Occasionally, your journey into work will bring a smile. Today had such moments for me. This is essentially pointless waffle that is possibly doing little more than adding to the already clogged mire of blog posts, but it’s something that just enlivened my morning.
As the Northern Line train to Edgeware emptied, I could finally sit myself down among the other passengers. Across the carriage from me, wearing the shared commuter-neutral face, was a young woman loosely holding a tote-bag that hung above her boots.
Upon this tote bag was the phrase ‘EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE’ in a simple white font, each word emblazoned on its own black rectangle, contrasted against the neutral coloured calico. It struck me as incredibly funny, actually ‘haha’ funny. I even chuckled a little on the train.
Perhaps my reaction was over-the-top to what is, at best, whimsey that barely justifies lifting the corners of the mouth. It was just this impression that she was saying, ‘yes, I bring my emotional baggage. So?’
I wanted to take a photo it, even ask to do so in case she might have thought I was trying to sneak a picture like a drooling, vile, sex pest. But she had her earphones in and it would’ve been weird to ask. And it could well have been one of those instances where she didn’t even think about the message on her bag anymore. Much like when someone points out a badge you forgot you were wearing, or your attention is drawn to a keepsake on your shelf that is new to others, but becomes almost invisible to you.
It made me think abut the phrase ‘emotional baggage’. How it’s used negatively, how getting involved with someone can bring its own shedload of neurosis and complexity. The big joke is that it basically describes all of us. If I meet someone that seems to have no hang ups, no issues, no illogical reasoning to anything at all, I wonder how they avoided mentally getting their hands dirty.
The other thing that made me smile was as I got off the train, amongst the general jostling and steadying of footfalls to the exit, a little girl lost some sort of flyer she was reading. Actually, that’s not the bit that made me smile, that came after.
So, this little girl, perhaps not yet 10 – I don’t really know, terrible at guessing any ages – was talking to her mother about this flyer and a gust of wind from the departing train blew it to the edge of the platform. The girl was crestfallen. I made to fetch it myself, but a lightning fast man with a brolly, man and machine in one, managed to pin the flyer with the tip of the umbrella. He retrieved it heroically. The little girl’s face was one of joy.
If all that morning excellence wasn’t enough, I did have a guilty chuckle at a poor man who went to get on the bus to come up against the immovable focus of a London bus driver. The doors closed upon the denied passenger’s arm and right foot. He extricated his arm, but his foot was still stuck in the door, which he pulled free by employing the most perfectly comedic flapping of arms.
So that was my commute to work. And I’m still smiling.
I was challenged on Facebook to list my 15 favourite films. While the list changes occasionally, I actually found this a lot easier to compile than I thought.
So in putting this together, it’s important to say this – I’ve not ranked these films as I don’t think I could do that. Also, I don’t care if these are considered ‘good’ films or not. It’s about what they mean to me.
So let’s just get the Star Wars films out of the way first.
The reasons why Star Wars, or A New Hope, or Episode IV is in this list is that I don’t think any other film has the power to catapult me back to wide-eyed childhood like this one does. I can actually feel the cynicism of adulthood evaporate.
Kind of unimaginative as a choice, mainly as it’s also widely considered the best Star Wars film, but The Empire Strikes Back injects a more human feel into the space fantasy. The result is a warmer, more intelligent adventure without losing the action set pieces that makes Star Wars what it is.
I’m not the biggest fan of gruesome horror, enjoying the psychological instead. The Haunting is a low key story and is more powerful for it. At its core is a haunted house story, but we don’t see a riot of bangs and flashes. The strength of The Haunting is the way the house is used without the need for many, if any, special effects.
The first thing that surprised me about Some Like It Hot was the pace of direction of the car chase at the beginning, making it look way ahead of its time. What was also ahead of its time is some of the attitudes within the film, turning the standard ‘needing to find a husband’ theme completely on its head.
The Wrath Of Khan is a classic adventure at sea. There’s piracy, revenge and a ship that’s a character in its own right. And the best uniforms. It just happens to be in space. Like many of the films in this list, the score is also an important element and The Wrath Of Khan’s main overture is perhaps one of the finest written for a movie.
What makes This Is Spinal Tap such a great comedy is not only down to the talented cast, who ad-lib their way through the film wonderfully. It’s also because the film brilliantly creates a believable world of a rock band in decline. You know they’re ridiculous, but you love them nonetheless. You’re almost tricked into thinking you’ve seen one of their old albums at a car boot sale.
Science fiction and horror are two genres that often crossover, but perhaps not as successfully as in Alien. The atmosphere builds and builds, just from the tensions between the crew. Then there’s John Hurt’s terrible dinner experience and then your vertebrae starts to fuse.
Shaun Of The Dead
There’s no better way to take on the tropes of horror than to throw in a healthy chunk of British humour. Unloading the van that was packed up when the series Spaced finished, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright made a funny and knowing zombie film, buzzing with great dialogue.
Much like Star Wars, Raiders Of The Lost Ark pulls me back into that particular world of excitement that only comes with youthful eyes. One of the things I love about Indiana Jones, which is essentially an extension of Han Solo, is the lack of cocky one-liners that were prevalent of action heroes that came after. He was flawed, reckless and succeeded by not quite messing up as much as he might’ve done.
To me, Superman II is the ultimate superhero film. It was made before we started talking about how ‘dark’ superheroes should or shouldn’t be. It was a simple film, which made it stronger. Superman was a hero, full stop. Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman is given even more of a chance to shine, which he does, cementing his place as the benchmark version of the character.
Back To The Future represents something of that halcyon era of eighties movies that seemed to throw in action, adventure, comedy and fantasy in an almost effortless way. I can’t imagine Back To The Future being handled so deftly now, but that’s just my general distrust of Hollywood.
There’s something so alluring to me about the premise of Quatermass And The Pit. The development of a London tube station uncovers a strange capsule. This discovery leads to terrifying, supernatural phenomena. The truth is, it’s alien, and it’s causing mass hysteria and brutal rioting. I’m not sure if the film was made for me or I was made for it.
What grabbed me about North By Northwest, aside from the incredibly memorable set pieces directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was the contemporary feel of it. The casual sexuality is believable, which must’ve seemed strange at the time. It’s not signposted like a Bond film, nor is it whitewashed over like in other films of the era in fear of censorship. It makes the characters believable in an unreal situation.
The film that made me realise that not all musicals needed to be schmaltzy. Bloody murder, very dark comedy and astounding animatronics make Little Shop Of Horrors an outrageously fun film. The songs add to the atmosphere (which you would expect from a musical!) but in such a clever way that the Motown sound could be turned into a soundtrack for a extraterrestrial, man-eating plant.
I’m just going to put this out there: American Graffiti is George Lucas’ best film. I think the main reason for this is because it’s honest. This was the youth he remembered. The cruising around in cars, the rollerskating waitresses and the fear of leaving home. Each time the story jumps to another character’s storyline you get a little pang of frustration as you were following it, before finding yourself engrossed in the new storyline just a few moments later.
Car after car jammed solidly in the Saturday afternoon traffic, making Kamil think that each vehicle’s occupant was doing their damnedest to ensure he’d miss the show. If that was their intention, they’d succeeded.
“You’re a bit old for puppet shows now though, aren’t you, Love?” his mum chided. He couldn’t be bothered to argue the point, just for her to miss it entirely. He loved puppetry. He enjoyed everything from the setting up of staging to the building of puppets and props. He could make his own cast and put on his own show. The way the story would be performed and how it looked would be down to him and him alone.
It clearly was too late when he reached the spot where the puppet theatre had been set up. There was a large, green tarpaulin laid out in front of the small booth, which was decorated in striking black and red swirls. The front of the booth read ‘Mr Fallowmoor’s World Of Adventure’, with a selection of what were presumably characters from the show. There was a frog, a witch, the devil, a ghost, a bear and a rabbit. They looked oddly put together. On the rabbit, one eye was lower than the other. The Witch had one large ear and one small.
The scene was somewhat desolate as it appeared that everyone had gone home. The puppeteer was also nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he’d gone for a drink somewhere? The feeling was exacerbated by the chill that whisked through the air, the darkening clouds shrouded the sunlight. The world had taken on a greyish hue.
Kamil trod across the tarpaulin as it crumpled under his steps. Its edges rustled slightly, picked at by the wind. He reached the booth and peered over the small stage. All he saw was darkness. An incredibly deep darkness, considering the booth was only tall enough to accommodate one person.
The sound came from inside the booth.
“Huh-hello?” Kamil spoke nervously into the blackness below.
There came another sound, like a kind of animal scrabbling amongst paper. Kamil tried to peer deeper into the dark, straining his eyes for shapes or sign of movement, but there was nothing.
Pulling back from the booth, he walked round to the back of it. The same twisting, curving black and red design followed all around the box and over the curtain at its rear. He couldn’t decide if they were supposed to be tails or flames, or maybe exotic tendrils from a distant jungle. The colours seemed more vibrant than before, scarlet arcs emblazoned on a deep, black patina.
He pulled back the curtain, only to expose more of this black nothingness. Logically, the light coming through from the stage should be coming through there too, but there was only the dark. The unreal situation enflamed his sense of curiosity.
“Weird.” It was the only word that came to mind. Somehow acknowledging the bizarre situation out loud offered some comfort. He crouched a little as he stepped tentatively through the curtain, hoping his eyes would focus on even the merest detail.
“Hello?” A small voice, as timid as his own trickled through the dark.
“Hi,” said Kamil. “Is someone there?” As soon as he said it he felt stupid at asking after such an obvious fact.
“Hello?” the voice repeated. Kamil couldn’t quite make out if it was a male or female voice. It was child-like, but croaky. “Can you get here? Can you?”
“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Kamil asked. It was hard to tell how far into the dark the voice was coming from. He began to walk further into the booth, although it became clear it was no mere puppet theatre.
“Please, please come here. Please.” The pathetic, emploring voice spurred him further.
He felt the sensation that he was walking downwards, as though on a ramp. With a shudder he took another step, then another. Kamil felt as though he’d left his mind at the threshold of this impossible booth. Again, he continued to step forward, downward. The walls, which offered no detail or texture narrowed. The cotton of his hoody brushed against them.
“Where are you?” Kamil called. He was aware of the shakiness of his own speech. He was not only nervous of his claustrophobic surroundings, but of what he might find when he reached whoever it was calling out to him.
He found himself having to turn slightly as the space around him closed. He stepped to one side, crab-like, his head bumping a little against the featureless wall behind him.
He stopped. “What the hell am I doing?” he spoked through ragged breath. He stretched his left arm out into the direction he was heading. He could feel the wall narrow even more. He suppressed the panic that was beginning to push its way into his throat, preparing to manifest itself as a scream. He breathed slowly. The way he’d been taught. The way Mr Garvey had shown him when he’d panicked on the trip to Bath.
He could smell the scent of varnish mixed with old paper and mildew. His stomach churned slightly. ‘Don’t be sick, don’t be sick,’ he told himself.
“I can’t go further,” he called out to the voice. “It’s too narrow.”
“Just a little further, please.”
“I can’t. I’m sorry. I should get help. I’ll get a fireman. They do this stuff.” He looked upwards, back to where he’d originally started. There was nothing but blackness now.
“Please, you’re here, you can do this. Come here, please.”
He pushed on, through the narrowing gap, his arm outstretched. His fingers could feel the ends of the walls. Encouraged, he pressed on. Despite the uncomfortably tight quarter he found himself in, he was sure he could make it through the space. The only thing was he wasn’t sure he should. Would he be able to get back through again?
Again, the voice gave a plaintive call to Kamil. If someone was hurt he’d feel horrible about leaving them.
With a final push he squeezed his body through the gap.
Expecting to find a floor level to meet the sloping ground he’d been walking down, Kamil was shocked to feel himself falling.
The fall only lasted for a moment as he was met with a soft landing of a bundle of cotton, rags and old paper. The smell was stronger here, which made Kamil repeat his mantra of ‘don’t be sick, don’t be sick.’ He hadn’t hurt himself, but he was feeling very uneasy as he pulled himself up from the debris underneath him.
There seemed to be at least some light streaming through the room he’d found himself in. He looked around the boxy room, which he guessed to be around about twelve feet square. He stood, but because of the height of the room he had to bend his back slightly.
Small blades of yellowish light poked their way into the room at odd angles, picking out details here and there. Dust motes and airborne fibres lifted and fell, illuminated in the sickly coloured beams.
Kamil gathered his senses, breathing through his mouth to abate the smell as best he could. “Hello? Are you down here?”
The was a furtive rustle, followed by a movement that was caught briefly in the light. It was small, like an animal. He stared at the dark corner that was hiding the thing, whatever it was.
“Hello?” he called again.
Kamil watched something rising up into a beam of light. A rabbit? No, a glove puppet of a rabbit. That meant that someone was sat there, unseen, in the dark with him. He shivered as he swallowed down his nervousness.
“Hi. Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
The rabbit glove puppet turned from side to side, replicating a shake of the head. “No, not hurt,” spoke the small, husky voice. “I do need your help. Yes, I do need your help. And I can help you.”
“Who are you?” Kamil stared into the dark. He could make out a human figure, perhaps in a dark suit, sat hunched in the corner.
“Pipsy,” the voice replied.
“Pip-Pipsy,” An incongruous smile played across Kamil’s lips. As fearful as the situation was, the ludicrousness of it was somehow funny. “I’m Kamil. What do you want?”
The human figure shifted a little, moving into the light. Kamil could quite clearly see a pair of wide eyes. The yellow light also picked out a map of furrowed brow lines, which knotted in tension.
“A new friend.” The glove puppet’s finger arms moved slowly as the words were said with a chuckle. “We can be friends, can’t we?”
Kamil’s heartbeat raced. He realised he had to get out as soon as he could. In his mind he berated himself for his curiosity and stupidity. This guy was clearly mental.
“Sure… sure, w-we can.”
Kamil pushed himself against the wall, as far from the man as he could get.
“So, how do I, um, we get out of here?”
“You don’t want to leave do you? You’ve only just got here.” The voice was deliriously singsongy.
“It’s probably for the best. I have to get back.”
“You want to know about the puppet show, though, don’t you? I could teach you. I’m a good teacher. Would you like to learn?”
“I-I was thinking more of a college course, or…”
That chuckle again. It froze Kamil to the spot. He felt the bile rise to his gullet.
“Please, I just need to go.” He couldn’t help the whimper that tainted his voice.
He watched the scruffy, threadbare rabbit as its body was animated by the person operating it. Kamil realised he’d been addressing the puppet instead of the operator and felt ridiculous again. He looked across to the intensity of the eyes almost protruding from the furrowed brow, deciding it was better to appeal to the actual human than Pipsy the rabbit.
“Look, I don’t know what this is about. I’m sure you’re really good at teaching puppetry and stuff and I want to learn, honest. But I can’t, we can’t be here. You have to see that, right? Let me go.”
“Don’t bother talking to him.” Kamil’s attention was drawn back to the puppet. “He can’t even speak.”
With a lurch, the man pushed himself closer to Kamil. The boy gasped as light painted across the rest of his face. Beneath the bulbous eyes and high cheekbones was nothing. That is, nothing that resembled a nose or a mouth. In the place of those features were five columns of skin that connected the middle of his face to his chin where his nose and mouth should’ve been. Behind them lay the same pitch blackness that hung about them. No teeth, no bone, no tissue.
Kamil’s vision was blurring from the tears springing up in is eyes, the only reaction his body allowed him as he shut down in fear.
“You don’t want to be scared of Mr Fallowmoor.” It was no trick of ventriloquism. Kamil realised it was the puppet who was speaking through its own unmoving mouth. No sound issued from the man at all.
Through kaleidoscopic, tearful vision, Kamil watched Mr Fallowmoor begin to stand, supporting himself with his left hand. The puppet remained held up by his right.
“Mr Fallowmoor is tired now. He’s done. You will be Mr Fallowmoor. You will be loved.” Mr Fallowmoor had now brought Pipsy to within inches of Kamil’s face.
“No, no…” Kamil said in desperation, pushing himself against the wall as hard as he could, half hoping it would break away behind him, leading him to escape.
Kamil cried out as Mr Fallowmoor grabbed his right wrist, pulling his hand up before both their faces.
“Now, the lesson begins,” said Pipsy.
“Wait, what are you doing?” Kamil was panic stricken, completely rooted to the spot in fear. He watched with terror as the puppet lifted from Mr Fallowmoor’s hand without the need of being pulled. Independently, the ragged, plush rabbit wrenched itself free with a grotesque squelch. It left no hand behind. Instead, there was only a raw stump that stopped at the wrist.
Kamil could no longer even speak. His mind was shouting at him to fight. Punch. Kick. Run. Do something. Do anything.
He didn’t move at all. The boy watched dumbly as the rabbit puppet hauled its body by its pathetic, stumpy arms from Mr Fallowmoor’s sleeve, across his hunched shoulders and along his left arm. Along to the hand holding Kamil’s in an unbreakable grip.
“My new home,” Pipsy giggled as Kamil felt the plush of the rabbit’s finger-arms touch his hand.
Kamil screamed as he felt the searing pain shoot from his wrist.
Then there was no light at all.
I awoke with the sensations of a dry mouth and a full bladder. Both were competing for my attention. Fortunately, the glass on the bedside table dealt with one of the issues almost immediately. Giving thanks to my earlier foresight, I heaved my body out of bed to deal with my its other pressing task.
The light in the bathroom forced my eyes shut momentarily as I managed to use the toilet through blurred vision. With a click to turn off the bathroom light, I began to shove myself back into the bedroom.
A sound stopped my progress. A shuffling, snuffling noise to my right caused me to freeze. This noisy intruder was quite clearly in my living room. How they had managed to find a way into my flat was a mystery to me. The mystery deepened as it was clearly not a human sound, but that of an animal.
I pressed on to the living room and turned on the hall light. The block of light that spread into the room illuminated a momentary flicker of activity, which was far too quick for me to make out. It was clear that my eyes had provided further evidence that there was indeed something else in the flat with me.
My heart rate had already quickened before this alarming visual information and reached me. My heart beat harder still. Feeling perspiration break on my neck and forehead, I shivered. My feet were rooted to the spot as my mind battled over the decision to investigate further, or run into my bedroom and hide behind the security of its door.
If I did hide, what then? What would this – whoever or whatever it was – thing do? Cause damage and mess that I’d only need to clear up? Steal from me? It had to go out somehow, but was so unlike an unwelcome wasp, it seemed a futile thought to just let it leave of its own accord.
“Hello?” I spoke with a tremor. The snuffling, breathing and sounds of movement had stopped. It was either as nervous of me as I was of it, or it was waiting in the shadows to attack. I crept forward and moved my hand over the light switch tentatively.
I flicked the switch on and illuminated the whole room. My eyes scanned as much of the living room as quickly and as thoroughly as I could. My muscles tightened as I prepared for a dog or a cat to leap out at me.
There was nothing. Nothing that I could account for the peculiar foraging noises I had heard mere moments before.
Nothing seemed disturbed or upset. No furniture disturbed nor plants upended. However, an incongruity hooked my vision that my brain couldn’t interpret at first.
The edge of something pale. glistening wet, pulsed behind the far side of the sofa. It was only about half a foot off the ground. I was beginning to think it was indeed a dog, albeit a breed I was unfamiliar with.
I moved round to see more of it, but this peculiar edifice seemed to back away instinctively. I moved quickly to catch a better image, which I did, but my brain was unable to process what I was seeing.
My eyes met those of a small friesian cow.
Where my reaction was one of utter confusion, the tiny cow went into a blind frenzy. A black and white blur, it ran around the edge of the room, clumsily bashing into the furniture and knocking the coffee table a few inches to one side. It clattered past me on miniature hooves and out into the hall.
The wooden floor was proving an almost impossible surface for this extraordinary beast to negotiate. It turned awkwardly down the hall, lost its footing and tumbled unceremoniously into the front door on its side.
It lay there, stunned for a moment. I crept slowly over to it, not wishing to alarm this oddity further. Fortunately, it seemed unhurt as it struggled to get up, which it did so successfully.
“Hello,” I said again, trying to install some confidence and friendliness into my voice.
The tiny cow steadied itself on its legs and looked straight at me.
“Hello,” it answered in a softly-spoken, refined woman’s voice.
I realised after a few moments had passed that my face had been reflecting several unvoiced emotions, primarily switching between confusion and smiling.
“I’m sorry to cause you any inconvenience,” the cow said, although I was sure I could detect impatience or disapproval in her voice.
It took me a while for the questions to arrive on my side of the conversation and it was clear the cow was expecting them.
“Who are you?” I asked, losing some of my fleeting confidence.
“My name is Heek. I’ve been sent here to protect you.”
“Heek?” The cow nodded. “Heek. protect me from what? Why did you run like that?”
“Yes, that was terribly unprofessional of me. You’re not supposed to see me. You shouldn’t even know I’m here.”
“Right.” The more answers I heard, the less the situation made sense. “Okay, what are you protecting me from?”
“There are forces, primal, ancient, secreted in the dark. They prey upon… certain people.”
The pause was clearly loaded, and I couldn’t help but burst out, “Certain people? What people? Why me? What do you mean?”
“I will explain, Tom, I will explain.” Heek held up a hoof in what seemed like an attempt at placation.
“You know my name.”
“Of course. You’re my client.”
It was impossible to suppress my laughter at that statement, although I did suppress my comment of ‘that’s so cute.’ While this small cow had become adorable, it didn’t seem proper to condescend her. I felt ridiculous even mulling this over in my head.
“Don’t laugh. I’m here to save your life.” She was quite serious in her tone, which shut me up immediately. “As I was saying, there are… things out there, in the night. Dangerous things. They attack when their prey is at their most vulnerable, often in the hours before the morning. I’ve been assigned to you as you have been earmarked for such an attack.”
“But you’re…” There was no way I could say what I was going to say without seeming insulting.”
“A level two Paranormal Operative, yes.”
“No, I mean you’re a cow. A really little cow.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t do my job, Tom. I’m fully conversant in a wide range of scriptures, incantations and spells. I was in the process of performing an incantation to make a protective shield around your home when you interrupted me.”
“You’re a magic cow!” I blurted, unthinking.
“Yes,” her eyes rolled, “I’m a magic cow.”
Turning her head to one side, Heek whispered, “Did you hear that?” I told her I didn’t. “It’s here.”
Also holding my voice under a whisper, I asked, “What is it?”
My blood ran cold. In that instant everything seemed very real. I believed completely that I was in danger. The temperature in the flat dropped leaving me feeling so cold, whereas before my t-shirt and pyjama shorts offered perfectly acceptable cover.
We both looked down the hallway, waiting for the mysterious killer to appear. I began to shake, feeling my joints switch between shuddering themselves loose or locking tightly in place.
On the corner of the hall that led to my bedroom, I noticed a black, smokey tendril snaking its way along the floor. Then another joined it, then another and another. They seemed to work independently of each other. The tips of the insubstantial tentacles rose slightly like a snake tasting the air.
The nervous sweat I’d felt before was nothing compared to the water that was now streaming from my pores, blurring my vision as it gathered over my eyelashes and into my eyes.
I jumped as Heek began to chant, closing her eyes and swaying from side to side.
“Kuranenek habigou starikan,” she spoke, the words seemingly filling the whole flat. “Oosinea fandrebon kooechiten spantachawae.”
The tendrils had now completely turned the corner and were facing us. They were pulling forward a much larger mass, which was becoming more and more exposed as the tendrils inched further.
I began to feel sick, beyond terror and confusion. The incongruity of the tiny cow speaking a strange incantation melted away as I knew that she was probably my only saviour at that moment.
Soon, the full horror of the thing revealed itself. Surrounded by an uncountable, ever-changing collection of writhing grey and black arms was a thick ball made up of the same smoke. I could barely smell it before, but the acrid stench was beginning to crawl into my nose and mouth, stinging my eyes.
Within the body I could see a face, a head within a smokey mass. The features were wizened, blackened and charred. I gagged.
I became aware of Heek’s chant changing. The words had become a constant stream of noise.
“Assamburganotarbenotragettisangobeep.” She repeated the last syllable again.
Over and over she repeated the word ‘beep’. The smoke creature emitted a mournful howl as its tendrils recoiled as if to protect itself.
I looked over my shoulder to Heek. Her eyes flicked open and head butted me in the side and shouted, “Beep!”
Finding myself in near-darkness, I choked and spluttered, instinctively holding my chest. I struggled to breathe and, clawing at my face, realised I had a plastic mask strapped over my mouth and nose.
I could only see distorted silhouettes among flickering orange light. I could hear someone speaking. A woman’s voice.
“S’ok, you’re out of it now. We’re just going to get you to the hospital. You were lucky to get out of that fire.”
Fire? Where was Heek? What was happening? I attempted to speak, but it was muffled and broken because of the mask and my own throat, which felt like parchment.
With a burst of strength, I yanked the mask off. “Magic cow,” was all my brain could manage.
“I’ve been called worse I suppose,” said the woman as I began to realise she was in a green uniform. I was aware of a clunk and with a clatter I was pushed horizontally on a gurney into an ambulance.
“A fire?” I asked, pathetically.
“That’s right,” the woman replied. “Your whole building went up. I’m sorry, this is horrible for you. On the upside, everyone’s okay. Thanks to you.”
“What? I didn’t…”
“Come on now, everyone’s talking about it. You raised the alarm and woke up the whole block. They saw you. You saved everyone. Now you’re going to get a bit of looking after too.”
I remembered none of that. Just the horrible smoke monster and the tiny, magic cow.
“I’m going to give you something for the pain now,” the woman spoke, softly.
My eyesight began to darken, but I swore that, just for a moment, I could see Heek sitting on the end of the gurney, smiling.
The headlines picked up on something that was sure to push the buttons of a section of the community. Primarily that this would exclude a great deal of American literature on the UK English Literature syllabus.
The question is, why should really matter what is chosen as books for core study? It’s all books, it’s all reading, so what’s the problem?
It’s important for children to read. Of course, that’s a given. However, the basic act of reading is just a tool. It’s a skill to understand, to think and to experience things outside of our everyday lives.
Keeping that in mind, why is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird one of the books off the preferred list? Another question for many is why it’s such an emotive point. It’s not as if Britain hasn’t produced some truly magnificent authors.
It’s emotive because of the content of such books. To Kill A Mockingbird in particular is a story written at a time when the idea of civil rights was little more than a nugget of a concept to the Western World. Through a child’s eyes, we watch a man do the right thing in a court of law, despite the pressures of his town pushing for an injustice.
Why does this resonate with me?
I was a very lazy child. I wasn’t particularly interested in picking up a book for pleasure outside of Asterix (which brought its own benefits to be honest), and certainly not outside of school. In English, I remember reading Of Mice And Men, which I don’t think I quite got at the time, although it was nice and short. We also covered Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was truly mind expanding and chilling. To Kill A Mockingbird was something else entirely.
My English teacher, Mrs Packwood, created a project around the book. We were all journalists, and we had to pick a bias. Which party from the book do we choose to praise, and who do we choose to damn? It taught me a lot about something very, very harsh.
The media controls our perspective. We don’t get the full story, which is ironic as I’m not sure we’re getting the full story in the Gove situation, and the popular opinion isn’t always the right one (again, very apt in today’s news).
Most importantly, it unfurled the poisoned realities of racism. I had always been aware that other races in school, of which there weren’t many at the time, who got called names based on their ethnicity. As this was school, it kind of blurred into all the other spite and name-calling that comes with that environment.
To Kill A Mockingbird explained why this kind of bullying and abuse was different. This was about destroying another human’s life through ignorance and fear. Ignorance in not understanding that a black man was more than stock or a commodity. Fear, not just because of that lack of understanding, but fear of what people would say about us if we didn’t comply.
I think I learned more about the world around me in those classes than in any other lessons.
This is why it stings when such books are removed from study. It’s not just about learning grammar and sentence structure, it’s about learning about others through the story. It just so happens that To Kill A Mockingbird is an exceptionally good book.
I’m not a teacher, nor am I parent. It’s not my place to say what you should do, but if your child doesn’t get the chance to read it in school, please try and find the time to encourage them to read it when they can. It’s not an easy ask, I know as I was that reticent, non-reader kid. However, they might get the same things from it that I did; a knowledge that our world is troubled, damaged and unbalanced, but there are good people and we can try to be one of them.
Yesterday, my partner and I had the pleasure of visiting the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Celebration at the ExCeL in London. We’d arrived in good time for the events, herded en mass to the main auditorium. The visitors were split into two groups, Ice Warriors and Weeping Angels, ensuring there was sufficient capacity for the different groups who would see the guest panels at different times.
There was an all-pervading sense of expectation and excitement rippling through the queue as we waited for entry to the first screening. The excitement was mainly due, I think, to many of us not knowing what to expect. I assumed this as I’m not one for doing my homework and tend to turn up at things wide-eyed and confused.
The hanger-like holding area held no visual interest, so we turned to costume spotting. Tenth Doctors slightly outnumbered the Eleventh, there were a few Seventh, a Fifth and a many Tom Baker scarves. Quite a few were dressed as TARDISes, or rather TARDIS dresses and tops. Sadly, no re-constitued fridge boxes were evident. Later that day we’d see the most adorable toddler Sixth Doctor (“He’s a bit grumpy today,” said his mother. “In character then?” I replied.)
The first panel dealt with the special effects of the show. Perhaps not enlightening for older fans, it was undoubtedly great for younger visitors, with its fire and flashes. Which was the point really. The children and families. Yes, I’m a grown up man, but I’m still a fan. My interest in Doctor Who has risen and fallen like the TARDIS’ time rotor (certainly as pubs and… other things grabbed my interest), but it’s never completely gone away, and I was hooked from childhood.
We shuffled into the ‘Celebration Hall’, stepping through the gates of IM Foreman’s junk yard in Totters Lane, touchingly done out to represent the studios of BBC Television Centre. There were the merchandise stands (me = moth, toys = flame) and examples of props and costumes. Vintage wagons, used for location filming, held examples of make up and wardrobe, while there miniatures and models from the history of the programme.
Events like these cement this love, not just with Doctor Who, but television and performing arts in general. This became particularly clear at the ‘Walk Like A Monster’ demonstration, tutored by show’s choreographer Ailsa Berk. You could see the children get really into it, mimicking Cybermen and Peg Dolls, capturing the jerky, disjointed gait of the latter with enthusiasm. That’s when you realise that if even one of those kids enthusiasm for performance is sparked, it’s been a good day.
I read a tweet, which I regrettably can’t remember who said it, that said ‘Doctor Who is a gateway drug to horror.” That is a perfect way of putting it. For children, it opens up the possibilities of other storytelling, delving into the otherworldly tales, dealing with death and horror in the safe environs of teatime terror. It’s also a gateway into understanding what goes into a television programme that boasts an incredible complexity. There is no other programme like Doctor Who, which can be any kind of show it wants to be.
Doctor Who fans, from my experience, don’t really care about the gossip behind the show as a rule. Not as much as the tabloids would have you believe. We tend to absorb information about how the programme is put together; shooting blocks, writers, directors, producers, and other essential aspects of a show’s production. That’s not unusual for fans of TV shows, but it tends to come later. When it comes to Doctor Who, this interest is piqued very early on. Children will write stories for Doctor Who, but also start making their own short films, design monsters.
I see Doctor Who as a dearly loved friend. I am, and pretty much will always be a fan. That came from my love of the programme as a child.
Am I too old for Doctor Who? All I can say is that there’s no age limit on that kind of adventure.
Happy 50th, Doctor.
I got some nice and very constructive feedback when I published Chapter One of this thing the other day. So, for a laugh, here’s Chapter Two.
Chapter Two – The Man On The Goldhawk Road
I got off Goldhawk Road tube station to my appointment. It had been a good week since the Lambeth job. When I’m notified of a new job the procedure is pretty much the same each time.
I received a text message from Will Tagler. In this case, it read:
Goldhawk Road. 12am. One of our accountants. Desperate.
As ever, there’s little more to the message. I waited a moment. My phone vibrated again, and a message arrived with a link to a map. The maps I received were incredibly specific.
I clicked on the map and found my destination, committing it to memory. It’s a skill that’s helped me find my way around London remarkably well.
With the message deleted, I walked past the garage on the main road and along the street. Like so many streets in London, the shops have a rundown necessity about them. Shop signs seem dated although they’re probably not even five years old. As I walked on, the shops thinned out to a long row of Edwardian terraces interspersed by… alder trees? I’m no good with things like that. They bustled in the light wind that eased down the corridor of the street, which carried with it the promise of drizzle.
I reached the house, crafted from handsome red brick. Seven grey steps led up to the white front door, which boasted a stained glass semi-circular window above the frame.
I knocked upon the door. Three firm taps.
I looked about me, assessing more of my surroundings. I often wonder if people realise the plane of the dead is constantly pressing on our world of mundanity. If only they knew spectres walk beside us while we load up the washing machine or take our cars in for MOTs.
There came the sound of footsteps approaching the door. The handle turned and clicked and I was greeted by a man who introduced himself as Graeme Fenchurch.
I introduced myself in return and was subsequently invited in.
“This is a bit, er…” Graeme paused.
“I suppose it is,” I offered, “but don’t worry, this isn’t that unusual.”
“Well, not for me,” I smiled.
He was tired and nervous – something I’ve come to expect. It’s not that I’m a stranger in the home, nor that I’m a stranger that’s come to clear a house of its ghost. It’s about the inescapable reality that I’m the result of admitting it’s real. I come in at the end of a long, exhausting process for most people. They’ve gone through the unease, the dread, the panic, the abject, inescapable fear, until all that’s left is desperation. Fatigue. It takes a strong will to ask for help in those circumstances. For Fenchurch, it could’ve gotten a lot worse.
I could already feel a strong presence within the confines of the house. It’s almost like an opposing magnetic field. It repels, but the urge to push back is irresistible. I don’t share this with Mr Fenchurch. To speak of the haunting factually might help, but right now I don’t want him to think I’m all talk.
I put him at a greying late-thirties, or perhaps a good early-forties. He looked after himself, and I would imagine that he normally takes pride in his appearance. His shirt and jeans looked expensive, but wrinkled, with stains and dusty marks at the cuffs, elbows and knees. Normal for a prolonged exposure to a haunting. With nerves frayed, small, basic tasks seem less important. Sleep may only come rarely, and whenever or wherever you can get it. I have the feeling he might have taken to sleeping in his garage or shed.
We got past the small talk, which primarily revolved around if I wanted a cup of tea or coffee. I always refuse, but never elaborate. If I corner a particularly active spirit, it’s a pain getting Gold Blend out of the Axminster.
He gestured for me to sit in the kitchen, which was spacious and modern. However, the surfaces were marked and stained, and it seemed that every piece of crockery and cutlery were stacked and wedged in and around the sink. Pizza boxes and takeaway cartons were stuffed into the corners around the units. If this was the room in which he’d chosen to entertain, I could only guess at the state of the rest of the house.
“Where’s the ghost?”
His jaw fell. I must’ve had that look on my face that has been referred to as ‘haughty’. Purely unintentional, but I couldn’t help react to his shock.
“Sorry,” he said after a moment, “I wasn’t expecting you to be so direct. I thought it would be a bit more, you know…” He made a spooky ‘ooh’ sound, and I couldn’t help but let out a loud laugh.
He looked crestfallen for a moment, then smirked. The smirk was soon followed by a proper belly laugh and he threw his head back.
“Oh, I’m really sorry…” he said between chuckles, “I haven’t,” as soon as he began to talk again, the tears from his eyes were no longer the result of laughter, but were now indicating sobs.
“Oh God, I’m so sorry,” he sniffed, grabbing at the kitchen roll on the counter to dab his eyes and blow his nose.
“It’s okay, take your time. You should know that you’re not the only person to feel like this because of a haunting. It takes a lot out of you.”
He stood, and I got the feeling he could have been about to reach out for a hug. I stood too, and turned my back to him.
“Yes, we should probably get on with it.”
“Right, right, yeah.” He sniffed. “It’s in the master bedroom.”
He murmured an agreement and stepped ahead of me. “This way.”
He guided me up the stairs. The temperature dropped significantly, indicating the ghost’s need to draw on the energy of its local radius to manifest itself. While I heard nothing at the bottom of the stairs, as I got mid-way up the staircase, I could clearly hear the sound of laboured breathing.
Fenchurch would go no further. “You can wait for me here.” I told him.
The sound from the bedroom could be described as clogged, of a person fighting for breath. It struck me that I was hearing this breathing from behind the closed bedroom door that was partway along the landing, yet at the same time horribly close.
It was the same sensation that I’d sometimes felt when being so incredibly tired, my brain had been unable to accurately process frequencies in music or speech. The phenomenon led to a strange feeling of sound going in and out of ‘focus’. That was happening here, with the wheezing, choking sounds of whatever I was going to find behind the door.
“Have you seen it?” I asked him, hoping I had bolstered my words with sufficient confidence. I’d done this many times, but I still don’t always know what to expect.
“Just a couple of times, but I know it’s in there. It always is.”
“And you can hear that? The breathing?”
“What? God, no. You can hear breathing?” He looked even more pale than before as I nodded. “I feel sick,” he added.
“Is it a man or a woman?”
I had reached the top of the stairs.
The sound had leveled to a low, sickening tone, like a death rattle with no end.
“I just need to ask,” my hand stopped before reaching for the door handle, “did it just ‘appear’?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, nervously swallowing. “Do you think I’m responsible for this?”
He became more panicked.
“Mr Fenchurch, please, I just need to know more. It can only help with what I need to do.” Perhaps I shouldn’t ask these questions. Asking questions just leads to complications. Still, ghosts just don’t appear without reason.
“It’s been here a month.”
“And you’ve lived here…?”
“Two years. This has never happened before.”
“Have you had any renovation done? Anything that might have caused a disturbance?”
He shook his head. “You don’t think anyone would have, I don’t know, sent it, do you?” he volunteered.
“This is the realm of the supernatural, not InterFlora.” I answered.
He nodded, and seemed to be thinking through the logic of his suggestion.
“These things tend to have a reason for there appearance. Knowing more can help with the dispersal of the entity, but it’s not essential. It’s just that I normally go out to building sites, renovated properties, places that’ve been disturbed.” I looked right into Fenchurch’s eyes. “Things like that can cause manifestations.”
“It just happened,” he puffed with frustration, nervously gripping the banister just below the landing.
Feeling that it was better not to push the point, I tapped the door handle to check the temperature. It was cold, but not dangerously so. I learned to be cautious from an occasion when I almost suffered frostbite from a haunted climbing frame.
I pushed the door open, and the vista revealed a very ordinary scene. The room was in good order, surprisingly so. I was expecting the signs of disturbance, of a frustrated, angry spirit. I looked around, taking in the solid, cream painted furniture. I saw the bed. It was unmade, but again, showed no signs of perturbation.
Then I saw him.
Propped against the wall by the bed, legs splayed and outstretched toward the door I had opened, was the translucent form of a young man. He wore what looked like riding boots and breeches, but no shirt. The look certainly put him at a previous era. He looked to have been strong when he was alive, with a defined musculature, but someone had clearly overpowered him.
There was a thick, dark mark across his throat. He had been strangled. This was made all the more obvious from the bulbous, tortured eyes almost bursting from his face. His tongue hung useless and swollen against his clean shaven chin. The whole grisly vignette was replete with that horrible sound of his eternal last breath.
I entered the bedroom cautiously, not because of any fear I might have had, but I didn’t want to agitate the figure sprawled out on the bedroom floor. I’ve light-heartedly called it ‘Spooking the Spook’, but it can happen. The last thing I need is unpredictability, especially when dispersing a ghost.
The ghost was one of those poor unfortunate victims that had died violently, as so many do. I could almost suspect the incident had taken place recently, but his dated hunt clothes made me think otherwise. It’s certainly not attire I’d expect to see worn up and down the streets of West London that frequently anymore. Despite what Mr Fenchurch had told me, something must have caused this unfortunate man to appear. Not that it was really any of my business. I was sent to do a job and it was time to use my skills.
I shut the door behind me. The ghost of the man continued to look forward, appearing not to have noticed me at all.
“Can you hear me?” I said quietly.
The gutteral noise increased in volume for a second. I read this as a ‘yes’.
“I’m going to help you. I’m going to make the pain go away.”
The ragged breathing became louder. His eyes snapped round and looked directly at me.
“That’s right,” I affirmed, “you’ll be free.”
I held out both my hands, palms down. The familiar tingles raced from my fingertips, through my palms and into my forearms. The feeling was unpleasant, but one I’d felt uncountable times before.
The pressure around my head was beginning to build, and I knew this was the point where I had to control my breathing. I took deep breaths, which seemed incongruous against the endless deathly breathing of the ghost.
The sound of the ghost’s mimicking of breath was starting to break up, as though a switch was intermittently turning it off and on.
The noise was changing. Instead of throttled breathing, it seemed like actual speech pushing its way through.
I could feel my own energy building up in my chest. The warmth grew, radiating with a blue pulse that was beginning to show through my clothes. I held my hands over the broken figure.
It was too late to hold back. The energy was going to burst from my body.
As I pushed my hand onto the opaque outline of the prone form, his mouth spoke the word, “Killer.”
The energy burst from my hands in zig-zagging blue forks, scoring every vein, every blood vessel and every ligament with scorching heat. The ghost’s form was illuminated in the same blue glow. I watched as the figure turned to illuminated flakes that rose and faded, like ignited ashes from a dying fire.
The word ‘killer’ echoed in my head as blue flecks surrounded my vision and everything went black.
I awoke to shouts of, “Mr Hennersley? Mr Hennersley? Thane?”
I haven’t passed out for years. There’s a general feeling of weakness after a dispersal, but this was different. It’s like my body seems to know how much power I need to generate to complete a dispersal. If that’s the case, this particular entity really didn’t want to go.
It didn’t feel like I’d been out for long, but it took a while to get my bearings.
“I’m okay!” I shouted.
I pulled myself together, articulating my limbs awkwardly as I pushed myself up using the bed. “On first name terms too, then?” I mumbled to myself.
I left the room to see Fenchurch at the foot of the stairs, his nervousness had grown to seemingly unmanageable proportions. “It’s okay,” I told him. “It’s gone.”
“Thank you! Oh, thank you!” He spouted, running past me on the stairs and into his bedroom. “It really has gone, hasn’t it?”
Breaking down into sobs, he stumbled out of the bedroom and threw his arms around me. “Thank you.”
I reciprocated, somewhat reticently. Tapping his shoulder, I offered an inane, “There there, it’s alright now.”
I was still a little shaken when I left the house on Goldhawk Road. True, the effect of the dispersal, and subsequent blacking out. accounted for my feeling of weakness. It was, however, the ghost’s accusatory ‘killer’ that left me unsettled. The ghosts I deal with rarely make more than noises, stuck in that final moment. If they do have a message, it’s often repeated over and over, without a particular audience in mind.
Although I decided to pay it no further attention, the face of the young man, strangled in his prime, broken and laid out, stuck with me all the way home. I barely even noticed the line changes to get back to Brixton.
Oh great, someone else is trying to chuck a book together. Yep. That someone is me.
I’ve made it part way through the book so far, but the problem is I’m doing it in a vacuum. I’m writing it to myself, and I think I just need someone to either tell me to carry on or jack it in for being rubbish.
It was @Luke_T_Spear who suggested I post up a sample chapter to get feedback. Thinking about it – and as I’m between writing briefs at the moment – I thought I would.
So, here it is, wannabe writer lobs a bit of a book out. I hope you enjoy:
The Man Who Killed Ghosts
One – Night Work
“Odd name, Thane,” the security guard commented as she looked at my pass.
“I think it’s Scottish,” I said.
“Are you Scottish?”
I looked up at the highrise block. It was imposing against the dusky September evening. Even though there was a warmth in the air, a gust had blown up. The plastic sheeting hung like banners, flapping and fluttering as they were caught by the wind.
The building was still incomplete, needing cosmetic fascias and glass for the windows to complete its modern look. It had been built among the decaying, run down flats in one of Lambeth’s areas earmarked for regeneration.
“You’re here for pest control or something then?” the security guard ventured.
“Yes, something like that. Can I go in?”
“No problem. Here’s the fob. Just hold it over the sensor of the main door.”
I thanked her and walked to the modern double doors. As instructed, I held the fob over the sensor. A green light indicated that I could enter.
The lobby smelled of fresh carpeting and paint. The lighting panels in the ceiling burnt with a fluorescent harshness. I blinked while my eyes became accustomed to the changes from the dying sunlight outside. I checked my phone for the message that came through earlier.
“Peaceland development. Lambeth. Block B. Basement”
“Basement. Typical.” I muttered to myself.
I decided against the lift and took the stairs. In my line of work, taking the lift is just asking for trouble. It wasn’t just the pranks of playful spirits that could trap you, but unfinished elevator mechanisms.
Being a modern development, it wasn’t a basement as such, not in the traditional sense, but an underground carpark and area for bins. There was little in the way of light. Only two striplights were working to illuminate the middle of the concrete forum I’d found myself in. Any other light was provided by the orange glow of the street lamps that had picked out the edges of walls and equipment, which now lay silent after a day’s work.
Initially, I felt nothing there. Nothing at all.
I’d never been misled by Will Tagler – my contact at the company – before. Maybe he was wrong this time.
I jumped slightly as a battered drinks can clattered along the concrete floor as it was taken by the wind. I’m always slightly annoyed when I jump at the most innocuous of things. Ironically, I never usually jump at anything supernatural. I always sense it before it appears.
Then I did.
Within seconds of the feeling of pressure around my head, it manifested.
A hunched over figure hovered around two feet above the ground. It was garbed in a dress… no robes. A monk? The body was completely covered, except for two twisted, long-nailed hands that extended from the roughly-hewn sleeves. The hands reached up to the hood, folding it back to reveal the full horror of the face underneath.
I was unable to tell if the ghost was once male or female, so wizened were its features. It had piercing, white eyes in sunken sockets. Under the face’s hooked nose was a row of rotten, broken teeth. The jaw was completely gone, and the tongue hung uselessly against the neck.
It shrieked in a completely inhuman way. The chilling pitch was delivered with a burbling timbre, no doubt as a result of the missing jaw that had been taken before death.
I held my ground. Already I could feel the energies in my body begin to coalesce. The static tingle ran up my arms, sparking and connecting like tiny, electrical roots that joined with the glow that formed in my chest.
The glow began to pulse from my hands, picking out every grotesque detail of the phantom that hung in the air. I could see it making a move.
It came straight for me, screaming in its vile, half gurgling, half shrieking cadence.
A death bogle.
Damn it, why didn’t Tagler warn me?
The creature seemed to hold its position, merely a few feet from me. If its hands touched me, I would be cursed to suffer and die in anything from a day to a year. It could be longer, but it’s really not something you want to experience anyway. Whatever the circumstances of its indecision, I wasn’t going to lose the advantage.
I lunged forward. My hand contacted with the creature’s torso, illuminating it with a blue aura. For a moment the ineffectual lighting of the car park was overtaken by the glow from the bogle as it shook and screamed in the air. The blue glow burst within it and the entity was instantly destroyed. The remnants of its form were no more than tatters, raining softly over me onto the hard concrete below.
The car park fell back into half-darkness, offering no clue as to the event that had just taken place.
I walked back out onto the forecourt after taking a short time to rest, which I needed to do to tackle the stairs. The blustery wind seemed to have died down a little. Strolling over to the security hut, I took a deep breath. I was used to being given scant information when going out on a job, but I had told Tagler to at least warn me if I was facing something that dangerous.
That wasn’t just a run of the mill ghost. It was a death bogle. If those things even lay a finger on you, you’ve had it.
I handed the fob over to the security guard.
“How’s the pest problem?” she asked.
“Oh, I didn’t see you with any gear.” She didn’t press the point, and I wasn’t in the mood to go into details. Frankly, I never am. “Rats make me feel… Urgh!” She shuddered.
“Me too,” I smiled.
“How are you getting home?” the security guard asked. “Tube?”
“I’m only in Brixton,” I answered, “just a stroll.”
“Well, be careful. There’s all sorts out there.”
I smiled. “Understood. Take care.” I walked away as the security guard offered, “Goodnight!”
As I strolled away, I pulled my phone from my pocket, and read Tagler’s message again. I hit reply and tapped:
In future, tell me if it’s something really nasty. That was a bogle.
No more than five minutes later, my phone vibrated:
Hey, you’re the expert. To me it’s just a spook. It’s done?
I replied that it was. The response read:
Good man. Transferring money now.
At least the money was good. It took the edge of seeing some of the grimmest sights the supernatural world threw at me.
I toyed with the thought of what it would be like to have an ordinary job. For a moment, I couldn’t think of any. Well, there’s security guard, train driver… shop keeper. There’s whatever Will Tagler does, although I don’t think that’s probably all that ordinary.
The truth is, I had a skill that’s been with me for as long as I can remember.
My earliest recollection of being able to see ghosts was at the age of four.
I had been invited to Trisha Britten’s fifth birthday party. Trisha and her friends were all around a year older than me. I was a summer baby, but I had been enrolled into the term with a lot of older kids, so I always seemed a bit smaller than my classmates. This continued all through my school years. It was my mother who suggested I go to Trisha’s party after chatting with the girl’s mum at the school gates.
As with most of my memories of that time, I tend to remember things in flashes, like flicking through a photo album. When I think back to my mind’s snapshots of that day, it is as you’d imagine a child’s birthday party to be. I was on my own, shy and awkward, not really feeling comfortable around anyone, especially children my own age. I’m not sure how it happened, but I remember playing games with the other children and laughing. I think Trisha’s mum was kind, and had a knack for getting kids to play well together. Even the shy and quiet ones like me.
I do remember it being springtime. The air was cool and damp as we played, haphazard and silly in the garden. We ran, hither and thither, heedless of rules that we’d either forgotten or ignored.
As we played, I was struck with a sensation of pressure around my head. I never got headaches, and wondered if this was what Mum had felt when she talked about them. The pressure was coming from the dark shape of a man.
The man in the garden wasn’t at the party.
When I think of him, the memories become fuller, more involved. This recollection is less like mere stills and more like watching a film, albeit a film that had aged with the colours washed out.
He was so tall, taller than any other grown-up I’d seen. I took in every shred of his appearance. He was absolutely drenched from head to toe. Weathered work boots, worn trousers, a waist length, torn jacket wrapped around a dark, mottled shirt. My eyes met his. His face was pained, as though it was agony to speak. It felt like I stared for hours at this shambolic figure.
From nowhere, a ball hit me on the side of the head with hollow thunk. It didn’t hurt, but the shrill laughter of the other children shook me from that frozen moment. I looked to where the man had been standing, but he had gone.
I have a vague memory of asking Trisha’s mum who the man in the garden was, but I can’t remember her answer. I don’t think she had one.
There were no more invites to Trisha’s house after that.
EXT. STREET DAY
JJ ABRAMS pulls up in his car. Stepping out, he stops. He turns and looks thoughtfully back at the car. He presses the central locking fob on his keys with DETERMINATION. He crosses the street to grab a coffee at the Starbucks over the road.
There is an ALMIGHTY RUMBLE!
The road gives way as JJ ABRAMS is halfway along it! He jumps as the ground beneath him gives way. He just manages to grab the other side of the road as it forms a wider chasm. He pulls himself up. Teeth clenched, he hangs uselessly from the edge. With great DETERMINATION, he pulls himself up. He WANTS that coffee.
Starbucks is empty apart from one BARISTA.
What can I get you, sir?
(Slightly out of breath) A soy latte (beat) please.
Sure. What name do you want me to put on that?
JJ ABRAMS looks into the BLONDE BARISTA’S eyes, as though searching her very soul.
JJ (writing on the cup), sure. Say, what’s that short for?
(looking away from the barista, he stares out across the devastation of the torn road)
I don’t remem…
A truck CRASHES into the wall of Starbucks, completely demolishing the wall and throwing tables, chairs and debris into the air. JJ ABRAMS leaps over the counter, pulling the BARISTA down with him as a tray slices through the air exactly where the BLONDE BARISTA was standing. It would have KILLED HER!
The truck comes to a halt. The debris settles (slow motion). JJ ABRAMS raises his head above the counter, eyes narrowed. He can see into the cab. The driver side door has swung open. NO ONE INSIDE.
Oh my god. You saved my life.
She looks at the tray embedded in the coffee machine behind her. Steam billows DRAMATICALLY from the coffee machine.
At that angle and velocity, that tray could have killed me. Not to mention several other dangers flying around at the time. You’re probably wondering how I know all this.
I was starting to wonder.
The BLONDE BARISTA smiles sexily.
I’m only working here as a favour to (Beat) someone. (She looks down, sadly) I’m actually a medical doctor and an astrophysicist.
The BLONDE BARISTA looks at the small tear on the sleeve of her shirt.
Oh no. This top was new on this morning. Now I’ll have to take all my clothes off revealing my smoking hot body. Look away would you?
Uh… yeah, of course… (he blinks nervously) So, you were saying you were working here as a favour for someone?
Yes. I’m here for… (She pauses to suppress a tear. She knows that if she lets one tear out she won’t stop crying) I’m here because my father…
There is a HUGE EXPLOSION outside of Starbucks!
Following a brief, but in-depth, conversation with @joetele I was inspired to write this post. In fact, this is mostly my e-mailed response to him, but edited and embellished upon.
The discussion was about a homophobic twitter account. In fact, I had two such accounts in mind, one being something called ‘Straight Pride UK’. I’m still not sure if Straight Pride is a parody account or not. I was mulling over the arguments of free speech, and we were discussing when that becomes hatespeech, and the motives behind it.
Of course I believe in free speech. If someone has something to say about how they feel – whether in jest or just being true to their outlook – they should be able to voice it. Because of the same freedoms I can call it out as bollocks if I wish.
In this case, however, it raises the question of hate speech or free speech. This account in particular is so completely aggressive and anti-equal rights and anti-equal marriage, it might actually become incitement to more physical and aggressive attacks. But that would be for a court to decide, and I’m getting ahead of myself.
That said, what I find most frustrating about any person that devotes so much time and vehemence to one particular target does imply a desirability to that target.
Here’s an example.
I hate gameshows. My reaction to one is often as follows:
“Urgh, I don’t like this.”
*switches off TV or turns over*
If, however, I said I didn’t like it and wanted it banned, while desperately watching every edition to find a reason to ban it, this is attraction and obsession.
While this is perhaps a glib comparison, it helps to highlight that I genuinely feel that most (if not all) men and women who take the time to rally against a perceived notion that homosexuality have a fascination with it. I think aggressive homophobia, which I tend to think of more as ‘persuasionist’, is built upon an inner self-loathing from building upon the notion that a person cannot be themselves. This in turn manifests itself outward, despising those living the lives that a homophobic person feels they cannot possible have.
For homophobic people, I wonder if there is the idea that all gay people do is party all the time and criticise straight people’s dress sense. It’s almost as if we are having too much fun and now we want our cake and eat it. Bigotry is often the result of a feeling that society is failing some quarters and it becomes necessary to find an identifiable enemy. It’s no accident that the growing popularity for UKIP and the BNP has risen in the wake of an economic crisis, mirroring exactly what happened in pre-war Germany.
I’m not sure how it should be handled. Vehement homophobia is nauseating. Should we ignore it? It would mean less exposure to the individual in a small way, but it’d be like allowing damaging roots to grow under your house. Or do we rail against it at every opportunity, running the risk of building on the controversy and adding to its publicity?
I’m not sure I have the smarts to solve that one.
However, I can see the difference between free speech and hatemongering. Look at the Westboro Baptist Church, if you can hold your food down. They have made it their business to blame equality for gay people for every terrible thing that has happened to America. That’s not free speech, that’s demonising a whole sector of people in a perplexing and ludicrous way. Unfortunatley, this ludicrousness tramples upon things like the very basic values – picketing funerals for example – that they claim to uphold.
Hate speech leads to violence. We know it does. It creates bloodlust based on misinformation, ignorance and fear that rolls around in the minds of those who feel so isolated and dejected there’s nowhere for these ideas to go. It’s a thunderstorm trapped in a valley.
How I see freedom of speech is to accept that there other perspectives. I may not agree with them. I may think they’re just plain wrong. I have the choice to engage to discuss and argue. I may choose to not even spend the time of day responding. I don’t necessarily think the other party is ‘out to get me’.
We all have our biases. There is a massive difference in trying to do things to improve the world around us and holding up a nebulous, all encompassing villain. In this case ‘the gays‘. It’s laughable to think that there should be a need for ‘Straight Pride’. My argument is that just don’t hear of gangs of gay men or women beating up straight people. Sadly the reverse is all too prevalent.
I can’t say there’s no such thing has heterophobia. Have seen or heard of an incidence when there’s been a violence with such a condition as the cause? I genuinely cannot say I have.
With all this supposition and waffle on my part I can say this, if there is a Gay Agenda, it’s simply to be seen as equal members of the society we contribute to. We are your educators, your healers, your armed servicemen and women, your firefighters, your police. Like you, we are the cogs that make the country’s machine work. We contribute. We pay in. We are not an inferior community.
Gay people are not tearing about society. It is homophobia and transphobia, racism and xenophobia, misogyny and violence against the disabled that are our new Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
We must watch out for them.