Your socks were shiny at the heel. Your briefcase was important to you. Your whiteboard was imprinted with previously deleted thoughts. Your beard was patchy. Your stomach was paunchy. Your holidays were hard work. Your ability to draw a duck was important to you. Your sweat was familiar. Your car was overly warm. Your barbecues were excessive. Your eyes urged comprehension. Your relevance ebbed.
The pinch was the start of it, the punch was the end of it.
This was the conclusion that historians reached years later. Historians, such as they were. For a historian in our current understanding implies learning. It implies places of study. It implies pubished books and a critical readership. A historian in the future sense simply referred to someone who remembered things from before. Of course, they tried to write things down and curate something beyond an oral tradition, but the times had become too itinerant – the wars too frequent to worry too much about assembling anything beyond the necessities to survive.
The telling of it was that the summit was supposed to be another footstep on an unlikely journey towards peace between North Korea and the United States of America. In truth though, the real movement was between the two leaders Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump. Trump was the architect of the relationship in the same way that a boy melting ants in a back garden with a magnifying glass and choosing to spare one ant can be said to be the architect of a relationship. Donald was a narcissist and unable to interpret the usual tones of emotion, but he sometimes thought that he felt something for Jong Un. He recognised another face that looked blankly at the world and perhaps struggled to understand things. Donald thought about that often. The boy let the ant run over his fingers and inside he felt the swelling of his greatness. Looking at this ant he felt important and momentarily real.
The summit was scheduled for the first of the month. The first time a leader from North Korea had crossed the threshold of the White House. It was truly a framed second of history as Trump waited with a freshly-botoxed Melania at the top of the red carpet. Jong Un’s laughably muscular limosine deposited him at the bottom of the red carpet. The two men stepped in choreographed fashion towards each other and exchanged a long, long handshake. Trump smiled. Jong Un smiled. Banalities were mouthed.
Trump’s mind conjured an unplanned thought, which he gave voice to.
“Welcome to America Kim – pinch, punch first of the month.”
As you’ll know if you read any of my garbage, this week was a significant one in that I produced an infected gallbladder from my body, as well as some more chapters. I did the first with the help of a surgeon and I’m now convalescing, although given the heat it’s perhaps a bit more like congealing. The latter accomplishments was all me though.
Somewhat remarkably the pull of the story kept me cranking out chapters despite the occasional twinge and the first draft folder now looks like this…
Nine chapters actually represents the first third of the story. There are 26 chapters in total, which is split into three sections Shut Off, Shut Up and Shut Out. So that’s Shut Off done in first draft form – go me!
Doing the maths I’m also 26,647 words into the book, which I estimate will be around 85,000 words which means I’m 31.3% of the way done. Huh, that’s impressed me!
It’s funny but I’ve found myself being drawn back to the story and excited to tell myself what happens next. A few characters appeared this week who weren’t planned and that’s always intriguing – where do they come from? What blackened bit of my subconscious has these things ready and waiting for me? What else is in there? Who else is in there?
Things that surprised me during writing this week:
Ben, the main character has a dog called Brown (he’s black, Ben didn’t name him). As I was writing the dog it appeared that he couldn’t bark and it turns out that he’s been debarked. This is an actual grotesque thing. I thought long and hard about leaving this detail in because I didn’t want to even acknowledge it as a practice, in case it put it in some lunatic’s mind to get the surgery done. Fortunately, it’s mostly illegal now, but it really fits Brown so I’m afraid it’s stuck. Poor thing, he can bark but he’s totally mute.
I actually really enjoyed writing some of the more gruesome parts. I’m usually pretty squeamish, but I fear my recent Google search history is possibly flagging me on some government list: “Cross section of diabetic leg” “Mouth ulcers with blood” “Amputated leg images”. I’m not going to link those, you can go ogle yourselves.
Music continues to be essential to what I’d reluctantly call my “process”. I’ve got a Spotify playlist that I keep adding things to that I’m listening to when I write the book. If you want to have a listen then feel free! Suggest tracks too – I tend to prefer instrumental tracks when I’m writing as otherwise I just think about lyrics or try and sing along.
I did a brief pass over the first three chapters in between writing chapters. The positive news is that I wasn’t immediately sick in my hands. There’s a lot of work to do but then that’s not a surprise really. I think the biggest question mark is whether the chapter structure (one chapter post-apocalypse in first person, one chapter flashback in third person) will be too jarring, or if it works in the way that I want it to. Frankly, I don’t know yet, but that’s the question I have.
There was good stuff in there too though, so that’s a relief.
I hope you’ve had a good week and that your weekend is sunny and bright. Stick Get Off My Rock on and crack a beer/near beer and let’s see what happens next.
PS I started watching Toast on Netflix this week and now can’t stop saying “Yes, I can hear you Clem Fandango.” Watch this and see if you catch the bug too.
In the abattoir scene where Rocky trains by punching cow carcasses, this was originally supposed to be set in a Wacky Warehouse.
Rocky wears shorts in his fights but wardrobe wanted him to wear a pant suit.
Rocky climbs 12,498 steps in the famous running up steps scene. This has become a famous landmark for fans to recreate a scene. There is now a defibrillator on every third step.
Pound for pound Rocky Marciano’s punch was hard enough to shell a hard-boiled egg.
Sylvester Stallone both wrote, directed and acted in Rocky. He also played the parts of Adrienne, Creed and Mickey the coach. This later inspired Sylvester Stallone to take on the part of Eddie Murphy to take on multiple parts in The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps.
Burgess Meredith who played Coach Mickey in the film also appeared as The Penguin in the Adam West series of Batman. Stallone devised the character as a retirement story arc for The Penguin character and asked West to accept Rocky as canon in the DC universe. His request was approved.
I had my gallbladder removed yesterday. Even though I currently feel like I’ve been hit by a medium-sized truck (say one of those Morrisons’ home delivery vans) overall it’s been a really positive process. Because I was feeling rather ill with it, I chose to pay to get it done privately; I was told by the consultant afterwards that my gallbladder was in a sorry state and was a) completely blocked so it was effectively dead and b) quite badly infected*, which means if I’d elected to wait the current six months standard on the NHS then I would have been exceptionally lucky for it not to become septic. Given that the gallbladder is closely connected to the liver and the pancreas, then it’s likely one or both of those might have become FUBAR as those in the army would term it.
Clearly, this is something of a “what if…” and I could have been fine, but I’m feeling exceptionally blessed and even a little tearful today. Maybe it’s the Tramadol speaking but I’m trying to see this as a point to audit all of those incredible things around me and be grateful for every blessing. It’s a beautiful day – my ineffably wonderful wife is coming to pick me up and if I fake that I’m in more pain than I am she’ll probably kiss me and hug me. I get to return to a warm and loving (and messy and loud) home where I can eat ginger biscuits. A place where I can exercise free speech and nonsense speech and joyful speech and put that out into the world for people to enjoy or ignore. I have friends who if I ask really nicely will post photos of themselves making silly faces. I get to watch The Lionesses smash Norway into a weeping pulp on telly later on, holding my Frank’s hand. God is great.
It’s right that there is a current focus on privilege at the moment, of which I am undoubtedly a beneficiary, but in my opinion too much of the discussion is focused on identifying and arguing about the points of privilege in others (gender, race, class, sexuality, etc). This then sets an accusatory tone that others wrongly feel obliged to defend. Look at how politically-charged #metoo became when really it was simply saying that one human being shouldn’t sexually impose on another human being. How is that even a discussion!? There’s simply not enough energy spent on accepting that we all enjoy a truly unlikely privilege simply by existing and that in acknowleding that fact and being grateful for it, we can reach a point where we don’t want to selfishly safeguard the privileges that we enjoy we want to increase rights for all and work together to find equality.
I hope you are feeling well today. If you’re not I hope that you can be supported with that. I hope the sun shines on your face. I hope you have tea and ginger biscuits and kisses.
*Some people like gross stuff. This link is undeniably gross stuff. It’s what an infected gallbladder looks like. TRIGGER WARNING: you’ll possibly never eat olives or avacados again if you click this link and look at this picture.
Bobbie Gillespie took the stairs two a time and then three at a time as he heard a door slamming behind him. His black fringe danced in his eyeline and he flicked his hair back and continued his frenzied ascent of the stairwell. A smiling, broad accent followed him up the stairs.
“There’s no way out Bobbie, it’s just you and me and the roof,” called Brett with a laugh.
Gillespie knew he had at least three storeys on Anderson and he suspected that his overall cardio-vascular fitness was superior to the Suede frontman’s. Granted both men had a long history of recreational drug use but Brett’s heavy smoking surely had to count for something.
Bobbie tried to push the thought out of his mind and plunged onwards up the stairwell. At every floor he would pull at the heavy doors but so far every floor had been locked and the door didn’t move even a millimetre in its frame.
“It’s the roof then Bobbie?” Anderson questioned.
“What’s the point ae thes Brett? What dae ya want?” Bobbie asked leaning over the stairwell and peering into the murky void to see if he could spot the singer as he pursued him.
A shot rang out and Bobbie felt a blast of something on his face and an urgent stinging of his eyes as a brick near his head exploded spraying dust and stones. He blinked out the pieces and set off at a run again.
It’s the roof then, he thought – frantically searching for another means of escape.
Well, that’s a wrap for week one. Five days, five chapters and around 15k words of Shut In written and uploaded to the ol’ cloud, which reduces my “what if the laptop catches on fire?” paranoia levels by at least 90%. First three days were a dream, words falling pleasingly from my brain into neatly assembled and, mostly, cliche-free sentences. Huh, I’ve really cracked this writing thing, can’t wait to file my Costa Book Award on the shelf in the toilet!
Day four and five put me in mind of my recent colonoscopy where in order to see my tubes in 4K HD they gave me a medication called MoviPrep. Two impossibly big sachets of powdered medicine with a detergent lemon smell and insipidly sweet flavour had to be diluted in two litres of water to create Satan’s favourite brew. Swallowing a sip of the stuff was excrutiating – drinking two litres required an act of iron will and a mantra that it couldn’t possibly be worse than drinking sambucca.
Just like MoviPrep, day four and five required a determined perseverence just to get through and equally resulted in me peppering a colon’s worth of shit over a pristine white surface. Only this time it was a Word document rather than a toilet bowl that I was besmirching – and the shit wasn’t coming from my bum, it was coming from my fingers – via my brain. It’s precisely that redundant, clunkily-phrased sort of explanation that day four and five were all about.
It’s a horrible feeling knowing that you’re engaged in an act of fraud. You feel bad for daring to claim that you can be a writer. Then you feel guilty about inflicting this story on the world. These ridiculous, mawkish characters. This risible premise. Blah – it’s all blah!
The only thing I can think to do in those circumstances is to just sit and churn it out. Doesn’t matter if it’s crap – keep thinking of that pristine colon. Keep repeating: the way out is through. The way out is through. The way out is through. And then you reach a point at the end of the week where you have five chapters in rough and there’s a moment where you stop and think on balance that maybe it’ll be ok?
LEON: Who put a chair there? MARCIE: You did. LEON: Did I? Well, why did no one move it? MARCIE: –
LEON POINTEDLY MOVES THE CHAIR AGAINST THE WALL WITH THE OTHERS
MARCIE: I think there was a reason you wanted it there. LEON: What? MARCIE: I don’t, I can’t remember. I just have this memory of you saying it was important. LEON: Well I’ve moved it now.
LEON SITS DOWN ON THE SOFA NEXT TO MARCIE. HE LEANS FORWARD AND SWILLS A LARGE RED BONG AROUND PEERING INTO THE WATER AT THE BOTTOM.
LEON: I need to clean this. MARCIE: –
WITH EFFORT LEON SITS UP AND TAKES A DISPOSABLE LIGHTER FROM THE TABLE. HE LIGHTS IT, ADJUSTS THE FLAME TO PRODUCE A LONGER SPURT OF FLAME AND HOLDS THE FLAME TO THE BOWL. THE CONTENTS GLOW BRIGHT AND A SMILE SHINES ON HIS FACE AS HIS EYES CLOSE AND HE EXHALES A STREAM OF SMOKE TOWARDS THE CEILING. HE SITS BACK AND HOLDS THE BONG UP. MARCIE TAKES IT AND THE LIGHTER WHICH BURNS HER.
SHE SLOWLY TAKES HER FINGER OFF THE LIGHTER AND BLOWS ON IT CAREFULLY. SHE THEN USES THE LIGHTER TO TAKE A HIT FROM THE BONG. SHE SITS BACK NEXT TO LEON HOLDING THE BONG TO HER CHEST.
A LARGE MILLIPEDE, APPROXIMATELY THE HEIGHT OF A TABLE STARTS TO ENTER THE ROOM. IT IS A DULL BLACK WITH A SHELLAC SHEEN. IT’S CHAINS OF LEGS MOVE WITH MECHANICAL PURPOSE AND SECTION BY SECTION IT PROPELS ITSELF INTO THE ROOM. LEON OPENS HIS RIGHT EYE.
Why had he jumped so high? That was the first thought that had gone through Mark’s head. There were plenty of stage-divers who had just stepped to the edge of the stage and even crouched down before they gently pushed themselves out onto the outstretched hands of the crowd. Sure, some of them had jumped but none had jumped as high as Mark did. Why did I do that? Thought Mark again.
The other thought that managed to register in his mind was how much flannel there was. From his viewpoint he could get a really wide-angled view of the entire moshpit and there was indeed a lot of flannel shirts. Red and black cheques was a popular design, but there were other variants – yellow and black, browns and purples. Given the natural heat of the moshpit a number of shirts were tied around waists, but yet more had been simply tied to one of the metal posts that supported the ceiling and lighting rig. Mark had never liked flannel. Gigs were jeans (black), band t-shirt (never for the band that you were seeing, that was just awful) and leather jacket (black, which was deposited in the cloakroom as soon as you were inside).
As he reached the zenith of his leap he could already register the uncertainty on some of the faces of those others in the moshpit who Mark had assumed would play the part of his saviours. It was the height he’d reached, he could see that now. Possibly also the boots too. If he’d been able to remove himself to a vantage point of the ceiling then Mark would almost certainly have agreed with the others in the moshpit that catching him wasn’t likely to add to their enjoyment of the evening.
And after all – it wasn’t like there was a contract between them. Sure, they’d happily caught at least 30 other stage divers through the course of the evening, but if he was asked if there was an explicit understanding that they would catch Mark if he chose to jump onto their heads then he’d have to reluctantly agree that there was no such agreement.
The hands were the first to go. Normally when a stagediver launched themselves into the crowd a wave of hands and splayed fingers was raised above heads like the tentacles of an anemone. The fingers had quickly been withdrawn, followed by the hands and arms in his instance. Then imperceptibly and magically a gap had appeared. Where miliseconds before the crowd had been packed so tightly that bodies were in full contact with each other, now a space had appeared to the extent that Mark could see the discarded flyers and chewing gum on the floor as it rose to smash the nose on his face.