Curiouser and Curiouser

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I didn’t know what to expect when Miko Berry asked me to do a ‘scary story or two’ at a ‘secret gig’ a few days ago. Curious, nervous and excited, I trekked all the way down to the bottom of Leith Walk, where a trail of glitter lead me to a flight of stairs… and at the top I found myself in one of the fanciest and most strangely-decorated studio flats I’ve ever seen. Top hats hung from the ceiling. A statue lurked in a purple-lit corner. Fancy cocktail menus and sushi were arranged on tables. I had no idea what was about to happen.

curiouser flat

The venue was almost empty at first, but I recognised familiar face – painter and fellow poet Suky Goodfellow, who told me she had been booked to do ‘live painting’ for the event. We hid together in the corner for a bit, her setting up her paints and me frantically practicing a poem, and people slowly began to arrive. Some of them were wearing masks, two of them were wearing crowns, and one person even had what looked like a ringmaster’s coat. At this point, my thoughts were something along the lines of ‘shit, this party is too cool for me’ and ‘what have I gotten myself into?’

But I needn’t have worried.

As it turned out, the evening was to be the experimental premier of a new artistic showcase night called Curiouser and Curiouser, hosted by Jody Bowen and curated by Miko. As the guests arrived – and it really did feel that we were less like audience members and more like guests at a live art exhibition/swanky party – funky live music began to fill the room, followed by some exquisite singing backed by the same band. After that it was my turn – I stood up and performed the Tall Man’s Coat and after that something new, with more music and Miko belting out some of his killer performance pieces in-between, backed by the band. After that I could finally relax because my part was over, and the music struck up again as the night began to draw to a close.

Curiouser band

It certainly felt like no other gig I had performed at or attended – partly because of the unique venue, partly because of the atmosphere, but especially because of the unique mix of artists. Curiouser and Curiouser wasn’t the first night I’ve been to that combined live music and spoken word in interesting ways, but it certainly did it very well. The thing that impressed and interested me the most, though, was the inclusion of live artists. Not only was there face-painting, but Suky and sketch-artist Ekaterina Sedykh (Kat) were sat throughout the night, painting and drawing the faces and groups of people around them. It was intriguing to watch them, and they put their work on sale at the end of the night – I even picked up this awesome portrait of me, courtesy of Suky!

All in all, it was a great first night! I wholeheartedly hope that Curiouser and Curiouser takes off and gets the attention it deserves. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it, and any other similar events that come my way. Over and out (-:
-Lewis

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Photo credit to Yelp Edinburgh, painting by Suky Goodfellow.

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Worse things happen at sea

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One evening in an old port town, a fisherman sat drinking in the shadows beneath the dock, warmed by the fire of a piece of burning driftwood. He bore no chains, but his shoulders were heavy, weighed down by an empty wallet and a broken heart. He was alone, until, as he took another swig from his bottle, he caught sight of a tall figure approaching out of the darkness.
“Who goes there?” Asked the fisherman.
“A sailor,” replied the shadow, and as he said it a cold gust of salty air disturbed the fire, as if to back up his point, “a sailor with a story to tell. I’d wager your fortunes have not yet sunk so low as me, and I’d like to tell you what befell me upon the sea.”
Although fisherman found that hard to believe, he reasoned that if it was true, it might make him feel a little better about his own lot, so he motioned to an empty crate on the other side of the fire. The sailor sat down in the shadow of one of the great wooden struts, and began to tell his story.

Once, there was a boy named John. He had grown up on the streets of a port town, but was adopted at a young age by an old fisherman who taught the boy his craft. The boy grew into a young man, and the young man worked hard, so hard that when the fisherman passed away he left the John everything he had. It wasn’t much, but it was enough that he was able to make his own way in the world, although eventually he tired of catching fish and became a sailor because he wanted to see the world.

For a time, all was well. John was happy, and soon he fell in love with a young woman. She had blonde hair, which fell in beautiful tresses like the manes of the white horses that ride the crests of the waves, and he charmed her with his tales of the sea.

His income was enough to support the two of them, but only just. They were forced to sell the old fisherman’s home and move into a tiny house in the bad part of town, where the buildings were crumbling and the cobblestones were overgrown with weeds. This made John miserable, because he wanted so much for his beloved. He wanted to buy her a fine, two-storied house, and to shower her in silk and pearls. He began to take even longer and riskier voyages in the hope of saving up enough money, and when he learned that his beloved was with child, he foolishly signed onto a particularly risky voyage.

At first, all was plain sailing. The ship made port in a distant land, collecting a rare and valuable cargo. But on the return journey the crew were attacked by pirates, and while they were able to fend them off, the ship’s mast was damaged beyond repair and many supplies were lost. They drifted, drifted for days and days, seeing nothing but open sky and endless sea. Eventually, half-mad and driven by a desperate hunger, the crew agreed that since they could not all live to see the ship make port, some would have to give their lives so that the others could live on.

Lots were drawn, and one by one the crew went into the pot, and the others ate well, sustained by their comrades’ sacrifice. But still they drifted on with no land in sight – nothing but the endless, unforgiving sea. John was disgusted by his comrades’ barbarity, and withheld or as long as possible, surviving for a while on the scavenged corpses of rats and seagulls, but in the end even he succumbed to in the end, even as he was overcome with guilt and shame.

Soon the crew’s numbers had dwindled down to less than half a dozen, and the name James Crawley – the ship’s first mate – came out of the hat. James Crawley was arrogant, and a coward, and refused to give himself up as his comrades had done, even though he had eaten of their flesh, and zealously too, taking more than his fair share. There was a struggle, and the first mate tied himself to the ship’s anchor and flung it overboard to escape his fate, knocking the young man into the sea as he did so.

The water was cold and the waves were harsh, and James Crawley sank down and down, but for John this disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise – he was saved by a mermaid, who took pity on him and returned him to the shore. The young man made his way back to the town where his beloved waited for him, but as he entered the town he realised that he could not face her with the guilt of what he had done still unabsolved. So he found a secluded cove and sat by the water’s edge for many days, praying and fasting and communing with the gods of the sea until they saw fit to grant him absolution.

Only then did he return to the town, and there he found his lover waiting for him, and with her his newborn son.
The young couple were married, and soon after they moved away from the port town, the young man having given up the life of a sailor to become a fisherman again. He had learned the lessons of pride and avarice, and was content to live a humble life in a small cottage on the banks of a river. In time, John became an old man, by which time he and his wife were blessed with two more children. One day, the old man grew ill, and knew he was soon to die. In his final hours, with his wife and children gathered round his bed, he put a wrinkled hand on the shoulder of his weeping eldest son, and told him: ‘Hush, child. Worse things happen at sea.’”
And with that the sailor ended his tale.

“I don’t believe it,” said the fisherman, “It’s too perfect. And besides, you’re still here. That last part can’t have happened to you at all.”
“You’re right,” said the sailor, “but every word of my story was true.” The fisherman pondered on the impossibility of this claim and was about to protest when his companion interrupted him with a question.
“Would you say John was a good man, in the end?”
“Well, yes, providing he really did redeem himself like you say.” The sailor nodded from his sitting position.
“And what about Crawley?”
“What, the ship’s mate? No! He was the worst of the lot.” There was a lengthy silence, broken only by the sound of the waves against the rocks.
“That’s a shame,” the sailor replied, getting slowly to his feet. As he did the fisherman heard the soft clinking of metal on metal, and the sound of something rusty grating on the stone beneath their feet, “But you’re right, of course.”
“Now then, John-” said the fisherman, warily, getting to his feet and holding out his hands. The smell of salt was strong in his nostrils as the other man stepped into the light of the fire.
“I never told you my name,” the sailor said. The last thing the fisherman saw before a great and terrible weight struck him across the head was the other man’s full height, clammy pale skin, and the red dripping from his chin.

sailor picture

Art by Elena Purlyte

Tsukumogami

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It is a little known fact that when household objects reach a certain age, they become alive.

Oh, they will try to keep it from you.
Your hand-me-downs and heirlooms would rather you didn’t know
that when you weren’t looking, they scraped together a soul
from discarded feelings, moments and rituals
and the songs you sang while using them.

Grandfather clocks may keep their own time
chairs will sometimes stretch their legs
and pictures will look kindly on the ones their likeness loved.

The way you treat them is important –
– they take associations to heart.
Just as the bed that made a marriage may hold you close
your mirror might just wonder what it’s doing wrong,
might learn – from you – to hate itself
when you curse your own reflection.

That’s the thing about possessions.
You can’t help but be honest with them
like children, they learn by example
and take everything to heart.

***

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Toriyama Seiken.

Loud Poets Hype

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Loud Poets 2015 Fringe Banner

The 2015 Fringe is almost upon us, and that means the Loud Poets Fringe show is back! Last year’s debut show was spectacular, and this year promises even more with a rockstar line-up of ten amazingly talented performance poets from Scotland and around the world. From left to right, they are: Sara Hirsch, Jyothis Padmanabhan (Joe with the Glasses), Carly Brown, Katie Ailes, Agnes Torok, Doug Garry, Miko Berry, Kevin Mclean, Catherine Wilson and Kevin Cadwallender. I’ve seen them all first-hand, and I can vouch that each and every one of them is going to knock them dead this year.

Between them they’re involved in other projects too numerous to do justice to here, but if you click on their names you should be able to find out a little about them and what they’re up to – some have just kickstarted new poetry collections, others have won awards and competitions, and some even have their own solo Fringe shows! They all have twitter, facebook pages and they’re all worth looking up on their own merits. Of course, I’m more than a little bit biased – I was fairly involved in last year’s show, and I’ll be helping out a bit this year too – but that doesn’t mean I can’t rave about my favourite band of eloquent mad people.

The Fringe is going to be a busy time for me – I have an exciting job with Fringe Central, hanging around on the Royal Mile fraternising with fire-eaters and balloon artists. I will be seeing a lot of shows though, and I reckon this is a good chance to dust off my old reviewing cap and let you guys know when I like what I see. I know I’m excited to see Will Seaward again – he was brilliant last year. Apart from that, my two not-so-secret-projects (the choose-your-own-adventure story and the illustrated pamplet) have both been coming along nicely too – more on those on another time.

See you soon!

Dear Abigail – part 3/3

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Log Number 22b

Sorry, I had a bit of a coughing fit there. There’s a nasty cold or something going round the ship, no idea where it came from. Anyway, I’ll keep trying with the music. I have to do better. I promised, I promised your dad I’d do well by you.

I know. I’ll find life! Life, on another planet. And I’ll name it after you. Yes. Some horrible great stinking alien with eyes and mouths in all sorts of unspeakable places – named after you, Abby. That’ll do it. And I won’t forget your birthday again.

Love you,
Steven.

Log Number 25

Dear Abigail,

I forgot your face. It’s just… gone.

I still have your picture, but it doesn’t look real anymore. Is that really what you look like? Looked like. It’s been so long, you probably don’t even look the same. Have you dyed your hair? It used to be brown, didn’t it? It’s brown in the picture. I asked you to send a new picture with the returning supply shuttle, but there was nothing from you, not even a message. I guess I’m not going to hear from you until I get home.

Abby, I… I’m sorry. I’m going to delete this log when I’m finished recording. You don’t deserve to hear this. The next log will be better, and you’ll never know this happened. Yeah. I’ll do that. Soon. Tomorrow, maybe. I’ll send you a better message.

Steve.

Log Number 26

Dear Abigail,

You won’t receive this log either. But I had to make it anyway. I’ve gotten so used to doing this that it’s pretty much the only way I can get my thoughts straight nowadays. It’s strange. But anyway, I should come out and say it, for the record. Or, not. For me.

I’m breaking up with you.

Nothing’s happened. There isn’t anyone else. But I just can’t keep this up any longer. It’s eating me up and I hate it, and if I don’t put a stop it then I’ll hate you too. Although I don’t know how I ever could put a stop to it. Before I go on the ship, we said forever didn’t we? Well there’s no way of taking that back now, even if we want to. I’d never get your reply, not until I get back home, and by then it would all be too late.

I’m sorry. I thought I could handle it, being away from you so long. I thought I’d be able to remember why I promised the things that I did. I guess I was wrong.

Goodbye, Abby. I’m sure you’ll hear from me again soon.
Steve.

Log Number 44

Dear Abigail,

This is it! We’ve found – or we think we’ve found, actually, really this time – we think we’ve found life! Finally, after all this time, it actually been worth it. It’s only a few microscopic plankton-type things, but on a completely alien world! I’m sure they’ll censor that, but I don’t care. I’m coming home! The captain is setting the course as we speak.

Just think. We can do it all, Abby. Buy a house, get married, have kids, all the things we promised we’d do. I hope you got my mix tape, and I hope I managed to delete those… other logs, the ones where I was feeling down.
I’m coming home, Abby. I’ll see you soon.

Your fiancé,
Steven.

Dear Abigail – part 2/3

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Log Number 14

Dear Abigail,

I’m finally beginning to feel at home here, I think. It’s been months, but my room finally feels like it’s really mine, you know? It’s nice. And I feel like I’m finally making friends with some of the guys down in the hydroponics lab. We meet up most nights and play cards, it’s a lot of fun.

Jim is trying to distil some alcohol from the leftover food crops without his bosses finding out, using makeshift still he’s set up in supply cupboard. That’d be cool. Anyway, what with work heating up and actually having something to do in my spare time, I’ve been pretty busy!

Speak soon,
Steven.

Log Number 15

Godamnit Abby, I’m sorry. It’s been, what, a month since I last made one of these? Too long. I’ve just been busy, I suppose. We’ve made a pretty big breakthrough, so Dr Gisborne’s been working us hard. A bunch of the new samples turned out to have this really interesting compound, and we think it might be – oh wait, no, I’m not allowed to talk about that, am I? Well, this log will probably end up being redacted then, or expunged, or one of those other really painful-sounding words.

Jim got into trouble because I mentioned his alcohol still in the last recording, so I’m feeling pretty bad about that. He might get fired when we get back home, actually, and he was hoping to go out on another expedition after this one. So that’s made things kind of awkward with the hydroponics guys.
Anyway, I still miss you. I’m know I’m useless, but don’t give up on me. I know you won’t.

Yours,
Steven.

Log Number 18

Dear Abigail,

The air’s been tasting weird lately. We kind of panicked at first, thought we might all be about to suffocate or catch fire or something. But it’s fine. Turns out the compound we found reacts really weirdly with air, and it got into the oxygen supply somehow. Luckily it’s 100% benign. Passes in and out of the human body without interacting with it in the slightest. Still, that lot down in atmospherics are definitely in trouble. It’s going to take ages to scrub it from the filters.

That’s it for now, anyway. Been trying to do this more often, but it does mean I don’t have quite as much news. Speak soon,
Steve.

Log Number 22

I forgot your birthday. I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened. But I missed it. It was two days ago. I’ve just been so caught up in everything recently and I slipped. I’m sorry. It probably shouldn’t bother me so much, but it does, it really does. You’re holding out for me, still, I know it, and that means I owe you more.

I’m sorry. I haven’t even finished your present – the mix-tape. Every time I try to sing my voice keeps cracking and-

Dear Abigail – part 1/3

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I’ve had this idea rattling around in the back of my head for a while, probably as a consequence of playing too many sci-fi/horror games with lots of audio logs. Once in a while, the little recorded monologues you pick up between gameplay sequences can actually be pretty compelling. I mean sure, more often than not they developers either put no effort into them or went too far the other way, shoving high-flown nonsense down your throat when all you want to know is why the place you’re current in is full of gibbering, twitching monstrosities. But when they get it right, you can have to really great storytelling from an unexpected corner. Anyway, that’s more than enough preamble – here’s the first in *my* three-part tirade of high-flown nonsense, without even the video-game to keep you entertained in-between. Enjoy!

***

Log Number 1

Dear Abigail,

Hi. It’s me, Steven. I am speaking to you from aboard the U.S.S Mephistopheles, in outer space. I mean, you knew that already – and I still can’t really tell you anything apart from that the research is very important, and very exciting. Confidentiality and all that. But I had to say it out loud, just once. I’m in space! There. Glad I got that off my chest.

Oh, I have to tell you about the launch – the moment we left the atmosphere. It was incredible. It was like you’re on the biggest aeroplane in the world that’s in the middle of taking off and it’s the night before Christmas and you can’t wait to go downstairs and open your presents and you’re standing on the edge of the tallest, steepest cliff all at once. And I had your picture, in my wallet, in my chest pocket. Right here.

How are you, anyway?

Hah, tricked you there! This is just a recording. I can’t hear you. One of the technicians promised me that these logs will be taken back to Earth with the supply shuttle and delivered to friends, family, loved ones, etc. You might even get to send a reply! I’m looking forward to that. Talk about going long-distance, right? The longest. But hey, we managed to keep going when you were working in London, how much harder can it be? A lot, I imagine. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t missing you already.

Goodbye, Abby – for now. I’ll be making another log soon, so you’ll get to hear from me at least. Love, Steve.

Log Number 2

Dear Abigail,

How are you? I’m alright. A bit bored, a bit lonely. The crew are… nice, but they all know each other really well already, and you know what I’m like around really talkative people. I just clam up and listen, or just end up talking shop for ages, I can tell they find that boring. I guess we just don’t really have much in common.

I met the ship’s cat. She seems to like me. But her name is River Tam, which is not a reference I get, and that just makes me feel even more left out. Never really liked sci-fi. Kind of ironic then isn’t it, that I’d end up out here? I’m finding it very strange. But hey, it is the final frontier, and all that. I suppose it’d be disappointing if it was just like home.

Anyway, lots more logs soon. So long Abby!
Steve.

Log Number 7

Sorry the logs have been a bit thin on the ground, things have been really busy lately. There’s been a load of electrical interference recently, and we lost a lot of data, so they’ve been working us really hard to catch up. Doctor Gisborne says we’ll be getting some new samples in soon, so I’m really excited about that.

Still haven’t really gotten to know anyone, but I’m learning to play the guitar, so that’s been keeping me entertained in my spare time. I’m going to try to make you a mix tape, old-fashioned style, to send back with the supply shuttle as a birthday present. It’s a comfort to think of you receiving it. I just know it’ll make you smile.

It’s beautiful out here. In a really abstract, far-off kind of way. Like, it’s only ever a view out of a window. The same tastes, the same smells – synthetic meat and vitamin pills, disinfectant in the showers – and a new heaven on the other side of the glass. I’ve given up trying to take pictures for you. They never come out right. Anyway, back to work! I promise to make these more often in the future.

Your loving fiancé,
Steve.

Log Number 14

Dear Abigail,

I’m finally beginning to feel at home here, I think. It’s been months, but my room finally feels like it’s really mine, you know? It’s nice. And I feel like I’m finally making friends with some of the guys down in the hydroponics lab. We meet up most nights and play cards, it’s a lot of fun.
Jim is trying to distil some alcohol from the leftover food crops without his bosses finding out, using makeshift still he’s set up in supply cupboard. That’d be cool. Anyway, what with work heating up and actually having something to do in my spare time, I’ve been pretty busy!

Speak soon,
Steven.