Ocean’s Swim. (Novel Excerpt)

Musings of a Serial Procrastinator

A small excerpt from my work-in-progress novel. It’s a dream sequence.

Ocean’s Swim.

I find myself on the beach of a lake that is large and surrounded by tall ancient pine. Its white powdered sand is soft under my feet. A searching breeze creates ripples in the water’s surface that are echoed above in clouds that resemble white glowing sand dunes. Flares of brilliant sunlight and life affirming blue, bleed from between the orderly rows of cloud. As the cloud momentarily obscures the sun, the temperature oscillates between a red heat and an autumnal chill. Its quick succession makes the contrast all the more intense and leaves little time for my body to acclimatise. I feel my limbs shiver. Just as the first shiver leaves my spine, I feel the covering of a soft warm towel. As it falls from above and anchors on my narrow shoulders, I…

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How Shaking Hands With an Alligator Changes Everything!

Musings of a Serial Procrastinator

So a few years ago, my soon to be wife and I were holidaying in Jamaica. My mum and dad suggested we take a trip down to Black River, the capital of my parent’s district of residence, St Elizabeth. Black River is a coastal town that is situated at the mouth of a river by the same name. We bought some drinks and food and meandered down to the river dock with soothed bellies and greasy smiles. This was Claudia’s first visit, so we decided to surprise her and introduce her to the island’s alligators.

My father ran into an old friend at the dock, who insisted we wait for a particular boat and captain. He refused to explain why, saying only that we’d thank him when we got back. The jerk Chicken and steam fish was still finding its final resting place in our stomachs, and a cool breeze…

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Some Post Pressed Analysis

When I received the email telling me that I’ve been Freshly Pressed, I replied with a tone of gratitude somewhere between an Oscar acceptance speech and a back stage Justin Bieber fan. I think I concluded with the line “you’re all on my Christmas card list.” Wow! Really?!!

It took a few days for the post to go on the FP page. In the interim, I bored my wife to tears, telling her about how great this was – how being FP’d was the Holy Grail of Word Pressism. How since I started blogging here, I’d flirted with the hazy, distant dream of getting on that hallowed bit of web turf. At first she congratulated me, as we do when one of us gets some measurable creative success. (she’s a photographer) By day three, her boredom was becoming visible – her eyes were glazing over and her smiles were looking a bit Lil Kim-esque (Botox restricted), so I stopped talking and waited.

Late that night (about 10ish CET) it went live. As the likes, follows and comments started rolling in, the humility I pride myself on began to wane. I started likening being FP’d to receiving the Pulitzer Prize for blogging. For a whole hour or so I thought I was the shit! Hands down…the SHIT! The next morning I woke with my grip on reality re-established, remembering that I’m just another blogger who wrote a good post that happened to get noticed.

Looking at the reaction to my and other FP’d posts, I’d say every interaction could be split into three distinct groups:

1. Coming from bloggers who are working Word Press hard!

2. Coming from bloggers who genuinely like your work.

3. Coming from bloggers who genuinely like your work, but are also working WP hard!

I must stress that I have no issue with group 1 – the guys who write pretty generic comments, who end their posts with URLs back to their page, and comment on almost every single FP’d post. You’re the kind of WPers the rest of us should emulate. You’re out there seeking full blogosphere domination and I respect that…honestly I do. That said as the ‘Pressee’, I clearly gravitate more toward camps 2 & 3, who I think make up the vast majority of my feedback.

My aim is to slowly work my way through everyone (regardless of which group you fall into) and have a read, like and follow back…perhaps. I don’t do reciprocal gestures, so if I follow you, it’s as a result of being entertained and out of a sincere need or curiosity to read more.

Thanks again for the love. I honestly appreciate it. (Exit stage left. Award ceremony orchestra plays the theme tune to Shaft)

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Image courtesy of me.
Holding this pose whilst replying to comments isn’t easy.

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Accent Anxiety

It’s late and I can’t sleep. My insomnia’s gorging on late night Discovery Channel. The crowd pleasing programming has retired for the night, leaving me with their less talented cousins. Tonight it’s “Moonshiners”, which as the name would suggest follows the ups and mostly downs of down-n-out hillbillies trying to make money through the production of illicit alcohol.

It isn’t entertaining, but I watch anyway, hoping the fumes from its dullness will carry me away like anti-smelling salts.

I watch in a near vegetive state, wondering which had the strongest influence on their current career choice: Their lack of employment opportunities, or their accents. I half doze and imagine a fully qualified ‘Jim Bob’ going for an interview in the corporate hospitality sector – cursing his decision to conclude his Powerpoint presentation with the line “…and y’all be shurda come back again, ya hear!”

Back in the UK I befriended a work colleague. He already had a masters and was studying further to become a fully qualified pharmacist. He told me about his background. His family is higher middle class. His father is a well respected doctor and his brother an executive banker. Their opulent home in its affluent location has staff and he generally has no reason to lift a thing. His family, their home and wealth are all back in Pakistan – unredeemable status currencies in the UK.

His English wasn’t great; coloured by his strong Pakistani accent. It was precisely that accent that lead less educated colleagues to talk to him as though he were ever so slightly stupid. Not in an overtly disrespectful way, but in that nuanced, polite faced manner. The sort of prejudice you can’t quite quantify in a tribunal; smart prejudice.

For some, it seems a bad accent and limited vocabulary equates to stupidity. It troubled me then, but here in Denmark, as a foreigner it’s become even more concerning.

I wonder whether my Danish accent will sound ever so slightly Jim-Bobish. I wonder whether my future children will find embarrassment in their father who sounds like a Danish Borat. I worry that a fear of sounding stupid will render me paralysed from the mouth; only able to reply in my occasionally half eloquent English.

Back in the UK I believed all immigrants should learn the language of the land. Not in a colonial, culturally irradiating way, but simply in order to promote integration. I fear now with my tables well and truly turned, I may be less willing to take my own advice.

My three years of FREE Danish language tuition (high taxes aren’t all bad) are starting soon, so I guess we’ll find out.

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“Y’all be shurda come back to this here blog again, ya hear!”
Image courtesy of dsc.discovery.com

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Being Heard vs Being Believed

People don’t say things on social media solely for the sake of communication. They trade in subtext and reaction.

Subtext has always been there. No one says anything on social networks without considering, if only briefly, “what does what I’m about to write, say about me?” You generally don’t notice the exceptions to that rule, because you’ve already blocked or unfriended them.

That awareness of brand YOU is natural. But this widespread need to create reaction is a little newer and a little scarier.

Just as X-Factor has made the once mystical art of music stardom doable, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have turned everyone into one person PR agencies. With video shows like Rude Tube giving brief exposure to anyone with a camera-phone and print and TV news outlets turning to hash-tags for live reaction where they would once interview a witness, it’s easy to see the appeal in going viral.

But at the end of the day what’s the point of it all?

I have friends who are artists and business owners. The vast majority work their social networks like there’s no tomorrow, and I get it. They’re pushing their product. Good luck to them. But to everyone else…to the guy who videos his dog barking in time to Dizzee Rascal, what’s the point?

It can’t be fame, surely? If a group of fame-hungries can stay in the Big Brother house for months with video cameras and microphones following their every move – subject themselves to disgrace and ridicule – come out to huge crowds and still not become ‘faymus’ then why would our grime loving Labrador owner think his video would get him in Forbes?

So if it’s not the fame itself, is it the flirt with fame, or fame on a smaller more realistic scale? Has yesterday’s 15 minutes become today’s millisecond? Is this just a modern manifestation of our age old pursuit of being a household name?

Or is it that the thought of making no cultural impression is unthinkable in a world where so many do just that with only 140 characters?

Whatever it is, it now covers everything I see online with a thick layer of cynicism. I’ve got trust issues! I read a blog, tweet or status and instead of accepting the narrative and simply enjoying the words/sentiment, I find myself questioning the motive; its credibility.

Sometimes a piece passes my test and I believe again, sometimes they don’t and I just read the words. A bit like watching Al Pacino and De Niro.

I watch Pacino and completely forget the actor and see only the character. I watch Bob and generally (or least since circa 1990) only see Bob. I read a rare Pacino interview, where he described his motive for staying out of the Hollywood limelight. He said he didn’t want his personality to become too big, so as to overshadow the characters he portrays. Perhaps our need to be seen through the words and not necessarily read, lessens our credibility. Perhaps sooner or later we’ll all just view every written word on social media in the way we view TV advertising and political speeches: It sounds nice, but deep down it’s all a load of contrived crap.

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“Trust me. I wrote it online.” Image courtesy of theguardian.co.uk.

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I Can Still Hear Her Screams (iSAWID)

So I’m in a shopping centre in Aarhus and wife, needing new underwear, veers into a shop to try on overpriced bras, in that faux nonchalance she employs when trying to pretend a visit to a shop is completely by chance and not part of some google researched itinerary.

She tells me she’ll probably be a while and suggests I go look in some manly shops. She says ‘manly’ in a deep voice, (surprisingly deep for such a feminine woman) and smiles at the rep as she does – waiting for her to laugh. Older (perhaps too butch to be working in a lingerie store) rep laughs behind her raised hairy hand and briefly closed eyes. Not in that ‘I want your money, so I’m going to laugh at everything you say’ kind of way, but genuine laughter. My wife’s always entertaining. She can’t help it.

I consider walking over to a map of the mall and looking in ‘B’ for Beards R Us, but to be honest, I’m all shopped out, so I decide to lean up against a balcony rail just outside the shop and wait or jump. Then I see it.

Right there in the front window display. Next to all the other bustier clad mannequins is one just to left of the main doors – completely bottomless. No baggies! Starkers!

I want to look away but I can’t. She’s there with her middle section exposed for the whole mall to see. What the f..!

Now I know to you this is just a plastic dummy. And I know the pelvic area that haunts me, isn’t in fact a pelvic area at all but a smooth politically correct magnolia coloured void, but I’m a writer – and not just any writer. I’m a writer suffering from ‘Insufferably Super Active Writer’s Imagination Disease’, or iSAWID for short.

I’ve wrestled with this seldom discussed disease for years now. iSAWID, a bit like my appreciation for Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller, comes and goes, but when it’s here, it’s really here, to point of debilitation:

You hear a tree rustle, I hear an ominous chainsaw derived from Texas. You see two lovers in the park. I see a woman who’s about to poison her boyfriend of seven years with a high concentration of Cillit Bang, because he cheated on her with her best friend’s aunt from Penge. You see a plastic, inanimate human shaped object. I see a mannequin crying, nay yelling to her peers to throw her some knickers, a thong or a large sale sticker; anything to remove the shame of having her bits on display.

I can still hear the screams! They’re going to have to increase my dosage again.

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia. I would have taken a photograph, but I wasn’t sure how a guy taking pictures into a lingerie store would be perceived.

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You’re Letting The Side Down. Fix Up!

So there’s an English man, an Irish man and a Scottish man…no this isn’t the intro to a slightly xenophobic gag, this actually describes my road’s demographic.

Betwixt my lovely Danish neighbours in my little village, there is an English man…me; and a Scottish guy; can’t remember his name – been in Denmark for 14 years, 2 kids, Danish wife, we plan to share a beverage – seems cool. And there’s an Irish man, at least I’m told there is. I’ve never seen him.

I’ve lived here now almost 6 months, I work from home and his front door is about 47 seconds away from ours; but I’ve NEVER seen the dude! He doesn’t cut his grass. His curtains seem glued shut. He’s never seen walking, only riding his motorbike (I’m told) and his Vitamin E levels must be shockingly low. The thing is, I can’t help but feel he’s letting the side down. Not that he’s willingly enrolled to be on this or any other side for that matter, but he just is – regardless; much in the way a face of ethnicity is when I spot one in my local town.

We look at each other, make eye contact, nod and if there’s a real connection, smile. That nod says it all: “Wow, you’re another black person! I’m not the only one!” There’s an old African lady who I see from time to time, who always looks as though she’s fighting the urge to come over and hug me, tightly.

I feel you old African lady…I feel you!

When you’re in an unfamiliar environment, you find commonality in the furthest of places. Take my friendly Scottish neighbour. If we were neighbours in the UK, we’d talk in the fleeting way neighbours do, but would we go out for a drink? Er, I doubt it to be honest. Not that the guy isn’t nice; he is, but I just think we’d probably move in different circles. HERE in Denmark, where we’re the ‘foreigners’, Scottish guy was biting my hand off to arrange a beer. He saw our common ground. I was on his team.

So back to our village’s other English speaking resident. I can’t help but think the Danes are judging me by his uncouth behaviour, so I cut our hedges to within an inch of their precision trimmed lives. Everyone else on my road either has a sit on mower or gardener. I have a cheap ‘Flymo’, but rest assured that said sub-standard garden appliance gets worked like an Apple rep on new iPhone day.

Do I enjoy gardening? HELL NO! Do I possess any green fingers? Er..nope, can’t say I do. But do I sit back at the end of a hard day’s gardening knowing I did my bit for ‘the team’? Oh yes! And as I pack away my harassed Flymo and water the veg patch, I look across at my Scottish neighbour weeding with a look of disgruntlement. We nod at each other. We find our common ground. We’re on the same team.

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My mum and wife inspecting my work.

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