Seagull Winter

It was the blackthorn winter. Balmy spring weather and T-shirts were suddenly replaced by a biting wind. It blasted through everything.

A man leaned out of an open window, hoping to be revived by the bracing wind as he contemplated life.

A seagull clung tight to the ridge of a roof by a wrought iron weather vane.

It squawked: “arrk!”.

Answering squawks came from chimney pots and roofs nearby: “arrrk!”, “ark!”, “arrraak!”, “arrk!”

“Buggering hell it’s cold!” they seemed to be saying.

And indeed they were.

But they were also planning a terrible, terrible thing.

With one unison cry “ARRRRK!” they acted.

They flew, they swooped towards the man at that open window. They flew at him, shattering his thoughts on the general bigness of living. 

The gulls pecked at him, they clawed at him, they drew blood from the soft flesh of his cheeks. They dug their sharp claws into his scalp and pulled at his beard with their strong beaks.

He was driven inside with a scream. But they followed. More seagulls than he had known were out there.

The gulls poured into his flat and he fled in a maelstrom of wing flaps and snapping pulling beaks, and swiping black claws.

He battled through the front door and slammed it behind him before pelting down the stairs and hiding, whimpering, sobbing, shaking, bleeding, dabbing at wounds with a seriously insufficient tissue.

In the flat, the sea gulls enjoyed the warmth and shelter, found the kitchen, ransacked and feasted.

Way Through

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on this, in a highly obsessive and thoroughly procrastinatory manner. But the result is a song and video that I’m really pleased with. There are couple of other newish songs I haven’t sorted out to record yet, but this one needed to come out now. It seems timely somehow!

I hope you like it. There are harmonies aplenty, animations, a two-faced ooby-dooby backing singer monster, bushes, trees, sky, sea, and being being a bit daft. Also ukulele (of course) and bass guitar.

It’s an ultimately optimistic response to a bit of a full-on year or so, personally and globally.

Journey into a Brain

This is a journey into a brain. That organ that sits in our skull, resembling a cooked and shelled sweet chestnut. This particular brain had been underused for many years. Well, bits of it had been used, very well used in fact, overused. But much of it was neglected as it was forced to deal constantly with very specific repetitive tasks and responsibilities to the exclusion of all else, somewhat disconnected from much of the world.

Suddenly circumstances changed and new areas of brain were fired up. Areas of mothballed mental infrastructure that had been serviced and maintained just enough to keep them technically operational, with no real expectations of actual use, were suddenly and unexpectedly brought into full service.

Unused to being used, these areas lacked regulatory systems. They went immediately into overdrive. Neurones firing constantly and seemingly randomly. Messages from each part of the brain whizzing off to each other part over and over, in all directions.

Dormant neural pathways were pressed back into service, and worked with the vigour and energy of bees rebuilding a damaged hive. New pathways opened up, sensory and perception superhighways, speeding all available information back and forth around the brain.

Those fewer bits of brain that had been working hard all these years had been looking forward to a much needed rest. Instead they were caught up in it all, with the newly recommissioned parts bombarding them with questions and messages and senses and observations about absolutely everything. The tired bits of brain were powerless to stop it and got dragged along on the roller-coaster, whilst also observing the whole thing and being astonished at the new intensity and heightened sensation of fully being.

These more-used bits of brain were amazed at the sheer informational overload that could be triggered by apparently unassuming activities, like the body that carried it attempting to walk along a street. Or the waves of memories and emotions that could be elicited by that same body simply opening a box, or smelling a once-familiar smell.

The brain as a whole and the mind it encompassed were glad for this new heightened existence, for being alive, but also wondered if it was strictly sustainable, and where all the necessary energy was going to come from. They felt as if they were hurtling through space, experiencing everything anew, wonderfully open to discoveries, but also potentially liable to discover the intractable solidity of the ground upon impact.

But as Douglas Adams so rightly wrote: the art or knack of flying lies in being able to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

So onwards the brain and its carrier hurtled! The consciously overseeing parts of the brain watching with somewhere between awe and horror, as simple thoughts sparked chain reactions. The entire brain activated again and again, reactions and interactions at unfathomable speed. Layer upon layer upon layer of thought.

Hormones and other chemical signals were triggered alongside the fizzing and crackling of overheating neurones, multiple opposing and contradictory thoughts, ideas and emotions experienced simultaneously. The carrier body was dragged into it all too, activated by the onslaught of conflicting chemical and neurological signals, the fight or flight instinct in overdrive, pumping it full of adrenaline and then leaving it feeling drained and exhausted.

The observing parts of the brain grew increasingly concerned. They sensed banks of flashing warning lights and feared the whole system may implode, explode, or somehow manage to do both at once.

Meanwhile – as its entire being attempted to wrestle the big questions of existence – the carrier body stared at the contents of the fridge in a fruitless attempt to reach a decision about what to cook for dinner. No spare processing power was available.

Receptors in the skin sensed the cold air from the fridge wafting out and the signals from these reached the brain and were added to the mix. They triggered more thoughts and memories, perhaps of other fridges in other places at other points in life, or the fine sensation of a cool breeze on the carrier body’s face on a starry night in the mountains.

Quietly, some practical corner of the brain finally realised action was needed and signalled the arms to remove a random selection of vegetables from the fridge and start chopping them, after closing the fridge door.

This became a recurring theme. With so much heightened awareness, with the eruption of thoughts and neural activity and emotions and memories and all of that, with the sensory onslaught of simply existing anew, the more mundane decisions became hardest to make.

Other things just seemed to happen. While electric signals careered around the brain, comprising thoughts and considerations about one thing, other bits of the brain suddenly became aware that yet other bits of brain had leapt off with gusto in another direction entirely.

It seemed that for all the bombardment of sparks across the brain, connecting it all together and sending signals spiralling or looping through it – there was no coordination happening here, a veritable neurological frenzy!

Time went on, passing in the irregular and slippery way that it does, sometimes slow, sometimes slipping through fingers before it can be grasped. Eventually the surge of acceleration passed, and with a wave of relief the brain and its carrier body, began to achieve ‘normal’ operational status. They’d flung themselves into and at a variety of things but so far had mostly succeeded in missing the ground, so perhaps they were indeed flying.

It might not be a smooth flight.

Story and songs, of creatures and stars and rainbows and bums.

It was Flying Monkeys story night again last week, and I had a grand time. I sang a song as part of one the chief Monkey’s stories, told my own story, sang the recently extended Numb Bum song, and sang a Georgian and an Armenian song in harmonies with two good friends.

Here’s my bits, recorded in the less atmospheric surrounds of my front room.

The Creature and the Star

This is the story I wrote for a good friend, sent in instalments while travelling. I didn’t know I was going to write a story, and once I started I had no idea what was going to happen or how on earth it was going to end. I enjoyed finding out! The text is here: https://assortedwoodlousery.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/once-upon-a-time/

Numb Bum

This started life bouncing around on on a bicycle on some very bumpy roads and tracks in New Zealand. I was singing it to myself as I freewheeled down a lovely long (though blimmin’ icy) track off a mountain, interrupted briefly by a major puncture. Then I wrote some more whilst bouncing around on a bike in Cornwall. Sort of about cycling and life, and bumpy roads in cycling and in life.

Over the Rainbow

I sang bits of this as part of one the chief Monkey’s stories at The Flying Monkeys last night. I got to sing the part of a troubadour that the Princess of the tale hears singing and falls in love with as a result, having rejected most of the eligible princes in the land on the grounds that she didn’t like them and they were unable to bring her a true blue rose, as proscribed by the King. The troubadour then brings a white rose, says it’s blue, she agrees, her word is gospel, so they all live happily ever after.

(Apologies to The Flying Monkeys for that brutally truncated version of a very fine story).

It was fun singing as part of a story. I’d like to do more of that.

The Silvery Sea

The Silvery Sea

Tuesday night was The Flying Monkeys Story Night, with a Halloween/Samhain theme. I wrote a short dark tale about the sea and told it on the night, and sang the two most fitting songs I could think of (Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ and the classic ‘Gloomy Sunday’ – both worked much better on the ukulele than I expected, as I thought they might sound ridiculous when I tried it).

I’m really enjoying starting to write and tell stories as well as singing.

Here are videos of the story and the songs, recorded in the much less atmospheric setting of my front room (story night went full candle).

The text of the story is below the videos.

The Silvery Sea

A man sat on the sea wall, eating fish and chips. The sun grew low in the sky, beginning to fill it with a multitude of vivid colours.

Occasionally seagulls would swoop low over the man’s head as he silently ate, but he ignored them, lost in his own thoughts.

He watched the sun sinking lower, and the colours growing, reflected off bands of wispy, silky clouds that stretched across the sky, giving a last blaze of colour. As the colours spread, the boundaries between worlds thinned, different realities began quietly and insidiously to seep into each other.

The man finished his fish and chips as the sun finally slipped behind the horizon. As he looked out in the fading twilight, the sea seemed to take on a slick, silvery skin, seeming somehow viscous and oily, whilst it continued to crash repeatedly against the rocks a couple of metres below him.

The crashing of the breaking waves and the menacing sucking sound as the water was pulled back down through the rocks swirled up and around the man, seeming all at once to be outside him and within him, physical and ethereal.

He felt as if it lifted him from the ground, although he remained rooted to the spot.

His focus was drawn fully to the rolling sea, darker and edgier as the light faded and the shadows spread, tendrils of darkness growing into each other.

The sea called to him, entering his mind and drawing long thin threads of it out into the darkening silvery waters.

The sea had him now, though still he sat on the wall. His head was filled with the sound and the sight and the smell and the spirit of the sea.

It was so inviting.

To just slide into its waters and be part of it. He was entranced.

The man pushed off with his hands and dropped to the base of the wall, the waters lapping around his feet. He walked confidently over the rocks, stepping down them into the sea, not feeling the cold or the wet, not thinking as the waters came up to his waist, his chest, his neck.

The sea had chosen him to join it and now he was powerless. He had become powerless the moment the sea had set its sights on him.

He stepped off the last rock, pulled onwards by the sea and the long threads it drew from his mind, and plunged into the sea.

As he sank below the surface and was drawn down, deeper and deeper, he was erased from the world he left behind. Just as the sea had drawn the man’s mind out in threads, so it did with his past reality – reaching out and finding all his connections to the world, unravelling them, gathering them together, pulling them back and dragging them down with him into the depths. No record of him, no memory of him, no trace of him remained, as if he had never existed.

Except, above the sea wall, one greasy fish and chip wrapper fluttered around in the breeze…

Inktober 1

I’ve been doing Inktober, though I started late. The idea is to do an ink drawing every day in October. I’m finding it really useful to get me back into drawing again, which I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. The first two are rollerball ink pen, then the others are combinations of brushed and penned bottle ink, sometime bleached using sterilising fluid. There are daily prompt words, which don’t necessarily relate strongly to the end result but are a way to get started.

Click on the thumbnails for larger images.