In a Westminster phone box

NOT SPONSORED CONTENT

Fucked Brexit

This content was not paid for by HM Government

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

Trump’s United States of Terror

THE WAY I SEE IT

The second worst thing that ever happened to America was the invasion of the (mainly white, British) ‘Pilgrim Fathers’, who trampled (figuratively and literally) over millennia of history and the spiritual beliefs of native Americans. The worst that ever happened to America was Trump. And he’s more than a man (although not in the way he imagines): He’s a happening.

merkeldavtrump

The science fiction writer will look at possible near-future and more distant time frames, ideal, apocalyptic and everywhere in between. Some visions come true, and others we hope never will. But while they remain possibilities, we might also look for a different way, a means of changing things. In Trump’s United States, I see what many others do looking in from the outside, but which those inside the glass dome are oblivious to.

I only visited America once, on a business trip in 2001, and we were in Chicago when the world changed on 9/11. We were due to fly home that day, and I switched on the news just after the first plane had hit the World Trade Centre. It was surreal, but when the second plane hit, it became almost unbelievable, but for being there.

As a sci-fi aside, it’s why I find the film Cloverfield so effective: It was that moment of not knowing; fear of the unknown, the unseen and the unprecedented. It was confusion, panic, and a creeping blanket of terror, placing a transparent stone cover on the USA as all planes were grounded and human life in the skies was placed on hold. We were trapped beneath that cathedral dome, our home only seven hours away but the only means of transport had been swatted from the sky.

We ended up spending an extra week in the USA and apart from the global event which had just unfolded, what struck me most was how insular the country had either become or always been. It was incredibly difficult to find much news from home or anywhere else outside the US, it’s national resolve and self-reflected image of strength and pride.

A lot has happened since then (including the oasis of Obama) and now we have a caricature occupying the most powerful political office on the planet, like a lobotomised sack of Cheetos as the hero in a pulp fiction graphic novel. Like a cross between Richard Branson and Stelios Haji-Ioannou painted in the latter’s livery, Trump is an advert (and infomercial) for himself. He’s the self-aware star of his own Truman Show and the film set is America: Infana Kolonia (infant colony in Esperanto), filmed by Fox, of course.

trumps usa

A man who lives in his own biopic will have both fans and critics watching, and like many a stage queen, he’ll grow impatient with anything which holds him back. On his recent trip to Singapore, The Donald was reported to have tried to move everything forward, itching as he was to develop melanoma in his own orange glow. He apparently backed down when made aware of the time difference with the US, and how that might affect audience size.

The summit went ahead, the two leaders of the world’s most precarious nuclear powers swapped details of hairdressers, and not much else, according to more in-depth analysis than Fox. “The summit statement is big on hyperbole and short on substance,” said Suzanne DiMaggio – a senior fellow at the New America think tank who has led back-channel contacts with North Korean officials – in a Guardian article, “it reads like it was written by the North Korean negotiating team.”

Back in the day, if Barack Obama had attempted something so bold, Trump would have been among the leading voices (on Fox) denouncing the president for being ridden roughshod over by a dictator. But now Trump is both president and dictator, glorified on America’s TV screens by the national approved broadcaster (like Korean Central Television, and RT in Russia).

The Donald previously said he wanted to be treated like Kim Jong-un: “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.” (HuffPost). He was referring to ‘his people’ in The White House. His captive home audience beneath the dome already do this, like disciples in a monumental cathedral of worship. Trump has already done what Hitler planned in Europe with New Order Nazism. The great architect will leave their mark on the landscape.

Trump Detention Centre

Back home in Infana Kolonia, Trump is separating children from their parents with his zero-tolerance (insular, frightened, paranoid, protectionist, ignorant) immigration policy. On a recent visit to a detention centre, NBC and MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff noted that the walls are covered in murals of President Trump, bearing down on his subjects like a supreme leader.

Despite being immoral and inhumane, Trump’s government claim that separating parents from their children is in accordance with the bible. Religion has become law in Trump’s America (which has an irony all of its own, given America’s ‘War on terror’, actually a war with opposing religions). I’m an atheist (based on science), but if this is “In God’s name”, then those who believe in that God should question their faith: That God: their God, and how that has been twisted into a faith system, only so far removed from extremism, by fear. From where I’m sitting, that’s terrorism by any other name.

The Great Dictator has brainwashed his followers to believe anything he says, while everything he doesn’t agree with is fake news (climate change), and anyone who challenges him an enemy of the state. His subjects are beholden in suffrage, blinkered, blinded and unaware of how they’re being manipulated. Those of us on the outside looking in can see this, but that microcosm experiment – an infant colony beneath a glass dome – can’t see beyond their world which needs no other. Swingeing import taxes mean foreign goods find it as difficult to get in as asylum seekers and refugees, while Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord to protect America’s oil and gas industries. The fewer monitoring bodies the US is a member of, the greater the opacity (and secrecy).

Trump’s United States knows little of its American history, pre-1776 and the signing of the Declaration of Independence (from British rule). The preamble to that new constitution bears little resemblance to what America has become:

We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Now a fascist regime, manipulating its subjects with terror. In his fantasy biopic, the psychopathic, sociopath star of the show always has a way out, no matter how the rest of the story goes: He can nuke the rest of the world to make his problems go away, and gain his own world peace.

trumpbloodhandsb3

As a science fiction writer, at the moment a happy ending is too great a stretch of my imagination. The real terror is that Trump is so deluded, and his followers so smitten, that they can’t see what I can. 

It’s all a fairy tale: The emperor’s new clothes. “God” save the queen. He ain’t no human being.

No One is Illegal on Stolen Land

Unfinished stories of austerity

FLASH FICTION

All over the country this weekend, in the few remaining places where social tenants manage to survive, stories will be played out and never told by those who live them: blots on the Conservative social cleansing landscape.

Unable to put them down through the Department of Work and Pensions’ dehumanising of benefits claims assessments with “medically-qualified assessors” (my last one was a midwife), the Tories can’t rid themselves of their shame.

Local councils clad their social housing to spare the views of the rich, on the cheap; and accidents happen, the Tories say. They sell off the NHS, bringing healthcare into line with everything else in Conservative Britain: It’s okay living here, if you can afford to…

Jagtve-69-Vendepunktet-by-WE-Architecture-and-Erik-Juul-00How social housing looks in Denmark.

TICKS AND CROSSES

To continue enjoying this programme, please top up your viewing card. Thank you for choosing Living Loans.

A lifeline company, and so friendly, right down to the company logo: a smiling cartoon figure, with comically long arms, reaching out to help. Short-term credit loans were just the icing.

The cake was the free Smart TV: fifty inches of ultra high definition, with all the streaming services her and the kid could eat. The rep installed it for her, and did away with complicated subscriptions. Weekly loans were loaded onto a single debit card, which was a viewing card too. A life made of plastic.

Topping up was a £2 call on her Living Loans mobile, and the week just lived was paid for. TV time would have to be rationed, and food for her and the kid would come from the bank.

With the kid fed and asleep, she microwaved a ready meal, with an extra 30 seconds, ‘just to be sure’. She lit a candle, and got cosy in a Onesie for Eastenders.

To continue enjoying this programme, please top up your viewing card. Thank you for choosing Living Loans.

£2 can do so much. With a quick call, it can summon another human soul, a friend to talk to and sort out problems. A chat with a smiling person, with long arms to reach into their pockets and help. She eagerly signed, ticked the boxes, and regained her life. She needn’t fear the mail any longer.

***

Dear valued customer,

There are insufficient funds in your account to maintain your contractual agreement with Living Loans. We understand that you may be experiencing financial difficulties and we are sympathetic to any partner who finds themselves in this position, so we would like to assist you in any way we can.

To ensure that you continue to enjoy the benefits of your Living Loans membership, we simply ask that you join our exclusive Living Lives Health Plan. Members are automatically contracted out of the National Health Service and benefit from private healthcare in our nationwide network of clinics. Our clinics offer one-to-one consultations, treatments and surgical procedures.

What’s more, initial consultations are free, so that you can get a feel for the level of care which we offer at our clinics. Thereafter, to receive ongoing medical care, simply insert your Living Lives membership card into any of our on-site drug or treatment administration terminals, located conveniently around our facilities.

The Living Lives Health Plan, brought to you by Living Loans: Loans for Life.

Mummy, can I stay in bed today? And can you read me Mr Tickle? Because he can reach into the kitchen and get food, without having to get out of bed and get cold.”

She went to the kitchen, signed, crossed, and ticked where indicated on the form.

© Steve Laker.

My latest anthology – The Unfinished Literary Agency – is available now.

The silent footsteps of ghosts

THE WRITER’S LIFE

With London recording its 50th murder this year, and crime on the rise nationwide, I wonder what can be done, and I think about what I could do. Not much on my own, but there are gathering voices on social media, calling for an end to the violence.

London ghosts

Agendas vary between groups (and possibly within), but the most effective activism is always unified, and I hope that those within the groups can overcome differences to unite against a common foe. I’d propose coordinated silent marches, children and adults walking together, reclaiming the streets throughout towns and cities across the UK.

The enemy is the country we’ve become, and while many may hark back to days of empire, I see my country’s proudest moments when we were far more united. I remember the pride which surrounded the London Olympics in 2012, as we welcomed all nations to our inclusive country. Now we’re a fractured, disunited former kingdom.

There’s the ever-present danger of such a movement being hijacked by the far right (that’s why I thought the silent protest most appropriate). Racial tension is only one element of life on our streets, stoked by those very people.

It’s partly about drugs, but the biggest drug problem is that they’re illegal: Legalise, tax, regulate, boost the economy and reduce crime in a stroke. With illegal drugs come weapons.

Much of our youth feels disaffected, left to do nothing. Round after round of government cuts mean there are next to no youth facilities. It’s a problem of poverty, of the UK wealth divide, underfunded police, and a government not taking notice.

If you have money, you can afford to do things with your children, or give them money for a pursuit of their own. But if you’re broke, your kids have little to do besides hang around in groups of peers, quickly growing bored and disruptive as they find amusement: Gangs, drugs and violence.

A nation’s tragedy could be an opportunity to fundamentally change the way we’re governed, and how we think, of ourselves and our neighbours. People might find themselves talking to someone they associate with a conditioned stereotype.

They’d learn more if we all walked together: The family of Britain, young and old, of all colours and religions. Together, we can get our country back. Then we can talk about the other stuff.

Maybe we should get to know each other better. One country, one planet, one family, one race. We are humans.

Home of silent propaganda

COMMENT | SATIRE

propaganda-e1498947894270The Department for Work and Pensions’ definition of each benefits claim

A 47-year-old, able-bodied, straight white British man, has begun a campaign against himself, because what he stands for is different to what his appearance represents. With diagnoses of PTSD, depression, anxiety and personality disorders, the man’s protest aims to highlight invisible disabilities to those who make fitness-for-work assessments in benefit claims.

Lee Verstak (not his real name), a little-read left-wing writer, explained: “Everyone thought I was jumping on bandwagons, supporting everything I’m not: BAME, LGBT, and everyone else who’s discriminated against. I tried inventing minorities, transcending them even. But when I made a case for pan-sexuality being someone who understands, even if they don’t take part, people got confused. How are you supposed to participate in a debate if you try to think for everyone?

“So to prove everyone wrong, I’ve started this protest against me doing that sort of thing. I’ve always been capable of actually walking a short distance, but I never enjoyed doing it anyway, because of my paranoia and anxiety.

I handed out some leaflets locally, with me on them, telling people what I was doing. Before long, people stopped taking them, and eventually ignored me altogether, saying I should be in a home or something. So I sent myself home.

I found out that technically, you can arrest yourself, in a logical extension of the powers of citizens arrest available to us all, to prevent a further breach of myself. I’d encourage others to do this, to help the system so that we may be more easily dealt with and ignored.

I’ve told the authorities where I’m holding myself, but even the departments for indifference and ignorance can’t help, so I’m just sweating it out. I’m on strike from being me, sort of like a hunger strike, but without anyone to force feed me. I might have wasted away in a few months: Problem solved.

Meanwhile, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how others see you. For me, it’s going well: I fucking hate myself. Hopefully I’ll get through it, like I did the last two tribunals, and I’ll feel even more dehumanised and with an even lower opinion of myself.

“Yeah, it’s quite life-affirming really. Then I might write a book or something, about finding a way out when life traps you: Imagine you’re in a room, with no visible means of exit: how do you get out? Well, you could stop imagining, or you could use your imagination.”

My critically-acclaimed, Douglas Adams tribute sci-fi novel is also now an eBook. My latest anthology is available in paperback.

 

The Tory plan for new housing: a social tax on climate change

POLITICS | COMMENT | SATIRE

It’s satirical, but it’s not particularly funny. As a science fiction writer, I look at many Utopian and near future dystopia scenarios, some dependent only upon a butterfly effect which could already be gathering motion, unknown to us. Sometimes I have to take a short break from fiction, so that none of my stories cross over unwittingly (even though crossovers are one of my trademarks).

theresa_may_conference_idojwi

In a radical plan to tackle the housing crisis in London, the Conservatives are quietly pushing through new legislation, which wasn’t announced at the recent party conference in Brighton. Theresa May insists she did announce it, but it was when she’d lost her voice, and the whole Tory vision was collapsing around her on stage.

The changes are two fold: New housing built underground, paid for with a new social tax on climate change. Whether or not the announcements were heard at conference, this journalist was given a copy of the PM’s speech:

I have seen Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour manifesto on housing and a social tax on personal data, and I wonder what the leader of the opposition has been smoking (smile, then look to audience for approval). London has a housing crisis, and with so many people in one place, tensions are bound to develop. It is unacceptable that the wealthy people of the capital, should have to witness, daily, what the poor have done to themselves (sad face). Their unsightly housing is a blemish on the otherwise rich tapestry of London boroughs like Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster. We tried to make the pauper housing more aesthetically pleasing, by cladding high rise towers. We did so in a cost-efficient way, saving money, so that the wealthy weren’t squeezed too hard. And look what happened (sadder face).

So we plan to build housing for the poor underground, out of sight. There is not much of London which we can build up from, so the only way now, is down. This will solve the problem of homelessness, and ensure that wealthy tax payers aren’t troubled by those people. Out of sight, out of mind (look rad, and down with the people).

Of course, big ideas need big finance, and it is unfair to tax the top-rate taxpayers any more than they are squeezed almost beyond their means already. So another way to keep the poor underground, is with a climate tax. Quite simply, they will pay a new dynamic tax, depending on the weather. If it’s a nice, sunny day out, those people should pay to enjoy what the rich have to earn, so that they can build their mansions above ground. We might give them a rebate on really miserable days, when no-one really wants to go out anyway (check audience reaction). We could let them see a sunset or sunrise for free on bank holidays (smile sincerely).

They’ll be completely self-sufficient underground, and we’ll give them all the facilities they need: We’ve already partnered with Coral and Wetherspoons, and someone’s bound to open a Londis down there (good for the economy and ethical companies). They’ll have no problems with employment, as the wealthy residents of London will ignore planning laws on digging down, to make luxury basements in their houses. If they hit an underground poor area while they’re constructing, they can hire slaves (check audience again, then decide whether or not to mention further benefit cuts). As the owners of the land, we will give them title to all which is below their property. It’s joined-up government, with all departments working together (air punch).

We caught up with Theresa May later, to ask her about the rumours of a disagreement between her and the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. “The foreign secretary,” she said, “is behind me, just like the rest of my cabinet.”

Johnson contacted this blog to ask, “What the fuck were you talking to the mad witch about?” Told of her comment that she valued him as a cabinet colleague, Johnson replied: “I’m just waiting for the right moment to shaft her. It’ll be like fisting the old turkey at the Bullingdon Club. Is this thing on?” We pointed out that the foreign secretary had called us, then he hung up.

Later, we caught up with some Green Party members huddled around a fire exit. “We’ll tax and regulate this stuff, and it’ll be legal, first for medicinal use, then probably for recreation. You won’t believe how much we get through in Brighton.” Asked about other policies, and whether they might be ambitious: “Yes, big ideas need big money, and we’ve found a way to make a load of new money just appear. We’re proposing a new social tax to be levied on personal data. It’s a return of power to the people, where the internet giants fund a universal basic income, solving poverty in a stroke. Between us and the Tories, the British public just need to look at these new policies and decide which works best in the long term. Do you grow this yourself?”

None of the above is true, probably.

If I could teach the world to sing…

THE WRITER’S LIFE | COMMENT

malcolm-x

A regular visitor to my little studio is my adopted kid sister, The Courts. She’s the one I met on my first night on the streets, when she and a couple of friends sat with me, surrounded by my life in Sports Direct bags. Those three girls were 15 years old at the time. Later, I was adopted by three more and gained three teenage daughter-types: What nice problems to have.

Since then, much has changed but Courtney became my sister in that family we formed at the squat: The Pink Hearts. We look out for each other, as brothers and sisters do. We chill out in my studio, watch DVDs, smoke weed and talk. She talks a lot and she’s naive about a lot of things but occasionally, she’ll say something really deep and thoughtful. She did that yesterday, when in her own idiosyncratic way, she effectively said this:

This feeds into a much bigger debate, which could well become a global conversation soon. As a beneficiary of the democratisation of writing, I know that marketplace is open to abuse because there are those who can and will preach to the gullible. Then it only takes a few “Shares” for potential lies to be spread. Eventually, untruths become believed, accepted and abused.

Trump and Brexit are examples of what happens in a perfect storm: A lack of faith in the gorverning classes has led to an angry right wing gaining traction, while those on the left were ineffective in opposition.

But what’s equally important and saddening is that people were lied to and they believed the untruths. They didn’t check or research.

There need not be a silent majority though.

We need to talk. We need to debate. We need to arrive a point where we all agree that this current mess can be sorted out. In order to get there, we need to stop fighting.

It’s idealistic to think that such a New World Order might evolve in our lifetimes but I believe it could happen in our children’s. We have de-evolved as a human race recently and I’m not alone in this thinking.

Read – as I do – the many scientific notes of Stephen Hawking et al. I do it as a fiction writer, for research into near future scenarios I might scare or wonder readers with.

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

It was a version of that quote by Stephen Hawking, sampled by Pink Floyd in “Keep Talking” which prompted me to write Cyrus Song. All of the above, current affairs and scientific research is fuel for the fiction writer. And that’s what I am. I’m not a journalist, but even for my fiction work, I do research my material.

Don’t believe all that you see. Check it out. Read The Guardian; check Snopes; Don’t spread lies.

The politics of feeling good

THE WRITER’S LIFE

marijuana

Thought provoking quotes about medical marijuana from Potbotics.com

By unfortunate coincidence, my work and real lives clashed again this week, even though I’ve got all my internal personalities working well together. The unfortunate thing was that a very dear friend of mine has been diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative illness. By coincidence, I was writing some articles for a client about cannabis.

As well as writing about marijuana, I smoke it: I’m a recreational user, and I use cannabis to deal with my anxiety. My friend confided that she also uses the drug to help with her condition. For me, the answer to the cannabis “problem” is one of legality: Legalise, regulate, medicate, educate.

The subjects I write about for clients are varied and interesting. The pay is poor but the satisfaction is in learning through research and putting that knowledge into an entertaining and informative piece. Because the articles were written for a paying client, I do not retain copyright but I can publish excerpts.

In the course of my research into all things weed, I naturally had to familiarise myself with some history, to place the law into a certain context within an article which was very much pro-consumption. What I found out was quite shocking and I had to tone down the language of a US politician to make my piece suitable for the intended audience:

..Cannabis was outlawed with the introduction of The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Some of the reasons given by Harry J. Anslinger (Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics) for the banning of cannabis, speak volumes about some of the ignorance and attitudes of the time:

Anslinger believed that cannabis was an ethnic minority problem and described non-whites and “entertainers” as diseases infecting the white population. Their “Satanic” music resulted from marijuana use, which caused insanity, criminality and death. Cannabis was “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”, he said. He further stated that smoking cannabis made ethnic minorities “think they’re as good as white men.”

Despite Aslinger’s naive and narrow-minded views, in less enlightened times, his bill was passed and the recreational use of marijuana became illegal. At the time, cannabis was prescribed by doctors for pain relief, and was an accepted part of American life. Although cannabis was the common name for the drug at the time, the Spanish word – marijuana – was used in the name of the act to further encourage racist sympathies…

It took a lot of editing to remove words which were offensive, even to me, whilst still making it a legible section. Then I continued:

…Thankfully, attitudes have changed. Medicinal and recreational use of cannabis is legal in certain states and being debated in others. Medical research and progressive politics have combined to realise the benefits of cannabis, both socially and economically. Regulation and taxation are made possible with legalization…

The article (and the writer) is not pro-legalisation (I used the American in the article itself, as it’s for a US client) just because of the benefits of decriminalisation (not getting locked up). The pro-legalisation argument is for cannabis to be regulated, taxed and sold for recreational and medicinal use. I went on:

…[Users] will experience a range of feelings, sensations and personal benefits, including a general feeling of wellbeing, hightened awareness, uplifting and cerebral thoughts. Recreational cannabis is therefore unsurprisingly referred to as a “mind expanding drug”.

For some people, marijuana is an occupational drug. Many people working in the creative arts cite recreational cannabis use as an aid to their craft. Writers and artists especially take advantage of the creative effects of the drug…

I then researched the two main types of cannabis which are cultivated for recreational and medicinal use: Indica and Sativa.

…Indica dominant marijuana strains provide a very relaxing and strong body high that is helpful in treating general anxiety, body pain and sleeping disorders. Indica is most commonly smoked by medical marijuana patients in the late evening or even just before bed. Sativa dominant marijuana strains provide an uplifting, energetic and cerebral high that is best suited for daytime smoking…

…In summary, Indica effects and benefits are relief from body pain, headaches and migraines; muscle relaxation, relieving spasms and reducing seizures; and relief from anxiety and stress.

Sativa effects and benefits include feelings of well-being and of being at ease; uplifting and cerebral thoughts; stimulation and increased energy; increased focus and creativity; and relief from depression.

Cannabis (marijuana) has many beneficial effects for the casual and medicinal user. Sativa and Indica effects are different and can be combined for the most effective tailored benefits…

At my recent (successful) tribunal appeal to prove that I was entitled to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), I mentioned to the residing judge that I smoke weed. She nodded. As a poker player, I’m pretty good at reading people and I’d bet on her nod not being a despairing one, nor one of resignation. Rather, it was a nod of understanding. I shouldn’t be surprised nor judgemental if the judge herself liked a bit of a toke on the reefer.

I’ve completed dozens of freelance assignments over the last couple of weeks and submitted my invoices for payment from the clients. All were interesting, even when they were about things which would normally hold no interest for me. Writing about a cause which is close to me though was the most satisfying. Because as a writer, I can get points across effectively and in an engaging manner. I may prompt debate but that’s part of my job.

In the other part of my job, as a fiction writer, I can use my writing to raise awareness of many things. With my friend I mentioned at the top in mind, I’m working on a short story. My stories have helped a family dealing with the loss of a pet; a friend’s daughter coping with growing up; and a teenage friend who self-harmed. I’m hoping I can help a friend who’s just been diagnosed with MS:

“…The curious thing was, it was the diagnosis which hastened the condition. It had lain dormant, without troubling me. Then as soon as I heard its name, it made itself known. What a cunt.

I wouldn’t be had. I decided to wager with the thing. All my life had been one long gamble anyway, most of it working out for the best. So I bet my life with the thing.

I bet this thing that I wouldn’t beat it on my own: That confused it. I was betting that my opponent would win. But I continued: I bet, that although I knew it could win, I would put up such a long fight that it would lose. Because I would fight for so long, through times of medical research, personal resolve and those around me, that I would live to see the day when a treatment was found.

At first, the thing taunted me. But gradually, as I learned to live with it, it was as though I were growing all over my own parasite. It was far from its kin but I had my team around me. The bet couldn’t be annulled, because I’d told the thing that I couldn’t beat it alone.

That was a pretty big bet: I was playing the long game. I’m still playing my opponent, so I may yet win the wager…”

(To be continued)

Even though writing doesn’t pay much, the rewards are far greater than financial. And the pain of depression and anxiety is made bearable by writing and by smoking weed for my recreation and occupation.

The politics of feeling good are simple: Legalise, regulate, medicate, educate.

An understanding of teenage girls, or how I learned to embrace the dark side

image

MY WORLD

Collective nouns: like so much else in the English language, I find them interesting. Like onomatopoeia, palindromes, metaphors, similes and so much else in our vernacular, collective nouns can be played with. Words, meanings and inferences can be played with: I have been witnessed leaving a pub. Teenage girls have been visiting the pub. I live at the pub: not in the literal, alcoholic sense but I do live in a bedsit above a pub, which has customers, including young ladies, some of whom come to visit me. The problem of the language being? Misinterpretation, as so often demonstrated by that well-known collective: the interference of thought police, who wish I would move along. I did so.

The nature of some collective nouns, like so much in language, can be poetic; their diversity whilst they are an inclusive linguistic construct; and the pure whimsy of many, seemingly coined whilst an originator of a term was in a very good mood. Away from the familiar pride of lions and pod of dolphins, to pluck one each from the land and sea, there is the lesser-known and quite wonderful collective noun for giraffes: a tower. A herd of zebras can also be referred to as a dazzle, a zeal, a stripe or a cohort. I would personally like to add a barcode of zebras as an alternative collective noun; perhaps a crossing of zebras when they are on the move.

Avian collective nouns often differ between a group of birds in different modes of locomotion: a flock, herd or gaggle of geese on the ground and a skein, team or wedge of the same birds in flight; a waddle and a paddle of ducks, on land and water respectively. Just like young ladies, the most appropriate term is dictated by them: grounded, allowed to move their legs and keep their heads up because we know they can swim, or set free to fly.

I’m here to let a few things go before I make this next big move, to set myself free of all but the most precious cargo. With the girls who are forbidden from seeing me and those who imposed the situation in mind, as Mike Patton of Peeping Tom sung: “We’re not alone in this psychrodrome…/ Livin’ the dream if you know what I mean, and I’ll be that boy you used to know / I’m not alone I’ve got this microphone…”; and: “I know that assholes grow on trees, so I’m here to trim the leaves / I’m afraid / That you’re still my friend / You’re still a piece of shit / But I can look the other way / Because you’re still my friend…”

So what of that little-understood human sub-species, the teenage girl? They are a group of great interest to me, and some of my closest friends are from this demographic. These are the ones who adopted me as either a father or older brother figure and gave me purpose. They all have issues, some of which are borne of simply being an adolescent girl, but others are rooted more deeply.

In the time I got to know the girls and others – when I was transient – I learned a lot, said a lot and hurt a lot, partly because of the girls. I’ve hurt myself as well as others. What people often fail to ask when they’re trying to excuse themselves of blame for my illness or simply escape, is how I am physically. I am not physically disabled and had to prove that my mental issues impeded me at a tribunal. Just like my mental illness, my physical scars from self-harm are largely hidden from others because people are afraid to speak of that which they don’t understand. Some of the teenage girls I know, inflict harm upon themselves in areas mainly inaccessible to all but the most intimate with them.

Those girls and others got me here by being as much help to me as I was to them. I am not going to let those friends go; I will not stop, no matter how much it’s disapproved of. I don’t care. I can afford not to care. I am an independent writer now, with total freedom of expression, which is partly why those girls like and admire me so much. I’m not being conceited: they told me. More than one of the girls has a crush on me. In different circumstances, the situation might be reciprocated. I’m flattered but they’re young and I view them as such in that respect. But they will rebel. They will continue to visit me and there is little which anyone can do to get in the way of the will of a teenage girl, other than to ground her and stifle her in doing so.

It’s difficult to convey how I feel about the girls without seeming inappropriate of thought by my detractors. Some of the girls are stunningly attractive and gifted with the figures of model young women. And that is all I see: the obvious aesthetic, without a sexual undertone. It’s like yawning, stretching or stifling a sneeze: it’s a pleasant sensation, without a messy or embarrassing climax.

They come here because there is much to entertain them, besides me. Here, they can just chill in safety while I get on with what I do: writing. Sometimes what they want is what only I can give them: an honest – often brutal – opinion based on me not giving too much of a shit about offending them. Not for me the everything-will-be-alright reassurance, less so the patronising plenty more fish in the sea. I don’t insult their intelligence.

When he wrote Sunscreen, some of the most interesting people Baz Luhrmann knew at 22 didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds still didn’t. Only at 45, after so much, do I know what I want to do. Those conflicting young ladies just need guidance. 

One of the young ladies made an inaugural visit recently and commented – as others have – on how this place is so me. Even if I wasn’t in the place and she was asked who among her friends this place was home to, she would instantly say me. Because she knows me so well. That same young lady stayed with me for a couple of days. I shared a bed with a seventeen year old girl. Nothing happened, other than the two of us having someone else to hold as we slept. She slept with me because with me, she feels comfortable, safe and secure. I pose no threat to her. This particular young lady typifies the collective. Sometimes I can see how they might perhaps be a little naive, or too trusting. There are others who might abuse that trust but I wouldn’t throw away everything those girls have placed in me and risk losing the pleasure of their company. They are free with me and they know where to find me.

I met with my sometimes assumed arch nemesis recently, when he was invited to the bar as my guest. If anyone was expecting fireworks, sorry to piss on your bonfire. The situation between us wasn’t of our making; it was based on rumours circulating about both of us individually. Between us we managed to deconstruct the myths which had contributed to the rumours and identify sources. There are no scores to be settled and there is clear and level ground between us. No doubt the rumour mill will start up again but it’s something else I’m moving on from. I just needed to put some things straight first. If anything gets twisted, I’ll know how and by whom: it all still feeds back to me, even though I have less to do with the old family these days. But we’re still family and the plastic police didn’t reckon on the accused and their appointed guard valuing family ties as much as we do. They underestimated at least one of us. Both of us have better links to some of the family than the other, so we can be of mutual benefit to one another. The Pink Hearts will not be divided, no matter how divisive others try to be: we find a way. They still come to see me, even if they have to find inventive ways of doing so, invent alibis, cover stories or smoke screens. Most recently, this has included a couple of boyfriends and at least one parent. One young lady arrived a while back, seeking sanctuary because she was being stalked: not physically in the street but she came here. Because safety for her is here, with me and where I live is a licensed establishment with a landlord. The landlord of the pub is also my landlord, who I pay rent to for the bedsit. Because this is a licensed premises, fire regulations state that the landlord must know who is in the building outside of the pub’s commercial operating hours. He will not allow anyone to stay here who he doesn’t know. He knows the ages of anyone who enters the premises as entrance to the flat is via the bar, which guests to the flat patronise and where those guests are subject to ID checks. The landlord therefore knows that seventeen year-old girls stay here and it’s cool and the gang because he knows me and trusts me.

What do the girls see in me? Personally, I’m at a loss but they say it’s simply me. The one who can’t be categorised or contained; the free spirit, anarchist and punk: everything I was when I was their age and which I still am. They may be romanticizing or fantasizing but that’s where it stays. In much the same way that I can live within a character I’m writing about and take on the role, I can live within them. I can relate to them, play devil’s advocate and assume the role of protagonist or antagonist in the stories which we build together. I give them time and space to express themselves, as I am privileged to do for myself when I’m writing. The nature of my job means that I can spare those girls the time which others can’t.

A couple of days ago, I had one of my regular brunch meetings with the mother ship: always a pleasure, as mother ship is an affectionate term. We were joined by the man who only in the last eighteen months I have realised is the one whom I admire the most: my dad. I shall not attempt to describe such a great man in the confines of a blog post largely about other matters but my dad is as relevant as my mum in the making of me. My father is as modest as he is deep, in an almost impenetrable way but I shall permit myself one reference from the old man: that he is proud of me and what I’ve become. Nowhere near as proud as I am to be your son. I can only keep telling the girls that there are others besides me.

“…I am there for them when you are not. Where is your daughter now? Not with me…”

I’m the same as them, largely thanks to my depression. For their parents’ sakes, as well as that of my own sanity, I hope that none of the girls follow the route which I’ve taken. My parents bore a great burden with me but it was them who made me. There were other outside influences though, just as there are with the girls.

To understand depression is – in my view and experience – very much like understanding teenage girls. Both require one to understand themselves, as well as the subject of study. I don’t understand myself fully, any more than anyone else could. Like the girls, I’m stuck with me. I am of fascination to them: the guy who fell off the rails, fought back and became a writer. Only by knowing me do they understand what it took to get here. But I like the me who I’ve become and I try to teach the girls to love the person which is developing but confused and conflicting within them. I also continue to teach one of the young ladies to read: she has an untapped intellect and so much pent up anger that her most powerful weapon could be the written word, if she could only read. She’s doing well, under my tutelage.

There are bridges which remain to be built but those are for others to construct. I have built all of the bridges I burned and wished to re-build. As I set sail for a new land, the gaps which the unbuilt bridges need to span grow ever wider. The people I leave behind are those who gave up on what they saw as a lost cause, or were scared. Frankly, that is a greater act of betrayal than any I was guilty of toward them. I’m glad those people are out of my life.

I have achieved financial stability after a long fight for recognition. I have a lifestyle which I love. Pretty soon I’ll grow bored of being single, now that I have less to worry about and I’m not so much of a burden. I don’t expect an orderly queue to form because I’m for keeps and I’m not easy to keep.

My condition, my parents, family and those girls – among other close friends – are what have allowed me to become whatever it is I am: whatever that is, I like it and I’m taking it all with me.

Reading back over this blog as I often do, it strikes me that a year ago, there was one small, clingy reason for my happiness. Generally though, I was wallowing in myself, not just in self pity but in self righteousness as well. I was shallow and wrong on many fronts. I have so much more now.

Things really are falling into place: a rather agreeable living and working environment has been built around me, thanks to my friends at the pub. Those friends and others form an inner circle who continue to support me in what I do, including my two new beta readers, who are recent admissions to my inner sanctum.

My place of writing is where I coined the collective noun for teenage girls: an understanding. Within that group is a suffrage of the teenagers. Those girls crave freedom and expression. Green, white and violet: those girls can vote with their feet.

I’ve been paid some of what I was due in back-paid benefits. A proportion of it is already spent: repaying priority loans taken when I was needy and loaning out money to others who are needy now. I’ve treated myself: to a new Rotary watch, which is just the right side of bling but which is retro-futuristic in looks. It’s a bit steam punk in appearance actually and will form the basis of a forthcoming story, entitled Mechanical Manacle. That’s as well as the three books, ongoing regular fiction for Schlock webzine, straight-to-print work and various other projects I have in my new in-tray, under-submission tray, in-progress folder and filing cabinet of curiosities. Pretty soon I’ll be submitting work for competitions, as I’ve taken out a subscription to Writing Magazine now that I have the financial means.

I’ve taken out an Amazon Prime subscription and bought a Fire TV stick, which is brilliant, if you have a Prime account. Streamed TV, on demand. It’s very quickly changed the way that I watch TV and although I have more of it now, television has become very much secondary to me, after writing, no matter the hour. It’s a shame Fire TV doesn’t include many catch up services at present but I’ve been enjoying box sets and movies via an additional subscription to Netflix, so-bad-they’re-good movies via that service and Tubi TV; anime, horror, sci-fi, after hours, grind house and kung fu, including Sonny Cheeba features, placing me right inside True Romance; TED lectures and more. I’ve also bought some box sets of my favourite American comedies, as I do like to have things on display: Cheers, Friends and That Seventies Show. More to follow. Plenty to entertain me and any guests.

My immediate surroundings are much improved as I now have a proper desk, the dining table which I previously used as a desk now serving as a dining table. One slight extravagance is my chair: a high-backed, lumbar support office chair with arms. If I’m writing more or less full time though, I need to be comfortable. I’ve also got a rather iconic anglepoise lamp on my desk and a filing unit beside it: the aforementioned cabinet of curiosities, where I keep clippings and notes which can’t be categorized and therefore have to exist in limbo before being turned into something or destroyed. Or both.

Financial stability was a long time coming but now that I have it, I appreciate it and am not taking it for granted. Larger purchases aside, It’s the little things, like being able to have a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel with a cafe au lait for lunch, rather than a slice of toast with black coffee, or nothing at all.

There are a few loose ends to tidy up on the home and office / studio / study front, as there are in life but the new place will be me, truly personified and unlike any other place I’ve lived because this place is my personal expression and not one dictated – even subconsciously – by any outside influence. I’m like a teenager who’s been given their own room for the first time and who can express themselves, within the confines of parental control but with the latter constraint lacking. My home is me now, with the me that I’ve become within: the inner sanctum which is my cradle of filth. I’ll Instagram a panorama once it’s all in its resting place.

I have personal and financial stability to do what I love: to write. Expression is freedom.

Over-riding everything though is the fact that I have the means and the freedom to visit the young people whom I begat, with the next meeting due in a month. My refusal to delete anything from this blog has been frowned upon by some but I have always maintained that it should stand as testament to whatever might happen. As things stand, all is well and I hope this will still be the case a year from now.

I’m determined to keep going because I want to make my own kids as proud of me as my own father hinted he was of me, as I am of him and of my own resilient youngsters. 

Thank you for your understanding.