The Wrong Writer.

As you are no doubt aware I have a very high-powered, high pressured job where every decision I make can mean life and death. I also am sometimes called upon to save a damsel in distress when the printer malfunctions. 

To alleviate this pressure my boss gives us a monthly task. For February 2014 we had to design our own superhero (based on ourselves) and provide a costume, power and nemesis for said hero. I, of course, took this too far and what follows is the short story I submitted along with my entry. I didn’t even win. 

Rather than being a sore loser I have instead decided to share that story with you. 

 

The Wrong Writer: Once Upon A Nemesis (an extract)

From his vantage point at the top of the Whispering Gallery he could make out the meeting perfectly. One hundred feet beneath him two figures in matching black jackets, their collars popped up against a wind that simply wasn’t there made pretend that their proximity was purely coincidental. He of course knew otherwise. If there was one thing he was sure of, it was that the briefcase being shifted along the floor with the innocent-looking twist of a foot did not contain office work or carpet samples. There were thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds in crisp, untraceable notes in there and he still didn’t know exactly what was being purchased. He was operating on a hunch.

His mind fleetingly headed back to the thought of his own in-tray, his own paperwork which would need completing. The issue with hosting dual personalities in a single body is that it was impossible to remain entirely inside one of the two heads. There were always pressing issues from the other side. As Paul Schiernecker, the mild mannered clerk he was often at the beck and call of his handsome, charming and suited boss. He was gifted when it came to the written word and harboured aspirations of one day writing a great novel.

As the Wrong Writer however he was the protector of whatever innocence he could find in the dinge and dirt of twenty-first century London town. Following the death of a friend he had decided to subscribe to the Mahatma Gandhi quote; “be the change you wish to see in the world”. From this realisation, this moment of clarity, he knew he had the right the wrongs he saw all around him. Sometimes these were superficial, like tripping up the middle-aged man in the poorly cut suit who had not held the train doors for the struggling mother with the pushchair. Sometimes they were much more involved, and much more dangerous. He was sure he would count this as the latter.

The Wrong Writer blinked focus back into his eyes and noted that the meeting was coming to an end. The two men had stood and were on their way out. The caped crusader adjusted the ivy green eye mask to rest correctly on the high points of his cheekbones and then took off, his cape fluttering behind him.

While the gallery had served as an excellent observation point, he realised he was two-hundred and seventy one steps away from being able to apprehend either of them, two-hundred and seventy one steps away from being able to stop the money from disappearing off into the seedy underbelly of his city.

By the time he reached the bottom of the spiral staircase the two men were gone, the only point of reference still held being the slamming of the door at the far end of the room behind the font. The Wrong Writer ran the length of the room showing little regard for his own safety and the possibility he was heading into a trap.

He pulled the door open and winced against the February night as a gale hounded in. It explained why the meeting men had kept their collars up to meet their sideburns. He took off at pace down the steps outside the cathedral, keeping his eyes out for any sight of a man walking away, probably at pace with a briefcase at his side.

Of course he was in central London, a place where if you aren’t a man walking away at pace with a briefcase at your side then you aren’t really considered to be much else. As he ran his head turned and his eyes scanned the various side roads and alleys down to the river or up into town. There were only a number of places they could have got to in such a short amount of time but the longer the chase continued the larger this number became and the smaller his chance of retribution. He hated the thought of dragging himself out of bed at six am having not been able to stop some kind of crime on the previous evening.

Something caught his eye. He stopped. Ahead of him, perhaps two-hundred feet away was the man with the suitcase. He knew it in his gut and he always trusted his gut.

The man turned and broke out into a run. Having not yet recovered from his quick descent from the tower the Wrong Writer breathed a rattling sigh and took off once more, the heels of his boots clipping against the wet pavement.

The chase led him through ducking alleyways, along the side of an industrial estate and eventually to a fire escape, his prey clanging heavily against the upper rungs as he attempted to make his escape easier via rooftops. The Wrong Writer continued up, slipping casually and unable to gain ground as he had when racing on the ground.

When he got to the final straight, the last angled stretch of ladder, he knew something was amiss. He was no longer chasing the heavy footsteps of someone on the run. There was silence in the evening air. The enemy was waiting.

On the top of an abandoned stationary factory Xander aimed the barrel of his Beretta at the tip of the building where he knew the masked man following him would soon appear. He had to fire. Shoot first and ask questions later. He gripped the briefcase tighter as his finger settled on the trigger, his arm shaking slightly under the cold and the wet. As soon as a head appeared from the side of the building he would shoot. 

Before he was able to contemplate what was happening Xander was gripped around the throat by a coarse and wet cord. It pulled him up as though trying to disconnect him from his body. In the madness of his thoughts he dropped the gun but held tight to the briefcase, managing to bring it closer to his body as his legs coiled up and shook out, his lungs desperate for oxygen.

Realising there was no way he could risk putting his head over the precipice the Wrong Writer had made a dramatic leap for the building’s edge and had then shimmied around as far as he could before pulling himself up. When he did he saw Xander aiming the gun at the exact point he would have emerged from. The Wrong Writer took a length of typewriter ribbon from the utility belt he required; as there was no place for pockets on his lycra suit, and pulled it taut between his fingers. He approached silently and thrust the garrotte over Xander’s head, pulling him into an unusual and deadly embrace.

In the ensuing struggle the pair fell backwards against one of the roofs many triangular skylights. The impact made the glass splinter. The Wrong Writer pushed them both up again but Xander’s legs thrust hard against the gravel floor and they were thrown backwards into the glass once more. This time it gave way.

In what could have been his last moments his survival instinct kicked in and the Wrong Writer gripped the shattered frame of the window, watching below as Xander fell in what seemed like slow motion to the factory floor. The crash was sickening, that of twisting bone and expelled life forces.

Pulling himself up once more the vigilante ran from the scene, unaware of the series of events he had set into motion.

While the fall had been terrible it had not in fact killed Xander. He had landed on a display of correctional fluid pens, a number of which had pierced his skin causing the liquid to course into his blood stream and mix with his DNA, giving him the power to erase with a swipe of his hand. The ability to remove points of history or facts or even people. He had become the Wrong Writer’s greatest nemesis; Tip-X.

 

 

 

Holding them.

In October 2013 I wrote up a piece originally written by my grandfather Friedrich Wilhelm Schiernecker about his experiences in Nazi occupied Amsterdam. It helped me to understand a man I had never really felt an affinity with. Unfortunately Wim was recently moved into a residential care home because he is unable to look after himself due to his dementia. I found out on Friday that a house clearance team are due to clear his flat out next weekend, hired to remove every trace of his ninety-one years. While I appreciate this is something that needs to be done it still made me incredibly sad. 

On Saturday morning I drove over to his flat to collect his typewriter which had kindly been set aside for me by my aunt and uncle. I have written on any number of occasions about the wonders of minimalism, of keeping only those things that serve a purpose or provide enjoyment but once I was in that flat I realised what a shame it would be for someone to not hold onto more of what he had left behind. I thought about my childhood and how I had been naturally drawn to my grandparents, how they provided me with the love and attention I have craved ever since and how it was entirely unconditional. This was a time before I was side-swiped by reality, before I took into account others opinions and just loved without boundaries or prejudice. I realised that I did have a relationship with my grandfather, and while it seemed strained as I entered my teenage years I was incredibly lucky to have him there in the first place. The pressure to have a relationship only became so once I was aware of it. When I lost my grandmother (or Nan as I called her) I was devastated. It was the first time I had experienced such personal tragedy. It was hard. I feel as though I had lost touch with something just by how jaded I have become.

That’s why I didn’t just step out with the Imperial Good Companion 201 portable typewriter but also a watch and desk calendar to help remind me how precious our time truly is, photographs of my grandparents when they were young, thin, in love, happy, to ensure they stay that way in some capacity and my grandfather’s leather suitcase because family is baggage but one I will happily carry.

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Flat beats.

This week I have become very popular. On Saturday I celebrated my birthday with cake and Dexter Season 5. This meant that everyone felt obliged to let me know how well they wished me. This was of course lovely but the popularity is yet to wane. Every day I receive calls and emails from people who just want a bit of my attention and a bit of my time.
Of course they are not here to wish me a joyeux anniversaire but instead they are asking me for details;
What’s your take home salary after tax?
Where is the best place to send you some documents?
What colour would you like me to dye the towels?

The reason I have become so inundated with bizarre requests this week is that the offer I put in on a flat I instantly fell in love with was accepted, and only a matter of days later further confirmation was received to say the vendors of said property had found themselves a property meaning the chain is now complete and I can start eye-assaulting the pages of an Ikea catalogue and querying why there is a Chinese family in the bathroom.

I know more than anyone what a giant leap for Paulkind this represents. I think I never have any money now, and the idea of being responsible for ensuring I eat and sleep when I should baffles me completely let alone the idea of borrowing cups of sugar from neighbours and reading electric meters over the phone. I keep wondering when it will kick in that I am an adult. By the time my dear sweet mother was my age she had two children. That’s mental. I can’t be trusted with a Rubik’s Cube let alone a baby person. What I am slowly coming to realise is that all of the brilliant and infallible people I grew up around, the giant tree trunks of men and the brilliant matronly and world-wise women, they didn’t know what they were doing either. They were completely winging it. I just didn’t have the audacity to call them out over it as a child. Really, nobody knows what they are doing. The whole thing is just carried out on a wing and a prayer.
As a perfect example of how unprepared I am for life I just had to look up the history of the phrase ‘a wing and a prayer’ to better understand if I had used it in the correct context. As an aside it dates back to the Second World War, and was notably used in the 1942 film The Flying Tigers by John Wayne’s character to describe the condition of a dogfight damaged plane returning to base. Now where was I and what was I talking about?

Yes, I am very excited about this new chapter. I might even get ITV3 to commission a series on my movements in the coming months – Paul Schiernecker: The Next Chapter.

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Photo: Nerf bullet in blinds (I will never grow up)

Breaking promises to my former self.

I was death-obsessed as a teenager. I thought there was something cool and poetic about leaving a beautiful corpse. I was sure I had to leave the earth at 27 like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain.
When Amy Winehouse joined their numbers I started to think differently. She was someone I had witnessed through both her genius and her struggles and there was nothing cool or beautiful or poetic about it. It was just really sad. It was a tragedy.

This week I turned 27. Suddenly the idea of checking out has lost it’s appeal. I have far too much to do. I could never put myself on that path.
I have realised that I am not a rock star and never really had the attitude for it. It’s a pipe dream. I’m just not that mean. I appreciate now that not everyone is as one-dimensional as I assumed them to be. While Morrison might be seen as Mr Mojo Risin, the Lizard King poet and symbol of all that is true and holy to some, he could be a conceited and drunken arsehole. I put him on a pedestal. I thought of him solely as the former and ignored the latter.

The sad thing about those people is that their abilities were cut short. While there’s something poignant about appreciating a finite amount of work being available it is much better to see an entire journey through. It’s not better to burn out, Neil Young has disproved his own lyrics in that way.

My countdown has stopped. Now I count up.

Fifteen minutes.

Andy Warhol famously said that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes.
In the last couple of weeks I genuinely came to believe that at long last my chance had come, my 900 seconds in the spotlight, my perfect moment (as Martin McCutcheon would put it before she went off peddling yoghurt with made up science in it).
What happened is Carl Barat, beloved ragamuffin and songwriter to The Libertines, Dirty Pretty Things and indeed Carl Barat put an open invite on Twitter, Facebook etc to join his band. I was of course excited at such a prospect but similarly didn’t hold out much hope as I attempted to pen a mirth-spunked email which I could only assume would be scanned and discarded by one of Mr Barat’s many underlings.
I included two songs as attachments (She Calls The Shots and Comin’ Down for those of you interested in my discography) along with my standard Interwebisphere avatar where I’m tastefully greyscaled and beautiful. And then I played the waiting game, which is one of my least favourite games (after I Spy and The Generation Game).

Last week I received an email from actual Carl himself, or at least someone who used his name to sign off an email, asking me to come for an audition at a pub in South East London. I was told to learn Gin & Milk by Dirty Pretty Things and Death On The Stairs by The Libertines. My heart leaped. What if this thing I had put to the back of my mind actually came to fruition? What if I actually met him? I get starstruck at the best of times. At a book signing for Simon Pegg’s Nerd Do Well I told him I wanted to keep my brother in a shed.

I got myself together. I learnt both the songs (even if I had to write the structure to Gin and Milk on my wrist for reference), I booked a half day from work and then I was off.
Now the odd thing about auditions is that I had never had one. In my line of ‘work’ they are rare. You don’t audition to be a writer. You don’t audition to be a songwriter/guitarist/muso/journalist or any of the other things I could put a backslash between and claim to have turned my hand to. It’s just not the done thing. Auditions are for actors.
What happened when I turned up at the supercool Amersham Arms in New Cross was I found guitarists spread about the place like hulking figures on Greek pottery. There were PR/A&R types bouncing between everyone trying to collect details and arrange timings and get permissions while each of us tried to be as erstwhile and cool as possible. As you know, this isn’t my natural form. Instead I’m more of the death-obsessed anxious faux-intellect than the belching, leather and denim-clad rock god .My USP, I had decided was that it didn’t actually look like I belonged there, as though I had wandered in whilst searching for the Liechtenstein exhibit which closed six months ago at the Tate Modern.
I got a pint of Kronenbourg and waited.
I was told to ensure my guitar was tuned.
Then I was told I was next.
Then I was collected and taken through the back doors of the pub. There was another bar and a small stage where a session bassist and drummer awaited. One man sat in a chair with a camcorder while select members of bar staff watched on. I was reminded of the scene in Hook where Peter sends a colleague to film his son’s baseball game because he’s so consumed with office work. It was hardly the eagle-eyed talent scout panel I had been expecting. In my panic I couldn’t get the overdrive pedal to work so connected straight into the Marshall stack provided, and then shook hands with the bassist and drummer who said they would follow my lead and asked which of the two songs I wanted to perform. Looking down at the smudged Sharpie of Gin & Milk deconstructed on my wrist I went with Death On The Stairs and began frantically jigging about after playing the opening chords and as the drums kicked in. The band were fried gold. I don’t think I’ve ever played with anyone so attentive (sorry NPS and Willows). They knew exactly where I was going for the next three minutes and matched my grins and nods as I bounced and sweated my way through, scraping the solo in a manner befitting what I considered to be the imperfect style of the spirit of the intended band and the punk attitude in general. It certainly covers for not being the most dexterous or apt musician.
I licked my way through the outro and stopped. There was polite applause. I thanked the band and got down, feeling slightly sparked from the adrenaline. Like it or not, those few minutes had made a decision for me. I hate anything being out of my control and as I returned to the pub, to the sanity of the room of awaiting guitarists I felt a crushing dread. I was told to wait for a callback if any callback was necessary. I got chatting to some of the other guitarists, one of whom had flown down from Inverness just for the day. I couldn’t help but tweak my accent to include his, calling the session drummer a ‘wee lassie’ whenever he did so. I am such a fraud.
After two more hours and three more pints I was informed by text that I would not be required for a callback. I had tried to prepare myself for it but there is little more damning to a heart than a break up by text message.

Andy Warhol famously said that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes.
I guess I’ll have to shine mine on for a little longer.

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