Hell’s Sanctuary

Sad to say that this was written months ago to go into No Cure for Shell Shock. At the time there’d just been an attack on an Italian (if memory serves) asylum center but increasingly it seems that it’s a story that’s repeatedly replicated in the news. Was just a few days ago that two buildings were attacked in Germany and in a lot of parts of Europe there’s a loud minority picking up on the mentality behind those crimes.

Anyway, No Cure for Shell Shock – a short collection – is complete now and I’ll be announcing a release date as soon as the final edit and cover designs are done. Until then I’ll still be sharing the odd piece from it to give you an idea of what it is. So here you go.


They were drunk and they were angry and they were outside.

A short, well built man was scurrying around inside asking ‘Why?’ as if anyone was supposed to know, care or have time to answer. They were all busy though, hiding mostly, dragging mattresses over themselves, protecting children, protecting themselves. What did it matter ‘why’? They were outside and they were drunk and they were angry and they were throwing things, that mattered, not their motivations. Bricks and bottles and lumps of wood, already the windows were gone, already a few people had bloodied faces from shattered glass or unlucky shots. The short man was annoying people by asking questions, he was distracting them from the simple requirement to not get hurt with his insistent haranguing. It was his way of dealing with it, perhaps, and if they had time they may have sympathised. They may even have asked questions themselves but they didn’t have time, they didn’t have space, they didn’t have the silence to think in. They had the screamed abuse and hurled violence from outside.

A group of men had congregated by the door as fists and boots crashed into it on the other side. They were trying to barricade it with chairs and beds hauled in from the dorms. Some even had anger in their eyes, muscles tightened and violent rage unsubtly burning in them but the nature of the place denied them permission to act. It was a refuge, a sanctuary, a safe house for those who’d fled the war, even under attack the unspoken plea to respect that rang out louder than any momentary burst of aggression could. Most understood that, with tears in their eyes, no time for ‘whys’ but a felt certainty that what was happening wasn’t right. The attack was an insult, a corruption, a degradation of the carefully held peace of the place which was all those inhabiting it had sought. They knew violence, they’d seen it, walked among it and they knew where it belonged. It wasn’t here.

Fire now. A petrol bomb sent crashing through a broken window, spreading burning fuel across bunk beds and blossoming in a burning haze. The short man was still asking why even as he ran to haul pots of water to douse the flames. Petty violence, small, mean crimes of brutality made bigger than they were by the contrast of the place. A woman had been shot three times and survived. A child had seen her family executed. A teen-aged boy had walked through piles of death and created some himself. All in another place though, a place where bombs and bullets and blades had taken over, made themselves the architecture of desolate cities. Here the fear was no less consuming, as the fire grew out of control and the barricades at the door were desperately torn down to create an escape. It was smaller though, cruel in it’s senselessness. This was supposed to be safety, supposed to be peace and yet those outside were so eager to destroy it, to defile it as if only force had value and safety had none.

The first ones to be pushed outside, away from the now heavy smoke and stifling heat, were children, mothers, the injured and the old. An act of kindness, an attempt at decency. They were the first to be beaten. The mob outside bayed for targets to strike at, bored already of destroying the sanctuary, only human victims would do. When the rest came out it was too late. Too late to fight, to late to run back, too late to save any part of the safety they’d found. With fists and bats and bottles and knives it was gone.

The short man was still asking ‘Why?’ even as he fell in a shower of blows. There was still no answer.


The Self in Self

There is no goddamn darkness
at the center of your soul
no more than there’s an abyss in the fetid sewers below

There is no tortured victim
no brooding martyr’s death
no struggling Prometheus
or upgrade from all the rest

Humans live in humans,
nothing else is there
but a chaotic mess of feelings
of which you’re unaware
tangled in drifts of plastic
floating on oceans without maps
planets without continents
galaxies soon to lapse

That’s the hardest ending
the toughest one to write
when you’ve lost all of the characters
and you’re left with nothing light
just the human in your human
the self within yourself
which doesn’t have an epilogue
and can be seen as nothing else


Eighty Lives, One Body

Written with half a thought to the victims of the explosion in China but just today two reporters were shot in the US. All day people on social media and in the news have pawed over the details and images of the killing, which was caught on film. A story for today but a reality for tomorrow. Whatever images you see of the killing, whenever you see them, that tomorrow should be remembered. It certainly will be by the friends, families and witnesses.

What was left? Not much. Amidst the rubble and wreckage the human remains seemed impossibly rare. Eighty had died in the blast but what they were pulling out barely seemed to constitute one real form. The rest, the rescuers guessed, had been reduced to the ash of creation in the force of the explosion. A blessing in some ways. Nothingness would leave abstract certainty for the ones who’d mourn their loss. Better perhaps than the physical certainty of scarred and scorched flesh, inescapably immediate as they lay remains out on fresh blue tarpaulins. There to be catalogued and photographed by silently diligent investigators.

It didn’t matter though. They’d known who was there, they’d known how many had been in the building. The mental count they made as they dug away the detritus was a distraction, nothing more. A way to hold back the truth of what they were doing and what had happened, losing the force of it in minutiae of work. And if in their own minds they found only one scattered body then maybe that was enough? Why seek out the stabbing reality of more when the mournfully assembled remains already gathered made no demands to do so? If the victims didn’t care why should their failed rescuers? And above all who could judge those with their hands steeped in death they hadn’t made for trying to contain it as best they could?

Only the TV cameras, herded back behind lines of blank faced police, craned forward to take in ever more grim evidence of what had happened. Their eyes were glazed ones though, their operators remote at the other end of plastic, glass and circuitry. The luxury of searching without regard for what was found was uniquely theirs and, as the rescuers worked, they could think of no perspective less human or more desirable.

A thousand miles away a thousand more people, caught halfway between humanity and plastic inertia before the screen, craned forward.


Dave Callan – A Little Less Conversation 2: A Little More Less Conversation

As my memories of the shows I saw fade into the dim half light of ‘I was in Edinburgh, wasn’t I?’ I’ll call this the last of my Fringe reviews for this year. Any more and I’d not be doing justice to the good stuff I saw as the buzz of entertainment or thought or feeling they left me with loses it’s gilt edge. But I’m finishing on a simple one which doesn’t take too much to do it justice I hope.

Dave Callan, an Irish comedian who’s apparently big in Australia but whom I’d never heard of until I was told ‘we’re going to see Dave Callan tonight’, has put together a grand Festival experience. Built around the idea of an A-Z (or rather Z to A) of dance styles it’s an exhausting enough show to watch never mind to perform so every laugh feels truly earned – and there are a lot of them. For an hour or so you can enjoy a sweaty middle aged bloke dance his way through the alphabet with a enthusiastic fervour which beats my entire lifetime reserve of energeticness by about 300%. Backed by four incredibly talented young dancers it’s a joke that could easily have worn thin after the first couple of dancing styles (and he covers an awful lot of them) but for the fact that it’s just so well done.

Rather than stretch out the obvious point of not being a professional dancer for comic effect Dave has, by the look of things, actually put a lot of effort into being good enough to make the bits where he looks bad funny. An impressive amount of work which really shines through as the whole thing never slips away from his control as he mixes brief shots of talk with manic interludes. So even as he twerks like he’s stuck in a Dulux paint mixer you can’t help but be impressed by the timing and skill rather than just laughing at the ridiculousness of it. Although with that said I was still laughing for the duration even with the applause at the end being as much for the craft of it as the entertainment. A definite hallmark of a quality show.

It also goes to show just how obvious a really skilled comic is when compared to those who aren’t. I did see shows, which I’m not bothered to review, where the comedy was built on chancing it more than anything. Individuals who may (or may not) have been funny had taken that basic level of talent and run with it, rather than building it into something that really bosses an audience and makes sure they’re with you every step of the way. Which is pretty much the dividing line between a decent evening and one which you can be bothered to sit down the next week and write about with the remnants of a smile on your face and some genuine enthusiasm for it.

There’s not much more to add really, I managed to get a half price ticket for his Fringe show but I’m guessing he’ll be touring somewhere sooner or later so keep an eye out for him. Plus it’d be no surprise to see him pop up on the usual array of panel shows, as he apparently already does in Australia which is almost a shame really. Not for him of course, because you can’t beat that pay day, but it’s never nice to see someone who can put together a show like that end up sat next to Jimmy Carr trying to force a laugh at that talentless gobshite’s latest stolen joke. But now he’s dancing carefree with those happy feet of his and well worth the effort to catch him.

You can follow Dave Callan on Twitter @DaveCallanWit.


Milo McCabe – Genesisocide

People place too much stock in things making sense. As a species we have, at various times, worshipped dog headed Gods, sat people on steel boxes full of high explosives so as to launch them into space, filled stadiums with tens of thousands of people so they could scream at someone running quite fast and piled big rocks up like giant’s Lego. Granted people are always looking for ways to rationalise it all, but at the heart of it humanity just has a long standing love for doing strange shit. We love it. At the lowest level we call it being eccentric, at the highest we take a few thousand years to see a: that it was mad and b: go mad enough to make it seem sane again. It’s what we do and hey, everyone needs a hobby. Dogs chase balls, cats hate and humans turn absurd. Milo McCabe is definitely human.

Milo McCabe’s one man (with many faces) show Genisisocide does have a plot. It even makes sense. If you wrote it down and drew lines from part to part there’d be no dead ends or MC Escher distortions thrown in there. It is however a plot which gleefully makes no sense right up until the point where you look back and see your footprints treading a clear line through the dune-scape of Milo’s mind.

Using an ensemble cast of what could loosely be called impressions McCabe revels in the side notes. Flitting from character to character and idea to idea without ever really losing sight of where the narrative’s going. I won’t say too much about that, the story itself. This review would grow to a tedious length if I tried and what’s more I’d end up having to recreate the whole thing here in front of my screen just to try and translate it into some coherent written form. But to give you the slightest of ideas it involves Bob Geldof, Phil Collins, Phil Collin, Elton John, murder, time travel, more murder and ’90s European Techno. Although at precisely the same time it doesn’t involve any of those things so much as it involves Milo McCabe’s brilliantly eclectic mind.

I have seen some people saying Genesisocide is truly fringe and far from most peoples idea of easy viewing and while it’s certainly not for every audience I wouldn’t go that far myself. What Milo does here is another form from a proud tradition of absurdism. From the Bonzo Dog Band through to Reeves & Mortimer and even my own Laikanist Times (*cough* available now *cough*) there are plenty of people out there embracing the ridiculous with greater or less amounts of depth behind them. It may offer a bit of a shock at first but given a chance it’s a wonderful world of oddity to slip into. Although I will add that, as a stand-up, Milo drives for the laughs and there’s not an ocean of profundity behind the act (*cough*not like Laikanist Times *cough*). That’s no negative though because not making sense, when done right, is an end unto itself and a thoroughly worthwhile one at that. So if you get a chance go and see Genesisocide.

Unfortunately I reckon this show is a Fringe special but I did also see Milo in another show where he stuck to just one personality and all of the same quality was there. Plus I’d be far from surprised if he turned up on TV one day, in one way or another. At the very least someone should throw a few quid at him to give it a try. Otherwise it’s definitely another name to keep an eye out for, starting with following him on Twitter (@MiloComedy). You can also check out his Edinburgh gigs with Gensisocide here if you’re lucky enough to be in town and it’s free, which is always nice.


Author Dylan Orchard’s Site