Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Baby Hitler

I've got a great idea for a short story. You know that facetious theoretical hypothetical question about being a time traveler, and whether or not you'd go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby?

Well, imagine there's someone, a University student, and he uses that question all the time, it's his go-to for when he meets new people, because he's the kind of numpty that thinks that sort of thing is deep, and this becomes a defining feature of him in a way, so he plays up to it, maybe people even start calling him "baby killer" or "the baby Hitler guy", some thing like that.

Now, years later he's grown up, he's met someone, and perhaps rather unexpectedly he's found himself fathering a child, a little adorable baby of his own, a cute apple-cheeked son.

So here he is, helping to nurture and raise this child, but slowly that question from his past comes back into his mind...

Sure, it's just a baby, but it does seem to scowl at him in a strangely threatening way, and it kicks at its mum - just as it did from the inside - and claws at her skin with surprisingly sharp nails. It seems to be possessed of - even though it can't possibly mean to - a single-minded determination to ruin the peace and calm of their lives in a way that, to him, seems unlike any other normal baby could.

As it grows older he begins to notice it subtly bullying other children, not understanding simple things like sharing, or that playtime shouldn't involve a wallop to the other kid's face, but, it's barely a toddler, surely these things are accidental? Surely...?

So, this guy starts wondering to himself again; "Maybe my baby is Hitler? Well, not the Hitler, but a Hitler equivalent and that, if left to continue down its path, it will inevitably become a genocidal monster?" He reassures himself that this isn't a question of bad parenting, he's positive of that, he doesn't treat his son badly or anything, he and his partner shower their love upon this child, they dote on it, they coo at it, they adore it, but still it seems that this child could  very well grow up to be the embodiment of pure evil.

Now, back in his Uni days he was always so certain, so sure of himself, of his answer to that question which he revelled in posing to every and anybody who happened to be down at the Varsity pub that evening. How he'd paint the scene; describe this adorable little cherub to them and then - he'd even mime this part out - place an imaginary revolver in their hand and point it towards that baby's head and ask:

"So, would you shoot baby Hitler?"

They'd say no. They'd say that maybe they'd try and encourage a better environment for the child. He'd argue back about the certainty of fate in this instance, that no matter what you tried to do this baby would become the Hitler of history, and that the only way to possibly prevent that would be to shoot this infant in the skull. Splatter its curious brains across the crib.

It was around now that people would either call him a sicko or ask him what he'd do, and he'd lean back confidently, announce how he'd definitely shoot baby Hitler, and take a swig from his bottle of cheap lager, satisfied with himself.

But, as far as he could tell, here, in the present, he was staring into the wet eyes of his own psychopathic offspring and he had now become the other person in his discussion, the one reasoning that things aren't so definite, that destiny and fate are nonsense, that nobody is born bad, that you can't know the future and that time-travel doesn't exist, so how could you ever know for sure, and even if you did know for sure why would murder be the answer? How could that possibly be the just thing to do?

So he didn't do it.

He didn't kill his son, even though that question kept returning to him over the years, as his boy moved from crawling to toddling to walking to running, passed exams, joined teams and clubs, got involved, developed a personality, became a person, became a man, and then...

Yeah, his son started a fascist group that brought about the deaths of millions upon millions of people, tens of millions actually. In fact, he was roundly regarded as being worse than Hitler. After him Hitler wasn't even the go to name for genocidal monsters anymore, no, it was his name they used, and when idiots in University towns posed the 'would you kill baby Hitler' question to friends and strangers they didn't say Hitler anymore, they said... well, yeah, you guessed it... him.

So, that's the idea for the story, pretty stupid really, and I'm not sure what the moral is... Is it; if you suspect your child might grow up to be evil then you should kill them? Or is it, more simply; kill all children, y'know just in case? I'm not sure, and I don't know if I could rationalise writing a story that seemed to justify either of those conclusions.

Hopefully it's more positive than that and does suggest that there is no absolute certainty with regards to the ultimate destination of our lives, but I think that's over-thinking it, anyway, not sure if I'll bother writing it, might do, one day, though it's not my top priority, besides I've got a new baby to look after...

Tuesday, 24 May 2016


"No, you're not listening," Dr. Clementine had lost all patience, perhaps it was easier to do over the phone, but he did feel that the woman sobbing at him at the other end of the line was irretrievably stupid, hence his need to take control of the situation, "Your husband died because he'd routinely failed to update his firmware, we offer a reasonably priced firmware service at the clinic, or, as we always remind our customers, you can update at home if you connect to your wifi."

She blubbered something incomprehensible, then hung up, which was exactly as he had hoped, and, to be honest, he had half a mind just to put the phone down on her anyway.

He had two more calls to make before lunch, the first was to order his lunch, which he'd been daydreaming about during the preceding call, which is why he'd mispronounced the words 'heart bypass' as 'ham bypass' and 'insurance' as 'insandwich', she hadn't noticed, she was too busy crying.

The second call was to a notoriously difficult patient, Mr. Groan, who needed a new artificial rib cage.

"But why?" Groan bloated, "I feel like I only got it put in last month."

"It was three years ago," the good doctor corrected him, satisfied to be so readily armed with the facts.

"There's nothing wrong with it though, I'm in no pain..."

"But it's out of date, it's an old model, the CentriCage has moved on at least four generations since then, honestly it's embarrassing to think about you walking around with that old thing in there, not to mention dangerous."

"Dangerous? What do you mean?"

"Oh, those old models, liable to lock up after a few years, in some cases constricting upon the lungs..."

"Well, why the bloody hell did you put the thing in if that was the case?"

"State of the art at the time Mr. Groan, we wouldn't mess you around there, but all things have a life span, products need to be renewed."

"But I'm in good health, I've had my eyes, my brain, my heart since I was born, and they haven't failed me."

"Yet," added Dr. Clementine with a pleasingly theatrical air of menace. "Have you looked into our ocular replacement options, or our brain failsafes, guaranteed to extend functionality in the event of stroke, and we have a very good deal on artificial hearts at the moment, the PumpPerfect series comes with glowing customer testimonials..."

"No, I don't want you to replace anything else, I wish I had just torn up those gift tokens my son got me and never bought the pesky ribs in the first place. Now if you don't mind..."

"Mr. Groan, I do mind, I care very greatly about my patients and I must stress that the warranty on your ribs expires in two days and, you know how it is with these things, it'll be three days and that's when they malfunction."

"Malfunction?! They're ribs, not a bloody car engine, what could possibly... No, don't tell me, I don't want to know."

"A lot of people take something like their ribs for granted, they're surprisingly complex, you'd be impressed by the amount of research and development that goes into our upgrades, they're government approved and better than the real thing for a reason."

"How much?" there was a wearied, battled tone, very different to the strident Groan of earlier.
Clementine honestly hadn't anticipated this and stammered whilst he scrabbled for the appropriate paperwork.

"As an existing customer you do get a discounted price for upgrading, so, for the latest model it'd be £12,000 plus surgical fees, which we can discuss in more detail at your examination."

"But... That's a fortune... What about another model, not the latest one..."

"Oh, I'm legally unable to retail anything other than the most up to date..."

"Fine," Groan sighed.

Dr. Clementine smiled, impressed with himself, and heard the reassuring sound of the delivery drone dropping his ham sandwich off at reception.

Monday, 23 May 2016


It's Friday, almost five, you clocked out of work in your head sometime just after lunch, a cheese and pickle baguette from the supermarket, some crisps you picked up to just try and fill the hole, a smoothie, a coffee, and a chocolate bar, you've gotta treat yourself, haven't you, and now you're listlessly scouring the internet for some form of distraction, because nobody can see your monitor, nobody knows whether you're actually doing any work or not, and - most likely - they're not doing any work either, so wouldn't grass you up if they saw you window shopping the internet for fear of retribution, I mean, who knows what you know about them.

There. Your eyes are drawn to an advert in the bottom right corner of a social media site, its dark black background giving way to a well lit photograph of a thin, emaciated body, translucent flesh bathed in an amber light that moves to teal, perhaps - you think - suggesting the passage from health to death, and you look into their eyes, cartoonishly weak and sunken, thick dark outline, might just be make-up to make the show look more attractive, they always dress up this premium stuff.

You check the listing, they're going in for an operation at 8pm, good slot, wonder who the surgeon is, hope it's Clementine, he knows how to work the insides for the camera, likes to step back, give you a moment to savour it, really drink up what's working on their innards, makes you itchy, like it's happening to you too, and he makes little observations, quips, you've got a t-shirt at home with "I've never seen that INSIDE a person before!" written on it, that was a funny one, just a stomach tightening but there was a miniature toy horse drifting around in there, maybe it had been there for years or maybe they just swallowed it for the broadcast, funny shit though, made you spit out your beer.

So, you think, looks like a last ditch operation, it's this one and then they're fucked, it's always nice booking a subscription to the post-op deterioration, and you get offered a cheaper rate if you watch to the end of the surgery, but this looks like a premium gig, might be costly and there's always a bunch of cheap streams of similar stuff, might not be as well produced but, y'know, ticks the boxes, right? Though that brain surgery you paid to watch last month, the stupid doctor kept moving right in front of the shot and nobody seemed to be monitoring the feed or the chat room, you were all-capsing your frustration, shit, everyone was and nobody did a damn thing. Still, was only a couple of quid, you pay for bronze you get bronze.

You click on the advert, proceed to the payment page and weigh it up, £70 for the night, that includes any pre and post operation stuff, broadcast beginning at 6pm, maybe you can convince some friends to come round and watch with you, split the cost or they can bring the beers, seems a bit cheeky charging so much if this might be their last operation, I mean, it's not like they're going to need the money to pay for future operations, right? In a way it feels more worthwhile to you to go and fund the smaller, grubbier streams because then at least you're helping them financially to go ahead and get more of the care they need, although they can always go to a bargain basement backstreet place, and you can watch pre-recorded uploads of that at Surgery Store, though there's something a bit tingly about watching it live.

Fuck it, you fill in your details, you pay for the night's stream and you resolve to yourself that you'll subscribe to the post-op stuff as well, because, chances are with this kind of condition they're not going to make it, and you've never watched anyone die on the stream before, that'd be something, and it's kind of nice to think that whatever comforts they might have, a nice bed and the like, they've got that thanks to your subscription fees, like you're looking out for them a bit.

It's pretty much half five now, might as well shut down and head home, get some snacks and text some people, your computer fades to black and you stand up, there's a pain in your stomach, but you don't want to think about it, this job doesn't pay so well and there's no health insurance, surgery costs are always rising, and you really don't want to have people watching some quack cut you up online, it's probably nothing, you'd know if it was something right, probably something you ate, that baguette seemed a bit stale, you hope it's just indigestion.

You hope it's just indigestion.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

A Poem: If This Budget Bought You, You're Cheap...

I don't often write poetry, and there's probably a good reason for that as evidenced below, but I scribbled this down onto my phone on the way into work this morning and I wanted to share it with you.

(Here's a little bit of cringe-inducing context from someone who didn't expect the sugar tax annoucement yet happened to have motorbiked in to Westminster to dominate the airwaves:

If this Budget bought you, you're cheap
But look, here's Jamie Oliver dancing.

If you find it easy to fall off straight to sleep
Whilst upon the poor and weak Osborne softly creeps
Cutting help for the disabled
Taking food from off their table
And putting it all into banks.
If that means that you give thanks
Then all I can do is sadly weep
If this Budget bought you, you're cheap
But look, here's Jamie Oliver dancing.

He's dancing for the sugar tax
Though he likes to avoid the facts
About his own sugary past
He'd prefer the poor were forced to fast
As long as obesity rates drop right down
Leaving them a withered stick with a skinny frown
Because certain things escape the rates
And most of these are Jamie's mates
Whilst a diabetic counts the pennies
To save themself from Osbourne's levies
Jamie can comfortably rest
Knowing that he's done his best
For Dave and Ian, May and Hunt
Whilst low income families get the shunt
Yet corporations reap generous offers
Designed to stuff their greasy coffers
Tax for them is down some more
As bailiffs knock on tattered doors
To drag you from your one room shack
Paid for by work that broke your back
But they still said that you were fit
Though it hurts now just to sit
Once you got help with your healthcare
But thanks to their cuts it's just not there
And no new housing's going up
The trickle just fills the rich man's cup
Haggard from your lack of sleep
All you can do is sit and weep
If this Budget bought you, you're cheap
But look, here's Jamie Oliver dancing.

What now then for our next generation?
The one for which this was a "celebration",
Or at least that's how the Chancellor span
And dutifully what the press pack ran
If you can save just four thousand quid
You'll get a gift from Uncle Gid
But who really has that cash to spare
When every month you tear out your hair
To earn that much you worked for a degree
And found yourself with a hefty fee
Then the jobs they just weren't there
And the one you got did not pay fair
Whilst rents keep rising, so does your debt
You wonder how much worse can it get
Before other people start to see
The injustice and inequality
But you hear nothing, not a peep
And all you can do is sit and weep
If this Budget bought you, you're cheap
But look, here's Jamie Oliver dancing.

What is fairness? What is right?
What makes these people want to fight
And walk the towns with signs and banners
As our PM sneers at the manners
Of a good man's suit, of the knot of his tie,
It just makes me want to cry
And turn to strangers in the street
Why are you not here, up on your feet?
Because if you smile at what you've wrought
If this Budget has you bought
And those less fortunate are ignored
Because there's a bit more you can afford
Then I despair, I really do
At what desire burns in you
A selfish little petty grab
Who cares whose back you have to stab
I'm all right Jack, you'll blissfully blab
Tax their sugar, they've too much flab...
You'll get your pound of flesh, my friend
And I'll be there when it comes to an end
It won't last, this fabrication
Your idea of a "Great" nation
And I'll be happy when it crumbles
I'll brag then, I won't be humble
And remind you of who you were
The day the Tories made you purr
The day you were bought
and sold
nice and cheap

No longer will we sit and weep...


Now we are all dancing.

A doff of the cap to Barney Farmer @barneyfarmer for some inspiration on this one.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Plague

The city is near desolate, newspapers blow idly along the roads caught for a moment gliding playfully on the swirl of a breeze and taken past empty shopfronts, past deserted cafes, untended public gardens, bins ripe with litter, shutters pulled down on pop-up food stalls, concierge desks staffed only by a vacant swivel chair.
     All those that are left have quarantined themselves inside, sometimes they stare out at the silent streets below, wondering what happened, where they all went.
     He turns from the window, back towards his desk, he's expecting a call from the Hong Kong office. On the computer screen the green orb blinks into action, the chirruping tones letting him know that Ivan is calling.
    "Morning, how are you?" he smiles, laying it on thick for the webcam.
    "Good good," Ivan leans back from his laptop, allowing skyscrapers to peek cheekily behind him as if they were the most extravagant embelishments on military shoulders.
    A woman steps into shot, places a coffee down next to Ivan before edging hurriedly away.
    His eyebrow is raised, he can't help it, "Your assistant?"
    "My wife," Ivan nods, dolefully, taking a first tentative sip.
    He sighs, an exhalation that confirms hopes dashed, fleeting silly hopes of a time not too far gone, a time when there were staff members who set coffees down for them both, of personal assistants who'd pop in to take lunch orders and book cabs, of cab drivers, tube drivers, baristas, dry-cleaners, all these things that now only exist as spectres in a memory that one doubts was ever real, and perhaps that was all but a dream and this morning they woke up to the truth.
    There was a cleaner who usually worked on his tube train in the mornings - this was a long time ago now, before he drove in - the cleaner's voice sang an alarmingly pleasant good morning to everybody as he took the discarded free papers, coffee cups and napkins from around the seating.
     Now that train didn't run, he'd heard they were still stood there, at the platform, like dogs waiting for master to return, and, before they all vanished, people used to sleep in them and walk the tracks to work.
    His car was parked on the street outside the office building, which sometimes he marvelled at, considering this was Cheapside just around the corner from St. Paul's Cathedral. The ease at which he could commute in now, sat at the wheel of his BMW, lacked a feeling of luxury, as he scoured the radio wondering if anyone would be there.
    He promised to send the growth reports to Ivan by close of business, the call had been useful, but formulaic, just the two of them going through the motions. He often wondered what it all meant, his work, just gathering things up like a stubborn child wanting to clearly demarcate their toys, whilst gradually fudging the definition of what they were entitled to, until finally they sit, cross-legged in sad wonder as the other children run off to play make believe, leaving them buried in a mountain of stuff.
    So it was. He'd drive in, make some calls, drive out, for some reason he'd do this five days a week, continuing the pantomime of what his life once was, and his colleagues did the same, they kept pretending that who they were, what they did, actually mattered.
    Had it always been this way? he often wondered, and had he been too preoccupied to see it, had the need to consult his own existence been shrouded in the distraction of little people attending to his every desire, of someone to look down on, as opposed to those empty streets five floors below. What did any of it matter now that he was free, and left to realise the vacuity of that which was both outside and in, of those around him, shoulder to shoulder, each hollow when they thought they'd been so full of power and importance, but that was all relative to an illusion they'd created and nurtured and, once their plague had been wrought, they were the stragglers of desolation, immune to its reckoning, and they had to walk the barren Earth, aware of all that they had done, looking for an echo in a vacuum.