Monday, 31 July 2017

Posts in August will be intermittent at best...

I am with my family at the start of a long awaited trip, where for much of the time I will be without internet or phone access. This will be the case for most of August. Regular posting will resume in late August. 

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Reclamation

[Media prompt] “People should be hung from lampposts, they should be burned alive, for what they’ve done to Britain”
 Reclamation 

They had been marching every day from first light until dark for a week now, through villages and small towns so the people could come out and jeer and spit on them. Spitting mostly on her, because she was the one they blamed.

“When I say run,” one of the guards said to her. “Head for those trees.”

She had suffered a hundred indignities a day at his hands, but she saw the trees he meant. They were a long way off.

He whispered it after shouting and pushing her in the back. She had stumbled, nearly falling, but he held her by the shoulder, pulling her close.

He said, “You still have friends.”

The road veered away from the trees, which disappeared from view behind a small hill. A sharp pain in the side of her stomach stabbed at her with every step. Earlier she had wet her pants, and the denim rubbed between her thighs. Was it worse to raise her hopes and then dash them by revealing he was lying to her? Or to tell her the truth, only to see her collapse a hundred yards short of the trees? She wanted to believe it was a lie, but felt sick with fear and hope that he would at any moment yell for her to start running.

Now the trees came back into view. There was rain in the distance, a thick sheet of it falling from low black clouds. The sun behind them shone brightly, making the grass stretching away to the rain seem greener.

There were potholes in the road here, from artillery shells. Some from landmines, too. She kept her eyes on the ground. The skin on her hands was torn and bloodied from falls on the first day. Scabs had formed, and they would bleed worse than new cuts if she fell now. To hold even a spoon was almost impossible. Her fingers were swollen, the nails ripped short. She cried from relief on the third day when the guards untied their hands.

A fresh wind had sprung up, numbing her cheeks. Her lips were cracked and bled intermittently. She knew this signified rain was coming, something that never occurred to her in all the years she had lived. Before the first drops, there was a heavy gust, and then it started to come down. Hard, driving rain, swirling in the wind. The guards had wet weather gear, but she saw that even they had their heads bent low.

When it stopped, the guard walked back slowly along the line. He hit someone with his stick, but she couldn’t see whom it was. She had given up caring about it days ago. As long as they didn’t hit her.

When he came to her, he said, “Run.”

She had not considered how rough and slippery the terrain would be once she left the road. Her shoes squelched in the water logged ground, but she ran despite the holes and the rocks, slipping and scrambling her way towards the trees. Her legs burned in pain. She had thought the constant walking would have made her stronger, but she seemed weaker. The trees were hardly any closer than when she started.

Almost collapsing from the exertion, she stumbled on until looking up she found herself on the edge of the trees. Through her eyes stinging with sweat, she saw a group of men standing around the largest of the trees. They helped her over the final twenty or thirty yards, their rough hands preventing her from falling.

When she recovered, they stood her under a tree. One of them looped the rope dangling from a high branch around her neck. Another pulled it tight until it rubbed and burned her skin, then two others joined him and lifted her from the ground. She heard one of them call her Prime Minister with a laugh. She gasped for breath. Her neck hurt. It was the last thought she had. 

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Riveting POW escape novel: Figures in a Landscape by Barry England

Written in 1968, Figures in a Landscape was a debut novel sensation, almost taking out the 1969 Booker Prize, and filmed in 1970. Then it fell off the literary map. Which is a crime, because as far as novels about war go, this ranks among the best.

The plot is simple. Two POWs escape and are pursued by unnamed captors across unforgiving but unidentified terrain. We know nothing of the conflict, the opposing forces, or indeed the escapees (known only as MacConnachie and Ansell) or pursuers (referred to as ‘Goons’). On the surface, it doesn’t have much to recommend it. But England’s spare prose, taut and tense, draws the reader into the action and the very terrain itself (which appears to be somewhere in Southeast Asia). He makes us feel every sickening step, every painful injury, every gut wrenching pang of thirst and hunger, and ultimately the fear that drives the two main characters to acts of sacrifice in the name of love for a comrade in arms.

This is, ultimately, a story about what men sacrifice for each other. In war time, we usually call this heroism, but this is not a conventional story about heroic men. There are no Marvelesque heroics here. There is only frustration, anger, fear and panic. MacConnachie and Ansell fight the elements and each other as much as the enemy. But out of this is forged the kind of camaraderie, respect and love for another man that extreme deprivation can produce.

Figures in a Landscape is an emotionally draining read. I read it in two sittings, turning each page expecting the best or the worst, and never disappointed with what occurred.
This is not a book for anyone who’s suckled at the teat of Hollywood and comic heroics. It’s a story about real men in gruelling circumstances, and the authentic heroism that comes from feeling fear and panic but doing something for another man despite it.  No wonder people don’t read it these days; it’s more confrontational than our feminised comics, movies and pop culture can take.

Oh, and the cover. Brilliant. One of the best I’ve seen.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Nineteenth century virtue signalling: The Warden by Anthony Trollope

Modern men often labour under the illusion that society progresses steadily upward. One way to confront that misconception is by reading Trollope, one of the most astute social observers of his or any other time.

Trollope’s titular warden is Septimus Harding, a fifty-something precentor in Trollope’s Barchester, who buckles under an SJW attack, as savage as anything administered today under the name of social justice (only not so rapid from start to finish). The main players are all easily identifiable, the causes familiar, and the outcome depressingly familiar. What a pity Mr. Harding never had access to a copy of Vox Day’s SJWs Always Lie. (Oh for a modern version in which he does.)

See if you can match characters and plot with recent SJW shenanigans (keeping in mind that Trollope penned this over 150 years ago). Note: spoilers ahead.

Mr. Bold, bursting with social justice urges, takes umbrage at the Church paying a warden to provide comfort to twelve superannuated stone masons and the like housed, fed, clothed and provided with a daily cash handouts – all courtesy of the last will and testament centuries old. Why should the warden get £800 a year and a house, when he could be turned out and the income divvied up between the bedesman? As Trollope presciently notes as the battle gets underway: “And Bold began to comfort himself in the warmth of his own virtue.”

Local newspaperman Tom Towers spots an opportunity, loudly joining the fight. As a newspaperman, he has almost unassailable power. Of him, Trollope writes: “But to whom was he, Tom Towers, responsible? No one could insult him; no one could inquire into him. He could speak out withering words, and no one could answer him.”

It’s too easy, no?

How surprised I was to discover that the best intentions of SJWs – nineteenth century or no – concluded as follows. Unable to bear the besmirching of his good name in public, Mr. Harding voluntarily vacates the residence and forgoes his £800 a year (from which he contributed nearly ten per cent a year to the men out of the generosity of his own heart). But since SJWs always lie, as Mr. Day astutely observes, the twelve almsmen find themselves worse off than when the story begins. Not only is the Church not legally required to disburse the warden’s income to the twelve men, but they lose the only man who truly cared for them (the reformers care not one whit). Trollope puts it masterfully: “… and then came the bitter information that, from the moment of Mr. Harding’s departure, the twopence a-day, his own peculiar gift, must of necessity be withdrawn. And this was to the end of all their mighty struggle – of the fight for their rights – of their petition, and their debates and their hopes!”

A lying reformer. The lying media. Unintended consequences. Why, anyone would think this written today. And that, surely, is the one of the cornerstones of good literature.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

White Mosques of Dover

[Media prompt] A British truck driver was attacked and left for dead in Calais, northern France, when migrants hijacked his vehicle in a bid to enter the UK.
White Mosques of Dover

Mick Jones knew there’d be trouble. He’d heard from other drivers that the Black Moses was back, or whatever the ragheads called him, promising his squalid flock that, rapists and paedophiles the lot of them, they’d soon be over in the white mosques of Dover, arses in the air, ‘just you wait and see’. Organ grinder accessories is what they were, and they’d have had Vera Lynn wrapped in a burqa before she could sing “bluebirds”.

It was early morning, barely two o’clock. He hardly noticed passing under a green sign announcing the Tunnel sous la Manche, or that he veered onto the long right-hander for trucks more out of habit more than conscious driving. A mile or two on, looming out of the darkness, the razor wire began, curling over fence posts as high as his cab, funnelling traffic like sheep down a drafting race towards the tunnel and home. A special forces van was pulled off the road at one of the gates into la jungle de Calais, hard against the fence, and even in the washed out light he could tell the half-dozen guys in blue, sleeves rolled up, heavily armed, had never tested high on sensitivity assessments. No wonder the fauna couldn’t wait to get to England, where transgender coppers with nose rings marched with the rainbow alliance.

Four hundred metres to border control. Two hundred. Mick started to shift down through the gears, the engine note rising and falling. He could smell the sea. At one hundred metres they came, a black swarm pouring over the embankment, its spearhead breaking right and left, one tip to overrun his cab, hurling bricks at the windows, the other to break into the trailer with bolt cutters.

And the black coward himself? The Mohammedan Moses? The great man was leading his allahuh Akbar screamers and dreamers, the scum of the earth, from the rear. Mick wound down his window, spraying those closest to the truck with a dozen bullets from an FN P90, an effective little Belgian-made thug dropper. He couldn’t complain. One of the invaders lay immobile, by virtue of death or fear. Two moved, but barely and with howls of pain. The remainder were scattered far and wide. From the rear of the trailer came the sound of more shooting, a symphony of staccato bursts and the wailing wounded. Mick opened the door, climbing down into the cool night air, the smell of salt and blood in his nostrils, firing shots at the dearly departing. He put a bullet point blank into the head of a guy scuttling under the truck, then walked to the back doors.

One of the three armed men who greeted Mick’s appearance with bare nods of their heads lay on his stomach, sighting through a scope mounted on an old ArmaLite. He squeezed off a round, which took out jihadi general cleanly.

“Onto England, then” said Mick, ushering the men back inside and shutting the doors.
He climbed back into his seat, only the idling engine breaking the silence. One of the Africans lying doggo on the embankment tried to raise himself up, but fell back to earth. At border control, there was a cursory check for immigrants hiding under the truck. They didn’t even bother with the dog or the carbon dioxide meters.

In the Chunnel, he fiddled with the music until the opening strains of the orchestra filled his ears and then the words he always loved listening to as he left Calais: “There’ll be bluebirds over…”

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Leaving the Office

[Media prompt] The moped menace: how the scooter became muggers’ vehicle of choice. They’re used in phone robberies, bag snatches – and now even in acid attacks. They’re easy to steal and hard for the police to pursue. Is there a way to cut this crime wave?
Leaving the Office

At five o’clock on what had been an emotionally draining day for everyone, Claire Woodridge got up from her desk to look out the window, fearful at what she would see there.

Claire was thirty-one and the head of research at the Refugee Support Centre. She was an attractive blonde, sometimes mistaken in the street for Scarlett Johansson. This was something she complained about to her colleagues, but which she secretly enjoyed. She had recently extracted herself from a relationship with a human rights lawyer, who had returned to Ethiopia, and was now determinedly single. Once, pre-George, she had met Amal Alamuddin and came away feeling inadequate, toying briefly with the idea of studying law. In the end it was another idea that faded away like a summer twilight evening, the sort of dissipation you hardly noticed.

“Look,” said Claire, stepping back from the window, pointing down at the bus stop. “They’re here again.”

Tristan Dougal came and stood behind her. He was a thin man, with a receding hairline and goatee so fair that it was hard to make out. As the director of communications, he had spent most of the day briefing journalists on the story behind the photo of the dead boy washed up on the beach, which would all run tomorrow on the front page of every newspaper in the country.

“God, what a day,” he said, looking down at the street below and adjusting his glasses. “I can give you a ride to the tube if you like.”

Claire declined. After Tristan left she tidied up her desk, took a deep breath, and set off for the lift. When she came out of the building, they were there, four of them astride two scooters. Their occasional presence has been the subject of discussion in the office, but at a meeting several weeks ago they had all agreed not to involve the police.

“We know where that sort of thing leads,” said Tristan.

She wondered if she oughtn’t to have made a call to the police during lunch from her mobile phone. Nobody would have known, and she wouldn’t have the feeling her heart was about to stop. Why couldn’t they see she was on their side and leave her alone? One of them, riding pillion, was looking at her. She could see his beard, thick and black, sticking out from under the helmet. The gold ring on one of his fingers was as thick as a pencil. She put her head down and walked to the bus shelter, realising as she approached that she was alone.

Claire heard an engine revving, and one of the men in a muffled voice say, “I’m going to fuck this kafir bitch right up.” As she turned to glare at him, she was knocked sideways by a powerful blow to the head. She stumbled, focussing on trying to stay upright. A jolt of fire shot down her neck and back. Nothing had prepared her for such pain. If she thought about it previously at all, she might have imagined coping with it by breathing deeply and calming herself. Another one of the scooters drove past, the man on the back cutting the bag from her shoulder. The tip of his knife sliced her, and when she pressed her hand to the wound it felt wet.

She thought of her brother, James, a Coldstream Guard in Afghanistan. How long had it been since they’d spoken? She tried to think. A year? She closed her eyes, sinking to her knees. Three years? Her mind was a blank. As she lay on the footpath, resting her head on the curb, she thought that James would have known what to do. He always knew what to do. It was why she disliked him so much.

The scooters had gone and the street was quiet again. Claire wondered if anybody had rung for an ambulance. She thought of James, hoping he wouldn’t hurt anyone when her parents told him what had happened.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Hard-boiled London is fake: Blitz by Ken Bruen

If this is London, then Mayor Sadiq “I’m with Mohammed” Khan has a point. Life in the big city will kill you, so you might as well stop complaining and get used to it. In Ken Bruen’s world, if the Allahu Akbar screamers don’t get you today, the cops will tomorrow.

Blitz is the fourth of Bruen’s Inspector Brant books, but after this one I have my doubts about how he could have survived three earlier volumes. For a start, it’s as though he’s the lovechild of Sid Vicious and Hillary Clinton; a psychopathic, alcoholic thug, with no hint of morality or conscience. He’s self-destructive, loathes himself and others, for which he is hated in return, and although comically violent strides through life consequence-free. I did say Hillary was his mother.

The problem with all of this is that Blitz is like a bad Marvel script written in a style that can only be described as punk hard-boiled (puke hard-boiled?), which seems to get the critics and edgy readers onside but ultimately tips over into farce, a point well made by the British comedy duo Hale and Pace way back in the late 80s with their classic skit, “Well ‘ard boys at the pub”. But a comedy this is not.

There's a coke snorting black WPC, a murderous detective sergeant, a serial killer called Blitz, a Nazi, a fag, and an assorted cast who between them have about one redeeming character trait. By the end, between the machine gun grammar and anarchist nihilism, you’ll be ready for something a good deal more sedate (I moved onto The Warden by Anthony Trollope).

But there’s something else at work here, which is how fake the whole punk hard-boiled act is. Everyone is hard, violent, amoral, and out of control. Brant is sexist, homophobic, racist, and an all-round hater. But the black WPC, although a substance abusing slut, is drop-dead gorgeous and befriends a Nazi (hello, cardboard cutouts). The author can’t bring himself to go the final mile, and really take on the PC literary establishment. He goes half way, but has to draw back with a wink. See? My characters are racists and sexists, but I’m not one myself. Seriously, how do you write hard-boiled noir about the mean streets of London and not confront the racist violence of blacks? Or the fact that the WPC was an equal opportunity hire and shouldn’t be on the force? Or, perhaps more importantly, the death wish Mohammedans who are notable by their absence?

If you can’t be authentic about the rot at the heart of a Western city like London, decaying before our eyes, then stick to writing conservative police procedurals. At least there’s a chance of a good story and something approaching reality.

Monday, 24 July 2017

101 Degrees

[Media prompt] Truck driver in custody after 9 suspected migrants are found dead in parking lot.
101 Degrees

“Ow,” said Isabella, even though the nurse had counted down three-two-one before jabbing the needle in her arm.  

“There,” the nurse said, smiling at Isabella. “That didn’t hurt too much, did it?”

Then she saw the ceiling move, felt the gurney bump over the cracks between tiles, rap-rap-rap. Double doors opened, the ceiling was brighter, newer, with more lights.

Even though her mother said not to say anything, she told Arcelia: “And then they take you into a special room where they freeze you.”

“Like frozen beef in the supermarket?”

“You are so dense,” said Isabella. “This is why we’re leaving Mexico.”

“How do I know?”

“Well, they put you in ice water, then they suck out your blood. Then they freeze you so hard that it takes weeks.”

The ceiling had stopped moving. A face blocked out the light, then asked her to start counting backwards from ten. She was asleep before she got to five.  

❖❖❖

John Carter stood ten feet away, watching the Volvo reverse into the loading bay, the snick of the king pin riding over the fifth wheel barely audible. It wasn’t like the old days when he had to connect the suzies or wind up the landing legs. Everything was automatic now. He wasn’t even responsible for paper work; the AI looked after that, too. They only kept men on nowadays because the law said so, and even that was about to change.

“Be none of my business after this one, though” he’d said to his wife. “Who’d’ve thought when we married I’d spend my days riding around in a driverless truck?”

She laughed, saying, “And yet here I am still running around a stove to cook dinner.”

He climbed up the steps into the cab, buckling up so the truck could move off, then waved to the last man left on the loading dock, a Mexican called Juan whom he’d known for nearly thirty years. He’d be retiring soon, too. All the old timers all were.

The rig pulled out of the El Paso depot on time, merging into the traffic, adjusting speed until it was four seconds behind another rig hauling a forty-foot reefer. He turned on the music and opened one of the books his wife gave him for his last trip.

❖❖❖

Larry the Laser watched a woman whose micro shorts rode up and disappeared into the folds of what he estimated was at least an eighty-inch butt. For fifteen minutes, she had waddled up and down one of the aisles in apparel and baby goods. He watched her turn again, beginning the long saunter back to the front of the store.

“You see anything your side?” he whispered into his walkie talkie.

“Maybe this bitch be exercising,” said Marvin, manning the CCTV screens in the office.

“Exercise?” said Larry. “If she exercised like this every day, she wouldn’t have that fat ass gobbling up her shorts.”

Larry looked at his watch. “Shit, I need a cigarette,” he said. “Cover me, I’m going out back for five. Buzz me if she boosts something.”

“It’s hot out there,” Marvin squawked. “Almost as hot and sweaty as–”

“I don’t want to even think about it, man,” said Larry, turning the volume of his unit down to zero.

He walked down the long aisle of cards, which morphed into home and office somewhere around bereavement, through books, to the restrooms at the back. Last year, he and Marvin had swivelled the security camera near the photo centre five degrees, allowing them to slip out the rear door unnoticed. A hot, muggy San Antonio night blanketed him like a damp sponge.

❖❖❖

Sergeant Lois Cray received the call at 9:06 p.m.

“We got an I-don’t-know-what over at the Walmart parking lot,” said the dispatcher.

“You got any more clarity on that?” he asked, bringing up the map of the lot on the big screen.

“Negative. The call-in was hard to decipher. But whatever it is, it’s something disturbing and unusual.”

Sergeant Cray let the car drive, trying to solicit information from social media feeds in the area. You never know when you might strike it lucky.

When he got to Walmart he saw a small crowd surrounding a semi-trailer. The squad car beeped, put up a light perimeter, and let Lois out.

“Who called this in?”

“It was me,” said Larry, pushing past the woman with micro shorts. “I did, officer.”

Lois saw the puddle of water under the truck, looked up and watched the steam coming out of the freezer unit on top.

“Lot of fuss for a leak,” he said.

“Leak?” said Larry. “It’s not water, it’s slimy. Look at it. This shit is nasty.”

Lois squatted down, picking up a stick to poke at the gummy slime oozing over a growing area of pavement. It was pinkish, hardening at the edges.

“Where’s the operator?” asked Lois.

When John stepped forward Lois asked him, “What’s on the manifest?”

“It’s frozen beef,” John said. “From Mexico.” He handed the chip over for Lois to cross check.

Lois watched the data scroll across his screen. He looked up and said, “That’s what it says, but that’s not what we’ve got here. I need you to open it up.”

❖❖❖

Larry told Marvin later that when the cop opened the reefer it was as though the aliens had landed.

“There was this inner door, like a bank safe,” said Larry. “And when he opened it, it hissed and lights came on and there were these tanks, more like silver canisters. And a control panel, it looked like something from a science fiction movie.”

Marvin listened to Larry's narration, moaning that he had been inside watching an overweight shoplifter while he, Larry, had been part of the most exciting event of their security careers.

“Did you read that I article I sent you?” said Larry. “These illegals were freezing themselves at this bootlegging cryogenics centre somewhere in Mexico, coming across the border as a frozen beef shipment, and then reanimating in Los Angeles. The whole thing's unbelievable.”

“So, they were all dead, right?”

Larry nodded. “Dead as,” he said. “San Antonio heat. When it's over a hundred, it's going to get you every time.”

Sunday, 23 July 2017

“You know me, Jeeves”: Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse

It’s time again for my annual fix of P.G. Wodehouse. This time Bertie and Jeeves are at Steeple Bumpleigh, wrestling with and overcoming all manner of blots.

Wodehouse is one of the few authors for whom no words can do justice, for whom no accolades are too lofty. The man quite simply has no imitators.

You either read Wodehouse or you don’t. It’s as simple as that. 

Double Glazing

[Media prompt] Teenage girl, 19, is found dead in the freezer at £1.5m London home as her cousin flees from the property with a slit throat after they were kidnapped in suspected honour killing.
Double Glazing

There were boys skateboarding outside, the next door neighbour’s two sons whom she knew by sight, gliding past the front window like a scene on television with the sound turned down. Her father had resisted double glazing at the front of the house when they renovated, complaining about the cost.

“Nobody leaves Dhaka for a noisier place,” her mother said a hundred times, until he relented. Afterwards, he made visitors stand by the windows. “You hear that?” her father would say, smiling as they shook their heads, mystified by what he meant them to apprehend. “It’s brilliant,” he’d tell them. “You can’t hear a sound through this stuff.”

Farida was thirteen when her father, owner, with his brothers, of a small denim mill, moved the family to London. Having lived like minor monarchs, attended to by a cook, a scullery maid, a housekeeper, a chauffeur and a guard at the gate, the move necessitated what her sister called a “downward curve in expectations.” There were no people to cook and clean for them, let alone to guard or drive them about, and the new house although large was not nearly the size of the one her grandfather had built, his vision of an English country cottage gleaned from a faded illustration snipped out of The Boys Own Paper but magnified five-fold.

Her eldest brother oiled his way into the community of Bangladeshi drug dealers, while her sister was smartly married off to the son of an eminent Bangladeshi lawyer, himself tipped to become a QC. There was even talk of a political career. Out of hearing, Farida’s father referred to him as “the future Mayor of London.”

“Just imagine it,” he’d say, sipping from a cup of tea in front of the fire, “one of us wearing royal robes.”

At fifteen, Farida returned to Bangladesh for marriage. Her husband, fifty-six, a business partner in a venture with one of her uncles, lamented she was too Western, too slender, “too ready to speak her mind.” She had a cook and a cleaner, a chauffeur and a guard on the gate, but after a year she evaded the guard and almost made it to the airport before being caught. The next time she planned things properly, and now was back in London, watching teens trying to perfect their Ollies.

Her father was seated in his regular chair, a cup and saucer in one hand, stirring a teaspoon with the other. Farida turned to look at her mother, standing at the entrance to the kitchen, but the ropes chaffed at her wrists when she moved. She looked at her father.

“You know,” he said, pointing at her with the silver spoon, “You have brought great dishonour to our family.”

Farida could hear her mother trying to muffle her crying. She leaned her head back, feeling the sharpened blade resting against her throat, held there by her brother.

“It’s legal now,” said her father, to nobody in particular. Everyone knew the laws had changed. “It’s a pity though,” he added, stirring at his tea, long past requiring it. “Spending all that money on the windows.”

There was silence in the room, just the tinkle of his spoon gliding against bone china.

“Well, it’s true,” he said, resting the saucer on his knee. “Nobody gives a hoot now if they hear screams from inside or not.”

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Last Whites

[Media prompt] “And I hate, hate being white. I do, I really hate it, because so, I’m told on a daily basis that I’m a racist because I’m white. And then I’m told all these things like, you know you can go to Twitter and there’s so many people saying that they want to rape, torture, kill, wipe out whites, because they’re white.”

The Last Whites

Things went bad after they found Andrea Brown’s body on the safety trail. Then the police found bits of Billy Michaelson buried nearby. Not long afterwards, they dropped the whole idea of a safe route, and then everyone stopped going to school.

In those days, whites lived in the Camp. The blacks called it the Chicken House, a fenced off zone, one gate in and out, as secure as anything back then could be. In the early mornings, as if they celebrated surviving the night, gangbangers would light fires at the fence, calling us out by name through the smoke and flames.

There were about seventy, eighty families living in the Camp, most of them connected to the Tesla plant. Andrea’s dad was something there, but after she died he told the Musk family they could go to hell, hiring an extraction unit to get them out. Once you’d done something like that, it was over, even I knew that. A sure fire way to get branded racist.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown took what they could carry. Loretta and I went over a couple of hours after they left, the whup-whup of chopper blades echoing in our ears, and wandered around like homeless children. Andrea’s room was exactly as we remembered, except she’d been hacked into pieces and wasn’t ever coming back.

My father was one of a handful who didn’t work for Tesla. He was the last white teacher at DeRay, trying to teach maths to kids who told us every day they wanted to wipe out whites. At night I’d pray for my mother to convince him to grapple with whatever demons kept him from following the Browns. I never told anyone this, not even Loretta, but I thanked God in Heaven for weeks after Andrea was murdered, thanked Him for taking her and Billy Michaelson’s life so that we didn’t have to go to school. No white who’s survived this long has a clear conscience, but I still feel guilty every day for that. I still miss her, twelve-year-old Andrea Brown. Some days I miss who I was then, too.

For the first few days, the authorities ignored our absence from DeRay. Twenty or twenty-five whites missing from a student body of over two thousand, the majority of whom understood education as optional, wasn’t likely to excite a response. But then one morning there was a crowd at the gate, demanding we be sent back to school. My father went to talk with them. He never returned, and not long after extraction units airlifted us to what we naively thought was safety. Loretta’s family never made it.

DeRay Mckesson Memorial High School limped along for another decade, closing after most it was gutted by fires. They never replaced my father. Nor did we. The Tesla plant survived white flight, but when the government overturned the Constitution it was burned like everything else with the taint of white.

It’s ironic that the Camp turned out to be the safest place I ever lived. 

“Daring challenge” not daring: Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

On its dustcover, Mother Night is described as a “daring challenge to our moral sense.” Let’s dispense with this right away; Mother Night is neither daring, challenging or in any way an interrogation of our moral sense. It could have been, but it isn’t. It’s a caper story dressed up in moth-eaten literary regalia, and as a consequence is worse than the middlebrow novel it should have been.

Vonnegut always struck me as a middlebrow writer. His literary standing puzzled me even as a teen, when I read a vastly overrated Slaughterhouse-Five. Now, decades later, after reading his take on Nazi war criminals, his reputation as one of America’s best downright disturbs me. How did a guy who wrote half decent novels become “one of the best living American writers? It just goes to show what a bit of quirk and a whole lot of nerve can accomplish.

Mother Night holds out a lot of promise to its readers. The concept is brilliant: what if an American pretending to be a Nazi during WWII couldn’t prove he was a spy when the war ended? There’s so much scope for drama there that I could hardly wait to begin reading. And then you throw in the question of personal cost: what happens to a man when he pretends to be something – a Nazi – when he isn’t? Even better. Now we have a real story. A man recruited by the Americans to spy on the Nazis from within – pretending to be a fire and brimstone radio broadcaster railing against the Jews and praising the Aryan nation and Hitler – now grappling with personal guilt and the risk of having to face a war crimes tribunal. This has to be some novel, right?

But it’s not. Instead, we get Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a vacuous fop who wrote a handful of popular plays in German, lived the highlife in Nazi society with his movie star wife, and in the aftermath of the war leads a life barely troubled by what he’d become in order to fool the German high command. There’s hope, when Vonnegut throws in some American white supremacists who perceive Howard as a true American hero for his Nazi broadcasts. Finally, thinks the reader, the daring challenge to our moral sense is about to emerge. Alas, it does not. What we get is more of the same; teen fiction cardboard cutouts circling each other around the drainpipe.

In his eight rules for writing short stories, Vonnegut’s sixth is: Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of. Sadistic he is; Campbell faces several shockers, none of which strike me as authentic in the story’s terms, and none of which appear to stir anything remotely revelatory in our narrator’s character. By the end, it’s as though Vonnegut has tired of his hero as much as the reader, and ends it all with a fake whimper.

Mother Night is not a terrible book, but it’s not a very good one either. There are dozens of forgotten American novelists from the 1950s and 60s worth reading before Vonnegut, and I suggest you seek them out before cracking this one open. 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Water Sports

[Media prompt] Teens filmed, mocked and laughed while man slowly drowned.
Water Sports

It rained early on, which made the air smell like dough, but it soon cleared up. By the time the crowd started to build, everyone said it looked like the best weather in years for it.

The finalists came down to the lake at one o’clock, the same as always. There was a lot of ill feeling this year between them, the Crips, BLMs and the 24th Street Crew, all over turf. The night before, there had been a drive-by, but only one death, nothing serious.

They had the retards in cages, about a hundred yards from the shore. One of them, a young woman, looked normal, and people started saying it wasn’t right. The other two, both boys, were noticeably slow witted, sitting contentedly on their stools, oblivious to the attention they attracted. But the girl was frightened, asking in voice tight with anxiety what was going on.

When the BLMs discovered they’d drawn the girl, there was almost trouble. The judges walked up the embankment to look her over, the captain complaining all the way that if she had an IQ above 55 it would be impossible to get her into the water.

The judges spent five or ten minutes probing her, finally reassuring everyone that even though the girl might look normal she was, as far as intelligence went, the same as the two boys. Which is to say incapable of independent thought. She was a natural drowner.

By the time they got the first retard out to the pontoon in the middle of the lake, it was after two, and dark clouds were forming over the hills in the west. The Crips, who many believed shouldn’t have been in the finals at all, enticed him into the water quickly enough, but their taunts as he drowned were so unoriginal that people booed before they finished.  

The 24th Street Crew started strong. The retard stepped off the pontoon into the water as soon as the horn went. Their drummer and singer worked in unison to provide the kind of false hope that keeps the mark splashing and groping towards the shore for what seems like forever. The taunts were by turn hilarious and utterly degraded. By the time the boy sank beneath the surface, many were saying the game was over.

Getting the girl to the pontoon went without a hitch. The BLM captain positioned singers at opposite ends of the lake to confuse her when the horn sounded, and it looked as if it would work when she slipped and almost fell in. But she scrambled back onto the decking, refusing to budge, sitting down with her back to the crowd.

In the end, they resorted to a swimmer, who had to wrestle her into the water and hold her head under until she drowned. There was no honour to it, and it spoiled the afternoon. More than one commentator insinuated foul play in retard selection, but you have to put your trust in the judges. Otherwise it’d just be anarchy. 

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Just in Time

[Media prompt] ‘Nobody kill anybody’: Murder-free weekend urged in Baltimore.
Just in Time

“It’s nearly midnight,” said DeAndre, “you better get on with it.”

Malik looked at his watch. “We’ve still got time.”

They stood in the shadow cast by the rising moon of a burned out three-storey on the corner of Chester and Fairmont. One of them was tall and thin, the other had arms that looked like deformed party balloon animals. That was DeAndre. Every time someone told him to go easy on the synthol, he denied he ever touched it. But if you believed God gave man arms like that, then you needed to start believing in another god.

Malik was doing a favour for Trevon Mckesson, a guy on the east side who hooked you up with high-speed access on someone else’s fibre-optics, along with hookers and stolen credit cards. As far as illegalities went, it didn’t usually end with drive-bys or the electric chair. But sometimes you needed to take care of business, which was Malik’s job. And sometimes Malik needed help, muscular or cerebral; sometimes a soul to keep him company. On this night, he just wanted someone to talk to.

Trevon pitched the job as an in-and-out affair, a stroll for a man with Malik’s experience. About a month ago, a young entrethug had started syphoning off petabytes of memory from Trevon’s pipeline, selling it to gangbangers for half the price. Not a naturally violent man, he was nevertheless cognisant of the necessity to sometimes send a message. To kill a chicken to scare the monkeys. Which is where Malik came in.

Malik was not only naturally violent, he was also creative. He had been known to turn hits into games of ‘hunt the monkey’, with every hoodlum for blocks around chasing down some poor unfortunate who had a two-minute start on them. He once hung a guy from a light post, selling shots from an Mk-11 sniper rifle at five hundred yards for twenty dollars a pop. He’d made over five hundred dollars before a contender hit the sweet spot.

“Here he is,” said Malik, nodding towards the dimly lit door to a boarded up shop. “Come on.”

He nudged DeAndre, setting off across the street, hands in his pockets as he always did when he meant business. The young thug, seeing them coming, stood for a moment, his arms slack by his side, smiling with the confidence born of arrogance, and said, “Yo, man.”

DeAndre groaned, knowing Malik's distaste for fake gangster bonhomie. Malik pulled his hands out of his pockets, firing a bullet from the handgun directly into the guy’s chest. He crumpled to the ground with barely a whimper, the look of surprise on his face morphing into a grimace of pain.

“Eleven fifty-eight,” said DeAndre. “That's cutting it fine, man.”

Malik shrugged. He revered holidays as much as the next man. There was still two minutes to midnight. He put his gun away, kicking the deflated body on the ground with his boot.

“Hey, it’s a holiday,” he said to DeAndre. “Lighten up. No kills for a day. We can honour that.”

DeAndre smiled. After all, No Kill Day was his favourite day of the year.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

“Like eating with Hitler”: Gringos by Charles Portis

Any writer who works ‘it was like eating with Hitler’ into his book, making it sound as natural and belonging as you please, deserves all the fulsome praise reviewers can muster. So it’s hard to reason why Charles Portis is so unread. It’s not as though readers who stumble upon him say terrible things about his books. On the contrary, if they’re not idiots they say the kindest things imaginable. The trouble is, it takes some legwork to discover Mr. Portis, which is less than I can say for a mess of overrated hacks whom the American idiocracy thrust upon us as classics. In almost every case, from Hemmingway to Vonnegut, they are not. Portis, however, is quite simply one of the greatest American novelists, who also, coincidentally, knew which way the wind was blowing in the culture wars as far back as the late 80s, which is when he wrote Gringos.

The narrator of Gringos is a no-nonsense American expat grouch who lives, as the title suggests, in Mexico. Any attempt at expanding on that will only lead to more convolution than is good for any potential reader, except to note that in an earlier period of his life he’d illegally excavated pre-Columbian artefacts. Which is to say he knows his way around anthropologists and other varieties of scholarly riff raff who sniff out such things. As I say, this book was written almost thirty years ago, so I was elated to find the following:

“In the Anthropology Club, as I understood it, you were permitted, if not required, to despise only one thing, and that was your own culture, that of the West. Otherwise you couldn’t prefer one thing over another.”

Two perfect little sentences that capture the poisonous rot at the heart of leftwing retards today. Beautiful.

I discovered Portis last year when upon a whim I heeded the recommendation of someone online to read True Grit. Having never heard of him, and being only vaguely aware of the movies based upon the book, it was with some trepidation that I began, only to fall in love with it from the first sentence. Gringos likewise, though you’d never know both were penned by the same author. The only giveaway is the ease with which Portis inhabits the voice of his narrators, making them authentic in a way few if any can match.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Scholarly Imperative

[Media prompt] Academics and scholars must be mindful about using research done by only straight, white men, according to two [social] scientists who argued that it oppresses diverse voices and bolsters the status of already privileged and established white male scholars.
The Scholarly Imperative

Having walked from where the train stopped, midpoint between stations, Henry Rawls arrived at his class so late that the only students remaining were those who had fallen asleep at their desks. There were four of them, all brimming with indignation at being startled from their slumber. After vague threats they decamped, whereupon he found a fifth, curled up beneath a teetering tower of chairs in the back corner. Leery of disturbing him, Henry retreated to his office, on the door to which was pinned a note saying classes were cancelled for the remainder of the day, the consequence of a power outage and a fire in the library. Whether connected in some way or not, Henry was unwilling to speculate. Estimating by the natural light in the corridor that it was well after ten o’clock, he instead retraced his steps, thankful for another day at home. With luck he would be back in time for afternoon tea.

Henry was not the only one let off from work early. Half the city, in long ragged lines, weaved their way home by road and lane, across vacant lots, cutting through deserted malls and never finished condominium blocks. Despite the regularity of it, he never saw anybody he knew on these long traipses from one end of the city to the other. He half suspected most of his colleagues at the university had long since abandoned the notion of supplying even a modest amount of intellectual labour in return for a pay cheque. On days like today, he experienced an onset of sympathy for their view of the world.

At the sports stadium, piles driven and a truck or two of concrete poured a decade prior, there was a fracas between the Somalis and the Nigerians over slaves or prostitution, both perhaps, and the conga line of which he was part deviated to a path between the Ministry of Education’s twin towers. A woman in front of him twisted her ankle in one of the holes children dug and then concealed for just such purposes. He might have stopped if she weren’t white, but she was, and no non-coloured stopped for another these days. There had been some nasty incidents over the years, the least perilous consequence of which was the rise of the pejorative ‘white Samaritan’. You had to be a fool not to know where that led.

He arrived home by mid-afternoon, making himself a mint tea, a minor nod to his predictive accuracy. Although it was best to keep such things to oneself these days. He had heard the Department of National Values was in the process of formulating a decree against chronological computation. But who knew? Rumours multiplied by the day, numbering more than cockroaches now.

After finishing a pannikin of tea, Henry sat at his desk, opening a notebook in a show of scholarly rigour. He flipped through the pages, notes and a long list of references written out by hand, to his list of plausible titles for the journal article he planned to write. Outside, he heard the blare of North African rap-slam, a constant pulse of thrumming feedback and randomly generated noise signals. On a fresh page he had printed in neat letters, “On the Blackness of Shakespeare.” Biting the top of his ballpoint pen, he hesitated for a moment before crossing it out and writing underneath, “Shakespeare as the Archetypal African.” Blackness was definitely the wrong word. He wondered if alliteration was allowed any more. Melody Piper would know. Making a mental note to ask her, he thumbed a new page, where he began the first paragraph. He had no time to waste if he wanted to make a good start before the light faded. 

Monday, 17 July 2017

Fortress Dark

[Media prompt] UK ‘reaching tipping point’ on abuse of politicians.
Fortress Dark

After securing the gates, the London representatives returning later than scheduled, Talbot retraced his path along the perimeter to the eastern tower. He stopped to watch the last shades of pink rung from the sky, but otherwise kept his head down until he smelled cigarette smoke near the armoury.

“Has he gone up yet?” Talbot asked, nodding towards the command centre at the top.

“Not yet,” said Smyth. “The word is he’s running late.”

Talbot nodded. “The Mayor of London just got back.”

“Ah, well,” said Smyth, handing a butt end to Ericson, who leant against the door jamb, “that explains it.”

They stood, the three of them, in a rough triangle, Ericson picking stray tobacco and ash off the filter before putting into his pants pocket.

Talbot said, “Yeah, there was an ambush. A complete balls up.”

One of the dogs outside loped past, its nose in the air, ears pricked. It was one of the bullmastiffs, a breed everyone feared.

“More’s the pity,” said Ericson, counting his day’s takings into the palm of his hand. Talbot counted at least fifteen. When he was asked, Ericson said he was sewing them together, for a purpose nobody could fathom.

Talbot told them he’d heard one of the Green brothers had been injured, shrapnel, a bullet, he didn’t know the precise details. The other two nodded. You didn’t serve in the Fortress without the chance of something bad happening.

Just then they heard the Colonel’s boots coming through the tunnel, the nails in his worn soles echoing softly off the cement. Following behind his elongated shadow, he emerged into the light, ramrod straight, his skin as sallow as the bleached blouson he wore.

“Green’s dead,” he said before any of them had a chance to salute. “Jeremy, the younger one. All for the sake of a pack of–”

Talbot cursed under his breath. He felt the sting of the cold evening on his cheeks. Through the fence, across no mans land, were the woods, hardly distinguishable now from the dark sky. The only way of telling was the flickering lights of fires the wanderers set at night.

“Why don’t we just herd them out the gate?” said Ericson. “Let them hear what their constituents really think?”

The Colonel stopped short, wheeling on his heel and toe. Above his collar, you could see the vein throb like a blinking gecko.

“That’s the sort of thing we all might think in here,” said the Colonel, “but it’s not something useful to say out loud.”

The colonel removed his cap, roughing up his hair with the palm of his hand. Then he walked past Ericson through the doorway, the sound of his boots scraping on the steps as he climbed the only evidence he’d been there a moment before. Talbot winked at Ericson, patting him on the shoulder as he followed.

“We all think it,” he said. “Even the old man. And one day someone’ll do it. Let them out like chickens to face the wolves.”

He mounted the first step, turning before going any farther.

“None of say it because that’s who they’ll come looking for afterwards. The ones who say what we all think.”

Ericson put his butt ends back into his pocket as Smyth lit another one.