THE END

theend2

The End by Chris Green

At first, the sound is little more than an intermittent background hum. I put this down to tinnitus. I have been periodically prone to attacks. But, the hum does not go away. Over a period of a few days, it becomes more pervasive until eventually, it is a permanent drone. The tinnitus explanation no longer seems appropriate and on her return from her counselling conference up country, my partner, Nisha tells me she can hear it too. We speculate as to what might be causing it. The fridge freezer perhaps? An electrical overload? An alarm from an outbuilding? It is none of these.

‘What about Charlie’s radio transmitter?’ Nisha says. ‘That’s not far away.’

‘Charlie’s ….. uh, shed was the first thing I thought of,’ I say ‘But there’s nothing at all coming from there. I’ve been round a couple of times. Charlie seems to be away on holiday.’

We live in a detached house in a quiet rural area so we conclude it cannot be noise from a building site and it is too loud to be from distant traffic.

‘Besides, Nisha’ I say. ‘It’s constant, twenty four seven. So it’s not a burglar alarm. That would have run down by now. It can’t be a helicopter or a microlite. Or even a lawnmower and it doesn’t sound like a generator.’

I discover that others are hearing it too. Mrs Oosterhuis in the cottage down the road says it is upsetting her Mikey. Mikey is her Jack Russell. Bill and Gill who live at The Old Rectory say it keeps them awake at night and Ron and Anne at Rose Nook say they have taken to wearing earplugs. The animals at the nearby Rescue Centre are behaving strangely too, the dogs especially. It’s not just Mikey who has taken to yelping and whimpering. Animals sense something is wrong. Mr Chislett in the newsagents says the humming sounds like a swarm of bees. A plague of locusts suggests the lady in front of me buying her equestrian magazine. She tells us about her experience in Egypt in the eighties. We debate as to whether the hum has a constant frequency or whether it oscillates. I tell it sounds like the E chord at the end of A Day in the Life played at full volume and without the fadeout. The pair look at me blankly. Whatever its pitch might be, we agree it is definitely getting louder. When I go in to pick up my prescription at the surgery, the customers waiting in the reception area are talking about the hum, describing it variously as a buzz, a thrum, a rumble. The pharmacist says that some folk have taken to wearing industrial ear defenders when they go out. He tries to sell me a pair.

Everyone now seems to be hearing it but no-one knows what it is. There is nothing on the news about it and nothing in the papers, just the usual blather about indiscreet arms deals, political brinkmanship and celebrity indiscretions. Why is it not being reported? Someone must know what is causing it. I trawl through the conspiracy theory sites online. I feel there is bound to be something there like there is with weather manipulation or chemtrails. Even if it’s just an unsubstantiated theory, someone will have come up with an idea about what is going on. But to my astonishment, there appears to be nothing, not even the token suggestion by a sci-fi fan that it might be a big black monolith beaming a signal to mankind. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might think that people had been posting prolifically but the posts had been systematically taken down.

‘Try not to become neurotic about it,’ Nisha keeps telling me. ‘It will probably disappear just as unexpectedly as it started.’

I think she is wrong. I have a sense of foreboding about it but I know what she will say if I share this thought with her.

I decide to go to see my friend, Vic on his houseboat. Vic often knows about things that are going on that others don’t. He is a mine of information, a veritable WikiLeaks. But this time even Vic is flummoxed. He too is concerned about the background drone. He says he has taken to playing Pearl Jam and Queens of the Stone Age to drown it out. But he tells me he has not been able to come up with anything about its source, perhaps it’s an invisible alien landing craft hovering in the sky waiting for the right moment to invade.

Aura in the New Age shop that has opened in the village says each of the planets has its own vibration. She demonstrates the different frequencies with a series of cosmic tuning forks. Each fork, she explains, tones to the precise frequencies of each planet’s orbit around the Sun. None of them however match the hum. Perhaps the orbit of our celestial body is slowing down, she says. Ravi, the leg spinner in the Lower Dickley cricket team says at first he wondered if it might be a universal Om, but Om has a positive vibration whereas the sound we can hear has no such qualities. If everyone can hear it, it could be a force for unity, says Interfaith minister, Desmond Haynes. I think he’s clutching at straws. It’s more likely to be confirmation that things are falling apart. Look at the state of the world. Where is the contentment?

…………………………

‘My phone’s gone dead,’ Nisha says. ‘Right in the middle of my call to Astrid.’

‘It probably needs charging,’ I say. Technology seems to have it in for Nisha. She constantly experiences these kind of difficulties. Last week it was the timer on her tablet, before that a virus on the cooker. Perhaps it was the other way around although she manages to lock her car keys in the car even though it should be impossible. It’s a good thing she has someone around to fix these things.

‘I’ve just charged the damn thing,’ she says, thrusting the Samsung at me. ‘Not ten minutes ago.’

‘You’d better try the landline,’ I say. No-one I know seems to use a proper phone these days. I wonder why we still pay for the service.

A few seconds later Nisha reports back that the landline is dead too. As if somehow it’s my fault.

‘That’s a bugger,’ I say, worried that the day might now take a turn for the worse. ‘I’d better go online to see if there is any information about a fault.’

As I say it, I realise that there is not going to be any internet either. The lights on the router are flashing red. I try for about twenty minutes but it will not reboot.

Next door, Mrs Oosterhuis has no phone or internet either. Nor do Ron and Anne. Our daughter, Lucy comes around in a panic to see if our TV or internet are working. Hers are not.

‘Everything seems to be down round our way, internet, phones, TV, the lot’ she says. ‘And it’s chaos on the roads too. None of the traffic lights are working and no-one knows who has the right of way. And there’s been a massive pile-up at the Jim Morrison roundabout.’

Predictably our TV isn’t working, nor the radio. Just static on both. The omnipresent hum though seems to be louder. The cups on the kitchen work surface are beginning to vibrate. It’s as if the source is getting closer.

‘What do you think it is, Dad?’ Lucy asks.

‘No-one seems to have any idea what’s causing it,’ I say.

‘I’m scared, Dad. It’s all a bit Black Mirror, except it’s for real.’

Seeing my puzzled look, Lucy explains that Black Mirror is a satirical sci-fi series.

Staying put and doing nothing doesn’t seem to be an option. Out here in the sticks, we feel isolated. We need to find out what is going on. The only way to see how far the communication outage has spread and maybe find out what is behind it would be to go to Chesterbridge, the nearest large town. This is thirty miles north. We set off in the Range Rover. As expected, the car radio is full of static but as we make our way along the road the ubiquitous hum strengthens. There is very little traffic on the road, just the odd military vehicle from the base at Edgemoor.

‘It’s the middle of the afternoon,’ I say. ‘What the fuck has happened to everyone?’

‘It certainly wasn’t like this coming from Milton Sodbury just now,’ Lucy says. ‘Hence the pile up at the roundabout.’

Milton Sodbury is a small town to the south. The traffic chaos that Lucy encountered coming from Milton Sodbury will be down to the failure of computer systems, running traffic lights, satnavs and other tech devices. So why the absence of traffic on the road to Chesterbridge? It’s an A road. There seems no logic. As we drive on in watchful silence, we see that vehicles have been abandoned by the side of the road. Every hundred yards or so there’s an abandoned set of wheels, a car, a van, a lorry ……

‘Ought we to be heading this way?’ Nisha says, finally. ‘I don’t like it one bit.’

‘I don’t like it much either,’ I say ‘But we’ve got to do something.

‘That was a dead bear we just passed,’ Lucy says.

Common sense suggests we should not be doing this. Everything about the journey seems portentous. It is getting noticeably colder now and although it is only two o’clock, it is already getting dark. The phrase, devil and the deep blue sea, springs to mind.

‘Let’s turn back,’ Nisha says, as we pass an overturned motorhome.

The hum was one thing. Once you established that there was a perpetual hum, you could learn to live with that as a norm but this is getting weirder and weirder. We don’t know what to expect next. What manner of devastation is taking place?

‘Look up there!’ Lucy screams, suddenly.

It takes me a little while to realise that it is a plane falling out of the sky. I can’t imagine what else I think it might be. Clearly, it’s much too large to be a bird, it’s the size of a Boeing aircraft, for Heaven’s sake. But here it is plummeting rapidly on a trajectory to a spot the other side of Brickley Hill. It’s going to crash. Hundreds of people will be aboard and they will die. They will probably be screaming.

My mind is a blur. I can’t remember the exact chain of events but I am no longer in the Range Rover driving to Chesterbridge. My narrative has moved on. I am now in…. I am in…… Where am I? I realise I am alone. Where are my ……. my family…..Where are the people in my…… in my stor……. my….….stery…. mystery? A deathly silence pervades the ravaged landscape. The hum has ……. stopped. There is no hum. I’m not sure if it’s the future or the past. But, it can’t be either. It must always be now. I just can’t put it all together at the moment. It feels like a kind of limbo. What has happened to the hum? Perhaps Desmond Haynes was right and the hum was the very thing that was holding the familiar world together.

The landscape behind me seems to be disappearing as if someone is rolling up a carpet. Amongst the devastation before me, a black crow is calling. A harbinger of doom? Up ahead in the distance is a large ramshackle structure, a depository of some kind perhaps. There is nowhere else to go. So, with a degree of trepidation, I approach the derelict building.

‘You are not going to like it in there, old man,’ says a gangly figure in torn black clothes. He has one eye missing and a shock of jet black hair hanging down one side of his pale face. He seems completely out of context.

‘Why?’ I ask.

‘I am just telling you that you will not like it,’ he says. I look him up and down. His form seems insubstantial, his features other-worldly, ethereal. Reason and logic seem to have broken down. What is this place?

‘But, there is nowhere else to go,’ I say. ‘Nowhere! Look around!’

‘Exactly!’ he says. ‘You’ve hit the nail on the head, old man. There is nowhere else to go and there’s no going back, is there? This, my friend, is it.’

‘What do you mean? Who are you?’

‘Questions, questions. There’s no time for questions, old man.’

‘Where are Nisha and Lucy?’

‘Your wife and daughter will have gone to another ……. terminal.’

‘What is in there? What is in this …… terminal?’

‘Nothing!’

‘Nothing?’

‘Emptiness. A void. Non-existence.’

‘You mean……’

‘Yes, old man. Your time has come. This is The End.’

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

SURF’S UP

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SURF’S UP by Chris Green

Most people in the UK associate surfing with Newquay but Widemouth in North Cornwall was its original home. Widemouth is where the Australian pioneers of the sport came when they first arrived in the country to test the waters. Surfers will tell you that the bay has an easy paddle and peaks holding six to eight feet at mid to high tide. Black Rock at the southern end of the bay becomes wild in the winter months with a hollow and powerful reef break reaching ten or twelve feet on a good north-westerly swell. These huge waves were the main attraction for our Antipodean friends, who loved to show off their skills. Before his premature death in 1963, at the age of twenty three, local lad, Mawgan Tresco loved surfing here. Mawgan was able to negotiate the largest breakers with grace and dexterity. Apparently, crowds gathered on the beach in all winds and weathers to watch his exploits.

No-one knows the reason why one frosty night in December 1963, Mawgan took his Norton Dominator out on the windy coastal road. It was to be his last trip on the powerful machine. Big speeds, black ice and a brick wall saw to that. Some say that Mawgan had started taking amphetamines. But, where he might have found amphetamines in rural Cornwall is hard to say. His friend, Jago remembers a meeting Mawgan had with a well-dressed geezer from out of town and wonders if this might be connected with his fatal ride. He adds that Mawgan modelled himself on James Dean. Perhaps he harboured something of a death wish.

Recordings Mawgan Tresco made on a reel to reel tape recorder shortly before he died show that he was also a talented musician. He sang and played lead guitar in The New, a band whose grungy sound was years ahead of its time. As was their name. Back then, group names were still plurals, The Shadows, The Drifters, The Ventures, etc. The New had somehow anticipated the trend for singular band names, The Who, The Move, Cream. Had they lived anywhere else but Cornwall, they would have made it big but Cornwall back then was a cultural desert, hardly the best place to be for upcoming pop groups, hoping to get noticed. Yet, someone from the music business must have come across The New. Perhaps a Soho impresario on holiday with his family in the south west found himself at one of the gigs they performed in village halls and thought to himself, I’ll use this because a year or so later The Kinks were playing one of Mawgan’s edgy riffs on You Really Got Me and soon after, Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck were using Mawgan’s feedback technique, passing it off as their own creation. The general public may not realise it yet but sixties rock and even heavy metal and punk owe a great debt to Mawgan Tresco’s guitar strangling on those early recordings. The Troggs’ Wild Thing is easily recognisable from Mawgan’s, Wild Nights and Purple Haze is virtually a note for note copy of Mawgan’s, Hazy Days. On Mawgan’s death, the band, acknowledging that he had been the songwriter and driving force, split and persevered with their day jobs.

‘That’s what we have so far,’ Macy Reno says. With no films currently in production, Macy is trying to thrash out the screenplay for Surf’s Up with his screenwriter, Dirk Van Dijk. Having worked closely on the script, Dirk will already be aware of the details. Macy’s summary must be for my benefit. My name is Chance Hacker. I am a rookie film editor sitting in to advise on possible continuity issues. I am new to the project and I’m not completely sure why I’m here. Normally a continuity editor wouldn’t be needed until after filming had begun.

‘Sure, it’s got surfing and music going for it but we are still talking rural Cornwall in the early sixties,’ Macy says. ‘And Joe Pub will not have heard of Mawgan Tresco. Not going to pull them in necessarily, is it, Dirk?’

‘You don’t like what I’ve written?’ Dirk says. Apparently, he has submitted numerous drafts now. I detect that all is not well between the pair. I say nothing. Let them settle their differences first.

‘To be honest, Dirk, the script is a bit ……. downbeat,’ Macy says.

I’m inclined to agree with him. In these days of CGI and superheroes, you need something sensational to sell a film. This is not the time to wheel out plodding parochial dramas.

‘Perhaps we should change the location to attract the big distributors,’ Macy continues. ‘What do you think? …… California?’

‘If you do that, you lose the story,’ Dirk says. ‘Surfing and California. Been done to death. Besides, the main focus here is surely the unlikely rural origins of the heavy guitar riff. We could concentrate more on the soundtrack.’

‘But we do need to big it up a bit,’ Macy says. ‘Come on now, Dirk. What have you got?’

They seem to be at odds with one another. Dirk writes dialogue, Macy wants pictures. Dirk writes realism, Macy wants surrealism. They are going round in circles. Perhaps I’ll have a go at something myself. …….. After all, I know how to research. I did a degree in Creative Writing. Well, Pulp Fiction. OK, I didn’t finish it, things got in the way. But, I’ve had dozens of stories published in Schlock magazines. I’m not sure how I ended up in film editing. It’s not where my heart is. I’d rather be writing. It would be nice to have a screenwriter’s credit.

‘What about a sliding doors moment?’ Dirk says. ‘A pivotal scene where the plot could go one way or the other. And then we could run the two narratives alternately.’

‘Perhaps more of a forking paths moment.’

‘Isn’t that the same thing?’

‘Not really. I’m thinking of a Borges scenario.’

‘Hey?’

‘Jorge Luis Borges, the writer of Labyrinths. His story where the protagonist comes to a fork in the road and instead of going one way or the other takes both paths simultaneously. Perhaps we could keep forking the paths and have endless split screen shots.’

‘Might be a hard slog ….. well, for me, the writer, for instance.’

I am thinking Dirk should count himself lucky, it will be a harder slog for me, the editor. Hopefully, Macy will realise the impracticalities. When you read a novel or indeed a work of non-fiction, if there is still such a thing in these post-truth times, and then see a film based on the book, you can’t help but notice subtle differences. You may prefer the novel. Or you might prefer the film. Most people are likely to say they prefer the novel. The director’s job is therefore not easy. He has to condense the novel into an acceptable length for the film so he needs to be creative. This can make an arty director like Macy Reno, who relies on his eccentricity, more prone to flights of fancy. Not that flights of fancy are altogether a bad thing. But, at the same time as being creative, the director needs to keep it simple. The attention span of cinema-goers today is slight. You need to put in some narrative redundancy so they can check their phones. I recommend a comic book approach.

Or he could have a doppelgänger or a series of doppelgängers,’ Macy says. ‘Split screen would work here too.’

I’m thinking split screen is hopelessly dated. Surely an innovative director like Macy realises he needs to move with the times. ……. There again, perhaps it would help give a retro feel to the film.

‘And being Cornwall,’ he continues. ‘We could maybe have Mawgan drawn into a sinister cult of fly agaric mushroom worshippers.’

‘Didn’t you do something like that in the last film?’ Dirk says. ‘The one about the exploding hedgehogs.’

Turbulence wasn’t about exploding hedgehogs. There was just a scene in it where a hedgehog explodes. And it is was central to the plot. Anyway, that was a cactus worshipping sect.’

‘Yes, I think I remember now. It was all to do with that sinister high pitched hum that was spreading across the country.’

‘If you remember, the sound was the rotation of the earth slowing down.’

Perhaps it was misleading to advertise it as being based on a true story.’

If you ever you come across the phrase, based on a true story, in relation to a film, read it as bears no resemblance to the original. Whatever the genre. This is one of the first things you learn in Film Appreciation 101.

‘Or maybe the villagers could be pagan cultists,’ Macy continues. ‘You know like The Wicker Man. Always in top ten British films, that one.’

‘I suppose you are talking about a small rural community at a time when there was not much going on,’ Dirk says. ‘It’s the right setting, but …… ‘

‘What about vampires? They are always good box office.’

‘Didn’t you have vampires in In the Dead of Night.’

‘No. That was zombies. I’ve never had vampires.’

‘You know, Macy. I’m wondering if perhaps we’ve got enough of a story already,’ Dirk says. ‘We’ve got a dazzling surfer, not to mention the musician who gave us modern rock music,’

Dirk has hit the nail on the head. Certainly, we need to emphasise the dark parts more, bring in a menacing villain or two and big up the love interest, but let’s keep to the point. Leif Velásquez displayed similar hyperbolic tendencies when I was working with him on Friday the Thirteenth. He suggested we run the filmed footage backwards and not in a Benjamin Button kind of way. The film would have been a box office disaster. For his epic State of Mind, I had to talk Leif out of using Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to plot the action. Great idea but too highbrow.

As Macy and Dirk don’t seem to be able to agree on anything, I decide to get cracking on some research towards my own screenplay. It doesn’t start well. I discover that Macy has been sitting on the project for years and most of those who might remember Mawgan are now dead and gone. Mrs Trescothick from the Women’s Institute remembers him as a shy boy who used to talk to cats and his old schoolmistress, centurion, Miss Penhaligon says he used to masturbate in class. None of his surfing contemporaries are around and I find nothing that sheds fresh light on Mawgan’s fatal ride. For all I know, he may have been riding a Honda 50. Or not gone out at all. While surfing is still going strong in Widemouth, all that is left to remember Mawgan’s efforts are a few black and white photos on the wall in a Widemouth beach café and these grainy images could have been of any surfer. I can see why Macy did not want to run it as it was. It would have been dull. Nor do I manage to find out how Mawgan’s songs got into the wrong hands. Nor is there any proof that he actually wrote them. No choice then but to embellish the story. Start from scratch even.

Then I have a stroke of luck. It seems far more sinister things were happening in the pop world than a few of Macy’s tunes being copied. News is breaking that many of the big hits back then were hyped up the charts by Wardour Street racketeer, Vito Gunn. Vito arranged for his associates to buy dozens of copies from each of the stores that put in returns for the charts up and down the country but he quickly realised that on a weekly basis this could become expensive so he dispensed with this nicety. Instead, he told the stores what numbers to put into their returns with the threat of sending in the boys if they didn’t. It worked. He only had to send the boys in once. Acts as unlikely as Brian Poole and the Tremeloes or The Dave Clark Five had number one hits. I mean, Glad All Over, really!

Hyping worthless tunes by talent-free groups up the charts became standard practice in the mid-sixties. Vito and fellow racketeer who went by the name of Maltese Fred quickly had the market sewn up. Between the two of them, they dictated what was played on the radio and who appeared on TV pop shows. The only surprise is that given the throwaway nature of some of the number one hits the story has taken so long to come to light. Surely people must have had their suspicions that something was amiss.

But, what about Mawgan Tresco’s tunes being stolen? This is not quite the same. I have actually heard Wild Nights and Hazy Days. They were transformed into Wild Thing and Purple Haze. Whether Mawgan actually wrote them or nor, these were important developments in rock music. Might Vito Gunn have been the mysterious geezer from out of town that Mawgan’s friend Jago referred to? We may never know but it hardly matters if it isn’t true. Vito is dead now. Alternatively, we could just make someone up. I’m pretty sure we will be able to create a credible character profile of a morally bankrupt sixties music mogul. A gun-toting Soho kiddie-fiddler perhaps or a Neo-Dickensian Reggie Kray. The badder the better. After all, it’s villains that put bums on seats in cinemas these days as much as heroes. Think Darth Vader, The Terminator, Hannibal Lecter. If you have a goodie in a movie then for balance you are going to need a baddie. It’s rule one of drama.

Macy phones to tell me that Dirk is off the film. Irreconcilable differences, he says, Dirk’s just not adventurous. I tell him not to worry, I have some ideas. I already have the music part of the film sketched out, I tell him. He is excited by my new discoveries about the sixties underworld and says we can definitely factor the gangland corruption into the script. We arrange a meeting. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with Macy Reno and Leif Velásquez, it is that truth has nothing whatsoever to do with movie making. It gets in the way. You can write whatever you want about anyone, dead or alive and make a film of it. No-one is going to come after you with lawsuits. Not even the Royals. Look at all those potentially libellous films about them and not a dickie bird.

Carte blanche, then. I quickly put together a script where our young British rock and roller gets fleeced by transsexual Bethnal Green gangster, Vito Gunn then in a turf war is taken out by Maltese Fred’s hitman, Harvey Wallbanger. All I need to do now is introduce the demon surfer from Hell, the badder the better, to spar with our protagonist and add a little love interest, perhaps a salacious, suntanned Californian Baywatch babe who just happens to find herself marooned in nineteen sixties Cornwall after a time travel experiment went wrong.

By the time I am finished, I will have transformed a forgotten Cornish surfer who wrote a couple of grungy rock songs and may or may not have crashed his bike on a dark night in December into a legend of biblical proportions, a veritable superhero with arcane powers. Mawgan’s death then would be by no means the end. I could leave room for his mystical return in a sequel. Maybe later we might turn it in into an adult cartoon series. Mawgan Tresco could become a comic book hero. Fortunes are made from small beginnings. You have to speculate to accumulate. You are probably beginning to notice the Mawgan Tresco merchandise in the shops. There will be a lot more when Surf’s Up comes out.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

SHOOTING SCRIPT

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SHOOTING SCRIPT by Chris Green

The headline came as a shock to Catherine Larsson. Gunned Down in Downing Street, it said. It was accompanied on the front page of The Independent that Matt was reading by a grainy picture of the Prime Minister clutching his shoulder. A trail of blood appeared to be trickling down his white shirt. Unaware that he was being scrutinised, Matt continued to turn the pages. PM Fighting for his Life, was emblazoned across the centre spread. This was big, big news. Assassination attempts on British Prime Ministers were unheard of. Why had it gone unnoticed? Catherine had heard nothing about the shooting on the news when she drove in to work, it was not reported in her tabloid, and curiously, no one in the office had mentioned it during the morning. Yet a story of this magnitude would be something that spread like norovirus. It ticked all the boxes for good newspaper copy, bad news, head of state, bloodshed and closeness to home. Even in these days of apathy towards politicians, this was something you would expect everyone to be talking about.

Having only been briefly introduced to Matt earlier in the day, Catherine was a little nervous of him. His having possession of the newspaper with the dramatic headline seemed to give him extra charisma. It somehow made him more unapproachable. She occupied herself with some desk tidying while she weighed up the situation. She was about to ask Matt for a look at the paper, when he had finished, or at least get him to clarify what was going on, but at that moment a call came in. When she had finished on the phone, Matt was nowhere to be seen. She had not noticed him leave. Having just started at Total Eclipse Events Management a week ago, Catherine was still finding her feet. She could not remember what position Matt held, in fact had no idea where she might find him, or even if he worked here at all. She had never seen him around before. Perhaps he was just a visitor. She looked around for her colleague Maddie who had introduced them, but now Maddie had vanished too.

Another call came in, and before Catherine knew it, it was lunchtime. Although she liked to keep up with current events, the attempted assassination of a public figure was perhaps in the big scheme of things not going to affect her greatly. It was only politics after all. And furthermore she didn’t care much for the Prime Minister anyway. He was smug and mendacious. Since her divorce eighteen months ago, Catherine was more concerned with keeping her own boat afloat, and making sure that her teenagers, DJ and Jessica were keeping away from the deadly new skunk parties she had heard were sweeping the country. All the same, it was very odd that news of this significance had not circulated more measurably.

Since starting at Total Eclipse, Catherine had begun to take her lunch at Gino’s, a small café around the corner from the office and down a side street. Here she could listen to jazz, enjoy a baguette and a cappuccino and generally chill out. She felt that it was important to put all work thoughts out of her head for a spell, so she usually went alone. She put in her order and took a seat. Miles Davis was playing It Ain’t Necessarily So. Catherine preferred ‘cool jazz’ and ‘modal jazz’ to the more recent ‘acid jazz’. Miles was one of her particular favourites. She loved the melodic style of the muted trumpet and the way his quintet filled in the harmonies.

While she was waiting for her order, as she looked around at the jazz posters that hung on the walls, she noticed that Gino’s offered a range of newspapers. Curious once more, Catherine scrutinised them one by one for any news of the assassination attempt. To her puzzlement and alarm, none of them carried the story, not even the Independent, which instead led on the earthquake in the Middle East, with a feel-good picture of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Australia on the right hand side of the page for balance. Catherine was not comfortable with things she could not explain. They made her head spin and gave here a feeling of nausea in the stomach. She did not touch her mushroom risotto.

During the afternoon, when she had a few quiet moments, Catherine zipped round the news sites on the internet. There was not a mention of an assassination attempt anywhere. Had the whole thing been a wind-up? But what would the motive have been? Surely there was no point in such an elaborate hoax, for her benefit. She felt too cautious to bring it up with any of her colleagues. She was the new girl and did not want them to think she was doolaley. There was still no sign of Matt. Had she imagined him too? She thought back to the moment when she had been introduced. There had only been a brief exchange. They had shaken hands. Her mind had misted over and she had felt dizzy, she recalled. She had thought nothing of it at the time as she was in the middle of some printing, and the printer had jammed. She could now bring to mind next to nothing about Matt, other than he was a large thick set man with, she thought, a trace of an accent. She could not recall what the accent was. He was wearing a grey suit, or was it jeans and a sweatshirt, or was it a diver’s wetsuit. She was not sure. It might have been any of these. She remembered only that their eyes had met briefly. This was shortly before he had disappeared. She recalled she had sensed a charge of electricity. Something strange was definitely happening.

As Catherine was getting into her Micra at 5 o clock, she noticed a black BMW leaving the car park. Although the windows were heavily tinted, behind the wheel was a large shadowy figure. As he sped off, she noted the registration. It was a 68 plate with the first two letter area code being LK. A 68 plate!! But this was 2017. The plate would not be due for another year or so. She experienced that feeling of nausea again, like she was slipping away.

‘Stanmore, London,’ said Devinder, in response to Catherine’s question about the origin of the plate. She had phoned him on her hands free while waiting for the temporary traffic lights to change at the St Georges junction. ‘But 68 is impossible. You must have misread it.’

‘No, it was definitely LK 68 something,’ she said.

‘It is easily done,’ he countered.

Catherine was determined she had not been mistaken.

‘Would you like me to come over?’ said Devinder, sensing that Catherine was more than a little distressed. ‘I can leave Ravi to look after the shop.’

Catherine did not consider her and Devinder to be an item, but after the dating agency had matched her with a series of chain-smoking lorry drivers, balding insurance salesmen with paunches and sixty year-old thirtysomethings, she had found Devinder to be a breath of fresh air. She had taken to seeing him once or twice a week. She found him knowledgeable, witty, understanding and very good company, except when the cricket was on. Perhaps it was the lavish gifts he bestowed on them on occasions, or some under the counter activity that she was unaware of, but even DJ and Jessica seemed to accept him. Devinder’s biggest plus point however was his ability as a lover. No-one had understood her body and pressed all the right buttons like Devinder. It was as though he knew what she was thinking. But of course it was early days and she was careful to remind herself that her ex-husband, Hilmar had once seemed like the man of her dreams.

When Catherine arrived back at her flat in Cardigan Street, she found it empty. Perhaps DJ and Jessica were at the library. There again, more likely they weren’t. There were plenty more unsavoury places to hang out. What could you do with teenagers? Whatever you told them, they would be likely to ignore. They would negotiate their own terms of engagement with life’s great mysteries.

Devinder duly arrived and while Catherine expressed her confusion, administered much needed comfort. Before long, they found themselves in an uncontrollable embrace. This seemed to happen every time they met lately. There was only one place to go. Afterwards, Devinder attempted to put Catherine in the picture about reality.

‘Reality is an illusion,’ he said. ‘Even the teachings of the Ten Gurus will tell you that this is so. For instance during sleep dreams seem very real, but upon awakening, you realise that they were just dreams. So it is with this world that we call reality. It is possible to wake from it too? Sri Ramana Maharshi, the great Indian teacher, maintained that the difference between a dream while sleeping and the dream we call wakefulness is only of duration, one short and the other one long.’

‘So I did not meet a man called Matt today, who had a unique newspaper and a car from the future,’ Catherine protested. There had been she realised now something strange about Matt’s presence. It was difficult to explain; it was as though he was there but not there. Although he was broad, he was at the same time, insubstantial, like an apparition.

‘We never directly experience the world around us,’ said Devinder. All we ever know are the contents of consciousness, the thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sensations that appear in the mind.’

It was just after six in the evening. Dennis and Audrey Crick were enjoying Eggheads on TV, when they heard a loud knock at the door. Living as they did on a suburban estate, the Cricks quite frequently had cold-callers at this time of day, so they did not immediately answer. At their time of life, they did not get a lot of friends casually coming round and their own family had over the years spread out. Besides, people that Dennis and Audrey knew would always phone before calling round. This caller seemed persistent, so on the third or fourth knock, with a grunt of disapproval, Dennis got up and went to the door. The figures he was faced with across the threshold, a man and a woman, did not look as if they were representatives from a power supplier trying to get customers to switch, or speculative callers on behalf of a charity. They wore dark blue quasi-military uniforms and had a grave look about them. The man introduced himself and flashed an ID card. Dennis did not have his reading glasses, so just took it on trust that it was genuine.

‘You may have heard that there’s been a nuclear accident,’ the man said. He did not give the impression that he was joking.

‘No,’ said Dennis.

‘We’re here to let you know about the arrangements for your safe evacuation,’ the woman said.

‘What?’ said Dennis, astonishment now mixed with perplexity.

‘We would like you not to panic, but to be ready with the things you need to take in one hour,’ said the man. He barked something cryptic into his chunky radio pack. The pack Dennis noticed had a bold stencil stamp on it, MKEF or something.

‘Transport is being arranged,’ said the woman. ‘We’ll be taking you to the closest reception centre.’

‘Any questions,’ said the man.

Dennis was too stunned for enquiry. His rational mind was dissolving. He stood on the step with his mouth open.

‘We’ve got other calls to make,’ said the woman. ‘One hour! Please be ready!’

Dennis closed the door and went back inside. Barry for The Eggheads had just won the Arts and Books round, having correctly identified that it was Picasso who had said, ‘he wanted to tear reality apart’.

‘Who was it, love?’ asked Audrey. ‘You’ve gone very pale.’

‘I think we’re being evacuated,’ said Dennis. ‘A nuclear accident.’

‘There must have been a radiation leak,’ said Audrey, applying a phrase she remembered from the news coverage of the French nuclear plant crisis.

‘But I don’t think that there is a nuclear power station within a hundred miles,’ said Dennis. ‘But then, I couldn’t be sure.’

‘Didn’t you buy a geiger counter at the car boot last year?’ said Audrey.

‘No dear, that was a metal detector. I don’t think that would work. Anyway it hasn’t got any batteries. I was meaning to get some.’ Dennis did not get out much since the rheumatoid arthritis had worsened. It was over a year now since he had been to a Milton Keynes Dons home game. He had not been since they lost 4-0 to Yeovil. The Don’s Montenegrin keeper had been responsible for all four goals in a nightmare game, but the following week he had played a blinder against local rivals, Stevenage in a narrow 1-0 win and even got away with a blatant trip on Stevenage’s Sudanese striker. Dennis found things had a way of working towards a balance. A friend of his was fond of saying, ‘go with the flow.’ Dennis found that this made a lot of sense and saved a lot of time and energy. You could not expect to get a run of green lights all the way to the superstore. And if you did, there would be road works on the way to the garden centre. Dennis attempted to adapt this principle about dynamic equilibrium to their present situation.

‘Shall I turn over to the news?’ said Audrey. ‘There’s sure to be something about it.’

There was no mention of anything about the emergency on the BBC News or Sky or the headlines on teletext. The military build up on the Iraq-Iran border and the floods in North America were the main stories and there was a report about a beached whale in the Outer Hebrides. Nothing anywhere about radiation. Perhaps security issues were involved, and the authorities wanted to keep it a secret. If this was the case, how could anyone hope to find out?

Dennis went round to see the Lockharts next door, knocked several times, and peered through the front window, but it appeared they were out. Perhaps they had already been evacuated, he thought. He was about to go round to see if the De Koonings had heard anything, when Audrey called him.

‘I’ve just phoned Alison and she thinks that it is a hoax,’ she said.

‘Is she sure?’ asked Dennis.

‘You know Alison pet; she knows everything,’ Audrey replied. ‘She thinks it’s pranksters.’

‘Bit of a rum thing to joke about,’ said Dennis.

‘Alison said that the Sintons had two nice young men round to tell them about the total eclipse of the sun. You would only be able to see it from high up, they told her. They went to the clock tower and waited, but there was no eclipse and when they got home they found they had been burgled,’ Audrey said.

‘Blimey!’ said Dennis.

‘Then there was the time they said on the tele that Big Ben was going to go digital,’ said Audrey.

‘But wasn’t that April Fools Day,’ said Dennis.

‘I still don’t believe it,’ Audrey continued. ‘What do they say on that show, It’s a Wind Up?’

‘Have we ever watched it?’ said Dennis. Lately, Dennis was finding the drawers in the cabinet where he stored his narrative harder and harder to open. The wisdom of age was, as far as he could see, a fallacy. You spend your life accumulating knowledge so that you can have facts at your fingertips, but the cruel irony being that when you are at a stage of life when you might benefit from this, you are already beginning to lose stock daily from this repository of information. Dennis’s consciousness was diminishing. Most days he and Audrey watched Eggheads, Celebrity Eggheads and perhaps EastEnders, then let the cat out, put their teeth away on the bathroom shelf and went to bed. Sometimes they would stay up to watch a drama. He was not sure why they watched these programmes. He could never remember the answers to the questions on Eggheads, usually lost the thread of the complicated plot lines in EastEnders and had no idea at all what was going on in the drama. There had been one on recently called Total Eclipse, which was so incomprehensible it might as well have been science fiction.

‘I’ll make us a nice cup of tea,’ said Audrey.

Dennis and Audrey settled down to watch Celebrity Eggheads, which had just started. The Eggheads were playing a team of celebrity chefs. In the Music round the TV chef with the double-barrelled name and the plum in his mouth had guessed correctly that it was Bungalow Bill and not Caravan Carl or Penthouse Pete who had ‘gone out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun’, in The Beatles’ song. Pat from The Eggheads knew that Lou Reed had been the singer with The Velvet Underground and the celebrity chef with the double-barrelled name was debating whether Roy Orbison had had a number 1 with Dreaming, In Dreams or #9 Dream, when there was a knock at the door. It was Pieter de Kooning.

‘Are you and Audrey ready?’ he asked. He had his coat on and a large Team Blitz sports bag across his shoulder.

‘Audrey’s sister says that it is a prank,’ said Dennis.

‘Well, we’re all set,’ said Pieter. ‘The children are really excited. They think we’re going on holiday. They’ve packed the playhouse. How much do you think they will let us take?’

‘I don’t know what to think…….What did they say to you?’ Dennis asked. ‘To be truthful, I did not have much of a conversation with them.’

‘They’re not allowed to say very much, are they? National security. Anyway, it’s probably one of the French nuclear power stations that’s melting down or whatever they call it after there’s been an explosion. The French have got hundreds of reactors dotted all around the coast, and the southerly winds that we have been getting would be blowing the dust over this way.’

‘You don’t think it could be a nuclear war,’ said Dennis. ‘We seem to be very good these days at upsetting other countries.’

‘Either way, there would probably be a news blackout,’ said Pieter.

‘You never know what to believe these days, do you?’ said Dennis.

‘No hay banda! Nothing you see or hear is real.’ said Pieter.

‘Come again,’ said Dennis.

Mulholland Drive,’ said Pieter.

Dennis was none the wiser. Perhaps Mulholland Drive was a film. He and Audrey seldom watched films. Except for The Great Escape or The Railway Children occasionally on Boxing Day. Films today were much too hard to follow.

Eamonn Hess had not always been a television screen-writer. He left university after his dissertation on ‘The Illusion of Reality’ had been poorly received by the School of Natural and Social Sciences. Eamonn’s research had been helped along by an eclectic interest in Eastern mysticism, string theory, Carl Jung, Monty Python and psychoactive drug use. The central tenet of his thesis held that contradictory statements could be true; Schrödinger’s Cat was as we know both dead and alive. Were we limited to a single outcome from our decisions, or might a number of outcomes be realised simultaneously, as in Borges’s ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’? Paradox was key to Eamonn’s argument. Which is better, he asked, eternal happiness or a tuna sandwich? It would appear that eternal happiness is better, but, he argued, this is really not so. After all, nothing is better than eternal happiness, and a tuna sandwich is certainly better than nothing. Therefore a tuna sandwich is better than eternal happiness. His frivolity and word play did not go down well with the examiners.

Disenchanted by the judgement of his peers, who he felt had misunderstood him, he did not put pen to paper again until he was thirty, by which time his youthful fascination for Michael Moorcock and multiverses had been tempered by a little life experience. During this time he had been a circus performer, a crop duster pilot, a crime scene cleaner, a ski resort illustrator and a tour guide. He was the proverbial square peg.

Through all of his exploits, Eamonn had kept a loose circle of friends. He was a keen saxophone player and could keep fellow musicians, Bernie, Bazza, Frankie, Gooch and Ziggy, or Eric, Derek, Dolph and Mario entertained for hours with apocryphal tales, in the Jazz bar of The Blind Monkey, where they hung out. Bernie might come up with a story about the couple who named their son Google after meeting through the Internet. Bazza might share his tale about the time Amy Winehouse’s beehive caught fire. Then Eamonn would trump them with a tale of how in 2003 an acquaintance of his had found Osama bin Laden several times by remote viewing. He told the CIA where they could find him but had been told that the US would not be able to conduct the War on Terror effectively if Osama bin Laden were captured or killed. Eamonn had hundreds of these stories. The world it seemed was awash with covert activity and overrun by bizarre individuals. He let his coterie know that the forced transition to digital television broadcasting was to utilise the miniature cameras and microphones that would be built into set-top boxes and new televisions to spy on people. And that mind control technology was embedded in the digital signal and used for subliminal advertising. When you buy your Digital TV – be sure to check it out for hidden cameras! It would be too easy to write off Eamonn’s tales as conspiracy theory or urban myth; the alarming thing was that some of his bizarre stories proved to be the truth. As you now know, most of the honey you buy in the grocery store contains no actual honey whatsoever but is made of cheap mystery sweeteners, illegally imported from China. You now know too that flu vaccines often contain live flu viruses and actually cause the flu as a way to worsen the flu season and scare more people into buying vaccines.

Jam sessions at The Blind Monkey interspersed with these exchanges could go on well into the night. Eamonn refined his stories over the years and his storytelling became more and more polished, until one day fellow saxophonist, Fats, suggested Eamonn should write for television.

‘TV drama is like painting by numbers,’ said Eamonn. ‘Its so completely predictable.’

‘Granted most of it is garbage, but there are a few good things,’ said Fats.

‘One or two maybe. But the television schedule is so mindlessly conventional. The same programmes in the same order every day on every channel. It’s spoon-feeding couch potatoes syrup,’ said Eamonn.

‘You are one stubborn sonofabitch. Sometimes in life to get anywhere you have to compromise. Meet them half way. Look at it like this. The jazz world wouldn’t have been able to accept Charlie Parker if he had hit them with his virtuoso improvisations straight off. Even Bird had to establish himself as a player first,’ said Fats.

‘You mean I have to make a name with a style that doesn’t rock the boat too much,’ said Eamonn.

‘That’s right. You’re getting it at last,’ said Fats. ‘Once you’ve had one or two of your efforts screened, then you will be able to experiment. Take your cue from Miles. He started off filling in the harmonies for others. But, once he had made his name, he could make the music that he really wanted. He had the freedom to experiment. And of course he went on to create some of the twentieth century’s coolest music. The point is he took his audience with him. He could get away with playing anything and they’d listen.’

‘So for the time being I stick to the banal plot line of the discovery of a crime, the plodding investigation by maverick investigator who has family problems and a battle with the bottle, moving towards the arrest of a perpetrator at the end of the episode,’ said Eamonn. ‘Is that what you are saying?’

Bergerac is not on any more,’ said Fats. ‘Things have moved on a bit. They have espionage thrillers and all sorts these days.’

‘Still written to a formula,’ said Eamonn. ‘Disillusioned intelligence agent goes off the grid, defies authority, blows stuff up. Shoots a lot of people and single-handedly makes the world a safer place.’

‘And psychological dramas.’

‘Formulaic. Visibly unstable characters. Dark rooms with long shadows. Sparing dialogue with a lot of echo on the voices. Flashbacks. Bit of sinister music by Sigur Ros repeated throughout.’

‘I’m sure you’re allowed to throw in a twist or two,’ said Fats.

‘I guess I’ll have to,’ said Eamonn.

Eamonn’s success in screen-writing was not immediate. He had to send off numerous ‘spec scripts’, before his first was accepted, a fifty minute post-modern crime drama called Missing Link. Although it was screened at 11: 45 at night on BBC2, it was so popular with viewers that it was quickly re-shown, with just a few cuts, at a sensible hour on BBC1. It also caught the attention of producers at the corporation and Eamonn found himself working on the team writing for the top BBC soaps. This was not exactly what he would have wanted, he would have preferred the top BBC spy genre perhaps, but the money was good. He knuckled down and gave them scripts involving baby swaps, cot deaths and the annual torching of the pub in their flagship soap. These all seemed to go down well, but when Eamonn upped the ante and wrote Christian suicide bombers into the script, the producers baulked. Fortunately people in television now knew his name and all was not lost, as a young executive recognised that Eamonn’s controversial themes would suit the experimental political thriller. Eamonn embarked upon a series of successful dramas in this genre, Double Take, The Beirut Diaries, Conspiracy, Total Eclipse, etc.

Following his initial success, Eamonn installed himself in a small but well placed penthouse overlooking the Thames to do his writing and bought the latest ibook and software. Writing required solitude, but at the same time it was important to be near the hub of things to provide inspiration. Surrey Quays provided both. He got himself into the habit of writing from 8 to 2 every day and again for an hour in the evening. His reputation developed steadily. His edgy thrillers Collateral Damage and Fragile both won awards, the latter compared by one critic to David Lynch, and it was suggested that he might move into films.

Eamonn was always meticulous in the way he presented his scripts, down to the last detail. He even put in stars and stripes logos where he thought the commercial breaks should be placed if the programme were sold to American television. He was certain that he had saved the document for Gunned Down in Downing Street correctly. He had updated it daily. Final Draft 8 was a piece of software on which you could rely. Nearly all screen-writers used it. But when he opened his document one day, he could not help but notice that a key scene had disappeared from it, the scene in which his investigator, Matt McCormick was reading the press reports about the assassination attempt. He scrolled up and down the pages and searched for key words with APPLE- F . The scene had somehow been deleted. Eamonn was mystified.

He updated his firewall and virus checker, set them to ‘paranoid mode’, ran a host of malware checks and retyped the scene, as close as he could remember to his original. Fortunately there was not much dialogue, as there were only two characters, Matt and Maddie. Much of this section consisted of sluglines and action. Most of the action took place in the office building of the event organisation company. Eamonn set Final Draft to auto-save each document every two minutes. He also began to back up all his files on a data stick and also, for belt and braces security, on icloud.

Two weeks later he discovered that, Bruce and Lee, the two Emergency Force characters from Brink had disappeared entirely from his screenplay. Every reference to them was gone. To his alarm they had also disappeared from the all of the sequential copies of Brink on his data stick backup and from icloud.

Shane, the technician on the repair desk at PC World told him. ‘We’ve run dozens of tests. There have been no incursions into your hard drive. Your machine seems perfect.’

‘But its also gone on all of the storage backups,’ said Eamonn. ‘How do you explain that?’

‘The loss of data there is even weirder,’ said Shane. ‘It’s is all a bit GCHQ,’

‘Either that or X Files,’ Eamonn said.

Shane was not familiar with The X Files. He was from an X Factor generation.

‘There are measures we could take to find out where the data is disappearing to’ he said. ‘We could put a programme on that would track each byte of data.’

‘But doesn’t the Apple operating system do that anyway?’ queried Eamonn.

‘Well, it does and it doesn’t,’ said Shane.

‘Perhaps it would be a good idea,’ Eamonn said, ‘to start again from scratch.’

Fortunately though there was an offer on a  Lenovo Ideacentre All-in-One Desktop PC. They could, Shane told him, pre-load all the necessary software for him.

Shane readied the PC, and Eamonn was soon typing into the recovered version of Brink, putting in the passages that had disappeared from the original. It was a cracking script, he felt as he embellished the evacuation scene. Happy that he had made good progress, he went off to make a cup of tea. When he returned, to his horror, the new passages had gone again. In fact the text of the document was disappearing before his eyes. The sentences were evaporating.

Soon there would be a blank screen.

Soon there would be no-one left in Milton Keynes. Peterborough and Northampton were being evacuated too. There would be burning and looting all over central England. There would be many casualties before order was restored. As he pressed keys helplessly and line by line Brink vanished, he was completely unaware of its far reaching consequences. How could he know? Nothing like this had happened before.

Eamonn noticed now that, minimised on the task bar, he had the screenplay for ‘Gunned Down‘ open. The assassin, posing as a reporter, was outside Downing Street, ready to strike as the Prime Minister emerged from Number 10.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

 

All About Jazz

allaboutjazz

All About Jazz by Chris Green

All About Jazz tends to be quiet in the afternoon. After the lunchtime rush, things do not pick up again until the evening. We are a small establishment down a side street on the edge of town. If you were driving along the main road out of town, you might not know we were there, unless you happened to spot the sign saying All About Jazz – Open Lunchtime till Late, Live Music at Weekends. My partner, Jazmin bought the lease last year with her inheritance. She saw the advert in the local paper and liked the idea of the place because of its name. I was a little dubious about the idea, not just because of its poor location but because, at the time, I knew nothing about jazz or running a bar. My objections were ignored. In no time at all, she was arranging professional photoshoots for the publicity material.

Many of our regulars are seasoned jazz buffs. The afternoon lull gives me the chance to listen to a selection of tunes. I am able to study album cover notes to see which musicians play on which tunes. Jazz players are often not household names so it seems a good idea for a rookie jazz bar proprietor to build up his knowledge. I am able to pick out passages that I can refer to, an improvised saxophone break, a change of time signature or perhaps a hidden piano melody. There’s not much point in claiming to be being a jazz fan if you don’t appreciate the subtle nuances of the form. You might as well listen to Olly Murs or Sam Smith.

Jazmin likes to get out in the afternoons so I often take the opportunity to relax in a comfy chair with an iced coffee and a good book, Haruki Murakami, Philip C. Dark, that kind of thing. I like a little quirkiness. Life can be too serious. There’s nothing better than a gentle read with some old standards playing softly in the background. I am doing so when the tall man in the light-coloured suit walks in. I have not seen him before. He has a dark complexion, not black, not white, not even brown but a colour you just can’t put into words, and slicked back hair with a quiff that seems to defy gravity. He has a facial scar and a thick gold necklace. He could easily be auditioning for a David Lynch film. Louche is not quite the word I am looking for but it is close. He orders a large Plymouth gin and bitters. He is of indeterminable race. His accent is impossible to place. For all I know, he might be from Mars.

He starts talking to me about security cameras. Although he looks nothing like a rep, it seems he might be trying to sell me a new CCTV system. Either that or he is trying to rob me. More likely trying to rob me. But, it transpires security is just a random interest. A passing topic of conversation. After we have moved on to necromancy and The Twilight Zone, he takes his drink and goes over to sit at a table by the window. All the time that he is here, I feel unaccountably on edge. Being a jazz bar, we get plenty of oddballs passing through, but there is something different about this one. Something unexplainable, sinister, threatening. It is not just his unusual choice of conversational topics or the spooky way he maintains eye contact yet appears to remain aloof. His very demeanour carries with it an air of menace. I am not one for a lot of mumbo jumbo but I can detect a dark aura around him. When he is in the room, it feels like the air in the room has changed.

After he has gone, his presence oddly remains. I find myself looking around to see if he is still lurking in the bar somewhere. In one of the booths perhaps. I check to see that he is not crouching in one of the alcoves or hiding behind the pillar. I take a look in the toilets, the gents and the ladies several times. I make my way outside and wander up and down the street to make sure he has really gone.

The stranger comes in again the following day at the same time and once again orders a large Plymouth gin and bitters. We speak about GCHQ, rock formations and doppelgängers before he once again takes his drink over to the table by the window. Once again, I experience the same feeling of unease while he is in the bar without being able to explain why and the same feeling that he is still present after he has gone. When Jazz comes back from the printers, she notices that something is wrong.

‘I had a strange fellow come in,’ I tell her. ‘He spooked me a bit. …… But it’s probably nothing to worry about.’

She tells me about an offer they have at the printers on giclée prints. ‘They can do A3 posters for us for …..’

I am no longer listening. I have drifted off.

A pattern begins to develop. The stranger comes in every day at the same time. He always wears the same light-coloured suit. At no time does he introduce himself or explain his mission. He always orders the same drink, Plymouth gin and Angostura bitters. On each visit, he guides the conversation, changing the subject at will, without warning. We speak about cave paintings, psychiatrists, and remote viewing or, string theory, hot air balloons and Don Quixote before he takes his drink over to the window. He always takes the same seat at the same table. On the first few occasions, I entertain the idea that he is waiting for someone but no-one ever joins him. Perhaps he is looking out for someone on the street, not that many people pass this way unless they are coming into All About Jazz.

‘I can always tell something is bothering you, honey, by the music you play,’ Jazmin says, as we are locking up one night. ‘Do you realise you played Guy Bloke’s Improvisation for Balalaika, Bass Guitar and Strimmer three times tonight, all nineteen minutes of it? No wonder everyone was gone by half-past ten. What were you thinking?’

‘Did I? I must have been ….. distracted,’ I tell her.

‘You’ve been ….. distracted quite a lot lately. Sometimes I think we live in separate worlds.’

The same thought has occurred to me but I do not say so.

‘And we haven’t made love for nearly three weeks,’ she continues.

‘Is it really that long?’

‘Yes, it is that long. If I didn’t know you better, I’d think there was someone else. …….. Look! Let me know if I’m wrong but I think this strange mood of yours started when that weird fellow began to come in. The one you told me about who talks about NASA, Twin Peaks and rubber plants. Does he still come in every afternoon?’

‘Yes, he does, Jazz. 3:15 on the dot. But it feels like he’s here all the time, now. It’s as if he never goes away.’

‘Right! I’m going to be here tomorrow afternoon. I can easily rearrange my hair appointment and I can pick up the gilcée prints anytime.’

…………………………….

‘You told me he comes in every day at the same time. 3:15, you said.’

‘He has done for the last three weeks, yes.’

‘Well, my sweet, it’s half past three and he’s not here.’

‘Perhaps he’s been held up.’

‘Or perhaps made up. A figment of your over-active imagination.’

‘If you don’t believe me, have a look at the CCTV.’

‘I did. This morning. It wasn’t switched on.’

‘You’re probably doing something wrong. I’ll have a look at it later.’

‘But you have to admit you have been behaving rather strange lately. Perhaps you ought to see someone. There’s a new holistic ….. ‘

‘Give him a few more minutes. I’m sure he will be here.’

‘What’s his name? If you’ve been talking to him for three weeks, you must have found out something about him.’

‘He’s never mentioned his name. He talks about robotics, firecrackers and necromancy. Or …..’

‘California, cloning and black holes. I know. And you never bring any subjects of conversation up? Like, who are you? What do you do? Why do you keep coming into our bar?’

‘It doesn’t work like that. You’d have to be with him to realise how he can just take you over. He takes your will away, like a psychic vampire.’

‘Wassup,’ says a deep voice beside us.

It is N’Golo. N’Golo is an African drummer who sometimes sits in with bands here at weekends. He likes to drop by in the afternoon for a lemongrass tea. He is wearing a kaftan, brightly patterned trousers and jangling Berber jewellery.

‘Your djinn friend not here today then, bro?’ he says.

‘You mean gin, N’Golo.’

‘No. I mean djinn. Juju. The man in the white decks. That man is bad-bad.’

‘How can you tell, N’Golo?’ I say. ‘As you know, I am not one for a lot of mumbo jumbo.’

‘I just know, bro.’

‘But how? I get a bad feeling when he’s here. In fact, even when he isn’t here. But, I can’t explain it. And Jazmin here wants to know.’

‘Hear di smell. Many ways to sense it. Everybody is different. But it’s not how or why, it just is. He’s djinn, trust me.’

I have been reading up on jazz and it all began in New Orleans. The word comes from the Creole patois, jass, referring to sexual activity. In the late 19th century. European horns met African drums and jazz music was born. Jazz inherited all the magic of the African continent. The heart of darkness. Voodoo. Djinn. Juju. While the rest of America was stomping their feet to military marches, New Orleans started dancing to voodoo rhythms. It may be nothing. But voodoo, djinn, juju or whatever you want to call it and jazz are inextricably linked. And our bar is called All About Jazz. So, it should be all about jazz. We could educate people on the history of jazz. To the seedy jazz joints, dens of vice probably all of them. To the progress of the new music through Buddy Bolden, Nick LaRocca, Jelly Roll Morton. We could hold classes, workshops. We could bring people to the town to learn about jazz. The nuts and bolts of jazz. Its cultural constituents, the brass band parades, Mardi Gras, downtown Creole, dirty music, corner saloon dances. The nitty-gritty bare bones elements of Jazz that you do not find in the safe little bubble of Smooth Jazz. Smooth Jazz! Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Jazmin is less than enthusiastic about the idea. She thinks I’m going off on one. The Jazz that it is all about she feels is her. She wants it to stay that way. She insists it stays that way. It was her money that set us up, she says. She can be a bully at times. Oh well! Perhaps people don’t need to know where jazz originated or if they do they can just go online or read Casey Gasher’s book, Basin Street.

…………………………….

In moments of despair, one can fall prey to a mindset which tells you that the current set of circumstances has always been so and will always be so. But, this is not the case. Things do change. As the great mystic philosopher, Lars Wimoweh was fond of saying, change is the only certainty. After a few days of the tall stranger not showing, his presence, imagined or not, begins to fade. I no longer feel distracted. Mindfulness returns. I manage not to accidentally play Guy Bloke’s Improvisation for Balalaika, Bass Guitar and Strimmer or any other jazz track featuring a strimmer. I am able to start conversations on topics that I am interested in, rhythm, harmony, syncopation. I feel the sap rising. I manage to heal the rift with Jazmin in the nicest possible way. Things go swimmingly at All About Jazz. The Simon Somerset Quintet play a spirited Saturday night set and Giles Davis weaves his mellow magic on his muted trumpet through Sunday afternoon.

It is comforting to get a bad episode out of the way. Jazz thinks so too. She feels it is good that I’ve got a grip and pulled myself together like her holistic counsellor, Ike Murlo said I should. My ….. difficulty was harming business, she says. Little by little, Jazz begins to trust me to hold the fort in the afternoons once more.

But although Ike Murlo tells me that the crisis has passed, that I’m over the worst, sometimes I seem to still be visited by lingering uncertainty. That nagging doubt that surrounds an unresolved mystery. I realise I should know better but each time I am outside having a smoke, and I catch a glimpse of a tall figure in the distance, I imagine it to be the dark stranger in the light-coloured suit coming to get me. Suddenly, nearly everyone in town seems to be above average height and be dressed in light-coloured suits. Ike Murlo tells me that such a frequency illusion is quite common and even comes up with some numbers to back it up. Apparently, it is known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. It does not help to be aware of this. And sometimes even the ones who dress normally now come across as suspicious, I tell him. He assures me this will pass, but just in case perhaps I should see him twice a week.

…………………………….

Jazmin has gone to pick up some posters for the summer jazz extravaganza we are planning. I did try to get her to book Guy Bloke as a headliner but she thinks he is too avant garde. Well, you can’t have everything. I’m sure that Guy doesn’t mind too much. He has plenty of other gigs lined up. Meanwhile, I am relaxing in the bar. Suddenly aware of someone in my space, I look up from my Philip C. Dark thriller. He is not the usual type that we get in mid-afternoon. He is wearing an oatmeal checked three piece suit but his coarse features do not go with the suit. They belong to someone from out of town, a long way out of town. Over the hills and far, far away. The chimerical stranger makes a remark about the music that is playing in the background, Scott Walker’s Tilt. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I realise, but I find it relaxing. He orders a pink gin.

‘That’s gin and Angostura bitters,’ he says. As if I didn’t know.

He starts talking about …… CCTV cameras. He seems to know a lot about them. I am still trying to get a grip, mumbling incoherently as the conversation moves on to necromancy and The Twilight Zone.

 

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

The Sadness of the Post-Truth Pianist

thesadnessoftheposttruthpianist

The Sadness of the Post-Truth Pianist by Chris Green

You don’t hear Mozart a lot on the radio these days. While his music isn’t officially banned like that of Beethoven and Bach, playing it is strongly discouraged. You can no longer buy decadent European music in the shops. No Fauré, No Debussy, no Chopin and certainly no Sebelius. Jingoism has spread to most areas of culture but it is perhaps most noticeable in music. Fed daily by post-truth sound bites, prejudice is now rife. England’s isolationist stance has strengthened its grip. Classic FM now feeds its listeners on a diet of Elgar and Vaughan Williams and even the latter is a bit suspect because of his Welsh sounding name. Wales and Scotland are of course long gone, this by mutual agreement in the aftermath of Brexit, so no Karl Jenkins or …… William Wallace. No, I guess you’ve not come across William Wallace all that frequently either. Perhaps the bagpipes were a natural obstacle for Scottish classical music that was never successfully overcome.

For those of us that really love music, it is thrilling to hear Wolfgang Amadeus’s Piano Concerto no. 23 again. It is heart-warming that in this stifling climate of fanatical bellicism, one or two broadcasters like Miles London still risk playing European music. Miles, despite his British-sounding name, has always been a champion of free speech. It could be argued that he gets away with his stance by virtue of his name. John Schafernaker was imprisoned for playing Shostakovich, this before the Russians actually appeared on the blacklist. Others, like Martin Paris and Michelle DuBois, were not only taken off the air but deported. Boys born today are required to be called Hugh or Rupert, Trevor or Nigel while girls must be named Audrey or Doris, Millicent or Lesley. In exceptional circumstances, Mary and Jane are allowed but notice has been issued to Registry Offices up and down the country to no longer allow names like Jennifer or Anne that have their origins across the Channel.

I used to enjoy going to Ristorante Rossellini for a Caprese salad with pesto sauce followed by tagliatelle Genovese and tiramisu. My partner, Patrizia and I would share a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino. Puccini or Donizetti would be playing gently in the background. Luigi would come over during the meal and ask if everything was a tuo piacimento. Sadly, Italian restaurants have all been closed down and Patrizia has been repatriated. Cheese on toast with a bottle of brown ale on my own at the Dog and Duck with whippets running around and Ed Sheeran blaring out is just not the same.

Puzzled by how the wave of nationalism grew so rapidly, I decided to investigate its origins. What had happened to the idea of the global village? Jingoism seemed to be going against the general tide of cultural exploration. After all, until recently we had been all too willing to go on Mediterranean holidays. We couldn’t get enough of the sun, sea and sex. We were quick to develop a taste for wine, olive oil and garlic. We readily took to café society and al fresco dining and brought it home. Pizza parlours proliferated and late night kebab houses opened in every town. We didn’t even baulk at eating snails or some of the unsavoury things Germans put in their sausages. We eagerly participated in European sporting events and brought over so many European footballers that it was difficult to find a British one in any of our top flight teams.

The turn of the tide appears to have been the outbreak of mad cow disease in the late 1990s which prompted the EU to refuse to buy our beef. This struck at the heart of the British psyche. Cows, it appears were the linchpin of our culture. British beef, British beef, British beef, we chanted. We railed and railed but to no avail. Our continental comrades refused to listen. Brussels quickly became branded as the root of all evil. We wanted a life without the interference of Johnny Foreigner. Everything bad that happened could now be blamed on the foul capital of that slimy little lowland backwater that nobody wanted to visit.

But, to fully explain the demonisation of all things European, perhaps we might turn our eyes once more to music. Every year the United Kingdom, as it was then, would carefully craft the perfect song to win the Eurovision Song Contest. Each year it was announced in the press that this time we stood a realistic chance of taking the trophy but each year we would get fewer and fewer points. This was a travesty as we felt, with some justification I understand, that we produced the best pop music in the world. This was the area in which we excelled.

I wish I could go back to those days before the ignominious tabloid headline about bovine TB. To the days when you could hop across the Channel on Eurostar. To when you could peruse the Picasso paintings in the Tate or buy an Alfa Romeo legally. To those days when Bruch’s Violin Concerto was number 1 on the Classic FM Countdown. To the time when I was a dazzling young pianist, fresh from an Amadeus Scholarship and enjoying the first fruits of success. I had hopes and dreams. I did not need self-help books or a prescription for anti-depressants. Things were better then.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

Hat Band

hatband

Hat Band by Chris Green

A jazz musician making his way down an Exeter street on a Wednesday morning with a charity shop bag full of bargain books can hardly be blamed for failing to notice that he is being tailed by a tall, thin man in a dark overcoat. Musicians are more accustomed to being looked at than looking, a matter which helps to explain why the thin man in the dark overcoat has been able to keep an eye on Max Tempo’s movements unnoticed for a day or two. Max is simply not aware that there is anything untoward in his world and why would he be? His quintet has a full diary of bookings, the promise of a recording contract and he has the beginnings of a new tune in his head. This is what preoccupies him as he approaches RAMM in Queen Street, where he feels he might drop in and have a cup of tea and sketch out the chords of the new tune on the pad he carries around with him. Maybe afterwards he can have a look at the paintings in the new exhibition by the modern artist whose name temporarily escapes him. Belinda mentioned him that morning over breakfast. Portraits assembled from cut up phone books or something like that, she said.

Max Tempo is not even curious when he catches the tall, thin stranger casting furtive glances from the corner of the café in RAMM, where he is enjoying his lemon polenta cake. The man probably recognises him from one of his gigs. This happens all the time. People are just too shy to come over and say they enjoyed the set. Or, is he merely admiring his brightly coloured African blazer and striped Jazz cap. It does register with him however when he encounters the same stranger waiting outside the gents toilet, but he does not give this a second thought. After all, there are gay men everywhere these days.

‘I wonder who that fellow in the black Jaguar is,’ Belinda says, looking out of the bay window of their townhouse. ‘He’s been sitting there all afternoon.’

‘Probably broken down or something,’ Max says. Max is working on the arrangement for his new tune on his iMac. The piano part is coming along well but the guitar part is proving trickier than he first thought it was going to be. This is the trouble when you try to put in too many minor chords.

‘Now I come to think of it, he was there yesterday afternoon too,’ Belinda says. ‘When I came back from the leisure centre. I noticed it because it’s quite an old car, isn’t it? Fellow in a dark coat and hat with his head in Jazz Weekly. Peering over the top of it, he was. I remember the banner headline Big Fifties Jazz Revival. I thought he must have been a friend of yours. There were some instruments in the back of the car too. Saxophones, I think.’

‘Perhaps he’s with Green Flag,’ says Max, who has not been listening. ‘They are pretty slow in coming out.’

‘He keeps looking over this way, Max.’

‘You want me to go and ask him what he’s doing, is that it? Perhaps I should invite him in for a tea and cake. Maybe, he can stay for dinner.’

‘No need to be like that, Max.’

‘I’m trying to finish this tune, Bee.’

Max feels It is always a good idea to open the set with a good old jazz standard. So, at Cool for Cats, the Max Tempo Quintet open with Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. As he looks around, Max feels pleased that there is a healthy turnout for a weekday, a couple of hundred perhaps, a good mix of all ages, couples and singles, a few gays and a few hipsters thrown in. So, Max feels they might try out the new number, now that Buck has put in the new guitar part and Bram has the tenor saxophone solo worked out. Max has given it the working title, Borsalino.

The band’s set, featuring highlights of their own material along with reworked standards, goes well. There is a good response from the audience to the new number. Although it is sometimes difficult to see everything that is going on from behind the piano, during the last few numbers, Max can’t help noticing that there are two men with no rhythm dressed in dark vintage overcoats sitting at a table towards the back. Alongside the revellers, they seem oddly out of place and out of time. As Max leaves Cool for Cats after the set, humming a new tune that is coming to him, he finds the same two men are waiting for him by his car. Is that a Fedora the one pointing the gun is wearing?

‘Nice and easy now!’ the other one, the stockier of the two says, stepping out of the shadow.

Definitely a Trilby, the stocky one is wearing, thinks Max. Wait! He’s also got a gun. What’s happening to people in this sleepy corner of the country? It’s always been so peaceful and laid back down this way. The Max Tempo Quintet have been able to get away with more slow numbers here than anywhere else in the country. You wouldn’t be able to follow Misty with The Nearness of You in Bristol or Swindon.

‘You are coming for a little ride with us,’ Fedora says, without the menace you might expect from a seasoned gunman. He ushers his Max towards a Jaguar with blacked out windows. Against his weak protests, he is bundled into the back. Without ceremony, Fedora and Trilby get in and the car speeds off.

………………………………

Ella Valée plays jazz singer, Liv Golden in the long-running television series, High Tide. In case you’ve not seen it, High Tide takes place over an indeterminable time frame and is set on an imaginary island where nothing is what it seems. When Ella is snatched from the set at Shepperton during filming by two thugs with bad manners in dark suits and nineteen fifties hats, she takes it to be an unscripted development in the plot. Surprises like this often take place in High Tide. Director, Leif Velasquez does nothing in a conventional way. Uncertainty, he says, keeps actors on their toes. The series plays around with alternate realities, multiverses, sadomasochism and jazz. A typical episode of High Tide will feature flashbacks and flash-forward sequences, secret agents, doppelgängers and speaking dolphins. Liv Golden usually gets to sing a number or two, in a carefully selected hat. This is one of the regular features of the show, probably the only regular feature the show.

Ella Valée first begins to suspect that something might be wrong on the silent drive away from the studio in the big black Jaguar. Neither the stocky gangster in the Trilby who forces her in at gunpoint or the long, lean one in the Fedora has anything to say. It would be unusual, she thinks, to place such a protracted silence in a prime time TV drama. Not that the unusual phases Ella these days. She has learned that anything can happen shooting High Tide. But, why are they going so fast and where are the cameras? She looks around her. She can see none of the usual paraphernalia for filming inside the car and the vehicles that usually accompany them with kit for the shoot are nowhere to be seen. This is not something that is scheduled to happen. These goons are for real. They are abducting her.

For miles upon miles, the forbidding silence in the car persists. Why don’t the two goons speak, Ella wonders? They could at least threaten her or swap stories with one another about buying hats or gunrunning. She notices they are keeping to windy B roads. Back lanes these might be but she recognises the some of the place names. Stockbridge, Middle Wallop, Winterslow. They seem to be heading south west. It would help to have some idea what was happening. It’s not likely to be good but it would be helpful to know.

………………………………

Whichever genre of popular music, drums and bass represent the driving force of a band. There have been some great rhythm sections over the years. Depending on your proclivities. Max Roach and Charlie Mingus, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, or Sly and Robbie might be ones that spring to mind. Sticks Mullins and Bernie McCoy may not enjoy the same stature as the aforementioned, in fact, you have probably not heard of them but for years they have been the backbone of the jazz combo, the Zoot Norris Seven.

Sticks and Bernie are puzzled as to why two burly hoods should seize them in the middle of the day from the Pannier Market in Tavistock where they were innocently trying on hats and bring them to this big old house in the middle of Dartmoor. Questioning their captors on route about what was happening met with the cryptic, you’ll find out soon enough, sunshine. They haven’t. The hoods appear to have just dropped them off here and left them. Not a clue as to why they might be here. However with the doors triple-locked and the windows barred and boarded, they are unable to escape. Apart than this, it seems they have free run of the place.

Someone is tinkling the ivories in an upstairs room. They follow the direction of the notes and find a showy pianist playing a catchy jazz number on a Yamaha.

‘You need a bit of a beat behind that, bud,’ says Sticks. Secretly he quite likes it. Zoot doesn’t come up with melodious arpeggios like this.

‘And perhaps a nice hat instead of that bandana?’ says Bernie. ‘Something with a brim. And a hat band. How about a Panama?’

‘I’m Sticks and he’s Bernie, by the way,’ says Sticks. ‘Other than hat advice, we might be able to help you out with some drums and bass.’

‘That’s what we do, bro,’ says Sticks. ‘I’m drums and he’s bass.’

‘Cool!’ says Max, surprised but pleased by the intrusion. ‘There’s a string bass in the closet and a set of drums.’

‘Seriously?’ says Bernie.

‘And a cupboard full of saxophones along with a trumpet or two,’ says Max.

‘Really?’ says Bernie. ‘All we need now is a chanteuse,’

‘I can be your chanteuse,’ says the beguiling woman in the wide-brimmed pink hat who seemingly appears out of nowhere. ‘I’m Ella Valée.’

‘I bet you are, babe’ says Sticks.

‘Very droll, Casanova. Ella Valée is my name. You may have seen me in High Tide. I play Liv Golden, the jazz singer.’

They begin to share stories about being picked up off the streets by hoodlums. Max Tempo and Ella Valée it transpires have been at the house for two days. They too were just dumped there. ‘Wait for developments,’ they were told and then left to their own devices. Both were a little frightened at first when they found the doors and windows barred. But, they discovered running water, food, electricity, musical instruments and even some recording equipment, not exactly state of the art but even so, serviceable. Certainly, a better state of affairs than you might expect after being abducted. They even found changes of clothes and toothbrushes. So, instead of thinking of escape, they settled in. There are no phones of course. The captors took away their mobiles. Max hopes that Belinda isn’t worrying too much but he imagines she will be and Ella, if she is honest, is glad of a break from her fiancé, Brad. Brad has become a bit serious of late, she feels, and she’s not sure she’s ready for that level of commitment.

‘Why do you think these geezers have brought us all here then?’ asks Bernie. ‘And who the fuck are they?’

‘Exploitation,’ says Ella. ‘They must think they are going to get something out of us. Some kind of performance or product.’

‘The music business is a more cut-throat game than it was back in the day, for sure’ says Max.

‘Agents in the music business all behave like gangsters these days,’ says Sticks. ‘Managers and promoters too. Crooks, the lot of them.’

‘But, the geezers who brought us here are a throwback to the fifties,’ says Bernie. ‘They are wide-boys, spivs, whatever you want to call them.’

‘Perhaps they have brought us all here to form some kind of retro band,’ says Sticks. ‘Apparently, vintage jazz is making a comeback. I read about it in Jazz Weekly. And they’re keeping us prisoner here to cut some tracks and make some money for them. That’s what I reckon.’

‘Bit of a longshot though,’ says Ella. ‘We’ve not even played together.’

‘But they would have seen you sing every week in High Tide,’ says Bernie. ‘So not completely a longshot. And clearly, they’ve seen Max play. And the dude’s damn good.’

‘I already have a band,’ says Max. ‘The Max Tempo Quintet. And we’re doing pretty well. We might even have a record deal. Clint Snider of CPS Recordings should be in touch any day now. Come to think of it, he was supposed to get back to me last week. I probably missed Clint’s call through being here.’

‘We’re in a jazz band too,’ says Bernie. We’re the Zoot Norris Seven.’

‘Sorry, I don’t think I’ve heard of you,’ says Max.

‘I guess Zoot’s not that ambitious,’ says Bernie. ‘But we get gigs locally. The Nobody Inn and The Jolly Yachtsman last month. And we’ve had one or two good reviews.’

‘Hey! Look at the name on the bass drum,’ says Sticks. ‘Hat Band! It’s all beginning to make sense now.’

‘What?’ says Max.

‘Don’t you see, fellas?’ says Sticks. ‘Bernie is right. Those rogues are setting us up as Hat Band. What kind of name is that?’

………………………………

Do you really think those bozos will make us a million?’ says Frankie.

Of course, Frankie,’ says Duke. ‘No doubt about it.’

It’s just that I’m not sure that many people watch High Tide so they may not know who Ella Valée is.’

You worry too much, Frankie.’

Also, I think that the pianist might be a fairy like that Elton whatshisname.’

It hasn’t done Elton whatshisname any harm, has it?’ says Duke. ‘Anyway, this is jazz we’re talking about. Jazz isn’t about image.’

I know that, Duke. Jazz is all about the music.’

And, fifties Jazz is going to be the next new thing, remember.’

I guess you are right, Duke. We are due a bit of good luck, aren’t we?’

Luck’s got nothing to do with it, Frankie. Certainly you have to be able to take advantage of a situation. But, it’s all to do with calculation and confidence. But, with a name like Hat Band, they can’t fail. …….. I wonder who the original Hat Band were.’

We’ll probably never know, will we? But it was dead lucky you came across that job lot of their instruments, Duke. By the way, how did you know that big old house on Dartmoor was empty and the owner was away in Japan?’

I keep my ears open, Frankie.’

The best bit was you coming up with the toy guns, though, They all really went for it. Scared the living shits out of them.’

Shall we finish our drinks and go back and see what they’ve got for us? They are bound to have got a number or two by now. We’ll tell them they need to have enough tunes for the album before we let them go. Got your gun, Frankie?’

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

NIGHT TRAIN

nighttrain

Night Train by Chris Green

No matter where you might be, the night train rumbles through every night at 3:05 am. Its low-pitched drone makes the whole room quake. Every time this happens, you find it disturbing. You briefly speculate as to what its ominous cargo might be and vow to find out, before going back to sleep. Your dreams for the remainder of the night are tinged with an air of menace but in the morning you are too busy to investigate what the lumbering leviathan that wakes you each night might be carrying.

Now and again you find yourself in conversation with a friend or a colleague about being woken by the train and they will tell you that they were woken by a train at the same time, but it never occurs to either of you that it might be the same train. The laws of physics suggest that this would be impossible. Yet, each conversation you have with anyone, anywhere about this will be a replica of every other one. The train woke you at 3:05 am, the train woke them at 3:05 am, even though you might live fifty miles apart, even though you are the other side of the continent. It never occurs to either one of you to investigate how this might have happened, what sorcery might have brought this about.

Explosives, spontaneously combustible substances and radioactive material are all on occasions transported by rail. You might imagine that the night train might be carrying one or other of these, but most likely it does not. We are talking here of a heavy, heavy cargo, a dark mass of considerable magnitude. Heavy metals would probably pale into insignificance beside the weight of what this sinister transport of the night is likely to be conveying.

Anyone really wanting to know what is aboard could do worse than to ask Stanislav Ruby. Stanislav Ruby is allegedly the leading authority in these matters. But nobody asks Stanislav Ruby. So the train keeps on coming, unobserved, determined, relentless. You will hear it tonight at 3:05 and there will be an air of menace in your subsequent dreams. Your friends and family will hear it too, along with the talk show host that you like, the jockey who rode the horse you backed in the Gold Cup, the man you bought your car from and all the people you met on holiday in Portugal last year.

……………………………………

I spend most of the day writing the introduction to a book on the history of the blues. I am writing about how the music originated from African spirituals and work songs, share-croppers singing in a call and response pattern to dull the monotony and pain of working long hours in the plantations of the Southern states. Early blues took the form of a loose narrative, relating the troubles experienced in Afro-American society. Ma Rainey, one of the first professional blues singers claimed to have coined the term, blues, although the term might originate from the pre-coital shuffle known as blues, popular in Southern juke-joints around the turn of the century. The twelve-bar delta blues format that we are familiar with was introduced by William C. Handy in his 1912 sheet music, Memphis Blues.

The 1920s brought big names like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House and Leadbelly, names that are remembered as blues greats today. Robert Johnson at the crossroads enacting the Faustian myth but still dead at 27, the first of many to join that club. The music then began to spread out from the Mississippi delta, upriver to Chicago where it became amplified and spawned legends like Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson. But it is getting late and this is something that Heather, who fresh from mixing herbs has joined me, feels I should leave for another day. She has some other ideas about what we might be doing on an April evening. I am pleased that she does. By and by, we play a post-coital shuffle. Before turning out the lights, we have our nightly chat about the nature of the night train. We conclude once more that there are many things we don’t know.

…………………………………

At 3:05, right on cue, the bedroom begins to vibrate with the portentous approach of the night train. It’s as if someone has left their eighteen-wheeler truck underneath the bedroom window with the engine running. The sound gradually grows louder. The walls begin to emit a bassy hum. Plates and cutlery in the kitchen begin to rattle. It feels as if the train is actually inside the house now. Just as she does ever night, Heather turns over and moans. Her wax earplugs offer little defence against the thunderous roar of the engine. In my head, I visualise the leviathan, shiny black with a bright, piercing headlight up front to signal its presence as it powers its way up the line. Or might its headlight be not light at all but dark like a massive black hole, sucking in everything in its path? Whichever, it leads the way to the murky depths of the night. The store of nightmares seems intact.

I find myself descending into a crepuscular netherworld. I am being led down into the abyss by a shadowy figure who seems half-familiar yet completely unrecognisable. He is dark with reptilian features. He carries a large hammer in his right hand and his left hand is hidden beneath a black leather duster overcoat. He takes his hand out to direct me down the steep steps. His hand is a scaly raptor’s claw.

The abyss is immense, a maze of stone stairs and echoing corridors. What rooms there are serve only to lead from one gloomy corridor to another gloomy corridor and we go, round and round, down and down yet somehow end up back at the beginning where the half-familiar man with the clawed hand utters something in some arcane guttural language.

The scene switches. We are now outside, on the edge of an old deserted town. I can wolves howling in the distance. The man who has been leading me has turned into a giant or have I become a dwarf. He motions for me to lie down. He points to a stretch of railway track. Hear my train a’coming, he sings, as he ties me to the track. What is the train carrying, I ask, although this seems irrelevant. He lets out a blood-curdling laugh. I wake up, screaming. But, this is not the end. I find I am not awake, I am still asleep. I cannot wake. There is another level, a dream within a dream. I am on a battle-scarred hillside now and insurrectionists are throwing American Civil War uniforms on to a huge fire. They are blue uniforms. The blues. Which side in the Civil War is that? The Union of the Confederates? It’s the Union. The Yankees wore blue. Wait! There are soldiers in the uniforms they are throwing on the fire. They are black soldiers. One of the insurrectionists points at me. I look down. To my astonishment, I am black and I am wearing a blue uniform. I turn around to flee. There is a resounding crash. …….. Heather has knocked the bedside light onto the floor.

‘I was having a terrible dream’ she says, clinging to me for dear life. ‘Has the night train gone?’

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘The night train has gone.’

‘But it will be back again tomorrow night, won’t it? Why does it keep coming? And what is it carrying?’

‘I wish I had the answer,’ I say.

The thing is, no-one knows what the night train is carrying. Not even Stanislav Ruby is sure. It could be carrying a colossal cargo of cosmic consciousness, he might say. Or, it might be loaded with metaphors, allegories, symbolism. There is the possibility that what is in tow is unknowable. But, wherever you are, be certain that the night train will rumble slowly through tonight and every night at 3:05 am.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

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