Friday, 7 February 2014

The darkening light.

My novella, "the darkening light", is now out on Smashwords and Kindle, priced at $4:99US or equivalent. It's about 25,000 words. A print version is available here. Below is a synopsis and the first few pages.

In the spring of 1986 nine young punks travelled from Swindon to Wood Green in a beat up old van, to see atavistic, eat shit, heresy and others blow the socks off the London borough of Harringey. In the 24 hours that followed their lives would be forever changed. What was going to happen? Would it be the vegan revolution? A declaration of world peace? Or something more sinister? This cavort through the anarcho punk and hardcore scene of the mid 1980s pulls no punches. From the very first page, once you start reading this coruscating tale you won’t be able to stop, and by the time you finish your life will be changed too. If you think you were there, you weren’t. Whatever you think happened, whatever you remember, this wasn’t it. This is something else entirely, a perfect snapshot, a disheveled stream of consciousness yielding a surprisingly moving and unabridged account of blackouts, nightmare bogs, and hardcore corrosion. It is an invaluable addition to the canon. Chaos with a heart.

It is a Saturday morning, early, it is April 1st 1986 and you are hungover to hell. You have recently discovered how to make homebrewed lager but you are not very good at it. You are not very good at drinking either, but neither is anybody else that you know, and so you have no reference point. You are an anarchist punk. You have been an anarchist punk for about three years, and in that short time – really, since the time that you saw Crass on their last ever tour – the anarchist punk scene seems to have gone to hell. Where once there were an infinite variety of identikit cardboard cutout vegan black clad revolutionaries, everyone either in a band or making a fanzine or both, now there is the infusion and the corrosive influence of metal. Metal is eating anarchist punk from the inside out, shitting everywhere and on everyone as it goes, poisoning everything that it touches. You are in Swindon, once a small market town, then the hub of the national rail system, but by the time that you get there the railway works has gone, shut down in an orgy of monetarist restructuring, and it is now the fastest growing industrial town in western Europe. Companies have moved here from London, attracted by favourable business rates and other sweeteners, and it is becoming a mecca for both the yuppies and for transient workers from Scotland and the north of England, desperate for temporary employment, their own communities decimated and laid waste by that same monetarist restructuring. You do not want to work. This is why you need to make homebrew. You are waiting for the vegan revolution. You are waiting for anarchy. You have moved here from the most beautiful city on earth, you think for love, or perhaps because there are more anarchist vegans here than in your home town, but really you are just running.

You take a hefty swig from an unlabeled two litre plastic bottle of homebrewed lager to propel you into the day. The sediment moves around in the bottle mercilessly, the scum swimming to the top, and, catching the stench of rotting yeast through your nostrils, you swallow a dry heave. You put the bottle down, cough, you take another pull at the bottle, you put the bottle down. You put your face into your hands, knead at your eye sockets, take another pull at the bottle and you begin to come alive. You screw the cap back onto the bottle, pick up your glasses, squint at the lenses. You used to say to Green Hat Eddie that you could gauge how good a time you had had the night before by seeing how misted up and dirtied the lenses of your glasses are in the morning. By all accounts it must have been a pretty good night, the lenses are filthy and one of the arms is bent right back, but you can remember only small sections of the night before, and soon they will be gone too. There is a yelling from the bottom of the stairs, come on Frank, get your fucking shit together, it’s past ten o’clock. Come on you drunken fucker. It is Sarah, the love that you thought you had moved here for, one of the anarchist vegans. There is no need for you to dress because you have slept in your clothes. You get out from under the single filthy blanket, pull on your wellies, and you try to arrange your glasses about your head after first wiping the lenses on your dirty black T-shirt. The T-shirt is metallica, master of puppets, the sleeves roughly removed with a pair of jagged edged scissors, the kind used for cutting out the tags for Christmas presents from old cards from the year before. You shoplifted them from Superdrug. You don’t really like metallica, they are metal, but it was a cheap black T-shirt, one from a job lot that fell off the back of a lorry. You stand, look around for carrier bags, you find some and then you put four two litre bottles of the homebrew into them and you check for your keys, leave your room and go downstairs. You are all going to a squat gig in Wood Green, north London.

There is nobody downstairs but the front door is open, and so you go out onto the street, pulling the door shut behind you. Across the street next to the new community centre a group of people who dress just like you in the metallica T-shirts that fell off the back of a lorry are standing around a battered old Leyland Sherpa van, bought for £120 from the proceeds of anarchist punk benefit gigs for the hunt saboteurs, smoking roll ups. They are waiting for you, you have been making them late. They are, in no particular order, Steve and Sarah who live in the house with you, number 13 church street; Mark Dooley; Pete & Mary; Hop; Neil; Gogs; Graham. Only Gogs has a silly punk name. You can remember when almost everybody you knew had a silly punk name. Not Stan Bastardly or anything stagey like that, just names that had no relation to anyone’s given names. It was a break from the past, the end of history. Now Hop is only called Hop not because he dances the pogo very badly, which he does, but because his given name is Hopkins. Green Hat Eddie might have come but Green Hat Eddie is dead from methadone. Opiates were once frowned upon by your subgroup but even that is falling by the wayside now. You mutter helloes at one another and you all pile into the back of the van. Steve is the driver, and Mary gets to sit up front with him. Mary is something of a princess. You think that this is a class thing. She is from Shrivenham. Shrivenham has its own beagle hunt.

You leave Gorse Hill and head out through Ferndale and toward the M4. There is nothing happening in Gorse Hill. There never is. On Wednesday afternoons the shops are all shut for a half day, it’s like Wootton Bassett without the funerals. Soon you are past the new industrial estates, Readers Digest, Thorn EMI, metal box, and onto the motorway. Metal box used to make you laugh, you thought that it was an industrial estate that had been named after a punk rock album, but you found out that it was only the name of a company that manufactures paint tins. Now things are making you laugh less and less all the time.

Packages of roll ups are passed around and the chatter begins. The content of the chatter is not even worth mentioning. After the nicotine has woken you up a little bit, you pull out a bottle of homebrewed lager and you take three or four pulls in rapid succession, swallowing hard. You offer it around but there are few takers, they have all either heard about your homebrew or they have experienced it directly, briefly. Some of the others pull out tins of red stripe and breaker lager from their own carrier bags, one or two bottles of cider. You think about asking for some cider to mix with your homebrew and make snakebites but you know that you will be refused so you stick with what you know. The stench of your rotten yeasty brew fills the van and, turning his head, Steve calls out melodramatically from the drivers seat, oh for fucks sake Frank, not the homebrew, and he turns around and grins at you. Everybody laughs. Steve is a popular man, he saw Crass many times, he knows Chumbawamba and he is the one of only two people among you who knows how to drive. Mary admonishes him and tells him to watch the road.

Some time passes amid the chatter and then you are at Membury services and Steve announces that this will be your only stop before London, that you had better get any crisps and anything else that you want and make use of the facilities while you can. He adds that he doesn’t think there will be much in the way of facilities at the squat gig. Nobody but Steve is sure which part of London you are going to and Hop asks him where it is, this squat, and he tells everybody as he is carefully reversing into a parking space that it is an old dole office in Wood Green, which is in north London. You have never heard of Wood Green, this is many years before the ricin plot. Hop asks Steve whether Wood Green is anywhere near the Clarendon hotel and Steve tells him that no, that’s in Hammersmith, Hammersmith is in west London and the Clarendon hotel was never a squat anyway. As he finishes parking and turns the engine off he turns around, and he asks everyone if they would prefer that he find a car park in west London so that you can get onto the tube, or if he should try to find parking closer to the Wood Green dole house. The response is unanimous. Nobody wants the added expense of tube fares, which have gone through the roof since the demise of the GLC, and there is some chatter about the confusion of the tube system with all its different coloured lines. Gogs, who has spent some time in east London with the angry art house punk band the apostles, begins explaining where the different coloured tube lines go to, north south east west, the major connective hubs, and how it’s really quite simple once you get used to it, but the back doors of the van have opened and everybody is piling out toward the main concourse of the service station. Nobody is interested in coloured tube lines and the four cardinal directions, everybody needs to piss, and anyway there is also the matter that later, somebody will inevitably get lost down there. You are certain to get split up and London is a very big place. It’s fourteen miles across and nine miles deep you think that you once read somewhere, and you have no idea at what time the different coloured tube lines stop working for the night, or when they start up again in the morning, especially a Sunday morning, or at what time the squat gig might finish. So you pile out after them, still clutching your second bottle of homebrewed lager, and you follow them towards the main concourse of the motorway service station as you hear Steve calling after you, fifteen minutes, fifteen minutes and I’m gone, fifteen minutes and I’m leaving you all behind!