Bernie II – A Dimension Scales Christmas Tale.

robot-dog

Bernie II

A Dimension Scales Christmas Tale.

By Garry Abbott.

 

‘Frisky little thing, isn’t he?’

The little Yorkshire Terrier was jumping up again at the bars of the cage, his bright green eyes shining under a fringe of curly snow white fur and his tongue flicking in and out of his dark mouth as he panted excitedly.

‘That’s up to you,’ said the engineer, sensing a sale. ‘I can adjust his docility settings if you like? Most people do, eventually.’

‘No that’s okay’ Gareth said quickly before the engineer could fish his spanner out from his tattered leather utility belt. ‘I like him just the way he is. He reminds me of my old dog Bernie, before the, you know, the thing.’

The engineer understood. His whole trade had grown from the thing that happened that one time. The thing with the animals. No one liked to talk about or remember it anymore, that’s why they only called it the thing. It was mostly unavoidable for the engineer though, having made a roaring trade from creating realistic robot pets to replace those that were lost.

‘You want me to leave him as he is then? The default is the most accurate representation of this particular breed’s average behaviour and temperament. You can always tweak it later on, it comes with all the instructions and even a little screwdriver’ the engineer said, waving his own rather large screwdriver at Gareth.

Gareth chewed on his lip. The engineer was a good salesman, with talk of settings and accessories before he’d even said he wanted it. But it was, after all, what he had come here for.

‘Just as he is please. Yes.’

***

Gareth named his new dog ‘Bernie II’ and chose to walk him home, declining the engineer’s offer to have him safely packaged in a foam lined storage crate and drone-dropped the next morning. He even fitted him with a collar and lead, ignoring the funny looks he got from passers by, some of which were being followed obediently and unleashed by their own mechanical companions. Unlike those fashionably placid automaton, Bernie II pulled at the lead, yapped at anything and everything, and even stopped a few times to eject water vapours on the occasional lamppost.

Back at home Gareth managed to dig out the old blankets and cushions that had been stashed in the loft behind the boxes that held all the Christmas decorations. It was Christmas that had made him think about going down to see the engineer in the first place. He had stood there, last December, half up the step ladder, wresting with the awkwardly stacked and sagging boxes, baubles bouncing off his head and tinsel getting up his nose, when suddenly a box pulled free and a cascade of junk came streaming after it, including a chewed up plastic food bowl that rattled to a halt on the landing below.

Almost a year to the day, he now held the same bowl in his hands and used his little screwdriver to scratch the roman numerals ‘II’ next to the embossed ‘Bernie’ that was written across the side. He set it down and filled it with the food the engineer had given him. It looked and smelled just like real dog food, and for the most part it was very similar. It had just a few extra ingredients thrown in designed to make Bernie’s digestive battery converter sparkle with energy, and keep his replaceable teeth nice and white.

As soon as he had filled the bowl and tapped the fork on the edge, little Bernie II came bounding over and began to chomp away greedily at the slimy contents. As Gareth watched Bernie II gorge himself, he heard the key turning in the lock of the front door. His wife was home.

‘What a day!’ he heard her say as he quickly shot up, closed the door to the kitchen behind him, and kicked the dog cushion out of sight behind the armchair.

As always Tina walked in to the living room dressed in her long cream coat and black scarf, dropped her handbag on the sofa, and threw her keys on the pine coffee table with a loud scratchy clatter.

‘How was your day?’ she asked as she carefully plucked the fingers of her burgundy gloves away one at a time. ‘Mine was awful. The printer wasn’t working, so no one could print any paperclips to hold all the papers together.’

‘That sounds annoying’ Gareth said with a half grimace. ‘I’ve had quite an eventful day.’

He smiled and waited for Tina to ask him what had happened, but instead she flung her gloves on top of her keys and headed past him into the kitchen before he had chance to stop her.

‘What is that!’ she yelped, amidst a chorus of even higher pitched yips from Bernie II. He had made straight for her and was attempting something biologically impossible with her shins, even if he had been a real dog.

‘That’s what I was trying to tell you’ Gareth extracted Bernie who was panting and grinning wildly. ‘I did it. I got one. Like I said. He’s a bit lively, but then, so was the other Bernie, you know, the real one.’

Tina comprehended the drooling fur ball in her husbands hands with thinly veiled disgust.

‘So what’s this one called?’ she sneered, holding her hands close to her as if the dog may bite them off at any moment.

‘Bernie II. Do you like him?’

‘Well you can sort that leg humping business out for a start’ was all Tina said before turning away and heading upstairs to get changed.

There was no point in arguing, Gareth knew, not after such an unplanned and frankly unflattering introduction. So instead he got out his little screwdriver and removed the panel behind Bernie’s neck. Before long he found how to turn the dog’s sexuality setting to ‘neutered’ and put him back together again. Gareth thought that was fair enough, the original Bernie had been ‘done’ after all, so nothing had really changed.

***

That evening, Gareth, Tina and Bernie II settled down together on the sofa to watch an old film on the flat screen. It was some farce about a mad scientist who accidentally blew up reality, and at their feet, little Bernie II lay rolled up with his eyes closed, gently wheezing with each breath.

‘He’s sleeping’ whispered Tina, craning over her drawn up legs to look down at the little bundle on the floor.

‘I know. Isn’t he sweet?’

Gareth was happy to see Tina smiling at the sight. Since that afternoon she had paid little attention to the new addition to the household, save to step over him when he got in the way.

Next Bernie started to twitch his eye lids and paws and make little whimpering sounds as he did so.

‘Chasing rabbits’ Gareth suggested, quietly.

‘Or running through…’ Tina stopped before she could finish the sentence, interrupted by what sounded like someone letting a little air out of a tightly filled balloon. ‘What was that?’

It didn’t take long before they knew exactly what that was. The smell of digested dog food mixed with battery fluid filled the room in a near an instant, and Tina’s smile soon was soon replaced by a look of shock and a wrinkled nose.

‘Good God that’s awful!’ she spat, as if the miasma had gotten into her taste buds. ‘Tell me you can switch that off?’

‘It’ll pass’ Gareth waved away her protestation, much as he waved away the dreadful odour, which was gradually diminishing.

‘I don’t care if it does!’ snapped Tina. ‘I don’t want to smell that ever again!’

Gareth went to laugh, but caught the seriousness in her eyes before he did. Instead he tried gentle persuasion.

‘But my darling, if I switch that off,’ Gareth found himself still whispering, as if Bernie may hear and take offence, ‘instead of feeding him to recharge his battery I would have to plug him in to the mains. The manual said that the, exhaust, was normal and necessary, just like a real dog.’

Tina on the other hand spoke quite loud and clearly in response.

‘But you only get the exhaust if you choose to feed him rather than plug him in?’

Gareth nodded.

‘Then plug him in. He stinks. And it will save money on food’ Tina said in a fashion that would brook no argument. She stared at Gareth until he understood that she also meant right now.

So Gareth took the sleeping Bernie out from the room in his arms, got out his little screwdriver, opened his control panel and found the ‘void’ button, being sure to hold him over a plastic bag in the back porch before he pressed it. The remnants of the digested food drained out of the system, along with a smell so foul it nearly knocked Gareth out, which made him think that maybe it was for the best to switch off the feeding mechanism. Not all dogs were smelly. The original Bernie was a little stinky, but it was hardly his best feature. He would miss the routine of feeding his new little friend and seeing him wag his tail and paw for attention when he wanted a meal, but there was still all the other stuff, all the good stuff.

***

That night Gareth decided not to plug Bernie II in as his battery was still full from the food and he didn’t want the little fellow to be restricted to just a few feet from the power point. Besides, it had always made him feel that little bit safer when he knew there was a dog downstairs, ready to bark at the first sign of an intruder.

Tina insisted that Bernie stayed downstairs, however, but Gareth didn’t mind that. When he was growing up they had never allowed the pets to come upstairs into the bedrooms, so it felt reasonable enough. He would be lying though to say it hadn’t pained him to see little Bernie’s sad eyes as they told him to wait and then closed the door on him.

It was about two in the morning when he first started to howl.

Gareth sprang out of bed. ‘I’ll go’ he said, as if there had been another option. Tina grunted and rolled over, pulling the sheets up to her ears.

When Gareth went into the living room he found Bernie sitting on his back legs in the glow of the moonlight that cast a thin monolith across the carpet.  The room was flickering with the shadows of branches dancing in the windy night. Immediately Bernie ran up and jumped into Gareth’s lap as he knelt down to pat him. He was panting so manically that Gareth was almost worried he would pant himself inside out.

Gareth tried to sooth him, and for a while Bernie at least stopped howling, even if he did still twitch and slobber. But every time Gareth tried to settle him back down and close the door, the howling began anew.

Eventually Gareth found himself stood in the doorway of the bedroom, fiddling awkwardly with the hem of his nightshirt and wondering if Tina had actually managed to get back to sleep yet.

‘What?’ she eventually murmured, without turning from her pillow.

‘He doesn’t like being alone when the wind is blowing. Can he sleep up here?’

‘No’ said Tina abruptly.

‘Then I don’t know what to do’ Gareth pleaded.

‘Turn. Him. Off!’ Tina shouted into her pillow.

‘But I don’t want to turn him off. What if there’s a burglar?’ he said, cautiously.

‘Then he can bloody well take him! Turn it off. Turn it off. TURN IT OFF!!!’ she screamed once more, this time without the pillow, her voice joining the howl of Bernie from downstairs.

Gareth actually jumped with shock at her anger. He decided in an instant that he would do as she said, at least for tonight. He thought that maybe he could train Bernie II not to howl at the wind eventually, but that for now it was better just to put him on mute.

It didn’t take long to find the volume controls once he had opened the control hatch with his little screwdriver. Bernie still yapped and panted, but now he did it in total silence, which had rather an eerie and unsettling effect on Gareth, as if it was he who had gone deaf.

But there was still a problem. Every time Gareth left the room to go back upstairs, Bernie would jump and scratch at the door. He was probably doing it before, but all they could hear was the howling. Now all they could hear was the scratching, and it was one of those sounds that the ear latches onto and makes louder and more distracting with every second that passes until you just can’t take it anymore.

Gareth tried to ignore it, but he couldn’t ignore the tossing and turning of Tina in the bed besides him. He opened his eyes briefly to see if she was just dreaming and chasing rabbits, as it were, but her eyes were very much open.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

Tina slowly tilted her head to meet her husband’s eyes and said calmly, and steadily:

‘No. I’m not okay. And if you don’t sort that thing out right now, not only will I smash it into tiny, weenie little pieces and give it to the rag and bone man, I will also be staying at my Mother’s until I can find a man who has more going for him in life than A DEFECTIVE ROBOT DOG!’

Taking the hint, Gareth got up and powered down Bernie II completely and placed him on his predecessors old cushion. Gareth told himself that it was okay, and that Bernie II was just sleeping like a normal, real dog. Just like back in the days before the thing that had stopped people ever having normal, real pets ever again.

But it wasn’t okay, not really, and that night Gareth went to bed more depressed than he had been for a long, long time.

***

When the morning came the wind had settled down and Gareth had almost forgotten the trials of the previous night. That was until he came downstairs in his dressing gown to find Tina as usual nursing a cup of hot coffee, and the still  deactivated Bernie dumped on the table with his lead and open bag of food stacked unceremoniously on top of him.

‘What’s this?’ Gareth asked while blinking the sleep from his eyes.

Tina had barely managed to cover up the ever increasing semi circles under her eyes, even with a heavy foundation, but still she seemed calm and poised for work. She was dressed in her black skirt, striped shirt and long cream jacket with her burgundy gloves peeking out from the pocket.

‘You’ve got nothing else to do today have you? So you may as well take it back, see if you can get your money back.’

Gareth squinted back at her.

‘By it, I take it you mean Bernie II?’

Tina nodded.

‘Why would I do that?’

Tina lost her demeanour.

‘Because it’s useless junk!’ she whipped back at him, slamming down her coffee so hard a small tidal wave leapt out from the cup and onto Bernie’s tail.

‘Watch out!’ cried Gareth as he looked around fruitlessly for a tissue and then began to wipe up the hot steaming fluid with his sleeve.

Tina watched him as he fussed and fawned over the innate piece of metal covered in synthetic fur.

‘Pathetic’ she said, shaking her head. ‘What’s the point of him?’

Gareth drew a deep breath and turned his head away from her for a moment before standing up to his full height, which when he didn’t slouch, was imposingly greater than hers.

‘The point, if you had any inkling of such things, was to try and feel like I used to back when the real Bernie was alive, back when all the pets were still alive.’

‘But it wasn’t alive, and now it doesn’t even bark, or eat, or move for that matter.’ Tina waved a dismissive hand at the lump before her.

‘Only because you told me to switch him off, piece by piece! The whole idea was to believe in him, faults and all. Real dogs made mess. Real dogs were noisy, and Real dogs sometimes smelled bad!’

Graham found himself red in the face and shouting at his wife only a few centimetres from hers unconcerned smirk.

‘And real wives,’ she said with a wicked pout, ‘tell their husbands when they are being pathetic!

Graham couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t make her see. He could never make her see. He realised that now, and knew what had to be done as he reached his hands around her throat.

‘What are you doing?’ she whimpered as his grip tightened.

‘Maybe you’re right’ he said gently to her as she struggled against the force of his hands. ‘Maybe there is no point in trying to make something that’s fake ever feel real.’

And with that he twisted his hands sharply, removed the panel from the back of his wife’s neck, and went to fetch his little screwdriver.

THE END.

 

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Scotland, Bombs and Book Sales – Speed Blog.

stopwatch

I’ve got too little time and too many possible topics to write about this week, so I’m going to attempt a speed blog. From the start of the next sentence, I will attempt to cover the title subjects in 30 minutes writing time (which will be a lot shorter reading time). As I finish this paragraph, my computer clock reads 10.35am. You will just have to believe me… and my time starts… now!

Scotland

So they said ‘No’ then, and what happened? Almost immediately the hastily compiled promises that swayed the debate started to unwind and become compounded with much wider, and much more complicated matters, of regional and national devolution. The leaders of the ‘No’ campaign claimed an ‘emphatic’ victory. Emphatic? I think just scraping 56% of the voting population is far from emphatic, which is described by Google as ‘expressing something forcibly and clearly’. I think a better adjective to use would have been ‘adequate’ preceded by ‘just about’.

That said, they did win, and for those of us who were up for a bit of constitutional mayhem (shake em all up, I say), we can at least hope that if the millionaire white English boys go back on their promises, we will get our shake up, but in a much less organised and civil way.

I’m running out of time for this section (10.41am), so I will finish by saying that I actually like some of the ideas about devolved powers to regions and nations within the UK. As I said, anything that just goddamn changes things around here has to be welcome as a start. But no one can promise anything about how things are going to work, because no one, as I am aware, has the power to look into the future. So if we start getting asked questions about constitutional reform, just remember, no one really knows, no one will really ever know. If we don’t go for it at some point, we will never find out, and things will stay the same, suiting the few at the cost of the many. They will try and scare us, threaten us and bully us into keeping things the same. Sod them. Time’s up. Next!

Bombs.

Two nights ago America started bombing Syria. Not just any old bit of Syria, specifically the bits with ISIL/IS/ISA/whoever the hell it is they are meant to be fighting in it. Of course, that’s how bombs work, they are discriminate, with excellent targeting that in no way kill innocent people.

It’s hard to speak up against this latest round of violence because of the stark and shocking news stories of hostages and beheadings that have been drip fed out of the region over the last few weeks. It is all equally as saddening to me. The violence on both sides sickens and disappoints me. Already we have an American General warning that this will be a ‘long and sustained’ conflict. That is the headline story on our public news channel. Why would they want us to know that? Why would they want their enemy to know that they think it is going to be a hard and complicated campaign. It hardly strikes fear into an adversary to tell them that you don’t think you are up to the task of a decisive victory. For some reason, there must always be a campaign of western intervention in the Middle East. As one ends, another starts.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a genuine crisis going on in Syria, but it is so intrinsically linked with what Western leaders have done in the past, is throwing more violence at it really going to help? Earlier this year, ‘peace prize’ Obama announced he was arming the ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels in the fight against Assad. There was much mirth about the definition of ‘moderate’ rebel fighters. Some ridiculous amount of US dollars and military support was pumped into the region. Within weeks this name-changing group had emerged and apparently ran a line through Iraq and Syria with superior force and the ability to take, control, and sell oil for millions of dollars a day on the international market (who exactly is buying it from them?). I wonder if the two things are connected?

Time’s nearly up for this section. Needless to say, I am sceptical about the whole campaign, and soon we will be joining in (Cameron is recalling parliament this Friday). Great. More life and public money wasted. They can’t help themselves. Not for a moment do I believe their primary objectives are for humanitarian reasons. Not for a blink of an eye.

Right! 10.54am, leaving me 11 minutes to write the next bit and check it over!

Book Sales.

As I’m sure readers will know, I published my book ‘The Dimension Scales and Other Stories’ earlier this year (April 22nd to be precise). It has been an equally exciting and harrowing experience. I realise now that the internet, while being the great connector, is also like a massive public shopping centre full of closed doors. Anyone can have a premises, but getting people to look into it and see what you’ve got on offer is a lot easier said than done.

The book has received good reviews, but moderate sales. It is extremely hard to get it noticed and circulated in a market that is swamped with titles. This isn’t deterring me though, but it does mean I have to try various strategies and spend nearly as much time marketing as I did writing the thing in the first place. Add to that the fact that I am trying to get my next book written, and occasionally I end up having little breakdowns. (nothing serious, just artistic fear and loathing).

So! The latest round of attempts is to reduce the price again and see what happens. Some authors give their books away for free to get noticed and build an audience – I’m not quite there yet, but is now available for a mere $0.99 or 77p.

The advert for the book is on the top right of this screen – it takes you to the Amazon page, but the book is available on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Nook and Kobo. If you haven’t had a look, please do. And if you think it looks a bit interesting, why not buy it and find out? Or failing that, share it with a few people and see what they think. This whole ‘going viral’ thing isn’t a natural phenomenon. People will spend lots and lots of time and money in some cases, to get noticed. I would like to think that this can happen by mutual support alone, without the need for spamming and expensive advertising.

If anyone has any networks or channels that can help me get this ‘out there’ please let me know or just feel free to do so. I have quite a strong Twitter following and am happy to mutually exchange links and shout-out’s to those who have a creative endeavour of their own (within reason – no explicit or gratuitous material. You would be surprised how much of that is being peddled).

End.

And that’s it! The clock says 11.03am, so I will sign off with two minutes spare and do the fastest editing ever. I hope you’ve enjoyed my speed blog and I apologise if it is a little rougher around the edges than usual!

Goodbye.

 

Scottish Man Wakes from Coma to a Dystopian Placard Nightmare

body snatchers scot copy

 

A Scottish man awoke unattended from a five year coma yesterday and found himself wandering the streets of Edinburgh in only his patient gown, caught in the middle of a nightmare landscape of diametrically opposed placard waving humans.

With his hearing still yet to return, the 42 year old man, Alistair Craig, a delivery driver from Broxburn, became increasingly agitated and hysterical as on every street corner he found yet more mobs urging him to join them in their mysterious campaign. Scared and confused, Craig attempted to find shelter in a nearby building, only to find that the windows of each were also marked with the distinctive affirmative and negative logo’s of the bizarre gatherings.

Eventually, Craig found an unoccupied house, as yet unmarked. Presuming the house had once belonged to a poor soul that had now gone over to the sign-holders, he bathed, clothed and nourished himself from the little he could find in the abandoned dwelling.

Exhausted from his escape, Alistair fell asleep in a comfortable armchair, only to be woke by an ominous knocking coming from the front door. The joy of finding his hearing had returned was soon matched by the terror of what lay in wait.

He looked out sheepishly through the blinds to see a group of suited men and women gathered outside. As he could see, none of them were holding placards. His heart beat fast as he realised they may be other survivors, and hastily he opened the front door to the apparent leader of the group, a thin faced man with parted brown hair and a tired look of diminished ambition hidden behind the smile he just about managed to crack.

At first the guttural mumbles of the man seemed incoherent. Alistair feared his ears had not yet fully recovered. He shouted out in fear.

“What’s happening? Help me! I don’t know what’s going on! I don’t know what to do! Please, please help me!”

The man at the door gave a wry smile over his shoulder to his entourage. He spoke again, and this time Alistair could decipher some of the words.

“Then you’re exactly the kind of person we want to talk to! We can help you.” he said, his eyes flaring up like pilot lights in a rusty boiler.

“Thank God!” exclaimed Alistair, “I thought the whole world had gone mad. Nothing makes any sense anymore. I don’t, I don’t know what is real. Who are you?”

The brown haired man smiled and cleared his throat, “uh well, I’m Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats…”

For the first time in his life, Alistair was glad to see a politician. He must be leading the remnants of the population who hadn’t turned to the placards, he thought. All the other, proper, party leaders must have been converted by now.

“… and Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom” he continued, “can I ask, will you join with me and Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservatives, and leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, in sending a clear message?”

What is this madness? Thought Alistair. The Liberal Democrats, in coalition with the Conservatives? The world had been flipped turned upside down.

“Wh… what message?” Alistair asked nervously.

“Why… ‘NO’ of course!” said the one who called himself Clegg. Suddenly, all the people in suits pulled out banners and placards and leaflets, and held them aloft, waving and smiling and grinning, and gritting their teeth.

Alistair tried to close the door but a black shiny shoe jutted out and blocked it. Alistair backed off as the mob approached. He tried to run but stumbled over the footing of the stairwell.  He hit the ground with a dull thud and turned to see the leering face of the deputy leaning over him with a badge in hand, the pin catch open and advancing upon his chest. Reflected in the watery eyes of the brown haired man, Alistair could see the word ‘no’ printed on the badge.

“God no!” Alistair shouted, just before he fainted and all was black.

“That’s right!” said Clegg.

 

Today in Edinburgh, a broken man stands on a street corner shoulder to shoulder with others. He sees another crowd across the street on the opposite corner. They are not like him. They have different signs. How did he get here? What was his purpose? What was his name? A faint glimmer of remembrance sparks in his subconscious, but before it has the chance to burn brightly, a group of people wander into the road. They have no denomination. They look awkwardly from side to side at the two groups that flank them, and form a huddle. Suddenly, the one they once called Alistair knew what he had to do. He raised his placard high.

“No! No! No!” he shouted, and it all seemed so clear.

Fear and Loathing in Loch Lomond.

hunter s cameron copy

I was going to write a sensible blog with my opinions about Scottish independence, having seen enough comedy articles already about the last ditch road trip to Scotland this week of Clegg, Miliband and Cameron to try and save the union. Then I thought I’d write this instead. (warning – bad language)

 

We were somewhere around Carlisle approaching the border when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something to Nick like “I feel a bit lightheaded, maybe you should drive…” when there was a terrible roar all around and the sky was full of what looked like huge flying haggis all swooping and dripping hot fat over the car that was going 82mph with the air conditioning on full blast up the M6 to Scotland. And a voice was screaming, “Holy hell! What are these goddamn things?”. Then it was quiet again. Nick had taken his shirt off and was pouring HP sauce on his chest to facilitate the tanning process.

It was almost noon and there was still a hundred miles to go till we reached Glasgow to start our mission to save the union. They would be tough miles, and very soon I knew, the three of us would be completely twisted. We’d all claimed three thousand pounds each from our expenses, most of which had gone on filling the boot of the car with extremely dangerous substances. We had two multipack bags of crisps, seventy-five tic-tacs, five broad sheets of high powered right wing journalism, a salt shaker half full, and a whole galaxy of multicoloured jellies, pastels, lollies and cola bottles, and a quart of Tango, a case of Red Bull, a pint of milkshake and two dozen pasties.

“Man this is the way to travel!” crooned my deputy, Nick. “I’ll take the highroad, and you’ll take the low road…” Take the high road? You poor bastard. Wait until you see them goddamn haggis. I switched on the CD player to drown out the wretch. ‘Thing can only get better’ was the only track we had, so we listened to it all the way up. It set a good driving pace. A constant speed is essential for efficient fuel consumption, which seemed important at the time.

Clegg turned to Ed who was sitting quietly in the back seat. “We’re your friends, we’re not like the others.” Oh Christ, I thought he’d gone round the bend, “No more of that talk!” I said, “Or I’ll put Grant Shapps on you.” He grinned, seeming to understand. Between the air con and the music, Ed couldn’t hear in the back. Or could he?

How long can we maintain? I wondered. How long before one of us starts ranting and jabbering at Miliband? What will he think then? How long before he makes the grim connection between our purposefully lacklustre attempt at convincing the Scots to stay in the union so that when they leave and take all those traditional labour seats with them we can dominate Westminster for years to come? If he does we’ll just have to bury him somewhere. No way he can leave now and report us to some kind of outback communist newspaper hack who will run us down like dogs.

Did I just say that out loud? Did they hear me? I look over to Nick, but he seems oblivious, occupying himself by firing jelly babies from his nose and out of the window at pedestrians. It is all quiet from the back. I better have a chat with Ed, straighten this out.

“There’s one thing you should probably understand.” I said, grinning. “Are you listening to me?” I yelled.

He nodded.

“Good. You see, we’re on the way to Scotland to save the United Kingdom dream. That’s why we bought this £250,000 Jaguar, it was the only way to do it.”. He nodded again, but his eyes were nervous.

“I want you to have all the background, because this is an ominous assignment with overtones of extreme personal danger. You see, about two weeks ago we were sitting in the commons bar, in the VIP section, of course, when a uniformed dwarf came up to me with a Pink telephone. I answered. It was my contact, he said we needed to come up to Scotland. Ah, Scotland, you can almost see the tidemark where the UK dream peaked and then washed away. I asked Nick here to come with me, you see, I need you to understand that he’s my deputy and he’s from Sheffield. Are you prejudice?”

“Oh hell no!” said Ed, unblinking.

“I didn’t think so. Because this man is extremely important to me.”

And then, before I knew it, we were screeching to a halt on the hard shoulder, just before Gretna Green. Clegg turned around to Ed.

“The truth is we’re going to Scotland to croak a scag baron called Alex Salmond – I’ve known him for years but he ripped us off, and you know what that means, right?”

I wanted to cut him off, but we were both helpless with laughter. What the fuck were we doing out here north of the M25, when we both have bad hearts?

“We’re going to rip his lungs out!” Clegg snarled at Ed.

“And eat them with neeps and tatties!” I blurted. “What’s going on in this country when a scum sucker like that can get away with sandbagging a Prime Minister?”

Clegg was cracking another fruit shoot and Miliband was climbing out of the automatic windows, damned freak couldn’t work the child locks.

“See you guys!” he shouted as he ran back to the nearest little chef. “I like you. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay!”

“Wait a minute!” I yelled after him, “Come back here and grab a 7up…” But apparently he couldn’t hear me. He was running fast and the music was loud.

Nick continued screeching along to ‘Things… can only get better’ as I stepped on the accelerator and we hurtled back onto the motorway.

 

Disproportion.

hammer nut

 

(Note: This story contains some mild descriptions of violence).

When I was a young teenager I was playing football on the playground at school in my dinner break with my friends. Not for the first time, a thug from our year came up and took the ball from us and started kicking it around to his mates. My friends and I were generally pretty meek people and had to put up this kind of thing.

This time, however, I decided to try and tackle the bully to get the ball back. When I did he fell over as a result and got his shiny new coat wet. I hadn’t intended to knock him over, that’s just what happened as he tried to shield the ball from me and I put a leg out to get at it. As I walked away holding the ball, I knew what I had let myself in for. This guy had a reputation for being pretty vicious. I’m not talking about ruffled hair or tipped out bags, I’m talking about violence.

I rolled the ball back to my friend and prepared to face up to the inevitable. He was approaching, red in the face, swearing and threatening me. Already a crowd had gathered. ‘Fight!’ they shouted, as usual. The bully was my height, but twice my build, with a shaved head and his fists clenched. I’d never been in a fight before, so in the few seconds I had to think about it, I decided I needed to do something.

I tried to punch him. It probably wasn’t the best decision, but it felt like the only possible way I could avoid it happening to me. I missed, having never thrown a punch before with the intention of actually hitting someone. He recoiled from my feeble swing, which was further impeded by my school bag falling off my shoulder and dragging down my arm. The next thing I saw was his knuckles coming towards my face. He didn’t miss. He didn’t miss the first time, but I didn’t go down. He didn’t miss the second time, but I didn’t go down. He didn’t miss the third time when my nose exploded in a cloud of scarlet and still I stood. I should have gone down.

After this he got me in a tight headlock. He was strong. His boasts and reputation were not unfounded. As I was held there, dripping from my nose onto his black trousers, he said to me, “We better calm this down now, there’s a dinner lady watching.”

At this I became angry. Up until that point it had just been a series of sharp pains and confusion, but that statement brought it into focus. How could I calm down the complete beating I was getting? I hadn’t started it. It had started long ago across all the stolen footballs, threats, beatings and taunts that most other people had to put up with at the whim of people like him on a daily basis.

I tried to act, but I don’t know how to fight. I tried to lift his knee to get him off me and topple him backwards. Instead, he brought it to my face, three times, further smashing my already popped nose. Then he let go, and I went to the office to get myself cleaned up. The next day I had concussion and couldn’t come to school.

Nothing of any real consequence happened to the lad. In theory I had started it with my  feeble attempt at a punch. Before that is was just playground squabbling. I had incited the violence that followed by my desperate attempt at pre-emptive defence.

What interests me with this memory, is whether this was a fair decision? Did I deserve the level of violence that I incurred because I tried to stand up for myself? My instinct tells me no, but the bare facts of the matter sound different. Consider this version of events:

Today at school someone tried to steal my football. I knocked him over and then tried to punch him. He defended himself and I came off worse.

It’s so easy to twist facts around to make the situation sound more two sided than it was, to try and engender sympathy for the disproportional response by glossing over the history and context of the matter. You may disagree with me and think I should of stayed my hand and waited till I was hit first, or gone down after the first punch and curled up in a little ball. You may think that I sacrificed any right to blame or victim status because I tried to do something rather than wait passively for something to happen that all reason and experience told me was certain.

You may think that, but it doesn’t feel right to me.

What’s the story: mourning Tories?

by Garry Abbott

fish in barrel copy

There’s been a lot of talk and chatter this week on the airwaves about Ed Miliband’s need to construct a more coherent ‘story’ and ‘narrative’ if he is going to win at the next election. He has been accused by some party supporters and critics of ‘sitting back’ and letting the Tories dig their own graves. Apparently ahead in the opinion polls (who actually does them?) – even his own head of policy was secretly recorded at a focus group saying his policies had been novelty, cynical and few and far between.

But what could be more cynical I wonder, than the accepted conversation about an opposition leader who needs to ‘come up with’ (i.e. ‘invent’) some kind of narrative in order to present some option to the electorate? Is it just me who finds the rhetoric of ‘story-telling’ both patronising and worrying?

It smacks of political elitism in an age where we are regularly told that they are losing touch with the people – yet they don’t see that this kind of circular politics is exactly why. We shouldn’t have politicians and parties who are content to sit back for five years and watch the country descend into wreck and ruin, just because it means they will have an easier job winning votes at the next election. The hope is that by May 2015 we will all be begging for change (or at least most of us), at which point Miliband will just stand up and loudly exhort through his nostrils “I will save you”. Similarly, we will have the likes of Clegg, making back-of-throat guttural utterances about how they are the only party who can be trusted to reign in the Tories, after spending 5 years propping them up.

An example of a successful opposition ‘story’ that I heard quoted by a labour supporting media expert, was David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. In political terms, they think that was the bomb. Do you remember that? Cameron telling us that instead of the state doing things for us, we basically need to do it all ourselves (yet still pay taxes). If that’s the kind of narrative Miliband is lacking, then I don’t want to hear it!

There should be no need for a story. The problems are evident for anyone who has even an iota of socialism about them, or as I like to call it, common decency and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. There should be no need to wait five years to hear this. If he and his party were truly passionate about their cause and actually represented an alternative, they shouldn’t rest or tire from doing whatever they can, whenever they can, however  they can to promote it and stop the shameless pillaging of the poor and vulnerable by the current government. As it is, the little we hear from them is often just slightly amended echoes of right-wing policies with no firm commitments to reverse the damage done. Same ideas, different faces, all ugly.

So here’s a little story for Miliband – he is welcome to use it if he likes:

 

Ed went to the fair.

There once was a boy called Ed who went to a funfair. He walked around the funfair, looking at all the games. He looked at the coconut shy, and whack-a-rat, and test-your-strength, and hook-a-duck, but they all looked really hard, and poor Ed couldn’t decide where to spend his money. Eventually he decided not to bother and to go home and spend his money on lashings of ginger beer instead. But then, just as he was about to leave, he saw one last game.

A red faced man called David was standing on a soap box brandishing a sawn off shotgun in one hand and a box of cartridges in the other, shouting “Fish in a barrel! Who can shoot the fish in a barrel? One winner only!”

“Hey mister” he said, “what do I have to do?”

“Simple,” replied David, “in this barrel of water I have placed a fish. Here is a shotgun. All you need to do is kill the fish and you win.”

“What do I win?” asked the wide eyed Ed.

“It’s a surprise.”

No one else at the fair had played this game before, and before long a huge crowd had gathered around him, waiting to see what happened.

“Why has no one played this game before?” asked Ed, suspiciously. It seemed too easy, and Ed has his smarts.

“Because each cartridge costs one million pounds a go, and none of these plebs have that kind of money”.

“Hmmm” said Ed, pondering the situation, for you see, Ed did have one million pounds to spend, and some more, but he still wasn’t sure.

“Go on!” shouted the crowd, “we want to see it done! We can’t afford to have a go ourselves!”

What was he to do?! He really wanted to win the game, but he didn’t really want to spend the money or any effort on it. What if he missed the fish? What if the game was rigged and the shotgun blew his tiny face off?

Ed thought about it long and hard… for about five years. By that time, everybody had lost interest, and the fish had died of old age.

Ed asked David, “so, does that mean I win?”, to which David replied “Yes! You’ve won! Well done” as he removed the dead fish from the barrel and replaced it with a new, live and wriggling one.

“What do I win?” asked Ed.

“This barrel, this fish, this shotgun and cartridges, and this entire funfair! ”

And then David walked off into the sunset, able to retire a happy and rich man.

Ed looked down at the barrel with the new fish. He picked up the shotgun and ammunition in his hands, before standing up on the soap box and declaring:

“Roll up – roll up! Fish in a barrel! Only 1 million pounds a shot!” and once again, the crowd gathered.

THE END.

 

Gone Midnight – 500 word flash fiction.

By Garry Abbott.

soundwaves

Graham can’t stand these warm nights clinging to him as he tries to sleep. Getting in around the back of his neck and behind his ears, under his armpits and forming ponds below the small of his back.  He lies on his back in vest and boxers, the thin sheet over just one ankle (which for some reason feels just right) listening to the soft voices on his radio, waiting for sleep.

The production line presenter, tonsils crafted from treacle and dark wood, reads out the forecast.

‘Starting with the south west, then moving over the Midlands by mid afternoon, expect some light showers, perhaps breaking up that muggy feeling for a time…’

‘Muggy’ Graham mutters, he likes the sound of the word as it passes his lips.

‘Muggy, muggy, bloody muggy!’ he continues, realising he is thinking again, aware. ‘I’m muggy! I’m bloody muggy now!’ he protests to the radio, which becomes distorted and crackles back at him. Now it is just stuttered white noise that grows so loud it fills the room.

‘Not again. No, please’ whispers Graham, finding himself unable to move.

The radio continues to fizz sharp frequency spikes, random at first, then formed and shrill.

When does a crackle become a cackle? Zzzzzttt’ says the voice from the static. Graham closes his eyelids, the only thing he is able to do.

When does a cackle become a nightmare? Pzzzzt’ it continues.

It is only now that the terrible voice is shouting at him again that Graham remembers. This has happened almost every night for many years. He will lay and listen incapacitated to its taunts and threats until a smothering sleep comes over him, dragging him down into himself. And then, in the morning, he forgets.

‘How long can you resist? Pzzzt fzzz. How long? How long? How long?’ it continues, each repetition like a hammer at Graham’s sanity. For surely that’s what this is, his own mind turning. Becoming something of itself and angry at its captor. How can he fight what is him but is hidden? How long can he last? How long?

And then, as the terror inside of him grows, he feels the familiar lure of incomprehension and light as he stops plunging and begins to drift softly down and away from this world.

***

The next morning Graham is up early with new day ignorance. Soon later he is whistling as he waters the plants that frame his front lawn.

‘Graham?’ comes a voice from nearby. He looks up to see the new bloke who moved in next door. Graham silently squints back at him.

‘Would you mind turning your radio or TV or whatever it is down on a night? We can hear it through the wall.’

‘Oh yes, yes. Will do. Sorry, is it a bit loud?’

‘Yeah a little, but it’s more, well… It’s just that programme, whatever it is you have on, all that creepy cackling and shouting. It’s a bit much gone midnight.’