Monthly Archives: March 2014

Yeah Write #155 Gargleblaster – Night Vision

couple-staring-at-the-stars-600x399From the distant, blackened heavens they come –

Piercing, sentient lights, writhen and confused by our sphere’s, protective, embracing winds.

Fleeting twinkles delivered to waiting, forever wondering, eyes:

Are we the watchers or the watched?

Here on our spinning home within the stars.

These 42 words form my entry into this weeks Gargleblaster challenge over at Yeah Write. The words were prompted by the question ‘What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing?.I hope you enjoy where I went with it.

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A Trip To The Sun – Part 1

dubaiSome time before Christmas, Deena and I watched, and enjoyed, all ten episodes of a documentary series about Dubai International Airport. This, allied to an already existing interest in the desert city sparked plans for a trip to see it all for ourselves. Thanks to Netflights we soon had a week booked in the Dubai Grand Hyatt for the end of March 2014. As is the case most years, January and February went in a blur and before you knew it holiday time was fast approaching. Therefore with our suitcases packed, Dirhams (UAE currency) obtained, iPad charged and visitors guides/maps readied the morning of our trip soon arrived.

Day 1

Our flight was direct from Glasgow to Dubai on Emirates. Departure time was just after 1pm, and as is traditional with holidays we were at the airport with nearly three hours to spare. For me the holiday really feels like it’s happening when you get to the airport, and so even if it means hanging around for 2-3 hours it’s still seems like you’re on your way i.e. it’s still exciting!

2014-03-21 11.33.48Our chariot to the Middle East was a Boeing 777-300ER,  the workhorse of the long haul Emirates fleet. Seating was mainly 3-4-3, although on our way out we bagged seats towards the tail of the plane where four rows of 2-4-2 meant we could sit without bothering a third person. Seats were slightly angled away from the window but this meant plenty of space to stick hand luggage between seat and window. Leg room was surprisingly good as I was able to stretch out both under and to the side of the seat in front. Other than the odd ripple of mild turbulence the flight was very smooth and the food and general level of service was excellent.

dubai_bogOur flight lasted just over seven hours and arrived in Dubai with our watches showing 8:30pm. This though was in reality 12:30am as Dubai is four hours ahead of GMT. It was therefore approaching 01:30am when our pick-up dropped us at the steps of the Dubai Grand Hyatt. After checking in we made our way up to room 469 to be met by what was probably the poshest room I’ve stayed in. The bathroom was decked in marble, gold fittings, tiled floors and featured his and her’s sinks. The bedroom was very large with a huge King sized bed. As we were still hungry our first meal in the UAE’s show city was room service, and very nice it was too.

Day 2

When we arrived at the airport the previous night we were informed of a 09:00am meeting in the hotel lobby with the local travel rep. Considering we didn’t hit the hay until gone 02:30am the chances of making this meeting were never very high. I did at least email them to say we wouldn’t be coming and they understood. However, we still got up relatively early and made it down to breakfast before 10:00am. Breakie was included in our package and it took place each morning in the hotel’s ‘Market Cafe’ restaurant. It was a buffet service which had offerings from many different countries. Being safe I stuck with bacon and eggs (veal bacon as of course pork is off the menu in Dubai).

IMG_0006The plan for our first day was to suss out the metro system, plus a possible visit to the Dubai museum – both were achieved. The driverless Dubai Metro system has two lines, a green and a red. Handily, the green line has a stop called ‘Dubai Healthcare City’ which was a five minute stroll from the hotel. We therefore headed here and bought a ticket to get us the two stops to Bur Juman. The idea was to get to a main junction i.e. busier station than Healthcare City, and sort out some form of ticket to last us the week. The answer was a ‘Silver Nol’. For the princely sum of 20 Dirhams (about three pounds) we purchase a silver coloured credit card pass ticket which comes pre-loaded with 14 Dirhams worth of credit. The most anyone can spend on the metro in any day is 14 Dirhams i.e. once you’ve spent this all your journeys are free for the rest of the day, which is nice. Worth pointing out straight away that the metro system is an incredibly cheap way of getting around with journeys of several miles costing barely 70 or 80p.

With our Silver Nols purchased we then moved up one station to Al Fahidi and set out to find the Dubai Museum. As is traditional with Deena and I, we of course proceeded to walk 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Eventually we clicked and returned to Al Fahidi before continuing in the correct direction towards the museum. This museum was in an area called ‘Bur Dubai’ and it isn’t the area where all the jet setters and film stars live – it was more of a working man’s/old Dubai. Eventually after another few wrong turns we finally found the museum. Once again it was ridiculously cheap with entry only 3 Dirhams (50p).

IMG_0059The museum was set in the grounds of an old fort and was split into overground and underground sections. Above ground were bits and pieces of an old house and windtower. A couple of rooms held artefacts and some models of Dubai when it was just a small settlement by the creek. The main part of the museum was underground and therefore out of the sun. Haven’t mentioned the weather so far but needless to say it was sunny and warm with the temperatures hovering between 30-33 degrees. Out of the sun the museum wound its way through several rooms of exhibits, reconstructions, videos and a shop. In all we spent around an hour at the Museum which made it very good value for our 50p.

After the museum we had a late lunch at a nearby cafe before winding our way back the hotel. Dinner on our first night was had at the Market Cafe.

Day 3

dubai_mall1Only being in town for a week we had things planned for at least the first few days i.e. ‘the must sees’. The next of these was the ‘Mall of the Emirates’, which as you may know is a very large shopping centre home to all of the biggest names in the retail business. Even though the Dubai Mall is bigger, and in some ways better, it’s the Mall of the Emirates which is the one which seems to be known around the world. Hence we came here first. This involved a trip down the red metro line and afforded us a distant glimpse of the famous seven star hotel, the Burj Al Arab.

IMG_0187The thing which the Mall is possibly most famous is ‘Ski Dubai’. Being Dubai there is of course never any snow so the city decided to make some of its own, as you do. It really was quite a bizarre sight to see all the excited Arabic children rushing around in the snow, sledging down winding, icy runs and all wrapped up against something they rarely experience – freezing cold (temp is maintained at around -3 according to a digital display). Elsewhere chairlifts trundled up and down the slopes as snowboarders raced their way to the bottom. As I said a bizarre, whacky sight but one clearly enjoyed by the locals as it was absolutely packed.

Back at the hotel we enjoyed our daily trip to the spa – steam room, sauna, hot tub, pool i.e. the usual jazz, before once again dining at the Market Cafe. As it happened this was our last evening meal at the Market as we began to get more adventurous as we settled into Dubai, and hotel, life.

Day 4

dubai_mall2As hinted at in Day 3, the other ‘super mall’ in Dubai is the Dubai Mall. This is actually the bigger of the two malls and had two distinct advantages for us. Firstly it was half a dozen stops closer on the red line, and secondly it was right next to another of Dubai’s must see locations, the Burj Khalifa (more of that later). Within the air conditioned confines of the mall we once again wandered for a couple of hours past some of the most famous names in shopping. Has to be said most of the really expensive looking shops were empty as entry is likely to lead to a wallet soon shorn of several thousand pounds. Being in the Middle East we of course had to try some of the local cuisine and I must say the two portions of Cod and Chips purchased from the London Fish and Chip company were absolutely delicious!
burjk1Outside the mall one finds the Dubai Fountain and to your right the Burj Khalifa. The world’s tallest building is a staggering sight up close although you need a flexible neck to see all the way to the top! Sadly we didn’t realise you need to book up months in advance for a trip to the Observation deck on level 124 so we had to content ourselves with simply gawping in open mouthed wonder at the shining marvel.

Back at the hotel our spa session was followed by a meal in ‘Wox’ a Vietnamese noodle bar. Next door to ‘Wox’ was an Indian restaurant called ‘IZ’, which would feature over our next couple of nights.

Continue to Part 2

Sunday Photo Fiction – Living on the Edge

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Several times a day the shuffling gait of old Davy Hawkins could be seen silhouetted against the angry skies framing his beloved cliffs. While Davy may have been past his athletic prime, his bouncing young dog was still full of life. Time and again Davy would send a bright orange star tumbling end over end; time and again a sprinting flash of black and white would return it to her waiting owner.

When the Hawkins had first moved into their bungalow the cliff face was well over 200 yards away. Even back then many didn’t want to live that close to the edge, but Davy shrugged off such concerns. Forty years later the cliff face is just 20 yards away from the home Davy shares with his faithful collie.

Outside the  house a crowd has gathered. Camera bulbs flash, a desperate police officer appeals over a tannoy for the onlookers to stay back. As the yellow security tape ruffles in the breeze a single light glows beyond the frosted glass of the bungalow’s side door. Slowly it opens and out into the frosty  darkness spins and twists an orange star, closely followed by a blur of black and white.

The door of Davy’s house closes once more. Down below an enormous wave crashes into the bluff; the 20 yards between his house and the sea are no more.

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These words form my entry into this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge. 

Friday Fictioneers – Identifying Marks

ff190314From her chair at the kitchen table, Anna watches as Josef’s head turns towards the window. They can both hear them: the troops marching along the cobbled streets below their fifth floor flat. Her son may only be six, but in the Prague of 1941 children grow up quickly – he already knows these soldiers are ‘bad men‘ and has vowed to protect his mother while father remains away.

Picking up Josef’s thin summer coat, Anna resumes her work. Licking the thread she carefully feeds the fine white cotton into the eye of the needle. As she stitches, the bright yellow star glows gently in the warm morning sunlight.

friday-fictioneers

These words form my entry into this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge.

Sunday Photo Fiction – Baked Alaska

51-03-march-16th-2014Thirty thousand feet below, the north west oceans shimmer dark blue, in land, mile upon mile of patchwork fields glow resplendent in their healthy plume of greens and yellows. Back home my kids can still run and play in the dew tipped grass, drink fresh spring water from the tap, swim in Calldale Lake. For them – for most – life continues as normal.

As we slowly bank over the Bearing Sea, and head east into Anchorage, normal life begins to recede from view. The closer we inch to land, the more of the cracked, crumbling sea bed is laid bare. Buildings smolder, the unfiltered UV Rays are blinding. The signs had been there, but when the hole above Alaska ripped it was horrifyingly sudden. Most had been evacuated, yet the burnt out planes and charred corpses littering Runway 1 of Anchorage International made it clear not all got away.

After touching down we carefully check each others protective suits before stepping out for another days research under the blazing, unforgiving Alaskan sun. Meanwhile around the world politicians will continue to argue as Industry denies and delays – for some this once achingly beautiful outpost of our planet a seemingly small price to pay for the accepted excesses of modern living.

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These words form my entry into this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge. 

Sunday Photo Fiction – Reunited

50-03-march-9th-2014Danny Porter’s tangled, grey locks were a familiar sight on the hot, dusty streets of Grantsville – most people thought Danny was a bit peculiar. It hadn’t always been this way: once he was a bright, starry eyed kid with plans to leave town and earn his fortune in the big city. Instead his wandering eyes met those of Ellen Jenkins; within a year they were wed, within two, a blissfully happy Danny and Ellen were expecting their first born.

When Ellen started to bleed a month from her due date, Danny’s world began to unravel. A night filled with screams and tears ended in terrifying silence. As dawn broke both mother and son lay at peace; Danny was never the same man again.

Over the years he began to drink and drift. From time to time he’d come back to town to sit at Ellen’s grave with his chocolate lab, Scruffy. When he returned last fall it seemed he was finally losing what was left of his mind:

‘She’s in there, wants me to join her,’ he mumbled. ‘In the swamp, I saw her, looking out at me – my Ellen.’

The barman in the Red Lady just smiled. ‘Sure Danny, sure she was. Another?’

The following morning they found Scruffy barking himself hoarse by the swamp.

***

Many years have passed since that morning. Yet, when the moon is high in the clear night sky some say you can still see them: Danny, Ellen and their son – locked in the reflections.

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These words form my entry into this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge. 

Friday Fictioneers – The Creek

ff120314When we were young

We sat on the end of the pier – our soft, pink toes dangling in the still waters; dragonflies buzzing, as the reeds submitted gently to the hot summer breeze.

When we were young

We dreamt of living on the other side of the creek, of raising our kids in the whitest of the whitewashed houses that nestled between the trees.

Now we are old

The toes dangling in the still waters are wrinkled and worn; the dragonflies though remain young – the houses between the trees still impossibly white.

Now we are old

Blessed for the loving life we shared together on our side of the creek.

friday-fictioneers

These words form my entry into this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge.

Speakeasy #152 – Decision Day

speakeasy090314_3The flat was cold and damp – a single, bare 40 watt bulb pulsed and crackled in tune with Ri-Sang Choi’s own laboured heartbeat. A trembling kettle whistled, bubbles of condensation forming on the narrow, single glazed kitchen window. Through a circle, cleared within the dripping moisture, Ri-Sang could see it was another bright, spring morning. In the background a small transistor radio relayed the familiar voice of state control over its one and only pre-tuned channel. As if the people of North Korea needed to be reminded, today was Election Day.

Ri-Sang had lived in the same three-roomed apartment in the Pyongyang suburbs for forty-five years. His grandly titled role as a ‘Worker of Capital City Passenger Traffic Guidance Bureau‘ had won him two important advantages in life. The first was to call the North Korean capital home: to live in the same city as the ‘Glorious Leaders‘ was a privilege hard earned, and on occasion a privilege abruptly lost by even those once regarded as the most fervent of party loyalists. The second was the apartment itself, basic by western standards, but to Ri-Sang and his neighbours a jealously guarded luxury. While his younger brothers has remained in the countryside living in rustic, squalid conditions, surviving on the crumbs of failing crops and long days of back breaking toil, Ri-Sang had enjoyed a city life of comparative comfort – a life though that had demanded unquestioning obedience: a life only ever one careless mistake, one wrong word, one misplaced smile away from leaving the city – not back to his family, but riding one of the trains upon which people departed never to return.

Ri-Sang now lived alone. Distant the days when he would sit and watch his beloved wife Su-Dae sewing his threadbare serge grey party overalls. Where once his wife’s gentle smile, deep green eyes and raven black hair would brighten his days, there were now just stark reminders of duty, and of his increasing isolation. This day, as on all days, he was dressed in the self same grey overalls his wife used to mend: that anonymous covering which stripped its wearer of their own personality, presenting them as just another faceless soldier of the revolution.

Out on the streets there was no outward sign of excitement, the atmosphere as soulless and conforming as on any day. The worn front tyre on his twenty year old bicycle appeared to be flat – each bump in the road sending a jarring shudder up through the forks, and into his gnarled, arthritic hands. The pain shooting through his fingers reminded Ri-Sang that perhaps it was time. While Su-Dae was alive he couldn’t possibly risk disobedience. Even though their life and been a hard one, one unblessed by the joy of a child, it was still a life he’d shared with the most beautiful woman in Korea – the mere thought of her soft voice and tender touch brought an unexpected public smile to his wrinkled cheeks as he peddled.

At the doorway of the third district’s Polling Station, Ri-Sang paused. Looking up towards him was the angelic, gap-toothed grin of a small girl. As they observed each other, a glistening orange lollipop was carefully steered towards a mouth already ringed in sticky sugar; from her hair fluttered red and blue ribbons, an obsequious, parental tribute to the matching colours within the omnipresent Workers Party flags. The man alongside placed a protective hand on the little one’s shoulder as he spoke loudly to a visiting western journalist.

I will devote all my intelligence and strength to fortify our socialist system, which was built and developed by our great generalissimos,‘ the defiant voice said.

These were words Ri-Sang himself would have unthinkingly uttered many times if prompted. Most would say anything when all that mattered was staying alive. However, the grinding pain in his cough told Ri-Sang he had likely seen his last election day. Deep within his heart he knew it would be so easy to comply just once more, but his choice had been made.

On the crisp, yellow voting paper placed into his outstretched palm there was but one name, one party: one decision. Ri-Sang hesitated – as he watched those watching him, a steady left hand calmly lifted the chained pencil and scored out the only name on the ballot.

Moving towards him he heard the creak of polished shoes, caught the dazzle of a red lapel pin. Ri-Sang looked directly at the approaching man and smiled – too tired and too alone to be afraid any more.

speakeasy2

These words form my entry into the speakeasy writing challenge. After reading the prompts on Sunday morning I was surfing through the leading news items on the BBC website. The story which caught my eye was one about forthcoming ‘rubber stamp’ elections in the secretive state of North Korea. In particular the following phrases inspired me to write:

‘Each of the 687 districts had only one candidate running for office.’

‘In the last election in 2009, turnout was 99%, with 100% of votes in favour of the given candidates.’

I hope you enjoy my story!

Friday Fictioneers – Self Preservation

ff050314Camouflaged by the hill’s shimmering canopy, rainbow coloured birds paused their song. Below, bright eyed creatures crept warily, their stubby pink noses frantically searching the air.

The diggers were getting closer – too close, as a majestic swathe of the hill’s ancient, twisted forest creaked and crumbled onto the valley floor.

As the fallen trees were crushed underneath the advancing mechanical army, the barren ground was angrily ripped asunder by deep, jagged fissures. Within sun speckled clouds of dust and blood, both man and his machine disappeared.

A lone digger now sits rusting in the tall grass, as rainbow coloured birds once more sing their beautiful songs on the hill.

friday-fictioneers

These words form my entry into this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge.

Speakeasy #151 – Making of a Masterpiece

well‘Life had once been defined by linears and absolutes, not anymore….’

Pretentious bullshit or not, all those early reviews of Frankie’s work screamed the same message: here was a man who didn’t just live his art, he was his art. Disappointingly for the weekend feature editors, Frankie Bosanko wasn’t your standard fucked up malcontent born into a troubled childhood: his mother hadn’t been a sexually abused, teenage crack addict – Frankie started out as a plain ordinary kid, in a plain ordinary life. Perhaps that was the reason things eventually went the way they did.

The fire at the mill cost the Bosanko family nearly everything. His dad hit the unemployment line, and then the bottle, as his son headed for three years in juvenile correction. Nobody could understand why he’d done it, he never did explain that night to anyone. It was while in ‘juvey’ that it began – just scribbles, but within those seemingly random, abstract shapes and lines something sparked. The golden flames which ripped through the burning mill inspired his first major work. Some said he was glorifying crime, nobody died in his fire, but none the less plenty thought it was in bad taste.

‘It’s art, it’s real, it’s my life,’ is all Frankie would say.

At twenty Frankie moved to the city and rented a tiny bedsit on the east side. He unashamedly played on his maverick genius, ex-con persona and quickly became the must have, risqué invite for the trendiest parties on the scene. The story of the night he and the wife of a well heeled client fucked like randy college grads on pristine white sheets while being showered in paint still does the rounds. That particular client was ecstatic, he watched and then paid $200,000 for the results – those sheets are now worth ten times that, as are most Bosanko originals.  It was good money for Frankie and he never denied he enjoyed it, the life, the women, even the infamy – especially the infamy.

Through all the good times Frankie had remained phobic about the prospect of becoming predictable, even worse becoming irrelevant. His public appearances were by now fleeting, rare and often a disaster. Each time the worry lines on his sallow face grooved just a bit deeper, the impish smile slightly more strained, his once shoulder length jet black hair, racing backwards in a losing battle to a rampaging white army. Some said he was ill, others that he was dying.  He then disappeared for nearly a year, prompting many in the community to proclaim his demise.

Then suddenly he was back.  Understated fliers invited those interested in his work to attend the Yarndale Gallery on the corner of 23rd St – it was packed as people watchers, social climbers, journalists and just the plain curious milled throughout the vast open plan studio. Frankie looked worse than ever, yet under the pasty skin and dark shadowed eyes there remained a spark. He was up to something, they all knew it.

‘Well, I’d just like to thank everybody for coming,’ he began.

The crowd cheered and  applauded.

‘…it’s been a while. I expect most of you had forgotten about me.’

‘No, never!’ they replied as one.

At the back of the dimly lit gallery, Frankie stood motionless in front of a empty, white textured canvas. A younger Frankie had been famed for his live performances and outlandish installations, and so the room was soon at fever pitch as the crowd waited on their forgotten hero to amaze once more. A second, closer canvas was squeakily wheeled into place as the frail figure of Frankie disappeared again from public view. The room then went pitch dark – laughter and giggles morphed into screams. Before pupils could react to the gloom there came a bang – not a loud explosion, more of a contained squelch followed by the unsettling sound of liquid meeting solid.

As light slowly re-illuminated the room, the two canvases were now arranged side by side. A cordon of pleated, red felt rope provided a barrier as burley, shiny headed security guards stood primed to prevent any potential breaches. From the rope a cardboard sign hung loosely on white parcel string – it stated boldly:

Do not touch!

Both canvases were sprayed in lurid reds, blacks and browns. In amongst the dribbles and blotches, lumps of matter shuddered, as if alive. Around the foot of the pictures pools of what looked like blood had begun to congeal.

Most of Frankie Bosanko was nowhere to be seen.

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These words form my entry into the speakeasy writing challenge. I hope you like them!

Sunday Photo Fiction – Looking After Your Own

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Deep within the smog wrapped squalor of Olde London town, well heeled city gents could often be found seeking escape from the drudgery of their own fragrant, ordered lives. Granny Mulligan’s was one of many places which offered what they sought – all she insisted was that you respected her girls.

They were hard times, even downright dangerous on occasion. Granny though was more than capable of looking after herself; her young girls, with their crudely painted lips, rosy coloured cheeks and innocent, nervous smiles were much more fragile. Little Annie’s freshly applied black eye meant she would be off the streets for a week – Granny was furious.

‘Get the bastard, and bring me the mangle!’ she roared.

The fat bellied merchant who had laid his jewelled fist on Annie was caught before he reached the safety of the main thoroughfare. Nobody dared to notice as he was coshed and dragged back to Granny Mulligan’s. As he woke Granny started to turn the handle, pulling his bulbous manhood into the waiting rollers. The agonised cries went unheard and ignored. An expertly slit throat put an end to his gurgling screams for good.

As the lumbering body was taken away, Granny Mulligan gently bathed Little Annie’s bruised eye and smiled a toothless smile – nobody touched her girls.

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These words form my entry into this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge.