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A romantic poem for Valentine’s Day.

If it’s not too much trouble.
If it wouldn’t put you out.
If it’s not too much to ask.
If you’re free of nagging doubts.
If the kids are at your parents.
If your mother doesn’t stay.
If the cat doesn’t interrupt.
If you’ve had a good day.
If I haven’t eaten garlic.
If neither of us ate chilli.
If the mood takes you.
If I wash my willy.
If I ask you nicely.
If I ply you with romance.
If I get forms signed in triplicate.
If I don’t rip your pants.
If there’s nothing on TV.
If there’s nothing on Netflix.
If you’re feeling healthy.
If you’re not feeling sick.
If you’re not intent on reading.
If you’re caught up on Facebook.
If the bed’s not too cold.
If I give you ‘the look’.
If you don’t have to be up early.
If the shower isn’t blocked.
If the Moon is in the seventh house.
If the door is locked.
If the stars are right, up in the sky.
If the dreamer wakes.
If pigs have learned a way to fly.
If there are no earthquakes.
If the house does not catch fire.
If it doesn’t flood.
If the sheets are clean and fresh.
If it’s not the Time of Blood.

Then, oh my beloved.
May I pencil you in?
For 15 minutes, in 6 months.
Of horizontal sin?

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graveyardofdreamsGraveyard of Dreams by H. Beam Piper
Read by Felbrigg Napoleon Herriot

The people of Poictesme scrimped and saved to send Conn Maxwell off-world to carry out a secret mission. Conn was to infiltrate the military and find the secret location of the “Fleet-Army Force Brain” a supercomputer buried somewhere on Poictesme. Now Conn is returning home with a secret he dare not tell his people.

1 MP3 file, 45.4mb, runtime 49 mins 41 seconds

The first independent to go on sale on my site. If you have RPG or other tabletop game material, or fiction or audiobooks that fit the overall ‘ethos’ of Postmortem Studios I’ll consider selling your material on my new site too. Get in touch.

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A great deal of Brexit sentiment, and more broadly nationalistic and populist sentiment, comes from people’s nostalgia for a Britain that no longer exists and cannot exist in the modern world. Britain always seems to be looking back, through coke bottle rose-tinted spectacles to Victorian imperialism or to ‘Fortress Britain’ standing defiant against the evil Hun. How ironic then, that many who express this sentiment are far closer to fascists in their outlook than those who fought them.

There’s another kind of nostalgia and another kind of Britain though, the one built by the people who returned from that war and in a time of inescapable austerity built the institutions we used to be so proud of.

As Empire slipped away, by and large more peacefully and with better grace than the other Imperial powers, and we struggled with rationing that dragged into the 1950s, we instituted the National Health Service. A huge and costly change but one that greatly improved the lot of all our citizens. Having pulled together in wartime we applied that same spirit to civil society and while planned economies would end up discredited this period did give us nationalised industries that worked for the people and a blunting of poverty and homelessness previously unparalleled in our history.

Those soldiers who returned home had fought alongside people from all around the world, and had seen the horrors (my grandfather liberated Belsen) that indulging nativism, populism and nationalism could cause. While the euphoria of peace wouldn’t last, alliances, talks and internationalism became obvious in their utility. The United Nations, NATO and yes, even the European Union were born out of those realisations.

Where the wartime generation gave us our social fabric and our institutions, the postwar generation brought us social liberalism. A great flowering of free speech, free expression, acceptance, LGBT tolerance and equality and a huge interest in foreign culture, food, art and more.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that we, for some perverse reason, set about dismantling all we had accomplished – or at least the ruling classes did. Now, weirdly, that same destructive attitude is being displayed by your average Jane or John in the street. A lashing out at the few remaining institutions we have, and the hard-won victories for personal liberty we won.

It’s not just coming from one side however. For every EU-hating Daily Mail reader, there’s a Guardianista demanding censorship. For every skinhead brawler there’s a mask-clad antifa. The nationalists and populists undermine everything that made the nation something to be proud of, the ‘Social Justice’ left threatens our individual and collective freedoms, and makes the right stronger with every illiberal act.

I want my country back too, but my nostalgia is for a country with social housing, a well-funded and publicly run NHS, infrastructure that works for the people, university grants, polytechnics, apprenticeships – and yes, free milk for schoolkids. I want my country back, where my business is none of your business, where ideas of ‘obscenity’ or ‘problematic material’ are attacked with the same robust energy we have devoted to Lawrence, Wilde or Kubrick.

Most of all though, and my bias shines through here, I want the British Left to be left-wing again. Concerned with society, its function and ensuring we lessen people’s suffering and have a country that works for all of us. I don’t want it to be monomaniacally fixated on whatever middle-class first world problem du jour is exciting the chattering classes.

Hey, my nostalgia may not be any more accurate than yours, but isn’t that vision a better one than a domineering, insular, jingoistic, ‘I’m alright Jack’ bully of a country?

I think so.

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I’m tired.

More than anything else, that is the feeling I take with me from 2018. It has been an exhausting year.

Most of that year I’ve been fighting for and fretting over getting assistance with my depression and anxiety; this has meant wrangling with the Department of Work and Pensions and ATOS (Independent Assessment Services). A pair of organisations for whom the terms ‘Orwellian’ and ‘Kafkaesque’ were seemingly invented. I’d call them ‘Gilliamesque’ in a nod to Brazil, but there’s no humour in this system successive governments have created. Not even black humour.

In my professional life it has been a struggle to produce anything, and as a result, I’ve offloaded some work to others to get it done. Perversely, I feel bad not necessarily because I haven’t been producing much, but because -as a result – I haven’t been able to give other people as much work. People who need it, and who I get a kick out of boosting and helping out.

Personally as well as professionally, I am also exhausted. In this ongoing culture war, it takes so much effort to tread water and stay in place, let alone to make any progress. So many people mistake change for growth, not understanding that the direction of travel can be backward as well as forward. Year on year it seems things continue to get worse. People I love, people I used to respect, excusing the worst, most censorious social and even legal acts of suppression the modern west has seen in generations. It’s shocking in anyone, but it’s especially surprising – at least to me – when it comes from the political left and the creative community.

I am tired of that constant fight, just to stay still.

I am tired of being called things I am not, simply because I don’t sing the unholy hymnal in the same key as the approved choir.

I am tired of holding my tongue, swallowing back my anger and ignoring people’s political and historical illiteracy in a vain attempt to reach them.

I am tired of waiting for being principled and consistent, for working hard, to pay off.
I am so very tired of being mentally ill, but that’s my life now, and I have to adjust to it.
Sometimes I think it would be easier to abandon those principles and that consistency, just for a more comfortable life. I’ve realised, however, this year that I am just intrinsically incapable of being that kind of person.

I am tired of the repeated realisation that I’m a rare bird indeed, because of that.

I don’t know how to be happy.

I only know how to be authentic.

A ‘new year’ is an illusory and arbitrary break in time. Nothing is new; nothing changes immediately when that clock ticks past midnight. Still, I want this next year to ‘pay off’. I want to do more than survive. I want to do more than exist. I want being a ‘good man’ to finally reap some of that positive karma I’ve heard so much about.

Whoever you are out there reading this, I want the best for you. Friend or foe, stranger or intimate. I hope everyone does better, and if I can’t get what I want, I hope you get your heart’s desire.

Raise a glass and watch that clock tick down.

file

ECHO, Echo, echo

kT85rArgc

I am in the business of communication. I write, I make videos, I record audio. I communicate with the people I work with for art, design and writing and it is essential that I adequately express my ideas to do so.

One of the most painful things for me, then, is when I fail to make myself understood, and my tendency when that happens is to blame myself. Since I am a professional communicator, it seems to me that the blame must be mine.

I was given cause to revisit these thoughts recently. I don’t have the time or mental energy to engage in much self-promotion, nor do I especially have the temperament for it. To solve this problem I’ve hired someone – part-time – to do some promotion for me.

They had posted but a single promotion, in an appropriate subsection on a notorious forum on my behalf, when they were summarily banned. This gave me cause to investigate and to try and find out why this should be so. Guilt by association for my presumed ‘crimes’ perhaps? Hard to tell.

Still, in investigating it was made depressingly apparent to me that in my absence from most of these people’s discussion about me, in this and other places, that the echo chamber has had its effect. People’s ideas have gotten wildly out of hand, the accusations and assumptions over my politics and numerous other issues are wildly out of step with reality and yet there’s no way to answer back.

This, I think, is a goodly demonstration as to the hows and whys of the necessity of a right of reply, of being willing to engage with people and to listen to their explanations and words straight from the horse’s mouth. Without that, without bursting these bubbles, nonsense gets profoundly out of hand – even to the extent that questioning the fictions themselves becomes an act of unforgivable transgression.

It bothers me in the personal sense because it’s untrue and I feel that I must have somehow miscommunicated my beliefs and stances. It bothers me in the more significant, overall sense because I think this is an endemic problem in the modern west — self-imposed echo chambers of extremism and ideological purity, feeding incestuously on their internal mythology.

Some of this is top-down censorship, but a lot of it is self-imposed, and that’s even harder to change. We can’t even get social media companies to abide by their own professed ideals. Let alone get users to be willing to face discomfort or to question their assumptions.

I don’t see a way out.

flotsamjetsam

“Mine!”

Alice found herself suddenly awake, with someone or something pulling at her leg.

“Mine!”

“I most certainly am not!” Said Alice, sitting up quite abruptly.

The thing that had a hold of her was the most peculiar creature. It had pipe-cleaner arms and spidery hands, a body that was a knot of hair, and feet made of tiny pieces of soap. Its face, if you could call it that, was an old penny. The Queen’s face moved whenever it spoke in a way that struck Alice as positively disrespectful.

“I found you, you’re mine. Those are the rules, and if we don’t have rules, then everything just falls apart.”

“I’m my own!” Alice protested, kicking at the thing’s spidery little fingers, one of which snapped like kindling. It made the creature let go of her though and gave her a chance to scramble back up onto her feet. “Sorry about that.”

“Happens all the time,” said the penny-face, and took another spidery little finger from a bag around its waist and plugged it into its hand.

“Are you broken though? Most everything that ends up down here is broken, and broken things belong to whoever finds them. I found you; therefore you belong to me. It’s simple mathematics, d’you see?”

Alice squeezed water from her wet hair and combed it through with her fingers, picking out little pieces of muck from between the strands. “I’m fairly certain that’s law, or philosophy, rather than mathematics, but we don’t study that at school. As to whether I’m broken I’m not, I think something might have been left behind when I came through the grinder, but I suppose it’s washed far away by now.”

“Then you’re broken, and you’re mine, and I get to keep you. A piece of trash that walks and talks before it has been made, and even went to school! Perfect. Come along,” it gestured and waved her on after it as it walked away from the water.

Alice didn’t feel like she had much choice really, she didn’t want to climb back into the water – which didn’t seem to be going anywhere further, and following this strange creature seemed as good a thing to do as any.

“Might the missing piece of me have been washed up here?”

“Could be.”

“Well if I find it and put it back, then I won’t be broken, will I?”

“Everything’s broken,” said penny-face and with his ungainly stride, crested the top of the muck pile. “Everything’s broken somehow.”

Alice hitched up her skirts, though they were already ruined, and hopped along after him, blinking in surprise as she saw what lay beyond. “Oh my!”

Laid out before her was a whole town, made up entirely of rubbish and grot. There were high piles of fat and congealed oil being tended by creatures like penny-face, sorting and straightening with broken combs and the discarded ends of snapped spoons.

There was a disgusting pile of toenails and fingernails, one of the few white things there was to be seen and everywhere else, rising into the distance, the town was a mass of sardine tins, matchboxes and old shoes. At the very furthest point, rising above the town, was a towering mass of shiny foil and chocolate wrappers, culminating at its very tippy-top in a bright gold ring with a massive diamond.

“My aunt’s ring!” Alice exclaimed, but her voice was drowned out by a fanfare, blown through the empty shells of snails.

A gaggle of the junk creatures was approaching, gabbling, talking, in a constant uproar. Penny-face moved between Alice and the mob, protectively or possessively – she wasn’t sure – and she had to peek around him to see.

It was hard to tell where one junk person began and another ended. They were a grey-brown blur of detritus, hard to pick out as individuals. All save one. An old cotton reel was being spun out, and unwinding from it an old red-brown bandage. It served – it seemed – as a red carpet, for what followed.

Carried and pulled, pushed and moved along by great dint of effort, was a fat blob of a creature. Pearl buttons for eyes, a pouting little mouth carved out from the vibrant orange fat that was its body. It was dressed in an ill-fitting suit of purple chocolate foil and atop its head was a hairy spider, trying very hard to hold still.

The bandage unravelled to its end, and the big round butterball arrived at its end. Scurrying creatures moved to set up a matchbox podium, and the fat blob set itself up behind it.

“Great job, just the best. You’re the greatest scavenger there is. I’ve always said it,” the blob smiled, its button eyes twinkling in the dim light. “However, as Prime Minister, I have first dibs, that’s the law.” The crowd applauded wildly.

Penny-face shook his head and moved his arm, pushing Alice back with one soapy hand. “I believe the law you passed was ‘finders keepers’, and as the finder, I lay claim to her.

“You’re terrible, worst scavenger I’ve ever known. I’ve always said so. Bring forth and read the book of the law to settle this.”
“Do I get a say at all?” Alice asked, stepping gently around penny-face and curtsying, as you probably should do when you meet a Prime Minister.

“No!” They said, in unison, to more wild applause and cheering.

A little man, made of discarded twist-ties and pieces of broken glass pushed his way to the front, adjusted his bottle-bottom glasses and scanned through a dense, filthy book, full of tiny letters.

“According to the law, set down by the Prime Minister some four months ago, finders are, indeed, keepers. As settled in the ‘I didn’t know it was so shiny’ case, as you may recall Sir.”

“Hmm, but I set out the laws don’t I?” The Prime Minister quivered as he spoke and adjusted his spider toupee with one comically tiny hand.

“Indeed Sir.”

“Well then, take down a new law. The Prime Ministers may call ‘dibs’ on all good salvage.”

The little bottle-twist man flipped through the book until he found a blank page, where he squiggled down the Prime Minister’s words with a practised flourish.

“There’s a conflict between the two laws Sir, we’ll need to consult the judiciary to determine how to proceed.

“Oh, how tiresome,” the Prime Minister grumbled, hands on his hips.

Then Alice saw the most horrible and disgusting sight she thought she had ever seen. The Prime Minister’s orange, flabby bulk began to split down the middle with a sound like enormous, smacking lips. In a couple of breaths, he had completely split in half, two smaller versions of himself standing side by side, one with that ridiculous spider on his head, the other hurriedly donning a judge’s wig of soiled cotton wool.

“I agree with the Prime Minister,” said the judge. “The Prime Minister’s new ‘dibs’ law takes precedence over the older ‘Finders Keepers’ law. The Prime Minister will take possession of the salvage’s beautiful, luscious, verdant golden hair with immediate effect.”

“My hair?” Alice, who had become quite bored with all the arguing to-and-fro and whose legs were beginning to ache from standing still, was suddenly paying attention. “You can’t cut off my hair!”

“I can do anything I like!” said the Prime Minister, reaching for his judicial counterpart to glom back together.

“I… um… appeal!” Alice said, stepping around Penny-Face and feeling rather exposed. “I mean, if it’s not too much trouble, Sir,” she added another curtsy just to be sure.

“To the legislature?” the judge asked, while the Prime Minister made wild, silencing gestures with his pudgy little hands.

“Yes?” Alice wasn’t sure, this was all a bit beyond her, but she knew she was supposed to be polite around such august personages as judges and Prime Ministers, even when they were made of fat and rubbish.

“Very well, let’s put it before the legislature,” both the Prime Minister and the judge began to split off portions of themselves and to slap them together like clay, forming a third while an attendant scurried to tie a bow time – made of sooty string – around this third version’s neck.

Then the Prime Minister began to argue amongst himselves about who was in the right, it was all a show really. Since he was ‘arguing’ with himself, it seemed obvious how it was all going to turn out, and it looked like it was theatre for the cheering bits and bobs than anything meaningful.

Alice’s stomach grumbled, loudly. She realised she hadn’t eaten anything in quite some time and that she was starting to feel somewhat faint from it. Thankfully with all the arguing nobody had noticed and, given it was so filthy down here she didn’t want to eat a thing. It was far easier to be hungry.

Her mind began to wander. The Prime Minister looked so much like butter that she couldn’t help but think about it, that led her to bread and butter and thence to sandwiches. In that funny way the mind has of connecting one thing to another she ended up recalling an argument she had had with her friend Emily about sandwiches.

When you cut a sandwich in half, you get two sandwiches, not half a sandwich. Emily thought this was the most wondrous thing imaginable, while it bothered Alice a lot. If you cut anything else in half, you got halves, not doubles and the Prime Minister was cheating by doing the exact same thing. Cut those halves in half, and there are four sandwiches, not a quarter sandwich, cut those in half diagonally, and you got finger sandwiches, not eighths.

Alice was no fan of geometry or fractions, but it seemed to her that you might as well just have one big sandwich and eat it, rather than going to all the trouble of fiddling about with all those smaller sandwiches. She also supposed that eventually you would just run out of sandwich and have nothing but crumbs if even that and that you couldn’t possibly keep dividing things into infinity. Emily disagreed, and Alice hadn’t been invited to take tea with her for weeks afterwards.

“You’re a sandwich!” Alice shouted, interrupting the pretend negotiations the Prime Minister was having with himself, causing some consternation.

“And you’re a baguette, a stinking, foreign baguette!” Shouted the Prime Minister, petulantly.

“I’m sorry, Sir, I mean rather that I should like to take my appeal directly to the people!”

The Prime Minister, the judge and the legislature huddled together, whispering and when they split apart again, agreed.

“Very well. Your appeal shall be put to the people, and let that be an end to it!”

Almost immediately the Prime Minister – in all his forms – began to split apart into many, many little pea-sized blobs, scattering around him and lining up to vote to take Alice’s hair. She was heartened, however, to see that many of the subjects of this little kingdom were lining up to vote in her favour – just not enough of them.

“You can do what he does!” She called out, desperately, and saw a few of them take her advice, breaking down and remaking each other into smaller and smaller versions until all of them, the whole cheering crowd, were so reduced in size that Alice towered above them like an Amazonian giantess.

While they continued to fight and argue and to organise themselves to vote, Alice took one giant stride over them, delicately trying not to crush them, and made her way toward the tin foil tower and its glittering ring.

auriane-dubois-noyadeAlice swirled around and around until she was quite, quite dizzy and she couldn’t help but swallow some of the filthy water as it whirled and twirled. It was strange, she knew it was dirty, but it tasted like soap, and it smelled like lemon. So it was, that Alice found herself gagging on the sloshing filth, while also wondering how something could look, smell and taste so different in each way. Like white chocolate flavoured with lavender. Horrible.

With a sudden, welcome rush, Alice’s head was back above water, and the gulped for air and spat out as much of the nasty tasting water as she could, blinking her eyes to clear them.

It seemed to Alice, dizzy as she was, that she was rushing along in a grand, underground river. The dirty walls sped past at such a rate it was like looking at the sides of the cutting from the window of a fast train.

One of the little potato men twirled past, shaking his little white fist in the air.

“curse you!” He shouted as he approached.

“DAMN YOUR EYES!” He screamed as he drew level.

“monstress!” He hollered, as he floated away, much faster than Alice, whose petticoats were acting like a drag beneath the water.

“I had always thought that potatoes were only disagreeable when they turned green,” Alice mused aloud as her spinning slowed and the walls rushed past with a hypnotic blur.

“Solanine,” came a stentorian voice from behind Alice, and she twisted and turned, kicking her feet as her petticoats bloomed in the water, trying to keep pace with whoever or whatever it was behind her.

It was an octopus, with tiny little arms and big, darting eyes. Even as it spoke to her, it was like it was looking past her.

“Doctor’s recommend that you shouldn’t eat them, even though it would take a portion of green flesh the size of a baked potato to even begin to harm a fully a grown man.”

“Well,” Alice trod water to stay close to the friendly-seeming octopus. “I am a girl, not a man, and while I have been both larger and smaller than I am now, I do not think I am grown in the way you mean.”

“That sounds like a fascinating story young lady, lots of human interest.” His eyes suggested a smile, but it was hard to tell with an octopus.

“But you’re not human,” Alice remarked, more than a little confused.

“Am I not?” Said the octopus. “Preposterous. When did you last meet anything other than a person that could talk?”

It was peculiar, the octopus did look a bit more human than it had a moment ago, face wrinkling and crinkling and even changing colour a little to seem a lot more like a person.

Alice reached out and took hold of two of his stubby little tentacles, as her legs were getting ever so tired from kicking. “Not for a long time I think,” she said. “Years at least.”

“Well then,” the octopus shrugged with his whole body. “That settles it.”

Alice didn’t really think that settled it at all, but she had been taught to be polite. The octopus was awfully grown up and spoke with such authority and finality she found that that was almost as good as it being settled after all.

“Excuse me sir, but you seem to be rather knowledgeable. Do you know where we are? Where we’re going?”

“Why, this is a wonderful tunnel leading us a land of wonderment and plenty!” Pronounced the octopus, inflating slightly from Alice’s flattery. “Can you not sense that from the speed and urgency of the water?”

“How do you know?” Alice frowned as she asked, looking down the seemingly endless tunnel. “Have you been to the end before?”

“No, I have no idea,” the octopus shook his body-head back and forth. “But I have an opinion, and I can speculate. That’s what I do. That’s my job.”

“To make things up?”

“Good lord no,” harrumphed the octopus. “To speculate, to think, to observe and opine.”

“And that’s how you know that the end of the pipe is a magical, wonderful place?”

“Exactly!” The octopus’ eyes lit up with self-satisfaction.

There was a hideous bubbling, and from the depths of the rushing waters there emerged a squid, bright yellow, with limbs as long as the octopus’ were short.

“He lies!” the squid shrieked, shrill and loud, a woman’s voice coming from its little white beak. “He always lies! The end of the pipe is a hell-hole! There is nothing there but the worst horrors that you can imagine!”

“And how do you know?” Alice took one hand from the octopus and placed it on the squid, pushed and pulled between them as they argued with one another.

“It’s my raison d’être to comment on things,” offered the squid.

“You’re a hack!” Yelled the octopus.

“You’re nothing but a pseudo-intellectual!” Screamed the squid.

Alice found herself floating free again, as the squid and the octopus flailed at each other in a manner that put Alice somewhat in mind of the time she saw two distant relatives swinging at each other with gloved hands at a wedding. The hatred was real – and shared – they just weren’t very good at fighting.

“This really hasn’t helped very much,” Alice said to herself, picking up speed and twirling faster and faster. “One tells me it’s heaven, the other tells me it’s hell. Neither of them seems to actually know, but both seem so very sure. Perhaps it’s some mix of the two things, and perhaps it’s neither. It seems like the only way to be sure, is to look.”

With that thought coming from her lips, Alice plunged over the edge of a waterfall and deep into the frothing pool beneath.

Alice bobbed up again, into the air and the light and pulled herself, exhausted, to the shore. A shore of fat and hair, rice grains, crumbs and slimy things that didn’t bear thinking about. There was no sign of the octopus or the squid, but that made sense didn’t it? They were aquatic. At least it made sense to Alice’s exhausted brain and so, laying on her back upon the shore she closed her eyes.