Margie, Mallorca & Me.

Her voice is smoke. Thick clouds from the throat. Bitter and rolling. Speaks fast but that’s ok. That’s about all that’s ok. Elloluv am Margie. Hands dry thin old. Smells musty. Lonely. That’s why she’s doing it. That’s what I hate about these things. It’s supposed to be for us a nice holiday somewhere warm but really, it’s for everyone else. Won’t stop hearing the camera-click all week. Fancy sittin in the garden? I hate cameras. And then Margie. Dragging me by the hand. Bet she gets called Marg at home. Added the extra syllable for us. Probably decided on the plane over. I’m glad she said outside though. Katie is laughing with James. He speaks young. She’s the only one who got someone young.

There’s a breeze against my cheek. Full of salt fish sand and heat. Nice out ere isn’t it. You don’t come all the way to Mallorca to sit inside! Dunno what they’re all doin’ in there are you glad we’re outside we can go back in if you want. You lead the. You just say what you fancy. I say outside is fine and we walk away from all the other talking. I hear her shuffling about with a chair. Here you are she says putting her hand on my shoulder like sit down. She probably thinks the silence is awkward but it’s not my fault and it’s not silent anyway. The wind flutters the leaves of trees. There are gulls, loud and funny-sounding and a bit farther out the ocean laps against a pebble-beach. More erratic than when it’s over sand. When the water is a smooth swoosh in and out with no interruption. That’s my favourite type beach. Stones get in the way of everything and I normally get called back before I fall. So. Plan for the evening. Dinner and then the party. You excited for the party? I tell her not really and she asks why so I shrug my shoulders and turn my head and we sit quietly. Marg, any chance you guys can come back in now we’re going to do a quick speech go through a few rules and then we can let you all go get ready.

I’ve put your clothes on the bed Marg says as she leaves the bedroom for me to change. Oh, and how old are you now? I answer 16. Hear the door click shut as she goes through to the kitchen. I feel for the jeans and t-shirt my brother Alex said to wear tonight. Good garms he said. I want to look nice. He’s the only one who knows why. You probably think it’s strange but it’s not. Like my mum can hardly smell but she still wears perfume. Asks dad if it’s nice and if she’s put on too much.

Out the bedroom I smell a drink like medicine clean. She swills it round. Jingle ice hits glass as she steps through to the balcony. I follow slow because I haven’t memorised everything yet. You’re looking very handsome there Luke. Out to impress anyone? I shrug and walk towards her. She doesn’t move to help like most would. I’m surprised at this. I know she’s watching and ask if there’s another chair out there. Yes I’ve got one ready for you. We’ve got a while before we need to go down. Glad I didn’t get stuck with a girl to be honest. I had one last time and spent hours doing makeup and straightening hair. So you’re sixteen now hey? I reply yes. Girlfriend? I step out into the heat. The chairs right in front of you by the way. I tell her I know it is.  Girlfriend? she repeats. No I say. None of us have girlfriends or boyfriends like it’s not really something that happens. I feel my face burn a bit and ask her if she has a husband because I know she doesn’t. I heard Emily whispering earlier that he’d left her. I’m separated and if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be here in Mallorca so it’s a good thing really. Her voice sounds like it doesn’t quite believe itself. The sun has dropped low because its colder now and the evening bar by the pool has pulled the shutters up. I can hear Katie down there. She’s laughing with James. I think he must be tall muscular because he played volleyball the other day. Would you like a drink? Yes please I say. Another coke? Or something stronger? A bird cries from a nest somewhere above. I’m not allowed to drink I tell her. It’s the holiday rules. And I’m only 16. Well the rules don’t really bother me that much. And it’s hardly like you’re gonna’ get double vision now is it. A joke? An actual joke? I try not to react but I feel a smile working its way to my cheeks. This has never ever happened like everyone’s always so conscious of being nice polite getting good feedback. And anyway you’ve been turning your head towards that Katie girl all day and haven’t said one word so I think you need some Dutch courage. I ask her what that is and she laughs her thick choke laugh. It means the courage you get with a drink. Your nerves disappear. It’s not always a good thing though. I hear her pop a can and pour it into glass. Smells sweet and I can hear the bubblefroth. It’s just coke but there’s vodka here too if you want me to put a bit in. Let me know. James is on karaoke at the bar and Katie is laughing so I say yes. I say it’s a holiday after all because I’ve heard my brother and parents say stuff like that. I can tell that Margie is smiling. I am too. Is it that obvious about Katie I ask? Well I’m quite in tune with stuff like that. I was a psychologist in my younger days you know. And Katie won’t know because you haven’t spoke to her. You have to speak to girls to let them know you like them. And well. Especially girls like Katie.  This is nice because it feels like a real conversation. I feel bad for asking about her husband earlier and judging her hands for being elephant old. She passes the glass over and I can smell it straight away. It’s like lemons and science lessons when we made perfume. Lemons? I ask. It’s a flavoured one. I pull it up and the medicine smell becomes stronger. I sip it. Harsh and hot. Feel my throat pull back a bit and my chest go warm. But then I focus on the coke and it’s not as bad. I’d heard mum and dad telling Alex off asking why did he choose vodka not something lighter like beer. Not like they were happy about either but the way they went on about it makes me surprised that this tastes ok. The first bit was strong but now I’m used to it, its nowhere near as bad as that sip I had of Grandad’s whiskey last year when he whispered don’t be a pussy. He’s one of the few who talks to me that way. Margie’s lighter clicks and I hear the fizz as it touches the cigarette. Can I have one? I ask. Erm. Well you shouldn’t. They’re not worth it but if you really want to I won’t stop you. Yes I want one I say. Nobody ever treats me like this so I think why not. Make the most of it. Alex will be shocked when I tell him. Ok but you’re brushing your teeth before we leave. It’s the right way so put this end between your lips. Shall I light it or do you want to? Without letting the cigarette drop, I say I want to and she hands the lighter over. I like the way my voice sounds with the cigarette clenched between my lips. Just press the button down and suck the cig and it’ll light. Yeah you’re close just move in a bit. Don’t be scared it won’t burn your nose. I click the button and hear the flame whoosh up. I can feel the heat and move my hand like she said. I hear the crackle as it lights. I suck in and the taste is sharp. My mouth fills with heat and smoke swirls at my gums and my tongue is rough and I swallow. Cough hard. Cigarette drops out my mouth. My chest spat out. The smoke is burning nose and eyes. Margie laughs and says don’t worry that’s what everyone does first time. I grab the drink from the table and take a big gulp. Easy tiger.

At the party and Margie’s slipped a bit of vodka into my drink again and I know I must be a bit drunk because I can’t smell the lemons or the medicine and my head is fuzzy. There’s a band playing later and Margie says I should ask Katie to dance. I laugh and tell her she’s daft. She tuts. Hmmm I don’t know. I say I promise I’ll speak to Katie cause I have Dutch Courage now. I ask her what James looks like. He’s bald. A little bit overweight. You have nothing to worry about. Just be yourself and don’t worry about James. He’s a nobody. And anyway, I’m almost certain he bats the other way.  I spit out a bit of drink because I did not expect that. I ask her if she’s sure and she says she reckons so. Then I ask her about Katie, like what I should say or ask and she tells me that as long as I keep talking and ask questions I’ll be fine. I’m not sure but say we’ll see. I was a psychologist remember. Ask some questions and try not let there be any silence. You’ll be surprised.

The band start playing. Electric. Bass. Drums. Rhythm. And a bad singer. C’mon lets go sit over the other side. Katie and James are by themselves now. I’m not sure I want to but Margie grabs my hand. C’mon soft lad, get a move on. We cross the room and I smell the oaty wheat smell of beer and then a thicker perfume wine. So a few of the helpers have broken the rules then. I wonder if any of my lot have too. I hope not. Katie, mind if Luke sits next to you for a bit? I just wanna have a chat with James. Of course not. Hi Luke. I say Hi Katie and ask if she likes the party and the band and the holiday. It’s been ok but I’d rather be on the beach than stuck in here. I prefer being outside. Do you? I say yes. Say that I like beaches where there are no stones and that I like the sound the waves make as they lap in. My cheeks go hot because this sounds stupid but it doesn’t really matter because it hits me that Katie won’t be able to tell. This feels way funnier than it should and I nearly choke on my drink. What’s wrong Luke? Her voice is drawn in and I feel even worse than when I asked Margie about her husband. I say nothing Katie and it’s silent and Margie said don’t let silence. I’m just a bit. Erm. I was gonna say drunk but then I say I’m a bit nervous. Why are you nervous? And I hear her body shuffle in a bit closer and she smells like coconuts and cream and my mum’s cheek when she kisses me goodbye before she goes out with her friends. We’ve never sat this close before. I’m not nervous actually I say. I’m a bit tipsy. I’ve heard my brother say that. It’s like an ok drunk. I say don’t tell anyone but Margie gave me a drink with vodka in earlier and another one when we got here. Here it is. Can I try it? And she’s closer again. I say yes and hold it up and I feel her move in and hear her sipping the straw. The same straw that I’ve sipped. And then her hand is on me like near my knee. I put the drink back down on the table and Katie hasn’t moved further away. Don’t people normally kiss when they’re drunk? I turn my head to her because she is whispering and I think that this is probably the best ever night that I’ve ever had. We touch our lips together. Hers are gloss wet and like strawberry and fatter than mine. She brushes her lower lip over my own and holds it there. James asks Katie if she’s ok and she snaps that she’s fine and this is almost better than the kiss. Margie steps over and whispers easy tiger and takes the drink and the band are playing the Beatles and I remember what Margie said and even though I don’t know if anyone else is, I ask Katie if she wants to dance. She laughs and says she’d rather stay here. I’m glad because I would too.

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High On A Mountaintop

The criticism was because they had to call out the rescue team, who arrived
in full strength – mountain ambulance, rescue dog & helicopter – for these three,
jelly-legged & white-faced at the summit.

Their equipment was not goretex jacket, carabiner or pair of hiking boots,
but a packet of king size rizlas, a pouch of amber leaf,
& a rather large quantity of weed.

Think of the moment before paranoia set in, when the cloud broke
into sun & blue sky, revealed the great Wast Water lake, rolling hills,
patchwork farmland, power stations & the glint of cars
bumper to bumper on a rush-hour A595.

Think of the moment these boys, having escaped
& found their high at the peak of Scafell Pike, shouted
either to each other or to nobody in particular,

                                                                                                          This is it lads! This. Is. Fucking. It.

The Boomtown Fayre (2016)

(commisioned for UrbanistaUK – September, 2016)
(photo credit: Bristol247.com)

 For four days of the British summer, a bohemian, free-spirited city pops up in the countryside of Winchester, England. Think Moulin Rouge on acid. Think Las Vegas and mushrooms. Stir into this cocktail heavy doses of revolution, community and a line-up of the best music around. Shake it for four days and you may get close to the magic formula of The BoomTown Fayre.

  As you approach the site, the air starts to change. A light breeze trickles its way through car windows, a taste of the extraordinary on its breath. The A31 is awash with cars, nose to tail. They wear bumper stickers preaching freedom, music and love. They’re filled with tents, camping chairs, alcohol and food. If you look closely, you can see human heads bursting through. If you look closer, you’ll find other stuff too. But let’s not go into that. Suffice to say BoomTown doesn’t abide by the rules. This isn’t first-class travel and this isn’t a first-class weekend. BoomTown turns its head at class. It’s off the grid. It’s the underground comin’ up. It’s the kid who got expelled from school but is driving a fifteen-plate Beamer. A hidden wonderland and a fiery nightmare. Hell and Heaven in equal measure. When you return to reality, you’ll be unsure who you like best: God and her benevolence or the Devil and his tricks?

 Thursday evening. The sun drops and the lights of the UK’s biggest pop-up city start to twinkle. Growling basslines sound out like foghorns in reverse, welcoming rather than warning. As the sun slides behind tree-lines, water bottles are filled with harder liquids, and wallets packed with the kinda’ shit you wouldn’t want your Nan to know about. The tagline for the weekend is the Revolution Starts Now, and boy, does it feel that way. From dress to attitude, the flavour is anarchy. British Festivals normally abide by certain rules: rain, wellies and a line-up set around headliners. BoomTown is different.

 The newly arrived sixty-thousand trot along bone-dry grass in flip-flops and shorts. DJs and bands play an abundance of venues, none more important than the other. The festival’s strength is both its consistent and random nature. Such a phrase seems bi-polar, but the festival revels in this madness. At any given moment people lie in secret-forest hammocks, and others skank to Drum n’ Bass, Techno and Ska. At every corner is the option to relax or let loose your inner demon.

  There is an element of virginity to the first night. Teens, twenty-somethings, families and older revellers walk the districts and take in all that is on offer. Jaws are dropped at the scale. I start my night by meeting up with Alex, a guy I car-shared with to the festival. I meet him by the Helter-Skelter. He tells me of a conversation he’s just had with two BoomTown regulars: an older gay couple who have attended since day one. They tell him of the origins. How the police couldn’t control the raves and had their hand forced into legalisation. Over the backdrop of the rolling Winchester hills, this sense of anarchy still prevails. It flows through the nine districts and seeps into your system. If you listen closely, you hear a big Fuck You to The Man. A Fuck You that will resonate way past closing time. Whether this outlaw inception is imagined or real is irrelevant. Its result is pure. The Revolution Starts Now.

 Alex and I treat the first night as one of exploration and by its end we have stumbled into a multitude of different spaces: rooftop bars and forest raves in TrenchTown, from cowboy dives and dancehalls in the Wild West, to oriental, ska-punk and hell-jazz sessions in China Town. We meander through the colourful, Latino-styled backstreets of Barrio Loco, where tech-house and garage is pumped out to the masses. We end the night in the beautiful, Eden-like space Whistler’s Green, surrounded by ambient music and soft neon light.  
 
 There are nine districts in the BoomTown metropolis. Throughout the weekend, we will take on chameleon-skin and become a part of each: part of the one-percent in Mayfair Avenue, where lavish electro-swing parties raise the roof; part of the Wild West, where they sip whiskey and rock out to the finest country; part of the gypsy movement in Old Town, where Balkan sounds are played from dusty taverns and circus acts walk the line and breathe fire on pirate ships. We’ll become part of the bohemians, talking art and theatre in magical spaces like Whistlers Green and KidzTown. These are family friendly, creative spots where talks, workshops, yoga and play areas keep all engaged and entertained.

Then we will be drawn to Trenchtown, to skank to Reggae and Dub under the leafy canopy of the Hidden Woods. Or maybe we’ll make our way to the Lion’s Den, an Aztec stage in a glorious, amphitheatre-like valley. In the day, we’ll chat with strangers, as sun shines to reggae beats and marijuana scents. When the stars appear in the sky, they appear on stage too. The likes of Madness and Damien Marley, singing classics like House of Fun and Could You Be Loved to a responsive crowd of twenty thousand.

 New for 2016, Sector 6 is the height of chaos. With the heaviest bass, the revolution is in full strength. Politics is no more. The artists and crowds both want, not to take power but to destroy it. Dub Phizix, So Solid Crew, My Nu Leng and more sweep up the disarray of onlookers. They mould apathy into energy. The crowd, no longer a collection of separate entities, but a powerful, fine-tuned beast.

 For those of a more fun-loving, easy-going nature, the colourful, carnival styled Barrio Loco becomes home. A melting pot of cultures and communities where house, tech and garage beats play from all angles. The Vamos stage hosts the likes of JackMaster, BTraits and Liverpool’s own Melé. Derek Carter, MJ Cole, Skream and Alan Fitzpatrick also jump on deck duty. From the General’s apartment balcony, fresh house bangers are played out into the street.  

 Just around the corner from Barrio Loco is ChinaTown. Here lies a marketplace of technology, a myriad town where Ska and Punk takes reign, where DJ’s hype up the crowds from small 16-bit console styled stages. In complete contrast to these smaller venues is Bang-Hai Palace. Introduced last year, the stage hosts the likes of Plump DJS, Zed Bias and Krafty Kuts. The palace is a celebration of the people, where fireworks and anti-establishment messages are dropped in and out of the rave.

  BoomTown does not lack variety. Every district has its own feel, with themed bars and venues, small spaces and grand stages. It is impossible to visit everything on offer but this is its strength. The festival offers a weekend where a new experience is always just a stone’s throw away.

 Despite this abundance of choice, a consistent atmosphere sweeps through the city. A sense of community lost in 21st century Britain. Brexit, the Labour leadership crisis, anti-immigrant rhetoric – negativity bubbles below the surface. Xenophobia is on the up. In BoomTown, the opposite is true. Community and friendship are the zeitgeist. All races, nationalities, sexualities and genders are represented and celebrated.

 At any one moment you expect Jeremy Corbyn to bounce around the corner with his jaw more left than his politics. With his arm wrapped around Theresa May. You can picture them sharing a joint. For the first time ever, dancing to the same tune.

 For a festival that started only eight years ago with three thousand people, a festival that now caters for sixty thousand, problems are to be expected. In future, the organisers could do more to limit the traffic congestion upon entering and leaving the site. I doubt the burn-out of cars was preventable, or the tragic passing of Olivia Christopher, but investigations of the highest quality must be concluded before the next chapter. Criticisms such as these are bound to occur when so many are in such proximity to each other. All we can ask of BoomTown is they ensure to do their utmost to prevent a repeat. In an announcement made on its Facebook page, we can see that this is underway.

“Although there were many amazing things that happened at the festival last weekend, the incidents that did occur, we feel we should take some time to take stock of. As a very close team with so much love for the community that is created at BoomTown, we are absolutely devastated by the news of our festival attendee who tragically passed away. Our thoughts are with the young lady’s family, friends and loved ones.”

 BoomTown is a place where friendships are made. A place where solidarity is shared with all. It is a place where separatist values are looked down on. The campsites sit like bridges, not borders, between stages and districts. In this green corner of South England, a representation exists of how the world could be run. A world where difference is cheered. A world where life is a sprawling piece of art. A world where the many and the few come together for one massive party. BoomTown is a kaleidoscope fiesta of art, music and people. It feels almost a religious experience. I am converted, and I pray you will be too.

 

 

 

Live At The Nordic – Astles’ Heartfelt EP

(commissioned for Urbanista Magazine – 2017)

After winning the Merseyrail Sound Station prize and stealing the show at LIMF, Astles keeps the hype-train rolling with new EP Live At The Nordic. Recorded in just one afternoon, the debut offers twenty-three minutes of searching vocals, cute guitar riffs and a hell of a lot of potential.

At just eighteen, Southport singer-songwriter Dan already has a wealth of experience. Writing since his early teens and more recently soaking up the creative culture of Liverpool, he is starting to make a name for himself by playing shows, hitting the studio and running his own open mic night in Southport. He’s gone from home-made Youtube videos to recording with the likes of Michael Johnson – think Joy Division, Erasure and Soft Cell. Speaking with Dan, he says he has no plans to slow down and if the EP is anything to go by, he’s definitely one to look out for.

Never planned to be flawless, Live at The Nordic has a vulnerability, an unpolished, scars-on-show kind of attitude. The tracks flit between moments of power and of intimacy. Matched with a light-touch production and the acoustics of the Nordic Church, what is offered up is honest, raw and a perfect introduction to the rising Scouse star. In an interview with Dan – which you can read below – he names Jeff Buckley and Bon Iver as sonic influences and the similarities are clear; strong vocals, sparse production, a tendency towards the emotive.

With tracks titled such as Letters to Your Dad and Time Forgot (Joseph’s song) there is more than an ounce of the personal to Live at The Nordic. Vocals scream teenage-longing in both delivery and content, and even if the lyrics do stray slightly into cliché at times, they still ring true. Mostly written between sixteen and eighteen, the lyrics describe those pained years of first girlfriends, first drinks and first smokes. Make no mistake though, this isn’t a juvenile production. The content may stem from youth but the talent in piecing a song together seems to come from a man of more years than Dan has under his belt. It’s clear that hard graft, and plenty of it, has been put in.

Earlier tracks such as Last Bus and Her can be found dotted around the internet and are equally worth a listen. The studio-productions offer a fresh insight. There are tinges of electronica and the ambient undulating beneath a Buckley-like guitar. With such a strong back catalogue, you can’t help but feel that when an Astles’ album comes, it’s going to be special. If Dan can take the vulnerability of the live-takes into a studio production, there’s no knowing where he’ll stop.

Urbanista catch up with Astles:

Who would you name as influences for the EP / your work?

Sonically I’d say the main influences of the EP would be Elliot Smith, Bon Iver, John Marytn and Jeff Buckley. The idea behind the EP was to have something which was raw and honest and to use the beautiful space of the Nordic Church to incorporate this.

Any up-coming local bands / singers you think we should look out for?

I really feel there is something going on in Liverpool at the moment which is special. There are so many artists who inspire me. Some of the people I love in no particular order are: Thom Morecroft, Silent Cities, Eleanor Nelly, Xam Volo and Johnny Sands – all making beautiful music.

What’s in the pipeline for yourself in terms of new material?

The last EP was sort of an accumulation of the songs written over the last few years. I sort of see it as a soundtrack of me aged 16-18. The newer stuff I’ve been writing is a lot more mature and ambitious. I’m working a lot in the studio at the moment, doing a lot of writing, and I’ll definitely be releasing some studio stuff this year

Where can we come see you over the next few months?

I’m playing lots over Liverpool, including record store day at the Jacaranda, The Sound City Conference and LIMF. As well as a few out of town shows. I’m always playing, if you follow my socials you’ll be able to see where.

Favourite place for a beer in town?

The Jacaranda is where I had my first legal pint!

Find out more:
https://soundcloud.com/astlesmusic
https://www.facebook.com/danastlesmusic/
https://twitter.com/astlesmusic/

The Genie’s Lesson (Black Lives Matter)

  I grew up in number 4, Privet Drive. Not under a staircase, nor in an upstairs room with bars at its window, but rather in what that house symbolises. The middle class. The painted fence and cut lawn. The garden parties. The whiteness.

  At 6 years old, on a trip to Chester Zoo, I pointed to a man wearing a turban and shouted, “Look Mum. Look at the Genie!”. The Genie turned and let out a deep, sonic boom of a laugh. It came from somewhere behind the  beard that fell to his waist. The Genie dropped to his knees, to eye level, and explained that he was Sikh, and wore these clothes as a way of showing devotion to God. I still thought he was a Genie. My six-year old self believed this was exactly what a Genie would say, but later, at home, I started to ask questions. I started to learn there was more to the world than British, middle-class, white culture.

  Still, primary school was white. Secondary school, except for three boys, was white. My sports teams were white.  I didn’t know how to embrace other cultures. At my first rap gig – Kano in the 02 academy – I was unsure how to act. Should I sing along? What happens when they say that word? If it’s song lyrics, is it ok?

  Aged 12, I went to the Velodrome for a day of track-cycling. I was placed in a group with two Muslim girls of the same age. I was confused because I didn’t know Muslims liked to ride bikes, and again, I was unsure how to compose myself. What do I say? Am I allowed to say anything? Why do they wear those shawls? Doesn’t it make cycling hard?

  Even now, an adult, I still have this problem. Not to the same extent, but I still feel unsure when it comes to race. I tell myself I don’t have enough of an understanding of different cultures to not come across as racist or ignorant. I’m self-aware, almost to the point of insanity; so I hide. It’s easier to stay quiet than say something wrong.

  When the Black Lives Matter movement began, I wondered whether I was allowed to join in. I asked myself whether I was just boosting my own ego and sense of self-righteousness; whether I was appropriating struggle to make myself look better; whether I understood enough about the subject to get involved on an intellectual level. It was my niece who helped me find the answer.

//

Fair-skinned, ginger-haired, 6 years old, she sat in the backseat of my car. Her mum in front. Her younger sister at her side. Myself at the wheel. It was one of those rare British summer days where the sun shone and no more than two clouds floated in a pastel sky. The windows were rolled down – air conditioning in a Fiat Panda does not turn warm air to cold, but rather sane humans to criminals. And it was criminals, not hot-air, that became the topic as we drove the country lane.

  ‘Go faster, Uncle Liam!’ shouted Molly. I pressed my foot down onto the accelerator, twenty-five to thirty. Molly turned her head. She watched as the fields, dotted with trees and cows, blurred in the distance.
   ‘Even faster,’ she shouted, now with hands in the air. We were approaching a change of speed limit – 30 to 50 – so I obliged. I dropped to third gear, floored the pedal until we hit 55. 
   ‘Wheeee,’ she shouted, ‘More, faster.’
  ‘Yeah, faster!’ Aoife joined in.
  ‘I can’t girls. I have to stick to the speed limit. If I don’t, a policeman will come and put me in jail. Then, you’d have to walk home. You don’t want to walk home do you?’

  My sister turned to me, opened her eyes wide and shook her head. In her mum-voice she explained, “Girls, Uncle Liam is right about the speed limit, but a policeman wouldn’t put him in jail. They only put baddies in jail, remember. Uncle Liam’s not a baddy is he?”
  ‘No he’s not,’ Molly said, ‘He’s silly!’
I looked across to Faye, my brows furrowed and eyes thinned in confusion. She mouthed, ‘Later.’

//

  Molly and Aoife are sat at the table, tuna pasta in bowls and mouths. Faye and I sit on the couch, able to talk without being overheard. She tells me how she read a leaflet at a parents’ group, about how we shouldn’t use the police as a means to get children to behave. The leaflet, she says, explained how we don’t want children to fear the police. We want our kids to see them as protection – a place to go, a number to call when things go bad. I see the logic and nod my approval. 

//

It is 3 days later and I’m watching a man wrestled to the floor by another. The other wears a black uniform with a silver badge at his chest. I’m watching as two other uniforms help pin the first man to the ground. I’m watching as one pulls a gun from his pocket and rests it against the head of the man on the floor. I’m watching as the camera turns away and the bang of bullet through skin, skull and brain and back through skull to concrete, hangs in the air like a mushroom cloud. The video is like many that I’ve seen the past six months. This time, I don’t scroll on. I look at the black of the screen and I picture the leaflet my sister told me about. It makes me think of black mothers. It makes me wonder whether they tell their children the same stories my sister tells hers.

A Proper Scouse Sheepdog

 

I nearly had a fight with a sheep today. She was 100 yards away and although I couldn’t really see them from this distance, I knew her eyes were staring – challenging me.

    “Who are you?” they asked.

   I sat for a lengthy amount of time accepting that challenge; meeting it head on. My cigarette slowly turned to ash, ignored at my side. There were no sounds – no bird song or tractor rumbling in the distance. Just the smell of sheep-shit and her black, arrogant eyes.

    The more she looked at me, the more annoyed I became. She was in no way a cute cloud of cotton wool. Her fur was not white but matted and stained. She lay in the grass, freakishly still. Her head didn’t move, nor her black triangular ears. She was infinite and ageless, had seen the farm buildings around her rise and then crumble, brick by brick. She was the queen of the field, and still, she stared.

She was calm, unconcerned, flaunting her status as she looked down on me from her throne on the hill. My blood began to burst through my veins, first gear to fifth. My heart quickened, face screwed up, turning purple.


    “Cheeky bitch!” I thought, “Who the fuck does she think she is?”.

    I couldn’t bear those eyes any longer. I moved forward one step at a time, thinking she would get up and leave.

    But no, of course she stayed sat; not arsed one bit about my approach. Others around her, more sensible, rose and tottered further up the hill. They were at the edges of my vision, a mass of swirling movement and noise, while in the centre, like how a bull sees a matador, this white she-devil sat, smirking and staring. My teeth found the outer edges of my lip, as if using pain to distract me from those beady, stubborn stones in her head. I knew I had a choice to make, accept defeat and leave the field, or charge the fucker down.

I bolted right at her – legs striding longer than ever before. I screamed:

    “COME ON THEN YOU FUCKING TWAT. HAVE SOME OF THIS!”.

    She stood up on her four, dirty horrible legs, looking much larger than I’d predicted. I thought for a moment that I’d messed up, bit off more mutton than I could chew. The look in her eyes said that she was ready – to ram into me or stand her ground until I backed out. I wasn’t going to do that though. I was going to kick her right in the fucking jaw. At ten yards away, she turned and scarpered. I bounced around, shouting with pride:

    “YES! HAVE THAT! DICKHEAD!”.

   A proper scouse sheep-dog.