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. Much of this particular brain had been neglected, while a few key areas were forced to deal constantly with repetitive tasks and responsibilities to the exclusion of all else.

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, were suddenly and unexpectedly brought into full service.

Unused to being used, these areas lacked regulatory systems. They went immediately into overdrive. Neurones fired constantly and seemingly randomly. Messages from each part of the brain whizzed off to each other part over and over.
Dormant neural pathways were pressed into service, working 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 few areas that had been working hard all these years were looking forward to a much-needed rest. Instead, the newly recommissioned parts bombarded 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, whilst also observing the whole thing with astonishment at the new intensity and heightened sensation of fully being.

Sheer informational overload could be triggered by apparently unassuming activities, like the body that carried the brain attempting to walk along a street. Waves of memories and emotions 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 existence, for being alive, but also wondered if it was strictly sustainable. They felt 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 overseeing parts of the brain watched in awe and horror, as simple thoughts sparked chain reactions. The entire brain activated again and again, reactions and interactions at unfathomable speed.

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, the fight or flight instinct in overdrive, pumping it full of adrenaline, 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 go into meltdown.

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 decide 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 were added to the mix. They triggered more thoughts and memories, 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 belatedly realised action was needed and signalled the arms to remove a selection of vegetables from the fridge and start chopping them.

This became a recurring theme. With so much heightened awareness, with the erupting 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, 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.

[Revised/Edited version: January 2018]



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:

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.

[story text updated with recent edits, August 2017]

The Silvery Sea

A sunset is a lovely thing
It makes me wear a great big grin
As all the colours burst through the sky
Reality is wearing thin

Twilight follows and shadows grow
The lights in the sky are turned down low
As darkness comes you must hold on
To everything you think you know.

A man sat on the sea wall, eating fish and chips as the sun went down. The sky began to fill with a multitude of vivid colours.

Occasionally seagulls swooped low over the man’s head, but he ignored them, silently eating, lost in his own thoughts.

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

The man finished his fish and chips just 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 – thick, heavy and oily.

This mercurial sea rolled in and leapt at the rocks and concrete, above which the man was perched.

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 borne into the air by it, 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. It entered his mind and drew long thin threads of it out into the darkening silvery waters.

Now the sea had him in its power, though still he sat on the wall, oblivious. His head 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.

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

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.

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

The sea rolls on over the deep
Reality begins to creep.
So beware as you stare from the waters side,
Its silvery threads may want your soul to keep





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.

Oh The Burning of My Thighs

Another cycling song, which I started writing toward the end of the long first day cycling around Cornwall with a heavily-laden bicycle. The light was fading, my thighs were burning, and it was just starting to rain. It was a last-minute trip so I hadn’t built up or trained at all… Hence slightly melancholy feel, perhaps. I was wondering if I’d ever get to my friends’ house! But I did, and it was lovely.

Here’s the song

Numb Bum – New Recipe

So, I spent five days cycling in Cornwall over the weekend(ish). Saddle sore was once again an issue. I had a lovely time though, time to think and contemplate things, or not think about anything except getting up the darn hill…

The Numb Bum song (first written in the saddle in New Zealand) made a come back and has some new additions. Still very silly, but still heartfelt too, about the bumpy roads of cycling and life.

A Woodlousey Journey

I wrote another short story, learned it over the weekend, and terrified myself by telling it from memory at the Flying Monkeys story telling night in Bridport last week, singing a song after. Next month I hope to tell the other story I wrote. And sing some of my songs of course. The Flying Monkeys have been great, giving me a safe and welcoming place to put myself forward. Hooray the Monkeys!

[I’ve made a couple of tweaks to the text since then]

This story concerns a woodlouse. Just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill woodlouse, such as you might find under the bark of a log, or clinging to the walls in the downstairs loo of my parents old house.

They’re pretty resilient creatures, woodlice. They might fall off that wall unexpectedly, and hit the ground with a little audible “tick!”. But curling up and wrapping themselves in their prehistoric, armadillo-like shells, they are well protected against the landing, or anything they feel threatened by.

Perhaps their greatest weakness is that if they land on their back, the poor sods are scuppered. They have virtually no way to get back on their feet, stuck lying there, legs flailing around as if running along an upside down invisible treadmill. Occasionally, rarely, they might manage to right themselves, by curling up tight into a ball then throwing themselves out of it again. It’s tricky though.

One woodlouse had lived a fairly ordinary life, going about its business, bumbling and bimbling around, eating stuff, sometimes hanging out with other woodlice, sometimes preferring time on its own, sometimes curling into a ball and hiding when it all became too much.

It was continuing in such a manner, seeking a good life, when it found itself stuck in a rather overshadowed and oppressive fracture in a log. It could move around freely within the fracture and could sometimes see the world beyond, but was unable to leave.

Woodlice of course are not generally averse to dark places, and find much nourishment in some dank smelly holes where others might not care to spend time. But they value time and space to think for themselves. This particular woodlouse valued being able to charge around in the great outdoors like a loon.

Occasionally it caught glimpses of the colour and life out there beyond the log, little flashes of excitement passing by, moments of warmth and light.

Theses flashes and glimpses were fortifying, but also made the woodlouse gradually more aware that it was stuck in this oppressive place. It was isolated in there. The dark rotting wood overhung a long way, the glimpses of outside life were brief, and this daylight-deprived world became an increasingly unhealthy place to be.

The woodlouse spent increasing amounts of time curled up into a ball, feeling threatened. It felt as if it was stuck on its back, legs flailing on that upside down invisible treadmill, unable to right itself.

It was on the brink of despair, seeing no way to get from where it was to the world of colour and life it had caught those glimpses of.

Gradually some kind of strength grew within it. With it came excitement at the possibilities, but also fear. Did it have the strength to risk finding a way out of the log, and to cope with whatever unknown dangers or threats might lie beyond? Would it break free only to be squished unceremoniously under someone’s big foot?

It steeled itself for the moment, wondering if it would even be possible to cross the imperceptible boundary to the other world. But it believed it must be possible. It knew that somehow the first pivotal step across must be brought about by words alone. After that would be actions and journeys and effort – but that speaking of the words (whatever they would be) was key.

It was awed at the prospect that words alone could wreak such change, and have such power. It terrified it.

But finally, it could contain the pent up power of the unspoken words no longer. It spoke them, feeling the words with a physical force – viscous things to be forced up out of it into the world, to take their shape and begin their work.

And it’s world began to change.

It was immediate, the effect. Physically, the world still looked more or less the same. The inside of the log was still dark, the world beyond could only be seen in little glimpses.

But a way had opened up. With great fear and trepidation, the woodlouse began to follow it. And though it was a long way for a tiny woodlouse, it made its way down the path and the obstacles along the way, finding at the end that it had crossed into the other world, of light and colour and life.

It knew everything would not be easy there, but it felt alive, and was a free woodlouse! ‘Wahoooo!’ it cried. It began to sing songs, and meet people, laughing, sharing stories, talking with other woodlice who had made their own difficult journeys into this brighter world.

These friendships gave it strength, comfort, and joy. It valued them all greatly, thinking friendship the most wonderful and important thing. It loved the sharing of life and experiences. There was mutual support and understanding, much laughter, and many things to be gloriously, stupidly daft about.

The woodlouse was also was wary of its judgement – after all, it was by choice that it had first entered the log, not realising it would be so dark or contain it for so long. ‘Time’ thought the woodlouse, ‘time is key’. It worried about time too, for time is a slippery so and so. The woodlouse felt time slipping away, and having entered this world of colour and light and life it wanted to embrace every last moment of it, like an excited child, or a crazed dog leaping about in the waves on the beach.

But also, it knew rushing headlong into things was not a sensible course for a little woodlouse. It must allow life to progress and go where it will, and time to pass without a hurry. ‘Listen to Louis’, it thought. ‘We have all the time in the world’.