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

Chinese Boxes

chinese boxes

Chinese Boxes by Chris Green

The fire engine comes hurtling towards me. It is out of control. It has no driver. Conan Doyle Street is narrow and the precipitate leviathan gathers momentum as it heads down the slope. I dive for safety into the doorway of the antiquarian bookstore. The fire engine forges ahead, gradually slowing as the incline levels out. It comes to a stop in the dip where Conan Doyle Street meets Rider Haggard Street. Fortunately there are no casualties as the streets are deserted. This part of town is no longer prosperous and a lot of the shops are boarded up.

I am on my way to the doctor’s in Bram Stoker Street, a block or so away. I don’t have an appointment, but when I phoned earlier I was told someone would see me if I came along. I let the sour faced receptionist know of my arrival and sit in the grey waiting room. Afternoon surgery has finished and I am the only one there. For comfort I take my Doc Martens off. I start to read a monthly military magazine, but I can’t concentrate. After a few minutes, Dr Bilk comes through and says that he will see me but he has to make a phonecall to the hospital first. He asks me to go wait for him in Surgery 2.

Realising I am in stockinged feet, I go back to fetch my boots. It takes a while to lace them up and when I return Surgery 2 is locked. Dr Bilk has disappeared. I look everywhere for him. I go out into the courtyard. I look up and down the street. Back inside, a dozen or so men in dark suits are having a meeting in the room down the corridor from the locked surgery. There is a hostile air about the gathering. I do not like to interrupt. I go out to the car park. I manage to collar Dr Bilk, just as he is getting into his car. Without bothering to listen to my symptoms, he hurriedly writes me a prescription. I have not heard of the medication, he prescribes. Perhaps he has made a mistake.

What makes me want to return the fire engine to the fire station I do not know. This is what happens sometimes, isn’t it? In a moment of madness you find you make a decision that you just can’t account for. It’s as if a force takes over and you no longer have free will. It may be just me but I have noticed that these decisions are often injudicious.

I am not used to handling such a bulky vehicle and I have several near collisions with other cars on the way. I accidentally cross two sets of red traffic lights and manage to negotiate the Henry James roundabout on two wheels. When I finally arrive at the firestation, I find that it is closed. What would happen if there were a fire? I park the vehicle outside the book depository in Franz Kafka Street. I think about phoning my brother, Quinn to come and pick me up, as it is now after six o’clock and I need to get home for dinner. I am suddenly struck by the thought that my fingerprints will be all over the fire engine and they will think that it was me that stole it.

I come to with a start. I do not recognise my surroundings. Red would not be everyone’s choice of colour for bedroom walls and Francis Bacon’s mutilated torso prints would not be to everyone’s taste to hang on them. There is a large sagging woolen drape coming down from the ceiling and a silver saxophone on a stand in the corner of the room, alongside a device that looks like a medieval instrument of torture. Mr Bojangles is playing from a portable red speaker, a grunge version that I am not familiar with. The room has a musty smell.

The important question seems to me to be how did I come to be here? I have no recollection. Where is my beautiful house, my beautiful wife and my large automobile? How do I work this? Before I have a chance to get my bearings there is a loud knock at the door. I leave it at first, but when no-one else answers it, I conclude that I must be alone here. On the second or third knock, I go to to the door. A man is standing there holding a large metal plate. He doesn’t seem surprised to see me.

‘I’ve come to fix the cooker,’ he says.

‘You’d better come in.’ I say.

I don’t have any idea where the kitchen is, but he seems to know.

‘Did I wake you up?’ he asks, as I follow him through to the kitchen.

‘No,’ I say, looking around to take in the funky chickens strutting about the place.

‘Good idea to keep them indoors,’ Cookerman says. ‘Stops the foxes getting them. There are a lot of foxes about round here.’

I don’t ask him where round here is in case he gets suspicious.

‘Rhode Island Reds, these little beauties,’ he says. ‘Good for laying brown eggs. Perhaps we might have breakfast when I’ve done the cooker.’

The kitchen is kitted out in an odd mix of styles, a startling hybrid of Scandinavian chic and Dickensian squalor. I have not seen a zebra patterned fridge, or a red cooker before. Cookerman takes it all in his stride. Perhaps he comes across vibrant appliances every day. Ducking beneath the cast iron pots and pans hanging from butcher’s hooks on the ceiling, he makes his way over to the cooker and opens the door. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a cooker explode. I’m guessing most of you haven’t. But I can tell you, it does wake you up.

Which is how I come to find myself in a barnacled beach hut in the middle of a storm surge, with the waters already sloshing over the sandbags. The wind is getting up again and it has turned round to the north. The spring tide is due to keep coming in for the next two hours. Looking through the gap where the window once was I can see more black clouds forming over the steep escarpment the other side of the bay. With the water already around our ankles and the roof leaking like a faucet, the last thing we need is another downpour.

Earlier, I tried in vain to rescue a struggling black Labrador that was being taken away by the rip current. My leg became trapped and I was thrown against the rocks. I was knocked unconscious. She is only slight and I am nearly fourteen stone but somehow Vision dragged me here to this beach hut, the highest beach hut in the row. Some of the other huts have already broken to pieces and been taken out to sea. I can hardly move my damaged leg, so we won’t be leaving any time soon. We are at the mercy of the elements. We are trapped.

‘Don’t you know what time high water is?’ Vision asks, looking at her watch. ‘It must be soon.’

’14:05. Nearly two hours to go.’

‘We can’t stay here that long. We’ll drown.’

‘We’ll send out a mayday then, shall we? Where did you put the flares?’

‘I could go for help,’ she says.

We are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. If Vision goes for help we are both at risk. If she stays we are still both at risk.

‘No,’ I say, with some authority. ‘Don’t go.’

‘I guess we’re in this together then,’ she says. ‘That’s what we used to say isn’t it?’

‘It’s been a long time,’ I say. ‘Seven years, isn’t it? Or is it nine?’

‘Twelve, I think,’ she says.

As the waves continue to crash against the flimsy fabric of the hut, it feels like being aboard a ship going down. I have the urge to break into a sea shanty, to summon up the sailor’s spirit, Blow The Man Down, Haul Away Joe or something like that.

Is that a lifeboat I can see in the distance? ……. Is it? ……. Or is it just another phantom? Am I doomed perhaps to an endless chain of unfathomable nightmares from which I can never wake? Doomed to grapple feebly with this nest of interlocking riddles, that fit inside one another like Chinese boxes?

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

You Never Know Who Your Friends Are

Image

You Never Know Who Your Friends Are by Chris Green

A writer can become dangerously obsessed with fiction. The temptation to try to create something original out of an ordinary everyday situation can be hard to resist. I could not possibly know what I was getting into when I created Quentin Thief’s social media profile. Quentin was a fictional character I used in one of my short stories, Buy and Buy. When I found myself twiddling my thumbs one rainy afternoon, to amuse myself I set up an aol email and Facebook account for him. I gave him a few page links, David Lynch, Banksy and The Prisoner to get him started, and Liked a couple of bands for him, Accidental Goat Sodomy and The Angry Samoans. I had used these band names in one of my earlier stories. I thought their unconventional names might stimulate some interesting updates on Quentin’s wall for me to check later. I created a bitstrip avatar for him, a portly figure with long hair and a beard and set him up with a couple of bitstrip adventures. I became his Facebook friend so I could play around with his day to day posts. No malice was intended. Quentin had no Facebook friends apart from me.

Quentin’s first friend request came from Seamus Dark. I had no idea how this could have happened without me logging in, but I was intrigued. Seamus was also a minor character – in Komboloi, one of my other recent stories. Seamus didn’t have a very detailed profile. The only Likes that he had put in were for the TV series Lost and the blind musician, Moondog. Rather than panic as perhaps I should have done, I played along with it, on the assumption that there was bound to be a simple explanation for his being there. It was surely someone playing a prank, as indeed I had been. By accepting the request, I felt that one way or another I might be able to get to the bottom of the it.

The next time I logged into Facebook as Quentin, he had five friends. Besides myself and Seamus Dark, there were three others, Reuben Flood, Bob Scouler and Guy Coventry, all minor characters from stories of mine. Reuben was a character from the semi-autobiographical Quicksand, Bob from my epic tale Norwegian Wood and Guy from my homage to jazz and film noir, Door Swings Both Ways. I could find no rational explanation amongst the armada of thoughts struggling to surface. This was beginning to feel a little spooky. It was like the feeling you get at night when you think someone is following a few steps behind you. Chills ran up and down my spine.

There were a series of posts between the characters. I scrolled back through a few screens. The references were very cryptic. The copious use of acronyms, AFDN, AFT, BTDTGTS, IYNAEGBTM, etc made the messages unfathomable to a social media novice like me. I had only just about grasped LOL and LMAO in internet jargon. Were they hatching some kind of plot? There certainly seemed to be a lot of collusion between them. I signed out, and signed in as myself but found, amongst my regular feeds, exactly the same posts. Now there was even a bitstrip featuring their all their avatars. They bore an uncanny resemblance to how I had visualised these characters. Quentin Thief used the avatar I had created. He wore an Aloha shirt and Bermuda shorts. Seamus Dark was decked out in a blue Paul Smith suit with narrow lapels, untied woollen tie and a pork pie hat. Reuben Flood wore painted smeared green shorts and Ché Guevara T shirt. Bob Scouler wore a grey serge suit along with a tattersall check shirt and lovat and mauve paisley tie. His haircut, the neat central parting and the sides hanging just over the tip of his ears was from the seventies. Guy Coventry wore military combats. Despite their comical appearance, they all had expressions of purposeful intent. ‘Watch out! We’re coming to get you,’ read the tagline for the strip.

I phoned my friend, Ram, who I saw as quite knowledgeable about all IT matters. Ram banged on a bit about internet security, proxy servers, hackers, firewalls, and malware, but after a few minutes of his techspeak, I was none the wiser. What on earth were packet sniffers and keyloggers?

‘Can you come round and have a look, Ram,’ I said finally. ‘You’ll probably be able to see how this is happening just like that.’

‘I’ve just got to run a machine round to Gerry’s and I’ll be over,’ he said.

‘Gerry’s? Isn’t he in Birmingham? That’s eighty miles.’

‘About that,’ he said. ‘Seventy eight point four. Look! I’ll be over around seven, OK. Why don’t you just switch the thing off and take the dog for a walk on the common or something?’

With my writing residency in abeyance and Patti on sabbatical in San Sebastian, life was slow. Lewis was in the forces and Carroll had gone off to university, so I just had my dog, Murphy for company. Murphy had originally been Carroll’s dog but now she was in Edinburgh, he had become my responsibility. Despite his being twelve, he was still a ten miles a day dog. I was no longer a ten mile a day dog walker. It was a good thing that the common was so close. I could find a seat while Murphy ran around chasing phantom rabbits.

At The Belted Galloway, I got chatting to a couple of walkers. They waxed lyrical about the beauty of the area. How lucky I was to have this all on my doorstep and such a delightful pub, full of rustic charm. Did I know there were thirty eight species of wild flower on the common? They were just going to do another six miles and then call it a day. They had found a lovely little B and B that welcomed walkers. I began to feel I was spending too much time in front of a screen in my own internal world.

I got home late afternoon and put a pizza in the oven. I was apprehensive about switching the computer on, but finally I did. By the time Ram arrived, a little after seven, Quentin’s Facebook friends had multiplied. There were another half dozen familiar names from my literary lexicon. This time the list also included a couple of my leading characters, Tara Vain from No Time At All and Max Tempo from La Bamba.

Muttering to himself, Ram started going through the feeds. Over his shoulder, I could see at a glance that Tara or Max seemed to have started most of the post entries, with various combinations of my other characters responding. Dr. Bolt from A Change Is As Good As A Rest and Judson Cleary from With or Without an E seemed to have join the fray. Dave Too from Ummagumma was there too, and Roy Tackler from Free Transfer. Poor Roy. He spent most of his fictional life on the bench. I never did give him a first team game. Then there was his chronic alcoholism. The list of characters on the posts seemed to go on and on. Even Mason Wiley from a story I was in the process of writing seemed to have got in on the act.

‘GHOMCOAFA,’ Ram read out. ‘Get him off my case once and for all. Looks like someone’s out to get you.’

It was Tara, I noticed. I had described the nitty gritty of Tara’s reliance on other people, he disastrous relationships and her subsequent descent into madness. Perhaps I needn’t have been so explicit.

‘WWLWEP. We will liquidate with extreme prejudice. Max Tempo’s not too keen on you either. What did you do to upset him?’

‘Nothing, Ram. He’s fictional, remember.’

‘IGTBBTTR. I’ll get the bloody bastard this time round. Well! This doesn’t sound very fictional. What did you write about him?’

‘He was just a delusional character in my story, La Bamba, who thought the Mexicans were out to get him. He saw signs of them everywhere. Maybe I could have been more sensitive in the way I portrayed his nervous breakdown’

‘I am not a number, I am a free man. What’s that all about?’

‘That’s a line from The Prisoner. The Prisoner is one of the likes I gave to Quentin Thief. It looks as if he’s trying to make a point.

Ram started humming a tune. It was an annoying habit he had when he’s concentrating. I worked out the tune was Puff the Magic Dragon. Puff the Magic Dragon! What was he on?

He carried on scrolling down. Another batch of acronyms appeared.

There was one from Nolan Rocco. In Slumptown I had made him the root of all evil in the story. Just thinking of him as a real character was scary. ‘IGYBFWLAM?’ I asked, before Ram moved on.

‘I’ll get you back for writing lies about me,’ said Ram with little or no hesitation. How did he know all these acronyms or was he just making them up? Perhaps it was Ram who had been creating the characters? Now I was getting paranoid. IWSMP.

‘Mick Jagger? What’s Mick Jagger doing here?’

‘He says that you mentioned him in one of your stories and he’s unhappy about it.’

‘Click on him. It can’t really be Mick Jagger, can it?’

‘2,080,706 likes. Yes it can.’

‘He appeared briefly as a character in ‘2015 – An Odd Space Essay’, I only gave him a couple of lines.’

‘Perhaps he feels he should have had more.’ Ram began to hum Jumping Jack Flash, one of the least hummable tunes I could think of. He was thinking again.

‘Let’s sign in as you, what’s your password?’

’50FUck1NGb01ledcabbages’

‘Nice mix of upper and upper case characters. Quite a secure one I’d say.’

The posts on my wall looked pretty much the same but here was now an additional one from Quentin Thief. It was the picture of a car crash.

‘What’s that all about,’ asked Ram.

‘He might be referring to the fact that one or two of my characters have had car crashes,’ I said.

‘It seems to me that because you and Quentin Thief are friends that you are going to see any post that he puts up.’

‘I’ve got that, yes.’

‘But the ones posted by the others should not show on your wall.’

‘Yes. I can follow that much.’

‘So these that are posted by Tara Vain should not be there. OK? Or the ones by Max Tempo.

‘But they are.’

‘You’ve heard of the darknet,’ he said.

I hadn’t. I wondered if it had something to do with Seamus Dark, or perhaps if Seamus Dark had something to do with the darknet.

‘Its sometimes called the lost net,’ said Ram

I thought of one of Seamus Dark’s two likes, the tv series, Lost.

Ram explained that he term darknet was used to describe all underground web communications associated with illegal activity or dissent. ‘Don’t learn to hack, hack to learn,’ he laughed.

‘How does this fit in with what’s been happening here,’ I queried.

‘Probably nothing to do with it,’ said Ram. ‘But something weird is happening, isn’t it?’

‘What can I do about it?’ I asked.

Ram said with a wry smile, ‘You could always stop writi………..

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved

 

Sign of the Times

signofthetimes2

Sign of the Times by Chris Green

Earlier

Some years ago the Chinese surreptitiously replaced the Year of the Cat in their astrological calendar with the Year of the Rabbit. The story goes that they wanted all the zodiac animals to get along and the rabbit was more compatible with the rat than the cat was. I was disappointed by the move as I was born in the Year of the Cat and I saw the rabbit as a less prestigious animal. After all, cats are bold noble creatures; rabbits are jittery frightened little animals with no dignity at all. The Vietnamese, whose calendar follows the same pattern as the Chinese, still call it the Year of the Cat, their argument being that it helps to offset The Year of The Dog, yin and yang and all that, but then you don’t hear too much about the Vietnamese new year compared to that of the Chinese, in my neck of the woods.

Let’s move the story on. Isn’t it time to change one of the signs of the western Zodiac? The current twelve sun signs each occupying thirty degrees of celestial longitude have been around for three thousand years. They are an anachronism. Surely they too must be due for a refresh. If done in the past this might have been done by introducing something mythological, in fact in the 1970s there was a move to introduce a thirteenth sign, Ophiuchus, the serpent carrier. It was to be slotted in November and December and the other signs rearranged. Virgo was to cover forty three days as a result and Scorpio just six days. The new proposal did not catch on with astrologers. It would have caused havoc with their popular newspaper columns. Mathematically there could only be twelve signs they maintained; this much was obvious. Thirteen into 360 did not go.

The change now could be the subject of a Facebook poll. Facebook is international. The question might be ‘which astrological sign would you like to replace?’ or something like this. Which one I wonder would get the chop?

Although we live an urban existence in a technological society, three of the signs, Aires, Taurus and Capricorn are still named after farm animals, reflecting the values of a bygone age. With people yearning for the mythical green and pleasant land, this might work in their favour of course, or it might work against them. One of them (Scorpio) is named after an insect and another (Cancer) a crab. I suspect that they would be among the contenders for replacement. Cancer of course has more sinister connotations, so it could possibly be the bookies’ favourite. I imagine Leo would be safe; except for a small group of hard hearted big game hunters, people like lions. Libra would stay, after all, Libra is well balanced. The cynical might suggest that as a sign of the times, the archer (Sagittarius) be replaced by the sniper. There’s nothing very twenty-first century about the idea of water carriers (Aquarius), or for that matter, virgins (Virgo). They might be at risk. It’s a tough call. The fishes (Pisces) and the twins (Gemini)? No, they would probably be all right. Fishes would rally a lot of Christians, and twins, well people like the idea of twins don’t they?

Later

The internet spreads things quickly. The debate went viral. There has been a Facebook vote. Did you miss it?

Patti was born in Cancer and although she is pleased with her given traits, she cannot escape the rogue morbid thought each time she is asked what sign she is. She voted to replace Cancer with a new sign. She is pleased that the results are in. Cancer just pipped Virgo into second place, with Scorpio a distant third. Her partner is disappointed however as he is a Virgo. In all, 293 million people took part in the vote. Now there is a second question to be answered, ‘What would you like the new sign to be?’

It is on all the popular social media. It is a multiple choice question and there are six options: Tesco, the food provider, Apple, the communicator, Boeing, the traveller, Barclay, the money lender, Beyonce, the hit-maker and Snowden, the whistle blower. All you do is click on like and you are allowed one vote. Although the campaigns are anonymous you cannot help to suspect that vested interests are driving them.

Patti looks at the list with an air of disbelief. She wonders whether whoever has compiled it has taken into consideration the characteristics of Cancers, their homeliness and their preoccupation with family, the crawling back into one’s shell when this is threatened. If astrology is to be given any credibility then these essential attributes cannot just be erased. Her friend, Bee who is a Pisces, like Cancer, also a water sign, wonders whether the elements can be ignored. What connection is there between Boeing and water for instance? Patti wonders if she should mention the missing jet and the search for it in the Southern Ocean.

There is speculation about whether the plane was deliberately brought down. Popular opinion seems to be that it is at the bottom of the ocean. There are a number of other theories. It landed in the Andaman Islands. It flew to Kazakhstan. It was flown towards Langkawi island because of a fire or other malfunction. The plane is in Pakistan. The passengers were deliberately killed by decompression. The plane will take off again to be used in a terrorist attack. Twenty employees of Texas-based technology company Freescale Semiconductor were on board, four of them were patent holders for a revolutionary new semiconductor. The remaining patent holder stands to benefit. Which of these explanations is the correct one? Perhaps none of them. We may never be told the truth.

Its a sign of the times.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved