Home Entertainment

He could almost hear his late father say “there’s nothing on the telly!”, mimicking some long gone radio presenter.  So right, whoever it had been.  D switched off the TV and threw the remote at the wall, missing the framed photograph of his disapproving parents peering down at him.  A snort of disgust blew through his untrimmed nostrils and the room plunged into a post-entertainment gloom.


He climbed the narrow stairs carefully, not letting the arthritis get the better of him. In bed, he tried to weigh up his options now that he had been out of work for a few months.  Despite having the word “communication” in his job title, he could not communicate, at least not in the way his employers wanted.  They had no quarrel with the technical excellence of his labour but the distance he seemed to put between himself and his colleagues, his managers and the customers meant that he was unlikely to survive an appraisal system that placed more importance on bland personalities and blind obedience to bizarre work targets than in actual performance.  


When they told him that he was surplus to requirements, he stole from the bank accounts of the board of directors.  This was a pragmatic move in his way of thinking.  Vengeance had been exacted against an employer that had never understood him, never tried to understand him.  Also, as the Welfare State had been dismantled a few years ago, he really did need the money.


He was bored of a life of emails, liking, sharing, live chats, help desks, activation codes, usernames and passwords. Spam mail was the highpoint of his day.  He had created an online fake identity and gently berated officialdom in this guise.  Thoughts of bitterness and rebellion churned his mind.  Listening through earphones to an early rock and roll album, Hüsker Dü’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories, he fell asleep.


He woke in the middle of the night with a start.  An idea had taken hold of him, a method of registering his contempt for a self-satisfied, self-congratulatory world and providing his own home entertainment. He chuckled, went into the garden, and, by torchlight, unlocked the many padlocks that secured the large metal, single storey structure that abutted the house next door.  This had originally been a storage container and the legend Findus Crispy Pancakes was still visible on its side though faded now and invaded by ivy.  He turned on the lights and surveyed his workshop.  All seemed in order and he swung carelessly on his chair, dreaming.


D spent several weeks perfecting his technique, making adjustments to computer programmes and hacking into the production departments of those broadcasting companies that interested him the most.   His equipment was linked to a 25 metre high antenna camouflaged among a group of plane trees that shielded the building from curious gazes.


One damp autumn Sunday early evening, he was ready in his lair, tuning in to his target, a particularly decadent antiques TV programme.  His software scanned the fawning over antiquities, and each time the word “worth” came up, it inserted the word “nothing” as a replacement to whatever immediately followed.  He giggled, happy that the slowed-down, anonymous voiceover had succeeded, at least in the local transmitting region.  It was pure comedy, observing so-called experts smugly pronouncing on the various items that members of the public had brought hopefully to the location and the delighted response by them to the revelation that their treasures were in fact worthless.  The show was taken off air when the remix was noticed and D shut down his apparatus to minimise the chance of being detected.  He allowed himself a little dance of celebration, then sat down, embarrassed by his unusual display of emotion.


The following day he bumped into his neighbour whilst retrieving his wheelie bins.  Ilyich was upset as the police had called that morning and had searched his house on some unspecified security matter.  He ran a small business from his home, dealing with communication solutions.  D was even more convinced that the authorities were clueless.  An apology was issued by the producers of the show, explaining the incident away as a technical hitch and there were numerous complaints from outraged viewers. In a news report, the head of the Security Service described the “nothing incident” as a cyber attack, an assault on the right of the ordinary citizen to enjoy without interruption a “national treasure lovingly crafted by the greatest television industry in the world”. The game was on.


D laid low for a few weeks, studying, mixing audio tapes and boosting his mast.  He decided that he would next activate his “studio” for a late night screening of the vintage movie First Blood on the lesser known Testosterone network.  He managed to replace the vocal of the character Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) by overdubbing it with excerpts from the opera songs O Sole Mio and Lolita, Serenata Spagnola in the scene in which he enters the command tent set up in the search for his former soldier, the fugitive John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone).  The dialogue of the sadistic Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) in this exchange was altered to a touching admission, in a shrill voice, of his undying romantic love for his quarry though the face and body language spoke of revenge, hunting dogs and hatred of outsiders .  This was a more ambitious act of civil disobedience and usurpation and D felt that he had actually improved one of his favourite films with his slick, competent and imaginative editing.  There was little feedback to this intervention due to the lateness of the hour and the irrelevance of the film.  However, some enthusiasts had noticed and an online cult emerged, seeking to unearth similar occurrences by trawling back through thousands of hours of films, good and bad.


Over the coming months he paid close attention to the domestic political scene, especially the vocal styles of the Cabinet members.  When the tragic story broke of fourteen slaves dying in a fire at their accommodation, he sensed his chance.  He would expect from the Home Affairs Minister, Ms Serena Todd, a suitably solemn, studied response to include a rejection of the growing practice of slavery, a commitment from the Government to stamp it out again.  But when her statement was repeated in a later bulletin, he had inserted the sentence “of course, we don’t care about the lower orders…I would love to have slaves working on my estate..”  The broadcast was cut almost as soon as it began but it was too late.  Even though it was apparent that she had little control over the hijacking of her interview, she had been made to look silly and, in some people’s view, honest. Todd resigned that night.  Riots had broken out in six major cities, many districts were ablaze and a mob had cornered the family thought to be the owners of the dead slaves in a secluded part of the Eastern sector, lynching them from their own apple trees.


D sat back, wide-eyed at what he had unleashed, taking in the breaking news on a bank of monitors.  He opened a bottle of champagne and raised his glass to the assembled TVs which at that moment switched to a Security Service spokeswoman announcing that they were close to making an arrest on charges of terrorism, inciting insurrection and theft of intellectual property.  D froze, spilling his drink when there was a loud banging at the door and Tech Police forced their battering ram into his shed, his world.  As the handcuffs shut, he went into a kind of fit, curling into a tight ball, speaking in tongues with guns pointing at him and the cameras rolling.



The Visitors

It’s funny what you remember and what you forget.  Is it a choice or an accident? Or somewhere between the two?  I don’t know but I can’t forget that night and its aftermath though, if I’m honest, I would choose to.


It had been a fairly ordinary Friday in late April, a day of work and of fitting in those things that have to be fitted in around work.  In those days I earned a living of sorts in a seafood processing factory several miles away from my home.  The commute took me past flinty escarpments with their suggestion of standing stones and down a blackthorn valley with sparse, ancient cottages like the one I rented.  I parked my car on the grass behind a make-do building covered by corrugated iron sheets the colour of port in a former port town.  The equipment for processing the produce of cetaceans had been inserted into the vacuum left by the decline of traditional farming that was due to a series of bad harvests, a collapse in trade deals and the foot and mouth epidemic that had led to the mass cull of cattle and pigs.


In the stench of dead dolphins and over the searing buzz of the mechanised knives, a rumour arose, first debated in the morning ten minute break, developed during the twenty minute lunch and fully formed by the time the last mugs of tea of the shift were empty.  One of the migrant workers had asked if any of us had seen strange lights in the area over the last week. He claimed to have observed white, yellow and red lights both above and below the horizon, moving at enormous speed.  A couple of the smokers nodded but then they always did when they were smoking.  One colleague said that she thought she had seen something not quite right in the sky while driving recently but it had happened so quickly and whatever it was had gone by the time she’d stopped.  Cigarette smoke spiralled upwards to a cacophony of seagulls. I looked for these birds and wondered when they would be available on supermarket shelves.


I had nothing to contribute to the debate and kept to myself the conversations I’d had recently with some sheep farmer neighbours of mine. Several of their animals had been found dead on the moor which was not that unusual but these beasts had been marked with strange geometric shapes gouged into their corpses.  This had been kept out of the news as no one paid much attention to such small fry now that the new agriculture was dominated by massive conglomerations and horrors dressed up as opportunities.


The workplace emptied with a palpable feeling of relief and expectation and a haste that always impressed me.  I waited for the cars of the others to leave and I started on my way home.  My first call was to a market where I picked up some flowers, wine, and two packets of horse burgers.


I pulled in next at the care home, a former mansion, where we had installed my mother when she had become too much for us.  I entered the impressive but dismal hallway and signed my name in the visitors book. There weren’t many staff members around at this time of the day.  I found my mother on her own, tiny in a large chair, looking out over the gardens. I kissed her, introducing the flowers.  She was not interested in them so I left them on a nearby table. The conversation was a struggle but her eyes still shone. I was happy that she was well cared for but I couldn’t shake the thought that this was a pointless exercise.  I said goodbye and drove the last few miles home.


Mary was waiting for me at the cottage.  We caught up with the day’s news and thoughtlessly switched on the TV. We fried the burgers and sat down to eat as the sun was sinking from view. I had the wine to myself as she had just started maternity leave.  We didn’t say much as we were tired and we had already said most of what we wanted to say.  We both lifted our heads, however, to follow a news item concerning an incident in which a car had crashed off a road in our locality the night before, its driver apparently dazzled by a light approaching from the sky.  The motorist was uninjured but spooked, barely able to look the reporter in the eye.


We collapsed onto the sofa, exhausted, me a little tipsy.  We must have fallen asleep soon after, leaning into each other.  I awoke briefly a couple of times and half-noted on these occasions that the light was switched off and that I couldn’t see the TV standby light. I was too sleepy to realise that we had not caused this.


Mary woke up, murmuring that she wanted to go to the toilet.  She was about to get up when I pulled her back by her arm.  The room was bathed in a light coming from outside the window.  I knew that there was no moon that night and that vehicles could not access the building from that side.  I very carefully peeped over the top of the sofa and gasped when I saw a tall figure dressed in some kind of illuminated space suit standing completely motionless at the window. I saw no identifying marks on the clothing and could not see the face through the helmet.  I quickly ducked back down and whispered to Mary what I had seen, exhorting her to stay quiet and not move.


Our hearts beating almost audibly, we clutched each other and remained tensely still, holding sweaty hands.  I  prayed that no harm would come to us or the baby and tried to summon up the courage to confront the intruder.  However, the motive for the watcher’s visit was not clear and as time passed it became more and more possible, and hopeful, that our presence had not been detected.


A little before dawn, the night visitor at last moved away from its position and the room was immersed in the kind of darkness that occurs for a short time after a bright light is extinguished. As the day was about to begin to break, I regained my confidence and rose cautiously, keeping an eye on the window and taking my shotgun from out of its cabinet.  I nervously crossed the threshold to patrol the exterior, gun at the ready. I poked the barrel into bushes, around the car and aimed it futilely down the rough track that led to that place.  Nothing greeted me save the barking of the awakening dogs of the nearby farms and the chill of the morning of the night before.


I got back inside and tried the lights.  They worked. I gave Mary the biggest hug my dwindling energy reserves could muster.  She put the kettle on and we drank a cup of tea in silence and relief, me with the weapon across my knees as the world stirred around us, a world that had appeared to have changed forever.


Later that morning, we packed a bag or two and left for the in-laws in the town. She would stay with them while we tried to work out what to do for the best.  I left them and walked the short distance to the police station to file my report. To my amazement, I was not met with incredulity as it had been a busy night for unexplained sightings.


On the following Monday, two officials who claimed to be from a Government Department I had never heard of, The Ministry of Mystery, called on me at work. The manager allowed us a cramped storeroom and they interrogated me about what had happened. Both had the same unidentifiable accent and were polite enough, asking the type of questions I would have expected.  There was something awkward about the whole exchange, however. Maybe it was me, maybe it was them.  When they had finished, they shook my hand and left.


They would return a number of times over the following weeks to ask the same questions at my home, also interviewing Mary at her parents.  I had the impression that they would have liked me to retract my statement.  I told them that I knew what I thought I had seen and very definitely felt, at which they just smiled.  I noticed on at least two of these occasions that they had to make their excuses fairly early in the meeting as they both appeared to be either fatigued or ill.  After a while, I became suspicious of these unnamed and enigmatic bureaucrats. When a couple of phone calls revealed no record of such an organisation, the visits suddenly stopped.


Mary was worn out by the whole thing and lost the baby. She blamed me and we grew apart. I stayed on at the cottage and remained at the factory until I could no longer stand the smell, the people, the place, the memories.  I left the area and took a job on a ship in the resurgent whaling industry, making good money working out my disappointment and rage in the slaughter of huge animals, and keeping away from UFOs and their occupants.

Saturday Night Special

Jimmy Jangles prepared as he always did one late Saturday night to watch his favourite TV sport programme, Melee of The Day.  He seemed to have watched this every week of his life as far as he could remember.  His father had also been a fan though the format had apparently been somewhat different in those days.  The broadcast was preceded by a news bulletin which ended with the advice that those not wishing to know the results of MOTD should leave the room.  He duly acquiesced to this tiny bit of theatre and stood at the open kitchen window, feeling the slight breeze on his face and listening to cats wailing.  There was no one in the street as many people were doing exactly the same as him.


He was summoned to his viewing chair by the cheerful, bouncy, electronic theme near-tune and sat down with one hand gently caressing the remote, the other gripping a glass of gin and tonic.  A grab bag of caviar flavour crisps lay on the low table between him and the 110 inch TV that provided the only illumination in that room and that was in essence the room.


The presenter, Johnny Bland, beamed his smile, introduced the two pundits, Oliver Overbite and Alan Contemptible, and commented briefly on the events to be shown, claiming, with the right amount of gravitas in danger of being ruined by mirth, that it had been a very busy Saturday with some memorable action and debatable points.


They began as usual with the most spectacular event.  Highlights were shown of a bomb attack on a northern discount shopping centre that had left 63 people dead and over 150 injured. The huge array of CCTV cameras available and the inclusion of smart phone and dash and helmet cam filming meant that most of the hostility was available to be viewed by paying customers.  Contemptible was very impressed that the bombers had planted a second device in the narrow road that led to the shops, timed to go off as the first injured were being helped onto a convoy of ambulances.  Vivid depiction of bodies being extricated from burning vehicles was repeated for purposes of analysis, being frozen when certain points were felt necessary to make. Jimmy was treated to the awful spectacle of distraught paramedics treating their colleagues and the long line of blazing, blooded ambulances framed in a sepulchral drizzle. Overbite felt that the follow up detonation was “unsportsmanlike”and fell foul of the much misunderstood offside rule, predicting that these terrorists would endure a wretched season as a result of the type of tactics employed in this cunning ambush.  Contemptible disagreed, saying that attackers should always given the benefit of the doubt in such cases and a heated argument followed that ended when Bland, a slightly faded national hero, acted as referee, the screen filled by his face as he moved ironically but seamlessly on to the next encounter.


This turned out to be an entirely different kind of beast.  This time Jimmy watched a distressed man dressed in an all purple outfit run amok in a bookies with a bread knife and a deodorant aerosol can.  This was especially visceral entertainment replayed in grainy images of disembowelment and blinding with a background of banks of TV sets relaying live pictures of the new horse racing, a cross between the Grand National, the Charge of The Light Brigade and medieval jousting. The assailant was overcome by the surviving gamblers and passers by and was lifeless by the time the police armoured personnel carriers and the helicorpsecopters arrived. A small crowd had gathered across the road to watch, careful not to stand too close to one another in case of further danger.


Jimmy at one point thought that he recognised one of the victims as his cousin  Eric who had recently moved to the midlands to find work as a forklift driver at a body armour warehouse.  If he remembered, he would try to ring his aunt the following day or, failing that, replay that part of the show and zoom in for identification purposes.


There was a rather muted discussion of this crime in the studio, partly because of the personal nature of the offence, partly because the transgressor’s face was visible and therefore known to some extent.  The three experienced former sportsmen were visibly uncomfortable. The terms and conditions of their healthy contracts prevented them from reminiscing on how things had been in the time of football before escalating aggression, both on and off the pitch, and the increasing susceptibility of large crowds to terrible devastation had led to the abandonment of conventional sporting events and venues.


No one was really sure how the civil war had started or even who was involved. Jimmy seemed to recall some social media spat getting out of hand and then people coming out from behind their computers when the country was broken up into different parts. But he thought that he could have been wrong especially as the combination of painkillers and alcohol was now making him confuse erotic with erratic and love with loathe. He had been this way since he had lost his job in a photographic equipment factory when it had gone onto short time working due to the necessity to observe two minutes silence in remembrance of the latest deaths for much of the working day.


The last featured atrocity was an assault on shoppers at a vast second hand car sales centre by a man driving a white van.  He drove at speed along the lanes between the rows of cars and began to hunt other motorists, ploughing into them, throwing many into the air.  He finally drove out wildly onto the nearby motorway where both he and his vehicle were obliterated by a cement lorry that he’d failed to see in his wing mirror.


Contemptible stood up and tried to analyse this event by rather hamfistedly operating an interactive screen to illustrate this latest act of terror. He allowed himself a whistle of admiration when he played back the scene that showed this particular murderer actually buying the van at the site of the carnage immediately before unleashing his killing spree.  On the other hand, he felt that the reversing of the van over a number of prone victims was, well, contemptible.  Much of the footage of this massacre came from the belt buckle cams of those present including the casualties and, equally harrowing, the dash and rear cams of the van.


The Bomb of The Month competition was mentioned and the merits of the ten entries considered. Jimmy thought that No.7, the petrol bombing of a petrol station that was about to close down on a forsaken part of the east coast, won his vote.  He was at heart an old romantic and art lover who appreciated the bold colours of towering flames against a black sea sky and the fact that, in his view, these were activists protesting against the end of their community. He was especially drawn to the compelling, high camera views of the mob carrying their Molotov cocktails, advancing wordlessly across the forecourt towards the kiosk like something out of the Peasants’ Revolt or Children of The Damned.  


Bland ended the transmission on an upbeat note, thanking his co-presenters and all those people who had allowed permission for the show’s producers, the New Blood Sport Broadcasting Corporation, to use their films of the violence.  With a wink, he let the audience know of a new companion for MOTD that would be aired in mid week, Celebrity Melee of The Day and, as ever, he repeated the lie that what he had just presented to the nation were merely isolated incidents.


Jimmy muted the set and gulped down another G and T, washing down sleeping pills that he knew would not do the job tonight.



Ministry of Loss

Sitting at his desk among the shadows of houseplants, he imagined that he looked monumental in the light of a single candle though he felt as insignificant as an insect.  Through the window without curtains he scanned the world outside, the spaces between streetlights, between cars, between spaces.  Satisfied, he picked up the envelope, reading and re-reading the handwritten address, trying to find a clue in the slanting of letters and the distribution of punctuation.  The style was familiar to him as he had been corresponding for some time on the subject of his absent wife and daughter.  No hard news had yet been forthcoming from the Ministry of Loss but he found himself becoming curious about the seemingly increasing warm tone of the replies.  Despite what must have been a heavy workload, Inspector Zelda Good still found the time, between the lines, to insert an apparent friendliness quite at odds with protocol and the times.  He had felt so alone following the disappearance of his family and the lack of any real information regarding their fate that he came to rely on her letters and their apparent humanity.  He had begun to construct fantasies about this unknown woman, competing with memories of his wife and sapping his resolve to get at the truth.  This was despite the fact that he had never seen her, never heard her talk, laugh or cry.  He recalled the times he’d tried to visit her workplace.  He had never entered the fortress-like eight-storey structure but instead had stood at some distance surveying the windows, trying to guess which one looked in on her office, which one she looked out of.  The tall aerials on top of the building seemed to read his thoughts and he would always leave in haste, his twin goals thwarted.

He opened the letter and read eagerly, sensing immediately that the cordiality was even stronger.  For the first time, she had signed the paper with her first name only.  He could hardly believe it when she suggested meeting the following day to discuss what she described as “developments” in the case.  He had to read the letter three times to make sure that he had not misunderstood.  He was elated and played a game of trying to picture what this woman would look like followed by feelings of guilt for temporarily forgetting the reason for the correspondence.

The next morning, he locked the door of his flat and hurried down the corridor and stairs, hoping to avoid his neighbours whose polite but gradually emptier queries about his missing family were greeted by his embarrassed, small shrug.  He was relieved to reach the relative anonymity of the street where he would not be obliged to explain himself, at least not to those unconnected to the authorities.  He stood on the pavement for a few moments, trying not to panic, wondering what this day would bring as the rest of the world milled around him.  He noted the CCTV cameras which had mysteriously landed one day like a flock of alien and challenging birds, here to stay.  He walked towards an underground train station, the streets demarcated by enormous video screens urging vigilance, productivity, expenditure and obedience, communicated by the strident, comedy dancing of members of the Government.

Half an hour of not making eye contact later, a train coughed him out into the fog of an abandoned quarter of the city.  He felt cold air on his face as the directions he’d been given led him to a neglected stadium he thought he’d once seen in a television programme though he was not sure now what had taken place there then. With a shiver, he entered through a long tunnel and sat down on a bench at the side of an unkempt football pitch.  All around the edge of the field were statues of discredited politicians from earlier times, covered in bird droppings.  He kept looking around, expecting something to happen, for some sort of game to begin, thinking this was how people used to feel, how he used to feel. The rumble of distant traffic was quite comforting, some sort of connection to a world he believed he knew but did not reduce his anxiety enough.


Within a few minutes, a woman wearing a fur coat appeared from the tunnel and stopped to view him.  She advanced towards him purposefully but with a hint of playfulness. Her glossy black hair was cropped and her smile broad and sustained.  He was not disappointed.  She introduced herself in an educated, confident voice, removed her sunglasses to reveal luminous green eyes and reached up to kiss his cheek.

He fixed her in his gaze, standing so close that he could feel her quick breath on his neck and inhale her perfume as she gestured faintly with her left hand, his long lost wife and daughter materialising a few yards behind her, flanked by two unsmiling women.  His heart missed a beat for the second time in as many minutes. His family seemed pale imitations of the people he knew, as though something essential had been drained from their lives and he had great difficulty in knowing how to behave, where to look.  He tried to speak to them but no words came to his lips and he returned his attention to his new distraction.

Zelda Good stepped back three steps and, still smiling, pulled a compact, silenced, silver revolver from beneath the fur, pressed it against his forehead and squeezed the trigger in slow motion.  After a second of hesitation, he fell to the floor.  She took a deep breath and cleaned the silencer with a handkerchief.  The wife tried to go to her husband’s aid but was wrestled away by the guards who pushed her back down the tunnel, her little girl trailing behind, crying inconsolably. The Inspector knelt down, searching her victim’s jacket, retrieving the letters that she had asked him to bring to this meeting.  Pleased, she put the papers under her coat, replaced her sunglasses and left the stadium, passing two colleagues who knew where to take the stretcher they were carrying.  In the stands, empty drink cartons gently bumped into one another in a rising wind as blood slid down vigorous blades of grass and pigeons cooed harmoniously on the heads of the statues.

Night Shift

It had been a long, tail-chasing day as they all seemed to be those days.  He left the building where he earned a minimal wage as a desk jockey for the Department of Inclement Weather and walked towards the side street where his car was parked.  When he got there, he slumped behind the wheel in a robotic motion, took a deep breath and started to drive through the neon glare of fast food outlets, petrol stations and streetlights to join the country road home.


The traffic was light as the hour was late and he settled into the comfort of seating, air-conditioning, music and the gentle rise and fall, rise and fall of the way.  The occasional flick of the wiper blades punctuated the uneventfulness and hinted at more persistent rain.  The lights of settlements gradually grew less frequent as did fellow travellers.  He occupied himself in thought patterns concerning his employment, his twenty-five years in a black suit and, more urgently, a last-ditch attempt to win back the mother of his children.


He had to slow down when he approached a dirty estate car.  He saw the scarlet of his brake lights bleed briefly over the hedges behind and he knew that he would not be able to overtake this vehicle for several miles.  After a few minutes, his attention was drawn to what looked like a photograph taped to the inside of its rear windscreen.  He had difficulty in making it out so inched a little nearer then allowed himself to fall behind. He did this several times until he was fairly satisfied that the image was of a local woman who had been reported missing recently. He tried to recall the details that gossip and newspaper reports had half-taught him about the case.  The photograph reminded him of an icon as rain, now falling heavily in a formidable side wind, also hampered identification and aided mystique.  He seemed to remember reading that the woman had been found dead in a wood that lay a few miles from his present route but thought he may have been thinking of someone else.


A few minutes later, both cars were diverted by roadworks onto a narrow, twisting road which led through this wood.  Travel was slower now and the trees, whipped up by gusts, reached out their branches to touch the cars, scratching, scraping.  He sensed that they were the bony arms of witches trying to seduce him, to drag him into the undergrowth and leave him covered with moss, leaves stuffed in his mouth about which a horse-bit would be ritually arranged.  He laughed and shuffled in his seat, screwing up his eyes to see rain like arrows falling down on his wild imagination.


A cigarette butt was tossed from the other car and hit the wet tarmac in a brief, tiny show of embers.  He felt his hopes were becoming like this last breath of a drug discarded in a lonely place with only him as witness.


Suddenly, it became much darker with the sound of a storm replacing that of his vehicle.  He shivered and put his foot down but the car coasted to a halt at a crossroads.  He tried to restart the engine without success.  The trees, bent into contorted gestures by the wind, appeared to have moved nearer in a bridal train of leaves. In the gloom, he tried his mobile phone but there was no signal just the image of the woman in the photograph in the long-gone other car. He could see her smile knowingly at him until the battery expired in a brief blue steel blink and total absence of light reigned.


Night Shift image



Straight Out of Nowhere and Back Again


September 1977. Elvis was dead and it was time to go back to school. I had done well in my “O” levels but I was in the grip of the music and attitude of punk rock and the possibility of not conforming to the expectations of the authority figures that seemed to increasingly surround me.


I lived in the village of Llechryd, on the banks of the Teifi River in West Wales, a collection of two chapels, a church, a public house, a hotel, a post office, a primary school, a shop, and expanding local authority housing where my family home was located.  I spent much of my teenage years in the company of my near neighbour and best friend, Geraint Evans-Williams.  He was a year younger than me, the son of a minister of religion from North Wales. Rugby, fishing, weekend discos in former mansions, the radio and limited television were the only distractions on offer now that we had rejected God.


From his bedroom, we plotted our own counter-culture.  We formed a casual musical unit, Edward H. Böring, the umlaut chosen for effect, the name chosen as a satire on the pop group Edward H. Dafis who represented the straitjacketed and utterly tedious modern Welsh entertainment.  Geraint’s musical hero was Elvis Presley especially his early work while I was fan of The Adverts, The Jam and The Stranglers.  We wrote hundreds of short, pithy and irreverent songs, powered by acoustic guitars and twigs being struck against used Fairy Liquid bottles.  As we were bilingual, we wrote in both languages, and like many young people in that situation, experienced a kind of dual identity.  Our longest track, and the easiest to compose, was the psychobilly Gregorian chant Aberfan, an endless, lugubrious intoning of those three syllables, in essence an almost non-lingual sonic elegy to fallen children.


Though nearly all of what we crafted was a private, childish self-indulgence, we did have a moment or two of ambition and self awareness, a guess that our raw anti-music, our anti-talent, could be exposed to an audience.  We filled a C90 cassette with our efforts and sent it to Huw Eurig, a member of the then popular group Y Trwynau Coch ( The Red Noses).  We didn’t give our real names-Geraint became Dai Marw ( Dave Dead) and I became Capten Duw (Captain God or God’s Captain) and it is possible that we did not even include our address.  To support this submission, we pretended that we were a five member group by using two cassette players to make it sound like that number of bad musicians, embracing the do it yourself ethos of the punk movement.  I can remember only one pseudonym of the other three imaginary fellow travellers-Cleif Cleifion (Clive Patients).


We discovered in the Welsh language newspaper Y Cymro that our low tech and anonymous effort had caused some interest in the conventional world of our country’s emerging popular music.  As a result, we came out of the shadows for a short time to make our only contribution to this particular genre.


We were amazed to be invited to record a session for the BBC Radio Cymru show Sosban and were summoned to the Llandaff studio in Cardiff. Geraint’s father Arthur drove us on a grey February late morning in 1980 the twenty seven miles to the nearest railway station in Carmarthen.


Eurof Williams, the radio producer, was bemused and fairly patient in the 60 minutes or so allocated  to us. As soon as he heard us, he barred Geraint’s guitar as he felt its steel strings produced too strident a sound. Luckily, my Spanish guitar was acceptable to him though I couldn’t play it. We managed to record  two tunes but Eurof thought that one of them was unsuitable for BBC listeners. This was “Mistar Urdd” which was an attack on the mascot of the Welsh League of Youth or Urdd Gobaith Cymru, and the idea of marshalling young people in general. The chorus of this reviled, nihilistic, latter day nursery rhyme was simple and direct-”Cachgi Mistar Urdd”.  Cachgi means “coward”. Unforgettable but that’s all I can recall at this distance.


The one surviving track, Hen Wlad Fy Datcu (Land of My Grandfather), was an assassination of both the national anthem and the rules of mutation. The premise of the lyric was that, never mind our fathers, our country and its culture were still mired in the age of our grandfathers. A rambling interview accompanied our cacophony.


Despite the censorship, the truncated session was actually broadcast the following Saturday morning.  Richard Rees, the presenter, was a good sport, describing us as the “chwyldroadol” (revolutionary) Edward H. Böring!  I cringed as I listened, both glad and mad that no one in my home was listening with me.


We did not capitalise on our small success. My great friend and former fellow pupil David Edwards of the truly pioneering Cardigan rock group, Datblygu, once told me that he had been inspired to start his music career by our example.  Geraint and I went our separate ways, he to Charleville-Mézières in France in the footsteps of another of his heroes, Arthur Rimbaud, me to a Youth Opportunities Programme scheme at the local library. I consider my collaboration with him as a kind of apprenticeship, the beginnings of a need to conjure up some kind of literature, of not allowing the weight of having to earn a living erase all creative thoughts from my mind.

Paul and Geraint 1979 3

Non-Pacifist Fist Anti-Fascist: A Tale From My Family’s History

Like many men, I have always been fascinated by tales of courage especially in the theatre of war. I was thrilled when, at an early age, my father gave me the barest bones of a story concerning a member of his Treherbert family who was apparently executed in the Spanish Civil War.  My father didn’t know how this man had been related to us, didn’t even know his name, and believed this unlucky ancestor to have been a journalist.  When I began to become interested in my family history, my research, in the main, was to corroborate this tale but was to uncover a much more intriguing account.


Thomas Isaac Picton was born in Treherbert in 1896 and came from a family of Pembrokeshire miners.  His father, also called Thomas, shows up, aged 18, in the 1881 census living at 8 Tynewydd Huts in the Rhondda Valley, with his uncle John Coles who had been born in Landshipping, Pembrokeshire.  Landshipping was a heart-breaking landmark in the journey of the Picton family for on Valentine’s Day 1844, forty miners including women and boys died there in the Garden Pit Colliery when the eastern Cleddau river (Cleddau Ddu or Black Cleddau) burst into the shaft 67 yards below. Included on the monument to the dead erected by local people are the names of six Pictons and five Coles. Four of the Picton dead were a father and his three sons. Such bad luck doesn’t always encourage you to stick around.


Thomas Isaac Picton was also a miner.  When The Great War broke out,  he enlisted and stayed working with coal, becoming a stoker on the mighty battleships. He was twice decorated for his bravery including during the Battle of Jutland where he spent some time in the water.  His Royal Navy service record measured him at 5 feet 4 and a half inches with blue eyes and dark brown hair and swarthy complexion. It noted that he had a tattoo commemorating his mother in a cross on his right arm. He was discharged with “defective teeth” and had spent 24 days in cells during his war years and 14 days in detention.  The crammed calligraphy of a busy war observes in brackets that he “broke out” of the latter.


He was an avid boxer who was Wales amateur middleweight champion and he had also been the Navy light heavyweight champion.  He managed to get a small number of professional bouts but was primarily a bare knuckle mountain fighter. At least one of his confrontations led him to prison. On one occasion, he left Cardiff jail after serving a short sentence for assaulting a police officer, wearing the boots of a prisoner who had recently been hanged.


As was the case with large numbers of working class people of the inter war years, he became radicalised and was a close friend of Communist Councillor George Thomas of Treherbert. In his early forties, Tom joined the International Brigade, older than the typical volunteers, most of whom were also swapping the uncertainty of their blighted industrial zones for the uncertainty of the Spanish Civil War.  In common with hundreds of fellow miners from the South Wales coalfield, he made the choice to illegally leave his country to fight the rising tide of Fascism in a country he had never previously visited. For entertainment on the journey through France, he was put into a ring to wrestle a bear.  This seems an almost cartoon-like scene to the modern mind, a form of larger-than-life existence we have almost forgotten.


On their arrival at the barracks of the International Brigade, they were issued with ill-fitting uniforms and ancient firearms with ill-fitting ammunition.   Some would go on to fight Fascists in another war, facing opponents who had honed their skills in killing machines above Guernica and other memorable places. Tom, due to his First World War experiences and his prowess as a boxer, may have been better equipped for the fight than many of his comrades.


He fought in the Battle of Teruel and was captured soon after and imprisoned in Bilbao.  He was murdered by his jailers in April 1938 after he had punched to the floor a guard who was beating a fellow prisoner with his rifle butt. The Rhondda Leader newspaper of 29 October 1938 reported that he had been “put up against a wall and shot”.  His body was never found.


These  warriors are still remembered, still commemorated. Their sacrifice and their willingness to enrol in “the march of History” are still revered by those on the Left and their selflessness continues to haunt our unconfident, cynical age. I am proud that a member of my family was among them. Before I fully knew Tom’s story, I wrote a short poem, “Icons”, whose third line seemed to aptly describe his stance :


Not game footage

but I’ve outlived Stanley Baker

as non-pacifist fist anti-fascist

in humidity following Biblical rainfall

we all rust

Thomas Isaac Picton in Spain 1937

The Epynt Evictions or They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

World war by its very definition touches many people in many places.  Those tending the tranquil slopes of Mynydd Epynt and Mynydd Bwlch-y-Groes in Breconshire in late 1939 could have been forgiven if they thought that the war with Germany would not trouble them much especially as their’s were reserved occupations that made them exempt from conscription and their produce would be needed in the war effort. However, to their horror, the War Office requisitioned their homes in order to establish an artillery training range in preparation for the fight against Hitler and his allies.  


The process of official notification and the lack of consultation was marked by an authoritarian approach. Epynt was a largely Welsh-speaking area and Welsh language newspapers were vocal in resisting this move.There was, however, little real support from other newspapers in Wales. The only organisation to make a sustained resistance to the evictions was The Committee for the Defence of Welsh Culture who attended a meeting with Lord Cobham, Assistant Secretary for War, along with farmers’ representatives, MPs, and members of Breconshire County Council. The Government did not change its mind.


219 people were ordered to leave by 1st June 1940, exiting in carts with what they could carry. They never came home.  54 homes, a school, a church, a public house, and farmland were abandoned to create SENTA, the Sennybridge Training Area. One farmer was said to have “cried himself to death” on being evicted from the farm his family had worked for generations. It was reported that many of the middle aged farmers died relatively soon after being ejected from their farm houses. One continued to return to maintain the cemetery until 1985, travelling by bicycle, carrying a scythe and putting flowers on lonely graves.


Landowners were allowed compensation for the loss of property but the removed population received no support from the state in obtaining new accommodation, employment or schooling.  Some managed to settle near their former homes but the community that had enjoyed plygain, the eisteddfod and the co-operation of their neighbours was broken up.  Their fields became target practice ranges and their ploughs were replaced by howitzers.  Their buildings were blown up and superseded and parodied by the construction of a mock German town in the 1980s to better simulate fighting Soviet soldiers in an urban conflict.


Many now regard this official action as theft and ethnic cleansing. In this single act of military expediency, the boundary of Welsh-speaking Wales was pushed 15 kilometres westwards.


Epynt means place of horses and it was once an area renowned for that animal.  Occasionally, a stray horse would wander into the militarized zone following some half-remembered track-the last one to do so in 1954 was shot.


The memorial inscription at the site of the ruined chapel reads:


He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. ( Isaiah Book 2, verse 4)


Or in the language of the original custodians of that landscape:


Ac efe a farna rhwng y cenhedloedd, ac a gerydda bobloedd lawer; a hwy a gurant eu cleddyfau yn sychau, a’u gwaywffyn yn bladuriau; ni chyfyd cenedl gleddyf yn erbyn cenedl, ac ni ddysgant ryfel mwyach.

Slaughterhouse Wales

I grew up in a small village in West Wales.  The nearest railway line had been discontinued two years after my birth and the motorway never got close. My best friend was the son of a Nonconformist Minister of Religion.  As we were gradually shaped into nervous rebellion against our parents and the chapel, we became sucked  into the darker regions of counter culture.  We were especially interested in the Charles Manson story and quickly became aware that our little country seemed not to feature such a monster.  Perverse pubescent punks that we were, we bemoaned what we saw as a qualification lacking in the nation we imagined we were living in and for.

We grew up, we grew apart as assassins shyly made their entrance onto the stage of national horror:

Joseph Kappen was born in 1941.  He raped and killed 3 teenage girls who were hitch hiking home from nights out in Swansea in 1973.  He escaped justice but his body was exhumed in 2001 for DNA analysis which identified him as the perpetrator, the first time this procedure had been performed on a previously interred corpse.  The newspapers at the time of the attacks referred to the unknown assailant as The Saturday Night Strangler. Kappen had worked as a driver, a bouncer, and a “hobbler” in the black economy, and had a number of convictions for burglary, assault and car theft.

Lt Commander Neil Rutherford, DSC and bar, was born in 1922.  He killed 4 people in The Red Gables Hotel in Penmaenmawr in 1976, his victims his former employer, her daughter and son-in-law, and their family friend from Texas.  Rutherford had worked as the hotel’s gardener and had served in the Royal Navy during World War Two and the Korean War. After leaving military service he had taken over his father’s company before it was liquidated. Death by shooting with a handgun-he killed himself with it after setting fire to the building. Strictly not a serial killer as the murders did not happen over an extended period of time-the end result is the same.

John Cooper was born in 1944.  He too killed 4 people, in Pembrokeshire, a millionaire farmer and his sister in 1985 (he set fire to their home) and a tourist couple on the county’s coastal path in 1989. He appeared in the TV show Bullseye which helped in his later identification. Death by sawn-off shotgun. He won Spot The Ball in 1978, an amount worth about £400,000 in 2017, but soon spent that money on gambling and drinking. Following this, he began a career in burglary which resulted in him serving a 10 year prison sentence starting in 1998.  He was also convicted of assaulting a group of teenagers, raping one of them. He had worked as a farm labourer and claimed Social Security benefits.

Peter Moore was born in 1940. He killed 4 men in 1995 in isolated locations. He was the owner and manager of a number of cinemas in North Wales but his business was failing at the time of his offending.  Death by stabbing.  The press dubbed him The Man in Black and he was described as the most dangerous man ever to set foot in Wales at his trial in 1996. In prison, he befriended Harold Shipman, a former GP and Britain’s most prolific murderer.

David Morris was born in 1959. He was convicted of killing 4 members of the same family, all female, aged 8 to 80, in Clydach in 1999.  Death by blunt force and, once again, their home was set alight. He has always protested his innocence and DNA found at the scene did not match his. Initially, members of South Wales Police were interviewed in connection with this massacre. Morris had worked as a builder.

Sex, money, rejection, jealousy and power were among the motives in these slayings which occurred all over Wales, at rural as well as urban locations. The backgrounds of these offenders vary considerably but their choices were uncannily similar despite the perceived advantages of some of them.  

The first act of the United Kingdom Government in the year when these outrages began was to join the European Economic Community. In 1999, when this particular sequence of crimes ceased, the National Minimum Wage was introduced, Jill Dando was assassinated on her Fulham doorstep, and, on that terrible day when Doris Lawson, her daughter Mandy Power and granddaughters Katie and Emily met a bloody end in a burning house in Clydach, the Millennium Stadium was opened.

This slaughter commenced as we bored boys entered our teenage years. We should have been more careful what we wished for…

I Thought I Had More Time


A camera I had last used nearly 15 years ago and thus effectively antiquated reminded me that learned procedures are not always remembered. I accidentally destroyed a 36 exposure colour film on a rainy hillside last weekend by forgetting that a certain minute dial had be turned clockwise in order to rewind the film.

(Turning one’s head in bed in darkness in a certain direction because you feel that there’s someone there though you know it can’t be true. You expect to see it but prevent it from being seen by daring it to appear.)

One day words will come alive. Literally. They will decide whether to change their meaning. Thus they will become even more senior partners in the realm of the emotions, philosophy and science. People will live under a tyranny of syllables, unable to remember what any word means, used to mean or know what they will mean. The experience of thinking, speech and writing will have the intense second-guessing feeling of being forcibly subjected to a universal sort of predictive text of the mind at all times. Words will have this mobility and independence retrospectively, in effect rewriting history. But they will rule their letters benevolently?


What goes through people’s minds when they are choosing a name for a child? Mohammed, according to a free newspaper, is the most popular boy’s name in the UK. Do people name a child after a parent, grandparent or another important family member? Or after a contemporary singer or actor? Is there anyone alive today called Achsah, that name I see on the gravestones of 19th century Biblically-educated Welsh-speaking West Wales?

Black Friday or rather the 1st Black Friday of December. A woman hit by a falling television set in a Tesco store. Melees break out over discounts and people raid the trollies of others, haggling taken to new extremes. Watch out for the rain of 50 inch smart TVs.


Christmas shopping. Droves in streets which used to welcome and channel drovers. What to buy? The shops seem so replete with unnecessary objects which still are attractive to the buying throng. Giant illuminated red stars hang over the main roads, an ironic, unconscious nod to the former Soviet iconography. What appears to be a massive, stylised bolt of lightning has embedded itself in tarmac between a brand new insurance office block, a retail centre and the place I work. In all of this colour and activity I try to locate a music venue whose name is a reminder of my minority language in the capital city of the country whose language it is. I can’t find it…..