In which The Author discovers something on an old flash drive
Back in the good old days of Aberdare Online (before it was largely taken over by trolls and BNP apologists), a gang of us decided to write a spoof ‘Western by Committee’ on the forum.
There’d been a long-running saga called The Magnificent Seven, written as a sort-of Exquisite Corpse story by seven of the original members. The story was extremely surreal and bizarre, but came to an abrupt end when Andrew T.’s server died and all the information was lost.
A few months later, we started again. The original inspiration was the appointment of a crime prevention troubleshooter in Aberdare, who’d promised in the local paper to ‘clean up the town.’ We decided that this self-proclaimed sheriff was too good a target not to take a shot at.
While I was on the phone to another Aberdare Online regular, talking about this hilarious news story, I was (unknown to her) typing the first instalment one-handed. A couple of minutes later, a posting appeared on the forum entitled ‘Wanted – Alive and Preferably Thinking.’ Thus, on a quiet afternoon when nothing much else was happening, Dodge This was born.
I took the title from a line in The Matrix. There’s a terrific scene where Neo and Agent Smith have been dodging each other’s bullets on a rooftop. Just when it seems as though Neo is done for, Trinity puts her gun right up against Smith’s head and says, ‘Dodge this!’ It seemed like the perfect name for a run-down Wild West town with a few hundred inhabitants, a couple of struggling stores, a saloon or two, a hotel, and some farms scattered around.
We had a rich cast of stereotypical Western characters, including: the outlaws (based very loosely on ourselves); the sheriff himself (whom nobody ever saw); the crooked mayor in league with the local land-grabbers; the newspaper editor who was plagued by typos; and a mysterious guitar-playing prophet of doom. Just about all of the other characters were based on people we knew in Aberdare, and we wrote in loads of our friends, hoping that they’d take the invitation and join in the fun.
It quickly caught on, and the first ‘season’ notched up over two thousand hits on Andrew’s site. It was only because we feared that the server might crash again that we decided to split the story into ‘seasons’, a practice which we continued until we ran out of steam about four years later.
At some point during Season Two, Vicki F. knocked my front door one Sunday lunchtime. She’d been to a party in Treforest the night before and had got incredibly pissed. In desperate need of sympathy and coffee, she’d caught the first train to Aberdare, got a taxi to my place, and arrived looking more dead than alive. I poured coffee into her and she told me about an idea she’d had the night before.
One of our characters was the town’s preacher, who’d fallen in with the gang of outlaws and anarchists (our heroes and heroines) earlier on in the story. She wanted to write a dream sequence, based on what went through the preacher’s mind after he’d spent a lively evening in the saloon with the rest of the gang. Without his knowledge, one of them had slipped something into his drink, and this was where Vix wanted to pick up the story.
She asked me if I had a copy of the Bible handy. As it happened I had two copies, which turned out to be ideal. Between us, we skipped through the Old Testament and made a list of ‘edited highlights’ which we needed to include in that day’s instalment. Then we got to work.
Vicki was a huge fan of James Joyce, and she wanted to try and write something in a Joycean style. She’d already written one dream sequence early on in the story, but she wanted to go a stage further this time. I thought we could probably aim at something approaching William S. Burroughs’ style if we put our minds to it.
We were both reading a lot of Robert Anton Wilson as well – the psychedelic dream sequences in Masks of the Illuminati were another influence on our end product. That’s why we incorporated the Masonic symbolism towards the end. Earlier on in the story, the preacher had acquired a copy of Albert Pike’s book Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. We knew that that had to turn up in the dream somewhere.
Between us we played with words for a couple of hours, following the rough chronology of the Biblical events, before reaching the inevitable punchline. Shortly afterwards, we posted what we described as ‘a drug-free joint effort’ on the forum.
Soon afterwards, Ross D. and Richard B. were visiting from London. I thought I’d print out our dream sequence and show it to the boys. Over Sunday lunch in the pub, Rich read our bizarre prose with a mixture of hysteria and horror, occasionally blurting out, ‘This is so blasphemous!’ before reading on with tears rolling down his face. Rob H. told me he thought it was more reminiscent of Dylan Thomas than either of the targets we’d been aiming at. Even so, we still took it as a compliment!
I found the full text version of Dodge This on a flash drive a couple of days ago, so I thought I’d give you a little taste of what we were up to in those days.
The preacher had a bad night’s sleep after he left the Crippled Frog, whiskey-sozzled and groggy, dreaming selected highlights through a haze of the best Irish…
In the Garden Adam came to the preacher, the serpent’s figleaves throne down, crying, ‘I adore thee, Eve, oh I adore thee.’ Their sin was fruitful, Cain toiled in the fields unable was the first casualty. Beget and beget and the preacher romed passed nude Noah hungover outside his tent. He had no shem, ham was unclean, he stood japethetic on Mount Sin I while the waters rows aboat him. Beget and by glory he beheld a tower of babbling felled by the shocking awrth. Beget and by Geb he saw Abram and Sarai go to Egypt. Officious praising Sarai’s beauty spoke to Fairoah who covenanted her for his own. Plagues came to Phawhorehouse and Abram went on his way. Abram set up an alter ego in the desertion and called Him the Lord. The Lord made a covert with Abraham and briskly set out His terms. Angels came to Abraham’s nephew in the city of sin, there was a lot of trouble in sodden begorrah. Isaac was spared the knife, thou hast lost that ovine feeling. The old ram rodded Rebekah and beget and by golly Esau the twins born, hairy and smooth, their brotherhood in a stew. The preacher saw Jacob’s slander and the angel ass ending. Beget and by gosh Joseph dreamt his technicolor sheaves and stars [can you dream about dreaming while dreaming? the preacher wondered lucidly] and was souled into Egypt, where he lived on rice. His brothers came to him for their daily bread and he served Pharoah until he died. The Israelites bode in Egypt and a new unfairoah decided to kill the children of Israel. He saw Moses placed in a basket Osiris-style and was saved from a watery grave by Pharoah’s daughter after Isis herself. When he was groan, Moses killed a forearman who had been beating a Hebrew slave. Covenant blown of coarse he fled to Midian until the Lord came to him in a bush. Moses went and said to unfairoah, ‘Let my people go’, and Pharoah said, ‘No’ so the children shaved their stubble to make bricks. Beget and by God’s will plagues fell across the land, and Pharoah’s hard heart on the building project softened. When the firstborn of each house died, unfairoah told them to go, then changed his mind. The preacher saw the waters of the Red Sea part and the army all washed up. Their sojourn in the desert taught them good mannas, while on the mount with the Lord, commanded and stoned was Moses. The Lord gave Moses the blueprint for a chest of acacia wood to hold the tablets, ark the horrid angel’s wing. When Moses descended to revelry and ribaldry and golden idolness, the lewd punished the people with another of his popular plagues. Then Moses sat down and wrote a great book of Thou Shalt Knots to bind mankind forever and ever amen. Beget and by Joshua there followed a long earthshaking, judgemental and ruthless part – fortunately in dreams, subjective time telescopes – but samuel years later Solomonarch was building a temple of cedar and cypress to house the sacret ark. Hiram, tyred of working for his father, came to Solomonkey. He crafted and mastered two enormous broanz pillars, and a cast sea that held two thousand baths. Apocryphally, Hiram was asked for the secret of his succession by three brothers named Fubar, Snafu, and Tarfu. They asked Hiram for the word. A man wearing glasses shouted ‘Don’t tell him, Pike!’ Just before the preacher awoke he heard a voice saying, ‘Now look what you’ve made me do!’ The preacher saw the two bronze pillars blaze in the early morning sun.
The preacher’s mind surfaced through the hangover and he sat up, reeling from the dream. He picked up the pencil and notebook he kept beside his bed and wrote down the outline of the dream as quickly as he could. He drank a glass of water and stared at what he had written, almost comprehending its deeper meaning – but not quite. He decided it was about time he sat down and had a serious chat with ‘Miss Wolf’ – he was sure that the mysterious redhead knew more than she was saying.
In which The Author tries to reschedule his train of thought
Right – NaBloPoMo, Day Two. Let’s hope the weather conditions, the wifi, and/or WordPress itself don’t put the mockers on this post, as some combination of them did last night.
First, may I apologize to anyone who’s found this because it was tagged in the NaBloPoMo blogroll. I’ve been writing this blog (in various places) for about six years or so, and there are a number of running themes threaded through it. If you’ve landed here through the mysteries of NaBloPoMo, you might be experiencing the same sense of confusion as I did when I first heard ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ by The Velvet Underground at the age of sixteen. I felt as thought I’d walked in on a frenzied jam session, and for half a minute or so I was completely disoriented by the chaos around me. Try this for size:
Let me assure you that, as with the song, there are certain fixed points in the structure of this blog, around which the rest of it revolves. (I’ve put some handy cross-references in where they’re needed.)
My friend Darren B. turned me onto The Velvet Underground when we were in school, and White Light, White Heat is still an LP I return to periodically. My most recent visit was last Sunday night, when the news of Lou Reed’s death broke on this side of the Atlantic. I cranked up the volume and subjected the Noisy Neighbours to a blast of New York junkie pre-punk rock.
Darren and I saw Lou Reed in London at the end of 1984. We paid seven quid each for tickets – which wasn’t an enormous chunk out of our student grants in those days. (Note for younger readers: back in the day, the UK Government used to give you money to go to university. Imagine that…) From the vantage point of 2013, when my friends cheerfully pay thirty or forty quid to see bands who are/were nowhere near as important as The Velvet Underground in the grand scheme of musical history, the tickets were quite reasonably priced. They were even more of a bargain when we were eighteen and heavily into post-punk and/or industrial music.
Mr Reed’s partners in crime that night included the estimable Robert Quine and Fred Maher. There was no support band. How could there have been? Who the fuck was capable of opening for Lou Reed, for Goddess’ sake? Even so, in an age when you still got change from a pound note for a pint of lager, it seemed a lot of money.
Ah yes, a pint of lager. That reminds me…
NaBloPoMo sounds great when you say it out loud. It’s the exact sound of a bottle of beer being emptied into a glass, or the glug-glug of the last bathwater vanishing down the plughole. It’s a fine piece of onomatopoeia, especially when you say it quickly. I hadn’t heard of it until yesterday, when I checked my emails fairly late in the evening. It turned out to be the online baby brother of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I had heard of the latter, mainly through Canadian Nancy, who’s taken part in it for the past few years. The idea is that you write a novel in one month, with a strict target every day. Nancy tried to rope me into it a couple of years ago. I had to decline politely.
You see, I’ve never been a great one for writing to deadlines, or writing to order for that matter. My notebooks contain countless unfinished stories and ideas for stories, none of which ever made it beyond the ‘rough notes’ stage of development. Even the Creative Writing workshop I signed up for in my second first year at university was too much of a structure for me.
Another of our heroes during our school days was Douglas Adams, most famous as the author of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I met Mr Adams briefly when he did a reading and signing session at the bookshop I worked in during the early nineties. He was notorious for taking his time over his writing; he once said, ‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.’ I know exactly what he meant. I made Handing Assignments In Two Minutes Before The Office Closes For The Weekend into an Olympic sport when I was a student the second time round. The only pieces of writing which I’ve ever completed to my own satisfaction are Pit Stop, my Doctor Who/Torchwood crossover fanfic story, and Time Between, which was featured in the University of Glamorgan Anthology for 2011.
Pit Stop started as a bit of a jeu d’esprit in the pub one evening; I published the first chapter as a standalone story on an internet forum based in Aberdare. A while later, I took it into university when we needed something to workshop in our first Creative Writing session, and then it went back into hibernation. Even so, people kept asking me how the story proceeded. I was railroaded into continuing it, and finally it started to take a form I was pleased with. After several months of tinkering, I finished it and sent it off into a parallel blog where it can live, relatively unmolested, until the end of the world and/or the end of the Internet, whichever happens first.
As for Time Between – that idea had been kicking around in my mind for several years before I started working on it properly. Bob Dylan once wrote, ‘I carry a song in my head for a long time and then it comes bursting out.’ That was pretty much what happened with Time Between. I completed it as an assignment for Creative Writing, and our lecturer suggested that I submitted it for the anthology. To my surprise it was accepted for inclusion. In my mid-forties, I’d actually had something published in a proper book, with an ISBN and everything! It means that I can legitimately describe myself as a ‘published writer’ – it’ll do for me.
I won’t attempt to write anything approaching a serious work of fiction again, with any luck. Last weekend I finished reading Christopher Priest’s latest novel The Adjacent. I’ve been reading his books for over thirty years (and we briefly corresponded earlier this year) and I know damn well that I’ll never be able to write to his dizzyingly high standard. I don’t have the imagination, the inspiration, or the ability. I’ll never get anywhere close.
I’m currently re-reading Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut Jr, and it leaves me breathless with each page. My friend Martin H. has never been a big reader (his childhood and schooldays were not happy times, and he turned his back on formal education as a result.) I’ve recommended some of Mr Vonnegut’s short stories (notably the posthumous collection Look at the Birdie) as a good place to start. Mr Vonnegut’s stories demonstrate that a great writer doesn’t need to have swallowed a dictionary, or to show off his/her erudition, in order to write humane and wise stories about ordinary people. That calls for sympathy and understanding. Both commodities have been in very short supply in my life for some time now.
If 50,000 words seem like 49,000 too many or you’re more interested in blogging than writing a book, NaBloPoMo — National Blog Posting Month — might be your speed: a challenge to post once every day for the entire month of November. No theme, no word count, no rules; just you, your blog, and 30 new posts.
Well, I’ve been doing fairly well over the past couple of years. Initially I was averaging a post every week, and the pace quietly increased as I got the hang of it. (Finding my way around WordPress was a bit of a challenge, which is why some of my earlier posts are a bit ‘experimental.’) If I’ve been having a good week recently, I’ve posted every day. On occasions, I’ve done two posts in the same day. Other times, I’ve gone for several weeks without doing anything at all. Have a quick look at the Foreword and Contents to see my unpredictable publishing schedule for yourself. In spite of my early dabbling in the field, I was never cut out for a career in journalism.
So – NaBloPoMo. This is a challenge I could go for. After all, NaNoWriMo was never going to happen, in spite of Nancy’s attempts to get me on board. I’ve just finished one challenge, so it’s time for something new. October was Sober October, where people were challenged to spend an alcohol-free month and raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. I didn’t bother getting sponsors, unlike my friend Nicky H., but I thought I’d give her some moral support anyway.
It wasn’t the first long spell I’ve spent off the beer. I managed nearly eleven months some years ago, until the whole Xmas hassle in work sent me scurrying to the pub after work with the boys one evening. Late in 2008 and into 2009, I spent nine months without having a pint. During that time, I met what passed for my last ex-girlfriend (see New Year, New Start.) I can’t even blame my lack of judgement that time on the beer goggles which have led me down too many blind alleys over the years. Sober October? No problember!
[A digression: It was also Stoptober, where people were encouraged to quit smoking. I was exempt from that attempt at self-denial, but one especially stressful afternoon a couple of weeks ago Rhian asked me which lunatic had decided to run the two campaigns concurrently. Maybe next year they can go for the triple whammy and incorporate National Domestic Violence Month as well.]
I admit that I didn’t manage the whole month. Last Saturday I went to Cardiff and had a couple of pints with Josie, while the i turned into a Crossword Masterclass. I had a sneaky one in Aberdare when I got off the train as well, as it was pissing down and I had to wait ages for the bus. Apart from that one excusable lapse, I managed the whole exercise without a hitch.
This month is a different situation altogether. It’s Movember (as in MOustache), when men across the UK are encouraged to abstain from shaving their upper lips to raise money for another cancer charity. Yesterday, a couple of the guys I used to work with posted their photos on Facebook, before the growing season began in earnest. Well, regardless of how worthy a cause it is, you can count me out.
Every week, our local ‘news’paper, the Cynon Valley Leader, has a trawl through the archives and prints some photos of bygone days – long-demolished buildings, football teams, works outings, school classes. Looking at some of them, it seems as though moustaches were pretty much compulsory for a few years when I was a kid. Fair play to my Dad; he must have been one of the few Valleys men who made it through the 1970s without looking like a member of Brotherhood of Man (or someone from a Danish porn film.)
So, I’m afraid that Movember is a non-starter for me. But NaBloPoMo (I love typing that; it’s even better when I read this back aloud to myself) is a challenge I can rise to. I think I can manage thirty posts in thirty days, with no word limit and no restrictions on style or content. The only condition is that I have to read what some other participants are writing, in return for their reading mine, and leave the odd comment as well. That could be a problem in the Library, where the server seems to block access to many blogs (including my own) because the content filters are set to CHASTITY BELTS ON AND LOCKED. I’ll do my best, though.
You see, apart from a few close friends, hardly anybody ever leaves a comment on what I write anyway. Back when I first started blogging (it wasn’t here, and it had a different title in those days) I wrote a long piece about the British novelist Jack Trevor Story (see I Want to Tell You a Story.) I said that sometimes I felt a bit like Jack himself, sitting at his typewriter, staring at a blank piece of paper, waiting for inspiration to dawn. Like Jack, I had no idea whether my words would be read by a couple of million people (his regular Saturday column in the Guardian would reach that potential audience, after all) or a couple of dozen.
I get a lot of hits on my blog – sometimes as many as seventy or eighty in a single day – but how does that figure translate into actual readers? It’s very difficult to know. The search engine might bring them here when they want something entirely different. There’s no way of telling how many people just walk in, look around, and go away again, to use a pub as a metaphor. Some people might just be looking for general information about Aberdare, or photos of the Boys Village near Aberthaw – a remarkably popular topic, to judge from the search terms – or, most bizarrely, the words ‘Helen Wakeford nude.’ Helen Wakeford (now Bowen) was the Students Union branch president when I was a student the second time around. She was highly amused when I told her about that. Anyway, I swear I never saw her naked, and even if I had I certainly wouldn’t tell you about it here!
When I worked in retail, we used to measure ‘footfall’ in the shop; in other words, we knew how many people walked through the door in the course of a trading day. (There was a magic eye on the door that counted people coming in.) The challenge was in converting the visitor into a customer. On my last three visits to the shop where I used to work, I’ve left empty-handed on two occasions. That’s a 33.3% conversion rate, pretty poor for a large bookshop. (It might help if they actually stocked anything worth buying!) I wonder how many other similar ‘failed conversions’ they have from day to day. (I very nearly typed ‘on a daily basis’ there – it must have been a brief flashback to those much-loved management clichés.)
Even when I get a ‘like’ on here, some of them appear literally within seconds of my hitting the Publish button. There’s simply no possible way that anybody could have read what I’d just written and liked it within that tiny interval of time. Like everything else in Cyberspace, the blogosphere seems to be full of bots and malware programs, doing their Siren best to lure the unwary to the rocky shoals of system crashes. I’m pleased to report that the good ship Ubuntu sails through most of these perils unscathed, even if its captain does occasionally get sidetracked by the temptations on offer (see From Russia From Love and Computer Love.)
Anyway, back to NaBloPoMo. This is more or less what I wrote last night, before everything went supine and WordPress apparently published it, even though it had vanished without trace when I checked back a few minutes later. It’s Day One’s post, but on Day Two. Who knows what excitement awaits us for the next four weeks? I’m looking forward to the challenge, personally. It seems like a good way to explore what other people are up to, in a fairly structured and methodical manner, rather than just hoping to find something interesting.
I’m looking forward to discovering that there are other people out there, also in the Jack Trevor Story situation of wondering whether anyone actually does read their stuff. Furthermore, I might finally start using social networking in the way it was intended – meeting lots of new and diverse people from across the world – rather than just keeping in touch with people I already know. Wish me luck!
Being a Non-Linear Account of the Life and Opinions of The Author, Cross-referenced and Illustrated, with Occasional Hesitations, Repetitions and Deviations.
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