When God was a chicken

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Lately I’ve been spending time with Lenny, the chicken which hatched from a Campbell’s soup can painted by Andy Warhol. I’ve been accused of making Len up, as though the cure for my social anxiety was all in my mind. In any case, we’ve been touring the places I know. We’ve been out in my village, and anyone who saw us will know we’re real.

poulet3_0

As Helen (as she turned out to be) had grown restless in the studio, we first visited the local charity shops. As an assistance chicken, she was allowed in, which eased a burden of pressure on me. Len could choose her own toys, which she did by pecking and clawing at various pieces of plastic tat. She also took an interest in the books, vigorously headbutting a children’s bible. It was a win-win for me: Money to charity, and a happy self-educating chicken to boot.

Len was keen to return home with her toys and book, but we still had shopping to do. As we walked through the village, she was tugging at her lead in various directions she considered to be toward home (she was no pigeon). The zebra crossing on the high street contained poultry for much of the afternoon, as we crossed repeatedly from one side to the other.

Eventually we made it to the supermarket, where I stocked up on food for us both. Len stayed close, perhaps sensing my relief that this was the last stop and we’d be home soon.

Back at the studio, I unpacked the shopping while Len made a bed with her toys and started leafing through her children’s bible. I asked her if there was anything she fancied for dinner, and she headbutted an open page in her book. It was Jesus and the feeding of the 5000. I made us fish finger sandwiches.

While I was cooking, Len read some more of her bible. As I was putting our sandwiches together, I heard a tapping on my typewriter. Craning my head around the doorway, I saw Len at the desk, on this very laptop. I saved what she typed:

I am God.”

Maybe my chicken couldn’t speak to me directly, but she’d found a way to communicate. I had to reply:

What makes you say that?”

My family are dead. I am the only one left.”

Who were your family?”

Those in the supermarket, the Indian, the Chinese and the kebab shop.”

No wonder we’d crossed the road so many times. Thankfully there isn’t a KFC in the village, and Deliveroo don’t deliver(oo).

I am God.”

How do I know?”

I couldn’t ask for proof besides her survival outside the local food outlets, because that would deny faith. Even though I’m an atheist, I at least had a chicken for company. My chicken – imaginary or not – had helped me overcome my social anxiety.

You’ll never know,” she wrote, “my beautiful typewriter.”

Why?”

But there was no reply. My chicken had disproved herself, because I’d asked.

As an atheist, I don’t pray to any false deity made in man’s image, but Lenny the chicken will forever live in my mind.

Kentucky friedKentucky fried | Protect me from what I want (Michel Koven Blog)

© Steve Laker, 2019

 

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The invention of the pencil case

“The most intellectual species to ever walk this planet was intent on destroying its own home, and while humans were busy with their own imploding evolution, the animals took a back seat and concentrated on the obvious things: Shelter, food and telepathy. All under the noses of the humans. It was a brilliant plan.”

FLASH FICTION

Dog Pencil Case

THE INVENTION OF THE PENCIL CASE

The strangest lunch I ever had was with a veterinary doctor, and it was the meal which finally turned me vegetarian. I should note at the start, we didn’t eat any domestic pets.

I first met Dr Hannah Jones when we worked on a film together, and we’d remained friends since. We’d meet up every now then, I’d tell her stories from the writing world and she’d give me ideas from her field of science. It was Hannah who’d suggested we meet, as she said she had something important for me.

We met at a pop-up cafe at the Camden end of Regent’s Park. It was an indifferent day weather wise, unable to decide what it wanted to do. We sat outside nonetheless, as we both like to people-watch: me making up stories of what people in the park might be away from that setting, Hannah priding herself on identifying the bits of cross-breeds and mongrels, and sometimes scoring the dogs’ humans on parts of their anatomy.

The Camden end of the park is quieter nowadays, and at one point on that particular Saturday, we counted only 16 legs besides our own. It’s been that way since the last fire at the zoo, and that’s what Hannah said she wanted to tell me about. But first we ordered food. I went for a rare steak with fries, and Hannah chose a vegetarian pizza.

The cafe backed on to the old zoo, now a construction site. The distant sound of hammers and saws competed with the clatter of dishes from the cafe, which was quite arresting. The animals’ former home was being demolished in the background, while I was waiting for part of a former animal to arrive before me.

So I turned to Hannah, and asked her what she wanted to tell me. Something she’d been working on perhaps, some veterinary breakthrough, or anything I might use as a story.

You remember the first fire,” Hannah said, “and the cause was unknown?” She didn’t have to remind me. The London Zoo fire of 2017 killed four meerkats and Mischa the aardvark, and the cause of the blaze was never made public. I nodded. “Well,” she continued, “some colleagues of mine found out what started the latest one.”

Many more had perished in the great fire of 2020, and there was extensive structural damage. Most of the remaining exhibits had been moved to other zoos, and all who remained were the rarest and most threatened in the wild. Our food arrived and suddenly, char-grilled animal wasn’t terribly appetising.

So what was it?” I asked, as Hannah chewed righteously on her veggie pizza.

The kind of thing,” she said, “that is never likely to be made public.”

So why would you tell me?” I wondered.

Because you’re a fiction writer. If you write it, no-one will believe you.” I wasn’t sure how to take that, but I smiled nonetheless as I ate a fry.

Go on then,” I prompted. Hannah looked at my steak.

Aren’t you going to eat that?”

It doesn’t have the same sort of appeal it once had,” I said.

But that’s such a waste.” She was right. “Such a shame that not only does someone have to die to feed you, but their selfless act is unappreciated and their sacrifice goes to waste.” She had a point. “And pity the poor chef, cooking that for you, only to have it returned like there’s something wrong with it.” The only thing wrong was me eating it. As I chewed reluctantly, Hannah told me the story of the great fire.

I’ve got a friend who was in the forensics team. She told me this, and she told me not to tell anyone.”

So you’re telling me,” I said, “because if I write about it, no-one will believe it.”

But you’ll believe me,” she replied. “So, after the fire brigade put out the fire, they identified the seat of the blaze, in a pile of hay.”

Someone’s bed?” I wondered. “Did it catch in the sun?”

No,” Hannah replied, “it was deliberate.”

Someone started it deliberately?”

Yes.”

Arson. Why?”

We don’t know if it was. It started in the mountain gorilla area.”

Someone threw a lighter in?” I imagined it wouldn’t take long to work out how a lighter worked.

No,” Hannah said again. “It was all enclosed in strengthened glass.”

A keeper dropped a lighter?”

Nope.” She was getting quite smug now, knowing what I didn’t. I tried again.

So maybe the sun did start it, like the magnifying glass effect.”

All of the above remained possibilities for a while, and that’s how it’ll remain on the public record. Just like the first one: cause unknown.”

So what do you know which no-one else does, including me?”

This.” She unfolded a sheet of paper, a photo, and handed it to me. It was like a scenes of crime picture: little plastic signs with numbers on, dotted around the ground, like a golf course for ants, and an arrow pointing to a singed spot of earth about the size of a dinner plate. “That’s the seat of the fire.”

And this is inside the gorilla enclosure?”

Yes. Where this came from.” Hannah rummaged in her bag, then handed me something rolled in newspaper. “It’s what’s inside.”

Inside was a piece of dried wood about the size of a pencil case, with a small crater burned into the centre.

What the actual…” I didn’t finish.

Hold on,” Hannah said, “there’s this as well.” She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out what looked like a burnt pencil.

I knew by now what it really was, and it had a much bigger story to tell.

It seemed somehow poetic to write it down, lest anyone hear, so I used the charred, sharpened end:

THEY DISCOVERED FIRE?

Hannah nodded.

© Steve Laker, 2018

Buy me a coffee one off

Andy Warhol looks a scream

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FLASH FICTION

With my fight for independence still very much ongoing with DWP, and mindful of a personal promise to keep writing and not let them take this from me, I remembered I’m a part-time surrealist, and I’ve not written much which is real or unreal lately.

Initially I thought I’d write a short story about poverty, food banks, and the UK government’s economic genocide. I decided that could wait, after I spotted a writing prompt which might permit me wider thought: ‘A can of soup’.

So I mixed up some paints to tell the real and fictional lives of a writer…

Chicken soup

CAMPBELL’S CHICKEN SOUP

I was hungry and lately I’d had a cold. I fancied chicken soup and CBeebies, or repeats of Doctor Who with Tom Baker and Matt Smith. But my cupboards were bear and my pre-pay meter low, so I decided to use the last of my electricity to heat a tin of Campbell’s soup given to me by Andy Warhol.

This being a piece of art history, the can displayed no use-by date. Given who it was from, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found an egg inside. Instructions too. I was to place the egg in an oven at the lowest possible setting, checking on it every two hours until it hatched.

My cooker is electric, so the lowest setting is 70 degrees. Fearing this might be a little warm, I left the oven door open. An egg was unlikely to attempt escape, but it would eventually hatch. My anxiety dictates I don’t go out much, but I had someone else to feed now, so I ordered some seeds on the internet.

After a couple of days, a yellow chick hatched and began frantically chirping at me. Too small to peck at the seeds I’d bought, I fed it liquidised food from a syringe I happened to have lying around.

It was impossible to tell if my chick was a boy or girl. In any other setting, if it’d been a girl, she’d have been reared for egg-laying, or fattened up for human consumption. A boy would be discarded, often destined to be reptile food. I called it Lenny, or Len, after Leonard Hofstadter, or Helen of Troy.

For the first few nights, I slept in the kitchen next to the warmth from the oven, waking every couple of hours to feed Lenny. In return, she (I’d decided) gave substance to my lonely life, where lately I’d have put my head in her home if I cooked with gas. After about a week, Helen was pecking at the seeds I’d bought.

I let Len live in the oven and left the door open. If she wished, she could have the run of the flat. She grew quickly and after a month, she was of a size which wouldn’t look out of place in a supermarket freezer.

Some birds are born with very large head-to-body ratios (the corvids, penguins, parakeets and parrots), and many are as intelligent as dolphins or the great apes. All birds are born with instincts. The first is imprinting the face they see on hatching as that of their mother.

I was Leonard Hofstadter’s mum, noted psychologist Dr Beverley Hofstadter. As though prompted by that, Len developed some strange behaviour, and I wondered if it might also be instinctive.

Lenny kept getting out of the cooker and pressing the buttons on the front. She started plucking at her feathers, as though preparing herself for roasting, like an old Doctor Who on a carving trolley at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I had a depressed chicken. Was it because mine was the first face she saw when she’d hatched? Or was Helen actually Leonard, burdened with a childhood lived in shadows? I switched the oven off at the mains.

Just lately I’ve been so broke that I’ve had to choose between eating and heating. Now I’ve got Len, I took a doorstep loan and put money on the electric key, so she wouldn’t need the oven to keep warm. It means she can watch TV as well, and she loves CBeebies.

Tomorrow we’ll visit the local charity shops to buy my chicken some toys. We’re out of food, so we’ll have to go to the food bank as well.

© Steve Laker, 2019

It all started when Andy Warhol painted a Campbell’s soup can. I just wondered what happened to what he painted. Can’t tell them apart at all.

Though you’re miles and miles…

POETRY

Today is my parents’ 52nd wedding anniversary, and I sent them a card with a hand-written sentiment inside. The truth is, no writer or poet could write a love story as true as theirs, but I once wrote a poem about life. It’s about everyone, and how 52 seconds or years is often the beginning of something far greater. A love that never ends.

IN A MOMENT…

In a moment3

Amnesia, a cure for insomnia

FLASH FICTION

Time ShadowStill from Cold Dark Mirror, Original Sine Productions / Moonlit Road Entertainment

THE DEEP WELL

It’s a story familiar to parents and carers around the world, and it’s only 142 words…

Mum, I can’t sleep.”

Well, you’re not trying then, are you?”

The more I try, the more I can’t.”

Well, you need to sleep.”

But I thought of something. Something someone said.”

Well, whatever it is, it can wait. Now go to bed.”

So Sam went back to bed.

Dad?”

What is it, Sam?”

I can’t sleep.”

You could if you stopped thinking so much.”

I’ve been thinking about something someone said.”

Well, remember to tell me in the morning, when you’ve dreamed about it.”

And Sam returned to bed, where many others tried to sleep.

Sam slept, possibly to forget what he and she dreamed, and mum and dad would never know. In that deep well we all make.

© Steve Laker, 2018.

It’s a story familiar to parents and carers around the world, of children (and other relatives, and friends), trying to buy time, and others unable or unwilling to invest (not unlike writers and readers). In five minutes we could learn something new, and save a another person from thoughts which might otherwise trouble them, or become taboo in their minds.

A conversation we don’t want, could be the one someone else needs. Maybe that’s why they can’t sleep. A well needs to draw water, for the enquiring mind, to which we replied,“Well…” Amnesia is not a cure for insomnia.

All we need to do, is keep talking.

Proletariat politics of disruption

THE WRITER’S LIFE | POLITICS

I’ve not written much over the last few months, least of all about UK politics. The fascist social cleansing agenda of the Tory dictatorship is a machine I’m consumed within myself, as the ruling party commit economic murder on a nation they’ve divided. The United Kingdom is an international joke, and the government is our shame. It’s difficult to write about one of the antagonists making you ill when their aim is prevention, but I’ll only be heard if I write, even if not all the words are mine.

Working class

I read a post today, which saves me several months of updating this blog with my opinion on the UK government, and of Brexit, which was always about internal divisions within the Conservative Party. Instead of sorting out their own differences, like long-term thinkers and responsible government do, they decided to destroy a country and its democracy. Deliberately. This by Attila the Stockbroker on Facebook:

This unprecedented period of division and chaos in our country is entirely the Tories’ doing. No-one else’s – it is literally entirely theirs. If you are in any way unconvinced I think it’s time for a recap.

Firstly, Cameron decided to foist a referendum on us in the mistaken belief that it would settle the Tories’ split on Europe once and for all by showing the ‘Eurosceptics’ that the majority wanted to stay in the EU. He never dreamed for an instant that the slavering bigots of the tabloid press, dark money and the likes of Cambridge Analytica would prove cleverer and more influential than his countless corporate backers when it came to influencing voters. A ghastly coalition of liars won the referendum in a welter of fake news and appalling xenophobia.

Then May called a snap general election in the mistaken belief (re-enforced, let us remember, by 99% of all known mainstream media) that she would trounce the ‘unelectable’ Jeremy Corbyn and gain the huge majority to complete Brexit in the way she wanted to. Instead she lost her slim majority and could only cling on to power by bribing the unspeakable 17th century boggle eyed rednecks of the DUP.

(An aside here: if you are going to inveigh against ‘terrorist sympathisers’ then the DUP are as much in that category as Sinn Fein. Of course, one person’s ‘terrorist sympathisers’ are another woman’s route to power in a country with a tame right wing press and cowed BBC. Imagine the utter furore if the situation had been reversed, Labour were the largest party and Corbyn then persuaded Sinn Fein to take their seats to give him a majority….)

And then May made the most appalling and yes, disloyal, unpatriotic decision of all the festering, diarrhoea sodden, burst colostomy bag in a leaking bucket of unspeakably crap decisions she has come up with in the past three years….

Instead of recognising the severity of the situation and reaching out to other parties, she put the interests of the Conservative Party above those of the country and allowed her Brexit strategy to be dictated by the appalling Lord Snooty Rees Mogg and the aforementioned DUP.

And that brings us on to the backstop issue. Let us not forget that the DUP are supposed to be representing a province which voted 63% to stay in the EU. Although a huge obstacle which needed to be high on the agenda in any Brexit negotiations, the Irish border issue had no real traction during what was (surprise, surprise) a thoroughly Anglocentric referendum campaign. So when it came up in Brussels the DUP, holding the balance of power in Parliament, could hold the country to ransom on the backstop issue to appease their ghastly followers with no problem at all – in no way reflecting the views of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

If May had reached out to other parties during negotiations and sidelined the slavering bigots on the Tory Right the DUP would have turned against her, binning her majority, and the Conservative Party would have split. As a literally lifelong Tory loyalist apparatchik devoid of empathy, humanity or imagination (those being self evidently the qualities required for that role) she was determined to avoid those eventualities at all costs.

Like Cameron who foisted the filthy referendum on us in the first place, she deliberately chose to split the country in two to avoid the Tory Party falling apart. Families and friendships torn asunder and British citizens literally fighting in streets and pubs is preferable to her than the end of the disgusting organisation to which she has dedicated her life.

I hope the Tory Party self-destructs anyway. I think it will. To coin a phrase, Parliament has to take back control now and save us from the abyss. There will be cross party co-operation and Lord Snooty won’t like that. Rot in hell, Rees Mogg. Rot in hell.

And the rest of us? Weep, Britain, weep. And if you care about this country, as I most certainly do, remember what the Tories – no one else, just the selfish, self-obsessed, navel gazing Tory Party – have done to us and never, ever, ever vote for them again.

I couldn’t have put it any better.

Brexit Myths

While we’re lied to by those in power, and their media friends who perpetuate those lies, the future of UK politics requires us to have faith rather than conviction. Democracy in the UK is broken, and Parliament is being exposed as what Guy Fawkes had a righteous objection to. We need to get rid of the current government, and consign them to history. What next for our once proud nation, where patriotism has been reclaimed by nationalists? Where do we go now?

The Prime Minister has kicked the Brexit can so far down the road, there’s hardly time left before the UK is obliged to leave the EU under current UK law (made by parliament). Leaving the EU with no deal was voted down, so now the MayBot has to ask the other 27 member states for an extension. Having already told the UK government they’ve done all they can, the EU will tell the PM to fuck off. So on March 29, Brexit doesn’t happen and the UK remains in the EU, or the Tories keep kicking the can? Again, the EU is running out of patience. This has taken two years, and what’s held the process up all that time (and cost billions) is internal UK parliamentary divisions. Just like it’s always been then.

Labour Tory

The Tories’ opposition in Parliament has hardly been fit for purpose, caught up in their own internal battles and with a leader seemingly unable to offer a way out: a simple matter of a second referendum, where the working class who read the right-wing press which perpetuated the mess might be allowed another vote, now that they know what they were voting for. Perhaps even they can see now that ‘Taking back control’ means giving more control to the Tories and their fascist agenda.

We need a new government, but who’s fit to govern? The rest of the EU might be able to negotiate with a new PM, but who might that be? If there were a general election soon, no single party would manage a majority, and with Parliament shattered into so many pieces – opposing within parties, and agreeing across party divides – what might emerge?

If we’re given a vote we hope might mean something, who do we vote for? Not Labour, whose leader has various fences up his arse. Certainly not the so-called “Indies,” whose independence is only their own interests. My vote in any general election would go to The Greens, if they can only field enough local candidates. But that’s a massive hope, just as it is to wish for enough people to do the same. UK politics is broken, and so are the electorate.

mayfascistwitch

Where’s the party which could be formed, when the voting public are starved and hungry for something new? When politicians are so keen to form alliances and coalitions, where’s the party which would at least unify enough people to make all the quiet voices of reason audible? Where are the centrist and remainer Labour MPs, The Greens, and the Lib Dems, who could form such an allegiance? Where’s the new party who can say they’ll get us through this, then because of their various political standings, they’re intelligent enough to know that progress comes from thesis, antithesis and synthesis; the ones who know that the long-term thinkers will prevail, because we can sort all the other stuff out once we’re less distracted?

Where’s the green socialist democratic movement, making the best of democracy as it’s become, even subverting it? Where’s the party which could disrupt the right-wing media read by the working classes? What if a movement for the redistribution of wealth were established, one which levied a tax on personal data to finance a Universal Basic Income?

Where’s a New World Order Party when we need one? Where’s the redistribution of wealth our species needs? Where’s radicalism when we need it? Where are our elected representatives when we need them to do their jobs?

With what remains of a hacked democracy, we should seize what might be our last chance to take our country back. Us, the people, should re-take the country we once knew, back from fascist occupation. Back to a time before la folie of the last two years, before the United Kingdom ceased to be.

Now is the time to admit we got it wrong, all of us. But however convinced anyone is of leave or remain, it was all a big con. To prevent it happening again, we need to change politics. We need to stop this, then maybe we can all sit down afterwards and sort the rest out over a cup of tea or a warm beer.

Ultimately, we need to disrupt the politics of division. We need to think of the future we can only make for ourselves. The only one we might have. Britannia no longer rules the waves, but we can still lead the world by example.

Tony Benn