Wednesday, 15 May 2013

So I got into Bartleby Snopes!

What I Know is This was published this week.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Two New Acceptances!

The first has been up awhile -- Five-Pin Split, at Menda City Press... great 'zine, really nice editor. Been trying to get in for ages, so pleased I managed it.

And I just got word of an acceptance for 'What I Know Is This' at Bartleby Snopes. Again, I've been trying there for ages as well as trying to find a home for this piece for awhile, so stoked for that one too.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

The Face of God

The Face of God, originally published May 2010 by Danse Macabre, reproduced here as their archives seem to have gone down...


Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

His name was borne by three Kings of England, but he was a humble man. Humble, but not a worker. Not for Richard the daily trudge. He saw the gloom on the faces of the workers every morning, carrying their lunches and newspapers like tokens. His mind was set on higher things, and he saw things they did not.

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

He saw the joy in the world that they didn’t. Their flattened stoop was anathema to him. In the grey, he saw colours, in the plain, patterns, and in the flat, hills and valleys with rollercoaster curves. He hopped and skipped from place to place to the beat of a drum he couldn’t believe they were deaf to.

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

He complimented those who looked sad; often they recoiled, but sometimes he sensed he’d done some good. He gave presents to those who seemed needy; they were often rejected. He offered to let them join in the games he played; they usually refused. He didn’t let it bother him.

of sun-split clouds, -- and done a hundred things

He collected things; sets. One day, everything he could find that was orange, another day yellow. He had a stash, a treasure trove, carefully categorised. Things people had loved, things that had been useful, things that wanted to be reunited with their owners.

You have not dreamed of -- wheeled and soared and swung

He wasn’t stupid. By their definition, he knew, he was mad. By not sharing their nightmare, he placed himself outside it. But it was he who smiled, who extracted joy from every mundane, ordinary day, as they would have it. He communed with the world, with all of it. He was proud of the stalwart light-guards on street corners, brightening the way and never complaining. He loved to run with the four-legged barkers in the park; they always recognised him and loved him. He thrilled to follow the maze laid out in the white lines, chased along by a cacophony of horns.

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,

Sometimes he would just watch. Time around him would stop and he would just stand and look, and take it all in. It was all so beautiful: the colour, the movement, the shape, the form. A silent sunrise on a Sunday morning, the people still tangled in sleepy blankets and strands of dream. Rivulets of water cascading over the concrete kerb and into the drains, a miniature waterfall.

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

Other times he would celebrate, running as fast as he could and screaming at the top of his lungs: ‘I’m Alive! The World is here!’ He couldn’t really get over the fact of the universe’s existence, its wonder.

My eager craft through footless halls of air....

The children seemed to like him, seemed to understand him. He had some small friends, from time to time. Inevitably, they were taken away, mothers scolding. He didn’t mind so much, didn’t blame them. They were only being protective, like ducks whose downy young found a churning weir entrancing.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

Richard didn’t allow himself to get too distracted, though. He knew what he was here for, and he looked for it. He looked for it in the chrome cathedrals of the silver underground stations, whose doors talked to others as well as him. He looked on beaches, following piers out to get as close to the horizon as he could, peering out. He looked in the night sky, at the twinkling stars, trying to decipher their messages.

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

He looked for it in plain sight. Often people completely failed to notice he was there, and so he would sit and watch the suits and mothers hurry by, sit and watch lives play out in front of him. Couples argued, kissed, made up. Kids leapt flights of steps on skateboards. What he was looking for could as easily be in the grace of the arc described by their leap as in the depths of the night sky. It could be in the flick of a woman’s hair, or the pattern of lines on a leaf or a snail’s shell, he knew. He kept his eyes, and all his other senses, open.

Where never lark nor even eagle flew --

He looked for it in the empty spaces, too. He swam to the bottom of abandoned quarries filled with water, the silt hurting his eyes as he scanned the depths. He nearly died of exposure on Dartmoor, standing on High Willhays and peering into the wind. He spent weeks listening to birdsong, entwining the different melodies in his mind.

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

He walked the streets of cities whose name he didn’t know. He walked alleyways where not even the cats were friendly to him. He walked lonely country lanes and busy shopping centre thoroughfares. And all with a smile on his face.

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

One day, he realised that, to see what nobody else had seen, he would need to go where nobody else had gone. And then, he looked upwards… and saw the place he needed to look from. The very spot, in front of his eyes.

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

They found his crumpled body at the foot of a construction site. The site was that of the soon-to-be tallest building in London, the scaffold of which had already surpassed the famed cigar-shaped ‘Gherkin’. It wasn’t clear whether he’d jumped or fallen, although it was later found that he’d done whichever it was from the very top of the building-to-be. His remains were in quite bad shape, but on his face was a singular smile, one that struck everyone on the scene, and remained long in the memory. As the officer in charge of the scene reflected, you could almost call it beatific. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

A Universe that Conspired to Give You Such a Tongue*

I feel a little electrified; I'm seeing all these points of connection. A network of stars, a pantheon drawn on them by a child joining the dots. I don't think I can come at it head-on because that's not how it works; it's circling, coming back in on itself, referencing things that reference things and leading back round, like following a chain of dictionary definitions that leads you back to the first word you looked up.

Besides, it'll give me an excuse to finally start writing here regularly, because it's too long for one post.

So, where to start? Okay. Awhile back, a writer friend (hi, Katie!) turned me onto a poem by Marty McConnell, 'Instructions for a Body'.

Trust me, if you've ever thought a single piece of advice I gave was worthwhile, listen to it, here:

Or watch, here:

It still sends shivers down my spine. But I'd forgotten about it, somehow. Somehow it just got on that list with Weebl and Bob and xkcd and lolcats: 'Hey, that's cool!' -- whoosh!, out the other ear.

Now, you don't need to analyse poetry to get at its beauty. But this piece says something really real and concrete to me about life, and about god or whatever you want to call something which may be bigger than us. So let me quote from it (I'm pretty sure she won't mind, based on her previous interactions with bloggers). She begins:

praise the miracle body: the odd

and undeniable mechanics of hand,

hundred-boned foot, perfect stretch

of tendon

She's talking about the human body and it's beauty, and she does it shiver-inducingly. She's talking about the miracle of life, of the body you've been given. And she keeps using the word 'praise':

praise the strange convexity of ribcage

praise the single hair that insists on growing

from a right areola

And the first time I heard/read it, I'm pretty sure it was missing a part that's now in almost every version I see, so I didn't attach too much importance to the word 'praise'. Turn of phrase, I guess I thought. But the 'new' version says this:

tell me there are no gods then,

no master plans for this anatomy

with its mobile and evident spark

Now, I don't think she's making the intelligent design argument. She's not asking us to praise God, or any god outside ourselves. She's asking us to praise ourselves, the beautiful creation that we are. But not as individuals, not as a matter of pride and hubris. She goes on to say:

give thanks

for what we take for granted, bone and dirt

and the million things that will kill us

someday, motion and the pursuit

of happiness

This is about giving thanks for, praising, not our body in isolation, but our body as a creation of the universe. She's talking, to me, about the idea that there is more than just atoms and the void. What there is isn't God or Allah or Tom Cruise; it's the universe. You could see at as two sides of the same coin -- to say there is no god is maybe the same as saying that 'god' is the universe, but to me, the tail on that coin is a whole lot more compelling. Especially when we look at what she tells us to do with it:

give thanks or go home a waste of spark

speak or let the maker take back your throat

march or let the creator rescind your feet

dream or let your god destroy your good and fertile mind

this is your warning / this

your birthright / do not let

this universe regret you.

If that's they way they pray at this church, count me in.

*Her line, of course.

Monday, 23 January 2012

An Excellent Vector

I think maybe the shape of what you're doing only really emerges in the wake of you actually doing it. And I think that's maybe my problem. I want these fantastic, fully-formed ideas from the outset, and I'm often not prepared to get going until I have them. Which means I don't get going at all. It's no coincidence that my best work has been put together under the pressure of a timer or deadline of some sort (as with every single one of the pieces on the right).

Similarly, since this blog kind of started being a travel blog and then petered out, I've been waiting for inspiration as to direction before continuing it. And it's not come, so I haven't. So, I think what I'll do is just write. Some of it may be rubbish. But it will be something. Some direction, some momentum. And once there's that, maybe I can think about reinventing or focusing, or rebranding, or whatever.

So in random unrelated news, I did get another story published; I think I mentiond it on facebook at the time, but not on here. It's an odd one, a little Calvino or Borges:

So anyway, here's to a productive direction and momentum; an excellent vector.

Friday, 3 December 2010

India: Part One

India seems like a long time ago. In fact, it was. We left there just after my 34th birthday on 5th July after six weeks in the country. A lot has happened since then; we came home and spent my grandmother's last weeks with her, and flew back out to finish our trip. A lot of feelings and thoughts have been washing through me over that time, and I've felt quite insular in many ways. I've certainly not felt like writing up the travels. But now I want to rejoin the world.

India is a hundred countries. Trying to reduce it to something manageable in a blog post seems faintly ridiculous. But to me, our time there seemed to split quite evenly into two halves. The second half of our time there, in the cool heights of Kashmir, Ladakh and McLeod Ganj ('Little Tibet') felt a world away from the sweltering lowlands of Delhi, Agra and Varanasi.

Varanasi: Heat

The bus journey from Agra to Varanasi is seventeen hours in what they call an 'ordinary bus'. But there's nothing ordinary about this filthy deathtrap. People in the bus station tell us: 'this bus isn't for tourists', but of course we think: 'we can handle it'. And we do, for the first few hours. Before we get uncomfortable sitting in the clothes that have gotten so sweaty because of the close-to-fifty-degree heat. Before the bus gets rammed and someone's ass is in my ear and people are fistfighting over seats. Before we're black with the sooty residue that covers everything. Before we stop for a break in the middle of the night and eat pastries for dinner in a ditch with a pig for company. Before we then (perhaps not surprisingly) start to feel ill.

Eventually we arrive in Varanasi sometime before eight in the morning, to be met by the heat. By nine we've still not found where we're staying, and the heat is unbearable; we are being cooked alive. We eventually rock up and check in, and then spend three or four days straying no further from our bathroom than we absolutely have to. But in Varanasi, the electricity is intermittent, so when the air-con goes off (as it does once for almost the whole day), we're twisting in our sweat again. When we're not too ill or hot to do anything, exploring Varanasi is an experience never to be forgotten. The alleyways that pass for streets twist and wind; you come across cows blocking the way, families bathing half in the street, beggars, stalls... life is lived on the streets here.

And in and on the river. The Ganges is supremely holy to Hindus, and they bathe in it, drink it, wash with it, and are interred in it, either their whole body or their ashes after being cremated on its banks. It's filthy with sewage, never mind what gets in it from all these uses, but those who live here grow up drinking it. And celebrating life along its banks -- dancing, praying, relaxing. Life is lived fairly much in the open here, and everything is close. It's a visceral place. In many ways I wish we'd visited India when it was less hot, but I guess that perhaps Varanasi is most itself when it's sweltering, and when everything is mixed up in sweat and heat haze and mist, almost like life, concentrated and focused so sharply that it's uncomfortable, but at the same time, utterly compelling.

Delhi: Hassle

That heat exhausation come on the back of a weariness of being, and being seen to be, a tourist. A tourist stepping off the plane in Delhi is new meat. I've soon lost count of how many times we're told that the place we're looking for has burned down, or is closed for some made-up religious holiday, or somesuch, and very helpfully advised of an 'alternative' which is 'better' and 'cheaper' (and pays commission to our helpful friend). A four hundred metre walk along the main strip in touristville in Delhi is impossible without being hassled, often quite aggressively, to buy at least eight package tours, twelve taxi rides and an assortment of ticketing, eating, drinking and other such 'opportunities'. On our first day, a taxi ride to a bookshop to get a guidebook turns into a tour of tourist agencies trying to sell us tours, or at a pinch some tatty old guidebooks. 'Delhi doesn't change much in thirteen years', we're told, after pointing out the publication date of one. He might actually have half a point, but we're not buying.

This happens in Agra and Varanasi too, but Delhi seems worst. You can't ask directions without a hand being held out for money, and you can't get around a quarter of an attraction without somebody hard-selling their services as a guide. I know that some of these people are extremely needy, and that in comparison to them I am rich. So as well as feeling hassled I end up feeling guilty for becoming so annoyed by it. After awhile your skin hardens and you begin to ignore people rather than get drawn into conversations which are always, always a prelude to being taken for a ride. But this is a shame as it makes you draw back and makes it hard to embrace what you've come out here to find. It certainly feels a light year away from the open arms of Iran.

Maybe it's our legacy, so maybe we deserve it, but there are also people here hauling themselves up by their bootstraps without ripping people off; it's a shame the trap of fleecing tourists is so tempting that so many others fall into it. Again, the discomfort and hassle rubs shoulders with wonder, and Delhi as a melting pot, as a crazy, fast-paced life-happening-all-around you experience is not one I'd take back for all the hawkers in India. But, given our limited time in India, although we find ourselves being drawn back again and again by Delhi's gravity and transport-hub status, we never stay long; there are places where it is much easier to enjoy India.

Agra: Majesty

After seeing huge Persian blue-tiled mosques in Iran, the red sandstone monoliths which are the forts and mosques left by Akbar the Great in India are a fantastic counterpoint. The city of Fatehpur Sikri is supremely evocative; a massive labyrinth of temples, towers, halls and follies, exquisitely well-preserved. You can imagine Akbar's court marching and fanning and debating and dancing; it seems like only the trees have grown and changed since. Agra Fort, like the Red Fort in Delhi, also stands almost perfectly preserved and evokes a pit of dread t the idea of ever assailing such places.

And then, having heard all the hype, we are up at 4:30 in the morning to beat the crowds in to see the Taj. We pay about five times as much as we've paid for any single visit on our travels. It's worth all of it. There's something about such a huge, beautiful building being built as a mausoleum for one person, that just blows your mind. It's a haunting white reflection of the red architecture of the forts, and I can't do anything except stand and soak it in. It feels supremely peaceful, in the early morning light, sitting at its base, the white towers looming straight up, and the huge dome capping the intricate lattice work of the building. 'Building' actually seems like the wrong word: it seems more like a monument from another world, almost as alien as the black tablet in 2001. We are hours in the immaculate gardens, just spending time in the company of this beautiful mountain of wrought marble. I walk out feeling very much at peace.

The majesty of India is apparent in so many more places than just Agra and the Mughal architecture, though. there is something majestic in the open-air funeral pyres along the banks of the Ganges -- the sheer scale and industry of the operation inspires. Even India's trains and stations, while maybe slightly grubby, are soaring in scale, elements of the landscape, not to be trifled with. The scale of travle around India itself is tremendous. Our seventeen hour bus journey is not even our longest, and we have several train journeys in double figures of hours. And, presiding over it all, the start of the biggest mountains in the world. After the heat and the closeness of the plains, we leave for Kashmir, and thence to Ladakh in the heart of the Indian Himalaya.

Photos of Delhi, Agra & Varanasi

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Long Watch

So, before I went away I got a piece accepted by The Legendary. It's a piece I really like, loosely inspired by an attempt to make sense of 'All Along the Watchtower', last Xmas, on Show Me Your Lits.

The Long Watch