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    The Plagiarist

    As a boy he had dreamed of being a famous professional artist, of being the new Cezanne or Picasso or Hockney, of riches and acclaim flowing like the paint from the end of his paint brush.

    Like most boyhood dreams, his had never happened, although he had got a lot closer to realising them than most. Unlike so many who had had to abandon their ambitions and seek drab jobs in shops and offices, he had made a living as an artist, selling his colourful and slightly surreal landscapes to middle class patrons to relieve the tedium of their wallpapered expanses. That was as far as it got, any fame he could lay claim to was a purely local one and, while his efforts had enabled him to buy his tiny terraced house and still just about paid his bills, fortune had eluded him entirely.

    Worse, his sales were getting smaller every year. These were straitened times with fewer prepared to spend hundreds on mere decoration and his work was falling out of such limited fashion as it had ever been in. How long would it be before he too would be forced to seek employment in one of those drab shops or offices? He gazed at his lined face in the mirror, a face that was almost leaving middle age behind, and knew that that would be no easy option either for someone with no experience in anything but painting. He sat watching the afternoon sun in the little aluminium greenhouse in his tiny garden, a greenhouse that had never seen the growth of a single seedling during his tenure. It was his little solitary club, a place where he had always gone to unwind, to enjoy an occasional cigarette and an occasional glass of whisky. As his anxiety grew, it had gradually become an occasional packet, an occasional bottle, and his ability to afford either shrank.

    His resentment grew too, with every glass. He was a good artist, no Turner it was true, but a damn sight better than some of the acclaimed artists of the day, whose ridiculous works filled the national galleries. He had recently been to The Tate Modern and it was filled with patterns resembling Homebase wallpaper, single colour scrawls that looked like the work of infants, formless lumps of clay resembling giant dog turds and lengths of galvanised steel ducting. Damn it! Real artistic ability did not matter anymore, all you had to do was think of something novel, call it art and wait for all those idiotic, overpaid, self-serving art critics to feather their own nests by finding a new fashion.

    He downed his third glass of whisky and lit his second cigarette. The setting sun shone through the algae-encrusted glass of the greenhouse and he noticed the strange patterns within it, patterns that he could only assume had been made by slugs or snails feasting on those rich green pastures. He stared and, as the human brain always does, his made features out of those random patterns. At the bottom of that pane was a lion’s head. Surreal and cartoon like, it was true but, despite the protruding eyes and the unnaturally pointed ears it was definitely a lion’s head. On the next pane was the face of a small sad little girl, over there, a voluptuous naked woman with three arms and a square head. Up there, three dragons fought a pitched battle while a huge spider looked on.

    It seemed to him that those little molluscs had a darn sight more artistic ability than Emin and Hurst and all those other acclaimed artists. It took a couple more glasses of whisky before the sneer in his head became an idea. It was as good an inspiration as any and, as his conventional work was no longer selling anyway, what did he have to lose? He staggered off up the path to get his camera before the sun disappeared. The next day he printed the photos off, mounted them next to his easel and began copying the works. He ignored some of the slug trails that were peripheral to, or spoiled the perceived images and accentuated some others but otherwise he made no real changes. Why should he? In the fickle world of art these days who could decide what was more commercial than the orange of the setting sun shining through those wobbling mollusc tracks and the green of the algae modified in places by the vague colours of the fencing and hedges behind?

    The first few works appeared in a local exhibition two weeks later and soon sold but not before attracting favourable comments in a local paper. They in turn attracted attention from a more prominent art critic who lived in the area. The feature in the art section of The Sunday Times several months later finally brought him the acclaim that the little boy had only dreamed of. It was a new fashion in the art world. The article said it all “..his works have a primitive quality, yet they are not as anything we have formerly described as primitive or naive art. Rather they are the work of something far less than human, yet filled with a superhuman yearning to find a higher plain. The lines are curiously random and oscillating, yet always convergent into something that is meaningful. Always single and unbroken, signifying an unshakeable will to create beauty and meaning, regardless of life’s distractions. Always beginning and ending at the bottom of the canvas, each painting signifying how life is full of unfulfilled dreams and ambitions, yet part of a series to show that we must never stop trying no matter how many times we must retreat”

    He sat watching the afternoon sun in the huge cedarwood greenhouse in his big new garden, a greenhouse that had never seen the growth of a single seedling during his tenure and sipped an expensive Glenfiddich whisky. No more cheap Tesco own brand for him. He read, yet again, that absurd Times review, now held in an expensive bronze frame, that had set him on a path to fame and chuckled at the stupidity of intelligent people. Less than human? What, like a slug? An unbroken, random and oscillating path? As a slug would leave when feeding? Always beginning and ending at the bottom of the canvas? Like a slug returning to its safe damp lair under the leaves before the sun rose? Had it never occurred to any of them that his wonderful paintings were nothing but slightly altered copies of slug patterns on greenhouse glass?

    Ah well. He was making enough money to see him reasonably comfortably off when he went out of fashion and the next idiotic trend took over and, judging by the way that major galleries were still displaying blank canvases, that could be a long way off. If meaningful statements about suprematism, the fourth dimension, transcendency or “awareness of nothing but art” and all the rest of it could still be discerned in a lack of any art at all, his copies of slug feeding patterns could do well for quite a while. At the very worst, as a once acclaimed artist, he would still always sell far more than the minor artist he had once been.

    But there was one immediate problem, what new paintings could he come up with for that big exhibition next year? The recently cleaned windows of his expensive greenhouse were largely devoid of any patterns at all and, judging by the lovingly tended vegetable patch of his neighbour just the other side of the hedge, slug pellets would be a major impediment to the breeding of a new generation of artists. If only he had not sold his maisonette and lost that little slug-infested greenhouse.

    He took another sip of his expensive whisky and pondered. As he did so, a large wood pigeon landed on the roof, paused a moment and lifted its tail in that distinctive movement of a defecating bird. The bird pooh splattered on the glass, making a large brown and white pattern, contrasting with the blue sky and the white vapour trails of the airplanes overhead. As it began to run down the glass, The Sunday Times review about a yearning for higher things and mortal life frustrating our aspirations wrote itself in his head. All he needed was a bird table nearby to attract lots of birds like that onto his new greenhouse.

    Whistling, he went to get his camera.

    Last edited by xoggoth; 22 November 2014, 12:17.

    If everything isn't black and white, I say, 'Why the hell not?'
    John Wayne (My guru, not to be confused with my beloved prophet Jeremy Clarkson)

    Slug art - I reckon you could be onto something


      Looks like a dancing bear to me - like balu from the jungle book. Maybe the slugs have been reading Kipling?


        Fantasy shoes

        "Fantasy shoes (size 7)" the title reads. I'm intrigued. I'm not really a shoe sort of girl - I've always gone for comfort and practicality rather than prettiness. But ebay's ebay and fantasy shoes have got to be worth a look.

        I click into the listing - and there's a pair of gorgeous powder blue strappy sandals with kitten heels adorned with a silk flower. Very pretty. So "not me".

        I read the description:

        "Think these aren't for you? Forget the fat, clumpy, sensible everyday shoes you normally wear, and give your feet the treat they deserve.

        These shoes could change your life. They're the sort of shoes that are worn by the perfect woman. You know - the one with the two impeccably behaved children (she never has to bribe them with sweets in the supermarket) who turns up in the school playground immaculately groomed, before whisking them home - they walk, it's much greener - to a home-cooked organic dinner with freshly prepared vegetables (and her hands don't smell of garlic for three days afterwards). Her children don't get headlice. Her children definitely don't get threadworms. And her children are never the only ones that turn up in uniform on non-uniform day because she's lost the letter. She's never once been summonsed to the head's office because little Johnny cut a hole in Katie's new cardigan (but she was invited to the school by the head for the award of Johnny's certificate of outstanding achievement).

        Her social life is thriving - her husband (he's a 'new man' of course, and thinks nothing of getting his hands dirty changing the sheets (or he would if the children ever wet the bed, which of course, they don't)) buys her flowers spontaneously and takes her out to dinner "just because he loves her" and is delighted to babysit when she fancies a night out with the girls.

        And when she goes for those nights out, she has a two or three glasses of wine and stops at the merry stage - you never find her staggering home, unable to get her key into the lock on the front door and waking with the sort of hangover that makes her wish she'd never woken up at all. Oh no - mornings spent with head down the toilet are unknown to the lady who wears these shoes.

        She receives compliments graciously (she's used to them), her mascara doesn't run, she never gets lipstick on her teeth and her French polished nails are perfectly manicured. Hair on her top lip? You've got to be kidding! And VPLs are something with which she's never had the misfortune to become acquainted.

        And if you find yourself hating her perfection - don't! She's so charming, lovely and unassuming that you can't fail to love her. She has a fantastic sense of humour too - but never at anyone else's expense (except for politicians, but they're fair game).

        Buy these shoes. I can't promise that they will change your life, but make yourself a cup of tea, slip them on, close your eyes and pretend..."

        Well - I'm sold. I have to have them. If anyone needs a fantasy life I do, and they're only £14.99. I click the 'Buy It Now' button, my pulse racing. It's too late - someone else got there first. It's some other woman who is going to be transformed into a modern day Cinderella. I guess I don't really care that much (as long as it isn't Tina) and I can still make the cup of tea and close my eyes and imagine. I get up to put the kettle on and put my foot straight in the Weetabix that the dog's sicked up after stealing the kids' leftovers (still on the worktop from this morning). So much for fantasy sandals. I wipe the mess off my fat, clumpy, sensible, practical Hush Puppies...
        Last edited by mudskipper; 23 November 2014, 22:45.


          Excellent, but you mean you aren't that perfect women already? Like the get out clause in last sentence. Typical eBay seller.
          Last edited by xoggoth; 24 November 2014, 23:35.

          If everything isn't black and white, I say, 'Why the hell not?'
          John Wayne (My guru, not to be confused with my beloved prophet Jeremy Clarkson)


            Police, Camera, Action!

            It was a sign of the times and two factors drove it. One was a growing mistrust of the police and the other was ever cheaper and more advanced technology.

            How real the first was is open to question; was there ever a time when most people were really foolish enough to trust those who govern and control us or was that just those rose-tinted spectacles in action? There was no doubt about the second. Even allowing for the inevitable pointless overspending on anything provided for the public sector, video cameras with remote communication had become a relatively cheap and entirely practical prospect.

            Following notorious cases of young black males being shot by white policemen in which the circumstances had been hotly disputed and the consequent riots in the US and UK, it was an inevitable move. By 2016 it had become the norm for police in the UK, most US States and several European countries to wear body cameras to record all stops and arrests. The videos should provide the vital evidence needed for any enquiry if such events happened again. Whether such evidence would be believed in our conspiracy theory society would of course only be shown when they inevitably did.

            Taxpayers’ money always grows on trees and the cameras had not reached their useful lifetime when they were all junked in favour of more expensive equipment based on the latest version of Google Glass and the gadgets were issued to every policeman and woman in the UK. Not only did these latest devices record and upload videos to the cloud in real time but they provided fast two way internet access and many sophisticated features to assist the police in their tasks. Officers wore headsets with glasses that let them experience both a real and a virtual world, all controlled by spoken request.

            They could still see what was actually in front of them but they could also access data from the police database and use a variety of complex programs to aid them in their tasks. For example, a suspect’s face could be rapidly compared with thousands of mug shots on the police database and the best matches would be shown next to the real face the policeman was looking at. Another program could analyse movement and voices and indicate suspicious behaviour. Obviously, it was not thought desirable for policemen to go around looking like robots so all the gadgets were miniaturised and the goggles themselves folded away unobtrusively into a standard looking police cap.

            Some policemen were against these developments, they thought they interfered with proper policing and prevented newcomers learning the necessary skills for themselves. Not PC George Larkin. He was a geeky chap for a copper and he loved computer technology. When not on duty he spent much of his time playing computer games and the new police gadgets had turned his job into an extension of his recreational activities. They were only supposed to be used when necessary so cops could display that essential human touch but George liked to find necessities as much as possible. What was really great was his discovery of an obscure online fix that let him bypass the normal security restrictions and use the goggles for computer gaming. He was lucky to work in a small town in a rural area with low crime rates that let him patrol the beat on his own and, come lunch break, he would head to his favourite cafe on the edge of town, pull down the goggles and get on with what, to him, was real life, his online one.

            Friday lunchtime has been fun. Ah well, time to get back to work. He checked his gun was secured correctly; why he needed it in this place god knows, but all officers in England and Wales had been required to carry them after a series of terrorist incidents. He flipped the smart goggles back into his cap, brushed the apple pie crumbs off his uniform and headed back into town. What excitement would this afternoon bring? A shoplifter or a minor domestic incident at most, nothing much ever happened in Riftsdale.

            Or did it? He was walking down the centre of the town’s small shopping mall when he noticed something. A small group of youths was acting rather furtively on one corner, peering at people passing by and clutching heavy looking rucksacks rather too closely to their bodies as if they had something to hide. It was unlikely but there had been a terrorist attack in a small town once before. It was time for the smart goggles to do their stuff, he would analyse their movements and check out the faces of some who appeared more prominent in the group.

            He flipped the goggles down and some in the group noticed him. Then it happened. Two strangely dressed young men he had not noticed burst forward from the group, they had guns and they were firing wildly in his direction. His suspicions had been well founded! It was up to him to protect himself and others in the crowded little shopping area as best he could. He drew his gun and fired and his relative coolness and experience was in his favour. Both youths dropped to the ground but it was not the end. More guns and twisted snarling faces emerged from the group and he fired again and again.

            All was quiet and he flipped the goggles up and looked around. The place was silent and the only signs of life were the peering faces of a few shoppers from the hiding places they had rushed to when the firing began. He walked over to the group of youths whose bodies lay blood stained upon the concrete walkway with the intent of removing the guns. But there were no guns. There were no weapons at all that he could see. He opened one of the rucksacks and it contained only clothes and other personal belongings. A leaflet fluttered to the ground containing details of a popular camp site on the moors a few miles outside town. He stared at the huddle of innocent young campers, some of whom would never go camping again. He pulled down the goggles and a terrorist began firing at him. A virtual, computer generated terrorist against a background of a virtual, computer generated shopping mall that looked much like the one he stood in, as indeed it would, because all shopping malls look much the same.

            He had forgotten to switch off his “Terror in the Mall” game. But at least he had his highest score yet.
            Last edited by xoggoth; 20 February 2015, 19:01.

            If everything isn't black and white, I say, 'Why the hell not?'
            John Wayne (My guru, not to be confused with my beloved prophet Jeremy Clarkson)


              Perchance to dream

              He had always had such interesting dreams. Often he could see where these dreams came from; there was an obvious link with something that had happened the previous day. It could be just something he had seen on TV but, even when the basic theme was mundane, the backdrop was often magnificent. Unlike some, he dreamed in full 3D colour.

              Trouble is, as we all know, the brain discards dreams so quickly. You wake up thinking “wow, what a great dream!” and a bowl of cornflakes later you can’t remember a damn thing. Most of us don’t worry about it but an important hobby was fantasy story writing and events in his life had stifled his creativity, his imagination had dried up. It was still in there somewhere as his dreams showed but, unless he could send his dream self a paper and pencil, that was where it would stay.

              Still, he could capture some of it if he made a note of it as soon as he awoke. Hard to remember to do things the moment you wake up but in time he was sure he could get into the habit. He bought himself a little voice recorder that just needed the press of a button to make it easier. At first it was difficult, he simply forgot to do it or, when he did remember, he would press the play button and listen to some half asleep mumbling in which he could make out scarcely a word. But all things get easier when you get used to them and within a few weeks it was getting more helpful.

              He had a recollection in his mind, something a girlfriend had once told him decades back, that there were dangers in recording your dreams but he could not recall her saying why. He had a look online but found nothing of concern on the first few Google pages. Apart from psychology articles it was mostly nonsense about predicting the future or the subconscious realising things the conscious did not. One or two bloggers actually promoted the idea and gave advice on how to do it.

              A couple of weeks into his regime, a dream inspired a story about a religious cult that believed the sun was evil and lived their lives in dark caves, interacting with the rest of the world only at night or via narrow holes in the rock. His plagiarism of his sleeping self’s ideas was soon working well. He managed to come up with a weird story quite regularly and they were getting weirder all the time. They usually had no meaningful plot, no characterisation and no proper conclusion, dreams tend not to have, but he didn’t care too much about that. At last he had something that he could read out at the little monthly writers’ club and could then sit back in satisfaction and watch the puzzled faces of the other members.

              It was disappointing that his waking imagination showed no sign of improvement but at least it was in his mind somewhere and, if he could dip his bucket into his subconscious that was something, it was like getting water from a well. That simile was rather disturbing. What happens if you keep taking water from a well and there is no water flowing from above to replenish it? Was that the danger the girlfriend had warned about? He put it out of his mind. The silly ideas kept coming, about people seeking out monsters confident that being eaten would save them from monsters, children in gardens who rooted and began sprouting extra limbs, tramps living in his dishwasher. His dreams always involved people.

              He was not sure he has not noticed something before but after six months he began to be certain something strange had happened. In all his dreams, as far as he could recall, he had always appeared in the third person. Yet lately, while that other self was still there in the dream, he felt that he, his normal, waking first-person self, was present too. At first it was just as an invisible observer but, as time went on, his third person self and other characters in the dream seemed to be aware of him. It was as if, by bringing his dreams into his waking life, he was breaking down the barriers between the conscious and the unconscious and bringing his real life into his dreams. That had downsides as he no longer had the complete escape from real life worries that real dreams offer us. He would be flying with others over a bright red barren desert looking for giant land-dwelling oysters and start worrying about filling in his tax return. On the plus side he was at last starting to get his imagination back, he could close his eyes and imagine the most amazing dream landscapes as he used to when he was a child.

              Maybe he should stop recording his dreams; clearly there was some psychological effect for him. Or was there? Maybe it was all his imagination. Did it matter anyway? The voice recorder stayed by his bedside and continued to be used. It did not occur to him that maybe the decision was not solely his and that maybe the inhabitants of his dream, led by that dream self, were influencing his decisions. And the distinction between dream and reality continued to break down at an increasing rate. He no longer had to close his eyes to imagine those landscapes. He was vaguely aware that others were at times looking at him strangely, as if something in his behaviour was not right but by then he didn’t really care.

              That phase did not last long. You can slowly break down the walls of a prison but the prisoners’ escape will be very sudden. He woke up to the normal beeping of his alarm clock and opened his eyes to a strangely coloured world in which his bed was a huge blue whale and walked out among a crowd of impossibly tall thin people making trees from bars of chocolate. But he knew it wasn’t a dream because, unlike in his dreams, he felt totally real and could feel and think independently, exactly as his waking self had done. He was totally himself but living in a world where nothing was restricted by the normal laws of physics or any other conventions. Things could vary in any way and it was unbelievably exciting.

              For a while it was fantastic. He did not know that others of his creation, including his dream self, considered him a threat. They had used him to break free of the dream world and into the real one and live a physical, feeling existence while sacrificing none of the freedoms that the dream world gave them. Those bloggers, those advocates of recording dreams, those third-person dream alter egos of once real people, had done a good job and helped to free more of their kind. But the job was not done. His mind has created this existence and they feared that his mind could take it away.

              He was surrounded, in all directions, by others near and far, yet all of equal apparent size. His third person, once dream self was present everywhere and they all wanted him, willed him, gone. He could not resist. For the first time in many weeks he knew tiredness and an urge to sleep. He closed his eyes and was gone. But there were no true dreams, for he had left all his dreams, and almost all of himself, conscious and unconscious, back in that merging of reality and imagination. He was aware of his existence but could experience almost nothing, devoid of feeling and senses, floating in a dim dark nothingness.

              But those who had banished him had not forgotten him. They were happy enough to send him the things that they did not need or did not want in their real dream world. He had floated meaninglessly for only a few days before the tax return fluttered down in front of him.
              Last edited by xoggoth; 23 March 2015, 13:38.

              If everything isn't black and white, I say, 'Why the hell not?'
              John Wayne (My guru, not to be confused with my beloved prophet Jeremy Clarkson)


                And it was all a dream.

                Very nice.

                "the brain soon discards dreams so quickly." - needs an edit


                  Well spotted! Ta.

                  If everything isn't black and white, I say, 'Why the hell not?'
                  John Wayne (My guru, not to be confused with my beloved prophet Jeremy Clarkson)


                    The Longest Day

                    It is frequently observed that time appears to go faster the older you are and he was no exception. He recalled queuing with his dad outside a cartoon cinema in London for less than an hour and it had seemed like forever. Nowadays it seemed, he got up, the hours rushed by and it was soon time for bed again.

                    It wasn’t such a problem while he was working as he no longer enjoyed his job. The small pharmaceutical company he worked for had been taken over by a large US company a few years ago and new procedures had brought new pressures. The quicker his working hours went the better. But now he was approaching retirement and looking forward to having at least a couple of decades he could call his own. It would be such a shame if it all flew by so fast.

                    But just maybe, as an experienced pharmaceutical chemist who had specialised in drugs dealing with psychological illnesses, he could do something he about it. He knew that perception of time was not invariable. Sometimes, for reasons not fully understood, the perception of time by normal individuals could vary. More significantly, he knew that some drugs used in treatment of psychotic symptoms had side effects that included an altered perception of time. Maybe he could come up with something to increase his own. After all, it didn’t matter how long you really lived as long as it seemed like a long time.

                    Nobody at work noticed that his activities with test tubes were not always directed at developing the company’s products and nobody missed the small quantities of materials he purloined to continue the research at home when, by the nature of drug research, much of it was wasted in unsuccessful approaches anyway. Nobody noticed either when some old brain scan equipment disappeared. Although hugely expensive once, it had became obsolete and assigned to the skip. He upgraded it with the help of a friend skilled in electronics.

                    One or two noticed he was not always his alert self in the mornings because, although he relied on his extensive knowledge of brain chemistry and the studies of drug effects to avoid them as far as possible, he had nobody to perform real life tests on apart from himself. However, his superiors put the small drop in his usually exemplary performance down to normal things like lack of sleep or a bit too much drink the night before. An employee’s performance was not a real concern when he was retiring in a few months anyway.

                    He was just two months into retirement when he was sure he had made the breakthrough he had been seeking. The combination of drugs he had developed should bring that perception of increased time while avoiding any significant adverse effects. He had taken small quantities and used that old brain scan equipment to check that all the right parts of his brain were affected. Taking any drug that had not been subject to the usual exhaustive tests was risky, especially on a regular basis, but it a was risk worth taking if he did not want to rush through his last few decades. That afternoon, sitting on his garden seat in the hazy sunshine, he took what he had calculated to be the correct dose and washed it down with a glass of water.

                    Whether it was the drug or the exhaustion of working long hours on his solution he was not sure, but he felt very tired and nodded off. The drug spread through his brain and started work. About an hour later, whatever an hour really means, he woke up and it was evident that the drug had worked, but not in quite the way he had hoped for. He was not once more like that little boy to whom an hour was such a long time. For the first time it occurred to him how paradoxical the youthful experience of time was. As a boy time has passed slowly yet he had been fully into life and rushing about in a way that adults have forgotten. He had changed his perception of time but this was in a way that made more sense.

                    He sat on the garden seat and felt his face starting to burn in the now bright sunshine. A bird was suspended in mid air over the lawn; any movement of its wings was totally imperceptible. Bees appeared entirely stationary over the flowers. He wanted to rise but his muscles did not appear to respond. The drug had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The trouble was, it looked like he would be stuck here for several hours until the dose wore off.

                    Several hours that might be a thousand years by his perception.
                    Last edited by xoggoth; 17 April 2015, 11:50.

                    If everything isn't black and white, I say, 'Why the hell not?'
                    John Wayne (My guru, not to be confused with my beloved prophet Jeremy Clarkson)