ISSUE NO. 3
Melissa Legarda Alcantara - COVER PHOTOGRAPHER
tales of the airborne ISSUE 3
Published 2016 Co-founders: Sam Holden & Kathrina Wainstok Creative Director: Kathrina Wainstok Chief Editor: Melissa Legarda-Alcantara
Get creative & get connected www.talesmagazine.co.uk Instagram: tales_mag Twitter: magazine_tales Facebook: /talesmagazineuk
well hello there . . .
welcome Welcome, dear readers, to our third issue of
Itâ€™s now summertime, and the living is easy â€“ minus all the political instability. Sometimes, we need a sweet escape to help us recalibrate. Enter our theme: Airborne. Everyone seems to have a little wanderlust simmering in their veins, lately. In this issue, we draw you into new worlds of foreign lands and self-discovery, through moving words, beautiful visuals, and poetical philosophies to stir the soul. We bring to you tales of the Ethereal and the Futurists, fantasy melding with fate. Tales of the Collectors and Dreamers, whose artistic spirits keep them reaching for the sky, producing soulful material, and enjoying the wild ride of the creative process. Tales of the Wanderers, breaking away from conventional routines, of falling in love abroad, of living out of a backpack. (Warning: you may or may not start browsing Google for the next cheapest flight deal out of the country.) As ever, this issue has been a labour of love for us. We hope you enjoy!
Love, Melissa and Kathrina
check out some of our past issues
contents The Ethereal
carin gerard ....................................................... 1 by writer Holly Richmond, PhD & photographer Jessica Dalene
chasing sunsets: pursuit of the unknown .......................... 47 by Melissa legarda alcantara
yamazakura ........................................................ 11 by Chakes Bliss
barcelona: a love story ........................................................... 61 by Courtney Connor
momokolotus ..................................................... 13
lv studio ................................................................................... 63 by Lucia Vettese
if god wanted us to fly he would have given us wings ...... 66 by Bethan Morrell
One man’s utopia is another’s dystopia ........ 21 by concept artist Holly McGregor & photographer Jeanette Bolton-Martin kogi’s prayer ...................................................... 29 by Louis cennamo
observing menorca from the aeroplane.............................. 69 by Bethan Morrell life on the Road ....................................................................... 71 by Grace Wake timing (sometimes a bitch) ................................................... 87 by Martin P Burns
seeing the stars through the clouds ............... 33 by Matt Tate
the museum that mac built ............................. 39 by Mac Honeyman
the commute home ................................................................ 93 by C.I.Selkirk & photographer Alexander Wainstok musician robbie hall .............................................................. 99 even as he plummets ............................................................ 104 by Allen Ashley & illustrator Roxane Dewar upword bound ........................................................................ 110 by Martin P Burns & photographer Catherine Leask
carin gerard Nature, SO LITTLE IN LIFE IS PERMANENT, and the fleeting resplendence of a butterfly, the sky or a flower punctuate this certainty. All gracefully changing in an instance, the twists and turns of wings, clouds and petals tell a story with every passing moment. Each of these natural phenomena give Carin Gerard, Santa Barbara-based classical realism artist, an opportunity to exaggerate nature’s robust, yet impermanent brilliance. “Nature” is a series of gicleés that relies on realistic and fantastical colors to portray the vibrancy of each subject. Gerard’s Butterflies collection captures both the impressive potency of a rainbow array of colors, as well as the soft, fluttering fragility of each sublime species. “To me, butterflies represent hope and new life, yet the fragility and shortness of that life is profound. Trying to express this unique, transient beauty was a welcome challenge.” Similarly, Gerard’s latest collection, Sky and Clouds, captures a moment in time through another unbelievably striking presentation of nature. Palpable clouds part in the sky to create striking shapes and colors far beyond blue and white. “The mood a sky can convey is as interesting to me as capturing a fleeting image. The process was liberating and freeing because everything literally changes in mere seconds,” she states. In Gerard’s Inner Beauty collection, petals seemingly swim or dance, effortlessly moving the viewers’ eyes from one detail to the next. “My goal here was to portray a novel level of dynamism, excitement and lusciousness to a still-life flower.” A quality that is ever-present in Gerard’s paintings is sensuality; they are feminine, sexy and powerful. She believes the natural entities presented in the three collections—these essences of life—are formidable. Gerard’s
www.caringerard.com Instagram: carin_gerard_art
Holly Richmond, PhD
- WRITER www.drhollyrichmond.com
www.jessicadalene.com Instagram: @frankenjess Facebook: Jessica Dalene Weber
objective with this series was to capture nature’s inner beauty while portraying a fleeting moment. The subjects are symbolic in many ways, capturing the spirit of the passage of time. She explains, “They are living, dying or changing in the same breath, and hold beauty at every stage.” Using her decades of classical realism training in Florence, Italy, the first layer, imprimatura, is applied as a neutral grey. The true references of these elements are then drawn on using a grisaille technique, from the French word gris, to create a sculptural quality. This artistic style imparts a relief affect that makes each stroke on the canvas feel tangible. The limited background palette is serene, calming and creates continuity, as the interpolation of Gerard’s distinct colors deliver artful originality. “I added color with great discretion,” she notes. The paintings’ color values are limited in order to eliminate any semblance of conspicuous contrast. Each subject’s balanced and tranquil character is retained. Perhaps more than with any other series, “Nature” showcases Gerard’s technical prowess. Using the Munsell color theory, she works from an equation for each color to create a string of values. “It’s like math,” Gerard states. “The process is complex, but in order for a painting to be complete, there must be a looseness, an informality amongst the precision.” To that point, she is not interested in presenting a viewer with a static image, lovely as it may be. Gerard’s work is dynamic, three-dimensional and interpretive. Her hope is viewers find the story beyond the external paint strokes, discovering instead the everlasting quality of nature’s innermost beauty.
â€œSO LITTLE IN LIFE IS PERMANENT, and the fleeting resplendence of a butterfly, the sky or a flower punctuates this certainty. All gracefully changing in an instance, the twists and turns of wings, clouds and petals tell a story with every passing moment.â€?
Making sense of your pillow talk is like playing that look-up-atthe-clouds game in summertime. Except I’m interpreting the intimate shapes of fluffy, cartoon thought-clouds bubbling out of your imagination—the kind you’d find in comic books. “Did you ever think…” you said, “the trouble with poetry is: language always makes ideas appear overcast?”
- WRITER “I think there’s a silver lining.”
Instagram: @charliebliss09 Twitter: @charliebliss09
I put what I meant down on paper afterwards like an inverted weather report.
I had wanted to tell you how I trained myself to climb inside words, to crack open their lids and live within the letters. Colourful words—like ‘iridescent’—are my favourite to curl up inside. I can flick away the orb dotted over the letter ‘i’ and slide down into it. Sleeping in the hammock-bend of the crescent moon ‘c’, I’m awoken by sunrising symbols.
Instagram: @kdwcreates Twitter: @kdwcreates
I kaleidoscope around the tubular characters, dragging myself through the empty spaces as if crawling through the ventilation systems in a library, or riding the subway through the dictionary. I like hyphenated compounds because the line tying them together reminds me of tin cans on strings. Exclamation marks are power pylons electrifying expression. Everything through my eyes is alphabet-coloured. If I ever see poetry from the inside-out, I’ll describe it for you. I imagine it feels like walking through the blossomhaze of a field of sakura, brushing your skin against cascades of pink popcorn petals that express themselves by self-immolating.
The inflorescences of perfection have no vocabulary. They just burst open like millions of miniature pop-up books splattered by incandescent ideographs of made-up languages.
If I could bend poetry to my will I would fold up my feelings in beautiful words, carrying them around like picnic baskets, and we would swallow our conversations under the blue. Beneath the raining cherry blossoms, I’d light up this chapter of your life with an asterisk, shot like the upside-down trajectory of a sky lantern, with an inscription etching itself into the stratospheres of your attention.* Until then, I’m alone on the outskirts looking outward through indented windows over a three-dimensional panorama of ABC’s. There are meadows upon meadows of possible words, not one of them abloom. I can almost make out the lights of the city skyline on the horizon: the complex coalescing dimensions of an absolute ideascape. From here it looks like a worldview. Not yet a poet, I am instead the pilot of a paper aeroplane. I fly across paginated skies from left to right like a kamikaze fighter, yamazakura painted on the wings, aeronautics of wishful thinking propelling me forward. I’ll crash myself into the ground, dropping a full stop that will land at the end of all this like an Atomic bomb, vaporizing the thought and leaving in the fallout only an auroral mushroom cloud of an idea, a notion, impressed like thin air upon thin air, between us. Somewhere imperfect, somewhere ineffable.
* Words are roundabout luminaries—the halos of ourselves— allowing us to recognise one another in the dark
momokolotus -PHOTOGRAPHER Instagram: @momokolotus Model: Natalia Makeup/hair: Eric
one manâ€™s utopia is anotherâ€™s dystopia. 22
Schism is a collaborative project between concept artist Holly McGregor and photographer Jeanette Bolton-Martin. With the idea to explore the limits of our respective disciplines it evolved from a simple idea into a larger narrative, exploring the notions of utopia and technological progression. In the world of Schism there are two factions: Machina: augmented humans, cyborgs and AI who inhabit a seeming utopian world free from environmental and social problems. Biological: people, who rejected the march of technology and sought to re-connect with nature and isolate themselves from the Machina. However, for some unknown reason be it virus or evolution the Biologicals began to evolve and mirror their environments. Now possessing strength to rival that of their Machina cousins the battle lines are drawn. Pick your faction.
- PHOTOGRAPHER & WRITER
www.jeanetteboltonmartin.com Instagram: @jboltonmartin
Holly McGregor - CONCEPT ARTIST
kogiâ€™s prayer Louis Cennamo - WRITER
Kogi fly without wings. Sacred children of Mother Earth and the Spiritual Sky. Driven from their homes long ago by fearsome conquistadors that swarmed like a plague over their holy land. Like the Inca and Aztec, plundered, their good faithbetrayed, but never destroyed. They knew they must take to the high ground, look to the air and subtle realms beyond, to survive but also to evolve, in seclusion and solitude. Like a pyramid their mountain home points upward to the sky, rising five miles from the ground. And from this air-borne sanctuary Kogi seek to protect the natural world, the world of their beloved Earth Mother. Between land and sky, earthbound-airborne, they have worked tirelessly to preserve the dignity and beauty of all of nature’s kingdoms.. Kogi make peace waves to help calm the storms. They take to the air, with a prayer of love and compassion, they are deeply concerned by the chaos and destruction created by the collective mass they call ‘Little Brother’. ‘Earth Mother is in pain’ they cry, ‘ please listen Little Brother’. In the air, their thought waves reach out across the great sky, their prayer for peace echoing on the wind…
‘Please listen little brother, please stop the destruction’. Kogi were driven towards the sky, now airborne farmers, harvesters of the wind, rain and thunder. They know Earth Mother’s secrets and feel her pain. ‘Little brother pollutes the air, destroys the land, disturbs nature’s balance and wonders why she is in turmoil. If the foot is cut will the whole body not feel it? Earth Mother is in pain, please listen Little Brother’. Kogi fly without wings. Their prayers dance on the air. Like the radio waves they pass through everyone, but who will feel them? Who will listen. As the great forests disappear, devoured by the dragon of ‘progress’, who will listen? His silver birds ravage the air, jet propelled through our airborne prayers without a thought. Polluting the skies and scorching the earth, Earth Mother cries out. Kogi live to protect her, know they must forgive both the plunderers of the past and their descendants here now who carry on their legacy, who refuse to see how their greed and mindless destruction of the great forests, land and seascapes, has disturbed the balance, and they wonder why the nature they profess to love will erupt, will flood, will scream in pain, and ultimately will die. But Kogi know the power of thought, and of prayer. They pray for the goodness in the hearts of everyone, for their beloved brothers and sisters to join with them in
their quest to show Little Brother how his actions are harming our Earth Mother. They pray for those that dwell in the heart to hear Kogi’s prayer and pray with them. Who will take to the air - blaze a trail across the sky? Who will be mindful - join the great prayer for peace? Who will help to open eyes blinded by mindless greed? Who will witness the divine intelligence of the birds in the sky, who know when to migrate across the Mother’s expanse, when the season is right?
Kogi fly without wings. Their words soaring high above the clouds Pray for him to listen, and stop the destruction For the sake of all of Earth Mother’s children Who will take to the air, fly without wings? Reach for the spiritual sky, where all descend from? As the sky, so the ground below. Who will listen to Earth Mother’s cry? Who will open their hearts- feel her pain as our pain… Her joy as our joy? Who will reach out and say Little brother will you listen? Little Brother must you listen?
seeing the stars through the clouds Matt Tate is a practicing artist, and currently artist in residence at King Edwards Witley. The images featured will be in Matthew's show under the working title Lost in Thoughts, which will be exhibited the beginning of next year. If you're interested and want to contact him follow him on Twitter, Instagram or check out his website for updates on his exhibitions and current work.
The symbolism in Garth Nix’s books really interested me as a young reader. The Keys to the Kingdom series were the some of the first examples of my discoveries in allegories in literature. The way Garth Nix builds each of his worlds alongside his characters invited my imagination so much that they have stuck in my head ever since I read them.
When it came to designing Lord Sunday, two things influenced my direction. Firstly I studied the work of Heironymous Bosch for colour palettes and the overall concept. Secondly I asked myself the question of what is physically higher than clouds; answer - stars, and in a pattern stars and flowers look quite similar, so it stuck with me. My favourite part of Sunday’s design was his jacket. This was an opportunity to show the garden itself. Like a hive each hexagon is a representation of each exhibit in the Incomparable Gardens, and continuing with the theme of stars each section has a constellation to represent a species of animal.
Saturday and Sunday have their own interesting antagonistic relationship. Saturday herself represents the deadly sin of envy, and Sunday represents pride. Saturday in her envy sits atop an enormous tower building it higher and higher to usurp Sunday, a position which she believes is rightfully hers. Sunday on the other hand owns a huge zoological garden at the centre of the universe above Saturday giving her tantalising glimpses and exciting her envy further. Both of these places are allegories of the Tower of Babel, and the Garden of Eden respectively. As an artist and designer I wanted to visually communicate those allegories to the character designs as well.
As I mentioned before these books were some of my first interactions with allegory. But the real main driving force to explore these stories again was the need to return back to basics with my practice. If I am completely honestly for a time I have been struggling to rekindle some sort of enthusiasm with my artwork since graduating from university.
Both of the characters in some way have a slight inspiration of birds, Superior Saturday based on crows, and Lord Sunday is designed around peacocks. With this avian theme I designed them both to look as though they were flying, which itself is a love letter to the chiaroscuro woodcuts of Hendrick Goltzius.
To explain this firstly I think you should know a bit of context about my history as an artist. I work as an illustrator, printmaker, photographer, and part time teacher and writer. I am currently about to start my second year as resident artist at King Edwards boarding school. I have always had dreams of studying at the Royal College of Art. I applied but to cut a long story short, unfortunately I wasn’t accepted. Which started a spiral of creative blockage and doubt.
Superior Saturday is designed around imagery of rain, clouds, wind and birds. Saturday’s tower is in perpetual rain, so her colours and patterns are overcast and bleak. Her hair though was one part of her that I personally enjoyed designing, as I was thinking about other stories with towers such as Rapunzel. I liked the idea of Saturday leaving her hair as an indicator for how long she has waited for her tower to be built up.
If I could describe my creative landscape at the time it was these dark thunderheads clouding the sky above my eyes, blotting out the stars.
I found even starting any print to be pointless and even engaging with my artwork on any level to be tiring. Personally what troubled me was that I was in a position to be inspiring students and individuals to create work, and yet I felt paralysed myself in even doing a simple sketch. But in doing my residency, I found the answers I needed by answering other peoples questions.
As artists we need to drop these ‘definitions’ that we cling to, and instead seek to find options. Options to me sound more mysterious and exciting, and less restrictive than definitions. I still say to people I am a printmaker, but printmaking isn’t the primary direction of my practice. Printmaking to me is the boat that gets me across the sea, not the island that I am sailing to. We need to think less about what we can’t do because of the need to specialise or need to fit into one area, and consider the options and skills that you have now that you could bring when experimenting with new art.
First question I get asked a lot is about being able to experiment in different mediums or styles of work. I find usually students that I work with wish to define themselves, box themselves in. Which is natural especially for people who are trying to apply to study art at university, where a course title can sometimes sound like a flaming hot brand.
Second question; Art isn’t an economically viable career, therefore I need to choose a ‘safe’ art. This one bothers me quite a bit as it actually is a deceptive, veiled form of self doubt. Especially from talented artists this is a real problem. By making excuses about financial environments we are telling ourselves that we aren't good enough to be successful. I myself am constantly having fears about dropping art and picking up a more financially beneficial career.
For example; if I choose to study Graphic Design then I won’t be able to study film. This I have noticed can even plague artists when they are curating their work for their final show. If I show this piece of art, will I only receive more work based around this? How I answered this was in my own art. For example I have been exploring printmaking for a year now, and have studied many techniques of each process. When it came to describing myself to people, I would say that I am a printmaker. But recently I grew frustrated with printmaking, and my love and patience quickly dropped. I remembered though that like these students I had asked myself; “if I study illustration will I be able to explore printmaking?” Yes art allows exploration. I realised that printmaking, is one facet of the many sided decahedron of my art and personality.
During my period of creative doubt I contacted Kate Malone after attending one of her lectures in London. I asked her questions about starting a successful career, and maintaining some sort of motivation. ‘I needed money to live so motivation, was and is still present. But my deep motivation is to create new things not money, but it is needed to move forward.’ Kate Malone. I think it is all too tempting to become distracted by the financial when exploring an artistic life. A joke my friends and I had at university was to omit the ‘work’ in artwork, when asking how we were doing with our assessments. I think this is fundamental when making art.
‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.’ Albert Einstein.
Its funny that we live in a contemporary landscape in which geeks can scream whilst playing video games in their bedrooms and record themselves on a camera (in their pyjamas sometimes), and can make millions. Yet with that in mind for some people making money off a skill like art seems impossible. I on the other hand think it is entirely possible to be somewhat financially successful with art. I tell these students that only by being motivated by the art that you want to make, will the money you make alongside your art feel rewarding.
- ILLUSTRATOR & WRITER www.matt-tate.co.uk twitter: @matthewjr_tate instagram: @matthewjr.tate
The third question that I am asked which was integral to my own creative renaissance, is similar to the first and second questions, but quite raw to me. ‘I don’t think I am good enough to go to this university/ job/ artistic life.’ To discuss this after my own recent rejection was difficult, but I have noticed that artists place importance and value in other things and not our art. I see artists focusing too much on the grade, the first class degree, the promotion, the money that will quantify our artistic successes, but in the spirit of making new art now I don’t think it matters. I realise after working with students and friends and colleagues that what I value in them is their creativity, and not their career prospects, and I should do the same for myself. For me now, the importance isn’t necessarily the masters degree - it should be that I want to study art further. By being paralysed I wasn’t focusing on my art. Julia Cameron says that it is far more difficult to be uncreative than creative. I had forgotten that the clouds drift and the ground may move beneath my feet. But the stars above my head stay the same. Ultimately in the end, I think of the final lines of Dante’s Inferno, in which Dante descends into the earth through each circle of hell. He must then physically climb over the devil’s back until he can finally see the stars again. I think artists have to do the same before we can make great work again.
“By that hidden way My guide and I did enter, to return To the fair world: and heedless of repose We climb’d, he first, I following his steps, Till on our view the beautiful lights of Heaven Dawn’d through a circular opening in the cave: Thence issuing we again beheld the stars.”
- Dante’s Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri -
the house that mac built
For my degree show I created an interactive museum in which the viewers were invited to change the space in some way, from rearranging or playing the found object sculptures to adding to the wall of my coloured in illustrations. I work with photography, embroidery and film, but the main focus of my practice is comics - these were available to read within the space, alongside my sketchbooks which I consider as one-off artist books. Having graduated, I'm looking forward to focussing on my drawing and I have however felt, particularly from the short films I've made, that perhaps I would like to explore the possibilities of going into theatre or set design.
â€œI would like to explore the possibilities of going into theatre or set design.â€?
Mac Honeyman - FINE ARTIST
ahoneymac.wordpress.com Instagram: ahoneymac Facebook: Mac Honeyman ahoneymac.tumblr.com
Chasing sunsets: Pursuit of the Unknown I used to think that London was the centre of the universe. I always identified myself as a Londoner, despite being the daughter of Filipino-Spanish parents who left their homelands and carved out a place for themselves in the UK. I didnâ€™t really think about my roots or ancestors. I thought Iâ€™d grow up, get married, and start a family in Notting Hill, where my kids would have the exact same childhood as me. Never did I think I would be sat on a warm beach somewhere in Indonesia, barefoot and hair wild, a soft breeze kissing my tanned skin, writing about life on the road after one year of calling the Philippines home. But here I am. Anything is possible. You just have to be brave enough to begin.
Mel Legarda Alcantara
- WRITER, TRAVELER, PHOTOGRAPHER www.illumelation.com Instagram: illumelation Twitter: illumelation Facebook: illumelation
“Barefoot, hair wild, soft breeze kissing brown skin. I live for these days when we laugh and dance and forget to doubt and fear, as our brains are so inclined to do. Today, remember to breathe.” - Mel’s Diary, June 2016
A Wandering Childhood My parents are citizens of the world. I’ve travelled since I was a foetus in the womb. Growing up, my folks brought me on their work trips abroad, we took frequent family road trips and holidays. I grew up exposed to different cultures and foods and countries. We had annual holidays to the Philippines, where we usually spent Christmas with family, and to Spain, where we visited my aunts every summer. I loved airports. I loved train rides. When we lived in Poland during the millennium, we took family roadtrips around Eastern Europe, passing through countries including Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Czech Republic. In our trusty teal Mazda MPV – Maizie, she was called – we would sing along to ‘90s hits on the car radio, eat fresh strawberries from Polish roadside stalls, and shiver as we drove through freezing mountains and pitch-black forests. In every country we stopped in, I’d buy location stickers España, Österreich, Deutschland – from gas stations and proudly stick them to the windows. I look back at my childhood as golden. Idyllic years spent bonding with my parents in an ever-changing backdrop of countries and cultures. I’m so grateful for those memories. These days, since becoming an “Adult” – whatever that means – my parents have wholeheartedly supported my decisions and journeys every step of the way, despite the many questionable, often idiotic, choices I’ve made.
“How incredible that humans around this beautiful planet co-exist in such wildly different environments and yet, despite cultural differences, we share in the universal experience of being human: we laugh, we cry, we live, we love.” - Mel’s Diary, February 2016
Escaping the Expected Path Travelling so much as a kid left its mark on me. A number of years went by in my teens where I thought I was destined to stay in London forever. It was a bubble – good, bad – but it was home to me. It wasn’t until I left university and started my very first job that I began to experience this overwhelming, crushing sensation that surely, surely, there was more out to life than taking the Tube every morning to crunch numbers and hit sales targets for a money-hungry firm. Doubt and sadness crept up on me. I felt trapped, isolated, and honestly, incredibly lost. Suddenly, an opportunity to work in the Philippines came up out of the blue. Fate was giving me an out. A chance to explore the roots of my heritage, of my parents, as well as live in a foreign country that was somewhat familiar, and be able to travel freely around Asia? I jumped at the chance. Two months later, I had moved to Manila. I was lucky enough to find myself running down an amazing career path that allowed me to travel extensively and
immerse myself in what I was passionate about – writing and cinema. Not only that, but being based in the Philippines, flights around Asia became incredibly affordable. The Philippines itself, being an archipelago of over 7,000 islands, even, is an incredible country to explore. In just one year, based in Asia, I travelled more than I ever had before. Between 2015 and 2016, I visited Brussels, Uganda, Japan, America, Italy, the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Bali, not to mention the islands I have travelled around in the Philippines itself. I have yet to visit some of the most well known destinations and countries around Asia, but all in good time. That’s the beauty of travelling. You never know where you’ll head to next. How many flights you’ll miss, on purpose. What kind of people you’ll meet, that will change your life. Realising these things makes life incredibly exciting.
“Been feeling a little hazy when thinking about the future, lately. How will I continue to keep myself financially sustainable on the road? What kind of projects will make me the happiest?” – Mel’s Diary, May 2016
“Living alone, abroad, away from family, best friends, and home comforts gets crushingly lonely at times. Even simple things like hugs, linking arms and holding hands, I realise I’ve taken for granted.” - Mel’s Diary, April 2016
New Worlds Travelling has opened up different worlds to me. Travel continually deepes my understanding of what “home” is. Of what “friendship” is. Of how I connect to people, of what makes me comfortable, of how I experience the world, of what I want in life. Whenever I get much-needed distance from cosmopolitan, capitalist society, I realise how much of the average person’s daily “stress” is artificial. Artificially imposed deadlines, taxes, advertisements from corporations and companies that don’t give a hoot about our wellbeing, only about our wallets.
need to find out what you want. Pinpoint what makes you happy, and then work on replicating that happiness in a way that is financially sustainable. Living in a foreign country, without backup plans or stable finances, is not easy. I’ve battled with longdistance relationships, culture shock, been so indecisive that I’ve had panic attacks, felt loneliness so strong that I break down and weep. But you have to take the pain in your stride. You grow stronger. Having faith and common sense and finding meaning in what you’re doing, and being passionate about the journey you’re taking – that’s what you have to focus on. Embracing the unknown, taking it one day at a time, putting in the work, brick by steady brick, to create a sustainable and exciting future for myself, is something that I am actively working on, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour.
When I think about standard office jobs only allowing workers 28 days a year to explore the entire world, it makes me shudder. It’s perfectly acceptable if you’re happy, if you love your job – but for me, I know that I need more than that. I need to create a life that works for my happiness, even at the risk of financial instability. If that’s what you want to, you need to forget about hearing other people’s judgements or opinions. You
Embracing the Unknown We are lucky to be alive in such an exciting time. Our generation is one of freedom – and yet, on the other hand, the world seems to be scarier, and more uncertain for us than it was for our elders. There is no set way to live life anymore. People are pushing past social constructs, waking up, and vigorously pursuing selfactualization. We are the digital generation, and in many ways, yes, the selfish generation – but is it really selfish to want to spend our short years of life experiencing the world in all its glory?
In this digital era, people don’t see the hard work. They see the curated sunset photos on Facebook, the seemingly overnight success, the beautiful ending. They don’t see the hours of marketing, the gut-wrenching stomach poisoning, the dangerous hike up the mountain, the stress of a dwindling bank account, the constant rejection when applying for opportunities, the paranoia after turning down sensible financial options and personal relationships in exchange for freedom. They are openly critical.
My mother always tells me: “Shape your environment.” Whenever I’m low, when I call her to cry or complain or just for a reassuring voice of calm, she tells me again. It’s the best advice she ever could have given me. Shape your environment. In other words, if you want a certain lifestyle, you have to go out and get it.
But you have to learn to ignore the naysayers. Because it’s not their life. It’s yours. It’s a constant battle to have faith that things will fall into place. A constant battle against applying for a job you know you’ll hate, just to have a steady income stream. I’ve found that the more you put yourself on the line, the more people respond with their similar stories about hard times and vulnerability. I’m so grateful to everyone who has ever helped me out, or shared words of encouragement, or held my hand in the hard times. It reminds me that we’re all in this together. On the days when life feels like it’s a little too much, and you feel vulnerable, scared, and close to giving up, remember – we all feel the same. Take a minute to remember that you’re alive and healthy with a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and clothes on your back. Breathe deeply, refocus, and keep moving forward. Patience, gratitude, hard work, and perspective. Those are the keys to beginning a successful journey of living on the road – although anti-diarrhoea tablets and a bit of dosh are always handy, too.
“So many questions, but on the flip side, so many opportunities. Hard work, purpose, gratitude and perspective: as long as I, we, put these things into practice, bright and fruitful futures await!” – Mel’s Diary, May 2016
“I keep thinking about comfort zones. I've pushed myself so far in the past 12 months. I’ve learned that taking chances is the only way to reach new heights, to achieve new things. Even so, I’m constantly battling self doubt. On the road, free as a bird, decisions are quick. Made with the gut, they lead to adventure and awe and growth. In routines, on home turf, decisions are deliberated. Risks are riskier. Anxiety, nervousness, doubt. They seep in. “What if they judge me? What will they say?” But then, I mean, really. Who actually cares? Life is fucking short. Let them say. Let them judge. Reject the fear of rejection. Reject anything less than your best. Work hard with infinite passion. That's what I'm trying to do. What we're all trying to do. Find that silver lining and flourish. Why give to the world if you won't give yourself to the world? ”
- Mel’s Diary, July 2016
Melissa Legarda Alcantara is a freelance journalist chasing sunsets around the world. Based between the Europe and Asia, she writes inspiring tales of travel at www.illumelation.com (@illumelation). 58
For a girl that visits the same hairdresser only once, and never watches a movie more than twice, Barcelona you really are an exception. I’ve spent two long, sun soaked Birthdays with you and yet I’m still eager to explore your rambling streets. Bury my toes in your sandy beaches again and runaway once more into the night with you. I long to go back to the Cotton House Hotel, to wake up in crisp white sheets with rosy, sun kissed cheeks. Where the decor is so divine I could happily hideaway until my flight home, were it not for the pull of the city outside. I want to walk along the Marina, to watch little people on their big yachts and wonder what kind of magical lives they must lead, guided only by the sea and a whim. Take a stroll past the market stalls and head for the sand. I see the heat on the horizon, feel it soothe my aching bones. I am British, therefore I crave. Let me unroll my towel once more to join the crowds of people that have come here to share the spotlight, on a stage 4.KM long. All this sunbathing makes for thirsty work. Makamaka you are the first and only lunchtime choice. A surf shack by the beach with mismatched coloured chairs that stick in your memory like crayons jutting out of their box. I introduce you to all of my friends, because I haven’t met once person yet that doesn’t marvel at the taste of THE DUDE. Gaudi has left his imprint all across this city. There are too many boxes to tick but let me visit Sagrada Familia another time, for how many times can I gaze up towards the stars and still marvel at the hands of men who lived and breathed centuries ago? Retire. Shower. Shake the heat of the day off. The temperature dips enough to indulge in a blush coloured lipstick. The night is only young.
Watasumi, if I could take you home, I would. Good sushi is hard to find but boy this food is delicious and I can’t stop staring at this view from the top of the bull ring. I realise, away from all the distraction and noise that is ‘daily routine’ that my life is beautiful. Thank you, for reminding me. Let me dance again at the Marula Cafe and let my feet feel the freedom that only a good beat and flat shoes can give (who wears heels on holiday anyway?). The sun is asleep but the heat remains, between bodies, between glances, between the moments that could change the night forever. To wake up and do it all again. Barcelona, it is always you.
barcelona barcelona: a love story Courtney Connor www.lifewithored.com Instagram: @lifewithored
l.v. studios Lucia has created these three ‘Macaw Parrots’ by using a black fine liner pen and watercolours. Using this media, Lucia found that she could create a vibrant yet detailed composition, with an illustrated twist. These illustrations are inspired by Lucia’s love of birds, not just British birds but birds from all aspects of many cultures and country’s around the world & by painting, allowed her to capture the beauty and intelligence of these much - loved creatures.
luciavettesestudio.wix.com/portfolio Instagram: @LV.studio Twitter: @lucia_vettese Facebook: @LVstudio
Instagram: bethanne_amy Twitter: bethmorrell2614 Facebook: Bethan Morrell
if god wanted us to fly he would have given us wings (a spoken-word poem)
Now I’m quite a frequent flyer But the concept and the realities of flying Never become any less spectacular for me, yes, Sometimes turbulence can be a little bit scary But that’s because we LITERALLY FLEW THROUGH A CLOUD JUST NOW, and yes, The ear thing does kind of suck, But what could possibly be more inspiring Than listening to your favourite piece of music while Observing the country, not Via a map or some fancy space-borne camera But through your very own eyes, And writing about it in a hectic stream Of consciousness poem while you’re somehow gliding smoothly Through the air, no effort on your part, just Sitting back in the window seat As you fail to identify any of the towns below you, Sew the patchwork fields for yourself and realise That the dull and cloudy days you resent so much When you’re on the ground are only the clouds’ shadows,
Because you’re in line with the clouds, staring Them in the face and really trying To convince yourself that no, They are not made of cotton wool And they would not respond to your touch In quite the way you want them to But all rationality that exists in the person you are On the ground down there might as well be An adjacent bird, a thing you can see But not touch, because This experience far surpasses the realms of rationality, You are flying through the air right now, Maybe God didn’t give us wings NOT because He didn’t want us to fly, But because, like all those full-stop-sized pieces Scattered across that jigsaw below us, We would have taken it for granted, And this is something that deserves to be cherished, This is something that deserves such rambled thoughts because It doesn’t last forever, And that, Is what makes it So infinitely Precious.
observing menorca from the aeroplane Bethan Morrell - WRITER
Instagram: bethanne_amy Twitter: bethmorrell2614 Facebook: Bethan Morrell
Alexander Wainstok - PHOTOGRAPHER
It’s a giant sticker Spread across the ocean So cleanly and tightly It would tear if it were removed. You can see the jagged Failed attempts decorating the edges. It’s a slither of food, The most fragile slice Carved delicately From the bulk, So even and smooth and Paper-thin. It’s tiny clusters of density Surrounded by the world’s Most difficult jigsaw puzzle, So random and consisting of The most irregularly shaped pieces, They should have never fit together.
It’s a 2D painting, So accurate, so detailed, Different shades of greens and browns, Reds and yellows, An abstract painting With the shading in all the right places. It’s how they imagined the earth When they believed that it was flat, Just a stretch of land We circle and observe from all angles Surrounded by a sparkling, Textured blanket, the consistency of jelly. It’s the home of my heart, Which I’m leaving for now. And while the times before Have left such varying impressions, I see nothing now. Except a place that I know I’ll come back to.
Grace Wake - WRITER
life on the road Before I left on my travels I was blindly optimistic, I wasn’t worried about the prospect of being alone out in the world because it was something I had always wanted to do. It wasn’t until I found myself lost in the middle of Singapore that the reality of what i was doing dawned on me. So when I was asked to right this article, I panicked - what advice could I give to people about to travel?! I had no idea what I was doing the entire time. But then I realized that that’s advice within itself. You don’t know what is going to go wrong and what is going to miraculously pan out and become one of the best experience of your life. You don’t know who you are going to meet and where they will lead you. So prepare to be unprepared, but know that it will all be OK in the end, you will land on your feet and have the time of your life doing so. When traveling you learn along the way. It’s a matter of trial and error. I was completely out of my depth the entire time, but so in everyone else and you build lasting bonds as a result. Now having traveled to Singapore, Japan, the U.S.A, Mexico (for the drunkest day of my life), Canada and Iceland over the last four months, here are some of the tips I learned a long the way:
The first is to Plan ahead……but not too much. It can be hard to get the balance right here, you want to go with the flow, seize the day, ‘carpe diem’ and the rest, but you also don’t want to be stranded in the middle of god knows where with no where to sleep. So if I had to simplify the balance down to simple percentage, I would tell you 80% wing it 20% plan. Of course traveling isn’t as matter of fact as percentages and math. You will hit bumps you didn’t see coming and you couldn’t have planed for. So I learned, just before moving to a new town or city, to book 1 or 2 nights in a hostel, hotel or even campsite. This will you give you the peace of mind of knowing you will have a place to stay, but affords you flexibility in your plans. When traveling, like in the first year at University, you make good friends fast, because you are all in the same boat. In my experience the friends that i made became traveling buddies and we ended up traveling on together or meeting up at later dates. You don’t know who you are going to meet or what they have planed. They could be planning a trip to some magical place you can’t miss out on! But you have to because you have already paid for a weeks accommodation. In Iceland I spontaneously hired a car with two people I had met the day before and was able to see some of the most breathe taking views of the entire trip. It was a surprise highlight proving that you just don’t know where tomorrow will take you.
You could even arrive in a new place and absolutely hate it because it’s too busy or smells weird and want to leave immediately. If you do however arrive at a new place and it’s everything you were dreaming of, you can just extend your stay. It’s very rare that the hostel will be fully booked because travelers rarely think more than a week ahead and if it is, there will be other places to go. I loved San Diego so much that I decided stay an extra week. The day before I checked out I asked to extend my stay but the hostel was fully booked, so I went to another one in a different area. This allowed me to experience a new part of the city and meet new people who I later went to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon with. You really don’t know what the future is going to hold and when traveling, the future changes daily, so fully emerge yourself in the possibilities that this throws at you, try and open yourself up to new people and new plans, whilst still providing yourself with small safety nets. Another safety net that I think is important is WIFI. It easy to adopt a cynical attitude towards WIFI and technology. I too watched films like ‘Into the Wild’ and ‘The beach’ and like the rest of you had dreams of traveling the unknown, getting lost and unplugging from the matrix. But in my experience whilst traveling, WIFI is your friend and it helped me out in what could have been some stressful situations. If you are going to America for a long period of time, get an America sim - you never know when you are going to need an uber. If you are going to Japan get pocket WIFI. There is no shame in it. It can help you if you are lost or if you are looking for somewhere to go. It can help you find your friends if you have been separated. It can help you if you find yourself alone in a scary situation. It’s not just so you can photograph your food or take countless selfies with your new friends (but hey, if thats what you want to do, i’m not judging). It can actually be both practical and important in terms of safety. But if you do find yourself in a bind without WIFI - Starbucks is also your friend, It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you will find a caffeinated haven with it’s free WIFI on almost every street (and if you stand outside you don’t have to buy the coffee).
Another tip I learnt along the way is to not follow guidebooks or top ten attraction articles too strictly. Yes they can be very helpful in pointing you to some of the places worth a visit, but often they can lead you into tourist traps too. Sometimes it’s better to let spontaneity take over. One of my favorite days in Tokyo was getting drunk with new friends in a random park in Harajuku. I know it can be scary in a new place to let go of the reigns, as you don’t know which areas are safe and which aren’t, but in my experience people are quick to warn you if you are headed into dodgy territory. When me and two friends found ourselves walking into LA’s notorious Skid Row area, A local stopped us and kindly called us an uber, and even waited to make sure we got in safe. Which brings me to my next point…..
“Know when to have your guard up but don’t be shy to talk to the locals and people around you. Connecting with other travelers, hostel staff and locals is a great way to find out about the hidden gems of a city”
Know when to have your guard up but don’t be shy to talk to the locals and people around you. Connecting with other travelers, hostel staff and locals is a great way to find out about the hidden gems of a city and a lot of the local people are excited to tell you about their home city or town! We are taught from childhood not to talk to strangers, but people are generally kind if given them chance to be. On my first night in Japan, when lost on the underground, a local was quick to help me get to the right train and figure out which stop I needed. In Singapore when lost, a local walked me to the road I needed and bought me bubble tea on the way (because whilst in Singapore, I had to try it!) And in San Diego when my friend road her bike into a humans sized cactus - worrying then, hilarious now - a local guy helped carry my friend and the bike home.
I’m not saying trust blindly, you still need to have your whits about you, but I would have found myself in some tricky situations without the kindness of strangers, so give people a chance! It’s hard to summarize my time traveling without becoming painfully aware of the stereotype I so easily fulfill: traveling art graduate. And now nearing the end of my time away, when asked for advice by those just beginning their journey it’s even harder not to throw the usual cliches at them. But in complete honesty, its very hard to give someone about to embark on their own adventure advice, because the bumps you will come across will be unplanned and unique to your experience. With that in mind if i were to really give anyone any advice, it would be to adopt an ‘on the chin attitude’ as quickly as possible. It will be key to fully enjoying the good times and laughing away the bad as ‘yet another story to tell’ (but maybe double check you have the correct VISA when trying to fly from Tokyo to LAX. If not, you may find yourself crying into your airplane dinner after the most stressful day of your life).
- PHOTOGRAPHER Instagram: graccewake
tales of all hallows' eve Call for submissions ! We are seeking submission for a forth issue, the theme all hallows’ eve Enjoy the goosebumps and chills as All Hallows’ Eve moon rises. A celebration of life, death and everything in between. submit to email@example.com don’t forget to read through the guidelines at www.talesmagazine.co.uk
(sometimes it's a bitch) Tokyo from the air. It keeps its cards close to its
a seahorse. The Okinawan archipelago is its tail, clasping onto the waters near China with a tentative strength. Hokkaido is the diamond-shaped head. As a geographical whole, Japan looks like it's hanging on with rocky fingernails to the precipice of Russia. Tokyo is a city barely hanging on to its former life, as Edo. Wooden huts had become wooden shadows at the platinum'd feet of Tokyo's godbuildings. Edo was firmly behind the paper screen now. There had been a saying: that fires and quarrels were the flowers of Edo. I wanted neither. Flaming arguments would not do for this flaming gentleman. I wanted adventures that would remain firmly within boundaries culinary, sexual, cultural and rice-wine related.
chest. It’s an expert poker player. Who’s to know what it has? Attempting to get a visual from where I sat in the plane I’d called home for more than a whole day, all I could see were the city blocks, scabs of green that I assumed were parks leaking in from the briefly-seen countryside, and the crumpled hairdo of the lady I’d been sat and sleeping next to these past hours. She was just as fascinated by what lay below. Even though she looked like a native, it must have been her first time in Japan, too. The muscles in her neck were undergoing far too much strain to belong to somebody who already lived down there. Maybe it was a homecoming.
The air. I couldn’t see the seahorse from 35,000 feet above. I could see a lot, but not that. What I could see was a sort of pinched landscape. Before we were told to fasten seatbelts and store trays in an upright fashion, I had been blessed with a clearer view of the serpent of land that was Japan. The elderly lady next to me was asleep for much of the flight, so the window was unimpeded. I’d failed to notice when the Sea of Japan had banged into the cold, hard rock of the archipelago, so after a mistimed blink or turn-of-the-head, suddenly we were over land. I have called Japan ‘pinched’ because that’s how it seemed. According to the electronic map on the screen in front of me, we had come in over Nishiizu. That was my best guess, as I was faced with a visual straight out of the ‘80s, straight off of a Commodore computer. The city was long, embracing the coastline; but it was thin. There can’t have been too many urban blocks until the earth started rising and the hills and farmland turned into mountains and snow. Japan was the single concertina of a geological fan. From my perspective, I was looking at a country shaped like an enormous Toblerone bar. It may not have been a window to the whole world, this small Perspex square set in an airplane wall, but it was a window to the world that was destined to become my immediate future. Tokyo. Here I was now, standing at the window of my hotel room. The sun had disappeared completely now and the advertising lights had conquered my view. Shifting acidly. It was a hangover before I'd even touched a drop. I was drunk on both the trip into town from the airport and the spot I found
Tokyo. Enormous does it neither justice or crime. It swallows both words whole. I'd seen it in the movies, of course. The romantic confusion of Lost In Translation. The beautiful violence of Kill Bill. The pining nostalgia of Norwegian Wood. I had preconceived notions, as we do about everything. The streets would be jam-packed with geisha, Pokemon characters and samurai wondering why their code-of-honour wasn't working anymore. I'd be pressed up face-to-armpit with stoic officeclones forced into a sardinian subway carriage. ‘Sardinian’, used here not as a description of Mediterranean islanders, but of people living in a rolltop fishcan. There'd be fish for breakfast too, topped, tailed and rolled into sushi, karate-ed into noodling soup. Tempura for lunch would follow, udon for dinner and fugu for the rush. Last rites for elevensies. Not once would I have to reach for a knife or fork. My notions were about as accurate as thinking England is a land with no happy medium between MerchantIvory and Monty Python. Tokyo. It could be an adjective all on its own. Tokyo. Definition: (Adjective) Having the surreal quality of dreams wrapped in layer-cakes of packaging or nightmares ringing a commercial bell, all the while being too big to comprehend. Synonyms: awesome, awe-inspiring, hallucinogenic, perplexing, humbling. Usage: Both the airplane and I felt incredibly tiny up here in the Tokyo sky. Tokyo. Belonging to Honshu, the biggest island in Japan. The one that resembles a seahorse, with Tokyo as its bellybutton. Look at it on a map. Honshu really does resemble
appears sculpted, even though nature's desultory attitude is no less here. The Oriental idiosyncrasies came cleverly and continually and they were heartwarming. My bags were sitting there, streetside and alone. Luggage kids abandoned by their parents. Orphaned, a pair of urchins told to wait for their next owner, shunned politely by everyone else. It almost broke my heart and I wanted to give each one a hug. Bags and I grabbed an airport limousine bus into town. As the vehicle pulled in bang on time, of course - the three luggage-loading attendants bowed in synchronicity. This they did to every coach that stopped by. Such respect was beautiful to witness. On the bus, I had a real moment; the type where your breath is taken hostage for a second. After a quick announcement on the tannoy (incomprehensible, naturally), what should come on? Sakura! That old piece of music I could once play. It came flooding back to me amidst note and cadence. Its prevalence continued as, on the way in to Tokyo central, we passed a sign for Sakura City. There was a cultural myth behind this word that I needed to research into. (Anyone with a smattering of Japanese knowledge will tell you that sakura is the famed cherry blossom. It is both the flower and the tree of Prunus serrulata, the Japanese Cherry. They are not fruit producers usually, for their attraction lies not in the realms of taste, but the visual. Sakura roots go much deeper than that. Here, they represent the ephemerality of our time on this planet. The blossoming season is a rapid activity of intense beauty with a sudden end. This is the concept of mono no aware. The latter is pronounced a-wa-ray, but it’s linguistically satisfying that it’s also our word ‘aware’. The transience of life, don’t let it pass you by. I had missed the season by two months and with almost a year to go before it reappeared there was plenty of time to plan the perfect viewing sites. The symbolism of sakura has even darker depths, but my smattering of Japanese knowledge was, at this point, thin indeed.
myself at. This was my second complete day here and I was still swooning. That trip from the airport had been eye-opening, to say the least. As had landing at Narita. I am always nervous at gaining entrance to a foreign land, mainly due to the sheer quantity of medicinal drugs I have to cart around with me. A single tablet is about the same size as a Werther's original, minus the sickly-sweet flavour. What was I always afraid of? Of being turned away? That would hardly be devastating; I'd simply head home. There'd always be someone to welcome me with an open pair of arms. Was I afraid of the power these immigration lackeys wielded? Not really. I have little time for struggles of a powerful (or not) nature. What was it then? The prejudice? Nobody wants to be categorised as being shamefully different. Standing out like a sore thumb can be painful enough, without having an opinionated hammer fall down hard upon you. I don't want to be the same as the next society drone, but I don't want to be persecuted for a difference that should be regarded as an individual treasure. Prejudice can be a destroyer. My medication isn't the only thing that causes complications at borders. Crossing a threshold that has magnetised security gates always sets warning bells off. Not the hypothetical kind, where guards and officers give me a stare less than welcoming. I mean alarms that are literal and drum-piercing. It's the Arm Band that does it. That collection of personalities and loved-ones I wear like a defensive amulet on the wrist. This is neither the time nor the place to divulge their entire story but it is enough to say these decorative bracelets and bangles give most metal-detector the heebiejeebies. I always balance this with a forewarning. Look guys, I explain, there will be a loud noise as I pass through your sensitive security system. It rarely reassures them. What is reassuring here in Japan is that, even before you get to passport control, every passenger has their temperature scanned. This is the Goldilocks state. Too hot/too cold and it's too bad, and off you're carted to the ominous medical rooms barely concealed by a few pointless shoji. I had barely left the airport and already I freaking loved the country. It's the small, sometimes indiscernible, differences that make a big impact. I've flown into a lot of lands, but looking down onto the verdancy that surrounds Narita Airport I could think only of a miniature train set, so uniform and perfect the trees were in their range of green. It
The air. I have mentioned the film Kill Bill before, a cinematic exercise in hyperrealism that never ceases to entertain. I’d come to find, very swiftly, that life in Tokyo bore no resemblance to life in a Tarantino movie. The first signs of a reality less-than-hyper were in the airplane. I had chosen to fly with China Airways and very impressed I’d been, too. I have to admit that on my first catwalk from my chair to the toilet cubicle, I did look around for a handy place to stow one’s samurai sword. No luck, naturally. The closest object I saw to the symbol of a warrior’s honour was an elegant and expensive Balenciaga umbrella that was half as tall
out the kleptomaniac in me. The cream jugs are all of two-and-a-half centimetres tall, entirely Lilliputian in their dimensions. They could have been lifted from a doll's house. The sugar spoons, however, are ladles. They must have sweet teeth here. Sugar comes in pots with jug-eared handles on either side and you can't help but pick it up with both hands. One feels ridiculous and proper at the same time. The bill comes to 15 quid... 15!! I should have thieved some crockery for that price. The rain had briefly absconded but it came back in reputable style. I had heard Japan was punctual. Was it ever. "Rainy season starts at 6 o'clock this evening," my receptionist had said. 6:01. Okay, so it was a minute late. That's June done-for apparently. The drizzle from this morning had plucked up courage and was beginning to mean what it was doing. The citizens were prepared. The streets of Tokyo looked like those swarms of jellyfish you see in David Attenborough documentaries. Translucent domes bobbing up and down and into each other, all done silently. I needed my own dome. Still I wandered the streets, though.
as I was. The warriors were dressed in nothing more romantic than slacks, travelling clothes, pyjamas, even a onesie in the guise of tiger. It couldn’t help but recall the lyrics to the song ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ by Sparks. “Heartbeat, increasing heartbeat. You hear the thunder of stampeding rhinos, elephants and tacky tigers. This town ain’t big enough for both of us and it ain’t me who’s gonna leave. Flying, domestic flying and when the stewardess is near do not show any fear.” It must be big enough for me and this tacky tiger though, surely?
The air. There’s not much wandering to be done up here. Such a small place, an airplane, but with so many nooks and crannies that are left undiscovered. I think that’s the torment of flying. All those hours could be passed quite happily if one was just allowed a peak past that door, or under this hatch, or through that … No, maybe not through that way after all. Flying is one situation where curiosity would kill more than just the cat and the tacky tiger and an inquisitive I. Time to take my seat. Dinner was being served, the drinks trolley rattling down the aisle with the promise of dehydration.
Tokyo. Even coasting along the highways presents the happy traveler with amusing visual anecdotes. The toll gates have barriered lanes with the letters ETC above, as if everything else less important has to come through here. Truck drivers plough through the traffic, smoking and reading black-and-white Manga comics balanced on their steering wheels. The taxis put New York to shame. They come in all guises, but the particularly striking ones are those that resemble the traditional yellow cab with two added sportswear-like stripes running from hoodto-boot, one orange, one blue. This (plus a floral insignia at the back) makes them look like gayer, more outrageous and flambouyant cousins of their Big Apple counterparts. Hence, why I like them. Check-in is a late-in-the-day affair in Japan, around three or four, so off I went to meet my employers at The Ritz. I was very happy to be faced with an office of affable, calm and happy workers. My heckles did whisper, but very quietly. A flash of The Stepford Employees dashed through the mind, escaping down a cerebral passageway before I could pay it any real attention. I managed to check into my hotel (compact, and named Sakura), shower (a couple of days worth of travelling to scrub off ) and then settle momentarily down to some Japanese television. I say momentarily as it's enough to induce epilepsy. Even the news. So I soaked up a few pages of Jackie (what lucky bitches we are) before falling asleep in sticky Asian humidity for 21 hours. On the morning of day two I decided to hit the streets, despite a homely drizzle. My first port of call was Shinjuku. I am staying in Hatagaya, and there's not much to say about the district except that it lives underneath a colossal highway, which should be a nuisance but is strangely reassuring. A little like living in a metropolitan burrow. Shinjuku is probably what Westerners think Tokyo is all about. Lights, height, commuters, shopping malls, a polite yet rapid pace of life. There's a craziness to life that's easy to shut off. A pleasant surprise to the area is Shinjuku-gyoen, the immense park that's about a fifteen minute walk from the station. The minute one steps through the ticketed gates a new world is entered. It costs to get into this particular greenery here, the five-starred of all the parks. That's how valuable it is. Whereas in Hyde or Regent's or St James' Park in London you are still audibly aware of the city without, here Tokyo is muffled completely. This must be due to the forested aspect of the area. Every type of tree known to man towers over the grounds, giving the space-age skyscrapers beyond a run for their yen (which is pronounced 'en' by-the-way). I braved a coffeeshop. You bet your life I was proud that the waitress understood my "...kohii o kudosai..." and brought me the desired coffee rather than something unexpected. The service here is delectable. Water is automatically brought to you and refilled as required (I told you, it's the little things). Just being in a Japanese coffeeshop brings
Tokyo. You'd never go thirsty here, vending machines clustered in groups on every corner. I saw something I didn't think was possible. A queue out of a Krispy Kreme. American tv-show cops would fit right in here. Doughnuts and coffee; both are hard to resist. No wonder there's a chain of coffeeshops called Little Delirium. I went hunting for an ATM, learning the hard way that Softbank is not a friendlier version of LloydsTSB, but a communication company. Amongst the many establishments crowded together, Shinjuku has its own Times Square, called Takashimaya. Vuitton, Chanel,
Hermes. Exactly where you shouldn't bring your budget. It was a frustrating visit because I hadn't started working yet, but totally worth it for the toilets. They resembled the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. You're afraid of pressing any of the buttons in case the commode takes off. Using an English lavatory will now forever be a dull and uninteresting experience. The first noticeable thing is that the seats are hot. Not warm. Not warmed-up because the gent who had vacated the cubicle before had been sat there too long. Hot. They must be a welcome relief for one's posterior in the depths of winter. Toilets with a bidet are one thing; but a shower? I didn't dare activate it, worrying exactly where the jet of water would materialise from. I pressed a button that said FLUSH, but it was a mockery. It made the sound of a flushing toilet, nothing more. The toilet water was not rejuvenated. Nothing happened, though it sounded like something was happening. What function could this possibly serve? Was it to mask the sound of one's ablutions? What else is one meant to do in the lav, I thought, if not ablute? I ran out of the bathroom, leaving a gift for the next guy, unable to actually locate the real flushing mechanism. I received a gift in return as someone had left a proper, fair-sized umbrella for me (a penny saved is a penny spent elsewhere). It might not have been Balenciaga, but beggars had a rough time choosing. By the end of the day, I would be using the machines that stood by shop entrances to dry your umbrella, like a pro. You have to learn quickly here. I would use the umbrella later that evening as a prop, to demonstrate that the art of chivalry wasn't dead. Later came around quickly. I am standing here at my hotel room window. I had forgotten there was ever a sun now that Japan's advertising was putting on a garish display. I didn't care if tomorrow was one big hangover, I needed a drink. Day two wasn't over yet. Little did I know, it had hardly begun. It's amazing what you can do over a weekend. Make a group of international friends, wake up in strange hotels, fall asleep in a local park, fall in love. I was not going to spend Saturday night stuck in my hotel, not when the rest of Shinjuku awaits. Which includes Boys' Town, called Nichome. It isn't a large gay quarter. A single block of hedonism, with a fewer seedier offshoots down thin alleyways. In I walked, to a small cornerbar called Advocates, chosen solely because one of my last customers in the Southbank branch of Las Iguanas Iâ€™d worked in had recommended it to me. A few early drinkers were around, including an
older gent quite obviously English and quite obviously giving me the eye. Still, beggars in a new city can be even less choosy when it comes to men, rather than umbrellas, so after opting for the horrifically-titled Beer Blast, I moved forward to chat with him. My first foreigner in Japan and he's from Royal Leamington Spa. My birthplace. Nice coincidence. As like-attracts-like, it wasn't long before we had collected quite the United Colours of Benetton group. From European to Yankee, we were all there. The States were represented by a trio: Barry, Larry and T. One poor Japanese man was tarrying on the outer edge of our group and must've felt like he was on vacation. The rain became serious. As we refused to budge from outside, this was the time to air my new umbrella. I offered to share it with the young, quiet chap to my left. I didn't realise I was being so obvious, but T could see my intentions from a kilometre off. In my defence, I thought T had no interest in me. He was incredibly handsome in an all-American way, spiced with an added sprinkling of Latino. My one drink was turning into a Nichome pub crawl. By midnight, we had picked up the imbibement pace. In typical me-fashion, I got some kissing in, but with Larry. Part of the American trio and a friend T's. I would find this shameful the next day, but the next day wasn't happening now, with a JD&Coke in one hand and a guy in the other. I had been in Tokyo for two days and was doing rather well for myself already. Luckily for me, fate was on the side of T and I. Larry was too drunk to continue kissing, drinking or, for that matter, even standing. T made the most of the opportunity. What I had taken as shyness was just reticence. Neither were qualities I owned, so it's very hard for me to distinguish or detect them. A few hours later and I was lying in the Via Inn in Shinjuku, a hotel much much nicer than mine. I didn't even mind Barry rocking up at 4:30am to force his way into the double-bed. His instantaneous snores meant T and I could continue doing what we were doing. Admittedly, we had to be quieter. Falling for someone isn't a particularly loud activity, even though it may feel like it's making a din in your head and heart. The second day and I was falling in l-o-v-e? This was the stuff of bad Hollywood romances. Needless to say, I was not looking for a relationship. I had enough on my plate with new profession, new language, new culture, new everything. The days we would spend together were nothing less than intense, albeit tinted with an approaching sadness. Days were all we had. T was flying back to Hawaii soon and would only be in Tokyo until Tuesday. Typical. Alliterative, but that hardly improves the situation. Still, there are worse destinations for a holiday. Iâ€™d landed in Tokyo. My heart was back up in the air. Waking up in the Via Inn on Sunday morning felt like that. Barry was still dead to the world next to us, so T and I made use of the shower. The morning played out like a sequel to Out Of Africa. If you've seen Redford shampooing Streep, you'll know where I'm going with that. Breakfast at the Via was a sweet coda to the night. Over pastries of mysterious filling we looked at each other feeling like neither had to talk. We had spoken already, for millennia. Times had passed and we had spoken about almost everything in detail with tears, laughter, frustration, exasperation and honesty. This weekend felt less like a first meeting than it did a reunion. Time was frozen in a perfect moment of comfort. Words were superfluous. No action was astray. We even stopped staring at each other. A part of me knew (hoped) I would be looking at him for a long time. That part of me was remaining quiet on the subject. It was
American, Canadian, Irish, Kiwi, Oz. We would bond over the next five days, becoming quite close indeed. Information was loaded on and over. Laughs were shared, pasts divulged. Drinks were had, stories disbelieved, experiences shared. It was a shame we weren't staying together to teach at the same school. Reunions would be occasions we could look forward to. Eleven souls who could come together to share horror stories and proffer advice. As the first day of training progressed, I became more and more anxious about the evening that was going to be tacked on the end. I knew there was a farewell to be had, though it most definitely wasn't a fair farewell. And how much of what I was feeling should I offer up? All of it, as it happened. T had been feeling the same as I. Tears were had, and not all mine this time. It was touching and heart-breaking. Quite a lot heart-breaking, actually. T had bought me a beautiful red bracelet to join the Arm Band. I'd almost forgotten how cute his smile was, how incredible he was to look upon. We had drinks at Advocates. It seemed fitting. Finishing (for the moment) where we had begun. A drunk European girl asked T who the Adonis was. I have been called a lot of things before, but never that. Like I said, she was drunk ... and I guess a blonde does stand out in Japan. As do all Caucasians. Amongst other things, we debated over American vs. British English. I discovered that Americans (or certainly T) pronounced mauve as 'marve'. Suddenly, there it was. The name of our first child: Marve Advocate. When I say that our conversation was instantaneously waist-deep in profundity, I'm not lying. That night, I found myself at where T was now staying, at a traditional home in the backstreet suburbs of East Tokyo, all sliding doors and floormats-for-beds. We had to knock on the door of this poor old lady's house first. God only knows who she thought I was. There must have been twenty minutes sleep. What I would give for a good night's rest and a lazy morning! We could hear the lady in the morning coming up the stairs, obviously to check me out in the light. I moved like a lightning bolt off of T and out from under the thin, threadbare blanket we'd shared. She was rightly confused as to where I had slept, so I pointed to a corner of the room and played charades with my dinner jacket, as if that had been all my bedding. I felt like I was betraying her hospitality. T and I were as co-joined as possible until that miserable Tuesday morning descended from the heavens above. The L-word didn't take long to come out. It's fair to say we're both a couple of old romantics. Despite this, even now I can only type 'the L-word' instead of L-O-V-E in word-form. It feels too soon, though it feels thoroughly right. I feel great about this one. I know we're on the same page, even if it's unwritten yet. I guess we're just going to have to be patient, which is a skill I'll have to cultivate. Is it possible to cultivate a love in under 24hrs? Good lord, I didn't want to be in love. Inconvenience in a country renowned for its convenient lifestyle. Our next meeting was a minimum of six months off. I knew I couldn't take holiday from The Ritz for at least that
the smallest fluttering, a truly miniature flight of feeling. Outside the hotel I held his gaze before turning to leave. I started to get nervous. A cruel trick was being played on us. I needed to walk these worries off. I didn't make it very far. The rainy season had become bored of itself already and the sun returned with a vengeance. I woke up in Shinjuku-gyoen a few hours later looking like a pomegranate. The foretold hangover started to kick in about four, that usual afternoon slump, so I skipped with joy when I saw a 7-11 (or 7-&-i-holdings, as they are called here) that stocked cider by the bottle. Just the thing to take the edge off. How wonderfully Japanese and advanced it was too. It was clear, as clear as soda water. It was soda water. These, surely, are the facts that rough guidebooks should be telling you? 'Cider' in Tokyo is just sparkling water. It was the universe's way of telling me to rehydrate. Signs from above. Being into signs of all descriptions, I thought it was prudent to concentrate on some that were much more earthbound. I learnt my first kanji. My first was leaving. Literally, as I now have 'exit' down. It is a pair of symbols: a threadbare Christmas tree wanting some decoration. An empty box sitting next to it, the present unwrapped and stored for safekeeping. Exiting was on my mind, with the knowledge that T was leaving soon. The clock was ticking loudly. The first weekend in Tokyo took it out of me. I was in bed by eight on Sunday. Alone in my hotel. I was physically and emotionally pooped. I had said, on leaving London, to my dear friend Vanesita that there would be no mas lagrimas. Yet here I was, a tear in my eye at the thought that I would be saying sayonara to T. Ciao, au revoir, catch-ya-later. I didn't like the sound of it in any tongue. At least I had Monday to deal with. New profession time. It was a morning that started with weather of the strange variety. It wasn't dramatic, just odd. A cold, grey morning, you couldn't have sat out in it for more than fifteen minutes without the shivers beginning. Yet it was humid. Walking a few metres brought one out in a fine patina of sweat. It was hard to equate the two, but there you have it. That's how my working week would begin. I had five days of training at The Ritz headquarters. We had been told it would be intense. Information overload. So I did the wise thing by stressing myself out before I even arrived. I thought it would be nice to walk from Shinjuku station, through the park, and then down the main avenue to Aoyama Icchome (the latter meaning 'block one'). Nothing ever looks that tricksy on a map. People just don't learn. To be fair, I didn't realise the parks were locked-shut at that time in the morning, so I had to find my way around it. Office towers blocked any view that would've helped me in my quest. My journey was comparable to the Go-Sees the young girls have to endure in 'America's Next Top Model'. I knew how they felt. Dropped in the middle of a land where there was no common language and your only friend was a map written by some descendant of Judas. I made it though. Flustered, having sweated out about six pounds; but I made it. My ten colleagues were a real bunch of characters. 91
duration. Six months away had the same ring to it that the year 2000 had when I was a child growing up in the twentieth century. I fluffed the great goodbye. The metro station was filling up fast with commuters. They were trickling in through the gates faster than the sands-of-time in an hourglass. Each suited businessperson that came between us was forcing us further and further apart. He was one side of the ticket barrier, I the other. I can't even recall what I said as I gave him a quick peck and told him I'd text him later. This was not the stuff of high flung romance. It's better, in retrospect, to not make a scene. The train screeched in, I glanced to make sure it was mine. It was. I turned back. The commuters had built up, but I could still catch T's smile. My heart screeched as I was swept along into a carriage that felt like a metal coffin. Doors closed and my body fell limp. Supporting myself wasn't necessary as the workers of a Tuesday morning in Tokyo held me aloft, without realising the service they were rendering. They carried me all the way back to Icchome. Block one and day two of the next six months.
in, the cars they drive, the people they love. You wonder what you’ll find down there. It’s impossible to not think about the future rising up to meet you. I’d been thinking of Kill Bill, Lost in Translation and Norwegian Wood. I certainly didn’t expect to land in a bad Hollywood romance. For the sake of ease, I should have left my heart up here in the skies. “Heartbeat, increasing heartbeat. Flying, domestic flying and when the stewardess is near do not show any fear.” After a weekend of living in Tokyo, it already felt lighter than air.
Martin P Burns
- CREATIVE WRITER
The air. When you look out of an airplane’s tiny Perspex window, you reflexively strain to spot some recognisable sights; the shops they shop
the commute home “There’s no joy in it any more,” he thought, diverting over the damp cloud. “No job satisfaction.” He remembered the early days, back when he was starting out and people were astounded when he turned up and saved the day. Now it seemed like everyone knew someone who donned Lycra and a mask.
their aunties, they surely could do with a taste of their own medicine. How many times had he had to replace his boots after a particularly drunk idiot had met with a curry? How many times had he had bottles thrown at him as he'd rescued paramedics? No one said “thank you”, no one made him a cup of tea. They called him names he'd never heard of. The union rep said it was hopeless and it would cost too much to sue. He wasn't sure what the union was for any more. The geese darted downwards all at once, their V now an arrowhead pointing at the ground. A few downy feathers floated in their wake. Geese didn't usually behave like that unless they felt threatened and they clearly weren't scared of him. Animals never noticed superheroes, just treated them as another source of food. It didn't bother him too much but Danger Mouse had complained about it right up to the end, surrounded by all the mice who'd apprenticed with him. Sadly, they hadn't noticed the cat living at the funeral home and the supermouse programme came to an abrupt end a few days later. He felt it before he heard it, a stirring in the air that smelled like rocket fuel. He recognised that smell. He groaned and looked up. Yep, there it was, a Millenium Falcon with Han Solo at the wheel. He hated that guy. Ever since he'd accidentally got him mixed up with James Kirk the no-good drunk had had it in for him. Superglue inside his suit, prank calls pretending to be supermodels crying for help, rumours that he had a superinjunction for an incident involving three women, a tortoise, and a garden shed. Come on, it had been an honest mistake. All regular humans that flew spaceships looked the same. Solo gave him the finger and lowered the spacecraft so it buzzed him. Jerk. Those last three fines for drunk flying had clearly had no impact and he'd become even more reckless since Leia had left him to live in a yurt in Norfolk with Wonder Woman. She ran quite a successful
Of course, these upstarts didn't really have any powers, not useful ones, anyway, but the public couldn't tell the difference. The real superheroes, the old guard who fought for justice and shied away from publicity, they were the ones who wore their underwear outside their tights. They were real men, and one or two women. Although he'd heard that Batman now had a Facebook page and Spiderman was all over the web. “Social media,” Batman had said when they'd had lunch last week. “You gotta be on it to fight it.” Superman wasn't sure what that meant. He wasn't as fast as he used to be, couldn't get his body in a straight line so easily. That knee replacement had eliminated the pain but it was stiff and difficult to straighten. The physio had told him to take it easy, stick to light exercise in the first few weeks and then see how it went. Pilates had helped but it was hard to beat someone up lightly and he'd really felt that last drop-kick to the dirty thug's head. The best remedy would be ice, preferably in a gin and tonic. It was cold this high up. He'd never noticed it before. Maybe Lois was right and he should switch the Lycra for merino. They could do amazing things with fabrics these days and he'd never much cared for Lycra anyway. It wasn't like he was going to ride a bike. A Canada goose flew past, then another and another until he found himself inside their V. Crap. Literally. Along with small feathers it flew into his face, everything sticking to his lips and hair and covering his eyes. A pungent smell filled his nostrils and he gagged. He didn't want the contents of his stomach to splatter the children on the ground below so he clenched his stomach in the way only he, the original man of steel, could. He hoped he wouldn't get another ulcer. Lois would kill him. He didn't really know why he bothered. Okay, sure, the kids were innocent enough so he didn't want to vomit on them, but their parents and their uncles and
business now making yak's milk yogurt and cheese. Superman had dated Leia briefly, back when they were at uni and she was still exploring her sexuality, but every time he'd looked at her hair he'd had a craving for chelsea buns and they had both agreed to call it a day. Solo was close enough so Superman could see the dye job covering Solo's grey hairs. It fooled no one but he wasn't going to be the one to tell him. You wouldn't know from his fashion sense in his youth that he would end up so vain. Skywalker was next to him, sporting a new hipster beard, man bun, and a middle-aged paunch. He waved at Superman. He was a nice boy, nice but not too bright. Not like his father. Right on cue, Vader arrived, his army of Stormtroopers in new shiny black uniforms. It had just been too difficult to keep the white ones clean. Superman was fed up with them constantly coming to Earth to fight their battles. Why couldn't they stay on their own planets? Or go see a therapist and work out their daddy issues like everyone else? A blue box appeared out of nowhere, spinning unsteadily like it had just left the pub. It stopped between the two spacecraft, dwarfed by them. Bloody time lords. They were always interfering in other people's business, moving back and forth in time mucking up people's lives. He'd lost an uncle when The Doctor had talked Superman's grandmother out of a night of passion. “You're too young,” he'd said to her just before she'd left the house. “You don't want to be saddled with a baby yet. You should have some fun first.” Then he'd handed her a condom which he'd procured forty years in the future. And just like that, in the middle of performing a particularly complicated quadruple bypass surgery, Uncle Leo had disappeared. The patient survived but was not too pleased to learn that Uncle Leo had left one of his gloves in the man's chest when he ceased to exist. The door was flung open, mainly because the TARDIS was a heap of junk and the door needed a good shove. It had failed its last MOT but The Doctor didn't have a pilot's licence anyway so, as with most things, he just did what he wanted. Superman hadn't seen this face before. How many regenerations had The Doctor had since he'd last seen him? One? Two? Damn it, he looked good. He must be over 500 years old now and he didn't look a day over 30. How did he keep his skin so smooth? Superman regretted not using moisturiser when he was younger. Flying against the wind really aged the skin. “Hey, Supe, y'all right?” The cocky git was leaning
out the door, his drainpipe jeans and tight black T-shirt emphasising his lithe figure, round wooden beads clacking around his neck and wrists. The faint aroma of marijuana wafted out from behind him. Superman turned down his hearing aids and kept flying. He remembered the days when he could outfly the TARDIS, even pick it up, throw it, and catch it before it hit the ground. Now he was the mobility scooter in an airspace of vehicles. “Aw, don't be like that. You're not still sore about your uncle, are you? That was decades ago and I said I was sorry.” Superman could still hear his whiny voice. Sometimes it was a curse having supersenses, even when they were fading. “Hey, get out of the way. We're trying to commence battle here.” Vader's husky voice boomed out from the depths of the TIE fighter. He'd finally quit smoking a year ago but by then it was too late and an oxygen tank was now his constant companion. Both his friends and foes had tried to convince him to retire and move into a nice country home in a galaxy far, far away but you just couldn't sway a Sith Lord. Superman wondered if Vader had brought his oxygen on board that petrol-guzzling flying death machine. He'd have to talk to Vader at the next book group meeting about the new electric models that had come out recently. “Who are you, anyway?” said Skywalker, leaning his head out the window. “I'm The Doctor. Don't you remember me? I was at your uncle's funeral. Of course, I looked different then and I was a woman but still, I did introduce myself.” “I'm sorry, Doctor who?” “Ha ha, very funny. Like I haven't heard that one a million times already.” “Come on, son, you must remember him. He dated your aunt after the funeral. She was his companion for a while until she couldn't take the constant motion sickness.” Vader's breath ran out. He took another hit of oxygen. “Nope, sorry. My memory's not so good these days. The radiation from those lightsabers really fries your brain.” “Hey, are we doin' this or what?” Solo said, looking over the top of his varifocals. “I gotta be home by 4:00. Chewie's got a delousing appointment and he hates going on his own.”
“Just as soon as The Doctor gets out of the way, I'm ready to destroy you once and for all,” said Vader. “And this time I mean it. What are you doing here, anyway?” “I'm here to mediate. I'm the protector of this planet. You know that. You've seen the contract. I won it fair and square.” The Doctor folded his arms. “Besides, everyone's tired of you fighting. First there were three battles, and those were your best ones. Very dramatic, lots of tension, everyone took sides. The next three were, frankly, a waste of time. I mean, come on, guys, put in some effort. They were boring and we all lost interest. And these next three you've got planned are full of new people we've never heard of. We've got no vested interest in them. You ever heard the saying, 'Quit while you're ahead'? Well, you're ahead. Go and live a normal life. Spend some time with your families.” “I've got three ex-wives, ten kids, my dog's dead, and I live in a bedsit.” Skywalker shook his head. “Not to mention my father's trying to kill me. Why would I want to spend time at home?” The Doctor, Vader, and Skywalker started talking all at once, getting louder and louder, demanding to be heard. They forgot about Superman, who was good at flying under the radar. He'd been in shadow for a while now, the oversized spaceships blocking out sunlight for most of the UK. He was looking forward to getting home. If he hurried, he might be in time for “Bake Off”. Tonight they were making bread and he didn't want to miss it. “Excuse me, chaps.” A fat guy in a sleigh pulled by an arthritic red-nosed reindeer stopped just behind the TARDIS. The argument stopped. “I'm sorry to trouble you, but do you know the way to the North Pole? My satnav broke down and I can't get any phone reception.” “I know, I can't get any reception either,” said Skywalker. “Which network are you on?” Superman had had enough. The sky was far
too crowded these days. He remembered when he could fly for hours without running into anyone. Now, between a dramatic rise in flying “heroes” and budget airlines, he was always getting held up in traffic. Maybe it was time to access his pension, put his feet up, and reminisce about the old days in his bathrobe and slippers. Or maybe he could go into politics. He was used to dealing with crooks and at least he'd be able to go to work in a nice suit and tie instead of a skintight bodysuit. He headed downwards, deciding to go the rest of the way home on the ground where it was less crowded and more peaceful. He landed at the bus stop just as his bus arrived. Finally, some good luck. He stepped up onto the bus and felt around on his person. Damn, he didn't have his bus pass. Or his wallet. There was just nowhere to store anything in this suit and there were so few phone boxes it wasn't worth bringing a change of clothes. Now he had misplaced his man bag. Again. He was always losing things and forgetting things. That bag had been really nice too. Who knew Prada did a line of man bags? The salesgirl had been all smiles when she'd rung it up. “Oi, mate, you getting' on or what?” said the bus driver. Superman cleared his throat and straightened up. He felt a twinge in his lower back. “I don't suppose I could pay later? I seem to have lost my wallet.” The bus driver looked at him, expressionless. “You know how many times I hear that? Get off the bus, you're holding everyone up.” He didn't like to play this card but he was feeling desperate. “Don't you know who I am?” “I don't care if you're my mother back from the grave, you're not gettin' on.” Superman looked at the passengers. No one made eye contact. This was the thanks he got for making the world a safer place. He should've just let Luthor take
over the bus company and use it to transport those exotic pets he loved so much. He turned around and stepped off the bus. He planned to write a strongly-worded e-mail once he worked out who to send it to. The doors closed before his feet hit the pavement and the bus started to drive off. He felt a tightening around his neck and then he was being pulled backwards alongside the bus. Shit. His cape was stuck in the doors. He knew the cape was a nuisance. It was always getting in the way and had no function whatsoever but someone in a magazine once said it made him look slimmer so he kept wearing it. Now look where his vanity had got him. He jogged, then ran, backwards, barely keeping up with the bus as it dragged him to the next stop. Exhaust fumes filled his lungs but it was hard to cough while he was being strangled. When the doors opened again he stumbled forwards, crashing into an old woman with her cat. She whacked him on the side of the head with her patent leather handbag and hurried onto the bus, leaving him sneeezing and coughing in the bus shelter, holding his head. This was not a good time for his cat allergy to play up. A group of teenage girls stopped to take photos of him on their phones before walking away, giggling. Now he remembered why he preferred to fly. He walked the rest of the way home, limping slightly, his cape stretched and dragging on the ground behind him. He planned his evening as he walked: a hot bath, dinner, and slumping in front of his plasma screen TV. He hoped they weren't having quinoa again – it reminded him of larvae and gave him terrible indigestion. He entered the seniors' residence. Billy and Lena were on reception. “Evenin', sir,” said Billy, looking him up and down. “Comin' back from work? Saved lots of people today, have you?” “Yes, as a matter of fact, I have.”
“Very good. Well done.” Billy turned to Lena. He smiled and winked. “It's a good thing you're around, eh? What would we do without you?” Billy stifled a laugh. Superman had half a mind to set Billy on fire, then rescue him, just so he could wipe that supercilious grin off his face and say, “I told you so.” “Have a good evening, Superman,” said Billy. Superman was not in a good mood. He was tired, hungry, and he needed the loo. Again. He really should get his prostate checked. He shuffled up the stairs and knocked on his door, resting his forehead against the wall next to it. “Where's your key?” said Lois, standing in the doorway. “Never mind. The Doctor just rang. He needs your help. Something about intergalactic war and avengers. He said just get in the sky and he'll pick you up.” He looked at her. Forty years of marriage and she still wouldn't let him get a word in. “Well, don't just stand there, get moving.” She gave him a gentle shove. He started to retrace his steps back out of the building. He couldn't say “no”, that he was “too tired”. He was Superman. This was his job, his destiny. He wasn't just a hero, he was a superhero. And, right now, the world needed him. He rolled his shoulders back and quickened his step. “And don't forget my mother's coming to visit tomorrow.”
- CREATIVE WRITER
robbie hall music Born and raised in Norwich, Robbie Hall has been writing and making music since his youth. He's gigged around Norwich and played at festivals, he's jammed with Maverick Sabre, and he describes his old sound as 'folk-hop' (folk + hip hop). Currently in the process of developing his sound, Robbie hopes to pursue music through further education and release his new EP later this year.
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even as he plummets Queen Igbo stood with her loyal retinue at the shores of what they liked to call the Great Lake and watched the wind blow the enemy vessels towards them. She called to her sorceress to prepare shielding spells and to her captain to ensure the battalion shouldered their armaments but held fire for the moment. The cruel sun beat down its extra burden and the scavenger birds and flying reptiles circled lazily overhead, just out of reach of any human weaponry: teasing, tantalising… Queen Igbo was officially the most beautiful woman in the eastern settlement but the long war against her sister’s people had carved worry lines into her once smooth, teak-coloured skin and kept her awake too many nights pondering past actions and present consequences. The flotilla came into clearer view. “Times must be hard in Mandibe’s land, your majesty,” said Jannah. “Why so, sorceress?” “Their boats seem to be made of paper. No visible propulsion either; apart from Mother Nature’s sweet breath.” Just then one of the boats’ occupants stood unsteadily on the starboards side and began waving his arms in an expansive gesture. “They are no threat. Let them land,” Igbo conceded. Soon all seven craft were docked and the enthusiastically waving envoy had been rescued from the choppy waters. Captain Kolo organised a blanket for him; Jannah began examining the boats. “Paper,” she concluded, “but made waterproof.” “Unlike their sailors,” the queen added. “Indeed. Still, it speaks of some technological advances by our enemy state.” To Jannah, Kolo and the foreigner, Igbo said, “Come with me. We will talk by the grain shed.” To her sergeant at arms, she
added, “Offer our guests a little light refreshment but keep a close watch.” It was late in the season but some of the crops and dwarf tree fruit had still to be safely gathered in. Jannah had predicted two more bright days and then some light rain; so the whole population would be busy reaping the bounty four days hence. “Well, knave, speak your part.” “Queen Igbo, the great Queen Mandibe, eternal blessings be upon her gentle face, tires of this conflict and sets out terms for a negotiated peace.” “Cut the sweet talk, ambassador. Relate my sister’s proposals.” “They are complex, your majesty. They are written on the boats. Permit me to lead you back to the docks.” Queen Igbo was not one for physical labour. She sent Captain Kolo and the strongest men and women at his disposal to pull the craft from the now quiescent water. She conferred briefly with Jannah then left the sorceress to oversee the codebreaking. * A raucous ruckus woke her next morning. A skirl of scavenger birds and a flock of flying reptiles were busy attacking the berry patches and the orchard. “Begone, you nasty vermin!” Igbo yelled whilst her courtiers hurled sticks and loosed inaccurate arrows. “It’s the red fruits,” the ambassador – Seraphim – stated. “Things have become so bad that we have started growing only brown and yellow crops.” “Interesting. It won’t help your health any to live on such a limited diet. Oh, if I were bigger I would throttle those
pestilences! Now, where is Jannah?” The inner retinue assembled. The sorceress presented her findings. “My lady, we have unfolded each of the boats and had to climb trees in order to perceive the whole message. There has been much moving and reordering of the net diagrams.” “And your conclusion?” “Read in a certain sequence, the message does indeed pertain to an immediate cessation of hostilities, even a willingness to work together for the greater good. But if we relocate one or two of the segments then it suggests an opposite view. Their handling of the language is not as subtle as ours so maybe we should accept the former position.” Queen Igbo took a dark, shiny object from within her robes and gazed at it. The court remained hushed, knowing that this was the oaken heart of her late father, Agbon the Wise. “We shall reply in kind,” she stated eventually. “But, your majesty, our boats are beyond easy repair,” Captain Kolo answered. “The late summer tide is against us also.” This from Jananh. “We shall send a flier. It will be quicker. You – Seraphim – help my scientists to construct one. And no double meanings with the script or we shall feed you to the crows.” By evening, plans for the gliders were underway. * The paper mills worked all of the next day to produce sheets large enough to carry a person’s weight, when folded properly. The queen had declared that they would reply in kind to her sister’s message so all day the scribes and artists were busy painting soft slogans and peaceful promises onto the wings and fuselage of the origami marvels. The forecast for the following day was for spells of rain. “We could put off the mission for twenty-four hours, your majesty,” Jannah suggested. “No delays, please. I am fired up like no other time during my adult life. Peace flutters tantalisingly close to my fingers and I aim to clutch at it. Call for the ambassador Seraphim. Let’s wheedle the waterproofing secret from him.” As it turned out, no torture or even great persuasion was necessary as Seraphim immediately revealed the combination
of pulped nuts and tree sap that would give a protective shine to the gliders. Igbo allowed herself to start believing that the war might truly be coming to an end. Though that would only be one burden lifted from her regal shoulders. Of late, attacks on people and property by the feral birds and the flying reptiles had become more frequent; even – she hardly dared to think it – more organised. Somewhere in the depths of her race memory she held images of a time when Homo Sapiens had lorded it over the whole of creation and no crow, starling or rhamphorhyncus would have dared initiate a conflict against a human settlement. But perhaps the flying creatures were, for whatever reason, bigger now. Or else people were smaller… The histories and mythologies were sketchy on so many points. “Tomorrow we fly,” she breathed as she settled to sleep. * They wheeled the hastily assembled launcher into position early the next morning. A persistent drizzle lowered visibility and dampened spirits just a little, although many enjoyed seeing the precipitation bubbles form and burst on the surface of the lake. “It behoves me to say a few words,” the queen commenced. “This morning, we are on the verge of history. Each of our fliers carries a clear, incontrovertible message of peace and sisterhood. I wish you well.” The first pilot was Jannah’s daughter Anisa. She shot up into the air at an acute angle before stabilising. She waved once, a pretty brown hand still free of rings or calluses; then the clouds briefly parted allowing the sun to cloak her in healthy brightness. All eyes returned to the shoreline hoping they were bathed in an omen’s spirit. Seraphim had volunteered to augment his ambassadorial role by flying the second plane. He bowed, kissed Igbo’s hand, which smelt of soap but tasted of almonds. Then he saluted and set forth. The bold writing on the wings and fuselage glowed like a holy message burnt into everyone’s vision. Captain Kolo took the third vehicle. Igbo had tried to persuade him to send a lower-ranked officer but he wanted to present strength as well as reconciliation at Mandibe’s far-off court. A sudden gust of wind swirled everyone’s clothes about them
like the accoutrements of a juggler losing his focus. All eyes turned towards the sky where the trio of hope were in full view: soaring, gliding, slowly progressing. Jannah passed her favoured spyglass to Igbo. The queen found that Kolo’s face came into perfect view. He was serious, determined, brave and loyal. Yet still unattached. Maybe after this mission… “Your majesty,” Jannah interrupted, pointing to where a sudden commotion in the trees indicated that the flying reptiles and scavenger birds had woken to their self-appointed task of policing the air. Igbo scanned across the skyscape, looking at the mixture of joy and intensity etched on all three faces as they remained airborne. Then the squawking and cawing broke her communion with the pilots’ reverie. With the captain absent, the household troops were slower to fire their weapons at the hateful avians. Eventually, a hail of arrows and rocks rose up towards the clouds; but none connected and everything came racketing and splashing back down to earth or into the lake water. “We should have sent them in boats,” Igbo muttered. By now the fliers were high enough and far enough to have just passed the midpoint, which meant that they would be visible to Mandibe’s seers and guards. Igbo wondered whether her sister’s folk would take up arms. But to help or to hinder? A flurry. A ragged arrowhead shape. Screeching. Flapping with fury. Aimed at the intruders. Feathered wing and leathern wing proving more manoeuvrable than resin-coated paper. A loss of altitude. Hands trying to fend off attackers without losing control. Peak. Snap. Slap back; punches that connect but don’t deflect. One plane starts to go down. It looks like Seraphim’s. Screams from the onlookers. Now they were massing against Jannah’s daughter, taking turns to dive in and bite. The fabric of her craft ripped and lost height, tumbling down like a white autumn leaf. Anisa’s scream pierced the morning like a sharpened quill; echoed in intensity by her earthbound and helpless mother. Igbo turned her spyglass to gaze upon Seraphim, the next victim of the concerted avian attack. The downdraft from the birds’ approaching wings sent his plane into a descent spiral. He was no pilot – nobody was these days, controlling a boat across the tossed waters of the lake was a hard enough task to master
in these reduced times. The squawking battalion surrounded him then banked away as one in a fluid, even majestic motion. Seraphim fell like their detritus, a glob of guano. Someone on Mandibe’s shore must have recognised their crashing compatriot. A volley of projectiles soared up from the ground, with some fortunate accuracy as one of the evil crows sustained a hit to its hollow bones on the left wing and lost balance, falling lakewards to faint cheers from the other tribe. Captain Kolo was a master of the waves and now showed himself to be equally adept in the airstream as he banked his craft away from the marauders and temporarily beyond their screeching reach. Igbo watched on with admiration that bordered on love for her brave soldier. He was surely close enough now that Mandibe’s seers would be able to perceive the peaceful message emblazoned upon his craft. His audacity and skill might yet enable him to land and communicate in person. A trio of flying reptiles ambushed him, ripping at the tailfin stabilising his hopeful glide. His plane seemed to shudder in the air as if buffeted by the pressure change of a clap of thunder. He was coming down. Too early. Too fast. But even as he plummeted he kept the mission uppermost in his mind as he began tearing at the fabric of his plane. This was not a reckless act but courageous defiance. Carefully, despite the wind distorting his dark and handsome features and the surface approaching far too quickly, he ripped out segments from the paper craft and held them up in a silent semaphore, ensuring the message would be seen by those below before – A confusion as Mandibe’s people fired another handful of missiles – stones, hardened seed pods, fire arrows – to ward off the rhamphorhyncus attacking Kolo’s plane. Despite its resin coating, the paper caught light. Man, machine and flying lizard were all subsumed in flames and smoke. “My hero,” Igbo whispered, letting the spyglass fall from her hand. Later, at her palace, she wondered whether Mandibe would heed the call for peace. Maybe unite against the common enemy, stand together as the remnants of the once proud and tall human race.
She held Jannah tightly as they quietly sobbed for their losses. Then she washed her face and applied some dark, berry-based make-up to disguise her sorrow from the general public. She silently inspected the farmsteads and orchards where the harvesting had been put on hold. At last, night fell and Igbo felt able to hide herself away again. She thought that she had failed to sleep but she must have dozed at least a little as she felt Jannah’s gentle hand rousing her from slumber in the dawn. “Come quickly, your majesty. The air to the west is full of flying things.” “Birds? Reptiles...? Planes?” “My spyglass is broken so I cannot yet tell. We should assemble and await their approach.” “You’re right, Jannah. I shall make myself ready.”
Allen Ashley - CREATIVE WRITER
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Martin P Burns
- CREATIVE WRITER
upword bound For fear of doing wrong, Io stood stock still in front of the inflatable beast afore her. She took breaths as deep as the burning monster she was looking at. Hers were hushed, to not tempt attention. (… atemption …).
Every inhalation was a steeling of herself. Only those things in the world – and there were many – that she had no name for frightened her now. She’d lived through terrors and survived. Nothing was as catastrophic as the bang of the door ever suggested. But for a thing to have no name, to be nothing. No thing. (Thing, its roots lost in ten. Not an object, a being.) This ahead was not the old þing, the ding, the meeting of beings to talk over matters, an amount of time spent nattering away in an assembly. A thingam. Norse men taking off their horns to waffle about prosaic. Talking of ten, of tings, of dings. What was this thing, though? What was the resemblance Io could trace out? An image swept in: a pavilion she’d seen once, but here it was up-ended the wrong way. The village chief’s son had been married off a few Junes back (… not to her, not to the political dead-end that was Io … ) and a splendid marquee had been erected to nurse the occasion. Silks beyond Io’s imagining had been draped between four giant oaks and then hoisted up into a place where the branches all grabbed talons for assurance. Blues and greens that outshone nature, golds that the sun would have striven for. An oblong had hung high that day, taut with responsibility: of solemn betrothal and, later, drunken hijinx. A band had played, but the music had meant nothing to Io. Just men and women fiddling with bows and blowing through whistles made in other lands. It had been a long, long time since revelry had been a part of any routine, be it unfettered and irresponsible in the wilds or underneath a marquee most splendid. That was not what loomed in front of Io now. It could have been alive, definitely could be: a monster pieced together from the legends of long-extinct tribes. What sort of tribe could concoct such a jabberwocky? It had the belly of a ravenous wyvern, soft and stretched to the point where just a baby’s fingernail would’ve been enough to pierce it. Its hair was Gorgontuan, cords of snakeskin that fell sparse and measured from a swollen poll, six serpents of twine. Small feet, straw-coloured pads of a ferret. It was none of these, not a wyvern, not a Gorgon, not a freakishly fattened ferret. It was no dove, drake or dragon.
“It’s none of the things you’re thinking of,” spoke a voice ignored. While it may not have been a dragon, sitting there in domed splendor and waiting for another’s worship, Io was certain of one thing. It had a temper to match. No myths could she recall to explain … to explain … This. Strange, as it was a land of myths she walked through. She’d left home not one week ago. Crossing the threshold had been challenge enough. The home had long held her back and the world outside had proved less-than-inviting. Once the barrier had been conquered – the small, thin plank of wood that had marked a division all her life – Io had stepped into a type of sunlight. She’d been let out before, long long before, when her parents had remained breathing. That had been to a small number of community socials; the marriage of that beautiful village chieftain-in-waiting was but one, ( … white eyes, hands warmer and stronger than the earth … ); a few ha-has to celebrate traditions Io didn’t believe in; a funeral once, devoid of sound and emotion. All of these had been excursions, guided and given permission for. Io was now crossing the landscape of her own choice, close to the ground and with fresh senses. It was a landscape that had proven predictably dull. Woods cradled the light of day tenderly, afraid to drop it to the infested floor below. There was more wood and light than leaf. The forests were brown. Io did not know how alive they were, despite the obvious infestation. The light was cradled so because the trees had once known what to do with it. No shadows lurked between the trunks to offer Io a smattering of danger. Hills held themselves back, afraid to grow into mountains. The puberty of rock was a slow and bashful event. Even the clouds that Io watched silently were a betrayal of both poetry and painting. They were unfailingly wispy, unsure of their destination, devoid of anything that could be precipitated. This was the landscape that Io was stepping through. She may have been humming along the way; it was impossible for her to tell. Such safe terrain. Beautiful, but dusty, like the unclothed portraits of unknown
relatives that had watched her leave home. Their eyes had shown only disinterest. Let her go, they’d said. We can uphold the family drear here. Io tried thinking of the homestead and its cold amber glow, but the presence of… of this ahead of her was an eclipse to all forms of nostalgia. This… this inexplicable entity whose height increased as it breathed fire, as Io breathed uncertainty; this was something new. Dragon? She knew it wasn’t one, but holding the word in her mind helped for a second. She felt less anxious with something to work out. Dragon. Drakōn, the snake of the old world. The one that had held inordinate power over Greeks and women alike. Io’s power was the word, and control over such words. There were no dragons for her to control here, nor there, nor anywhere. It was a name entirely wrong for this mountain of colour made of bewitching folds that billowed with heated concern. She wished she could write all this down on a page, to have it unfold its nature to her, whatever it was. From every angle, it failed to provide Io with a name; with even the faint hush of a name. The cold sweat of ignorance came out and was helplessly reabsorbed. The unknown creature had been seen first from quite the distance. Save for its technicolour hide, it had stood perfectly aligned within a row of neighbouring rowans. The rowans, the rowantree, once the rountree, called the redtree for its haemorrhoid fruit, berries that negated all witchcraft except the magic of the word. Io had led a pretty insular life ‘til recently: this surely was just a species of tree that felt the need to exhibit added flamboyance? A cock amongst the hens. Maybe it was the male standing in line with its green females, a leafy harem. With green being such a sparingly-used shade, they were still showily dressed, these rowanesses. It – how little she could control an it! – had come into its own as Io had reached the summit of the hill. A gasping youth. She wasn’t a particularly unhealthy girl, but slopes and scree had not made up a part of her upbringing. “You’ll learn inside,” her guardians had frequently intoned. “You’ll work inside, as much as you sleep, cook and care here.” It had held true, that command. For a while. Much of her exercise had been of the distaff sort. A command held true until the day she broke command into the com- that increased the force of an action and the laggardly Latin mandare, to commit. Io stopped committing, with or without force. From then on, her parents’ names became vulnerable. Io would start exercising her mind. Not unhealthy, no, she wasn’t; but by the time she crested the hill her lungs had drawn in enough heavy oxygen that she felt like a bellows fighting off something invisible and hellish. She had phew!ed, her eyes blurry from a stuffier air and a stream of altitude tears. Altitude was to play a serious part in the day still curled up ahead. The rowanesses had shrunk back, taking steps to the perimeter of the weather-beaten clearing so that the it could puff out its
enormous turkey-chest, if turkeys wore the garb of paradise-birds and attained the size of a country church. The puff-puff-puff was ongoing. She had attained some pulmonary equilibrium, but the undragon was still expanding, even though Io was still. It still emitted husky belches of flame. It heaved, with a lowing grumble of thunderous intent. The sphere’s voice was one trained to sing amongst the boundless skies. “Can you hear its intent, how it thunders? How it longs to sing up in the boundless sky?” Io had to profess that she couldn’t. The only voice she could hear was her own, that interior monologue that plagues the most aware of us. And all she could think of saying in response to the question asked was that standard, shake-of-the-head answer so many had heard from her over the years. “Na.” She said this defensively. Always answer with a na. It can be cursory, contradictory or downright derisive; it can be many things. So can I. “Come on, child. There’s nothing to have a fear of.” It was such a clichéd invitation, smarmed in the language of the smiling villain, so clichéd that Io couldn’t help but laugh. The lips that had spoken those words wrapped themselves around them in the manner of the proselytizing soapbox preacher. Even the mouth making them didn’t believe them. Io had to get a name, had to protect herself, but the other in her presence was playing at silly-buggers. It was a comedy of sorts Io had walked into, though the errors were yet to creep in. Yet. Gieta in old English, a decorated take on the Fresian ieta, which itself was a confusion of moments. Also, earlier, at last; it all depended on the speaker. The speaker controls, after all. “What is it?” she asked the lady who had maintained outstretched hands, hands hidden under velveteen gloves. Soft paws from a devil’s workshop. Io could see an answer brewing, inhabiting itself into existence with yeasty words. She took the opportunity to try ascertaining something, anything. This or that lady. “Don’t jest, you know what this is!” Io was rarely comfortable playing the jester. To her surprise, the lady ahead yawned. She had one foot in the wicker already. “I know you need to get across this swamp. The dead wood behind is leached, useless to you. Your face does not look like one who goes back on a journey already made. It’s by far the easiest route, the one I’m offering you. Picturesque, too, mark my words.” Marking words was something Io was good at. Excellent, in fact. She thought about the situation. She had two names to get. Without either, she wouldn’t be able to take charge of this stranger or her
steed. The lady was undoubtedly a stranger to these lands, not just to Io. That much was inarguable. Her dress and her expression said so. No local Io had once known ever wore such a febrile glint to the eye, or had quite that shade of red daubed onto their lips. Io watched a person’s lips closely; they gave away an immense amount. The clothes, too. They were extreme, these clothes the lady wore; or at least threaded to withstand extremes. The boots and trousers were close-fitted. The entirety of her upper body, and some of her trunk below the waist, was wrapped in a tightly-knitted black dress. The buttons down the front of this dress were colourful, but this was just a reflection in a metal-sopolished that it resembled a succession of tiny mirrors. Layers adorned the upper, giving the woman a broad-shouldered appearance. A small brown leather jacket, similar to the one Io’s mother had ridden in. A travelling-cloak over this, short enough to be called a mantua, wide enough to hide a multitude of unkind acts. The gloves that Io had eyedup were long, allowed only a few inches of blasted arm-skin to show through. This was not how a hereabouts woman dressed. Io’s land was a hot place. Citizens wore more in colourless dust from the cracked soil than they did in actual cloth. Save me, thought Io. The lady must be hot down here. It was then, instinctively, that Io knew where this lady lived. Not down here, but higher. High up, somewhere. Io was watching the words but not listening to the voice. If she had - had been alert to a timbre low and penetrating - she would have known that the lady spoke in a manner intended to hammer a point home, succinctly. It was this voice that was beckoning her to take a ride. She thought of pipers in piebald, calling forth vermin. More speech came. Io’s good eye, the right, narrowed with concentration. “I am the pilot of this craft. Very proud I am of it, too. I had a renowned garment weaver sew the colours you see above you, sewn together so that they leak into each other like ‘bow light. They have seams, but they are seamless. She wove magics into them, I can assure you! The skilled artisan has magic in her fingertips. Some men, as well, I can concession.” Io managed to absorb about half of this speech. The beast was woven, so it was not natural! Not a creature of God’s own earth. A craft. It was a Frankenstein’s monster and this lady was its doctor and creator. Io looked at the woman’s face again. Eyes close together, though not unattractive for it. A gaze that could care and kill in equal measure. A few phoenix locks that matched her pet’s breath, an aroma of paradoxical snow. She was trying to communicate something to her, something about the very nature of their forthcoming journey. “Up?” Io asked incredulously, thinking she’d misread. “Yes, up! How else would Anouk travel?” There was a name! A clue: Anouk. Io knew it was a name, though. Not what it was, but who it was. If she knew a man’s name, the name of a woman, she was deadly. This thing was resisting classification. Only
a surface amount of control could be achieved. Still, it was a start. Anouk. Was she of Netherlander manufacture, born of Dutch material? A diminutive Anna? This implied something horrific, that the original Anna was too enormous to comprehend. The little favour, here. The very fact that this woman had named the wicker-and-fabric monster of hers only strengthened the idea that it existed as a pet, a familiar burdened with gigantism. So Anouk could fly. It was a contraption that flew. Covering the bandage that stuck bloodily to the left side of her head, Io held a palm up where a working eye should have been. Sunlight that had been filtering through the gauze was stopped in its tracks. Io’s right eye was free to focus on Anouk. She was no prophetess, this swollen work of patches. Now Io could see, quite clearly, that it really was a manmade thing. Those colours were too gaudy for nature to own up to. More like the wedding marquee than she’d first realized. The way its sides bosomed out was a way far-too-exaggerated for any natural bosom. Up, then. Io wondered about the mechanisms. It wouldn’t fly, this favourable Anouk; it did something else. An adventure was promised, should she venture forth. The greatest sin to Io was unworldliness. She had left her stale, gaoler’s home to see those sights of the world that should be seen, even if only one eye would be a party to such visions. This had not been on her list, not this. And yet (… at last …), new-fangled transport had come forth to take the responsibility away from her weary feet. Io had blisters all around the balls of them, slippers of agony; also a particularly squelchy one was stuck on the side of her big right toe, ready to erupt. There was nothing wrong with her chamois boots. It was just the distances that were raw. This is what men had been doing since the fallout: building methods of flight. Women too, Io mused, looking over at the lady – the pilot, she now realized – who had turned her back on the one-eyed girl and stepped into the podiatric basket. Beneath a short cloak, a jacket, a wrap of black, the woman’s spine wriggled with alarming flexibility. Here was a body that trusted in its own movements, though not one that deserved trust. A pilot. Pilotus, from pedota, from pēdon, the oars pushing off from the mainland. Trust was a slippier word, one Io had never needed. The opportunity to parse it and gain its upperhand had never arisen. She didn’t trust this pilot, but she was intrigued. The roof of her mouth was salivating at the thought. Against a number of reasoning voices, Io stepped forward. Bones of creatures smaller than her crunched under the leather of her boots, a sound like popping corn heralding dark entertainment.
Her feet failed to register the shift into dangerous territory. They had become numb with all the momentous steps they had taken. Leaving her home; alighting from the last, cracked circum-Mediterranean tile of the kitchen floor; passing over the hardy magnolia roots. The slopes bowling out and up from where she had spent her childhood had proven hard on the sole. Io wanted to pun the hell out of that sentence, but it would have been disingenuous; the travelling of the past week hadn’t really been that taxing for her soul, only for the limbs. The heat in the basket – for it was a basket resting on the ground, not the walking hands of a beast! – was pressing, waves of warmth like pages of a book that told tales of the end-days. Of course, Io knew it was the fecund flame within, uneasily near to their heads, that was raising the temperature around, but she couldn’t help feeling that a certain thermal was given off from this strange lady. Another wriggle of the vertebrae. She was diverted elsewhere, her back turned from Io. There was a sense of directorship in her movements and Io would have mused on in further appreciation had the floor not shifted underneath her. A burst of radiation from somewhere coincided with the jolt, passing through Io and setting every exposed pore clamouring to raise its guard. This was why the woman was so wrapped up! Io felt the assault; the dragon was breathing with the exertion of a long-rising runner. She stepped back against the basket wall. “Still! And central!” shouted the woman, but Io could only hear a ringing in her ears. The pressure had changed. Her equilibrium was suddenly askew and the ground no longer in arm’s reach. They were ascending. Now, believe, Io had climbed trees. Those left over from those previous years of turmoil had mostly been easy heights to scale; leafless, a framework conducive to monkeying around. The magnolia had been too flowery, the horse chestnuts on the horizon too out-of-bounds. Everything else, skeletal and dry, had urged a climb. Here, she was doing none of the climbing. It was being done for her. Birds flew, men clambered-up mountains, wanting the over (never women, they have needs of a more pressing nature), smoke imps rose. This was as new to Io as snow to Satan. Too much that was inexplicable, too little control. Io had to offense some answers. She was a pilot, the mantua’d maiden; but she was more. No introductions had been exchanged. No coin even. Passage was never given freely. Io knew this from the books she’d read and the bedtime banter of her parents. She’d never listened in, but the pane of glass separating their rooms had afforded Io a slightly steamed-up view of their heads on the pillow, their lips making lurid announcements. Io recalled this now. As she did, she found herself looking at the pilot. There was something of her own mother there. Riders both. More
similarities than just the assuredness of a mature woman. The blonde locks, faded and lacklustre. Yes, the pilot had gone one better, with those few fiery tresses part-hidden within. There was a pointillism of freckles that intensified as they skirted the cheekbones. She was a pilot, this one, but she was something else. Catching the movement of the backbone once again, struggling under the layers of cloth, Io thought of the tadpoles that had once played orgy in the garden pond. Before the winds of dust and disaster had come. The lady had no suspicion around Io’s cotton-mouthed and mumbled question. “May I ask for your name?” “If we was on formal terms still – “ (Io was surprised that they weren’t; could it be that climbing aboard someone’s method of transportation was a social ascent?) “ – then I’d inspect you to ‘dress me as Mrs Itchclear. As it is, Oonagh’ll do. It has been jested that I should be known as Oonagh the ballooner…” But ‘jest’ was gesta, an exploit. A simple action. Everyone did, everyone jested; all gerere. On went the talk, but when Io saw that word escape – balloon, the -er dropped callously, never making it to her excitedly-processing brain – she geared into action. There may have been a shortage of paper at hand but she held her arms behind her back instead, fingers dancing out an analysis. She closed her good eye, the one termed good by others. Her better eye, hidden from the bombardments of a visual world by old bandaging, thought fast and hard. Oonagh Itchclear reckoned that the girl, scraggly, toothsome and out-of-her-height, was shielding herself against the upper gusts. Itchclear was a woman from wilder frontiers. Captaincy was an infant’s game. Her parents must have done little rearing; Oonagh’s poise spoke of survival. The north of the world had always been a harsh place. Babes were left out to struggle and fight their way into maturity. They were not babes-of-the-woods. They were babes who slept on rock, hunted on glacier, pissed in rapids. Their diet was whatever came to hand. This explained the bird bones in the basket, if not the juicy scarlet lips. Oonagh was not the lamb her moniker spoke of. Somehow, the frontiers had been tamed; not-so-wild anymore. She had become Anouk’s creator, doctor and pilot, whatever Anouk may be. Balloon. Io’s hidden eye had widened painfully as the exposed right one had watched the word utter forth. Marbles loaded with linguistic power clicked and jostled in the bag of Io’s head. She visualized them, clear and blue. The same as her surroundings. Io had kept her view blue, forgetting to keep a check on what was transpiring below. It was a new onus, a check-keeping on a below of any sort. ` Below was a hallucination. Times and physics and the fibs of religion were no longer
apparent. It was a terror, a form of it new to her. Terror. One of the first words she’d delved into, to dispel its charisma. A terrorem, a cause of alarm. Yet most occurrences were boringly explicable. Ieta, also. There was never anything to be alarmed about, not really. She’d lived the terror of boredom, the terror of a tease. Horse chestnuts too far from her window to ever be touched or lasciviously smelt. The terror of an unwanted paddle – (… illicit oars …) - upon her body had crashlanded most nights, a few early mornings. The sun had seen some sin. Io knew how fearful it was to be deaf to what one’s parents were saying sometimes, to ideas they were trying to get across the divide of age, pummeling them into one’s blood. That gave a scare, to be sure; the difference she’d always felt from their opinions was the fear of an obscured unknown. The wicker of the balloon taunted her with insecurity. That was the only thing holding her up. She must get this word, this balloon. She must get it quick. Balloon. For the bewigged aristos of the French court, once powerful but now a head shorter, the ballon had been the ball they’d paddled to each other. Paddled with a hand like an oar, illicitly or otherwise, directing it like Oonagh was directing this. Ballon, a type of fireworks too, though probably not as fiery as this beast. Temper, temper. Dishes of tarnished earth passed beneath. A forest fire was sending up signals far off to the south. The perspective was so awesome that Io’s senses felt like they’d swapped places. She looked, and her fingertips felt the chasm gaping between her and a solid footing. She reached out ever-so-gingerly with a hand and her nose scrunched up with the aroma of an atrocious death. She saw Oonagh’s lips moving, a twist of relish in them, but Io heard nothing save a monotonous sheet of white. Was it the wind? It was a heaven with a chorus singing radioactive static. This was too high. It was a quicker journey, yes, but it was flirting with a slatternly danger indeed. Io had barely begun her adventures; it was too soon for their termination. But she couldn’t master these things. Not gieta, not after all. Oonagh, a lamb, one who followed. A pilot, an oar that led, pushed others forward. In a ba- . In this. Without the stewardship of all three words, Io was still a passenger. Marbles clacked against each other. Hoping to unlock some mystery, she braved the view again. That must have been a river below – the river, locally and brazenly called the Widewater – that strand of metal on the land. It was another Frankenstein seam. Threads on the land, threads on the belly of the airborne beast. Silvering darn held together pasture to the
east, empty villages to the west. Io knew it was pasture down there, in a dream underneath her feet. The taro looked undernourishing. Her imagination spoke to her of aromas; can’t you smell the row of chestnuts that have spent themselves, whinnying and shooting their spunk around the edge of the arable? She couldn’t see them, let alone smell them. She had no idea where her home was, with the magnolia, the tiles, the thresholds, the tadpole cadavers. It was all too dizzying. The English of the old days had been dysig and foolish. The High Germans (appropriately) had given them tusic, foolish and weak. No weakness. Her mind found an even-keel. Everything became still. That was how to balance the senses. Tell them about the thing that was making them dizzy. The marbles lined up, touching each other within, with the sound of sturdy crystal glasses toasting a victory. Blue marbles, blue sky, a blue patch on the balloon. Blue balloon. A blue palla, the German ball. This ball was too large to play with. Closer, Io. Two-out-of-the-three was near to becoming three-out-ofthree. Oonagh, the pilot, standing in Anouk. It was four, really. The words were her accomplice; one legion, many names. She felt her talent reining in the situation. On a conscious level, this lady going by the name of Oonagh was utterly unaware of Io’s power. She saw a meal, a waif who had strayed too far for her own good. In these dangerous times, simply beyond one’s own front door could be considered too far. For any village girl with no more skill than the dishcloth dance, these times – here, now – really would have been dangerous. Oonagh was unaware of Io’s threat because it was a talent she was ignorant to. The craft started a gradual descent, just a few centimetres here and there. Every cloud within reach was as wispy as the next, so the pilot remained clueless. Until the scenery began to meet them on the way down. They snagged a number of objects along the downward trajectory, none of them strong enough to hold the balloon in place for long. If she hadn’t have been asserting her grip on the reins, Io would’ve supposed the snagging to be intentional. A hint, of things to come and things hungered for. An unknown structure, artificial and as strange to Io as the balloon had been at first, caught the basket, held on to it for a gnat’s second and then played a straw chord along the base until it was released and they passed over it. Io looked at the giant, rusting skeleton with all the comprehension of the natives stood on the beach in front of Columbus. Oonagh Itchclear hadn’t seen it. She was, rather bizarrely, rubbing at her face and kicking away some of the floor-strewn bones to create a clearish circle around her.
The balloon had nearly been cracked – palla, a ball that had been inflated – but Io knew, with the instincts of the dormouse, the webstuck, the cornered pawn, that she didn’t have long. Itchclear would notice their lack of altitude soon enough. The patch of wicker where the desiccated bird carcasses had been tackled away unnerved Io with such intensity she was forced to throw up a distraction. “Where are we now?” she asked, worried that her voice – clearer now that they were lower – would give away their aerial position. Io thought they’d been in the air too long anyway. The swamp was visible a way away, a stain of discolour amidst the tan; vibrant from up here but deader than the sandpapery soil. Across the air of an oncoming evening, the birds were leaving. There were birds Io knew from the life she’d left; ravens, starlings, effusive redbreasts. A surprisingly deft arrow of pheasants, usually clumsy more than a yard off of the ground. There were birds she didn’t recognise. She could tell of the shapes, though. What they meant and what they were meant for. Something xiphoid cut past the basket. The pilot was alerted and Mrs Itchclear warded it off and away from the rippling fabric with the toss of a handful of broken bones. The birds, almost all of them to an individual, could smell the end scattered within the wicker. “When are we setting down?” came Io’s follow-up question, the first having gone unanswered. Oonagh turned to face her full on. At this point, Io realized that the lady’s gaze had never been entirely off of her. A pupil had always been focused on some part of her body. Oonagh the ballooner was one who had escaped the wild frontiers by biding her time. She was biding her time now. Oonagh the – She had it. Io’s marbles found themselves, correctly in line. Blue fireworks in a pasteboard ball. Balloon. The palla, the ball, inflated, a sphere inflated; the bhel. The bhel, swollen with breath. Here was a drakōn, the fire doing the swelling. Fire that worked. It wasn’t a small ball either; that Anouk was misleading. The ‘–one’ had been used through the centuries to show a great size. Bhelone, pallone, balloon. Balloon! She wove the spell of mutated tongues together. There was a shudder, from everything that had been enchanted. Anouk had no consciousness, but the fabric of the craft felt it. The seams lost their seamlessness, the joins and weaknesses revealed. The six serpents of twine unraveled just enough to swing the basket violently, leaving the passengers as in a colander. Oonagh, however, was party to being conscious and her blood ran iced for a circuit. Itchclear knew something was wrong, from the imbalance and the inner frost, and no amount of paddling or pulling on cords could help. Her gaze, unclear and itching, fell on the girl with totality. She saw
the patch of red behind the bandage seeping strongly. Io stood still, much stiller than the teetering Oonagh. She had calmed the weakening dizziness and the pilot had been robbed of all ownership over her titles. Oonagh felt a vacuum constricting inside her, gale force winds through the eye sockets. The concentration was brief, laid over Io, who was tall and over-thinking, surrounded by a happy quietness. It was the joy of a solution. Oonagh scowled at the palindromic face. The drak of dragon was to see clearly, to see with deathly intent. The vacuum was mollifying her stare. The lips of rotting cherry had lost their moisture. “No feast for I?” she mumbled. Io still caught it. She had been on the menu, destined to become a part of the osseous pile at their feet. She’d parsed just in time. She would now bring them down. Such a high life had to be brought down, said the song. Itchclear was the kind of woman after only one thing, and it was essential. She had rinsed the skies, caught all the unsuspecting flyers. Everything else knew to get out of her way. Downward she would come. People may have been made of stars, but they were not intended to orbit as high. Oonagh, Una, the lamb. Now lost. No longer commander of the oars, no pilot, no force. The pilot was broken but Io felt a last surge of resistance from the cannibal, a groyne in the water. Oonagh was holding out, a difficult and unsteady step bringing her an inch closer. Una Inchclose. She found the shifting wicker a torment and she was resisting. Io spoke it again, mellifluously. “Oonagh.” The former-pilot saw Io’s defect, heard it in a simplified, idiotic elocution. It was too late though. Given names were the hardest words to control. Those in charge of them usually held the leashes close to the heart. Anouk had sagged. Oonagh was undergoing the same deflation. Io said it again. “Oonagh, my ballooner.” She had her! along with everything she called hers. She had rule of the airs and if Io was sick of one thing this day it was being aloft. Never had it been Icarian dreams for her. She wanted to be roaming where the horizon and her could meet eye-to-eye. Which meant the descent could begin properly. A nod of Io’s head was all it took. The machines set about fulfilling their duties. Once Io took charge of a word, that’s what the object became. A machine. The heat increased as they continued to fall. The land was warming up to greet them, the balloon’s flame was showing off for its new mistress. Oonagh was emitting the sort of enmity saved for different colours, creeds and classes. Only now did Io spy the teeth Oonagh kept. A fang didn’t have to be pinpoint sharp to do its job. Mrs Itchclear was incapable of forcing herself onto Io. At last, there was control. Gieta. The ground was but a tit’s hop away. Io would be back on track soon enough. She could jump. She could do anything if she knew the word for it.
until next time . . .
ISSUE NO. 3