flash fiction #2

January 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

Yesterday I posted the first of my two flash-fictions about a girl sitting in the park. Here’s the second of the two – I think I prefer it, although other people tend to prefer the first. I wrote this about three years ago, a day or two after I wrote the other one.

*

a song to pass the time

Going to the park had been my idea, of course. It’s getting dark early now that it’s November, and I like the idea of visiting it when it’s meant to be closed. They need to fix the fence if they want to really keep us out.

I’m listening to a lot of French music at the moment, by which I mean Serge Gainsbourg and the Amelie soundtrack. I have an iPod but it feels so impersonal and it’s really ugly, so I don’t use it much anymore. I prefer the old cassette walkman that I found lying around the house. It makes me feel different. So I’ve got one earphone in and Serge is singing in French je t’aime, je t’aime, oh oui je t’aime! and I think that means that he’s saying he loves me but I’m not sure because I stopped learning French when I was fourteen and I wasn’t very good anyway. I can say mais and poulet and the stuff about my name and age, but that’s about it. I’m pretty sure he’s saying he loves me. Or Jane Birkin.

“No one’s ever said they love me,” I say to Sam, who’s texting someone instead of paying attention to me.

“So?” Sam says.

“Well, my parents say it,” I say.

“I’m really cold,” Leo says, and he probably is because he forgot to bring a coat and it’s frosty in the park. He’s not shivering though. Leo thinks he’s cool and alternative because he listens to Taking Back Sunday and because he doesn’t want to be an accountant or a lawyer. I think Leo needs to start wearing appropriate clothes.

“Leo, do you have to always wear clothes that have swear words on them?” I ask, genuinely curious.

“Fuck off,” Leo says, crossing his arms so that I can only see half of the small fuck on his tee shirt, and only half of the you that follows it.

I decide not to fuck off but I don’t think Leo actually meant it. Serge has finished now. Françoise Hardy is playing but I have no idea what she’s singing about. I like it this way. I used to hate music that I didn’t understand but now I’m eighteen and I think that I’m not meant to understand music. There’s nothing worse, I believe, than a song that means what it says.

“I love you,” Will says, and he sounds sincere with drunkenness. Will has about five times as much money as all of us combined, which means that he likes to drink lots of the cheapest cider he can find. He has a plastic bag containing at least three bottles next to him on the bench.

“Say it in French,” I ask, because I know he has a B at French GCSE, so he’s practically bilingual.

“J’aime,” he says, and I know that he doesn’t love me.

“You’re saying it wrong,” I say, “there’s a t in there somewhere. T.” I just sound like I’m tutting.

*

(photo by ©sammie on flickr, used under a creative commons license)

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flash fiction #1

January 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

So I was thinking about what to post up here, and I thought of these 500-word stories I wrote a few years ago, in the summer between sixth form and university, and how I’d never done much with them. I mostly write poetry, when I’m writing – I keep attempting prose fiction but nothing about it quite works for me. I don’t understand very basic things like the pace, like how much should be covered in a page – it’s a perpetual mystery to me how anybody gets beyond page 3 of a novel. Having said that, I do like writing flash fiction – 500/1000 word bursts of story is something I can and enjoy working at. I have two of these, and will post the other one tomorrow. I don’t think they’re brilliant, but they’re quite fun, I hope.

Also, I just looked through my flickr page for photos I took a few years ago, in case there’s one that’ll work well with this story. I haven’t really progressed at all since I was like, 17. I’m just the same. Except I’m slightly less cool now, & I wasn’t even cool to begin with.

*

best of times


I light a cigarette and turn to Jonas, because there isn’t much else to do. He’s smoking, too, although he doesn’t really like the taste of Mayfair and it’s all I have with me. Our arms are touching lightly and I’m not actually sure how he feels about me as this isn’t a date but a meeting with friends. He’s cool, though, so I don’t mind him smoking one of my last cigarettes even if he doesn’t actually like it.

It’s July and school’s over forever.

“You going away this summer?” Jonas asks me. I say nah, trying to get a job, we went away last year. Jonas isn’t going away either, but I knew that anyway. He already visited family in Sweden back in April and he’s saving his money for a car. “I guess I’ll see you around,” he mumbles into his cigarette.

I’m trying to avoid making eye contact with Jonas because I don’t want him to know that I like him, but I don’t want to look anywhere else so I glance up at his face for just a second before looking back down at my hands, one of which still contains a blackening cigarette. What neither of us does is look at anyone else; our friends have just had a massive fight and as far as I can tell we’re the only ones still talking to each other.

“You found a car yet?” I ask, because I know he’s been looking for a while. Jonas says nope, still looking, and anyway the insurance is going to cost him everything he earns so he needs a new job as well. Our friends are still ignoring everyone.

“I’m glad school’s over,” I say.

“I never went in anyway,” Jonas points out. Jonas is eighteen and has somehow managed to get four A Levels at grade E. It’s impressive considering how low his attendance record has been for the past two years. What’s even more impressive is that he actually got five A Levels; he got an A for his fifth, Medieval History, despite never going to any lessons for that either. I don’t really understand Jonas.

My other friends never went to school either. I went because there was nothing else to do.

Christina has started to cry. She’s sitting on a bench by herself and she’s holding an almost empty bag of cold chips, but I don’t think that’s why she’s crying. She keeps flapping her free hand in front of her eyes and mouth as if that’s going to hide something, but she’s doing a rubbish job of masking her racking breaths. It’s too hot for chips, anyway. Jonas and I bought ice cream.

Christina’s like the elephant in the room, except we’re in the park and she weighs less than my arm (and I’m not heavy either). I don’t look over.

“Shall I walk you home?” Jonas asks, and I say yeah, why not, not doing anything here anyway, it’s too hot to think.

*

(photo from here)

portrait of a woman (picture perfect #2)

January 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

Portrait of a woman seated in a garden

I love this photograph. I love how smooth it all is, & the selective focus – the smoothness is a fairly common characteristic of old photographs (I’m not sure exactly how old this is, though – at a guess I’d place it as early-1900s?) but it really works here. How you can hardly make out her face, which the black-and-white film has bleached, so that the left side has barely any shade. But then the checks on her suit are perfectly sharp, you can almost feel the texture of the hat – and all around her, there is a blur. She has made herself like this, the photograph says. She has chosen to present herself this way. She is more real than her plants. She is stronger than herself.

rosie rosie rosie

January 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

I promised to myself that I wouldn’t abandon this blog when I got back to university, and I’m trying my hardest not to, but Auden is currently beating down my door. Well, that’s a lie – but I should certainly be reading about him & love & “building the just city” in his poetry, rather than just writing this. So here’s what I’ve put together in a small amount of stolen time – I thought I’d show you some of my friend Rosie’s animation & drawn/painted art. She’s currently applying to do a degree in illustration & animation. She did the animation above as part of her art foundation degree a couple of years ago.

fur and blotting paper

you can see the above picture in its full (& much bigger) glory here.

kiss kingdom

and again, you can see this much bigger at rosie’s deviantart. This drawing was used as the front cover of an issue of an online magazine I guest-edited – YM:Crash. Why not take a look? and finally, i’ll leave you with one more drawing of Rosie’s, this time black & white:

people

click here to see this one bigger. rosie’s drawings are great, and fun, and varied – click through from one of these links to her gallery, and you’ll see what i mean.

sorry to not put together a proper, written, post – one of those is coming up, i swear. but until then.

the fight for history

January 8, 2011 § 3 Comments

I got back from Gloucestershire (via London, where money seems to just osmose out of me) today, and on the journey back this song came up on my mp3 player’s shuffle. I then proceeded to play it about a thousand more times. It was written in 2004 in reaction to what people (well, mostly the media, I think) said about the death of Ronald Reagan, but six years on, and despite the fact that Margaret Thatcher hasn’t died (which the song kind of hinges on, but it’s not really about that – more on this later), and despite the fact that the UK’s political landscape has changed (as much as a two-party/two-and-a-bit-party system can) in the intervening years, it seems to pretty much nail what’s happening in UK politics at the moment.

First of all, it’s not a song about the death of Margaret Thatcher. No, really, it’s not. I know one of those when I hear it. It’s about the way that modern political history gets rewritten – the way that politicians who did horrible things while in office start rehabilitating themselves by turning up on the telly whenever it’ll have them. He sings about Steve Norris and Edwina Currie becoming personalities rather than politicians, and all I can think about is Ann Widdecombe on Strictly Come Dancing, and how awful she is, and how people found her entertaining and funny and voted to keep her in for weeks. She’s against abortion, when she was an MP she consistently voted against equality for gays and lesbians, she voted against removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords, and she doesn’t believe in climate change (that’s a fairly horrible website and I don’t want to give them hits, but I can’t find her actual column anywhere else). If you’re interested, there’s a list of the abhorrent things she’s done here.

He sings these lines, and she dances through my head, while people from the telly say inane things like “you always get a contestant who brings humour and fun to the show. I love Ann”:

All the smiling lying psychopaths we finally deposed
Are now creeping into reality TV and phone-in shows

Yeah. Happening again. And we need to fight it, you know? Because this is the kind of revisionism – the kind of short-sightedness – that allows us to forget what the Conservatives did in the 1980s. The kind of short-sightedness that makes us giggle at a politician who only stood down from her position as an MP in May this year. May! And before Christmas everybody couldn’t wait to talk about how much they giggled at her on Strictly. It’s this kind of revisionism that leads to what features in the next verse in the song, after a description of how “preening pamphlet-headed peacocks” only ever talk about ooh wasn’t his hair glamorous and mad in the eighties etc.:

As if the miners’ strike, the poll tax and BSE never happened
As if Section 28 was never passed into the law
As if Osama Bin Laden wasn’t paid to fight our wars
As if the institutionalised weren’t turfed onto the streets
Into a new society they said did not exist

This is it. This is it exactly. David Cameron showed, earlier this year, how out of his depth he was when it came to gay rights. He wasn’t an MP when Section 28 became law – but he didn’t turn up to the vote to repeal it, either, and in Europe the Conservatives are aligned with a Polish party who are peddling the same sort of homophobic views that we finally managed to expel – at least in law – seven years ago. In 2009, one of his MEPs even defended a homophobic insult used by the party’s leader – claiming it had been taken out of context. As if homophobic abuse is something that can just be explained away. David Cameron mostly just tries to shrug off talk of his party’s past in this sort of area as if it’s a faint but inconsequential embarrassment.

It’s his party’s lying that caused 2010’s second budget to be known as an “emergency” budget, so that they could start a regime of unnecessary cuts, that hit the poorest hardest, no matter what various members of the coalition say. It wasn’t working particularly well when it came to polling day – despite an incumbent Labour government that nobody liked, led by the increasingly blunder-ridden Gordon Brown, the Conservatives didn’t manage to win a majority of seats. But they joined up with the Lib Dems (as was always going to happen – there was a reason that I voted Labour) and their combined “wave of lies”, to use M.J. Hibbett’s words… have kind of beaten the media, and a lot of people, down. Why is nobody other than like Johann Hari, Laurie Penny, and the people at UK Uncut talking about the weird economic lies that the coalition – and the political establishment in general, Labour have done this too, to a lesser extent – use to justify cuts, use to justify the austerity that we’re now facing? They’re all great, and I thank them – but we need more people in the media talking about this, and less just repeating what the politicians say. They’ve shown time and time again that they can’t be trusted. They’re just waiting to retire with their millions and a quick route into telly fame.

The Conservatives cut themselves off from their past – as M.J. Hibbett sings about here, and as Stewart Lee talks about here (go about two and a half minutes in), and this is what allows them to continue to lie, continue to do the same things over and over again. Yes, regeneration is important to any political party, and new leaders and members believe in different things, and can legitimetaly break with what went before. But the Conservative party was unpleasant in the past, and remains unpleasant now –  it tries to pretend that it’s not full of old men who rubbish the hard times that people less well-off than them are facing. It tries to pretend that it’s not full of MPs who don’t believe in equal rights for people and couples of any sexuality, but… the evidence keeps popping up, like garden weeds. They said they’d be the greenest government ever, but they’re going to sell off the forests and don’t seem to have started any radical plans to help stop climate change. They’re cutting funding for regional public transport. They’re allowing train ticket prices to rise to the point where nobody will be able to afford them, and will end up just using their cars again. They pretend that they’ve changed when they haven’t, and it’s the short-sightedness of the media and voters that lets them get away with it. Ann Widdecombe is being used as some sort of distraction from what’s really happening. This song recognises what her appearance on the show was really about, six years before she even pulled on a pair of dancing shoes. Because it’s a constant cycle of lies and apologies and every year the same thing.

In his long commentary about the song, M.J. Hibbett says:

It’s a strange experience to stand on stage singing songs about something which feels so current and relevant to me, in front of adults who were only toddlers when it was all happening. Sometimes it feels like a history lesson, sometimes it feels like Folk Music, but sometimes I see people my age with a gleam in their eye when I sing it, and it’s always lovely to talk to them afterwards. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels like his adolescence is being re-written.

I was born in 1989, and I’m writing six years after his own commentary. But I still think this song is important – I think the ideas it contains need to be expressed. I think that what it says is true. It’s what allowed Boris to become mayor of London.

Politicians are not celebrities. I wish the programme controllers or whoever the fuck it is who books people for all these programmes about famous amateurs doing something in a studio every week would fucking realise it. They are, or were, important, and we need to not let personalities and wardrobes and all that shit get in the way. It’s hard enough to understand who’s telling the truth and who is responsible for what without all of this cluttering everything. STOP. Stop now. Don’t help them push their agendas, don’t laugh at what they say. An aide who did a weekend course in comedy probably told them to do it anyway. Just stop.

And finally. Of course this song isn’t about wanting Thatcher to die. Come on. It’s not an empty, earnest, political song, the type that people love to say they hate. It’s so much cleverer than that.

tracks of the year #3

January 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

I know, I know, it’s now 2011 so this is late. But I wanted to tie off my first two posts about my favourite tracks of the year with one last list of songs that I liked. Here are some more songs that I enjoyed from the year just gone, but by no means all of them. Shout at me about those I missed in the comments.

~

Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union (buy album here)

I need to listen to their new album properly – but I’ve listened to this one over and over again. The video’s great, which is why I’ve embeded it, but if you’ve not heard the full seven minutes nine seconds of this that’s on the album then you need to search the full version down (it’s on spotify here). It’s beautiful, uses spoken word samples with purpose, and writes New Jersey as somewhere to be escaped from; at times it sounds like he believes New Jersey needs to change, but really it’s clear that the need for escape is something primal, irrational within the narrator. He wants a ‘cruel New England winter’, yet eventually he wants ‘to realize too late I never should have left New Jersey’. He is stuck inside himself, but he knows this now.

The song’s also full of references to the American Civil War, which I’m not going to pretend to know anything about. Just listen to it.

~

Johnny Foreigner – Tru Punx (buy single here)

This is probably my favourite of the millions of songs that Johnny Foreigner released this year (I’m not kidding – their wikipedia lists three EPs, there seems to be even more at their bandcamp, and they released a split 7 inch with Stagecoach, which this song is taken from). It’s short, melancholy, and full of references to a song that  was on their debut EP, ‘Champagne Girls I Have Known’; this kind of continuity and reference to what has come before won’t seem alienating if this is the first song by them that you’ve ever heard, but for me… it’s important, it’s almost heartbreaking. In this song, Johnny Foreigner make me want to write their lyrics across my pillowcases/pencil cases/eyelids/fingers/kneecaps. Or just shout them out, loud. Other Johnny Foreigner sings released this year include the amazingly titled ‘Who Needs Comment Boxes When You’ve Got Knives’ and ‘Elegy for Post-Teenage Living’, both on the (take a deep breath) ‘You Thought You Saw a Shooting Star but Yr Eyes Were Blurred With Tears and That Lighthouse Can Be Pretty Deceiving With the Sky So Clear and Sea So Calm’ EP.

~

The Indelicates – Jerusalem (buy here)

Yeah, I hate the tories too.

~

PS I Love You – Starfield (buy here)

I’m not sure why they chose this name. It’s a pretty great song, though. And the vocalist’s voice is all weird and thin and jerky, like all the best voices are.

why are women’s magazines anti-feminist?

January 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

So, last term I attempted to put together a feminist radio show, for music played by women & discussion of women in the media. We recorded one episode, I’m not sure if the station ever put it out, and basically it was a disaster. I am still interested in regularly writing and talking about magazines and television, etc., from a feminist perspective, so I’m going to start a series of posts looking at them here. This post serves as a kind of introduction to the problems I see with women’s magazines, and focuses on More!, a weekly that’s aimed at twenty-sometimes who like high street shops and sex tips illustrated with barbie dolls. Full disclaimer: this was first published in a student paper that I write for back in October. I’ll try and post something new up in the next few days.

~

WHY ARE MAGAZINES ANTI-FEMINIST

all that more! cares about with lady gaga is whether men find her attractive

There are swathes of women’s magazines available in any shop that carries periodicals, from corner shops to supermarkets – they range from weeklies like More!, glossy monthlies such as Cosmo, full of interviews with Jordan, high street fashion photoshoots and tips on how to give blow jobs, to magazines for older readers like Women’s Weekly. These magazines are mostly shallow and thoughtless, and are at worst actively anti-feminist.

In an average issue of More!, a writer asks 40 young men what they deem ‘ONE BIG QUESTION’. In the edition from the 30th of August, these men were asked ‘What’s the one thing you’d change about your girlfriend?’. The double-page spread makes depressing reading – one guy wants his girlfriend to ‘have bigger boobs and blonder hair’, while another says he wants to ‘sellotape her mouth shut’, and a third wishes that he could ‘transform her into Cheryl Cole’. More! didn’t necessarily feed answers into these men’s mouths, but it gives them a prominent place in the magazine, and claims to have found what men ‘really wish was different about us’, as if this is important, and casually sexist jokes made by a few men are representative.

On the cover of the same issue, the magazine advertises a piece on three men who are ‘YOUNG, HOT…’ and ‘SLEEP WITH PROSTITUTES’. Inside, the first question asked to each man is ‘is sex better with a prostitute?’, followed with ‘do you ask them to do things you wouldn’t ask a girlfriend?’. No questions are raised about safety, beyond that of whether the men can tell if the prostitutes are over 16, to which one says he has never thought about it – the focus is firmly on the sexual inadequacy of girlfriends. More! goes out of its way to present the men as wild and desirable – the first describes himself as ‘not the best-looking guy’ and the second says that he has been open with ex-girlfriends about sleeping with prostitutes and wouldn’t pay for sex while in a relationship, yet More! claims that they are ‘HOT’, and that ‘unlike Peter Crouch… [they] don’t care if they get caught’.

MORE! is filled with articles like this. It is casually transphobic, with another cover asking readers ‘which of these girls used to be A MAN’. It belittles women like Julia Roberts for not removing body hair, using the ‘ONE BIG QUESTION’ format to make the issue all about men’s desires rather than women’s thoughts about their own bodies. Other magazines are little better – Grazia recently had a piece that claimed that by wearing leather and having pale skin, celebrities are ‘toying with their sexual identities via the medium of their wardrobes’, as if sexual orientation is a product of surface and little else.

Why do publications about music, business, sports and current affairs often get placed under the ‘for men’ section in shops, as if women should only read the regressive magazines that are written for them on the basis of gender alone? Magazines like More! and Grazia are vapid, harmful, and are read by hundreds of thousands of women every week, every month, and there is no obvious alternative to their endless barrage of mindless sexism and deference to the attitudes of random men towards women’s bodies, behaviour and lives.