Zugswang (New, Enhanced, Improved! version)

October 1, 2014

It was twenty-eight o’clock on the longest day of the year so far and still the sun had not set. The Professor tapped his watch sadly and turned to look at me.

“There is nothing for it, I’m afraid. Someone is just going to have to come up with a new value for Pi. Otherwise none of our clocks and watches will ever work properly again. I’m not the right man for the job, heaven knows, but maybe someone else is.”

This was all very well, but not what I had come here to find out. I shrugged and affected my best look of weary resignation. The Professor leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially,

“The datastream has become corrupted.”

I waited for him to finish.

“Take this egg, for instance. Each egg displays an internal memory of collective consciousness and an interrelated symmetry of form. When a freshly-laid egg is foisted upon us it not only exhibits a holistic form that we recognise as an egg, with yolk at its centre and shell on the outside, it also contains encoded within it, in universal genetic library data format, all the information necessary to produce a damn near infinite stream of the little blighters.”

He paused for emphasis. I sat there and twiddled my thumbs.

“What happens now is anybody’s guess. But eggs will never be the same again.”

To prove his point he threw the egg against the wall. It bounced once, then slithered to the floor, flexing itself gently. After a moment or two of eggy hyperventillation a crack formed, widening into a long red orifice out of which slithered a small brown furry thing with many legs. It rolled over on the carpet wiping green gook off itself with its legs and sniffing the air blindly.

The Professor strode over and dispatched it to Kingdom Come with one stomp of his size ten desert boots.

“I’m not too sure what that thing was, but sure as eggs ain’t eggs it wasn’t anything that we would recognise as a chicken. Assuming that it could replicate, and that it might find a similar mate with compatible genetic coding we can be fairly sure that whatever offspring their coupling might produce wouldn’t look much like an egg. Also assuming that its own genetic blueprint was capable of issuing instructions on how to actually copulate and not just sit there masturbating furiously behind the sideboard. Oh, I’ve seen them do it, believe me. Makes a frantic mess on the carpet. I have lost several cleaning ladies over it.”

He removed his glasses and started to polish them. “Do you know what the worst thing is?”

I shook my head.

“If you try to make scrambled eggs with them it comes out completely the wrong colour and tastes absolutely ghastly. I keep trying but I think I shall just have to give up soon.”

He was sweating heavily now and stopped to wipe his brow. I turned and looked at the breakfast table and for the first time began to comprehend the strange logic behind the pattens of broken crockery and glass surrounding the large and heavy butcher’s knife embedded at the centre. I was forced to conclude that the Professor, genius though he might once have been, had fallen into the same trap as the rest of humanity, confusing general distortions in the very fabric of reality with his own natural, if newly enhanced, internal hallucinatory state. The difference being that scrambled eggs in the latter category are ultimately still very much like scrambled eggs, whatever colour they appear to be and no matter how many tiny arms or legs they happen to be waving at you.

I looked up and saw the Professor wriggling around on all fours licking the table legs. If there was any solution to this problem I was beginning to doubt whether he might be of any use whatsoever in helping to find it out. I left him rolling on his back amongst the broken eggshells and went into his study.

The room was small and very brown. Brown books with brown spines filled the brown shelves that lined the nicotine-stained wallpaper that covered the walls. Even the dust had a brownish tinge to it. I picked a regulation brown notebook from the shelf at random, sat down at the antique oak desk and began to read.

The volume was entitled:

ZUGSWANG, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Subtle Shifts in Perception that Plague Us All

and it began:

“It was around five thirty on a Thursday afternoon in early August when I first became aware that something was wrong. There could be no doubt. Someone, somewhere, had set off the Reality Device.”

My heart leapt. Here, finally, was concrete, first-hand evidence from someone intimately involved in The Project. Keep it together now. The clues are in here. I just have to stay focussed long enough, find the truth and retain the basic information. I read on.

“The clues were all there. Enhanced colour perception. Loss of depth perception. Heart palpitations. Sudden momentary loss of breath. All the symptoms of fatigue and disorientation that we had observed in every one of our test subjects, only now it was happening to us. All of humanity was affected, simultaneously and permanently. There could be no going back from this. That was why we had signed the Noncommittal Treaty with those of our closest neighbours and allies who had helped us develop this project. The technology must have been leaked to our enemies, either the plans or a prototype, though the man from the Ministry had informed me in all sincerity that all such things had been destroyed. What then? Perhaps…”

The words began to swim before my eyes.

“…we should take a nice swim in the lake, said Heidi…”

No no no no no! Not now, just when I was getting close to finding out what had happened to humanity all those months ago. But it was too late. The notebook had already transformed into a cheap and gaudy paperback. I leaned back in my swivel chair and stared out across the sunlit terrace. It was chilly but there were people frolicking in bathing suits down by the sea shore. A waitress approached and placed a glass of what appeared to be iced tea on the trestle table in front of me. Wasn’t so bad. Looked like Brighton. Now what was I doing? Reading something important, I was sure of that.

“Naomi wandered over leading her Shetland pony. Boris says we should meet him down by the cove later, she whispered huskily. In the meantime let’s go looking for buried pirate treasure out on the moors!”

I took a sip of iced tea and read on…

This story was originally written in 1999 and appeared in a slightly different form around that time on the MutantFiction Yahoo group. It was first published here in January 2010. The beginning was revised in October 2014, again based on older material.

The Night Before (the Morning After)

September 29, 2014

The drinkers who find solace in The Munter’s Arms tell tall tales about their standing in society as they munch upon deep fried invertebrates. As notes are passed, crisp folding currency exchanged for potent draughts and shots of multicoloured hue and ever growing pocketfuls of change, the conversation lifts, grows louder and ever more irreverent in tone as all those present devolve en masse into Cro-Magnon man.

Long winded yarns morph gradually and by degrees into staccato epithets as witty repartee gives way to muttered threats and casual observations of the other sex, liberally peppered with vulgarity. A C-word here, an F-bomb there and the clink of empty glasses nestling together on sticky tabletops just out of elbow reach transform the air into a symphony of empty vessels and the common tongue.

At closing time selections aren’t so much made as found. A nod, a wink, a brief exchange of pleasantries, and two by two the tipsy trolls pair off, blotto blurts and trolleyed trollops, each one propping up the other as they stagger ever on. Ugly stick negated by the swizzle stick they twirl together, intertwine and spiral out into the night, unbound, through any door marked EXIT.

In taxi ranks and minicabs and fast submerging pedalos destinations are agreed upon and off they trot, stopping only for the cashpoint and kebabs, for every stately pile’s a goal and home to roost ’till daybreak calls, when cellphones set to cheerful chimes will roust all errant sleepers fast awake with guilty thoughts of empty beds and broken promises made earnestly at dinner dates long past, to lie there dissolute with aching heads and sinking hearts and tingling sensations where they shouldn’t be.

When morning comes, with goggles down, as each one turns around, does double take and blinks in abject horror at the boss-eyed beast beside them, they might regret their past mistakes and add the last night’s tally to their score. But for the drinkers in The Munter’s Arms, for now, all is pleasant in the world and great joy courses through the veins of all who live in it.

Tramp Stamp (a haiku)

April 13, 2014

Your arse
Grows less pleasing
The more I look at it

A Tortured Poem

May 28, 2013

I am a tortured poet
I wallow in life’s mud
I like to think I’m pretty good
Deep down I know I’m crud…

After Pam

April 7, 2013

I lost an eye when mummy hit me
It rolled across the floor
I wonder why the world looks flat
It never did before…

(To be recited in a thick regional accent)

Some new photographs

September 22, 2012

Long term followers of this blog will be aware that I lost the vast bulk of my photo archive covering around twenty years’ worth of work, partly through bad luck and bad judgement but mainly due to hard drive malfunction and straight theft. Other factors didn’t help: when the shutter button on my tiny but lovely Panasonic Lumix camera fell off after a botched repair job to the lens assembly I scaled down my photo taking to near zero. I pretty much threw in the towel and said, “Oh well, it clearly wasn’t to be.”

More bad news: my Dad is very ill and will be reliant on palliative hospital care for the foreseeable future. He has been a keen photographer all of his life but has recently lost interest simply because he no longer has the energy or inclination to go out and find things to photograph. He would much rather take it easy around the house and spend his remaining time with his loved ones, which is fair enough. During a recent visit he told me that he would like me to have his Nikon digital camera. I thanked him and told him that I would accept it on the understanding that if he got better and regained his interest in photography he should without hesitation ask for it back.

Turns out that it is a really fun camera to use, with an extraordinarily long zoom, excellent low-light performance and a full compliment of automatic settings and manual overrides. Since I started playing around with it I have rediscovered the sheer joy of going out and finding things to take pictures of. You can see some of the results above. As ever, if you click on the individual images you can see them much larger than is probably comfortable. The images featured here were taken between the 12th and 18th of September. I will probably upload a whole bunch more to my Flickr account once I remember what the password is supposed to be.

Lord Rokeby’s Repast – 15

August 21, 2012

On the wall is a large poster of Charles Darwin (one of the famous photographs featuring his characteristic white woolly beard) with a caption underneath that reads:

CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882)


This is apparently de rigueur amongst all self-respecting science undergraduates, and, it is whispered, it is quite impossible to obtain first class honours in any discipline without a copy having been displayed prominently upon one’s study wall throughout one’s period of study. Old habits die hard, and Stacey Turnbuckle, currently deputy head of the Met’s Psychological Profiling Division, is proud to display her copy, now slightly wrinkled around the edges and with creases here and there, evidence of one too many careless removal men, but these are badges of honour and to be expected in a world governed by scientific rationalism and the all-pervading principle of entropy, emphatically behind her desk where the kindly old sod can wink down upon her work benevolently from on high.

Ms. Turnbuckle’s current workload has left her puzzled and bemused and in desperate need of the kind of freewheeling inspiration one associates with Great Leaps Forward. Several things trouble her, in no particular order:

1. How can someone who thinks of Majorca and Mallorca as entirely separate places find work at any national newspaper, never mind one of the stature of The Sunday Chronicle?

2. How can anyone who thinks that “regatta” and “dressage” are synonyms for clothing rise to the position of Cultural Commentator at said renowned organ?

3. How on earth does someone so stupid murder five hundred and sixty-eight people in cold blood in multiple locations and then evade police capture for three straight weeks and counting?

Most troubling of all, this is the woman she has been instructed to “do a Myra” on, Met parlance for Psychological Profiling where the subject happens to be female. Strangely enough the male equivalents “do a Fred” or “…Harold” are rarely invoked, leading to speculation in certain quarters that the predominately patriarchal culture at the Met continues to affect the working lives of those unfortunate enough to be born with one too many X and no Y chromosomes, but no matter. Stacey is good at her job, and she enjoys it, no matter whom that might irritate. However there is little in the subject’s profile to date to indicate that she is even capable of boiling an egg, never mind mass murder, which suggests one of two things: that the Met (perish the thought) is wrong about her, or, far more credibly, that the existing records are fraudulent and that Ms. Tempanura’s articles are an elaborate cover representing many long years of deception while she planned her mass murder spree. Having reached this conclusion, which is, after all, the only logical conclusion it is possible to make, Ms. Turnbuckle is now saddled with the unenviable task of sifting through mountains of that crazy bitch’s illogical gibberish in the hope of deconstructing any kind of justification or motive for her heinous crimes. However, if she reads one more line about exactly why every home needs its own chocolate fondue set she might just end up throttling the entire office herself.

Calm yourself, she thinks to herself. There is nothing here that you can’t handle. All you need is another coffee and a cigarette break, maybe a little sudoku in the loo, then get right back on top of it.

And with that she grits her teeth, steels herself and dives right back into that unhealthy, yellowing pile of archival newsprint.


Long time no post

May 2, 2012

I would like to apologise to long-term (and short-term) readers of this blog. Things are going well over here in my neck of the woods and I am definitely keeping creative. I have been working on a number of film projects recently and am currently attempting to knock a feature film script into shape which, unfortunately, has left little time for the kind of random silliness that you and I love so much. Please be assured that I have not abandoned this blog and that there is plenty more to come, including the next chapter of Lord Rokeby’s Repast for which I now have a ridiculous quantity of notes, some of which are really rather rude, so I am looking forward to *ahem* polishing them into shape and posting the results in the fullness of time. Thank you all very much for being so patient.


February 25, 2012

The sound of me playing around with a mate’s acoustic Eko guitar tuned to open G. Well, he left it lying around, what else was I supposed to do? The bass is my trusty Chinese built black Fender Squire P-bass through my equally trusty Trace Elliot Boxer 15 practice amp both bought super cheap through Loot way back when. I don’t know frak all about basses or bass sound or bass playing but the combination sounds great and works just fine for me. I did two takes for the bass, one for everything else. The second bass take kinda clicked for me though.

This is my immediate post-recording (hands off) mix with double tracked riffage panned hard left and right for the first minute or so. I tried it it in other configurations but think that this, messy is as it is, has a charm all of its own that is hard to beat, certainly not without the input of a decent mix engineer.

(As ever, if for any reason it won’t play, click here.)

The Empty Ballroom

January 8, 2012

The ballroom was empty now, just the gentle tap of a dripping pipe to accompany the dust motes that whirled and span in the light streaming in from the broken and partially boarded-up windows high up on the far wall while spiders tended the dry and rubble-strewn bar. “A nice and juicy semi-liquified fly, sir? Coming right up,” and the spiders raced away, egged on as ever by the pulsating dance beat of the dripping pipe in a far off corner of the room.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.