Monday, 16 November 2020


 FLOWERS! Whenever I wake up it’s usually cause there’s a nosegay for me. It’s nice to wake up for that. Is it from William?

This time, it’s a posy of purple flowers. They looks foreign. Who’d bring foreign flowers? Not William. He wouldn’t, not ever. He’d get some bluebells or some daffodils or something like that, probably from Wheeler’s farm or from outside Poppa’s barn, where the marigolds grow, and the primroses and all the hocks and stuff. Yeah, he’d just pick some from there, would William, not go to the trouble of getting foreign ones! Apart from anything else, how would he know when a boat was in and how would he get to the boat without a horse of his own? He might ask my Poppa but my Poppa would most likely get angry. And his Poppa hasn’t got a horse.

Waking up is easy cos I don’t get tired, so I don’t ache when I wake up any more. It’s funny, I don’t know what you’d say about it, but I just sort of wake up and that is that. It’s easy! And if I want to look around, I just look around like anyone looks around only now I can look around anywhere I want and I can look around two places at once.

Like now, I’m looking down on the purple foreign flowers, all laid down in a neat little row, and I’m looking down on Poppa’s barn at the same time. Except Poppa’s barn isn’t there any more, cos it hasn’t been there for a while now, and it’s all just a field and part of a hard grey lane, smooth as a window, with lines drawn on it. And Poppa isn’t around any more and I don’t think William is around any more and that’s also part of the reason why I don’t think William brought me the foreign flowers, cos I don’t think he would, and I don’t think he could get to the boat and I don’t think he’s around any more like I just said.

So yeah, there’s flowers in a row, and they woke me up. The stalks are long and green and I love getting flowers even though they wake me up and I probably should just be asleep all the time, even though I don’t have my cough any more. And sometimes I just wish I could pick them up and hold them, those flowers, like I was a May Queen or on my way to a wedding or to church or something. I can’t do that though. But I tell you what. It’s good that I haven’t got that cough any more, cause that cough was horrible, it was. It rattled the whole of me ribs. Poppa used to say no good would come of a cough like that.

So I can’t pick the flowers up, but I can get right up close to them and even smell them a bit, I fancy, but I just can’t hold them or pick them up or anything. Only just get down close to them. But when I get close to the flowers, it makes me tired again, most of the time it does anyway, and I sort of fall down between them without being able to pick them up. It’s nice to get flowers, even foreign purple ones, but once I’ve seen them there’s not much I can do apart from go back to sleep again. And that’s when I like fall down between them, and I go inbetween all the little bits of sand and mud and stones and the grass, and I slide under that big stone with all the writing on it except I can’t read the writing any more, not that I learned to read but William could and he would read it out for me probably.

I wish the flowers were from William, but I don’t think they are. I said that already. William used to bring more normal flowers like primroses and he’d lay them down all neat on the ground so I could see them and then go back to sleep again when I go down between the sand and the bits of stone and mud between the flowers. He used to bring me flowers all the time. First he came with his Momma when he was still 15 and I was 14, which was when I fell asleep. And he put the flowers down with his Momma and he cried and his Momma put her arm around his shoulders, and then he came when he was older and older and older and older and older and older and older and older and always at the same time, and he got bigger and older and he grew a beard and then he got so old he was like an old man. And he’d cry or say something about how I would always be his sweetheart and how he’d give anything to be able to give me the flowers in person and how he’d hold my hand and look after me and how one day he thought we’d get married and how he wished we could have gotten married but then I got that cough and I had to go sleep first time around so that was that.

And William just got older and then he turned into a proper man like my Poppa and then he got married, but not to me, but he still came to see me for a while with a posy. But then he stopped for a while, like he stopped coming with flowers, and then nobody came with any flowers and so I just stayed asleep, like you’re sposed to. But today I’ve got some flowers, nice foreign ones, so I woke up for them. But like I say, they ain’t from William and I don’t rightly know who they’re from. So I think I’ll just go sleep again.

Monday, 9 November 2020


YEAH, THIS is a box, thought Scott, but it’s a box with a door. And the door isn’t locked, which is good. It’s a way out. I can leave any time I want. This...this I can handle.

And beyond the door is a box room with another door in the opposite corner. And that door leads to a larger space. And beyond that bigger space is another door which leads to a whole floor, and some stairs which go down to more doors within one big (well, big enough) house-shaped box. And outside of this house box is a garden and a fence, beyond which is a small town on a small island. There’s a lot of countryside and sea, like, everywhere, and because this is an island there is a land beyond. And there are loads of people out there, on the land over the sea. Absolutely millions upon millions of them, and they’re not ALL dicks.

All this and more had gone through Scott’s mind before the warm water cooled his head some. Now the spray was lightly tapping the sensitive skin on top of his head, 144 needle-thin streams of hot, pressurised chalky water, massaged his delicate scalp, neck and shoulders while he rocked forwards and back to modify the force of the stream. The raining phone box, the power shower, was where he did all his thinking.

There was a time he’d sketch out songs in here, sometimes entire albums. In his mind, he’d perform well-received gigs. He’d engage in world-class banter with his audience. He’d conceive great novels and ingenious business models; and speeches that would change the world.

Then, all fired up, he’d leave the shower, wrap up in a giant towel, and pick up his guitar from next to the bed – fingers still wet and warm from the water. But the notes emanating from his hands, still dripping onto the bed covers, would rarely compare to those which had been buzzing around his head while in the shower cubicle. And more often than not, that’s how the moment of inspiration would end. All his well-intended dreams would curl up and die behind the frosted glass.

This particular Friday, though, there was too much weighing on Scott’s mind. In the great rock/scissors/stone game of modern life, the bigger, pressing struggles tend to wrap, cut and blunt any creative diversions. So he rocked forwards and backwards a little and let his attention drift gently away from himself to a microcosmic threesome of water droplets that were snaking their way down the inside of the steamed-up glass panel of the shower door.

“This one means I make it, that one means I don’t, the other means I come out the other side but I’m a vegetable,” he almost said out loud. And, having placed his macabre fate in the custody of these innocent trickles, he added a palm full of shower gel to his hand, swept the froth across his shoulders and waited in a fragrant mist for the morbid race to begin.

To be sure, he could have chosen more sympathetic droplets. The “victory” drop started well, surging valiantly downwards towards the finish line – the rubber seal at the bottom edge of the glass panel - before coming to a dry halt three inches away from its final destination.  The middle trickle, the “death” one, was on a zigzag mission to wreck everything in Scott’s life. It didn’t care. “Ain’t that just like... something?” Scott mumbled weakly, blowing spray from his mouth into the waterfall that tumbled from his fringe. The fragility of his voice frightened him. He felt a twinge in his chest again behind his ribs, and all of a sudden his thoughts were back to the brutal reality of the upcoming operation. Strange hands would be pawing at his anaesthetised body, cracking open his ribs, slicing and stitching offal that he never, ever wanted exposed – ugh, he couldn’t bear these thought.

“Think” he thought to himself. “Think, man, think about the miracle of medical science! Think about the endgame. Think about your own brave dad! He laughed about it, didn’t he? He joked about the huge scar which ran like a meat-zip down the centre of his chest.” He died in the end.

Back to the water race. Heart beating uncomfortably. A taste of warm blood behind his teeth. Well, this is stressful, thought Scott. The “vegetable” droplet had stopped hard in its tracks, then shot at a 90 degree angle to the right. It hung to the glass like a limpet. The “survivor” halted in its tracks, where it grew incrementally in size and looked set to tumble down under the sheer weight of its glassy orb. Scott prayed for new momentum. But just as he leaned in closer, to squint hopefully at his microscopic reflection in the tiny “life” orb, the “death” droplet zigged its last zag and plummeted like a bagged grouse to the dreadful finish line.

“Thanks pal,” said Scott, spitting a little diluted blood to the ceramic floor.

That had been Friday, today is Tuesday. What of Saturday, Sunday and Monday?

These are lost days – and the least said of those, the better. Scott had lived for 56 years and would like to last out some more. He could and should have used the intervening hours between shower and hospital admission carefully and fruitfully, speaking to his girlfriend, Caroline, family, friends, that kind of thing. Instead, he’d spent it in a thick fog of despair, resentment and, yes, mortal terror. Heavy, heavy tranquilisers made it bearable.

He knew the risks, but the odds were stacked in his favour. Depending on who he asked, he had a 70 to 80 per cent chance of making it out the other side with a new heart, a new chance, a new life. All he had to do was fall asleep and let the medical team work their magic. Barring bad luck, he would wake up some hours later with a hangover from hell and a load of stitches down the centre of his chest.

“I’ll be waiting for you love,” Caroline had said.

The drugs work, and right now, 10.14am, he’s full of them. Prone, on a government contraption that is less of a bed, more of a metal delivery tray, he lies sedated with toe tagged and chest tattooed with spots and Sharpie-penned dotted lines and the like. “Cut here,” the nurse had joked. Scott had laughed weakly. Caroline had gone to work. She’d be back that night, ready for when he came around.

A sphere of lights shone brightly into his face, he felt his numbed hand being lifted, and intricate plastic and metal workings attached. With faces looking down at him, with people constantly talking small talk behind pale blue surgical masks, he felt a glacier of grey metal course up the inside of his left arm. Somebody asked him to count from ten, but he was too tired to even contemplate the numbers. He fixed his eyes on the white plastic coverall of the nurse, then slipped away.

A sudden shock half-woke him. He tasted electricity, it was part of him. But his eyes wouldn’t open. He felt an enormous solitary heartbeat that shook his entire body, felt the blood pump fiercely into his brain and then out again.  He thought he felt hands all over him.

And then he slipped away again.

Another shock of electricity, indistinct voices now. He felt sudden motion, like he was being rocked from side to side.

Then he slipped away.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Requiem for Mary Barns

Being the Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of Mary Barns, Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Jaz Coleman and Myself.

Life leads us down peculiar paths. When universal forces are in playful mood, the mystery and magic imparted can be utterly fascinating. The universe tells its own jokes, and they can be pretty funny ones. It favours synchronicities, puns and the processing of order in its adventures. It loves a parable, a metaphor, and a neat resolution to a complicated puzzle. If we're willing to let go, to allow it to navigate, life has a habit of steering us away from the mundane. All we need to do is take the punches with the prizes and live for the moment, no matter how momentous our doubts about such activities might seem.

Today, Remembrance Sunday, started with a classic subconscious pun when I visited my local secondhand emporium and came away with an LP by 'War' and an anarcho-punk compilation CD called 'Anti-War'. I bought a Killing Joke CD too.

I dropped the War LP on the passenger seat, popped Anti-War into the CD player of my car and drove into town, where I picked up a charity shop book called 'Dickens on an Island' for £1.99. I love Charles Dickens. I love the Isle of Wight. This book, a summary of the time those two great forces of English culture and history met, seemed to me to be sent from the heavens.

I went for lunch in the George Inn, an early 19th century pub in Newport. It's entirely possible that Dickens, too, could have dined here. I ordered roast pork, added lashings of apple sauce, opened the book, and started reading...

I quickly learned that a passage Dickens included in chapter two of David Copperfield was more than likely inspired by an island epitaph. Specifically, the words on the gravestone of Mary Barns in All Saints Church, Calbourne. I punched the church into Google Maps while I ate my roast spuds. 4.8 miles.

I finished my grub, walked back to my car, peeled a parking ticket from the windscreen and set off for Calbourne. I put the Killing Joke CD on and considered the requiem for Mary Barns while the song 'Requiem' played:

"Afflictions sore, long time I bore. Physicians were in vain.
"Till God did please to give me cure, and ease me of my pain."

I was on a mission - a mission made public by a Facebook live video. This is not something I would usually do. The inspiration came in the moment and for a spurious reason - Mary had died in 1779. It seemed right and proper, somehow, to speak about her using the technology of today. It's an acknowledgement of the centuries. A tribute.

I walked up to the church and first saw some graves from the 1970s. I turned left, found some dating back to the 1760s. Then, after just a minute of looking, she loomed in front of me. Her tombstone was worn but still legible. A winged cherub adorned the top edge of it. As an aside, the same cherub that I had used for the cover of a record I put out in 1994. At that moment, I was occupying the same space as Charles Dickens most likely had - physical space and mindspace. I was thrilled, and a little sad.

Mary died at age 14, it transpires. In two days it will be the 238th anniversary of her death. She will not know, of course, that Dickens almost certainly read her epitaph - a full 70 years after it was carved into stone - and immortalised it into one of the greatest novels ever written. Nor will she know that some idiot with a charity shop book and a smartphone would visit her grave two centuries after her death to tell the people of the internet about it.

There's a line in Alice In Wonderland where Lewis Carroll writes: "Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way." That's kind of how I feel about days like today.

That £1.99 charity shop purchase, that LP, that CD, today's date, the Georgian pub where I ate my dinner, the windy grasslands where I tried to make my Facebook video, the church, the grave: all these things conspire to form the impression that a true connection to the deep past or, sometimes, the unfathomable future is not only possible but is commonplace. It's a supernatural feeling that is wholly outside of our control yet available to all. Good times.


1765 - Mary Barns is born
1779 - Mary Barns dies
1800-ish - George Inn, Newport, is built
1812 - Charles Dickens is born
1848 - Charles Dickens visits Isle of Wight
1849 - David Copperfield is published
1870 - Charles Dickens dies
1964 - I am born
1980 - Requiem by Killing Joke is released
1994 - I Was A Teenage Gwent Boy LP is released
2002 - My motor car is manufactured
2016 - A pig is born
2017 - A pig is butchered and roast pork is served

Friday, 14 October 2016

Remembering John 'Bunny' Haire

Sometimes, to get a good grip on an unbearably huge topic it pays to focus on the small stuff. Living on an island is handy for that. A limited environment lends itself to an appreciation of the tinier details. It enables a microcosmic perspective to develop and flourish.

Last weekend I spent pennies on a little boot-sale whim of a book which has taken my breath away. "Battle in the Skies over the Isle of Wight" by H.J.T. Leal is an extraordinary WW2 dossier - a day-to-day account of life and death beneath just one tiny patch of aerial battleground.

In chronological order the known lives, deaths, injuries and heroic escapades of German, English and (notably) a large number of Polish airmen are diligently recorded. There are tales of great derring-do and cute old-fashioned attitudes in this modest volume: a captured Luftwaffe pilot is taken to the pub for a pint before being led away as a prisoner of war, for example. And a crash-landed Messerschmitt fighter plane is paraded through Newport town centre, where a 3d donation to the 'Spitfire Fund' will buy your turn in the cockpit.

But there's horror, too. Young pilots burning to death in their cockpits or crashing headfirst into one of our cliffs. And there's the ever present almost-daily daylight terror of 500-plus German killing machines crossing the island at rooftop height, droning their way over the Solent, intending to flatten Coventry or Exeter or Southampton.

The RAF would try to stop them. And the recounted tales of dogfights - those yarns that have made it to the pages of history, anyway - make for thrilling and chilling reading. Take the story of Hurricane pilot Sergeant John 'Bunny' Haire.

He crashed on the island twice. The first occasion, on the afternoon of Sunday October 27, 1940, saw his aircraft crippled by a German ME109 near Bembridge, during a fierce aerial dogfight. He managed to bank his stricken plane 20ft over a cliff to the sea, where it dropped in just six feet of water. Miraculously, he was unhurt. He clambered out onto the wing, then waded to shore. The local coastguard took him in, he was given dry shoes to replace his soaked boots, and after a bath and some food he was sent back to base.

After a few days' leave, he was back on airborne patrol. Then, a little over a week later, the 20-year-old Sergeant was shot out of the Isle of Wight skies for a second time.

Local ARP warden George Calloway said in a letter: "The Hurricane was on fire, having been attacked by Messerschmitts, and looked like it was going to crash on the houses of Arreton. Instead of baling out, the pilot stayed in the aircraft and steered it away into open fields. Only then did he attempt to bale out, standing on the wing before jumping. However, he had left it too late for his parachute to open fully and he fell to the ground.

"I rushed into the field with others including the Rev Edward Burbidge to try to help. Sadly, he died as the vicar was saying prayers over him. We used the farm gate to carry his body out of the field."

Local farmer George Moody wrote a letter to John Haire's parents:

"Several planes were fighting overhead and one came circling down out of a clear blue sky over the farm. Smoke seemed to be coming from one side of the machine and the pilot, after going round twice, turned into the wind as if to land. Almost at once, however, flames poured out from the front of the plane and it made a dive to earth, the pilot baling out at once. 

"I dashed in my car to the field, but unfortunately could do nothing. The plane was blazing and the ammunition going off, while a short distance away lay the pilot. I took his helmet off but could do nothing for him. 

"I was very struck by the peaceful and calm expression on the face of the gallant boy. He was untouched by fire and to my inexperienced eye seemed to be asleep. His parachute was ineffective because he was so low when he baled out. 

"I am a farmer and unused to letter writing but I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the parents of this very gallant gentleman, may God rest his brave soul. Happily this is not the end - it cannot be; such dauntless courage and bravery could never be finished. His spirit somewhere lives on and will never die."

John Haire's body was returned to his native Belfast. Meanwhile, the German pilot who shot him down this second and final time was himself shot down and killed - also over the Isle of Wight - three weeks later. And the RAF pilot who shot the German pilot who shot John Haire was also shot down and killed. And so it continued...

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Hama Blags Da!

MAYBE IT’S the whiskey talking, but I really miss Chris Toma. I know that sounds stupid. I never even met the guy. But I feel like we connected, him and me, in some small way, over his data-packs. I spent 18 months going through them all for my book and when you do that, when you dig in and really root around inside ‘Toma-world’, well, you can’t help but appreciate what an immense character he truly was. A real astronaut’s astronaut, if that makes any sense.

Luckily for me, he’s also got a great way with words. So my role as his official biographer is an easy one. His data-packs (all 3,000+) make terrific reading. Understandably, it’s the so-called ‘Lazarus Log’ (LO 415 S) that most people want to hear about. That’s where he laid out his audacious plot to, as he put it so eloquently, “beat this damned death thing if it kills me”.

We all know he made it. Kind of. And it’s all in the book (which I’ve almost completed, by the way). You’ll have to buy it to get the full story, but my Eurasian publishers - Schoost and Hogg – have asked me to scribe a brief advance summary to send out to newspacks, e-mags, casts... stuff like that. So that’s what this is: a bit of a sketchy overview of Major Chris Toma’s pioneering GravWav outer-stellar and exo-planetary explorations, touching on his discoveries in the Cygna Delti system (and on the surface of XP.5 Orthen in particular). And, of course, his incredible antics as a space cuckoo.

Like I say, I’ve had a few whiskies. Last weekend, I attended his memorial service over on NASA Hill, overlooking the ruins of Canaveral. That was an emotional send off. Twelve years have passed since we last heard from him. He has been declared dead, finally.

Toma always hated 20th Century music, so he would have loudly disapproved of the choice of song for his committal: ‘You Only Live Twice’ by Nancy Sinatra. But I thought it was an inspired selection. So inspired that I had a couple drinks to celebrate. Something I wouldn’t normally do. So, like I say, again, this might read a bit wonky. But bear with me. I’ll try.

OK, then. Ready? OK.

Major Toma was just 68 days (Earth time) into the surface exploration of Orthen when the data-pack containing his fateful LO 384 Y Log dropped onto the GW pad in Houston. As is still the case now, gravitational wave communications were a purely one-way entity. Just like GW partition travel, it’s a one-way ticket. We got our messages from the action man, but we just couldn’t send any back.  So NASA was unable to give Toma the bollocking he should have expected for veering so off-map with his language.

He revelled in this. He had fun with it. Even when he had bad news to share:

“Hello humans! Can you hear me thinking? I assume you’re seeing everything I’m thinking? Good. Well, Houston, it looks like we have an actual problem this time. How d’you like that?

“Look up here, man...” at which a bio-report flashed onto the reader in the form of a pale red overlay. “I’m in danger. I’m not quite right at all. Am I?”

Too true. These bio-readings were way, way off kilter. Radioactivity readings rested within the margins of safety, thanks to his Russian-made suit, but Toma’s cellular make-up had taken a massive, irreparable hammering. And it was getting worse. Skin cancer, of the most aggressive kin, was the bottom line. It was all over his bio-report, plain as day.

“So what happened is this. I gaffer-taped up the joints on my suit, because the helmet monitor wasn’t happy with what it was sensing. And it seems I might have been a teeny bit too late with all that, I’m sorry to say.

“To cut to the chase, my lovers,” he said, “I think I might have got some Orthen dust stuck in the ribbing under my left boot - well, both boots. And it’s worked its way through the perma-layers, like Orthen dust is wont to do, and it’s hit my skin. And we always knew that wouldn’t end well. The dust here, man, it’s not good. Not good at all.”

Toma went on to concede how, back in the Ranger with his suit removed and boiling in the de-rad tank, he found himself absentmindedly brushing dust from the bottom of his bare feet with an ungloved hand: “Like I was a kid at the fucking beach. Except this wasn’t sand. It was the horrible, grey dust of doom that kills anything that dares land on Orthen. Oh shit. I’m a goner...”

He was right. The Columbus VII Orbiter (which continues to return data signals from 220 miles above Orthen) had already sampled and scanned the surface material for us. And it’s totally toxic to any and all non-Orthens. Chris knew that risk and the decision to go ahead and land was entirely his call. Like I say, he was an astronaut’s astronaut. In his own mind, he had to go down there.

On landing, he reported to Orthen’s dominant species, as is accepted etiquette for galactic explorers these days, and received a timid but not-unfriendly reception from the host species. The locals were incredibly curious about his ‘smiley face’ suit patch. They spent hours and hours examining and measuring it, cross referencing the decal’s round, black eyes with his own.

But after a day of that, they let him go. He set up base in the Ranger, sortie-ing out for scientific forays once a day. The planet just carried on its business, as if he wasn’t there.

These Orthen natives, we have learned through Toma’s logs and the Orbiter’s observations, are Class V Humanids with moderate to mobile evolutionary markers. Broadly speaking, they’re at the stage we humans were at around the 15th or 16th centuries.

They present something of an anatomical anomaly. Biological analysis reveals artificial genetic modification (most likely Raphide), pointing towards extra-planetary occupation somewhere down the line. But in spite of that, their organic arrangement is unique among the 407 Humanid species recorded galaxy-wide to date. The brain tissue is split across three nodes within an enlarged chest cavity, while circulatory organs (heart, liver etc) occupy glandular cavities within four upper limbs. There is no heartbeat, just an irregular rotation of body tissue.

Toma described the mysterious nature of his alien hosts better than I ever could: “I can’t tell you why,” he wrote. “But I can show you how. They were born upside down. Born the wrong way round.”

They have nominal skulls which contain no vital organs – just an oversized optic nerve array which links stereo rhomboid oculars with the central brain node buried in the torso. Typically, the Orthen humanids enjoy a generous lifespan of 180-200 years (Earth equivalent). But as Toma revealed to huge excitement back here in 2084, it doesn’t necessarily end there...

“Holy crap, these guys get two bites of the apple!” he wrote in his LO 384 H log. “At least, some of them do. Some of them get to rise again, like Jesus or something, and have a for-real, real-deal afterlife. They each know from birth who will get it. Needless to say, the ones who don’t get to be born again are mightily pissed off about that.”

More facts were saved for the data-pack. Here’s Toma’s summary:

“The Orthen humanids fall into two very distinct camps. The Caprins live standard 200-year lives and then die. The Hamas are physically identical to the Caprins until the point of physical death, when they transfer to a meta-spiritual existence.

“At that time, all physical presence is lost, but memory and some character traits are transferred to a new out-of-body plane of conscious existence. Nobody seems to know if it’s any fun or not, but it’s as close to the human concept of an afterlife as you’re ever going to get. And these upside-downer people are totally nailing it.”

All attempts by Caprins to emulate the Hama rebirth have yielded nothing. Bitter wars have been fought as a result. Neither society is permitted to mix with the other. They’re pretty easy going, on the whole, but the afterlife situation has tethered undeniable tension to the surface of Orthen.

Toma: “Local mythology insists this spiritual second innings never lasts longer than 12 years (Earth equivalent), but the Caprins still want what they see as their fair share. They’re very jealous about it.”
Toma continued in his log: “Both Hamas and Caprins share a kind of cathedral, more like a Romanesque villa, I suppose, in the centre of Ormen, close to the coastline of the planet’s primary land mass. Interestingly, neither society knows who built the thing. It’s just accepted that it was always part of the planet. Like the death dust. The structure is divided into two wings, and neither party is permitted access to the other’s territory.

“Here, and only here, can the Hamas communicate with their departed family members. For several centuries, these messages from beyond the grave, so to speak, have also been broadcast live via primitive loudspeakers across the holy ground surrounding the villa. I think this might be so the Caprins aren’t encouraged to harbour any more resentment of their Hama neighbours than they have to. But it’s just as likely that the Hamas are showing off.

“You’ll often hear the Hama song of the reborn outside the great villa doors, broadcasting to the great outdoors. The ‘Hama Blag Sda’, as it’s called. I think that means something like ‘Hama, returning for duty.’”

With anxiety descending, Toma must have felt like those Caprins. Nursing his own decaying body, thanks to the deadly dust of Orthen, Major Toma would have been contemplating his own mortality. Caprins died – Hamas lived again. It seemed so unfair. And now he knew he was dying, he wanted ‘in’, too. But if the Caprins, who at least shared the Hama biology, couldn’t grab a slice of immortality for themselves, then, really, what chance did he – a human, from Earth - stand?

This weighed heavily on his mind in log LO 415 T:

“Well, I’m dying too, Houston. I can’t get around that. And just like those Caprins, I’m going to have to lump it I guess. What’s frustrating is I think I’m pretty close to understanding how it might work. You’ve seen how Columbus VII reports elevated GravWav signals from the Orthen surface at the point of a Hama physical death? I don’t know how that works into the situation. But it must mean something.

“If I had a little more time, then I might turn that understanding into a plan. And maybe, just maybe, I could then work out a way of jumping into a Hama corpse, or something, and buying another 12 years for myself. If I could only get a dying Hama spirit to raise a metre then stand aside for me...”

“But. Damn it. My bio-data reckons I’ve got no more than a few days left. And I don’t know how much of that time I’ll be fully conscious. So I’m going to go and do some deep thinking. And if I get any bright ideas, I’ll make sure you hear about it. And if I don’t, well, I guess this is goodbye. So, goodbye. And thanks for all the fish.”

That was the last coherent log we got from Major Toma. There were other short missives, spanning a couple days, but none of them made too much sense. There was more rambling about GravWav manipulation, some religious thinking-out-loud and much complaining about the moondust which was about to cover him. But most of the time, the web of pain wrapped tightly around his skin kept him silent.

As NASA waited for Major Toma’s sad and inevitable death, Orthen’s radio silence, so to speak, was deafening. Until that fateful moment when his bio-data finally flatlined.

At that instant, Columbus VII picked up some unusual chaos 220 miles below. There was a commotion breaking out on the planet’s surface. Caprins were going crazy, dancing some kind of alien jig, a strange non-circular, non-linear fiesta involving all four upper limbs. They were hammering violently on the gates of the Villa of Ormen. The Hamas panicked and tried to slam the gates shut. Barricades were erected and fires were sparked. Pandemonium.

The Orbiter’s intuitive instruments honed in on the melee. The villa loudspeakers were blaring out across the holy ground, as always. But, this time, the voice sounded distinctly non-Hama:


Then this:





Originally published in "47-16: Short Fiction and Poetry Inspired by David Bowie" (Penny Dreadful Publications, 2016).

Sunday, 17 January 2016

V.9221. Or CPDR.33318. Just for the record.

I like David Bowie. And I like records. Once upon a time, in a happy land far, far away, I combined both these interests to become that most peculiar of creatures: The David Bowie Collector.

I don't collect any more, though I still have a LOT of records. Economic necessity, coupled with a phenomenon you could call the "Diminishing Return of the South American 7" single" (the Mexican pressing of Blue Jean in its joyless EMI paper sleeve is barely discernible from the Brazilian one - but the collector needs to own both and they're going to cost twenty quid a pop), knocked the expensive collecting game on its head for me.

But while deep in the throes of my obsession, hoovering up rarities from friends, record fairs, mail order companies and Record Collector private ads, I was like a cat in a Whiskas warehouse. I had hundreds of Bowie LPs and hundreds of 7" singles. And hundreds of eight-tracks, too. Catalogue numbers on labels, matrix run-out information on the dead wax, tiny print on the corners of picture sleeves... these were my manna. I was sitting on a pretty decent collection, right up there with the more serious of my collector peers. Clearly, we were obsessed.

I've held onto one copy of each UK album release, from the 1967 Deram debut onwards, and have shifted the rest. That's right: my Yugoslavian Never Let Me Down is no longer in the house.

So it goes. But I have my memories. And here are ten of my favourites to be going on with:

1) Station To Station (France RCA 7", 1976). Who'd be mad enough to try to make a single edit out of the epic, wandering Station to Station title track? Those gaga cuckoos at RCA France, that's who. This carved-up edit was withdrawn (probably at the behest of David himself, I should think) and only a handful of jukebox promo copies escaped the pressing plant. I found a copy for £2.50 at Brighton Record Fair, where the dealer had it labeled as 'France TVC 15 (the song on the b-side), picture sleeve missing'. Bargain.

2) Ziggy Stardust LP (UK first pressing, 1972). The very first pressing, with matrixes ending in -1E on each side. This is the one with the slightly different mix of Starman. The 'Wichita Lineman' bit is quieter than later pressings. This one sticks in my mind because of where I found it: at Woolworth's in Exeter, around 1979. It had clearly been sitting in the racks, unlooked at, for all those seven years, so immaculate was its condition when I bought it.

3) Knock On Wood (France RCA 7", 1974). Snapped up from a record shop in Brussels, this one stands out for its unique and very attractive picture sleeve: a live shot from the Diamond Dogs tour, David looking moody and mean in a Shakespearean cape.

4) The Prettiest Star (Germany Mercury 7", 1970). The original version, with Marc Bolan on lead guitar. The Germans released this in an aesthetically wonderful picture sleeve - a live action shot of our David, curly-haired and shiny-suited, clutching a 12-string guitar. Lovely stuff.

5) David Bowie Special (Japan double LP, 1976). A compilation album with a unique full-face cover snatched from a scene in The Man Who Fell To Earth. Japanese lyric inserts are always great entertainment, especially when the words are transcribed from guesswork, and Japanese pressings are always king. For such a determinedly throwaway society, our Japanese friends sure know how to build a record to last.

6) The Konrads - I Didn't Know How Much (Canada Decca 7", 1965). OK, so this is not a David Bowie record. He's not on it. But the record is interesting because it was uncatalogued until I managed to unearth a copy. This I did by searching for Konrads on eBay every bloody week. When this title, and the also-unheard of 'I Thought Of You Last Night' on the flip, turned up on a Canadian single and then an American promo, I really thought I had struck gold. Twice. Not quite, it turned out, but this post-Bowie Konrads single, seemingly rushed out without the band's knowledge all those years ago, was an interesting find nonetheless.

7) Drive-In Saturday (UK RCA 7", 1973). Nothing madly rare about this one... but the b-side, Bowie and the Spiders rocking through Chuck Berry's Round and Round? Spectacular! Mick Ronson's guitar solo is peerless on this.

8) Memory of a Free Festival (UK Mercury 7", 1970). Fantastic, hippy-free reworking of the fantastic and epic song on David's second album. This organ and guitar-heavy release was helpfully split into two parts. That's a very sixties thing to do (just about hanging on into the seventies).

9) Low (UK RCA LP, 1977). Just look at that sleeve. It's like... how more orange could it be? This delicious-looking record, with the song titles and credits confined to a tiny sticker on the back, is so bright and so seventies it can be seen from space. Almost. And, my God, it's a fantastic album.

10) Davie Jones and the King Bees - Liza Jane (Vocalion UK 7", 1964). In actual fact, I never owned one of these. It's always slipped through my fingers. It's David's official debut on record, and it resonates with me because it's my official debut too: I was born and the record was released on the same day, Friday June 5, 1964. Thanks mum. You done good!

Naturally, Liza Jane on Vocalion has always been a top dollar record. And I've always been too skint to buy one. But one day I might just bring my collector self back into play, and snap one up. One day. One day.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Life is a Circus Krone

Yesterday, I boasted of the ingenuity and bravery of the long-distance David Bowie fan. Getting into the smaller, more convincingly sold-out shows could take a great deal of imaginative effort. So I claimed. But it was all talk, no trousers. I should have offered an example, but I didn't.

Here's one...

It's October 12, 1991. Tin Machine are a week into their tour through the rain and snow of Europe. I'm part of a small travelling army of fans gearing up to enjoy gig #6 in Munich. Except we're running very, very late. A day off in Venice ended with our car being towed while we sight-saw, putting us way behind schedule and a considerable chunk of Lire lighter. By the time me and my two travelling compadres, Ali and Pete, pulled up outside the rotund Circus Krone it was pretty much curtain-up time.

We had no advance tickets. A glance up and down the strasse confirmed our fears: there were no touts. A hand-drawn sign on the door screamed that the show was "SOLD OUT. GUESTLIST ONLY".

We were in trouble. We stared at the sign. GUESTLIST ONLY. Hmm. GUESTLIST ONLY...Hmm...

"Hi, I'm on David's guestlist!" I heard myself blurting out to the man on the door, my English accent more pronounced than it had ever been. I was hoping for a little extra British-flavoured gravitas.

"OK, name?"

"Yes, it's Andy, er Alan, um Thomas, I mean Hughes..."

Teutonic head tilted, eyed the list, then me. Then shook. Nope.

Pete took over: "We're probably under a different name, can I see the list?"


"OK, he might know me as Richard. William, Willie, Bill..." oh God.

By this time, Pete had curled around my side to flank the bouncer. I could see his furtive eyes darting surreptitiously down the list, much of which had already been struck through.

"I think he said he'd leave it in the name Pop Rocky," said Pete.


"Oh yes, Pop Rocky. I'm Pop Rocky. And so are they." I nodded at Ali and Pete. This could get serious. We'd surely been caught out. This was ridiculous. We'd pushed this envelope a little too far.

The bouncer's steely gaze fixed mine, a little angrily. Then shifted to his clipboard, where fingers were detaching an envelope and pushing it into my quivering hand. The words 'Pop Rocky' were handwritten on the front.

"Enjoy the show," he said. We rushed forward to the ticket booth, tore the envelope open and - bless my fuckin' stars - THREE tickets. AND an all-areas photo pass. Which meant, ladies and gentlemen, that we all got in for free, and Pete was able to take his video camera with him. He got a good film out of it. I'll put a clip on Facebook.

Just don't tell Pop Rocky about this. Right?