Everything is a lie

Since becoming a publishing phenomenon, I’ve broadly committed to reading several books by self-published authors, in a show of desperate camaraderie. It’s a lonely old business out there and we need to stick together. I haven’t looked at my Amazon dashboard since T-Minus Zero and launch. Why would I? It’s plainly clear to me that my book is floating in a constellation just out of view of the Hubble Telescope, a billion light years away. In a billion light years someone will read it, share it with someone who will do likewise – and it will become an interstellar success. But I’ll be long gone by then so I won’t give a shit.

In 1977 NASA launched the Voyager spacecraft which as I write, has recently left our Solar System and traversed across the boundaries of our own local neighbourhood into interstellar space. Onboard is a curriculum of life on this pale blue dot, as organised and agreed by Carl Sagan and NASA engineers. The idea being that if aliens were ever to come across Voyager they would be able, from all available clues, to plot where in the universe we humans float, transmit messages to us at just the right wavelength, and learn a little of our culture. For all the hope however, those NASA scientists never for one second expected some living form to discover our message in a bottle. And that as a metaphor, is what self-publishing on Amazon is – it’s like forty two years ago sending a rocket ship across the universe with a Chuck Berry song onboard and expecting an alien message back fifteen minutes later from Johnny Three Eyes in the Barnard 33 area of the south Alnitak region of Orion’s Belt, or as it is better known, the Horsehead Nebula saying ‘Hey, tanks for the music Carl, it be wobbly great.’

With hindsight and instead, you promise to read a couple of books – which on download, you find are longer than War and Peace and the Bible combined, in genre that just aren’t your gig at all. And you discover this; every self-published author is doing the same, climbing over each other on the ladder of hope one rung at a time, and presumably not reading the book either – because how can you, where is the time?

So you pretend. “Hi Samantha from Utah, I absolutely loved the part where the gooseberry eyed twelve breasted gumble weed from the planetary system NGC 7293, had writhing mucus-coated sex with six-mouthed, six-armed Captain David Wimslow-Smith of the spaceship ‘BJ’s4VER’. What imagination. Epic stuff”

Tomorrow I shall leave Paris for an annual sojourn to Spain, and I shall take these downloads with me and I shall promise myself and my new self-publishing author friends, in an orgy of self-flagellation, that I will read and review – but I suspect that may very well be a ‘tapas and rioja’ dependent commitment.

Sorry Samantha from Utah!

© Dominic Penhale | All Rights Reserved

Dashing to the finish line

Thursday will soon be upon me, and I shall embark upon a journey of a thousand suns into the deserts of the south, where life will be an ‘enfer’, flayed in the heat of our great orb in the sky, suffering it’s infernal punishment. I will be unable to write. Despatches will remain lost in the sands of time. But fear not my congregation, the wolf looks after its sheep.

I have therefore battled long and hard this past week to write advanced despatches from the trenches of Paris, that I can post daily in my absence – like Lawrence of Arabia, or The Desert Rats, I shall not fail ye.

I trust that this missive provides succour that this looming eclipse will not blot out the light of our days.

Your faithful servant,

Lord Fotheringay Cholmondeley Binary, Brigadier of the Seven Kingdoms and Wet Nurse to the Admiralty.

© Dominic Penhale | All Rights Reserved

Walking on the Moon

This past week has seen the 50th anniversary celebrations of the moon landings. I was just two years old, but I swear that I can remember them. I still have a clear picture in my mind – a smokey low lit room in a west London 1930’s semi, the home of my mother’s parents. In a chair to my right, my grandfather, ailing and sick, dying of cancer, to my left, a flickering black and white image on a TV and a sound I can barely make out.

I’ve questioned my mother about this, and she has no recollection. She neither disputes or confirms – it’s possible she thinks. At the time, we would regularly visit with my grandparents in London.

The thing that’s curious for me, is that this is not a recent memory. I’ve had this vision since I was at least six years old – just four years after the event took place. It’s not something invented in my thirties. But did it really happen, did I, as a two-year-old, lean out of my crib and watch the moon landings? I recall it exactly as such. And it’s never changed or evolved – it is the same ‘blue light bouncing ambient’ snapshot I’ve revisited for over forty six years – and it’s always the same.

Jack Water is the main character and narrator in my novel, and his mother died in childbirth, when he was just six, and he tries to delve deep into his memory and remember her. But he can’t, and he says this:

“I don’t remember my mother. I wish I could and sometimes I try to summon something that resides deep inside, but I can’t. I once read the words of a songwriter who said that when he one day found an old photo album in his parents closet, he realised that everything he thought he knew or had experienced as real memories, were in fact borrowed – second- and third-hand snapshots. And I know that this is how I remember my mother – vicariously, through the photos on my father’s mantelpiece and the anecdotes of my family. It’s a good thing some days, and I am happy that I don’t know the truth. These ephemeral things have become three-dimensional to me over the years. In the end, the smiling polaroids and cine movies became my happy truth.”

Excerpt From: Dominic Penhale. “Looking for Eden.”

It doesn’t answer my question of course; did I really watch the moon landing? Rather like my mother, it neither disputes or confirms. So I’ll go with my memory of it all and say that I did. In memory of my grandfather.

© Dominic Penhale | All Rights Reserved

Ooh la la, a lesbian you say.

Five months ago I became a vegetarian. I can hear your applause from here. Thank you. No worries, I did it for humanity, for the planet. It’s been a nightmare.

Becoming vegetarian in France is harder than announcing you’re gay I’ve discovered. If I had become gay here in Paris, I would have heard genuine rapturous ‘real-life’ applause. “Bravo old chap, chapeau” they would say. Offers of marriage would have been legion, metro stations named after me. Ooh la la, they would continue, Dominic has become gay, ooh la la. However, I didn’t tell people I had become gay, I said I was a vegetarian. That’s a whole different thing here. That’s a little like telling people that your second favourite past time involves hamsters and lubricants. That’s what I really did when I announced I was a vegetarian, I admitted that I felched with small furry rodents.

This was a monstrous surprise to me. I was well aware that if it moves, the French will eat it. The once famous but now almost extinct Ortolan Bunting – cooked whole and eaten in one crunchy gooey mouthful – nearly extinct don’t forget. If you wish to eat a calf’s head, eyeballs and cute little squidgy nose and all, well they have just the dish for you – Tete de Veau. So their penchant for protein is like my need for air.

But with this comes a violence of language that I have rarely endured before. “What fly bit you?” said one, “Are you ill, is it cancer?” enquired another. “There are no moral or ethical justifications, go home strange English man” say the rest. I kid you not. I have received abuse on an unimaginable scale. And to make it even more weird, I have two friends who have quietly admitted to me that they are also vegetarian. But not for ethical reasons, merely because they don’t like meat. They say, “I honestly don’t care if a baby cow has a bolt fired through its brain, I don’t give a merde.” So even the vegetarians don’t give a shit about the planet. There was a report earlier this year that 30% of all birds in France have disappeared this past fifteen years, but question the French on this, and they just tuck in a napkin, lick their lips and request another plucked passerine for breakfast, pass the sauce please.

And just this week, Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, was either ignored or mocked by an assembly of French ministers as she spoke of the perils to come. And those were just the ones who could be bothered to attend. Most boycotted the whole event on idealogical grounds.

A few years back, I was living in some far away land, and one evening, the local man that I lived with reminisced, that back in the 1970’s, he and his friends would drive in their 4 x 4’s up into the mountains, pitch their tents by the rich glacial streams, and spend the weekend hunting antelope. “Wonderful days,” he said, “the best of days”. He was almost in tears recounting this to me. And then, with this kind of crushed nostalgic, whimsical look on his face, he said, “You can’t do that anymore, sadly, they’re all dead now”. “No shit Sherlock” I replied, “You and your buddies bloody shot them all”. He looked stunned by my synopsis. He took an actual step back. Somehow he could not make the connection between his actions and the eventual despoiling of his local flora and fauna. And that, as far as I have worked out, is how the French think.

So, now when people say, “Hey Dominic, I hear you have some exciting news, do tell”, I tell them I’ve become a lesbian. “Ooh la la” they gush.

It seems to work.

© Dominic Penhale | All Rights Reserved

Death Wish

40° today. I’ve mentioned this before, sorry to repeat. 42° tomorrow. Yesterday I left the apartment, which presently looks like a segment from a police crime scene documentary – all the windows open, all curtains closed, at least one fan running in each room, people walking around in their underpants in a daze. It feels like a ‘meths’ lab for teetotallers. I was heading to the supermarket to buy my dinner. And I saw something I have never seen before in my life – it reminded me of the end of time.

Pigeons are to Paris what dog shit is to its pavements. If you were to head out for a pleasant amble and didn’t see dog shit everywhere, you would think you’d been rendered in some C.I.A. blacks ops scandal, and woken up in Singapore. There could be no other explanation. If you don’t see a thousand filthy legless limping pigeons stumbling around looking for anything to eat, then something is seriously amiss. On my dinner amble, I passed a half eaten baguette, resting in what I can only imagine in pigeon parlance, as a prime location. Not a crumb or two, but half a baguette stuffed with all things good and healthy. And there was not a pigeon to be seen. Anywhere. It looked as though it had lain there for hours. Please trawl through the recesses of your brain and try and recall a time when a soiled sandwich on a city street wasn’t immediately hoovered up.

Now, I’ve seen pigeons throw themselves under buses for a Dorito. I once watched two, in London, die quick, but squishy deaths chasing a peanut. I observed the confused look of their mother as she tried to make sense of her misshapen progeny. Before, seconds later, dying herself chasing the same nut.

It’s got to be some ‘hot’ for a pigeon to regard the meal of a lifetime, and go, ‘nah, I’m staying right here next to the a/c.’

© Dominic Penhale | All Rights Reserved