Thursday, 17 December 2015

My 5 Favourite Reads of 2015

It's been a good year for reading, which isn't always the case, especially to judge by an uninvolving Man booker shortlist this year, though I have bought the Booker winner though that one will be a read for 2016.

I read 33 books this year, including one friend's, one author I started following on Twitter without making the connection to his book that had made it into my TBR pile, 3 works of non-fiction and one large 500 page tome I hope to finish before the year end which had I have completed it in time, might have squeezed into my list here - 
even if it did make the shortlist for bad sex in literature award this year. 2015 was also the year I popped my David Foster Wallace cherry with a collection of his short stories, but it was an unsatisfying experience so as yet I'm no further inclined to tackle "The Infinite Jest".
Anyway, here's my top 5.


I've had a mixed relationship with the work of Dave Eggers. Sometimes his literary conceits work for me and sometimes they fall miserably flat. This was almost perfect satire from beginning to end. People talked up "Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookshop" which pitted the ancient book against the new online technology. I found that particular tome vapid, the characters uninvolving. For me Eggers was far more convincing in both spheres. I've heard criticism that the main character is two-dimensional and a mere mouthpiece for the points Eggers wants to get across about the menace of surrendering our lives to public scrutiny by putting ourselves body and soul online. But I found her slow grooming into the "Circle's" value system and global takeover ambitions rather nicely plotted and modulated. The Circle (Google/FB) is shown as a corporate cult, all its employees have to subscibe to the living tenets by which to organise their lives. Clever and spot on.

From my Goodreads review - A fiendishly brilliant satire on the way we as a society are a headed. If 1984 drops you right into an oppressive totalitarian regime, Eggers in this book takes you on the incremental journey how we end up there, not through brute force, but through technology. The oppressor is not the government, but a corporation who outflank the government and make it pay obeisance to them and their data and their surveillance; now politicians can be held accountable to their actions through transparency.


Where to start with this one? Other than to say I revelled in its irreverence. Irreverence towards the notion of story, of language, of everything we comfort ourselves by the notion of a novel. It reminded me of the detonations of language as Ben Marcus' "The Age Of Wire And String". I'll let part of my Goodreads review paint a picture - "This, my bedroom, with the stirrups, and the paneled bleachers stuffed overboard with chunky puppets. The men left encamped inside the father where he burst through all his horse suits like a dickface overall." The key word here, the perhaps lone orienting milepost, is 'stirrups', not in its equine sense, but in a gynecological one. For while I would never proffer the following as the definitive answer to what is the book about, I think this is a book from the fish-eye view of a foetus in the womb, peering out at the carnage and power relationships each time her parents have sex. The book is filled with slits and slots and stoma and a whole myriad of openings for gases, liquids and of course vision to squeeze through. And yes there is the implication of pedophilia too. The whole book reads like an assault, on the senses and the sensibilities, which is why one can never really recommend it, since not every reader is going to be comfortable with it. 

But I'm going to be contrary and recommend it now! For readers with fairly strong stomachs probably. 


I don't care what people say about Michel Houellebecq the man, but he is a top notch writer and thinker. Curmudgeon at best, misanthrope in the French tradition at worst, he shines a light upon the dreariness of human existence, but he always contextualises it in utterly recognisable ways and his political analysis through the pages is acute and forces the reader to think. No mean feat. This was his best yet, because it was a little less searing in its despair, yet his analysis of religion and race remain trenchant as ever. From my Goodreads review - For all the politics and philosophy and questing for purpose, what it all comes down to is the love of a good woman, or with Houellebecq's jaundiced view, the companionship of a good woman.


The book that was a long time in the making as apparently after his Booker nominated "C", he embarked on this but dumped it all in the bin and started afresh. I'm just going to reproduce a chunk of my review as it gives the picture of what the book is about and thereby its approach and form - A book about writing the great Pandect, the book about everything, 'to name our era, to sum it up'. Only of course this is an impossible task. The moment you make a decision what to start with, you exclude everything else and already have gone down a very singular, subjective track. The protagonist 'U' (echoes of Kafka's 'K'?) just about gets a title by the book's end. 

As McCarthy warns us early on, if you're in this for a story, you're in the wrong book. This is a montage, the remarkable application of mise en scene to a work of prose. So parachutes elide with jellyfish and oil spills with a metastatising tumour. U struggles to determine what is a genuine association from that which is synchronous or purely arbitrary. 

And why is he charged with this great feat? There are no more Renaissance Men, able to be learned in all branches of knowledge, yet international corporations put all manner of specialists on their payroll to feed into containing and predicting the commercial zeitgeist; U is an anthropologist, throwing ancient rites such as the death of a tribesman to herald the new year practised by the Vanuatuans with the waste landfill of Fresh Kills Staten island. 

Michel Faber is probably the supreme stylist writing today. His writing seems so effortless, whether a mammoth tome like this, a collection of short stories or a short novel like "The Courage Consort", the words are sheer perfection. This his latest opus, contains so many elements I shouldn't like, a book about quiet religious faith, the strains of a marital couple separated by distance and dwelling among aliens on their home planet. But this story is like a beautiful tapestry knitted together seamlessly that just aches with the humanity of its two main protagonists even while setting up an alien world of real imaginative interest. From my Goodreads review 

As close to a perfect read as I've ever come across.

A story that dissects a husband and wife's love so expertly.

A book that tears back the veil of communication and how double-edged it is and how easy to misinterpret meaning. 

A science fiction world that wears its inventiveness very lightly, yet somehow manages to authentically conjure up a truly alien sensibility. 

A novel about religious faith which I would normally run a million miles from rather than read and enjoy.


Monday, 14 December 2015

If Food Be The Music Of Love, Play On - 15 food songs

Food in songs, what could be more tasty a nugget than the 3-minute pop song to chew on? Sadly there doesn't seem to be any video of Cornershop's "Chicken In A Basket" as even they on their blog say they don't have the rights to the video, but we press on with other munchable classics. The Stranglers' "Peaches" doesn't count. Wrong sort of peaches...

1) "American Pie" - Don McLean
We'll start with the obvious one, the one that everyone could instantly come up with. Although the actual reference to the food item is pretty tenuous.

2) "Roast Fish And Cornbread" - Lee Scratch Perry
Sounds like it's been recorded in somebody's echoey bathroom, but that's perhaps it's genius.

3) "Cheeseburger" - Gang Of Four
I always thought this song was all over the place musically, not one of their best.

4) "Hot Burrito #1" - Flying Burrito Brothers
I'm not a fan of Country and Western, but let's face it, what other music genre is going to pen an ode to the mighty burrito? Certainly not Death metal that's for sure. And Wall of Voodoo wrote "Mexican Radio" but nothing to foodstuffs of the region...

5) Apples And Oranges" - Pink Floyd
Syd Barret Floyd with that delicious mix of pop sensibility with psychedelic off key distortion. Fruit loops.

6) "Eggs For Rib" - Cop Shoot Cop
And on the other end of the spectrum, post-punk/industrial bass heavy noise makers from New York. Don't be fooled by the quiet intro.

7) "Jumbalaya" - Carpenters
I dunno, something poignant about anorexic victim Karen Carpenter singing about a food dish.

8) "Fish Fry" - Big Black
Okay so the song doesn't really have much to do with the food, but then I don't eat fish fried or otherwise. You don't know where it's been. Well you do obviously, the sea, but I mean you don't know what's been in the sea.

9) "Toast" - Streetband
Do Americans have these one-off novelty hits in their music charts? Now it's all ringtones I suppose, so you don't get any of this nonsense, just "Crazy Frog".

10) "Hot Dog" - Led Zeppelin 
Call it heavy rock, call it rock and roll, this song quite clearly shows them to be 12 Bar Blues and Boogie. From the bayous of West Bromwich. Fancy that.

11) "Sixteen Saltines" - Jack White
Being British I didn't actually know what saltines were until I looked them up. What we call 'crackers' but that means something completely different in the U.S of A. This video is vaguely disturbing on a couple of levels. 

12) "Jerk Ribs" - Kelis
The bass is very catchy, more interesting than the song. Just my opinion like.

13) "Life Is A Minestrone" - 10 CC
Ah the 70s... Now you appreciate why punk had to come along and shake things up a bit. Life in London in 1977 was not a bowl of minestrone I can tell you...

14) "Beef" - Gary Clail and The On-U Sound System
Love this song although the remix isn't as sharp and tight a tune as the original album track, but you can't seem to track that original down any more.

15) "Pulling Mussels From A Shell"
Ah Squeeze, great subversive pop songs that ascended the charts, but yet responsible for unleashing Jools Holland on the world. Wins some lose some I guess. 

Saturday, 5 December 2015

I Vow To Thee My Country - That You Got It Badly Wrong

There's no doubting that the situation in Syria is immensely complicated. Two ex-members of the military who are Conservative MPs voted against their Party and opposed a bombing campaign of Syria. An ex-member of the military who is a Labour MP opposed his Party line and voted in favour of bombing. Perhaps the most telling individual vote was that of the Chair of the Parliamentary select committee on Foreign Affairs, Conservative MP John Baron, voted against bombing (as he did in the vote on bombing Libya).

You'd hope your delegated political representatives would have some handle on the intricacies. But in the recent day long Parliamentary debate and vote, the level of political and strategic analysis was in short supply, replaced by moral and emotional pleas on one side or the other. Or the debate was partly hijacked by the Prime Minister's rather inflammatory assertion that to vote against the proposed campaign equated you to a terrorist sympathiser and consequent demands by outraged MPs for him to apologise for such a statement.

But I'm going to try and pick the emotions and moral outrage out of the debate and offer some crystal clear rebuttals to the arguments made in favour of bombing Syria. Of course readers may not agree with either these arguments or the position to oppose bombing and that's fine. But I hope to show that that the points offered during that debate are not enough to clinch any argument.


The main argument was that bombing Syria increases the security on Britain's streets. Actually it does the very opposite. Those in Syria are not the threat to us here at home. Rather it is from UK citizens already living here. You may say that such homegrown terror is co-ordinated from Syria. But it doesn't have to be. Recently a fourteen year old boy from Blackburn was jailed for mentoring a would-be terrorist in Australia. The nature of global communications means you don't actually need a command and control centre to co-ordinate your terror campaign. Of the Paris terrorists, no more than two had returned from Syria. To fight for ISIS's cause does not entail seeing service or training in Iraq or Syria. There will not be ISIS fighters coming back from Syria at this point in time to perpetrate a terrorist act on British soil. If any potential UK terrorists have seen service there, they are already back in the UK (and you have to ask questions of our intelligence service as to how they have been able to sneak back in).

So the terror threat remains ever-present. Why therefore do I say that the vote for bombing makes the UK less secure? Look at the way Islamic terror operates. They cannot sustain a campaign against any single country. So there have been individual attacks in Canada, Australia, France, Lebanon, Turkey. And of course the Russian airliner shot down in Egypt, a very rapid response to Russian bombs falling on ISIS areas. In the case of the Western targets, each time their participation in the air war against Islamic State is cited as the reason. Terrorists want to send a message and with only one chance to do so (such is the nature of suicide missions) they have to stage what they see as a spectacular. By voting to bomb Syria, the UK has just placed itself in line for a similar response from ISIS and it supporters. Britain will need to be taught a lesson is the logic. Or the logic or reprisal. Terror acts in the UK have always been a possibility, but with this vote I believe it has now become an inevitability. Not just me either, for only today UK intelligence services report that the vote has increased the likelihood we would become a target. Have they only just realised that? Or did they they know this all the time but fail to inform the Prime Minister? Or maybe he just ignored that advice.

Ah but we are already fighting the Islamic State by bombing Iraq were some of the arguments advanced during the debate. For the sake of a few hundred yards across a border that ISIS has abolished what is the difference? Well seems to me you can't have it both ways, if you want to deny the legitimacy of ISIS and re-establish the territorial legitimacy of both Iraq and Syria, then you have to continue to recognise the integrity of those borders.

The next argument was that France has asked for us to step up to the plate and assist them in the light of the atrocities in Paris. Added to that is that the UN basically gave a green light to go to war on ISIS. The argument is advanced that we in Britain must not only support our friends and allies, but we cannot allow others to do the job of protecting us while we stand to the side doing nothing. And yet that is exactly what we and the whole of the West has been doing by allowing the Kurds to bear the entire burden of facing ISIS on the ground. Since ISIS' dramatic expansion of territory, we have apparently been perfectly happy to have others provide our protection and security, so that argument just does not hold water. Now there are perfectly strong reasons why Western troops should not be committed to Syria and Iraq, since that will just escalate everything in the region and provide a rallying call to the ISIS cause. But don't then posit that we take care of our own security.

Jumping in to the cause of our allies is hugely problematical as well. Since the collapse of Communism, NATO s no longer facing a united bloc of foes. I would argue that it has ceased to be of use, rather it increases the likelihood of war and conflict rather than head it off. An attack on one NATO country is deemed an attack on them all. If Francoise Hollande had called for NATO to attack ISIS for bombing Paris, we would have been duty bound. I find it significant that he didn't quite go that far, because he knew what it implied. You can argue that although Russia has been stripped of its former allies of the Eastern Bloc, it still remains a threat to the West as Putin continues to provoke by his actions. Yet NATO proved incapable of preventing Putin's actions in Ukraine, partly prompted by Ukraine's stated desire to turn away from Russia in favour of the EU and NATO. But the key to the NATO argument is the behaviour of NATO member Turkey. Turkey is following its own agenda in the region. It shot down a Russian fighter. Whether it was correct in law or not, if Turkey had declared itself under attack from Russia, again we would all have been duty bound to jump in and escalate hostilities well beyond the local militias and terrorist groups. Again you may argue that it was only the threat of NATO doing just this that prevented Russia from reacting more strongly to the downing of its fighter. And that may be true, but with Turkey being a loose canon, who is to say that it won't do something else that this time provokes irresistible response from Putin? Turkey also has been aiding ISIS fighters by providing sanctuary across its border and is almost certainly involved in ISIS's trade in oil and other assets that funds their State and continued military activities. Not a very united front or consistency of action on display from NATO here.

David Cameron asserted that there are some 70,000 anti-Assad rebels who could be used to fight ISIS on the ground. This is an utterly absurd notion and frankly a most worrying one if our Prime Minister has the level of understanding to believe this is gospel. Take a look of a map of the various forces in Syria courtesy of BBC

The rebel forces are nowhere near ISIS strongholds except in a couple of areas near Damascus. Plus they are solely concerned with fighting Assad's forces. They are not going to give up that primary aim to turn they efforts against ISIS, unless you first remove Assad and that doesn't seem to be happening any time soon. Also of those 70,000 troops, how many are Jihadists and Islamists? Do you really think the fighters of the Al-Nusra Front are people we want to be dealing with? They are extremists too. I'm curious whether there is any thinking about rewarding the Kurds with an independent Kurdistan as they have been calling and in some cases battling for for years prior to this particular conflict? How would that be received in Turkey I wonder? Turkey regards its Kurds as more of a threat to the state than ISIS

Which leads on to the wider question, of just what is the long-term vision for the area? We have been fed a few clues, that it wouldn't include Assad, that the Islamic State would be dismantled. And what territorial borders would be established? As with so many of the states created out of former Ottoman colonies, the borders created for the likes of Syria and Iraq are somewhat arbitrary and don't reflect the various tribal and ethnic divisions of the populations there. Also there are scant traditions of democracy in the region, so again, how does one go about establishing such a thing from so low a base? Hasn't worked in Libya, is clinging on by its fingertips in Afghanistan... Destroying the Caliphate, which seems to be the one thing all the allies have agreed on, will not remove the threat of islamic terrorism. Instead it will spread it like a virus. As said earlier, they do not need a command and control centre in a specified territorial space. After the insurgency in Iraq was supposedly put down, the insurgents just slipped away and returned to blend in with their fellow citizens until ISIS collected them altogether into a new menacing force. The same is likely to happen again. Also IS is just as much an idea, an aspiration as it is a territorial reality. If I can resort to a crassly inappropriate phrase, it is a genie free from its bottle never to be recaptured. A Caliphate functioning under Sharia law will remain an aspiration for many Muslims and next time it could be in Lebanon, or Saudi Arabia or Yemen. ISIS are currently making great strides in Afghanistan. In Libya. The place does not matter. It will not fade away if this one in Syria and Iraq is destroyed.

1) Bombing Syria makes us less secure here in the UK not more
2) This is not about an abnegation of the responsibility to protect ourselves and relying on others
3) Formal military alliances make it more likely to draw us into full war rather than less
4) There are no 70,000 Syrians on the ground who can take on ISIS
5) There is no plan of what to do if and when ISIS falls
6) The Caliphate as an idea is here to stay and will remain a recruiting tool to the flag beyond the destruction of the Islamic State itself

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Songs About Cities

I've done previous charts about London and songs about each of the US states  so I thought it was about time the rest of the world got a look in. So here's a music chart compiled from songs about some of the great cities of the world other than those of the UK and the US. The only other stipulation for this chart is that there are no songs by Mountain Goats, since they seem to have sung about every major city in the world in their prodigious discography.

1) Scritti Politti - "Asylums In Jerusalem"
A band supposedly chockfull of both political and philosophical references (They cited french philosopher Jacques Derrida as an inspiration) but I never quite got all that. They just seemed to write rather catchy and sweet pop songs about romance like this one.

2) They Might Be Giants - "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"
Barking mad and yet catchy. so catchy it's the only song of theirs I know.

3) Dub Syndicate - "Kingston 14"
Wonderful dub paean to Kingston Jamaica, in calling for an end to the drug and crime related violence.

4) Ultravox - "Vienna"
Overwrought, overblown like bad opera, but then that's what I thought of most of the New Romantic output. Just my opinion mind. This is also why Freddie Mercury's "Barcelona" won't make this chart. I forgot they were so big at the time of Live Aid. Let's conquer world famine by wearing our foppish dandy clothes and playing music that echoes royal pageantry to raise money.

5) Pere Ubu - "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo"
Ah that's better, something a bit more edgy and under-produced. You can sing about pizzicato strings as above, or you can sing about a pilot about to drop an atomic bomb over Japan...

6) Rush - "A Passage To Bangkok"
Rush, there's a band you didn't imagine would appear on this blog, but there you go. Drummers who wear headbands to keep the sweat out of their eyes, you know you're talking heavy rock, even when the drummer's hair has all fallen out. You'll have to take my word that this song is about Bangkok, because Geddy lee's vocals are unintelligible to my ear.

7) Test Dept - "Gdansk"
Named after a city that symbolises Europe's history of empire and conflict as it's been known as Danzig when owned by the Germans and Gdansk when Polish and of course the wellspring of the Polish Trade Union Solidarity that began the slow journey to democracy and liberation from the Soviet yoke. Sorry about the lousy low in the mix sound quality of this, but the studio version seems to have gone from YouTube.

8) Durutti Column - "Bordeaux"
So Marc, why isn't this treated the same as that Ultravox song you gave such a panning to?
Well fair blog visitor, because it's not pompous and it's musical is considerably more fragile and delicate methinks.

9) Scott Walker - "Amsterdam"
Okay something considerably less controversial, Scott Walker's voice. Nuff said

10) The Fall - "Bremen Nacht"
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Scott Walker to Mark E Smith. You always know a band is reaching the end of its useful life when they are so busy touring they experience nothing else in life and so pen songs about stays in hotel rooms and apparently amusing incidents backstage. not the Fall though, Smith's still going strong with his social observations on life.

11) Lou Reed "Berlin"
Lou reed RIP

12) Martha And The Muffins - "Saigon"
It's funny, after the interesting instrumental opening (including a keyboard lick I just realised was ripped off in one of my favourite hip hop songs), the music basically reverts to "Echo Beach" their most well known hit.

13) New Fast Automatic Daffodils - "Stockholm"
There were so many bands of this ilk in the 80s, but their guitar based indie rock was rather eclipsed by the preference for the synthesiser. I must admit they sort of passed me by too.

14) The Stranglers - "Goodbye Toulouse"
Not the run of the mill lament for leaving some favoured city, but an apocalyptic evaporation of the city through nuclear destruction. Wonder why they picked Toulouse of all places?

15) Joy Division - "Warsaw"
The earliest Joy Division release, coming after a brief flirtation with Warsaw as a band name in homage to David Bowie's song "Warszawa". The elements of what they would later become were all present here, if a little raw, but the references and the cover art also display a disconcerting Nazi fixation.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Arose By Any Other Name - novel extract

Blog: 17th May 2006 / 27th Rabia Awal 1427
Another- the last- fitting for my nuptial dress. Has me more than a little nervous. Only natural of course. My fingers are trembling and I cant do up a single clasp. The seamstress clicks her tongue in sharp disapproval and says such conduct would be unbecoming on the big day itself. The girdle feels tight, even though I have barely eaten this last week, despite cautioning from those around me to maintain my strength. I have even surrendered up my beloved gelatis. But today I feel I can treat myself to a bombe glacée. A last trifling indulgence, before the most profound change occurs in my life. And if I spread a couple of inches under its calorific assault, then Ill just have to suck in my stomach, which with the likely state of my breathing tomorrow, shouldnt be too hard a task. I force myself to think pure thoughts by envisioning my betrothed before me, as the seamstress gingerly packs up my raiment. And in conjuring such happy thoughts, a smile breaks out to envelop the worry lines around my pensive brow. Now my lips quiver only with joy. Such a remedy never fails. Tomorrow we shall be conjoined for ever. I leave the premises to search out my ice cream, once I have safely stored the vestments. Now it is just a question of killing time.
With all the trepidation, its been a very long and sleepless night. As the light faded, my thoughts flared around me, projected into the formless shadows moving on the wall. Car headlights seared their way through my shutters and churned and roiled my ceiling, making me dizzy and disoriented. Shutting my eyes did nothing, as they managed to prise through the membranes of my eyelids. How thin and insubstantial all of my body feels at this time. My flesh a flimsy curtain, partitioning the unknown chambers ahead.
I rose from bed and am now carving this for the want of something to do. Of course they left me no means of communicating with the outside world. But they did leave me a knife for self-protection and when I had blunted that, I used the flints sheared off from the stone walls of the room itself. Had other brides and grooms to be, been put up here before me? Then the building will tell its tale as well as my own.
My overriding thought right now, would to please be permitted some sleep, so I am not too befuddled for tomorr- or later today as it now is. Im going back to bed, doubtless to joust some more with my ceiling-borne demons overhead. Whence death seemingly always comes, in our insignificant part of the world. Where the sky is forever falling in.
A pealing siren outside woke me, even though it was far away in the distance. A presentiment of ill-fortune? But again I just marinade my mind with thoughts of my beloved opening his arms in welcome and all such anxieties melt away and me with it back into my furtive dreams. Wherein my Mother soon intercedes. Bustling and barging the angelic bystanders as she cuts a direct path to me. Standing now right in my face, eclipsing even the joy of my light, for she would not approve of such an espousal. This is not exactly an elopement, yet still she cannot know till after the event. I have recorded her a message to explain the matter. But her forceful image has demanded an explanation of me before she is even in the know. A lingering last vestige of guilt.
Mother, the sole message is I love you. Even as I seemingly repudiate you by this act. I am not propelling myself away from you. This you must understand. How I love you more than anything else on this earth and I am beaming this message to you, with greater force than all the generative force soon to adorn my belly, that will pull us apart merely on this plane. In my absence, you will receive only greater honour. Till we are ultimately reconciled in Paradise. My Mother and I hug, seemingly unconditionally as she did when I was a baby. And finally I fall into a dreamless sleep.
18th May 2006 / 28th Rabia Awal 1427
I imagine hearing another siren, but as I groggily come round, I realise it is my beeping alarm clock. An adhan summoning me to my calling. My salvation. I shut it off. Ill be present at my union soon enough. Lying here, I try and evoke an image of the light of my life in the future, but nothing comes. Its as if my thoughts are like birds, flying in confusion and without navigation during an eclipse, as my rapidly beating heart has blotted out the sun. So I do what Ive been steeled to do and I use it to my advantage. I am to enter the core of this black sun, and ball it up in my hand. Driving the fingers till they seal my palm. Thereby readmitting the light to embrace me once again. Ha, already the quickened pulse recedes. Resumes its orderly place in the background. But do not be fooled. That faint tick, tick, ticking, is the sound of my seething heart, walled up behind the thorns and briars of my sin. How they dam up my heart from God. Now is the time to purge them like an infernal machine, back whence they came. Return my pure being back to the bosom of God. For He cannot be contained. My heart is fit to irrupt, its furious palpitations cannot be accommodated a moment longer.
I swing my legs out of bed. My bare feet meet the cold stone of the flags. All the more felicitous then, since a grave will be yet colder. I wash myself from a bowl of water, letting the precious liquid trickle back down to its source. Our adversaries would deny us even this most basic of elements. As I bathe them, I devote each one of the two hundred bones in my body to you my Love. And by my actions, I imagine we will share them in turn with five times that amount of suitors, dispersed like passing out wedges of wedding cake. Spearing into their trespassing hearts, as we entwine and are yoked together into death. Then there is the added confetti of nails and ball bearings, only this time it will be the bride showering the congregation. Even my virginal veil of modesty shall be aflame and sail through the air combusting all it brushes against. My flying blood will baste their foreheads with the indelible sign of their guilt. The liquid in the bowl is still once again.
I hope my laving is suitably thorough, but I am without any mirror for inspection. One isnt to wake on the morn of ones self-appointed expiration and glimpse dread in the eyes. No photos to kiss either, no earthly tugs at all to corrode the will. To blunt my whetted mind. Instead I picture weaving my own carpet. I who have nothing, can still donate this wedding gift. As they deny us the wool because we have no land to breed sheep and we have no looms to spin it within our flimsy, cramped houses, so then will I fashion mine from blood and bone. I aim to weave the largest rug that is humanly possible from my frame, to drape the entire tarmac between two bus stops. And my signature, will be my essence mingled in with theirs. They who are so precious about collecting and burying every last drop of their blood spilt, will not be able to determine if it is mine or theirs. Blotting me up with their paper as they do with their own. How they will waste such resources in taking precise, forensic care of my remains, it will almost be like they are forced to yield me the same worth as their own burnt offerings. But for all this, I will yield them no insights. Other than reinforcing that which they choose to remain wilfully blind to.
Im ready. This time I rig myself with barely a faltering in my fingers. The clasps all snap home. The girdle still feels tight, but now hangs heavy, arrayed with the wedding gifts lavished last night by my escort. What a most generous gift he has seen fit to bestow upon me. The needles to unstitch with. The pattern in my mind. At last, for the first time in our despoiled land, my belly feels fecund.
19th May 2006
20th May 2006
21st May 2006
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Got your attention now?
Posted by Rough Beast. 12/08/06
I will disclose at once, that the above is a fictionalised account. I composed it, based on several interviews Ive carried out with jailed Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel. Now, Ill admit that in itself has been a tad frustrating, since by definition the ones in prisons are FAILED suicide bombers. Would-be suicide bombers. The defeated and the fatigible. Those betrayed by fate. By their own inexperience. By the will of God. Or their own humanity, their own inner struggle, however deeply overlaid and suppressed.
For the bottom line sees the human spirit remarkably tenacious at preserving itself. The body is stockpiled with a whole battery of reflexes to resist its own cessation and death. Its default setting is for life. So mental illness aside, how can this possibly be overridden? It requires an abstergent, in order to yield a blank screen upon which any message can be projected. Including graduation from a human being, into a human bomb. The knack, is to change the bombers desires from embracing life, into a hankering after death.
Interview after interview, I was presented with similar, reedily intoned versions of how this was brought about. One strand had them sat drooling at the feet of some hierophant in a madrassa, as he categorically untangles the frayed threads of life, while they scratch their carpet-fluff beards and nod accordance. Ill tell you something, if I was promised myriad virgins in the Afterlife, Id probably enlist myself. Blissfully blow myself to Kingdom Come. Presumably, its one virgin to tend each bit of the body atomised by high-explosive. Of course, rather than nubile women, why couldnt it equally be the ghosts of the 72 camels slain for Fatimas wedding? Thats the drawback with numerical symbolism. Its open to double counting.
Alternatively, they drilled before a paramilitary hawk, sharpening the recruits claws on his steel gauntlet. The logic he advances, is that the mission should be beyond fear, for no other soldier has such certainty of whether he will return alive or dead from his next action. Whereas the suicide bomber knows to the precise minute. What a boon.
By whichever method, these fellows are striking a deal with their egos. They dont shut them off, rather they believe they are swapping a pretty squalid life not for death, but for another, improved life up in the clouds. A literal leap of faith. Trouble is, when their heads are blown upwards off their body towards Heaven, sure as hell it hurtles back down to earth under the prosaic ministrations of gravity. Does each bomber actually possess the finer shades of understanding, exactly what the Holy Text suggests is in store for them? Ultimately, they remain just teenagers on the most extreme and ugly of promises. And as to the secularist bombers, they too are left in no uncertain terms that they will become pin-up poster boys on the walls of Gaza and Baghdad. This is the poor mans version of celebrity. A pension from Iran or Syria will see that their family is well provided for, a sort of posthumous dower. Or a divorce settlement.
When one of the plump-bellied commanders or hierophants squeezes into a belt, rather than a whey-faced waif; when one of those educated-in-the-universities-of-their-foes strategists puts his own body on the line, then Ill afford them credence that theyre not just exploiting and manipulating these bomb mules. Winding up the key of taut and tutored desperation in their backs and setting them off towards mayhem. See, the thing with successful missions as the Japanese kamikazes demonstrated, is that you cull your elite talent. No such thing as a suicide veteran. You need a constant stream of fresh volunteers. But unlike Iraq, where Jihadists are crossing over the borders all the time, Palestine is sealed off. So the quality of the bomber pool declines. They started sending children and simpletons. I saw them in the prisons too, though I didnt abuse them any further by requesting to interview them. Even those with the slightest sympathy for the strength of will of the suicide bomber, ought to be repulsed by this abasement. Bad strategic decision.
So I return to these prompters, these whisperers from offstage. The puppet master, pedlars of death. What these men do so successfully, is to take the everyday currency of death in their blighted land and raise it to the ultimate value. The reward they offer, confirmed as instantly as a scratch-card, is the status of martyr. They market death as a lifestyle. Conferring an off the peg posterity. Of soldier; freedom fighter; liberator; hero; martyr; patriot; bomber. When life circumstances have prevented the volunteer from being secure in the roles of lover, father, son, worker, provider, man of leisure. Such appeals strike at the very core of anxiety and neurosis. Become a sapper rather than merely sapped.

These manipulators, these programmers, are marketing geniuses. For being able to turn death around like that and make it an attractive option. An aspirational choice. They ought to be employed in Soho and Madison Avenue, having their work plastered across giant hoardings and on TV. Then theyd be earning enough money to send back to revive their homeland economy. But these mavens of destruction would presumably baulk at the job title of Creative Director.

extract taken from the kindle novel "Not In My Name" available from Amazon

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Love Songs

Those that know me as a writer say I don't write many stories about love. I'd disagree with this and indeed in my latest collection there are a couple of heart-rendering love stories, but yeah it's true, they don 't end well. Actually, there's a third story "Eyes In The Back of His Hands" that's an intense portrayal of love with a blind lover. You can read it here.

So I thought my next music themed chart should be love related. But I'm not really one for the classic pap love song, sorry I meant pop love song. But here's ten of my favourite love tinged songs.

Ramones - "Baby I Love You"
Two-minute thrash rockers go all slow strings and syrupy on this track and I Loooove it!

Keith Rowe - "Groovy Situation"
When Keith belts out "This is how I feel" towards the end, it sends shivers down my spine. He means it he really, really means it. He's in love, with all of his soul. Mesmerising despite a reasonably unpromising beginning to the song.

Undertones - "You Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?)"
Hey I never said the love had to be requited in these songs did I? Love this song as I did of so many of the Undertones' output. Perfectly crafted 3 minute pop-punk, cheeky and belligerent at the same time, with catchy choruses, which when push comes to shove, no one really gets hurt in the end.

CSS - "Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death from Above"
Probably wins the award for best titled live song. Don't know if anyone else feels this, but it has the feel of a post-coital song to me, lying back on the bed, smoking a cigarette and letting your thoughts float free. Oh just me then...

Infadels - "Love Like Semtex"
The only song of theirs I really liked. It's not particularly coherent lyrics wise, but it manages to convince through the beat and the delivery.

New Order - "Love Vigilantes"
Joy Division wrote the searing "Love Will Tea Us Apart" with it's mea culpa and realistic sensibilities about the flaws and failings  within a relationship. New Order pen this potty ditty about a soldier returning home from war to his wife who believes him dead. It lacks any gravitas or even much in the way of credibility, but it's bouncy and hummable and I like it in spite of myself.

The Rezillos - "I love My Baby Cos She Does Could Sculptures"
What better reason could there be? Never overlook the significant part Art Colleges played in the rise of UK punk in the middle of the 1970s. Perhaps that's why Paul Weller penned such an acerbic song called "Art School" to distance people from the notion that The Jam were associated with punk. Anyway, hilarious intro to this song about how the band hated each other.

The Pogues - "Kitty"
Shane Macgowan was a master of writing aching love songs full of loss and regret, often tied up to exile and leaving your country behind. Of course everyone knows "Fairytale Of New York", but for sheer weary emotion I don't think you can top this.

Boss Hog - "I Dig You"
Husband and wife team Jon Spencer and Cristina Martinez pen a daft song pledging their troth towards one another. But I loved this band with their blend of swamp dirt blues and Spencer's later incarnation Jon Spencer's Blues Explosion that deconstructs and reconstructs the Blues with a particular 21st Century spin.

Gun Club - "Fire Of Love"
The primal sound of love, lust, concupiscence the whole shooting match. The fire of love, does exactly what it says on the tin.

Gang Of Four - "Love Like Anthrax"
Okay, so I just couldn't help myself and reverted to type. A song that deconstructs the notion of love as mythologised in 3 minute pop songs. Apart from what's going on musically, this is really interesting in the way the two vocal narratives cut across one another with no concern as to which one the listener gloms on to. A bit like a married couple having an argument, which kind of summed up the relationship of guitarist Andy Gill & lead singer Jon King who periodically broke up and came back together/. I think right now King has left the band again.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

(Don't) Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before - The atrocities in Paris

It saddens me that that in the light of events in Paris I find myself having to post yet another blog post like this (Charlie Hebdo, ISIS, Lee Rigby murder). Social media is in meltdown with two types of reaction. Either that of political opportunism, (Bomb Syria, ban migrants etc), or that of sheer incomprehension and vapid pronouncements of solidarity.

1) These events are not beyond incomprehension
2) These events are not beyond words
3) These events, monstrous as they are, cannot be labelled and thereby dismissed as 'evil'; they are utterly ascribable to the hand of man.

If you want to show solidarity, inform yourself of the ideas and motivations that lead to events like this. Do not wring your hands uselessly and then throw those hands up in the air asking 'how?' Put in some work and you'll have a pretty good picture of how and why. Then and only then might both citizens and their politicians have a better idea for how to cope and deal with this threat.

I have never worked in the armed forces or the intelligence services. I am not an academic. I am not a politician or civil servant. I am just a citizen. For the 30+ years of my adult life, I have looked around me, observed my world and pursued my own study of the state of affairs in certain key areas. After 9/11, the Madrid train bombings and the suicide bombs on the London Underground, the area of Radical Islamic terrorism became one of those key areas for me. I read books (not newspapers). I educated myself. I tried to establish what the different voices and perspectives were saying whether I agreed with them or not. One of the problems with the response of social media is that no one is actually listening to anyone else, rather talking over each other. It absolutely behoves us to try and penetrate all the logics and rationales being advanced by everyone involved in these events. Because until you do, you will never understand what you are confronting.

I wrote a book in 2010 (published in 2011) about these issues. I traced some of the logic behind non-Islamic terrorism of the 60s and 70s, because terrorist logic remains largely the same. (1960s US dissidents/ domestic terrorists The Weather Underground coined the phrase 'bringing the war back home' through their campaign against US domestic targets to make the citizenry experience the same as the Vietnamese during America's military campaign there). I explored at length the depth of emotion behind suicide (domestic as well as ideological) because the theme of death and its ready acceptance is a key factor at work here. I traced the possible journey to radicalisation of your own citizens. And while I didn't predict ISIS and the establishment of the Islamic State, I did probe the notion of a Caliphate as an aspiration within some strands of radical Islam. Again, let me stress, I am not involved in any of the professions who might be involved in analysing such factors. But I did my reading. The book represents many different voices, but not as a mere cacophony, but with each strand untangled.

Read my book or don't read it (I'm not even putting a link to it here, that's not what this piece is about). Read non-fiction treatments as I did in order to end up being able to write a book on the subject. But please, no longer throw your arms up in uncomprehending despair. Arm yourself with knowledge, open up your ears to what the issues are here. Our nations can pull together and show solidarity by putting in the necessary work to inform itself and to help reach informed decisions. Incomprehension is no longer a defence, either in argument or in actuality to meet an armed threat.

Beheadings, suicide bombings, murdering civilians are not evil acts. Because to dismiss something as evil externalises it, makes it appear to originate from some unknowable, irresistible force, when it utterly and inescapably emanates from within men. Such acts are consciously calculated by its perpetrators for their impact. Terror acts are finely calibrated, for inducing fear in civilian populations to both get them to apply pressure to their politicians and to change their way of life; for the PR value in playing to the terrorists' own communities, fostering further recruitment; strategically to extend the war from far away in the Middle East to the cities of Europe, 'so they know what it feels like, so they live in the same state of anxiety'; ergo for revenge as well; to suggest the cause of the terrorists is very much alive and kicking and cannot be defeated... All this is not to say that there were also some impulses as well as ideas and objectives. The guys who shoot people in a concert hall enjoyed it. Guys who use rape as a weapon of war (against the Yazidis for example) enjoy it. Suicide bombers accept death. These are the impulses of serial killers and mass murderers. But unlike serial killers, even those who have some warped logic tying together their actions in their own minds as 'logical', these killers share and are united by their rationales. It is a collective mindset, unlike that of individual psychopaths. So although murderous & violating impulses are at play, they are dwarfed by their ideological motivations.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Live reading - Scriggler 5

This is the footage of one and a half of my stories which i read at Scriggler Live 5.

The first story "Echoes" starts halfway through - you can read the whole story here. The second story "Wings" is in its entirety.

Both stories are from my latest collection of flash fiction "Extra-Curricular" available from Amazon, I-Tunes and Createspace.

And yes, that IS a Taylor Swift ringtone going off towards the end of "Echoes". Here's my piece on how I battled her on stage

Many thanks to Dimitry Selemir of Scriggler for the video footage.

Friday, 30 October 2015

How I Battled Taylor Swift (And Won?)

I believe there are two types of fiction. That which provides the reader with an escape from their daily world. And that which seeks to actively engage with the world in order to try and probe and maybe provisionally provide some answers about it. Now hold that thought…

Last night I had the privilege of reading at Scriggler Live. I had two stories and as is habitual, i rehearse them hard in the run-up to the gig and that includes hand gestures as I try and enact them to some extent. Unlike a slam poet I don’t have the words committed to memory, but I am very familiar with them and know the precise timing of a gesture or when to look at the audience and the like. 

During the first of my two stories, there was some sort of minor commotion behind me on stage though there was nobody there. I carried on delivering my piece, but my brain was simultaneously working away furiously trying to figure out what was going on. Gradually I realised it was a ringtone. I later found out it was a Taylor Swift song. I wouldn’t recognise a Taylor swift ditty if my favourite football team ran out on to the pitch to its accompaniment. 

Now we’ve all seen footage of actors  on stage stopping the play to berate some hapless soul in the audience who forgot to turn off their phone and it goes off in the middle of their soliloquy. But I’m not really bothered by such things when I’m reading. Many venues are in the basements of drinking establishments, so you get used to background din. Had I have known it was a pop diva warbling away behind me, I might have objected to that, but there again me trying to battle against a rousing Public Enemy rap or some industrial art noise might have posed more of an issue (you’ll note the band logo of industrial noise band Einsturzende Neubauten on my chosen hoody for the performance).

It was only after the show that I started reflecting on how my brain had performed. For I still carried on my performance (whether it had been affected in any way you’d have to ask the audience). Yet it was also processing the unexpected sensory input of noise and trying to compute its exact nature. It passed through initial confusion into full processing mode until it solved the conundrum. The brain does not settle for working in a linear fashion. It can hold several different thoughts and emotions at the same time, let alone do various tasks and functions simultaneously.

So how does that relate to my opening statements? The fiction that proclaims to try and interrogate our world is largely hidebound. It employs language, linear  subject noun followed by verb followed by object… And stories, even ones that employ flashbacks and memories, are also in the main linear. Characters follow a developmental arc, that is they start at point A and by the story’s end reach point Z which may be redemptive or at least they have gained insight. But life itself is not linear and the human brain is certainly not linear. So how can fiction that largely follows linear structures and certainly employs linear language, hope to approximate the complexities of our contemporary world? So bizarrely, the Taylor Swift incident only served to reaffirm my faith in non-linear forms of fiction writing. Taylor I salute you, though is till won’t be listening to any of your music any time soon.


 Einsturzende Neubauten                                                 Taylor Swift

45 Flash fiction tales, many non-linear, available in print and ebook from Amazon & I-Tunes

(as is Taylor Swift & Einsutrzende Neubauten)