Posts Tagged Tim Bragg

What Dreams May Come (1998)

What Dreams May Come

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What Dreams May Come [DVD] [1998]
Robin Williams (Actor), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Actor), Vincent Ward (Director) | Rated: Suitable for 15 years and over 113 mins

The books I was reading and the books ordered for future reviews tied in perfectly with the film What Dreams May Come – so I was anxious to watch. Despite the warnings (mainly about themes) I decided to view with my 12-year-old son (who when we talked about the film afterwards thought it had been made for children and was surprised about these warnings!). The film won an Academy Award for its visual effects and it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction. It also won the Art Directors Guild Award for Excellence in Production Design.
Perhaps the first thing to consider is that the book the film is taken from is probably one of ideas – and ideas don’t translate well to the screen – in fact the book’s author, Richard Matheson claims in its introductory note that only the characters are fictional, and that almost everything else is based on research. The screen (and the BIG SCREEN particularly) wants action and – naturally – visual power. The latter is there…hence the awards – but somehow I found the whole experience lacking. The ideas are so profound how can they be espoused in under two hours. Matheson’s research appears to dissolve into cringing sentimentality – is this slushiness from the book or straight from the ‘depths’ of Hollywood?
The character Christy ‘Christian’ (played by actor Robin Williams) falls in love with Annie (they meet while boating on a lake in Switzerland) and subsequently marry and have two children…Annie’s an artist he’s a doctor – life seems pretty damn good for them (a few problems with communication with the children) but they seem to spend their whole lives together giggling – and getting on well. Then the children get killed in a car crash – for which Annie holds herself responsible, as she wasn’t driving… And there is a very moving scene at their children’s funeral (some of this action is viewed through flashback). Then Christy gets killed while helping someone in a car crash – and he goes to Heaven. This is a Heaven his thoughts have created. And his Heaven begins (because it’s ‘safe’) as a reflection of one of his wife’s paintings – visually this is very beautiful if not highly viscous – wading through painted water in one scene.
Heaven seems to be without time (yet there is movement) and explained as a dream (dreams have no or little time yet also appear – when dreaming – to be perfectly normal); indeed it is a Heaven composed of thoughts. Often seemingly anarchic and pointless (but are we seeing ‘true’ Heaven or differing people’s thought-ideas – or only Christy’s?) there are some nice touches; ‘souls’ often seem to take on different guises of age/race/sex so as to make the meetings of people who knew each other – perhaps were related to each other – equal and without the usual baggage and preconceptions.
So Christy begins to get used to Heaven but then finds out that his wife has committed suicide. This means she will go to Hell (though Hell is explained as being not quite as we imagine) and there is nothing Christy can do about this. He refuses to believe he can do nothing and decides to find his wife and bring her back with him to Heaven. (They are explained as soul mates as a tree has appeared in Christy’s Heaven, which has been painted by his wife when on earth, an apparently  ‘remarkable’ occurrence.) His guide – whom he calls ‘Doc’ – is not actually the Black doctor he thought but rather his son – and their relationship (with notions of the father expecting more than the son could or wanted to achieve) partially explained in flashback. The psychiatrist helper/guide ‘Sigmund Freud’! turns out to be the Black doctor…More flashback shows that his wife has had a nervous breakdown and how Christy tries to help her and how there is a significant conversation at the hospital where she vows to carry on (and not give in to either madness or death).
The journey to Hell is impressive visually – though it could have been more so – it made me recall Dante’s Inferno at times but Christy’s reaching of Annie is too quick (unless of course this all takes place in his thoughts and is his illusion). During this journey we find out his guides are his son as well as his former doctor/mentor. If all this is his illusion (his dream) then everything is excusable – but finding Annie amongst a sea of faces (seemingly trapped in thick mud) stretches credibility to the limit. He then attempts to enter ‘her’ illusion (his, hers or both?!) and mustn’t be caught by her (therefore remaining there within ‘her’ illusion) – this mirrors a conversation he has had with Annie in the grounds of the mental hospital. The dialogue is clever but not wholly convincing – he decides to stay there with her and by doing so (sacrifice?) manages to persuade her to leave with him and it’s all – considering – much too easy. As my son pointed
out – if people are in Hell for a punishment or through judgement how can they travel to Heaven so easily? Wouldn’t that interfere with some higher judgment?! Also – it seems the age-old notion of a suicide being condemned for taking away God’s gift is brushed aside and it’s rather a matter of self-worth/self belief. I’m not passing judgement here – but balancing it against religious teaching (Oh and God is referred to as being ‘up there’ somewhere! A Heaven in Heaven?)…
It also seems that despite the whole of humanity (to that point) dying and going to Heaven or Hell – and all the noble figures; all those who have lead strict and difficult lives; all those who have loved through UTMOST difficulty – it seems only ‘now’ that ANYONE has got someone out of Hell  – it’s taken a couple of giggling Americans to do what none other has EVER done.
Everyone gets reunited – father, mother, two children and the dog (of course)…now, dogs in Heaven? Okay as part of an illusion but if dogs really get to Heaven where are all the animals people have eaten? And the amoebas – wouldn’t there be all forms of life there? Where would this line of life be drawn? (And umm…how about the dinosaurs?)…
Again – and it really boils down to this – if we are witnessing everything as Christy’s illusion ONLY – then anything goes…it’s his dream and his rules…the fact that we are TOLD or apparently shown others ‘realities’ or dream-states or Heaven Experiences could simply be Christy’s illusion. So now then…what to do in Heaven for an eternity eh?
Well Christy persuades Annie to get reborn (a ‘Christian’ goes Buddhist?) so they can find each other again and fall in love – for what purpose? – hey, and guess what – the last sickeningly sentimental shots are of a little boy and girl meeting and you know it’s them finding each other (not a lake this time more a large pond with toy boats not real ones!)…A near ‘perfect’ reduction of some of the greatest and most profound questions on (Heaven and) earth to simpering Hollywood schmuck!!!
I’ll leave you with this reported quote from the film’s Wikipedia entry:
When asked his thoughts on the film adaptation of his story, Richard Matheson said, “I will not comment on What Dreams May Come except to say that a major producer in Hollywood said to me, ‘They should have shot your book.’ Amen.”

Reviewed by Tim Bragg

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Body, Mind, Spirit & Time Part 2

There are people who claim to have had “Near Death Experiences” – though what exactly can “near” mean? How “near” can one get to death? Is a miss as good as a mile – or is there a subtle connection between life and death? In these NDEs (as they are known) some folk report classical ideas of Heaven/Paradise and others Hell! The interesting consequence of research into NDEs is the seeming ability of consciousness to leave the body. But first – regarding Heaven and Hell.

If we take these NDEs seriously (and they certainly seem to have deeply affected those who have experienced them) then I am bound to ask: has GOD decided who goes to Hell and who to Heaven? And if God has decided how is it possible to draw such a distinct line – such a black and white JUDGEMENT? It would be interesting to know from those who have had NDEs if they considered themselves “worthy” of Heaven or Hell. Had something inextricably put them in one or other “place” – or maybe it was the lack of something?!

Is there no nuance, no shade to JUDGEMENT!? Okay – you this way – you that way. You have been 51% “good” – Heaven for you. You have been 51% “bad” Hell for you! Can the judgement of God be so unsubtle?!
Therefore one asks – are the experiences authentic? And: does it matter? Well if they ARE authentic – this should get us thinking very seriously about where we’re headed – and it DOES matter because either the experience is real or there is something very peculiar happening in the mind when it is “close” to death.

Maybe what matters is that consciousness “seems” to be able to leave the confines of the body/brain. People have been able to give graphic recollection of surgical procedure and also identify things seemingly impossible for them to do – as they have been lying unconscious on an operating table! How could they know that a trainer (sport’s shoe) is lying on the roof of a particular hospital building they have never previously been to? This is the exciting stuff (and hopefully not influenced by human perception or fraud!). Quantum Physics – of which I’m no expert – talks of things being able to be in two different places at the same time or of appearing and disappearing out of or into nothingness (if such a state exists). And the further one goes down and into the minutia of matter then the greater “space” there is between things as if reflecting the universe about us. If things can appear out of nowhere and befuddle conventional thought and science then maybe our
consciousness can leave the body and move and see things without the aid of limbs or eyes?! Science seems to be moving further from neat explanations of this world to uncovering wondrous and startling new facts and existence.

During NDEs in Heaven people experienced young, healthy bodies and could move instantly to a place thought of and there was talk of the non-existence of time – yet there WAS still movement! The blind from birth could see!! Presumably those who had lost limbs had them restored – and thus an IDEAL of the perfect body…Ideal to whom/what?

We interact with this world through our senses – I say “this world” but what other world could I mean? A “world” after death? A perceived world? If the “other world” is the world of mind (thought) then isn’t that formed through our sensory experiences. We also know that our senses are flawed – that the world around us – is to some extent – manufactured by our minds. Our minds can take information our eyes “see” and alter it so that this sight makes sense to us. Or our minds can take our sight and produce something other than what we see because “it” (!) thinks this will make better sense for us. The obvious example here is the hollowed out facemask that on being turned changes to 3D and convex not concave! Because that is the way our minds view faces!!! Even if we lose sight in patches our minds will flesh out the blind spots by taking information around them and making “sense” of them. Do our minds do the seeing and not our eyes!

When we approach death does our mind “see” things pre-ordained by a death mechanism? Do we enter a death realm or an infinite time-less state with a final thought or perception based on our beliefs? So – we are perhaps guided into final thoughts by some mechanism and in this we choose a state we have come to believe in through our life experiences. If we are Christian we may indeed see Jesus as a six-footer with long hair and a beard and enter through the Pearly-Gates into a Heaven where God IS and infuses us with light and love. Maybe another faith guides us into another limitless experience? How many thoughts/ideas can be held for infinity in those dying moments? Could fear and anxiety create a sense of Hell that actually thrusts us into perpetual and classical torment?! (Be careful what you wish for or think – especially at the point of death!!)
NDEs suggest that close to death (or what would once have BEEN death – before modern medicine) we become consciousness only and thus there is no light or matter. Then comes the “light”.

We “see” dead people on the television screen – acting as if they were alive – well they WERE alive! But these are mere reflections. Would these long dead folk retain any sense of who or what they are/were when plunged into timelessness? Maybe post death it is another existence where the body and mind is sharpened and it isn’t the end of the end? Thus – there isn’t infinity or timelessness at all. Just another form of experience before yet another “physical” stage – or the final end of (perceived) timelessness and infinity – SOME PARADOX! If people gain healthy bodies – superior to those on earth perhaps their minds are sharpened too? Can think things beyond our capabilities on this parochial earth…

If we were to go into a classical Heaven – where we are received with love and light and by our family members who have “passed-on” – how far would the interest of our spirit-ancestors go? How many generations back? Would we lose interest in the world we have left (given that we could maintain some sort of contact) – would we greet all our family members forever…or until the last generations before the Earth is vaporised? When would our forefathers’ interest wane in us, or our own interest in our sons’ sons’ sons’ wane? How far would those in Heaven go back? To the earliest humans? Would Heaven cope with the different strands of humanity? The different ideas of men? If the personality were to exist how much would it need to change to cope with being in Heaven? And if none of this is important in Heaven why has it been so important on Earth? Would all religions and philosophies and ideas and prejudices melt away on arrival in Heaven? Would it be Heaven for those
who hold strong beliefs to find their beliefs utterly at odds with existence in Heaven?!

There are said to be more people alive today than have ever lived! Thus more people will die now than at any other time. People living a multitude of different lives – often boring, frustrating, mundane lives – seemingly for no purpose…people dying in absolute (seeming) futility. People of all ages dying and passing into another existence. Who amongst us would cast the sinner into Hell? What would their sin need to be? How can we judge another – “let him with no sin cast the first stone”. But God (if existing) seems to have the power of judgement if Heaven and Hell do exist. SOMETHING would cast us one way or another. Perhaps only we – deep down – know the answer.

If we are “lucky” enough to enter Heaven (of course there is NO luck involved we hope) – then as we become sharpened in mind – bereft of prejudices; bereft of many things! Perhaps enlightened in many things – and as we think ourselves to places (in an instant thought!) time may become as time in our minds…not linear time but stream-of-consciousness time. Maybe if Heaven has got “time” then it is the time of our very own perceptions. Maybe Heaven (or Hell) itself might be our very own perception. How else would the diversity of thought within a myriad people co-exist in a state where personalities still exist? How long could a personality exist and remain connected to its earthly personality? Would infinity dilute personality out of existence?! And if our personalities change – then who, exactly, are “we”?

How close to SPIRIT is personality? What is spirit and where does it reside – how is it connected to “us”? So many folk talk about being “spiritual” but what do they mean? What does it mean to live a spiritual life and from where do they draw their ideas of spirituality?

Everyone who has had an NDE has been changed profoundly. Changed in a way that a dream or a hallucination can’t quite manage to change. Not everyone who has been “near death” has NDEs – or can recall them…why do some recall or have these experiences? Is their a mechanism we all have in our brains that works when the brain perceives imminent death – are our minds simply reacting to this process or driving it? When we enter Heaven or Hell are they of OUR making? Can time exist in another realm – could we exist in a time-less realm?

As I have – finally – been prompted to write a second part to this series (and believe me there have been many false starts! Mainly in my head…) – is there a REASON for me to do this? Is there a REASON for everything we do on this earth? Is there a REASON for our minds to think and our bodies to react or not. Is there ever an end to things? Well, with this question I’m ending this second part! There is so much more to think, to write, to explore – and no certainty of any answers. But the nature of our beings is to explore – isn’t it? And we explore physically and mentally – and spiritually? We certainly can’t remain indifferent to developments in science – especially when science uncovers an aspect of us that may prove to be TRULY enlightening!

Tim Bragg – February 2011

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Fiction: Extracts from the English Dragon

EXTRACTS from The English Dragon
It was the working-class where common sense prevailed. It was the working-class
which rejected political correctness and yet took the brunt of its senseless
dictates. But the working-class was becoming an anachronism. Vast parts of the
country were peopled with those without hope. Stuck in tiny houses clumped in
soul-less estates – wired up to Sky Sport through ugly satellite dishes – men
watched footie and sons bunked off school. Women did the housework and earned
money part-time. Daughters journeyed into granite towns and hung outside
Macdonalds’ burger bars. Spitting with the best of them – tossing cardboard cups
and flaky plastic trays onto dirty pavements. The older generation tutting and
remembering greater hardships faced during and before the last war.
It was the working-class which oiled the communities of the richer peoples
with their electrical skills, their odd-jobbing; their mechanical ability. It
was “underclass” kids who stole and fenced goods; snorted crack and “twocced”
middle-class cars owned by middle-class drivers. It was the working-class that
took the brunt of social engineering. Listened to pale politicians and Sari
wearing social workers as they puffed on cheap cigarettes.

Oliver reserved the first circle for the writers of novels who censored their
own work so not to fall foul of politically-correct editors and publishers. For
the makers of films who dared not shoot with integrity; who satisfied their
masters. For the artists who spoke of freedom of expression and painted,
sculpted, crafted, composed in a mental strait-jacket. All the fey and
faint-hearted artists he would put there…the third circle – always getting
tighter and fouler he put the television presenters who voiced only one point of
view – that of the prevailing all-pervading media-dogma – and the queens of the
Channel 4 chat shows baring white teeth and platitudes.
The underground train stopped and expired through its hissing-lung doors. Lights
and fetid air sucked them in…
Oliver thought about the next circle. Tight. Close. Fleshy. Hot. Putrid.
Full of pain. Peopled it with social-worker busy-bodies who were inflexible. Who
tore apart families not for that family’s benefit but for the dogma of their own
Oliver smiled and listened. He heard the rush of air as the tube slotted
back into a tunnel after breathing outside air for a moment, flooding in light.
Heard the clank of the wheels and their horrific squealing. Felt the buzz of
electricity as it snapped its power into the mechanical worm. Felt this power
invigorate the worm.

Oliver thought about Ben and how in each passing second and minute, with each
passing hour and day he was opening up to an accumulated history of the country.
As he grew he had to take on so much. There was a constant bubbling up of the
past. The sap of history (containing everything that made the present what it
was) flowed through to the present – informed the future. Oliver saw tree after
tree being felled. A vast forest of collective consciousness; a vast woodland of
experience was being chopped and sawn. Vast swathes of forest were being
cleared. And in the clearings concrete was being poured in and shaped into
boxes. “Isn’t that better?” “Isn’t the forest better now that there are boxes
inside it?” “The earth and trees are no different from the concrete boxes.” “The
trees belong to the past.” “Concrete boxes are our future.”

In the late afternoon, before the clocks had been turned back he heard the
jumble of noise reverberating. Heard the “House” music; the rap music; the
drum’n’bass; the soul music; the trash and punk; the new R’n’B; heard laughter
and shouting; scooters revving past; cars with smoky exhausts cruising slowly;
clattering of dustbins and shrieks of children. This was another London. A
London as valid as any other. A London without a voice. A tired and cynical
London. Close to the creep of gentrification. Of the creep of money without
values. No Gentlemen. No gentleness in the painted facades. Oliver pulled up his
collar. It was the first day of Spring. And as he thought this thought a bird
appeared out of nowhere – a blackbird – and briefly sang close by him. It was
only the second Spring his son had ever known.

And it was proved that I was a distraction because by all accounts the trio did
very well that late Saturday morning in Oxford Street. And they did not beg. The
weather was changeable but the rain held off and I was eventually kitted out in
some rather fine baby ware after a short visit to an upmarket “everything one
could possibly want for one’s baby” shop. The exploits of the gang soon bored me
as I became more and more fascinated with the sights of the crowded street. It
appeared that – even for a baby – I had lived a sheltered existence. For I had
never seen so many different types of faces and styles of hair and ranges of
body. There were grey haired grandmothers with studs in their noses; black
skinned girls wearing robes wrapped about them and jewellery draped from every
part of their skin; women with yellowy-brown skin and thin material flapping
behind them or trailing on the spit-flecked pavement; men with ashen faces and
shaven heads (like giant babies); grown
men and women in metal chairs dwarfed by the thrumming crowd; black and white
faces with hats turned back to front and trousers joined at the knees (were they
wearing nappies like me?); men in football shorts with earrings and tattoos;
women with very short skirts and painted on faces; men in sharp suits with hair
like helmets…yes, yes, yes, this all fascinated my growing mind. It is a wonder
I could take it all in. But it was all being taken in. That is the way of minds.

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Book review: The English Dragon by Tim Bragg

English Dragon book cover

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The English Dragon
ISBN 1903313023
Athelney £5.95
Paper – 256 pages

The English Dragon is the story both of loss of innocence and the quest for the meaning of identity. A baby is kidnapped from a railway station in London and his father, Oliver, vows to find him. Part of the narrative is conveyed through the eyes of the baby/toddler – Ben. In the father’s search he is taken from a rural setting into the depths of London – and he continually asks what it means to be English. While handing out leaflets carrying a photograph and details of Ben (and approximate time of abduction), he meets a young man called Adam. Adam is a poet and runaway. Adam has information that will help find the child. The baby, Ben, gets caught up in the kidnap gang’s life. Shoplifting, drug taking and a bizarre appearance on the Harry Hangar Show (surely not a satirical stab at Jerry Springer?) comprise some of these events. As the baby’s story unfolds there is a degree of both horror and humour, with English contemporary culture exposed and often ridiculed.

Oliver, Ben’s father, is lead to the squat where Ben has been taken. Adam seems to have had problems while he lived there. By a twist of fate Adam meets members of the squat, on a bridge over the Thames, as they take Ben into the centre of London. After a brief exchange of insults Adam is thrown from the side of this bridge. The gang, led by Johnny, laugh this off and continue with their fun.

Oliver keeps an all night vigil at the squat and eventually comes face to face with Johnny and the gang as they return with Ben. A fight entails between Johnny and Oliver. Oliver triumphs and later his family are re-united. In the meantime it transpires that the old rectory in the village near where they live is to house asylum-seekers and Oliver’s wife, Rowan, has been asked to teach English. Wishing to agree to this she first asks Oliver’s opinion. He, both emotionally and morally sums up the dilemma of asylum-seekers entering England. Rowan is shown as someone who draws strength from the Romantic Poets. After Ben’s abduction she is left at their small-holding to look after the animals she and Oliver have taken in – and await news re her critically ill father. During the novel, and after visiting the vicar, she goes to an evangelical Christian meeting at the church. This both unnerves and shocks her. During the service “Ben” “talks” to her through one of the congregation “speaking in tongues”.The English Dragon is a daring and radical book. The mere fact that it discusses England and Englishness will probably upset some people – that it also dares to examine political-correctness and modern culture in a fair-minded and open fashion will be enough to slay the beast in the minds of many. For the bolder, stronger reader then The English Dragon might have an extremely sobering effect. This novel challenges.

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Fiction: Chapter 1 OAK by Tim Bragg

             August 23rd  2009

Oak book cover

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Rowan woke startled from sleep. Her blood petrified. It was – the still small hours; it was – the rap on the door they had, deep down perhaps, been long expecting.
Oliver pushed his chair away from the dead-screened computer and bending his head through the low doorframe stepped into the kitchen. He’d been working very late and tried to brush tiredness from his eyes. Stone flagging carried his footfall to the farm’s main entrance. Taking a deep breath and holding the handle of the door, asked, ‘Who is it?’ (As if he didn’t know.)
‘Open up,’ came the dark reply, ‘or we’ll batter the door down.’
‘Who is it?’ Oliver repeated, with some courage.
‘Police. Open Mr Holmes. Immediately. This is your last chance.’
Oliver tentatively undid the catch, slowly turning the handle. The “castle gates” gave very easily. Almost as soon as he’d begun to open the door, a clutch of armoured policemen (possibly also policewomen) barged in. Oliver was pushed aside and slammed against the white plaster of the lobby’s cob wall. Rowan began to descend the stairs.
‘Stay back,’ a lighter voice instructed. ‘Stay where you are.’
‘What is this, what’s going on?’ Rowan called.  More police entered. Lights blazed outside the farm. A petite, armour-clad officer was motioned in Rowan’s direction. Sprightly this officer climbed the lower stairs. A truncheon shaft exploded from its handle and was thrust towards Rowan’s face. Though he couldn’t see, Oliver sensed what was happening. The policeman who held the truncheon at Oliver’s neck kept silent – Oliver could not see the man’s eyes through the dark tinted visor. Could only hear the shouting of the other officers as they barked orders through the baying pack. Rowan continued to protest but in subdued tones.
‘Are you arresting me?’ Oliver spat towards the alien shaped helmet.
The alien did not reply. Oliver could only see his own dark reflection in the visor – the officer’s body was eyeless – not of this world. The tips of Oliver’s fingers tingled, and his hands shook – his tongue felt dry and he swallowed with difficulty.
A few moments later Oliver witnessed his computer being carried past. Magazines, folders, office debris following.
‘What are you looking for? You can’t do this. I have rights…’
Did the Helmet snigger?
‘What is it I’m supposed to have done?’
An officer carrying a pile of cardboard backed folders paused in the entrance hall. ‘You and your fucking lot,’ his voice began, ‘are trouble-fucking-making scum. You understand? You’ll be charged soon enough. We’ll be taking you to the station in due course. We know all about you and the kind of filth you write. Your type breeds hatred. If you know what’s best – keep it buttoned.’
‘Charging me? What with?’
‘Public Order,’ came the half reply.
The officer had his visor pushed open. Oliver looked into his eyes. Their blue was metallic and cold. How was it, he thought, that this man, this stranger could hold such views upon him? How did “they” know about him? His fame had long since dried up, been wafted into the billowing clouds passing over the southwest and deposited far out to sea. He was a no-body, a family man, an animal rescuer and small-time organic farmer. And…
Yet part of him relished this vitriol he was receiving – if he had been younger – if he hadn’t had a wife and children…well then…Thank God Jenny was not at home. For her to see this. In their house. In their village far removed from it all. He had tried to keep her and Ben safe. But “they” had come to his house – sniffed him out. They were hunting down every dissident, it seemed. But Oliver also carried a smirk on his face – the kind of smirk teachers hate. And the officer would have liked to wipe it right off. The visor came down and Oliver’s sight was blocked – his tentative bravado evaporating.
‘Keys,’ a voice called. Somewhere else there was the noise of glass smashing. Rowan called out but it sounded to Oliver as if she had been physically shut up.
‘What are you doing to my wife?’
The officer ignored him, taking the keys from another visor-clad accomplice. ‘What are these for? Come on,’ the blank-faced officer shouted.
Oliver felt confused, was thinking about his wife…He bent his head to study them and the officer whisked them away. ‘Well?’
‘One of the sheds outside…we keep animals, you’ll disturb…please don’t…’
‘Outside,’ the helmet shouted. The “alien” that had forced him back against the cold cob relaxed its pressure. Oliver sank down the wall glad that he was not being pinned by the truncheon. 
There were sounds of doors slamming and shouts from around the house. What had he actually done? What were they looking for? Perhaps they had nothing. Perhaps it was bluff and intimidation. The loose Green Alliance he was in contact with (still) – had they had trouble? There had been the recent raids on farms not so far away (but far enough) and those opposed to the Union. (Sometimes it was enough of a crime to breed a pig and slaughter it oneself – then feed it to friends or family.) Thoughts raced across Oliver’s mind. The officer had said something about what he wrote…was that it? And all the time he worried about Rowan but each time he called out he was quickly silenced. Thankfully the eyeless, cold, visor wearer did not force its truncheon against Oliver’s throat.
There was no escape. There was no peace. The mythographers were wiping out the national memory – it would only be a matter of time before England’s resistance collapsed (so he thought, pessimistically). Perhaps he was too dangerous as someone who witnessed. Recalled. Wrote things down. But that was all he was doing – wasn’t it? Perhaps society could and would not bear to support writers who wrote freely and against the system – against the state and the Union. But it was stories he wrote – fiction for Christ’s sake. Were they now entering an age of book burning? What kind of joke was this?
Oliver stood by helplessly as his office was emptied. There was his life. Diaries, notes – there was his unfinished novel, in first draft. Four years of work. Four years of snatched time from his family and farm. And there were his published articles and Fables. Thinking quickly, palms sweating and head throbbing he could only imagine that his Fables were what they were after – fiction being even more dangerous. But they couldn’t be. Was it an offence to read alternative Green or radical political magazines? Had things got that bad? The alien kept him held back. The officer who had insulted him stepped inside again from the cold morning light. Was fact imitating fiction? Oliver thought of his Fables…
‘Have you a warrant?’ Oliver heard himself ask. It took all his courage to force out the question. The officer’s presence almost choked the words in his throat – almost kept them lodged in his brain. The question sounded limp and pathetic.
The officer nodded. ‘Under the Public Order Act 2006, Section 23.’ It came as a lifeless drone.
‘What’s that?’ Oliver asked involuntarily.
The officer eyed Oliver suspiciously. ‘If you’re charged you’ll find out. Got something to hide? You want to tell us something? Or do you want the rest of your house gone through?’
‘Hide?’ Oliver said. Had he got something to hide? Were his Fables dangerous? Was he guilty – did he deserve what was happening?
‘But has someone complained about me, something I’ve written?’
‘You’ll find out.’ To the “alien” holding Oliver against the wall the officer said, ‘Let him go. We’ve got everything we need.’ The “alien” stood back a pace. Oliver crumpled forwards. At the same moment Rowan was escorted through from the kitchen. Oliver went towards her but he was stopped. Police officers came from various parts of the farm.
‘Checked outside? Good.’
Rowan looked at Oliver, managed to say, ‘What have you done?’
‘Nothing,’ he said softly, ‘I don’t think. Nothing. Except, I wrote. I wrote…’

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Fiction: An extract from OAK – The Model

Oak book cover

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And as he thought this he was reminded of a television programme where a cackling reporter interviewed a girl who had become a pornographic star:

“You’ve got to keep going, see. If you’ve got a dream you’ve got to stick with it. I started off doing a bit of modelling, you know, just topless and that and everyone thought I wouldn’t do anything with my life. But I stuck with it. Got my first job dancing in a lap-dancing club. A movie director saw me and picked me out – you see, dreams can happen. I got a part in an erotic movie and from then I haven’t looked back. Apparently back in my hometown they’re all talking about me. At my old school the teachers who thought I’d end up on the dole or just married with loads of kids are saying how I’ve done something with my life – how I’m a success. They can hardly believe it. My old school friends are really jealous. I’m really proud of my movie career and myself. But any girl can do it…well, she’s gotta be a bit sexy, like, and it helps if you’ve got big boobs (you can get ‘em fixed mind)…but if you think you can do it you’ll be able to. Just don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Like I said, look at me, no one thought I’d make it and be a star. Now everyone wants to take pictures of me. My mum’s really proud of me too and after my picture appeared in a national newspaper (I won’t say which one), they had it stuck up outside all the newsagents in town. Me mum’s got pictures of me framed – see – it could be a bit embarrassing I suppose, for her, but she’s just really, really, proud…”

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Fiction: Breath by Tim Bragg

He says he can’t breathe. Says she is stifling him. Says that she doesn’t
understand him as the whole world doesn’t understand him. And what does she do?
She listens to him.
That evening she drives the short distance to his flat. The telephone
conversation was unfulfilling. He says little – or says too much. The walk from
her home to the flat is too risky at night. If she walks she has to consider
what she wears. And what does he want? She thinks about his wishes – whether he
still wants her. And she wonders whether he will say too little or too much.
The last time she walked from his flat the night had been sticky with lager and
evaporated urine. Boys hung themselves on street corners. The heels of her shoes
had clacked down damp alleyways and under murky sodium light. Close to the
presence of the boys she could only turn from their stare.
Greg had been with them in the flat. There had been an argument. Sitting back in
one of the damp armchairs she had turned an empty mug neurotically into the
seat’s brown fur.
Greg said, ‘What d’you mean you can’t take it anymore? What d’you mean? Think
it’s only you man, that’s had to take any shit?’
‘Shit? What do you know about shit? I’m talking about being beaten down, you
understand? I’ve been through enough. Enough. Tell me, what’s the point of
banging a head against a nail eh? What’s the point of banging on when nobody
listens? You know…when nobody cares?’ Andy sat back.
Greg leant forward, ‘Come on, who cares if no one cares? It’s got nothing to
do with anyone but you. You. Understand? You’ve given up. You’ve given up and
that’s all there is to say.’
‘I haven’t given up,’ Andy spat.
‘Then what’s all this “no-one cares stuff”? You’ve got to fight.’
‘Fight? Fight you say?’ Andy rubbed his brow repeatedly. ‘You reckon I
haven’t fought Greg? Eh? Reckon I’ve been sitting here like shit all the time,
is that it? Is that what you think? That I’ve gone soft. Can you believe this
Kate? Can you believe this is my so-called friend saying this?’
And he brought her into the conversation like he would always bring her into
the conversation.
The last time she walked from his flat she was wearing a long skirt – to please
him. To please him because she felt his distress. And she also knew that he
needed her approval. That what he said or wrote had to be validated by her. But
she didn’t necessarily give him her approval or validation – he had to earn
that. Yes she believed in him. She believed he had greatness; but not that he
was great. That was the worst of it.
The clack of her shoes was an audible spoor to the boys pissing against the
wall. It was not far to her home but the lemon lights exposed her. The skirt she
had worn for him restricted her stride. Under the lemon lights she felt the
curves of her body.
Greg had been there the last time she visited. She listened. Greg said, ‘You
can’t be true, real, unless you struggle. That’s what life is – what d’you
expect? Art is formed through struggle…’
Andy said, ‘You struggle too much and everything is smothered. You create
something but the labour kills it. I’m struggling to breathe. I can hardly do
anything anymore because everything gets strangled at birth. I begin but I never
finish. You think I’m exaggerating? Ask Kate. Kate knows.’

The damp chair hissed before the fierce heat of the gas fire. Air was eaten
up as the flames grew a deep yellow. Greg turned his eyes to her. What did he
care? The joint crackled in the ashtray. A layer of smoky imagination brought
the ceiling within reach. What had happened to Andy? Where was the spark, the
fuse, the splinter in the ice?
Kate turned the mug clockwise and lowered her lashes.
‘You know it’s easy for you,’ Andy began, ‘it’s easy when you see things your
way. And it’s different. You see the results. You see by hearing…it’s
spontaneous – and it’s born. People listen to what you do. You don’t struggle.
Sure you don’t get much money, but it isn’t about money is it? You do your stuff
and people get off on it. It’s tangible, concrete, out of one brain and into
another. Right?’
Greg sat up. ‘And you? What you do – it’s also fucking tangible.’
‘How can you say that?’
‘It’s there. It’s on the page.’
‘Ah. There you go. You see Kate? You see? This is someone who knows, you
know? Who actually fucking knows. Like he understands. And he comes out with
this. Jesus. The world is smothering itself. There’s a whole world whose face is
being stuffed with page after page of so-called literature and you say “it’s
there on the fuckin’ page”. Jesus. We’re suffocating man. You, me, Kate, all of
us. Suff – o – cating.’
She understands him. That’s what he says. Only her. And he needs her more than
anyone or anything in the whole world. The world he despises. Tells her that he
is out of time. His pupils dilate. For him she wears long skirts and high heels
– cursing herself for choosing clacking shoes with tight skin-nipping leather
nibbling her flesh.

Greg had left before her. The room had grown hot, the walls pressed close.
In a haze of blue smoke Greg had offered to walk her home. She had witnessed the
bruised look in Andy’s eyes. She would stay. Play his game. Listen.
She said, ‘I’m tired.’
‘Don’t go. I need to talk. I need to know what you think.’
‘What I think?
‘Yes, exactly, what you think. Stay.’ Adding, ‘Tell me.’
Measuring her words she began, ‘Greg sees things differently from you,
that’s all. You know that. You’re different from each other. It doesn’t matter.
Greg knows what he wants.’
‘And I don’t?’
‘I’m not sure.’
Andy said, ‘I know what I don’t want. I know how I feel. It’s like I can’t
breathe anymore. I wake up coughing. You’ve heard me. It’s like there’s a gluey
thickness gobbing my throat. I’m sure I can sense something. It doesn’t feel
natural anymore – the way I breathe. In the mornings I try and force myself to
be sick. When you’re not here…’
‘You never get up in the morning,’ she laughed.
His eyes flooded black, ‘Don’t. Don’t trivialise this. I feel like I’m in
one of those fucking iron lungs. Like I really can’t breathe. I wake up and the
air is grey and thick. It’s been getting worse. I feel the air is solidifying
about me. I just can’t breathe enough. And anyone wonders that nothing gets
finished, nothing gets written beyond the opening,’ he struggled for the correct
word, ‘breaths.’
‘Maybe you should see a doctor. You might be ill, have an allergy.
‘There you go. You just haven’t got a clue. Not a fucking clue. Like Greg.
He thinks that making music is like writing down words. He’s surrounded by
fucking machines and people who act like fucking machines and now you’re telling
me to see a fucking doctor. Jesus. Jesus Kate, sometimes…Don’t you see how the
world is, how I am? Why the writing never gets finished?’
‘Well, how is this world? What does all this stuff mean? Why do you feel
so…so damn cheated?’
‘Cheated. Yes, yes, that is it. Thank you. That’s the whole shitty thing
isn’t it? You’ve hit the nail Kate. Thank you. You’re fucking marvellous Kate. A
genius. I’ve been cheated. Cheated. Simple. Simply cheated.’
And Kate thought he had seemed so much happier, when his life was so
They sat in silence for a time before Andy continued, ‘I’ve been thinking about
Resting back into the brown fur she let her eyes drift to the lacy ceiling.
Smoke had entered her lungs so that she could still hear the voice of Greg and
the after-notes of the music he had written and played. And she saw the lost,
innocent face of Andy as he also listened to the music. In the closeness of the
room she saw his mouth pop open and his body seemed to swim through the smoke.
In that atmosphere his breath seemed to come freshly.
‘I’ve been thinking about fish. Fish move through the water completely at one
with it, right? They breathe through the water. Immersed. Cold, warm, hot. Who
cares? The fish is at one with where it is and what it breathes. A fish has an
ocean to swim in.’
‘If it’s lucky…’
‘Well that’s the kind of fish I’m talking about. That’s the point. All fish
can swim. While there’s enough water to breathe. You see? While it can breathe
it can swim. Jesus this room…’ He began to fidget. Kate saw his eyes squint as
if in pain. ‘It’s small. Like a goldfish bowl.’ He took gulps of air. Kate
tensed. ‘You know, here we are fighting for air,’ he got up quickly and opened
the window, ‘and a fish swims its beautiful sensuous path without thought of
what it is to breathe. Flapping its gills it glides through the oceans. It could
swim forever.’ He sat hunched. ‘There’s nothing for a fish to prove, nothing to
stop it from being what it is. A fish. And no more. It needs only a bowl of
water and it can be what it truly is…’
And Kate didn’t see. She was glad. But she did remember how he would wake at
night fighting for air. And she felt guilty for spending less time with him. It
worried her to think of him waking and gasping for breath – shouting out into
the darkness.
‘I can’t breathe anymore Kate. I can’t take in enough air. I can’t take in
enough smoke,’ he stubbed out the joint. ‘Nothing’s working. It’s like, without
enough air, I can’t be what I am, can’t write what I want, you understand?’
And Kate was glad she didn’t understand.
‘I won’t stay tonight,’ she had said.

Walking from his flat that last time with the boys roaming in packs, vomiting
into doorways, she had remembered her words. Had a faint shade of blue descended
on his face? Did he look at her then through a tightening mask? Certainly he had
taken quick, shallow breaths. But she had put it down to effect. It would have
been typical of him.
She needs him. He says she needs him.
Sodium lights had made ghosts of the boys emerging from the alleyways. She
should have stayed the night. She shouldn’t have walked back home under the
sombre light. It was only two nights ago. Two nights since the argument with
Tonight she will drive. On her feet are high-heeled shoes giving her the height
he so loves. She will drive the short distance. The way to his flat is pressed
with the bodies of young men. The night is colder. They stare. She is aware of
her body and the tight breathing of her chest. Aware her breast stretches her
blouse. Tastes the lipstick she has worn for him. They kiss less these days.
These days he says he cannot afford the air.
Andy said, ‘It’s killing me; pressing down on me. Air is heavier than water.
That’s why I envy the fish. I can’t breathe Kate. I promise you, I can’t
breathe. Greg’s right, I should struggle. But it’s gone… The air that gives me
the right to struggle has gone. I need something lighter Kate. I need something
light to live. Being isn’t light – it needs heaviness to keep it on board. To
fight gravity that sucks you up and away.’
Kate said, ‘I’m not going to stay tonight.’
She saw the way he had breathed. Still she couldn’t trust him. She said, ‘I
just can’t.’

Getting out of the car she is determined to slap him back into life – like a new
born – to inspire him again. Breathe new life into them both. Ascending the
stairs to his flat she works out what she will say. Feels curiously out of
breath, like a climber on a mountainside. Yes he has infected her. His spores
have infected her. Her lungs are wet and tight.
The door to his flat is closed. She rings the bell. No answer. Taking a key from
her bag she lets herself in. Stepping into the small sitting room she
immediately notices the books scattered about; fishes swimming across their
covers. Outside she hears the Doppler effect of a passing police car. As the
sound fades she again hears a noise. It comes from the bathroom. Mechanically,
she calls out Andy’s name.
He needs her. Does she need him?
In the bathroom her eyes are concentrated on the enamel bath and the water
washing over its rim. Andy looks at her with childlike eyes. There are two deep
cuts running down the side of his neck. Around his upper torso the water has
turned crimson and beyond that pink. She cries out. But he is alive. He is
trying to say something – swishing about in the blooded water. His eyes are
staring, almost impassive, his mouth roundly popping out indecipherable speech.
Before she snaps too and dials 999 she bends towards his body and listens. What
is it?
There is an incomprehensible smell rising from the water. His eyes continue to
stare. Holding the rim of the bath she feels the bloody water. More water washes
to the carpet. What is it? Time has slowed – thankfully. Water and blood. The
cuts aren’t deep. She listens.
Andy says, ‘Breathe, breathe,’ (she thinks), ‘breathe, gills…let me,’ (she
leans further forwards touching his body which feels greasy-smooth),
He needs her and she will need him.

By the hospital bed she is able to hand him the mask that feeds the oxygen.
Taking quick gasps he smiles. Bandages extend either side of his neck so that
she has the curious conception of him there before her – mask covering his nose
and mouth; bulges to the sides; staring, impassive eyes – looking like a
drowning fish. A smile spreads over her face. A doctor walks past the door.

She becomes aware of the curves of her body as she bends over the patient.
Pulling away the mask she senses an odd aroma – is it the rubber of the mask or
another smell she can’t quite fathom? A trolley rolls past now with wheels
squeaking like gulls. Though she cannot identify the strange smell she is
certain at that point that he truly needs her. And she is certain also that she
will need him.
Holding the oxygen mask in her hand she thinks twice about applying it to her

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