Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Bei Mir Bist Du Shayn

The sky was unusually clear. Orion’s Belt was visible, which for North London was nothing short of a miracle. They walked side by side, hands shovelled into warm pockets of winter coats. Her nose was pink from the brisk midnight air, and he was a little concerned for her.

“Are you cold?” he asked into the silence, not really knowing what he would do if she was.
“No,” she replied, turning to face him with a grin, “are you cold?” His shivering had given him away.
“A bit.”
She stopped walking. “Do you want to head back?” Now it was her turn to look concerned.
“I’ll be alright for the minute.” He looked into her dark quizzical eyes. ‘I was just worried about you.’ he told her in his head.
“Ayoy, where’s your chutzpah huh?” They started forward again. “I tell you what, you’d last about five minutes in Poland. If you didn’t freeze to death, you’d probably be kalashnikoved for being a massive pansy.”
“Since when have you been to Poland?”
“Since when have you not? Jesus man, you’re a worse Jew than I thought. You gotta go, pay some respect to our Hebros. Besides, the Jew Card comes in handy when making vaguely uncouth jokes. For example, you’re only actually allowed to laugh at Auschwitz if you’re a Jew. Fact.”
“That is absolute bollocks. Surely no-one should be laughing at Auschwitz.”
“If that’s what you think, you should see the Israelis. They go absolutely mental there; waving banners, singing songs, whole shebang. Doesn’t count for gays, or gypsies, or communists, or any other persecuted minorities. It’s just the Jews that have free reign. Seems a bit unfair, but uhm, all’s fair in clichés and war, allegedly.” He tried not to laugh. She regularly came out with oddly inappropriate comments.
“I should be horribly offended by you. Besides, I’m an actual Jew, you’re just a hanger-oner.”
“This is not the How Jewish Are You competition. And even if it was, I would definitely win, even if by a mere technicality. I may know nothing more about Judaism than Hava Nagila, but I’d beat you hands down.”
“That’s what I mean! Surely genuinely being Jewish ranks higher than some weird religious loop hole. What’s your obsession with it anyway? If you love us so much, why not just, you know, convert.”
“Way too much effort man.” She laughed, then spoke with sudden sincerity. “In all seriousness though, I mainly hype up the Jewishness for comedic effect. Wouldn’t ever want to offend anyone, not really. But still, you know, Jewish people get a lot of shtick.”
“Shitck? Really?”
“Shlip of the tongue, apologies. Maybe I just want to be Woody Allen.”
“You sound more like Sean Connery.”
“Whatever,” she smirked, with a dramatic wave of her hand, “the Jewish thing kind of started when I was in a Warsaw ghetto museum and someone made a stupid joke. I mean, I’m down with ‘casual racism’ to an extent, well so to speak, as long as it’s funny and not just plain ignorant and insulting. I think it’s only funny when it’s mocking people that genuinely believe it to be true. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yeah, no, no, I know what you mean. Racist people make me sick.”
“Exactly! This is exactly what I’m saying right. Racist people are fucking morons, there we go. Seriously don’t get me started. But do I offend you?”
“Of course not.”
“I didn’t think so. Anyway, so some douche made a comment about Jews, which was actually pretty bog standard and not even funny, so I pulled the Jew Card. Look on his face was absolutely beautiful; I genuinely wish I could have like, bottled it for later. Since then, well I guess I became a sort of highly vocal supporter of Jews. There are enough people being vocal against Jews, still, even just as a joke, but they talk about them being really stingy or whatever.."
He grabbed her hand, “Hold that thought.”
“I want to show you something! Come here. Look, you can see all the way across London.”
“It’s, it’s really beautiful.”
“Yeah, good night for it too. Usually it’s pretty misty.” He pulled her close to him, and pointed out across the very early morning skyline. “You can even see St Paul’s.” They stood for a moment or two, looking over their city.
“Anyway,” he hesitated, absorbing the moment, “what were you saying? Vocal Jews?”
“Oh God, I can’t even remember. Bum. Uhm…oh, you smell nice, by the way.” He blushed violently. “But seriously though, it takes people like you and me to be, you know, supportive or whatever. Now I’m not trying to be dramatic, but the more it’s made out like it’s okay to say shit about Jews, the more okay it becomes. The more okay it becomes, the more people believe it. It’s that sort of thing that got them in such a bloody mess in the first place; social propaganda.”
“I wouldn’t want to revert to the political correctness madness we had a couple of years ago.”
“Know what you mean, but casual racism is a weird thing. Right, it’s like, well, apparently it’s now okay for the Shitty Daily Fucking Mail to condemn all immigrants and make them all out as bad guys, because it became okay for lazy, moronic yet technically English people to say it among themselves. I hate that fucking paper. I see people reading it on the tube, and I just want to Spartan kick them.”
“Wow. It’s not that bad…”
“But it really is that bad, that’s the thing. Granted, it’s mostly pretty blatantly done, but occasionally it’s a bit subversive and that’s scary. Absolute bollocks, all of it. Some people would say I’m a hypocrite but look, I never say anything outright offensive. Never.” She paused, smilingly wickedly, “Way too much of a wuss.”
“That bit about gays at Auschwitz probably shouldn’t be heard out of context.”
“But it’s true! 100% true. The Israeli groups literally cut about with flags, stereos, food. But, if you had a gay pride group wandering about with a rainbow flag and macaroons, they’d get a different reception. Simple as. It’s a statistics thing.”
“Why do the Israelis even have flags?”
“Yeah, did seem a bit weird, and some people got a bit offended by it. Everyone else does the tour in silence really. But when you think about it, maybe the Israelis have got the right idea. Funerals are meant to be a celebration of life these days, right? Look back, even just a couple of decades, and if you were wearing anything other than black it was deemed pretty bloody disrespectful. Ideas change though, perceptions change, and most people want their mourners to wear something a bit more...lively; excuse the pun. Same deal. Same fucking deal. The Israelis are celebrating their defeat of Hitler. He wanted to wipe them out, Final Solution – you know the drill, but they’re still here and now they even have a homeland. That’s a pretty fucking awesome achievement. So they make merry, and there you go.”
“So you feel quite strongly about it then.”
She laughed. “It would seem so. I can only apologise.” Her head dipped in a bow, “Here endeth the rant.”

They walked on in a comfortable silence, save the occasional sniff, looking at the Victorian houses on either side. He shuffled closer to her, and she instinctively snaked her arm through his and clung onto his bicep. She was almost a foot smaller than him, but he'd never had such a perfect fit.

Hello again! No fiction modules this term, but I've got some left over from last semester. The task for this week was to be all dialogue. This is a conversation I've had in parts with lots of people, but with one Faux-Jew in particular. They gave me 'hebro', which I think is excellent. I'd be interested to know which side of the casual racist line this sits. Another story about Jews, I know. I just can't help myself. There's big love there. There are some really long bits that I suppose don't reflect actual speech, unless you're talking to me about Jews, so that's why I added in 'Here endeth the rant.' Oh, and if you happened to read my portfolio pieces, you might recognise the odd bit from here! I wrote this first and ran out of things to say in the newer piece. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Self-plagiarism is lovely.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Portfolio Pieces

It’s the thought that crisis bites. 

They sat, as it was customary to do, around an enormous table. The table stretched from one side of the Grand Hall to the other, with two sitting at each end and dozens sitting along each side. It was laden high with Builder’s Tea and Instant Coffee, Tesco’s Bourbons and Costcutter’s Custard Creams, buckling under the weight of all the complimentary refreshments. The water cooler hummed pleasantly to itself in the corner, seemingly unaware of the grandeur of the event that was taking place that evening.

Very soon the guests would be taking part in an Incredibly Important Political Debate, one of universal significance and validity, and they had travelled from across the globe in order to attend. Chinese Panda sat contentedly at the table between Bolivian Boa Constrictor and Kyrgyz Mole, all of whom were discussing the current joviality in the Middle East. Down the other end of the table, clustered in Alpine solidarity, sat Italian Bat, French Deer and Swiss Marmot. They were similarly discussing the development of cheeriness between Israel and Palestine, between Iraq and Iran. Only one of the representatives from the Middle East had been invited to attend that evening, and keeping it a secret from the rest of them had proved extremely difficult. Saudi Arabian Pelican, in the middle of it all as usual, had been bribed somewhat into silence, and his presence was proving a little awkward. Chitter chatter rippled across the table, everyone in anticipation of the arrival of their prestigious host.

After what seemed like quite a long wait, God finally appeared.

“Welcome, everyone, thank you for your attendance. I hope the representatives that are the focus of our discussion are not here tonight, and have no awareness of our intention to meet?”

Everyone cast a sideways glance at Saudi Arabian Pelican, who grinned inanely and nodded in confirmation of their ignorance.

“Fine,” said God, unenthusiastically. He hovered cross-legged in the middle of the table, and absent-mindedly picked up a custard cream. Taking this as a cue, everyone else tucked in, ravenous after having stared at the refreshments for such a long time. The tea was lukewarm and the biscuits had gone soft, but nobody seemed to mind.

“Let us begin. If I understand correctly, American Bison, you have called this meeting in order to rectify the recent peace that has occurred in the Middle East?”

“Correct. Due to the new-found understanding between Israel and Palestine, Israel has decided to end the Free Trade Agreement with us. We were receiving $20 billion worth of import from Israel each year! Do you understand the impact this has on the American economy?” American Bison had risen from his seat, blowing steam from his nostrils as he grunted his case to the table. “It is now more economically viable to seek import from the European Union. It is entirely unacceptable.” With that he sat down and furiously inhaled a large mug of coffee.

Belgian Swan, who represented the European Union, rose from her seat to retort. “You will find, American Bison, that those of us who implicitly chose to trade fairly with Israel continue to do so. Throughout the peace agreement the EU has managed to retain all of our trading agreements. Suffice to say that your behaviour towards Middle Eastern countries of late has been abysmal at best and undoubtedly vicious.” Her wings flapped wildly and knocked over the mugs of several unsuspecting countries in her path.

English Badger stood up to speak, but in fear of insulting either Belgian Swan or American Bison, he swiftly sat down again and gazed longingly into his empty cup of tea. He desperately needed another, but after the initial rush nothing but crumbs and dregs remained. Although everyone continued to listen to Belgian Swan politely, who was still berating American Bison for his uncivil behaviour, some countries’ focus had started to wander. Indian Tiger was seeing Spanish Boar in a new and delicious light.

After hissing out her final grievances, Belgian Swan returned to her seat and Singaporean Bullfrog attempted to command the attention of the room. Unfortunately, Canadian Racoon appeared to be less interested in what he had to say on Middle Eastern politics and more interested in what his fat, amphibian hind legs might taste like. In his excitement Singaporean Bullfrog hopped wildly across the table, occasionally pausing to gesticulate, without concentrating on where he was going. With a final poignant remark, he hopped backwards unsuspectingly into the open jaws of Mexican Coyote.

For a mere moment, all was silence.

Then for quite a long time, all was pandemonium.

Nonchalantly picking the crumbs out of his beard, God sighed. He stood up, picked his way through the chaos and, with a sense of deja-vu, hit the flood button.

This is the first piece for my portfolio. The task was to write a surreal story and I got myself in a right tizz over it. The "furiously inhaled" bit is crossed out because my tutor didn't like it, but I can't think of what else to put there! Suggestions gratefully received.

It had to get better

She sat, blurred and grinning, in a gutter. The drain beside her gurgled pleasantly. Home was here now. The house she had grown up in was miles away and mostly forgotten. If she concentrated, she could remember the low ceilings, the swirls in the coving sloppily done. The carpet in the hall was heavily patterned, to hide the dirt. She could feel the grit and hair under foot, as though she was there now. With eyes tight shut, she clenched her toes in the moonlight. It was not recommended to go barefoot at number 34, or Dirty Floor as the girls at school called it. The hallway. She could remember the hallway. The huge door, too big for the house and aspiring to grandeur, dominated the long hall which seemed to narrow towards it. Pictures sat on walls, copies of paintings in cheap frames, sneering down disapprovingly on the surroundings. The light by the door had never worked. She had shuffled through the darkness to escape.

The stairs loomed ahead as she found herself taking a stroll through her memories. In the middle of the hall, the staircase, with its deep, uneven steps, stretched out endlessly. The varnish had all but gone from the wooden bannister, worn away by years of fingers and neglect. She reached out and felt the rough familiarity of the post. Her father had said it was a newel.

"Newel." The word billowed out into the night. She opened her eyes in surprise and the house drifted away. The darkness continued to cascade around her. Closing her eyes, she told herself the spinning would stop. It did, and she was in her father's study, to the left of the stairs. Books were stacked row upon row, reaching up past the chipped picture rail to the ceiling. The old dining table, abused and dilapidated, sat ignored against the far wall. Cracks ran across the wooden top and the legs were crippled with rot. In the opposite corner was a space, between the book shelves and behind the door, that was just big enough for her to squeeze into. It was here - she had never forgotten that - she would sit as her parents screamed fire and brimstone at each other. She would wait for her father to return, beaten down by her mother and her obsessions, to take her hand and tell her everything would get better. She would be a famous jazz singer, and they would all live happily in the city together. It had to get better.

The kitchen beckoned, calling to her from the back of the house. Her mother's domain, from where she ruled over the household; the tyrant, the hoarder. As the kitchen materialised in front of her, she tried to forget the festering cups where old tea dregs bore fruit. She tried to forget the piles of boxes that would, allegedly, someday be of use. She tried to forget vase upon vase of dead flowers, the glass opaque with stagnant water. Her mother could never throw flowers away. “Always remember the dead,” she demanded, “You cannot let go of the memories.” Nothing got better. She sighed, opened her eyes, and watched the house melt away again. It hadn't felt like home since her father had signed up. From her current spot between a drain and a puddle she gazed into the dusty midnight sky. It was always cloudy in London, as though the inhabitants shone too brightly for the threatened stars to look upon. The city was shrouded in jealousy, and she was to be envied indeed.

Maybe it was the smog that made her head spin; it was in her lungs, it penetrated her soul and smothered her mind. It was invasive, just like her city. Every inch of her was filled with London, from the smut of the East, through the ever-illuminated West to the South, where your accent was welcome and your pint half-full, to the woozy and hypnotic heights of the North. Running her hands through her newly bobbed hair she surveyed the street. Music poured out of the open door of the Coconut Grove as a couple of bright young things started making their way home, heads thrown back in laughter, fur coats skipping over the pavement. She had been in the nightclub herself not too long ago, dancing wildly. When the room had started whirling around her, rather than her around it, she had decided to get some fresh air.

She stood up and swayed momentarily in the darkness. One foot determinedly dragged itself in front of the other. Her forehead creased in concentration. The pavement ebbed and flowed before her, but she focused on her destination and staggered resolutely down the street. Somewhere in the unrecognisable distance, someone was playing a saxophone. The melody leaked out of a window and into her head, mixing with the noises of late night London. “JAZZ!” her mother squealed in her ears, “Not my daughter.” She slipped sideways, her face suddenly against brick. The voice reverberated around her brain. There was a pause. Everything went black, everything was silent. She could see the silhouette of her mother, hysterical and enraged. It wasn't so scary anymore. Smiling to herself, she opened her eyes and pushed herself off of the wall.

Walking seemed to get a lot easier. As she turned the corner onto Hampstead Heath, Parliament Hill suddenly stood proudly in front of her. Her hands were shovelled into the warm pockets of her winter coat, and her nose turned pink from the brisk midnight air as she slowly made her way towards the summit. The sky was unusually clear at the top. She gazed towards the heavens. Orion’s Belt was visible, “Which for North London”, she thought to herself, “is nothing short of a miracle.”
Her father grabbed her hand, “Hold that thought. I want to show you something. Look, you can see all the way across London.”
“I know. It’s beautiful.” He pulled her close to him, and pointed out across the very early morning skyline. “You can even see St Paul’s.” They stood for a moment or two, looking over their city. She could smell him, a mixture of pipe tobacco and old leather gloves.
“I miss you.” She whispered, still staring out over the horizon.
“I know. Life is hard. Some people are fortunate, and some people are less so. You, my dear,” he squeezed her shoulders, “are one of the lucky ones. Never forget that.” She turned round and looked at the empty hilltop. The trees were inextricably intertwined, their limbs knotted: a branch here, a bough there, a stem binding them together. They danced easily in the breeze. The ground was still now. She knew that the morning would arrive with a headache, but for now, right now, everything was perfect.

This is the second piece. The task was to write a story that involved a location where the person was sad and a location where they were happy. The last 200 odd words are mostly stolen from other things I have written. Cheeky! Let me know what you think of both of them...all advice appreciated!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Witches in Tescos

[Three sisters outside a supermarket. They always do their shopping in the same place and on the same day each week. They are also the only witching sisters in the town.]

When shall we three meet again?
In aisle three, aisle nine, or fast lane?
When the shopping is all done,
Shall we walk or homeward run?
Depends on if the bus has gone.
Where the place?
Beside the caf'.
After we meet with our Kath.
Let us go, therein.
Tesco calls:-anon:-
Best is fresh, and fresh is best.
We'll do the list and complete our quest.

[They enter and initially go separate ways before accidentally meeting at the pie counter.]

Where hast thou been, sister?
Killing time.
Sister, where thou?
A salesman approached me at the door,
And spoke and spoke and spoke:-"No thanks," quoth I:
"Double glazing!" the desp'rate peddler cries.
His dignity's to Heaven gone, master o' the windows.
With my basket I turn'd my tail
From this poor man without a sale.
No good, no good, just no good.
Thou should'st feel bad.
Art thou mad?
Calm down, my sisters!
If we were in the dark mid-winter,
Were he a cold impoverished man
Who called to me with open hand,
I'd not be so harsh.
But you'll find 'tis not the case:
Arriving at the shopping place,
Not expecting questions many
Or to be asked for all my penny,
He leapt upon my passing frame,
And for his loss I'll take no blame.
P'rhaps my action was not fair,
For double glazing, I do not care!
Look what I have.
Show me, show me.
Here I have a Whiskers crate;
Our cats at home will celebrate.

[ANNA rings the bell to summon an employee.]

The bell, the bell!
Pie-Man, schnell!

[Pie-Man enters and looks exasperatedly at the sisters. The same thing happens every week.]

The local witches, hand in hand,
Belong to a benevolent band,
Thus do go to purchase pie:
Steak and kidney, mint and lamb,
One last choice, we'll pea and ham:—
Slice!—the order's up.

All hail, Pie-Man! Hail to thee, Thane of Pastry!
All hail, Pie-Man! Hail to thee, Thane of Filling!
All hail, Pie-Man! That shalt be supervisor hereafter!
Lesser than manager, and greater.
Not so responsible, yet more noble.

[Pie-Man gives them the pie. Exeunt. The sisters continue together.]

Round about the shop we go;
No snail on Earth were e'er this slow.
We must make haste; I'll go ahead
To fetch the fresh baked cakes and bread.
Middle sister, buy other foods,
We'll join at the checkout with our goods.
Now your job, babe of our throng,
Is to fix what hence went wrong.
Bubble, bubble, toilet trouble;
Buy a plunger on the double.

[The sisters separate. BARBARA and ANNA exeunt.]

Fillet of a fatty cow,
Four rump steaks reduce-d now;
Can of beans, and case of Coke,
Box of eggs, without the yolk.
Jar of chutney, deli chicken,
Herbal tea bags - good for Wiccan.
All these things I've found with ease,
Not including frozen peas.

[BARBARA and ANNA enter. Sisters all go to checkout 2, the fast lane. Kath always works on lane 2; the sisters are prepared to queue for any amount of time to pay with her despite not having 10 items or less.]

Why, how now, Kath? You look wrathful.

Have I not reason, in bedlam such as this,
To be not content? How I would not miss
The chaos of the checkout, mayhem indeed!
My days are spent mine eyes on swede,
J-cloths, spatulas, croissant, pork.
Rosé, bubbly, screw-top, cork.
I'm here all hours to play my part,
Whilst they deny that 'tis an art
To scan at speed, to move with ease,
To cope with old men and their sleaze.
Spiteful and raging, those who queue
And have to wait a minute or two.
Like animals, the shoppers howl
When they can't find the kitchen towel.
So I, the leopard of the staff
Track down their prey on their behalf.
My only respite in the week
Is when you're here and we all speak.
But the line is long: get you gone,
'twas nice to see you and we'll meet on
Next Saturday morning:
With tired men and ladies yawning.
Farewell, be safe, and see you soon,
Wish me well for my afternoon.

The task this week was to include a metaphor, some alliteration...other stuff. It all felt a bit contrived. The original story was about a town that hadn't had any rain for five years, even though everywhere else had. A bit surreal and it didn't go anywhere. Then on the Saturday I went to my Nanna's nursing home with Auntie Barbara and Mother for a Halloween do. Nanna, Auntie and Mother were dressed as the three sisters from Macbeth and I was their honorary friend. Afterwards I went to Morrisons with Mother, still dressed as witches. The concept tickled me for some reason. I'm not sure if this counts as plagiarism as I copied the meter of the three sisters from Macbeth for this piece and just fiddled with what they were saying. I can't even count it for my fiction module as it's not in the correct format. But it was a lot of fun to write, and if you like it I may carry it over to my drama module this term. The three witches are named after my three aunts; let me just say that I don't think they are witches, but the idea amused me. Cue three angry texts from my mother's sisters. Oh, and Kath kind of rhymes with caf'. I really wish I had a picture of my relatives at the Halloween tea party, but instead here is an irrelevant picture of me and Mother in anoraks.