Sunday, 27 April 2014

Sunday Story: The Roar Of The Lights

Here's this week's 500-word Sunday story, inspired by seeing Magnum onstage on Friday night...

The Roar Of The Lights
by Jason Cobley

comp image from fotolia.com

The roar of the lights and the cascade of sound fill what’s left of my senses. I close my eyes briefly and remember being at Wembley or the NEC. I’m the sole focus of thousands of people, an arena crowd hanging on my voice, my gestures, my songs. They jump and leap, girls on boyfriends’ shoulders, banners proclaiming my name or that of the band.

I open my eyes, and there it is. I’m onstage, but not thirty years ago at a stadium in the breezy open air, but a club that holds five hundred at best, shoulder to shoulder, plastic pints in hand, nodding to our riffs rather than throwing full heads of hair and climbing speaker stacks.

It’s hot. I’m sweating. I do that much more these days. That’s why I have a fan and a bottle of water at my feet, front of stage. The lights, such as they are, are harsh and unforgiving. My hair, now white, is still long and bedraggled. The lines on my face trace every line I ever took, but also every line I ever sang, every compliment from a grateful fan.

My voice thins and disappears into the crowd when I strain for the high notes, but it doesn’t matter. The crowd carry it for me. They know the old numbers, our enduring classics, those old top forty singles that no radio station plays any more. They know them better than me by now.

Sometimes I think I could die here, right now, collapse on stage, exhausted and played out. We don’t fill stadiums anymore but we make our living trading on past glories and servicing our followers’ desperate nostalgia. Some might put it like that. Others would say we’re just playing what people still want to hear, even if the fairweather fans have moved on. The fans with thinning hair and thickening waists will always come to her us chug and riff, churning out our songs.

If I died here, right now, on a Friday night in  hot, stuffy venue an hour before it converts into a nightclub for a bass-heavy DJ, I reckon the fans would finish the last chorus for me before any of them think to call an ambulance. After all, the show must go on. They may well think it’s part of the act. Part of me wants to try it out, to see what would happen. The show would go on.

And what a show it’s been. We had a first decade of sleeping on floors, bundling into a rusty van, being bottled out of pubs. Then a second decade of hits, fame but finally bankruptcy as we ended up owing the record company more than we earned for all those promotion costs. Since then, we put albums out ourselves, all the money comes to us, and the fans keep coming. Each audience grows smaller by the year, but they’re with us on the journey.


I roar into the lights and the crowd carries me.


***


(c) Jason Cobley 2014

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Sunday Story: The Girl On The Train

So I've set myself a challenge: one 500 word short story posted by Sunday each week. Starting now, posted early. Like an artist posting sketches, this is to keep my hand in - in the most embarrassingly public way possible! Comments welcome.

The Girl On The Train
by Jason Cobley


The girl on the train is vaguely Arabic, the brim of a grey hat a shadow in her eyes. Her eyebrows are thick but plucked, shaped clean. Her eyes, heavy lidded, a line of blue underneath her lower lashes, seem open, dark and deep. Sitting comfortable and warm in her turtle neck shirt and denim jacket, she clutches her blue shiny faux leather bag across her lap. She steals glances at a girl sitting diagonally opposite.

The Arabic girl smiles to herself, as if they are sharing something, or she is reminded of something that amuses her. The other girl is Chinese, maybe half so, pink ear buds playing music from her pink iPod Nano that she holds in the opening of her canvas handbag. She clicks, her thumb moves in a circle, as she selects the next track to listen to. Her black hair falls about the shoulders of her jacket. Her knees, heels and ankles are together, prim and precise. The other girl is now texting on her iPhone, her fingers smearing the screen. She swipes her nose with her forefinger, taps away.

The old man next to the Chinese girl bows his head, eyes closed, looks up every now and again as if surprised by a noise. The gentle chug and soft chatter of the train track is all. He snores lightly, the girl smiles again. Her eyes smile strongest as her eyes catch the old man’s daughter in the seat opposite. Blonde, dark-rooted straw of hair, white canvas jacket, tan skirt flaying beneath the cheap brown leather bag she bought in a market in Tunisia, on holiday on her own. Her amusement is absent. She gazes out now at the darkness through the train window, seeing only her own reflection and that of the other passengers. She stares blankly at herself.

The couple on the other side of the carriage, newly retired, share space but not company. He dozes, his trousers riding up to show his six year old Christmas socks. His wife, all floral skirt and severe haircut, flicks briskly through a novel she bought at a church table-top sale. The white back cover, splashed with a photo of a rose above the blurb, speaks of something lost in the pages that she searches for vainly. Behind them, a middle-aged couple sit, arms folded, silent, sour. They have nothing left to say to each other anyway.

Further down the carriage, strangers sit alone but together, friends chat and the unimaginative sit. Just sit. Others ruminate. So many lives, alongside and parallel, they are travelling forward but in different directions. One man writes in a notebook.

The middle aged woman gets up abruptly, makes off down the carriage. Not to the toilet. That was in the opposite direction. Her husband lifts a Sainsbury’s bag off the floor, places it where she was sitting. Maybe they weren’t married after all.

The gentle chug and soft chatter of the train track, blank stares, familiar strangers, chug and chatter.
*** 
(c) Jason Cobley 2014

Of Letting Go and Moving On: The Venice Project and the DVD Dilemma

We recently moved house. After a few months of great uncertainty, we finally had something firm to which we could anchor our floating futures. Moving from the bleak beauty of flat Fenland to the middle of middle England had its ups and downs. Our estate agent was golden, the removal men patient and helpful, even if they did manage to break a couple of things but not a big deal considering how much stuff we had. Stuff turned out to be the only real problem. We were doing what is usually called ‘downsizing’.  In effect, that meant downsizing everything I had accumulated in over twenty years of reading, listening, watching and dreaming. Fifty per cent of our books had to go. You’re welcome, British Heart Foundation. Mrs Cobblers wanted the DVDs to go. This was never going to happen. A few went. I was never going to watch ‘Heroes’ season 1 again, and ‘American Beauty’ just irritates me now, so some were easy. Conversely, despite them actually being terrible pieces of cinema, I couldn’t bear to part with the Green Lantern movie or Stallone’s Judge Dredd. Comic book movies. Have to have. But what to do with the DVD collection? Two deep and two wide, stacked in the living room, they still approached five feet in height. The X Files and Doctor Who box sets had to stay as they were, but for the rest, space was at a premium. Enter a little company called Arrowfile: big, thick photo album type folders that each hold 160 DVDs. Two of them duly filled. Blu rays? Still in their cases, in the one cupboard that holds them. I ought to get my head round this Ultraviolet thing at some point. CDs I’ve managed to hold on to – they’re on a handsome wooden rack in the snug. That’s already been trimmed anyway – I only have about 700 now. Another thing that had to go was audio equipment. I used to have a separates system to be proud of, which, as formats waned, trimmed down nicely in recent years to a good CD player, amp and floorstanding speakers. My Rotel amp had been with me for nearly twenty years and did good service until one sad day when it died, not long after followed by the CD player. So, on moving, we invested in a Roberts CD player / ipod dock / DAB radio and now we have the ideal setup. It’s small but perfectly formed, with the ipad connecting by Bluetooth and the laptop streaming Spotify straight into it. We have officially joined the twenty-first century. Finally.

Psychologically, I anticipated it being very painful to get rid of so many books and setups that I’d found comfortable over the years, but not so. Many age-friendly comics and graphic novels went to my nephew, who’s a bit of a Marvel fan. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to interest my daughter in comics, but she’s a voracious reader of everything else she can lay her hands on, so who am I to complain? So, we’re down to two (admittedly quite big) bookcases jam-packed with the books that are left. Standing in front of the British Heart Foundation book chute at the tip, wondering whether to get rid of Howard Jackson’s ‘Analysing English Grammar’ from university was worth it. It went, as did so many other books we hadn’t looked at since university, or hadn’t read, or had read but would never read again. My unread Ernest Hemingway collection survived though. I will read them. Honest. Sorting through like this unearthed some gems that went straight to the top of the re-read pile, hence me revisiting Darryl Cunningham’s ‘Psychiatric Tales’ and ‘Science Tales’, and Tom Gauld’s ‘Goliath’ last week. Next up is reminding myself of the joys of Magnus Mills’ oeuvre.

Then there’s the Kindle. That’s where most new fiction and non-fiction is going, as much as I love the solidity of a real hardback (that said, yesterday I bought Sting’s ‘Broken Music’ at a second hand bookshop – once read, it either stays or something else goes: one in, one out), so it was that I came to download a book that came as a real surprise.

‘The Venice Project’ by Philip Gwynne Jones (available for Kindle and in paperback) is extraordinarily well written, Phil’s voice echoing through every line. I know this because (vested interest ahead) Phil’s a friend from many years back. I was in the sixth form; Phil was a couple of years older at university. We were both part of a group of friends that – ahem – played role playing games such as Call of Cthulhu and Runequest (not Dungeon and Dragons, we were above that – serious players, and damn, we wrote good stuff). It coincided with that time in life when drinking and girls become important as well so, living in a small Welsh seaside town, it all came together nicely. Our holidays driving around Scotland and Wales and sleeping in cars and tents are fond memories, bridging that gap into adulthood. Phil played guitar at my wedding as I attempted to sing ‘Sultans of Swing’ (long story), and the last time I saw him was at his wedding at a castle just outside Edinburgh. ‘The Venice Project’ picks up where looming redundancy sends Phil and his wife Caroline to Venice to live, having retrained as English teachers and taking a massive leap. We seem to have faced similar book dilemmas. I recommend this book not because Phil’s a friend but because it’s so well-written and so different from the other let’s-live-in-another-country-for-a-year-and-aren't foreigners-funny memoirs. It isn't like that at all. There are good reasons why Phil and Caroline chose Venice. Check out the sample on Amazon.

And so that brings us to writing. ‘Amnesia Agents’ crawls along. I’ll be posting up some other short fiction soon. In the meantime, forget you saw me.