Sunday 2 December 2018

The Story So Far... part 2

I had decided that a new batch of short stories needed more than a page to take them to their audience. But, deciding is only the beginning.
I knew exactly what I wanted, I wanted to put on a show. I wanted to share my stories up close and personal but I just couldn't see how to fit them into a format that would work. I didn't feel that I could carry an hour and a half show. I had half-convinced some other writers to collaborate but this would make the whole process so much more complicated. Some of the would-be collaborators are in other parts of the country and all have different obligations and time constraints. This would become an enormous monster of an endeavour.
I have always loved stories and literature and music so it follows that many of my favourite songs were narrative songs. When I was a kid, my Grandad used to play Johnny Cash and ‘A boy Named Sue’ fascinated me. I'm going to list some of my favourites simply because I want to say them out loud.

  1. ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ The Charlie Daniels band
  2. Hotel California by The Eagles
  3. Eleanor Rigby The Beatles
  4. All of Bat out of Hell by Meatloaf
  5. I loved Ian Dury ‘My Old Man’ about his father was a fave
  6. Jeremy by Pearl Jam
  7. Central Reservation by Beth Orton
  8. Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega
  9. Stan by Eminem
  10. Love Vigilantes by New Order
  11. A Whole bunch by Amy Winehouse
  12. Jim White, The wound that never heals, a dark tale of love and murder
  13. David’s Last Summer by Pulp (I so often think it's about me)
  14. The Wild Rose by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, another who loves to tell a good tale.
  15. Love Detective by Arab Strap. Again a band who liked to tell stories more than sing songs.

While I'm writing this I'm remembering so many more but I really have to stop somewhere.
What informed my vision was mostly the last three in this list. Pulp and in particular David’s Last Summer because it breaks out of the 3 minute pop song limitations and tells a story that could just as well be a chapter from a book. Actually most of Pulp’s songs were stories, Common People being the most successful but I could name Babies and Disco 2000 off the bat. Nick Cave tells a good tale but its strongest point is the musical mood and use of Kylie’s voice. 
You may be less familiar with the last one, Arab Strap, they are from Glasgow and although Love Detective is my favourite they tend to narratives in their songs told in Glasgow patter usually with no attempt to sing a hook. Love Detective is a seedy tale of secrets and suspicion, I love the way the beat drives the story and not the words filling the tune as in most songs. This is what I wanted.
I imagined a DJ or computer based setup with loops and samples to drive the atmosphere. Behind me on the wall would be evocative images to set the scene. At last, I had a plan. This would be the show and it would hold an audience’s attention for as long as it needed. Don’t get me wrong, I've been to some incredible solo performances but I really felt the experience need some extra dimensions.
One minor problem, though. I could not find a DJ/musician. Basically, I wanted someone who would know exactly what I want and be able to realise that in a way that I would be happy with, easy.
Actually, I did have exactly the musician I needed, I just didn't realise it. I had known him for years and we had talked about music many times but a Venn diagram of our tastes would have looked like this…
Then one day he invited me over to his place to figure out if we could work together. He had a bedroom studio with all we would need but I still wasn't sure that he could see the music in my head.

Thursday 29 November 2018

Lover, Mother, Other

I recently met a guy at a conference and he described a lady he was travelling with, incidentally one of the keynote speakers as his partner, then clarifying ‘Life’ partner. Of course, I understood what he meant, at least I thought I did until I ruminated on it. What did he mean? Did he mean partner as in associate, did he mean that they had each tendered their CVs and been selected from a number of applicants. Now, this is not an unusual way to categorise a person with whom you have chosen to spend your life with independent of matrimonial ceremony but this time I found it quite jarring. Maybe it was the clarification. Maybe it was the American accent. It struck me how uncomfortable I am with this word to describe a romantic partner.

For me ‘Partner’ is a business word, it conjures images of contracts, budgets and plans, which may be part of a stable relationship but it is sterile, devoid of warmth and emotion. I found myself searching for a more satisfactory epithet. I was at a loss.
There are plenty of euphemisms for wife; such as ‘My better half’ or ‘her in-doors’ many are far less flattering as are the labels for husbands, such as ‘My ole man’. Boyfriend/girlfriend which is not heterosexual specific are pleasant but feel a little awkward when used by more mature couples, they remain the domain of teenage apprenticeships in love and do not tackle the matter of living together and sharing responsibilities. Fiancé is warm, succinct and French and while it is often used by optimistic couples who have an dream of being married, it should be used when some form of formal engagement is in place. It is a pre-cursor of marriage and along with it carries the religious connotations. Shame, it has all the qualities of a good candidate but as so many others it already has its meaning well-defined.
I like the word ‘Lover’ it is warm and spicy but it can no more be disassociated with its synonym of ‘Mistress’ or extra-marital distraction than ‘Partner’ can from business. ‘Soul-mate’ could be a good contender, ‘mate’ is used to describe couples in the animal kingdom, which I see as a positive but when coupled with ‘soul’ it does come across a little tie-dyed and crystals-under-the-pillow.
We live in a time when romantic models come in so many forms and society it going a long way to catching up with this but language is dragging its heels. You may think that this is not an issue but the words are pervasive and the way we label something affects the way we think about it. Words are a network of semantics which colour our attitudes. The use of the word ‘Partner’ blurs the lines between love and labour, it is part of the same attitude that gave us ‘personal branding’ and brings business practises into the home. In an interview with the writer Jonathan Franzen, I read that he also has issue with this term but he chooses to call his lady a ‘Spouse equivalent’. I think this has more to say for his feelings toward convention than the feelings for his lady.
So, what am I looking for? A word, preferably a single word that encapsulates intimacy, sharing and commitment without the endorsement of any ceremonial rite. It needs to embrace all gender preferences. It could be borrowed from another language, let’s face it, languages are franchising words from each other all the time and just as fiancé serves its purpose well, we have moved on and need a secular word that communicates a simple, natural, mature choice complicated only by the flaws and frailty that make us human.   

Sunday 4 November 2018

The Story So Far... part 1

Recently I wrote a batch of short stories that were different, they were truer, deeper and despite being some of the quickest stories I've ever written, they were hard. I achieved ‘flow’ this is a state that many artists crave and few reach, when it feels like you are a conduit for something that pre-exists, somewhere. After writing them I had to sit and recover, just imagine some flunky old medium after a séance. There is something about these stories that’s different, honest (unlike the flunky old medium). I realised that these were not my stories and they have to be shared but I didn't want to trust them to paper. I had to share them face to face, eye to eye.

My first attempt was My Reward,which you’ll find on YouTube. I had a strong idea of how I wanted to present it but what I didn't have was the skills, equipment or even a decent place to film it. With my phone and a darkened bedroom I produced what you’ll see if you haven’t already. It received very strong reactions from everyone and I've subsequently met people who've seen it and got some very encouraging feedback. The most humbling was when I was with a friend, her phone rang and she told the caller that she was with me. When she hung up I asked who it was and if I knew him, “No, but he knows you!” she said.

It isn't an easy watch and the subject is maybe not the most popular at the moment, men in power are being vilified by the #MeToo movement and barely a day goes by without someone being accused of some predatory act. I'm all for that and I know my kind and we are a flawed species, but I think that the “in power” part is more toxic than the “men” part. You know, many of us are just trying to get on with doing the right thing while the goal posts are dancing around the field.

Anyway, I took another of my stories, Hungry and tried to film it with the help of a friend. It was tough, we both have jobs and families but we worked late into the night trying to realise a plan that wasn't that clear in my mind. And he had only really used his camera to document his kids growing up and the odd social gathering. It is him I have to thank for the name I gave my vision. We were having a few beers after filming and he asked what the bloody hell I was trying to do. I told him that it wasn't poetry, it wasn't monologue, it wasn't theatre, it wasn't...
"Yeah, yeah! Now I know what it isn't. BUT what is it?"
"So, it's literature with performance," I explained. "It's Performance Literature!"
My friend opened his eyes wide and exclaimed, "Oh right!" and that was it. 
The video for Hungry remains 85% complete but I promise I’ll regroup with the experience I've gained and get it done.

There was also the matter of the music, I used a fabulously atmospheric piece for My Reward by a band called This Will Destroy You then I received a terse message from the representatives of the band and a red strike on YouTube. I would need to have original music.      

So, I had a vision, some stories and little else. I organised a storytelling event for World Storytelling day at a local hotel. I would invite people to tell their stories and I would present one of mine. Now, I don’t mind telling you, I was a wreck. I have spoken to crowds, given lectures and seminars, I even did some theatre back in the day but this was different. These stories were different, I couldn't fail them, the stories that is. I took a deep breathe, a big gulp of adrenaline and did it. It wasn't all I wanted but it did make me realise what I wanted. I wanted to do a live show.

I knew I wanted to perform these stories, reclaim storytelling from little kids, they get enough things already. You know storytelling is one of the most ancient forms of communication. Once it was news, morality, entertainment. Once, storytelling was Netflix. No! storytelling WAS the internet. I wanted a new age of storytelling.

But, I didn't yet feel that I could carry a whole show on my own. I spoke to other writers, one in particular I know could carry a live performance (you know who you are!). I knew I wanted a show, a performance, not just a reading. And, the more I knew, the more I knew nothing!

Until it all clicked into place, I knew exactly what it would be. And all I would need to realise this was, well, just about everything. So, I went shopping for a musician…   

... Part 2  

Thursday 27 September 2018

Hard Sell: From the archives

Here's a story from the archives. It was written around the end of the 90s (I originally wrote it in Comic sans!!!) so some of you may find the cultural references go over your head. If they don't, you are in good company. It followed a period when a colleague had systematically pitched me to join AMWAY, for those of you in the prior category, it is/was much like HERBAL LIFE, A pyramid selling system that monetizes your friends. I'm sure they have another way of putting it but many of you will have had some experience with their like. Enjoy...


I couldn’t say it had been an eventful first week at Intasat communications but I had managed to make a lunch-mate. Paul was a likeable bloke, a little pre-occupied with the X-files but on the whole easy to get along with. He sat at the desk opposite me and did, well I’m not entirely sure exactly what he did but he apologised a lot on the phone and came up with conspiracy theories. It was one lunchtime while sitting outside on the grassy verge of the Intasat car park listening to Paul’s theory about nano-tracking devices being introduced into food so we can all be traced at any time, that I first saw her. She breezed past us and her perfume infected my very being, it wasn’t love at first sight or anything I just had to get close to her. She, of course, didn’t notice us at all. She wafted past in a way that said that distances between deeds were a terrible inconvenience and god help anyone who inadvertently prolonged transfer.
“Paul, look” I nudged him purposely, my elbow interrupting something about sugar-puffs. “Who the fuck is that?”
“Who the fuck is who?”
“White blouse, brown hair, arse!”
“Looks like Scully” Paul replied in a way that dispelled my notion that he had been chemically castrated. “That’s Kim from retentions, she stops unsatisfied customers disconnecting, very good she is too!”
“Mmm, yeah but any boyfriend, married? What’s the score”
“So the rumours go there’s no significant other but she’s only friendly when she wants something”
“Christ on a bike! She only needs to ask.”
I didn’t see her again for two days. I can’t say that she monopolised my thoughts but I had tried on several occasions to find an excuse to pass retentions.
It was one evening as I was leaving work that I actually made contact with Kim. I was heading for the door with my jacket slung over my shoulder she was overtaking me while putting on her sunglasses, my elbow struck her in the left breast sliding under the shoulder-strap of her bag sending it to the floor with a rattle and clump.
“Oh you tw…” she cursed as she crouched for the bag. Then as I fumbled an apology she looked up at me and smiled. “You’re new aren’t you.”
“Well a week or t…” but before I had a chance to take the bull by the horns she was gone, like a vampire in mist mode slipping through a keyhole. I followed her out the door with no real hope of catching her. I did manage to see her getting into her car, a little red hatchback, sporty and quite new. No sooner had the door closed than she was speeding off.
“Put ya tongue away Mike” I turned to the owner of the deep, overloud voice, as he was readying to pour his equally oversized body into a Nissan Micra. His name was Bob or Bill or something, I saw him from time to time at the coffee machine
“While the good lord blesses us with gifts like that, my friend, I’ll do more than smell the roses”
“You couldn’t afford it Mike, trust me” he smiled a chubby smile and put himself deftly into the car.
Friday came around with no definite sightings. She either shot out on the dot of five or worked late enough for me to feel sufficiently foolish pretending not to be waiting for her in the car park. I tried, but even after a dry spell of biblical proportion I still had some shame.
I tried to rally a ground force to lunch at the pub, just a short walk from the office, but it was mid-month and beer money was thin on the ground. Paul had gone to a Star-Trek convention in Birmingham, so all alone, I decided to go to the pub, sit in the garden and sup a well-earned Guinness. It was a warm July afternoon so I stopped at my car to fetch my sunglasses. As I was locking the car door, farcically considering that my cars main security feature was the fact that few people would be seen in it let alone commit a crime for the honour, I felt a voice, yes it was almost subliminal.
“Don’t tell me, BMW’s in the shop” I looked up to see her, and she was moving slower than I had seen before.
“No,” I gulped “I just haven’t got one” I put on the glasses and went to lean on the roof of the car instantly realising the folly of this, physical contact with the outside of my car could be fatal, I jerked back upright.
“One day, I’m sure” her hair caught the sun in an ‘is she or isn’t she’ way “I can see it in your eyes, hunger” I knew the hunger she could see and it had nothing to do with BMWs.
“Yeah, one day”
“Kim” she thrust a finely sculptured hand at me with all the fluidity of a martial artist.
“Yes, Mike” I intercepted her strike catching her cool porcelain hand. While I shook her hand I tried to look her in the eyes, I failed! Her white open necked blouse made a feeble attempt to contain her mutinous breasts. Her taut tanned skin clearly visible through the thin fabric of her bra. I’m sure, in retrospect, that these observations are greatly exaggerated but I believe that every boy has x-ray vision, he just has to look hard enough. I must have got away with the gawp because when I looked up she smiled at me.
“I’m going to the pub” I ventured.
“Oh good, have one for me” then, I was so fixated on her undulating arse I failed to notice that she was walking away. “Something long and cool!” she tossed at me over her shoulder then slipped into the red Golf.
That lunch time I spent in a daze, “could I really have a chance?” I asked myself, “Why not” was the only answer I could handle.
That weekend I thought of treating myself to a new suit, but a quick look at my balance on the cash machine steered me toward a new shirt and tie instead.
On Monday I had to endure Paul’s endless Trek quotes and promises to show me the video of him being beamed-up from a paper-mache planet to a cardboard spaceship. It was while walking to the sandwich bar, getting ever closer to the point where I would tell Paul to “fucking Trek off!” that she appeared again. She came up behind me, I smelt her first, visual contact merely verifying her presence.
“Hi, Mike. New tie?” she took the tie and turned it label up at the same time giving my chest a glancing touch.
“Mmm, nice.”
“Where are you off to?” I asked nonchalantly, feeling confident
“Me, oh, I’m just going to get a quick sandwich then back to the office”
“Well” I began bravely “you might as well come with us”
“OK, why not”
I could not believe how easy that was. We were all walking together and although our slow strolling pace seemed to cause her difficulties I hadn’t said anything too stupid and even Paul had shut up. We exchanged small talk and even a little innuendo; things were indeed going well.
As we entered the sandwich bar the proprietor’s face lit up.
“Kim” he sang, her face reciprocated smiling radiantly.
“Franco, how are you?” she sang back.
“I am very well. And so are you I can see.” Why is it that no matter how badly Italians speak English they always know the right things to say. “ You will have the usual, Kim?” He instantly produced a white paper bag and passed it to Kim over the large display counter, she responded by opening her handbag.
“No, no, Kim” he gestured by touching his lips with one stubby finger and pointing it at her “We speak later, huh?”
“Later Franco, ciao!”
Then once again like an extra on the set I was watching her backside, leaving. I made a move for the door and stepped out with her, “Now or never” I goaded myself.
“What time you finishing tonight?” I spurted out before my yellow belly could swallow the words.
“Not tonight Mike” my heart sank, “Thursday, maybe” then flew again. I was still left with the feeling that she was fitting me in for a dental appointment.
“Great!” she smiled obviously eager to depart.
“Dinner”, whoa there cheque book!
“Bye” then I watched her swiftly wiggle away.
I walked back into the sandwich bar; Paul was having a huge roll constructed. When Franco had finished he turned to me, I looked through the glass at the cooked meats and various mayonnaise-based fillings, my hunger no longer panged. I ordered a Coke and Franco looked at me with knowing eyes.
On the way home I saw a sign at a petrol station CAR WASH SPECIAL-£2.50 FULL SHAMPOO I pulled in and purchased a token. The windows wound and the aerial down I inserted my car, then through the remaining open window the token in the slot. I quickly closed the window; the machine whirred into life. As the rotating brushes hit the bodywork I flinched with every creak and clatter, soap started to infiltrate the sunroof but for the most part the experience was quite painless. I parked the car on the other side to take a look, I then remembered what a nice blue she really was and promised myself I would do this more often.
Thursday came, I had cleaned and ironed a tie but it just wouldn’t look new so I put on a lesser-worn one instead. I kept a little bag for just such occasions with a sample tube of toothpaste, a folding toothbrush, and a sample spray of Calvin Klein that had come with a magazine, I brushed the dust off and took it to work.
I sneaked out of the office a little before five to perform my ablutions, showed my face back in the office to casually bid my good byes. I looked at Paul and winked.
“The truth is down there!” he paraphrased predictably, then smirked at his own wit.
“Make it so number one” I replied. Ok so there’s a little anorak in all of us!
I made my way slowly down to the lobby running over and over my opening line; she wasn’t there. Then I smelt her, she came up behind me and touch me on the shoulder.
“Hi!” she said through a smile slipping her sunglasses on.
“Hello, I thought you might have…”
“Forgotten? No how could I?” 
We decided to go to the pub near the office but Kim insisted on driving. Her Golf GTI was only a year or so old with a personal plate A11 MYN, it had a mild smell of coconuts inside. I noticed her watching me from the corner of her eye for some sign of approval.
“Nice car” I felt this was the correct comment.
“Sure,” she tapped the dashboard “don’t get these on Intasat money”
But surly she had, I thought. I was starting to feel out of my depth but Kim put me at ease by saying that she thought it wouldn’t be long before I started to have some of the things I desired. I felt definite stirrings from my trouser regions, looked out at the scenery to focus my thoughts away from exactly what I desired. We arrived at the pub and I alighted the car carefully. When we entered the pub I made straight for the bar, ordered myself a Guinness and a white wine spritzer for Kim. I steered us to a quiet corner. We began by talking about work then feeling a little more comfortable I pushed on to something closer to my motives.
“You must get asked out at work all the time” my heart paused for a reply.
“No!” she laughed out loud “Not many men at work have the balls, you’ve got that” I was suddenly glad I was sitting behind a table.
“You’re teasing now, I’ve seen the way men look at you” I tried to play coy.
“No, I’m serious. You asked me, most men are mice”. The light in the pub was dim but I could see now her eyes were green, an emerald green.
“So what makes me so unmouse-like” blatant fishing but it was the best I could do.
“Hunger!” I began to squirm again “Tell me Mike. What do you want, what you really want?” I want to take you to…I thought.
“Well, I, want lots of stuff”
“Nice car, big house, swimming pool” she offered “beautiful girlfriend”.
Rap it up I’ll take it home thanks shopkeeper, I thought. “Well, who doesn’t?”
“Yes but how many actually go for it Mike” Yes I thought, I’m here and they ain’t.
She proceeded to tell me about what had paid for her car and that she planned to give up Intasat in less than two years.
“Network marketing Mike, it’s the way forward,” she told me how by cutting out the fat-cat middle men there was enough profit for everyone, she told me of how the guy who had introduced her had a six-figure income and so could I with the right motivation.
“Mike you got to see the way this guy lives, gold, cars, house in Florida” her eyes were wide and glazed,” I’m gonna do what ever it takes to get there”
She could have been telling me about freelance dung-clearance and I would have listened, but even so it did make a hell of a lot of sense.
When we left the pub it was still light, I wasn’t quite sure where we were going but it was soon clear that she was taking me back to my car. We stopped in the car park in an empty space next to my car. She leaned over, I pursed my lips ready, she dug in the pocket behind my seat and produced a blue box.
“There’s some tapes and a book in there” then from her handbag “here’s my number” she handed me a card, which read KIM STEVENS-SILVER DISTRIBUTOR then under a telephone number and mobile number. I said I would call her and didn’t try to kiss her.
As I opened my car door her window powered down.
“This time next year a BMW, eh Mike?” She quipped.
“Yeah, sure thing”, if the celibacy don’t kill me first, I thought.
The next day at work I didn’t see Kim and I was glad for it I needed to reassess the situation if indeed there was a situation. Did I have a chance with her or was I some sort of business proposition. Was she playing hard to get or was the playing getting hard. I couldn’t believe that all was lost, after all she hadn’t told me I repulsed her, I simply hadn’t closed the evening with a snog.
On Sunday with little else to do I took out the tapes and book that Kim had given me. In the book it explained with diagrams and cartoons how the huge supermarket chains had emasculated our manufacturing industries and by cutting them out of the equation there would be rewards for all. It was so vehement in its reasoning that, it said, network marketing, as it called its methods, was the only logical way forward. I was impressed, if I recruited a few people to sell the products and they in turn recruited others I could be home and dry in a few years. I picked up the phone and dialled Kim’s number an automated voice answered, I hate speaking to machines, “Kim its Mike I read the book, gimme more” then I left my number and hung up. I looked at the mobile number but decided that if I spoke to her and then she found the message it may sound a bit too eager, plus I was a little worried I might catch her with a boyfriend or something.
Later that night she called, I was a little embarrassed that she had found me so easily. I asked her how she was and she responded with a comment about the book. I told her that I was impressed, which I was, then she asked me how much I wanted to be rich.  I told her I was hungry, she said hunger was what I needed to get on. She told me that Americo had changed her life, as it would mine. There was a meeting at a hotel nearby on Tuesday for new members and did I want to come, of course I did, we arranged that I would drive to her house and we would go in her car. She urged me not to talk about this at work just yet as private life should remain private.
I didn’t see her at all on Monday but on Tuesday we had lunch together. It was a short lunch as she had to get back to the office but it gave us time to talk in private about the meeting that night.
“Mike,” she looked at her watch “ I really have to go” she got up from the park bench where I was still sitting and gently took my tie “ you look wonderful, remember shirt and tie tonight, very formal these people” then she was gone.
That night I left work full of fervour for the evening ahead. I got home and showered, I was going to shave but I had shaved that morning and five o’clock shadow doesn’t really mean the same day. I mixed the blue jacket from my suit with a pair beige chinos to look like blazer and slacks; everyone loves a sailor.
Looking good and feeling lucky I set off. Kim lived in a street of Georgian terraces most of which had been converted into flats. No sooner had I arrived and parked behind her red golf than she was scurrying down the garden path towards her car. She was wearing a taupe suit with a very short skirt the shape tailored to please the eye, high-heels and glasses. Her hair was tied up and her officiousness excited me more than ever. I got out of the car and buttoned my jacket as I greeted her close up I sensed a trepidation that had not been evident before. I suddenly felt empowered by her anxiety, leant towards her and kissed her cheek low near the neck.
“You look gorgeous, and smell better” I certainly was feeling brave.
“Oh, thanks, you look pretty good yourself” she replied. There was definitely a quiver in her voice.
We got into the car and drove purposefully to the hotel, Kim spoke very little and when she did it was about how wonderful the people at the Americo were.
“Everybody helps each other, we even applaud each others success!”
“What, sort of stand up and clap and cheer?”
“Yes, Mike you wouldn’t believe how good it makes you feel. The English are so reserved and negative”
“So, what if you do really badly do they all get up and boo and jeer you?” I laughed.
“Only if you really deserve it!” she returned dryly serious.
Something in this last comment made me uncomfortable. I looked down at her legs, her skirt had ridden up and her panties were just visible; all was well in the world.
We parked in the hotel car park and got out the car. Kim adjusted her skirt seemingly oblivious to the fact that I had for the last third of the journey been looking at that which had preoccupied my thoughts, these last weeks. When she was happy she turned her attention to me, straightening my tie, which I had successfully ironed the night before. She stood back and looked at me.
“You look quite handsome,” she said almost surprised.
 “And you look barely preferable to a camel’s arse too” I tested the bed with humour.
“If you’re not going to take this seriously Mike, we can go home now!” my god what a threat.
We went through the main doors, passed the bar, which I made mental note of, and on toward the function hall. We reached an area at the hall’s entrance where two well-dressed women sat at a desk furnished with a big book like a ledger and a cash-tin. My eye was caught by a table full of cups and saucers at the end a white-board on an easel with a simple message TEA AND COFFEE £1.50. I turned to see Kim with her purse open.
“Two? That’s £6.00, please” one of the well-dressed women was saying up to Kim.
“Kim, I didn’t realise” I dug in my pocket.
“I got it Mike,” she said firmly without turning.
The moment we entered the double doors I felt like I had entered an Osmonds reunion, there was more enamel on display than at the Electricity board shop. A tall black guy, wearing a huge grin, thrust a firm hand in my direction; I grabbed it and wrung it in the sentiment that it had been offered.

“Hi, nice to see you!”
“Good evening to you too,” I replied. Then from nowhere another, I readied my grip.
“Hi, nice to see you tonight”
“Nice to be here” I retorted with irony; no reaction.
One after the other I shook hands attached to grey suits with grins. I got the feeling I was in a sequel to the “Stepford wives”. At last Kim was there by my side, she was close enough for me to need to button my jacket.
She turned to me and whispered close to my face, “They’re great aren’t they,” her breath was sweet and her lips momentarily so close my English reserve waned.
We took our seats forth row back and off to the left of the speaker. I looked around and quickly calculated a rough total of over three hundred and fifty. There was a hush and up stepped a stocky man in his late thirties, Kim wriggled and grabbed my knee.
“Oh great, he’s my favourite”
Some people around us had big open notebooks others had Dictaphones. The man introduced himself and asked who among us would like to be our own boss, to have our own business, almost all raised their hands. He then asked who among us had our own businesses, were their own bosses, just over a hundred hands went up, most being the Osmond’s henchmen among us, one being Kim. The speaker told us how six years ago he was a builder who was experiencing a lean period during the recession then he discovered Americo. He now had a big country house in Suffolk and he hadn’t touched a brick in over three years. He explained how we could all start to climb the income ladder by simply paying an £85 subscription to be able to buy Americo products and convincing our friends and neighbours to do the same; easy! He did stress that this was not pyramid, but net-work marketing. At one point the speaker’s wife stood up, she wore a gaudy turquoise suit and had obviously had something done to her hair recently. She seemed to speak mostly about what she had and how good life was when you are rich. The man stood again and proceeded to pull numbers out of nowhere, put them together in dubious calculations and marvel us with the results. Kim watched transfixed. I did pick out at one point something about reaching targets to earn your bonuses but my mind began to drift toward Kim’s thighs.
When the speaking finished we were invited to go and have a good cup of coffee. Everyone began to mill about shaking each other’s hands and smiling, I took Kim’s hand.
“Do you fancy a drink?” I made it clear that I did.
“Yeah, ok Mike” she looked a little shocked that I should want to leave.
We went to the hotel bar and I ordered a Guinness for me, and a white-wine spritzer for Kim.
“So, what did you think? Blown away huh. I was a little taken aback first time but now I just can’t wait for the next meeting.” Kim was now back to her old self but some of the enigma had gone. I quite enjoyed her being a little more open; a kind of regression seemed to have taken place. I asked her if she was hungry, when she said she was I suggested a nice Indian restaurant close-by. We finished our drinks and went out in to the clement night air. At the entrance were the speaker, his wife and other assorted grinners. The tackily attired wife was climbing into the passenger seat of a huge dark green Mercedes, the speaker preparing to take the driver’s seat. With my arm around Kim’s waist I clearly felt her flinch as we passed them.
The mood progressed better than I could have hoped at the restaurant. Kim asked me if I intended to subscribe to which I replied without hesitation that I would. At the end of the meal the bill came which I duly paid by cheque and dug for sufficient coinage to cover a respectable tip. I then felt Kim’s hand grab my thigh very nearly reading my thoughts.
“ Hey businessman, you wanna come back to my place for some business.”
“Erm, yeah corse” Kim’s approach took me unaware but more than willing.
We arrived outside her flat and half of me expected her to laugh shouting “gotcha, you little twat!” but she didn’t, instead she lead me into the door and up the staircase to her door and in. Boxes bordered the passageway but the light was too dim and my vision too tunnelled to notice any details. The bedroom smelled undoubtedly of Kim, I was nearly wetting myself with anticipation. All I could have wished for was accelerating into my face like a babe laden BMW, I was in danger of being run over and I didn’t give a flying scrote. She led me into the bedroom threw me on the bed then fell on me her clothes flying off into the ether. I could feel her swollen breasts against my now bare chest her nipples like pebbles indenting my skin. We thrashed around and at one point I found myself on top, my excitement in danger of running prematurely away with me. I closed my eyes trying to think of something that would retard my ardour, Maggie Thatcher, no, Dame Edna Everage, no! Suddenly I had it, Mimi Mapandreou! I had waited so long for this I couldn’t let myself flash in the pan. After the ear piercing climax we laid still, entwined and winded. Then I gave in to the all-enveloping lethargy.
The sun began to flood through the curtains, I looked over at the clock by the bedside 6.17 it pronounced. Kim was still in my arms, I pulled her close and she began to stir and so did my loins. 6.30 the alarm squawked, Kim leapt from the bed naked and glorious in the sunlight.
She walked toward the door, ”I’m going to take a shower,” she said sleepily.
I looked around the room, there were boxes all around marked AMERICO MARKETING. I got up to find the kitchen; I found it at the end of the narrow passageway also littered with Americo boxes.
“Coffee?” I shouted in the general direction of running water.
“Yes please” came the muffled reply.
A sudden image of her lathered-up in the shower came to me; I resisted the urge to join her. In the kitchen I filled the kettle boldly labelled AMERICO ELECTRICS, in the cupboard I found the AMERICO CHOICE BLEND all the containers had a similar motif. When I took the steaming cups into the bedroom Kim was in her underwear, she smelt fresh and I wanted her again. I put the cups down and approached her from behind and kissed her neck.
“Not now Mike, we gotta go to work,” she said abruptly.
“I’ll take a shower then”
“There’s a guest towel in the bathroom” she motioned to the direction I had heard the running water come from.
In the bathroom I saw more Americo labels, in fact I saw little else. I emerged from the bathroom refreshed, Kim was now fully dressed. I dressed hurriedly and joined Kim in the lounge. She was standing in front of a picture frame mirror adjusting her make-up. Across the top of the mirror were the words LOOK-NOBODY LOVES A LOSER then the Americo logo. I put my arms around her waist and gave her a squeeze; she looked up at me with knowing eyes.
“We’ll meet up after work and go through the paper work to get you signed up “
“Ok, we’ll meet after work” I smiled smugly and sat down to finish getting ready.
 She smiled at me as I put my shoes on.
“Have you got sixty quid, Mike?”
I paused a little confused “but I thought the subscription was eighty-five”
“Not the subscription, silly,” her smile fell momentarily. “You did enjoy me didn’t you?” 

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Episode 48: A Saviour is Born

You know me. You followed me around the country. You loved me on the TV when I had you in stitches with jokes about my penis. You followed me in the tabloids, you supported my charitable works. Then you didn't. I don't know why. You just stopped. Now, I have people who love me again. So much that they made me their mayor. This is my new story, From Under Dark Clouds.

Roni swung her camera round to capture the scene in the bedroom. Tears ran down her cheeks. She did celebrity exposés, this had become a war zone. The Chinaman had been a shock but now she was filming someone she had known in life, with the life removed. She had met her children. She had been a character in her narrative, a mother, now a cadaver.

I was calm, collected, speechless and willing to agree to anything. “I’ll go!” ping ping! Mike was signalling NO but he wasn’t here, he wasn’t here and he should have been. “I’LL GO! You won’t see us again!”
“NOOO!” Ares cried. He would have looked like the child at the supermarket checkout screaming for the candies were it not for his statue and suit.
Wirey and Excavator took another step back, just like you do at the checkout in case someone thinks that the child is connected to you. Genuine fear in their eyes.
I pleaded him to let Roni go and she nodded fervent agreement. “Let her go!” I dropped my head. “let me go, please.”
I am not proud. I thought I was but pride is a luxury and it had been replaced by another feeling, deep mortal fear. I confessed. I confessed. I confessed.
Ares got it all on his phone. He began swiping and tapping.
“Mike! Forfucksake, do something.” I yelled into the air. There was no ping. I knew he knew where we were, I knew he could have called the police, sent someone to our location. He did nothing. Ares persisted in swiping and tapping then yelled his frustration at the device, throwing it at the wall. Splinters rained on the hard tiled floor. Roni and I would be next. We looked at each other without words, we both knew what was coming. We would not be going to the airport. Roni’s work would finish here and now as an obituary, if it were ever finished. Maybe Jude would see that it was completed. Attend the premiere with a somber face, accept the awards on Roni’s behalf, hopefully tell of his warm and inspiring relationship with me. Send his heartfelt condolences to my wife and sons. My work would be talked about, my books hit the bestseller lists again, generating some royalties for the family. This would be my punchline. I looked toward the bedroom, the door had swung closed but I could still see the disassembled secretary’s calves and feet. Her vital body flashed through my thoughts. Just a few days before, she had been warm, passionate. Just a few days before, she had been in my bed. 
Roni kicked my shin. The men had left the room, probably to decide who would off us.
When they came back in, I stared forward unblinking, tears blurred my vision, snot running down my face. Roni was terse, resolute, bold. Wirey pulled a sack over her head then mine. My tears stopped then my fear was gone. It would be quick.
Purgatory was the back of a van. It was hot and dark. I could feel the presence of another body and by the smell I thought it was the lifeless body of the well-assembled secretary. Judgement day had come and we were travelling freight class.
The twists and turns threw us into each other until our heads hit the bulkhead and the doors swung open. “GET OUT!” There were only two bodies in the back of the van, one mine and to my relief the other was Roni. Alive. We were pulled from the van and pushed into the back seats of an awaiting car.
“Where the fuck were you taking them?” I heard voices from outside the car. I couldn't discern the reply. “You were supposed to…” They had handed us over to others, associates? They were arguing about something.
“The Greek girl...? Malaka!” Then the seat in front of me was filled and the door closed. We sped off
I heard the voices from up front but none of it made sense to me. “He is going to be really pissed off!”
“You heard?”
“Yeah!.. Malakas!”
We had taken maybe five or six corners before a hand reached from the front and pulled the sack from my head and my gag down, my hands were still tied.
“You are safe, Sir.” I didn’t feel it but we were alive. “Mike gave us your location and we saved you.” I tried to look grateful. These were not familiar faces and that was the only thing I needed.
A phone rang and the unfamiliar face in the passenger seat picked up. The voice on the other end did not wait for familiarities and greetings. It was pretty sure that it was Socrates and he was on full tilt. I heard most of what was said but could not comprehend the words. It wasn't until he hung up that my fears were confirmed. The hoods were shoved back over our heads with apology. The car stopped and we were pushed out of the car onto the road.
The car screeched away leaving the bitter taste of exhaust fumes and burnt rubber. Soon there were voices and hands on me. I heard Roni squeal but no one was taking the hood off.
“Roni! Are you OK?” I yelled. She didn’t answer and I needed her to. “RONI!”
“FUCK! Someone just stepped on me.”
“Can you see anything?” Some arms pulled me to my feet. “RONI!”
I was dragged up some stairs then turned around. The hood was taken off. The sun blinded me but my arms were still tied. Roni was being manhandled up the stairs and we were both pushed through the doorway into the shade. We were safe in a police station. Safe? My arms still tied, I was marched into a room and planted on a chair. My hands were untied but I didn’t move.
“Where is Roni, the girl with me. Where is she?” I demanded.
“She’s OK. You need to worry about yourself!” the uniform leaning over me said. He pulled a cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit it blowing smoke over my head. I asked for one but he just smiled. “Last one.”
“I was kidnapped! I was nearly fucking murdered!”
“You need to watch your language!”
“But I, I'm the mayor!”
"I didn't vote for you." 
The smoke smelt tangy and I needed some. “I demand to see the chief!" 
"He didn't either."
"Get me some smokes. I’ll pay.” I search my pockets and found a crumpled note.
“Can’t run errands. We have serious police work to do... Sir.”
I reminded him of his responsibility, his duty, to protect and serve.
“We are not your police! Now tell me. Tell me how you got lost in the wrong neighbourhood.”
“I was kidnapped by Ares Mavrides. He was going to… he killed…”
“Now accusations like that are going to get you in trouble.” He left me sat at the old school desk, still engraved with adolescent graffiti and slammed the door behind him.
I was still getting used to being free. I wasn’t tied to the chair but I might as well have been. Something kept me there acquiescent, compliant. I needed a cigarette, a drink. I had four cold walls and a desk.
Fuck this shit! I stood and walked to the door. The handle was stiff, I pushed, I shouldered the door. I was locked in, banging didn’t bring help.
I went back to the chair. there was nothing else to do, one desk, two chairs, four walls.
The door clunked and in strode Socrates, he was carrying a bottle of Irish and a plastic cup.
“You’ve really put the wind up those Nazis.”
I was pleased to see him, I really was. He broke the seal on the bottle and poured a shot. I looked at it, it sang to me but I shunned it.
“Got any fags, I need to smoke.”
He pointed to the ‘no smoking’ sign, “Can’t.”
“Roni? How’s Roni, I haven’t seen her since we got here.”
“She’s ok.”
“OK SHIT! Socrates, I’m sick of hearing OK. Where is she, what are they doing with her? Why aren’t we together?” I stood. “FUCK! Let’s get out of here, Socrates.”
“Calm down. We have to talk first.”
“I was fucking kidnapped, I want out of here!”
“I want to go eat at a friendly taverna and drink.”
“I brought your favourite.”
I eyed the plastic cup. I wanted it but I wanted not to run away, to feel, to know.
“I want out!”
“There is a whole bunch of press outside. We need a plan.”
I necked the contents of the plastic cup. Socrates filled it again.
“Why didn’t they ask me about…”
“They don’t know.”
I know I should have told them. I know I should have sent them round to where ever she was laid out on the bed. I know, I know. I wanted out and she didn’t want anymore. Not like I did.
“Now, listen. The elections are coming and they’re coming fast. We’ve done well to get this far but you are still a novelty act—”
“Socrates! Shit! I have been kidnapped and nearly killed!” I heard my own words. “Fuck, Christina!” I said her name for probably the first time, she had always been the well-assembled secretary but now she was disassembled.
“Yeah, yeah he went too far. I told him—” He filled my cup, I had drunk it before I decided I shouldn’t. “Eggs will get broken but—”
“Eggs! She’s dead, Socrates. She’s dead and you’re using omelette metaphors?”
He paused an rephrased. “Some soldiers will fall.”
I didn’t know what to say but I was saying something. He wasn’t listening. He stood and went to the door and knocked. I called him. The door was held open for him and her turned, looking through me. “We need to find the hero in you.” And walked out. The key turned in the lock.
I ran to the door and pounded on it then turned to the bottle on the table. I had to stay lucid. I focused on what we had done over these months, the progress we had made but I kept returning to the one logical conclusion.
I should take this all and write a book, do a show, tour. The Americans would love this. Mad goings on in uncivilised Europe, it’s just what makes them feel superior AND for once it’s a war they didn’t start! It was simple. Yes, I would go back to London, join my family and do funny again.
The key turned and Socrates walked in. I told him I couldn’t do it anymore, I told him that I didn’t understand what was going on, I never had and I was going home.
“Yes! and that is exactly why you… WE need to make sure these animals don’t get in. Just imagine the blood on your hands if you give up now.”
“My hands? You said I was just a novelty act!”
“You are and novelty is your strength.” He put a full plastic cup in my hand and grabbed my chin, forcing me to looked in his sharp eyes. “These people need you, they need your British stiff upper lip, they need your wit and huge heart. They need you. They may not know this yet but they do.”
He was right. I could see the potential in these people, maybe the same potential the wife had seen in me all those years ago. They just needed a heavy but loving hand.
“But, Roni?”
“Don’t worry about her. Her career was made today.”
I emptied the plastic cup and Socrates went to the door. He exchanged some words with the officer and returned. It was time to go. He glanced at the plastic cup and I emptied it. The bottle I had refused to drink was at half mast. He said we’d leave it for the officers. There was always more where that came from.
Roni was already at the station door when we arrived. I touched her arm and she tugged a smile, half a lip between her teeth. Socrates opened the door and the press sprung into life. I had done this so many times, I could do it again. I drew breath and dropped my head to put my face on. But before I could project my defiant smile, I heard my name.
Roni had taken the stage and was telling the cameras and microphones of my courage, my unwavering contempt for bullies and how we may not have been there if it hadn’t been for my heroism in the face of people who should never be given power.
“People of Greece! I tell you now. If you don’t want this man, I will take him back home to Britain and I will not rest until he is our democratic leader!” She took my hand, folding it into a fist and held it aloft. And for the fist time in my life the press cheered me.
Socrates took my other hand, smiled and held it high. And, ladies and gentlemen I swear my feet left the ground.

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