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"You've Got to Sleep With Your Mum and Dad" is now available on Amazon. Childhood angst, marathon swimming, international exploitation and the threat of impending pinniped intimacy. on 2014-08-13
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Fourth news item

Have a look at my page on Amazon. Still plenty of summer left for challenging literature. on 2014-08-13
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Check out my Amazon Kindle page. 'The Baby Who Killed People for Money' is now available. An utterly charming child with a unique and lucrative skill. A father with no defence against his daughter's impulses. Would you take your little girl around Europe for a spot of murder tourism? Of course you would. on 2014-06-30
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My story on the Tate gallery website on 2013-11-11
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First news item

A Thousand Natural Shocks An anthology that includes two of my stories. Available now at Amazon. on 2013-11-11
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December 2013
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Archive for December, 2013

Posted December 3, 2013
  Posted by in Uncategorized

The Midyat to Batman dolmus in south-eastern Turkey was stopped at a gendarmerie checkpoint. Identity papers were collected and inspected. A gendarme put his head into the minibus and called a name. For once it wasn’t mine, the lone foreigner.

The man next to me put his little girl onto the seat and stood up. He walked out of the bus and began a conversation with the blue-uniformed officers. The girl sat with her legs straight out on the hard seat. Her eyes were wide.

“Must be about his military service,” said an old man in front of me. The man outside was showing a sheaf of papers to the gendarmes.

“I hope it doesn’t take long,” said a woman on the other side of the minibus.

The little girl made an experimental noise. I looked down at her. Her giant eyes took in as much information as possible to be processed to reach the awful conclusion: her Dad had gone. She made a couple of interrogative sounds. I smiled at her and looked out of the window. One of the gendarmes was waving his arm in energetic punctuation to his point.

“What if he’s run away?” The usual unofficial war was on in eastern Turkey. It was fairly common for young conscripts to go AWOL when they didn’t fancy evicting families from villages or being shot at by men coming down from the mountains at night.

“What will happen to her?” The woman indicated the little girl. Everyone in the bus turned to her. She blinked and wriggled closer to me. I felt little fingers tighten around my wrist.

The old man shook his head. “Where did she get on?”

“Before Hasankeyf.” The woman shook her head.

The discussion outside was getting heated. Papers were pointed at and voices were raised. Clearly, we weren’t going anywhere for a while. The girl began to cry, softly at first but increasingly insistently. Before long, the demanding blasts of discomfort filled the bus. It was amazing the volume that could come out of such a small person.

I looked up. Everyone was glaring at me. The little girl held onto my arm and blared a klaxon of grief and abandonment. The expressions on the minibus passengers hardened into hostility. This must be what lynch mob victims see just before the end.

I realised what was expected. I picked up the girl and sat her across my thighs. Her legs stuck stiffly out in front of her as I moved her. She looked up at me and rested against my chest. I put an arm around her tiny shoulders and checked the disapproval levels. Only the old man and the vocal woman were looking at me now. The man gave me an approving lowering of the eyebrows.

I could feel the girl shaking against me. She was still crying. All I had done was quiet her. This was fine for achieving my immediate goal of avoiding attention but meant that she could start up again at any time. Also, I supposed, she must be unhappy. This should have been my greatest concern. Obviously it wasn’t, but if I were to address this, it could erase the threat of her beginning to make more noises.

I traced the source of the problem back to its ultimate cause. I twisted my head over my shoulder to peer out of the back window. The girl’s father was still in conversation with the gendarmes. There were smiles and the gesticulation energy had subsided to sustainable levels. Inside my brain, a couple of concepts slid into alignment.

Baba?” I said to the shaking girl.

She looked up at me miserably. “Gitti.” He’s gone. I could see the rounded redness of her lower lip, its quivering a warning of how close she was to attracting further disapproval from my co-passengers.

Orada.” He’s there. I pointed over my shoulder. “Görmek istermisin?

Yabanc? m?s?n?z?” She was asking if I was a foreigner. This could either distract her from what was making her miserable or make her feel even more isolated. I didn’t feel like taking the chance. I hoisted her to her feet so that she could see out of the back window of the minibus.

Babam.” My daddy, she said.

I patted her back, wondering if this was the right thing to do.

Ne yap?yor?” she said. What’s he doing?

Jandarmala konu?uyor.” He’s talking to the gendarmes.

She seemed satisfied with this and jumped up and down on my thighs for a while.

Geliyor!” I looked out of the window. The gendarmes were walking back to their blue Renault. I felt the girl losing her balance as she twisted to face the front of the minibus.

Baba!” The man was getting into the side door. He looked at the girl and shot a smile of thanks at me. The girl started struggling. I lifted her into her father’s arms.

I told this story to Defne when I returned to Istanbul.

“You’d be a great dad.”

“What?” I said. “This is irrelevant to any potential dadhood. The point was that I had no idea what to do when confronted with a crying child.”

“But in the end, you did the right thing.” Defne smiled fondly at me.

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Posted December 3, 2013
  Posted by in Uncategorized

Time slows down for my wife when she goes to a toilet. We go to the Curzon to see an up-to-the-minute cinema release. We show our tickets and look for seats. My wife edges past a couple, leaves one seat and sits. She gets me to pass her, leaving another seat between me and the next couple. I don’t know why she does this. The cinema will be totally full. Eventually, someone will have to sit in those single seats where they will be separated from their friends. They’ll probably ask us to move so they can sit together. It means that we will be disturbed just before the film starts, or even after it has started.

“Why don’t we just sit there?” I point at the empty seat.

“I don’t want to invade their personal space,” says my wife. The couple look at each other and nod. I give up and sit down.

“I need to go to the toilet,” says my wife inevitably. “Guard my seat.” She gets up and pushes past the couple again.

People stream in. They look around for the good seats. There are now two seats placed invitingly together in the middle of the cinema. Everyone’s eyes alight on these. I take my sweater off and put it on my wife’s seat. I put the magazine I am reading on top of it.

By this time, my wife is in the toilet. Time has dilated. I age at the same speed as usual but inside her mysterious zone, she is able to take advantage of unlimited temporal freedom. She takes an unfeasibly large range of cosmetic items from her bag and spreads them out on a shelf underneath one of those huge mirrors surrounded by light bulbs.

“Sorry, that seat’s taken,” I say to the first couple attracted by the apparently empty seat beside me.

“Yeah, sure,” the man says. His eyes rest on me. One person. He looks at the seats between me and the next couple. There is another single on the other side of me. Why do I need four seats? He doesn’t protest but I can see that he is tempted. I breathe again as he goes away. My wife must have been at least seven minutes now.

My wife stretches luxuriously in her anti-aging toilet complex. Out comes the mascara brush. She dips the little hedgehog into the dark bottle and brushes body into her long lashes. She bats them coquettishly at herself in the giant mirror.

I look at the dwindling supply of seats as more and more people fill the cinema’s limited capacity. Lots of seats at the very front and at the very back. The only thing that looks like two seats with a decent view is just next to me. Every face swivels my way.

I toy with the idea of moving our two seats one to the right so that there really is a double seat free. But my wife has chosen this seat. If I change it while she is gone, she will know how weak I have been. She will be forced to sit in a seat that she didn’t choose. This could cause havoc in our relationship.

By now, my wife has taken her array of hair care product from her bag and is experimenting with different shapes to arrange on her head. What if she ties it back informally, slightly to one side? No. Let’s try it slightly more casual. No. She picks up a tube labelled Foxy Curls. She squeezes some foam out onto her hand and begins to rub it into her hair. This shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

My watch has stopped.

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Posted December 3, 2013
  Posted by in Uncategorized

I may be pathologically neonate phobic but I am quite domesticated. It is usually me who washes the clothes. My wife works much longer hours than me and tends to get home at times when the spin cycle would make an unsociable racket throughout our block of flats.

I get up at 5:30am on working days so my body clock is on a different setting from hers. On weekends I get up four hours before she does. It is logical for me to set the washing machine going.

This all works very well until one day she makes a surprise attack. She wakes up at 9am on a Saturday – a move unprecedented in our relationship.

“So you’re putting all that in the washing machine?”

I jump. This is as unexpected as a leopard landing on my neck and clawing my scalp.

“Woah! You’re awake,” I say.

She is not sidetracked. “What colour is that?” She points at an unspecified item in my armful of dirty clothes. I look down and try and work out what she means. “It’s blue.” Aah, her Pilates T-shirt.

“This one?” I pick it up.

“What’s it doing in there?”

This seems obvious to me. “Being washed.”

“What if the dye runs?”

This hasn’t occurred to me. “Does it?”

“I don’t know. She flaps her hands with annoyance. “Why are you putting darks in with lights?”

I stare at her. “It makes no difference if the dye doesn’t run.”

“How can you know if it runs?”

“I wash new clothes by hand until I’m sure they don’t run. Anything that runs, I keep washing by hand. Don’t you do that?”

“No.” She twitches in that way that makes it clear that this is obvious.

“Why not?”

“You don’t wash light and dark clothes together. Everybody knows that.”

“But if they don’t run, it doesn’t matter what colour they are.” A thought occurs to me. “Do you put clothes that run into the laundry basket?”

“If you do the washing properly, it doesn’t matter.” I can see that her face is starting to look like the textbook illustration for Slapped Cheek Syndrome.

“Properly?” Spikes of adrenaline lead to my first burst of petulance.

“Yes, properly. You’re putting lights and darks together.” She points at the tangle of clothes. “Look.”

“So,” I put on my most annoying Rumpole of the Bailey tone. “You’ve been putting clothes that run into the laundry basket. Even if I put only the coloured clothes together, it still means that some of your non-colourfast clothes have run into mine and discoloured them.”

“You just don’t know how to wash clothes properly.”

I tip over the edge into total bastard mode. “If you did any housework, you’d be able to separate the loads however you want.”

She thinks of something to say. “Well, you never fill the machine properly. If you ever waited until there was a full load, I might get the chance to wash the clothes occasionally.”

Quick-witted readers may spot the chance that I spurned at this point. Instead, I shove the clothes into the washing machine. There is too much for a load. “Want to see if you can fit any more in?” I challenge her like an eleven-year-old accused of talking in class.

“So you’re just going to put them all in together, are you?” Her hands are on her hips and her eyebrows on Cold War interrogator setting.

“Yes.” I stand back. “Unless any of your clothes run. If they do, I’d like you to take them out.”

She turns and stamps back to the bedroom. I slam the porthole and the machine starts filling with water. I go into the bedroom. Her plan is that I apologise and do the washing properly. Mine is that I will be the voice of sanity. Obviously, this will irritate my wife but she will realise the wisdom of what I say when reason returns to her. My wife is lying on the bed, barricaded into her anti-me zone by the Sunday Times Style magazine – the covers beyond which I cannot pass.

“I’ve got an idea,” I say.

She does not emerge from the safety of Style. “What?”

“You don’t like the way I do the washing so how about from now on I do my washing and you do yours?” She says nothing. “That way,” I go on pointlessly “Your clothes don’t get washed with the wrong colour and mine…” My wife emerges from behind the barrier to shoot a few flares from her eyes. “…don’t get washed with clothes that run.”

She gives a small snort and disappears.

“Is that all right with you?” I persist. I know I’ll be in trouble if I don’t get her agreement.

“Mmm,” she says, eventually.

On Wednesday evening I get home and put my clothes into the machine. I start the wash and put the kettle on. My wife walks in, puts her bag down and stares at me.

“That’s just your washing in there, is it?”

“Yes,” I say. “That’s what we agreed.”

“You won’t be able to be so selfish when we have children.”

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Posted December 3, 2013
  Posted by in Uncategorized

In my early teenage years I kept guinea pigs. I had about fifty. They bred copiously and I had a little business supplying pet shops with the progeny. My champion breeder was a black Bolivian. She was no beauty, having lost her figure to being an integral part of my supply chain. She was called Thursday because that was the day on which she could be relied to give birth. About once in every six as I recall.

My day would start with a visit to the guinea pig enclosure at the bottom of the garden. They would greet me with a Pavlovian eee eee eee. I would hurl a huge pile of greens (purloined from the vegetable waste bins outside Coles supermarket) towards them. They would rush out and stuff their Tardis-like stomachs.

I would look into their hutch and see who had given birth that day. If it was the sixth Thursday, Thursday would wiffle at me from atop a wriggly pile of miniatures. Given her productivity as a cash sow and the nature of my part in the guinea pig supply network of the south-western suburbs of Adelaide, Thursday’s genes must permeate much of Australia’s captive rodent population.

My colleagues are currently popping out offspring like Thursday. Every month or so, there’s another ad for maternity cover or piece of paper telling me that I have to cover the lessons of the paternity candidates. After a few weeks, the blokes come back in a sort of shrink-wrapped shock. They’re trapped in a parallel world. They’ll never be the same again. They have a sort of protective shell that diverts reality. Your bullets cannot harm me. My wings are like a shield of steel.

“Hey Steve, fancy a pint?”

“No.” Steve’s eyes glaze over. His protective physiology chemically attacks his brain’s misguided notion that going to the pub with his mates might be nice. “I need to go home to Monica and Henry.” The names have emotional resonance to him but leave us unmoved. He turns away as we roll out of the door in a conspiracy of alcohol-seeking testosterone.

Some months later, Henry has entered the specific attachment zone. At this point, the child has formed its primary attachment, inevitably to Monica as Steve made the mistake of coming back to work. This means that Henry now has the sensory apparatus that identifies Steve as Not Monica, in which case he rejects Steve as a source of comfort. Steve has not studied developmental psychology and feels rejected and resentful.

He has a free pass for one night out. Monica had hers last night. She went out with her friends, an island of nursing sobriety amongst shrieking feminine libation. Meanwhile, Steve was trapped in baby hell and Henry thought that his one and only had deserted him.

Tonight, Steve tries to be his old self. He starts jokes but is too tired to deliver the punchlines with conviction. He has lost his legendary capacity for alcohol. At 9:30pm he has his head on the pub table and is letting the surprisingly irrelevant banter roll over him.

My wife has again been raising the subject of children. I have batted it back as best I can but I am starting to realise that if I want to keep this marriage, it might mean children. In my inebriation, I mistake Steve’s wrung-out torpor for familial contentment.

“Steve.” I nudge him. He opens one eye.

“Mnnn?”

“So, having kids. Overall, positive or negative?”

Steve struggles to raise his head. He props his elbows on the table and his chin on his hands. My question reaches his primary auditory complex and winds along to his Wernicke’s area. Impulses straggle out across his neurones and tap on closed cognitive doors.

From outside, I see facial evidence of deep thought. He must be considering this carefully. Furrows appear in his forehead. His eyes close again. Finally, something electrochemical fights its way through the blizzard of ethanol and throws a switch in his motor cortex.

Steve’s eyes open and his mouth twitches. One hand moves out from beneath his chin. His head wobbles but maintains altitude. His hand rises and forms a fist. I wonder if he is going to punch me. A thumb uncoils from the clenched hand and protrudes horizontally. It oscillates slowly before rising and pointing upwards for a moment. A corner of Steve’s mouth twitches. His head sinks to the table and he slumbers peacefully.

So that’s fatherhood. I wonder at the unbridled joy of it all. Do fathers feel the emotional bond of parenting as much as mothers? Would I get this unequivocally positive response from Monica? What about Thursday?

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Posted December 3, 2013
  Posted by in Uncategorized

My brothers and sister all had children. I viewed these warily and they saw me as an opportunity. “Let’s aim all of our evolutionarily honed techniques at Uncle Nigel and make him feed/play with us. Their parents are in league with them. “Oh, look at her, Nigel. She just wants you to hold her. How selfish can you be?”

“Massively, thank you.”

But I am human, prey to social influences, sensitive to public criticism and aware that conformity is an escape hatch. I pick the child up, sit down and put it down on my thighs. I look at it. It’s not smiling or being cute any more. It’s just too close. Its genetically encoded radar reads the arrangement of my facial features and fails to find the code for undying love. It realises that I am not holding it properly. It notices that it feels uncomfortable. It wriggles. I sense that I should hold it differently. I put my arms under it. It flattens like a board. Its eyes squish shut and the skin around them pulses and puckers like a mud bubble in a volcanic swamp. The lower lip curls forward. The child sucks in a deep breath.

This is the time for decisive action. I stand up and swing the child around. It is so surprised that it delays its howl in order to assess sensory input for threats to survival. Before it recovers its initial whining potential, I shove it back at its parent and retreat to the kitchen where I can be found with my head in the fridge. If asked, I am getting drinks for people.

My siblings’ children have spawned the next generation, making me a great uncle several times over. I now live on the other side of the world from my family. It’s easier than having to hold children. However, going back to Australia to visit the rellies is occasionally unavoidable. My wife comes with me and witnesses the fertility evident in my family genome. She looks at tiny, squalling things that share a certain percentage of my genes. Neurochemical physiology runs its course and releases hormones into key areas of her brain. She goes all mushy. She picks up the little bundles of gene expression and interprets their encoded responses to her as conscious and loving.

Her pituitary increases secretion to maximum levels. Hormones pour into her wannababy cortex. Others flood her pair-bond centres. A little man in her hypothalamus picks up a microphone and yells, “Cap’n! She’ll nae take it!” But her thoughts power ahead at warp factor 5. The two courses of neural impulses collide in one glorious notion. She hands the baby to me.

I tense. The baby goes rigid. I assess the seismological signs and register the danger. I fling the child back into her arms and have my head in the fridge next door before she has registered my absence. I’m in the clear. Her entire being is engaged in the struggle to find a course of action to stop my tiny relative from screeching.

I twist the tops off a couple of a couple of beers and sneak out into the backyard son with my nephew, the relieved Dad. Thanks, honey. The baby’s yours for now. We sigh as the lager exerts its late afternoon placebo effect.

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