Electricity is a Podcasted Novel by Myke Bartlett, author of "How to Disappear Completely." A new chapter appears every Tuesday.
Myke Bartlett is an author who has lived in a variety of places but calls Melbourne home for now.
April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 October 2007 December 2007 September 2008 June 2009
Electricity: a podcasted novel by myke bartlett
Aston Somerfield, casual smoker and part-time alcoholic, has come to London to find himself. He knows who he's looking for, he's seen him on the cover of the NME. Drawn across oceans by fame and fate, Aston is keeping his diary empty to make sure he's available. Won't commit to anything until it's everything.
London, however, has other ideas.
When a virtual stranger calls Aston a few hours before his death, fate catches up with him, derailing his barely-made plans. Amid a hundred boozy evenings and romantic deadends, a mystery unfurls.
Equally assisted and hindered by tremulous accountant Tom Hensley and dedicated loafer Steven Black, Aston uncovers a different London, one of murder, ghosts, dangerous emails and the second big bang.
As chaotic and random as the city it inhabits, Electricity gradually evolves into a mystery bigger than the universe itself. Being of a somewhat useless persuasion, Aston does his best to ignore it.
E N T R I E S
Monday, July 16, 2007
Missing Chapter 2: Family Eccentricities
Electricity is going to skip a week I'm afraid, due to some sudden appalling circumstances here, but will return this coming weekend with Chapter 6. In the meantime, here's another missing chapter, cut from Episode 5. As with the last excised chapter, I ultimately felt this section - although containing the sole glimpse of Aston's family - slowed the book down. It's also a little too reminiscent of scenes with Uncle Monty from Withnail & I, which wasn't wholly intentional. Call it an homage, perhaps... That said, more than anything Aston's uncle is a tribute to my own, utterly wonderful grandfather. (Although he has been happily married for the last 60 years...)
On a Friday I took Steven to meet the great——uncle I barely knew. Dinner was at a one-up one-down in Hammersmith, the wrong side of the bridge, doused in sherry, supplemented with ale and finished off with four large glasses of gin. My uncle was a portly gent of 70, with a neckerchief, leather waistcoat, a thick white beard, miswired eyebrows and blue eyes that reminded me of faded versions of my own. His knuckles were speckled with liverspots and paint. He greeted us both with a handshake and a hug and made me think for the first time in months of the father I never knew. Perhaps it was the musk he wore. Steven flinched under the hug but this was less to do with discomfort than fear. He had neither washed nor changed his clothes since arriving in London. I was learning to stay downwind.
My uncle’s voice was loud and his gestures expansive, which contrasted sharply with the cramped and crowded confines in which he lived. The wooden floors of the hall were piled with books and grouted with dust, the walls were covered in framed photographs – WWII fighter jets, sepia portraits of his mother, a couple in Victorian garb hand in hand on the Brighton shingles – and several paintings of naked women I took to be his own work.
————Ah, my wifelets! he exclaimed. ————I never married, as you probably know. Or perhaps not, I gather it isn’t talked about much. I’m rather the black sheep, I’m afraid. Your grandfather was always terribly kind to me though. I do miss him, it saddens me still that he’s gone.
Steven, disinterested in my family history, returned the conversation to the nudes.
————Ah yes. Wonderful ladies, all of them. I’m still in touch with most of them though several have married elsewhere. I don’t think you should ever forget anyone, nor try to. The portraits are better memories than a photograph. Better than the wifelets themselves, if I’m honest. To never wither nor decay… There’s something so flat and lifeless about a photograph, don’t you think? It’s such an empty impression.
I opened my mouth but before I could make use of it, my uncle’s hand went suddenly to his mouth.
————Good lord, I just remembered. I should have asked when I called. I don’t suppose either of you are vegetarians?
————Actually, I am, I admitted, working an apology.
My uncle eyed Steven.
————I’ll eat anything, Steven smiled.
————Anything, good. Thank god for that. I always forget that people still eat meat. I haven’t touched it myself since I was a child. It seems such a beastly thing to do. Like anything, I suppose, when you stop it seems absurd that anyone does it at all. Although I must admit, I am still partial to a mushy-fish pie.
He turned away, casting a hand towards the doorway to our left.
————Make yourselves at home in the lounge. I’ll just check the oven.
Steven and I found our way into the lounge, teeming with antiques, leather bound volumes and general eclectica, and sank into a carpet lounge that was redolent of fine tobacco. A rich rummish scent, rather than the stale tainted tang of a smoker returning from a coffee break. In the corner an easel was set up among small tins caked with paint.
————It’s possible he’s slightly eccentric, I explained in a whisper.
————I wouldn’t worry about it mate, I’d say you were from good stock. But I missed his name.
————You didn’t. I don’t know it. I only met him once and that was at a funeral. I was distracted. I think I’ll just call him Uncle.
————I think I’ll just call him Sir.
My uncle came in with a bottle of sherry under his arm and three glasses clasped between his fingers. He sat in the armchair across from us and poured generous servings.
————Aston, dear boy. Tell me. What brings you to London? You should be sunning yourself on some beach somewhere surely?
This was a question I was finding increasingly difficult to answer. I no longer considered myself an actor, which ruled out the explanation of following a career across continents. There was only fate, unclear and ill-explainable; a vague niggling sensation of destiny upon these shores. I opened my mouth but was spared an explanation.
————You came for the adventure, of course, and why not? You’re at the age for adventures. You should be chasing women and swilling absinthe, making love to delicate beauties in Paris sidestreets. Not having dinner with an elderly relative you don’t know from Adam. And you Steven?
————Sir, how formal. How wonderful. You’re a public school boy, I take it. What brings you to London? Did you embark on this adventure together?
————Yes, we did. Although I think we’re better friends now than we were then.
This admission of friendship touched me in a way I wasn’t sure I understood. My uncle grinned.
————I should say so too. It all sounds like a jolly romp. Are you working?
————You have a trade?
————I trained as a computer programmer.
My uncle sat forward in his seat to snatch back our glasses. He returned them immediately, brimming with more sherry. I considered feeling slighted that he seemed more interested in Steven than his own kin but was enjoying myself too much to consider further.
My uncle continued, hitting a familiar conversational patch:
————A woman I know comes around sometimes and tries to persuade me to purchase a computer. Tells me of the wonders of email and the world wide web. Says it makes it far easier to keep in touch. Alas, most of the people I wish to keep in touch with can no longer be contacted by such means. As one grows older one finds one’s circle ever diminishes and one no longer has the desire to replenish it. People my age are too interested in their gardens or their televisions to maintain one’s interest in the supermarket. And tennis, god save me from tennis. But computers, you like them do you?
————Well, they’re certainly revolutionised——
Steven was abruptly silenced. He was surprised enough for sherry to splash onto the back of his hand.
————I must say I find all this interest in technology terribly dull, not to mention pointless. As if technology is going to matter a jot in twenty, fifty years time. I should think computers will be supremely unhelpful when we’re back in our caves and log cabins. That’s the future, if you ask me, banging two rocks together in order to get a few sodden sticks alight to keep warm. Petrochemicals, you see. The lie at the heart of our technology. Plastics, electricity, medicines, all based on petrochemicals. No more petrol, no more technology. It’ll be back to the caves and the castles.
Steven appeared chastened. My uncle seemed to sense this and grinned broadly as if to reassure.
————That’s… an interesting viewpoint, Steven compromised.
————It’s not a viewpoint, it’s… dear god! The vegetables!
And he was gone again. Steven downed his sherry and poured himself another. For a moment he said nothing and I wondered if he was offended. Interrogations, death and the apocalypse and we hadn’t even reached the starters. Momentarily he smiled.
————Mate, you uncle is a fantastic old gent. Completely mad, obviously.
————I had no idea. But let’s make the most of the booze.
And I reached for the sherry.
It was strange bringing Steven into my family and hoping one would approve of the other. I put my silent smiles down to nervousness. The uncomfortable admission of affection. Clearly this was ridiculous, I had no designs on Steven’s hand – or any other portion for that matter – but it had been an aeon since I had met and cared for any family. Steven felt enough of an extension of myself – an additional threatening portal of facts and thoughts I might rather keep silent – to have me worried. I had a habit of saying too much in uncertain situations and silences. To maintain a conversation I often angered myself by saying exactly that I had intended to keep to myself. Now it concerned me Steven might share this inconcise and indiscrete disorder.
As it was, we were on to the mains and two ales down before the conversation approached me.
My uncle, wiping ale from his whiskers with the back of his wrist, abandoned a monologue on the savagery of the Scots to turn his grey eyes upon me. Their watery focus surprised enough for a carrot to slip from my fork. I made an effort to recover it.
————Tell me Aston, what do you think of England?
I tried to think of interesting response to this question. The honest streak of eccentricity displayed by my kin seemed to demand it.
————I like it. I mean, it’s decaying, but the decay is so much more interesting than anything we have at home. I think I prefer things a little, less… pristine.
————I thought Australia was beautiful when I was there for your grandfather’s funeral. Beautiful, beautiful. Terribly dull, obviously. You like a bit of grime then do you?
————It’s not the grime so much, although yes, yes I do. It’s the history of the place, especially London. These past glories around every corner, I love that. It makes you realise what’s been possible, what could be possible again.
————Yes, but your observation of decay is too accurate I fear. We are country that no longer knows what we are, full of history and strangers. Like a theme park, as sad as a seaside curiosity. Are we an old country or a new country? It troubles me to think the answer is neither.
He said this while lounging back in his chair, a glass of ale drawn to his breast and a napkin in his lap. It felt less like a spontaneous outburst than a recital of well-trodden themes. It occurred to me that these were thoughts he rarely had an opportunity to share. I resolved to visit as often as possible. My uncle took a toothpick from the eggcup in the centre of the table and began working his incisors.
————But you will stay? he asked.
————In London? I hope so. I can’t see myself going home anytime soon.
————I’m glad to hear it. Dare I raise the subject of a career?
Steven put his ale down on the tablecloth, hiccuping slightly. He had finished a mouthful in haste to interject.
————Aston’s going to be a rock star, he grinned, keen to share the joke.
My uncle was happy to indulge.
————Is he indeed? What instrument do you play?
————Oh, ah. I don’t really. In fact, I’m not sure I’m musical at all. But I wasn’t sure if that would be an impediment. I was thinking more of just, ah, standing in front of some musicians and waving my arms around.
The company were kind enough to treat this as a continuation of the joke. I hoped this would be an end to the matter. Steven returned to his ale, my uncle worked his toothpick again in consideration. His gaze stayed with me.
————A rock star, he said at length. ————I think you should do something more useful Aston, like saving the world.
————Well, I was hoping to do that too.
Steven laughed but the other side of the table remained silent.
————You don’t think the world needs saving? It’s your generation that’s going to have to do it. Ordinary, intelligent people like you. My generation, and that below it, are too interested in making money to do anything helpful. You’ll have to make the changes, make the sacrifices, before this planet turns into a dustbowl. Have you ever heard of the tipping point?
I hadn’t. Steven put his glass down again.
I was relieved to have the attention shift from me and for an opportunity to return to silent drinking.
Steven cleared his throat.
————It’s the point when the Earth heats to such an extent that global warming becomes irreversible. I read about it in New Scientist.
My uncle was delighted.
————Absolutely right. When we pass the tipping point, our course is set. The rainforests will dry up and ignite, the icecaps will melt, never to refreeze and finally the warm oceans will release enough methane to render the planet uninhabitable. Not within my lifetime, thank God, but certainly within yours.
Neither Steven nor I had anything to add. My uncle sat back in his seat.
————Stopping that would be a worthwhile career, wouldn’t you say?
In the face of such sincerity, I found myself gripped by the urge for flippancy.
————Well, that’s the apocalypse over with and we still haven’t seen dessert.
My uncle’s face froze and he was instantaneously upon his feet.
————Dear god, the pudding!
When we left it was later than any of us could have intended and I was slurring my farewells. Steven rested against the doorframe to remain upright. His lazy grin was lazier than ever, sitting comfortably in his cheeks and not going anywhere. Hours had passed in boozy conversation and I was as reluctant to leave as I was to miss the last train to Battersea. I was pleased to have met a member of my family whose views might soon be my own and whose appetite for drink tallied with mine. A goodbye, one-armed hug nearly dislocated my shoulder. I promised to return the next week. I meant it, even if the promise expired fruitlessly.
A man in an orange vest was closing the station as we arrived. We asked him the way to Battersea but he merely shook his head at two ridiculous drunks. I studied the poster of a now sleeping bus route and decided to walk left, thinking this might take us towards Earls’ Court. It began to rain quite heavily. Neither of us were sober enough to care.
I opened the umbrella and we swayed along beneath it, the pavements shiny beneath our boots. Steven rolled cigarettes while I clasped the cane handle.
————Thank god we brought the umbrella, I said, as the downpour solidified.
————Mate, we didn’t bring an umbrella.
I blinked. He was right, I didn’t own an umbrella.
————Shit, we must have stolen it. I wonder where from.
————To be honest mate, I doubt anyone would begrudge us. It’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re drunk.
————You’re quite right.
And we walked home through the rain.
Walking through Battersea Park some hours later, I thought I saw Daniel between the white rod of Chelsea Bridge. It was no longer raining but water fell in heavy droplets from the leaves and lights that lined the riverwall. I elbowed Steven in the shoulder.
————Do you see him?
————Daniel. On the bridge.
————To be honest mate, I’m having trouble even seeing the bridge.
And then I wasn’t sure I could see anyone. And then I was sure I could see no——one. And then I just wanted to be asleep and warm.
Labels: bonus chapter
:: posted by Myke Bartlett, 4:42 PM
Good to hear from you, sorry to hear there are appalling circumstances, thanks for the new chapter.
Thanks Gail, much appreciated!
Hope you like the new chapter and glad you're still enjoying Electricity!
I'll just echo what Gail said :D.
Sorry to pollute your comments, but is Missing Chapter #1 available? Probably right in front of my nose...
I actually took it down as I find it quite uncomfortable. The tone is quite out of place in the context of the rest of the novel. However, I've put it back up now (for a while at least) here http://strangematter.blogspot.com/2007/06/missing-chapter-1-holiday-romance.html
'Electricity' is Copyright © Myke Bartlett 2004/2007