Someone had to be first

How many days has it been since last I caught a fish? Long enough that I’m giving serious consideration to eating my own hair. Before I resort to that, there are a number of other…unsavoury options. Why has it come to such unappealing choices?

The rest of my tribe departed this coastline many days ago. They left me behind because, they say, I lacked the necessary hunting ability to pull my weight in the group. It certainly appears that they were right, if my subsequent lack of success in the angling department is anything to go by. On the other hand, the entire reason that the clan decided to relocate was down to the dwindling resources in this local environment, so perhaps I am being too harsh on myself.

Nonetheless, there are a number of shells in the shallows very close to the rock from which I struggle to hook marine life of the swimming variety. They are quite craggy, almost rock-like, and of a whitish, greyish, yellowish colour. On closer inspection, it seems that these shells contain a strange substance; a kind of slick, sticky membrane. Not exactly appetizing, I grant you. However, the starving man must take whatever nature provides. It could be a lifesaver.

Wish me luck, Dirawong.

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Solidarity, brothers & sisters…☼

 

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His Mother’s Killer

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“Let’s go through this one more time, just to make sure we’re clear”.

With closed eyes, a downcast expression, and a palm pressed against her forehead, Officer Winterburn was a picture of muted exasperation. The man to whom she made the request, on the other hand, was a jovial eccentric.

“Well, once I smelled the smoke I knew that it was no time to stand on ceremony, so a departure was in order… Assuming that my intimate comrade had already fled the conflagration-”

Dr. Chesterton R.D. Laingford Esq. was brought to a halt by Winterburn’s colleague, Officer McLintock, who raised a hand with a quizzical look.

“The what? You mean ‘fire’, right Mr…uh…Doctor…um…Esquire?”

Their esteemed interviewee gave a chuckle and refilled his glass from the jug of water at the table’s centre.

“It’s Laingford, dear boy, just Laingford – the Doctorate was only in Epistemology for goodness’ sake, wouldn’t want to give people the mistaken impression that I can help them with anything practical after all, best leave it out altogether, hmmm?”

At this he gave another high-pitched titter. Winterburn opened her eyes and let her hand fall to the desk with undisguised irritation. McLintock flinched, but Laingford carried on, oblivious.

“At any rate, you chaps can call me Chez. That’s what all my comrades call me after all. Possibly because I’m always lounging about? Chaise lounge? My, my name is Chesterton, you see, and-”

Winterburn made a sound uncannily similar to a growl, while McLintock simply looked baffled; the young Scot had never come across anyone like this in his entire life thus far.

“Anyhow. Where was I? Oh yes… I had assumed that my divine darling had wisely abandoned the property, and therefore required no assistance from yours truly. Thus, I was left with the twin alternatives of following her example with immediate effect, or opting to seize one item of optimum sentimental import before doing so. With incredible quick-wittedness, even if I do say so myself, I swiftly decided to grab a duberry prior to departure.”

Tired and frustrated by the events of the day, Officer Winterburn was having trouble keeping her eyes open. Her fellow copper had no such problems; he was wide-eyed at the loquaciousness of their guest, who had begun gesticulating enthusiastically at apparently random points.

“So it would have to be irreplaceable. That rules out all the electronic goods, the consumer durables, the clothing and numerous works of literature, doesn’t it? As much as yours truly is a hoarder, he can nevertheless be forced to leave the vast paraphernalia that is accrued over half a century’s existence! And when I say ‘vast’, I mean ‘VAST!'”

At this he jerked his arms wide, sending the glass of water crashing into the wall. Laingford was so engrossed in his verbose retelling that he scarcely noticed, while Winterburn proceeded to put both palms to her face. McLintock merely stared, mouth agape.

“Detritus accumulated over the decades, an immense treasure trove of unmatched value to me…however, I left it all behind. What else is there, I hear you ask?”

Tempted to deny that she had said any such thing, Winterburn instead sighed grouchily.

“I supposed that I would have to grab a photograph of my dad. My dear, departed father. The one of my mother, he and I at my PhD graduation. Didn’t have time to find any that was of just the two of us, so that one featuring the pater familias would have to do. It did make me somewhat sad, the only image I had left of him also having that bitch on it, but what else could I do?”

In unison, Winterburn and McLintock perked up. It was as if they were two hungry hounds who had just had a hunk of meat waved in front of their noses.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

 

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What must he look like to them?

Gazing around the table at those present was most informative. To Tsuchinoko, they were like a weird, jumbled-up family, or perhaps an unimpressive circus troupe. He smiled as he idly wondered what their performing roles would be. Commandant Nora…she’d be the the ‘Bearded Lady’, for sure. Granted, she had no facial hair, but nobody would dare question the tempestuous woman’s identity, and in any case her countenance was fearsome enough to overcome such an unimportant impediment. Compa Beppe…he’d be the ‘World’s Tallest Midget’. The sullen Sardinian somehow remaining studiously unimposing and diminutive despite his 6’5 frame. Dame Jason…the ‘Man With Three Breasts’. Was there anyone else in the revolutionary movement whose steps caused the ground to shake so vigorously?

Tsuchinoko was shaken from his amused reverie by a question. Stall for time – quick, look thoughtful. He removed his spectacles and began to polish them, clearing his throat and concocting a response so long-winded that nobody would be able to remember the initial enquiry. If he could be sufficiently vague and litter his discourse with enough words like ‘dialectical’, ‘interconnectivity’, ‘negation’ and ‘hermeneutics’, his supposed comrades would probably fail to spot his lack of attentiveness. After a second or two he realised that it was Marshal Cosh who had posed the question. The ‘Ringmaster’, no question. This was a typical curveball from the unpredictable but assured militant; Cosh loved to keep everyone on their toes.

While he burbled on, his eyes met the bemused gaze of Mama Didero. She knows, the bitch. Head cocked to one side, the mater familias seemed to challenge Tsuchinoko; ‘Keep digging that hole, son’. It was all he could do to retain his composure – he had long resented her manipulative ways and faux omniscience. She’d be the ‘Gypsy Fortune Teller’. Taking care not to trail off, but rather to end on a suitably pseudo-profound note – “Neither Habermas nor Foucault could have foreseen the volatile agency that the state itself has brought to bear in the hour of its most critical phase” – he took a deep swig from his hipflask. Bullfrog Petraeus noticed and made tutting noises, shaking his head mockingly. Screw you, Petr…Your perfectly hideous ogre would be a tailor-made ‘Elephant Man’.

Admirable in a way, this motley assortment of rogues, battleaxes, vandals and warriors. They had managed to unite in a manner that had heretofore eluded the vast majority of their predecessors, and could quite conceivably have succeeded in their goals were it not for Tsuchinoko’s deception. The dunderheaded security apparatus of such amateur groupings remained the great Achilles’ Heel of so many grand plans. Of mice and men, etc. These fools were set for one almighty failure – the big drop from the Big Top – and it was one of their most trusted comrades who would be responsible.

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Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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A Song For Each Decade

If every 10 years you spent alive had to be accompanied by a solitary anthem, what tunes would you choose for the soundtrack of your life thus far?

Obviously it’s an absolute nightmare of a question; there’s way too many songs, and way too many experiences, and way waaaaaay too much to get across with a piece of music that probably lasts less than 5 minutes. Plus, I’m only 32, so this will be less of a ‘soundtrack’ and more of an EP. Still, unless you’ve got something else planned for the next few minutes, have a read while I give it a bash.

Firstly, I’m gonna treat them as calendar decades. Is that the term? Fuck it. So even though I was only alive for the second half of the 80’s, it’s getting its own song. That way I pick 4 tracks rather than 3; 80’s, 90’s, Noughties…and whatever this decade is called. Teens? That can’t be right, it includes 2011 and 2012… The decade from 2010 to 2019, then.

That’ll do, to begin with. Bunch of Anglo-Irish fellas from Camden, with charm, charisma and a fuckload of instruments to create a big, bold sound. GOD, I sound so STUPID. Anyway, the lyrics properly convey what it was like, if I remember correctly – which is a big ‘if’ given a) how long ago it was, and b) how ickle I was – living in a suburban semidetached in South London with a big family.

Yep, they’re all gonna involve fucking houses. Got a problem with that? Good. So in late 1989 our family upped sticks and crossed the Irish Sea to live in County Dublin. Our new place was right next to a farm, with plenty of cows and the like… Hell, by the end of the 90’s we had a veritable animal farm ourselves; 3 dogs, 2 cats, a horse, a donkey, a pony & the pony’s foal. Mental. Great craic though.

Ah, the years of 15 to 25. Mopey, anxious, self-obsessed, depressed, socially awkward dreadfulness. Lots of romantic fuck-uppery, and lots of appropriate whinyness to go with it. Mind you, my Dad also died in this period so I guess it’s a little understandable that I wasn’t the Mae West. Still, the Arsenal won 3 FA Cups, 2  Premiership titles and went 49 league games unbeaten…but I don’t have a song for that.

Granted, there’s still at least 2 years left of this decade but whatevs. It’s my list, I do what I want. The playlist, admittedly, appears to be painfully white and male, when you look back over it, but what can ya do. Ya likes what ya likes. This song’s a great one for helping to cope with shit times which, given my stays in psychiatric hospital, were quite prominent at the start of the Elevensietwelveteens. Then I met my now-fiancé, and things got a hella better hella quickly…and what did/does she have tattooed on her foot? This Too Shall Pass.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Otherwise Occupied

Yuppies, maybe? Wealthy types, anyway. Definitely bourgeois. That’s one thing that’s an absolute certainty.

They might be a family; working dad, in his 40’s or 50’s, away a lot of the time because his job makes a lot of demands on his time…stay-at-home mum, or perhaps one who works part-time, from home even…couple of kids, three at most, the eldest 15, the youngest a newborn.

The teen’s a bit rebellious. Hates the boring suburbs and the lifeless estate, but is genuinely afraid of any actually working class folk. The family owns three laptops, two cars, and a dog. All of them have smartphones – yes, even the babby. There’s no cash in teh house – sorry burglars – but a veritable fuckload of valuable consumer durables. Well, with the word ‘valuable’ a little loosely-defined.

Their freezer – about the size of a schooner’s anchor – is always full. They have an impressively-stocked drinks cabinet. There is a massive noticeboard in the kitchen that’s covered with awards – rosettes and the like from school for the kids, a few employee-of-the-month type commendations for dad, a few odd man-of-the-match (woman-of-the-match? Person-of-the-match?) prizes for mam from her university days. All sorts. High achievers. You know the like.

Ordinary enough. Fairly unremarkable, really. The kind of people who will live in my home after my family and I are long gone.

Unless I stop them.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Raging Against the Dying of the Light

With just seven days left of his life, Frederick Grainger was an unremarkable man. He had spent much of his thirty years up to that point unemployed, sleeping on the sofas of friends, getting into bar fights, struggling with depression, and doing a pretty good impersonation of someone who would not be remembered beyond his passing. If that sounds mean, I apologise – but Freddy himself would be the first to admit that such a characterisation was accurate.

That all changed with the diagnosis. There is no need to bore you with the medical details, the majority of which causes the eyes to glaze over and the ears to tune out. A lot of crucial words like ‘inoperable’ and ‘terminal’ peppered the initial conversation once Grainger received the results of his blood, urine and X-Ray tests. Suffice to say, Freddy got the chance to answer a question that most of us, thank heavens, will never have to face: what would you do, if you had just week to live?

His notes, apparently scribbled not long after the fateful meeting with his GP, tell part of the story:

“I must endeavour to join the revolutionary side of some armed conflict somewhere in the world. If my time is short, then I no longer have anything to lose but my chains, right? Plus I can help, in my own meagre way, the cause of others who still have a world to win once I’m gone.”

That afternoon he got in touch with the Lions of Rojava, and by the following evening had arrived in what is now the recognised state of Kurdistan to meet his new brothers (and sisters) in arms. It seems extraordinary that, barely a day after receiving the news of his imminent death, he would be half a world away about to take part in an international conflict, but that is what happened. The forces of the YPG (People’s Protection Units) were, by this point, well versed in the recruitment of foreign fighters, so their efficiency in admitting him to their ranks is somewhat unsurprising. Freddy had been familiar with them since 2015, when as a teenager his friend Moazzem Ahmed had departed their native Birmingham to join their struggle.

Grainger’s notes give some insight into how he saw his fellow fighters:

“They are organised, successful and explicitly leftist – particularly in their egalitarian principles regarding women and freedom of religion. I can only hope that in my last days I’ll be able to prove to my brothers and sisters that I, too, amd [sic] worthy of the title, ‘Comrade'”.

This he most assuredly did, at the very least by the manner of his death: In a firefight with Daesh forces on the outskirts of Raqqa, 5 days after he enlisted, Freddy Grainger was shot in the chest. Refusing to relinquish his rifle, he remained in place and provided covering fire for the rest of his unit as they withdrew. It is not known whether he was captured and died later in captivity, or if he succumbed to his wounds while bravely continuing to shoot at the enemy, but regardless of such particulars one thing is certain: He died a hero.

He died a comrade.

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Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Don’t Ever Dream, Dennis

Was Dennis excited? You bet your sweet ass he was. He had never been to see his beloved Barcelona play, and by chance had finally been given the opportunity to do so; mere days before they took on AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League final, a fellow Barca fan had offered him a spare ticket. That Dennis was able to take up the offer was equally serendipitous; he was, in fact, an Amsterdammer, but had been given a trip to Athens as a combination Christmas/Birthday present by his wife. By chance, it was in the Athenian Olympic Stadium that the match would take place. He was lucky also, in that she didn’t mind him skipping out on their Summer vacation for one night in order to see his favourite football team. So it was that Dennis was in high spirits when he arrived in the Greek capital.

If it seemed to good to be true, well…that’s because it was. Conrad, the friend who had presented him with the ticket, and Anushka, another supporter of Catalonia’s finest who had yet to see them play, met him in a local café bar. It was there, while sipping from a can of none-to-delectable Aegean, that he finally had the chance to see the actual slips of paper which would grant him entry to the OAKA, and he saw to his dismay that the tickets had a section tippexed out. What was the meaning of this? Anushka assured him that it was nothing to worry about; the seller had instructed her to simply write in a name & passport reference number over the tippex. Dennis was not completely convinced, but simply trusted to luck. After all, there were three of them, what could go wrong?

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Upon leaving the café bar, the trio set off for the metro that would take them to the stadium, and Conrad had the bright idea of smoking a joint on the way. Anushka, most sensibly, refused. Now, Dennis was hardly a weed aficionado, but he thought, ‘What the hell’ and accepted the blunt gratefully. He had not intended to smoke quite so much of it, but by the time he threw the end away Dennis realised that he’d had roughly half the spliff… Probably wouldn’t matter though, right?

Once they hopped on the M1, however, he discovered that his mouth was getting increasingly dry. He suddenly had a desperate thirst, and could only think of when he might be able to purchase a blessed bottle of water. Conrad and Anushka were excitedly chatting among themselves, blissfully unaware of Dennis’ situation. Gradually, but inexorably, his throat began to close. Gripping the handrail for dear life, Dennis began to lose consciousness. As he did so, his fingers relaxed, and as he tumbled to the carriage floor he simultaneously tumbled into oblivion…

He came to at the sensation of water splashing onto his upturned face. Some sort of lozenge was shoved into his mouth, and he heard a voice from a long way away saying, “Suck on this, it’s sugar, you’ll feel better!” Slowly, as if covered in molasses or submerged in tar, he climbed back to his feet, aided by his two concerned and compassionate companions. They took him off the train at the next stop – still five or six short of their destination – and brought him up to the surface to get some fresh air. He thanked his comrades for not abandoning him. It transpired that Conrad had cheekily robbed a bottle of water from a commuter after Dennis fell, and had subsequently used it to spray the unconscious unfortunate in the face! Dennis laughed at this, and after a a few long gulps from the bottle felt well enough to continue.

Once they arrived at Irini Station, they made the short walk towards the Olympic complex and were confronted by Catalan stewards inspecting all the away fans’ papers. Confidently, the three amigos stepped up to the cordon and handed over their tickets. One made it through. The other two were brought to one side, and informed that their money had been spent on counterfeits. Anushka was lucky. Conrad and Dennis were not.

The two men, now sullen and dejected, trekked back through the city centre and tried to find a bar showing the game. A few minutes after kick-off, they looked in the window of a dismal dive of a place – a dark, dingy club with overpriced beer and haughty service – and saw the match playing on a small screen. Maybe, just maybe, their night would be salvaged by a tremendous Barca victory that would leave them with smiles on their faces…

By now you know that this is not that kind of story. Their heroes were annihilated, demolished, torn apart. Milan capped off a wonderful performance with a 4-0 victory that would live long in the memory of all concerned. Of course, there were two voluble AC supporters in the bar who made absolutely sure that Dennis and Conrad experienced the full humiliation of the evening. How considerate of them.

What a calamity.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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