Friday, 29 July 2011
You see, if I’m obsessed with writing, my fetish is procrastination. It’s something I’ve realised recently. Well, that’s not very honest. My procrastinating practices have been going on for some time. Like any fetish it’s something that’s built out of habit. The problem with a fetish, the fetish takes over, it’s always there, this dark place you know to be bad, you don’t talk about it, you hide it, do anything but admit it’s where you’re at. The problem is, the problem that I’m admitting to, the fetish is getting in the way of the obsession.
If I go back, way back to when I was eight or nine, the boy in school who had extra reading, who couldn’t quite understand how others could get this maths and reading thing, and then couldn’t understand why everyone else found the drawing and craft things so hard. Right around that time my parents happened to read a newspaper article about dyslexia. They went through the signs and symptoms, put little ticks against each of them. Mentioned this to the school. The school said, no such thing. What would a school know? Through the dyslexia association my parents found a private tutor. I had the tests. I had them all. Back then, they were the only tests I’d ever passed. Your son’s dyslexic, said the private tutor. The school did their own tests. I passed those as well. I got quite good at passing tests.
The dyslexic label changed my life. The private tutor showed me how to take all the indecipherable rubbish taught in schools, and turn it into something I could understand and remember. Okay, I had a battle with a new school that pushed me into a remedial class because of the label. But, those were the eighties. Things in education have changed – thank god.
The biggest thing to come out of all that dyslexic tutoring, the best thing, the tutor introduced me to books. Not those Peter and Jane, Janet and John, books the schools never let me progress from. No, the tutor wanted me to try and read books suitable for my age. It was a struggle, took some time, but, what do you know, books have stories. All those pictures I could see in my head and draw, well words could build those pictures too, words could make those pictures move, words could take you to worlds far away, and words were bloody wonderful. It was a new world. It was a world I wanted for myself.
That’s when I started to write. With pen and paper I filled exercise book after exercise book. I remember filling four books over one weekend and handing them in for English homework. The teacher read every single page. Is that a true story, she asked. No, imaginary, of course. She said my spelling needed work. If she’s still alive, I think she’d say that now. Andrew, your spelling needs work, she’d say and smile then ask, is this a true story? God I hope not, I’d say, I hope life’s fairer than that.
My writing switched from pen and paper. I went out and bought an electronic typewriter. I typed reams and reams, story after story. I typed short stories, and a couple of novels.
My writing switched from the electronic typewriter. I went out and bought my first computer. The computer had two great big slits in the front, slits big enough to receive five and a quarter inch floppy disks. I had to go and get me a printer as well. I typed page after page, filling that black screen with green text. If I swapped out one of those floppy disks for another, what you know, the computer would even run a spell check for me. Technology, it’s bloody amazing.
Computers got faster, got themselves colour screens. None of this green text on black anymore. Now you could have yellow text on blue (wonder if that phase is why I wear glasses now?). And, with MS Word, you could spell check without having to change the disks around because, now, there were dedicated hard disks inside the computer. I typed page after page, filling up those white pages with black text. My typing got up to around 120 words a minute. Things were good.
It didn’t last.
Computers had themselves a connection on the back. The media buzzed about something you could plug into that connection. This little device that buzzed and pinged, popped and crackled. Some electronic wizardry to connect you to this thing called the World Wide Wed. With an acronym and a dot, you could traverse the world. Soon this company called Google came along. My fetish developed nicely, thank you very much.
It wasn’t page after page I wrote. It was the occasional page. But, I was sitting in front of the computer, so that was the main thing. Word was open in the background so, really, I was writing all along, wasn’t I? Turns out, no I wasn’t. New web pages were springing up, thousands a day, always more banality to find. I had a fetish for turning blue links purple, one after the other, after the other. I read about writing, I read a lot about writing, I joined forums about writing, and I wrote that I was writing, and posted that I was writing, while all the time not writing.
It wasn’t simply a fact of not writing, the word processor brought with it something neither paper nor typewriter had...the constant edit. On a computer you can read over everything you’ve written, and you can hone it, and you can clip it, and you can shuffle it around, and you can do this constantly, and you think you’re writing, and you convince yourself you’re writing, you tell people you’re writing. You’re not. You’re nurturing that procrastination fetish. Because, while you’re constantly editing, you’re posting that you’re writing, and you’re off following those links about writing. But, now, it’s not just links. The big ole WWW dot has gone social. Now you want to know what everyone else is doing, everyone, even that person you met at a party – how many years ago – the one you friend requested when you were drunk, the one you don’t want to de-list because you don’t like doing that, you know how much it hurts to be de-listed yourself. You even read updates from people you don’t know, because, somehow, they’ve made it to your friend list but, who are they? They seem to have the same school friends as you. Were they in your class? Worst, do they know you but you daren’t admit you don’t know them...the social stigma of it, eh?
Procrastination’s a fetish, a fetish nurtured by technology, fed by technology, rubbed, suckled, and stroked by technology. Procrastination’s masturbation for the mind.
I’ve had enough. I’ve made a stand. Yeah, I live technology, I love technology, I consume technology. But, I’ve had enough all the same. I want to write page after page after page. I want to build worlds. I want to populate those worlds, and get that population doing stuff. I want to write like I used to write. I want to write reams and reams. Fill book after book. Use up the pen and replace it with another so the ink comes bold and strong.
So, I’ve done it. I’ve left my high-tech writing tool of choice and gone all analogue, all 80’s retro. I’m in aeroplane mode. I write on dead trees (paper made from pulp sourced from managed forests, of course). And, I’ve never written so much in twenty years. The buzz is back, the hunger returned, the obsession shines above the fetish. The fetish is locked away in the dungeon, obsession its keeper. What you know, you can take paper and pen anywhere, write anywhere, there’re no batteries to fail. It’s that first draft I want, that elusive first draft that needs capturing and taming. So far, this whole pen and paper retro thing’s doing the job. The fetish is dead, long live the obsession.
I’m off to write, real writing done with pen on paper. Publishing’s gone all ebook, and it could be the writer’s world out there. But, that’s another post...
Saturday, 18 June 2011
"I read the brochures too," Julie was losing patience. "Give it a rest."
"But nothing, Carl." It wasn't a scream; not quite. "It's too hot to argue." She gave him one of her best if-you-don't-shut-up-right-now looks.
"Sorry," he said and she hoped it was the end of it. The pause didn't last. "You're not the packhorse though. Pile it up. Carl, will manage."
"Daddy, I'm helping." Jason beamed up at his father from beneath the peak of his 'Bob the Builder' baseball cap.
"Yeah, Jay, you're helping." The rucksack bobbed on Jason's back. Through the clear, plastic he could see his son's beach essentials: two plastic spades (one yellow, one blue), a plastic elephant, lion, and giraffe - not to mention the sand encrusted bottle of factor thirty-five (Julie's addition). He turned to Julie, "I was only saying-"
"You're not saying anything," she hissed.
"I…" he began but, not knowing how to finish this particular complaint, his words trailed off. His shoulders slumped and his six foot two, fifteen stone, frame sagged. The sun zapped his energy. And, that was another thing, "Keep out of the sun between eleven in the morning, until four in the afternoon. What crap," he was back in the flow of things. "Whoever came up with that gem hasn't tried to keep a three year old amused in Majorca for two weeks in August."
"Daddy, I'm nearly four."
"Yeah, I know," he smiled at Jason before venting more steam. "If I wanted a walking holiday I'd have gone to the Pyrenees. It's cooler." He gave her ample time to come back at him. She wasn't playing. "Couldn't we stay by the pool, just for today?" he asked. Jason was a blur of motion between them – where did he get his energy.
"We're not going back now, we're nearly there."
"But, there's a bar by the pool."
"There's a bar by the beach."
"We're staying in a five start hotel, we should use the facilities."
Julie swung round. "For god sake, we've tried a day by the pool. Remember?"
"Yeah, Jay, screamed because it was too deep."
"So, what's your argument, you're saying you'd prefer that?"
"No, but we could try something different."
"Like the boat trip?"
"It got us away from the beach, didn't it?"
"And, you complained about the cost the whole day, 'we could've hired a yacht and sailed around the island,'" she mimicked. "We're going to the beach and that's final."
In the main resort, they followed the road as it wound its way along the seafront, taking them past souvenir shops, bars and hotels. A few bleary-eyed holidaymakers were out, wandered around clutching shopping bags containing milk, bread, and a daily paper. Delivery vans restocked bars and joggers took advantage of the morning breeze and empty streets.
Stepping from the steep walkway to the beach, Julie noticed that strange smell of sun tan lotion, coconut oil, and seaweed that seemed to permeate from the sand.
"How about over there?" She asked, spotting three sun loungers spread out beneath a thatched parasol.
"I'll go," Jay shouted and sprinted off. His flip-flops clicked and threw up sand as he ran.
"Can't we make do with two sun loungers, it'll be cheaper?" Carl asked.
"Do what you like, as long as you share with, Jay."
He thought about it. "Point taken," he would pay the extra.
"Anyway, you never know, they might forget to charge us again."
"If we don't have a receipt, someone can take our spot."
"Can't complain about a freebee."
"We don't complain enough!"
"Carl, you complain enough for everyone."
"I don't," he protested.
"You are," she pointed out.
"Well, you were grateful for it when the hotel cleared us out of the apartment and put another family in there."
"Leave it, won't you?" she spat back, hoping to stop him before he went off on another rant. "Can't I simply enjoy what's left of the holiday, without you brining up everything that's gone wrong?"
"Fine," he said, but it wasn't.
Jason jumped from sun lounger to sun lounger, using them like stepping-stones to cross the hot sand. "Jay, don't do that," Carl said as he placed the bags on the sand and claimed the nearest sun lounger for his own.
"Daddy, can we go in the sea," Jason asked as he jumped up and down in the sand, kicking it everywhere and making the beginnings of a small crater.
"In a minute, Jay." The walk from the hotel had left him drained.
"Mummy, can I go in the sea with, Daddy?"
"Sun cream first, Jay" Julie rummaged in his rucksack, retrieving the sand encrusted bottle. After squirting a controlled amount of the cream in to Jason's palm, they set about painting him white. She was satisfied when he looking like he had been dipped in a vat of PVA glue. "You're good to go, Jay."
"Come on, Daddy." Jason said impatiently. He pulled at an inflatable armband, trying to get it all the way to his shoulder. The plastic squeaked against his skin. "You promised," he added for good measure.
"Okay," the word full of apathy.
With the second inflatable armband in place, Jason ran to the sea. In one bound, he jumped into the shallows and got back up with the largest grin and the loudest scream. He threw himself at a wave and it turned him in to a ball of flaying arms and legs. Finding his feet, he came up grinning, spluttering, and laughing. He launched himself at the next wave.
"Carl, go stop him from drowning himself."
"It's your turn after lunch," he said as he walked off. Jason disappeared beneath a white breaker.
"We'll see," she replied, unable to hide the snigger as Jason declared an all out splash-war on his father.
Chased and caught, Carl had Jay spinning in a blur of motion before hurling him in a large arc that ended in a scream of joy and a huge splash. Jason was up, shouting "again, Daddy, again."
She left them to their rough-and-tumble games and fell in to her book.
It was the general commotion that woke her, the screams and cries from people along the beach. The urgency of the calls led her to sit up and then to stand. She dropped the book and ran.
A fishing trawler was heading for the beach. Its engine, pounding at full speed, sent seagulls soaring in to the sky. The broiling bow wake fanned out as white foam. The rear edge of a fixed diving platform, anchored a hundred yards from the shore, bucked out of the water when the wake hit. Luckily, at this time of day, no one was using the platform as most of the bathers were close to shore. That didn't mean they were safe.
"Get out," she called and her cry was lost in the commotion.
Along the beach, bathers were scrambling from the water and dragging reluctant children to safety. Carl and Jason were among those that continued to play and splash. She saw Carl disappear underwater, resurface behind Jason, splashed him, and then dive back under again. Jason used his arms to paddle round, trying to catch his father. They were lost in their own game.
Julie stumbled in the soft sand and, regaining her footing, continued her race along the beach. "Look out," she screamed, all too aware of the boats splicing progress, and close enough to see rust spots breaking through paint. The bulk of the trawler seemed to skew perspective, making familiar landmarks appear small.
She willed Carl to turn around. Why didn't he look? Surely, he could hear the boat's engines?
"Carl!" Her cries seemed little more than whispers.
She cupped her hands over her mouth and her shriek left her throat raw. It worked. He looked up. "Carl, the boat," she called while jabbed her index finger high in the air, hoping he would get the message. Turn around.
Twisting, he saw the trawler. A plume of blue, black smoke rose from its single stack. The smoke trailed the boat like a pencil smudge against the sky. Realising they were in the boats path, he didn't hesitate. In a fluid movement, he scooped Jason from the water and began wading towards the beach.
Jason tried to break free, wriggling and struggling in Carl's grip. When that didn't work he screamed and slapped his hands against his father's chest. "I want to swim, Daddy." Carl ignored him. Waste deep, it was like trying to wade through aqua-blue tar.
Two quick blasts from the trawlers air horn rushed over the beach to dissipate through the town and build echoes in the alleyways between shops, bars, and hotels. A deep silence settled as the last echo faded. The roaring engine was everything.
He swung his torso and tendons strained in his neck. He was moving as fast as he could but the day had decided to kick back and take it slow. Light slid on the waters surface and each pinpoint lumbered in the moment. He felt the pressure wave of the boat as a vibration in his chest. "Come on," he willed himself forward. His foot found a ridge beneath the water and he stepped up on to a sand bar. Water erupted around him as he ran for the shoreline. Droplets sparkled in the sunlight.
At last, standing on sun-scorched sand, he caught his breath. Jason pulled free and run to his mother. "What the hell are they doing?" Carl shouted at Julie, as if he expected her to throw back an answer. "They were coming right at us." His face pale with rage.
Julie wrapped her arms around them both, her tears mingled with the droplets of seawater on their skin. "I didn't think you were going to make it," she spoke through sobs that made her words stutter. Jason starred at her, wondering why she was looking down at him like that, crying as she smoothed his hair.
"I want to go back in the sea!" Jason demanded. With his furrowed brow and curled bottom lip, it was a tantrum in the making.
"Not now, Jay," Carl said with his concentration on the trawler.
The sound of its engine changed, dropping to a low hum, and the trawler slowed. The bow wake shrank back and the boat seemed to sit low in the water. The captain stood in the central cabin. On opposite sides of the boat, two boys were calling and waving in an exaggerated manner while a man, clothed in orange overalls, starred over the bow and waved directions for the captain whenever they needed to change course.
Realising that they were going to beach the trawler, Carl huddled his family together and ushered them back.
The boat powered in to the sand bar and they felt the deep thud vibrate through the sand beneath their feet. The trawlers steel frame squealed from the startling halt. The boy, leaning from the right side of the boat, was thrown overboard. He hit the shallow water with a sucking splash, landing in a clumsy heap. Carl was close enough to hear the air forced from his lungs.
Without pause, the boy was up and, holding his arm close, shouted "Llamada a policía!"
Carl understood. The boy was shouting, 'Call the police!' People moved forward.
A man wearing stained denim trousers and a red, plaid shirt - its arms rolled tightly over his biceps - jumped from the boat and splashed towards the crowd. He repeated the boy's phrase, "Llamada a policía," adding, "Hemos encontrado más cuerpos!"
"What's he say, Carl?"
"They want the police," he said. "I think 'cuerpos' means body. They've found a body."
"Body, what body?"
"How do I know, Jules," he said, unable to hide his irritation. He couldn't hear what they were calling, not while she asked for translations and Jason whinged about going back in the sea to look at the boat. "I'm going to take a closer look. See what's going on."
"I'm coming too," Julie began to insist.
"No, stay here," he said it calmly and she listened. "If there are bodies, we don't want, Jason, seeing."
Knowing it made sense, she nodded agreement. "Be careful."
The captain was calling for help. "Ayúdenos," he shouted and beckoned people closer. Carl stayed back, keeping himself out of the crowd. There were a few people offering help. He could see the man in the orange overalls, bending and straining as he pulled something across the deck.
"Please, come help," the Captain asked, switching from Spanish to English, trying to get himself understood. "We find body from barcos...err...sorry," he stuttered, looking for the right word, "boats accidente. They here," and he waved his hand over the deck like a magician at the end of a complex trick.
The man in the orange overalls began to haul a rolled tarpaulin up, on to the side of the boat. The captain helped. From the way the tarpaulin flopped and folded, Carl saw that they had made a mistake. He tried to move forward, calling for them to stop what they were doing. He was too late. Gravity took over and, unable to grip the slippery tarpaulin, it unrolled. The body slithered out, tumbling to the shallows and disappeared in an explosion of water. The crowd scattered.
Carl found himself drawn to the corpse as it rippled on the waves. Fish had snacked on its flesh. Beneath the shredded T-shirt, the chest had opened and little remained in the cavity. He wasn't looking for gore, his concentration was fixed on the remnants of clothing.
The T-shirt should have been unreadable. He could read it, 'AC/DC World Tour - Wembley 2000.' Less than an hour ago, he had removed one just like it. Rags, that were the corpse's khaki shorts, matched those neatly folded on Carl's sun lounger - he had placed them next to the T-shirt.
His breath caught. He had to get away. Watching the body, he moved backwards through the crowd and the corpse seemed to dance on the waves, mirroring his movements, finding its way forward, towards him. Panic exploded through his body. His breath came in quick rasps that didn't satisfy his need for air - for copious amounts of the stuff. His throat constricted.
Someone had dressed the corpse in his clothes. Who would do such a thing? Why would they do it? Running on adrenaline and hyperventilating, he didn't have the answers.
A rush of images flashed through his head, backwards and forwards they went, playing out the holiday, recalling every aspect of his senses.
Julie had tried to stop him packing the T-shirt. "Oh, Jules," he had said, "it's my lucky shirt." She had simply rolled her eyes and left him to it. It was at the end of the first week when he'd asked if she'd seen it. No, she had said, I haven't seen it. He found it - the only item left in his case - and he wore for sheer devilment. That had been the day of the glass-bottomed boat trip. Jay had loved it, pointing to every fish that swam beneath the boat.
His feet tangled and he sat down hard in the sand. Pushing with his heels, he skittered backwards, putting distance between himself and the corpse.
"Carl," Julie called from behind him. She had Jason huddled to her shoulder.
"Jules," he could hardly speak. The deformed face of the corpse had his features,
his hair, his clothes, build and height. With an extraordinary amount of effort, he stood on legs that wanted to buckle beneath him. "The boat," he said as he turned towards her, "do you remember the boat."
"It's right there, honey, stuck in the sand," and she pointed to the trawler.
"No, Jules," his voice shook, "the boat trip."
A group of four men dragged the body to shore, sand and grit clung to dead skin.
"Honey," Julie called, "what is it?"
"Me," his voice was barely a whisper, his stare fixed.
"What?" He wasn't making sense.
He couldn't take his eyes from the corpse's bloated face. "That's me." His stomach knotted and bile burned at the back of his throat.
"Carl, you're here, right beside me." He felt the soft touch of her hand on his shoulder and his hand went to hers. "See, right here."
He turned to face her. Jason sobbed with his face pressed in to her shoulder. "I can remember it, Jules." He made to move towards her, stopping when she took a step back. She clutched Jason closer. "Jules, what do I do?"
"Nothing, you don't do anything." She wanted to go to him, but something stopped her. A shiver, like a surge of electricity, flowed through her and she shook. He saw it.
"You feel it, don't you?"
"No," she said it with too much force. She lied.
"You must remember?" He took a step forward.
"No," she put her hand up, "no closer." He took a step forwards and she moved back until waves lapped at her feet. Jason clung to her and his sobs grew louder. "Don't, Carl."
"Try to remember, please." She was shaking her head. The last thing she wanted to do was remember. "It's the only way, Jules." He wanted to hold her, to comfort her. "We woke the morning after the boat trip. We couldn't remember getting back to the apartment," he tried to force the memory. "We joked that it must've been the sangria, but we only had two glasses." He had to make her understand, it was time to let go. "It wasn't a dream, Jules."
"It was," she insisted. "It was a stupid dream."
"It wasn't, Jules." A weakness seemed to grip his body. They were running out of time. "The hotel cleared our stuff from the apartment and put another family in there."
"They made a mistake."
"Do you remember how I screamed at the receptionist?"
"She wouldn't listen."
"She couldn't hear me, Jules." He had to make her understand. "She wasn't ignoring me, she couldn't see me."
"Of course she could see you!"
"No, Jules, no one can see us." The weakness that surged through his body was almost palpable. He didn't have much time. "We can't get served in bars or restaurants. They don't come to collect money for the sun loungers. People don't greet us, they walk straight past."
"It's not true."
"If they don't walk past us," he pushed, trying to make her remember, "they walk through us."
"It's too late, Jules, it's time to remember."
"I don't want to."
"Can't you feel it?" She could. Her whole body ached. She wanted to put Jason down and rest. "We've no choice." Facing her, he placed his hands on her shoulders. "We've got to let go," he hated himself for saying it, "there's nothing for us here."
"I can't, Carl," she said as she clung on to Jason.
"We didn't get back from the trip -"
"Stop-" she pleaded but he continued.
"We were sitting below deck, watching the fish, Remember? Jason, loved it-"
"Carl," tears ran down her face, "I don't want-"
"There was an explosion."
And, she remembered the heat, the sound of it, the feel of it, the force of the blast against her body, pushing her back, pushing metal shards in to her, the shattering of glass, and the sudden rush of crushing water. She held her scorched breath, reached for Jason and watched as the water pulled him through a jagged hole in the glass hull. She screamed. Water filled her lungs and she drowned.
"You remember, don't you?"
"It was a dream," she said, but the fight had left her voice.
Behind them, people helped lift the second body from the trawler. The smell made some turn away; others simply placed hands over their mouths and noses, swallowed hard, and, reaching for the tarpaulin, eased the body to the sand. Julie turned in time to see the corpses left arm flop from beneath its shroud. The skin was grey, cracked, and puckered like a specimen preserved in formaldehyde. She looked at the hand. Rings had carved their way through swollen flesh.
She knew those rings. The diamond solitaire of the engagement ring, the twist of the white and yellow gold wedding band, the quarter carat of diamonds that circled the eternity ring, they were hers. She remembered the glorious surprise of the eternity ring - received on the day Jason was born.
He began to fade. "We died," he said and dissolved in front of her, becoming a mist that was a billion points of swarming light. The light blinked out and Carl was gone.
She screamed his name and no one heard. It was happening to her, she could feel it. The weakness surged through her, the memory of her muscles ached. She sat down on the shoreline and waves lapped through her. Unwilling to give herself over, she soothed Jason, whispering her love, saying they would soon be with Daddy.
It was impossible to fight; she knew that, but knowing did not help. Holding her hand to the sky, sunlight tainted her translucent skin red. "It's okay, Jay, Mummy's here," she whispered. Holding him tightly, she could hardly feel him against her.
She felt calm as she began to dissolve.
"Daddy was right, it's time."
Looking up, she saw the captain climb from the boat.
"No," the single word came as a whisper when she wanted to shriek in defiance. He shouldn't leave the boat, not before they'd brought Jason's body to the beach. They had to bring Jason's body.
She looked at her son. While she was little more than an outline, drawn in the air and etched from soft light, Jason appeared solid. They had not recovered his body. She tried to fight the weakness that coursed through her. She could not leave him. Not now.
It was too late.
She passed on.
Jason knelt in the sand and ran his hand over the empty space where his mother had been sitting. Tears spilled from his eyes, ran down his cheeks, and, falling, they disappeared before hitting the sand. To the crowd of people, gathered around the bodies, he was little more than a shadow that flickered in the periphery. Unable to hear his cries, those closest felt them as a chill breeze that raised a shiver to their sun warmed skin.
Saturday, 11 September 2010
Friday, 12 March 2010
Before getting right on into the story, as a way to giving a brief intro, I'd like to go back to a 'Once upon a time' moment. So, once upon a time, there used to be this, free to enter, monthly short story competition run by the BBC. You were given the first sentence and the writers task was to complete the story within 750 words (short, short story). Well, this one month, liking the idea of the competition, thinking it a good writing exercise, I thought I'd have a go. This is the story I entered and, what'cha know, that month, mine was the winning entry. At the time, I'd not long lost my Mum to cancer so, this is for you Mum.
It was only after clicking 'send' that Rebecca realised what she had done...
She watched the blue bar progress along the screen.
Five percent complete.
Hitting the escape key the first time didn't do anything, so she had no idea why hitting it again, and again, and again would make any difference at all. She had a go anyway!
Maybe hitting it harder would help?
No, hitting it harder didn't help!
Not one bit!
She hit it again, one last time, for the sheer hell of it. It made her feel better.
The blue bar continued its relentless march across the screen.
Ten percent complete.
Control, Alt and Delete - the saviour of the tortured soul, and she was a tortured soul. She stabbed at these keys, broke a nail, hit the Insert key by mistake, swore, moved her hair from her eyes and then hit the Delete key square on. Something happened... the blue bar jumped forwards another notch. She swore again and this time heads turned.
'What?' she shouted and the heads turned away.
'Shit!' she exclaimed as the blue bar grew in length.
In an exaggerated random pattern she stroked, hit, punched and swiped at the keyboard until her desk shook and the monitor trembled with fear on its plastic stand.
The blue bar progressed on its merry way.
Thirty percent complete.
What now? She had no idea!
She grabbed the mouse, and clicked its buttons. Nothing happened! She thumped it against the mat and pulled its tail with spite. She turned it upside down and looked at its belly, poked the grey lump of a ball that lurked inside and thumped it down for a second time.
Nothing! Absolutely, nothing!
What else could she do? She spied the glass of water! Sure, why not. She smiled, but it was with a manic grin that she lifted the mouse, by its tail, and plopped it in the glass. Drowning that stupid thing made her feel really good.
The blue bar lurched forward.
Sixty percent complete.
The mouse belched a bubble of air and the cursor jumped, jerked and arched across the screen. Why couldn't it have done that when she wanted it to? Why now, in the middle of its death throes?
Drown mousy drown!
It was time for some serious action. Rebecca reached under her desk and jabbed at the power button.
Not a flicker.
The monitor glowed in full thirty-two-bit colour and the bright blue line taunted her as it jostled for the finish line.
Seventy five percent complete.
She jabbed at the power button again. Punched it with her knuckle. Pushed at it with her finger and tried to squash that squishy blue button with all the power she could muster. The computer toppled backwards.
Again nothing, nada, zilch, zip, diddlysquat, sweet Fanny Adams, bugger all.
'Oh, Bugger off!' now she was shouting at inanimate objects. She heard giggling. They were laughing at her. Who cared anyway? She was passed caring. Well, no she wasn't, actually she cared too much, but she would worry about that later. Now... well now... she had a computer to kill!
Ninety percent complete.
The power socket was somewhere behind her desk, but the power cable was another story. Rebecca slid off her chair and disappeared under her desk. Anyone passing would have a great view of her bum but there were more important things at risk than her pride.
Ninety five percent complete.
Without ceremony she tugged the power cable out of the computer. It died! Something clattered on her desk and water poured through her hair. With a sigh, she slotted the cable back where it belonged. Climbed out from under her desk, slouched in her chair and brushed her wet matted hair from her face. The glass was lying on its side and the mouse floundered in a puddle of water.
The computer booted. Rebecca typed in her password. Boxes flashed on the screen.
There it was, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, reincarnated before her very eyes.
Ninety nine percent complete.
She sighed, it was all she could do. Computer after computer sounded a small ding - You've got mail. People started to laugh, point and turn, mouths agog. Rebecca stood and walked her longest walk. They could clear her desk.
Saturday, 6 March 2010
I’ve often wondered if the way I write, the way I see things, hear things, notice detail, all those things that end up in the final cut, get there through the same process as other writers? What’s this thing, the whatchamacallit, you know, that thing they call the creative process, what exactly is that thing?
I ask because I’ve often little idea about what I’m going to write. Is that too big an admission? Surely I’m not flying a solitary flag on a chill breeze, there must be other writers working in the same way? Okay, maybe not. Let me start again. What I mean is, if I start writing with an inkling of an idea (I don’t have the audacity to hint at something with the grandeur of plot), the idea’s oft to go awry and change at very short notice (please don’t say I’m alone on that one). I know there are writers out there who plot to the n-th degree. That’s not me, I assure you, and it’s not the way I work. It’s not the way my mind’s wired.
Maybe I should go back a bit (queue Bill and Ted’s wavy, going back in time, dance – blibble-blibble bblibble bblibble-bblibble cos that’s the sound going back in time makes and if you don’t think so you’ve watched Back to the Future too many times!).
There was a time, way back in my writing past, where I’d get all shocked and upset when a story veered off the way marked path (as Higgs would say, “Yer walkin’ long the feckin’ tourist route there”). I’d scream, “Story, I know best. I know how you started and I know how you’re ending, I even know the bits in the middle so, for god’s sake, you’re gonna do as I say, dig it?”
Way back then, I was pretty much daring the story to take a life of its own, ‘cause I were god amongst those ribbon-worn words. If I wanted to put a character in an impossible situation, a situation that would see the character come to a sticky end, then that character better live with it and woe betide if he, or she, found a way to cheat the plot, and cheat death. I hated those clever little characters the most – they were always looking for holes that I couldn’t see, but holes they’d find, little chinks in plot that allowed their escape, and they’d do it, oh, so easy. God damn the clever ones to hell...it’s always the clever ones that don’t wanna play ball, don’t you think?
And – after a mini zen meditative pause – we’re back in the room...
Back then, all those many years ago (well, twenty summin’ years ago, anyway), I couldn’t have the story dictating to me (me, the storyteller, of all people), I was the one in control (like hell ya were, hoss) and I’d go over the stuff I’d written and launch at it with my great big wooden mallet and editing chisel – knocking bits off, shaving a corner (or three) down to size, and hacking away until the whole piece of writing had been cajoled in to place. Only, it hadn’t really, had it? All that remained was the proverbial square peg in the proverbial round hole. The resulting story was one, out of place, lonely, and contemptible, piece of self-righteous shite.
The story may have been the perfect fit, but at what cost? Well, let me tell you the cost. The cost of all that weighty editing and cajoling was the flow of the prose itself. The thing that was wrong was the very thing that I (and all writers) needed right. So (and this took me a long time to realise) with all my best intention I hadn’t made a really good (not even half-way descent) fit at all – not one stinking, goddamn, bit of it was a fit. From all the effort (writing and re-writing), all I’d managed to do was singlehandedly ruin the flow of something that really – if I’m honest here – knew how to flow like it should flow without my clumsy intervention. Leave well alone, you – you thinking you’re the typing god of Ribbon World (cos, really, yer don’t know Jack ‘bout nuttin’).
Ready Higgs, standing in the wings...
Aye, this is where I come in, right round now. See, he started hearing me voice. Not well rounded, not right ‘way. No, Sir. Took me a lot o’shoutin’ to get heard, let me tell ya. He only hear me good now and ‘gain. You see it. Know’s what I’m sayin’? ‘E’s the one that know’s it, the one that ‘ears it.
Yer see, I gives him bits, little stuff to take home, stuff to put down through his fingers on t’page. Now an’ then, he don’t need no worry, cos he sees it ‘imself...when he does that, he’s pretty much good to go a whole load on ‘is own. I let ‘im loose some. What he might need, and need more often than not, is a good ‘ard talkin’ to. Sometimes there’s big stuff that goes right on pass ‘is ‘ead. That’s when ‘es a stupid ole fecker, right there, when he misses stuff. Might be stuff lit up like the mother of neon signs, don’t matter, he’s apt to miss it. No need to worry, I’ll call on ‘im as good as anyone. “Oi, yer twat, you miss it good a proper!” ‘Tis what I say and he listen to me. Don’t always mean he’ll put it in, mind. No Sir. Just means I got ‘is ‘ttention. Sometimes he’d turn his ear from the big chief in the sky ‘imself – and it wouldn’t take ‘im much doin’ at that. Turn ‘is ear and (blah, blah,blah) he’d pretend not to hear – whatever suits I’m, ‘tis what I say. “Look, Higgs, Hemingway said something like ‘If you show a gun on a wall, you better use it.’ Don’t go telling me stuff that’s of no use.” And, I say, “Whatever suits yer best, Hoss.” Yer can’t drag no tramp t’water an’ make ‘im wash. Only, sometimes, I gotta say, most when he’s lost ‘is way, “Yer looking for that gun on the wall ain’t cha, the one I told yer ‘bout?” It’s nice to be smug.
Alright, Higgs, you’ve had your say. Now, go swoosh your clicking ice in the whisky someplace else, far enough away so I can’t smell those stinking Marlboro cigarettes of yours.
So, Higgs came along and things changed. Higgs, he’s the one that sits in my ear when I’m writing. Calls himself a mews - maybe he is. I’ve learnt to listen to Higgs. He ain’t well educated, and he’s got one hell of an accent (that I have to edit out), but he’s lived his goddamn life like you wouldn’t believe. Higgs has squeezed two or three lives in his sixty or so years. Oh yeah, I should mention, Higgs is just over twenty years my senior. In short, what he hasn’t seen ain’t worth writing about. Higgs is quite happy to tell other peoples stories, ain’t so keen to tell his own though. It’s one way of getting him off my back. All I’ve got to say is, “Right, Higgs, let’s get out a bit of your story then” and, don’t it go all quiet.
Higgs has his quiet times. Times where he’s got to go off and disappear. It can’t be good when the only channel you’ve got to get your stories out is this forty-something bloke that don’t always listen. When I can’t hear Higgs, those times he’s gone off, I know it’s bad for him. He’s bipolar, has to take the time out to get himself right. It doesn’t really matter that he’s gone, ‘cause I know that when he comes back, he’s manic. Higgs and manic ain’t pretty, let me tell you. When he’s manic, there’s hardly enough hours in the day to get his stories out. When he’s like that, I’ve got to do sketches of stories. That’s how Higgs wants to work. “Yer just gotta listen, right. I’ll tell ya the basic, get them’s out the way first. Then comes the devil of the detail later, when I’m good and ready,” is what he says, and that’s pretty much how things develop.
From the rough sketch, Higgs goes on to tell his stories. Only, I’ve learnt not to get in his way. If he veers from his sketch, he’s got reason to. Let him go for it, and I might even say, “yer walkin’ long the feckin’ tourist route there, Higgs,” right back at him.
So, to Higgs (my bipolar muse), keep them coming matey, it’s been good working with you.
If you’re ever in Wallichi, on the wrong side of the river with the smell of river tug diesel in your hair, go find Constance Drive. About half way up, near the bus shelter and the wrecked public phone booth, you’ll see Sam’s 24/7 store. Either Sam or his wife Rita will be behind the counter. Say a friend sent you. Say you’re looking for Higgs. They’re likely to tell you where he’s at. Course, as soon as the bell above the door’s rattled you a goodbye, they’ll be phoning Higgs, telling him someone’s on the way. Don’t let that put you off. Go say hello to the big chap, mention me and ask if he’s got a story to tell. If he offers you a whisky, take it, and put your feet up ‘cause you’re gonna be there some time.
Friday, 26 February 2010
Nearly four thousand people watched the webcast of his birth, thanks to the 'Live Cam' button clipped to Mr Clink's shirt. The button had been a birthday present. Mrs Clink thought it'd be a good idea. Everyone has one. Where was the harm? So far they'd earned eight credits of shared advertising revenue. "Live Cam: archiving your life", was the by-line that brought them an argument. Webcasting the birth wasn't intentional, Mr Clink's mistake. Should have turned it off. Mrs Clink wasn't impressed. Twenty-thousand users watched the webcast as their argument raged; most tuned out when a site flash reported: Live Cam Freak storming Arizona school, sixteen dead in gun carnage...archiving their lives...click here to watch...
Mr and Mrs Clink's life less ordinary, born in the age of eight bit computing, found technology perplexing. Still read paperbacks. Strange behaviour in a life of binary noughts and ones, thought some. They simply didn't get along with anything digital. When asked to look back, their lives were waymarked by operating systems they'd never mastered, implants they'd shied away from. Trying to keep up with the switchovers, they'd filled skip after skip as High Definition turned to Super High Definition before Ultra High Definition turned to Super 3D. Friends, seeing hologram actors standing in flower pots or embedded in cupboards, said they needed to adjust the vertical hold. They tried. With severed heads mouthing words on the floor, the Clink's called a technician.
They shrugged their shoulders as bits doubled and quadrupled until they were left wondering what the '512 Inside' sticker meant on the box. Didn't seem to matter, the little black boxes always ran slow after a week or two.
"Who's our clever little didums?" they said when Marcus, aged three, had the little black boxes running just right. Even let him watch an extra hour of iNetTV.
When Marcus was four they entered a live parliamentary debate, marvelled that they didn't have to move from the armchair. The BBC wanted advertising revenue. It would mark the end of an era, said the Clink's, quality would suffer. No, said the man from the BBC, quality would be better. They voted 'No' and pressed the red button. Told you so, said the Clinks when quality dropped. Programs from China, lip sync sucked.
When Broadband went Wideband they read the headlines 'Information Super Fastway', and they said it was about time, films take an age to download. Turned out, the information was piled up against them when the insurance companies caught on. Oh, and, films continued to take an age to download; something to do with an unbundled loop and copper wire not compatible with superconducting fibre. "Yeah, sure," they said, "whatever," and watched the progress bar.
They couldn't find argument with the politician who said, "People have been tagging pets for thirty years. Your child means more than a lost dog. You must vote yes." They pressed the green button and the legislation became law.
On his sixth birthday, invite clutched in small hand, Marcus was at the office for Information and Identification. Found they had their argument for the politician. Ninety credits was a lot for something compulsory.
"Ah, funny you should say that. You get's this 'Search Chip' implanted in little Marcus and the ID Chip's for free," said the smiling Installer.
"But, how much is the Search Chip?" they asked.
"Special offer. Free for the whole month of June."
They nodded and agreed.
Accepted. Greasy thumb print on screen. Son's head clamped tight. Machine buzz. Laser dot warm on the back of his neck. Marcus screamed. Two days of high temperature, headaches and bad dreams. Then, finally, as the brochure stated, they benefited from a wireless enabled son. Away from home, he beeped on the Sat Nav. Away from the Sat Nav, he beeped on www.where-am-i-now.gov.uk.
After a year of neural integration, the Search Chip brought search results quickly to mind.
"What's the capital of Mongolia?"
A blink. "Ulaanbaatar is the capital of Mongolia. It sits on the Tola River. In recent years, due to global warming, the river has dried up. The city has a population of one-point-five-million. Is a centre of excellence for the motor industry. Do you want to follow the sponsored link for more information?"
"No ta, but thanks." his father said, completing the crossword.
A five-thousand teraflop processor came to market when Marcus turned thirteen. Meet your great grandparents, run real time ancestor simulations, said the press release. Marcus wasn't interested. With the Search Chip modded he had virtual worlds in his head. A few, running version one-point-zero of the mod, became confused, blurred the virtual with reality. The web full of stories: Confused Teenagers Empty Machine Guns In malls. Marcus wasn't one of them. He did have a psychotic episode with the rollout of version two-point-five that left a twelve inch scar across his chest. The Clink's thankful that version two-point-six was only an hour behind.
"What's the capital of Niger?"
A blink. "Niamey is the capital of Niger. It sits on the Niger River. In recent years, due to global warming, the river has dried up. The city has a population of one-point-five-million. Is a centre of excellence for the recycling industry. Do you want to follow the sponsored link for more information?"
"No ta, but thanks," his father said. "See, it even works in his sleep."
"Marvellous," said his mother, "this really is good. Do you think we can ask him anything else?" They did. Finally went to bed an hour later knowing, amongst other things, the atomic mass of hydrogen, the half-life of plutonium-239 and the mating ritual of the emperor penguin.
The Clink's didn't understand their son's schooling. "So, what do you do all day?"
"What do you mean 'Search'?"
"Just sit and search, Dad," Marcus had his head to one side. Blank look. Iris like a disc cut from the night.
"You gotta do more than that. Where's the homework?"
"Don't do homework, Dad. Just search the answers. Search tells us."
"Search tells you," he repeated. Where's the learning?
This gave the Clink's their worries.
"I've got my worries," said Mr Clink.
"Do you think we did the right thing with that Search Chip thingy."
"I've wondered that myself," said Mrs Clink. "It spooks me when he sits by the computer and words miraculously appear on the screen."
"Me too," agreed Mr Clink.
"It's wireless, isn't it?"
"Aye, wireless it is."
When Marcus was sixteen he said, "This is Eloise."
"Nice to meet you, Eloise," said the Clink's.
Eloise gave a small nod, barely a movement, nice to meet you too. Turned out she didn't talk much. Not that Mr and Mrs Clink could hear. They noticed that Marcus and Eloise had this quiet rapport going on. Smiling, laughing, winking and nodding towards one another without a single word between them. They noticed it elsewhere, quiet groups of teenagers walking round, throwing glances and seeming to laugh at nothing.
"It's wireless, isn't it?" asked Mrs Clink.
"Aye, wireless it is," agreed Mr Clink.
They were watching the news on Marcus's eighteenth birthday. "We're off the teraflop scale here. We're not talking about exaflops, nor zettaflops, if you were going to give it a ranking it'd be infiniteflops," the 3D man was saying in the corner of the living room. "This is true quantum computing. You get the answer before it's asked. That's fast," said the 3D man. "Damn fast. You'll see what I mean when this baby goes live. You won't have seen searches like it. "
"What's an 'infiniteflop'," asked Mrs Clink.
"Sound's like me own problem," said Mr Clink.
"You are rude," laughed Mrs Clink.
"In other news," continued the news reader, standing in the corner of their living room, one foot in a mock coal scuttle, "the National Union of Teachers are holding an all night vigil in Duddlestone, Somerset. In this unassuming town, the countries last school will close its gates tomorrow evening. 'It's a real shame,' said Mr Harwick, spokesman for the union that represents the last sixteen teachers. 'We've failed the children. It's a travesty,' he said.
"Anita Hodd, Minister for Education, said 'A travesty, my arse. Since it was Green Button Politics that made the Search Chip compulsory for all six year olds, you can't lay blame on the government. The public have voted. Since the Search Chip became compulsory, we've never had such a high rate of examination passes.'
"Mr Harwick, would argue that we're not teaching the children anything except how to regurgitate Search results," accused the news reader.
"I won't be drawn to that debate," said the Minister. "All I'll say is: the success of the Search Chip has made traditional schooling a complete nonsense. By closing schools, we are releasing billions of credits to the treasury.'
"When asked to comment on the four-o-four, page not found, error that has children clutching their heads and screaming in pain, the Minister refused to comment, saying 'a cure for this annoyance was top priority'," said the newsreader.
The Clink's turned off the TV, they were shaking their heads, "Didn't know it'd end up like this, did we love?" Asked Mr Clink.
"No, dear, we didn't," agreed Mrs Clink.
Marcus turned to Eloise, a small, virtual, nod and it's all the social comment they had.