Sunday, 29 July 2012

I See A Darkness

(I See A Darkness - Johnny Cash)

Everything changed after I fell on the ice.

I shouldn’t have fallen, but I wasn’t watching where I was going because I was looking behind to see if I was going to beat the bus to the bus stop. We’d had a freeze that had lasted for a couple of months, but in the last two days the temperatures had lifted, and the drizzle had melted most of it, and now there were only the odd patches of ice where the shadows kept the sun away.

My foot hit this one, and my legs went in the air and as I fell back I spread my arms out, but not quick enough, not nearly quick enough, and I can remember the sickening thud when my head hit the pavement, I can still hear the noise now, but I can’t remember anything else, I can’t remember the operations to stop the bleed on the brain, I can’t remember when my brother travelled four hundred miles to be there because they thought I wasn’t going to make it through the night.

When they discharged me in the end, I was told what to expect. A headache for months. Disturbances to my vision. Dizziness and occasional nausea. Memory loss. And they weren’t wrong, but I kept going, and these things receded like the tide, and I had better days and bad days and eventually the better days came more often.

I went back to work, and everyone was very kind. I got through my first week better than I thought possible, and although I was tired beyond belief I joined the others for a quick drink after work. I cut it short though, because my eyes felt tired and twitchy and everything looked a bit wobbly, and when I went to order a drink a black cloud appeared in my vision, coiling and squirming around Jenny behind the bar, and I was scared that I might get worse visual disturbances before I could get to the safety of home. 

I took it easy, and I came in to work on Monday to find out that Jenny had been attacked on her way home from work, taking a short cut through the park. She hadn’t made it out the other side, and her body was found by an early morning dog walker.

I was shocked and upset, but I didn’t join it all up until three months later when we sat in a staff meeting, and my eyes felt tired and twitchy and everything looked a bit wobbly, and a black cloud appeared in my vision, coiling and squirming around our head of accounts, and before the day was out he’d collapsed at his desk and was dead from a massive stroke before the paramedics even reached the building.

Now I wait for the next darkness to appear, and I pray that it is not around someone I love. I have often thought that I cannot live like this, and that I should end this constant fear, but then I stare at myself in the mirror, and I see myself bright and defined, and I know that I am not there. Not yet.

Sunday, 22 July 2012


(King Creosote - Admiral)

Everyone called him The Admiral, mostly because of his buttons. On a sunny day, you could see him coming a mile off, because the gold buttons on his navy blazer would catch the sun and send off signals all the way along the harbour, tracing his regular constitutional along the sea wall, and then his regular constitutional into the Dolphin. He never talked much, spent most of his time buried in the Daily Telegraph, and drank sherry before lunch and rum after.

The Admiral must have been in his eighties, but walked ramrod straight and still managed to put creases into his trousers that would have cut you if you’d brushed against them, and managed to put the same creases into the newspaper he always carried under his arm. He’d lived in the town as long as anyone could remember, and seen it slowly decline from smart seaside resort to streets of once-grand houses converted into old people’s homes, and rented flats for smackheads.

It was one of the latter that decided that The Admiral would be an easy source of funds for a couple of wraps. Sol wasn’t one of those who’d drifted into the town, he’d grown up here and he’d been trouble from the start, and the easy progression from glue through speed to heroin came as no surprise to anyone, and people were scared of Sol because he didn’t care about anything, and they did.

The Admiral was a man of very regular habits, and always took a shortcut home from the Dolphin, up through an alley that ran between the B streets. Sol waited for him there in a bricked-up doorway, stepped out of the shadows, waved a Stanley knife and went to grab at The Admiral’s throat to pin him against the wall.

When it was all over, we learned that we were all wrong, and despite the buttons and the rum and the bearing he hadn’t been an admiral after all, hadn’t been in the navy, hadn’t even been a commissioned officer, never risen higher than the rank of sergeant in fact. But he’d done things in Malaya and Aden and he’d learned things that he’d never forgot. When Sol eventually gets out of prison, he won’t be able to tell anyone to give him their money again unless he uses sign language, because he can’t speak anymore, and his breathing sounds very strange. You can do wonders with a rolled up newspaper if you know what you’re doing. 

Everyone still calls him The Admiral, because The Sergeant just sounds wrong. But he’s not paid for a rum since.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Elephant Gun

(Beirut - Elephant Gun)

When all the sackings started, you could see people looking around the newsroom when they were meant to be working, applying the grizzly bear principle. To survive a grizzly bear attack, you didn’t have to run faster than the bear. You just had to run faster than the other person it was chasing. We all did it: you, you’ll go before me, you’ve only been here a year. You, you’re useless, and I don’t know how you’re still here anyway. You, you were safe because you were sleeping with him, but now he’s sacked and all the people who were jealous have scores to settle. You – now you worry me, you toadying bastard.

Frank never looked. He just ploughed away, being Frank, doing his thing. Everyone knew that he had two years to go before his pension kicked in, not that this made him any safer. The new management didn’t care. They didn’t care about Frank, or his pension, or good journalism, or anything that hadn’t been covered in an MBA. But Frank didn’t worry, and when I asked him why not, he gave me his crumpled grin and said that one of two things could happen. Either they left him for the two years, and all was good. Or they sacked him, and he brought out the elephant gun.

Frank had mentioned the elephant gun before, once or twice. No-one knew quite what it was, but when Frank talked about it, he grinned from ear to ear, like he would welcome the opportunity. “Enough to bring down the biggest of beasts,” he said. No-one knew if he was bluffing, but sometimes with these things it doesn’t matter if you are, as long as people know there’s a chance you’re not.

We got to find out at the end of the wettest July on record. I came in to find Frank’s desk empty. Security cleared everything into a cardboard box on the Sunday, took it to his house, told him not to come back and took his security pass off him. We all bitched and swore, but none of us did anything. I called round his with a bottle of Ardbeg, and we sat and he talked about the old times, when everything used to be better. When I got up to go, he said, “hang on a minute,” and he reached under his chair and pulled out a CD and a bundle of papers.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“The elephant gun,” he said. “Fancy pulling the trigger?”

I got sacked too, and I was forty years away from my pension. But between us, we brought down four cabinet ministers and eventually a government, an entire senior layer of the Metropolitan police, four Lords, one Bishop, two judges, and the man who owned our paper and appointed the managers who sacked us, who in turn toppled like dominos. All the other journalists who’d been sacked held a party for us, and after the drunken speeches presented me and Frank with a pith helmet each.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Intermission #5

The next story will appear sometime later in the week - as the first story was published on a Sunday, that gives me until Sat to keep it within the week.

Soon though, soon.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

TV Eye

(The Stooges - TV Eye)

The Robbins family were sitting with egg, chips and beans watching Saturday evening family TV when the TV said, "Hello to the Robbins family!" and Mrs Robbins nearly threw her tray across the room.

"Hope you're enjoying your meal!" the TV said, and Mr Robbins stood up, not quite knowing what to do, and then Davey said "Mam, Dad, we're on one of those hidden camera things," and laughed with delight, and baby Sarah laughed along too like she always did.

"God," Mrs Robbins said, and one hand clutched at her chest to show her shock, and the other hand went up to her hair to make sure that it was tidy.

"Like Noel Edmonds," Mr Robbins said, and Mrs Robbins laughed and said, "Well I never," and Davey said, "Who?"

"Please don't be alarmed," the TV said. "I didn't mean to startle you," and they all looked around for the camera, but they couldn't find it.

"I wonder how long it's been there, it could have been there for days" Davey said, and he didn't notice his parents turn to each other and blush deep red.

"Bang out of order," his dad said. "Spying on people without their permission."

"It's just a laugh, Dad," Davey said, but Mrs Robbins had started to cry now, and baby Sarah cried along too like she always did, and Mr Robbins got angrier and angrier and in the end he marched over to the TV and pulled out the power cord, and then for good measure pulled out the aerial too. Davey was disappointed, but didn't dare say anything.

"There," Mr Robbins said, breathing heavily. "There. I'm going to put in a complaint."

"There's no need to get nasty," the TV said, and they all turned around and stared at it. "I was just trying to be friendly." And it lifted itself up on its four metal legs, and it shuffled round and turned its back on them, facing into the corner.

"Now look what you've done," the radio in the kitchen said, and the kettle tutted in agreement.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Keep On Knocking

(Death - Keep On Knocking)

"God loves a trier," his mother always said, and god knows he was a trier. It never seemed to be his fault that he couldn't keep a job, but the jobs came and they went, and each new thing that came along he tried really hard at, hoping that this time something would stick.

At least the latest got him out in the open air, although it would have been nicer if the open air hadn't usually been full of rain that blew in horizontally off the Channel. And at least it brought him into contact with people, although it would have been nicer if the people had usually been frowning and saying no thank you and shutting the door in his face. But he was outside, and not in some stinking kitchen or noisy factory, and when he got to the end of each street he could stop and have a cigarette and no-one would shout at him and tell him to get back to work.

"Hi, I'm not selling anything," was what he had been told to say as soon as someone opened a door. It was a lie, but technically maybe not, he thought. His job was to convince people to sign up to a book club, so they didn't actually buy anything, just committed themselves to paying money every month for the book of their choice, or if they forgot to choose, the book of someone else's choice.

No-one was interested except for one woman who took pity on him and signed his form. "It's hard work, the door to door," she said. "Trust me, I do it meself." He had hoped for one moment that she might invite him in and it would become like one of those films, but she didn't, and after he left he thought that she would probably cancel her membership in the seven day period allowed. Still, she had been kind, and it made him feel better.

Most people were OK, only the odd one told him to fuck off, a few stopped for a nice chat, especially the older ones, and the only things that spoilt the week were the rain, and the dogs, because he didn't like dogs and they didn't like him, and the dawning realisation of what would happen at the end of the week.

"I'm sorry," his superviser said. "But one sale?"

"Is that it then?"

"'Fraid so."

"OK, then, thank you for the chance."

There weren't any other jobs out there next, so after a pointless morning in the job centre he went back out knocking on the doors.

"Any jobs you need doing? Anything at all."

He didn't get many, but he didn't much care, because to be honest he enjoyed  meeting people, and now the rain had stopped and the air was warm and the dogs didn't seem too bad.