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

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

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

Dining on darkened stools

FLASH FICTION

Pulp Pollution

PULP POLLUTION

As a one-time music writer, I’m crapping it, which is what every horror writer wants their readers to do, as they feed them to obesity in a crowded field. When I write fiction, there are parts of me in every story or character I create, but I’ve rarely lived the actual events in the stories. Now I’m seated alone in Green Inferno, a joint which prides itself on being carnivorous. My first observation is that if you’re in the story yourself, it’s not so easy to make it up as you go along.

The place is cavernous and filled with greenery, so that the experience is one of dining in a plastic south American forest, alone. As I look around, it’s hard to make out many other diners for the dense foliage, which eases my anxiety. Anyone walking through the bushes around me could be a customer, a lost tribe member, or one of the dishes. I hear running water but I can’t see a toilet. I turn my attention to the menu, which is the other point of this place.

It’s a meat restaurant, but with its focus on food provenance. All their dishes are locally sourced, and every cut of meat is traceable to an individual. Reared by organic local farmers, each animal was once a friend, and so every dish comes with a story, like Peter Davidson at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, describing his lifestyle and how that’s improved his finer cuts.

Mine is a shallow hunger, so I browse the appetisers. Among them, I’m intrigued by the pygmy cutlets. The beast once burdened by these isn’t described by species (I assume pork, from a pig), but as a character:

He (we’re told that much) was unwell for much of his short life (not terribly appetising so far). Bullied by his siblings and shunned by his elders, he’d been adopted by other animals. They stop short of actually naming the individuals here, but I gather this little chap had a bit of an identity crisis (I know how he felt).

Another of these pygmy things sounded a bit of an arse: His partner and children had fled his abusive patriarchy, then he’d been ejected by his drift (the collective noun for swine) and become a nomad (and no mates). For years he wandered with lonely guilt, until he died of a broken heart (impaled). In some respects, I could relate to him too.

The stories of the menu certainly make me question whether I should be eating what was once a sentient, self-determining being like me. As a horror writer, I’ve sometimes reflected on the act of consuming dead flesh, questioning if it might be both the most and least respectful way of disposing of a body. On the one hand, it’s everything which was in that living body being taken on by another (so a bit like holy communion). Conversely, it’s power over the body of the lost soul as it’s consumed (not unlike holy communion then).

I decided on a cut from each, whoever they were. While they remained nameless, they’d be just like any other meat on my plate. As food, once the organism has ceased to function, it becomes organic. It’s consumed, drained of its nutrients for the nourishment of the host, then what’s left is excreted as waste: Life as pulp fiction, picked up on airport news stands, consumed in the air, and cast into the bin on different shores, like so much human waste. Perhaps there are beach combers there, and some stories live again, but I was growing distracted in the plastic green inferno.

My stomach was growing cramped, like my surroundings; vegetation everywhere, but not a leaf to eat. And yet, the dishes I’d ordered were once living beings with stories. I owed them enough respect to eat them while they were still warm.

I’m not sure if it was a server or a customer who ran through the foliage behind me. I couldn’t tell if the sound of flowing water was from a distant stream or the glass now being poured beside me, as my food arrived. I couldn’t wait.

I dined alone as always, with only myself for company, pondering publication of this review. The writer who shit himself.

“Door open or closed?” It made no difference, as I passed an effigy of me. It appeared to smile as I flushed it away to some distant beach.

© Steve Laker, 2018

From the old man in the 42nd row

THE WRITER’S LIFE

My micro-galactic voyage around the man-made universe which is the internet takes me to many places, inside the microcosm of my shared humanity. My typewriter is like a tiny spacecraft providing a window on the outside world. I can change my viewpoint and look into an infana kolonia (Esperanto for ‘Infant colony’) and sometimes I can see out.

Caged Rat small

I’ll often launch a quest for knowledge somewhere completely random on Wikipedia. From there, I’ll either dig down into a planet, or take off again to find another. Sometimes I simply land and can’t be bothered to leave.

Eventually, all of Wikipedia links back to philosophy. I’m addicted to the quest for knowledge, so it’s a good place to start, forever finding yourself back where you set off from.

As one diagnosed with Alcohol Dependence Syndrome, I’m simply labelled an alcoholic. To the casual observer, it’s easier to ignore a Band Aid than a surgical tent. As an alcoholic in any interpretation of the word, I’m an addict. As an addict, I have an addictive personality.

Without dissecting each of those (as I have on this blog over the last six years, ever since my addiction made me homeless), I happened upon something today which permits me a vague stab at explaining what that’s like to the casual observer.

Perhaps more importantly, what caused me pause for thought was how addiction might have been an invention, one which would benefit a government intent on social cleansing and selling itself as an infant colony to any other fascist dictatorship happy to acquire an enslaved nation.

And still I could go on. But I found someone who might explain the experiment in my head much better than I could. This is from a TED talk by Johann Hari, ‘Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong’.

I’m not excusing myself, but neither have I been able to make anyone who’s not an addict understand how addiction comes about:

Get a rat and put it in a cage and give it two water bottles. One is just water, and one is water laced with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drugged water and almost always kill itself very quickly, right, within a couple of weeks. So there you go. It’s our theory of addiction.

Bruce comes along in the ’70s and said, “Well, hang on a minute. We’re putting the rat in an empty cage. It’s got nothing to do. Let’s try this a little bit differently.” So Bruce built Rat Park, and Rat Park is like heaven for rats. Everything your rat about town could want, it’s got in Rat Park. It’s got lovely food. It’s got sex. It’s got loads of other rats to be friends with. It’s got loads of colored balls. Everything your rat could want. And they’ve got both the water bottles. They’ve got the drugged water and the normal water. But here’s the fascinating thing. In Rat Park, they don’t like the drugged water. They hardly use any of it. None of them ever overdose. None of them ever use in a way that looks like compulsion or addiction. There’s a really interesting human example I’ll tell you about in a minute, but what Bruce says shows that both the right-wing and left-wing theories of addiction are wrong. So the right-wing theory is it’s a moral failing, you’re a hedonist, you party too hard. The left-wing theory is it takes you over, your brain is hijacked. Bruce says it’s not your morality, it’s not your brain; it’s your cage. Addiction is largely an adaptation to your environment.

We’ve created a society where significant numbers of our fellow citizens cannot bear to be present in their lives without being drugged, right? We’ve created a hyperconsumerist, hyperindividualist, isolated world that is, for a lot of people, much more like that first cage than it is like the bonded, connected cages that we need.

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. And our whole society, the engine of our society, is geared towards making us connect with things not people. If you are not a good consumer capitalist citizen, if you’re spending your time bonding with the people around you and not buying stuff—in fact, we are trained from a very young age to focus our hopes and our dreams and our ambitions on things we can buy and consume. And drug addiction is really a subset of that.

Perhaps it struck me because I’m an addict, and I can only see it as something I can’t say (because other voices can explain it better).

When you’re an addict, you look into yourself constantly and to your own detriment. If someone speaks to that inner person, it might move them to use the words they heard. Sometimes you have to speak to yourself.

Maybe that might help others get it later, if they hear something the addict said to someone else. If they hear it from someone they don’t know, they can disconnect (and allow themselves to judge from a self-elevated position). I’m talking to myself, of course.

I’m a caged consumer experiment, beneath the dome of Infana Kolonia. What do you do, when you sold your soul to the devil, but you made a commitment to life?

You just keep on living I’m afraid. Sorry about that.

Trump reveals spaceship plans

NEWS

After a conference where he referred to Apple CEO Tim Cook as ‘Tim Apple’, President Trump has met with Elon Musk to discuss America’s plans for space exploration and trade. After the meeting, the president was full of praise for the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, whom he called ‘Elon Spaceship’. It follows recent tests of the SpaceX Dragon capsule, and the vessel’s return to earth from the International Space Station.

Musk and TrumpElon Musk and Donald Trump, after their meeting

What Elon Spaceship has allowed me to do, is teach him about space. Because I know all about space,” the president said. “I’m very intelligents, so there’s nothing I don’t know about space.”

Mr Trump then switched his microphone off and said something to an aide, which a lip-reader translated as “If I ever blow up the earth, I’ve got a spacecraft coming to pick me up.” After switching the microphone on again, the president continued:

I asked Elon Spaceship what he thought about sending men to the sun to get more solar power, because people say that’s better than oil and gas, and he said it couldn’t be done. He said you couldn’t send astronauts to the sun, as they’d burn up. So I said to him, that’s okay, we’ll send them up at night. Very intelligents. I taught Elon Spaceship a lot.”

The president went on to explain how America would lead the world in space trade.

We’re going to turn the moon into a huge retail emporium. Massive, ginormous, like a Death Star. I’ve spoken to Jeff Amazon and he wants to put his stuff in my shops. Genius plan, but no-one thought of it, except me because I’m very intelligents and I know all about space.

It’ll be a great partnership on the moon. I own it, and I’ll be in charge because I’m Donald President. Jeff Amazon stocks it, and Elon Spaceship builds taxis for people to get there. It’ll be great. And we can sell advertising on the surface of the moon, so everyone on Earth can see how clever and great I am. I might get Tim Apple to do the computers.”

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos were not available for comment.