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Idea 1:

Hugely obese man sitting on a bed in a prison cell. Guard is standing there gesturing towards an impossibly narrow door saying "you're free to go".

Title: 'Liberty'

Idea 2:

White-robed, bearded man lying in bed, evidently deceased. Two horrified youthful angels looking in through the door. "oh shit. God is dead!"

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A man believes he has a disease which has made him invisible. He harasses staff at his local doctor's surgery on a daily basis, insisting that someone see him about his 'condition'. When they keep fobbing him off he becomes despondent and takes to moping around in the waiting room. Eventually staff and patients alike become used to him and ignore him entirely, leaving the man with a sense of hollow victory.


30/11/06 14:22
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The Guardian is running a 500 word short story competition. The story has to be on the subject of "Time". This is my entry......

Archaeology is a precise science, or likes to think it is. Archaeologist Harry Roskams, on his knees, puzzled over his context. An archaeologist’s ‘context’ is a layman’s ‘layer’. Each context represents a phase of human activity; it could be a floor in use for decades, or a ten-minute hole-filling job. Harry’s context was small and dark grey, and decidedly M-shaped with clearly defined edges. This was good. A context is defined by variations in colour and consistency which separate it from its neighbours. This can be a real bugger. Archaeologists lean heavily on Professor Albert H. Munsell’s (1858-1918) colour classification charts in an effort to distinguish one grey-brown from another. It drives them mad and blind. Harry was having no such difficulty with his dark grey ‘M’. He’d lent his Munsell book to some other poor sod earlier in the day. Haha! Let them fret and fume over contexts without edges. Contexts don’t often lie helpfully on top of one another, in clear sequence, like a layer cake. We wish! No, they will overlap at one edge, and be overlapped at another, or, often, punch holes in and take slices out of each other. It’s a mess. Harry’s ‘M’ suffered no such entanglements. With silent glee he took his trowel by its blade for greater control, like an oil painter doing fine detail, and deftly flicked away the remains of the tedious beige context which obscured it. This would be sieved by bored undergraduates and discarded. Archaeology is destruction! Each context is numbered, mapped and logged. It is assigned a place in a ‘Harris matrix’, which resembles a large flowchart or family tree. The matrix is supposed to fix the sequence of every context on the site. This is important for dating.

Dating, dating…..Harry’s mind wandered as he worked. The laymen thought it was so easy! Harry snorted at the thought. We rely upon sound method and datable finds; the smallest pot sherd, bead or coin embedded in a context. This lends it a terminus post quem the “limit after which”; the earliest possible date of the context, which knocks on, through the matrix, to all the contexts that post-date it. Beautiful. Harry’s thoughts darkened at the memory of the kitkat wrapper which had given an entire Iron Age hillfort a terminus post quem of 1986. They had chosen to disregard it. “Carried down by worm action” they had written in their notes, solemnly. Harry sighed, as had the Neolithic man who had occupied the exact same spot 6000 years previously. Knapping flint tools, discarding the dark grey offcuts until they had built up around and between his folded legs in the shape of an ‘M’, in an alphabet as yet uninvented. That’s how Harry interpreted it, correctly, though forever unproven. What is more, that’s almost exactly how another archaeologist, standing on the same spot, interpreted Harry’s own knee prints and trowelings, later, thousands of years later.


18/7/06 20:57
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I actually got paid real money (!) by a magazine for this article some years ago. I thought I'd post it here again because one of my internet correspondents has raised the subject of Jerry Falwell and Tinky-Winky's gayness.....

The birthplace of both the Teletubbies and Shakespeare, Stratford upon Avon has become a focus of pilgrimage for little people throughout the Gibberish and English speaking worlds respectively.
The international clout of the Tubbies cannot be understated. No sooner had the Fab Four set toe-less, clumpy foot in the New World than Tinky-Winky found himself the object of a fatwah proclaimed by self-appointed defender of American morals, the Rev. Jerry Falwell. The justification for this tirade? Those unmistakable badges of buggery: the handbag, lavender pelt and triangular head-aerial. Americans swung into action in the Tubbies' defence, purchasing Tinky-Winky dolls en masse and flooding the streets with Tinky-Winky costumes over Halloween. The press, by this time bored with tar-and-feathering Tinky-Winky (not that such treatment would significantly alter a Tubby's naturally fuzzy appearance), turned their guns on the rest of the quad. 'Teletubbies can kill your kids' headlines screamed, citing cases of several small children crushed to death attempting to give Russian-style 'big hugs' to the Tubbies on the screens of their big fat American TV sets.

These are just sour grapes, of course. What evangelist, TV producer or film director, of any stripe, wouldn't give his back teeth to command such adulation? Wouldn't Mr Spielberg be just a bit smug if rapturous cinema audiences started sprinting down the centre aisle and splatting themselves against his latest blockbuster? The Rev. Falwell is likewise smarting from the unpopularity of his own deeply unpleasant creed. One can imagine him wearing the heads of his VHS player to the bone, scouring each episode for any suggestion of deviancy or, at the very least, a blurred freeze-frame of possible background rabbit copulation on the astroturf. As a matter of fact, the Teletubbies inhabit an ordered, regulated world presided over by a traditional, Old Testament God. What more appropriate way to represent such a deity than as a monstrous baby in the sky, manifesting itself without warning to exhibit arbitrary disapproval or mirth?

So it is that Chapel Street in Stratford upon Avon now contains two shrines. The first is the centre-piece souvenir shop and HQ of Ragdoll Productions Ltd., creators of the Teletubbies. The second is Nash's House; home of Shakespeare in his dotage. One of the first things you notice when you get off the bus in Stratford is the flags. Great, big banners, bearing the banana-yellow spear (geddit?) of the bard's own coat of arms, snap in the wind over each of the three town-centre properties cared for by the Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust. They're an incongruous sight for England. By the curiously modern virtue of being a medieval kingdom, rather than a nation-state, we've never had much of a flag culture. Both the Union-Jack and George Cross have all but been abandoned to far-right fringe-politics and that last great bastion of popular, uniformed fascism, football. The flags that fly over Stratford are of a different type, they are the standards of England's state-religion, heritage.
The process by which living culture becomes heritage is a complex one but broadly analogous to that of the formation of fossils. A living, shagging, evolving animal performs its genetic duty and then dies. Its remains are squashed flat for a long period of time until, at last, unearthed by specialists and put on display, in a glass box, accompanied by a wildly inaccurate 'artist's impression'. At this point only does the creature become an object of intense interest and veneration to members of the public who have, in all likelihood, run over dozens of the same fossil's living descendants in their range-rovers, without a second thought. Or, to put it another way; culture is to heritage as dairy cows grazing on lush pasture are to St. Ivel processed cheese slices.

Stratford maintains a strict, kosher segregation of live cows and rubber cheese. The artists are confined to the RSC and the pilgrims to the shrines. Chief shrine, the Kaaba of the Shakespeare world, with the biggest flag of them all, is the wibbly-wobbly timbered birthplace itself. An entire house preserved in aspic; eat your heart out Damian Hurst! The imposing, neo-Stalinist, concrete Shakespeare Centre, hugs close by like some over-protective, cringing acolyte. This is the eye of the Shakespeare vortex; a heritage singularity sucking in people from the furthest corners of the globe.

I yielded to its pull during my last visit to Stratford; ushered along past the museum cross-stations and into the garden, where I was stopped by a trembling Indian who puffed out his chest to be photographed. This gentleman was not the only person I noticed suffering from a visible erosion of self-belief as he neared the object of his reverence. It was like watching normally confident, out-going folk soil themselves in the presence of royalty. Inside the house I had to release two paralysed middle-aged Americans who couldn't even bring themselves to use the exit, for fear that the iron latch and door itself were 'do-not-touch' exhibits. The house's contents are unremarkable; it is the walls themselves that people come to see, and to breath the air between. It is secular relic-worship; that same sweet, febrile urge which drives Catholic faithful to press sweaty lips to dusty reliquaries of dubious mummified human toes.

Heritage speaks the universal language of the inferiority complex and kisses the arse of an affluent public who want to believe that just 'being there', going through the motions and having the T-shirt is as good as doing or understanding. It is the cultural equivalent of a New Guinean cargo-cult, the adherents of which believe they can attain cash wealth and material status simply by pouring coins from one bowl into another, and back again, for hours on end. The Teletubbies, on the other hand, speak the universal language of nothing-in-particular. Their following of recent-embryos may well grow up and join actual cults, though nothing as vindictive as that of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's. Most likely they will be attracted to something authoritarian but loving, co-operative and sexually well-adjusted. Perhaps they’ll become followers of Osho Rajneesh, the eccentric, Rolls-Royce-collecting, Indian mystic famously expelled from the US in the 1980's for tax irregularities and, almost like Tinky-Winky, being too damn popular. Or maybe, before they reach that stage, their young minds will be subverted by the current vogue for cartoon super-hero militarism, or elevated by the sophisticated, atheist social-morality of re-runs of The Clangers. Until then, don't worry, the future's still bright. Bright red, that is, and yellow, and purple, and green. Amen.

© P.Ben Hall 1999

Sim City

18/7/06 12:07
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Those of you who go out at night will not have experienced addiction to the computer game 'Sim City'. Sim City is a town planning simulation of the 'god-game' genre. You start in the year 1900 with a square of randomly generated virgin wilderness, and some money, and the aim is to transform this into a vast, stinking metropolis in the course of a few hundred evenings. You mould your city by ‘zoning’ residential, commercial and industrial areas by dragging, respectively, green, blue or yellow squares across the prairie. Each of these come in incrementally darker shades of ‘light’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’ density. Then you sit back as little building sites erupt like time-lapse mould across your map and bloom into houses, shops and factories. Disturbingly, my version of Sim City includes optional replicas of the New York World Trade Centre towers. I put them in my city for a joke, but then felt guilty and demolished them, which made me feel even worse.

Suffice to say, this becomes very tedious after a while, but by then it’s too late. For every block of simulated urban life you create, there’s a yawning gap next-door, literally begging for exploitation. “Citizens need more commercial zones” flashes the appeal across your screen, and so you give it to them, and it feels good to be such a benevolent god. But it doesn’t stop there. The citizens need more parks, water mains, schools, hospitals, police stations, bus stops, railways, airports, zoos, marinas, fountains….and the more they get the happier they are, and the bigger the city becomes, and the more they need. By this stage, if you crank it up to its fastest setting, the screen resembles a complex pulsating neon sign, with dozens of buildings in different states of construction, use or disrepair. Sim Cities are ambitious, hungry creatures, always bursting at the seams. Growth is their raison d’être. They are modern, on the move, upwardly mobile cities; they are, above all, American cities because, of course, this is an American computer game.

Even as I allow myself to be enslaved by my simulant population, I am indignant. What sort of culturally impoverished country is Sim-land, that their urban history begins no earlier than 1900? Where is the unplanned, organic growth and reuse that shapes a real living city? How can the entire kaleidoscope of human activity be pigeon-holed as residential, commercial or industrial? It’s bollocks. I begin to fantasise about a realistic western European Sim City, should computing power ever make it possible. You’ll kick off in the 8th century AD, at the very latest, with the shell of an abandoned Roman fort in which to establish your dark-age burgh. Agriculture will be a dominant feature for the first hundred hours of play, and you’ll be stuck with the field systems forever. The cathedral will remain at the ‘building site’ stage for at least 400 sim-years. It will be a higgledy-piggledy sort of a city, like York. (There’s kink in one of the streets in York where they reckon a Roman building fell flat on its face and the Anglo-Saxons just got used to walking around it.) It will get progressively more higgledy-piggledy until wiped clean by a Great Fire, or by massive aerial bombardment in the 1940’s, to make way for some impressive Imperial avenues. Right angles will be banned. (I am sick of Sim City’s right angles. It can manage diagonals, but only with extreme reluctance. You can lay out a diagonal road, but the game gets sulky and won’t let you build bridges over it or even create junctions. Usually I give up and confine myself to squares.) Railways will be constructed in beautiful neo-gothic, and occur about 100 years earlier than in the current version, in which, laughably, underground railways only become available around 1950. Running water will have to be painstakingly installed under existing streets, not laid out in advance in big grids. Above all, there will be no absurd free hand to demolish and ‘increase density’ everytime the simulants outgrow their houses, nor to wallpaper over the above-mentioned medieval field systems with mock medieval housing estates. Planning regulations will be enforced. The sim-scum will learn that money cannot buy a past or a future.

I related this to my town planner friend in California. She wasn’t impressed at all. Then I went to stay with her and found out why. It was all squares; every street numbered. Her home town had been created in 1978 around a grid of motorway junctions outside Los Angeles. It was a ‘residential zone’, light green. She illuminated our drive through the city with her planner’s observations. “They’re trying to get the density up in this part of town” she remarked at one point, “this was just agricultural before” at another. What finally crushed me, however, was the desert. Joshua trees and scrub as far as the eye could see, much as it had been for a thousand years, except for the fire hydrants. Row upon row of fire hydrants, at 100ft intervals, stretching out in a huge grid across the waste. “It’s going to be developed for residential use,” my friend explained, “they put the water supply in first”.
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I wrote this for an actor in Brighton. I don't know if it was ever performed. It is based on conversations I had with a flatmate in Bristol 5 years ago. He was one of the funniest, most relaxed and pleasant blokes I've ever known......

[Riktam is a cheerful, charismatic and athletic man who looks and acts much younger than his 40 years. He has a strong Liverpool accent.]

The name’s Riktam. [Smiling] I’m not telling you my old name coz it’s shit.

I started when I was 16 at ‘A’ for army and it took me a long time to work my way through to ‘R’ for religion, but I finally got there.

India, man. You gotta go there too.

Rajneesh (he’s my teacher) said that people in the west live too much in their heads. Stop living in your head, man! You gotta get out of your head! [excitedly mimes the top of his head opening up]

People here are so stuck in their heads they need drugs just to make life bearable. That’s why English girls can’t get into sex unless they’re drunk.

Fochin’ English girls, man. [shakes his head in despair]

You want to stop worrying about your car and clothes and start meditating. Rajneesh told me to do dynamic meditation for one hour every day, and listen to something calming, like the flute. He said this would suit my temperament.

It was the only time I was in the same room as him. He was sitting as near as you are now. You could feel his power.

[pauses in reverie]

Mind you [suddenly warming to the audience] there is such thing as being too laid back. Have you ever been to Australia?! Aw, man, they’re so laid back they’re fochin’ lying down!

When I was there I had a job in a boat yard. Me and these three Australians had to strip the paint off this wooden boat, using blow torches…..

And so of course the whole fochin’ thing caught fire. And I said “Get the fochin’…..thing!” [leaps into action, reneacting the event] and I grab the extinguisher and rush around putting the fire out as quick as I can. And I’m panting and sweating and covered in soot and shit.

And these three Australians are just standing there like statues with their mouths open. And they just look at me and say….

[in an Australian acent] “Jesus Christ mate! You should be a bladdy fireman!”

Fochin’ Aussies, man! [shakes his head in despair].

I done some shit jobs. Being the Colonel’s bodyguard in the Royal Green Jackets was only the beginning.

I had this one job selling charity raffle tickets door-to-door, for a commision. You had to wear a shirt and tie and be very polite. The only way to make it pay was to shift volume, have your speil worked out and knock on as many doors as quickly as possible.

So I was going from door-to-door in my nice clothes. I’d go (knock knock) “Hello I represent….” and they’d say “no thank you” and I’d say “thank you very much. Goodbye.” [Mimes door being closed on him.]

and then I’d go straight on to the next door… “Hello I represent. No. Thank you very much…” [Mimes rushing from door to door at ever increasing speed.]

and then again [quicker] “Hello I represent. No. blah blah blah. Hello I represent. No…..”

and I gets into this sort of trance-like state…..

[mimes rushing headlong from door to door, eyes glased over, starting to gabble] “Hello I repre….no….thank….hello I rep…no. Thank..Hello…blur, blur, blur…”

And anyway, so I was in this world of my own and bombing up the next garden path when, suddenly, this massive shock runs through the length of my body.

And I find myself in a different world. The path’s gone. The light’s different. And there’s like a soft, dark wall five inches in front of my nose.

And I’m like standing there too afraid to move and thinking “Jeez, I better just stand still a minute until the pain goes away and I can get my bearings”

And when I look up I can still see the house and the sky but everything’s at a strange angle. [mimes looking upwards, shading his eyes from the sunlight with his hand]

[Turns to the audience, shaking his head in disbelief] What the foch they want to dig a big trench round a house for ?!!!
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Ode to Vomit by Ben Hall

Sticky flecks, prehensile string,
Nostril plugs or beardy ring.
Wash enduring, rough and thick,
Ghastly unplanned party trick.

Silver spreading epaulet,
Sudden violent orange jet,
Extended noisy toilet lick,
Or scary room-embracing flick.

Awake encased in natural glue,
Nasty home-made cud to chew.
Aching torso, neck with crick,
Vacuum stomach, limpen prick.

Acid tongue in gritty sheath,
Bitter shreds between the teeth,
Nasal hunks too deep to pick,
And head beset by phantom brick.

O winking pool of lovely sick,
O technicolour pavement slick.
A gift from God fresh every dawn,
Of cubes and paste,
And mystery prawn.