Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Hobbit - Film Review


Spoilers alert – spoilers ahoy – spoilers spoilers everywhere. – for you see even if you have read the book, I really don’t want to give you the misapprehension you know what is about to occur. Stop now….don’t say I didn't warn you.

The film begins with a bang –an eruption of splendour as we are shown the caverns of Erebor, the might of the dwarves, the sudden terror of the great dragon Smaug. It gets the passions going, the hopes building like the very best starter you have ever had, followed by alas, a slow, hazy wistful drawn out introduction to all other things middle earth. The world’s greatest appetiser is followed by porridge of the very worst kind. 

Sickly sweet and without change in pace, tempo, or in the case of our eponymous hero: facial expression.
The director does try to inject into this film the background, the character and the feeling of history that some felt was lacking for the previous trilogy. There is a prolonged detour through Rivendell, there is Radagast the Brown: a scenery chewing, bird crap covered, rabbit coveting turn by Sylvester McCoy and there are nice touches as we journey about the character of the dwarves and the swords they eventually wield.

Thorin is suitably heroic while the others will come into their own in the subsequent outings. But I can’t help but wonder if they have over egged this a little too much. The full audio cast recording done by the BBC for the Hobbit comes in at three hours and forty five minutes. With trailers and the queue for popcorn this is how long I spent in the cinema for the first of three installments.

This is a beautiful work of art, but without soul. It is over made, over worked and in the final analysis, it under performs  being neither adult nor children’s fare. We are drawn into a long journey that we want to take, but despite threats of Trolls, Goblins and even an angry Christopher Lee, we never feel the dwarves terror, fear for their safety or connect with their plight save a single moment when despite it all Martin Freeman manages to move the audience and his dwarvish companions when he tells them why he has stayed the course.

But this is one of only a handful of promising moments, gobbets of joy in an otherwise dull and occasionally silly affair. We will suspend our disbelief only so far. The worst crime in a fantastical journey is that we feel foolish undertaking it. Peter Jackson treads perilously close to this boundary.

It is possible I am being too hard on what is simply the first part of the journey. I hope and pray to the Valar that parts two and three will take a shaky start and create a masterpiece of cinema and storytelling.


Take an extra bag of sweets. Don’t open them till you get to Rivendell. You’ll thank me later.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

This new Bradley Cooper vehicle has been billed as a romantic comedy in some circles – don’t let it fool you – this is much much better.

A film about seeing the world differently and the kindness of strangers.

Pat has had a breakdown. Finally out of hospital he moves back in with his parents on a conditional release, restraining order in place against him preventing any contact with his estranged wife.

But Pat wants her back and can’t understand why she and the world won’t, can’t, see how he has changed and what he wants to put right in himself.

Bradley Cooper doesn't really cut loose with his characterisation of someone suffering from a bipolar disorder - which is a very good thing. His portrayal is nuanced and his speech clipped. He doesn't express madness, but rather flails behind blank blue eyes; creating a sympathy and sadness one feels for the perpetual failure.

Cue Tiffany, a friend’s sister in law with similar issues. The two get together in a platonic bond over a deal. Pat helps her, she helps him. But it becomes much more. Jennifer Lawrence is the sugar in this cinematic brew. Her sudden outbursts veering from control to unhinged elicit the same feelings of despair for her we feel for Pat and as the film progresses we are left wondering as to how there can be a positive outcome.

There are no guarantees and with a real catharsis the viewer is left in an anxious state as we come to the denoument and realisation that no matter how we see the world sometimes we just can’t fix things with words.

The support is excellent. The film’s portrayal of frustration and fear when dealing with the two leads is the real success of an ensemble cast who show off not just the impact of imbalance on those suffering, but also on those they love and who love them.  

This is not a first date movie, but definitely a third date movie you can talk about on a slow walk home.


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Free Book Friday

Check out Free Book Friday - My New Sci Fi Novella - Garden - Free for St Andrews Day

Click Here

Follow me @BarryCooper53

Enjoy and if you liked it - please review!!


Sunday, 11 November 2012


Achilles. How the women used to swoon at the name. Only twenty five he stood a head above most mortals. Long golden hair that had never been cut ran in a plait down his back. He never wore a shirt unless in battle, he barely wore clothes if he had to. He would stride between the tents wrapped in a cloth if anything. Body oiled, hairless and toned like a predator. He was a cockerel, a man who showed off to all, regardless of their station he would make men feel small by comparison. He did not mean to do it. His manner was as beautiful as his body. He would slap men on the shoulders, he would complement them on their days work, and he never forgot a name, ever in the time I knew him. His thick arms would wrap themselves around an unsuspecting ally and he would wrestle them to the ground before they swapped stories.
He loved to listen. He would tell his fair share of tales, but most of all he would love to sit by the firesides during that long campaign and hear of other men’s lives. Their fights, their wives, their children.
He was a student as much as a warrior, a student of war, of killing. He would stop men in discussion as they talked of some conflict or parry and ask them to show him. He would watch them and mimic them, like some grand strategy was playing out in his mind he would twist and turn with them to see why the strike had worked.
He was the greatest of us truly. As kind in camp as he was terrifying to face on the field. His swords would whirl like the claws of an unmentionable beast. Even across the field of battle he could be seen by the plumes of life’s blood set free by his sharpened fury.
He was the reason for our greatest victories and our greatest failures.
It was the start of the conflict that I remember most vividly. The prizes of war captured, gold, silver and gemstones from far away lands. Slaves too. One in particular took Achilles fancy. Briseis. A small girl with hair the colour of coal she was a mouse one moment and then flew at him the next. Scratching at the great Achilles she feinted. Her hysterical lunge a ruse to get her hands on a knife. She whipped it from the belt of the man nearest to her as Achilles threw her off laughing. He didn't see and neither did we. He stood calmly and then turned like a child’s top, her extended arm slashing at the throats of the still laughing men.
By the time Achilles had hold of her arm five men lay dead or dying on the floor. She was not a wild cat, she was not some spirited woman, she was much more. Maybe an assassin sent to slaughter our own kings and heroes, maybe just something more than what she appeared.
Achilles said nothing. He took the knife from her and bound her hands and feet before throwing her over his shoulder and taking her to his tent.
Obviously uproar. Achilles summoned to explain himself before Agamemnon. While he was kept busy the girl was stolen and prepared for execution. Agamemnon wanted to do it himself. She was dragged in. Naked, beaten, raped and thrown on the floor. Achilles was motionless. Of all the men present I had seen him fight the most. He was always controlled, always able to wield his hands as the weapons he wished them to be, but that control was not there in his eyes. He was motionless because he did not know what to do next.
The imperceptible trembling of his hands became more evident as Agamemnon launched a tirade of abuse at the girl. He ranted for a minute or more, his insults and vulgarities ever more colourful.
‘I should keep you alive and chained as a cunt for my guard’ he finally growled.
‘King’ Achilles whispered.
It was a magic, of that I am sure some immortal god made us listen because they knew if we did not we would all have died at Achilles hands.
‘What’ the squat, arrogant king snarled.
‘I will return home or I will stay and fight’ his voice was barely there, afraid to unleash it.
Agamemnon looked stunned.
‘What do you mean by this?’ the king advanced on Achilles, who even bare-chested seemed a bear to the King’s barking hound.
‘If the girl is mine, I stay. If the girl is yours I go. If the girl dies?’ His voice trailed off. The men in the tent were stunned. No one moved, no one said anything. Achilles looked only at the girl.
‘You have twelve days to decide.’
With that he marched out.
Agamemnon was no fool. He needed Achilles and so the girl was easily parted with after he had taken his own amusement with her.
Heroes are the things we admire made flesh. You will never meet your heroes, you will only hear about them and wonder whether they truly were that golden.
Agamemnon sent his brother Menelaus, King of Sparta, to deliver the girl. A bloody mess wrapped in rags she was no more than a corpse with half a breath still in her.
But Achilles kept his word but it was not for her sake that he returned to the fray.
The Myrmidons had grown weary of their leader’s reticence to fight. He stayed in his tent a further twelve days. Tending  to Briseis or fucking his cousin Patroklus. Younger by a handful of summers he was slimmer but still possessed the athlete’s body. He fought with the Myrmidons now, a fully-fledged warrior. They were inseparable during those days. Achilles would joke with me that it was like fucking himself so alike were they.
It was after Hector had beaten us back almost to the beaches that Patroklus acted. Stealing away from his lover he took Achilles armour and his helm. Rousing the Myrmidons from their imposed rest he led them out.
The whole Greek army cheered when they saw him. Our hero, our champion, Achilles was there and he dove into the fray. The armies clashed and he was relentless. Pushing on and on to the city walls he clambered over the fallen to reach up and scale those steep stone ramparts. But the rocks and arrows flew at him. Three times he tried but was finally beaten back. A last surge by the Trojans meant hector and Patroklus were face to face.
Hector, the tamer of horses, the prince of Troy was like nothing I have seen. As big as Achilles or Patroklus he whirled and span like a dancer of death, eventually catching Patroklus in the leg with tip of an extended spear. The boy yelped and was quickly swallowed up by the Greeks who returned with him borne aloft to camp.
But the wound had caught his vital vessels and his blood continued to pour from him. A cry went through the camp that Achilles was hurt until the helm was removed beside his black sailed ships and the truth discovered.
Achilles emerged naked just woken, bemused at the racket. His cry when he saw his lover dead in the sand will remain with me forever. It was the agony of a lover, a bother and a father. He collapsed and gathered the body to him, shrieking vengeance, calling for the Gods to hear him, calling for the earth that bore him to witness his oath of revenge against an entire people.
No one spoke, no one said anything. There was no period of mourning, no period of respect for Patroklus. He was stripped there and then, his naked body left in the dust. When Achilles was ready he knelt, kissing the dead man’s hair, then his heart, then his limp lifeless hands and finally his feet.

No one said anything. Achilles just walked towards the city walls. We followed and we watched. 

Saturday, 10 November 2012


‘You know how I know you’re American?’

The boy asked the grumpy, sweating mess sat at the bar. His backpack tucked nervously between his legs, he turned to the teen. Eyebrow arched.

‘Is this a line’ he said with a slow drawl, ‘you want change or something, go try your luck with the deadbeats outside.’ He turned back to his half pint of beer in a half-hearted nonchalance, head still cocked to one side, eyes as far to the right as they could go, pickling out the scruffy boy. Jeans and a beer stained t shirt with faded lettering. His hair was flat, his face filthy.

‘You know how I know you’re American?’

‘Fuck off kid.’ The man shuffled on his stool.

‘Because you look Dutch, but you have that retard thing going on’ The kid took a step back, the man turned on his bar stool, his raincoat rustled.


‘You look Dutch, but go back two generations and brother and sister are at it like rabbits’ he stepped back again. The man left his perch.

‘I mean look at you.’ The boy circled towards the door of the dimly lit bar. The other patrons were paying close attention now.  A couple seemed amused.

‘You fuck’ the man straightened himself, ‘you have any idea…’

‘Who I’m dealing with?’ the boy mimicked his accent. ‘Not a fucking clue.’ He spat on the floor. ‘There you go, that’s your gene pool there.’ He scoffed and stepped back. Alert, he knew where the door was.

‘You’re a shitty inbred nation of incestuous fucktards’ he grinned at his own inventiveness.

‘You fucker’ the American howled, ‘you little English fag.’ His voice slowly rising, ‘I will fuck you up, you little ass hair, I’m going to fuck you up.’ He took a step and then another. The boy waited a moment then turned and bolted, slamming through the swinging wood and glass Victorian doors a second before the lumbering man, volume high, screaming now unintelligible obscenities as he crashed after the guttersnipe. 

Monday, 5 November 2012

Thus I give up the Spear

I stare at the numbers. They weave and dance in front of me as I flick through the papers. Spread sheets of data, lines of ones and zeros, coded names for the patients, I assign them animals. I finished with the mammals a long time ago. I’m on to the more obscure ocean dwellers, I flick past the A names and Arapaima, Archerfish, and Arctic char. They are all people. People I've met, people I've seen, at least on the cellular level. One might be a Adrenocortical carcinoma from a middle aged woman, her DNA code lodged on a cross referenced page across the room, another a sliver from an Esophageal cancer from a man who smoked all of his short thirty eight year life. I don’t know their names, I don’t see their eyes, but I know them all the same. Their paths, their DNA, the cities that spawned them and the culture that drove their choices into their inevitable demise.

I stare at the numbers and see the pattern. The pattern the computers could not work out, the intricacies of peer pressure and pollution, of DNA and viral catastrophes. I have solved it. In my mind the pieces interlock and form a whole, a disease, as splendid complex infinite monster that stalks and culls the strangers who fall into its multi-layered traps.

It had all started so long ago. A short conversation in a lab. How far were the genetic dispositions to addiction responsible for the cancers associated with them? Then another question. How far were the genetic dispositions to cancer growth linked to genetic dispositions to addiction? And then another question and then another. My mind poured into the genome and I tore out the pages of the book searching for more and more connections.  Then I looked to the world, the air, the water, the very food they consumed, their upbringing. I started to see it all, an interconnected labyrinth of meaning at the heart of which lay a slumbering, terrifying beast that wanted my life one cell at a time.  

I saw it now, I saw the problems, the connections the way the factors moved and whirled and swept through the world. I can see the solutions. The way the puzzle moved under my thoughts, the way it leaps left and right as I prodded and poked in trial and error as I searched for answers. I hear it scream as I remove a number, I hear it whimper as I take a gene, cut a factor; it rages around in my skull indignant I should be so bold, so presumptuous.

You are of our making and we have the right to burn you where you stand. I laugh to myself. It is clear now. It is clear. I can save them. I can save them all.

I turn back to the wall and see her picture, I see her eyes her deep green eyes that were filled with such love, such hope for our lives. I see all of the genes in my mind and I take them to the monster. I see how I could have done it all differently, how it could have worked, how the world would have been so different. The beast laughs at me from behind my own eyes and does barrel rolls in the river of my memory. It sees my death and purses its lips, it sees my faults and failings and knows my time is almost at an end.

I pull a pen from the lapel pocket and walk to the blank snow field of the whiteboard. As I touch the tip to the board I hear a satisfying scream. I begin to write and know I will not stop until everything has poured from me. By the time I am done I will be gone, dead, my energy spent. But I will make this one last thrust.

‘For hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee’

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Skyfall Review

When you have a bond film the excitement comes with the discovery of the plot as you experience it in the theater  To give you an honest impression about this film, this franchise, which is as familiar to you as the nursery rhymes your grandmother told you, I have to avoid all mention of the story, the plot, the angle of attack, the nuance of character. I have to give you a feeling for the film that will allow you to say, yes, that’s my kind of place to be, or no….British super spy W.T.F? I don’t want to ruin the journey you get to take.

Bond films can be all alike. The Brits have a problem, they have a man they can call on. He can be vicious (Connery) Suave (Moore) Cartoonish (Lazenby), Rough (Dalton) or even ready (Brosnan). Only recently in the last three films has James Bond actually been a killer. Much credit goes to the writers of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and the latest, Skyfall, for making a Bond we believe could do you some serious damage, while at the same time being a human being who does things for a reason.

 So what can I tell you about Skyfall?

I can tell you those reasons are all there in Skyfall. Loyalty, Country, Anger, Vengeance and even Love are rolled into a film that is as much about the world of dysfunctional families as it is about espionage and action.
I can tell you Bond is damaged and has to face a threat like he’s never experienced.

I can tell you Javier Bardem gives a performance as the villain that is truly brilliant.

I can tell you it looks beautiful and despite some nods to the past it provides cinematography that is at the same time familiar and different to the Bond cannon.  Sweeping cityscapes and romanesque labyrinths sit alongside neon glass houses and deserted cities.

What you do notice about this film eventually is that it is not about the physical journey. It is about the personal one. Who is James Bond? The director’s use of reflection, close up, the minutiae of expression all try to capture what has been for so long elusive, the reason for Bond’s being.

And at the film’s conclusion you are still in doubt. But during your journey you will have seen moments, albeit fleeting moments, of the truth of James Bond. You will have connected. It will have been with a look, a movement, an action or a word that pass too quickly for you to be sure. Because even the filmmaker cannot unravel and make bare the closed book, the quintessential Englishness of James Bond.

But trust me. By the time the credits roll you will feel you know him, just a little more.

What you know? Well that depends.


Check out the rest of the blog or my latest novella here 

Friday, 26 October 2012

No One

The city is smaller than I remember it. A boy when I left almost, away, to sea, sailing across the wine darkness into the rosy fingers of dawn on that morning. The Queen and the court on the docks, cheers and sadness together.
The gates are rotten. The bronze bolts stick out at angles. It will be one more winter before it drops of its hinges.
I pass people in the street. Young maidens in the latest low cut dresses. They are plentiful, some of an age you would expect to be married. Their mothers walk behind them talking, the market vendors cry out half-heartedly, the words are impotent on their lips and fade away to disappointment. The girls giggle. As they always do.
I see the palace atop the last hill. Defensible, impregnable. But not now. It is not a large hall. Enough for a hundred and then on the far side a series of rooms built into the steep hillside in and around an ancient Olive grove. The bedroom is there, I must remember the bedroom.
The Cowherd, the swineherd walk to my side. I have been invisible thanks to their magic. Rags from dead men, the stench of cow, pig, the fields on me. My hair is loose, long and knotted, my hands gnarled. Or so it would seem.
‘Supplicants are at midday’ Eumaeus growls in his low country voice. ‘We must make haste.’
We shuffle up the hill. I see old sights as I go. The old women washing, the orange tree at the midpoint of the hill. It is bare. The undressed branches are the sprawled hands of a woman I would rather forget. Circe and her cold hard eyes.
We enter the hall. It is empty apart from the long table and the Queen, supported by a handful of men and women. From what Eumaeus tells me they are all suitors in one fashion or another. A tall man speaks in Queen Penelope’s ear while the women fawn and flutter. She is at the centre of a web, caught, yet uneaten. The tallest of the men extends an arm and I feel myself tense at the disrespect as he lays a hand on my Queen, the Queen I have not seen for those long years.
It is custom. Here in Ithaka once the king is dead his son will inherit, and if no sons are found then the kiong can choose his own son from the men of the city. If there is no king, all the Queen has to do is declare him dead and choose a mate, a new husband to share her bed.
Penelope has held on for ten long years. Power in her hands, but power to condemn herself. Telemachus is dead. My own son, taken by fever only a year into my journey. The hopes of a homecoming dashed.
I shuffle across the smooth floor. The herdsmen stand well back. Philoetius and Eumaeus.
‘Queen’ I whisper, staggering, playing to the crowd. The tall man, Antinous looks down at me as if I am disease come for him in the night.
‘Argh, wretch’ he squeals, ‘Queen, why do you allow these men into your presence?’
The woman turns to him and speaks with slow deliberate words.
‘You eat my food suitor, you drink my wine, yet you will not show respect to the people who bring it to you.’
‘Queen’ I gasp, ‘I meant no disrespect, I am simply a humble man who has fallen on hard times as he has journeyed home.’
‘You are welcome here stranger’ she speaks without looking at me and I am thankful lest there is some recognition in her eyes. I back away as Antinous seethes. His eyes are cold but his hands are soft. He is a man who talks of war while others die.
That night I return and sit at the very lowest point possible. Eumaeus and Philoetious wait outside, turning a rabbit over a pit fire and talking.
The hall is long and narrow. The single table crowded by the men of the island. The old and the rich, the young and the hopeful. The lady of the island sits alone, to her left a single wooden, driftwood throne. Beaten but unbroken the chair is a sentinel over a raucous group of suitors for her hand. The kind long since vanished to the War, not yet returned, not yet confirmed dead. His presence is everywhere, and yet no-where.
‘I can tell stories’ I pipe up. Embarrassment in my voice, a calm set of eyes in my skull. One or two of the suitors turn and look at me. They see what I want them to see. A dark haired dirty stranger begging for scraps from the plates of great men. They turn away. I continue to speak.
‘I can tell stories’
‘No one cares vagrant’ one shouts. I duck as a wooden cup splinters against the stone doorway.
‘I can tell stories of the sea’ more cries for me to shut up, more cries for me to know my place. More food is thrown. Some hits, most misses. I watch a piece of bread loop from the far end of the table and catch it. I stand upright and bite a piece from it. Chewy and covered in gravy and spittle, nevertheless, I have eaten worse. I think about the horseflesh, and then the gull eggs and the sea kelp and finally rotting carcass of some great beast found washed up on the shores of Phaecia. I wince as I chew and remember the dogs that danced about its rib cage and the way the fat had started to drip from the leviathan in the heat.
‘I can tell stories of the islands’ I cry above the noise, above the cacophony of the anger and irritation. The men all turned to me now, they all looked with hatred. I am unclean, yet I dare to speak. I bite again into the bread. My eyes fixed on the lady alone. More missiles fly at me, I duck and weave. A few strike me, but none is sharp enough to cause harm.
‘I can tell stories of the heroes’ I yell, ‘I know them all’
This really angers one who stands and reaches for his belt to find no sword is there.
‘Dog’ he cries, ‘I should whip you. ‘The lady has no need for your tall tales and hopeless hopes.’ 
I move closer to him. I stink of the fields and he is revolted.
‘Please master’ I look at the lady as I speak, ‘I ask only to repay the lady for her kindness with a few tales of the war.’
As I say the word they all stop. They all look and they are all as one silent. There is only one war. The war that their king has yet to return from. The war that means potential heirs line up to marry the powerbroker on the island. The Queen sits still and steady, waiting forever for her husband. Yet weakening, and soon to succumb no doubt to the will of some angry, hungry man who wishes to wear kingship upon himself with no knowledge of its meaning, of its price.
The lady rises and beckons me forward. I stop at the very end of the table next to those least likely to succeed in stealing her away from the absent man. The young and the befuddled sit, drinking to excess. They ignore me, but the lady calls.
‘What story can you tell of the war stranger’ she says. Her voice is like the morning when it catches a dewy olive tree. It is oranges and yellows and lightness and grace.
‘I can tell all of it my lady’ I say.
‘And how can you be so certain of your tales?’
‘I was there when the city fell’ I say calmly. ‘When the trap split wide and your brave king and the troops of the late lamented son of Peleus tore the city asunder, I was there.’
I stare at the woman, wondering if there is any recognition in her eyes. He has been practiced these long years in holding her own counsel, but perhaps she suspects.
‘And what is your name stranger’ she asks, ‘we must know before we hear your tales.’
‘I would gladly give it my lady,’ I say, ‘but it is now lost, taken from me long ago. Now, across the wine dark sea I am simply nobody.’  
As I told the tale that they wanted I remembered not the glory, or the heroics, but the realities of our daring plan. The horse left as an offering. Contained within five soldiers who had drawn straws to be with the cunning Odysseus. It was a risk. They could well have burned us alive. But luck, fate, some madness in a city tormented by hunger. Whatever it was they dragged the beast to the heart of their home, still arguing all the way about whether they should burn it as an offering in the city. We lay still in between the timbers. 
The city breathed only gently in the morning. The screams and orgy of panic from the night before had given way to whispers and weeping. The central square was a butcher’s yard. Barrows continued to come from all quarters as Diomedes supervised the gathering of corpses to burn in offering.
Agamemnon sat aloft on the King’s dais. His brother Menelaus stood to one side. His barely recognisable wife by his side: pale, unconnected to the reality of what was happening before her. There was only the occasional flicker of eyes searching the meat for a recognisable face, a shield, a crest. Her children of the last ten years had been thrown from the battlements with the exception of her eldest daughter, now wrapped in rope in line with the rest of the remnants of the Trojan people.  She had been lured away by her prince and would now pay the price of her happiness in full along with the rest of the city.
Every man that could be found was slaughtered, every boy gelded and every woman thrown in rope shackles. There must have been a thousand men piled on the blood soaked dust and more arrived every moment. The fire would burn for a day and the stench of charred flesh would no doubt remain in the air and on the stones for another ten years.
By the remnants of the horse lay the gelded boys. Some would bleed out, Infection would no doubt claim half within a few days. The rest would survive to become beasts of burden.
In the distance horns were being blown as the horsemen hunted down the remainder of the scattered Trojans. A few would no doubt escape into the Anatolian flats, possibly even as far as another settlement. Their ships were burned. Whoever had run would find themselves no better than if they had stayed. Eventually death would come to all.
I strolled through the city we had longed to occupy for so long and saw all of its splendour smashed and burned by the rampage of an army without joy or women for so long. Bloody patches where infants had been dashed against the light sun baked stone before being gathered up only to die in their mother’s arms a few paces later. Snatched away and thrown aside while the women were raped by an army that would show no mercy.
The streets were death now. The cold after a frenzy. The cleaned platter after a meal. Bones and loose flesh in the teeth of a conflict now at rest, digesting.
The late morning brought the wailing of the women. Like a north wind they were led through the city. Bloody and bowed under the yoke of their new masters. Split up and given to the captains of the fleet. They were chattel, the spoils of war. The dinner guests were regaled with the treasures of troy as I thought on this. My lips speaking of the gold and silver statues of horses and Gods they would laugh at while my mind thought only of the stench of dying and dead and the empty eyes of the woman they had used as the excuse for this carnage.
The suitors applaud as I finish my tale with lists of the treasures taken. I do not tell them of my sickness at the memories or of the callous horror. They want to hear about war, not experience it.
A man mentions Agamemnon and another calls for his tragic tale. I cannot bear to think of the man, but I will continue to relay what they want to hear.
They want to hear about the tragedy of Agamemnon. The king was a cruel man. His build short, stocky, without grace, without natural balance. He was a hacker of men, an arm hidden behind a chariot as it rode into the fray. His guard would die, but not him.
The dinner never heard of his lust for the Trojan lands, his desire so great he wanted to demonstrate, to prove to the Gods he was the man to do it, to take them, his resolve was such that he slew his daughter.
The tales differ depending on who you hear from. The romantics say she was spirited away the moment the blade touched her skin, his devotion proved the winds favourable. The truth is raw. Men who knew wept as they told me how the girl was dressed and brought to dinner. A dinner in her honour as eldest daughter. The mother Clytemnestra stood there beaming at her husband’s adoration for her beauty, the youngest siblings to one side marvelling at their father’s previous disdain become love and celebration.
The captains of the ships were there. The feast went on and then to the fire pit they went. Priests there, waiting for the sacrifice that would mean good winds and victory. Long robes, ancient beards, frail and uncaring, they knew.
Agamemnon called his daughter to him and asked her if she wanted success for their endeavour, she said yes, with all her heart. Then he signaled and the priests bound her. The storyteller recalled the tears in her eyes, the confusion, the anger and then finally the terror as she realised what she was to him. No more than a means to an end.
I want to tell you that she vanished, that she was spirited away to some far land. Her throat was cut as she screamed for mercy, mother held back by the sea captains, father watching intrigued at the outcome. Whether his sacrifice would be great enough for the success. The priests dismembered her and burned the offerings, removing the liver, blemish free to show the assembled horde who paused as if wondering who they were before a roar of triumph grew from whispers and they marched back into the hall for the rest of the feasting.
They left the mother and children sat in the bloodied dust.
They had not forgotten when the great king returned. He was welcomed as a hero. I sanitised the return, the slaves being pulled off the boat and passed to the troops for their delectation, the gaudy spectacle of his return to the castle atop the great hill. We were welcomed as guests and there at the gates to the citadel were Clytemnestra, Electra and Orestes; the children now grown into a man and woman who held each other too closely to be brother and sister.
As an honoured guest I sat at the head of the table and in the midst of the feast I heard Clytemnestra tell Agamemnon.
‘Husband, I wish to wash the blood and dust off of your feet, I have prepared a bath for you.’
Agamemnon was a lustful man and she knew this more than most. Seven maidens appeared, all barely covered wearing the thinnest cloth to disguise themselves, but leave their bodies unhindered.
‘The women of the best men wish to thankyou as well.’
The great king lurched from his chair and away with the women. I can only report what I later saw. When looking for the king to make my peace and return to the beached ships I found the bath. Deep set in the floor of the room. He sat at one end, for a moment seeming at rest in the shadowy light, attendants either side of him. I crept forward with greetings and saw too soon that his arms were not rested, but pinned with great bronze spearheads to the side of the bath. His mouth was stuffed with burned rags of his long dead daughter and his throat had been opened with the sharpest of knives.
Brother and sister, naked and shivering knelt in front of him as his life slowly drained from him. His breath drawn now through the great maw in his neck. In the shadows behind emerged the queen. Naked her flesh was tight against her skin, age had been fought by anger and she could have been ancient or a maiden. In that moment she was beyond all creatures I have seen.
‘You are no one’ she called.
‘I am’ I replied.
‘You are not the same as when I saw you last.’
‘As is our way, dread Queen.’
‘Your intent?’ Both brother and sister had stood; they turned and faced me, clutching each other like lovers. Bloody water ran across their oiled skin.
‘To beg your leave to return to my ships. Home is a long way.’
‘Will you see home?’ she asked, bending and stroking the dying man’s hair.
‘One who is hated will return to Ithaca’ I said and turned.
My last vision of Agamemnon was the bronze knife of his wife slicing into his neck: his eyes bulging and his last bloody breath rasping over his vengeful wife and children. 

Sunday, 14 October 2012


Below the introduction to a new Novella - out on Kindle this Autumn

‘Hello Garden’

The cover of the small book is blank bar the title; my name. It is embossed in old fashioned type, the letters dig into the creamy cartridge paper. Like the front page of a movie script trying too hard. A smudge of lipstick smeared across the front like a butcher’s thumbprint. The red makes me feel uneasy. An omen in a real library or a deliberate message here in the depths of the new unreal.
Then I open it to the greeting. There on the first page the words whisper to me.
‘Hello Garden.’ Two words are there, printed stark against the white page that doesn’t exist in the library that cannot be.
I can hear a voice say my name. I can hear her voice.
She knows I am here. The web vibrates and draws her in.
 ‘Hello Garden.’ The voice like dates and caramel.
I turn the page and memories I have forgotten rise like floodwater. I am condemned.

It had all started this morning so simply, so peacefully.

Forgive me, but I want you to understand before I go on, even in this prehistoric medium. Words on a page, typed with my own fingers: mechanical, abrupt. I will write it as it happened. I cannot think in any other way. So ‘I am’, not ‘I was’. That’s the hope for now.
In my present world to experience in the past is to be unconnected. Everything I feel, everything I experience I do in real time. If I engage it is immediate, if I learn it is as if I was there unless I am searching some long lamented archive with my fingertips.
My mind has been altered so my memories are experiences I access as readily as a file on a computer to be played again and again. Like a teenager’s favourite, tortured track repeatedly pounding from behind a bedroom door.
In the twenty third century the world is here and now and at once. The past, present and maybe future are concepts that are slowly dissolving from language and from understanding as brains connect to the ever growing homogeneity of humanity.
This is my lesson. This is my punishment. I have been left my memories to access as I please, but their recollection must be transcribed, hammered out as interpretation rather than real; my fingers bruising themselves against a typewriter in my personal prison.
I have been reduced, my thought process redacted. 
You could not comprehend it, not until you have experienced it.
To have the world in your mind and to then be separated; it is a death and I am in my own private hell.
All I have is my memory and I will give it to you again, until she is happy, until she sees fit to release me to the universe once more.
I begin again and hope.
I wake in the usual way. My internal clock rouses me from REM sleep at the optimum point. Eyes open, moist, alert: I see my ceiling: corniced in a Victorian style, but stark white. The newsfeed scrolls across the bottom of my vision in pale blue and the messages wait in the top right. The information sits deep in my periphery, floating icons an arm’s length away, unless I consciously retrieve them to my foreground with a flick of my eyes or hand.
The pale green bulb telling me I have messages flashes the figure three and I lie back on my Japanese style bed, using my fingers to scroll through them like a cat batting at imaginary yarn. Two from my finance manager who wants me to invest in books.
I chuckle without sound. As no such thing as a book has been printed in fifty years the first edition market has erupted and there’s a twentieth century First edition Rowling he thinks we can get a share in. Putting my resources in printed paper is as crazy as putting them in paper money. I watch the first video message. His face appears as if he were before me, floating in a hazy facsimile of a chaotic office. I marvel that in an age of complete disclosure he still sends video messages from a rundown apartment amidst piles of papers. He is good, but he’s not image conscious. I delete both and add a note to my calendar to call him next week before storing the memory of the call.
The last message has no return address, no content other than a time. I don’t need to look at a clock. An internal chronometer tells me all I need.
I have twenty minutes before potential new employers make contact.
More than enough time for coffee.
I stand, stretch and walk to the kitchen counter to go through the physical routine of preparing an espresso. My apartment is vast and without walls: white minimalist furniture and cupboard spaces seamlessly hidden. My kitchen is shiny white enamel with only the barest obsidian touches. The counter sits flush against the wall and a single stool grows organically from the floor before a small island that leaves me leaning on a view out across the New York skyline through floor to ceiling windows.
The espresso machine is new, I could operate it with a single command, but I remember the old way. I remember the steaming two tone machines and coffee houses with cranking baristas working magic as they produced delicate cups of foaming oily blackness: crema with the aroma of history and travel. It makes me think of a moment I can’t remember.
I sit down and stare at the jagged skyline raising the white cup and dark sticky wake-up to my mouth, breathing in the memory. This happens to me more often than not.
Our brains are connections. Synapses from recognising the smell run a signal all the way to a memory that has an association. For me sometimes the memory is just not there; saved instead in a data file, safe from outside eyes, freeing my mind for other things. Every time I smell coffee it hits one of those dead ends and instead my memory ends in a small warning message, a red dot appearing in my periphery. The person, the event that it wants to run to is set in a series of ones and zeros locked safe in a separate drive. For most memories it is just in the hard storage surgically implanted into my brain, but for some memories the external drives need to be used. Locked safe away from me, they are the things that even I don’t want to know.
 It takes a while to get used to. But the universe is just too big now. For any sane person to live and work and interact in the modern world you have to file away what you don’t need. 

Friday, 5 October 2012

Woochi: Demon Slayer

A film with time travelling Goblin Rabbits trying to steal a pipe that will….I don’t know what.
This is Asian cinema at its best. A story built on eastern story telling. Young buck, wise old master, humorous sidekick (who may or may not be a dog of indeterminate gender) and a love interest with guts and gumption when needed most.

Following the apprentice Wizard Woochi (Don Wong-Kan) and his shape shifting Dogberry esque friend Chorangyi and their hunt for the magic that will make Woochi’s name and Chorangyi human.

Fight scenes of inventiveness that take the stylistic quirks of the later Matrix films and make them great, comedic timing and watch out for the reality of magic in the second act (21st century) as we find out what would really happen if you had to seek out a magic painting at two in the morning in downtown Pyongyang.

Betrayal, magic, drunken Taoist gods who can’t seem to get anything right and a downbeat upbeat ending that wraps the film up in the brilliance of the eponymous hero’s own imagination.

This is a film for teenagers, lovers of story and people who don’t take themselves seriously.

Big bag of popcorn.

Get it now 

Saturday, 29 September 2012


Joe is a Looper. In the future when you want to disappear a body, back it goes in time to a desolate field in the deep mid-west to Joe and his blunderbuss. There he will blow a hole in the hapless rube before taking the pay strapped to their back.

And the pay is good but the price, as Joe finds, is even higher. When Joe fails to end his own future self a tsunami of organised criminality comes after him.

The film is clever and walks the fine line between standard fare and wrapping itself in its own smugness. The performances are touching at times and brutal in others. There are themes that get explored here for the first time in mainstream cinema that had all 6’10” of me wincing in a way I haven’t experienced since Old Boy and the live octopus. The film asks the question ‘What would you do to save the one you love?’ The answers are extremes that creep up on you and the characters slowly as they are cut free of their own time.

It is genuinely original and there are elements you don’t expect at. However fans of the new Sci-Fi wave will recognise a Deus ex Machina when they see one and while it does not flag you down in the first act, it certainly wolf whistles.  

The film has more in common with another Willis vehicle, the trippy and ultimately circular 12 Monkeys than it does with the other summer Sci-Fi fare (please avoid Total Recall I beg you!). While it works and works well it could have been more. The bite of the Looper’s cruelty is panned away from too often and the potential horrors of the future are only referenced in passing. This denies the audience the chance to really connect with the choice that has to be made.

In all a cerebral film that will certainly keep the conversation going past the starter on date night.

 If you are still discussing it with your dessert I would respectfully suggest you were not paying close enough attention.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Silly Boy

Elizabeth drew her finger across a pale, white, lead covered throat.

Walsingham stopped and looked at her waiting for a sign she might change her mind. It was made up though.

He moved with speed past the courtiers and into the grand chamber of the Privy Council. There in chains at the rebel Essex. The boy looked up, almost laughing, his queen would save him, his lover would pull him from this silly mistake. A lover’s quarrel.

‘Sir’ Walsingham bid him rise. Two men stood at his back, their bodies tense for any fight the callow youth might give.

‘She will see me’ he stated, walking forward. Walsingham halted him with a word.
‘What?’ the boy’s scream curdled the air. ‘You lie, my queen, my Bess, I am here, please!’
Walsingham drew himself up, he was old, but he was strong enough to do this.
‘You have made a silly error boy’ he said, ‘and now you will pay for it.’
The boy turned man too quickly for Walsingham. His hand shot to his throat and a strength that he could not have imagined gripped him, a vice that clasped the flow of air tightly shut and refused to loosen. Walsingham could see the guards hack at him with their clubs to beat him down as his own vision started to blur. Just as his world faded from light to black he was released, wheezing, clasping at his aged neck. He felt buckling and injury, but he could breathe well enough.

Three men held the Earl of Essex on the floor, he writhed like a snake, like the serpent that put the apple before eve.
‘I fucked that old whore’ he laughed, ‘I fucked her and fucked her and fucked her, and look what good it has done me.’ Walsingham turned his back.
‘Hear me old man, I drove my shaft into your Queen and she cried out like the whore of Babylon herself.’
Walsingham gripped the hilt of his sword, his anger rising. He looked away.
‘I will let everyone know on the block old man, I will let every true subject know their Queen is no Virgin, she has tasted man, she has tasted me, oh so often.’
The old master of spies turned back to Essex. The temptation to strike him was supressed as he leaned in, rasping through his damaged throat.
‘My Queen’ he said, ‘I regret to inform you that before sentence could be carried out the Earl of Essex took his own life.’
The boy looked stunned as the withered hand of the Queen’s councillor whipped a dagger from his side and drew a line across the prone Earl’s throat. The injured man protested through bubbling blood that rose from a second mouth.

‘She is my Queen’ Walsingham spat, his voice rolled into a growl, ‘she is your Queen’
The stunned men holding the cooling body of the Earl of Essex nodded their appreciation for the old man’s meaning.

Corn Laws

David William Oswald Cameron stood patiently on the stage. The election was almost concluded.  With yearly voting since the charter was established in 1852 under Lord John Russell it had been nearly five governments in one hundred and sixty years. The leaders changed, but the makeup was always the same. The Liberals and the Socialists, depending on the level of support one then the other.

The working classes plumped for each in turn depending on the needs of the nation and the promises of the reds.

David thought back to his history lessons and wished for the old days of prolonged government, seven year terms for Members of parliament. As a conservative/fascist he was doomed to always be on the outside of government looking in. Convincing a man it could be better when he already has food and a roof is tricky.

Banking regulated, industry in the hands of the government, a century and a half had made the country rich. Staying the course as other nations rose and fell under dictatorships or communist nightmares, constitutional socialism with a liberal bent, or constitutional liberalism with a socialist bent had retained the Empire and built a superpower.

He couldn’t help thinking there might be a better way. It was what he had signed on believing. Perhaps wealth through an unregulated market could provide greater benefit for the society. With the gap between poorest and richest slim at best in the Empire with only a few who rose higher it would be a way for more to make more, but there would always be consequences.

That was the bet he asked his constituents to take every year he stood, every May fifth when he went to the ballot box. He had been returned seventeen times, but with diminishing returns, he may falter this time.

Johnson was standing against him. A socialist party thinker not in parliament he had been born an American, but believed in Empire. His blonde hair bobbed up and down as they waited for the call. The returning officer to come back and pronounce status quo or all change.

Johnson turned and said something in Latin.

‘Smug sonofabitch’ David thought.

Saturday, 8 September 2012



Created in the 1970s on a diet of anti-heroes and Clint Eastwood’s grizzled chin, Judge Joe Dredd patrols Mega City One dispensing justice as judge, jury and sometimes overly creative executioner. With the first film outing in 1995 an overstyled  (to quote Clint from Heartbreak Ridge) ‘clusterfuck’; this version had to distinguish itself from that Jean Paul Gaultier festival to hook back the fans.

Urban, starring as the main man, managed to do this well before release with the reveal that Dredd does in fact keep his helmet on. In a society that seems to revel in what gets taken off it’s refreshing to see art that values restraint, reserve and the beauty of understatement.

This reserve does not extend to the violence. This is Mega City One as the spotty youth to which I belonged imagined it. It hurts the eye to watch the misery and cheap life flow through the cracks in the radiation-stained concrete one minute and experience the magical drug-filled bliss the next.

Through this world of pitiful contradiction Dredd strides like a constant. The man’s presence is such that as his dialogue becomes ever more truncated, his impact increases to the extent he can deliver one liners without a word.

Alongside him is rookie judge Anderson (Thirlby): psychic and damaged, she is a perfect counterpoint for Dredd. With an earnest desire to ‘make a difference’ the struggle to reconcile her vision of justice with the absolutes of the world of 2000AD gives the film a depth that takes it beyond actioner and into social and moral commentary.

With a plot centred on Anderson’s first and possibly last day on the job, her character is set directly against the deliciously deviant Lena Hedley as drug lord Ma Ma. Almost a mirror to each other, both characters are scarred by the nightmare future and pushed either side of the law.

Dredd occupies the centre: implacable, unreadable. Like Harry Callaghan before him, if we ever asked him why he did what he did, day after day, year after year, well, we’d never believe him if he told us.

9 out of 10

Monday, 3 September 2012


The first moon landing in fifty years. Chazz Hart manoeuvred the thrusters with a feather light touch. The computer could probably do this, but he did not want to rely on maths when he could rely on his hands.
The communications came with a slow feed from mission control. The solar activity meant a delay as sound was transmitted and up to a minute for the visuals to reach earth. It was only 2 light seconds, but still the delays kept happening.

‘First men on the moon’ Gil Rogers said aloud so mission control could hear. ‘Just kidding NASA’ he laughed and checked the instruments again as the lunar module descended. Ten crew and another ten in orbit, this was his baby and he wanted it all to himself.

Gil had joked the week before with Chazz about the rumours of faked landings, of old men finally admitting it had all been a fraud. Chazz had not believed it, he had seen the tapes, he had seen the evidence brought back. Besides, they would now see for themselves. Lunar rovers, module stands, even golf clubs had been left on the surface. They would land close to the original site.

The craft was almost there. Chazz started to yell out the metres. ‘One hundred, ninety, eighty, seventy.’ 
Gil was calm and rechecked the details on the instruments. The cameras were working but showed only dust at the moment blown up by the thrusters as the craft descended.

There was a clunking sound as they touched down. Gil touched his headset.

‘NASA, the eagle has landed’ he paused for effect, ‘again.’

Chazz turned to the crew behind, strapped into their positions they were whooping and air fiving. He flicked the cameras to long range and scanned. He knew they were close to the eagle landing site, in the distance he saw an outcrop that could be it.

He stopped the camera dead on what looked like a module platform in the distance. There was a momentary pause before he let out a cry.

‘Holy Fuck’

‘Eagle please repeat’, NASA came through, on his headset.

‘You’ll see for yourself in a moment NASA.’ Chazz tapped the jubilant Gil on the shoulder and pointed to the screen. His face grew dark.

A complete lunar module was there in the distance. It’s design reminiscent of the Soyuz capsules used by the Russian space agency. There was no light, no life, a single crumpled figure lay twenty metres or so from its base at the floor of a flagpole bearing bright red and gold.

Originally written for -

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Total Recall

There comes a time in every cinema goer’s life when he realises despite the completely new actors, effects, concepts and plotline he has seen every inch of the movie before.

Total Recall is set in a future world where the earth (ruined by our stupidity as usual) is inhabited in Europe and Australia. However The United Federation of Britain (Europe) is the big boss, demanding workers from the Colony (Australia - Yes they actually call themselves that) to support their evil imperialist aims. Imagine Winston Churchill’s dreams of  British Empire crossed with futuristic cliché and you have the idea.

In the midst of this is a story about a man with two identities. Colin Farrell, married to Kate Beckinsale visits a company (Rekall) to give him memories he can return to in the squalor of his existence in the Colony. But his brain holds its own secrets and soon all hell is let loose as Farell scrambles across the remnants of society to discover the truth.

There are a few nice innovations and nods to the 1990 Paul Verhoeven classic. But the reboot misses a trick. The film is half as clever as it thinks it is, and it doesn’t give itself that much credit. Beckinsale (star of lycrasmash Underworld) is dull, Farell looks lost, Jessica Biehl is stunning and Bill Nighy bemused by the whole affair.

It really does feel like a movie you’ve seen already despite all the innovation and the effect is quite disconcerting. It’s a half marks and a must try harder. I recommend if you want a movie this week you take the other half for a good meal and wait for Dredd.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


I watched the flames lick higher at the woman chained screaming to the post. The white polished marble of the ruined church flickered with the light of the bonfire and the brands that so many of the people carried. In the corner a weeping man held himself, chained at the ankle he rocked back and forth, worrying the wounds around his legs, blood trickled onto the ground.

The songs of the faithful rose higher.  The man wailed louder. He kept shouting the same words.' I am sorry, I am sorry. I cannot, I cannot.'

 An unusual fear was in his eyes. Perhaps he was next? Hiding behind my mother’s skirts as she stood rigid, glaring at the coughing girl about to be consumed by the heat and smoke of the fire. There was no rain or breeze.

The priest walked around the outside of the pyre chanting. His black robes dusting the floor. The man in the corner stood. His legs and shoulders creaking and straining. Emaciated, withered, his veins bulged against the effort. The men by his side did not see, watching as they were the growing blaze.

I felt I was the only one who saw. The man in his rags and bloodied legs stepped out of his chains but moved no  further. He saw me stare and raised his finger to his lips. I want to say I saw yellow eyes and fire and anger come from him, I want to say that he was a demon who struck the blow that day, but he was not. He was a starved man who whispered something to the wind.

He stepped forward and moved through the crowd. No one saw him, no one moved. Their eyes fixed on the curling yellow and orange light of God’s fury. He stepped into the fire and held out his hand. The woman strained at her chains, closed her eyes and then took a simple step forward. The ragged man helped the woman in her white soot darkened smock from the flames.

They walked towards me. Hand in hand. They passed but the frail sickly man stopped and knelt.
‘Do you hate me child?’ he asked.

I shook my head.

‘Here’ he held out his hand. ‘You will come with us, you will be safe. I promise.’

I took his hand and slipped past my mother’s skirts. They brushed my cheek as I walked away from her. 

Into the distance I saw the town and started to make for the lights. Behind me I started to hear a rumble of thunder and then the cacophony of crowd in panic and fear for their lives.

 I looked at my arms and brushed dust from my sleeve.

‘Do not look back’ he whispered.

Monday, 27 August 2012


The cover of the small book is blank bar the title reference. It is embossed in old fashioned type, the letters dig into the creamy cartridge paper. Like the front page of a movie script trying too hard. A smudge of lipstick smeared across the front like a butcher’s thumbprint. The red makes me feel uneasy. An omen in a real library or a deliberate message here in the depths of the new unreal.

Then I open it to the greeting. First page. The words whisper to me.

‘Hello Garden.’ Two words are there, stark against the white page that doesn’t exist in the library that cannot be.

I can hear a voice say the words.

She knows I am here. Maybe she has even invited me.

 ‘Hello Garden.’

I turn the page and memories I never knew I had raise like floodwater. I am condemned. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Do religions serve our societies or do societies serve our religions?

Scotland wants to introduce same sex marriage. Not the civil partnership – we have that – marriage – in a church.

This morning 500 Catholic parishes issued a letter condemning the move in words that can at best be described as anti-gay and worst as religiously motivated homophobia.

Do religions serve our societies or do societies serve our religions?

I stand; or rather sit aghast at the temerity of the Catholic Church as it tries to force itself and its antiquated views on the population of this great nation of Scotland.

I’m an atheist, which in the spirit of disclosure and fair play I’ll admit right from the off.

I don’t believe in God, but do believe in people: people who come in all shapes, sizes, colours and predilections.

People love one another and they make those declarations of love in all manner of ways. They buy flowers for a first date; they go and see the awful movie because they think it will make their loved one happy, they travel long distances, learn new things and eventually make promises like marriage.

In a world where one in every ten person is attracted to a member of the same sex it is anachronistic, no, it is offensive to deny 10% of people the right to be part of society.

Religions should serve the best interests of our societies. If a society elects a government and passes them a mandate for change, what right has an unelected body like the Catholic Church to stand in the way of that change?

Scotland has sought to throw off unelected rulers before. The Catholic Church needs to be very careful and think hard on my question.

Do religions serve our societies or do societies serve our religions?

If they get the answer wrong the consequences could be disastrous.

Check out :
For more info.

Saturday, 25 August 2012


The chime of hammer against the rough stone anvil woke the village. It always did. Jorri moved from under the covers and squeezed past his younger sisters. He threw on the foul smelling coat that his mother had said ready, but he could swear there was a pocket of flesh or sinew still there in the hide that touched his nose. Nevertheless it was his.

The weather outside the hut was still. The only light was from the forge starting to glow. A layer of snow on the ground a knuckle deep meant he could skip across to Thor quite quickly.

‘The master smith hammered again at the anvil, the metal beneath chimed and sang. Jorri wondered why no one else could hear it. But then he was supposed to be there.

‘I’ll get to the fire’ he said with an apology in his voice that met a recognition in the grunt from his master.
There was another chime.

‘Did I ever tell you’ Thor started to speak as he brought his hammer down again.

‘Tell me what?’ Jorri loved Thor’s stories. He grabbed a handful of oats and dried lingonberries from the bowl. He needed something in his twelve year old stomach, although it would only take a handful. Thor knew he stole a hand ful a day, he didn’t mind. He was always careful not to see.

‘Did I ever tell you my hammer’s name?’ He said, striking what was to become a sword for the chief of the village.

‘No’ the boy said, this was going to be a good one, the smith had probably been up since before dawn thinking up his tales. ‘what is its name?’

‘Not an it boy’ chime, ‘it is a he, all hammers’ are he.’

‘Sorry. What is his name?’

‘A long time ago’ he began, ‘my brother played an awful trick on my wife. I was enraged. I threatened to kill him, but then he said what if I got her some new hair.’

‘Go on’ said the boy, ‘tell me more.’

A slight difference

The final tests were over. The ability to cross between universes was theirs. John moved to the gate. It would flash and the test probe would be transported to a parallel world.  The physics was untested, the engineering experimental, but if it succeeded the ability to test their theories about multiverse theory and M-theory would increase exponentially.

The gate hummed into life. A ten metre square platform was surrounded by blue light. John spoke into his lapel microphone.

‘Test one, probe alpha one’ he took a sip of coffee with his left and hit the button with his right hand in expectation. The probe stayed exactly where it was. Hovering above the platform. John looked at his colleagues.

‘What the hell is going on?’

John asked the engineer to manoeuvre the probe away from the platform so he could have a look at the engines. This was not supposed to happen.

The probe sat to his left, a metre square it hovered on air blades before coming to rest. The technician looked it over.

Three hours later John found no fault with the machine.

He looked at the probe and a thought occurred. He turned it over. The mechanism was fine. He asked the technician to play back the tape. He loaded up the information onto the big screen. John watched for any clue as to the malfunction.

The view from the probe captured him looking worried, sipping coffee, hitting the button. Then a blue flash and then the same worried look and another sip from the coffee cup in his right hand.


The Bus kept going, into the distance. The airport run, a mixture of expectation and resignation on the coming and the going.

I sat in the coffee shop wondering whether I would ever get to go. The grand plans, the hopes of leaving behind the strain of a life that was slowly killing me.

I say that and I mean it. Programming is hard work, even in a successful company. The hours drag on, the push for results, the being a parent to five hundred employees that you want to do well. Being a boss and an underling, being on top and below. Shareholders tugging one way, directors tugging the other, the work weighing you down while at home sits a husband I promised to spend the rest of my life with, but my life gets spent on people who have bought me for a day, a week, a project. An intellectual whore.

What goes back to him is the empty carton that I came in. Then his smile tops it up.

I looked at my wedding band and took a breath. Maybe it was because it was Sunday; the day of rest and the prologue to another week, another long six day week of somebody else’s problems.

I imagined a lottery win then, a set of numbers, nothing massive, just enough to go, just enough to disappear. I imagined an alternate universe where I had a backbone, a spine, a sense of risk.

I sipped some more coffee and planned it out. I was Thirty two; I had another three decades if I lived not making much more than inflationary increases in salary. I would never be in charge, I knew that, I wasn’t serious enough, I couldn’t not smile, I always saw the other side and I was not about to stop being human for a rise in salary.

I imagined retirement: colleagues waving me off, a gold watch and a badly drawn portrait to go in the downstairs toilet. The average life expectancy is meant to be a year and a half once you retire. No thanks. I’ll take my chances with the rest of the world.

I imagined the Americans behind me struggling to understand a passage in Galatians were spies discussing espionage, outside the people passing and swirling round each other became dancers in a massive show stopping number. Like a purposeless syncopation of an Olympic opening ceremony.

I imagined life as it could be.

Tigers that prowled along the high street, monkeys with German accents swinging from the tapestries in the museum and music halls, a being of pure light who stops clocks on a whim to allow you to live one moment forever.

But there were no Tigers outside, only a bus travelling away from here that I wanted to be on. 

Only a dream of really being with the man I married.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Bourne Legacy

So Matt Damon (go on say it…you know you want to, he won’t mind. Together then. Maaaat daaaaammmaaaaaaaan. Better?)

Sorry – where was I – oh – Matt Damon wanted Paul Greengrass to return, he didn’t so neither did Matt. Reboot time.

But no, not a reboot, a story that runs concurrent with the Bourne trilogy fronted by our fresh faced Über-Spy.  New bug Jeremey Renner is the operative against the evils of all powerful US of A fronted by Edward Norton and Scott Glenn.

And you know what – he’s not bad. Renner plays the lead with an understated Machismo in a cast that includes Edward Norton, Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach  and Rachel Weisz. These kids ain’t playing and all give their very best to turn this from standard steadycam runabout to SERIOUS ACTION.

Now this is something I’m coining – SERIOUS ACTION – is a film that plays hard with the visceral reality heavy violence while roping in serious actors who can, if they want to, make a movie with their shirt on.
Bourne, Collatoral, Miami Vice etc. You start to get the idea.

But I digress.

Weisz is good as the sidekick and the set pieces rock, especially the farmhouse. But it can, at times, feel like a bit of a Bourne re-run. Renner does his level best to make the part his own and there are a few plot devices that help him along the way, but when you boil it down we are back with the same situation, different guy.

Good Saturday night fodder. Take an extra bag of candy for the two hour run time. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Modern heroes

So I’m a geek. Well we knew that.

I’ve grown up reading comics, watching sci-fi, and getting excited by each new incarnation of Batman.
I got interested too in the notion of heroes. Why do we have the stories we do? Often they are throwbacks to the tales we have from antiquity. The demi gods that walked ancient Greece. Cunning Odysseus, Brave Achilles, Mighty Hercules. All of whom bear a striking resemblance to the caped crusader and his motley crew today. Speed, strength, agility of body and mind, they were the men who walked among us, but were not men, they were man plus, that little bit extra that made them the people we wanted to be.

The North had its fair share of stories too. We even adopted one of them. Thor is in comics and movies today just as he was in the centuries before Christ was born. Always portrayed as an everyman (and sometimes a bit thick) he was the hero we could relate to and aspire to all at the same time.

Even our religions have influenced the heroes we have today in our fiction. The notion of the messiah myth, someone who comes from a faraway place with supernatural powers to save us: Jesus and Superman both fit the criteria (though Jesus was here first).

But today what have we got? I mean for real? We have people who are our idols. We have the sports stars: people who get paid thousands, millions, to hone what they have to the very peak of perfection. And I don’t doubt they work damn hard.

But these are surely not the heroes who walk among us? These are supermen. There are no secret identities here, no hiding from the limelight. These people are not bank clerks or toll booth attendants, they are not journalists or lawyers, they are not hidden from us, they are in plain sight.

So where are the secret heroes? Where are the people we don’t expect?

They are coming to London in 8 days time. They are the people who serve you coffee, who answer the phone at the Credit Card company. They do your tax returns, they teach your children.

They are the people who said so what. Men and women who lost limbs to tragedy, lost their sight to misfortune. People who were born without, but did anyway. People who served their country and are thankful to be alive regardless of their condition.

If a hero is meant to do something besides save the damsel and defeat the bad guy it is to inspire. 

You want to meet superman, or do you want to meet the girl who loses her leg and then decides to get up at 5 every morning to train for the swim team or the guy who lost both legs and then ran an Olympic final.

In 8 days time the biggest celebration of what it means to be human is coming to London. Thousands of people who refused to lie down and accept the world will show us all what it means to be a hero.

And at the end, just like in the movies. They will hang up their costume, they will go back to their jobs as a bank clerk or a tollbooth attendant, as a lawyer or a journalist and you won’t know, you just won’t know.

But maybe, just maybe, one day when their guard is down, you’ll catch a faint glimpse of gold as they reach for something in their bottom desk drawer.