Tag Archives: 1995

SHORT STORIES // Now Will You Wear A Helmet? (1995)

As is so often the case for many people at University, I didn’t fully appreciate the academic possibilities I had on my plate until it was almost too late. During my first couple of years at college, I was rather a lazy student, more concerned with the pleasures of partying and determined that ‘dropping out of college’ was the cool thing to do in order to become an authentic artist.

Fortunately, such delusions ran out as my time began dripping away from me, and a little into my third and final year, I became very engaged with what I was studying. A little too late perhaps, but it just about managed to scrape me a degree at the end of it. The final seminar that I was due to present was probably the first one that I actually worked really hard for, in collaboration with another student in my seminar group. I don’t recollect the subject now, but it was probably something or other about post-colonial literature.

Anyway, unusually prepared as I was to give a killer seminar, I still managed to get up late and have to rush off from the house in order to get there in time. I got on my bike in the pissing rain and hurtled off towards college. To my dismay, mere minutes away from the college I was involved in the only traffic accident of my life and was knocked off my bike – left sprawling in the middle of the road, stunned and waiting for the cars to beat down on me.

The old man who had accidentally done this, on his way round to console the wife of his recently deceased best friend, got out of my car, shocked at what he had done, lashed my bike to the rook, offered me brandy (for the shock) and tried to give me money. When I turned both down, he dropped me off at the college anyway, where I wandered in in a daze. I sat down with my friends and told them in my glazed state that I couldn’t make the seminar as I’d just been involved in an accident.

I was given hot, sugary tea and the college paid my cab fare to the nearest hospital. I sat in the waiting room for a couple of hours. The British NHS‘s best cure for shock – sit around waiting for a while and it’ll eventually wear off!

At home that night, I wrote about the incident in my diary. Instead of telling the tale of what actually happened, I decided to use the experience and make a short story out of it. Thus the tale that appears below.

Ironically, a couple of years later, I also ended up working in a bookshop – just like my protagonist Victor.

Art imitates life…life imitates art…

Now Will You Wear a Helmet?

The wind blew the rain even harder into Victor’s face. We’ve only just put the clocks back, he thought to himself. This is supposed to be the beginning of British Summer Time. Winter has just loosened its grip and now it’s tightening it back up again. No wonder there’s so many long faces in this bloody miserable country. Victor found himself almost unable to see as the rain continued it onslaught in cruelly cold horizontal sheets. He shivered as he pedalled.

Mr Wilson would be furious if he was late again. Not for the fourth day running. Victor’s department in the bookstore, local history, was already in a poor state. He had to order some new stock that morning or he’d run out. Mr Wilson did not like to see any of the departments run down to any extent. And since the BBC had set a recent historical drama in one of the big Regency houses in the centre of town, interest in Victor’s department had shot up.

But his lateness hadn’t been his fault. On Monday, the gasman had turned up to disconnect Victor’s supply, so he had had to run down to the bank to try and scrape enough money together to pay the man off. The next day, he had called his aunt in New Zealand to wish her a happy birthday before he left for work and once he had got her started, she wouldn’t let him get a word in edgeways. Victor never relished the prospect of being rude to his aunt and cutting her off so he was late for work again. OK, so yesterday it had been his fault as he’d forgotten to set his alarm clock the night before and he had overslept. We all do that. But he simply couldn’t make it four lates in a row. Catherine was finishing her A levels in a couple of months and was chasing a summer promotion. She had also had her eye on the local history section ever since she joined the store.

Victor tried pedalling faster as the drips gathered on the end of his nose and the water ran down the back of his neck. It wasn’t easy. He did still have fifteen minutes before he was due to start work. He was concentrating so hard on making it on time this time that he hardly saw the white electrician’s van cutting in front of him. Braking as hard as he could, which wasn’t easy with such a wet road surface, he skidded a few feet and lost his concentration. In doing so he failed to notice the battered old grey Triumph Acclaim that was jolting undecidedly from out of a side road. The two collided and Victor found himself lying in the middle of the road, waiting for the lights to turn green and to be faced with a huge onslaught of traffic.

He’d never held much sway with any of those ‘minutes seemed like hours’ arguments in the past but that seemed like a suitable analogy to draw now. I’m sitting in the middle of the road. I’m not hurt. What am I doing here? How come I haven’t been hit by another car yet? Words filled his mind like a family of Catholic sardines in a shrunken tin. The only thing that didn’t occur to him was to get his ass off the road. Shock tends to play havoc with your rationality.

The Triumph pulled over and the door swung open. A wizened old man with a dented hat and a grease stained overcoat fell out and ran over to Victor. Victor stared at him, not sure whether he was God or the Devil. Or neither. Sorry was all he could think of to say.

Ohmigodwhathaveidone. Quick, let’s get you out of the road. The old man sat Victor down in the passenger seat and lashed his bike to the roofrack. Are you OK? I did see you but I just couldn’t stop in time. Terribly sorry. Are you hurt? My friend has just died and I was on my way round to console his wife. Your nerves must be shattered. Where……

Victor stared at the rain coursing down the windscreen.

…………were you going? I’ll take you there. Would you like some money? Look, my name’s Alfred. The Blue Moon Tavern is just around the corner. I insist on you letting me buy you a brandy. It’s great for shock.

Alice started to polish the glasses for the third time that day. Why were Thursday mornings always this quiet? She’d only taken up the bar job to alleviate the tedium of the dole queue. As her thoughts turned to foreign holidays in the sun and sitting on the barstools instead of standing behind the bar, the door swung open. They both looked like zombies; the old man for his deathly dishevelled appearance and the younger one for the vacant stare set in stone on his face. Oh well, first customers of the day, what can I get you sir?

They sat down in the darkest corner of the pub with two large brandies. The old man started jabbering away like there was no tomorrow but Alice couldn’t hear what he was saying except for the occasional are you sure you’re alright? As the level of the brandy dropped, so did the intensity of the young man’s stare.

Look, it’s very kind of you but I can’t sit here drinking with you all day. I’m alright now. I was just a little shocked. Now I’m late for work as it is and I really ought to let them know what has happened. And I should get to the hospital just to check that there’s been no serious damage, said Victor, standing up to leave.

But I just want to talk. Please don’t go, said Alfred, grabbing at Victor’s sleeve and finding nothing but air. By the time he had got to his feet, Victor had already limped out of the door and was heading for the bus that would take him to the casualty department. The bike he’d pick up later.

Shit. Another large one please love.

The rain beat hard on the windows of the top deck. I hope it clears up this weekend. I need to kick back. It’s been a long week, pondered Victor. He had decided against trying his chances on cycling in the rain and opted to take the bus to work this time. At least I can make it to work on time for one day this week. The bus stopped at the lights as Victor’s gaze wandered through the window. Poor bugger. I wouldn’t like to be cycling in this weather. He looked up at the side street that had been the site of the accident the day before. Another Triumph Acclaim. You don’t see that many of them these days.

Alfred spotted the cyclist. He turned the key and started the engine.

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Filed under 1995, Fiction, Short Stories

SHORT STORIES // Midsummer (1995)


This was an attempt at a short story with the same setting, but looked at from the perspective of three different characters. It’s really more of a ‘snapshot’ or a sketch of character thoughts than a story.

Near where I once lived in Brighton, there was a large and beautiful open area called Preston Park. It was a fine breathing space away from the cluster of the city’s streets. Sometimes, in those student moments of staying up all night, I’d wander around there with my friends and wait for the sunrise. There’s something very special about the dawn and the way that a new day gradually comes alive. It tends to smell fresh and has a cleansing quality about it too. We’d often see the odd other person loitering around as the night faded, so I tried to imagine the different circumstances that brought these people to this space.

In this brief sketch, we have a kid on his own pyschoactive inner explorations, an old homeless man and a girl involved in a lover’s tiff with an awkward partner – all starting their days in the same space yet unaware of each other. The sights, sounds and smells of a new day dawning will be both the same and completely different according to who is experiencing it.

Midsummer

I am sitting on a hillside park bench. Midsummer. Dawn is near. When I look at the streetlights, if I stare at the glowing balls of energy and relax my vision, they diffuse into clusters of shimmering cobwebs, and include all the colours that you’ll never see. I shall wait a couple of hours and then be able to feel the first titillating rays of warmth from a new day. They will arrive, slowly, around my right ear, trickle out across the right side of my face, then increase pace, filling every pore in their path until I’m left, coated in warmth and basking in it’s purity.

I had to sit up to watch the sun rise. Couldn’t do it the disservice of lying down for it’s approach, as I did the stars. The stars could only be drunken in lying down. You can drink till you’re drunk and can take no more, but they constantly replenish themselves, more numerous than ever before. They smother you in their distant effervesence, like tiny spy holes from another radiant world on the other side.

Oh.

I think I’m coming down.

I’m sittin’ on this bastard-freezing park bench. Midsummer. An it’s nearly fackin’ daylight again. Still ain’t had no fackin’ kip. Them bastard kids was up here again last night. Little sods booted me right up the arse when I pretended I was asleep, then fackin’ scarpered wi’ me larst two cans o’ Special Brew. If I was their old man I’d give ’em a right good battering. Teach ’em right from wrong and send ’em to bed when they’re fackin’ told ter. ‘Stead of worryin’ an old man wi’ no pillow to rest his weary head on at night.

Sheet! ‘Nother soddin’ day. I’ll get up in a bit, go sit outside the Paki shop for a few. They should be open soon. Might even get to nick a pint out of Abdul’s crate before he unlocks the front door. Could do with a drink.

Oh, Christ, me fackin’ heartburn’s gonna gimme some shit today! Cahhm on, ya little bastard, at least fackin’ hold out on me until tonight, till I can find a bleedin’ mattress somewhere. Let me bow out wi’ a little grace.

Deep breaths, man. Deep breaths.

I am sitting on this damp park bench. Midsummer. It’s almost daylight. The dew’s soaked right though my skirt and I’ve got a wet arse now. And I AM NOT going to be the first to apologise. It’s always me.

Can’t believe it! It’s getting lighter now and I can see him. He’s still got his back to me – such a damn child. This is all so stupid. How did we let it get to this? Never understand why. We’re sitting here motionless, looking like some low-flying aircraft has deposited a couple of statues at opposite ends of the park.

It’s always just words. Just about words. I’ve said the wrong thing and offended him. I’ve mouthed off in front of his mates and embarrassed him. Whatever.

Really don’t understand men sometimes. They say they don’t understand women. Does that mean we have to try and understand them as well as ourselves.

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Filed under 1995, Fiction, Short Stories

LYRICS // Stealing Your Smile (1995)

This was written after the year I lived in the US for a few months. I stole a little from some classic Americana – Jack Kerouac‘s ‘On The Road‘. As best as I can remember, the lines about ‘God’s empty chair’ and the ‘movin’ from one falling star to another…’ were either taken wholesale or borrowed and adapted. After a while, the origins of how a song was written become misty. For some reason, the theme of the song seems to cover the ‘artist with God complex’ idea.

I wasn’t too sure about the melody when it was originally written, but The Zamora did it justice when it came to turning it into something more than some scraps on a page. The recording can be downloaded here.

The picture was taken by Jayne Routley at what turned out to be The Zamora’s last show, at The Lift in Brighton. I was handed a plastic skull that was lying around behind the bar somewhere and, delighted at the prop, grabbed myself a Bowie moment (he famously kissed a skull on stage during the ‘Diamond Dogs‘ tour).

Stealing Your Smile

Lounging around in God’s empty chair,
Tryin’ to figure out how to wear my hair.
I never believed that I’d been unfair,
But then I don’t think you’d ever cared.


Days of pain are yet to come,
Still you send your burnin’ sun.
Send it to me to char my fun,
The light from your eyes burns no-one.


I get confused and hung up,
Movin’ from one falling star – to another,
Till I drop.

I need to spend some time on my own,
Need you to crawl back under your stone.
Stay in the dark until the time is right,
For us to join forces and fight.

Head held high as God’s only peer,
Knowing now there’s nothing to fear.
Checking out that the coast is clear,
I dare you to come near.

I get confused and hung up,
Movin’ from one falling star – to another,
Till I drop.

I can only hope, if you cannot cope,
I can only hope to steal your smile.

I can only hope, if I’ve enough rope,
I can only hope to die awhile.

I get confused and hung up,
Movin’ from one falling star – to another,
Till I drop.

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LYRICS // Bad Hair Day (1995)

I wrote my first full set of lyrics at 16, in collaboration with the school friend that I started my first band with. Not wanting to write yet another silly love song and captured by the nonsensical nature of the wordplay, we tried to write our own version of ‘I Am The Walrus‘. It was ambitious in its own way, yet came out as a shoddy stab at schoolboy psychedelia with pretty awkward imagery and rhyming. Still, we all have to start somewhere.

This song was a little further down the line in my development as a lyricist, but still with some way to go. It was at least one of the first times that I started tackling better wordplay, running with the sound of it as opposed to the actual meaning. A song can sound fantastic musically, but if the lyrics don’t cut it, the song’s let down. Words can sound just as musical as a guitar line or a drum break.

Many writers will use their craft to mend a broken heart, and I’m sure there’s a little exorcising an ex in here somewhere. I also tried to tackle that existential question about whether suffering for one’s art makes one a better artist. It may help with inspiration and in England at least, there’s the perception that the suffering artist is somehow more credible. It’s a drag to live that way though and sometimes you just have to have the bread on your table, man.

The line about being cast for a film happened, but I did get the part (the male lead in a young filmmaker’s show reel; my character ending up slitting his wrists in the bath, so a bleak ending to my film acting debut!).

A very rough acoustic demo of the song was issued on the collection of early recordings I put out under the Quagga moniker.


Bad Hair Day

I saw you crying in the neon afterglow
Of another broken summer painted fallout shades of red
I heard you trying on another Christ for size
Just to see what suited best what lay inside your head

I don’t want to wake up on a bad hair day
I just want to wake up another way

I thought of you as I turned over in my grave
Couldn’t find another way to announce my death
I know that you can’t ever forgive yourself
For not being the one wearing my wooden suit instead

I don’t want to wake up on a bad hair day
I just want to wake up another way

You said an artist should always starve for his art
But even great outsiders need to feed their head sometimes
You cast me for the film then tell me I’ve lost the part
So it’s about time for me to claim what’s mine

I don’t want to wake up on a bad hair day
I just want to wake up another way

You promised me the moon, the stars, and all that lay below
But you still can’t even think of me as someone with a name
I’d shave my head for you although I don’t know why
I’m getting kind of tired of playing your silly games

I don’t want to wake up on a bad hair day
I just want to wake up another way

Tried deep sea fishing in those caverns in your mind
Only to find a twisted line and nothing to bring home

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Filed under 1995, Lyrics