Thursday, 25 March 2010


Dust and stone in vertiginous shoots,
Illuminated pink against the dusk.
Half-drunk and lost, we cruise the streets,
that crawl and slither beneath us.
At knee-height, traders ply their wares:
Marigolds and glittered decals of deities.
In an attempt to interact,
I pay too much for a Ganesh.

Once back in our hotel,
I unfurl it on the cover of my journal.
Inside I write an imperfect haiku:
Jaipur is mental,
To the Amber Fort tomorrow!
Will write more then.

I close the book and lie back on the bed,
Exhausted and overwhelmed.

I'll be offline for the next couple of weeks (on holiday), but will be back with more needless words in April. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Last day of Planet Earth

On the very last day of planet Earth, the bubbling oceans released great whorls of toxic gas into the atmosphere. Cracks became fissures became canyons. Each canyon flowing with lava; smoking, spitting and bubbling as it travelled. Blackened trees, stripped of their leaves, still stood: eerie witnesses to this apocalypse. In the skies, no birds flew. In the oceans, no fish swam. Yet at the very precipice of a blood-red ravine in California stood the last two remaining humans – Adam and Steve.
‘Well. Looks like this is it.’

Distractedly: ‘Mmm.’

‘Yep. This is probably it. The big finale, el Fin Del Mundo… Steve, what do you think has been the greatest achievement of the human race over the last 200,000 years, or whatever? I mean – what do you think will be our legacy once we’re all gone?’

‘I don’t know. I’m tired, to be honest. I had a long day. I had another run-in with my boss.’

‘I mean, I know that we made all these amazing advancements in technology, and that there’s this whole virtual world full of stuff. But all of that is probably lost now. It was so important, and yet so fragile. There’s probably nothing left now. No such thing as the internet.’

‘The thing is, he’s supposed to be my line manager, but he doesn’t even understand what my job is. I really think that he has no idea. Christ knows how he managed to get to senior level. It’s true what they say: shit floats.’

‘Probably our one last remaining testament to be found by future archaeologists will be our shopping malls. Underneath all the rubble and the rock, they’ll find a still-intact out-of-town mall spreading out for miles and miles. The faux-Grecian stuccos and columns perfectly preserved in carbon.’

‘Anyway, he’s probably dead now. I don’t know why I’m worrying. Why should I give him the satisfaction? Do you know that he refused my holiday request for Spring Break? No reason given. The paper just turned up on my desk: Your request has been refused.’

‘The future archaeologists and historians will hypothesise what these enormous structures were for. They’ll probably think they’re some kind of temple. A multi-denominational temple worshipping the Gods of Gap and Starbucks.’ Pleased with his observational humour, Adam allowed himself a snigger. He turned to Steve, but Steve was still brooding, still self-involved.

Suddenly, with a rumble and a burp (like Ouroboros - the metaphorical snake that ate its own tail), the Earth swallowed itself. The result of the implosion was a black-hole - large and powerful enough to ensure that, even in its absence, the Earth could continue to hoover up anything positive or useful from the galaxy for another million years.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Gravity Curves

The International Spacetime Investigation Committee (ISIC) had politely asked Peter Strondike to leave five years previously. Though a gifted physicist, Peter was considered ‘Not a Team Player’ by the group. In fact, his single-mindedness in the pursuit of time travel enraged other committee members. At the ISIC Annual Conference 2026, Peter had created a laughing stock of the group’s achievements with his presentation ‘Gravity curves: an exploration of Gravitational Fields and Time Travel’.
‘Regretfully I must ask for your resignation from the Committee,’ wrote the then-president Carl Walson PhD, ‘We thank you for all your contributions… you have been an asset to the development of ISIC…’
Five years later, the words of this missive were still imprinted on Peter’s brain. But his rejection had ultimately been the catalyst to spur on his own experiments. Peter preferred to work alone anyway. In fact, he preferred to do pretty much everything alone: Eat alone, live alone, sleep alone. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than another human about the place; cluttering things up, demanding attention, making conversation. Yuck.
There was really never any doubt to Peter that he would achieve time travel anyway. His whole life had built to this; from tinkering with rockets as a boy, to his Doctorate in Physics at Bern University, to his development (from the conception) of ISIC. As he sat in his workshop, he idly dreamed of the first journey he would make when his machine was finally complete. A few clich├ęs would be necessary: The removal of Adolf Hitler would be top of the list, the prevention of the discovery of Nuclear Weapons, perhaps he could smuggle back a couple of modern-day vaccines? And for his own personal gratification: an encounter with Albert Einstein would be hard to beat.
With the discovery of a new element Marinovium (atomic number 278), the final piece to Peter’s interdimensional jigsaw had arrived. With trepidation, Peter stepped into his machine, closed the motor actuated vacuum door, and held his fingers static above the virtual keyboard. Suddenly, all of Peter’s noble intentions to better the history of the world deserted him. Before he even knew what he had done, his fingers had keyed in the date 11th March 1984, and the place: Swindon Community Youth Club. With a flash and a baritone howl, the machine (pregnant with Peter) embarked on its maiden voyage.

Feeling woozy, Peter clambered out of the vessel, and made his way into the centre. All around him, groups of young teenagers noisily huddled, playing ping-pong, listening to music. Peter edged to the far corner of the room where he found the reason for his journey. Sat together around a table were Simon Vee (an older teenager, covered in acne and socially awkward), Fiona Shaw (the object of Peter’s teenage affections – his first crush), and a 14-year-old Peter Strondike. For a moment, Future Peter hesitated, then approached the table.
‘Peter, I need to speak with you.’
14-year-old Peter surveyed this white-haired, bearded eccentric before him with zero recognition. Not wishing to lose cool points by acquiescing with this stranger’s request, Young Peter affected insouciance, and turned his back on his future, returning his attention to his friends.
Astounded, the Future Peter considered his options. There was so much that he wanted to say to his younger self. He wanted to warn him not to get in the Green Fiat in Milan. He wanted to let him know that, at 24 he will suddenly (and briefly) become attractive to females, but that he must capitalise on it, because he will be unaware at the time – have some fun, have some flings! He wanted to steer him towards Gravitational Physics, to the exclusion of Quantum, as this is where his career will ultimately lead. He wanted to explain about the back-stabbers of ISIC, and let him know that he was better than them anyway, and would ultimately have the last laugh. But more than anything he wanted to say ‘Take Fiona Shaw by the hand and lead her outside. Tell her how you feel. Tell her now. It is very likely that she will reciprocate. If you do not do this now, you will never have another chance, and you will regret this for the rest of your life.’
Ah, but what was the point? Young Peter would not listen anyway. Resigned to his impotence, Future Peter backed out of the Community Centre, climbed back aboard his machine, and in a burst of white light, returned to his workshop in April, 2031. Stepping for the last time out of his vehicle, he picked up a screwdriver from his work bench and slowly, methodically, set to work disassembling his life’s work screw by screw, bracket by bracket, component by component.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

In a daydream, you imagine what it would be like to experience a birth, inspired by the arrival of a new baby girl to one of your good friends

This is a story I wrote a while ago - reproduced here in celebration of Neve's 4th (4th!) birthday today.

You are woken at 3am by your wife, who is experiencing tightenings, quickenings, contractions. This is not unusual: she has woken you every night for the last week with her sufferings. Even though the routine is familiar, it is exhilarating each time. You fall back to sleep. You awake again after an indeterminate period of time (in sleep, all periods of time are indeterminate). Your fecund wife is still awake, still experiencing pain. This time, you cannot resume slumber. You talk to her, quiz her of the pains. After an hour in bed like this, you switch on the bedside light to retrieve a digital watch. You time the contractions (yes – you are now referring to them as contractions). They last one minute, and are 10 minutes apart. You hug each other excitedly, then walk down the stairs together to phone the delivery suite.
‘Hello, Maternity ward.’
Speaking in a deliberately measured tone (to give the impression of calm, of control):
‘Hello. My name is {name}. My wife is one day past her due date, and we think that she is in the early stages of labour. We are registered for a home birth. Her contractions are one minute long, and 10 minutes apart…’
Your wife, sat next to an alarm clock, corrects you:
‘Now 6 minutes apart.’
‘…sorry, six minutes apart.’
‘OK, would you like us to send out a midwife now?’
Losing your cool a little, you fumble your words, ask your wife, and then pass the phone on to her. She makes the necessary arrangements, displaying the exact amount of confidence that you tried, then failed to pretend.
You walk to the utility room and attach a hose to the tap. You will use this hose to fill the inflated pool that you already have set up in your dining-room. Of course, before you go, you explain to your wife where you are going, and seek their approval. As the morning progresses, there will be much of this explanation/approval pattern (I’m just going to the toilet, will you be OK?).
You expect a period of the two of you sitting, waiting, talking. Instead, you hear a tentative door-tap almost immediately (it felt like immediately – how long could it have been? Minutes?). Standing at the door is a perfect midwife. She smiles, reassures, enters the room and begins to set out her stall.
By the time the second midwife arrives, a remarkable calm has fallen over the house - your house. Your wife is not writhing in pain, as you had expected, but instead, is sat on the couch, concentrating on breathing, leaning her head back into a cushion. Each time she does this, you catch the midwives eye, check the clock perched next to her, raise your eyebrows, and then remember your duty and comfort her by lightly touching her hand, leg, or head. The contractions are becoming more painful, and closer together. The midwife examines your wife, and declares her to be three centimetres. With your rudimentary knowledge of labour, you understand from this that you are in for a wait.
A word here about how utterly, utterly useless you are. You Are Useless. The midwives find small jobs for you, which you do gratefully. There is the hand-holding that we mentioned. Oh, and you made a playlist for her on your music player, so you add soothing music to the room. But really, you are no help at all. Get used to this feeling.
At around 7 in the morning, the pain is changing – things are progressing faster than you expected. The pool is uncovered, and your wife gets in the water. It is beginning to get light outside (and here is where you become aware that this must be a daydream, or some such fantasy), through the window you see three inches of snow have fallen, blanketing your garden. You both stare out of the window, as ‘Cool Waves’ by Spiritualized begins. It is too perfect.
The birth? Grunting, screaming, writhing agony for around 5 minutes, and then a head is visible beneath the water. A perfect head, covered in dark hair. A final push, and the baby is free. Deftly, the midwives scoop up this new life, and as they do, you and your wife synchronise:
‘It’s a girl!’
…and she is placed on your wife’s chest. She is purple, and covered in a white goo, and yet she looks more beautiful than anything in the world.

In the daydream, we now skip to one week after the event. You stand in your kitchen over a pan of milk, and try to evaluate how you feel, to remember all the emotions that have passed over you. It’s difficult to put your finger on it.
With the continuous stream of well-wishers, and the extra work involved in having a baby, there is very little time to reflect. But now, as you stand over the stove, it occurs to you: ‘I feel taller.’ Physically taller. You grin as you feel yourself looming over this miniature oven, and standing tall, you breathe in deeply, then exhale.