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January 18, 2011

Draft Baby, Yeah

The Absolutely True to Life Undeniable Real Life Story of the First Diplomatic Address Between the Great Nation of China and the Underground Panda Executive.

It so happened that in his fourth year as a giant panda Tuan Tuan was elected ambassador for Pandakind after a somewhat lazily held meeting of the Underground Panda Executive. It was an unfortunate occurrence for him, because as a panda he had very little energy, and everyone knows that being a politician involves a lot of paperwork and scandalous behaviour. But Tuan Tuan was elected anyway, because of his handsome looks, luxuriant downy fur, and his ability to urinate on trees higher than any other panda, which is a very important attribute in any politician, but especially in panda ones. And so it was Tuan Tuan who was coerced into delivering a stern message from Pandakind to Man, and a diplomatic meeting was arranged with the Chairman of the People’s Republic forthwith.

This is the absolutely true to life undeniable real life story of the First Diplomatic Address Between the Great Nation of China and the Underground Panda Executive. I will attempt to be faithful to the way it was told to me, but you will forgive me if I embellish a little. So. Let’s put ourselves in Beijing, China.

Beijing from above looks like a shattered Christmas tree, thousands of lights looping and dancing in the smog-red night. When the sun rises across Beijing, it drags its yellowish burden of smutty cloud across dormant skyscrapers. Across the city street sellers scuttle out into the heady dawn, hobbled with wagons of sticky baozi in wicker baskets and scarlet reeking peaches. Cicadas stretch their spindly legs and begin their endless trilling, greeting the day before the raucous call of traffic can drown them out.

[Along Sanlitun the street lights dim and sputter into nothing, and the last of the drunks tumble irresolutely into the broiling heat of a Beijing summer. And in the West of the city, past the melancholy willows of the defunct Summer Palace, Beijing Zoo sweats in expectation of voyeuristic hordes.]

It was in the slick armpit of a Beijing summer’s day such as I have described that the meeting took place, and the boardroom was fetid with the hot breath of both panda and man alike. Outside, the Yangtse sang with fractured sunlight, speaking of cool water and the sweet breath of the mountains.

“Listen,” the panda said. “The other pandas and I have been talking, and we all agree that enough is enough. The Underground Panda Executive have voted and we unanimously decided to request that you desist with this conservation business.”

[The Zoo appears to be built on the site of an invisible vortex that inevitably sucks tourists and locals alike into the centre, where they are devoured by the Panda House. The crimson flush of paint on the faded artificial cave mouth makes the enclosure resemble a giant open wound.]

Tuan Tuan sniffed delicately and stripped a splint of bamboo with a graceful clawing gesture. The room was draped in silence for some time before the Chairman replied:

“Forgive me, sir, but I do not think it is a request which we can grant you. In fact, it is greatly within both our interests and your own that we do not. Why do you ask?”

[Tuan Tuan asks because it is festering with the teeming bodies of countless jabbering tourists of all persuasions. But it is still preferable to the home of the Ling Ling the Grizzly Bear, which is a large concrete pit surrounded by a high balcony from which children pour Fanta into her open mouth.]

“Because we have never requested conservation to begin with, Chairman, and because the Panda Nation as a whole has decided to call it quits. It is a miserable existence being a panda, and we decided a long time ago that it would be better to die with dignity than cling on in zoos or laboratories.” With this, Tuan raised his great head and stared at the stocky, boxlike man across the table.

[The rarity of the Giant Panda (or “cat-bear” as Tuan Tuan and his kind are known in their own country) has reached such legendary heights of repute that money haemorrhages from them, a fact which has been readily exploited by the Chinese government for the good of the Chinese people for many years. It means the pandas are very well treated.]

“Do you know” Tuan Tuan said heavily, a soft growl meandering around his pointed teeth, “how much bamboo I must eat every day to survive? Thirty pounds. Do you know how much energy I retain from all this bamboo? I have to avoid walking up any slopes in case I get tired! I have the digestive system and capabilities of a carnivore, yet I spend most of my time chewing on minimally nutritious sticks! I have to excrete forty times a day! Forty! My life,” snarled Tuan Tuan “is not worth living.”

[Chris Packham, naturalist, nature photographer, television presenter and author claims he would “eat the last panda if I could have all the money we have spent on panda conservation put back on the table for me to do more sensible things with.”]

“But you’re doing so well! There are more conservation programs underway for pandas than any other animal in the world. Honestly? I think you’re worrying about nothing. We recently analysed some of your droppings, and DNA coding sugg-”

“You analysed my what?”


“You rummaged through my excrement.”

“Yes… When you put it that way…”

“This is exactly the kind of thing I am objecting to. We don’t want you stealing our droppings, organising our love lives, and artificially inseminating our women. We really don’t enjoy sex.”

With this the Chairman snorted, unexpectedly spattering tendrils of brown saliva across the table.

[Outside the expensive Zhaolong hotel Zheng Wei deposits his maimed daughter so that her incandescent burns can attract the sympathy of rich and bloated tourists, and on the emerald banks of the Yangtse five businessmen sprawl in brash white trunks, hesitant toes flirting with the hungry river.]

I do not know,” said the panda doggedly, “If you are familiar with the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, but the Fourth Truth dictates that in order to achieve enlightenment it is necessary to sacrifice all cravings or insatiable desires. We pursue a strict program of spiritual renewal through abstinence. This continual pressure to procreate is absurd and rather indicative of some unhealthy fixation on your part. And I do wish you would stop feeding me Viagra. It is most uncomfortable.”

Once again there was a long and awkward silence, broken only by dust motes throwing themselves across the boardroom with helpless abandon, glimmering in the dreamy half-light, a small water cooler lolloping water through obscure internal systems, and the quick breaths of the elderly Chairman.

“You are doing wonderful things for your country, though.” The Chairman finally rasped. “Have you not heard of “panda diplomacy”? We gave two pandas to Taiwan quite recently.”

“Yes, you relocated them. You called them “Re” and “Unification”. Very subtle.”

“We thought so.”

The panda eyed the Chairman speculatively.

[He reflects that technically as a member of the ursine community it was within his rights to savage the man horribly. As a highly prized “stud panda” it is unlikely that there would be any substantial punishment.]

“And to think of all the money you make for the people of China! You must be proud,” continued the Chairman, stretching his wicker basket face into a broad smile. Tuan Tuan adjusts the suffocating suit that he wrangled on to attend the meeting, shredding it slightly in the process.

“Pandas are not interested in money. We are mostly interested in bamboo, avoiding sex, and euthanasia.”

A disagreeable frown shudders across the Chairman’s face.

[Military police straighten out and strut from the Forbidden City to Tiananmen Square and back again under the benignly winking eyes of six-dozen cameras and one giant portrait of the late and ever-modest Mao.]

“Look. The truth is-“


“The truth is, you’re too cute to die. Do you understand? We will inseminate the entire world with baby pandas if we have to, but you will not be allowed to die. Frankly, you’re the most adorable thing in China, and therefore you’ve become very important for public relations. Too important.”

Pandas do not sweat, but abruptly the thick soup of Beijing summer air seemed to clot on Tuan Tuan’s fur. From the soft sylphian shadows of the boardroom emerged two heavyset angels of the Republic.

[The most popular and famous of all the Zoo’s celebrities at that time were Tuan Tuan, the devastatingly charismatic Giant “stud” Panda, and his mate, Yingxin. The two exuded the effortless, insolent charm of intelligent performers dedicated to the intricacies of their art. They looked suspiciously like people in panda suits, and cost over $1,000,000 a year to hire from the People’s Republic.]

Clearly this is a shameless work of haphazardly diluted fiction, but I am going to argue that it can be termed under “creative non-fiction” because it is also my somewhat eclectic attempt at representing the exploitation of natural resources which is part of the expansion of all would-be expanding nations. I also attempted to tie in hints of current and past conflicts between large nations and smaller ones suffering under them. I feel I was a little too ambitious to further stretch this by reversing the usual situation (small nation begs for restoration to former glory) by having Pandakind beg for the unhindered extinction of pandas, but I suppose it could be argued that by achieving death pandas would then at least have found a kind of freedom from oppression. I also wanted to point out the hypocrisy of people who wish to support the (arguably unsalvageable) panda but are then unwilling to donate towards the survival of more ugly endangered species.

My personal interest and a further non-fiction element comes through in the setting, Beijing, because this is as true an account of what it is like to suffer through a summer there as I can recount from memory. If it comes across as a little harsh, I felt this was necessary to balance put the overwhelming twee-ness of a story about pandas. The name Zheng Wei is that of a real person, and Tuan Tuan is a real panda, although he is not currently residing in Bejing Zoo, but is in fact one of the pandas given to Taiwan (the other is called Yuan Yuan). All facts about pandas and their digestive systems are also true. Zheng Wei is actually a rather nice man who once bought me lunch, but the story of the disabled girl left in front of the hotel to beg every day is true, as is the story of the grizzly bear being fed Fanta from a balcony (I even have a picture). I appropriated his name to make sure the name used was appropriate.

Although what has emerged from this attempt is a little unwieldy at times I wanted to fracture the vivid and descriptive from the matter of fact dialogue to heighten the contrast between what is truth but has the elaborate language of fiction, and what resembles real reporting but is obviously a pack of lies. I tried to use pleasing words to describe even the banal or horrible aspects of Beijing because my real intention was to inflict on the reader a real sense of the contradiction of beauty and exploitation that really smacks you in the face when exploring Beijing, and the kind of declining beauty implied by the “reeking peaches” (reddish for China) and the white trunks of the businessmen (white is a mourning colour in Chinese culture and as such is generally avoided). I didn’t want to enforce my own interpretation by rubbing an obvious moral around in the mess of it, rather present the facts in a descriptive, vivid way and allow anyone reading it to draw their own conclusions.

January 17, 2011

Abort Abort

The result is winking at me through the pinkened narrow slitty eyes of the test window. It has a kind of conspiratorial malevolence, it is glaring with the slickened eyeball of Fate. You and I have a dirty little secret, it says. The pink lines are darkening to an inevitable, undeniable red.

I think of the iChing my father taught me as a child, the lines casting their own webs across the floral tabletop. I think of stealing his Tarot cards, and staring at the gothic eyeless Death card for hours until the skeleton transformed into white holes in a black cloth, consumed by the velvet dark. I imagine disappearing in the same way, by some trick of the eyes, until I am not longer a girl but a girl-shaped gap in the universe.

Umm so this is a fragment thing. I was thinking of turning it into a poem but I'm not sure how to break it up. I am supposed to be doing an essay. Erghhh.

I am so unmotivated. I was talking to a maths student yesterday and he somehow managed to make maths sound cool and edgy. I wish I were doing maths now. It seems to be full of terrifying unknowns and dangerous numbers and mystical coincidences (and I really love mystical coincidences). When I was at school it was mostly full of my maths teacher lounging on top of my desk asking me why I hadn't done the homework whilst we all tried to ignore that his fly was open. Those were the days.

December 12, 2010

Escaping For Christmas.

In order to excuse a certain amount of laxness in posting over the next few weeks, I'll just say now that mostly it will be because of Christmas, but I'll also be working on my non fiction assignment which I'm not really supposed to make visible to all and sundry. Not really sure what to do this assignment on yet, I find it highly likely that whatever I find interesting will inevitably bore the socks off anyone marking the damn thing. I am already referring to the project as "that damn thing" on a daily basis, which doesn't bode well for its completion.

Having spent some time puzzling over my feedback for the last assignment, I have worked out that the one bit which doesn't seem to make any sense only fails to do so because the photocopied version has chopped off the end of a sentence. Unfortunately the only bit which has been chopped off is the bit telling me what I would need to do to improve it? Mysteries are pretty fun. It seems such a small thing to bother Maureen with an email during the holidays for.

Other things I will be working on:

The fragment I thought of the post before last,

A short story about a deer,

Practising poetry in preparation for the poetry module, which I'm already terrified of,

Building up some healthy writing habits that don't involve obsessively posting blogs at 3am,

And eating my weight in sushi (just can't find a sushi bar in Coventry, I have a massive craving so if anyone knows of one, please post a comment).

That is all. Here's a fun picture of a magician:


December 07, 2010

The Last Spiderbaby

I had this idea for a "thing" whilst sitting in the Humanities corridor waiting for a seminar to begin. I'm going to get this down quick while it's fresh, but right now it's just a skeleton of an idea. No idea whether it'll make a poem or a story, probably a story. It wouldn't make a play.


Village at night- someone sneaks through dark streets- supplicant- wanders through graveyard- vivid description, heavy scent, expectant-enters church- no presence? Presence, but sleeping? god does not rise to meet- dead or sleep.- S/he rings the bell, steady tolling, louder and louder- Deafening, panic, bats and birds burst from rafters, disorientated and afraid- they stream out into the empty night- out over village people hear- they are half awake half sleep- they think in floods fire apocalypse gogmagog etc- they are disturbed, but they do not rise- they fall asleep again.

I think there's something in it. I know I resolved to post once a day to inspire ideas, and I did not post yesterday, but basically I was consumed by apathy and could not rouse a single thing. But I genuinely want to work on this, so perhaps mission completed? I am not going to touch Singing In Scarlet again, or Splot, because I have no confidence in them, or my ability to do them justice. Frankly, I'm not a poet right now. Swings and roundabouts.

I had climbed two flights of stairs to get to my room at Westwood today when something rather bizarre happened. I was about to open the door to get onto my corridor when Sam, my neighbour, cycled past. Yes, that's right, cycled. On a bicycle. It is 3.49 in the afternoon and he has a bicycle. He is currently riding it up and down the corridor. Everytime he reaches a corner, he rings the bell.

November 23, 2010

Petit Mal

The cold ache of hospital light has stripped all colour from the hyacinths in my shaking hands. Each quiver releases heady scent into the air, suffocating, sealing up my nose and mouth. But I can’t escape the dank, medical reek that coats her skin. She is so small, the soft folds of her skin have ebbed into nothing and we can already see the skeleton inside rising up to take possession. How lovely your bones are, grandma. We are arranged in triptych around you, we carry false hope, hyacinths and cards. The bed is raised high above the tacky floors and crackles with starch as we sit. A low, omnipresent hum throngs the corridors, as if some huge bell has sounded. The harsh light bleaches us as white as the walls, everything is inescapably white, except the gentle yellow crepe of her skin, shrouded in hospital blue, the birdlike hands that sweep up and say hello. The room is filled with doppelganger women, the place is a charnel house of the abandoned elderly who lie and silently watch. I can taste the bitter machine coffee on my breath and I hope my kisses are not sour.

Danse Macabre

Day Of The Dead Revellers (Inspiration)

Let me tell you a story about three young men. Thomas, the irrepressible dandy, Nicolas, the irresponsible rake, and Ramon, who was merely irresolute and who was forever changing his mind, as Thomas changed his clothes, and Nicolas changed his women.

Now, it was a soupy evening in the slack end of spring, and Thomas, Nicolas and Ramon were lurching inexorably from the rank den of the pub towards some party. Thomas was inspecting his soiled shirtsleeves in the stark yellowing streetlights. They were dank with the beery sweat of pint glasses and had woefully abandoned their original pristine white. Sullen and uncharacteristically silent, Nicolas nursed the livid scarlet smart of a slapped cheek- the price of having numerous interchangeable lovers who inconveniently patronise the same pubs. Finally, Ramon was muttering dreamily to himself, for he was uncertain whether he should attend the party at all or whether it might not be better perhaps to go home and blog interminably about his own indecisiveness. It was raining.

Suddenly, three skeletons appeared, resurrected in a puff of deliquescent smoke. Each was caked in corpse slime and their moist, glutinous remains gleamed with a strange, macabre incandescence. Their delicate bones were luxuriantly draped in fetid rags, indistinguishable from the rotting flesh and sinews that still clenched their cadavers together.

The boys were quite astonished and stopped in their tracks.

“You!” proclaimed the skeletons in hollow, resounding voices, each raising a reeking digit to point at the young men with deathless grins. “You are, what we were.” They hissed, “What we are, you will be!” With this the skeletons cackled gleefully and danced back into the ether, unearthly echoes reverberating about the boys’ ears.

For some time the boys stood frozen with unimaginable terror. Eventually Thomas found himself able to speak:

“Did you see his hat?” The others shook their heads mutely. “Quite horrid, I should say. Absolutely passé.” And Thomas shook the rain off his hat and continued on his way to the party.

There was a long pause before Nicolas offered “That one in the middle though, the girl” (he play-acted worldly rumination) “You could tell she was pretty once… Nice figure, not too fat” With this he flashed an echo of his inexorable sexy smile, stuck his hands in his pockets, and sauntered off to the party.

Ramon remained silent and alone in the street for some time. “I don’t know, though,” he said, to an empty sky. He scuffed his shoes in the dirt. “I’m going home”. And he strode away into the embracing dark.

Day Of The Dead Graveside Vigil (Inspiration)

Exercise in Eavesdropping

The first assignment in Modes Of Writing was to eavesdrop on a conversation. Of course I became utterly carried away, spent an entire week behaving like a top secret government spy, occasionally even wore dark glasses (despite the fact that it was a rather miserable October) and came up with this, which is hideously long. Should probably learn to exercise some self control and also fashion sense. Dark glasses in winter belong to the creepy and the clinically blind; I am neither. Anyway, here it is:

I am somehow trapped on the top floor of a crowded bus to Coventry, my neighbour sat just a little too close, and the dank warmth of his thigh against my knee has me in an intense limpet-like relationship with the window. It is Sunday, and the decision to meet a friend at this time, and in this fashion, is already incomprehensible to me only two hours after I have made it.

The bus seems to be increasing in temperature and decreasing in size. I am sitting in everyone’s lap. The ghoulish man with the nicotine beard next to me seems to be engaging in abusive scent warfare, and condensation is smeared down my cheek. Today I am a tiredly wrinkled weasel of a girl in an overly large jumper, and suffering for it.

(Two stops ago I noticed he was breathing through his mouth and I have not been able to forget it; even as I reflect that it is October, and he probably has a cold. In fact, he does have a cold, as I will ruefully consider two days later whilst snuffling forcefully into a handkerchief.)

Just ahead and across of me, two affectedly pretty girls are distinctly audible to everyone on the top floor, despite the hornet buzz of morning traffic, and I concentrate only on them. They appear slim despite a liberal coating of layers, but the unexpected heat of the bus has baked them slick with dirty perspiration. Ambitious patches of moisture creep intimately from their armpits to sprawl about their upper torsos, and the two girls seep the quiet desperation of the self-consciously sweaty. One of them, a small and moleish brunette, is surreptitiously trying to smell herself. The larger, a dusky blonde, drawls in a light Trans-Atlantic coo and stares absently out of the window.

“Well, yeah, I mean, I was like thinking of trying out, you know? But then I was like, so tired the night before and I just slept like all day” The blonde turns from the window to roll her eyes wildly and puckers her tiny lips in an expression of self reproach. The Mole is nodding eagerly, wisely, and incanting “Yeah, yeah, yeah” in a fit of sympathy. Her ponytail bounces pertly as if expressing its own dumb, parallel enthusiasm.

“And then I was talking to the captain the other day, and she was like nobody turned up anyway, she didn’t find anyone she thought was good enough, and they’re gonna holdasecondtryoutsessionanyway.” The last of this sentence is expelled in a flurry of glamorous hand movements. A series of bangles chime sweetly about her bony wrists.

The small brunette is still wisely nodding and now counters with a staccato burst of “Mm-mm-mm” accompanied by more nodding. She opens her mouth to say further, a moist o of lipgloss hanging in her downy face, but then seems to think better of it. A silence descends on the two as she self-chastises. The blonde patiently waits as a boy further down the bus chortles in an abrasive, braying manner. I wriggle around to stare but he has already fallen silent; I cannot tell who it is. I lose several minutes of conversation in my effort to do this without climbing into my neighbour’s lap. When I rejoin the girls’ conversation it seems to have changed drastically and I wonder what vital explanation I missed. The would-be sportswoman is talking again:

“…with a bag full of nails, like, sticking out of it”.

This is perplexing enough; but then Mole inexplicably lets out a keening wail of “Aaawwwwwwuh...!” appropriate to the appearance of a sister’s newborn baby or the witnessing of several kittens falling out of a box. It is the sound a certain kind of girl makes when she sees an otter in booties. I am bewildered and a little frightened. The blonde follows this cryptic statement with another garbled hilarity, the only words of which I can decipher seem to be “knives”, “toga” and “kinda gross”.

“Oh my Go-d” sighs the Mole. She is jealous, and wears her envy on her sleeve where it chimes in harmony with the bangles of her friend. She does not have the accent, although I begin to sense that she is acquiring it through osmosis. She is small and sleek and velveteen, and rather sweet. She begins to say: “Do you think that-“ when the blonde nudges her violently in the ribs. “Urk” A brief, intense whisper-fit comes upon them both, and I notice the sportswoman shoot me a hostile look- busted.

I try and look small and whimsical rather than intense and creepy, shifting a little in the hope that the panda on my jumper will prevent some kind of confrontation involving adorable bags of nails. The Mole looks doubtful; the two stand up. I unnecessarily make a sound somewhat like “Squee”.

Happily, this actually is their stop, and I watch them stalk off, jeans squeaking tightly in the humid air. Next to me, the flu-ridden nicotine addicts shifts away to other seats and I relax in the euphoria of unexpected blessings.

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