25 Aug

Announcing the winner of my recycling

The world’s greatest short story competition came to a close at the start of this month, and after a long judging process that has mainly involved going to work, doing lots of washing up and having a cold, I have chosen a winner.

It was a difficult decision: the field was very strong, and the fact that I had the minimum number of entries required to hold a competition meant that there was less opportunity for a stand-out entry to take the prize.

The winner is Paul Kilbey’s story about H from steps drinking a lot of gin. I would justify my decision, but I don’t think the absurdity of Paul’s story can be expressed by anything other than the story itself. I am a little worried about him.

You can read more evidence of Paul’s loose grip on reality at Pleasure Notes/Pure Seal Tones. He also does sensible writing about music and things but I don’t understand that quite as much.

Paul wins one of my used index cards every month for a year, starting in September.

25 Aug

Competition entry: Paul Kilbey

H from Steps was alone at last. Being fun-loving is exhausting, he mused to himself, as he stubbed out his cigarette and reclined into a bean bag. His friends never seemed to understand that “H” didn’t really stand for “Hyperactive,” as he used to tell journalists for a laugh, but for “Hushed,” “Heartbroken,” “Hurt.” Yes, that’s right, he mumbled, reaching for the gin. My friends don’t understand my pain. Maybe I should have called myself “P,” for “Pained” and “Pathetic.” How different, he thought, my life would be, if I had been P not H.

For starters, he’d never have got recruited for Steps if his name had been a homonym of an excretory function. There was just no way. So I’d probably just have stayed put at Butlins, where I used to work, he thought to himself, the cold glass rim of the gin bottle pressed between his lips like a delicious glass penis filled with gin, he thought to himself. And then what would have happened? I’d have spent my whole life smiling at wankers, telling them which way to the beach or whatever, and they’ve have been like, “Thanks.”

And another thing, right, if I’d been “P,” he realised, as he tilted up his arm slowly and watched the slim trickle of remaining gin creep gently up the bottle and felt an expectant rush within his lips, I’d have got the shit kicked out of me at high school. And he realised as well that if he’d said to his bullies “No but guys, it’s cos I’m pained and pathetic,” that would have just made it worse. It would, in fact, have made him deserve it somewhat. There really would have been no escape from a young-adulthood of pain, opprobrium and obloquy. He would perhaps have had to change his name.

But at least, he wondered, the final drip of gin at last reaching his throat with a sweet burning tang like the first touch of a poisoned mushroom in the heavy August rain in Kent, I would have been spared this tortured life of semi-famous hell, in which my friends assume I love to dance and sing and laugh. I don’t! he mentally exclaimed, suddenly aware again of the empty gin bottle protruding vertically from his mouth, his anger only intensified by its tyrannous right-angled precision; I don’t at all!

Those bastards! he exclaimed out loud, deciding in a flash to hurl the bottle at the chic neo-modernist plain white wall to his right, as if within this empty bottle were contained the spirits of all his many enemies and everything his life had come to stand for; they take and they never give! And the thought: I have gone too far, flashed immediately through his mind as the bottle went from being bottle to being numerous inadequate bottles with no plausible reservoir section, because it smashed against the wall, because actually my friends do care for me. Perhaps they are just trying to cheer me up, when they force me to smoke loads of drugs and party.

But that’s not who I am, he resolved, wearily pressing his arms down into the bean bag in a mediocre effort to stand up, much like a newborn foal, he mused, unsure of how to use its limbs but dimly conscious that if it didn’t then life was going to be pretty rubbish and wet: I’m an artist. And I will write a story. That is how I will channel my feelings. Into a story.

It shall not be a story about me, H from Steps decided, resting half-way to the vertical on one knee and simultaneously scouting for a pen but seeing only broken glass around him, like an over-eager vulture surveying a normal picnic; then he found one; but it shall be about someone whom I am not; some stranger; some… P. He pulled himself into a standing position with a heave reminiscent of how an unfit man would pull himself into a standing position at some other point in time, and sat down again, with a pen.

25 Aug

Competition entry: Boiled Egg for Breakfast by Frederick Forsyth, by Chris Taylor

He replaced the spoon on the plate. Most people think that spoons should be made of silver, but they are wrong. Silver is a relatively soft metal, expensive, and tarnishes in the presence of atmospheric sulphides. Jacobs’ spoon was stainless steel: cheaper, harder and infinitely more versatile. It had already been used on the egg that stood before him, supported by its specially designed ceramic container. The steel edge of the spoon had fractured the shell exposing the layers below.

Just below the outer case of an egg is a layer of albumen. This is normally a transparent liquid but, when subjected to temperatures in excess of 60C, its protein is denatured and it becomes a white, plastic solid. This egg had been immersed in water at 100C for more than 3.5 minutes. An area of albumen had been lifted clear, using the same stainless steel implement, to reveal a yellow layer beneath. This inner layer, insulated by the albumen, still retained its fluidity, though this was not apparent to the casual observer, being masked by an invisible membrane.

Bread, particularly the white sliced variety, has little mechanical strength, especially if the outer edge has been removed. Jacobs knew though, that when bread is subjected to high temperatures for the right length of time, the processes of dehydration and partial carbonisation produce a hard, textured surface. He had several such pieces of bread before him now, each one precisely cut to be just narrower than the removed area of albumen.

He selected one, and applied a thin layer of congealed milk solid, known as butter. He took care over this, working quickly so that the surface of the bread did not soften. There are those who frown on the use of butter, believing that its long term use can damage the cardiovascular system. Jacobs had no time for such concerns. His life held danger enough without worrying about minuscule risks.

He paused only to sprinkle a few milligrams of crystalline sodium chloride on to the target area before plunging his bread into the central part of the egg. The flimsy membrane was no match for the thermally hardened bread and there was barely any resistance. After precisely 2 seconds, Jacobs extracted the bread, its newly acquired yellow coating blending with the melted butter. Perfect.