Slack Faced Thought

I’m on the London Underground. It’s a bit stuffy. The air is friction electricity, rush and surge. The carriage is about half full, I’d say, not more. An assortment of commuters sway with the movement of the train. Screeches and clattering echo in the dark tunnels but the passengers don’t hear. Or if they do, their faces give nothing away.

Strange faces: slack and free of expression. I wonder: who are these people? I look at each one and classify them with a form of mental taxonomy but my only tools are what my mind has used before. I put my memories to their faces, paint personalities, jobs, dreams on to the canvas of their skin but find the pictures to be mine, not theirs.

I have to admit, I have nothing but the thoughts I’ve thought before. I’ve killed these slack faced people even before they’ve uttered a word or made a movement or facial expression. I’ve fitted them up, put them in boxes, labelled them with stereotypes: colours, creeds, sexes, the way they wear their clothes, their hair. Every single stranger judged. The decision as to their identity, conceived and irrevocably made so they become fabricants wearing the fictions I have projected on to the facade of my contrived world.

I wonder if they killed the slack faced me they saw? Or perhaps they did something entirely different?

© Ben Truesdale and distilledvoice, 2015

A Story From The Western Sea

Far off in the Western Sea of dreams and beginnings there was the birth of a story. It bubbled up from beneath, from deep in the gloom of a cold benthos, where strange things scuttle and make their homes. Some bubbles rise as stars while others are neutral. This one was like the very first born thought, as fresh as the newest thing, pale skinned and beautiful. From the waves of the Western Sea it rose high and caught prevailing winds. With birds and things airborne it navigated the Coriolis force and felt the call of land like a heart beat in its body. For days it watched and winged on blue ether and mist. And when it saw the brown earth it dropped like a stone and kissed the hard, dry soil and burrowed as its feeling decreed. And then it waited. And waited. And waited. And when the time was right it germinated on sweet water and the worlds urge to change and put up a shoot, then a leaf, then a flower: a new flower that no one had ever seen before.

© Ben Truesdale and distilledvoice, 2015

Epoque

In the black and white photograph
the 19th century station bustles with
top hats and ladies in feathered felt,
and there isn’t a man without a
moustache or sideburns flanking.

Hot bellied locomotives simmer
in the sidings and polished carriages
queue in timely lines while walruses
inspect pocket watches and point at
the world with portly cigars.

There isn’t a thing out of time: every
article existing is touched by the age,
coloured by fashions of the mind;
the ladies fine frocks of puff
petticoats and pinafores, the hiss

and mist of escaping steam, the
brass tubing veining engines, the
great hall aloft on stanchions of cast
iron. Even the tea cup and train ticket
exude époque and the purity of

happenings coinciding to form all
that was in that moment then. And
when I look I can’t find a thing that
seems unreal. Is this a trick? Will my
decedents look upon the vistas of

our time and see rich nostalgia
colouring the skin of everything. Or
will they see the lack of meaning by
which we shape, steer and live our lives
and want no part of its empty shame?

© Ben Truesdale and distilledvoice, 2015

On The Road

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He might be Californian,
Shaggy
In flared denim suit
And long
Sun blond hair
Agitating his eyes.
He wears a moustache
And breath
Spiced bourbon and cigarette.

The days are a sun blanched
Headache while the nights
Are dizzying breakneck
Of life lived fast
With liquor cubed drink
Chinking glimmer in a glass,
Or bottle neat
From a brown paper bag
Hidden in a back street:
It’s all much of a muchness.

There are girls:
All with faraway look,
Smacked up
And drifting nowhere
On the drug of sex
And fleeting break
From loneliness
Found in strange
Bedfellow’s quiver
And alcoholic unburdening
Of orgasm before sleep.

He says – be cool baby –
To whom ever he meets
On the road,
Salutes them
With joint
Marihuana journey
Or acid trip
To nameless places,
Passing in a flurry of faces,
Hard as cold asphalt,
Futureless and travelling
Without name.

© Ben Truesdale and distilledvoice, 2015

Dr Paradox And The Theory Of Rhubarb

Dr Paradox had the enviable job of being a scientist. He found it both annoying and useful in equal measure. It was problematic because he had to conform to certain social stereotypes in order to be taken seriously: growing his eyebrows wild and unkempt, messing up his desk and house, sporting a wearisome and offensive halitosis and generally projecting an air of befuddlement: none of which were his personal preference or resembled who he really was. After visitors left his house he’d scrupulously rearrange the mayhem in to good order, tame his outlandish eyebrows with a comb and allow his patent mouthwash time to return his mouth to normality. He sometimes thought that his mouthwash was his single greatest achievement, for with but a minute of gargling it transformed his breath from inoffensive normality to a vile monster (which oddly tasted of delightful peppermint), only to return it to the sweet scent of herbs after exactly one hour. One swig just before guests arrived thus allowed him the odious authority of his position and projected the right and professional air expected of a man of his status: all that without the annoyance of permanent periodontal disease. It was a triumph, but one he could not yet see a wider practical application for. However, these social annoyances were outweighed by the positive aspects of his role.

Being a scientist gave him an unequivocal right to talk with absolute authority on any subject of his choosing. But more importantly, it allowed him to fabricate the truth, making new truth if the old truth were in anyway lacking. It meant he could say almost anything at all with total confidence, knowing that people would lap it up, even if it was a complete load of bollocks.  If anyone did think to question what he said, out would come his little notebook and the words: “hold on, I’ll just check the statistics”. The fact that there was nothing written in his notebook seemed not to matter in the slightest. He found that merely bringing out the the book caused 76% of people to switch off. The remaining dissenters could be put off with a twitch of his enormous eyebrow.  Even if someone did persist they almost never checked his statistics for fear of intense and painful boredom.  And if all else failed he could give the tricky bugger a blast of his scurrilous breath. If not stopped in their tracks by that point, there really was nothing to be done. As a scientist it was imperative to be able to talk bullshit in order that the theories added up to something approaching half sensible; the scientific community expected as much. And the public were no less hungry for anything ridiculous that could be passed off as a truth and were likely to become violent if they didn’t get it. He had a job to do and he’d do it to the best of his creative ability.

Dr Paradox was, of course, a man of theories. There were literally hundreds lining up in his mind ready to be explored and expanded upon. Unfortunately, he had the terrible affliction of being easily sidetracked. This was difficult in his personal and professional life alike. If he set off to brush his teeth he’d find himself inadvertently doing the hoovering. If he thought he might clean the windows he’d find himself watching TV. If he set off to buy a loaf of bread from the local shop he might find himself on a transatlantic flight, half way to New York, sipping G&T’s and flirting with the cabin crew. It was no better in his workplace.  He’d begin working on a project in the lab, only to find, three weeks later, that he was lying on a beach in Bali. It meant that his research was somewhat stunted, but on the bright side, he had a really great tan.

It was somewhat tricky to get to the bottom of the problem. He’d tried at least ten of the very fashionable techniques of self reflection and mindfulness. But being a man of theories and easily sidetracked, he never managed to get to the end of a single chain of thought without first taking a route to somewhere else equally interesting on the way. And while he’d booked all ten mind calming treatments, he’d not made a single appointment. All in all, it made his thoughts and his conversation infuriating, unexpected, enthralling, tedious and totally unfulfilling. But somehow everyone loved it that way and so there was no outside pressure to change.

Though he had not found a cure for his affliction he had given it the name of Rhubarb. It had become clear that his theorising was part of the problem. In order to explain any theory he was working on he found he needed to use another theory to get his point across. Unfortunately, half way through the second theory another theory would be needed, and so on and so on. This would continue until no one could remember where he had started or what the point was. He was liable to continue ad infinitum or at least until dinner time (which ever came first). When he did eventually arrive at the conclusion, he’d stand up and proclaim in a loud voice: “the state of Rhubarb has been reached”. (It’s like a theory impasse and can only be cured with three stiff G&T’s in quick succession or possibly a strong cup of tea laced with gin. And Tonic). This state of Rhubarb was applauded quite vigorously by anyone who knew him because the revelation of G&T’s was what everyone was waiting for. That was the point.

With G&T’s onboard bullshit is just easier for the brain to handle. And when pissed, everyone is a scientist and a statistician. In fact, that was where the fun usually began and consequently Dr Paradox had become a hit at parties and invites were delivered daily to his door. In someways Dr Paradox was quite satisfied. He’d attained some standing in the world. He could say what he needed to say and make up the rest with impunity. However, he couldn’t quite work out what the practical applications of Rhubarb were and how it would make his fortune.  But thinking about it didn’t get him anywhere. It just seemed to lead to drunkenness and an endless cycle of parties and drunken calls for more Rhubarb. And of course, the inevitable next day headache.

© Ben Truesdale and distilledvoice, 2015

Horrible Novel

My novel has become somewhat unruly. Until this morning, I hadn’t seen it for a couple of days.  Then when I came down for breakfast, there it was, waiting for me, crouching at the bottom of the stairs. But oh my goodness, how it had grown. It was at least seventeen times bigger than I remember and its mouth parts were out of all measure and proportion.

I must say, it halted me in my sleepy decent. I was a little confused as to what to do. Was I to brush past as if it were normal size and without huge fangs and teeth in their multitude. Or was I to flee, scampering up the stairs to exit through the bathroom window. In the end, it made the decision. For as I pondered my choices, it pounced.

Luckily, my martial arts have taught me much. And so with the agility God has favoured me, I ducked and the beast flew straight over my head. I saw its underbelly as it went in a high arc and my worst fears were actualised. Its gut was plump with far too many words and bulged with a peculiar menace. I estimated that it must be a hundred weight, if not more. A terrible thought entered my mind at that point: I had conjured a monster. I was Frankenstein, and this thing, my work.

As it flew over, I took my chance, dashed below and slipped in to the kitchen where I found two things: a broom and poker from my wood burning stove. With these weapons I charged in to the fray. And all was violent ugliness. It bit and scraped and hit out with a rank verbiage and a mouth so full of words. Yet I parried, deflected, spun on the axis of a dance made of martial arts and hopefulness, and for a moment thought myself to be winning.

But then it unleashed its poetry. Oh God, how that hurt. A thousand lashes of its rhyming tongue. A thousand passages of its disappointments. Its woes fired like missiles to strike me down. All that awfulness rolled in to one grievous assault. Its power knocked me to the ground. I was paralysed. And then, it sat upon me with its full weight. It was a ton at least. A ton of words. A ton of sentences. The whole unedited mass crushing the breath from my lungs. Surely I was about to die.

But no. From beneath I saw its weakness. Its binding was not well strung. In fact, it was still in its crapy little ring folder. I took the knife, that I keep in my pyjamas, and stuck it in the gap. The clasps pinged open; so full was it stuffed. And in a instant the beast was done. It disintegrated before my eyes. Pages spewed and fluttered in the air. The chapters shuffled like a deck of cards. The whole thing punctured and deflating as if it were composed of hot air and nothing more.

But when I saw it dismembered and pitiful, I couldn’t strike the killing blow. Instead my heart went out to it. I gathered up its limbs and appendages. I nursed it as best I could, applying hot poultices and wiping away its tears. I collected the spare words (there were many) and hung the sentences out to dry (they were wet with sweat). When I left it on the sofa, watching shit TV, it looked as close to happy as ever I’ve seen. And when I popped a warm blanket across its first page, for comfort and warmth, I think it almost smiled at me.

© Ben Truesdale and distilledvoice, 2015

The Rhinoceros Next Door

I mean really, what are they thinking? Their garden is tiny. I’m all for animal rights and rehoming strays, but a rhinoceros in suburban Oxford; that’s just not on!

Sometimes I think I’m going mad. I say this because no one else on my street seems to pay the slightest attention to the giant beast in their vicinity.  When the sun shines, my neighbours mill about on the road exchanging pleasantries, jars of plum jam, gossip etc, just as they always have. But no one ever mentions the rhinoceros. I’ve brought it up a few times but they just stare at me blankly as though I’ve spoken another language or were speaking out of turn. It makes me feel very uncomfortable so I’ve given up asking. There remains, of course, something unspoken in the air!

Bob and Joan, in whose garden the beast dwells, say hello to me every morning over the garden fence. And every morning there it is, right behind them. I wonder, do they not see my wild eyes flickering with confusion as the beast sways on its giant legs and snorts as it munches breakfast? How can they ignore its heavy breathing and occasional flatulence, passing off the whiff as just an unlucky farmyard breeze? And what about the truck loads of fodder arriving each day?

I mean, it would be fine if the rhinoceros had something to say: a point of view or a joke, even. God knows, I’ve tried to strike up conversation countless times. But it behaves as if it were from the jungle or the plain. Mostly it completely ignores my presence, even when I’ve been so kind as to offer it a mid morning coffee or an early evening beer (quite rude really). However, this morning there was something worse than being ignored.

I popped out to put the washing on the line and saw the rhinoceros rubbing its flank against my neighbours garage. I called out a hello and its ears twitched. I thought it might grace me with a chat. However, it did not. Instead it positioned its rump in my direction, lifted its tail, muttered something under its breath and then farted the fart of a two ton ruminator, which if you’ve not had the pleasure, is like the worst, moist hairdryer with a bowl of yesterdays sodden muesli thrown in to the mix. I would say that I was aghast but actually I was thickly coated. I felt like a fish-finger dipped in chocolate and showered in nuts. Only my two frightened eyes blinked naked of the foul and outrageous ejector. And so peppered, I felt an urge for sweet cleanliness that only a man thus dipped can know. I slid and dripped my sorry way to the bathroom, a shameful trail upon the kitchen floor.

Later on, when I’d cleaned up (in body if not in mind), I retaliated with a volley of insults thrown over the fence. But the beast is thick skinned indeed and swished me away, dismissing me with its tail.

I’m going to call the council. I really am. I mean, I’ve heard and used the elephant in the room metaphor many times, but a rhinoceros in the back garden is quite another thing.

© Ben Truesdale and distilledvoice, 2015