Sunday, 27 May 2012

Sad And Beautiful World

(Sparklehorse: Sad and Beautiful World)

At first I thought that I had gone mad, and then I thought I was the only person on earth who was sane, and then I thought that if anything was a sign of madness that surely was, and then I decided it didn't really matter much either way so I stopped caring.

The reason that I thought I was mad was because they could have been voices in my head. The reason I thought I wasn't mad was because I knew the voices didn't come from inside my head, they came from the things, just like you when I have a conversation, I know your voice comes from you and not from me. Yes, I do see your mouth move, and a piece of litter doesn't have a mouth to move and I don't know how it speaks but it does, so there we are.

It's a bit of a surprise that the greatest revelation anyone has ever had comes not from a prophet or a messiah, but from a faded packet of Walkers salt and vinegar crisps with a muddy bootprint right in the middle of it,but we don't get to pick these things.

I was out for a walk in the park, I stepped over the packet and it said, "I'm lonely," in a small voice. I stopped, looked around, but there was no one else there and anyway, I knew fine well it hadn't been a person speaking to me. "Excuse me?" I said. Even the fear of madness doesn't mean that you have to lose your manners.

"I'm lonely," it said. "I blow around and I fade and I'm lonely," so I helped it and I put it in the bin with other wrappers and plastic things and it gave a little sigh of satisfaction and all the other things in the bin gave a little chirrup of welcome, and the bin didn't say anything, but it sat there with a palpable air of satisfaction for doing what it was.

Understanding that everything that exists is alive in its own way is difficult enough,but being able to speak the language of things makes the world a noisy place. You can tune it out when it's not directed at you, but it's always there. Some of it is joyful, when things are what they are and everything is right and itself and in the right place. Sometimes it's sad though, as you hear things lament  as they fade and break and decay, and all things fade and break and decay. That upset me very much at first but you learn to live with it because is no alternative, and besides, all the things are busy thinking the same thing about you.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Seven inch fiction

This arrived through the door this morning:

My copy of one of Neil Schiller's 7" fiction releases:

A side: It's A Shame About Evan Dando, B side: Instrumental.

Great stories, a genius idea, and just handling the paper sleeve made me pine for my long-gone vinyl.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Wolf like me

(Wolf Like Me - TV On The Radio)

I can tell you exactly how it started. It started the week after my father died, in some lonely woods in County Durham.

When all of the arranging and burying and crying was done, I knew I needed to get away. It felt like something had changed in my life, that a gear had slipped and suddenly I was going in a very different direction, even if I didn't yet know what it was. I needed to be away from people, away from phones and condolences and tax forms, so I packed a rucksack and went wandering.

Some nights I stayed in pubs or B&Bs, but when I could I made a bivvy out in the open and slept under the arch of the sky, letting the wind blow everything out of my mind. The night it all happened, I had picked the wrong place to camp, too low, too damp, and I was tired of slapping at midges. I packed my rucksack, and decided to head for the higher ground that rose up to the west behind the woods. I could have skirted the woods, but it was the long way round, the moon meant that there was plenty of light to find my way, and I was tired and maybe it wouldn't have made any difference anyway.

It all happened very quickly. I was well into the trees, picking my way through brambles and fallen branches, when I thought to myself: there's someone else here, then I thought to myself: they're very close, and then the bushes thrashed and I was on the ground and it was on me and I can't remember much more other than the rank, animal smell.

I woke up in the morning, lying on the forest floor, and I hurt everywhere I had something to hurt.I checked myself, but couldn't find any wounds. I checked my rucksack, but nothing was stolen. I wondered if I had simply walked into a branch and concussed myself and imagined it all, but I couldn't find one. I walked out of the woods, and I sucked in the cool air of early morning, and although I didn't know why I felt as if my life had jumped track again.

I found out why, four weeks later, when I changed.

I won't tell you about it, because I cannot put it into words. Everything is ripped from inside you, and forced into new shapes. It hurts beyond belief. But then the changing stops, and you breathe in the air, and you smell a thousand warm, living things, and the hunger is on you and the hunt begins.

After the first time, I was sick for days, and it was only a string of family pets that I had taken. After the second time, I thought about suicide, because I loped around a corner, and there he was, and he was probably a good man and maybe he had a family but the hunger was on me and the hunt was in me and didn't take very long at all. After the third time, I decided it was the way I was, and there was no changing that, and we were all just prey in something else's food chain, and I would follow my nature until I was caught and killed. I think that I wanted that mercy, because I did not do much to avoid getting caught.

In the end though, I was, cornered in an alley full of litter and puddles and beaten with a scaffolding pole until the beast left me and I turned back into what I had been. There was shouts then, amazement and horror, and then they beat me more, just in case, and kept on doing it until darkness flooded my thoughts, and I let it in, never expecting to see light again. 

But I did.

The scientists wanted me, of course, to probe and analyse and sample and attempt to understand something that according to their thinking could not possibly be. But the scientists didn't have as much money as the entertainment business, so they had to watch from the sidelines and argue theories amongst themselves. The men who captured me were poor and smart, which is a dangerous combination. Rather than take me to the police, they took me to a man who dealt with the tabloids on behalf of celebrities caught doing what they shouldn't be doing, and he made a phone call to the reality TV impresario and it all rolled out from there. The police sniffed around frustrated, but with no evidence to link me to things that everyone thought I had done which were, by and large, the things I had done. The government made noises about the need for scientific investigation and a Minister called to have me seized but then the tabloids got the hunger and the hunt and when they were done, he was politically dead and the rest of the government pretended that he had never been. I howl and I change once a month, and the rest of the time I live in a 'secure environment' and I have internet and X-box and chef-prepared food, and it's only when the moon is about to be full that they stop bringing the food in and start passing it through an elaborate cat-flap.

A man who was very religious and who called me an abomination tried to break in one day to kill me. He'd bought a replica gun which had been converted to a real one, and made his own silver bullet by melting down his mother's tea service, but the people who own me pay for the very best of security, and he got nowhere near me. He probably has less freedom than I do, now. I shift a lot of merchandising to teenagers, who more than anyone can identify with frightening changes to bodies and impulsive behaviour, but many authors of vampire fiction hate me because that's now so last year and romances of the wolf are now the big thing.

When I change it's the centrepiece of a live TV production that is syndicated around the world. I thought people might grow bored of me, but that hasn't happened yet. We have light shows and guest singers and dancers dressed as wolves, and some kind of quiz show element that I don't really understand, but when the contestants win something they have to howl. I change and the audience gasps and I snarl and charge at the plastic walls, but I can't get anywhere. 

Later, when the audience are gone and the cameras are off, they throw chickens and mice into where they keep me, and I eat them but they do not satisfy my hunger, and one day they will make a mistake and I will get out into the audience, and there will be a hunt that day, the last hunt, but the best.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Everything Trying

(Everything Trying - Damien Jurado)

​“Why don’t you just tell me what I can do to make it better?” he asked.

​“I’m thinking,” she said.  “For once just give me a chance to think without interrupting, yes?”

He started to reply, but caught the words in his mouth and killed them. They walked along the path in silence.  David looked away to the right, at the tall hedge that ran alongside the path, tiny gaps occasionally giving glimpses of the field beyond.  Every so often there were little yellow flowers hiding in the twisted branches, brilliant against the green, but he didn’t know what they were called.  Occasionally a car passed, the sound eventually swallowed in the background hum of the traffic along the busier roads that led into town.  He listened to Jess breathe, hearing anger in every breath.

​“David, what’s that?” The words caught him by surprise, he had expected more dividing up of blame into neat piles.

​“What?” But even as he was speaking he followed her outstretched arm, the embroidered cuff of her shirt, the tiny hairs golden against skin, skin deep brown apart from the pale band where she no longer wore the watch he had bought her, her delicate hand, the chipped dark red nail varnish on her pointing finger.  The road had grown to four lanes as they walked closer to the town, and dividing the lanes  was a raised kerb, straggles of grass, a low metal rail.  There was a dark shape half-hidden in the grass.

​“Oh, David, I think it’s a dog.”

​“Are you sure?” he said, knowing it was a stupid thing to say, but still confused by the abrupt shift in events. “It’s hard to tell with all that grass.”

They both squinted across the road.  A bus went past, warm air pushing at their faces.  They both rocked back on their feet slightly, and she took hold of David’s arm, just above the elbow.

​“Can we see,” she said, “please.  We can’t not look.”

​“’Course.  Let’s take a look.”  He tried to sound calm, in control, the sort of man who would always cross to see what it was. As they crossed the road Jess didn’t let go of his arm, and he was careful to make sure he held it so she wouldn’t need to.

It was a dog, a small wiry-haired brown and white terrier, with ears that looked too big for its head.  The dog lay with one leg out in front, the leg was bent in a wrong way and the fur was dark and matted.

Jess made a noise and her fingers were tight on David’s arm.

​“It’s OK love,” he said quickly, “it’ll be OK.  I’ll get it to a vet and they’ll do something with its leg, and then I’ll find a home for it.  I can ring the shelter, they’ll take it when it’s better.  It’s OK.”

The dog looked up at them without moving its head, its eyes dull.  Its side was rising and falling quickly, the breaths coming out in short huffs.  There was a faded red leather collar around its neck, but no identity disc, no address, no name.

​“Doesn’t matter if it costs” David said.  “At the vets.  Doesn’t matter if it costs.”

He crouched down, extended his fingers towards the dog, made soothing noises.

​“Careful.” Jess said, “The poor thing’s hurt.”

David could hear the tears in her voice, and felt a momentary relief that this time he was not the cause.  He shuffled closer to the dog, disgusted at his detached self-interest.  His compassion was one of the reasons Jess loved him. Had loved him.

​“Don’t worry boy,” he said, inching closer still, “ everything’s going to be all right."

Later, David played those few seconds back in his mind as he did with so much else, over and over in slow motion, what might have happened, what he could have done if he had been quicker, smarter, stronger, somebody else.  He reached down and began to lift the dog, and its limp body sprang back to life, back legs scrabbling frantically in the grass, teeth snapping at his hand.

​“Shit.” David said, jerking his hand away and nearly stepping back into Jess.  The dog’s back legs finally found traction in the long grass and it shot away from them and into the road, holding the injured front leg up close to its body, over-sized ears back against its head.  The car in the nearest lane missed the dog, the driver braking violently, but the car in the far lane hit it at speed and the dog bounced in a slow, lazy curve through the air and into the field beyond.  The car slowed but didn’t stop, and the other driver who had braked looked at David, looked at the motionless dark clump that lay in the field, tried to say a thousand things at once with his face, and drove off.
David stood for a second, his hand still high in the air where he had pulled it back to safety.

​“I.” he said.  “I.”  But then he saw the way that Jess was looking at him, and didn’t say any more.

Cars sped past as they stood there in silence. Eventually David muttered something, crossed the road and walked into the field, pausing for a minute to look down at the huddled shape.  He reached out a hand, but didn’t touch it.  When he was back beside Jess he shook his head, but didn’t say anything, just stared out at the traffic.

​“It wasn’t my fault,” he said eventually, but soon as the words came out he felt like a naughty child, and wanted to shuffle his foot back and forth in the grass as he spoke.
Jess slowly shook her head.

​“No.” she said. “It’s not your fault.  But the dog’s still dead.”

David looked at her, reading in her eyes the history and future of everything between them.  He nodded slowly, and they stepped over the low rail, crossed to the far side of the road, and began to walk back towards the town.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Lucky You

(Lucky You - The National)

Miller had never been a lucky man. Raffle tickets for good causes curled and yellowed in a drawer with fading lottery tickets and tattered betting slips. He'd never been a lucky man, which was why he was surprised when he picked the envelope up off the street and found out that he was a Lucky Winner.

The envelope was an unremarkable thing, a non-descript brown oblong. Miller picked it up because if he saw anything interesting on the street he always picked it up. It was one of the ways in which he compensated for not being a lucky man: this was a short-cut, a way of cheating. He wasn't entering a contest, as such, so perhaps the gods that prevented him benefiting from good fortune would be looking the other way.

He wouldn't even have noticed the envelope if it had been for an incontinent dog. He had just avoided treading in one evil-looking yellow mess, and was walking along the street with his gaze firmly fixed on the pavement, determined to avoid the other piles which appeared at ten foot intervals, when he saw the envelope lying half in the gutter, half on the curb. He looked closely to make sure that it wasn't resting in any excrement, and then he picked it up.

It was unmarked, apart from the words "Important: Open Me" which appeared on the front, in a plain type of a modest size. Miller flexed the envelope in his hands. The contents were thin but firm, like a cheap birthday card. He ran his thumbnail along the top of the envelope and pulled out the contents. It was a ticket, coloured gold and the first thing that he noticed were the words “LUCKY WINNER”.

At first he thought that it was junk mail, the sort that began Dear Mr Miller, You Have Won A Hundred Thousand Pounds at the top, and ended by explaining that if you bought some shoddy goods, you might end up in a draw in which you might win a prize of some value as yet unspecified but inevitably less than you had spent in the first place. But the more he read, the more excited he got. This wasn’t junk mail. This was real.

You are a Lucky Winner of a new kind of lottery, the ticket read. Money is donated by our corporate sponsors, and once every six months winning tickets are left in public spaces chosen at random. Many of these tickets will go unclaimed, swept into bins or washed down gratings. But the few people who are are observant and curious enough not to pass them by will be rewarded as Lucky Winners and will share in Fantastic Cash Prizes. You are one of these people. Soon, as word gets out, people will be combing the streets for one of these tickets. But you are a Lucky Winner already, and can claim your prize now!

There was an address in the business district and a bar code along one edge of the ticket. Miller started to jiggle from foot to foot with excitement. FHe’d heard about big companies doing this sort of thing, it was just another way of advertising, a new gimmick that would get people talking, viral marketing. Sports shoe companies, car manufacturers, companies that made best-selling chocolate bars, they’d all be in on this, soon the whole city would be talking about it and people would be ransacking parks, rummaging through rubbish on the streets, trying to find the Lucky Winner tickets. But he was one of the first. Maybe even the first. Miller stood for a moment on the street, as excited as a child at Christmas, visions of yachts and tanned women and casinos and sports cars whirling in his mind in a dance of luxury and endless pleasure. He looked again at the address on the ticket.

“Taxi!” he shouted, and he stuck one hand out into the road, the other clenched tight around the ticket.


He had intended to ask the taxi driver to wait, but on the way he changed his mind. The driver might realise that Miller had just won a fortune and would pester him for a large tip, so he asked the man to let him out when they reached the street. The neighbourhood looked safe enough, unremarkable brick and glass offices, occasional men in suits scuttling between them.

He did not need to look again at his winning ticket, the address was in his memory and would stay there as long as he lived. Number 635, floor A. The door of the building nearest to him belonged to a firm of architects, and was emblazoned with a decorative number one. Miller wished he hadn’t been so hasty in paying the taxi off, and set off down the street.

Number 635 was a plain building, no different from the other six hundred and thirty four that Miller had trudged past. A discreet name plate outside indicated that it was the offices of the LW Corporation, but gave nothing else away. Hardly surprising though, Miller thought, why shout about their presence. Might attract all sorts of undesirables. He was surprised though, when the door did not open. Surprised, and annoyed. It was the middle of the week, it was the middle of the day, no business should be shut at this time. He looked around for a bell, but could not see one. Then he realised that under the nameplate, set into the wooden surround, was a metal slot a few millimetres wide. Miller reached into his pocket – stopped, looked around, made sure that nobody was about to mug him – and pulled out the envelope. He took the ticket out, and slid the edge with the bar code on into the slot. There was a faint hum, and then a click, and the door in front of him jerked open a few inches.

Miller pushed through it and walked in to a small lobby. There was no desk, and no-one in sight. He stood there for a moment, uncertain. Surely there should be somebody around? Maybe the receptionist was tending to the needs of another Lucky Winner. He felt an unexpected resentment; he had wanted to be the first.

“Hello?” he said. “Hello?” 

“Hello sir. You must be a lucky winner.” Miller jumped, because the voice came from behind him, and he had not noticed any other doors other than that he had walked through. He relaxed though when he saw the speaker. He was a small man, rather old, and he walked with the sort of stoop that people who spend their lives in service acquire. He could have been a commissionaire, a night porter, an elderly family retainer. His dark suit smelt of mothballs, and when he walked – with a slight limp, Miller noticed – his highly-polished shoes squeaked.

“Yes, yes, that’s what I am. I have my ticket. Do you want to..."

“No sir, you hang on to your ticket. Congratulations on your good fortune. You’ll need to come this way sir, if you please.” The old man lead the way to a door on the far side of the lobby. That’s what I’ll do, Miller thought. I’ll have some servants. A man like this, and a fat cook, and a wise gardener, and a silent chauffeur to drive the cars.

He reached the door, where the old man stood waiting. I suppose he’s expecting a big tip afterwards, Miller thought. Well he’ll be disappointed, because I’ve got next to no money on me. Unless they give you a little bit of the prize in cash. Maybe they do. A few thousand to enjoy straight away, while all the business of banks and investments and trusts is sorted out. 

The old man opened the door and Miller walked through to a landing at the top of some stairs. The bottom of the stairs was in darkness. Miller began to turn, but he was too late, far too late. The old man shut the door behind him, and Miller heard a click.

“Hey!” Miller shouted. He pushed and rattled at the door, but the lock had engaged. “What the hell is going on? Are they all out at lunch or something? I don’t want to wait here. Hey!” All he heard though, was the a fading squeak of highly polished leather, and then there was nothing. This was an outrage. When he met the directors he’d make sure that he had the old man sacked. Perhaps they had kept him on past retirement out of sentiment, not realising quite how senile the fellow was getting.

Miller pulled the ticket from his pocket again, read both sides as if he were expecting to find something on there that he had missed the other hundred times that he had read it. Nothing about opening hours on there. Nothing about lunchtimes. It struck him that he was being very foolish. The reason that it was dark at the bottom of the stairs was probably that a bulb had just blown, and no-one had realised yet. The reason that the door was locked behind him was obvious too: it was for security.

“Of course,” Miller said out loud. “They must give out cash. Excellent. Sensible of them to keep the doors locked then, cash on the premises.” He walked down the stairs, still holding his ticket, squinting as the light from the landing slowly faded behind him. He couldn’t see what was in the room at the bottom of the stairs, but it looked to be quite some size. There was a strange and very unpleasant smell, that he couldn’t place. Perhaps there was a light switch on the wall nearby. He stepped forward into the room, hand fumbling up the wall, but then he slipped on something loose on the floor and fell. He broke his fall with his free hand, still clinging on for dear life to his winning ticket with the other.

“What the hell is this? Nearly broke my neck, paper all over the floor, it’s a disgrace, health and safety would have a fit.” He scooped up a handful of what he had slipped on, and peered at it. He couldn’t see well enough, so he retreated half way up the stairs where the light was better, at one point nearly falling again, when he got his foot tangled in what felt like a bundle of sticks. The smell was becoming unbearable. 

When he reached the top, he looked at what he had collected from the floor. Then he sat down on the top step, his winning ticket in one hand, half a dozen identical others in the other, all of them battered and torn and stained red, and he started to cry. He had never been a lucky man.