No Cure for Shell Shock – Out now! (Sticky)

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Well it’s taken a while but my new Prose/Poetry collection No Cure for Shell Shock is officially out! You can buy it online from Amazon in either digital or paperback formats, or if you’re a bit more old school you can order it through your local bookshop of choice. And given the excellent cover design by the very talented Kim Norton I’d recommend going for the physical copy, which is well worth it.

I’d also like to ask that, if you enjoy the collection, you make sure to add your review on Amazon and recommend it to your friends/family/neighbours/strangers/farmyard animals/deities of choice. The only way this works is if you, the reader, make it because for all I can write getting my work into the great big world is still one hell of a challenge.

Anyway, I sincerely hope you’ll have a look and, even better, enjoy it!

No Cure for Shell Shock is intended as the antithesis to the war story. Each part of this collection of poetry and short pieces was designed to search for those lost, silent moments which shape the human experience of conflict but which are left unmarked and uncommented on in the aftermath.

Anti-war by intent the focus throughout is on the human, attempting to find the self that endures beyond comprehension and judgement.

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News of the World

War Journalist

“Go and get some close ups. Don’t forget the faces, always get the faces.”

The cameraman nodded and ran off through the wreckage. He was the perfect tool for her, he did whatever he was told and didn’t hesitate. She had no idea why, most of those she’d found herself stuck with on assignment fitted a familiar mould of moral squalor and self-doubting crusading, the hallmarks of those who seemed most drawn to and repulsed by the work she did as a war correspondent. Everything had to mean something to them, gnarled and numb as they got, there always had to be something for them to prey on in their own internal monologues. Not this new guy though, Ed, a browned and leathery Australian foisted on her on arrival in the war zone, apparently hand picked to work alongside her. From all she’d seen Ed had nothing to him beyond the actions of the job, every trip just a repetition of a well rehearsed routine.

Alone now she could survey the scene of, theoretically, unintentional carnage around her. There were corpses, lots of them. Rubble, dismemberments and still roaring fires made numbers hard to guess at though. A stray arm, a fragmented mosaic of bones, they could mean one death or half a dozen. A drone strike. Perhaps a well planned one but this was a civilian target, a market, even if they’d hit the victim they’d intended a lot more had perished at the same time. Regrettable, collateral damage, a tragedy and no doubt fleetingly mourned by those who’d pulled the trigger even if those giving the orders denied all knowledge of the potential for loss of life. That’d be the way it was sold at least, when a dour faced General delivered his monotone judgement on it.

It had happened less than an hour ago, she was first to arrive. First of the journalists at least. Improvised emergency services, survivors, crying strangers and traumatised looking passers by were all around but they hardly counted. No, from what she could see she was alone in the midst of it all and knowing that a smile crept across her face.

This was the purpose, this was the time, this was what drove her onward. There was something in the air as she walked through the destruction in the supreme isolation of other people’s distraction. Something vibrating through the air and resonating itself into her pores, tensing and easing muscles into a half-nervous peak of… something.

Her last cameraman had called her ghoulish, but then he was a prick. Self-involved and desperately trying to cultivate a drink problem to make up for his glib emoting in the face of anything and everything they confronted on the job. He’d been sad, constantly, nothing deeper than that but that wasn’t enough for him, it had all had to be elevated into something bigger and more special. Natasha had hated him and he’d hated her in return right up until he’d been shipped off to take picturesque long shots of tracer fire from hotel balconies. No loss, not to her anyway.

There was a body besides her. She hadn’t noticed it initially as she’d drifted forward amidst the rubble. Half buried and coated in white dust only the torso and face were showing, the rest covered by concrete blocks and steel fronds from the fallen trunk of a support beam. A man, in his twenties perhaps although death made it hard to tell. Natasha felt another shudder of that something as she looked down at him. How long since he’d died? An hour at most, she’d gotten the call seconds after the explosion and she moved fast. His life had ended and he’d never have realised it. That’d make people sad, if she told them about it, and she might – far be it from her to deny the dead their moment but there were other bodies too, other stories here and only a handful would reach the transmission. The saddest ones, the ones with the most grieving survivors left in their wake, not through Natasha’s choices, that was just the way it was. Networks and editors and audience ratings ordered the meaningful away from the sorry but forgotten detritus. She just stood in the stories, watching them swirl around her, she didn’t decide what they were.

There were sirens now, the last few ambulances that were still working probably. Or the police, or the military, rushing to stand where she was, to make their own contribution to the passing tragedy. That’d mean an end to her solitude as the distracted victims were replaced by a surplus of uniforms, each one eager to feel they could contribute even if it was far too late for the little they had to offer. She had to enjoy the moment while it lasted, enjoy her place in the heart of the already ebbing punctuation mark of minor human history.

Ed appeared in front of her, face as blank as ever, camera levelled and ready.


Like my work? Check out my latest book, support always welcome…

NCfSS cover

 

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Political Division

Trump Power

Politics, at the moment, is defined by division. In the US Trump and Clinton are coming to represent to antagonistic portions of a polarised society, with Sanders as a theoretically retired figurehead for a third faction which is in opposition to the other two, even if some of them have begrudgingly endorse the Democratic candidate. In the UK Labour is battling it’s own internal identity crisis as self-proclaimed ‘moderates’ rally, ineffectually, against the party’s Socialist conscience and history. The Tories too are delicately treading around their own alter-ego, as if Theresa May’s unity act is a cure rather than a bandage for the divisions wrought by the Brexit vote. All around everyone hates everyone and the usual vague sense of consensus – be it legitimate or imposed – is fading away as sides form. In the media too loyalties are being declared along predictable lines, highlighting the joke that is journalistic impartiality when ratings and owners both demand echo-chambers, a protection of personal interests and a neat story line to keep 24 hour news rolling.

None of this is news, really. Anyone can see the divisions manifesting and most people realise that they didn’t appear out of nothing. Nor did they appear out of a Brexit vote or Trump’s candidacy, they’re reflections of societal issues that have been brewing for decades now. And there’s plenty written on which side could, would and should win any one of the factional struggles which have recently clawed their way into the public perception.

The only thought I have to add is one of concern to be honest. The problem with political polarisation isn’t so much that someone will win, although there’s definitely plenty to fear there given some of the challengers. That’s a given though, that’s an observable battle where we can each choose our logical and moral ground and stand on it. What’s more worrying is that other people will lose and, in losing, look for ways to strike back. A mild example is the internal Labour struggle where, by the looks of things, Iron Corbyn will crush the opposition under his brutal Stalinist boot – well, I’ll be voting for him at least. What follows that is the issue though, as the right of the party either leave as they split the party and attempt to drag support away and towards some SDP reboot or stay and repeat the tedious process of challenges, coups and undermining. Embittering their own backers and alienating their opposition as they go, making their own defeat an act of self-sabotage against the Left wing as a whole. That’s a mild example though if you compare current UK politics to what’s surrounding the US election. There defeat for one side or another isn’t going to be a blow against a fairly small political elite who have the power to wreck on a day to day level. There the losing side is going to contain a huge number of voters who’re going to be angry, scared and bitter about the potential results of their candidate missing out. Perhaps rightly so, depending on how fatalistic you want to be. Either way though the illusion of a looming apocalypse is enough to make people act as if the stakes are high and react to them to whatever degree they imagine to be reasonable.

In both countries it seems that those in the media and those in politics are confident in the capacity for the structures of state and society to absorb all this dissent. People will be pissed off, sure, but they’ll accept it and carry on. Most probably will, although some undoubtedly won’t – and even for the vast majority who prefer to live their lives as best they can rather than hand it over to political anger it’ll be another layer of resentment and of disdain for those structures which they’ll feel have misled and cheated them, be it in the media or at the ballot boxes. It’s another sawing away of the support struts of the established structure of state and given the unlikeliness of any real unity or consensus being found whoever wins in these sort of disjointed struggles it’s hard to see anyone moving to repair the damage. And sooner or later that damage undermines the whole thing.

There’s an upside to it all too I suppose. The breaking of the two party system in US politics, the reclaiming of the Labour Party as a Left Wing entity, even seeing the Tories confront their own inner demons regarding neoliberalism and Thatcherist ideals, they could all bring about healthier and more representative landscapes. But the nudging game of hoping for destruction as a precursor to rebuilding is a dangerous one. Again, with the immediate political wranglings you can see the sides, see the issues and see the potential end results. But when it comes to society as a whole and large swathes of the population? There’s no telling how things will fall. And some analysis of that would, for me, be far more interesting than the partisan sniping that surrounds those loudest in their commentaries.

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Immigration Police

UKBA

I’ve had a few friends over the years who’ve fallen prey to the UK Border Agency. I’ve seen them take people away for good and I’ve seen people successfully appeal, I’ve known people who’ve spent years evading them too. It’s always an unequal struggle though. And it’s seldom a question of immigration policy or the relative benefits or failings of it. They, like most figures of authority, act to project their own power as much, if not more, than anything else. The case with Byron Burgers the other day is one example of that, but so are their fishing trips to certain areas or their check points at train stations and transport hubs.

Exercises like that do nothing to limit the flow of people into this country, or to mitigate the factors that bring them here, or open legal avenues for them to come, or hinder those who profit off of their transportation and frequent exploitation. All they do is instill fear in normal people whose status may be uncertain and project a false image of strength and control from the government and its agencies. Which is nice for headlines, if you’re playing to a certain audience, but worthless as far as effecting any real change goes. What does happen though is that it takes those lacking security and makes their lives harder, it makes normal people living normal lives and working normal jobs have to worry on a daily basis about where they go and what they do. An easy example of authorities punching down rather than trying to face the root issues and causes.

There’s no point in trying to demonise those who work for UKBA, no doubt many of them are just doing a job themselves, or believe that what they’re doing is good. But as with any organisation granted power by the state the personal matters far less than the institutional and the results matter far more than the intent. Which in this case makes it hard not to resent them when they bowl up on another speculative hunt for ‘illegal’ human beings.

It spreads beyond the victims too, that resentment and paranoia. Knowing that there are groups of people setting out to grab your friends, co-workers and even strangers you pass on the street is always going to carry a weight on the way you think about the world. Presumably it gives a sense of justice and security to some out there, although I can’t speculate on who or where, but certainly in London, for me, it does the opposite.

Immigration is a big issue these days, subject to endless debate on all levels and that’s a different matter for a different day. The behavior and approach of the authorities though, the actions they take on a day to day level, that’s something easier to judge. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t help and it makes life harder, more suspicious and poorer for all of us. All thoughts to bear in mind when the next ‘tough’ headline on immigration crops up, or when you next go to get a train and see them plucking people from a crowd.

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Innocent Crime

UK Border Police Raid

It was too late to do a u-turn. The officer’s eyes were already fixed on her, indifferently weighing her guilt – or just checking her out – it was hard to tell the innocuous from the threatening when they were in uniform. Either way she’d have to face it out, force her legs to keep moving forward with the steady ease they’d had before she’d turned the corner into the station and run into the wall of authority. Hard to do when her knees were mutineers, almost collapsing on themselves as they battled to turn away and run.

She tried not to look at him as she approached, although her eyes strained to read his expression. Was he bored? Just there because he’d been told to be and happy to idly wave the crowd through? Or was he measuring her, judging her and the rest of them – eager to catch someone out and feel his duty was done? Which one would be better for her? A bored man could still stop her, a keen one could still judge her as irrelevant. She glanced at him, trying to read everything in an instant and failing.

It only took seconds and she was there, within a couple of feet of him, a few seconds that felt long enough to tear her down but far too short for her to ready herself. Would he stop her? Should she stop before he asked? Or would that be an admission of guilt that wasn’t even asked for? The other commuters were seemingly oblivious as they drifted through the strung out line of officers at the entrance, all innocent perhaps, or just better at looking it. While she could feel herself glowing red, steps uneven as he kept his eyes on her.

Within arms reach now. Any second and she’d be finished, a hand would grab her, then the questions and then stolen away to… He nodded, his eyes meeting hers, still hard and blank, but then she was through. No looking back, no hesitation, again she had to force her body not to slump in relief or turn to cast a glance at the fate she’d just escaped. She was part of the crowd again now, she needed to be as indifferent to the check point as the rest of them were, just another face among many, another commuter walking away from the day and returning to normality.


Like my work? Check out my latest book, support always welcome…

NCfSS cover

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