graffiti glory

September 16th, 2016

Dream Big Wall art Bristol

In a funk, refusing to think as the world has dragged you down so deep into a fug that you ain’t ever getting back up and out of it. But there it is, on the building.


And you laugh ‘cos you are no longer a kid and the kids are around you looking at it all as if it is wonder as if it is splendour and you’d have thought them imbecilic even back then when you were a kid, but in your defence you always felt guilty about such misaligned thoughts.

UWE building ary

You feel old with arthritis in your joints but you are not old and you know you are not old but you are not young either; not like these kids around you… these undergraduates but nor are they young like your children, like your babies who you know are missing you and you try to remember that this is not a selfish thing, but you know it ain’t exactly selfless either and that is OK.

And the wall art, not even street art, is safe and neat and philosophical and you like it in spite of yourself, in spite of the grump you want to be. It makes you gooey inside and you strive to be like all the others and you see the flower and you think of Mulan and dressing as a guy and the baseball cap and padded shirts from your youth and you hate the hipsters for stealing it all and making it expensive and you hate the hipster haters for hating on others for expressing themselves and you feel refreshed; but somehow washed out.

Philosophical wall art UWE

They say the flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all and there was a legend about dragons hidden in a room and there is a dragon and it’s supposed to mean stuff but it doesn’t it’s all just mind games and the same thoughts keep skipping through your brain in a loop that is tangled.

Flaming dragon wall art UWE

There is a chain, they’ve chained the dragon like they’ve chained your mind and the soul can’t help but follow the mind and the body you are pretty sure has been eaten by the damn dragon that started all this in the first place.

And then it gets real mythic and possibly even mystic and you spot gods hidden amongst it all as if waiting as if preying on the would be prey-ers, you know what these gods are up to but you dare not step in their way to stop them from plaguing the Freshers and transfer students because everyone needs to be shook up by a god when they start university. But Zeus, dude, where have your eyes gone?

Seriously not the ravens again – wrong mythos, honest!

Zues wall art UWE

And then he appears, blue and true and a mix of it all, a laughing Buddha, not a reclining Buddha, not the one you have in your head but the one you were given a statue of on your wedding day, the one that sits on the shelf of computing books, the one with all the kids. The red statue the toddler kisses announcing it’s a nanny baby because it looks like her nanny covered in babies and you’ve explained and explained but she’s never going to get it.

And you hope that means Karma is going to kick some arse but then you hesitate and wonder if it is you who has got all the myths and legends and religions and philosophies mixed because you know they are all pretty much mirrors and copies of each other, a mash of ideas and collection of ideals, they are all overlapped and entwined and twisted around and through. An Endless mess just waiting for an unpicker, and dreading a hack.

Blue deity wall art UWE

But then you look on it all in its glorious fusion and you think UNITY and you find UNITY written on the walls and unity might well be the words of a prophet but you can’t quite recall which one and the way you were going is blocked and marred by those smoking tobacco mixes you dare not inhale because babies grow in you and they do so unminded and you don’t want the contam.

And you know the hostility you face if you whisper your needs and the gratefulness you felt at the smoking ban and how it meant you didn’t have to give up work; not because of the baby but because you couldn’t breath with the foulness before the baby let itself be known.

Unity wall fresco at UWE

And the hostility is stupid, no one listens to what you say let alone gets what you mean… I mean… they… they think you want it all banned and taken away and harsh penalties when you don’t. You ache inside from the pain of misunderstanding because banning things never makes it better it just drives it under ground and prohibition happens and everyone’s a criminal and the gangsters rule.

Illegal is cool and you are left between two warring groups, a drugs war, a war that leaves the vulnerable lost and the rich still get richer and it’s like killing the caged bird but the pictures – the neat safe pictures, the clean not quite true picture; they saw a bird saving the caged birds. Saving their little silhouetted backsides, flocking together. But who feathers whose nest and are they going to fly away? In the same direction?

Birds and bird cage wall art at UWE

Only time can tell and it is ticking ticking an irregular beat, a torture hell that time that changes the reference frame. The wild kids you knew the ones that said you were staid and old for your days – those wild kids… they are grey and middle aged, not in years but their minds have frazzled to a halt and they become the things they dreaded in their youth – the moaners, the whiners, the youths-aren’t-good-enoughers.

Epic bird cage building art

Now they say to you “grow up” and frown at your zest for life like somehow having kids is supposed to rob you of individuality, of your sexuality or your identity and that only the withered husk of Mum is left and you know that isn’t true because you have always been just you. But you were never right for them and they make you feel… they make you seem… they make a case that you are the bad parent with your lack of repression and with their rose tinted glasses they conveniently forget all they were and the stuff that they have done and that you are not wild but to their eyes you are wild; and only in their eyes because they have become so afraid.

And that fear makes them grip their little ones too harshly to their breasts and hide away from anything that does not conform and they want the child to be a moulded model and the child is not. The child is not a mini them, your babies are not mini yous and you’ve always known that, you want to see who they are as people but that makes you… not a Waitrose shopper, with pretension oozing, remember you are not losing and they… they can not have the perfection they seem to expect; and the downfall will hurt them.

Because fear is a mind killer, and they are so very very afraid, and they hide all that is good of themselves to become bland and nothing and to not DRAW attention.

They can never be.

Egyptian Queen wall art UWE

And all these thoughts drop from your mind as you wonder if you are going to make that assessment deadline and realise you have no drive, np push, because it is not as important as it once was and actually you planned it lots and maybe if you just barge through the smokers you can drop it off and it will all be good and you can nap in the bar in the comfy seats with the football blaring and the chips being over greased and wait for your friend to take you to the postgrad lounge for proper coffee or, in your case, decaf and you can think and talk about the future and as you pass them… the smokers – you see the non-smoking sign behind them and smile whilst not breathing and wonder if they know they stink and know that they do know and recall the bullying over that stench and how your parents tried so hard to quit because of your chest… and how your roommates were shits and didn’t care and smoked the smokes and smoked them like chimneys until you ended up having to use the damn wheezy pump and then antibiotics for the infections that followed and the eye drops for the eye infections and you think on the smoking hut that the youth club used to have and how that had worked really well… you didn’t have to go in and they could smoke and everyone was happy except some stuck up prissies who reckoned it would drag their kids down, when their kids stole and boozed and did drugs that the kids at the youth club couldn’t hope to afford.

And you see the queen with her nose turned up – there on the wall, the ancient ruler with an apparent duck on her head and you wonder “does she know?” and you smile at the thought of her saying “what duck?” and everyone going along with the delusion and you look around at the kids who are rushing past thinking this is life or death…. this exam this test this assignment is everything when it is not because you’ve faced death and you know what it was like to stare into the universal void but you concede they do not. And they probably wouldn’t get the reference either.

Once you did not know and so we must have patience and then you spot him smirking at the lesson you have learned and you feel like punching him except he’s a pacifist and… a brick wall.

Ghandi wall art UWE

And then it is done.

Handed in, finished and it was weird because you found in the queue you were full of the nervous tension of the kids around you, you did care you just thought you didn’t. And your heart sinks – for you realise that though you do not fit in this world of too shiny and safe and new, of youth learning, you do fit here more than you fit pretty much anywhere else except perhaps with your husband.

You feel light headed and go to see the ducks on the green just to get some fresh air as the weight of those left behind; those who had the talent but could not follow – those you left in the other world of non-uni, of working class working hard not smart, of slow deaths from industrial poison and all the rest of it – yeah, that.

A lot of them would have belonged here more than you, but they never got the chance, and you’ve seen both sides of the divide; this safe neat street art and the raw grit of graffiti with its prison time, and it is your two worlds or at least a subset of your worlds, and they try and war with each other but you need them to make peace and you say hi to the ducks, your back is hurting and your walking stick is out because your body broke making life and people laugh at you and your funny gait and you don’t care because you’ve found a bench.

It says “The Personal is Political” and you think “It has a point” and that is the starting point for your last assignment.

The Political is the Personal

Wine Bottle Candle – Picture a Story

July 23rd, 2016

Wine Bottle Candle

Picture a story is a little writing exercise that I sometimes put up to help other writers. I share pictures which are either photographs I have taken or artworks I have created as aids to story ideas. Look at the image what does it say to you? What is the story behind this candle? Does it fool anyone?

Braided Hair – Picture a Story

July 16th, 2016

Braiding attempt

Picture a story is a writing exercise we post to help other writers – look at the image above, does it spark any story ideas? If not start by just describing what you see :)

The Blank Doll

July 15th, 2016

This one is a little odd because it is actually just a memory thingy I wrote on my family/personal blog. So I’ll give you some context the mookie is like a raggy doll, I made one for my youngest out of socks. It is something made by you or for you or belongs in some way to you – that’s a bit odd or special – normally female. You mook! Comes from this – I have no idea how wide spread these phrases are or aren’t. Obv. there are posts on my other blog that explain this, I think everything else is explained within – it is also lit. a flow of thought as I am regaining memories vividly after the head injury – I thought this one is kind of a story in and of itself so I am sharing it as such!

The Blank Doll

I have wondered about sharing this before but it is a silly memory really… it’s about a rag doll, sort of, not a mookie made from scraps of old cloths and not a rag doll like my Jack and Jill/Gamima – no this was another sort.

It was stuffed with sand, made of a coarsish cotton but not hessian, it was off white or at least that’s how it started. It was never a fine linen. It ended up frayed, and mottled, I think it maybe in this house if not possibly still at my parents.

I sadly lost the accompanying bag long long ago, it was filled with amulets or totems or my treasures – fossil shell, pink iridescent turtle bead, blue plastic mermaid, a red stone, an acorn cup stains with a circle of elderberry juice from the school field – you get the idea. The doll would nestle in these things and I’d carry the bag around.

My nan gave it to me, my nan made it, I was being bullied… badly, I’d been very ill… very (as in blood transfusion going wrong), and so on… one nan tried to stop the nightmares with lavender; the other gave me the blank doll. It had a circular head and segmented arms and legs, a shapeless, featureless thing.

“It can be anybody you want it to be” she told me. It had no eyes, no mouth, no nose – nothing. It scared me, it was a vulnerable, powerful thing. It was mine, it belonged to no one but itself. It was kind of flat and 2D.

It was me, it was my enemy, it was everyone, or so I decided. If it could be anyone then why not everyone… and so I cared for it and looked after it and put it in the bag of things that were special. In the way of a powerless child as all children are – I attempted to make the world a better place.

Using a blank doll my nan had made me. Sometimes I sprayed it with lavender so it would not have nightmares or be eaten by monsters or I got lucky heather from the gypsies in Romford Market – they would never let me pay for it, those ladies in their black long skirts and crinkled eyes.

The Blank Doll who had no other name seemed to move about – a quirk of memory or childhood or both – it was rarely where I’d left it. But I lived no horror movie, there were no blood stains, only coffee splotches turning it a brown in places. It yellowed with age. I did not draw on it, to do so would have somehow defined it, imprisoned it, make it something and nothing rather than nothing and everything.

It scares me and I love it. The Blank Doll filled with sand that my nan gave me.

When I was sick with Jean’s pregnancy a lady in at the same time asked me if I believed in voodoo, I hesitated and I could not answer – she thought I was maybe the victim of voodoo, with the problems I was having, she had many scary stories of women over Ilford way having their unborns stolen from their bellies. I thought of my blank doll, I think my dad found it for me – and I felt better, it’s hard to admit with the science background but when I am emotionally stressed I fall back on the old superstitions and the comforts and so if there was voodoo I had my blank doll and it could be counteracted because my blank doll is me, it is my enemy, it is everybody and I love it and I care for it and that is a shield and a net.

I told you it was silly, just a little memory that got sparked by something today and I thought… I should share this before I lose it again.

Sky Turtle – Picture a Story

July 9th, 2016

A'Tuin says hi but were are my elephants?

Here is a picture to help inspire a story – what does it suggest to you?

School Bear – Picture a Story

July 2nd, 2016

Mary loves her school bear

Picture a story is a writing aid to other writers – I share photos or pictures I’ve drawn to help inspirer other artists. Sometimes a story will just leap to mind when you see an image other times it is not so easy and you just have to start by describing what you see. This week we have School Bear!


July 1st, 2016

Andrelle opened her eyes, the lids were heavy she felt that had been closed for a long time, such a very very long time, but now they were open and the world was a beautiful shimmer. Turquoise shafts of lights and rippled. The stair way seemed less defind than she remembered.

Yawning she stretched, her hair silver threads in the warming currents reminding her of that night with it’s thousand iced stars and the captain telling her she should play – for the mistress of the waves – for the ship she found herself on with all it’s glitz and glamour and same old boring expectations. Except the stars had glowed and rainbows of light had sliced the sky and she had known that there was a perfection to be had – here, within that now. Within this moment.

The now that was playing out, unwrapping around her, yes, she needed to play, she was the star of the show after all.

She ducked a jellyfish with it’s ethereal tendrils and smiled satisfied with herself. There it was once more, her viola sitting on the seat, waiting patiently for her. She worried briefly about what the salty sea water would do to it and then forgot it all as she ran her fingers over the silken tautness of the strings. The instrument was her world – she could make it sing!

She’d played a concert or maybe a few already hadn’t she? For the ship? For the captain, for the sea. The memories of notes danced before her and she swayed, her dress billowing like tattered tendrils of sea weed.

But before the thoughts could snatch at her and catch within her mind she scooped up the little wooden music maker. It glowed in the murky milk light of the depths and she played. Oh boy did she play and she remembered those who had danced.

And they were there again dancing, as it was this day, always this day, again and again, like that day with the stars and warmth and ribbons of light that wrapped around them. Sealing time.

Something had happened – hadn’t it? She felt the music falter and the people the dancers flickered, she could not let them fade, so she played, and played and played.

And it was always the same day, this she knew in her bones, the bones that held the instrument and the skull face that was hers to turn to the sky and she could not dwell on it for how does bone press the string down? How does it not reverb with the vibrations and still the music?

Her music carved out the patterns of existence, she remembered them, they swirled like a miniature coral reef. Round and around, so much colour and richness.

The dancers nodded too her as they passed, in they coats and dresses and attire of wealth and status – this was for them, it always was for them.

Soon she would fall into sleep once more and leave the wreck to the fishes until it was time to live this day – always this day. The ship was crumbling though, she tried not to think, but what would happen when it was no more – would the waves still want her to play?

The thought echoed with her music as her consciousness once more began to fade, the little undertoes and eddies caressed her to sleep. She was nothing but remains, the sea gently cradled her humming it’s own lullaby. Filling her with the endless depths of eternity.

All The Moons

June 26th, 2016

They told him he could not come home until he’d mapped all the moons, it was an insane task. Did they think that just because he was mainly machine now, that he did not get bored?

He supposed it made a change from sitting on the Prometheus Station but it would take him hundreds of years to complete the mapping, just the travel times alone. He hadn’t dared ask if they wanted a ground mission on each, mainly because he knew they did, there was remote sensing data from satellites and landers from a lot of the nearer moons anyway.

They wanted the next level up, they wanted nice sieved through data, his mind hiccuped again as he tried to think like the human he had been not that long ago.

He clicked the hinge on his face and checked, the damn glass ring had come a drift again, it was so jarring when that happened. He was going to get that fixed before he went and he was going to see if they would give him a team. Others like him would probably be a good idea, it wasn’t always easy to remember how soft the humans (those still in completely organic birth bodies) could be.

The little glittering disc of glass clicked back into place and he winced at the memory of the child he’d rescued, the rescue bit had been fine, almost ripping the arm off and definitely dislocating the shoulder was not. They’d all still been so grateful to him. Less so when they’d found out he was nearly all machine. It was weird he was still sure he was him.

The space station had been the right decision, he’d been happier here, people were used to robots and hi tech. He’d been here for 60 years now, two thirds of the time he had been nearly all machine. It had taken him a while to realise he was no longer welcome in his home. He wished he’d come sooner. He wished Ashly had been more honest with him.

She’d said she was frightened off him, sent heavies with guns and walked out, the kids mercifully had all grown and gone by then. His two daughters still sent him messages, one of them had just had a baby. Sometimes it was hard to remember what skin and skin felt like, he’d held his kids in his arms, before the cancer had come, before it had eaten him a tiny little piece at a time.

He felt a longing but went back to looking at the instructions with incredibility, did they really mean all the moons?

Sighing he began to calculate the trip with sling shots and landings. His son was on Luna 4, maybe he could say hi, he’d never responded to the letters or videos or anything but maybe it could be nice?

With a thought he sent it all to Jonathan who would either agree or not, the man after all was Prometheus Industries. A voice boomed within him and he adjusted the sound with a wince on the ceramic face that could not feel.

‘The Moon is mapped Frank.’

‘But you said all the moons!’ he wined.

‘Yes but not Luna, not Earth’s Moon, not Luna four.’ Frank sagged and sat down, he hadn’t realised how much he wanted to go and see his son, to see any of his kids really.

‘Can I visit before I go?’ he asked quietly.

‘Not a good idea Frank, your son is part of the Flesh Cult, he wont like what he sees, I did explain this too you, it is why only your daughters communicate – on the other hand if you wish to attend Hanukkah on their Sea Sted that is fine and I will arrange transport but after wards I would like you to map the moons. I am approving a team only slightly different to the one you requested.’

‘Will my daughters want me there?’ he asked.

‘I think so,… but I will check.’ and there was silence. Fleshers? A flesh cult? How the world changed, well it was worlds now really. Had been for a while but when he were little all they had was their sea steds and what ever they could grow on them. He remembered fondly shooting lasers at the pirate planes and watching the elegant spiral into the polluted and dead waves. The waves weren’t dead anymore and most of the pirates were gone, Jonathan had had something to do with that.

Suddenly he was back announcing that Frank was going home! He was glade he didn’t have glands or a pumping heart left, other wise he would have been giddy. Then he felt the panic even without the glands.

‘But I am a metal and ceramic man!’ he wailed. ‘They have kids they wont want to come over to the monster!’

‘I think you’ll be fine Frank, this is what stopped you last time and it was a silly reason then and even more so now.’

‘Why?’ he asked bewildered.

Jonathan sighed, ‘You’ll see.’

And so Frank packed, he didn’t really need anything but there was presents for the great grand kids, Jonathan had reminded him of the three great great grand kids all under five. Frank had started loosing track of time. He didn’t know how Jonathan did it, he was over twice Franks age and still mostly flesh too.

And he was finally on his way after a quick trip to get the disc in his head sorted.

Jonathan sat opposite Aten the Architect, with his serene eyes and large forehead, he was beginning to crinkle – after thousands of years he was finally getting old, the webbing between the mans fingers was looking thin.

Jonathan on the other hand still looked maybe middle aged and rugged if he’d died out the odd silver hairs he’d have looked even younger. ‘the last of Franks biological brain is dying isn’t it?’ he asked, dreading the answer.

‘Yes, the cancer was not contained, but we kept it under control for decades but the battle is ending.’

‘I thought the disc was supposed to record and copy and slowly take over, so there was continuety, so Frank would still be? That’s what happened with The Punk’s ex, the police man.’

‘Yesss,’ Aten acknowledged with his characteristic hiss, ‘but Frank is always opening his head and fiddling with things. Plus the decay of his brain and the age of his components means that I need to switch areas over manually. It is rather tedious.’

‘This is someones life we are talking about Aten.’ Jonathan snapped. The blue grey creature inclined his head gently and flexed his thin nostrils. The tips of his pointed teeth could just about be seen beneath almost non-existent lips.

‘I am well aware of that and the implications of Franks transfer not working are far greater than you realise, young man!’

Jonathan withered inside slightly, ‘I am sorry, it has just been a hard week with reports of areas I am trying to rebuild down on the Earth and these new cults are starting to make my skin crawl including the synth stuff you put on the burnt arm.’

‘That was vat grown, not synth, it is actual skin that had just grafted to you and as such it is behaving in exactly the right way.’ Jonathan found himself mechanically nodding, Aten had a way of affecting you that made you feel like an idiot, a young vulnerable idiot.

‘So what’s the plan? I assume you have one.’ Aten smiled, Jonathan was surprised to see a gap in the needle like teeth – he’d lost a tooth.

‘Frank’s granddaughter or one of them is one of my best stem culture students, she will remove the organic tissue from Frank and attempt a new therapy on it. Frank’s memories and body will go off to map the moons. Inner solar system first. It should take him three years even with his team. That gives her time to reconstruct his brain, bolstering up the remnant that is left, but then we will need Frank back, to put his brain back in. The optronic disc will bleed his memories back in and then we can ask him if he wants a new body. She found a hair brush and identified the hair as his and so she had the ability to grow him a body but he may not want it.’

Wincing Jonathan said, ‘I think he needs it, we still aren’t brilliant at interfacing with the tech.’

‘We are leaps and bounds beyond where we were not to long ago. But yes I agree that it would be best if he lived another organic life, his tech is old and outdated for a start which is not going to be helping.’

‘All that aside, why are we suddenly so interested in the moons?’

Aten smiled his pointy mischievous smile, Jonathan never liked it when the man smiled like that. ‘According to the records Punku and Itsu recovered we should be able to recover optronic components that may still work, plus more information about space and colonisation. I doubt there will be survivors but why they didn’t survive will be useful for our own efforts.’

‘How many colonies and where?’ he asked looking to the observation panel, he nearly always forgot that it was not an actual window, he’d patented the idea back when he was actually 45 years old, it had made him moderately more wealth than he’d already had at that point.

‘In truth we do not know, the space programs of the Empires were separate affairs and often being kept secret from one and other as well as the general population. The only way to be sure is going to be going to find them ourselves, to actively seek them out.’

Jonathan narrowed his eyes with a creeping suspicion,’And the borgs are the best for this? Not the robot modules?’

‘We’ve had machines scouring the surfaces for a long time, Mars and Luna showed us how easy it is to miss the signs – signs humans looking for colinization ops wouldn’t have missed. Even having the robots as Waldos was not that efficient Jonathan, now where is the food?’

Jonathan tried not to smile at the grumpy turn of voice or the ancient pre-tech term stollen from the science fiction of the late 20th century.

‘It should be here soon,’ and the door opened revealing a train of robots all looking a little mismatched and in need of repair. Jonathan needed to build a new Prometheus, it was on the to do list – a list that just kept growing. Of course it was the asteroid mining for the mark 2 that had sparked the whole mission. There are more things out here than few defunct colonies.

He really wanted Punk and Jess or Itsu as the old man insisted on calling the guy. Aten was amazing but somehow he never felt completely at ease with the skinny blubbery man with the large head but small jaw. He’d grown up in a time when such a creature would have been thought an alien. It was kind of ironic how they’d have called him a Martian.

He’d been kind of sad that he hadn’t gotten to go on the asteroid hop mission but he understood that he had responsibilities, how he’d ended up in charge was always a mystery to him. It had all started out as a joke, a silly in geek thing. And then suddenly he was rich and then he was trying to save the world from itself and now he was trying to help rebuild it.

And within all that he’d ended up sucked into an ancient battle of not good and evil but people being people and he was starting to get tired. He missed his daughter but she’d been the best choice to try and get Luna functioning again. She’d created miracles with the orbiter platform.

Jonathan made his excuses and left, he would go and do some programming, jack himself in and make the landscapes of maths dance and buckle and reform. His fingers still twitched when ever he thought of programming, still looked for the clacking of keys. Perhaps he was just tired, there had been decades of manic adventures and survival and pressure.

Aten frowned after Jonathan closed the door, something was very wrong, it wasn’t just Frank acting oddly, but a lot of those with a post Project FireStrom disc. He had a fear, the timings were right, the amount of time before they became affected…. his frown grew. Then he was distracted by the food arrayed before him. Shrimps and mussels and sea weed fried and salty and mineral rich, he salivated but didn’t immediately rip into the feast.

Instead he called up the files he’d been reading when Jonathan came in to tell him about Frank’s proposed route. The Flesher cult was bad news but they were not big enough yet to concern him overly. It was a bit mute anyway as all those on the bases and platforms had the discs implanted at birth. He supposed it was their right to say no to upload, he clicked his teeth together at such stupidness, had they not just spent the whole of human existence dealing with the actions of such stupidity. Of ignorance over reason?

He wanted to wail to the moon but that was an old instinct left from an island home that had not existed for several ages of man.

There was a tremble in his hand as he reached for the virulent pink paste made of mashed fish eggs. He was aging, the last battle had not been a victory, it had destroyed him, but both the remainder of the Aquatic Apes and these humans – were they not his too?

He smiled sadly, they’d been Tiamat’s too, that she should have sort their destruction onto her own was heart breaking. And his family, her, their children, all were gone and it was him and those created from his DNA, and hers, she never could see that they were all her’s as well.

The files clicked up, and he glazed out as he read them via uplink to his brain. It was entitled ‘glass eating endoliths’ it didn’t look good, he wondered how the batch had been contaminated. Of course the dam organisms were microscopic, colonial and took centuries to grow.

The main question was how was he going to solve the problem, not that he yet knew for sure that this was the problem but he would as soon as Frank had been to see his granddaughter.

The Smuggler

June 21st, 2016

They’d built a super prison on the marsh. It hadn’t been a particularly lovely marsh, situated as it was just outside of London, but it had been home to some tiny little owls with tufts on their ears and it had once upon a time been my home. It was my origin, you could say, and now there was a megalithic monstrosity designed to hold the most foul and dangerous… and the not so bad. There were people who’d written one too many political poems or signed too many petitions, people who had not been able to afford their rent; and others, who had cheeked the wrong person.

Opinions varied as to whether it was a hell-hole or a hotel – the truth of that, I suspected, depended on your crimes, who you were, and whether anyone had bothered to pay the price to upgrade your cell.

It’s big, a city in its own right really. A city were no one counts as a citizen anymore. A city were there were no rights. Babies were born in there, and they were not likely to get out; at least, not with their mothers – the fathers, more often than not, were the guards.

That was really how I came to be involved in it all, how I came to be in I.C.E: Incarceration, Correction and Education. I was the education part. I was teaching the prison tots their ABC’s and numbers; and their parents, too – most had fallen outside of a formal learning system. I was funded by a charity and had to take the abuse the guards and officers gave.

Because the hard part of working in The Prison wasn’t the getting in or the dealing with the prisoners – no, it was getting out again. The place was built to keep clever, manipulative and sometimes powerful people; in and the nosy press, public, protestors and crime lords out. The crime lords, especially.

When you create such a place, such a huge concentration of despondent people, and throw in a handful of political activists, a few religious zealots, and one or two who were just too clever for their own good – something happens. An ecosystem springs up and it becomes a place with its own laws, outside of the guards and the governors control but only just.

Revolts, and draconian reactions to them, where always thick in the air.

It could be sealed. No small-time nuke is going to break out this army of miscreants. It’s self sufficient and enclosed. I would go in, walking through three corridors set into walls thicker than any medieval military architect’s dream. It made the secret nuclear bunkers of the 1980’s look like pathetic paper-walled constructions.

The lighting’s drab, designed to depress and demoralise; and I feel my energy drain out of me as I walk through those halls, and I try not to start shaking. The fear hits – what if I ended up stuck here?

What if they won’t let me out? I’ve studied the construction of the place; my cousin was one of the architects. I know it can and will be swallowed by the marsh; all it would take would be for the Thames Barrier to fail, and no has been maintaining that for a while now.

I’ve never really been that clear on what I’m supposed to really be doing. Oh, of course I teach people to read and write; it takes patience and pretending that it doesn’t matter if they can not or will not or are too bashed up. I just kind of hope that my sessions give them a little respite from the harsh and unforgiving environment they have found themselves in.

And it’s so easy to find yourself within, and once you’re in, you’re lost.

Knowing all of this and being so very very fearful, it is quiet bizarre that I do it, really. It was an innocuous start, she was such a little thing but fed well. I suspected her mother is or was a favourite of who ever was in charge of food or above. Poor mite was what, 9?

And she was a puddle of jelly in the corner gripping her stomach and mewing. Her eyes were large and round when I spoke to her, full of fear. My mind filled with images of plague; disease was becoming a thing, a dreadful thing within the poorer areas of the cities and a prison population was a contained population, and I knew there was a fair amount of recycled air in the place. It was a perfect disease incubator.

Then I thought on what had happened with the poison at the food banks and kids’ homes and all the rest of it a few years back and I went cold. I called the guard and he laughed. Laughed showing yellowed teeth with slime upon them, his mouth open wide and the tongue raw and viscous. I knew what it was then and barely resisted slapping him.

Now suspecting it – I detected the metallic stench of fish. I waited for the guard to go but, without really thinking, I handed the mother my little kit; knickers, wipes, and two pads. Her eyes shone and I had to usher her to silence. I had just broken a huge taboo – I had given a prisoner something.

Of course the next day I brought in all I could fit, inside the books, laid out flat so that in scans they were nothing but book marks. Prisoners where not allowed tech, they tended to hack the internets with them, no matter how crippled the device was.

It took me a week or so to realise that I could not afford to buy pads for the entire female prison population, and the waste issue meant that we all risked being discovered. A little research later, and I bought a bulk order of various devices and reusable cloth pads.

It took me six months to get them to the women, a few at a time. The devices, they were a no go – there was no way to get them in. I managed three by arguing that they were mine each time, but someone suspected something and checked I had it when I left – I had to threaten to let them examine the offending orifice. Fortunately, the threat of menstrual blood was enough and they backed off, but I knew I would not be taking any more of those in.

My second order of material pads was also a disaster. Someone knew, but either they didn’t yet have evidence on me or they were playing with me. As evidence was not really needed any more – I was inclined to be paranoid and think they were playing sick little mind games. When the same skinny man kept turning up every time I did my shopping and pointedly looking into my trolley, I knew I was screwed.

Online ordering was no better; there were pointed traces left and I felt sick and cold, awash in anxiety. Just waiting to be caught.

It took a stupid long time for me to realise that I could make the material washable pads myself, and I set about reducing old bed spreads and dresses to sanitary items for convicts. I sewed after work, but never too late – I didn’t want to risk neighbours complaining about the noise of the machine.

I really could only smuggle a few at a time now, and the guards were becoming more thorough in their searches. I knew it was only a matter of time before I was caught. This added a weird sort of urgency onto my self imposed mission.

You see, the thing is that I had started; I’d already broken the rules. I say rules, because law went by the by a while back. It was a gradual and bad thing but there it was, so I did not feel any guilt for what I was doing, only fear, a deep seated fear that I would end up in there with those women, were the only respite to bleeding would be pregnancy, and maybe not then, and certainly not at the end of it all. Babies are born and then the women have the biggest periods – all of that without a few cloth strips they can wash out.

I had to stop myself grinding my teeth.

And someone already knew, I was going to end up in there or dead and that time was closing in. I could not leave the country, I couldn’t even leave London, not since the lockdown to stop terrorism. I was stuck, but not poor; no, never that, but not rich enough to leave, either.

So the urgency was kind of selfish when I think about it – the more of the damned things I got into the place the more chance I would have of finding something for myself when I finally ended up within.

Getting your head around something like this can take a while and I was only just starting to come to terms with my double life as a smuggler of female hygiene products when things started to get truly weird.

After a long and harrowing day at the prison I came home and found my door would not open properly. I had to barge my way in. There behind the door were clothes, and scraps of cloth. They’d been posted through the letter box; someone had to have given who ever had done it access to the building to begin with.

I scooped them up and dumped them on a kitchen chair and stared. They were old clothes, holy cloths, and some of it not too clean. I needed more material but cloth doesn’t just fall from the sky – where had it come from?

I waited a week. I washed the lot that first evening after a flea jumped out, but I waited before cutting and threading and sewing and another before smuggling. I felt vague alarm that maybe part of it was smart fabric, that it would report what I was doing or blow up in my face as soon as I started sewing – like those uniforms of all those poor police officers – the ones I wasn’t supposed to know about. The ones the “protestors” blew up.

But I couldn’t see any electronics built in, no wires or tubes. It was of little comfort, as neither had the police uniforms that went nova. I quaked and quailed but in the end I snipped and created and tried to stop the women beaming at me as they opened books and extracted their little pads. It was demeaning in a way I can not explain – for me, not them. Each grateful smile hurt me. I didn’t know what any of the women had or had not done to earn themselves a stay. There were going to be murderers and artists and doctors who spoke out; there would be thieves and abusers, and desperates and activists. Some would be more than one and I did not know which was which.

At the beginning, when I first started teaching them – that had mattered, had disturbed me and followed me home at night to haunt my dreams. But not by this point.

Here they were all just in need of something I could provide, so I provided. And mysterious parcels of material and old clothes continued to arrive and I continued to sew.

Then it happened. I arrived at the outer perimeter and the guard did not smile, did not make lewd comments. The one at the door did not pinch my arse or try and prod me with his nethers. No one was smiling, no one was making eye contact with me, always looking slightly behind me as if I didn’t really exist. I knew it was up.

I wondered about running but feared being shot. My heart thumped in my ears. There was a tremor in my voice as I spoke softly to my students, the little ones gathered for story time.

The man walked in then, he wasn’t like the normal guards, he was wearing a suit and no apparent stab proofing. Shaking, I read a story about a train and a plane and another about a teddy bear who gets lost. He smiled a half dead smile all the way through. Unlike the guards, he stared at me and at nothing else. For him I was the only thing that existed and that was somehow worse.

I felt giddy as I stood to go, the eyes of those around me told me that I was not the only one to fear. I got up to walk out. He stood; my heart leaped painfully and full in my chest as I noticed one of the little sewn pads in his hand.

“You appear to have forgotten your bookmark.” He said with oil slicked tones, his lip could not help curly up in disgust. I reached out to take it but he snatched his fingers closed, I staggered away as if hit.

“You know there have been rumours,” he said, “rumours that you have been smuggling the women contraband items!” I tried to swallow; I could not have lied if I’d wanted to, I opened my mouth to make a triumphant stand. He held his hand out at me palmwards whilst he examined the little strip of cloth. “but all I see is a little cloth strip used for marking pages. This must be easily lost – no? Always falling out of your books?”

I nodded unable to really think, “Tell me, these are crude, where do you buy such shite?”

‘I.. I make them” I whispered.

“Pardon?” he said tilting his head in an almost alien way.

I cleared my throat, “I make them.”

“Ah, I see, apologies no offence was meant – these little book marks can be made by hand yes? No machines?”

“Yes, it just takes longer.” I wanted to snatch the words back; it was basically a confession, his eyes held mine and the universe ticked around me.

“I think this would be a good project for the non-violent groups, good training, I.C.E. can not pay for materials of course same as they do not pay for your time but I’m sure suitable materials can be found.”

I nodded, trying to think.

“You should go now, before they lock you in,” and he grinned, his teeth were perfect and straight and gleamed. I wanted to whip the smug from him but I just whispered a “Yes, Sir” and scuttled from the room, not daring to hope that I was actually leaving.

At each door I expected the tug, at the perimeter fence instead the hand landed on my shoulder. “I hope you will not be offended,” he said quietly like a snake belly loose in the grass, “but do you know what your book marks get used for?”

I blinked.

“They use them as sanitary towels! I find that funny, there you are trying to teach reading and writing and they take what is necessary. I do not like filth in my prison and I can not sanction sanitary items for them but a craft project teaching a skill? And literacy? That I can. Enjoy your rags.” And he winked.

I watched him walk away, the guard had to “oi” me to get me to move.

So now they make their own little pads and I… I’ve slipped in deeper and deeper and bundles of rags turn up still and one day I will find out who has been sending them. The prison is weird, I think it is becoming something more. London is sinking though, and the marsh will reclaim its land. I still fear every time I go there, that they will not let me out, especially if they find the recipes I’ve been smuggling in.

Rainbows and Rivets – Picture a Story

June 19th, 2016

Rainbow and Rivet

Please use this picture to help inspire or start a story or poem. Picture a Story is where I share my photography or art work or occasionally a guest bloggers work. This one is the rainbow wing of a glass and metal butterfly – I liked the contrasts.