Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The (Alternate) Christmas Speech: The Sibylline Books

This is the story of a city, of a strange traveller and some books.

Like all the best stories it takes place a long time ago and in a place that was far, far away – although no light-sabres were involved: not even a little one.

The name of the city has been lost in the mists of time, but it was a great and powerful city that was ruled by a kind and just Emperor who took great pains to ensure his people were happy and contented. However, as is often the way, the middle-managers were rubbish.

The city existed high in the mountains, above the villages that came under its protection and with whom they traded. Every year the province opened its walls to travellers for a great fair that was the talk of cities as far as a few hundred miles away.

One year an old lady arrived on the very last day of the fair, weighed down and walking slowly due to a big, black sack pulled taut across her back. Refusing all offers of help she set up shop in the market – placing twelve large books on her table: nothing less, nothing more.

Most people ignored her, but a few curious travellers asked what her books contained. She refused to let any look inside the covers, but explained that she had travelled all her life and these books were her memoirs, containing all the truth and beauty in the world. She explained that she would only sell them together and demanded 3,000 credits.

Back then 3,000 credits was a lot of money and could have bought a good sized house and possibly a few sheep if you didn’t mind a bit of mange around the collar, so the locals laughed at her and called her names…but the old woman was not worried and asked to speak to someone in authority.

Finally, just as the fair was closing the Mayor of the city came and spoke to the woman saying, ‘How can we possibly judge if these books are worth what you say if you will not let us look at them?’

But the old woman would not be swayed, saying only, ‘knowledge cannot be given, it must be earned’

Still the Mayor refused to buy the books: and so the woman took four of the books and placed them on a pile with some firewood. Then she burned them, making sure there was nothing left for prying eyes. Packing the eight remaining books on her back she left the city, saying only that she would be back again the next year.

Twelve months passed and times were hard. The animals succumbed to a disease, meaning that the locals were forced to over-farm their lands. A sudden population boom meant that food was ever scarcer and prices rose. When the time of the fair came around again there was considerably less fanfare than in previous years and buying was visibly slower.

Two days before the end of the fair the old woman returned and set up shop, explaining that the loss in weight had made her journey faster. Again she refused to let anyone open the books, refusing to even discuss a price unless she spoke to the Emperor himself.

‘The Emperor is far too busy to deal with traders’ The Mayor explained as patiently as he could manage, ‘Perhaps we can come to an agreement?’

‘Perhaps’ the old lady agreed, ‘But you understand that the price has changed?’

‘Clearly’ The Mayor replied

‘This year I want 6,000 credits’

The Mayor could barely believe his ears. Clearly the woman knew nothing of supply and demand. He shook his head, refusing to discuss the matter further. As it happened this year the old woman had not managed to gather any firewood before setting up, so she took an axe to her table and burned another four of the books –leaving only four remaining, ‘See you next year’ she said.

Another twelve months passed and, if anything, they were harder than the last twelve. There were continual bandit problems on the borders, meaning the Emperor was often forced to spend vital money on maintaining the army that should have gone towards pensions and grain. Rains came harder and frosts colder, meaning that a lot of stock was lost. House prices crashed, leaving many people homeless. Also a lot of estate agents went out of business – but on the whole people thought this to be a good thing.

When the old woman returned to the fair it was a sorry sight – little or no bunting and only a handful of other outsiders. There was an air of despondency in the small crowd. Only the old woman, travelling lighter with less books and no table, seemed relatively happy.

By now it had begun to occur to some of the locals that had spoken to her that their Mayor was being an ass and that the old woman might be onto something. They had clubbed together and raised as much money as they had; asking her to name her price

’12,000 credits’ she announced firmly, ‘not a penny less’

‘But we only budgeted for 10,000’ they replied

The old woman shrugged and repeated her motto, ‘Knowledge cannot be given, it must be earned’

This year the people refused to sell her any firewood, so she tore three of the remaining four books into pieces and burned them in front of the locals, before leaving for another year.

When she returned for the final time it was to find the head of the Mayor on a pole at the gate and the Emperor waiting for her himself. Somehow word of the lady had got through. He took one look at the binding of the one remaining book and its cover and knew it to be a thing of beauty and value, ‘How much?’ he asked

‘Twenty thousand credits’ she replied

‘But the banks are foreclosing,’ the Emperor replied, ‘we will have to borrow heavily from the taxes; people will go hungry’

The old lady shrugged, ‘Should have thought about that before then’ she replied, ‘Firewood please’

However, the Emperor held up a hand in defeat, agreeing to the old lady’s price.

The old lady nodded and handed over the book, taking the money and counting it slowly. Finally, when she was satisfied she looked up and winked, ‘Thank you’ she said, ‘but believe me…’ she added, ‘you should have seen the rest of it’

As she left the Emperor took the book in his hands and opened it. As he turned each page he began to cry, weeping for all the truth and beauty in the book and all that had now been lost and could never be found again.

A Xmas Note From The Pixies:

For further information on the original myth of the sibylline books visit

Or for a more contemporary account (upon which this narration is based) read the excellent “Last Chance To See” by Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine

Finally – a special link to follow for anyone who would like an alternate Christmas song that reminds us about how important our family appear when we are kids. This song came second in the Christmas Charts to the X Factor winner Shane Ward 3 years ago – a pretty remarkable achievement considering the band, Nizlopi, were entirely self financed and had no record deal. Enjoy – and merry Christmas to all

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Eyes On The Prize (Part Four)

The flame poles spluttered and crackled angrily as the wind picked up, throwing the snow across the frozen land like grains of sand. At the far side of the camp, almost invisible against the dark backdrop of the night, the snowmobiles sat silent and abandoned.

The five riders that had accompanied Fisher still stood on the outskirts of the small circle of light, their faces hidden by their voluminous hoods. Closer still to the pool of light a pile of jackets lay just out of reach of the three figures, huddling together for warmth.

Templar shifted on the ice, trying to regain the feeling in his toes, feeling the cold metal shaft of the handcuffs rub against his bare skin. He tried his best to stop his teeth from chattering, but could not. The temperature was dropping by the minute as the wind built up, but still Fisher was showing no signs of compassion. Instead he was watching them from above, the glowing tip of his cigar the only sign of movement. Templar turned his attention to the group of bystanders. There was something familiar about them, something he had seen somewhere before…

‘Puh-please’ Brannigan stuttered, ‘I’m freezing’
‘Shut the fuck up Mark’ McKenzie snapped, ‘We’re all freezing’
‘Compassionate as ever Claire’ Fisher moved closer for the first time since the handcuffs had been applied to their arms, his grin widening to show the teeth, ‘and here I was thinking you were a changed woman’
‘I am’ McKenzie replied, her gaze meeting his, ‘thanks to you’
Templar cast her a quick glance, but said nothing. He wondered how much of her attitude was bravado and how much of it was down her past. He watched Fisher as he leaned closer into their faces and saw no hope of survival in those eyes.
‘Well,’ Fisher was continuing, ‘There’s so little time and so much to talk about – where shall we begin?’
‘Give us back our jackets and we’ll talk’ Templar offered
‘Fuck that’ McKenzie spat, ‘the second we tell you anything you’ll slit our throats – so you’ll get nothing from any of us’
‘Oh I don’t know’ Fisher replied, ‘Blood is so difficult to get out of clothes – even if you do a pre-wash’ he leaned in closer to Brannigan, so close that the glowing tip of the cigar threatened to scorch the skin, ‘Besides, ‘ he said, ‘I think I’ve found the weakest link in your chain’
‘I haven’t told him anything useful,’ McKenzie scoffed, ‘and threatening him won’t make me tell you anything’
‘Perhaps’ Fisher stood up and looked at the night sky. Flashes of blue lightning were ripping across the storm-filled sky. He glanced at Templar, ‘Time is running out Charles. You above all others know what will happen if we don’t get inside soon…and yet you haven’t said anything?’
‘Give us warmth’ Templar repeated, his tone never changing, ‘and I’ll tell you what you already know’
Fisher laughed at this, ‘True, true’ he said, fishing the cigar from his lips for a few seconds, ‘But I’m still curious to hear your side of things’ he moved back over to Brannigan and delivered a swift kick to the side, ‘So come on boy,’ he said, ‘Tell me what they told you’
‘Puh-please,’ Brannigan repeated, ‘I’m freezing’
Fisher kicked him again, this time in the stomach, causing Brannigan to double over in pain. Fisher waited patiently for all of five seconds before grabbing Brannigan’s chin between his thumb and forefinger and pulling him up straight, ‘I always find a bit of pain sharpens the mind’
‘Leave him alone John’ Templar said quietly, though his eyes were still fixed on the night’s sky. The flashes of blue seemed to be growing, twisting into shapes before his eyes. He wondered if it was the cold, hoping that his darkest fears were not true.
‘Oh I don’t think so,’ Fisher replied, ‘Not unless Claire feels like begging?’
McKenzie’s silence was answer enough and Fisher grinned again; ‘So tell me, my friend, what did they tell you?’
‘Look,’ Brannigan spluttered, still gasping, ‘All I know is that the plane took off sometime in 1944 from Germany.’ He paused to cough and shake his head, ‘The rumour was that Oliver Postgate was trying to hide religious artefacts from the Germans – but something went wrong.’ He coughed again, gesturing towards McKenzie ‘That bitch there hired me, telling me I would be needed to date artefacts. She suggested that there was a connection to Christ’
Fisher moved back, gazing at him for a long time, then he nodded and removed the cuffs, throwing Brannigan his coat, ‘And you believed that DaVinci Code bullshit?’ He turned towards McKenzie, ‘Really Claire, you always were a bad liar’

McKenzie said nothing, but her eyes were full of hatred as she spat into the snow next to Fisher’s feet. Fisher gestured towards one of the five men in shadow, who had still not spoken or moved, and the remaining cuffs were removed. As Templar shook the life back into his arms he turned again towards the horizon, watching the light show
‘I think we may have left it too late’ he muttered
‘It’s still alive?’ McKenzie asked, her voice showing a hint of fear for the first time.
‘Oh please Claire,’ Fisher interjected, ‘Your theatrics may fool these two, but you forget – I know what you came here for’
McKenzie shook her head, ‘No John’ she replied quietly, ‘If you had even the slightest clue what I was looking for out here then you’d never have come’
Templar took hold of her shoulder, ‘Claire…we really should move now…’ he gestured towards the horizon where the storm seemed to be turning into something else. Now even Fisher managed to look concerned
‘What the fuck?’ Brannigan said. The blue lightning was growing into a ball of energy, seeming to define a dark shape against the horizon. If you looked close enough you could swear that the form was moving.
Fisher reached for his shotgun, made to focus on the shape, but something in Templar’s eyes stopped him from firing. As the shape seemed to grow on the horizon Templar gestured towards the cold metal frame of the plane, ‘Everybody get under cover, NOW!!!’

To be continued

...And that’s it until after Christmas I’m afraid. It’s funny how this is developing in my head – I had so many ideas, but they all seem to have moved around and worked in slightly different ways: not a single episode has gone entirely where i thought it would go. However, we’re getting closer to the end of the story now with only 1 or 2 more episodes, but I didn’t want to quite show my hand yet as to exactly what is going on.

A note to myself is that if I were writing this story off line and editing I would re-write Fisher a few times, as he doesn’t quite sound the way I originally envisaged him. My apologies to anyone who doesn’t like stories with a Sci-Fi/mythic angle –again if I were to re-write this I would put a few larger hints into the earlier episodes

For anyone interested a few of the influences on this story:
Doctor Who: The Seeds Of Doom
The X Files: Ice (almost exactly the same plot as the Dr Who story)
Forbidden Planet (and the associated musical Return To The Forbidden Planet)
The Thing

Although having said the above I have tried not to make this too derivative of any of these stories.

Finally – I’m starting to regret the choice of title for this story. I wanted to give it a title fairly quickly so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it, but the more the story has developed the less apposite the title seems.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Christmas Essays #2: Losing My Religion

I could never get married in Church.

Yeah, yeah, I know – it’s lovely, traditional, very auspicious: but I couldn’t do it – not even if I was marrying the Bishop of East Anglia.

Admittedly if I were marrying the Bishop we probably wouldn’t be allowed to get married in a church, as I think (if the role actually exists) it’s currently filled by a man – but that’s not my reason.

My reason is that I don’t believe in God…or at least not any God sponsored by religion, and to me it would be wrong to stand in the house of God and make a promise before one of God’s earthly representatives to love someone for all time, interspersed with a bunch of songs about God.

As far as I’m concerned making this promise to a God I don’t believe in would a) be an insult to anyone with firm religious beliefs and b) be starting the marriage with a lie.

I tried to explain this to my Dad the other day and his response was say that this in itself was a kind of belief system. Yes Dad, it’s called a Moral Belief.

But the thing is that I feel the same way, in many ways, about Christmas. In fact a few years back I told a friend that the reason I didn’t particularly celebrate Christmas was due to my lack of religious fire.

They asked me what religion had got to do with Christmas and do you know, I had to ask myself the same question. I mean yes, Christ-mas: birth of Jesus and all that – but how many people do you know that will be going to church on Christmas Day? And how many of those go every Sunday? I suspect the figure to be quite low.

These days Christmas is about turning your street into the Las Vegas Strip, getting drunk and having to be carried back to your room at the Office Party, buying your kids the latest Yu-Gi-Oh, Ben 10 or Spongebob Squarepants DVD and over indulgence of sprouts. If you look at the Christmas Day TV schedule you’ll be lucky to find more than one or two programmes that even mention religion. In fact things have got so politically correct here now that many schools have eschewed tradional Nativity plays and Carols for fear of agonising the multi-cultural Britain (when it's a fact that most other religions have no particular problem with this)

And it’s especially odd for me, because I work in an environment that employs a large percentage of Muslims (about 60-75% of our workforce, maybe higher). They have two different versions of Eid – one around October/November and one around January. Every single Muslim employee observes the fast to the letter, every single one of them can tell you exactly why they observe it and why it is important. Every single one of them goes to the Mosque on a daily basis during that time, unlike Christmas and Lent – which people only have a vague idea what it means.

John Lennon was vilified by the press for saying that The Beatles were bigger than God, but in a way he was entirely right – God doesn’t put out hit records or advertise on prime time TV (which is why the average nine year old can recognise a picture of Ronald McDonald, but not Jesus) – so religion is fighting hard for our attention, even at a time when it should be central

And I wonder how long the recognition from the Muslim society will last – I wonder if they will be tarnished by the decadent West and find a few generations down the line that they are merely paying lip service to the old beliefs. I think the signs are already there – as the next generation of Muslims grow up with the freedoms and the benefits of the world and turn to their Wii’s instead of their prayer mats, in much the same way that we turned from our pulpits to our TVs less than a century ago.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Eyes On The Prize (Part Three)

‘Greyhound four to trap six; Greyhound four to trap six’

There was an air of desperation in the voice now, mixed in with the sound of a throat too dry from talking. Brannigan adjusted the dial on the radio again and leant into the small microphone as if this would make any difference, ‘Greyhound four to trap six’ he repeated, ‘Come in please’

From his place on the mattress Templar opened his eyes and gave up trying to sleep for the moment, ‘You’d better turn that thing off’ he said, sounding wearier than he had when he’d put his head down on the pillow two hours previously, ‘The battery will be running low…besides, in this weather there’s little chance of a signal.’

Somewhat reluctantly Brannigan turned off the radio and briefly opened the flap of the tent to look outside. The flash of cold air into the reasonably warm environment made Templar shiver and scowl, but for the moment he said nothing; knowing that any rebuke he could offer would only serve to unnerve the younger man even more.

Brannigan slammed a fist against the radio, causing it to rock slightly, ‘Bloody useless thing,’ he muttered, before pausing and shooting Templar a hopeful look, ‘I thought I heard a voice not that long ago…’ he trailed off. Templar nodded in agreement, ‘You could be right’ he said, not adding what they were both thinking – that the voice might have been Fisher, or one of his men. Unless the bad weather had turned them back, and that was extremely unlikely considering the lengths they had gone to so far, they were still out there somewhere.

Templar sat up, watching his head on the narrow roof as he did so. He scratched his beard for a while and wished for a razor. When none appeared he pulled on some boots over his socks, ‘Is she still working at it?’ he asked, gesturing towards the plane
‘Who?’ Brannigan asked sarcastically, ‘The bitch queen from hell?’
Templar shook his head, ‘Now now,’ he said soothingly, ‘I know Claire can be a pain in the arse…’ he paused whilst Brannigan muttered a quick ‘You can say that again’ and continued, ‘But she’s had to put up with a lot in her time.’ Now it was Templar’s turn to open the flap and let in the cold wind. From the doorway he could just about see the dim light from the plane through the dark night and the blustering snow, ‘Still…’ he added, ‘She really should be getting back inside the tent before much longer’ He pulled himself towards the doorway, pulling his jacket back on over his clothes and made to move outside.
‘Will they be looking for us yet?’ Brannigan’s voice made him pause and look back into a pair of almost childlike eyes, ‘Base camp, I mean’

Templar regarded the man for a long moment, his mind running through the options. Three days without contact, bad weather almost all the way: yes they would be looking for them…assuming there was still anyone there to look. Finally Templar laid a reassuring hand on Brannigan’s arm and offered a smile before heading back out into the cold.

McKenzie barely looked up as the snow-clad figure burst into the cold interior of the plane, ‘Come to drag me back into the warmth have you?’ she muttered
‘If I have to’ Templar nodded, ‘If you stay out here much longer even your blood will freeze…and then who will pay me?’
McKenzie laughed at this and stood up, throwing a small object into his hands, ‘Take a look at this’

Templar regarded the small crucifix, turning it over thoughtfully and letting his fingers caress the delicate chain. It was gold, or gold plated – he was no expert, and engraved with a set of initials, ‘O.P.’ he muttered, exchanging a look with McKenzie, who was beaming with success, ‘We’re on the right lines Charles’ she said, ‘Oliver Postgate was here’
Templar nodded, ‘Aye, thirty or forty years ago he was here’ he shook his head, ‘but that doesn’t mean the artefacts are still here…or that we’ll ever find them if they’re not’
‘No’ McKenzie replied, her smile fading back into her familiar frown, ‘but it’s a start…’ She trailed off and waved at the crucifix, as if expecting some further action, ‘Well then Father, aren’t you going to put that on? Your background is, after all, the main reason I selected you’
Templar regarded the small cross ruefully and allowed the chain to slip over his neck. When he looked up again it was as if the small item were the weight of a tombstone, ‘It’s a long time since anyone called me Father’ he said quietly.

There was an uncomfortable pause. Uncomfortable, that is, apart from McKenzie who seemed not to notice that she had overstepped the mark, ‘So then’ she continued, pressing her luck, ‘why did you leave the church?’

Templar’s eyes turned a colder shade of grey and for a moment she thought he was simply going to ignore the question. He clutched the cross in his hands and sat down wearily, ‘I always knew, even as a kid, that the Bible was little more than words and paper’ he spoke slowly, as if trying to find the right words – or as if he was unsure that what he was saying was really what he felt, ‘Don’t get me wrong – the meaning behind the words still meant a lot to me; but the words themselves’ he shook his head and looked hard at her, making her shiver, ‘Are you religious?’ he asked
McKenzie shook her head, ‘My parents were both Catholics, but I’m strictly agnostic’
Templar grinned, ‘Aye, those four hour sermons can really make you question your commitment to anything…’ he laughed bitterly, ‘Anyway: whether you believe that the bible is the word of God or not, you have to accept that it was written down by the hand of man – and we all know how much man likes to twist words to his own meaning’
‘So you had a crisis of faith?’ McKenzie asked, uncertain where this was leading
Templar shook his head, ‘Just the opposite, Claire’ he paused, ‘God said that he refused to prove that he existed because faith defies proof and without faith he was nothing…But what if a man had seen proof that God, Satan…all the rest of it was true.’ He paused and shook his head ‘That would be a terrible thing Claire’ he said, ‘a terrible thing indeed.’

McKenzie frowned, still confused and wanting to question him further – however, she never got the chance as Brannigan came crashing through the doorway, almost out of breath, ‘Snowmobiles’ he gasped, ‘At least four of them…coming our way quickly’

The three of them moved as one towards the doorway and watched as the pinpricks of light grew steadily into full-beam floodlights that made it impossible to see anything other than silhouettes. As the vehicles came closer the noise of the engines rose: competing with the noise of the wind for attention.

Finally the vehicles pulled to a stop about fifteen feet away from the plane. With engines still roaring and lights still turning night into a shadowy day one of the riders dismounted and stepped towards them.

‘Well well’ Fisher said grimly, cocking the shotgun and pointing its nozzle in their direction, ‘And here it is way past all your bedtimes’

To be continued…

Author’s note: I’ve actually been thinking about passages in this section for a few days before I had the nerve to write them down – almost like I could hear the characters speaking to me.

Actually I was also thinking about a recent posting by Honour (The Art Of Practice: – her poem about how characters may spring from you and your beliefs, but are not actually you…although I recognise parts of myself in all of them – particularly in the passages about religion (although I have yet to see any proof either way and wouldn’t want to!)

Additionally boring facts: the call-sign Greyhound/Trap is not original to this author and owes its origins to a popular British Sci-Fi series – it is included here for my personal amusement

The character of a priest who is something more/less than a priest is one that I’ve been toying with for a while and something I may well come back to in the future. If you ever read a novel in the future where one of the main characters is a priest, or preacher, called Lomax then you’ll know it was by me…(unless one of you nicks the name!)

Finally the character of Oliver Postgate (who was mentioned fleetingly as having been on the plane when it crashed) is so named for the Children’s TV creator who brought the children of the UK such classics as Noggin The Nog, Ivor The Engine, Bagpuss and The Clangers. Oliver died on Wednesday – but his creative genius lives on.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Eyes On The Prize (Part Two)

“I told you I heard a noise”

Templar looked up from his task, saying nothing. Not for the first time he found himself wondering how much of a liability Brannigan would turn out to be. The young geologist was looking tired, maybe on the point of cracking from the effort. McKenzie’s constant jokes weren’t helping. For the moment Templar dismissed the train of thought and returned his gaze to the bodies, strewn on the cold snow. A trail of blood stretched towards the horizon, petering out about fifteen feet away from where he was crouched
‘What was it?’ Brannigan was demanding, ‘A polar bear attack?’
Templar rose slowly from the bodies of the dead huskies, not sure what to say. They had been ripped apart, their throats gouged open. Finally he nodded, ‘It certainly looks that way’ he responded. There, he thought, I didn’t lie…but it wasn’t the truth either: at least, not the whole truth. Feeling sick to his stomach Templar turned away, sizing up the younger man thoughtfully, ‘We should bury them’ he said finally, ‘them and the pilot.’ He gestured towards the tents, ‘you’d better fetch some digging equipment. Brannigan nodded and turned swiftly towards the small camp.

A sudden noise made Templar turn and look over his shoulder, finding McKenzie watching him in a detached manner from the doorway, ‘Of course,’ she said calmly, her lips barely moving from the rim of the plastic cup squeezed between her hands, ‘you realise that this means we’re totally fucked?’
Templar scowled, not liking the use of the swear-word, ‘Not necessarily’ he replied
McKenzie laughed, taking a sip and offering what was left to Templar, ‘I suppose you want to ask Fisher for help when he gets here then?’ She watched his reaction for a second and then shook her head, ‘Nope; thought not’. Templar made his way over to her side, took the cup from her hands and raised it to his lips, feeling the alcohol on his lips before he had even drunk. McKenzie shot a look at the dead dogs, barely a trace of emotion showing, ‘I suppose you’re going to tell me it was an animal attack?’
‘It could have been’ Templar shrugged
‘Bullshit!’ McKenzie replied harshly, ‘You and I both know that if there had been an animal in the camp last night the dogs would have been going wild’
‘Brannigan said he thought he heard something’ Templar offered weakly, causing McKenzie to laugh again
‘He’s been jumping at his own shadow ever since we left base camp, and you know it.’

Templar nodded, wondering at how closely McKenzie’s words were echoing his own thoughts. Changing subject he gestured into the plane, ‘Found anything yet?’ he asked
McKenzie shook her head, ‘A few bits and pieces’ she replied, taking the cup back and draining the few remaining drops before heading inside the plane. Templar followed, already regretting drinking the alcohol. Out here, where the atmosphere was thinner, the effects hit you twice as quick and he knew that he needed his wits about him; now more than ever.

Inside the plane an A4 black book was lying open, its pages marked with a battered bookmark that looked as if it had come free with the book itself. The pages of the book were covered with McKenzie’s cramped script: every item that she had found had been classed and categorised – but despite her early start it was clear that she still had a long way to go. She gestured to one of the open crates, ‘Take a look at this one’
Templar moved to the crate and pulled out a broken rifle. He examined it closely, looking down the barrel and feeling the weight in his hands. He placed it back into the box along with the others, noticing the cracks in the side of the crate. At some point, whether on impact or later, the box had been forced open and snow and ice had got in. He turned to McKenzie and raised an inquisitive eyebrow, but she merely gestured to the next box and the next, ‘There’s two or three of them, exactly the same’ she explained, ‘Christ alone knows what they were doing with weapons on board’
Templar shook his head, not liking this new development as well as the choice of language. He took another rifle out of the next box and examined it in the same way that he had examined the first one, looking for signs of frost damage on the barrel.
‘Jesus Christ, what the fuck have you got us into?’ Brannigan was standing in the doorway his eyes wide with shock. There was a shovel in both hands, ready for digging the graves, and what looked like old tarpaulin and some rope.
‘I’ll thank you both not to take the lord’s name in vein’ Templar barked angrily, raising the small crucifix around his neck and showing it to remind them that certain things were still off limits. He sighed and replaced the weapon, showing his empty hands to the other man, ‘Listen Mark,’ he said as patiently as he felt he could manage, ‘We all knew there would be dangers on this journey; but panicking over a few ruined weapons won’t get us anywhere’
Brannigan seemed to calm slightly, but there was still a look of distrust in his eyes when he turned his gaze back towards McKenzie, ‘Did you find it yet?’
‘Not yet’ McKenzie admitted, ‘The chances are that the survivors, if there were any, took it with them’
‘Then I say we abandon the mission and get back to base’ Brannigan said
McKenzie shook her head, ‘Not possible’ she replied, ‘If we go back now Fisher will finish us off and you know it’
‘She’s right’ Templar replied, ‘But there might be an alternate to running’ He gestured back towards the camp, ‘The weather has improved a bit: if it stays this way then base camp should be able to send us some supplies by helicopter – we can still salvage the mission.’ Templar gestured back towards the camp, ‘Get on the radio; see if you can raise a signal’ he ordered, before moving towards Brannigan and taking the shovels from his hands. He threw one to McKenzie, forcing her to reach out and catch it, ‘Claire, you can help me to bury the bodies’
McKenzie shook her head, ‘Our priority has to be to catalogue the cargo’ she replied, ‘see if we can find what we were looking for’
Templar looked at her for a long moment, then shook his head in marvel at her ability to switch off her emotions. He wondered what could possibly have happened in her life that had made her so cold, knowing that in all probability it was something to do with Fisher, ‘I won’t ask you again’ he replied, his voice level and firm, ‘Get your arse in to gear and come and help me bury these bodies…it’s not as if we’re going anywhere anytime soon.’ Templar turned and made to go outside, then paused still in the doorway. Without turning around he asked, ‘Do you think it was Fisher?’
McKenzie hefted the shovel in her hands, regarding the blade thoughtfully as if the answer could be found there, ‘No’ she said thoughtfully, ‘Not his style’
‘What about our objective…’ Templar asked, looking over his shoulder, his eyes full of shadows, ‘Could it be connected to that?’
‘No,’ McKenzie shook her head, speaking slowly, ‘Nothing could have survived out here for that long…’ her voice trailed off
‘Are you sure?’ Templar asked, still hesitating, ‘You don’t sound very sure’
McKenzie moved towards him, patting him on the shoulder with her free hand, ‘Put it this way Charles,’ she said, ‘If it is connected to our objective then Fisher will be the least of our problems’ __________________________
Author’s note: not quite a first draft this, as I ended up going back to the very start section and re-writing the section with the dead dogs to spend more time on that section of the story – hopefully the atmosphere between the three characters benefits from the longer wait before we find out more about what they are looking for and the mysterious Fisher…I then went back and added the last few lines about an hour or so later

Stay tuned for part three!

Monday, 1 December 2008

The Christmas Essays #1: That All Important Christmas No 1

Christmas: a time of wanton consumerism. A time of year where children scream for the latest flash-in-the-pan Yu-Gi-Oh collectors cards and the men of Britain unite in their world-weary expressions and wait for the sport on Boxing Day

A time where, for me at least, going into shops for more than five seconds becomes something of an ordeal.

Not purely because of the long queues, although that is a factor – but due to the Bloody Awful Music they insist on playing.

Now I’m sure that some of you will notice that two of my main passions are Art & Music. And, as a music fan, it never ceases to amaze me how good taste and lyrical dexterity are just thrown out of the window when it comes to writing songs about the Festive Season.

Not carols – by the way. Heaven forbid that religion should come into Christmas in any way, shape or form (irony intended). Carols, on the whole, are actually quite nice – I enjoy listening to these. What I’m talking about here is Songs.

So here’s a list, in no particular order of some Christmas Songs to Love or Loathe (If you can think of any more, or actively disagree with my selection, please let me know):

#6: “Can You Stop The Cavalry” by Jona Lewie
It’s hard to know where to start with this one: the monotone delivery, the annoying trumpet section, the O.T.T. apocalyptic lyrics. A personal low for me is the “dub a dub a dum dum” section. The only good thing about this song is you don’t hear it much these days (although ironically we’re one day into December and I have already heard it!)

#5: “Merry Christmas, Everyone” by Shakin’ Stevens
How a 50’s style rocker ever managed to have hits in the 1980s remains a mystery that only the general public can solve. This gains an entry partly for the repetitively and childishly simple lyrics, but mostly for being every bloody where all the bloody time from October onwards

#4: “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizard
It’s a general consensus amongst the public that Glam Rock should be purged from our memories forever and that anything with a children’s choir is immediately suspect as potentially awful. Roy Wood is responsible for many of the UKs worst musical atrocities – but try listening to this one back to back with “See My Baby Jive” by the same artist – they’re exactly the same tune

#3: “A Spaceman Came Travelling At Christmas” by Chris De Burgh
It’s not so much the song here that I object to, but the shameless commercialism. Everyone knew very clearly when Chris De Burgh released “A Spaceman Came Travelling” that it was really about the return of Jesus – but to re-release it at Christmas with three extra words “At Christmas Time” was just not on.

#2: “Merry Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon
Can someone please explain what the bloody hell this is actually in aid of? Repetitive, simplistic, sickly child choir, you name it this song is just as irritating as hell. How can this possibly be by the same person that wrote “In My Life” and “Imagine”? John, what were you thinking?

#1: “Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney and Wings
DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED. If anyone has ever heard a worse song then I don’t want to know. This kind of fetid dingo’s kidneys makes you wonder how the Beatles ever became the band they were (though to be fair “The Frog Chorus” is far, far worse)


#2: “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade
Owner of the most ridiculous moniker in rock history singer Noddy Holder (I kid you not) has often said that this song is his retirement scheme – actually not a bad song as this kind of thing goes it and full of midlands humour. If only it wasn’t law to play it every single day I would probably appreciate it a lot more.

#1: “Let It Snow” (Various recordings)
I considered a couple of songs that I don’t mind too much – but was only able to think of two that I actively like and had to save the best until last (see below). I mostly know this song from its inclusion in the closing credits of “Die Hard” but its basic, swing-influenced style mark it out as something I would consider owning

#1: “Fairytale Of New York” by Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues
Fairytale Of New York tells the story of two people who have grown apart, looking back at the mess of their lives at Christmas. Darkly funny and bitter the lyrics are both funny and tragic at the same time. A typical refrain:

Shane Magowan: I could have been someone…
Kirsty: Well so could anyone/you took my dreams from me/when I first found you
Shane: I kept them with me babe/I put them with my own/can’t make it out alone/ I built my dreams around you.

And yet despite the bleak tone the song leaves you with a feeling of optimism and hope for the future with its uplifting chorus. Pure genius.

NB: sorry there's no link to each song - computer trying to drive me insane today