An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Down the plughole?

When they had finally crawled back through the never ending crush of traffic in total silence Charlie tipped Clifford and took his private mobile number. They had an agreement. He found a scrap of paper pushed under the door of his flat, lying on the coir mat. He turned it back and forth, this way and that. He scrutinised it. He studied it.






(TBC)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Limehouse Blues

Charlie sat in the back of a cab taking in the changed London that they were crawling through. It was the same scabby Vauxhall Corsa that he had taken last week ... he had specifically requested the same driver and had even postponed his journey to ensure the desired continuity. The selfsame very black Nigerian piloted the rusty near hearse through packed roads and back streets as they ground their way onward at all of 9 miles an hour. He was convinced that some of the bodywork had fallen off since his last journey. Dark brown cigarette burns made a pattern like smallpox in the back of the driver's seat. He looked at that massive greasy neck and particularly at the bizarre series of scars and lumps along his hairline. One of the most recent oozed a yellow pus onto the flannel collar of his brightly coloured plaid shirt. Charlie was tempted to blot it with his handkerchief. He was tempted, but he resisted.

It was the reticence of this black granite driver that had drawn him back. This time the driver had not even mentioned the incident with the cyclist. He had just opened the door and ushered him in after confirming the destination. No word had passed between them since. He sighed now and then when a particularly stupid driver crossed his trajectory but spoke nary a word. Not a fuck or a bastard. Charlie congratulated himself on his excellent choice. Clifford was a one in a million driver - a silent driver. A diamond in the rough was our Clifford and he would be getting regular work from now on.

"Drop me off at the Narrow Street bridge Clifford - I may call you Clifford I hope?". Clifford nodded slowly and steered the cab off of The HIghway and pulled up actually on the bridge - his brakes squeaking sourly. Charlie poked a folded twenty into his plaid pocket and stepped out of the rust bucket. He refrained from slamming the door for fear that it would come away in his hand. Instead, he closed the door gingerly and a shower of rust particles were caught in a sunbeam as he did. He checked his watch and turned to Clifford - "If I'm not back by 5 and 20 up piss off back to Tooting OK?". "When boss?" "5 and 20 up - 5 and 20 to 2 - 1 35 OK?" "OK boss". He plucked the snagging arse of his trousers from his crack and stepped on over the bridge and toward the Grapes.

He was back inside 7 minutes. As he had suspected, Petra was not there. No sign of her. Another name on the bell push - some hyphenated bitch. Petra had disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as she had reappeared. About par for the course. Mind you, he'd have something to say to that fucking writer next time he saw him. It had been worth a try but he had come up blank. C'est la guerre. That's the job. He hopped back into the cab - "Home James, and don't spare the horses". He laughed a hollow laugh. "Clifford boss, not James. You forget already?" Charlie let it go. Like so many things in life, Charlie just let it go. "Tooting, Clifford - no rush! Let's go home."



(TBC)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The sky changes

The sun, the first for several days, woke him at 5 or 6 minutes before 8. He squinted blear eyed through the mask of the mosquito net but still could not establish a precise time of the clock. His heart lifted by the unregistered awareness of sunshine he snuggled on down beneath the duvet for another 5 minutes and woke up 20 minutes later with his bladder pressing on his consciousness: prodding him awake. The strike of cold tile on the warm soles of his feet propelled his micturition. A lick and a promise, a session with the Braun and he was soon, but not soon enough for true comfort, slipping yesterdays clothing back on. A shudder ran down his back as he pulled his socks on. "I'll put the water on to heat - have another hour".

He pulled the door shut behind him and glanced quickly into the stove, checking for remnants of last night's fire, before stepping outside with the tea pot in one hand and his cigarettes in the other. It was much colder outside than he had anticipated and he wished momentarily that he had grabbed a jacket but then he raised his head and saw the White Mountains: white at last. His demeanour brightened immediately and he dismissed the cold chill from mind. Days like this made winter bearable. After 4 consecutive, seemingly endless, permanently twilit days it looked this wonderful morning for all the world as though someone had been shaking a sugar sifter over those peaks while hidden by the greyness: behind the lowering clouds that had engirdled them all that time. The lazy north easterly wind (lazy wind was a phrase of his mother's: a wind too lazy to go round you will go right through you) that had blasted them for 3 days had dropped away almost entirely over night. The skies were glaringly bright and the highest peaks glistered as the rising sun picked them out. They reminded him, he realised, of Kourabiedes, those seasonal sweetmeats that were so in season right now as to be ubiquitous, there wasn't a house they had visited in the last few weeks that hadn't produced a plateful of these almond shortbread biscuits dusted thickly with the finest icing sugar. He smiled.

Down in the cellar he threw all windows and shutters wide and welcomed the sun in. He lit a cigarette, filled the kettle and switched it on, and finally glanced at the spiral text that he had produced last evening and that had occupied his background mind ever since. Heavily coffee stained he could scarcely make it out - he brushed some ash from it and laughed as the ash smudged in the remaindered dampness rendering the whole thing pointless. With the kettle bubbling he stepped outside and strode up to the sun terrace to take another look at those tasty sweetmeats. Another year older, but still mad.


(TBC)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

LONDON BRIDGE

... I do wish you wouldn't keep pointing that out - it makes me feel both subordinate and vulnerable. It's no fun being me. Plus it puts me at your level and that can't be right. But you must be at my level otherwise how could we have this conversation. Think about it. But I write you. I make up the words that make you up. But if I know it and know also about the ur-writer doesn't that make us quits? But am I more yours or his? Which of you breathes through me? Is it even possible that I write or make you? It's not impossible. Think about it. That just makes it worse. Give me one of those fags will you?

They both lit up. Silence reigned for the first time in half an hour. Charlie had been deep in tranquility - just him and his mantra - a head completely cleansed - a proper and appropriate emptiness. And then this preposterous writer had turned up and his bliss had been riven, split, rent or cleft. Torn apart. How inept to break in just then: to use a breakage to try and forge a bridge. As a craftsman he was pretty shoddy it had to be admitted. It seemed the ur-writer was in trouble structurally and needless to say this writer was no help at all so he was using him as a go-between and intercessor - could Charlie help? A bizarre trinity indeed. He ground out the dog end in the ashtray.

Tell him it's OK. I can handle the intellectual unravelling if you can do the verbiage and he can do the creative shit. Tell him I think it'll work out well - if we've got any readers left by the time we get there they'll be cool with it. It's ridiculously fucking clever - they'll love it ... Go on now, clear out, we've got plot to get on with. I'll do what I can but you've go to give me some slack. One more scene with Petra would be good.

One more thing - tell the man that he can forget ever getting this thing into print - there's not a publishing house that'll touch it now and no low bellied duplicitous agent either. It's dead outside of here. Brave, courageous even, but dead in the stinking fetid waters of 21st century publishing. Potential literature in print has been assassinated by vulgar taste and yet more vulgar marketing. And unlettered, timid, writers. Now sod off.



(TBC)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Atlas shrugged

George picked himself up off of the tiled floor of the toilet. He wadded some toilet paper (thank god they had changed from Izal this year - dinosaurs) and attempted unsuccessfully to staunch the flow of blood - it was on the tiles - it was on his shirt front - it was on the basin. George cried.

Sonia settled herself down on the sofa and picked up the remote. She tuned into the shopping channel and lay back in the cushions (thank god she had weaseled a sofa out of that meeting). She pulled her candlewick dressing gown more snugly around her shoulders. She checked that the curtains were still drawn. She heaved a massive sigh and began to sob noisily.

Boris moved swiftly among the shoppers - invisibly. He pulled the pea jacket closer. He pulled the stocking cap lower. From a distance and only if anyone had noticed him they would have taken him for Jack Nicholson he thought. A young Jack Nicholson. With his right hand thrust deep into the pocket of the coat he rumpled the scruffy piece of paper. Comforted he strode out toward the tube station. It would be good to see Bruno again - it was a long time since they had worked together. The cruel grin that he was known for spread across his uneven mouth and he laughed out loud. Boris laughed all the way to the booking office.

Alex was out of the door and on his way. He checked his appearance in every other shop window he passed - more would be considered vain. Good old fashioned styptic pencil had taken care of the shaving nick and so his immaculately white shirt collar was safe and pristine. His trouser broke perfectly over the black kid shoe. Black socks with clocks. A professional would have remarked disparagingly that the jacket of his suit had been dry cleaned less often than the trousers - always a mistake with a suit - but he had dismissed his worry - nobody would notice. His itinerary for the day was firmly memorised. A zones 1 to 3 travelcard would cover it off. He stopped before a small jobbing tailor's shop - Moses Herzog Prop. Est. 1950 the sign said - and checked his appearance once more. Alex tightened his tie knot, nudged it a tad closer into the collar and smiled: the small east european looking man who sat cross legged in the window smiled back and gave him a small nod of acknowledgement - maybe even, he thought, of approval. Alex smiled broadly and stepped on.

Charlie sat. Pages from the notepad surrounded him. His eyes were closed. He was on the rug, unknowingly echoing Alex's old tailor. He brought his fingers together into a steeple before his chest and every last wrinkle dropped from his world weary face. Charlie beamed.



(TBC)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A focus on sanitaryware

Charlie decided to clear both his bowel and his bladder, he always thought presentations through better with a void inside and voiding was comforting in its own right. A full stomach for creative, insightful, lateral thought and a gnawing emptiness for organisational, structuring thought. He grabbed his pad and pencil and padded off to the toilet. Halfway to the door he turned and returned to collect his cigarettes and lighter.

Across the capital Alex had just finished shaving, he dried his face and rubbed in a handful of the nasty after shave that he habitually wore - a cheap counterfeit of Tabac - he had become accustomed to its astringent scent - before he came over it was the best an operative could get. It stung and he winced. He combed his blonde hair to one side and applied a little more pomade. He washed his hands again - the hot water was running out again - he must get that boiler looked at. While shaving he had mentally selected the suit that he would wear - he had dismissed the idea of casual wear before getting out of bed - surely even in these relaxed times one could not eat in a Piccadilly restaurant in slacks and a knock off Polo shirt. He lifted the toilet seat, dropped his navy blue silk pyjama trousers and sat. Best to empty out - just to be on the safe side ... he would be out for some time and his phobia about public toilets could make life difficult.

Back in Tooting Boris shook his dick and buttoned up his fly. He wiped around the seat with a sheet of toilet paper, balled it up, and put it in his pocket. At the front door he grabbed his jacket and slung it over his shoulder. He double locked the door behind him and threw the balled up toilet paper at the stinking ginger tom that regularly hung around on the landing. It hit him behind the ear and he swiftly swallowed it. "Choke on it, you little bastard!" He took the stairs two at a time - it was good to be getting out. It was better still to having a job to do - he loved his work.

Just up the road Sonia washed her hands - the water was very hot - steaming - she washed them again - she washed them until they were red and throbbing. She had changed her tampon and that usually triggered her fetish. She dropped to her knees in front of the toilet bowl and vomited - or tried to - instead she just dry heaved. She groped behind the bowl and pulled out a green scrubber. She flushed the smattering of bile away and as the flush finished she began to scrub around and under the rim. She poured bleach onto the scrubber and began over. This could take all day - she was like an old fashioned vinyl record that was stuck in a groove. So what if it took all day? She wasn't going anywhere.

George was pissing freehand in the office urinal and fiddling with his beard. Inquisitively he peered into the next urinal just to see what the new boy was packing. The boy looked up alarmed, caught George's lascivous glance and cocked his arm. His fist clenched and he smacked George smack on the nose.



(TBC)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

DEVELOPING IDEAS

Charlie sat calmly looking out onto the stand of poplars that screened his flat from the railway lines. A weak sun shone timidly through the still bare branches that stood bravely pointing heavenward. Leaf was late. He was considering his two new dilemmas: what to do about Petra and what was this "writer" all about. The scent of last night's lovemaking clung yet to him. The touch of her flesh had excited him and comforted him: had brought back all sorts of sensual memory - he recalled it still but it also confused him. His sensual and sexual lives, that he had thought moribund years ago, were re-ignited, re-vivified by a single evening's romping that was itself a replay of a previous life stage. Her very being, her life force, lingered lovingly. And as for what she had told him about the case - well that would take some time to integrate with his view so far.

The god voice in her kitchen (he had assumed, maybe wrongly, that it was her flat but it could so easily have been a borrowed flat, that would be typical of her) had, he had to admit, shaken him to his root (sic). Disembodied pronouncements were not his daily fare and when you're standing bollock naked in a strange kitchen and some oddball externality addresses you directly and by name it can be a bit disconcerting. But that was part of the dilemma: was it a true externality or only a pseudo externality? It was obvious, or at least became obvious to him on his way back to the scene of his continuing or, to be continued, debauchery that this guy, whatever he was was not the ur-writer no matter what else he might be. If he were then he would have known all about the Sonia episode - and he clearly hadn't written that (unless he was psychologically bifurcated and blinded and if he was then the "writer speaking to him was not the same writer who had written the Sonia episode). Perhaps this writer was another fabrication of the ur-writer - at one remove from the main action of the fictive hoi-polloi but not of them but likewise not at the level of the originating writer. Bifurcation was an option but not the only option, not even the most reasonable option: 21st century theory would suggest a written writer - a proper and complete fictive separateness. He wondered whether the writer would in truth turn up as he had been instructed. Charlie would finish his pot of coffee - would give him that long - and might smoke a couple more cigarettes before settling down to sorting out tomorrow's presentation. Give him the benefit of considerable doubt - the whole writer thing was now shrouded in doubt.

The content of his presentation began to develop in his mind - Petra had added the silver halide crystals that he had been searching for. He had a day to sort out the key points, to write the presentation, to tune it, to memorise it and to destroy the script. No trace but in his head must remain.


(TBC)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Transcript 2

S (panic in her voice): Were you followed?
A (angrily): For God's sake Sonia - I'm still a pro - of course I wasn't followed. How stupid do you think I am? Don't answer that.
S: Alex was saying he thinks that your obsession with money is making you slack ... he is worried about you - your guard may be down ... he thinks
A : Alex this ... Alex that ... what does Alex know? ... was Alex ever an operative? NO ... I was ... I am ... I know my business very well ... do not worry about me ... worry perhaps about Alex ... I am on top of it all
S: ... but what if I am still being watched?
A: of course you are still being watched but they will not have seen me come in ... and we still do not know by whom ... Alex has been less than helpful on that question ... do you think that locking yourself in here is helping? ... really? you need to pull yourself together and ... and for the love of Christ Sonia cut back on those Prozac
S: ... but they help keep me calm ... I need them ...
A: (big sigh) you think they help so they help ... end of ... it's a self fulfilling prophecy ... you re talking yourself into this thing and you can think yourself out of it ... only you can do it ...
S: Anyway what did you come for this time? just to annoy me? to nag me?
A (very upbeat): I've got everything I need for the dossier now ... all I'm waiting for is a second confirmation on one of the sources ... there's an Italian flying in tomorrow morning and I'm meeting up with him tomorrow afternoon ... if all goes well I'll be ready to send it off at the weekend ... I've already let Ivan see the draft and he agrees it's dynamite ... it nails the cocaine heroin Afghan connexion firmly on our man .. it'll wreck that mega-deal ... no question ... dad in the water by next week ... the ultimate poisoned chalice ... and I'll have the bulk of the fee by next weekend ...
S: ... you're sure? is Ivan safe ... I do not trust him ... he was a snake in Moscow ... why not here ? ... and what does Alex think?
A: ... I've not shown Alex ... not yet ... I cannot say why ... no ... Ivan is clean ... Ivan is OK ... he set up the meeting with the Italian ...
S : does he know Boris is here? Boris worries me ... rewind and erase ... Boris scares me shitless
A: Boris? what's Boris got to do with it? does who know he's here?
S: Ivan ... does Ivan know? you know Boris used to work for Ivan ... maybe he's here in London at Ivan's request ... think about it ... could be you know ...
A sighs deeply several times : don't be ridiculous Sonia ... I don't need this ... I'm leaving ... I only wanted to let you know what was happening and to check up on you ... if you cannot speak sense I'm off ... I have business to do ... you might lie around here all day but I have things to do ...

A door slams and silence ensues ... (we assume Alex has left the flat)


(TBC)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Intercept 102

Intercept Two

Chief,
Boris remains "safe and sound" and his mental state improves daily. Tooting, desite being dingy seems to agree with him - as they say here "It takes all sorts ..."

Glad to see that the fuss over Anna's death has died down. £310,000 probably - not bad huh? And back to Grozny via Georgia? Maybe 2 more months is no problem for our organisation. I'll not ask about his role here.

Red Sonia has become agoraphobic and seldom leaves the flat nowadays - if ever - this is doubtless good for us. Sacha comes and goes but his progress on the report that he is assembling on X is not suffering. He seems to have picked up some key facts this week and may have finished by the end of the month. He is meeting a couple of more FSB turncoats next week that will, if things go as he suspects, finalise things.

Luckily, both of our people seem to have swallowed the story we gave them although I fear that Sacha may be less circumspect than he would have been a year or so ago - capitalism and poverty have encouraged him to let his guard down. I hope he has done his due diligence on these ex-FSB men.


AG

(TBC)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Kitchen Confidential

"Charles! ... ... ... Charles!" Charlie looked round, his right hand on top of the fridge door, his body lit by the interior light. Past cheese and yoghurt, butter and salami, the bright light shone out and lit almost half of the immaculate kitchen. Charlie leant down and pulled an Amstel from the door compartment. "Charles! ... yes you - I'm talking to you". Charlie looked all around the kitchen - totally nonplussed.

"Where the fuck are you and who the fuck are you?".
"I'm all around you - you can't see me - I'm not there in that sense but I am here."
"So who the fuck are you? God or some such?" he sneered. "If I can't see you you don't exist, now sling your bleeding hook, I'm just grabbing a beer and then I'm off back to bed."
"C'mon Charlie you know me - you know who I am - think about it!"
"No I don't , now fuck off, and leave me alone ... I'm harming nobody and I'd really appreciate some kip."
"I'm the writer you fuckwit."
"Jesus ...... you pick your times don't you? Here I am, standing in a gorgeous bird's kitchen stark bollock naked in some strange flat and you decide to drop in - so to speak - for a cosy chat. Anyway what do you want? Aren't you supposed to keep out of the way? Or use the authorial voice or something? I'm pretty sure you aren't supposed to turn up in person - not here in the text anyway. Look - if you want a chat why don't you just wait until I get home? Why bother me here?"
"Charlie, Charlie, tsk, tsk, you've not been keeping up with post modern literary theory. Overt interaction between the author and his characters is perfectly acceptable these days. Where have you been? Living in a box?"
"How the hell do I know where I've been - that's your responsibility isn't it? Giving me a backstory? I only read detective fiction and I don't think your postmodern shit goes there. OK when I'm off page I might read some contemporary literature but you can't use that here - can you? Look ...... why don't you come back some other time and we can talk about it - not now huh? I was hoping for some more nookie before morning and frankly you're cramping my style not a little. And if you're doing this you can't be writing my sexual reprise can you? Go on - sod off and let me get my leg over huh? What d'you say - play the white man."
"But I need to talk to you now. I need to know about the meeting at Sonia's flat. Who wrote that?"
"OK, OK, I see where you're coming from but if I just refuse to co-operate - and I do - there's not a lot we can do is there - this text just stalls doesn't it? So I'll see you back at the flat tomorrow. I'll tell you all about it then but now ... no! So scram!"

Charlie closed the fridge door plunging the room into darkenss, opened the Amstel at the counter and slugged it back in one. He headed back to the bedroom.

"Check"





(TBC)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

THE SEX SCENE

Now, because this is a local story for local people and because we don't like smut we are not going to zoom in on what happened next. If we were looking for readers we would but we are happy with our current crop of regulars and don't want to alienate any of them. So, we aren't going to mention the groping in the entrance hall or the commissionaire averting his senile rheumy eyes as her dress rode up and his fly buckled. We won't mention his hand in her bra and her hand in his trousers. We surely wouldn't speak of them tumbling through the door half undressed and finishing the job on the sofa. We'll not get close enough to see the beads of sweat nor smell the musky sweat. We will pass, in a silence that they could not mimic, over the substitution of animalistic grunts for human speech. We will not detail the exchange of fluids. Sadly that means that we cannot explore the tenderness and the sheer joy of their couplings.

And as they lounge on the sofa in post-coital bliss and fatigue we can resume our surveillance. His head is in her lap - he can distinguish the smell of his semen (like Shredded Wheat with warm milk, he thinks, rather than the horse chestnuts that de Sade would have us believe) behind the perfume she wears and the bodily fragrances that she exudes and he luxuriates in the heady mix. He who had thought his heart stone dead, cold like ice, unused and unusable as an organ of love. The touch of warm human flesh not his against his: he had all but forgotten the feel. The warmth of physical congress, the spiritual closeness to another, the total loss of self at crisis: all these forgotten things had flooded back and suffuse him even now. Encompass him almost completely. cradle him, and nurture him. For the first time in a very long while he feels near whole. Between sips of coffee and cigarettes they drift in and out of sleep. They doze. They rouse. They revel in the afterglow. They do not speak.

Beyond the secure portal of this seductive apartment a man walks back and forth. They passed this man on the bridge in Narrow Street but neither seem to have noticed him so engrossed were they in their own physicality. He passed on the other side of the road darkly. He has his own agenda but we cannot know it. He wears a trench coat, probably Aquascutum, belted, and cinching his waist. Tweed trousers and brown brogues (it is both after 7 and out of the true city). An old fashioned trilby like the one that the man from the Pru used to be depicted wearing tops off this unlikely and scarcely discreet get up (he caries no attache case). He had turned to follow them almost as soon as they had passed on the bridge and had maintained a sufficient distance to remain undetected. His brogues were rubber soled. His breathing was professionally silent, unlike theirs. And now he paced and waited. Back and forth. Back and forth. Patiently.

Our sensual couple rouse themselves and move to re-couple and we leave.



(TBC)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

To The Grapes

"Well, fuck me, what a turn up for the book!" Charlie was propping up the pewter topped bar and talking only to himself. "What a bunch of poxy posers. . . Oi pal!". The barman minced over, he was wearing a black apron and had a tea towel limply draped over his sloping shoulder. "Geneva gin and tonic, no ice, no lemon, straight, and while you're at it where the fuck did all these ponces come from? Some coach outing or what?". "They sir, are our locals - our regular clientele, unlike you!". He turned like a girl and went back to the optics with a flounce. "On a fucking optic? You're having a laugh surely Shirley! Used to be under the counter. Locals? I should bleeding cocoa!" He had heard of the gentrification of Wapping but it had not somehow sunk in. The place even had a station (Wapping Dock Stairs would you believe?) nowadays and those poshed up warehouses had certainly shocked him but somehow he had not imagined that a seriously dodgy boozer like the Prospect could have moved so far up market. Set back off of Cable street and the Highway it had, in his former times, been a very down market dive. Even the Thames seemed to stink less. You wouldn't have left your jam jar parked round here without a local minder in past days but now there were 4x4s all over the bloody show. The barman brought his drink, charged him what seemed like an arm and a leg, and mopped the bar top desultorily. No further words were exchanged.

Charlie relaxed and settled in for a wait: he was half an hour early and he had no doubt that Petra would be at least half an hour late. All previous experience indicated an hour's wait minimum. Maybe three G&Ts. The supposed locals were an oddly assorted bunch. All sizes. Both sexes - maybe all three. All colours. And then he realized that they were all roughly the same age - perhaps 35. And they were all wealthy - you could almost smell the money. Even those dressed casually and there were not that many of them were expensively dressed - discreet logos bedecked each garment. He recalled coming down this way of a Sunday on the trolley bus from Barking as a kid on the way to Brick Lane. And what he remembered most was the kids playing on the bomb sites and the tenement flats where they lived - each with that characteristic slick of slimy green water sliding down the outer walls making the brickwork shine and shimmer. "Another!"

What a shock when he asked for the bogs. He remembered a lean to out the back with a piece of galvanised gutter propped on two posts and sagging in the middle but what he found in fact was a revelation. An ocean of black marble and tiles with bright white porcelain. Urinals that flushed automatically as he moved away and basin taps that switched on automatically as you put out your hands. "Whoever cleans this place, " he thought, "it isn't Denise - not a smear in sight." He checked he was zipped up and reunited himself with his drink. He lit a cigarette and checked the clock by the door and as he did she walked in. It would have been impossible to mistake her because as far as he could tell she had not changed since he last saw her all those years ago. No drop. No fattening. And as she came closer he noticed, No wrinkles.

She came close and then a little closer still until she was brushing him lightly with her body. She kissed him on the lips - affectionately at first, and aggressively as he fell into the kiss. "I haff an apartment just by The Grapes" she whispered, taking his hand. He caught the smell of tobacco. "Let us go there". And then she led him off as he dropped a score on the pewter topped bar and waved vaguely at the barman not to bother with change if there were any

Outisde the pub she embraced him full on before leading him right up Wapping wall and past an arts centre (an arts centre in bloody Wapping? he thought) and into Glamis Road. They made their way up to Narrow Stret and over the little bridge. He was stunned by the cleanliness of it all - this previously grubby little place was now spotless. Where it had been dark and dangerous it was now brightly lit and, he felt it in his bones, as though it were permanently under surveillance - which it actually was - is. You could not have slipped a Rizla between them so close were they now. Her heat passed to him and vice versa. Heat indeed.




(TBC)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

PETROULA

He hit the kitchen first and made a pot of Earl Grey: didn't bother checking mail; in the door, first left - kitchen. He put the tray down on the desk and kicked off his shoes and that's when he noticed the answer phone blinking. Nobody had this number: plus it was unlisted; must be junk. He pressed the play button from an idle curiosity and sat down. There was a pause and then a strange "message". Someone was talking, you could hear breathing too, but not in any language he knew. He leant forward and replayed it. He replayed it twice before he twigged: it was being played backwards or rather the message was being spoken backwards. And only one person he knew had mastered that particular trick. A little digital trickery with the computer reversed the speech stream for him and he heard the unmistakable and cigarette husky voice of Petra. A voice from the past indeed ... must be 12 years or more ... he'd thought her dead ... obviously not ... "Eef you are whorking the Boris connection cherie meet me at the Prospect tonight at 10. Eef not I send you just a kiss".

He had loved Petra once. Had almost wrecked his marriage over her. They'd worked on what? ten, maybe twelve, cases together. Petra had been trained by "the institute" and she was good - eidetic memory, back speaking, code making and breaking - she had it all. He had never got to the bottom of how she had washed up here in London working for the factory - it was just somewhere you never went with Petra - her face would turn stony and her eyes would drain of all feeling - she would clam up, or else she would go on the attack - like he said - you just didn't go there - even in bed you didn't go there. His feelings warmed toward her, rekindled, just recalling some of their times together. Perhaps he loved her yet: for him at least love seldom died altogether.

Two hours later he drank off the last of the cold tea and stubbed out the last of his cigarettes - the ashtray nearly full. He was trying to imagine how time had treated her: trying to guess what she might have been doing between times. Facially she would not have changed much - she had always had great bones but that voluptuous body might have sagged or fattened - who could know? He hazarded that she had gone back to working for 'the institute" - might have been coerced - she wouldn't have gone willingly. But if she had information on Boris then it was worth schlepping over to the East End - despite having been born north of the river he seldom went that way anymore ... they treated him like a foreigner - a traitor almost. Who was he kidding - he had known since he first heard her breathing and then her voice that he would go - he couldn't pass up a chance like this.

He got up, dropped off the tea things in the kitchen, emptied the ashtray into an overflowing bin under the sink and kicked the cupboard door firmly closed on it. Bollocks to it, Denise was due in the following day to clean up. A slow relaxing bath was in order, if he was heading north he'd dress sharply. A drop of Dettol in the bath maybe. He opened another door and opened another pack of cigarettes - was that 2 today? - it wouldn't ever do to run out - and he never had. He padded across the hallway and began to run a bath. Half a cap of Dettol and 3 or 4 drops of lavender oil. Had she cut that wonderful hair, he wondered, now that she had turned 40? He hoped not.




(TBC)

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Kerbside Fairy

Charlie took a cab back to his flat ... a very black Nigerian mini-cab pilot driving a Vauxhall Corsa that would fail any roadworthiness test you might devise no matter how slack. BIts of bodywork peeling back; deep gashes in the upholstery; gouges down both sides; and half of the front bumper entirely absent as if the Iron Man had taken a snack on this scabby morsel. Charlie was nobody's fool - he had checked that the guy knew where his place was before committing himself by entering this automotive flea pit: he had had the driver rehearse the route for him.

Sinking into the horrid and broken plastic rear seat he laughed to himself about the naivete of the "other players". Seeing the driver's face in the rear-view he realised that he was laughing out loud. It happened - to him it happened a lot. It had not been wasted effort though: he had stood outside the missing wall for a while and had studied the speech patterns and inflexions of all of them. Had stood there with his eyes closed and his ears cocked picking up every nuance.

Sonia had surprised him - she was brighter than he might have otherwise suspected. A Chechen he'd guess: and it would be a guess or rather a judgement that he'd back with money and he was no mug punter. Boris though, bothered him. That high tone was a real shock and distracted him from giving his accent the close attention it deserved - there was something distinctive about it but Charlie couldn't quite place it. He leant forward and jabbed the driver in the shoulder with his index finger -

"This'll do - I'll walk from here". The driver stood on the brakes and the Corsa slowly came to rest about 3 feet from the kerb. "It's OK I'll get another cab to the kerb ...", he stuffed a fiver into the cabby's shirt pocket and opened the kerbside door nearly unseating a bicycle courier racing past on the inside. Charlie rushed out, stood up, flicked a vee and shouted at the cyclist's back. "Careless cunt".

The cyclist braked hard ,stopped in the middle of the junction, and spun the bike around. Charlie watched him, smirking. He watched the distance between them close. He judged the distance and closing speed. The courier was fuming. His face was set in a rictus of sheer bloody mindedness. Charlie ran forward suddenly and punched the cyclist flush in the face as he was still pumping his legs vigorously. The bike went down. The cyclist went down. Charlie walked slowly away toward his flat. He looked over his shoulder, spat, and murmured, "That'll learn you - you cunt. Get some fucking manners". He registered the look of total disbelief on the cabby's face and waved him away.



(TBC)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Where did he went?

There is quite a throng in Sonia's living room - the blinds are drawn but the curtains are real. Fat George and Mr Power are siting, very, almost immorally, close to each other on the comfortable if battered sofa by the bay. Mr Lory hovers by the bookshelves, trying to ignore the canoodling of his employees. "Just because you are out of the plot there is no need to carry on like that you pouffes". A rose pink glow suffuses his cheeks. He fingers the leatherette spines of the Collected Dostoevsky set as he averts his eyes and he abrupty withdraws his hand in disgust. Taking a handkerchief from his breast pocket he wipes his fingers fastidiously.

"You like my library Mr Lory? My friend I have in Isleworth works for the publisher. Very collectible I think, is that not so?" Sonia has entered from the kitchen with a tray on which sits a chubby dark brown tea-pot, a plate of rich tea biscuits and a pile of cheap cups and saucers. She is smiling broadly but looks gaunt and haunted. The Alexes follow her, each with a plate of fairy cakes. Each with a face like thunder. They have yet to speak since arriving within moments of each other.

Boris broods brutishly in a red tub chair that clashes with most everything else in the room. Bruno himself is as incongruous as the velour chair: he is huge and clearly muscled beneath the donkey jacket that he wears. The dark blue donkey jacket over the counterfeit Levi jeans and the ox-blood dealer boots give him the look of a man who works at the fairground and whilst the clothing is unassuming and immemorable the head and, more specifically the face, are striking and haunting. The face is crowded onto a small area on the front of a huge head. Thick lips and hollow cheeks, a prominent, large nose that broadens remarkably at the bridge and what seems to be a single eyebrow are all crammed together in a relatively tiny space giving an alarming look to a man who would obviously top 6 feet 6 were he to stand up. It is not possible from this distance to determine the colour of his eyes but they might be as black as is the brush of wiry hair that tops him off. The man is a brute: a pure and simple force of nature's darker side.

Sonia has distributed tea and fancies to all gathered while we have been describing Bruno. Each player now balances a cup and saucer on one knee and a tea plate on the other. All are seated. Mr Power sneers over at the Alexes and speaks, " and what were you two boys up to in the kitchen may I ask?". The blonde Alex glares back at him - "Shut your foul mouth you nasty minded little slug or I shall do it for you. Do not judge everyone by your own foibles and predilections. You have a mouth like a drain and a mind like a sewer. I should like very much to beat your pudgy little face to a pulp - do not give me an excuse. Sonia, shall we start?"

"I am sorry that you all had to come here," starts Sonia, "but as you all know I am forbidden by our writer to leave this flat and ..." Mr Lory holds up his hand, the index finger raised, and interrupts her flow, "Are we not going to wait for Charlie? Or was he not invited? I would just like to know. Before we go on. Excuse me Miss Sonia". Sonia nods "Yes Charlie was invited but then timekeeping has never been one of his strong points has it? No. I think ... and the Alexes agree with me on this ... that we should start immediately ... Charlie can catch up quickly ... if and when he turns up. Failing all else he can always read this. So ... to continue ... we are here because our writer has gone missing ... we need to decide what to do if he doesn't return. Do we carry on from where he left us and run our own lives? Do we find a new writer? Does one of us take over ... and if so who? or should that be whom? my English is not so good at the fine points. I'm sick of being locked up with this pseudo-agoraphobia. I'm also sick of this embarrassing complaint ... I'm a young healthy woman ... it's a real pain in the uterus. I'm sick of these 3 walls ... he, our illustrious writer, never finished describing this flat ... so I've got a whole wall missing and it's bloody draughty in here."

"I'd noticed that" said the other Alex, " ... must be pretty unpleasant but remember he didn't give me a home of any kind ... I just wander the streets constantly waiting to be written back in." A surprisingly shrill voice issues from the tub chair, " .. and I can't leave bloody Tooting until he comes back." "At least you've got a whole house - not half a house ... or three quarters". "And we ..." chorused the three others, "have to live in the bloody office." "Charlie's got a whole flat to himself ... with a bath, a bog, a bed and everything ... favouritism it is ... plain and simple ..." "Shut up George, just shut up will you?" "So, where's he gone do we think? ... and will he ever come back? maybe he's just given up on us and gone back to his ordinary blog."

Charlie sidles into the room through the missing wall ... he is twice the size of the others ... bigger even than Boris ... and he is sharply focussed, with all proper detail ... of a sudden the others look sketchy ... pale and rough edged somehow. "OK you lot back to your places. Break it up. He hasn't gone anywhere. He'll be back later on this evening." "How do you know? Who are you to order us about?"

"I'm the main fucking character you twats. I know more than any of you. Aside from that I'm the one doing the investi-bleeding-gation. You're just a limp bunch of minor characters and fill ins. You wankers only slot into the narrative ... like some sort of punctuation marks ... I carry the entire weight of the plot ... and besides ... I'm the only one who's got enough brains to read his blog last night ... he was going on and on about the problems of the latecomers and the active readers and that ... simpletons ... is why none of us featured ... plain and simple ... jesus I wish he'd stop using that bloody phrase ... I hate it. trust me I know whereof I speak now shuffle off back to your little narrative niches and shut the fuck up ... go on .. piss off "

And they did. They faded back into the surroundings with Sonia chuckling to herself as she went ... "At least I got some furniture out of it...".



(TBC)

Friday, December 08, 2006

NavNovBlog

Navigating episodic texts when they are presented within classical blog structures.



Delivering creative writing in a blog format presents certain technical and creative problems. The creative "challenges" as they are better described will be tackled later. For now this text will address the immediate technical problems: especially as they manifest themselves to the reader.


First and foremost among the technical problems is the issue of direction. A creative piece such as the current short story and to some greater extent the previous blogella "I arrest you" is immanent to the nature of standard blog presentation. The original nature of blogs was that they were composed of separate entries in a time sequence where the sequence is presented in a "most recent first" order whereby the most recent post on a blog is always presented as the first item on the first page that a reader is presented with when accessing the blog.


For readers of these episodic creative pieces who begin reading as the author begins this is not an issue and will actually feel both natural and intuitive - but only so long as they read each episode before another is published. Woe betide them if they drop off of the pace! If two or more epsodes have been posed in their absence then they will either miss an episode or more or else they will be in the same position as new readers - they will be reading the episodes in reverse order!


And there we have the nub of the problem - (or not) - anyone coming across a creative work in progress fashioned this way will begin in the "wrong place" and work their way down the page but "backwards thru time" to the beginning - at which point any number of other episodes might have been posted "above" where they came in!


The worst possible case must be if a reader should discover a creative text just as the last episode is posted. It is also true that the writer, and anybody else at all come to that, finds it very difficult to point readers to the work once it is either under way or worse still when it is complete. Once complete the work is effectively inaccessible unless the reader is prepared to put in an unusual amount of effort.


Or, if the writer is prepared to put in an additional effort to reformat the work - either in flow or at completion. During the creation of "I arrest you" - the blogella that featured in my blog earlier this year - I attempted to create a "New readers start here ..." version of the work as I posted each new episode but found that it added just too much to my workload and when that text spread itself out onto 3 other blogs in order to carry parallel texts the challenge overwhelmed me.


It was a gallant attempt and tried to present a reversed version of the as then entire blog text as an homogenous and regularly updated web page of its own. It did not prove terribly popular and, as I say, was too much extra work (in fact the multiple parallel texts problem poses a typesetting and layout conundrum that has, as yet, stumped me - If you re an innovative typesetter and think you can solve this problem - I have tried Rios's alternate page solution and it doesn't work - please get in touch).


That failure and the continuing issue of how to set the blogella for paper however, gave me the idea that rather than making adjustments and or copies to or of the text one might usefully, and with much less effort simply assemble and alternative indexing structure for the work. The world wide web after all excels at hyperlinkage and an active index - a new readers' index - would be less effort to maintain and present the work in its original unfolding to newly found consumers of the text.


In the simplest of case all one needs to do as a writer is to ensure that every post of the work has a permanent link (URL) and construct a reverse ordered list of these links as a separate WWW entity and this would ensure that any reader can read the episodes in the order that they were presented to the audience by the writer. If you - CLICK ON THIS LINK - you will find a copy of this entry presented as a separate web page and on that page the leftmost column presents just such an index (slightly enhanced) prepared for use with the work in progress.


Now some of you may have noticed several paragraphs back that when I used the expression "the nub of the problem" I followed it directly with a disclaimer wrapped around with dashes and parentheses that indicated that perhaps it was not a problem at all. Now the reason that it is not necessarily a problem dwells in a modern understanding of a text. If one believes that the writer and the reader each have something to bring to the text in order to make it a performance then it is quite clear that the order that the writer wants to present the text is not necessarily the same as the order in which the reader wants to read it and thus the odd structure and order of a text presented episodically in a blog structure presents certain novel opportunities to the "active" reader and it was only in writing this piece that that realisation dawned upon me.


I acknowledge that not all of my readers will be that active as readers but not wishing to deny such readers as are the freedom to explore and unfold the text in their own way I have constructed the new readers' index (NRI) in such a way that it indicates, by the order of the episodes indexed, the order that the episodes were originally presented in but without forcing the active reader to slavishly follow the same order. I have, for example, refused to number the episodes. I have added brief textualindicators to act as some kind of taster or teaser but you will notice that I have indicated where the whole text "begins", from the writer's point of view. I shall, when we get there, also indicate where the text "ends", again from the writer's point of view. In this I follow the example so admirably set by B S Johnson in his seminal work, The Unfortunates.


A link to the stand alone NRI will be placed on each and evey blog hosting the w i p when it, the stand alone NRI, is posted, and the NRI will be regularly updated in line with postings thus bookmarking the NRI Each of the links in the NRI opens a separate window or tab in your browser to house the selected episode. As a bonus, and if you use FireFox, then and if you take the trouble to install the LINKY extension you can open every link on the page all at once in multiple tabs.


For the present the NRI is constructed and maintained by hand but in the future it should not be impossible to automate the job. Please feel free to crib this idea - if you wish to credit me please include a link back to this piece.


The blog version of this piece may not be updated but the non-blog version will. In due course I will extend this to address the creative and or writer's issues that flow from episodic publishing of a creative text in blog form.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Son throws a sicky

Down the road in grimy Tooting Sonia had given up going out altogether. Initially worried she had then become anxious and this had progressed to full blown terror. And all in a matter of days. Aware that she was being watched she had taken to watching for signs of being watched. She saw signs of it all around her: the grubby little man in the market who had wolf-whistled her every day ever since she had moved in became a professional voyeur in her mind. Her overactive mind. Her febrile mind. He was watching her of this she was certain. And the postman who whistled his way up her path every morning - surely he was different of late - more sinister - more threatening. He was because she had made him so. Men, and there were many of them - she was a beautiful girl after all by Tooting standards, by any western standards really - who glanced her way became predatory, scrutinising, beasts stalking her and waiting only for an opportunity to strike. And when it had become impossible to go out without shaking all the way she had finally decided to stay indoors for as long as it took for it all to go away.

She rang in sick that day claiming a bout of endometritis - good enough for a few weeks and embarrassing enough to shut most people up. She mumbled something about St. George's and something else about gynaecologists. Finally there was a mention of towels and that had sealed the subject off for all time - too much information, just as she had calculated. Nobody wanted to talk about womens' troubles - least of all men and she worked mostly with men, big, boastful, men, not real men, estate agents. They might send a card and some flowers but she could safely assume that none of them would bring them round in person. Most of them wouldn't be seen in Tooting - professional suicide. Moreover, the nature of her incapacity would stifle all possible conversation outside of work and work was out because she was not turning in every grinding day.

Two days into her enforced house arrest she had given up getting dressed - she stalked around the house in her dressing gown and nightshirt, checking windows and doors and sneaking looks at the outside world, the scary world, at regular, frighteningly regular intervals. The heating was turned up to 75ยบ - you need heating if you are stuck indoors and not fully dressed - she suddenly felt sorry for pensioners. But, not having to worry about what to wear; not having to do your makeup or even to wash was oddly liberating. She sniffed her armpits - not too bad - maybe she would shower tomorrow - her hair, normally so glossy and full-bodied, was now lank and dull.

Where was Alex? It was a long time since he had checked in. She no longer had any idea what was going on - she took no newspaper and she was loth to use the television, it could be watching her as she watched it, she knew that much about technology. Her horizons extended barely to the edge of the carpets in every room. She convinced herself that he was staying under the radar and thus protecting her. He would be in touch only when she was safe again. At least Alex cared genuinely for her -surely he did? And if he didn't then what then?



(TBC)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

UNDER THE COVERS

Out of the reverie and into discomfort. Charlie's bladder started urging him to get up. He had considered once or twice in recent months the idea of getting a gazunder - nobody else shared his bed these days and it would be an amazing convenience. Maybe his prostate was swelling with age. A nice earthenware one - that would be good. One of those poncey soi disant antique shops down the Northcote Road would have something appropriate and tasteful - perhaps an art deco one - did Clarice Cliff ever make them he wondered? There was a really nice couple had a stall down there that he knew quite well - Kevin and Johnny - queer as four pound notes but very nice guys. Maybe he'd wander down there this afternoon and ask - there was decent little cafe upstairs where they did a tasty bacon sarnie. Johnny was Belfast boy with a beautful burr and a penchant for the canine race whereas Kevin was a London lad but with that peculiarly refined voice favoured by the gay community of a certain age - sans all trace of region - although Charlie suspected that it was not Battersea - more Bermondsey - there was south and possibly east London somewhere in there. If they weren't off in Sitges or over in Oz they'd help him out.

HIs bladder nagged at him again and then his bowel began to join in the Greek chorus beckoning him from his pit. It was no use trying to ignore such bodily calls - he couldn't concentrate with double incontinence beckoning him. He threw back the duvet - a concession to Mary that he had never recanted - and let the cold air in - fucking central heating never worked properly - christ he hated this flat. Paddling barefoot across the sisal carpet he stumbled his way down the hall to the plain black and white bathroom and let his stream flow. The crap would wait until he had had coffee - and a fag or two.

Pissing freehand, he smiled to himself. That moment last night when he had realised that whoever had done the steganography had had some sense of humour - he suspected Ted but would never know for sure, it was just about his handwriting though. The way the steg encoding worked was that whenever you pulled one of the files down all you got to see was a high resolution image badly rendered - last night's had all been nature shots - you then piped the output to the de-steg program which revealed the text hidden within the picture, gradually removing the picture in a wipe effect. It was when he had accessed Golikov's file that he had twigged - as the last traces of the concealing photograph of a piranha disappeared he had laughed long and hard and wryly. A piranha indeed. And that was when he called back the other photographs: various shots of groups of sharks concealed the Obshina texts; charging rhinos for the Bratva texts and so it had gone - he just hadn't seen the connexion before. He shook the drips from his cock and made his way out to the kitchen - and coffee.



(TBC)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Kursaal Flyers

Charlie awoke to sunshine pouring across his face. Given that the previous two days had been overcast it came as something of a surprise. A pleasant surprise. It had been a long hard night at the files for Charlie but at least he knew it was before 2 o'clock: the sun moved past at about two at this time of year. It hid behind the big stand of poplars by the railway lines. He stretched and rolled to one side sleepily, uncreasing his old bones and muscles, sinew and tendons. HIs next move, his first genuinely conscious movement was to retrieve a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from the bedside table. He lit one and drew on it as if his life depended on it. Which, given the way he felt most mornings, it may have done. He coughed and cleared some phlegm from his throat. Propping himself on one elbow he squinted across at the clock - he had ditched the alarm clock a few years back when his eyes had first begun to let him down and had instead installed a bloody great big wall clock directly opposite the end of the bed: and already he was having trouble reading it. He shifted the book out of the way (The HIdden Files if you're really interested) and retrieved his reading specs.

He crushed the butt into the ashtray with a brown stained thumb, now stained with ash, and immediately lit a fresh one resting back on the pillows. He took off the specs and dropped them beside the bed. And then he closed his eyes. It was all memory now. All recall. The access Gee had given him was not just read only it was copy and print disabled too. He had had to commit everything to memory - no wonder he was knackered. There was half of a cup of cold coffee on the floor down by where his specs now were, maybe last night's, maybe older: he grabbed it and slugged the viscous brown muck back. If you're too lazy to make fresh then you drink what's at hand. Feeling the grounds between his teeth he rested back again and smiled a self satisfied smile. He was thinking about Gee. Gee and Mary.

Mary had been dead nearly ten years now and it must have been nine since he had seen Gee. He no longer missed Mary - he had become accustomed to her absence over time - all he had now were happy memories of her - all regrets and sadness were purged from him in the intervening, desperately empty years. She and Gee had been close - who knows, perhaps they had been lovers - who cares? Not he. Ten years ago he had been - they had both been - on the force together. I t was only Mary's death that had moved them both on - and both to the same firm. And despite the fact that they left the force within months of each other and moved to the same firm they had seen very little of each other from that point on. Gee had risen through the hierarchy quickly - he had been a natural manager and administrator - but Charlie had stayed at the sharp end - the operational pit face if you will. No hard feelings. Gee deserved his success and, any way, Charlie was happy with his lot. It wasn't that they had drifted apart, rather that they had obstinately, purposely, gone their own ways: had gone on to their own separate successes. It was as if the pain of Mary's death had unzipped their relationship and set them both free. The crab had got her in the guts and had taken a long, hard, tearful time to carry her off. Fucker. But that was behind him now and if the crab wanted to come and get him then he was ready to go now. There was little left undone and nothing left unexpatiated - he was all talked out and ready for an end to the solipsistic dialogue that others would call his life. Arno Schmidt was his man.

Unbidden, a memory popped forward almost fully formed - a trip to Southend one Bank Holiday - who knows which one - the three of them in Gee's ancient Jowett Javelin - ancient even then - a collector's piece now no doubt - the bowling alley - Peter Pan's playground - the waxworks - or was it a house of horror - or both - the trampolines - fish and chips - he recalled a wonderful chip butty - the butter melting out as the bread collapsed onto the chips soaked in tawny malt vinegar and running up his sleeve - Mary eating prawns and Gee tucking into winkles with a pin he kept in his lapel - Charlie always had a razor blade in his - some beers - a port and lemon for Mary - just the one, she was driving them all home - an evening at the Kursaal - on to the Cliffs to check out Alexei Sayle - more beer - more fun - more laughs - a coffee and an ice at Rossi's. What times we had.

He dragged himself out of the reverie and cast back to last night's session.



(TBC)

Monday, December 04, 2006

STEGANOGRAPHY

Little did Mr Lory know that he would soon be able to deliver his summons directly. Almost as soon as his rear end hit his own chair in his own office his phone rang: "Lory speaking". Silence - followed by 2 taps. Lory switched quickly to voice scramble. "OK - done". He pushed his chair back and the Aeron sailed majestically away from the tiny, curved, Coriam desk. "Lory speaking" he repeated.

"Gee" came a voice that he did not immediately recognise "I need a favour". HIs recall circuits were abuzz but all routes led nowhere " I'm sure you do but who are you? And where do you get off calling me Gee?" "It's Chas you muppet - you remember me, school, the force ... shit, I work for you."

"Chas you old rogue - I'm sorry - it's been a long time since we spoke and this bloody scrambler system doesn't exactly help. How the fuck did you get this number? NO, don't tell me I don't want to know after all. What sort of favour do you want as if I didn't know - it's the Tooting job isn't it? No wonder Power doesn't know how you do it. Connexions in high places helps and those in low places help too don't they?".

"I need access to some files - well some folders actually and yes connexions are useful ... Power? have you seen him lately - looks to me like he's about due a stroke and I don't mean the cuddly type either. Trouble is I'm not sure exactly what folders I need to see - I suppose open access is out of the question?"

"Chas, I don't have open access! In fact I don't think anyone does since the last balls up. You're going to have to fish for it. As for our Mr Power well his medical last month was touch and go and to be completely honest I wouldn't give a flying fuck if he pegged out tomorrow. Pompous old tart! By the by, do you know whether he's still shafting that fat mechanic of his? I ask only because he's really going to have to shaft him now - the little catamite has some very serious debt due to some very nasty Iranians who have some very nice establishments if you know what I mean. Just talk to me while I warm up the old computer." He coasted the Aeron back to the desk and opened the lid on a laptop that was recessed into the desktop - invisibly recessed - no cables in sight and no way to remove it . A flap on the desk let down a mite and Lory's thin fingers got to work.

"I don't think so Gee, I think that was all over a while back and yes I do know what you mean - the casino brothers right? He's a silly sod - I took a tenner off him only today so I don't imagine Darius and Cyrus had too much trouble - is he gonna have to go? No options? I guess not. You ready? OK try Bratva."

"Yes"

"Parent folder?"

"No"

"Obshina?"

"Yes - parent Bratva"

"Dolgoprudnenskaya?"

"Yes - parent Bratva"

"OK give me Bratva - what about Nokchallah? double ell."

"Hold on Chas - yes got it - parent Chechnya underscore mob. Where are you going with this Chas? And there seems to be a link across to Bratva -any more?"

"Konstantin Golikov?"

"Yes, got him - he's supposed to be dead or in hiding but it looks as though the FSB are pretty sure he's dead."

"Viktor Bout?"

"Yes - in Iraq? Or Liberia. Both of them are in Red or Dead"

"OK - I'll need 3 hours access tops - anytime you can. I'll wait."

"All right Chas - check - Bratva, Chechenya underscore mob, and Red or Dead - is that the lot? I'll get you two hours as of midnight tonight - use port 131 and the access will be stego protected - read only and only from your company machine - we use the serial number - and only from this line - OK?"

"Thanks Gee - I owe you. Do I need that thumb thing as well?"

"Of course you do - you know the drill and be sure to get off before the two hours expire."

"Yeah OK whatever. See you Friday?"

"Friday" he affirmed and then he put the phone down, removed the thumb print device and slid the laptop back into the desktop. He glanced around his office and congratulated himself quietly on his taste. Minimalist chic. The views were rubbish but then it was South London and South London held happy memories for him. Memories of Chas and Mary. Even memories of days on the force. "Well Mr Power, " he announced to the soundproofed walls, "I think you might have just got very lucky. The dog has seen the rabbit."




(TBC)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Power and the Lory

Mr Power leant back in his chair and put his highly polished Loake shoes carefully on the leather topped desk. He hadn't used a fountain pen in 20 years but an A3 sized leather bound blotter still dominated his desktop. Pristine, of course, - save that is for a single heel indentation, he always crossed his legs at the ankles before taking up his customary position but his shoes always sported steel quarter tips. They were an affectation that he had adopted when Hush Puppies became acceptable in business wear and policemen had taken to wearing rubber soled boots. It was his marker if you will - of his military background. Parade ground chic you might say - and that was why his shoes were always shined to a high gloss - even the brown Tricker brogues that he habitually wore on a Friday.

Across the desk from him sat a small man whose posture seemed constantly to be apologising for him - for his very existence if not for the space he was taking up. His suit had once been new - new but cheap thought Power - probably Marks and Sparks - but not any more. Any-normal-body looking in on this scene would have jumped to entirely the wrong conclusion: that this man was Mr Power's subordinate. In actual fact there were 3 rungs between them in the office hierarchy - and nobody could observe this very private - technologically guaranteed to be private scene. There was only one rung further for our little man to clamber up and then he would be the man. Mr Lory, our small, seemingly self apologetic protagonist, cleared his throat and scowled at Power. "Can Charlie sort this out do you think, Power?" No Mister, no familiarity, no xtian name: the use of the simple surname fixed the distance between them.

Power removed his feet from the blotter: the power play had clearly worked. "Because, if he cannot, then we are in shit --- correction --- you are in shit." Power leant forward and Lory raised his hand no more than an inch to shut him up - "You will not have a paddle and - trust me on this Power - you will not wriggle out from under - this time. Think very carefully before you answer. This may be the most important, and possibly the very last, judgement call you make for us - so be very, very circumspect. We can have him of of this project in no time at all and I suspect that he would be only too happy with that outcome. It's a poisoned chalice at best." In the time that Mr. Lory had been speaking Power had pulled himself upright and assumed a very formal posture: he made as if to speak and suddenly corrected himself and asked for permission with his eyes. The eyes that stared back at him for 2 or 3 seconds before granting his unspoken request were the coldest, hardest, and bluest he had ever locked with and they pierced him to his ego.

"Charlie will get to the bottom of it, Sir. Of that I have no doubt. I'd bet my last shilling on it. Since joining us he has never failed, his ways are wayward but his track record is without stain. Charlie simply 'does the business'. I've given up trying to fathom how he does it but he does it!" By the time he had finished Mr Lory was at the door, "It is your wager if you wish to see it that way Power and I trust that your "track record" is better than that of the hirsute dolt that you employ on office machinery. You should check his personnel record ------- soon ---- his gambling losses are becoming potentially problematic. See to it Power." He turned the handle of the carved door and stepped through into the outer office where fat George stood, looking lost. "See to it before it becomes a problem." as he finally left he glanced over his shoulder, "Friday then. 11 o'clock - my office! And make sure Charlie is there."



(TBC)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

BRATVA

The cabbie didn't kill us both despite spending most of his time on the phone - talking to his bit on the side from what I could make out - so that's why he didn't want to talk my hind leg off but it sure wasn't her hind leg he was interested in. I tipped a load of junk mail in the bin as I came past the mail slots in the entrance lobby - mine and some other people's - the only mail I want I get delivered elsewhere - sometimes I look at the amount of crap that comes through the letterboxes here and wonder whether the poor old postie doesn't have some sort of rupture - he's a rum old geezer though and still wears shorts in October - nutter.

So now I'm laying back in a deep hot bath and going over the "facts". The creases are easing out slowly and I'm warming up a treat. Trying not to run the list that always comes to mind in the bath: Seneca the Younger, Marat, Tod Browning, Lenny Bruce, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, Jim Morrison, B S Johnson, Jack Nance, and most recently of all, Kenneth Lay - with my usual amount of success - none. As you can tell I'm kind of wildly ambivalent about baths and bathrooms. It's a good list, an illustrious list in a way, but I sure don't want my name adding to it. No thanks. I reach out for another fag and light up. Good old lung cancer'll do for me ta. Down to work.

What do we have then?

A project that is clearly weird - the last time I got a straight on case Methuselah was a boy - and that joke file tells me more by what isn't in it than what is.

A hundred missing intercepts? Or is the 101 just a yank thing?

Two Alexes - one the colonel and one the writer of the intercepted missive - AG.

An assassin - professional we presume but employed or freelance? - called Boris.

Two surveillance teams in operation on our lovely Sonia - maybe 3 if we count our boys and girls.

Some very healthy paranoia.

1 murder - probably.

some soviet shenanigans - certainly.

My gut churns and a stream of bubbles makes it to the surface through the scum. Sniff that Poirot! I smelled Bratva from the outset and that mention of Obshina nails it pretty perfectly for me. The FSB reference is phoney - I'm sure - I'd bet on it - better bet than George's too (2nd at 16 to 1 SP). A blind. God help us this is gonna be a bramah. Sharpen up Charlie! These guys play for keeps.

Time for coffee. Pull the plug. Wrap the towel around. Step out. Christ I'm looking a mess these days -the old AD has started ravaging this once wonderful - godlike - physique.


(TBC)

Friday, December 01, 2006

44

Turns out it was a 44 although why it turned left I have no idea - probably that dozy driver. He's stuck in heavy traffic and I flick him a V as I walk past and give him the tosser sign for good measure. The two old ladies wave - mad old cow disease I guess. Endless swathes of charity shops, boarded up windows and scabby clothes shops until I get my right - Totterdown - how apt for the old biddies and then on up and 3rd right into the top end of Undine -steady now - all on edge - watching and listening to and for everything. It's a long victorian terrace although half or more of the slate roofs have been buggered up with red concrete tiles - you can see where they didn't reinforce the trusses - cheapskates, still it'll be their funeral when all that concrete drops in on them. Is her place on the left or the right though? No way to know from the report. Green door - that might help. Luckily the original brick walls that separate the tine fronts gardens from the pavement are mostly still in place and that only because the gardens are too small for a car port. Thigh high it'll provide good enough cover. I stop by a house that has, for reasons defying taste and sense, had crazy paving applied vertically to the front wall --- and grouted in grey - is there really no end to this barbarism - who the hell allowed that? Their trusses are bowing - serve them bloody well right. OK - I've got the green door 3 in and it's on the other side - lucky - over the wall and through the gardens. I settle in two doors up - good job I've got that bacon sandwich - this could be long job. I'll warm it up in my armpit later. Three hours, 1 bacon sandwich and a sly piss in the bushes and I've picked up not one but 2 sets of curtain twitchers that aren't bored housewives or old ladies. The lovely Sonia isn't back yet but I'm deffo not hanging around - I've got what I need and now I need a crap.

Back out on Totterdown I hail a black cab and head on home. I shall be needing a bath and a rest to warm up and unwind my aching bones. And I'd best check on George's nag. Luckily the cabbie doesn't want to chat - a real one in a million - thank you. I am shagged and cold and aching all over. I am getting too old for this shit.



(TBC)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Long bus journey into Tooting

Turned left looking up at the sky - overcast but no obvious downpour so I wander on down past the grotty little second hand shop - junk shop more like, I've never seen anything in there that wasn't worth burning - past the bookies and on to the bus stop. Garratt Lane - what a crap hole, despite the supposed gentrification - always has been - always will be. Just up there on the right is the Henry Prince estate - one of the shittiet places I've ever had the misfortune to visit - and trust me - I've done shitty - big time. Three buses come along together, ain't that just typical, and I grab the last one - poxy OMOs where's the lippy clippie? - it smells of second hand clothes and old ladies - junk food containers litter the floor (no discernment - those people would have been better off nutritionally eating the containers and dumping the content - thank Christ they didn't). Garbage in garbage out. The bus sweeps past the Henry Prince and its imposing brick arch flits by - on the other side is a small development of council housing - hutches not two feet from the road - I wonder what they breathe in? Why do only old people use buses? All of these buses are going down Garratt Lane - Tooting here we come. Yum yum yum - NOT. Developers and property crooks have done everything they can - and for the last 20 years - but it doggedly refuses (dogggedly - yeah the pavements are deep in dog shit most of the time - who'd be a street sweeper down there? - still, they did away with street sweepers years ago so it' not a real problem) to come up-market. We crawl past Rayners and on under the dark bridge of Earlsfield station - no amount of netting that they put up seems to stop the pigeons from nesting up there and crapping all over everyone (shoot the fucking lot of them I say - go on Ken - shoot 'em all). Indian and Chinese restaurants left and right - the abandoned police station on the right just before Summerstown and on past the closed community - and then we're there. 15 minutes to cover about 2 miles - brilliant. 15 minutes of discomfort par excellence. The driver - nasty mean sod - refuses to open the doors at the lights - bloody jobsworth - makes his day - as if the traffic hadn't blocked the whole system! The bus turns left - shit! OK - I can cut in round the back. Past the dodgy tailoring shops and finally Mister Misery deigns to stop. I wander down the bus and intentionally get off the on ramp - I throw him what I hope is a withering sneer - "SHITHEAD" I growl. The two old lades getting on push, elbows sharpened at sundry jumble sales and church bazaars, dig me and jostle me. "Watch the driver", I say "he's a fascist bastard". They give me the sort of look I just tried to give the driver. The shorter, and uglier of the two white haired old biddies drags her shopping trolley up my shin. "Cheers love - hope your prolapse drops!".


(TBC)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fry Up up

Must've taken me all of two minutes to get round to Sultan's. Well, at least it didn't rain. The builders had done breakfast and hadn't got back for lunch yet so the place was quietly deserted - plates cleared, floor swept, tables cleaned - worn out formica shining in the harsh overhead lighting - spotless. Ali was behind the jump scraping burnt fat off the griddle - getting ready for the next rush. "Hello Maisy - where's Merril?"
"Merril does Thursdays you big dope - it's Friday - just me today, June's at the clinic so I'm on me Jack Jones - no looking down Merril's top for you you mucky little git."
"Hi Ali" - Ali grins and nods
"Hello mister Charlie - no sushi today?"
It's an in joke and I won't bore you with it.
"What's it to be Chas? Coupla rashers in a bap?"
"No Maisy, not today.
Ali do me the works will you? Three sausages, 5 bacon - streaky not back - chips, beans, mushrooms, fried tomatoes - not those shitty tinned things - fried onions and stick a couple of slices of fried bread on too."
"You on a diet mister Charlie? No black pudding?"
"Oh go on then, just a couple".
"D'you want some toast Chas?"
"Leave it out Maisy - what sorta gannett d'you think I am?"
"How many sorts are there Chas? - anyway - who's springing for this one you tightwad?".
"Fat George gave me a bet to put on but I stuck it in me pocket - loser".
"The nag or George?"
"Both Mais, both - one born every minute - no skin off my five though - gissa fag Mais"
Maisy reached into the pocket of her pale blue overall and produced a packet of Bensons.
"Go on - take one for Ron too. I'll get you an ashtray."
"Ta darling - you'll get your reward in heaven ... unless you come round to my place later ..."
"You wish lover boy ... I'd make mincemeat of you. No, I'll stick with Sid thanks ... he knows how to make a lady feel special ..."
"Your loss Maisy but that's life ... now put that ashtray down and clear off for a bit willya? Got a new job on ... gotta think"
"OK Chas OK - you want tea or coffee?"
"Coffee - Black - ta - make it a mug will you?"
Five minutes later the coffee turned up and Maisy stayed mercifully quiet when she put it down - she emptied the ashtray too. And then it was "grub up". Well, I was more than ready for it and demolished the whole lot in v short order. All that grease and vinegar did me the world of good I'm telling you - put a lining in my gut no probs.
"Thanks Ali - that was smashing - another coffee if you don't mind".
And there I sat with Maisy topping up the coffee regularly until the hairy arsed building crew that's ripping the guts out of the old laundry prior to turning it into another gated community for the yuppy incomers. Pretty much as soon as they began to dribble in it got way too noisy to think properly - why don't the blokes who want to talk to each other sit together? How much is there to discuss about the tits on page 3 any way? And the "politics" - don't get me started on that ... So, I slipped Maisy the tenner and shoved the bacon sandwich that Ali had made me in my jacket pocket. Stick that in the microwave later - drop of OK sauce - that'll do for tea. Brain food. The windows have started to steam up and the cigarette smoke has begun to fill the top foot or two of the fuggy cafe as I push out into the street past a couple of burly brickies covered in mortar who are clearly in a hurry to get at their grub.


(TBC)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

HEDGEHUNTER

And that, pals, is it. That was all there was in the file the boss had handed me - what? - 5 minutes previously. The lot. Three crappy sheets. Bugger all basically. Now I'm used to starting without very much but that seemed to me to be taking the piss. And I said so. For all the bloody good it did me. Like the man said "I can't give you what I don't have now can I? That's all we've got! You're gonna have to make something out of it as best you can. First report is due Friday. 11 hundred hours. Go on get to it." And that was that - I was dismissed. I'd known him long enough to know there was no point arguing. He wasn't going to tell me why we'd picked this one up or even what exactly he wanted. I was, to use a company euphemism "to use my initiative". Thanks Buster. Thanks a bunch.

I dropped the file into the shredder as I got to the door. And it jammed. The boss looked up at the grinding noise - "For Christ's sake Charlie - how many times? - don't put the bloody folder in too - they cost good money - oh get the fuck out out and send the beardy guy in". I was trying to get the machine into reverse, pushing buttons and pulling levers, so as it would disgorge the folder but all it did was make some more grinding noises. "Leave it alone for the love of God and get out - go on sod off and do your job - it's what we pay you for - not as a bloody office machine mechanic - - - Friday remember - 11 o'clock - don't miss it - don't even think about it". "Well done Charlie, " I said to myself "bramah, you really pissed him off royally - that'll be sure to keep him off your back".

I nodded George in as I went through the outer-office - "He wants you - seems the shredder jammed again ... ". George was picking coleslaw out of his beard, it was about ten and time for his mid-morning munchies - greedy gutted git - "Tell me you didn't Charlie." I shrugged and gave him the fat bottom lip. "Oh you bastard ... that'll take me all afternoon - everything gets screwed up when you do that". He reached into his drawer and pulled out a little tool roll. I moved on - shrugging still. "Hold on ... hold on ... he caught me and passed a piece of paper rolled up in a tenner. "Put this on for me will you? Come on ... its the least you can do ... it's a winner ... Hedgehunter, in the Gold Cup ... you wanna get some on yourself ... take the price off the board - he'll shorten close to off".

I pocketed the betting slip and the cash and winked at him. "OK - you want it on at William Hills or ..." "No no Hills'll be fine ... wouldn't want to put you out even as I should ... on the nose Chas - and pay the tax will you?" "OK George - will do". Would I buggery. It was a loser no matter what he thought. What did fat George know? Outside of shredders and copiers - bugger all that's what. I slid out of the building and sloped off round the corner to Sultan's cafe. A big fried breakfast would go down a treat about now and it was about time to get down to the new project. Bugger Poirot and his grey cells. Gut instinct works for me and what better to feed the gut than a big boy brekkie? And George's tenner would cover that nicely. I slung his slip in the bin on the lamp post and crumpled the tenner in my pocket.


(TBC)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Intercept 101

Chief,
Boris arrived "safe and sound" though I have serious concerns about his mental state and with his history ... The overland route seems yet safe from scrutiny. How close did they come to capturing him? He seems very shaken up and possibly verging on paranoid. As agreed we have put him in the house in Tooting and I shall make sure that he is seen every other day by one of our men. It is a good area where surveillance is light. By the way the value of the house has increased some 7 percent in value in the time since we bought it. The house price boom is certainly good news for laundry central. Do you have something in mind for him while he is on vacation with us I wonder?

As far as red Sonia and the colonel are concerned I think that I have put their minds at rest as you suggested. I met up with them last evening and we evaded prying eyes quite easily. They are aware only that Sonia's base might be subject to scrutiny. The colonel thinks that he is clean. Passing off Anna's end as a state assassination convinced them of our clean hands and I hope it sticks. Is it only us watching Sonia? I hope so. I really do because if the FSB or Obshina are on the case then I doubt we can contain things here - even with Boris in residence.

I am "worried" about the colonel. And you?

AG

(TBC)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

TRANSCRIPT ONE

S (quizzically): Alex, what are you doing here?
A (angrily): Nice welcome ... and what sort of day did you have? Hi Alex ... what a lovely surprise ...
S: You know you're not supposed to come here ... don't be so ... so hard nosed ... so reckless ... so flippant ...
A (firmly): I know well what I am supposed to do and what I am supposed not to do ... better, most likely, than you ... (sighs...) let us not argue ... I am here ... that is important ... do you not want to know why?
S: ... but what if we are being watched?
A: not if but by whom ... that is a more useful question ... of course we are being watched ... but it makes little difference ... now ... it is too late to worry now
S: ... not worry? How can I not worry? why too late? what has happened? what drags you down out of North London? from your little cave? your little haven? what winkled you out?
A: (big sigh) Alex rang ... Anna is dead ... it is all coming unravelled ... we have to regroup ... Alex says we must act ...
S: Anna dead? how can that be? who? where? how? was she poisoned? or shot?
A (very curtly): a bullet in the back of the head in a lift ... poison is out of favour after the Beslan attempt ...
S: ... the gun was left behind? it was in Moscow? ... and what does Alex think we should do? who is going to be blamed for this? does Alex think we are safe? ... does he? ... well?
A: ... for now he thinks we are OK but ... for how long ... he cannot say ... or will not ... they will pin it on the Russians ... this one will stick ... it is what people want to believe ... we may yet be OK ... it depends who really killed her ... Alex would not say ...
S (her voice catches): what if it was Bruno? it sounds like Bruno's way ... I thought Bruno was ...
A: maybe he is ... and maybe he isn't ... after the business with Kozlov who can tell? who was he working for then?

2 minutes of silence - there may be crying in the background track - A sighs deeply several times -

A: Sonia stop (inaudible) ... Alex will be here soon ... we have to go and meet him ... he will not come here ... Sonia, pull yourself together ... Alex will know what to do ... let us at least hope so because I don't ...

5 minutes later a toilet flushes and the pair leave the house arm in arm. They turn left.


(TBC)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sonia

A small, slight woman in a large red coat steps out of the tube station and looks up at the grey damp skies. A downpour has ceased not 5 minutes since. Zoom in. Her features are sharp and her skin pale. There is a blemish on her left cheek. Just in front of where her headscarf hides her ear. Zoom out. She stares across the crossroads towards Garrat Lane where two double decker buses are tailgating. She squints - 249s?

She decides against the umbrella and turns right into Mitcham road, walking briskly and picking her way between the loiterers and late shoppers. It will be fully dark within the hour. She checks her reflection in the window of a charity shop and adjusts the collar of her coat. Zoom in. She feels in her pocket for her keys and confirms to herself. She makes to the kerb and steps between a Mazda and a Toyota. Zoom out. The road is full at this time of evening - car drivers going home, buses taking people to the hospital or the pub or the junction. She waits, her head moving, checking for an opening. We assume her eyes are gimletting.

After perhaps three minutes she darts to the half way point and waits again. The traffic shows no sign of ceasing but after another few minutes it grinds to a complete halt. The traffic lights have broken. Spotting her chance she runs the last few yards to the pavement and safety. Her left heel catches between two paving slabs but she wriggles it free without damage to her or the shoe. Zoom in. She bends and checks the heel. Her handbag swings freely as she adjusts the toe of her stocking before stepping back into the red stiletto. Zoom out.

Instead of turning right or left she carries on and enters Undine street. Three houses in she opens the gate and springs up the front stairs with her keys in her hand. The dark green, glossy door opens and she disappears inside. Above the door there is a stained glass light. Light electric pours out through this light architectural. Zoom in. We can glimpse the back of a man's head. He is blonde and tall. Over six foot tall. He is wearing an arran knit cardigan that swings loosely about him.

(TBC)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

DATA THEFT - AGAIN!

First it was customer details from a large high street bank. The loss occurred months ago but the bank only divulged the incident recently. Today the salary details of a half of the metropolitan police force are revealed as having gone walkabout. Now there is no reason to suspect that either of these thefts was intended to steal the data that have gone missing. Both of the "victim organisations" assure everyone who will listen that identity theft is not possible using these data. The bank goes further and guarantees that none of its customers will suffer financial loss as a consequence. But those reassurances are rather beside the point.

I am assuming that you spotted those irony marks around the phrase victim organisations in the preceding paragraph because they were no slip of the finger and they are there to indicate my disgust with the organisations involved. Their assurances do not wash for the simple reason that not in either case did they address fundamental questions that nobody seemed to be asking - and questions that need to be asked.

Both thefts were of laptop computers and laptop computers are notoriously, almost definitionally, portable. Much more portable than say a mainframe or a big server. Now every book I have ever read on data security, and every article that I have ever written on the subject, addresses physical access as the first line of defense in a secure environment. The less secure the physical location of the data the more secure the other protections should be. Laptops left in any IT organisation that I have ever worked for have been securely padlocked to desks for that very reason. Now given that the stolen laptops all had very sensitive data loaded onto them one has to ask why they were not physically secured. Neither of the thefts appear to have required forcible removal of locks or chains and perhaps if they had then the thieves might have walked off with something a little less obviously problematic.

As we have just explained if the computers themselves were not physically secured then it stands to reason that the data upon them should have been electronically more secure than the original datasets but before we get to that issue let us first ask what to me is the key question here: what was live data doing on those machines in the first place? And why so much of it? Back in 1985 when I was working for a very large insurance company if I had wanted access to even a single live customer data record I would have had to have had a very good reason and then to fill in a form in triplicate to be submitted to and cleared by our data protection officer. And this under the 1984 Data Protection Act (repealed by the Data Protection Act 1998). So how is it that some employee of the Nationwide has the live customer records of possibly 11 million customers downloaded onto a laptop and slung in the back of his car/sofa? Where in these cases is the Data Protection Registrar (or is it commissioner these days?) in all this data theft? Strangely quiet, if not entirely absent methinks.

Turning now to the question of electronic or non-physical security of sensitive data it may come as a surprise to some of you to realise that in this, the 21st, century the customer data in most financial computer systems or databases and probably most government databases too - this is your data we are talking about - is in clear form. And when I say that your personal and financial information is stored in clear form I mean it is not encrypted. If you can find it you can read it without any extra effort or processing - it is not encoded at all! And it should be! It should be encrypted where it is stored and it is not. It is not difficult technically. It is not unduly onerous in computing terms. But it is not done. If it were stored in encrypted form then it is most likely that whenever it were transmitted or transferred then it would be encrypted until needed.

Now you may be wondering what extra security could have been applied or should be applied when data leaves its home location (preferably a data vault) and is loaded out onto something as inherently insecure as a laptop. The answer is fragmentation. Only parts of any live record should be made available to any insecure device or location. Ideally, all sensitive data records should be both encrypted and fragmented in the data vault and access to them only granted through a specific application or system and only at secure locations. Customer data downloaded to insecure devices or locations should be both incomplete and encrypted. End of story. So why isn't it? And why does nobody ask why it isn't?


Monday, November 20, 2006

Synthetic velcro

It's just gone half past midnight.
Outside it is cold and clear.
There is next to no moon.
Here inside it is warm.
The tiles have warmed.
The stove has been fed its last logs of the evening.
The house is snug.
And I'm just settling down in bed.
Warming G's side.
And then it begins.
The three note bark of Molly.
Repeating and repeating.
Bridey joins in now and then.
But only desultorily.
Molly begins to squeak her high pitched hedgehog squeak.
Distinctive and piercing she only uses it when hedgehogs are at bay.

G plods downstairs and pulls on her boots and a fluffy jacket, she switches on the outside lights and steps into the chill.
Both terriers point at the offending creature.
Moll squeaks and Bridey barks.
G goes to retrieve the whisk broom.
Clomping around in the ankle high oxalis, damp with dew already, she finds the hedgehog.
It rolls into a ball.
Spikes outermost.
And as she sweeps it it sticks.
Its spines dig firm in the undergrowth and the damp earth.
The dogs go noisily mad at G being frustrated by this creature.
They want to kill it.
With firm resolve G moves it on only a few metres and
pots it tidily behind the dog-shit bucket.
Masking it from view.
Masking its scent.

The girls fall silent.
On the tip toe of anticipation.
But mute.
They wait.
For the hedgehog to re-appear.
G hopes that it will vamoose.
And goes back indoors -
to warm herself by the stove -
before retiring at last -
to the now warm bed.

"A hedgehog in oxalis is like a natural form of velcro" she says
before I drop off
not really bothered
by the prospect of a return visit.

And Molly starts up again
twenty minutes later ...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

LOG LAD

Good grief that Shem is one helluva clever feller. Plug in my power tools and call me the logman cuz I've got a tale to tell - a shortun admittedly but Barry Bucknell would love it.

Last weekend, as you know, we had massive rainstorms and me and Eddie spent some time mopping up. There was thunder and lightning too and we went off grid for a couple hours. At that point we all realised the value of the old photovoltaic system - the light in the cellar toilet is DC powered direct from the batteries upstairs and so with that and the gas lamp we were fettled until DEH got the grid back to us.

The day after the power cuts Shem got me to replace the mantle on the gas lamp (shoot, I didn't know what was inside one of those babies until Shem told me). And then he started going on about how we needed more DC lamps.

Two days later he had dug up a busted old desk lamp that had also blown its transformer and then he started sketching out ideas for us ( for us read me- Shem wouldn't be getting his hands dirty - he's strictly an ideas man) to make a new DC lamp. The problem was finding some way of housing the bulb holder and between us we turned up a few candidates in the boxes of crap we keep in the carage. But not a one of 'em suited him.

Looked fur a while there like it was another project on the backburner -after all the gas lamp was newly fixed - but no, Shem was just thinking. What he's looking for - it turns out - is something to blend in with the middle floor - natural and invisible he said it had to be.

Come Friday and G has cruised on into Xania to get some translation done and ketch up with her white witch coven and Shem turns up with a log in his hand - this is it he says and hands me this mother log that he's just selected from the log pit where Eddie's doing stove duties for the day. A big fat olive log with one end square and the other angled. That will make a great uplighter says Shem - and it'll blend perfectly. And then he goes on to explain how it's going to work.

Scoop out a hole in the angled face for the lamp head and fittings ( I used a hole saw and a chisel and mallet and a lot of elbow grease); drill thru from the scoop-out to the bark on the long side to take the cables (interesting angle to drill at); set the lamp head into the scoop out and fix- bring the cables thru to a cigarette lighter plug; file off a couple dimples in the ally; cut a piece of perspex to the exact contours of the log and fix over the top of the lamp holder (junior hacksaw required plus surform, files, and sandpaper).

And now it's all done and it looks great.

Job jobbed.