The Walking Dead: Survive, Settle, get Slaughtered. Will Season Seven be any different?

Entertainment, journalism, Review, The Walking Dead, Uncategorized

‘The most gruesome television death of all time.’

‘My heart is literally broken’.

‘Please don’t let this be true.’

Season Seven of AMC’s The Walking Dead certainly got off to a horrific start, surpassing even itself in terms of shear onscreen brutality. The image of Glen’s severely dented skull, blood oozing like lava from the cracks after a smash from Lucille (Negan’s weapon of choice – baseball bat covered with barbed wire), will be with me for some time. The quick young pizza delivery boy we first met in season one is no more. His headless body has been driven back to Alexandria for burial and his brain juice has likely been slurped up by the undead.

Though Glen’s death was particularly hard to take, being one of the last remaining characters from the first season, the tragic nature of his demise is something that Walking Dead fans have grown accustomed to, with the deaths of Sophia, Dale, Lori, Andrea, Hershel, Lizzie, Mika, the list goes on. We are used to tragedy. We are also used to the pattern of survive, settle, get slaughtered. Season Seven has already given us tragedy. Will it follow the same plot as all the others, or will it break the mould? Are we about to see the  birth of the New World. Here are a few thoughts…

I started watching The Walking Dead a year ago. I’ve got to be honest, the first season utterly frustrated me. Rick’s sense of duty (attached to his refusal to take off that stupid fucking police hat) and Lori’s obsession with Carl practising math incensed me. The world is falling apart around you and you’re more worried about your son’s ability to calculate ? Give him a gun and a target, for christ’s sake. However, thankfully the show moved on. Rick grew ruthless. Lori got eaten. Morgan became Mr. Miyagi. And now here we are. So what next?

Season Seven’s introduction of The Kingdom, ruled by King Ezekiel, as well as its closer focus on Negan’s Saviours, has immediately increased the scope of the series. Whilst the previous Six seasons have been spent either rambling through gutted towns or making house in new-found havens, Season Seven appears to be signalling a change in the post-apocolyptic world. Now there are communities, tribes, dictators and Kings. There is a distinct geography, as well as a clear ruler, in Negan.

Personally, I find this new direction refreshing. Too often have zombie and post-apocolyptic films and TV shows ended in either total ruin, or a return to the old world, minus a few billion people. What The Walking Dead is doing is introducing the beginnings of the new world, based upon the principal of how the old world was formed. Thousands of years ago, the Romans conquered lands controlled by hundreds and hundreds of tribes, each one with their own set of customs and practices. The Romans either wiped out these tribes and forced the survivors into slavery, or made them pay tribute, in return for peace. Negan is doing exactly the same thing, forcing communities around Washington to give him a percentage of their produce. If they fail to do so, he’ll introduce them to Lucille. It’s as simple as that. If The Walking Dead continues in this direction, then there is the opportunity for real growth of plot, for the development of a new state, once Negan has been removed from power, and the rise of a new leader, perhaps in Rick?

Yet, who knows? I could be wrong. Season Seven may end in much the same way as all the others: The Kingdom will be overrun by a herd, or sacked by Negan’s men, its inhabitants slaughtered, another couple of well-loved characters will meet their end, Rick will kill Negan and the group will be forced to once again hit the road. I hope this isn’t the case. I hope Season Seven moves us some way toward an end game, a cure even. For now, however, we’ll have to wait and see.

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Game of Thrones: Five Minor ‘What-might’ve-been’ Moments that you’ve Probably Forgotten all about.

journalism, rant, Uncategorized

 

        **CONTAINS SPOILERS**

 

It’s late October, which means I’ve now started my annual ritual of re-watching Game of Thrones. Since the massacre that was the season six finale (death by fire is certainly not the purest death, Melisandre), rumours of what is to come in season seven have spread across the internet like (sorry, I couldn’t resist) wildfire. Will Jon and Danny team up? Will the Wall come crashing down? Where the fuck is Gendry? However, going back through those early episodes, I’ve found myself wondering more and more, ‘what if?’

‘What-ifs’ and ‘What-might’ve-beens’ are crucial to any successful tv series, film or book. Consider the Titanic, or Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Every time I watch either film, I nearly convince myself that the horrific events due to take place will not come to pass, even though I know for a fact that thousands died in the icy waters of the Atlantic and that Anakan Skywalker will indeed become Darth Vader, after lobbing off Samuel L. Jackson’s hand. But the films make me question that knowledge, doubt it even. Game of Thrones is similarly littered with such moments: if only Ned Stark had seized power when Renly Baratheon advised him too, if only King Robert hadn’t missed his lunge against the boar (in all fairness, Robert Baratheon’s infamous love of whores and wine meant that he was probably long overdue a heart attack), if only Rob Stark had kept his vow and married the Frey girl.

These are major moments that everyone can point to. However, Game of Thrones is also strewn with lesser-known events, which have had major repercussions for our best-loved characters. Below are a list of five somewhat minor moments that, in all the excitement over the upcoming season, you’ve probably forgotten all about. Minor though they may be, the consequences of these events have been huge.

Number One: Catelyn Stark’s Broken Vow (S3, E2: ‘Dark Wings, Dark Words’) 

game-of-thrones-season-3-telisa-and-catelyn-starkl1

Upon hearing the news of Bran and Rickon’s disappearance, after the Iron Islanders who occupied Winterfell supposedly put the castle to the torch and its inhabitants to the sword,  Catelyn makes a prayer wheel, in the hope that it will keep Bran and Rickon safe. Lady Talisa, Rob Stark’s ill-fated wife, offers to help; an offer Cat rejects. Catelyn then tells Talisa of another time she made such a wheel. She reveals to Talisa that when Ned brought Jon back with him, after ‘Robert’s Rebellion’, she wished the baby boy dead. Cat recalls how she repeatedly prayed to the Gods, begging them to kill the infant. A few months after Ned’s return, Jon suddenly came down with the pox. Catelyn tells Talisa that she realised  Jon’s illness was her doing. In a moment of remorse, Cat then prayed to all of the seven Gods to spare the boy, promising that if he survived she would be a true mother to him and convince Ned to legitimise him and name him Stark. Jon survived, yet Cat failed to keep her vow. If she would’ve, then perhaps Jon (Stark) would not have joined the Night’s Watch. He would not have infiltrated Mance Rayder’s Wildling Army. He would not have warned the Night’s Watch of the impending attack. The Wildling’s would have taken Castle Black and invaded Westeros from the North, leaving no one left to defend against the White Walkers who would’ve undoutedly followed them.

Number Two: Edmure Tully’s search for Glory (S3, E3: ‘Walk of Punishment)

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After Rob Stark’s grandfather and Catelyn Stark’s father, Lord Hoster Tully dies, Rob, Cat, and all of the Northern host (aside from Roose Bolton and his force) head to Riverrun for the funeral. During a counsel of war meeting, Rob confronts his uncle Edmure (Cat’s brother) over his decision to attack the Lannister forces in the Battle of Stone Mill. His decision to engage the Lannister army and push them out of the Riverlands gave Tywin Lannister the chance to retreat back to King’s Landing and save the city from Stannis Baratheon. It also enabled Ser Gregor Clegane (The Mountain) the opportunity to slip from the Northern army’s ever tightening noose. If Edmure Tully had obeyed Rob’s orders then The Mountain would have been captured and killed. He would not have fought Oberyn Martell in Tyrian Lannister’s trail by combat. More so, however, King’s Landing would have likely fallen to Stannis Baratheon, as Tywin Lannister’s forces could not have broken through the Northern lines. Edmure’s search for glory is one of the main reasons why Rob Stark ultimately lost the war.

Number Three: Theon Greyjoy’s capture of Winterfell (S2 E5 & 6: ‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’ & ‘The Old Gods and The New’) 

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Another case of how failing to follow orders can really screw things up. Yes, Theon’s choice to betray the Starks is a major what-might’ve-been moment in the series. Yet, his decision to take Winterfell, rather than obey his father’s orders and raid the fishing villages along the Northern coast, is a somewhat minor part of his betrayal that can sometimes slip passed unnoticed, when his crimes, which include the beheading of Sir Rodrick Cassel and the burning of two innocent farm boys, are considered as a whole. By taking Winterfell, Theon diminished the Starks ability to control The North and gave Roose Bolton the opportunity to claim it for himself. If Theon would have followed his father’s orders, then both Bran and Rickon would’ve remained in Winterfell. With a Stark in Winterfell, any attempt by Roose Bolton to seize The North would’ve ended in failure, as the Northern Lords, sworn to serve House Stark, would have rallied to their cause. Also, Theon would’ve kept his cock, which is a loss I’m sure he mourns deeply.

Number Four: Danny’s empathy costs her (S1, E8: ‘The Pointy End’)

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To prepare for the invasion of Westeros, Khal Drogo orders his men to raid villages close to Vaes Dothrak. The men living in these villages are killed and the women are repeatedly raped, before being sold into slavery. As Daenerys enters one of these villages, she witnesses the bloodshed first hand and, appalled, orders the Dothraki to stop the carnage. Danny claims the surviving women as her own, meaning that no Dothraki warrior can now touch them. This move angers Drogo’s men, as one openly challenges him. Drogo easily kills the man, ripping out his Jugular with his bare hands. Yet Drogo is also slightly wounded. Danny asks one of the women she has claimed to see to the Khal’s wound. However, it begins to fester and Danny is forced to sacrifice a life, that of her child, to save Khal Drogo’s. Drogo never fully recovers. Danny’s act of empathy brought about the death of her husband and her son. Yet, without it, she would have never walked into the flames and her dragons would have never been born. Their importance, in terms of the future plot, is something we are yet to truly discover, though I’m certain a few White Walkers are in for a sizzling.

Number Five: Gendry is sold by the Brotherhood Without Banners (S3, E6: ‘The Climb’)

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Remember Gendry? Rumour has it, we may be seeing him very soon, after three seasons of endless off-screen rowing. Yet, back in season three he was a regular character. Upon escaping form Harrenhal with Arya Stark and Hot Pie, Gendry is captured by the Brother Without Banners. Whilst in their custody, he deicides to join them and become their armourer. Just as Gendry and Arya are saying goodbye to each other , Melisandre and some of Stannis Baratheon’s men arrive at the Brotherhood’s camp. Melisandre is aware that Gendry is the bastard son of Robert Baratheon. She also knows the power of King’s blood. Melisandre pays the Brotherhood two bags of coin for Gendry and he becomes her prisoner. Here’s where this somewhat trivial moment becomes important. Back at Dragonstone, Melisandre uses Gendry’s blood to perform blood magic, as Stannis drops three leaches, all of which have fed on Gendry, into the flames. As he does so, he names three men: The Usurper, Rob Stark, The Usurper, Balon Greyjoy, The Usurper, Joffrey Baratheon. All three are killed, betrayed by either family or those sworn to serve them. Whilst there are plausible explanations for each King’s death, this is hardly a coincidence, considering the significance the TV series places on the power of magic. Therefore, you can say that, if the Brotherhood Without Banners hadn’t have sold Gendry to Melisandre, then perhaps some, if not all of the men Stannis named would still be alive. Heavy!

So there you have it, five somewhat minor moments that turned out to have major repercussions. Game of Thrones is absolutely full of these events, forks in the road where characters inevitably make the wrong decision for themselves and those we as the audience care about, but the right decision in terms of plot. Here’s to season seven! I’m sure there’ll be many more moments to come. As for me, I’m putting a bet on Gendry becoming a major player in the future. The Stormlands are up for grabs now that Stannis is out of the picture. Will he be the one to bring them into the fold? Let’s hope so!

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize & Ten lesser -known songs of his you must hear!

graduate, journalism, Poetry, Uncategorized

Yesterday, it was announced that Bob Dylan had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; the first musician to ever achieve such a feat. My reaction as a huge Dylan fan? (Evident in the title of my Blog!) It’s been a long time coming.

I bought my first Bob Dylan album at the age of seventeen. It was a hot summers morning, already above twenty degrees, and I was suffering from a steaming hangover, the kind where any sudden movement of the head reduces you to a retching mess. I’d stayed at a friends the night before, after a mid-week gig in Portsmouth. Back in those merry days, I had the luxury of a college bus pass. This thing could rescue you from any situation (providing you were located in the Hampshire region). On my way home that morning, I stopped off at Commercial road to peruse the shops. This was during the golden age of EMA (Education Maintainence Allowance), where the government paid students from less well-off families £20 a week so they could afford books and travel etc. I already had a job which earned me enough, so I spent my EMA on booze and CDs. On that fine morning, waiting for my connecting bus, I went into HMV and made the most of their 2 for £10 offer. I bought Arctic Monkeys’s Favourite Worst Nightmare, a band most of my generation were (and still are) in love with, and Dylan’s seminal Blonde on Blonde. I got home just before midday, set up a deck chair in the garden, and fed Dylan’s album into the CD player. From that moment on, I was obsessed.

At university I studied English literature and Creative Writing. One of my first assignments was to do a presentation on my favourite writer. Whilst others picked novelists such as Nick Hornby and J.K Rowling, I chose Bob Dylan. My lecturer thankfully approved and my obsession intensified, as I started to write my own songs in his early ballad-esque style.

For me, what makes Dylan stand out is the fact that his songs operate on a dual level. On the one hand, they are artefacts of popular music culture, symbols of a time and a generation, which play a vital role in the reflective identity construction of decades such as the sixties. However, once you take away the context, the notion of time, even the music itself, his songs are still able to stand alone as pieces of exceptional poetry. For this reason, the Nobel academy selected Dylan as the worthy winner of the 2016 award for Literature.

When I first started listening to Bob Dylan, I was obviously aware of his main hits: ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, ‘Blowing in the Wind’, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, etc. However, the real joy in getting to know an artist’s work is in discovering the lesser-known jewels hidden amongst their extensive musical output. For this reason, I have compiled a short list of ten Bob Dylan songs that, if you haven’t heard already, you absolutely must listen to.

  • ‘Girl from the North Country’ – The Freewheelin (1963)
  • ‘With God on Our Side’ – The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)
  • ‘My Back Pages’ – Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)
  • ‘One of us Must Know’ – Blonde on Blonde (1966)
  • ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ – Blonde on Blonde (1966)
  • ‘I Threw it all Away’ – Nashville Skyline (1969)
  • ‘The Man in Me’ – New Morning (1970)
  • ‘Shelter from the Storm’ – Blood on the Tracks (1975)
  • ‘Baby Stop Crying’ – Street Legal (1978)
  • ‘Jokerman’ – Infidels (1980)

I was tempted to write a little review of each song, but I thought it’d be better for you to make up your own mind about them. So go ahead and check them out! Discover for yourself the brilliance of Bob Dylan. Long may it continue.

To the future then. Bob Dylan is the first musician and songwriter to be awarded the Nobel Prize, yet he will not be the last. Once again, at the age of 75, Dylan has shown the way for others to follow. Now, only one question remains. Who will do so?

Musings of a Confused Graduate

journalism, rant

When I was a boy, I developed a theory about life. It went like this. I wouldn’t be seeing the things I’m seeing, feeling the things I’m feeling, experiencing life through a body I alone control, if my existence was going to be anything less than extraordinary. Well, at the age of twenty-two, I can confirm that my boyhood self knew fuck all about life.

It’s quite a theory for an eleven-year-old (I think eleven) to develop. Yet I was always full of those grand thoughts. I used to spend hours fantasising about my life, what I’d do, who I’d do, the lengthy paragraphs on my obituary when I’d finally pass at a ripe old age. How would I be remembered? What would I achieve? This obsession with thought led to a successful education. Yet my academic intelligence now feels like a burden, a duty of birthright, an order to succeed, to be a success. For as long as I can remember, my life has been moving forward, school year upon school year, birthday cards serialized upon the mantelpiece, each one a different number, a different date on the calendar. And now, here I am. Time has stopped, the world awaits, and I’m to wander amongst our civilisation, hunting for a path long covered by concrete, paving slabs and litter.

You might call this a self-help post, though my primary aim, at this point, is helping myself alone. You might also describe this as a work of fiction, which, it also is. So here we are, The Diary of a Confused, Scared, and Psychologically Compromised Graduate…I need a shorter title, also Diary sounds awful. Confessions, perhaps? Musings? Musings is okay. Alright…Musings of a Confused Graduate…It will do for now. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this initial ‘musing’, which I intend to evolve into a weekly stream of consciousness post all about life after death (of your life as a student ). I hope you laugh, cry, and react in anyway your mind sees fit.

Start:

One of the key issues I’ve had to combat over the past few months is nostalgia. Nostalgia is a bastard. It sneaks up on you like a villainous butler approaching his elderly employer. It adds fuel to your hearth, lays a blanket over you, and, when you’re nice and comfortable, offers you a poisoned cup. I’ve been tempted to drink in the past. Now I shut it out. Raise a shotgun from underneath my dressing gown and blow the fucker’s head off, leaving nothing but a bloody stump and a bow tie beneath. This brings me to my opening sign off. Don’t allow nostalgia to corrupt your memories, turning them from a living source of happiness, to a pool of silver misery, whereupon we gaze, like Narcissus, and lose ourselves in the abundance of our melancholy. And now for some lines that bring me comfort once again, rather than pain.

‘From the land beyond beyond, past the world of hope and fear, I bid you, Genie, now appear!’

(Green Manalishi)

Poems That’ll get you into Poetry

journalism, Poetry, World Poetry Day

‘Lets be honest, do kids really care about the symbolic importance of the colour green? Of course not!’ – Photo – Charles Bukowski

 

I’d actually set Saturday aside to write this post but due to laziness, and a tasty Gillette Soccer Saturday, I put it back to today. So what a coincidence (or is it perhaps fate?), it’s World Poetry Day! To celebrate, I’ve compiled a small selection of my favourites. In a nutshell: these poems are incredible and you must read them!

Before I get stuck in and lose myself in the magnificence of verse, I want to promptly shatter some negative assumptions about poetry. There’s this common misconception that poetry’s a highbrow art form, inaccessible and difficult to interpret, unless you know your Virgil from your Homer. (Note: The Aeneid and The Iliad, by the aforementioned, are incredibly similar. The previous line is a shit joke. I know. It’s not funny.) Personally, I blame English literature curriculums and that blue A4 anthology with waves on the front. You know the one. Heaney, Armitage, Duffy and Plath. As a lover of all things literary, I will freely admit to despising that anthology, because, lets be honest, do kids really care about the symbolic importance of the colour green? Of course not! However, going back to my original point, poetry is often not as ‘highbrow’ as people assume.

Robert Herrick – ‘The Vine’.

Robert Herrick’s ‘The Vine’, written in the 1640s, is a prime example of Early Modern seduction poetry. In the poem, the speaker has a dream that his ‘mortal part’ (take a wild guess) is ‘metamorphosed’ (transformed) into ‘a vine’, which then ‘enthralls’ (wraps around) his ‘dainty Lucia’. Herrick then spends most of the poem describing the twisting motion of his ‘vine’, as it moves over Lucia’s ‘belly, buttocks and thighs’. This poem recounts a sex dream. However, unfortunately for Herrick, there’s no Thai Massage Finale (‘happy ending’), as he awakes to find, ‘ah me, this flesh of mine, more like a stock (the stalk of a plant) than like a vine’. Essentially, the plot of this poem goes as follows: Herrick has sex dream then wakes up with massive hard on. The dirty bastard.

Shakespeare – ‘Sonnet 130’

Stop it! Don’t you dare groan. I know most of you hated him at school but there’s a reason why Shakespeare is held in such high regard, and that’s because no selection of poetry is complete without at least one of the great bard’s works. Put simply, he was a genius.

At a time when women were poetically described through otherworldly, unattainable language, Shakespeare chose to reject the norm and represent his ‘mistress’ as she really was: human, imperfect, yet ‘as rare any she belied with false compare’. The opening line to Sonnet 130 – ‘My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ – is perhaps one of greatest lines in history. Throughout the poem, Shakespeare compares his mistress to the goddess-like figures that other poets wrote of, describing her breasts as ‘dun’ and her breath as reeking. Yet, whilst first appearances suggest that Shakespeare is just being a massive prick, what he’s really doing is bringing her down to a human level and representing her as she is. Therefore, his mistress exists on the page as herself, not as another illusive goddess who will simply merge into the next one.

Katherine Philips – ‘Upon the Double Murder of King Charles’

I doubt many people have heard of Katherine Philips, which I think is a massive shame. In terms of the history of feminism, she is a huge figure. Writing after and during the English Civil Wars (1642-1651), Philips was one of the first politically active female writers. Her poem ‘Upon the Double Murder of King Charles’ is an example of her poetic talent, but also her daring. If you’re good with your British history, you’ll know that Parliament won the English Civil Wars. Married to a Parliamentarian officer, Philips was, herself, a royalist. For a woman to go against her husband in this period was one thing, but for a woman to be politically active in her criticism of the ruling regime was, well, incredibly risky.

‘Upon the Double Murder of King Charles’ is an attack on those who executed and supported the execution of King Charles I, in 1649. In the poem, Philips writes that ‘nature’s laws’ have been ‘breached’ as the ‘dying lion’ is ‘kicked by every Ass’, which, along with the word ‘Murder’, present in the poem’s title, tells you everything you need to know about her political beliefs. The poem itself is quite lengthy, but, after reading it, you can’t help but admire her courage. She’s definitely one to read and I’m surprised no one’s yet made a film about her life. For those who are interested, I suggest a quick Wikipedia search to get the gist.

Charles Bukowski – ‘Law’

Charles Bukowski, the first modern poet included in this selection, is writer I studied a lot last year for the final stage of my undergrad degree. His first novel, Post Office, is a modern classic and a must-read for fans of smutty seventies literature.

I came across this poem when watching spoken word clips of Buk on YouTube and, since then, I count it among my all-time favorites. ‘Law’ mocks the processes of democracy, using the image of a hanging tree and people dying upon it to do so. In the poem, Bukowski’s speaker goes out to the tree each morning to find different people and animals all hanging from various branches, ‘most of them dead or dying’. ‘Law’ is a narcissistic representation of modern politics and is still relevant to this day. I’ve included a link to a reading from Bukowski himself, so spare a couple of minutes. It’s worth it.

Raymond Carver – ‘Happiness’

The final poem I’ve included in this minimal selection is Raymond Carver’s ‘Happiness’. Whilst other poems here fulfill a certain function, this text is the closest I believe poetry comes to being a pure representation of reality, capturing a moment as it is rather than diluting it with imagery. Carver, like Bukowski, was a prominent writer of the 70s and 80s and is now regarded as one of greatest writers of the 20th century.

‘Happiness’ is, quite simply, a poem about a man looking through his window, early in the morning, as two young boys make their way down the street on their paper round. Carver’s speaker describes how ‘the boys’ are ‘so happy’ and ‘they’re not saying anything.’ The silence present in the poem is reflected through the poet’s minimalistic language. Yet, taking Carver’s personal life into consideration and his struggles with alcoholism and violence, this poem seems to represent a moment of solitary peace and consolation. ‘Such beauty that for a minute death and ambition, even love, doesn’t enter into this’ Carver writes, ‘this’ referring both to the moment captured and the poem itself. In this sense, Carver forgoes poetic ambition and reflects reality as it is. If you were to read any of the poems included in my selection, then this is the one I’d recommend.

There are many other poems I wanted to include in this post, but, alas, all things must come to an end. The real goal of this is to re-engage people with the subject of poetry. If anyone is offended or outraged by my choices then I’m glad, because at least it got you thinking.

So folks, whilst you flick down your newsfeed this evening, why not take two minutes to Google one of the poems I’ve mentioned. It’ll literally take seconds to read Sonnet 130 or Happiness, so there’s no excuse.

Oh and Happy World Poetry Day! Big up the Bard! Big up Verse! Big up the next Shakespeare whenever he may be…

Sirens

Uncategorized

I found her in the darkness, pulled her close against my chest, kissed her open mouth. She tasted of cigarettes, vodka, and strawberry lip balm. I grabbed the back of her neck and smiled. Her eyes were closed; purple shadow on the lids. I kissed her again. My tongue coiled around hers. She pulled away and raised a limp hand toward her mouth, dribbled into her open palm, wiped it on her dark blue dress. I laughed, peeled the strands of black hair from between her lips, tucked them behind her ear, ran a finger down her cheek, inspected it. I leant forward, whispered, ‘you’re beautiful,’ and buried my face in the crook of her neck.

A siren rang out in the distance. She put an arm across my shoulder, rested her head against me, coughed into my shirt. I stroked her hair, ‘you’re so wonderful, so special. My girl,’ I said. She mumbled something. I kissed her neck. ‘I know,’ I said, ‘I know.’

She raised her head, inhaled sharply, opened her eyes. ‘Who’re you?’ she slurred. I gripped her shoulders, acted shocked. ‘My girl, it’s me,’ I said.

She pushed her hands against my chest. ‘I don’t know you,’ she said.

I laughed and stroked her face. A red car pulled around the corner. Light spread across the street. I leant forward. ‘Oh my girl, you’re so silly, I can’t believe how silly you are,’ I whispered in her ear. She struggled in my arms. I held her. The car slowed.

‘Let me go,’ she said.

‘But my love -’

She slapped my face. I released her. The red car pulled up on the opposite side of the road. Two black men got out. One was over six foot, the other slightly shorter. ‘What’re you doing?’ the taller one shouted and ran across the road toward us. I turned away, touched my face, felt the heat of my skin, my pulse beneath its surface.

‘Hey!’

A shove in my back and I fell to the floor. The pavement was wet. I looked up.  The tall one stood over me; the short one was still by the car.

‘What’re you doing?’ he said again, his hands balled into fists.

I sat up and wrapped my arms around my knees, said nothing.

Behind him, she started to cry. He turned and touched her forearm. ‘Are you alight?’ he said.

She sniffed, and then nodded.

He looked back at me. ‘Do you know him?’ he asked.

She glanced at me and shook her head. ‘No,’ she said, then put the palm of her hand across her mouth and coughed again. The shorter one walked across the road, stood by his friend, looked down at me.

I ran my hands through my hair and brought them together behind my neck. ‘How could you do this to me?’ I screamed. Wiping my wrist under my nose, I shook my head. The three of them backed away.

The shorter one spoke. ‘Is there somewhere we can take you?’ he said to her.

I lowered my arm and looked up. Pleaded. She avoided me. ‘I want to go home’ she said. The tall one wrapped an arm around her shoulder, turned, and helped her toward the car. ‘We’re reporting you, you sick bastard,’ said the shorter one, then followed them across the road, opened the car door, watched his friend help her inside.

They pulled away and I laid down on the pavement, closed my eyes. She was gone, taken from me. I put my hands over my face and pulled them across my cheeks, stretching the skin. My phone vibrated in my pocket. I took it out and looked at the screen. It was my wife. I rejected the call. I’d lost her. She was taken from me. I opened the key pad on the touch screen, dialled. Nine. Nine. Nine.

A female operator answered, ‘what service do you require?’ she asked.

‘Police.’

The phone rang twice and a man answered. ‘Police, what’s the problem?’ he said.

‘They’ve taken her.’ I said. ‘Two black men, they got out their car, they took her. I’m afraid, afraid for her, afraid I’ll never see her again.’ I started to cry.

‘Okay stay calm, Sir. Where are you? How long ago did the kidnapping take place?’ he said.

‘They’ve taken her, Dammit!’ I screamed, and hung up.

Lights appeared in the windows above; silhouettes peering into the darkness below. I rolled over, and laid on my front, palms and cheek pressed flat against the pavement. Small sharp stones dug into my skin. A siren sprang up in the distance. Another answered. They’re communicating, I told myself. A tyre screeched. Blue light ricocheted across the street. I closed my eyes and thought of her, as she once was, not so long ago, my girl; cigarettes, strawberry and vodka. The sweetest thing I’d ever seen.

POST-UNI UPDATE// BAND INFORMATION// WORDS OF WISDOM

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Well folks, it’s been a while; nearly three months, in fact. What are my excuses? I have only one – University. On Wednesday morning, at 10:50am, I handed in my last assignment. It didn’t really sink in at the time. I always envisaged the final hand in as some glorious catharsis, the cartoon anvils falling off my shoulders, the colour returning to my gaunt skin, as I slump to the floor; staff and fellow students raising my exhausted body into the air whilst I weep with joy. Alas, no. No Théodenesque transformation (See The Lord of The Ring: The Two Towers) took place.

The thought of no more assignments is starting to become more tangible. Yet my schedule has been so mental of late, that relaxing itself has become a difficult task.

Since finishing University, the band calendar has been packed. We gigged Friday and Saturday, (London & Portsmouth), yesterday we rehearsed, today and tomorrow we are in the recording studio, and Thursday, two separate music videos are being filmed. It’s good to get away from the books, the word documents, the constant to-and-froing of emails, and just be with your mates, playing music in a dingy venue to a crowd of pissed up weekenders. (That is probably the cheesiest sentence I will ever write, so if you’re looking for ammo to berate me with, you have my permission to take full advantage.)

Yet now, five days after the final hand-in, the dreaded question, the one that every graduate is asked on a weekly basis, is starting to appear more frequently in conversation – ‘So, what next?’ Luckily, I already know the answer. For me, it’s a Masters – an MRES in Humanities and Social Science, where I will study English Civil War Poetry, particularly that of the Royalists. Early Modern Writing has always fascinated me; throughout my degree, I have consistently excelled in units that have dealt with the wealth of literature written during the period. (I was the strange kid at school who loved Shakespeare.) I came into University on the back of a D at A2 English Literature and Language, my AS grade got me in, and could be leaving with a 1st Class Degree (unless I completely fuck up these last assignments), so I suppose I feel I owe it to myself to see how far I can go. But, like I said, I am lucky in this respect.

Many of my friends have no such answer to give when faced with this question. They feel guilty about being undecided on their future, they feel pressurised by their parents and family, they feel they have to prove that all the debt they have accumulated was worth it. For me, I think it’s sad that we have to face such anxieties. Why should you, at the age of twenty-one, have to decide what you want to do with the next fifty years of your life?  Working a job you despise is no way to live your life, yet millions of us have to do so, all the same. My friends and I discuss this often. But there are ways to avoid the existential crises that will undoubtedly strike. To travel is one. I know that travelling has become a culturally cliché of late, a post-teen right-of-passage, but this scepticism comes only from those who have never immersed themselves in the cultures of others, those whose global presence consists of twenty square miles of urban sprawl. People forget that we live in a country, on a continent, on a planet, in a solar system, in a galaxy, so on, and so on, and so on. Experiences make us who we are, not regrets. (You can quote me on that, as I say in my bio – a ‘self-confessed creator of quotes’)

I suppose I’m in that post-University ‘what-does-it-all-mean?’ phase, where you begin to question everything, the ratio of working five days out of seven a week, the hyperreality of modern life, the detached nature of so many people to the global suffering of others: ‘Live and Let Live’ – that’s what they say. Nowadays, it’s more ‘Live and Let Die’.

But who am I to preach? I’m just another student high on his own well of morality.

CREATIVE GUILT & PROCRASTINATION

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As those who are addicted to smoking may chew gum, cover themselves in patches, or repeatedly drag on E cigarettes to stem their urge to smoke, I am writing this post to fight off the creative guilt that is currently overwhelming my motivation to focus on anything university related, eclipsing my mind with dark thoughts of self-doubt. In some regards, you may say that I am giving into this creative urge, forgoing research for a blog update, and well, yes, you would be right there, actually. But I figured a happier, more focused brain is probably a better tool for the analysis of 17th century Renaissance poetry, than one which is constantly drifting, thoughts moving like attractive-looking meals along the conveyor belt of my mind. Yes, that is my excuse to self.

Recently, I have been struggling to write songs. When I was at college, new melodies struck almost every day, and though many were complete shite, on occasion, something special would appear. As almost every musician will know, the conversion rate for songs, from the foetal state of an idea, to the fully formed birth of a complete track, is low. I usually work at a ratio of around one tenth. Yet now, as my creative output has deteriorated, that conversion rate is falling. I know this is down to my environment, and what I surround myself with. I used to play guitar every day, learning at least four songs a week, constantly seeking out new music. Now, however, the demand of third year university life has drained on that will to learn, to play, to discover. The songs of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, and Kate Bush torment me. I hear something beautiful and I feel inspired, but no lyrics come to mind, the chords my fingers find are all too obvious. Most days my guitars hang on the wall, dust gathering on their headstocks, the strings getting duller with each passing week. I enjoy guitar maintenance. I find it incredibly therapeutic, polishing the body, cleaning the frets, oiling the fret board. But finding the time or the energy to make an evening of it is difficult. University teaches you to treasure your evenings, preparing you for your unavoidable full-time-work fate. And so when I get in from a long day, I sedate myself with TV, Xbox, or a film. We are taught this is a good thing, and it may be for some. But for me, I just feel like a computer put on standby, never really shutting down. I fall asleep at ten, wake at seven, and it starts again. I for one am not willing to sign my life away to such a routine.

It’s interesting that as I am writing this, I am actually learning what I need to do to avoid stagnating – an ever present danger for any student. I need to avoid the television, the Xbox, and the dreary films. I need to get on Spotify and find some new music. I need to purchase some guitar strings and make an evening of maintenance. I need to read books that are not on my syllabus. I need to play more guitar, piano, and any other instrument I can get my hands on. I need to continue to write.

If I follow these basic needs then the creativity will return and with it the songs, the inspiration, the melodies, and the lyrics. This year, I have achieved grades I never thought myself capable of when I first arrived at university, on the back of a D at A2 English Literature and Language. I have also written songs which, when played live in a packed out venue (there is no greater feeling of euphoria), bring tears to my eyes. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not bragging about my accomplishments. This is not a post of self-praise. It is merely a reminder of what I need to do to continue, and further, improve. I am securing my mental well-being, anchoring it to reality, rather than guilt.

Fuck, I feel better. So for now, Goodbye.

Below is a link to my band, Veludo Planes, début single. Casual Plug.

DOVER (SHORT STORY)

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I was sat at a table in a service station café off the M20, on route to Dover, waiting for Angelika to return with the coffee. The seat beneath me was small, with a thin round foam cushion and a flat metal back. Through the windows that stretched the length of the cafe, I could see our white campervan parked outside in the rain. In the dim morning light it appeared grey. We’d been on the road since six and had made good time. We were twenty miles from Dover when the temperature gauge hit the red.

Angelika picked up our coffee from the counter and walked toward the table. She smiled, her thin red lips curling at the corners. Angelika was twenty-eight, tall, as tall as me, with long limbs and a back that was slightly hunched. On her neck she had several moles which stood out clearly on her pale skin. She was beautiful.

‘Guy, I got you a latte.’ When she said latte it rhymed with satay. She put down the cups and pulled back her chair. ‘I hope that’s alright,’ she said.

‘Got any sugar?’ I said.

A handful of packets dropped in front of me.

‘Cheers.’

Angelika sat down, gripped the table and pulled herself closer. The metal feet of the chair scraped against the tiled floor. ‘They only had sizes small to medium. No large. They ran out of cups. Can you believe that?’

I shook my head.

‘So, what’s wrong with the van?’ she said.

I pulled the plastic lid off the cup and looked down through the steam. In the middle of the coffee, a white foam island was slowly dispersing.

‘Engine needs to cool. I’ll put some water in when we’ve finished and see if the light goes off.’

Angelika looked down at her drink.

We’d been together for seven months, sharing a two bedroom house in Luton for five of them. I’d lived there since my divorce.

I met Angelika when she was working behind the counter of her brother’s shop. They sold Polish produce. It was a Romanian work friend’s birthday and I wanted to get him something from home. When I asked at the counter what would be an appropriate gift, she’d laughed.

‘This is a Polish shop.’ she smiled. ‘Would you get an Englishman something from Ireland?’ she said.

‘I don’t know, whiskey, perhaps?’ I laughed.

She smiled again.

‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I see your point.’

Angelika said it was fine and started to wipe the counter. I stayed. Something came over me. I don’t know what and so I asked her if she wanted to go for a drink.

I was out of practice. My Romanian friend had even given me the number of a hooker a few months earlier. I hung up as soon as she answered.

I hadn’t dated anyone since I’d split with my wife, three years before. That first year I was a mess. I spent every evening in front of the TV drinking, falling asleep to the ten O’clock news, waking around two, always two. I’d then call my ex’s landline until someone eventually answered.

She’d moved at the end of the year and we fell out of contact for a while. A year and a half later, she called, asking how I was. She said she missed me, missed us, what we had. Ten years we were married, and I’d been faithful for most of them. In the end though, the only thing left between us was nostalgia and guilt. Aside from children, that’s the greatest bond a relationship can have. It turned out she’d left Tony – I didn’t know who Tony was – and had been doing some thinking. Nothing happened. It’s not a door I’d like to open again.

Angelika smiled at me across the counter and put her hand on her hip, where her apron was tied at the side in a bow. She looked at her co-worker, a large woman of around fifty. The woman grunted.

‘Okay,’ Angelika said. She wrote her number out on a napkin and folded it in half.

‘I’ll call you,’ I’d said.

* * * *

Back then, I was a door to door gas salesman. I wore a white shirt and black trousers. In the early days we used clipboards and pens but as technology developed we were given hand-held computers. When things started getting serious with Angelika, I quit. There’s only so many doors a man can take being shut in his face, my record was one-hundred and thirty-seven in a day. You have to be resilient to do that kind of work. Or dumb.

Angelika got fired. Her brother didn’t like the fact that she was in a relationship with an unemployed, middle-aged, ‘English’ as he put it. And so we fell into debt. It wasn’t that we couldn’t get jobs. I had skills and experience and Angelika could have done almost anything. No, it wasn’t that. We didn’t want to work. And though the only reason Angelika had come to Britain eight years before was to find employment, she dropped everything with a swiftness I couldn’t have predicted.

At the end of the fifth month we received a letter from the landlord. He was starting eviction proceedings. Angelika and I sat at the kitchen table. We could have paid what we owed. We still had some money in our savings. But how long could it last? Another month, maybe two? The way I see it, unemployment is either the single greatest, or single worst state of existence. For Angelika and me, it was the former. It was freedom. We were outside the system, unknowns, non-applicables.  Why would we go back?  In the end we sold everything, gathered our savings and bought the campervan. We’d had seven grand. We drove it away with two.

‘How long does the engine take to cool?’ Angelika asked.

‘Give it another ten,’ I said.

Angelika took the lid off her coffee and swirled the dark liquid with a wooden stirrer.

I watched the whirlpool it created.

‘So when we get to Dover, what next?’ she said, still looking down at her coffee.

‘I don’t know, get a ferry to France. There’s bound to be a space on one of them. Then, who knows?’

‘We could go to Poland.’ Angelika looked up.

I took a sip from my coffee and realised it was no longer hot. I took a swig.

‘Yeah, maybe. Maybe.’

‘I haven’t seen my family in years. They’ll put us up,’ she said.

I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Dover was the goal for me, it was like reaching a doorway, one that could either open or remain shut. I wouldn’t know which till I got there.

‘I suppose that could work,’ I said, putting my cup down.

Angelika picked up her coffee and took a sip. When she lowered it a droplet remained on her chin. I didn’t mention it.

‘You don’t want to talk about it?’ she said.

‘Let’s get to Dover first,’ I said.

Angelika put a hand under her chin and looked out the window. My eyes followed. A family of five had just got out of a people carrier and were running with their bags above their heads toward the café. The father was at the front with two boys. The mother, holding the hand of the youngest, a girl of around three or four, followed. Our table was only a couple of metres from the cafe entrance. As the family entered, the father’s eyes met my own.

‘Horrid weather isn’t it?’ he said, then smiled and patted the shoulders of the tallest boy.

‘An English Summer,’ I replied, raising my coffee to him like a toast. I took another swig.

The father made a short laugh then ushered his family towards the counter.

When I looked back at Angelika, she was still looking out the window. I reached across the table and touched her elbow. She turned and smiled. I pulled her arm closer.

‘Let’s get to Dover,’ she said.

‘Okay,’ I said.

‘Let me go to the toilet first,’ she said. ‘Are you going to check the van?’

I picked up the coffee and drained the cup. ‘Sure.’

Angelika pushed back her chair and left.

Sat at the table alone, I watched the family leave the counter, the children running ahead, parents following with trays of drinks and cakes. The father looked toward me. I smiled and we shared a nod.

* * * *

Helen. She’s my ex-wife. We were together ten years, enough time to start a family, though we never did. Unprofessional. That’s how she described children.

Helen worked as a clerk for a law firm in the city, leaving the house when it was dark, getting back when it was darker. I was out most of the day too, door to door. When we got home we were both too tired to do anything other than eat in front of the TV and then go to bed. The way I see it, employment isn’t a part of life, it’s part of something else. Death perhaps? People who let their jobs determine who they are fail to exist outside of them. They become like the computers or machines they operate, whirring away from early morning to late afternoon, shutting down for the rest. All those years I thought I was living, I was actually wasting away, decomposing, one brain cell, one sperm count at a time. I was forty years into my life and accepted that a quarter of it had been miserable.

I got up from the table and made my way to the exit. The rain was still hard, though in the distance I could see a break in the clouds. I ran to the campervan and opened the door. It groaned. The red bonnet release lever was under the steering wheel. I reached down and pulled it. I found a bottle of water under the seat and stepped back out into the rain. The radiator was empty. I poured the water in, screwed the cap up tight and closed the bonnet. It would do for now. Climbing back up into the driver’s seat, I waited for Angelika.

A minute later she appeared at the entrance of the cafe. She waved. I smiled and waved back. She ran to the van and climbed in, water darkening her hair. I turned on the engine. There was no warning light.

‘God it’s horrible out there. I won’t miss this weather. Is it okay?’ she nodded toward the steering wheel.

I smiled. ‘It’s fine for now. I’ll sort it properly when we get to Dover.’

Angelika leant back and exhaled, bringing her legs up to her chest and crossing them so that she sat like a child on the chair. She looked at me then, smoothing back her wet hair and tying it in a bun behind her head.

‘Okay?’ She said.

I switched on the headlights. The puddles in front of the car turned gold. As the rain began to thin and the clouds dispersed, I pulled away.

We’d be in Dover within the hour, though time didn’t matter. It was waiting for us. For me. I joined the motorway. The roads were clear, clearer than they had been for a long time.

‘SO, ARE YOU RELIGIOUS THEN?’

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In the wake of the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre and the continued murder of innocent civilians caught up in religious conflicts across the globe, an increase in anti-religious dialogue, directed at all religions rather than Islam specifically (though Islam is under mass scrutiny at the moment), has become all too familiar. Indeed, scrolling down my news feed on Facebook, it doesn’t take long before I encounter an example of this – an article claiming to blow the story of God wide open and finally denounce all religion as false. While I am by no means religious, I also do not consider myself an Atheist. One day I hope to find my faith. Yet does this indecision make me a target of mockery? Or should the fact that I don’t denounce religion entirely as a whole, in an age where we consider ourselves ‘enlightened’, make me somehow intellectually inferior, and thus a figure of ridicule to the growing arrogance of some Atheists?

I have read much of the Bible and I personally believe that it has been written by men; men who sought to subjugate women, men who sought to initiate a doctrine that would keep them in power and the ones below them powerless – a hierarchy of the humanly divine, one might say. There are many instances in the Bible which, to a modern reader, seem completely absurd. However, beyond all of the doctrine, and what I like to call the religious small-print (Leviticus 11:12- ‘Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you), exists the essence of Christianity, and in fact the essence of all religion. That essence is hope; hope that death is not the end but the beginning of our salvation. Religion acts as a sedative to our fear of our own mortality; to our fear that once we are gone we simply cease to be, as if we never were, like files deleted from a database. Some Atheists have an extensive knowledge of the Bible, and other religious texts, and can site numerous examples where religion is seemingly inciting hate, violence, even murder, to aid their denouncement of all faith. However, I don’t believe that religion itself is to blame. Indeed there are many examples where faith has drawn people of differing religions together – consider the Christians who formed a human barricade to protect Muslims at prayer during the Cairo protests. As Reza Aslan recently stated in a brilliant interview with CNN, ‘with Islam, like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, then your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism will be violent.’ In this case, it then becomes apparent that it is our nature that should be called to question, rather than religion.

Last Wednesday marked the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp (28th January) where over a million people were murdered. Most of those who died in the camp were Jews – men, women and children – transported in cattle carts from across Europe, who were indeed persecuted for their faith. However, among the millions who perished at the hands of the Nazi’s during the Second World War, were also Roma’s, homosexuals, the disabled, political prisoners, communists, Russian prisoners of war – the list goes on. The point being that those who claim that the world would be a better place without religion are naïve as to darker side of humanity’s nature. Religion is the cause of many wars, I am not debating that. Yet without religion, humanity will still find a way to categorise and group people, to distance the ‘other’ within society, and indeed we already do, whether that is based on the colour of your skin, your political beliefs, your intellect, or even the football team you support. The tribal nature of mankind would not be cured by the extinction of religion; it would only evolve and manifest itself in other groupings. To say that religion is the cause of all our current world problems and that we would be better off without it, displays arrogance, but also fear – fear to look within ourselves and acknowledge the deeply rooted faults inside all of us. One of the most shocking things about the Holocaust was the fact that the men and the women who committed those horrific crimes were not evil monsters, lurking in caves, drinking the blood of their victims. They were normal people who went home to their families after ‘work’ and kissed their children goodnight. The capability for evil is within all of us.

A few years ago an acquaintance (not a friend I would add) asked me whether I believed in God and I said that I was unsure, that one day I hoped to. They then laughed and said, ‘God doesn’t exist anyway,’ before attempting to prosecute me with their extensive evidence. At the time I replied, somewhat embarrassed, that that was just my opinion. Looking back on it now, I wish I had said something very different. I wish I had told him to tell that to the old woman lying on her death bed, believing that she will see her husband again very soon, and that she had missed him so much. I wish I had told him to tell that to the mother of a recently dead child. I wish I had told him to tell that to those who have lived their life with hope.

The point is this: do any of us have really have the right to deny someone their faith, and even look down on them for it, as if they are somehow inferior, unintelligent, ridiculous even? This applies to all things; whether you are religious or an Atheist. The truth is faith is as intangible as love, yet love is something we view very differently. Faith has built great structures and has shaped the course of our history. So has love. Faith tells us how we should live our lives. So does love. A moral code exists within both. How do you know that you feel love? How can you explain it to someone? It is not tangible, you cannot touch it, you cannot see it. The same can be said of faith. If anything, as someone who is lacking in faith, I admire those who have it, envy them even – I’m know I’m not supposed to covet.

To be honest, I really struggled to come up with a title for this post. It wasn’t that my mind had drawn a blank or anything like that. It was the fact that I didn’t want to bring people to anger, or to begin reading my views with an already deliberately contradictory agenda. Is that not ironic? That when it came to writing a post about human nature, religious mockery, and Atheism, I was treating the headline as sensitively as I would have, if the post had been about Islam or Catholicism. It’s something I think needs to be considered, but for another time perhaps. For now, this is all I can manage.

End.