I think that the heroic phase of narrative peaks at about thirteen years old and is in decline after that.
This came to mind while wandering through shops with toy departments,
observing the objects there and the reactions they provoked in parents
and children. If I had been presented with two action figures at ages up
to that theoretical peak age, I would have thrown the two of them into
conflict. They would have zoomed and kapowed and generally had a
Mahābhārata of a time around the kitchen table.
Somewhere I grew out of that phase.
Given those action figures now, I would probably examine how they were
constructed, what sort of articulated joints they had been given, and
how well they stood up on different surfaces. I might spend some time
online looking up different iterations of these figures; how they looked
in the 80s and 90s. After I had extracted all possible interesting
information from them, I would probably leave them in a compromising
sexual pose in the fruit bowl.
Which, oddly enough, is almost exact how I am now inclined to treat narrative.
If I was to take an interest in computer game design, which I can’t
really imagine because I never play them, it would be a matter of
perfectly simulating the manoeuvering strategies of drivers in
Walthamstow on a Saturday morning.
I don’t hate computer games.
Don’t be like that about it! I played them when I needed another career,
but I don’t really need one right now. I like a lot of things about how
they look and their interfaces and what they represent, but I really
couldn’t imagine playing one.
Anyway, forget that self-justifying diversion: we were talking about
drivers in Walthamstow on a Saturday morning. They manifest in awkward
corners of the district, pulling slow deliberate three-point turns (or
are they five-point turns? I’ve never driven!) while you try to
understand their motivation and rationale.
Pointless. They have
neither. They manifested at that moment. They don’t know where they are
coming from or where they are going. They find themselves in the view of
the player characters, and on this basis they need to act as if they
are real people. They execute a reverse to the right, and then brake,
open a door a little, and light a cigarette.
If they are very
lucky the players will leave this corner of reality in the next few
moments, otherwise they will need to find something else to do, to give
the impression that they are real.
Oh God! They’re pulling their trousers down. Oh God!
Does anyone make their passwords entirely out of zeroes, upper and
lower case letter o, and degree symbols? Not to make it unhackable, just
to drive anyone who sees it written down to the very edge of sanity.
Network Security Guy: Don’t ever give out yr password over the phone!
*scammer falls to the floor twitching convulsively*
On my way back this afternoon from the magnificent basilica at Mariatrost, I found myself composing a scene for a Wagnerian opera concerning how pine cones occasionally resemble dog turds.
The scene: a spring morning, fresh woodland on the upper slopes. The cold thin air is filled with song as a young man, Siegleid, strides manfully along the path.
The music is in a brisk major key, fluttering with the occasional chromatics of good humour and insufficient oxygen. Perhaps a hint of singing birds or bright eyed small animals that are never seen by the audience, but are nonetheless implied in the high canopies and low shrubbery.
“Ha HA!” Siegleid laughs. “Ha ha-ha ha-ha HA!” he continues. This motif goes on for 32 bars until he finally announces: “you will not believe what I saw. What a thing it was, the THING that I saw. But I saw it not, for it was only in jest that I saw it, and…” he goes on in this vein for another 48 bars before he begins addressing the animals.
“The squirrel may not have seen it, and the songBIRDS! Even if they saw, may have felt that it was not worthy of comment…” there is a tedious ongoing imagined conversation with the animals which is finally capped 120 bars later when he reveals that, “I saw a pine cone, a very normal pine cone on the path of these woods, these GLORIOUS wood, where the air is clear and a man can be strong and brave…” (64 bars of waffle excised) “And ha ha HA! I thought for a moment that it was the turd of a dog! Ha HA! Is that not absurd? That a pine cone might be momentarily mistaken for a dog turd.”
And he can’t just say it the once, and another half hour passes before the lunkhead comes across a ripe hanging corpse that totally ruins his mood, but he still can’t help returning to how amused he was by the pine cone.
If my German was a little better it’d be totally worth writing.
If I had written Dune, most of it would have concerned Paul Atreides
haunting the frozen food sections of the supermarkets of Arakeen.
Handling bags of peas and tubs of ice cream; anything that would give him a feeling of blessed cold.
Due to a natural reticence, he would try not to spend too much time in any one supermarket, and he is in the course of mapping the quickest routes between frozen food cabinets. He is a furtive moth that flutters from cold to cold.
Frank Herbert’s books as they exist are overly concerned with the big picture of interplanetary intrigue and conflict. My take would concentrate upon the minutiae of the pizza packaging of Arrakis, the different designs of cold cabinet: do they have sliding doors or perhaps iris portals?
Under the flickering light panels of a shabby mini-mart, he would encounter the Fremen girl with her strange blue-in-blue eyes: “what are the ready meals like on the world you come from?”
Most of yesterday afternoon I was composing an 80s hard rock ballad about frozen fish in my head.
FISH KEEPS! IT’S SO DEEP IT’S WAKING ME IN MY SLEEP THIS WEEK IT’S SO CHEAP WOAH OH!
It’d resemble Love Bites by Def Leppard to some extent. There might be a young lady with big hair draping herself over a particularly expensive-looking fridge-freezer in the video. The fridge door opens briefly to gush out dry ice.
Superimposed over this, an expert from the fishing industry raps a list of all of the available types of fish, while the mulletted (sic) lead singer wails IT’S DRIVING ME CRAZY, BABY! and similar contentless emotives.
After the guitar solo, the singer holds the word FISH for a really long time, perhaps concluded by a drum fill in the style of In The Air Tonight, before he adds KEEPS to emphasise that frozen fish can be kept for a really long time if you have a decent freezer, and not just overnight or whatever.
Oh yeah, and during the fade out there’s a whole verse with all of the lyrics replaced with WOAH OH!
Sometimes I say to myself: “hey Zali!” Which is pretty unnecessary
because there’s not actually anyone else inside my head who I need to
Sure, I try to mix it up a bit. Occasionally, I go with “KRISHNAAAAAA!” if I’m about to suggest something *really kerazay* or I might even use the formal “Zali Jean” if I am about to issue a reprimand.
And yes, then there’s The Other Name that occasionally needs to be evoked, but I can’t tell you about that one because the power that it would allow you to wield could destroy all of us. Seriously, you use that one casually and you can fling around out of town branches of Sports Direct like they were golf balls. I know you’ll tell me that you’d only use that power for good but what if it got into the wrong hands, eh?
Tectonic plates flapping around like slices of ham.
Anyway, sometimes I say to myself, “hey Zali, are we going to get to the point of this update any time soon?”
When you’re taking a knife from the knife block to cut some cheese, do you give it a little spin around your finger?
Do you scan the kitchen from left to right; the spice rack, the fridge, the steamer, the kettle – the whole gang is here – before smiling as you note their positions and calculate the somersault that you will have to perform to take all of them out? The steamer is the fastest, but the fridge has so much bulk and strong metal sides; if it rushes you it can let momentum do the rest of the work while the spice rack and steamer attack yr blindside.
Do you always make those estimates in yr head before grinning like the well-oiled machine that will cut them down like just so much ripe wheat?
They don’t call you The Reaper for nothing, you know?
Of course it never comes to that. The gang and you laugh it off, but there’s a coldness behind their eyes, and all of their banter can never entirely mask the ballet of kitchen violence that could explode at a moments notice.
Solstice is barely discernible in the mall. The fountains in the central atrium drip with unheard music, and the idful echoes of children’s demands are refracted around the high domed ceiling. The special offers celebrate themselves as a succession of window dressings encoding a complex manifold to rival the market day calendars of the Balinese. Reflections in glass and chrome advertising hoardings expand out towards a mirror maze of infinite space.
And do not say that there is nothing of the primal self here: wellness spa accessories and tribal trinkets are available from their allotted outlets along the plaza. The wisdom of the ancients is preserved within this closed self-sufficiency as the mall tumbles from its native spiral arm and out into the deep space between galaxies.
At any time the eateries on the umpteenth floor are fruitful with brunch and mid-afternoon eats; all-day breakfast is sempiternal while the long arm of the clock rotates from zero to zero to zero. The holiday season that never ends.
I’d like to see someone do a blog of depressing recording studios. Mancaves with too much equipment that just look claustrophobic. Expensively upholstered chambers with no natural light, an aura of dull guys with ponytails, a catastrophe of bad feng shui draining all inspiration from the space.
I’d like to see someone do a blog of
recording environments that you’d want to be out of the moment that you
arrive. Places that rain down the fight or flight response in spite of
whatever desirable vintage gear might be
crammed into there. Obnoxious angles that will crank up conflict
between engineers and musicians as the cabin fever sets in and the
schedule weighs down with a sense of impending failure.
I want to see the single, dying, unwatered plant by the toilets lovingly photographed with expired Kodak film.
Out beyond Pluto astronomers have detected what might be the largest
ominous metaphor discovered so far. It may change our loose, inflated
journalistic language for all time.
There are already a dozen poets, who have skimmed headlines and
squinted at the vague indecipherable images on their feed, ready to
namecheck the object after their second glass of wine. “It’s
tremendously exciting!” they will enthuse, before becoming vague and
gesturing in a manner that gives the impression that they are holding
something that they are not quite comfortable with, a large crustacean
or someone else’s newborn, and then reaching out for a refill.
Meanwhile the world’s leading cosmologist turns in her bed and farts.
I had a dream or a series of dreams about a series of films. The
dream involved watching the films but also researching them using IMBD
and other online sources to try to understand the digressive style by which they were held together.
The first of these films seems to present the common situation: a top
floor flat that was co-owned by a cooperative, whose usage of the place
is based upon segueing in and out of the single bedroom flat. Their use
of the space is like Tetris blocks, their lives interlocked with the
space without being part of each others story.
was a gay man using the space while he was waiting for his partner, and
then there were three women, a single mother with a child, and so on.
The co-ownership wasn’t economic in any way: it didn’t seem to require
shares or rents, merely a request to use the space. And no-one is ever
There is a full meeting of the cooperative, which is
vast, and questions are raised about the suitability of the flat: would
it have been better if it wasn’t on the top floor, since the throughput
of residents might disturb the residents of the lower floors? Nothing
conclusive comes out of the meeting. On a bus heading to the station,
the current character passes by a large warehouse, commenting to camera
that perhaps this would be a better location for the cooperative.
Later films are less directly concerned with the co-owned flat. The
connexion would only be established briefly within the film, through a
character staying in the bedroom overnight, or perhaps merely stopping
by to use the kettle or to hoover the living room carpet. It’s possible
that I was watching the films and researching them online while I was
staying at the flat.
The last film was a cold war drama, although
it wasn’t actually dramatic; all of the films are characterised by a
gentle, humorous and matter of fact tone. The protagonist was
decommissioning nuclear weapon systems, slowly and without any apparent
conflict. He stays at the flat one night while he’s in town. Whether we
can conclude that there is some larger social and utopian project behind
the cooperative flat in these films is left open for the dreamer’s
So you might ask: what is heaven? You need to separate it from
paradise to start with. Sure, we all like a beautiful garden but that’s
not the full extent. Heaven is a freedom
from narrative. That’s why boring people will tell you that dystopia is
exciting but utopia is boring, and unrealistic and besides wouldn’t you
rather buy our new TV series?
Heaven is willing to imagine that all of yr convenient objections will
be solved by miracles: better than that, they don’t need to be solved
because they were imagined problems, often not imagined by you but
imagined at you by people who can profit from those problems.
Considering the lillies is a useful starting point but not enough.
Passivity is not the way in.
To consider that you are nothing
more than a moveable feast, drifting through an ocean of other amused
concerns, happy to accomodate and communicate, but on the other hand
determined to stand up to hate and intolerance. Without that you can
kiss the golden age goodbye.
The devil has all the best tunes, but only if you grew up listening to his dodgy mixtape, man.
Theresa awakes with a start from deep dreams of Little England.
Coming up too fast on the bends, she is surprised by the butler, already
attentive, delivering her customary tepid Twining’s Lady Grey served
with a generous slug of Beefeater gin from a maiden white shoe.
“Strong and stable!” she shrieks at him, “Strong and stable!”
He cannot find it in himself to meet her eye. “Indeed, madam,” he
intones and inclines his head to ask whether there will be anything
The drawing room is full of
stern-faced Ulstermen, they have been there all night. The red-faced one
on the sofa, who shouted “DEFEND OUR NATIVE LAND!” half-hourly in his
sleep, he had covered with a union flag to protect him from the ghostly
draughts that appeared to emanate from somewhere behind a dark oil
canvas of Winston Churchill.
The ashes in the fireplace reveal
little of yesterday’s headlines from the newsrags of Theresa’s former
friends who had turned on her and shown themselves to be disloyal. The
chamber is still fusty from the smoke from the pyre that had leaped high
and threatened to singe the portrait of Queenie on the mantle.
The butler is unperturbed as Theresa hops past him with considerable
agility, and down the stairs on a single leg, the other caught up in her
Tory blue knickers. And then she is out and into the conservatory. Her
parrot greets her: “Strong and stable!”
Theresa squawks back, “Strong and stable!”
“Strong and stable!”
Friends are people who understand you whatever the weather.
Spaceport pop music. You’ve become unconsciously locked into the
sequences of hooks and loanwords of the songs that catch in the aisles
of the duty free sprawls that establish themselves around the hub-clusters of airlocks.
Waking with yr face flattened by artificial upholsteries. Regular
strata from the printer algorithm that made them emerge on yr cheeks,
redden, and then fade into air-conditioned tan. The departure boards are
loaded with character sets from nineteen local dialects. You can
recognise yr destination in three of them but the name itself resembles
that of another shore a couple of dozen parsecs in the wrong direction.
After a sink wash while chewing on a dentifrice you satisfy yrself that
the flight won’t arrive for another day at least; that is, if you’ve
correctly understood the calendar regimes outlined on the array. There
are new journals in a dialect allied to yr own arriving today. New in
that they have arrived on a freighter that has been thirty years in the
vacuum. Thirty years relative to what is a moot question that the
douanier are currently negotiating with the shareholders.
Spaceport pop music. You sing along to syllables you don’t understand, although you recognise the hooks, or the hooks they’ve been borrowed from. Although you are not entirely certain that you can differentiate between the music, the news headlines and the stock market download data.
This update was expanded out into a little book called Cafe Nonstop.
Opening the front door this morning it turned out that the scanner’s data was still viable.
Air: breathable. Gravity: operable.
In spite of their apparent familiarity, street signs looked different; they looked like street signs that are being looked at. I could make nothing of the traffic on Greyhound Hill or the people sitting on the bench in front of the Citizens Advice Bureau. Did I recognise one of them? Did I recognise any of this?
No information was forthcoming when I reached the office. Then again, no information is usually forthcoming from this source. It looked a bit like a place I might leave and so I left it.
It dawned upon me that this state of uninhabitability of the place was nothing to do with the Event that had taken place; it had always been disputable on every layer of enquiry. The content of the Event is unimportant to specify here, as is whether it is certain that it occurred or not.
The sun came out. It illuminated the weed growth in the cracks between paving stones. Briefly.
Dude in cool sneakers skateboards into a deserted and tastefully derelict warehouse space, and puts a careful distressed metal case onto a tastefully derelict trestle table that is located in the centre of the space.
He opens the case to reveal the music tech device which he powers on with a dance of eye candy LEDs. He jacks the device into a PA system that has appeared out of nowhere, and then arranges his oversized headphones, which are deployed upon his head at a jaunty angle.
Close ups on his hands doing DJ scratching sort of moves over the device, power indicator LEDs pumping up and immaculately manicured knob tweaks as he works it through an attention deficit sequence of cutting-edge moves. Dust motes stirred from the floor by his trainers are captured in slo-mo, cut into shaky hand cam shots of the vibrating pulse of the caged woofers as he gives it some low end.
The work out hits a climax and he closes the case up with an echoing click and skateboards back out of the space. Camera holds a centred shot of the deserted warehouse space for a moment before the music tech device logo appears on the screen.
A final boom, like that one in Blade Runner, and the dust from the room flies up. Fade to black.
I remember an advertisement in a French magazine from the 80s. It was either in Rock et Folk or Fluide Glacial. It was an advert for some sort of holiday camp; like a future Butlins. There were definitely glass pyramids in the background and two women wearing primary coloured sunglasses and things that were yellow.
They weren’t particularly scantily clad and I might have been wrong about the yellow. That might have been because one issue of Rock et Folk had a full page picture of Zappa answering a telephone and wearing yellow trainers. I was impressed by those yellow trainers and when I finally found a pair that I liked a few years ago I felt that I had achieved something notable.
This picture of a Citroen concept car wasn’t in the advert but it clearly occupies the same universe. Where did that universe go? Can I go back and attend that holiday camp full of predatory French aunties with unfeasible tans? And most crucially: what do they keep inside their glass pyramid?
Somewhere out in Andromeda is a world of dusty parking lots in the sun. Dusty and mostly empty because it is easier under local conditions to manufacture car parks than cars. You drift from place to place getting easily entangled in unhappy polyamorous clusters, ignoring the telepathic messages and increasingly irrelevant 3D blockbusters from Earth.