Then They Came For Me

Tonight I’m wound tighter than a watchspring
‘Cos when the skies are clear, the threat of rain is always here with you
Everything you say is a call to arms
With all that’s gone before my motives never felt so pure.

Can one moment change the world?

If I commit this act will the world change for the better, or for the worse?

The sun on my face feels hotter than it has ever felt before. I can feel my face burning but I can only stand up straight and face forward.

The time is near.

The instructions were clear. The President will say a certain phrase and then I shoot him.

The message was sent to my phone last night. I didn’t think about what I had to do, I could only think of Valentina and that night in Cambrils last winter.

I think back to stroking her dark hair, matted with blood. She was dying, I could see that as clear as I can see the lectern the President will speak from in a few minutes.

We carry a new world here, in our hearts,’” she looked up at me and laughed bitterly as she said it, “I’m sorry,”

Despite being a soldier, I was not prepared for this. The first war casualties I had seen. My girlfriend, her mother and her father.

At university we used to talk about politics all the time. The disastrous reconquista of Gibraltar in ‘29 jolted me into signing up for the army after my graduation. She told me I was crazy to join up and I was aiding the forces of fascism.

We were in bed one summer morning, the cool breeze washing over us in bed in her apartment in Lavapiés. I said I was signing up for my country, our country. All she could say is:

“Their country is not my country,”

“You separatists all say that, but what does it mean? Are we not the same people inside?”

“I don’t mean me and you,” she responded angrily, sitting up in bed, her eyes burning like a rabid animal, “Can’t you see what happened to Spain? The papers are shut down for criticising the government, They lied about what happened in Seville. They lied about the peace treaty,”

“Europe is crumbling, we have to be strong,”

“It’s always the same in Europe,” Valentina laid back down into my arms, “the demagogues, the dictators. They all come out and people lap up their poison. What will happen when the Catalans claim our independence, will you shoot me?”

“Don’t be silly, they will vote no, look at Scotland and the war in Northern Ireland. We need stability and then we can start moving forward,”

Valentina didn’t say anything.

The Catalans did vote for independence and the slide towards war began.

The President said the vote was unconstitutional. The politicians were locked in talks. The European Union got involved so the President broke all ties with the remaining eleven member states. The President had left the European Union when he abolished the monarchy and declared war on Britain.

He thought Britain would be weak with all their strife in the regions but he made a huge miscalculation. The British levelled Ceuta and Melilla within hours and the Portuguese and French backed them. As the coalition moved into Spain, the Basques welcomed the French in to Bilbao and the British and Portuguese began the bombardment of Seville.

The President sued for peace and as part of the terms of peace he guaranteed any region in Spain could hold a vote on independence. The war had lasted four days but it was a humiliation for the President.

The expected announcement from the Basques regarding an independence vote never materialised and Eta didn’t restart their terrorism. It looked like they were going to allow the Catalans to go first, as they would be backed by Europe. The French said they would support Catalan independence but no one thought they would cross the Pyrenees again.

The President told us that any independence vote would need to be agreed by him before it became law. The press were forced to repeat his claims that any secession would be illegal.

And that’s when the secret killings began.

My unit was tasked with surveillance of targets across Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia. “Accidents” were arranged for high profile separatists.

Word spread and mass demonstrations sprang up across the nation. In Madrid they reckoned half a million protested but the media mentioned nothing about it. Troops were brought in to the major cities to maintain order and martial law declared.

About six months ago I went on leave to visit my soon-to-be in-laws and my world changed for ever.

Now here I am at the Presidential Palace, formerly the Royal Palace. I always loved the view over the Casa de Campo, but today I can’t even face looking at it or I know I will cry.

Here he comes. The President exits the palace surrounded by his Guard and walks towards the Plaza de la Armeria where he will give a speech demanding that the Catalan parliament backs away from its threat to declare independence tomorrow following a 64% “yes” for independence two weeks ago.

The President is short but in good shape, a real barrel-chested man. I have met him a few times and he is humourless but strangely charismatic. His intense stare is quite honestly the most chilling thing I have witnessed.

We are from the same hometown of Jaén. The olive oil capital of the world, some people say. He confiscated the castle on the hill from the state-run hotel chain and converted it into his main home, away from the dangers of Madrid.  The Wolf’s Summer Lair, the other soldiers called it, in dark homage to Hitler’s Bavarian retreat.

Everyone in the barracks was nervous this morning. They can feel war is coming. The Gibraltar fiasco cost but a few handfuls of military casualties but full-scale war in Spain again just like 85 years ago would be brutal.

However this is a war that the majority of Spain do not want. The fanáticos have taken over all the arms of state and the heavy weaponry has been moved to strategic cities. According to the rumours shelling of the Barcelona, Tarragona and Girona will begin immediately after a declaration tomorrow. Depending on what happens next Valencia and Bilbao will be attacked.

The President is on the microphone now and beginning his address. A heavy silence  and the faint aroma of oil drift across the square – the smell of impending battle.

A battle that I hope to finish. A battle that he started against me one night in Catalonia.

I was visiting Valentina’s family at their family home in the seaside village of Cambrils. We had finished a lovely fish dinner when her mother, Pamela, asked if I could run to the shop to buy a bottle or two of wine. I kissed Valentina on the cheek and left. Oh, to have said something to her then knowing what happened next.

I visited the shop, bought some wine and engaged in small talk at the counter with the young, female girl on the counter. I headed back down the tree-lined Avenida Adelaida with the bottles and some Haribo for Valentina. I arrived back and saw the front door was open. I didn’t think I left it open.

I walked into the hallway and saw Pamela lying face first on the floor, a halo of blood around her head. I shouted Valentina’s name and heard no response. I pissed myself, I admit it. I ran to the living room and her dad was sat in his chair with a bullet hole shot clean through his skull, it looked like a macabre bindi.

I looked around for Valentina and saw her on the floor of the kitchen. She was sat up against the cupboards. Blood was pouring out of her stomach and I almost collapsed on top of her in shock.  I held her in my arms while she said her final words.

“Don’t be sorry, oh my Valentina. Please no…”

She was right. She was right about everything. I had to get out of there or I would be next. If they knew i was here they would kill me. I could not allow that. I would kill them first.

After the massacre of the Delcamp family I contacted the Catalan independence leaders. They informed me that Valentina’s father Josep was an active member of the movement which was why he was targeted.  I started to provide information to them and it all led up to today and my one shot at saving this land.

The army had not found out about my relationship with Valentina and they thought I was an obedient soldier, a loyal Presidential man, especially being a Jiennense too like him too.

The Catalans had obtained a copy of his speech and sent it to me by email last night. The President, and myself, are near the moment of no return.

The baking sun and the knowledge that I will soon be killed in a few seconds is making me woozy. Will I hold my nerve and assassinate the President live on television?

I think back to the times Valentina and I would sit out at the Temple of Debod drinking cans of Mahou and talk for hours. All for this fascist, bullshitting warmonger to destroy it for me and millions of others like us. My resolve hardens and I hear the President speaking…

“…and I say to the minority government of Catalonia, the people of Spain will not tolerate this any longer. They will not let this pass any longer. They will not stand idly by any longer. The time has come for the President of Spain to do his duty and unify the land of Ferdinand and Isabella once again…”

I am just fifteen feet away from the President to his left as part of the Presidential Guard. I put my hand on my pistol and walk towards him.

“…and I say, no, no, no! There is no power in this majestic land of Cortés, Velázquez and Cervantes that can stop me now. What the…”

The President looks round at me. He looks like a man who knows his time has come. Sheer incomprehension on his face.

¡Por la paz!” I shout. For the peace. I shoot the President three times in the chest. He crumples to the floor.

I drop to my knees and await my fate. I hear shouting and motion and mayhem but all I think about is Valentina and that Durruti quote. I feel a gun against the back of my skull.

Llevamos un mundo nuevo en nuestros corazones,” I whisper to her.

by Martin O’Brien based on Marblehead Johnson – The Bluetones

 

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The Waiting Game

They’re givin’ you the business and puttin’ on a show
You’re a million dollar man that ain’t got no dough
But critics still continue to plaster
My name and discredit my fame

Finally, the adrenalin is dissipating. A couple of Falcons has helped me calm down. That buzz from performing always stuns me. Even today three years after I “made it”. I can hear the crowd shouting my name. Even outside of Britain people know who I am and that’s what drives me on.

The thought of what has happened in those years since I won StarStruck makes my heart start to race again. I’m still here, no matter what they throw at me. I wouldn’t be in Sweden smashing another gig if I listened to their shit.

Every article, every TV show – all they do is mention the contract. The million pound contract for winning StarStruck. If they knew how hard I have worked maybe they would shut up. But probably now, it’s the British way to build you up and then knock you down. And then kick you in the ribs a few times just to make sure and say “it’s your fault I’m kicking you!”

“A deluded no-mark” I was called last week in an article on the Guardian, “eking out a living in the backwaters of Europe. It is all a far cry from 2 and half years ago on the eve of his debut album release. At the press conference TV talent show winner Taylor Alban stated without any irony or apparent self-awareness that this record could be ‘the most important album this century’. What was released was a hodgepodge of overwrought, predictable covers and self-penned mild folk-rock songs reminiscent of the most obnoxious backpacker-with-a-guitar that you ever had the unfortunate opportunity to meet on a beach in Thailand.”

I acknowledge the issues with the first album. However the problems were mainly down to the multiple producers foisted upon me and the way my manager refused to take on board my ideas. What an infuriating man! Ali Shaheed, the most musically brain dead man in London, without a shadow of a doubt. Getting rid of the buffoon was the best decision I’ve made in my career..

I told him not to release a cover for a debut single. But no, Ali said you can’t go wrong with a U2 cover and the media hype – a safe bet. Since when has music been about a safe bet? Covering The Sweetest Thing was as an uninspiring choice and I was surprised it reached as high as number four.

When my debut album sales barely crept above 15,000 the tone from the label shifted. The reminders came through that the million pound contract was dependent on sales. After the advance on the first album it now turned out that I owed the label!

I never thought I would be the one taken for a ride by the record labels. I thought my talent would see me through to where I belonged, to be ranked one day alongside people like Bowie and MJ.

The papers had a field day over the sales and people started hollering abuse at me in the street. I would walk down Stoke Newington High Street and people on a disturbingly regular basis would shout moronic stuff like “you’re shit!”, “top knot wanker!” and “you giant-headed twat!” at me.

One bug-eyed, skinhead even pressed me up against the wall outside the White Hart and told me I was scum for the way I treat people. His eyes were nearly popping out of his head. Luckily the staff from the pub came out and calmed things down and the guy ran off. But what an experience! I thought he was going to strangle me to death just for covering Vanessa Carlton.

In the end it made me all the more determined to prove people wrong. My mother said “work hard and you reap the rewards”. I try and I try but it feels like forces are conspiring against me. Here I am in Nefertiti Jazz Club in Gothenburg playing in a small cave-like venue in front of probably less than a hundred people.

Is it worth it?

It has to be. To get my message out. My second album was created using the rest of my advance money. I wasn’t giving that moolah straight back to the label, especially with their lack of faith in me. They said there will be no marketing on the record but refused to allow me to sign with someone else! Bloody hell, I know how Prince felt having no control of your destiny. They gave me a week in the recording studio and I blasted out ten of my own compositions and produced it myself as they wanted the dickhead who was responsible for my debut disaster.

I finish my Falcon and head out of the changing room back to the bar to see what’s happening. At the bar I stand next to a guy dressed up in Fred Perry talking about Sleaford Mods to some English girls. I look across the bar and see a man with a mean scowl staring at me. Getting stared at when out in public is probably the weirdest thing about being famous. People gawping at you when you’re on the Tube or having a pint at the pub.

I order another beer and then decide it’s a bit busy as the venue has morphed into a nightclub now. Madonna is on, a bit of Into The Groove. What a great song. The place has filled up since I was on half an hour ago. I notice the strange guy is still looking at me with a look of barely disguised contempt. I leave the bar and can feel him watching me as I make my way back to the changing room.

I plonk myself back in the comfy chair. Next stop, Stockholm. Hopefully sales of the new album will start picking up. Three thousand at last count. Enough to keep my head above water alongside the touring but not enough to pay the record company parasites back. I even managed a three-star review of the album in the Sun and album of the week on some French website. Zut alors!

I compare myself to the Beatles in Hamburg. These are my forty days and forty nights in the desert. My penance for dealing with the devil, or Ali as I call him. If I can just power through this tour for the next few months and save some cash to make a third album I could start becoming an established player.

Although I have no record label now. They terminated the contract after the second album was released. Bastards, they still receive their cut of sales from the current record despite putting bugger all resources into it. It makes me bloody fume.

I stand up and look in the mirror. I think I’ve aged ten years in the last twelve months. The stress of recording and touring is catching up with me. I shut my eyes and try to relax, I can feel my heart speeding up again.

I open my eyes and in the reflection of the mirror I see I’m not alone.

The guy who was staring at me at the bar is in my room. Shit.

“What’re you doin’ here?” my voice is strong but I don’t think it will if I have to ask again. He is stood in the now-open doorway.

“You don’t recognise me Taylor?” the man’s voice is soft, in spite of his hard eyes and tight, drawn mouth.

Recognise him? I don’t recall seeing him before. Unless it’s…

“You…you, you’re the guy from the White Hart!” I say, in utter surprise, it’s the bloody feller who nearly knocked my block off in London.

“That was the last time we met, yes.” The man is looking at me with more contempt than I ever imagined somebody could look at another human, “you still don’t actually remember me, do you?”

“I’m sorry,” I’m mumbling now, “Please. I don’t know, please don’t hurt me,”

“You’re not a nice person Taylor, you lie and deceive just to get your own way. We met three years ago in Shoreditch,”

“What’s your name? The last few years have been a bit manic, I’m sorry if I’ve forgotten who you are,”

The man moves from the door and stands a couple feet away from me. He doesn’t look like he’s going to plough my face in immediately. He looks calmer now.

“My name is Dan. You told me you wanted to make a record and told you I produce my own stuff. I said my friend runs a recording studio in Ealing so you could make a demo. I paid up front for the studio and new equipment which you said you needed. We texted and on the day you were supposed to come up to the studio you shafted me.”

“I can’t…I’m not sure I…” a flicker of memory is tickling the back of my brain.

“You cost me fifteen hundred quid for everything, you shit. I never heard again from you and three weeks later you were on that bag o’ shite TV show. And then you won and became Mr Big Shot and never responded to my messages or paid me back.”

And like a sea wall disintegrating under the power of a tsunami it all comes back to me.

“Oh God. I’m so sorry, if I could pay you back I would. I’ll try and get the money for you.”

“Forget the money, that doesn’t matter now. I know you’re pretty much insolvent if your puerile tweets are anything to go by. I’m going to take away what you really desire,”

“What’s that?” dizziness is striking at my core and I stumble past the man and fall back into the chair. The man looks at me pityingly, he walks back over to the door and places his hand on the handle.

“Your oh-so-precious musical career, Mr Alban,”

“Please don’t hurt me, please don’t,” I can’t believe what is happening. He’s going to close the door and murder me. I need to protect myself but what to do? I’ve never been in this position before.

“Oh I’m not going to attack you.” the man chuckles and stands in the doorway, “ I’m going to keep an eye on you. It’s very easy to do these days thanks to the internet. I know where you’ll be and what you’re doing. I’m going to empty your soul like you do to people. You are a parasite, Taylor.”

“What…what are you going to do,”

“I’ll keep you waiting, like you did to me. Then I’ll make you pay,”

The man walks out of the room and back to the bar and leaves me sat on the chair waiting. But waiting for what?

by Martin O’Brien based on Show Business – A Tribe Called Quest

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A Memento of Summer

Running down a central reservation in last night’s red dress
And I can still smell you on my fingers and taste you on my breath
It’s like living in the middle of the ocean
With no future, no past

Walking

I’m in a trance. It’s a nice feeling. This must be how bees feel when they’ve pollinated a tender flower.

If you were a fan of cheesy wordplay, you could say I’m buzzing. I’ve not had a night like that with a man before.

And now the walk home in the cool late summer morning through a cow-filled meadow. This is my favourite time of the year. There’s a natural underlying warmth to the air but there’s a fresh breeze  which catches my arms and sends a little chill through my body. The future beefburger creatures just stare at me.

I don’t know what happened to my shoes but the feel of the moist grass on my dirty feet somehow lifts me even higher. Huge trees are ahead of me and I can hear the sound of traffic beyond them.

I pass through the trees, the smell of cars and urbanity begins to hit me and a little wave of self-consciousness hits me. I’m at a dual carriageway wearing little more than the red dress I wore to his house last night.

The road is pretty quiet so I skip over the road towards the central reservation.  A lorry goes by and peeps his horn. Even the pesky pervos can’t get me down today. I hop over the barrier next to the overtaking lane and on to the grass again.

Last night was so intense, shame it ended in a big argument but that’s how these happen. He lost his head and I lost mine, I suppose. I really can’t deal with arguments and shouting and name-calling. It’s not my scene.

It was all forgotten by morning and I felt like a weight had been lifted off the ol’ shoulders. Today’s another adventure isn’t it?

Another lorry goes by and more horn-parping follows. Have they never seen a lass wander down a road at 7am on a Sunday morning? This time a car rolls by and something is shouted out the window by a funny-looking young woman. I wave at her.

The amount of people paying me attention is funny. I start skipping down the road. I’ve never felt as light as this. I have literally not a care in the world today.

I skip for what seems like hours. Who knows how long it is? I see a roundabout ahead. I’m disappointed that the long straight road is being interrupted by this big round thing.

Actually, I’m a bit tired now. Perhaps last night’s physical exertions have taken their toll on me. Pretty hungry too, come to think of it.

I arrive at the junction and look for a spot to cross. The middle of the roundabout is grassy too, and raises to a mound in the middle and it’s filled with flowers. It looks a nice place for a picnic if you’re a fan of staring at roads.

A car pulls up beside and brakes. The passenger in the car is a friendly old granny. She looks up at me and sees the state of me. She motions to her feller, it must be her husband.

He just stares at me. I hold his gaze. He has a hard face. We match eyes for seconds until his increasingly agitated wife forces him to look away. She is shouting at him. He looks back at me and drives off. Weird.

As he pulls away a white van is coming from the right hand side and rams his hatchback up the backend. The noise is pathetically small for a car accident like this. It reminds  when a bunch of cans fall off a supermarket shelf. The old timer’s car is shunted off the roundabout to the left whilst the van spins around in the middle of the road. My stomach lurches a little bit at how something so big can look lost.

I turn away from the accident and head up to the flowers for a sit down and to see what I can do about the mega- hunger that I’m feeling.

Sitting

The sounds of people shouting is knocking me out of my blissful moment. I just want to sit at the summit of this roundabout with my thoughts.

My arms are covered in his aroma. It’s wafting up and too intense a reminder of what happened last night. Another chill goes through my body and I can’t even look at my arms now.

I feel perturbed by something. It’s that old man from the car. He’s now on the road, he has a gash down his face running from his right eye to his jawline.

He’s staring at me again. I don’t like his hard face, harder then the tarmac. I look at other people who have gathered around. They are all looking at me. Twenty of them now. A police car has pulled up too.

Two male cops exit the car and are looking at me too. They’re shouting at me. Words I can’t quite grasp, I feel like I’m falling in to a trance.

I remain sat like a buddha in my flowery roundabout, cut adrift from everything. I’m so glad I still have my memento of last night. I can’t let it go. I close my eyes, trying to preserve my feelings of walking down the road earlier.

The sun is high in the sky now, it must be midday now? How long have I sat here now? I open my eyes and there must be twenty coppers here now, along with a couple of ambulances (ambulanci – is that a word?).

The old man is still there, he’s still staring at me. I can’t see his wife. Some of the police have guns. The guns are pointed at me. They are still shouting at me. Again, their words are like waves bouncing off the bow of an ocean liner.

All I want to do is gaze into his eyes like I did last night.

But as I look down at his face his eyes are no longer there. After I decapitated him I removed his judgmental eyes. Always judging me. No longer will I stand for that kind of shit.

“You’ll never amount to anything, you’re a coward, a pathetic creature” he bawled at me. He was stood in my face, sneeringly arrogant and dominant.

That was when I caught him with my elbow and he went down straight away. The way he went down antagonised me even more. He was sparked out, no movement at all.

I went to the kitchen and got the bread knife. I came back to the bedroom, drank the rest of the wine and went to work.

It took about two hours to chop it off. I suppose you never think about the practicalities of lopping someone’s noggin off. When I finally wrenched the spine away from his head I felt catharsis. It was the most perfect moment of the night.

So I took it with me. I’m not sure why really. I think I thought I had earned it through my labours. Looking at the blood covered face I begin to feel like perhaps it wasn’t my right to behead somebody, no matter how much they piss me off. I’ve always struggled with seeing things rationally. I can see now that some folk may think beheading someone is a slightly disproportionate response.

My arms are covered in dried blood up to my shoulders. Lucky I wore the red dress, otherwise I could have looked a right, clashing mess. What now for me?

I don’t know.

I stand up. The policemen raise their guns in unison.

I lift up the head by his crimson-tinted blonde hair and hold it aloft like it was Medusa’s head. The spectators are visibly repulsed but don’t turn to stone.

I roll the head back down the hill, where it lays to rest on the roadside.

The old man is still there. He’s still staring at me from fifty yards away. Still judging me. His face is unreadable.

I cannot handle this man staring and judging and giving nothing back.

I know I can’t reach him without the police stopping me. But I’ll take my chances.

I run at him, space and time merges together, the future and the past no longer exist.

by Martin O’Brien based on Central Reservation – Beth Orton

 

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Bella’s Morning

A smash of glass and the rumble of boots
An electric train and a ripped-up phone booth
Waking up at 6 A.M. on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol

Bella wakes, the sound of smashing glass rings through her ears like an alarm.

It’s the Hunters, preparing to level the block.

Bella is lying on a mattress with no cover, it’s too warm for that in London these days.

She jumps up, already clothed in a white t-shirt and black jeans. She is in a daze but adrenalin propels her around her studio apartment. She picks up her midsy (the Money ID Card every citizen is required to carry by law) and slips on her running pumps.

She opens her window and even though she knows what to expect she is frozen rigid. Tens of small drones that look like metal wasps are using 5 metre proboscises to smash the windows of the res-block. Larger drones the size of London Zoo elephants are spraying petrol through the gaping windows.

Bella has only smelt petrol once before. That was when her brother’s res-block was burned to the ground in Clapham seven years ago.

He never made it out. Bella can’t move her body. She looks down to the floor, fifty-four storeys down and can see the red-clad Civil Enforcement Officers pouring in to the building, the rumble of boots rising upwards like the Autumn thunder.

Bella can hear the screams begin. The searing cries of her neighbours knock her out of stasis. The hunters are here because of what she found out. 7 years of research and it has all come together. The knowledge to end the tyranny that Greater England has endured for eight decades.

But, it’s all for nothing if she can’t escape from this soon-to-be burning tower. She looks out of the window at her only chance at saving herself.

Halfway up between the two mega res-blocks that are squeezed in between the old Olympic Stadium and the Waterworks River is the Skytrain track. About 150 metres high, half the height of the two towers that it snakes through on its route through what is left of Whitechapel towards the National Station.

Bella looks out of her window, the stench of petrol making her retch. The track is about 10 metres down and ten metres away from the window. “It’s not jumpable, it can’t be,” she says out loud.

The first fires are being ignited at the top of the tower. A wave of guilt washes over her when she considers they are levelling the res-block because of her. How many deaths will this cause? She hardens her thoughts in the knowledge that the government is responsible for thousands of deaths a day in Greater England’s wars, both internally and externally.

The rumble of boots is getting louder, the troops are outside her apartment. Vulgar shouts can be heard outside.

Bella clambers out of her window and on to the ledge. She hears her apartment door being blown off. She doesn’t look around, instead she pushes her legs with all the force she can manage and takes a leap of faith and knowledge.

She flies.

The moment of exhilaration is brutally ended when she lands shoulder first on to the hot silver track. She skids along but remains lying on the 4 metre wide shimmering maglev track.

Bella giggles at the thought at what she has done. The wind has been taken out of her but it seems nothing is broken. All she can hear is a tinny whistle which is beginning to get louder and drowning out the screams, the fires and the drones.

Bella turns her head to the right and retches again. A Skytrain is coming towards her.

450 kilometres an hour of pure speed that can reach English cities such as Bristol, Amsterdam and Newcastle from London in less than an hour and carries troops to the frontline in Livingston to carry on the fight against the Glasgow and Edinburgh Scottish nationalists.

The retch give Bella the impetus to spin across the flat track. As the train approaches she manages to roll over and dangle off the track. She holds on to the edge of the track as the maglev zooms past and float over her fingers. The trailing wind almost blows her to the ground but she holds on for what seems like an hour but is probably only five seconds. The train finally zooms past and away through the new slums towards the National Station.

Bella pulls herself back on up to the track. Stood tall and looking towards the old Olympic Stadium, now London’s biggest internment camp. A prison of 40,000 people serving as a reminder to anyone who wants to challenge the government. A mix of underworld figures, human rights activists, psychopaths, enemies of the government and anyone else deemed “un-English”.

The biggest threat to the government. The reminder to the masses of what happens when you attempt to challenge the order. Londoners call it the underground stadium as everyone pretends it isn’t there. Huge metal scaffolding surrounds most of the stadium due to extensions for security reasons. For something that is regarded as invisible it remains the unmistakable emblem of 22nd century England.

It is the symbolic key to the regime’s reign of terror.

Rather handily, Bella has the actual key to the prison.

Or to put it more accurately, she has the codes to access the electricity house that is located outside the stadium. Her research has led her to this point where a simple system shutdown can pull the plug on the underground stadium. Seven years of investigations and the associated murders, hacks and belief.

Due to the regular blackouts twenty years ago that led to regular rioting, escapes and the Dagenham crisis the government had to place the stadium under it’s own electricity generation system. Bella discovered that there is no back up system in place and the government has never reconnected it back to the main grid.

Well they did five years ago, until Bella disconnected again last week, but that’s whole different adventure.

Bella runs along the skytrain track and looks for a place to get off. She runs and runs and can’t see anywhere to drop off until she spots a maintenance staircase that runs rather conveniently down to the City Mills River. Bella descends the staircase by jumping down each flight.

The staircase leads into a building where a fat man in government uniform is at a desk surrounded by CCTV images. He hasn’t noticed her. He looks like a typical guvsheep. A base, greedy, selfish creature who will do what he can to preserve his cushy life and protect the regime.

She silently walks behind the big man and examines the images on the screens in front of her. The images appear to show the nearby area around the building. It is deathly quiet inside the room. The images are deathly quiet too. Concrete and tarmac and no people.

Bang in the middle of the screens Bella spots a feed focused on the entrance to the electrical control building that she needs to enter. It’s unguarded.

The only problem is the guvsheep. Bella looks at him, a bloated man feeding on Tortos, while his fellow country-folk go hungry.

Bella pulls an eight-inch knife out of her jeans and unsheathes it. grabs the guard by the forehead and swipes the knife across his throat. Blood and processed food spurts out over the desk.

Before she leaves the room Bella smashes every screen. Bella can’t handle the silent screens. They remind her of the silent majority in London. Cowed into silence by a sociopathic regime.

Bella fights back tears and finally walks out of the building and makes her way towards the rusting, burgundy hulk of the Orbit.

A thick steel door greets her at the entrance.

Bella simply pushes the door open.

She expected it to be open. She hacked it last night, the door can only be opened from the inside usually.

Bella walks inside and shuts the door. Stairs lead downstairs to a rather bare and basic office. A few desks and a couple of computers are in here. A man is sat a computer, a wiry man with glasses and a hard face. His face contorts to sheer puzzlement, his jaw quite literally dropping at the sight of a sweat-covered Bella.

She walks over to him and cuts his throat in a move so quick it looked almost dull. His leaking body drops off the chair on to the floor.

She walks through the office and spots what she is looking for. A red handle pokes out of the wall. A label above states “POWER”.

Bella pauses in front of it and grimaces at the word.

If she pulls this handle up she will be Cerberus. What will be unleashed on the city and the country?

Forty thousand people released. The resentful, the criminal and the vile – it is true.

But also the revolutionaries. With the wars in Scotland, France and Gibraltar the government is already in trouble. Manpower is running low for their bitter battles.

“We carry a new world here, in our hearts,”

Bella pulls the handle.

*

In the room only silence, Bella can’t take her hand off the handle.

*

Outside in London, the power goes out in the underground stadium. The silence is replaced by noise. Screams pierce the East London air, the gates swing open and the battle begins.

by Martin O’Brien based on That’s Entertainment – The Jam

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The Wind and the Rain

You leave in the morning
With everything you own in a little black case
Alone on the platform
The wind and the rain

Èze, France – July 5th 1998

They’re coming for me. The handwritten warning:

Fear the wind and the rain

Penance is due for unending pain

Who was it from?

Probably Mossad. The attack by those animals in Buenos Aires in ‘71 still horrified me. It wasn’t like them to not finish the job. Sometimes my eye still stings, even though it was burned out nearly three decades ago. I thought the running was over. Argentina, South Africa and now Monaco.

Still one eye is better than nothing and I’m a strong guy. They couldn’t kill me in South America or Africa, they sure as hell aren’t doing it here on the Riviera.

It’s a shame, I like Monaco. A lot of the old gang are here but we can’t meet up. The occasional phone call from Josef or Otmar but that’s it. The price we pay for the past is our constant loneliness. Always striving to get close to people but unable to do it.

I’m a simple man, I enjoy my morning coffee at Café Girard and a brisk walk around Fontvielle. Then back to my apartment where I like to watch the young maid clean up. She does a good job even though she’s a fucking Arab. I know she wants me to fuck her. She only cares about the money. Worse than the Jews for that. As if I’d touch her…

I can feel the anger rising up, now it’s all over. Some people who can’t let the past rest and to hound an old man. War makes no man proud. But at the time everything I did felt right. It still does when I look at the world now. Money grabbing foreigners everywhere you look.

One suitcase, a taxi ride out to Èze. They’ll be watching the station at Monte Carlo – this is the safest place, according to Joachim.

“Get out now,” he told me, “I know someone in Madrid, a friend will meet you at Atocha in 3 days at midday outside the entrance. His name is Frank,”

And that was that, I took all my money out of the bank and called a taxi for 5am.

The apartment was a mess when I left, the maid had called in sick for two days now. I left the apartment with no feelings. A shitty Renault was outside waiting for me.

The driver looked like another stinking Arab. He looked at me in a funny way. I told him to concentrate on the fucking road, it’s still dark. That shut up the dirty bastard.

We made it to Èze for quarter past five. The road runs along the riviera, the main town lies above in the hills. The small station lies between the road and the sea.

The dark man drops me off on Avenue de la Liberté, near the station. I look around and I can see roses are growing everywhere, an overwhelming sight – pinks, reds glowing like the print by Warhol I once saw in a magazine.

It’s too intense. A wave of nausea stuns me and the smell reminds me a bit of the camps, an intense, sickly smell.

I have to catch my breath, the world begins to spin. I drop a knee to the floor and heave a dry retch.

After gathering my senses I visit the café opposite the station for a bottle of water. A young, bald boy serves me. I don’t like his look either. I can’t wait to get out of France, they smirk at anyone with a German accent.

I cross the road back to the station and make it to the platform – the next train is in an hour’s time. I can relax here for a while and watch the sun rise.

I glance to my right and I see a young girl walking on to the platform looking lost. She’s beautiful. Long dark hair, a pretty white dress with flowers on it and a rose in her hair. She starts to walk over to me.

Maybe there are some things in France I will miss!

The girl is even more stunning up close, she has dark eyes – possible a gypsy looking at her. And she starts to speak and she sounds Slavic. I’m entranced by her.

“Excuse me sir….” she begins…

—————-

A week ago Gunari had phoned and said the maid confirmed he was a German. That was the final confirmation – everything else checked out.

I caught the train from Genoa to Monaco. He would be my first.

I met with Gunari in the Japanese Gardens. Summer was in full bloom, I like this time of year. Everything seems possible.

“Nuri, my child,” Gunari laid his big, coarse hands on my shoulders, “This is what you have waited for. Be ready and remember your training,”

“I know what I need to do,” I whisper.

“Good girl,”

Gunari left me and I walked over to the promenade and looked out at the Mediterranean Sea. Gunari had said to embrace the guilt. This is vengeance for our people being slaughtered in their thousands across Europe. Herded like cattle and called subhuman. Exterminated in the death camps. We are the wind and the rain that cleanses our shame.

My own grandfather, murdered in Jasonevac.

The man I will be killing is not responsible for that murder. But he is responsible for the deaths of thousands of my people. The Porajmos will never be forgotten.

This man brought Kali Traš, the Black Fear, to us.

The wind and the rain will wash away his sins.

He tried the quick getaway. He thought he was clever. Our methods were cleverer. I bugged his phone and overheard his conversation with the other German.

The taxi that picked him up was driven by Gunari.

I had held up the actual taxi driver by flashing some leg and asking if he could give me a ride. It worked a treat. Like the movies I actually told him to “follow that car” behind Gunari and the target.

Gunari pulled up at the little village train station and I told the taxi driver to carry on and park up around the corner about one hundred metres from the station.

I leave the car and peer around the corner. A man with a dark blue coat and grey trousers is crossing the road and drinking from a bottle of water muttering to himself.

I see my prey. My stomach lurches once and then twice. In my small handbag I have a blade. A Indian bagh naka, a small instrument resembling a tiger claws.

I follow him up to the station, pausing only to pluck a scarlet rose from a nearby bush and place it in my hair. I walked to the platform and the station was deserted. Just an old man carrying a smart black case.

I walked over to him and attempted to look demure. I had picked out my only flowery dress for today.

I am fighting the nerves in my stomach. I keep telling myself this is for the Berša Bibahtale, the unhappy years suffered by the Romani. This man killed my people without compunction nor reason.

I slowly approach him and the old man is leering at me, barely disguising his lust. A man without morals. A man unaware of his judgment.

“Excuse me sir,” I said, surprising myself at how successfully I can concealed my own fear, “Do you know what time the next train to Nice is due?”

“About an hour’s time, sweetie,” the vile creature responded, with a smirk.

“Thank you,” I say fixing him with my stare, “Thank you Dr Albert Tremmick, the Exterminator of Dieselstrasse, there will be no more experiments on our children, Doctor,”

The man’s face is a picture of incomprehension. I’ve never seen a face change from arrogance to desolation.

Everything is slowing down. I can see the impending recognition on his face of what is about to happen. My hand lies on the blade.

Finally the old man tries to lunge at me. He is too slow. I skip around the back of his grasping Nazi hands grab him by the collar and pull my face up to his sweating neck. I raise my right arm and rake the bagh naka across his throat.

The man utters a pathetic yelp and crumples to the floor. Within seconds the platform is covered in rose-red blood. It is dripping on to the tracks. The wind and the rain has finally cleansed this place.

I walk out of the station and into Gulani’s car. Nothing needs to be said – he just looks in to my wet eyes and he drives us away.

by Martin O’Brien based on Smalltown Boy – Bronski Beat

 

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The Attercliffe Assassin

The boy is hit, lit up against the sky, like a sign, like a neon sign
And he crumples, drops into the gutter, legs twitching
The flood swells his clothes and delivers him on, delivers him on
Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul

The pain was intense with every step but Gabriel kept walking. Standing still was even worse.

Never stand still, his coach Joe said, always keep moving. You stand still and you’re an easy target, a mug. Keep moving and you’ll never go down. One-two, lights out. Keep moving, keep your lights on.

Gabriel had always heeded this advice in the ring. Joe’s advice had got him his big shot. But sometimes you fall short. And you fall hard.

The evening was muggy, one of those summer nights you only get a few nights a year in England. Nights which never seem real and never seem to end, an exhilaratingly anxious feeling. You can’t sleep when it’s like this. All you can do is keep moving; brain and body.

Gabriel’s feet are light on the Sheffield streets. The monstrously large brick buildings tower above him, the shadows as oppressive as the humidity. A jarring reminder of the people congregating around him last night as he sank to the floor. Their dark shadows looming over him with the arena floodlights giving them bright halos.

The sight of a billboard across the road gives him a start. He walks over to the other side transfixed by it.

It’s the poster of his fight last night. His big fight, his big shot.

The heir to Eubank, Benn and Calzaghe. He would deliver his message and confirm his status as the best super middleweight in the country. “He Shall Be Great”, the tag line proclaimed, his arms raised aloft.

All he can think of now is the image of himself falling down. An out-of-body experience as he can see himself falling from afar, like in a film. He had kept on moving but the tough little Mexican Rafael Sariel had caught him flush above his left eye and he fell. The very moment where – and utterly without cliché – he could feel the world turn on its axis.

The photographers’ flashes light him up as he crumples in slow-motion. Every source of light is trained on him and he appears like a cartoon character being electrocuted. And moments later there is nothing, only pain and darkness.

Ladies and gentleman, here he is….The Angel of Death. The Attercliffe Assassin.

He was the unbeaten 24 year old who had been overlooked for the Olympics as a 21 year old. He responded with a rampaging fifteen wins in a row, thirteen by knock-out. The most fearsome boxer of his generation, an electric ball of fury and tight movement.

One punched extinguished not only his consciousness but his career too.

Gabriel couldn’t remember leaving the ring unconscious on a stretcher. Nor the tests at the hospital. Or even leaving the hospital and going back home. Only after waking this evening did he begin to feel in touch with his senses.

But the pain, the pain was unrelenting. His head was hurting so much that Gabriel could only grimly giggle, a touch hysterically. The feeling of hopelessness was simply incomprehensible to him. The loss of his unbeaten record was the loss of his dignity, his honour, his actual being.

Growing up had been tough, living with his grandparents. He never knew his father and his mother worked during the nights. She handed him over for good to her folks when he was nine years old. His grandparents hadn’t expected to raise a child when they were in their sixties and he was off the rails by thirteen. A criminal record at sixteen for a series of assaults and street robberies.

It was a spell in a secure care home that saved him when he was sixteen. When he arrived Gabriel had decided that silence was the only way forward.

Everything he would say normally to people would invariably get him in trouble so from then on, he would barely say a word, communicating with grunts and eye contact. All kinds of social workers tried to engage him. They all failed with their understanding faces, ceaseless jargon and condescending tones.

Joe was different. He worked part time at the care home as they needed some decent security as twelve wayward lads in their late teens could be quite a handful. Joe was a former marine and national amateur boxing champion at light-heavyweight. He was In his late-fifities, a brooding presence with a crew-cut, pale reddish skin and his huge arms covered in tattoos – although they were hard to distinguish underneath his dark, hairy arms

In their first one-to-one “counselling” session Joe didn’t speak. Not a word. Just calmly watched Gabriel whose demeanour was a feigned nonchalance.

He didn’t speak at the next session and Gabriel began to look closely at Joe. Joe was a real hard man, he could tell. It wasn’t just his size but his eerily relaxed nature. None of the lads in the care home behaved badly when he was there, not even once.

At the end of the third one-hour session Gabriel finally cracked. He walked up to Joe and in tears collapsed in to his arms. After a few minutes like that he pulled away from Joe and saw the old feller was misty-eyed too. No words again we’re spoken. Gabriel left the room and on the way out Joe simply nodded at him to which he reciprocated and smiled sheepishly.

At the next session (a day later at Gabriel’s request) he emptied his heart out to Joe – about his absent parents, his bewildered grandparents, the crimes he had committed and the emptiness he felt inside. Joe would barely speak, he let Gabriel unload his problems and after Gabriel finally ran out of words and energy Joe took over the conversation.

He told him about his early life which was very similar to Gabriel’s. Absent parents, an upbringing in care homes and foster houses. An escape to the military was his way out. He had picked up boxing while he was serving and found his calling. Two decades ago, he left the marines and worked at his local boxing gym. He took Gabriel to the gym and started to teach him.

Joe coaxed and coached him. He taught him discipline, technique and about choosing a path in life. When Gabriel realised that he was actually pretty good at boxing and after flooring a former English amateur middleweight champion during a sparring session he made a pledge to himself to become a world champion.

By the time he was 19 he was training intensely, forgoing all vices. No booze, no drugs, very little in the way of any socialising. He had one goal now and there seemed to be nothing to stand in his way. He watched as many boxing DVDs as Joe could find for him. The classic Benn-Eubank duels were his favourites. The intensity and the story they told inspired him. He wanted to become a public figure in England, and go to America and become a great.

To get so near and fail was sickening. He didn’t know what was worse, the physical pain that stung his whole body or the blunt feeling of emptiness he felt in his soul.

The heavy sky finally collapsed and the rain fell down, huge waves of warm rain immediately drenching him. Gabriel realised he was stood on the kerb still looking at the poster for his bout at the Paradise Arena. He was staring at his eyes and he began to feel weak.

Reality and hazy recollections were blurring.

He could see it all, the cameras flashing as he crashed to the floor.

He was on the canvas, in the gutter as the rain incessantly poured over him. And the photographers, and the doctors were around.

Rafael was there too, standing over him, a healing hand on his heart. Floodlights and streetlights, the streets flooding with rainwater and the arena lights reflected back.

A man’s voice whispers something. He looks around and sees no ring and doctors, just an old tramp chasing his phone and wallet as they wash along the gutter by the side of the road.

Gabriel feels his leg viciously spasming, and his head is hurting so much that he doesn’t feel the pain any longer. The man, a tramp, a doctor, a coach, a rival stares in to his eyes, holds his hands and sees imperfection, not a king but a man of redemption.

by Martin O’Brien based on Sometimes – James

 

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Airport Run

3:36, it’s cold, I know I’m growing old
With life’s best side on the downward slope
Done it before, do it again
Early morning cold taxi.

 

Brrrp! Brrrp!

Roger slammed his grizzly hand down on the alarm clock. He allowed himself one snooze lasting six minutes. He got out of bed, took a six minute cold shower and went downstairs still in a daze. He ate an apple that was already beginning to decay even though he only bought them yesterday and put on some old rags,what he called his jeans and a moth-eaten grey t-shirt.

Roger double checked that he locked up after himself then unlocked his car. His red Focus was ready for another day’s work. A swift memory of last night hit him. Arguments over money and kids. He felt a painful twinge in his chest which made him exhale air, gushing out of him like pus from a blister.

Roger looked at the clock on the dashboard of his cab.

3:36

Another airport run, fucking hell, he thought. He pulled away from his drive for the short journey two streets away to pick up his fare. An old school friend called Keith who was heading to the airport to fly to visit his son in Australia. Roger was struggling for cash, and struggling for the motivation to leave his house. He was working barely two days a week now and this fare could keep him going a bit longer and perhaps buy a birthday present for his little boy.

‘Alright, Rog, how ya keeping?’ Keith said as they put the suitcases in the boot of the Focus.

‘Good ta Keith, you all set?’ Roger said.

‘Aye. Let’s hit the road mate.’

Soon the Focus was leaving town and joining on to the motorway. It was still dark and the cold autumn mist was greasing the road with a coating of ice. The trees fell away from Roger’s periphery and the road became his entrancer once again. The grey tarmac soothed his head and the miles began to pass away.

‘How are the kids?’

Roger looked around puzzled. Keith was looking at him expectantly.

‘What?’ was all he could mumble.

‘Your kids Rog. They alright?’

‘They’re fine,’ was all he could force out.

‘They must be what ten and eleven now, Rog?’ Keith said, utterly oblivious to the fact that Roger did not want to speak to him.

‘Twelve and thirteen now,’ was all he offered him.

‘God, we’re gettin’ on a bit now eh?’

‘Yep,’ was all Roger could muster and Keith stopped pestering him.

The trees and signs and Little Chefs continued to fly by, and his spirits lifted as the miles ticked away. He considered buying a take-away pizza later as a treat for leaving the house.

By half five the sun was rising and the tops of the de-leafing trees were tinged mahogany. Roger thought that the world never looked so beautiful as right now. Despite their cruising speed of seventy-five miles per hour there was a stillness and a crispness that shrouded the roads and passing fields. The only noise came from the engine and the road was quiet except for the occasional lorry which they glided past at thirty second intervals.

With the airport just twenty-five miles away Keith started to speak again.

‘You see the wife much now Rog?’, another favourite topic for Roger to avoid.

‘No,’ Roger said blankly.

‘Not at all? Shit Rog, I never thought you too would ever split up.’

He was antagonised by this comment. Seemingly everybody thought that they would never split up. It caused him to forget about ignoring Keith and set him straight.

‘She’s a fucking money grabbing bitch Keith,’ he spat, ‘I fucking hate her.’

‘Really?’ Now Keith was the stunned one.

‘All the time,’ Roger continued, ‘Grasping all the time. Buy me this kitchen, buy me this ring, buy me this car, buy me this bed. I should have fucking bought a hitman to take her out. She’s made my life a fucking misery Keith. She really has, I’ll tell you that for nothing.’

‘Christ Rog, I had no idea.’

‘She’s never worked a day in her life. She got all my redundancy from the factory. And now, and now I tell you she takes whatever I’ve got. You wouldn’t believe…I mean… I mean I don’t mind paying for the kids but she’s taking it for herself. Her and that scruffy bastard she’s seeing now.’

‘John? He’s a decent guy, I’ve met him at the pub a few times.’

He turned and glared at Keith with a look of sheer disgust. Roger went back to driving and began to seep back in to his lovely, melancholic state when Keith once more started talking to him.

‘So how much is it again for this ride Rog?’

‘One sixty mate cheers.’ he replied, pleasantly thinking about the money that will soon arrive in his pocket.

‘No probs. Any chance I can pay you on the return journey matey?’

‘Sorry? What?’

Roger thought he misheard him say ‘can I pay you on the return journey?’ Now that couldn’t be right.

‘It’s just a bit easier for me at the moment I haven’t got any English money on me, it’s all in Aussie dollars. Bloody Monopoly money eh?’

‘Come on Keith, you’re taking the piss, don’t you think?’ Roger was astonished.

‘Why d’ya say that Rog?’

‘You expect me to wait three and a half weeks before I get my fare. Come on man I need the fucking money.’

The world stopped looking so crisp and began to look sterile and lacking in life. Roger could feel his leg tightening up again and his chest also.

‘Fucking hell Rog you know I’m good for it.’

‘It’s not the point is it Keith? I’m fucking brassic and you’re saying you won’t pay me.’

‘Not won’t – just can’t at the moment. You didn’t say anything about payment up front. You should’ve made it clear.’

Roger snapped. He faced Keith and looked at his big stupid face. He looked scared, his eyes darting all over the place. He tried to give a smile; a dumb smile and Roger erupted.

‘You tight bastard. I’m turning this fucking car around.’

Roger prepared to turn off at the impending exit road when Keith grabbed the wheel. Roger was shocked and the Focus began to move back towards the motorway. Adrenalin pumped and his chest tightened but he held the wheel firm against Keith’s surprisingly powerful grip.

The car was heading straight in to the steel railings that dissects the motorway and the slip road.

The dull grey barrier approached them, with an almost inevitable air. Keith had a maniacal look on his face. Roger looked at him and back at the barrier ahead and felt his anger rise to a level he thought could not be reached. He yanked the wheel as hard as he could to the left and the car swept away from the barrier.

However instead of careering along the slip road the car turned one hundred and eighty degrees and slid in to the kerb on the left hand side of the road. The impact flipped the car like a child’s toy. As the car rose in the air Roger felt totally light. He was flying through the air and a wave of euphoria lightened the crushing feeling from his chest.

The euphoria ended when the car slammed down on its roof with a sickening heavy crunch. Roger felt his head smash off the roof and the pain was intense. Every part of his head was in extreme pain. He couldn’t focus on anything. He looked out of the window but all he could see was the world falling away.

He realised they were sliding down a hill. Seconds later, the car splashed down in to water. Roger’s head was a riot of angry pain. He looked around and saw Keith fighting to get out of the car. Keith looked around and began to fight to take Roger’s seatbelt off.

‘Leave me please,’ Roger mumbled, ‘I mean it. I don’t wanna be saved. Just leave me.’

He looked at Keith and Keith understood. His passenger kicked out what was left of his door and swam away from Roger and the car.

Blood and murky water was all he could taste and he thought never again I’m I doing it. Never again shall I get in that early morning cold taxi.

by Martin O’Brien based on Early Morning Cold Taxi – The Who

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Dear Children

London calling to the faraway towns

Now war is declared – and battle come down

London calling to the zombies of death

Quit holding out – and draw another breath

My dearest Simon, Mary and Stephen,

Fifty seven nights have passed and we are still here. All of us. Those bombs may break our houses but they cannot break our spirit. They can bomb us for another one hundred nights and we shall still be here, united against the common enemy. I write to you from the family home which we returned to last Thursday, it has been untouched by the troubles though the area is not without its sad stories.

They say that Hackney was badly hit as was Tottenham but I’m sure you’ll find it more disturbing to know that the football ground at Highbury suffered a blow, the North Bank terrace apparently. Closer to home though, Mrs Finchley from down the road told us that her cousin’s house has been destroyed. It’s such an awful thing to happen but every war must have its casualties. These things are to be expected in these difficult times.

We’ve been sleeping in the tubes on the evenings, it’s been a more homely experience than I ever could’ve imagined, there’s been singing and dancing. We’ve made many new friends who have children of similar ages to you who I know you’ll be delighted to meet. The sight of people queuing to get into the stations has become part of people’s daily routine, but there has been no pushing and shoving just folk helping other folk left right and centre. Obviously with the food being rationed it’s been hard to keep up our morale and I won’t pretend that it isn’t terrifying at night-time to hear those sirens. Braver folk than I listen intently but I cover my ears, I’ve felt the ground shake as explosions nearby rock the foundations but I can assure you we’re very safe here. Nothing can touch us. No bombs can penetrate our underground lair.

The news reports have been telling us that Hitler’s turned his attention elsewhere, that we are too strong for him and that he cannot conquer us. Doesn’t that just make you feel proud? Knowing that all of Europe has been swept away before him, great nations like France fell before his fist but our little Kingdom has proved to have too much spirit and fight. I know that we’ll win this war and that when that day comes it’ll be the biggest celebration of all of our lives, just you see. When our boys fight them Nazis they fight without fear, they fight with the help from their fallen brothers in mind. Retribution for splitting our families will come at the cost of Hitler’s own life. I’m certain of it. I know we are too strong.

Your father has been working very hard at the armoury, helping keep our brave soldiers in bullets and helmets and whatever else it is they have there. He tells me that his superior Mr Mason has got all three of his sons fighting in the war. Imagine, all three of your children at the front line, fighting for King and Country. He hasn’t lost any yet either which is something to give thanks for. If either of my two boys were old enough to be out there fighting I know they’d be brave enough to enlist though I dare say I wouldn’t get a winks sleep. As only a mother could understand. With the way things are I hope all this is over before either of you get to that age but who knows when the war will be over.

I expect that life is very different for you at the moment over there. It’s a peaceful place. In a way I’m glad that you can experience some of the same things that I did as a child, the walks, the countryside, the animals, the ponds, the plants, all of it. I’m sure your grandfather has informed you that we used to visit your great-grandmother there every summer when I was a little girl, it was a beautiful, idyllic time of my life so for you to experience part of our families heritage is important for both me and your father. We are just sad that we can’t be there with you to see it. Thinking about it takes me back, I can remember the spot where we used to jump over the beck and explore the woods there. Wonderful memories that are certainly helping me keep my resolve out here.

I trust that you are behaving yourselves correctly for your grandparents. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that at their age they need children to be at their most helpful and courteous. I can imagine that you’ll be eating the freshest of foods straight from the ground out there, where there is a plentiful supply of eggs, butter and meat. I bet you’re helping out every way that you can, feeding the animals is such a joy, the goats are my favourite, they rival the pigs for an appetite they do. Always stuffing themselves.

Simon, I want you to keep going through those books that we sent you, being able to read and write will become most important to you as you continue to grow. Remember that while food and exercise will help your body grow you also need to read to keep the mind growing, although you need little encouragement I feel the need to pass on some advice whilst I can not see you.

To Mary, you can learn all sorts of things from your grandmother that will also set you up for life. She is wise and can make some of the finest foods you’ll ever taste. Although I pray for a future where a woman can be her own master rather than that of her husband and a stove, the things that your grandmother can teach you can be invaluable to a young woman’s future. Remember, you hold all the keys within you, you just need help being shown the doors.

And finally to my littlest soldier Stephen. This time away from us had probably hit you the hardest but you can learn the most from it. I know you can get frustrated from being the youngest but you must listen to your brother and sister and do as they say as you would me or your father. They only want what’s best for you. I know you are enthusiastic to be a big boy but believe me, these years of childhood will be your best and will shape how you grow to become a man.

Your father and I send all the love in the world and count down the days till we can be reunited a family again. This war is not going to break our strength and love for each other. Remember that our soldiers will not give up fighting for you and I until the enemy is vanquished. The enemy wanted London to be its jewel in the crown but the people here are made of sterner stuff to be shattered by them.

Be brave, be good and be happy,

Your loving mother and father.

by Aron Hurst-Wilson based on London Calling – The Clash

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Gamble

Tonight I’m wound tighter than a watchspring
‘Cos when the skies are clear, the threat of rain is always here with you
Everything you say is a call to arms
With all that’s gone before my motives never felt so pure.

Christ, it still hurts. Every time I move my bloody arm I can feel the sting in my elbow like some bugger is stabbing a biro in to me. Who’d’ve thought that banging your arm off a table would hurt so much?

Well it probably wouldn’t – and actually it didn’t as it happens.

But who’d admit to their workmates that their bird regularly twats them. With an iron, or a toaster, or in fact any nearby household object that can be easily hurled with intent to hurt?

No real man that’s for sure. I don’t know why I stand for it – I really don’t. It’s not as if she gets all guilty and apologises after. Rather than promise to never do it again she insists that next time it will be much fucking worse and that I fucking better get used to it. Five foot five of pure devilry, that’s what she is.

It could be over anything, leaving the milk out, or the time I told her mother to fuck off out of our relationship. The interfering bitch is always sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong and (ha ha) get this, that if I ever lay a finger on her she’ll come down on me like a ton of bricks. Once my wife threw a brick at my head while we were in the garden. Nice eh?

One summer a few years back I was out in the garden trying to build my own shrine to burnt sausages when she stepped out of the kitchen and started screaming at me. She was accusing me of staring at the woman next door. I said, ‘what are you on about? She’s on holiday’.

Naturally she kicked off saying I seem to know everything about her holiday plans and that I stare at her tits whenever I see her. I walked away to the far end of the garden hoping she would go back inside and leave me alone. Instead the mad bint lobbed one of the bricks I was using to knock up my tidy little barbecue area. Luckily all it did was scrape my shoulder and bounce off around the fuschias near my feet. I turned and glared at her but she was in the house already. I lifted the brick up, stared at it for a few seconds weighing up whether I should stove her face in, then placed it back on the pile of bricks ready to be laid at a later point.

I know tonight’s gonna be a big one. One fucking mistake, albeit a pretty big one. She’s going to fucking kill me. You see about six months ago we had a huge row. She ended up belting me across the face with the house phone and shattered my nose because I left the front door unlocked.

I stayed at a hotel for a few days. The only company I had was my debit card which I use to pay off bills and such like. While I was away on the first night I went down to the casino in the basement of the hotel and played a bit of roulette and won big. I took a grand! Fucking brilliant!

So the night after I refused to answer any of her calls, pulled a sickie from work and immediately went to the casino at ten in the morning. I was the only fucker In there at first. I had to wait an hour for a beer and even longer until someone came to the roulette table. I was in no rush so I didn’t complain.

Instead, rather cleverly, I handed over all the money I had in my account in a vain attempt to win big again. At four in the afternoon I departed the casino and the hotel two thousand pounds lighter. I walked back home shell-shocked, looking like shit, I must’ve looked so pathetic she just actually gave me a hug when I arrived home and made me a cup of tea.

She’ll be home very soon. She knows what I did because I told her just before she left for work. I told her and she stood motionless, incandescent with rage. But she had a very important meeting at work and she departed without saying a word.

I watched her walk to the bus stop across the road from our house. She stood at the bus stop seething with rage until the bus turned up. I stood in the window just fascinated by that angry, beautiful woman. You see the problem wasn’t that I lost the money. It was what the money was for that I made the bigger mistake.

The money that went to the casino should have gone to the government to pay for road tax. However, I had no way to pay it as I had no money and I could not get any more. I had a holiday to pay for and I thought that I could enjoy a week in the sun without the hassle of being back home. She’s always on her best behaviour abroad. That’s possibly why I keep saying we should emigrate. Actually there’s no possibly about it – I see it as the best way to keep her from hurting me.

So yesterday I was driving along when the police pulled me over around the corner from my house. It wasn’t good news. Combined with my unpaid parking tickets and numerous points on my license and the tax disc expiring six months ago, the police made the decision to seize the car and have it crushed.

Bollocks was the word I said then. And one I keep repeating now.

Bollocks.

She will be home any minute, my muscles ache with apprehension and my mouth is dry and already tastes of blood. In my hands I hold a rolling pin. I’m getting the first shot in today and the bitch is going to feel a bit of what I’m going through. Outside I hear the bus pull up and the doors open. I can sense she’s getting off the bus, an sense of impending barbarity surrounds me like an aura, this time she won’t hurt me.

The door opens. She walks in and looks at me with eyes that Satan himself would admire. I drop the rolling pin on the floor and it rolls away from me as my strength ebbs away. She walks towards the rolling pin and picks it up. She looks at me and smiles. Then she saunters towards me lightly tapping her leg with the pin…

by Martin O’Brien based on Marblehead Johnson – The Bluetones

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Chickens

The boy is hit, lit up against the sky, like a sign, like a neon sign 

And he crumples, drops into the gutter, legs twitching

The flood swells his clothes and delivers him on, delivers him on

Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul

We’re driving at 110 mph down the A19 round the bends, past the trees and the sleeping houses in the yellow street lights. The other light that flashes in our eyes comes from the 4 police cars following us closely at high speeds. They’ve been following us from Acomb after we were seen fleeing a house with the alarm bells ringing.

I won’t lie to you all, we were robbing it. We needed some money short term and this was the best we’d come up with. We’re not really burglars, we’re hardly even petty criminals. I haven’t got a criminal record, the only law I break is the occasional speed limit but that’s about it.

Tonight I suppose I was just excited by the thrill of being in someone else’s house and taking their things. We agreed before we came in that we wouldn’t take anything personal or anything that couldn’t be replaced. No jewellery, no clothes and absolutely no music. TV’s, DVD players, mainly electrical equipment that probably wouldn’t fetch a great deal of money. Maybe the thrill was bigger than the actual need.

It took Dutch courage to get us through the back door of the house. It was 02:30 am and the past few hours my stomach had been in knots from the anticipation of what we planned. The beer was to take the edge off and calm my nerves although I’m not sure that that’s what effect it had. I took some Esmolol to further calm my nerves but I think I had too many and it feels like my heart isn’t beating any more.

It was easy to get in, Danny smashed to window using a towel, we’d seen it on a TV programme some time ago. It was easier than it should have been. As soon as we were in Danny went straight to it, I could hear his footsteps around the house, the opening and closing of doors, cupboards and drawers. I walked round in a daze, looking at the photographs of family on the walls. Smiling and unaware that they would return from holiday with some of their possessions no longer there.

My catatonic state was broken by Danny, ‘Come on. Get a move on. Fucking hell, they’ll be back from their holidays next week.’

‘Sorry, anything worth having?’

He smiled a wicked smile. ‘Yeah, come and have a look upstairs. There’s a mint flat screen just waiting to be taken.’

‘Nice one. Come on then.’

He lead me up the stairs and to the first door on the left.

‘Bloody hell, that’s massive. That’s bigger than the one downstairs.’

We both go for it, moving it around and sizing it up. After unravelling the flex from behind the drawers upon which it rested we lean it forward and take a side each then head back down the stairs.

”Ere, what were that chat up line you used on that bird last Friday?’

‘Michelle?’ He wrinkles his forehead.

‘Erm, blonde. Had a denim skirt on. Massive tits.’

‘Yeah, Michelle.’ he started smirking again.

‘What?’

‘God I was arseholed. I was talking some right shit. I was saying something about her being special, soul mates that kind of shit.’

I burst out laughing, ‘Fuck off. You really said that?’

‘Yeah, I hardly fucking know her. I’d had too much whizz. That was my problem. Anyway, it got me in her fucking knickers so no complaints there.’

‘Ah.’

We silently swept through the house and took the TV out back to the car. I heard the sound of a door opening from somewhere and stopped dead in my tracks but Danny didn’t hear it and carried on walking. The TV slipped from his grip and headed straight for the floor. It made a very large crashing noise.

This was our cue.

We were straight back in the car and tearing away from the estate as quick as the car would take us.

After a mile or so Danny slowed down to normal speed, there wasn’t anyone else around so we wanted to look as inconspicuous as possible.

‘We should get off the main roads. Fuck. Why did you stop man?’

‘I thought I heard a noise Danny, thought you’d have heard it too. Take a left down at the bottom here and we can head towards them back roads, go round Cawood and that to get back. No point risking it.’

After passing over a crossroads I see a police car waiting at the traffic lights with his indicator signalling the intention of a left turn, however as we pass the signal goes from the left to the right and my heart sinks.

‘Mate, coppers coming this way, I’m sure of it.’

And as I look behind, the white sheen of a police Volvo saunters around the corner and commences to flash his lights.

Danny boots it. Foot to the floor and into third gear but I already have a feeling this is a race we cannot win.

Fast forward five minutes and here we are, driving at 110 mph. The sound of engines at full stretch filling my ears and trembling my bones.

I see a group of teens quickly approaching, getting larger and larger and then I see one come into the road. He’s playing chicken with us but we’re going too fast to play. Danny hits the brakes to avoid hitting him and the car starts to turn on its side. At this moment all control is lost and we are powerless to the rules and laws of physics and gravity.

As the car turns a full 360 degrees I see one of the boys come closer to the bonnet of the car. Then his body flies back across the path of the advancing headlights from the police cars. They’ll be here any second.

As the car screeches to its final stationary position I hear the unbuckling of a seat belt as Danny is already planning his escape. In one swift movement he’s opened the car door and is making his way back across the road to where fields begin. I get up to follow.

As I exit the car I hear the brakes, the engines and the shouts from the youths. It all forms into an awful symphony, hurting my ears.

I follow Danny’s shadow and head for the fields. As I get closer, I see the body of the youth the car hit, rolling down the slopes of the ditch. This image strikes me and I know I cannot continue. Instead of making a run for it I go to the body. I look and see that the water has caught it and is taking it away. I don’t want to lose sight of the body.

I don’t want it to be lost. I feel sickened.

I hear the shouts of the police and hear the heavy footsteps of the youths as they come for the body.

I scream, ‘It’s getting away, the body’s getting away. Come on!’ Then I see one of them followed by another in front of me as they thunder down the hill to stop the body. A wave of relief hits me as I see them get a grip, I continue my run to try and help them but before I get there I fell my legs go from beneath me and figure I’ve been tripped. My head hits the water and I feel the weight of a policeman land on top of me.

He’s shouting at me but I can’t hear what he’s saying.

by Aron Hurst-Wilson based on Sometimes – James

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