NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 3

Nicholas Bradshaw killed women. There is no more refinement to it than that, though he would have tried to talk about saving them, cleaning their souls, ushering them into the presence of God. After he was caught he had a detailed and utterly psychotic rationale for the things that he did, but for anyone else it is important to see it as nothing more than he kidnapped, tortured, abused and then killed women.
The night that Fran Foster died, Nicholas Bradshaw had been following her, stalking her, for over six weeks, not that anyone had the slightest idea that he had. He knew that she would be stepping out onto the pavement in front of her mother’s Highgate home somewhere between eleven and eleven-thirty, and that she would be heading to Highgate Tube, a five minute walk, in order to catch the Northern Line back to Totteridge and Whetstone to get back to her home on Athaneum Road, that she shared with her novelist husband. He knew with an undeniable certainty that if he did not manage to abduct her before she reached the Tube he would not easily achieve her abduction, and so despite the fact that he was torn by doing so he broke of his surveillance of the mother’s home at 2245h in order to set up his abduction gag on the side of the street between the mother’s home and Highgate Tube Station.
Bradshaw took great pride in his skill as a hunter, and there was good reason to do so, as he actually did know exactly where Fran Foster would choose to cross the street on her way from her mother’s door to the Tube, in fact by following her day after day, week after week, he knew where she liked to buy her coffee and how she took it, what she generally had for breakfast, and what newspaper she bought when she bought one. As such he knew exactly where to park his van and wait for her to wander by.
The Police report and Bradshaw’s subsequent testimony both told a tale of an abduction that was precise and fast; one moment Fran was walking down the street, then she was stopping to look around because there was a van with its side door open and unattended and then she was unconscious in the back of the van. Fran Foster was the eighth woman that Bradshaw took, so he had put in a great deal of time and effort getting good at taking women by that point. Even if there had been anyone else on that quiet, affluent street that night there is a good chance that they would have had no idea that she was in trouble, or even that anything untoward was happening.
From Highgate Bradshaw took her to his lockup, under the arches in Bermondsey and there she spent an agonising thirty-six hours during which he raped her repeatedly, with implements and himself, he removed her left forearm and her right foot without any pain medication or anaesthetic and eventually he killed her by bleeding and beating her to death. He returned her body to the van, and as he had done seven times before he drove out into the Kent countryside and dropped the weighted bag containing her corpse into a small, private fishing lake.
 
It was a little over twelve hours from Fran Foster’s disappearance before the Metropolitan Police started to take notice. Her husband had already gone right over the edge, having spent the night calling and calling every hospital and walk-in clinic in the Greater London area, trying to find out what had happened to his wife. Four years of abstinence from smoking and drinking had already become a distant memory and Caine Foster was half-drunk and hoarse of voice when a CID detective sergeant from Barnet Police Station knocked on his door to respond in person to Mr. Foster’s six phone calls to the station in the previous twenty-four hours.
“Mr. Foster? Mr. Caine Foster?”
Detective Grayling was staring, trying to disguise his disgust at the appearance and smell of this distraught member of the public that he had been sent to follow up with.
“Yeah, yeah… Who are you?”
Grayling held up his warrant card and announced himself;
“Detective Sergeant Grayling, Barnet CID, Sir.”
Caine Foster straightened up and took his cigarette out of his mouth and tried to look a little more respectable.
“Oh, great, yeah please come in. Would you like a cuppa? Sorry about the mess, but I’ve been going out of my mind and I got to the point where I started drinking and, look I’m not proud of that, but my wife is definitely missing.”
“Tea would be great, Sir, thank you and don’t worry about the rest, I am sure that I would be in a worse state.”
Caine disappeared into the kitchen and Grayling heard the kettle being flicked on and the sounds of someone moving around the kitchen organising the bits and pieces needed to make tea. He let his eyes flick around the living room and noted the pile of papers and the laptop on the dining table and the legal pad with a list of hospitals and there respective numbers, each one scored with multiple crossings out. The Guv had briefed Grayling that Caine Foster had called the station six times throughout the night, increasingly frantic and inebriated between the hours of roughly one a.m. and nine a.m. It was now nearly noon of the following day and it seemed that Foster had maybe slept a little, after he had been assured, during his final call, that a detective would come out to take his statement that day. The ashtray was not overflowing by any stretch of the imagination, but there was clear evidence of some pretty heavy smoking and the overall impression that he was able to divine was that Foster at least believed that something bad had indeed happened.
Moments later the slightly less dishevelled Caine Foster reappeared carrying a tray with two steaming mugs of tea, a small jug of milk and a bowl of sugar which he placed on the coffee table and motioned for Grayling to sit.
“Thanks for coming, Sergeant. I’ve called around, my wife is not in any of the hospitals, but she should have been home last night before midnight, but I have had no word from her, I can’t reach her mobile and her mother has no idea what happened to Fran after she left there at around eleven last evening.”
Grayling reached into an inside pocket and pulled out his notebook and a pencil.
“Sergeant, do you mind if I smoke? I mean it’s my house and everything, but I don’t want to…”
“Please, Mr. Foster, go right ahead. Frankly it’s a relief because I expect you are not going to care one way or the other if I have one?”
Caine laughed and a brief smile stole across his face, then he nodded and set about lighting his smoke.
Grayling paused and retrieved a Marlboro from his other jacket pocket, lit it and then picked up his notebook and thumbed through it until he found the notes that he had made when speaking with his DI before he had left the station.
“So, Mr. Foster…”
“Please call me Caine, Mr. Foster was my Dad, I just can’t get used to it.”
“Sure, Caine, my notes tell me that you first called the station at around one a.m. and that you reported to the duty sergeant that you had already called a large number of hospitals but that you could find no trace of your wife, one Francesca Foster, who had never returned from her mother’s home in Highgate, having left there at around eleven p.m. Is that correct?”
Caine nodded, and then took a long deep drag on his cigarette without looking up.
“From that point on you called a further five times, despite the duty Sergeant informing you that your wife would need to be unaccounted for for a period of no longer than twenty-four hours before a formal missing person’s report could be made?”
Caine nodded again.
“I gather from the content of those calls that you were also in regular contact with your mother-in-law, a one Mrs. Geraldine Hunstead of Highgate, and that she and yourself were making repeated calls to local and Greater London hospitals to attempt to trace your wife, on the assumption that her failure to arrive home was most likely explained by some unfortunate accident befalling her en route?”
Caine nodded, looking up to make eye contact with Grayling at that point. He dimped out his cigarette and immediately fished another out of the pack not he table, lit it and went back to looking at his tea.
“So, Caine, your wife was in the habit of visiting her mother on Tuesday evenings and traveling home alone on foot and on the Tube?”
“Yes, she had done it since I knew her, since before we moved in here together before we were married. She had never had any problems with the journey. I knew that even if things were really bad on the Tube, she would be home by midnight. When she didn’t come home by midnight I texted, then texted again, then phoned. I could not reach her, so I called Gerry. She was not immediately worried, but while we were on the line she checked tfl.gov.uk and when she realised that there were no reported issues on the Tube her voice started to falter. She kept repeating that Fran had left just after eleven, that she ought to be home by now. It was shortly after that, that I called the first few hospitals. I was on my mobile so I wandered out to the high road and then down to our Tube station, but I could not find any sign of her. I popped into the 24 hour place and bought some cigarettes; you know something deep down knew that something was very wrong because I bought two packs straight away. My unconscious mind knew that I was going to need them…”
Caine broke off coughing like a TB sufferer, and as he recovered and looked up at Grayling once more the detective could see tears in the corners of his eyes.
“Mr. Foster, sorry, Caine. There is every chance that your wife is completely fine, she has not been gone for a full twenty-four hours, Hell I am only here because you are a persistent caller and someone recognised your name. I mean I probably should not be saying this, but you are a writer, you have a Twitter following, you know? If you were not a known person, with something of your own voice that people pay attention to we would be waiting for more time to pass. I have to ask you some tougher questions, are you ok with that?”
Caine nodded, a look of resignation starting to settle on his brow.
“OK, so Caine, there is no way to ask this delicately, but would you describe your marriage as happy?”
Caine sighed, lit yet another cigarette and this time took a belt of whisky that had been sitting there in a glass on tiger coffee table since Grayling had come in before he answered.
“What is a happy marriage, Sergeant? Do you mean were we content with one another, were we faithful, were we still fucking each other?”
Grayling shifted in his seat, suddenly aware of how badly he had ripped open this can of worms.
“I’m sorry, Sergeant, none of this is your fault, but honestly, look at me. Do I strike you as a man who is anything other than lost without his wife for a paltry twelve hours? Were we happy? Well honestly that has to do with far more than our feelings for one another and the fundamentals of marriage. I mean I have been struggling with writer’s block since Transom didn’t win the Booker, the book I published after was actually written before and frankly my publisher was pushing me for something and I lied and said it was new, so I’ve been unhappy on some level for a while, and that leads to stresses and strains in any marriage. Are you asking me if I did something to my wife, the answer is no. If you are asking me if there is a chance that my wife hurt herself I would have to say no. Were we happy? The jury is out on that one Sergeant.”

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 2

There is no doubt that I was in a place in my life at that point where my close friends had been encouraging me to reach out to Fran’s family and re-forge the connections that had been there during her life, so that I had a place for both my grief and my happier memories about her, but I had been hiding up here in Norfolk, nodding when people said such things and steadfastly not doing anything about it once they had gone home or hung up the phone. As Andrea spoke I could feel myself wanting to know her, not in any kind of yearning way, and certainly not as a surrogate for my dead wife, but simply as a way of making the connection I still felt to her somehow more real and present, rather than allowing it to continue to languish in the dark, ignored and denied.
“I’m glad you came; sorry Jareth gave you a hard time.”
She laughed, and suddenly I was looking at a younger version of my dead wife, and despite my expectation that if Andrea reminded me of her I would be plunged into an ice-cold lake of pain, the pain did not come. Instead I felt an immediate wave of affection for her;
“Do you have somewhere to stay? I mean I don’t want to be inappropriate or anything, but I have a spare room and I don’t imagine that we are going to feel as though spending one afternoon in a coffee shop is enough time.”
She smiled and nodded before answering;
“I have a room at the hotel on the promenade, what’s it called? The Cliftonville, that’s it, but I could only afford one night. I suppose I didn’t really think that far ahead, I just took a guess based on your Twitter feed that you were here and then made for this place.”
“Well, if nothing else you are turning out to be a pretty good detective, I’ll give you that! The Cliftonville is lovely, but I’m not surprised you could only afford one night, it’s the priciest place in town. Will you let me settle your bill and we’ll move you into my spare room for a few days?”
“That would be great, but I don’t want to get in the way of your writing or anything and I can pay my own bill, I mean I didn’t come to find you for that, yeah?”
I took a breath, and studied her face, keen to divine whether or not I had offended her, but it seemed to me that she was simply making it clear that she was not gold digging and that pleased me no end.
“We can argue about the money later, if you like you can take me out to dinner or something, but you came to find me, to connect with some kind of family and now you’re here I think that you deserve the same level of hospitality as I would offer anyone in my family, heck even most of the people I call friends. If not, then what’s the point of being a slightly successful author?”
She laughed boisterously at the last part of that, which did my ego no end of good and then relaxed completely into her sofa, no longer worried that she was going to have to pitch me any more. She picked up her Latté and wrapped both her hands around it to warm them, taking sips and allowing herself to look around the place and take it all in. After a few moments she spoke again;
“So is it true, do you write here all the time now?”
“I suppose it’s a as true as anything else. I tend to come here most days for most of the morning or afternoon. I do write every day, and I suppose to the extent that I do it here I have a routine and habits that I have found useful, but the media perception of me camped out in the window from opening to closing, wearing out my laptop keyboard are a caricature at best. I suppose I write for about three or four hours a day, and if I am here in Cromer I will tend to do it here in Goblin King’s, but I do write at home sometimes, particularly on the weekends as it gets ridiculously busy in here on the weekends in the summer. Then of course if I am on the road for a book or a speaking tour I write on trains and planes and in hotel rooms and strange coffee shops and the homes of friends, so I cannot really say that I do all my writing here, but I do write here a lot.”
More laughing ensued. I was not offended, but I was surprised;
“What?”
“You just gave me an answer that could have been dialogue from one of your characters, I mean that was vintage Geraint, from Transom. You really are a writer, I guess. I mean I knew that you were and I have read your books, but here I am talking to you and I can see your work actually in you.”
No one had ever said something so simultaneously wonderful and damning to me, ever before, and yet even though there was a kind of judgement in her comments, it was clear to me that she was trying to say something nice and something that she meant.
We finished our coffees and I packed up my stuff so that we could head back to the flat that I tend to refer to as my loft. My loft is a top floor conversion with a reasonable living space, two bedrooms, a kitchen and its own bathroom I had considered myself lucky to find it on the market when I had made my first trip up to Cromer after doing little more considered than the twenty-first century equivalent of throwing darts at a map with Google Maps.
Andrea made all of the right kind of low-key, polite noises about how it was a nice place that confirmed to me what I already knew; it was clean and cosy with nothing whatsoever about it that could make it seem special or ostentatious. In fact it could reasonably said that I live year round in a holiday let style apartment in the top floor of a Victorian three storey townhouse above the Cromer promenade, and so seeing it offered Andrea almost no insight into me, unless it was to leap to the conclusion that this was where I lived, rather than in any way being my home.
I settled her into the spare room and then gave her some privacy while I went to find a bottle of wine in the kitchen. I was sitting at my desk a few minutes later, making slow work of my first glass of Shiraz and checking Twitter when Andrea came into the room, fresh from the shower, and picked up the glass I had poured for her;
“Is this for me?”
I nodded and gestured with mine towards the sofa.
“How do you feel about some takeaway food this evening, I’m not in the mood for the rest of society?”
“That sounds great, as long as it’s Chinese”
The sly grin on her face was enough to sell it and I called the Jade Dragon.
We made small talk before and during dinner, I learned that there is still nothing fun about flying trans Atlantic if you do not have the money for business class, and that growing up in the north of New York State is not as much fun as sitcoms from the seventies and eighties might have suggested. I also learned that Andrea’s father had actually passed away, and that was why she had been clearing out her room at her parents’ home. Under the same banner of smalltalk I had admitted that I was living the life of a monk since Fran had passed – well apart from occasional visits to what I want to refer to as call girls rather than mere prostitutes, not that I told Andrea about them – and that I was having some fairly serious problems with writing in the last few weeks, but was putting it down to the usual block I would tend to suffer as the days grew shorter. In short we spent the time becoming comfortable with one another.
After we had demolished the ‘Emperor’s Banquet’ and Andrea had helped me clear away the debris I put the coffee machine on and broke out my rolling box. Andrea had already copped to being an occasional toker as we chatted over dinner so I was not worried about tipping my own hand, and it was nice to have someone to smoke with; day to day I rarely indulged finding pot a much more pleasant experience in company. I skinned up a classic, two-skin cone, poured us each a coffee and made up a tray with an ashtray and the spliff, the coffees a small jug of milk and a bowl of sugar, and a plate of chunks of CDM, in readiness for the munchies. I carried it out into the living room and set up camp on the coffee table between the sofa where Andrea was curled up and the armchair that she had intuited was my spot.
I tapped the spliff a few times on my lighter and then lit it, enjoying the ceremony of it all, a kind of western and slightly boho alternative to Chinese tea ceremonies and the like. I held the first drag for as long as I could without falling into a spluttering heap, and then hung onto it for a couple more drags until I started to feel the beginnings of my high and then I offered it to Andrea, who took it from me with gleeful abandon.
She did not ask me the question until we had almost seen the whole joint off, passing it between us with yet more lightweight conversation, that was admittedly becoming more and more off the wall as the skunk did the trick and peeled away our inhibitions.
“Caine, can you tell me what happened to my sister?”

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 1

Jareth was engaged in yet another of his patronising seminars on the actual meaning of the various different variants of espresso based coffee; I almost felt sorry for the poor customer, a timid looking goth-girl with a laptop bag and maybe nineteen summers behind her, whose only crime had been trying to order the same kind of coffee that they would have normally ordered in a Starbucks.
“Macchiato means stained or spotted, so a café macchiato is a double espresso with a tiny amount of steamed milk. There is no such thing as a Half-Caff Skinny Caramel Macchiato, Starfucks made it up and we certainly don’t serve such an abomination in here, this is a COFFEE shop. Now, can I interest you in a Flat White, or perhaps a Latté, which in case you are interested is actually a shortening of Latté Macchiato, because the milk is ‘stained’ with the coffee?”
The somewhat stunned looking goth-girl just nodded quietly and handed over a tenner; Jareth snorted and assumed that it was a Latté that she wanted and set about its creation. The fact that he ground the beans and weighed the grounds to ensure the perfection of her coffee, that the espresso machine was stripped and cleaned every night, that the beans were roasted in the back of the shop, that the milk was locally sourced and organic, all of these facts were wasted on her. She just wanted a sweet, milky coffee and a place to get out her laptop and check Facebook, so not only was I a little sorry for her I was also confused as to why Jareth let her and other customers like her raise his blood pressure. Not everyone can be bothered to be a coffee fanatic, and no coffee shop can survive solely on the coin of the fanatics.
I turned my attention to the hideous weather outside. I was in my usual spot, nestled in the corner of the comfier sofa in the large bay window at the front of The Goblin King Coffee Company, my laptop and notebooks on the table in front of me along with the third Long Black of the morning. On the other side of the glass the rain was coming down sideways, reducing the visibility so much that I could not even see the beach, let alone the sea. I had come to make this spot my daily home when I had first arrived in Cromer two summers before, and the primary reason had been that I liked to look up from my writing and look out at the sea without having to move. Today’s weather was not really conducive to my getting my money’s worth. I squinted, hoping that screwing my face up would somehow reveal the waves and the sea, but in truth the visibility was so bad that nothing was going to make a difference.
“Can you believe that guy?”
I looked up to see the goth-girl that Jareth had been educating standing over me, Latté in hand and an injured look on her face.
“Oh yeah, I can absolutely believe him. Sorry I am a regular, and anyway Jareth owns the place so there’s no one to give him a dressing down over his preaching the gospel of coffee.”
She cracked a smile;
“Is it ok if I sit here?”
I nodded and she put her Latté down before settling into the less comfortable sofa opposite me. For a moment I watched as she arranged her skirt and then started to get out her laptop and then I realised that I was staring and turned back to the awesome if utterly depressing show being put on by Mother Nature.
I was snapped put of my reverie a few moments later by another question.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but you aren’t Caine Foster are you?”
Busted. Even since quitting London this did happen every four to six months; a keen fan or an up and coming journalist would work out where I was hiding, namely the North Norfolk Coast, and come and find me. I should never have put the thank you to The Goblin King Coffee Company in the last book’s acknowledgements. Ah well, time to plaster on a fake smile and play the game; these days no one but Gaiman sells enough genre books to be anything but gracious and charming to fans or the press.
“I am, it was the acknowledgement to the shop we both find ourselves in, right?”
She blushed a little, which with the whole goth aesthetic seemed a little jarring, and then there was that smile again.
“Yeah, I admit I was rather hoping that you would be here, I’m sorry to kinda corner you unannounced, but it’s just that I really need to talk to you and I don’t want to freak you out or anything, but it’s about Fran.”
It was at that moment that I really started to regret getting out of bed that morning. I had awoken early and immediately known it was one of those bitter November days that would drench and chill me to the bone just walking the three hundred yards from my loft to the coffee shop, but I had made myself do it anyway because writing every day is an important discipline. Now I was wishing that I had stayed in bed with some porn and pretended that it was a weekend. I steeled myself for a bit of a confrontation and made the supreme effort to maintain my more friendly demeanour as I answered.
“I don’t talk about my late wife, I’m sorry I don’t mean to be rude but I would appreciate it if you left me alone.”
The girl nodded, but she did not seem to be going anywhere, and then she started speaking again;
“I understand that, and from everything I have ever read I expected you to say that, but you see Fran was my sister, well half-sister actually and I really wanted to talk to you about a letter that I received from her just before she died.”
This was not the way these conversations usually went.
Fran had died about three years before, just after my second novel “Transom” had been short-listed for the Booker. She had been coming home from her mother’s house, just a normal Tuesday evening after her weekly Bridge game, when Bradshaw had picked her as his victim. Now I was being forced to re-live every horrid moment of that experience in a heartbeat before trying to formulate something to say to this young woman on front of me.
“Er, I don’t mean to be rude, but I really don’t want to talk about Fran or even have to think about her, and even more than that I never heard her mention you… I’m sorry what’s your name?”
“Andrea. My Mum married Fran’s Dad after he left, I’m sorry this hasn’t started well and it really has not gone anything like the way I wanted it to. I’ll leave you alone, I’m sorry.”
She started to get her stuff together and I was about to let her go, but the wound was already open again now and it had clearly been a big step to come and find me, there was no way I could let her just leave.
“No, please, stay. I need to be better at talking about what happened anyway, and you’re family, so please stay. I am sorry, you just caught me off guard. Tell me about this letter, please?”
Andrea settled back into the sofa and visibly relaxed. She took a big mouthful of her Latté and reached into her bag, retrieving a battered envelope upon which I could see Fran’s handwriting, so that was oddly comforting. I was less concerned that I was dealing with a nut-case, though I suppose Fran may have written to a nut-case without that person actually being her half-sister.”
“Would you like to read it?”
She held the envelope out towards me and I almost took it from her, but then I shook my head.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that I will hear her voice in my head if I read her words and I can’t have that happen right now. I miss her so much and to be honest I’ve been managing by trying very hard to not think about her, and I am pretty certain that I will be unable to keep that up at all if I start hearing her voice again. What is the letter about?”
“Well, basically, we had only found one another about six months before she died and I was not in a position to come to England to meet her, I was under eighteen back then and I neither had a passport nor the money to get on a plane and our Dad did not want me to contact her so I could not exactly have asked him to pay for my travel. Anyway that meant that we wrote letters, roughly one a week for five months until I received this one from her about a week before she died. There’s nothing really remarkable about it, to be honest, apart from the fact that it’s the last letter that she wrote to me, well that and that she invited me to London in it, and offered to buy my flight. She said that she wanted to meet me properly and that she wanted to have you meet me too. Of course before any of that came to pass her death was on the news and I was pretty sure that you didn’t know that I even existed and I didn’t feel right about contacting you back then, but recently I was clearing out my room in my Dad’s house and I found this, her last letter again and I read it about ten times and finally decided to come and find you.”

Home, home on the Range…

So I started playing Minecraft again, and I am enjoying it much, much more than I did last time and I think that this is both because I have embraced the way in which I can treat it as a casual game and still have fun and achieve things.

I am playing Multiplayer on DakkaDakka, courtesy of a “vouch” from a friend, and that’s a different experience again, but on my current Single Player game I have decided to do two things

  1. Build an incredible mountain fastness with exciting dungeons of adventure beneath
  2. Move the map as it currently is “up” to Minecraft Realms so that I can share it with select friends and essentially have my World backed up “in the cloud” without having to admin an MC server, which while I am sure I could manage represents time that I could spend branch mining or looking into how to get into the Nether. Yes I am that much of a n00b

Anyway, here are some pics from my soon-to-be Realm, let me know if you would be interested in logging on every now and again and helping me civilise the place 😉

Reasons to be less than cheerful…

When I was on my way to work this morning I was expecting that I might post something about how sad I am to hear that Robin Williams has lost his long battle with the Black Dog of Depression and ended his own life, because it is very, very sad, and he is / was a hero of mine, and much of what he put out into the World gave me and millions of others a great deal of pleasure…

And then I saw this:

http://balkanist.net/first-night-kyiv/

and while Robin’s death is sad and it has upset me, this piece – while courageous and articulate and absolutely needing to be written both for the writer and the rest of us as readers – has really made me sad.

If you are triggered by rape / sexual assault, please use caution whether or not you follow the link and read. The writer paints an utterly horrible picture of personal betrayal and entitlement that makes my skin crawl, and I am a man who has never experienced sexual assault, so I can’t even imagine what it might be like to read this…

Even so, while reading it has really made me sad and angry and sad, if for no other reason than it gives another human, personal voice to an all too common story that despite my wish to be an ally to women I often push from my mind, it has reaffirmed my belief that all of us, men and women alike, need to challenge not only this kind of heinous behaviour, but the culture that enables it.

Women who choose to dress provocatively are not “asking for it”.

Women should not have to navigate covert or overt lechery just to work in their chosen field.

Women are there for themselves not for anyone else, and they are the equal of men, morally, ethically and legally – anything less is a gigantic failure of understanding by anyone who makes it.

Women who choose to make choices to have many sexual partners are not sluts, nor does it make them “fair game” – consent is EVERYTHING.

&

There is no reality under which any kind of rape is acceptable; rape is evil.

(P.S. please use caution with the comments on the article. Many of them are heartfelt, thoughtful and supportive, but there are examples of idiocy in there too.)

More nostalgia from Scott’s second trip to London…

The second time Scott Church came to the UK to do workshops I went along again, the first one having been such a blast, and I never really made a big deal about the pictures I got that day. Recently, however I have gone back and looked at them again and well here are a few more that are Work / Facebook safe that I really am genuinely proud of.

More Nostalgia…

Shelley - Headshot

Another Blast from the Past…

Shelly by the Window

A Blast from the Past…

Image of model Shelly Radley in a London Backstreet
Whipcrack away!

A Short Story…

A little while ago (well back in July last year), I went to see Amanda Palmer play at the Roundhouse in Camden with her Grand Theft Orchestra. It was the performance where she famously punched back at the Daily Mail, with her song “Dear Daily Mail”, performed in her own quixotic style, and there was a great deal about the performance, the gig as a whole and the entire experience that really moved me.

It moved me so much I wrote a story about it. Then I showed it to a small number of people and based on one person’s thoughtful feedback the story went through one major edit.

And then I lost my nerve. I have written for most of my life on and off, and while I have from time to time been told by people that what I have written has been good, or entertained them or touched them I have never really had the courage to pursue it properly. There is a lot more of me showing my soul to the World in the photography that I do than I have ever done through my writing, at least my fiction anyway.

All that ends today. For better or worse, here it is. Forgive the self-indulgence that you may see here, I could so easily have written in the third person and hidden the personal truth that may be here, but the whole point of writing this piece was to show anyone who was prepared to read it just how important and beautiful an experience it was to go to the gig.

The story is published below, or you can download it as a tiny little eBook for your Kindle or ePub capable device if you find reading in that way more comfortable. I hope that you enjoy this little fantasy, feel free to let me know either way…


A Night on the Northern Line

I

If you have never been to Camden High Street then you cannot possibly know what it is like to fall blinking into its bustling arms after a really good gig. You know when a gig takes you somewhere else or shows you something new about the world or yourself or everything, and that leaves you in a mode that is hyper-stimulated? Imagine feeling that way, more than you ever have before, and then colliding with the noisy, smelly, shiny, bright, intrusive reality of one of London’s more twenty-four hour locales. Bikes, taxis, the beep-beep of pedestrian crossings, trucks, crowds of people, a sea of litter and the weirdly defining quality of London’s Alt nexus, of feeling at once oppressed and liberated in almost equal measure. That was my experience of leaving the Roundhouse that night, a collision with a reality at once so bright and loud and yet so dark and forbidding that it was all I could do to light a cigarette, get my head down and make my best course for Chalk Farm Tube. My head was swimming with emotion, ears ringing from the music. More than ever I donned the cloak of London-ness and shut out my surroundings; I needed to get home, it was a school-night after all.

The Tube wasn’t packed after the show, I suppose it is to be expected with the incredible flexibility of the Northern Line comes a willingness from its users to wait for the right train rather than change at Camden Town. People often ask me what the Tube is like, not in London clearly, but when I travel and people hear me say that I work in London. I am always stuck for an answer. It used to be a horrid, grimy, threatening place, or at least my memory renders it so, back in the eighties. I remember people smoking in the Underground, just about, and that certainly contributed to the feel it used to have of being more than slightly menacing and claustrophobic. It is not really like that any longer. Safer, and much cleaner than ever before in its history the London Underground is largely just useful these days, but even then it still feels a little other worldly, an odd subterranean reflection of the World above. It would not be much of a surprise to run into Croupe and Vandemar, let alone the other denizens of so many works that have played upon the enigmatic nature of London’s innards. Despite being inured to its mysteries it catches even me unawares from time to time, but that night there were no surprises for me, or so I thought.

Surrounded, as I was, by the AFP faithful and armed with the sure knowledge that they would almost certainly talk to me at the drop of a hat, there was ample opportunity to be a part of our shared world. You would think that in my heightened state I would have wanted nothing more than to continue the ride, to re-live the entire experience with the like-minded who were all around me. I could not do it, despite that being my normal mode; for once I wanted the world to go away, not an easy result to attain in central London in all honesty.

It seemed easy to ignore the World, to revert to London Standard; earbuds slotted into place. What music to select? After such an event of a gig there was nothing for it than to simply select shuffling the whole collection on my iPhone. Trying to pick something to listen to was futile, I would arrive at London Bridge still having failed to wrap myself in the protective cloak of personal music that was so desperately needed.

Blitzen Trapper; Black River Killer.

That seemed to be ok; once more Apple Roulette had not let me down.

The train lurched into life. I became aware that I was truly inhabiting the person of a jaded London Transport user, as the thought “cunts, I wish they wouldn’t lean on the fucking doors” flitted across the transom of my mind. I sank back into the seat trying to focus on the music, helping it cover the chattering voices and the clanging of the train carriage as it seemed to ricochet from wall to wall along the tunnel. My work bag was unwilling to let me relax, its weight pulling it away from my protective grasp, and so in a round about sort of way it protected me from the risk of falling asleep and ending up stranded in Mordor. Thinking about Amanda’s exhortation to make friends with strangers, I almost looked up to see if there was a nearby parishioner, someone who might be just as in need of a chat, just an easy, fleeting experience of humanity to stop them from sinking into themselves. Still there was no will in me to actually reach out.

The show had been magnificent. The “Empress of Experience Art” I had dubbed her as I cast my review into the World via the medium of Twitter, and I meant it so completely. It has stuck with me. I never cry at gigs. Tears had nearly come at Koko, seeing Amanda, the year before. Now finally any remaining self-consciousness had been swept aside and I had wept openly as the music washed over me. It had coated me in the psychic mélange of Her blood, bile, pain, love and regret. No other musician had ever before reached into me so acutely, so indisputably. She reached deep into the inside of me and made me weep for joy to be in the presence of such a vital, fragile and honest outpouring. She had shown us all her Soul in all its bright and terrible majesty. That is how it had seemed to me then, and it still does today.

Camden Town, people shuffled on and shuffled off; it was late enough that despite the weight of gig-goers from Chalk Farm there was enough room for everyone, without the more common scuffles, harsh looks and occasionally even harsher words that are the norm for the Tube in London, particularly around tourist and teenager trap hotspots like Camden.

China; Tori Amos.

After a droning and pointless announcement over the train tannoy – which cut right through the opening verse of China in a most annoying but predictable fashion – the train pulled away the station and once more the big metal worm we were all riding leapt into the bowels of London, next stop Euston.

That was when it happened.


II

The lights flickered, not an uncommon event on the Northern Line, even with the new rolling stock. Looking up as they came back, I was jolted into the moment by realising that no one else was in the carriage. I blinked, looked again. Still no one. A moment before all of the seats in front of me and to either side were full of a mixture of AFP fans and other random denizens of London. Now those seats were all empty. Gingerly I stood up, removing my earbuds in case there might be a uniquely useful announcement, and looked up and down the train, courtesy of the windows in the communicating doors between carriages. No one. It was as though I was suddenly alone in a Tube train; no I actually was alone on a Tube train. Had I fallen asleep? Was I missed when they put the train in the depot? A low-level panic was rising in my chest when I snapped around to the sound of a voice;

“Don’t worry, Oli, you’re quite safe.”

There in the middle of what had been the empty seats opposite me a moment before, sitting with her feet up on the edge of the seat, heels tucked under her ass, was an American sounding woman (a guess at both, from the voice), in jeans and a nondescript black hoodie, the hood of which was pulled up so as to almost completely obscure her face. She really had not been there what must have been less than a second before. Who was she? How did she know my name? How did she appear like that, as if from nowhere? How did she know that I was quite safe?

I tried to talk, not even sure which question to ask first, but not even a simple sound could escape my lips. That actually made me panic, never one to be lost for words. My breath was coming in short snatches and the checklist began to run in my head; pulse, reflection, breathing? One could say that I was suddenly energised by the primal fear that I might be dead.

“Sit down, Oli. I promise you’re not dead, you’re quite safe and once we’ve had a conversation you’ll be back on your way home. OK?”

That voice… It was so familiar, but it was equally elusive. The more I tried to remember who it belonged to the further it seemed to slip from my grasp, like trying to catch someone that looks familiar in a crowded place, only to have them dart around a corner and apparently disappear. I sat down; after all, what else was there to do? Sitting as instructed, albeit very kindly, made all the difference. Tube seats are not all that comfortable, but the sheer relief I felt as I settled back into the seat was unexpected, and was utterly out of line from the raw comfort of just “getting a seat”, which while real (as anyone who commutes in London will tell you), is not really all that powerful in the end.

There she was, sitting opposite me, perched as if she was indulging in the internet craze of owling. Her face was tipped forward as if in deference, though something told me that it absolutely was not deference at all. Rather it was a sense of drama that was behind her posture. I leaned forward, trying to make out the shape of her face, trying to understand how I knew her voice, how on Earth this mysterious person could be familiar to me.

“You know who I am. Think harder. Think harder and deeper; it will come to you.”

I closed my eyes, replaying the words in my mind, listening as closely as I could to the timbre and pitch, the cadence and the character.

“Amanda?”

A soft chuckle escaped from under the hood, and then slowly she straightened her neck and peeled back the hood; it was her. How could it be her? Surely she was backstage at the Roundhouse, cooling off, having a drink or three with those people she had invited to be there with her after it was all over for another night? Maybe sending an email or a text to Neil and getting ready to crash on her bus before the odyssey to her next stop? I realised that rationalising this was pointless; somehow I was alone on a Tube train that moments before had been packed with fellow travellers. Well alone apart from Amanda Palmer; she was with me. On stage, earlier that evening, she had seemed so powerful and towering, a burlesque-glam-rock-punk icon holding a couple of thousand acolytes in her hands, but now she was just a shade above normal. No make-up, just street clothes, understated by comparison and yet still confident and charismatic. Of course she had appeared out of nowhere, so there was that, and as a hero of mine there was an instant jolt of awe despite her off stage persona.

“You look so surprised, which is gratifying I suppose, but seriously get over it.”

I started trying to speak again, wanting to point out that nothing quite so magical or odd had ever happened to me before and that I might need more than a moment just to process the whole thing, but once more I was speechless. I was immediately put in mind of a friend’s oft recounted experience of meeting one of her greatest musical heroes, wherein she had simply made a couple of involuntary noises and smiled a lot, despite years of consideration spent deciding what she might say if she ever met him. Suddenly it was the same for me, words catching in my throat like thorns, desperate to say something original and interesting to this person whose Art meant so much to me, and who was quite unexpectedly right there, in front of me.

“Okay, that was a little harsh, but seriously it’s just me, I’m not all that special in the grand scheme of things and we are alone here for a few moments, so stop worrying about it.”

There was something genuine and calming about the way that she spoke these words, something akin to the way her music had touched me only a few minutes before, and something deep down in my mind reacted to that. Involuntarily I started to relax. I was still filled with questions and confusion, but these things were no longer a tightening leash around my neck.

“Amanda, how is this possible? Am I dreaming?”

“Nope, you’re not dreaming, though I imagine that if you tell anyone about this they will assume it was a dream, even if they pretend to go along with your exhortations that it was a real experience. As for how this is possible, well… Let’s just say that there are some perks attached to being me, and I’ll see how much more I want to tell you as this conversation wears on.”
I reached into my pocket for my cigarettes, and took them out, offering her one as a way of checking to see if she would mind. Surprisingly she took one, and in return offered me a light with a sleight of hand that seemed so smooth, so perfect that I could only assume she had known what I was going to do well before I actually did it. We sat there for a moment, each inhaling the first couple of drags and then it seemed that it was my moment to ask a question;

“Why me? I mean, if I assume for a moment that this is completely real, not some fevered imagining, then why would you visit me, and why in such dramatic style?”

She smiled again, this time a wide and playful grin, a not unfamiliar expression that had played across her face several times over the course of the evening’s performance.

“Do you remember when I crowd surfed over you? You touched me, don’t worry I am not saying it was anything inappropriate you were just doing your part in keeping me aloft. You touched my wrist as you helped the crowd support me as I passed by. Remember?”

I nodded, I remembered slightly embarrassed that I had momentarily experienced a kind of religious pleasure at having actually touched her as she flew by above my head. It was a mawkish and teenage thought that had been more reverent than anything else, and certainly not sexual, but secretly I did not care that it was those things, I had felt it and it had been real. She knew what I was thinking, which should have troubled me more than it did, but in the moment that realisation passed me by;

“Don’t worry about it, most people feel the same way about some hero or other, we’ve all known people who had a story about the day they shook Obama’s hand or got a hug from Cobain, or were clapped on the back by David Beckham. It’s human to want to touch other people, and with heroes I think it’s something to do with us wanting to know that they are real, they are flesh and bone just like the rest of us. I’ve done it too, don’t worry.”

She waited to see if I could indeed shake off the awkwardness that the memory had brought, and when I did she went on;

“When you touched me I felt something, something bittersweet, something rare and dark and secret about why my music is so important to you and I knew in that moment that you were the one that I was there to find tonight. That’s the thing you are going to come to know about Art and the people that create it. Opening your heart completely to other people and painting the colours of your life on the canvas of public display comes with some fairly deep responsibilities. One of them is making sure that other people live up to the their own responsibilities to themselves.”

“I’m the one you were meant to find? I don’t understand.”

“Let’s try this, tell me why my music matters to you, why it made you cry with joy? There’s no one here to overhear you. Here’s your one chance to tell me face to face what it is that makes my Art matter so much to you. If you can do that, and do it honestly, then I think you’ll realise for yourself why I am here.”

I leaned back for a moment, took a long drag on my cigarette which was nearly done, as it had been burning away to itself while we were talking, and tried to find that truth within.


III

“I suppose it’s that I have things to say, regardless of whether or not anyone might care about them, things to create and shape and polish and then send out into the world that express any number of things about me. Right now they are building up and up and up inside me without coming out. Your music matters to me because you are someone who is like me. That is not to compare my creativity or talent with yours subjectively, just that on a mechanical, process level you appear to be someone that has things that they want to say and so you use your music to let those ideas and feelings out. For what it’s worth your Art is also important for me because I happen to relate to a great deal of it; not only that, but one can identify a fragile frankness in it that makes me believe, that conveys honesty and reality in a way that a good deal of other artists have trouble achieving.”

Exhaling, my whole body relaxed as if I had laid down a heavy burden. Still, there was more;

“There is something else, something deeper and more precious about what I see in you and your Art. It’s more than that I identify with you, or find your Art to be a visceral, raw experience. You inspire me. Not necessarily in terms of content, but in terms of your creative ethos. You are a prolific creative force, sending your creations out into the world. You and I are not kindred spirits, no matter how much I may wish that to be the case. No you are a firebrand, a leader. Your warcry “We are the Media” is a complete expression of the way in which being at one of your shows or really listening to your music makes me feel. For me, and so many others I am sure, you lead the way, letting all of us know that we have it within us to make Art, whatever form that might take as it bursts out of us.”

There, that was all of it. I felt strong, even after pouring everything out, leaning forward like an eager student keen to catch every word of whatever response might come from her.

She smiled, that rakish, playful smile that says ‘oh yes, we are going there’, and she took a a last drag on the cigarette I had given her before putting it out on the seat next to her and then fixing me in her gaze with the kind of deep eye contact that usually feels very, very uncomfortable. It felt fine, but then, that was the point.

“Oli, you’ve pretty much nailed it. Yes I have my stories to tell, and yes I do bare my inner world through my music and set those deep and personal truths free to roam around amongst you all, and that is fulfilling in itself. I count myself very lucky that what I have to say matters a damn at all, but it’s not why I do what I do.”

She paused, cocking her head to one side and looking up and away to the left, looking for all the world like Cyndi Lauper, just for a split second.

“No, that’s not true, or rather it’s not completely true. I do accept that some of what I do is about touching people in that more simple way, just making a basic dent in their consciousness by which I mean that they end up reacting to what I have given them by thanking me, with applause, emails, tweets and so forth; there is nothing wrong with enjoying the acclaim of others, though having said that it does help if you genuinely believe that you deserve it. But putting that aside, the real reason I do what I do is to encourage other people to take up the cause and in their turn make Art as well. I don’t want to sound overly hug-a-tree or chant-y, but Art is a big part of what makes the World bearable and not to sound selfish, but I spend so much time making Art I need there to be other people out there that make the Art that moves me, that drives me on. I’m a very lucky person, I know a lot of people who make Great Art, not least the coin-er of that very phrase, but that doesn’t stop me wanting to encourage everyone else who has something, anything within them to put it into a form that other people can experience. You could say that it is my primary mission in life.”

“Okay, so you came to find me because I am inspired by you?”

“Not only because I have inspired you. Time for the painful truth now, Oliver”

As she said my name in full for the first time the lights flashed again and in the moment of half-light her eyes flashed solid black and her smile widened far further than should have been possible, but then the lights were back, nothing else had changed and her eyes and smile looked as they had before. What was I speaking with? Or who? I was not sure anymore, but for reasons that pass all understanding I was unafraid. It was as if a part of my brain had already rationalised away that whether this was actually Amanda Palmer or not, who or whatever this was did not really comply with the normal rules of the world, and that was okay. I brought my mind back to the issue at hand.

I knew exactly what she meant, but it was going to hurt to say it out loud, to confront and admit the truth, oft denied, that was lurking there behind my tired eyes. We all hold truths within us, truths that we lie about to everyone, including ourselves, even if only by omission. Dark sexual fantasies, unpalatable violent thoughts, callous judgements about the people around us, and the real truth behind the excuses we tell ourselves and everyone else about why we are not managing to do this or that thing that seems important enough to talk about but not quite important enough to do. We never give voice to any of these things, for fear of being made to feel foolish or evil or stupid. Even in our private moments with only our soul mates there to see us, these deep-tissue secrets often go unmentioned. I steeled myself. This step was inescapable and at the same time completely necessary. There was nothing left but self doubt and fear of failure. It was time to step off a cliff.
“I make excuses for not writing. I make excuses for not creating the images in my mind. I make excuses for not making my podcast and website project happen. All the time I account for the lack of execution in my creative life with IOUs that are never redeemed. I make token gestures toward paying off these psychic debts to myself with tiny offerings, and rarely at that, barely able to keep the creeping negativity of procrastination and cowardice from my door. This isn’t the end is it? You aren’t here to take it from me, are you? To punish me for not letting it out? Please tell me that’s not what this is about?”
She nodded, slowly, making with her nodding the same impression one might get from a slow handclap.

“Good, that’s good. Your honesty is to your credit. It is rare in these situations for the people I visit to be so honest. Far too often they are keen to explain that they have responsibilities and that time is not on their side and that their partner doesn’t like having to compete for attention and time with their creative pursuits. You know that these are all excuses that you repeat to yourself in either fear or idleness, or perhaps both?”

I nodded

“You realise, Oliver, that there is nothing to fear? Acceptance cannot be the real ‘why’ that makes you open your heart and splash your dreams all over the place. If it is then you are nothing more than a star fucker, a gold digger, mistaking fame for any number of much more important gifts. I do not believe that your fear is fear of anonymity, of failing to be famous, but you do fear something. I know that you do, because I can smell it on you now, and more than that I have felt your Art in your touch and there is no amount of idleness in Creation that could hold that at bay. Tell me, now, and I will consider the actions I may take, but speak the truth. Be warned of that, there must only be truth between us in this place.”

More nodding. Another cigarette was inexplicably between my lips, so I lit it and offered Amanda another. She smiled very graciously and waved it away. It suddenly occurred to me that I was smoking on the Tube and I almost put it out on reflex, but then remembered that there was no need. Looking up at her I could see that she was waiting patiently for me to speak, despite the awful consequences that I might endure should I fail to speak the truth. There was none of the kind of foot-tapping impatience one might have expected, she was so patient. Even in this defining moment the strongest sense that I had from Amanda was empathy. I took a long deep draw on the cigarette and looked up, fixing her with my eyes the way she had fixed me before;

“Regardless of fame or fortune, of touching one life or thousands, I fear that if I make the Art that is in me become tangible to others and I send it out into the World there will no longer be that secret place within me, that my work will provide the keys and maps that others could use to break into my inner world, and I like being able to control who comes inside, though many might mistakenly think differently.”

She smiled and was about to speak when I cut her off;

“There is an even deeper truth. I want to be honest with you, Amanda, not in fear of you or the idea that something of myself might be lost to me, but because now you have helped me open this door there is a strong need in me to open it all the way. My greatest fear is that by setting my ideas free as Art that they might run out, and in giving them their freedom I might wither and fade.”

As I finished speaking she stepped off the seat opposite me and wrapped her arms around me. She held me there, like a sister, for what seemed like an eternity and then she kissed my forehead, placed something in my hand and whispered;

“Bravo. Make sure you come to Boston, and make sure you stop letting fear hold you back. I promise you, there is nothing to fear apart from wasted time.”


IV

“The next Station is Bank, please change here for the Central, District and Waterloo and City Lines”

Jolted awake, the carriage was as it had been when we left Chalk Farm, well apart from a few people had left and others had joined us. For a moment I felt cheated; ‘it was all just a dream’ is the worst kind of cliché, and my heart sank a little. Still clinging to the hope that it had been real I looked down at my hand. I uncurled my fingers and there were three cigarette butts and what looked like a shiny, new, American Quarter. I picked it up and examined it, it was not what it appeared to be at all. Embossed on one side was a graven image of Amanda’s face, and on the flip-side was stamped “WE ARE THE MEDIA!”. Holding it I felt my fear receding, and somewhere on the very edge of my consciousness, I knew that I would see Amanda again.

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