Wednesday, 31 August 2011


So I have a confession to make. The novel stalled fairly early on in the project, and never made it past the 10,000 word milestone. This disappoints me, but if you care at all I hope you'll forgive me in the context of the month I've had. I've been to a wonderful wedding on the Thames, a great birthday night out in Windsor and I have a beautiful new lady in my life, not to mention some other exciting news still to come - but that can wait for another day.

The whirlwind nature of the last few weeks really has left me a little adrift so you'll have to forgive me for not posting in the last couple of weeks, but there has been something that has caught my eye recently and is well worth a mention.

I live in the city of Norwich (official tag line - "A Fine City", my suggested alternative - "Rhymes with Porridge") and one of my favourite parts is the area known as Tombland. Despite rumours to the contrary, in this context, 'tomb' does not refer to ancient graves but is derived from a Scandinavian word for an open space, and thousands of years ago, the area was once a market square.

Just to the left of the picture above is a second-hand bookshop and I walk past it twice every day on my way to and from work. There are always a number of interesting books in the window, and roughly each week the stock seems to be switched around (or possibly purchased?) so there's something new to see. I am always keen to see what the window has in store.

The first cover that caught my eye was this one for a Pirelli Calendar book from years ago. The subject is German fashion model Nadja Auermann and this photograph attempts to capture her 'ice maiden' image.

I would love to say that it was frosty outside and the ice in this photograph juxtaposed neatly with the frosty city air and pearled dew on the leaves, but it would be a lie. Nonetheless, it's an incredibly memorable image.

Shortly after Nadja disappeared from her regular appearances on my morning walk, I was greeted instead with the gem below.

Bless John de Lombardo. Another image with German origins, this effort achieved the not-inconsiderable task of making me look forward to getting up and leaving the house early in the mornings.

Every day I wondered about this book. Should I buy it? I took advice on the subject from Facebook and Twitter. It would certainly make an interesting conversation piece on my non-existent coffee table. But would inquiring about the price just make me look like a cheap pervert? Suddenly I was twelve years old again and sneaking rudimentary glances at the Page 3 models in the Sun (though even then, I knew enough about the quality of the content to know that it wasn't worth paying 20p for.)

Sadly, before I could make a decision either way, Naked Gymnastics was swept away and replaced with one called:

Paleopathology of Danish skeletons - a comparative study of demography, disease and injury.

It's a far cry from the books that had been there before, but no less worthy of its place in the window. Since I first saw the title, I'm interested in knowing exactly how Danish people have died through the ages.

It's become another entry on the list of things that I will think about before I get to sleep tonight, and when I walk past tomorrow, I will wonder again about the specifics of Scandinavian diseases and how they could possibly be of interest to anyone else in Norwich.

I might buy it.

I'll also keep an eye out for the next thing that appears in that window. If it's half as interesting as the past ones I've seen, it might even get a future entry all of its own.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Novel Idea (3) - Dialogue

Apologies to those of you who read my regular updates but aren't really interested in my pet project - there has been plenty to talk about in the last few days and I should be getting back on track after this weekend. In the meantime, you might enjoy the following scene from the still-untitled novel...

@TajinderZahman is about to lose it all.

Taj whipped an arm round the post on the landing and flew down the stairs, taking them in two well-judged leaps. This would normally have taken him straight through the front door but unfortunately, Naani had been moving furniture in one of her regular shifts designed to keep the house layout fresh and deter her frequent visitors from getting too comfortable in any one position.

Instead of the door, Taj careened into an end table and vase which had been left improbably between the stairwell and doorway, most likely with the specific aim of preventing him from performing the exact manoeuvre that he had planned. The table fell straight across the doorway, preventing a speedy getaway. The vase, conical-shaped and made to resist rough treatment, rolled around, spilling chrysanthemums across the hallway and water towards the gap under the door. Taj watched it as it trickled away, his mind and muscles slowed by the impact. He thought of the wave that Josie had told him about earlier, saw the fear and inevitability that must have washed over the people in the countryside as they saw the wave approach...

“Tajinder Zahman! You are a crazy, clumsy son of a fool!” Naani stepped into the passage from the kitchen, a heavy marble rolling pin in her hands. Her apron was dusted with flour and she seemed briefly big enough to feel the corridor, rather than the skinny five-foot-nothing that she actually was.

When he hadn’t moved a few seconds later, she stepped over towards him, righted the table with a single movement and produced a cloth, which swiped away most of the surface water with a single, angry sweep.

“Well? Have you nothing to say, baalak boy? Your poor mother would have enjoyed your silence while you were growing up!”

The enormity of the situation was slowly filtering through Taj's mind, and as it touched each receptor on the way through, it left an ice-cold burn behind. He hardly even realised that the dangerously-soft voice he could hear was his own.
“Naani, we have to go.”

“Go? What are you talking about? This is nonsense, boy!” When his expression did not change, she then said, “I’ve just put some samosas into oil.”

Taj willed his muscles to force him forward but as usual, they were frozen solid in Naani’s presence. He couldn’t speak for shame, but his anguished expression told the old woman more than words ever could. She immediately dispensed with her mock-angry demeanour and instead looked him directly in the eyes.

“Taj,” she whispered, “what have you done?”

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A Novel Idea (2) - The Setting

The setting for the aforementioned novel...

@TajinderZahman is free in Nuevo London!

Nuevo London! Oh, sweet, sweet city of spice and sugar! Lead me through your scented alleyways, that I might find gold, or love, or adventure here tonight.

Nuevo London, cultural centre of a very new European jewel. Watch umbrella'd businessmen weave between raindrops on the steaming pathways through Nine Elms. Count the cobblestones between the olde English theatres in Earl's Court. Drink sweet mint tea and listen to the white boys jam in the Brompton Underworld.

Nuevo London, cheerful home of waving squat minarets and ceremonial juniper smoke that drifts over the churning River Thames. Stroll amongst the densely-layered cherry trees as the scores of oil-haired delivery workers lounge in the evening sunshine and drink their Indian mulberry wine. Stir pots of boiling crabs on rugged concrete street corners as the old Islamic men across the way chant at sun-up and sunset. Hear the assembled brethren as they kneel as one before the wall. Takbir! Takbir! Allhu Akbar!

Nuevo London, phoenix from the sodden ashes, home to half-a-million twinkling lights in homes, offices and boudoirs. See the cathedrals, the clubs, the spires that reach to the cloud line. Bathe in the architecture, then grab shatkora bhajis and guanaco steaks fresh from the pan and eat them with burned, greasy fingers as you ride the tram to the hashish bars in Lavender Hill.

Nuevo London, with its rows of climbing apple and pear souks where you can sample raisin couscous from the tagine. Grab handfuls of vivid pink peppercorns from wicker baskets below wires of blood-red chillis and fist-sized knots of indigo garlic. Watch the wary-eyed, knarled women kneading bread and threading beads on catgut string. Buy handmade silk scarves and saris of every colour of the rainbow.

Nuevo London, with girls from every corner of the globe and some yet unexplored, tall like string beans, squat and large-breasted. Study the chequered maps of their hued and pampered skins. Breathe them in as they sashay past you, bearing intoxicating perfumes, their laughter as precious as saffron and as untameable as the wildest of wild orchids.

Nuevo London, they sing in the starry sky above the glittering floating docks of Brotherhood Wharf. In the darkness between the sacred streams, the Eagles stamp their feet and watch you with unblinking eyes while the Squid give you cursory glances as they march to their jobs at the heads of the gambling tables. The air is scorching hot and any debauchery and depravity you wish to enjoy can be found here, the one place in The City where the humans do not rule and the Message does not go.

Smile, Tajinder Zahman. For this great, terrible, beautiful city is yours and yours alone.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A Novel Idea

As some of you may know or have figured from reading this, I seem to spend half my life behind a computer. I read a lot, I write a lot. Most importantly of all, I like to feel that I learn a lot. I'd even go as far as to say that those little lessons (lessons like 'Don't get blind drunk on a first date') have been invaluable to me over the years.

In addition to blogging with the impotent fury of a castrated mongoose, I also have a lost love: that of creative writing. So I'm very pleased that a new friend of mine has reawakened this love through National Write-a-Novel month.

The premise is simple. 50,000 words, 31 days. Do the maths, figure out how much time you already waste at work or with your partner, or asleep. Then reject all of those things for a crazy month-long attempt at writing a bestseller.

You should appreciate that with such time constraints, quality is bound to be low. With the excuses now out of the way, I hope you'll appreciate reading this snippet from the beginning of the book. The Message is a murderous social-network that's inside your head every minute of every day. When it's not hawking you crap, it's tracing your every thought and movement. Just be glad that it hasn't become sentient and killed you. Yet.

The snippet begins after the image of London at night below. (Photocredit to photographer Jason Hawkes).

Incidentally, I haven't got a title yet. Ideas would be appreciated.

The Message – Social Media for You in the Twenty-Third Century!

Save time on manual updates! The Message is the only twentyfourseven social media solution that updates itself constantly from the things you see, think and feel.

No need for unreliable, tedious net-terminals. Through the wonder of the world's most advanced bio-mechanical engineering, you'll see the important things you need to see in front of your very eyes when you need them the most.

Stock prices, news items, sports updates. See everything as it happens in real-time. View timetables, book tickets to films or the hippest restaurants. Control everything that happens to you from the space behind your eyes.

If you've been a victim of crime, The Message knows about it. Trust us to track down that bag-snatcher before he's left the scene and be there for your safety before that mugger has even raised his knife. We patrol every street corner so you never, ever have to fear.

Medical emergency? The Message knows that you're sick before you do, monitoring the tiniest changes to body chemistry on a molecular level and making sure that you are taken straight to a synthward for the very best care that we can offer.

Questionable sexual desires? Hell, we all have 'em! The Message doesn't judge you. Instead, it can direct you to a thousand others who share your desire to get funky with farmyard animals. Now get out there and socialise, you pervert!

With The Message on your side, you'll never be lied to again. Say sayonara to toadying lackeys, rip-off salesmen and errant spouses! The Message takes you straight to your local community so you never, ever need to be alone. Experience everything and put it out there so that you can share it with your net-family.

Whatever you want, whatever you're interested in, The Message is for you. What you feel is what you see – and what you see is what you feel.

The Message. By your side every minute of every day.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Model for a New Start

I've come to the conclusion that natural left-wingers, like myself, have reached their limit with the Labour Party. You may have read my previous treatise on a certain Mr Anthony Blair but the fact is that these suit-wearing sons of clergy and big business are no longer any more representative of the working man than I'm representative of Dutch clog-makers.

I also know people who would clearly fall within the remit of the traditional Tory voter who nonetheless baulk at the notion of supporting the good ship Camerlegg. We are all middle-class these days, and we know that it is no longer socially acceptable to sneer at people who we regard as being a step or two down the evolutionary scale. Furthermore, even if you're a worth a million pounds, you won't be buying a yacht or a house in Chelsea any time soon. It's no good having millions when the billionaires can soon price you out of any neighbourhood that they don't want your penny-pinching, hat-doffing type in.

What we have is a government of confusion and dissatisfaction, and we are not alone. In nations all across the world, the global debt crisis is seeing people move towards small-government, Conservative and nationalist agendas. In short, we are moving at speed towards the interests of those very people whose self-interested machinations started the crisis in the first place.

It seems that when it starts to get cold, sheep will choose to desert their lazy, careless shepherds and instead make their way to the warmth of the slaughterhouse. You only have to look across the pond to where US President Barack Obama has had to make a deal with the Tea Party Republicans that effectively sees the American economy driven over a cliff while Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich laugh maniacally from behind the wheel. So do you vote for the lunatics, or the people who have no choice but to pander to them?

Can it really be so hard to appeal to voters with a bit of common sense and some simple statistics to explain what you are doing in government and why? I wonder sometimes if our own civil service is not so used to spinning inconvenient truths that it has lost sight of what the purpose of government really is. People in the UK feel that there is no-one in government that supports the way they feel and even that government itself cannot be trusted. Private sector and public sector workers wrestle frantically with each other for crumbs while the faceless representatives of multinational corporations drink Cristal champagne and ignore them.

So what can we do?

I feel the time has come for a clean slate. We need to do away completely with the restrictive tags of Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat. All of us hold views on separate issues that fit across the political spectrum, and we are now faced with nightmarish concepts like Blue Labour, or Green Socialism, etc. It's time to pick some new names and write a manifesto for the laymen.

Modern politicians primarily come through a small select number of education establishments and this gives rise to a feeling among the rest of us that politicians do not understand their own constituents.

The particular kind of political 'inbreeding' that I alluded to earlier means that we tend to be led by a people from a narrow range of backgrounds and with an extremely limited exposure to a range of human experiences. It is time that our Lords were abolished and our Commons became truly representative. A representative government should include all minority groups, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual persuasion, and so on. Critically, it should contain a representative number of MPs from comprehensive school backgrounds and there should be also be a representative number of disabled MPs too.

Next, any MPs who were involved in the MPs expenses scandal should be debarred from Government. For example, our friend from yesterday, Oliver Letwin, claimed £2000 in Parliamentary expenses to repair a leaky pipe under his tennis court. The argument that this was allowable under the rules at the time completely misses the point. In order to be respected by those who elect it, a government has to strictly regulate its own behaviour. Only then will people believe that they can trust government to act in the best interests of the nation at large, and the public perception of a self-perpetuating 'old boys network' can then be quashed.

Donations to political parties should be strictly limited to small amounts (say £20,000 per year) and should all be declared publicly and published in the mainstream media. All parties with a seat in the House of Commons would be guaranteed a set number of hours of TV time for their election campaigns, and no more than this could be purchased. Transparency of political activity should become the accepted norm.

Taxation needs to be reviewed from the top down by government and corporation tax is ripe for an overhaul. It is disgusting that companies such as Barclays have been able to get away with paying the equivalent of 1% corporation tax on their vast profits. A pound earned in Britain should mean tax paid to Britain. The stated aim of reviewing taxation should be the reduction of inequality, with the need for redistribution of wealth above a certain limit, to be decided by the new Parliament.

Economic policy would look towards the creation of real economic growth through productivity and wage increases at the low end, and we should be looking to once again develop a production industry. We cannot cut interest rates any further as a means to stimulate borrowing, and this is inadvisable strategy anyway as it has led to the asset price bubbles that are partly responsible for the economic mess we are in. Neither can the ridiculous plans for austerity measures at this time be continued. Cutting spending and reducing taxes in the UK have done nothing to promote growth, and demand for products and services is lessening as a result. In the long-term, economic market sustainability with planned growth rather than the boom-bust effect is of course our goal.

Foreign policy would link to social policy with regard to the creation of sustainable energy as a massive priority, so the need to involve ourselves in foreign conflicts and our reliance on the likes of the US and Russia could be reduced. We would utilise our existing budgets and the money saved by reducing troop numbers stationed abroad to explore ways in which we could make genuine contributions to improving life in other parts of the world. We should aim to be involved in building and social development projects rather than simply lending out or giving vast sums to other countries.

Immigration policy also needs to be reviewed, with the aim of creation of a policy that reflects the value that immigrants bring to society rather than Daily Mail-induced hysteria. This is not a suggestion that the doors of the UK should be flung open to anyone who wishes to be here, but there should be honest, open debate where those who have genuine concerns about the integration of communities are allowed to have their say as well as representatives of ethnic minority groups themselves. This reduces the risk of the issue being hijacked by the 'us vs them' politics of the odious far-right movement.

Most importantly of all, government needs to be accountable to people and I suggest a reduction in the period between general elections to three years, with compulsory referendums on major national policy issues. There would be no more under-the-radar changes to the NHS.

Okay, there we go. I've had my say; now it's your turn.