All this happened so it must be true

Mostly stories, plus other odds and ends

The Mind-Expanding Properties of Carpet Glue

In June, Donna and I had set out on a program of solvent abuse. In the woods behind our houses there was an inch-deep, oily stream, leftover from when all this used to be countryside. The stream ran into a concrete overflow tunnel. Inside the tunnel, hidden by branches and shopping trolleys, me and Donna experimented with the mind-expanding properties of carpet glue, WD40, nail polish remover, Scotchgard, butane gas and lighter fluid.

Read the rest of this entry »

Proposal for the Museum of the Agreed Future

At the Museum of the Agreed Future will we consume timely and relevant content, appropriate to our particular wants and needs.

At the Museum of the Agreed Future we will spend our days trying to remember everything we have lost.

At the Museum of the Agreed Future all public gatherings of more than five people will be prohibited, except in the case of pre-approved spontaneous comings-together of singing or dancing crowds for e.g. the filming of mobile phone adverts.

At the Museum of the Agreed Future, which will be built on reclaimed, poisoned land, we will never be more than six feet from the possibility of ecological disaster. The soft estuary mud will lap at the reinforced pilings. Our moored boats will shift and jostle like nervous cattle on the rising tide.

As we shift and jostle in front of the many oversubscribed exhibits inside the museum. Read the rest of this entry »

Dracula, Sunk in Despair

Dracula sunk in despair.  Dracula drunk before noon.  Dracula wandering the magnificent, draughty rooms of his castle, wrapped in a heavy blanket and swigging from a bottle of three hundred year old plum brandy.  Dracula alone, his former brides all having left for the consolations of plastic surgery and younger, richer men (footballers, mostly). Dracula as unwanted tourist attraction, then.  Like the solitary old bear in a failed municipal zoo:  “Oh, but how he used to dance, Elisabeta!  Before the war! When there were trams, etc.” Dracula as embarrassing reminder of the bad old, good old days. Dracula as your grandparents’ favourite sideboard, which they insisted your parents take with them when they moved into their first home. Dracula as metaphor, endlessly. Dracula drifting between holiday resorts along the Black Sea, brooding in spectacular examples of post-Stalinist Soviet architecture. Dracula pondering the monuments to progress and the will of the people. So many atonal concrete symphonies! So many teenagers buying ice creams! Dracula at his Dacha. Dracula seen at the window, staring out at the rain falling softly across the lake (the endless, metaphorical rain).  Dracula visiting his travel agent. Dracula on an arctic cruise to see the northern lights, in the land where the sun never rises.  Dracula stuck up a Norwegian Fjord for two weeks with a party of elderly ladies, throwing himself again and again upon their dry, wrinkled necks…

So I got shortlisted for the 2015 White Review Short Story Prize…

…and you can read my entry here:

[Edit: I WON!]

Ballerinas Across the Andes, or The Great Ecstasy of Werner H.

We lost the first girl before we even got on the boat

We’d been stuck out on the Argentinean pampas for a week, waiting for the steamer that was going to take us up the river. We spent our days sitting on the hotel porch drinking pisco sours and staring into the vast landscape as the ballerinas smoked cigarettes and told obscene Russian folk tales.

It was Svetlana who bolted, of course. Gloomy, nervous Svetlana, with her pale, wheat-coloured eyes full of the Ukrainian steppe. Maybe something out in all that immensity reminded her of home.

Her note said she’d run away with one of the local capybara herders. We never saw her again.

She was one of the lucky ones. Read the rest of this entry »

Green Grow the Rushes

Burton is drunk again and explaining to the barmaid about astral projection.

It’s Friday night and the tiny, one-room pub is half empty. Burton is telling the barmaid about the impossibly thin thread that ties her to this mortal realm, and about the wonders we could all experience if we could only shake ourselves loose of our attachment to this mundane version of reality.

‘Dawn breaks behind the eyes,’ he tells her – he’s quoting now, his hand on hers, leaning across the bar, and, oh, that voice – ‘From pole of skull and toe, the windy blood slides like a sea…’

It’s not the first time he’s used this approach. It may not even be the first time with this particular barmaid. In the three weeks they’ve been filming in this forgotten town in the middle of the marshes, the twenty-five-year-old Burton has managed to seduce two schoolgirls, a postmistress, a fifty five year old widower, a landlord’s wife – and at least four barmaids. He’s also started five fights, crashed two cars, been banned from three pubs and performed Hamlet at four in the morning to a field full of surprised cows. Read the rest of this entry »

The Love Song of the Predator Drone – the video

The Love Song of the Predator Drone

If there was one thing Mary had learned in three years in Afghanistan, it was as banal as this: Love and war are a terrible combination.

Also: never get into a Chinook helicopter piloted by a drunk member of the royal family.

Mary was as an official war artist, just like everyone else. Due to a British Council error in late 2009 hundreds of artists had been sent to the country to interpret the conflict. During the second Helmand offensive you couldn’t set up a mortar emplacement or sweep a road for mines without tripping over a mixed-media collagist or a site-specific sculptor.

Eventually the army decided they’d had enough and revoked everyone’s visas, so the artists all drifted up into the mountains, where they held community outreach events and private viewings and opening night cheese-and-wine parties for the bemused local tribespeople. Occasionally a performance poet or someone who worked in ceramics was kidnapped and beheaded by the local Taliban franchise, but for the most part relations were good.

And it was in the mountains that Mary had fallen in love with a United States MQ-1 unmanned Predator drone. Read the rest of this entry »

Special Economic Advisors, in Love

We met in the air, of course. Cocktail hour in first class, thirty thousand feet above Frankfurt or London or Paris. All it took was a spot of turbulence and a moment of mutual understanding. It was Friday night and off our starboard wing all of Western Europe was lit up like Christmas.

Forty five minutes later we were on the ground and ordering champagne up to our room.

You’d been on your way to consult on another round of bailout talks and I was coming back from a guest spot at the World Economic Forum. We were young, beautiful and stupidly rich. We spent the weekend playing ‘you show me your fiscal stimulus policy and I’ll show you mine’.

“My position on interest rates,” you told me, breathlessly, “is very flexible”.

We agreed on further exploratory talks. Read the rest of this entry »

Special Economic Advisers, in Love – The Video!