovery. Too late. In two weeks he will be just one more unknown strolling through New York with a knife in his pocket. .
"A nuclear error but I have no fear
London is drowning and I live by the river."
The Clash - London Calling
10 June 2005
07 June 2005
Intermission time. Let's take a break from the intensity. Here are my latest Internet deliveries:
The Lost Highway - directed by David Lynch.
In the opening scene the central character listens to a message through his house entry phone. In the closing scene he is outside speaking the same message into the entry system. We are shown a series of incidents that seem to be related yet probably are not. Video footage is shot by an unseen intruder from an impossibly high vantage point which adds to the feeling of unreality.
The film’s success lies in its creation of a dreamlike atmosphere. The characters talk in very basic dialogue as if sleep-walking and the action is sometimes in slow-motion at others high speed. Ultimately this fascinating piece of cinema, shot in the style of a ‘film noir,’ defies strict interpretation. It explores schizophrenia and identity. We might be learning about a couple who smash a snuff video ring or it might just be a dream about paranoia.
Weezer - Make Believe
If you are expecting more songs like the current single Beverly Hills you’ll be disappointed. Instead the punk pop four-piece from LA deliver a convincing collection second only to the Green Album. Lyrics developed with the wisdom of age, melodies to lift the heart and lush, layered vocals over dirty power chords. Minor key choruses give that all important dash of melancholy. I’m forty seven going on seventeen!
Oasis – Don’t Believe the Truth
At last an Oasis album that can seriously claim to hold a candle to the great (Whats the Story) Morning Glory? Most noticeable is Liam’s voice, which has recovered from the gravelly dirge of recent years to the youthful energy and range of those early days. Song-writing duties are shared among the new band and the variety shines through. But Noel’s efforts are just too good to be overshadowed, a writer of such simple yet effective songs.
Turin Brakes – Jackinabox
The Optimist might just have been the only good set of songs these guys had in them. I feared they would sink without trace along with their pale imitation second album. Jackinabox is a rebirth with genuinely fresh material but all the quiet easy charm of old. Trademark harmonies soar over slide acoustic guitar and deft sticks. Saw these guys supporting Stereophonics at Southampton Guildhall four years ago, now they headline Brixton Academy.
(Where have bands like Smashing Pumpkins gone?)
"Today is the greatest day I've ever known
Can't live for tomorrow, tomorrow's much too long."
Smashing Pumpkins – Today
05 June 2005
Here I was about 23.
I meant this poem to be about growing up. I originally posted it several months ago, before I had readers! It probably deserves another airing.
Let Loose in '57
Churchill breathed and barbers' poles
Were red and white back then.
We warmed our bones with smoky coals
When I was under ten.
Sport was hard and fast but fair,
Our heroes cheap and clean.
Life was sweet and kind to all
When I reached middle teens.
The girls I knew wore candy stripes
And boys smoked Number 10s.
A Ford Capri drew looks of envy
Punk was light years off.
Beer was warm in dimpled glasses
Summer skies were blue.
Platform boots made men of boys,
Starman was fifteen too.
Special Brew fucked all the years
From then til ’93.
That’s twenty winters cold and numb
Before It shook me free.
Can’t remember summers’ days that
Should’ve been golden heaven.
But that’s the price I guess I pay,
Let loose in ’57.
03 June 2005
Mother, daughter or wife you die a hard death alone.
Motionless on her side. Unblinking eyes turned to the cold wall. A white coat pauses at the foot of her bed, studies her chart but won’t look at her. Turning, heels click away on the polished floor. Laughter rings out in a corridor full of warm lunch smells.
Cannot breathe, cannot call for help. There can be no help now anyway. Too tired to cry and too old to care. Starched white sheets are cold. Bitter taste and dry lips. Wallpaper pattern could be a face or a map. A familiar face, a country. The monitor bleeps slowly.
Blue blouse wheels in a trolley. Leaves it in a corner, fresh bed linen piled high, ready. Flowers in the window. Outside airbrakes powerful hiss. Heartbeat, twitch, breathe, try...
01 June 2005
Remember glam rock? Mott the Hoople were at the vanguard of the movement in the early seventies. Not so much glam as a stepping stone between rock and punk they had massive singles success notably with the Bowie penned “All the Young Dudes". Led by charismatic Dylan-voiced Ian Hunter they played notoriously raucous gigs. I was lucky enough to see them at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens in 1973 as a sixteen year old. Support that night came from four university types calling themselves Queen.
Fast forward thirty two years to The Brook in Southampton and a stage the size of a back bedroom bristling with the hardware of a touring rock band - a few square inches of floor bathed in blue light waiting between the amps for rock n’ roll feet. As is customary the support slot went to the England based Tracie Hunter Band, Ian’s daughter. Best I’ve heard her tight rock outfit play. She’s a chip off the old block, big lungs and plenty of rock snarl.
The main attraction strolled on at 9:15 to riotous applause. Gone now are the heady days of glam and the optimism of youth but still present are the flowing ginger locks, dynamic stage presence and killer rock songs. Now an American citizen, Ian Hunter took the tiny stage with his six-piece American band. This miniature venue is a far cry from the great halls of the seventies but the house was packed with fans every bit as fervent. Drums hammered, bass boomed, piano rocked and those Les Paul guitars just screamed. “It’s a mighty long way down rock and roll...”
Aged sixty five, skinny as a rake and rock n’ roll through and through, Ian put his heart and soul into twenty one songs featuring his best solo material, all the Mott standards and a few album track rarities. Two hours of pure nostalgia. What more could you ask for? Crashing through “Once Bitten Twice Shy” then raising the roof with “All the Way From Memphis.” We five hundred middle-agers enjoyed a sweaty evening of honest rock n’ roll from the master. Cameras popped the whole time recording this most grossly under-estimated of British songwriters.
Mick Ralphs, formerly of Mott the Hoople and later of Bad Company took the stage with the band for the five-song encore, as did daughter Tracie. This was an intimate experience where we could reach out and touch this icon of rock and feel the noise pounding through our bodies. Rock on Ian, we love you man!
1. Hymn for the Dudes
2. Lounge Lizard
3. Once Bitten Twice Shy
4. Twisted Steel
5. Resurrection Mary
6. Wash us Away
7. Knees of My Heart
8. 23a Swan Hill
9. The Outsider
10. I Wish I Was Your Mother
11. All American Alien Boy
12. Restless Youth
14. Dead Man Walking
15. All the Way From Memphis
16. Just Another Night
17. Blues Jam
18. Roll Away the Stone
19. The Saturday Gigs
20. All the Young Dudes
21. A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square
"No matter if fools say we can't win
I know I'll fall in love again."
Mott the Hoople - Roll Away the Stone