10 Orbits of the Sun – new short story.


There’s a rather excellent blog I follow, called Living With Depression. (You can visit it here: https://dreamschanges.blog/) Anyway, I came across an image that is very familiar to me. I got it on Pinterest. I used it as part of my moodboard for the short story “10 Orbits of the Sun.” It has a dreamlike quality about it. So, I asked the author of the blog who the image was of. And she said it was her. I was completely taken aback, as not only did her photograph help inspire the short story, it helped inspire the entire collection! The shot in question is at the end of the story. The one with the girl leaning her head out of the car window.

Small world, eh?

Thereisnocavalry

Here’s a pretty short short story that I’ve been working on recently. I’d be interested in anyone’s thoughts. Good or bad. But mainly good.

(Sorry about all the photos – it’s the art director in me.)

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10 ORBITS OF THE SUN.

By David Milligan-Croft.

Something changes inside of you when you have a child. Obviously, things change inside of a woman, quite literally. But I’m talking about changing from a man’s point of view – philosophically.

Up until my late thirties, I never wanted kids. Why would I? They’d be a burden. I had a fabulous career, a few great friends, a fantastic salary and a tidy crash pad overlooking the lazy river.

Then, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I got all broody. And I just wanted a baby. Specifically, a baby girl. I don’t know why I wanted a girl. Perhaps I found the thought of a rambunctious…

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Happy National Poetry Day


I’m reposting this from last October as today is World Poetry Day. Oh well, there’s no harm in having two poetry days.

Thereisnocavalry

I couldn’t possibly pick just one, so here are a few to salivate over. There’s something for everyone.

The Mower

by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

This be the Verse

by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their…

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The Gospel According to Dave.


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There’s been a lot of negativity flying about of late, what with the fat orange fella sticking his size nines in everything.

Protests, riots, building walls, burning bridges, immigration bans, failed black ops missions. There’s something new to roll your eyes at every day. It’s unsurprising then, that people all over the world are up in arms, (literally and metaphorically), by the Cheeto Chompin’ Chimp’s actions.

It’s not just affecting America. He’s threatening the stability of the entire globe.

With that in mind, I thought it about time we had a set of moral values to live by. Sort of a set of rules, or a code. Commandments, if you will. (I don’t know why anybody hasn’t thought of it before.)

So, here is The Gospel According to Dave.

There are 10 commandments with which to adhere.

First. Thou shalt not kill or hurt anyone.

This applies not just physically, but emotionally, psychologically or spiritually.

Two. Thou shalt not steal.

Actually, if you steal from someone you’re probably hurting them emotionally and psychologically, so I reckon it’s covered in the above.

New, number two. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s Merc. Or his gaff, or his 42″ plasma screen.

Come to think of it, if you’re envious about what someone else has  you’re only hurting yourself. So, scrub this one as well.

Numero dois. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s missus. (Or ‘mister’ depending on your sexual orientation.)

As above.

New, new, 2nd Commandment. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Why? ‘Cause at least one of the triumvirate is undoubtedly going to get hurt. In all likelihood, all three of you will suffer at some stage. So, again, covered in number one.

Two, (again). Thou shalt not bear false witness.

E.g. Don’t be a lying little get. It’s bad for you and it’s bad for the person you’re lying about. And you invariably get caught out in the end. Number one probably covers this. (A fib is okay. Especially if it stops someone’s feelings getting hurt.)

Secondo.  Honour thy father and thy mother.

I reckon your mam would be well upset if she thought you didn’t love her. Having said that, it doesn’t give them the right to mistreat you either. So, as long as they abide by the first commandment, you should abide by it too… no wait, I think we can shoehorn this under number one.

Deux. Thou shalt keep the sabbath holy.

I’m all up for a day off work. Tough one this, as you don’t want to hurt God’s feelings. But, what with shops open 24/7 it’s tricky for some folks. They have to work when the boss tells them or lose their job. I reckon if you take at least one day off a week we should have a bit of wiggle room here. But, at the end of the day, (or week ha ha), it’s covered in the first commandment.

Numero Due. Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.

Jesus wept. Bit petty. Then again, if it hurts His feelings, I reckon you should abide by the first commandment and you should be okay.

Zwei. Thou shalt have no other God but me.

Wooooh, get you.

That’s Hindus screwed then.

Look, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether you’re a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Sikh, a Buddhist or a follower of another religion. Heck, it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in any of them. I’m sure, if you stick by the first principle every one should get along just fine.

So, just to recap, the First and only Commandment is: Thou shalt not kill or hurt anyone.

Subclause: either physically, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually.

Hang on a minute… I reckon we can shorten this a tad. I’m pretty sure that killing someone would involve hurting them a bit. Well, if not them, their family and friends, so we can delete that bit.

The Gospel According to Dave (second draft):

Thou shalt not hurt anyone*.

Or, as my mate Kev says – Don’t be a dick.

Oh, and if you’re wondering who the woman in the photo is, that’s my Auntie Mavis. She likes a drop of sherry at Christmas.

*Does not apply to Donald Trump.

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You Have 1 New Friend Request


Okay folks, here’s the second idea I had for a novel.

It’s called, ‘You Have 1 New Friend Request’.

Here’s the basic premise:

Social media romance, or elaborate Facebook phishing scam?

What begins as an innocent correspondence between an English hack and a French-Canadian furniture restorer, soon descends into the seedy underworld of the French sex industry and people trafficking.

Will Ted and his daughter be able to save Natalie before she disappears into the murky French underworld? Or is she just a ruse to lure in his daughter?

So, same as yesterday, really. If you have the time to have a read, I’d appreciate your feedback. And, whether you think it has potential. Also, whether you prefer this idea to the one I posted yesterday. Don’t ask for much, do I?

Your help is greatly appreciated.

You Have 1 New Friend Request.

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By David Milligan-Croft.

CHAPTER 1.
COUCOU!

Ted was scrolling through his Facebook news feed when he heard the ping of a notification and a little red number ‘1’ appear over the ‘friends’ icon. He clicked the silhouetted couple and saw the tiny profile picture of what looked like a beautiful woman with a name he didn’t recognise. He immediately felt curiosity and suspicion in equal measure. He clicked on the profile of Natalie Marceau, and when he saw an enlarged image his heart did a double beat.

She was stunning. Model stunning. Movie star stunning. So why was she ‘friending’ Ted Miller – an average looking 40-something? He looked on her profile page and she appeared to have about half a dozen friends, all of whom seemed roughly the same age as him if not a little older.

‘Probably phishing for old pervs,’ he thought to himself. ‘Then plead some sob story to extort money.’

She was 25 years old, living in Brittany, France. Originally from Montreal, Canada. He clicked on the photos header and was aghast. Her auburn hair cascaded over her slender shoulders. Her blue eyes shone with a light emanating from her vivacity and her smile was luminescent with joy. Whilst she was sensationally attractive, she had a natural air about her, as though she was almost unaware of the fact – or didn’t care. Ted’s finger slid up the track-pad of his MacBook, the cursor hovering over the ‘accept or decline’ button. Deep down, he knew this was a mistake. A scam. But the romantic in him could not resist. He clicked – Accept.

No sooner had he accepted Natalie’s friend request, a message appeared in the chat icon. Tentatively, he clicked the button.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

Ted opened up two pages of Google translate in his browser. One to translate from French to English, the other from English to French. He cut and pasted the word into the text panel for translation: Coucou = Cuckoo or hello.

Not being up on French colloquialisms, Ted opted for a more formal reply.

Ted Miller: Bonjour.

He remembered a little French from school and from various holidays in the South of France but not enough to hold a conversation. He could get by ordering things in restaurants and hotels, but the problems began when anyone replied in French. They’d usually speak much too quickly for him to comprehend any of the key verbs.

The three dots made a wave to signify that she was typing. If, in fact, this was a ‘she’ at all. Ted had visions of a twenty-stone Russian spot-welder sitting in his vest and underpants in front of a laptop with the stump of a cigar hanging out of the corner of his mouth tapping away at his keyboard. That, or a Nigerian banker in Lagos promising to deposit $10 million dollars into his bank account for a paltry administration fee of two hundred dollars.

Natalie Marceau: Are you good?

‘That depends.’ Ted thought. ‘On whether you mean, ‘am I a good person’ or ‘am I feeling okay?’ He opted for a response to the latter.

Ted Miller: I am very well, thank you for asking. How are you in sunny France?

‘I bet she’s impressed with my French.’

Natalie Marceau: I do not understand. You want to know if France has sun?

‘Shit,’ Ted clicked the ‘suggest alternative translation’ tab.

Ted Miller: Sorry, Google translate. Probably didn’t come out too well. Do you speak English?

Natalie Marceau: Not much.

Ted Miller: Don’t you speak English in Canada?

Natalie Marceau: Not in Montreal. Is French. Not British.

‘That’s me told, then.’ He walked to the fridge and opened a bottle of San Miguel then sat back down at his laptop. He glanced out of the window, ship lights were shimmering off the blue-black water of the harbour basin. ‘C’mon, Miller. Think of something interesting to say. It’s what you’re supposed to do for a living, for God’s sake.’

Ted Miller: Yes, you did indeed win that particular skirmish. But we kicked your arse at the Battle of Waterloo! (Winky face.)

‘Stick that in votre pipe, Ivan!’

The circular green dot that indicates that a person is online to chat disappeared.

Ted leaned back in his swivel chair and took a swig from his beer. ‘Maybe not a Russki after all.’

He scrolled through some of Natalie’s other photos. She looked like she had a stylish apartment. In some photos she wore her hair piled on top in a bun, in others it flowed in waves about her cheeks and shoulders. Her clothes were elegant and chic. In some, a blouse button opened provocatively. In others she wore large, black-rimmed spectacles. He wondered if they were for show. They certainly gave her that librarian look. Most of them were selfies, so there weren’t many full length shots. Although, she did look tall and slender, but it was difficult to tell. Ted began to wonder if he had been a bit quick to be cynical. Surely, not everyone on the internet was a potential fraudster. Perhaps he should try and make amends. Or, perhaps, this was exactly the tactic they use to lure you in. He was just about to type a conciliatory message when the chat box suddenly read: This message has been temporarily removed because the sender’s account requires verification.

‘Oh well,’ he mused. ‘It was fun while it lasted.’ He pulled the computer onto his lap and swivelled the chair to put his feet on the window ledge. His reflection blurred with the orange and yellow neon of Media City beyond. He downloaded a photo of Natalie to his desktop then dragged it into Google images to check the source of the photograph.

‘Nothing unusual there.’ He tried with another, then another. All the photos of Natalie seemed above board. No links to other identities or spurious sites.

Ping! Another friend request. ‘Wow, I am popular tonight.’ He clicked on the button and it was Natalie again. Ted’s brow furrowed in consternation. How could he not? He clicked accept and immediately began typing.

Ted Miller: Where did you go?

Waving green buttons.

Natalie Marceau: Sorry. I think someone was hacking my account.

Ted perused her FB page. This time, he was her only friend. ‘Ah, so I’m the only one that took the bait, am I? Or did one of the other old pervs report you to Facebook?’

Ted Miller: Really? That’s a shame. Glad you’re back. (Smiley face.)

Ted Miller: Sorry about my Waterloo comment. I was only joking.

Natalie Marceau: Really? Never mind.

Ted swallowed hard. ‘I think a lot of this is going to get lost in translation.’

Ted Miller: If you don’t mind me asking, how come you wanted to be friends? It’s not as if we have any friends in common.

Natalie Marceau: Don’t you want to be my friend?

Ted Miller: Of course I do. I was just wondering, that’s all. It’s not often a 42-year-old man gets befriended by a young French goddess who could arrest a heart with a flash of her smile.

‘Bit soon for that kind of talk, Ted,’ he took a swig. He was feeling the buzz from the beer. But she didn’t take the compliment bait.

Natalie Marceau: Twenty five is not that young. Besides, age is unimportant.

‘Couldn’t agree more, my dear.’ Ted drained the last of his beer and got another from the fridge.

Ted Miller: So, Natalie, what do you do for a living all the way over there in France?

Natalie Marceau: Nothing special, or good. I restore the old furniture.

Ted Miller: That sounds great. A very noble craft – bringing something old and decrepit back to its former glory.

He resisted the temptation to make a self-deprecating joke.

Natalie Marceau: Your words write nice. You are also a romantic, no?

Ted Miller: Well, it’s been some time since I was romantic.

Natalie Marceau: You do not have a wife?

Ted Miller: I have an ex-wife. Five years now.

Natalie Marceau: So you have not had a lover in five years?

Ted almost spat his beer out over the computer screen. ‘Get to the point, why don’t you, Natalie.’

Ted Miller: I also have a daughter. Who lives with her mother.

He wondered whether the green light would flick off at this last revelation, as it seemed to be taking an eternity for Natalie to reply. He looked at the clock in the top right of the screen. It was 21:45. Quarter to eleven her time.

Natalie Marceau: Give her a big kiss from me. Well, it’s getting late. I must lie down for a while. Good night.

Ted Miller: Yes, I will. Goodnight. Sweet dreams. You too. Nice to be friends.

Everything came out in a scramble as he attempted to say everything before she switched off. Then silence. Her green light disappeared and he was left looking at her smiling face. She looked as though someone she loved had just made her laugh. He even felt a pang of jealousy. Whoever took the photograph must know her intimately enough to illicit such an animated response. A lover? A best friend?

He read her final comment again – “Give her a big kiss from me.” ‘Why on Earth would I do that? She doesn’t even know you. You don’t know her. Odd thing to say.’

There was a photo of Natalie lying on a bed holding the camera above her face. The pillow and duvet were crisp white cotton. There was a hint of wooden floorboards to the right hand side. Her ochre arms extended diagonally out of shot. Her eyes were doleful, yet she was still smiling. She was lying on top of the duvet wearing a white vest top with a simple, graphic illustration of a cat on the front. Ted thought about lying next to her, smelling her hair, touching her gossamer skin. The light was bright, as though it had been taken in the daytime, or summer.

‘Get a grip, Ted,’ he thought. ‘You’ve got about as much chance of that happening as Donald Trump being the next American president.’ He clicked the ‘shut down’ button and gently closed the lid of the laptop. He looked down at the canal basin where houseboats glowed eerily against the blackness of the water.

CHAPTER 2.
LA FILLE.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

The ping on his iPhone woke Ted. He unlocked his phone and read the message from Natalie, then looked at the clock at the top of the screen: 07.30. ‘Well, I guess it is half eight over there.’

Ping.

Natalie Marceau: Good morning, Cheri. Have a good day! (Smiley face, smiley face winking, face blowing a kiss.)

‘That’s a pleasant way to start the day.’ He tossed back the duvet and padded into the living room in his t-shirt and boxers to start up his computer. ‘I’ll have to download translate to my phone as well.’ He logged onto Facebook and opened the translation tabs.

Ted Miller: Bonjour Natalie. Thank you. Have a great day also.

‘Ask her a question before she disappears,’ he thought.

Ted Miller: What are you doing today?

Natalie Marceau: I told you. I am restoring the furniture.

Ted Miller: Sorry, yes, you said. But it’s the weekend.

Natalie Marceau: I work on my own so I must work all the time.

‘Jeez, tough crowd.’

Ted Miller: Yes, I should have known. Do you have any plans for tonight?

Natalie Marceau: No. I make ratatouille for me and my cat and watch a movie.

Ted Miller: Your cat eats ratatouille?

Natalie Marceau: No. That would kill him. I watch the movie with my cat.

Ted Miller: What kind of movies does he like? The Cat in the Hat?

Natalie Marceau: That is a stupid movie.

‘I thought it was quite funny,’ he thought, stretching a yawn and scratching the cotton fabric of his t-shirt under his arm.

Ted Miller: How come you’re not going out on a Saturday night?

Natalie Marceau: I have no friends.

‘I find that hard to believe, young lady.’

Natalie Marceau: It’s complicated. I tell you later. I have to go to work now. Gros bisous.

And, with that, the green dot disappeared.

He cut and pasted ‘gros bisous’ into translate, even though he was fairly certain he knew what it meant.

‘Big kisses.’

‘Big kisses to you too, Natalie,’ he thought, allowing himself the warm glow of affection that it might all possibly be real. Then, cynicism returned. ‘You really are an idiot, Ted.’ He jumped up out of the chair and headed to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Then, realising what he was doing, ‘Wait, what the fuck? I’m going back to bed.’

Ted awoke after a restless two hours bathed in sweat. He went to the kitchen and filled a large glass of water and took his medication to slow his heartbeat down. It was a condition he’d only recently discovered he had. Tachycardia, as it was known is when the heart beats excessively quickly. Often times, it would beat so fast that he could ‘hear’ it through his pillow, preventing him from sleeping.

It was 09.35. He was due to pick up his daughter from his ex-wife’s in an hour. Before he showered he opened up his laptop to see if Natalie had sent anymore messages. Nothing. A thought occurred to him – he searched her name on Twitter. Nothing. ‘Not unusual. Most Twitter users have daft names anyway.’ He tried Linked In. Also nothing. There was no trace of Natalie Marceau on Pinterest, Tumblr, Tinder, Instagram or Snapchat either. He even tried eBay. The only place she existed was on Facebook. And only to him. He closed the lid. ‘Fuck it, what’s the worst thing that can happen?’

He pulled up outside his ex-wife’s house. Or rather, their old house. It was a grand Victorian semi-detached over three floors in the leafy Manchester suburb of West Didsbury. He had barely got out of the car when the front door of the house opened and the sturdy frame of his ex-wife filled the doorway at the top of the stone steps.

‘Still driving that heap of junk?’ Morag said, arms folded.

‘Hello to you too,’ he said, smiling. ‘This beauty? It’s a classic.’

‘Daddy!’ Audrey said, pushing past her mother’s hips and bolting down the steps.

‘Not so fast!’ rebuked her mum, then sighed at the futility of her request.

Audrey jumped into her father’s arms and he swung her around on the pavement.

‘Hello, sweet pea,’ he said. ‘Got me any presents?’

‘Hey!’ she said, thumping him on the arm. ‘That’s my line!’

‘What time you bringing her back tomorrow?’ Morag asked.

‘Usual time,’ he replied. ‘About six-ish.’

Just then, Kevin emerged from the shadows behind her, placed his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. Ted cast his eyes down toward the pavement and opened the passenger door for Audrey.

‘Hey Ted,’ Kevin said.

‘Hi,’ Ted replied, but doubted it was audible enough for it to have reached the top of the steps. ‘Are you going to the recital tomorrow?’ He directed his question to his ex-wife.

‘Oh, we can’t, can we, darling?’ she craned her neck and planted a kiss on Kevin’s cheek.

Audrey gave a look of disgust. ‘We’re going to London this afternoon. You know… gotta make the most of a free night. Can’t wait. Won’t be back till late.’

‘How late’s late? Audrey can always stay with me tomorrow night as well. Save you busting a gut to get back.’

‘No, no. We should be back in time.’

‘Suit yourself,’ Ted said, walking round to the driver’s side. ‘See you…’ But when he looked up they had already gone inside and closed the door. He sat down and slammed the door.

‘So, little lady, where to?’

‘Anywhere away from here,’ Audrey folded her arms and pouted. ‘You should have called him egg head. And no, not because he’s clever!’

Ted smiled, patted his daughter on the knee and pulled off down the road.

‘And just so you know,’ she said, staring out of the passenger window. ‘I think your car’s cool. Better than his poncey Beemer.’

‘He treats you well though, doesn’t he?’

Audrey huffed. ‘S’pose so.’

‘I mean, that’s all I care about is that he’s good to you.’

‘Yeah, I guess.’

‘Look honey, I know it’s hard, but try not to be a hard-ass to him all the time. It’ll only come back on you.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, if you keep knocking him back he’ll probably stop trying to care. And neither of us wants that.’

‘You and mum could always…’

‘That’s never going to happen though, is it, love? That ship has sailed, hit an iceberg, got torpedoed, then hit by a kamikaze pilot and sank without a trace. And, by the looks of things, old Kevin’s got his feet firmly under the table. Has he moved in yet?

‘Might as well have. He’s never out of the place. Spends more time in the bathroom than mum. And that’s saying something.’

Ted laughed. ‘You know, we could always go to the cinema if you like. They have a Studio Ghibli film on.’

‘Really! Which one?’

‘My Neighbour Totoro.’

‘Cool! I’d love that.’

After the movie, they went to Pizza Express for a late lunch. Audrey was perusing the menu while Ted was checking his phone to see if he’d had a message from Natalie.

‘Expecting an important phone call?’

‘No, why do you ask?’

‘You keep checking your phone.’

‘No, I don’t,’ he said defensively.

‘You so do! You’ve checked it about twenty times since we left the cinema.’

Ted raised his eyebrows and placed the phone on the table and picked up the menu. As he was studying it, his phone beeped. Before he could drop the menu and pick it up Audrey had already grabbed it.

‘Whoa! Who is she?’

‘Give it back, Audrey.’ Ted reached out for his phone but Audrey slid her chair backwards slightly making the legs screech across the tiled floor.

‘Wow. She is hot. Who is she?’

‘I don’t know, do I?’ Ted said tartly. ‘Because somebody has my phone.’

‘Natalie Mar-ceau, it says.

‘She’s just a friend on Facebook,’ he said, pretending not to mind and looked at the menu again.

‘Please tell m you’re not dating her, are you?’

‘Of course I’m not! Now give it back,’ he said irritated.

Audrey pulled the phone close to her chest. ‘Good. I’d hate to have a step-mother who was younger than me,’ she laughed.

‘She is not younger than you!’ Ted was getting angry. ‘You are 12. She is 25.’

Audrey did a quick calculation in her head. ‘She’s still closer to my age than she is to yours,’ she said cheekily.

Ted sighed as the waiter arrived. ‘Large glass of house red, please.’

Audrey sensed her father’s irritation and slid the phone back across the table. He picked it up, glanced at the screen then placed it back down.

‘What does it say?’ Audrey asked?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t speak French,’ he said flatly.

‘So how do you guys communicate?’

‘There is such a thing as Google translate, you know.’

‘Excuse me for asking.’ Audrey folded her arms.

Just then, the waiter arrived. ‘I’ll have the Quattro Stagioni, please,’ Ted said. ‘But, can I have it mixed up?’

The waiter scribbled on his order pad and nodded.

‘Pizza Diavlo and a Coke, please.’

‘Try again,’ Ted said.

‘Sheesh, sparkling elderflower, please,’ she handed the menu back to the waiter. ‘Kevin lets me have Coke.’

Ted smiled as he handed back the menu. ‘Good for him. But I’m not Kevin. See, he’s not all bad. You never know, you might end up preferring him to me.’

Audrey gave her father a kick on the shin. Ted burst out laughing.

‘Aren’t you cross that he lets me have Coke?’

‘I don’t make the rules in your mother’s house,’ he said. ‘But she knows how I feel about it.’

‘Why did you split up?’

‘Audrey! We’ve been through this a thousand times.’

‘No we haven’t! You say we have, but we never do. You just fudge around the subject.’

The waiter arrived with the drinks. Ted took a large gulp of red wine. ‘Your mother misread the marriage vows; she thought they said, “In health and in wealth”.’

‘See! There you go again! What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘It means I’m not as well off as I used to be when I worked for The Guardian,’ he said.

‘You still work for a paper though,’ she said.

‘Not a national. It’s just a local rag.’

‘How come you can afford to live in Media City then?’

‘It’s a friend’s. He’s on secondment in Beijing for two years so he said I could flat-sit for him. He gave me a really good rate. The rent would normally be double what I’m paying.’

‘That was kind of him. What you going to do when he gets back?’

‘Move out, I guess. Let’s not think about that, it’s a long way off. Tell me about school.’

After the meal they drove back to his apartment in Media City overlooking the canal harbour. Audrey sat at the kitchen table drawing Manga cartoons while Ted checked Facebook for news from Natalie. There were four messages.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

Natalie Marceau: Bonjour!

Natalie Marceau: Bon soir!

Natalie Marceau: You are obviously busy.

Ted Miller: Hi Natalie! I’m here now. I’ve been out all day with my daughter. Sorry. How was your day?

Natalie Marceau: I want you to know I am ordered, but not obsessive. I do not like the mess and I like things to be in their place.

I am loving, very affectionate, not stuffy. I’m not possessive or jealous. I am not excessively envious or pathological. I demand you to be faithful. That is not my fault because I was born under a sign of love.

I am calm and quiet, polite, discreet, very reserved, but when I have something to say, I say it to the face. I am courageous but nonviolent. I am extremely patient, (e.g. I can stay to wait hours anywhere).

I am not vindictive, I let the wheel turn, even if it takes time to turn, because I know it will turn one day or another, and when I have said what I had to say everything is over.
I am faithful in friendship as in love. I am fair and just. I hate when one is attacking the weakest (oppressed). I am able to lead the fight against injustice and racism.

I’m looking for a loving man, funny, generous, caring, faithful and sincere who will respect me and love me for who I am. A man that will teach me to love him with all my heart. If you are that person!!!!!

‘You’re also a fruitcake,’ Ted thought.

Natalie Marceau: All I look for is a man who will support me, that will not make me suffer and who will love me for what I am, nothing more. I’m not materialistic nor bad. I am just a little heart to take. A generous woman, sincere and kind who wants to live a beautiful story.

‘Bloody hell, that escalated quickly,’ he said aloud.

‘What did?’ Audrey asked, looking up from her drawing.

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The Insurrection – sample chapter


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Hello again.

Happy New Year and all that.

It’s been a while. A very long while.

Anyhoo, last year I started four novels. (Writing, that is. Not reading.)

And I finished exactly none of them.

I’ve already posted one of them last year, a Viking saga, called Gods’ Cauldron.

I thought I’d share another one with you.

It was inspired by the Brexit vote and the deep division it created across the country.

It’s a comedy-drama set in a dystopian near future where certain northern city-states are at war with the south. A sort of accidental revolution born out of protest.

The initial raison d’etre for the North was for a fairer society.

However, it soon becomes apparent that some northern leaders want full independence.

This will not stand for a salacious orange-faced president of the UK. And he will stop at nothing to exterminate the rebels’ ever-decreasing strongholds.

Will they succeed in creating their utopia? Or will globilisation prevail?

If you have the time, and inclination, have a peruse and let me know if you think it’s something worth pursuing.

I’ll be posting extracts from the other two novels in the next week or so.

Oh, and please share far and wide on the old social media, if it pleases you.

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The Insurrection.

By David Milligan-Croft

Chapter 1
Northern England, sometime in the not-too-distant future.

The country was in a state of chaos after The Insurrection. You could practically draw a line between the mouth of the River Dee in Chester to the Humber estuary in the east, to mark the boundary.

A north-south-divide if you will. With the exception of Cornwall and large swathes of Wales, who had always considered themselves Celtic and unconquered by London. Because that’s what the United Kingdom ultimately was – London. That’s where the seat of power had been for a brace of millennia. And after it had run out of land to conquer in Britain it decided to build some boats and go in search of territories overseas which to ‘liberate’ from their present rulers.

The lands south of our new ‘virtual’ border had decided to stay where the money was. They knew a good thing when they saw it. And that’s pretty much what it all boils down to – money. If you have it – you have power. If you have power – you have friends. Lots of friends. Sycophants who’ll do your bidding regardless of how questionable it is. Until the next highest bidder comes along that is.

The Insurrection wasn’t contained to the United Kingdom. Of course, it ultimately dragged the Republic of Ireland into the mix. While Belfast remained loyal to the capital, Derry and Armagh tried to slip back over the border to rejoin with the south. This brought fierce resistance both from London and the Unionists, the latter of whom had had control over the six counties since Home Rule in 1923.

Unionist atrocities in Derry had compelled militias from Donegal to come to the walled city’s aid. Which ultimately lead to Northern Ireland annexing Donegal. Outcries from Dublin brought the United Nations to the door. But, seeing as though the UK was one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council the chances of sending UN Peacekeepers into the region were zero.

‘Hellions’, as we were dubbed, also had enemies north of the border. Edinburgh had willingly stayed within the Union whilst Aberdeen and Inverness had to be coherced due to the North Sea oil and gas reserves. Glasgow too had to be subdued, presumably due to the proximity of the UK’s only nuclear submarine facility.

It’s not as though we started out wanting independence from the UK. It’s just that we were fed up of poverty. Of the unfair redistribution of wealth. The age old redistribution south. It’s not as though we had much to lose. The north of England had been economically razed to the ground for decades. Mass unemployment, decrepit infrastructure, foodbanks, clothesbanks, shoebanks, furniturebanks. In fact, the only banks we didn’t have were the ones with any money in them.

The Insurrection had largely been contained within the major urban areas of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Newcastle and Sunderland. Areas starved of investment since the government’s withdrawal from the European Union. You see, the reason for our protest against the government wasn’t because we were parochial northerners wanting to unburden ourselves from the shackles of our southern overlords. (In fact, a lot of Londoners who shared our beliefs came up to join our cause.) It was because we wanted to embrace multiculturalism and diversity.

It was this last aspect that gave us a lifeline, as we were supplied with medical aid and weapons by our European allies from both the east and the west. We were pretty self-sufficient on the food front, except when government forces poisoned the farm land with chemical sprays and sank our fishing fleet with their gunboats. Food and fuel became currency. Money was worthless. The only thing we didn’t lack for was weapons. There always seems to be enough weapons in the world with which to wage war.

We didn’t have tanks, fighter jets or helicopter gunships like the government, but we did have something they didn’t have – an idea. An idea of a fairer society. An idea that all the country’s wealth should not be held by the top 1% of the population. And that idea was growing like an interminable cancer south of the border as well. Rebellions and protests sprang up in the Midlands – Birmingham, Stoke, Derby and Leicester all had to be brought to heel.

We didn’t want to fight. We wanted to talk. To come to some accord. But, like William the Conqueror’s ‘Harrying of the North’ in the 11th century, London didn’t. It wanted to subdue and subjugate. Because of The Insurrection, Marshall Law was declared, so all elections were suspended until order had been restored, which effectively made the United Kingdom a right wing dictatorship.

The North’s problem was that it was too fragmented. There was no central leadership. No common goal. The Insurrection had almost happened organically in several cities at the same time. Each with their own agendas and mistrust of each other. And the government wanted to keep it that way so that they didn’t have to talk to anyone. We were just little bands of hellions, anarchists, terrorists, that needed irradicating from the good people of the United Kingdom. But we weren’t terrorists, we were accountants and builders, factory workers and farmers.

We knew that to make the government listen we had to unite. Unite with the idea of the fairer society. And that was what the meeting of the Five Regions was about today. It was being held in secret in Cumbria. If London spies knew that all five regions’ leaders were in one place, The Insurrection could be put to rest in a heartbeat. Or, lack, thereof.
The Five Regions comprised of: the North East; Yorkshire; Greater Manchester; Liverpool, Wirral and Chester and finally; Lancashire and Cumbria.

I am military commander of Greater Manchester, and my name is General Alexander Jefferson Carmichael. But people usually just call me Jeff. I’m not a general in the proper sense of the word as I have no military training, unless you count a spell in the army cadets and several games of paintball in my youth. I am lecturer by trade. If lecturing can be defined as a trade. I taught history of art at Manchester Metropolitan University before The Insurrection. Before I swapped a paintbrush for a Kalashnikov. Before I swapped Guernica for Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

I am accompanying our political leader, Christina Gambretti, a second generation Anglo-Italian, former human rights lawyer. Of all the regional leaders, I admire her the most. She has the most international experience, having previously worked for the UN, Amnesty International and the Refugee Council. If anyone can galvanise the Five Regions to get behind our one goal it is her.

We are travelling at night, by road as all commercial aircraft have been grounded by London. Any private planes or helicopters detected by radar over the no-fly-zone will be intercepted and shot down by RAF interceptors. However, this doesn’t make travelling by road risk free, as the skies are continually patrolled by Apache helicopter gunships bristling with rockets and machine guns and aided by night-vision. So we are travelling by ‘tour bus’. If stopped by enemy forces, we are tourists on our way to the Lake District.

Whilst we do control the large areas from Hadrian’s Wall in the north to the southern border, it is not unheard of for London to land Special Forces units by chopper to intercept any vehicles they deem suspicious. Or, indeed, to carry out covert strikes on valuable assets, such as reservoirs and energy facilities. Or even kidnappings. SK4 security services, a private company that took over from the police force, are believed to be responsible for abductions of prominent politicians, activists and dissidents who are never seen or heard from again.

Our areas of influence are dwindling by the week. Only yesterday, Crewe defected back over the Cheshire border to rejoin the UK. The government makes a song and dance about it on the media, but you never see what has become of the political leaders or the Hellion Militia. Just lots of images of the public with shiny happy faces being embraced by our orange-faced El Presidente.

The rendezvous was arranged in the Lake District because of in-fighting between the various regions. Manchester would not meet in Liverpool, Newcastle would not go to Sunderland, Leeds wouldn’t entertain the idea of going to Manchester. And, Yorkshire as a whole, would tend not to want to go anywhere outside of its borders. Most of these objections originated from old sporting rivalries rather than political differences, which made it all the more frustrating getting all the factions to be taken seriously.

We had booked a conference room in a Kendal hotel under the pretext of a sales conference. We were on pretty safe ground up there with a partisan crowd. Though we would have to sweep for listening devices and the like. And my security detail would have to keep a low profile. I had deliberately chosen three men and three women so that they could easily pass as couples wandering the grounds.

Each of the Five Regions was bringing two delegates, one political, one military. In the hope of us thrashing out a cohesive and unified plan militarily and politically.

‘You know,’ Christina said, as we wound through the dark, winding roads. ‘I don’t think it’s enough to demand a fairer society.’

Christina was very good at this. She would go along with a particular plan or suggestion, then take people aside individually and propose something else. Perhaps an amendment or two. Or, even something completely different.

‘What? You want an unfair society instead?’

She smirked. ‘No, we have that already. I was thinking that it’s not really about us coming together to share common ground. It’s the fact we’re completely different types of peoples, with different values. We don’t like what they represent and they certainly don’t like what we represent.’

‘You’re suggesting full independence for the North of England?’

She shrugged her slender shoulders and tucked a slither of auburn hair behind her ear.

‘Why not? If Scotland can, why can’t we?’

I frowned, ‘You know I don’t need to answer that.’

‘Okay, okay,’ she whispered. ‘What about Sudan and South Sudan?’

‘Yeah?’ I raised my eyebrows. ‘’Cause that turned out brilliantly for everyone, didn’t it?’

Christina eyed me contemptuously. ‘You get my point,’ she said flatly. ‘Besides, isn’t that what we’ve really wanted all along?’

I looked out of the coach window as rain streaked diagonally. Was that what we really wanted? I wondered. When I’d worked abroad in my youth, I had often found that when I told people I was from Britain, or England, they eyed me with caution, or even suspicion. But when I told people I was from Manchester they immediately brightened and opened with, ‘Ah, Manchester United!’

Northerners were certainly treated differently in some countries. Almost as though we were as oppressed as some of Britain’s former colonies. I particularly found this in Ireland and Australia.

‘What about the NHS and the welfare state?’ I asked.

‘We’d still have those,’ she said.

‘How’d we pay for it?’

‘Same as we do now, through taxes.’

‘How’d we pay to rebuild the infrastructure?’ Our cities had become fortresses and our infrastructure had largely been pulverised by the enemy.

‘EU subsidies,’ she smiled.

‘Army and airforce bases?’

‘Negotiation.’

When we had rebelled against the appalling atrocities and brutal overuse of force by SK4 Security, the army had been called in and had disobeyed direct orders to open fire on their own citizens. Local army units were subsequently confined to barracks. Then, when national regiments were drafted in, and they also refused. The army left it up to the government and local law enforcement, which was primarily owned by members of the government anyway. The police force had been outsourced to SK4 Security Services five years previously.

You could easily see why the generals, (the proper ones, that is), wanted nothing to do with instigating a civil war. After all, they swore allegiance to the Queen, not a despotic, orange dictator with a penchant for underage girls.

Chapter 2.

EL PRESIDENTE

Please feel free to point out any typos, punctuation and grammatical errors. It’s a first draft and these things happen no matter how many times I proofread it. I won’t be offended.In fact, I’ll be pleased!

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100 Years in Vogue


There’s an exhibition on at Manchester Art Gallery showcasing some of the greatest photography in the world, called 100 Years in Vogue.

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If you like photography – you’ll love it.

If you like fashion – you’ll love it.

If you’re an art director – you’ll love it.

If you’re a graphic designer – you’ll love it.

If you’re a fashion designer – you’ll love it.

If you’re a textile designer – you’ll love it.

If you’re a magazine/layout designer – you’ll love it.

If you’re an illustrator – you’ll love it.

If you like art – you’ll love it.

 

I’m not really into fashion, (no shit, Sherlock), so I guess it appealed to the art director in me.

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“The exhibition brings together vintage prints from the early twentieth century, ground-breaking photographs from renowned fashion shoots, unpublished work and original magazines. Images by leading twentieth-century photographers, including Cecil Beaton, Lee Miller, Irving Penn and Snowdon will feature alongside more recent work by David Bailey, Corinne Day, Patrick Demarchelier, Nick Knight, Herb Ritts and Mario Testino.”

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But you’d best get your skates on, it finishes on the 30th October!

(Oh, and it’s free in.)

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Happy National Poetry Day


I couldn’t possibly pick just one, so here are a few to salivate over. There’s something for everyone.

The Mower

by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

 

This be the Verse

by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

 

Suspenders

by Raymond Carver

Mom said I didn’t have a belt that fit and
I was going to have to wear suspenders to school
next day. Nobody wore suspenders to second grade,
or any other grade for that matter. She said,
You’ll wear them or else I’ll use them on you. I don’t want any more trouble. My dad said something then. He
was in the bed that took up most of the room in the cabin
where we lived. He asked if we could be quiet and settle this
in the morning. Didn’t he have to go in early to work in
the morning? He asked if I’d bring him
a glass of water. It’s all that whiskey he drank, Mom said. He’s
dehydrated.

I went to the sink and, I don’t know why, brought him
a glass of soapy dishwater. He drank it and said, That sure
tasted funny, son. Where’d this water come from?
Out of the sink, I said.
I thought you loved your dad, Mom said.
I do, I do, I said, and went over to the sink and dipped a glass
into the soapy water and drank off two glasses just
to show them. I love Dad, I said.
Still, I thought I was going to be sick then and there. Mom said,
I’d be ashamed of myself if I was you. I can’t believe you’d
do your dad that way. And, by God, you’re going to wear those
suspenders tomorrow, or else. I’ll snatch you bald-headed if you
give me any trouble in the morning. I don’t want to wear
suspenders,
I said. You’re going to wear suspenders, she said. And with that
she took the suspenders and began to whip me around the bare legs
while I danced in the room and cried. My dad
yelled at us to stop, for God’s sake, stop. His head was killing him,
and he was sick at his stomach from soapy dishwater
besides. That’s thanks to this one, Mom said. It was then somebody
began to pound on the wall of the cabin next to ours. At first it
sounded like it was a fist–boom-boom-boom–and then
whoever it was switched to a mop or a broom
handle.  For Christ’s sake, go to bed over there! somebody yelled.
Knock it off! And we did. We turned out the lights and
got into our beds and became quiet. The quiet that comes to a house
where nobody can sleep.

 

Gravy

by Raymond Carver

No other word will do. For that’s what it was.
Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”

 

Hummingbird

by Raymond Carver

Suppose I say summer,
write the word “hummingbird”,
put it in an envelope,
take it down the hill
to the box. When you open
my letter you will recall
those days and how much,
just how much, I love you.

 

Teleport Memory

by Patrick Chapman

 

Eighteen winters on, I find your jet-black

hold-up in my box of old remarkables,

the rubber garter still with spring in it.

 

I drape the stocking long on the bed

and try to imagine your pale slender leg

filling it toe to knee to thigh and beyond

 

in a matter transmitter reconstitution

of you with a physical copy that holds

your consciousness, your memories,

 

your tenderness, your wit still dry –

while out in the real, the original you

has surely diverged in directions I can’t

 

follow: some of your people passed on;

you a mother, an aunt or alone; and every

cell in your body, twice overwritten.

 

If that you can bear think of me

it may be with disdain for who I was

at the end but listen, my old love,

 

he has been replaced so many times –

no longer that young cripple who,

out of repression and pain, cracked

 

your heart and in its fracture fatally

punctured his own. So far undone is he

that even teleport could never bring us home.

 

Alone with Everybody

by Charles Bukowski

 

the flesh covers the bone

and they put a mind

in there and

sometimes a soul,

and the women break

vases against the walls

and the men drink too

much

and nobody finds the

one

but keep

looking

crawling in and out

of beds.

flesh covers

the bone and the

flesh searches

for more than

flesh.

 

there’s no chance

at all:

we are all trapped

by a singular

fate.

 

nobody ever finds

the one.

 

the city dumps fill

the junkyards fill

the madhouses fill

the hospitals fill

the graveyards fill

 

nothing else

fills.

 

EDGE

by Sylvia Plath

The woman is perfected
Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little

Pitcher of milk, now empty
She has folded

Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden

Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

 

The Causes

by Jorge Luis Borges

The sunsets and the generations
The days and none was first.
The freshness of water in Adam’s
Throat. Orderly paradise.
The eye deciphering the darkness.
The love of wolves at dawn.
The word. The hexameter. The mirror.
The Tower of Babel and pride.
The moon which the Chaldeans gazed at.
The uncountable sands of the Ganges.
Chuang Tzu and the butterfly that dreams him.
The golden apples on the islands.
The steps in the wandering labyrinth.
Penelope’s infinite tapestry.
The circular time of the Stoics.
The coin in the mouth of the dead man.
The sword’s weight on the scale.
Each drop of water in the water clock.
The eagles, the memorable days, the legions.
Caesar on the morning of Pharsalus.
The shadow of crosses over the earth.
The chess and algebra of the Persians.
The footprints of long migration.
The sword’s conquest of kingdom’s.
The relentless compass. The open sea.
The clock echoing in the memory.
The king executed by the ax.
The incalculable dust that was armies.
The voice of the nightingale in Denmark.
The calligrapher’s meticulous line.
The suicide’s face in the mirror.
The gambler’s card. Greedy gold.
The forms of a cloud in the desert.
Every arabesque in the kaleidoscope.
Each regret and each tear.
All those things were made perfectly clear
So our hands could meet.

 

Dulce et Decorum est

by Wilfred Owen

 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

 

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

 

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

 

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

 

The Diameter of the Bomb

by Yehuda Amichai

 

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters

And the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,

With four dead and eleven wounded.

And around these, in a larger circle

Of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered

And one graveyard. But the young woman

Who was buried in the city she came from,

At a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,

Enlarges the circle considerably,

And the solitary man mourning her death

At the distant shores of a country far across the sea

Includes the entire world in the circle.

And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans

That reaches up to the throne of God and

Beyond, making

A circle with no end and no God.

 

Sometimes you go upstairs

by David Milligan-Croft

 

Sometimes, you might hear a bang-

Like something has been knocked over.

And, you shout out,

“Hey! What are you two up to?”

 

Sometimes, you go upstairs,

You know, to check on the girls.

To make sure they haven’t kicked off

Their duvets, or fallen out of bed.

 

But, when you go up,

You realise they’re not there anymore.

And, for a moment,

You thought life was like it was before.

 

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