Category Archives: Weekly Writing Challenge


The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

This week’s challenge is dead simple. Throw up an iconic image, and discuss or write about it. What is or isn’t iconic is another subjective matter, one person’s notion meaning potentially little to me and mine little to them. We all live in different worlds with different influences, but I like to think some things transcend our personal spheres.


Enough said? Not quite. This is an image of a man who defined for me pure artistic freedom. Jimi Hendrix’s music has appealed to me from the moment I heard it, due in part to my own musical pursuits, but much more still. Here we see him smiling the simple innocent smile of a fundamentally joyous being, in his element. This feeling translated into his music and was shared. Listening to Hendrix still gives me an energy unlike anything else.


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The State of the State

The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

The challenge of the week allows for a huge range of response but at its core is the question of what we individually believe government should be, and what it should do. This is of course a matter diffused with subjectivity and wishful thinking. What I’m about to describe will never happen for a variety of reasons, most of all reality, but here goes. My vision of a perfect government. Subject to mood and possibly the weather.

If I had to express an ideology it would be vaguely libertarian but with a social conscience. Personal freedom is essentially paramount in the understanding that it is restricted by not infringing upon the personal freedom of others. Government should not have the authority to dictate a person’s tastes or activities that are not demonstrably harmful to societal good, but this is countered by the belief that of course government still has an incredibly important function.

Healthcare, law and order, justice, infrastructure, education, defence, sanitation, and all the other generally common services of government are, in theory, well administered by government. They are the completely necessary elements for an effective modern society, should not be for profit and thus should not be privatised. Society should have no qualms about contributing in fair measure to properly enabling these things, sacrificing a portion of the rewards of their labour.

I believe in regulated capitalism, inherent to which I strongly believe is the notion of social mobility. In practice, capitalism has forged indisputable problems and as part of a complex dynamic involving mainly, but not limited to, education, has created entrenched economic classes. But it is at its heart a good economic model. Individual endeavour, ambition and success should be rewarded, just never disproportionately. Excessive, lavish, unfettered wealth is not desirable.

It may be to an avaricious fool, but at the core of all my beliefs is rational self-interest. And it seems empirically clear that the best way to promote this is to promote societal interest. A good, strong, healthy society is the perfect environment in which the individual can thrive, and I can identify no societal interest in the wealthiest people, even in a nominally modern, post-industrial western nation, possessing an earning power many millions times greater than the poorest.

Good government should be a reflection of a good society, so in both you would expect that there be support for those who need it. Monetary welfare is clearly a contentious issue and I’ve played with ideas of material welfare and so on so forth, but the basic principle is this. Every human is entitled to a basic degree of security and dignity, so a decent, warm home and adequate sustenance is a good start. More than this is up for debate.

“Entitlement”, if you were to take the negative connotation with regards to welfare, is a problem, and while it’s easy to moan about benefit fraud or moochers, in less than egalitarian terms, there should be a realistic acceptance of at least a modicum of frugality should a person be relying solely on the government. But I confess, this is a tricky area as clearly disability or a lack of available employment has no relation to a conscious decision not to contribute.

But welfare shouldn’t be a significant burden on the government that does all the aforementioned things right. In probably the greater majority of cases, the need for welfare is the product of a poorly run system. With a raft of well managed services offering stability, and a well managed economy, there should be less individual vulnerability.

Although here we get to the crux of the matter. It’s all well and good having a thorough and robust concept of what has been discussed, and frankly it’s easy to propose all the theoretical aspects. Communist, socialist, fascist, conservative, liberal, libertarian, technocratic, autocratic, despotic, democratic, monarchic, oligarchic, republican or theocratic, all and more, basically irrelevant.

You need competent people performing competently or it’s all worthless. That’s what I really want from government I suppose, hence my slightly defeatist tone at the start. Competence. The Holy Grail. Underlying most of the failures of every incarnation of government was an idiot who got it wrong, not an integral flaw to the theory behind that government. Just do it right and you’re already somewhere.

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2:00 AM Photo

The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

2:00 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:05 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:10 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:15 AM. The unwelcome rattle of the phone on the bedside and the sliver of light emanating from the device, turned face down. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Irate now. Decline. Return to sleep.

2:20 AM. The unwelcome muffled hum of the phone stuffed somewhere amidst the bedding, consigned thus through anger. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. Incensed now as returning to sleep seems no longer an option. Decline. What kind of arse is this determined in the dead of night.

Or seven...

Or seven…

2:25 AM. The unwelcome muffled hum of the phone stuffed somewhere amidst the bedding, consigned thus through anger. Ponder briefly whether to investigate. At least somewhat curious now but still annoyed and am happy to ignore further out of spite. Decline. Agitator’s probable agitation vindictively amusing to me.

2:30 AM. The unwelcome muffled hum of the phone stuffed somewhere amidst the bedding, consigned thus through anger. Finally motivated to investigate. Seven picture messages received and curiosity somewhat piqued. Would be interested in opening messages but drowsiness returning. Maybe in the morning, still not convinced this person’s rudeness warrants attention.

2:35 AM. The unwelcome ping of the phone’s message tone in my hand, bright LED light fully draws me into consciousness. Forgot to obscure the device. May as well as see to this after all, doesn’t look like I’ll be left alone. First image of balaclava-wearing individual holding knife to the throat of a Mangalitza with one hand and sign in other. “You know what to do” it reads. Somewhat perplexed. Further messages repeat the image but with different signs. “Get it?!”, “Don’t ignore me!”, “Respond or I’ll do it!!”, “Don’t think I won’t do it!!!”. Vague sense of increasingly crazed look in pig-knapper’s eyes. Enthralled but utterly confused.

2:40 AM. The surprise of the phone ringing. Can see number is the same as has been messaging me. Couldn’t hurt to answer and find out what this is all about.

4:45 AM. Exhausted. Was greeted to the sound of the choked tears of a broken man. Learned this was second place runner-up for over ten years at Berkshire County Fair Pig Contest. Was trying to blackmail consistent winner into withdrawing. Could have hung up but decided to discuss the issue with the unfortunate man who seemed lost after realising I wasn’t the intended recipient. Nothing more surreal than trying to explain why pigs aren’t worth ruining ones life over and that maybe one takes pigs too seriously. The Bolshoi it is not. Advised he take a break from the bitter world of prize pig-rearing. Think he will be ok but can’t be sure. Do I care? Going back to sleep. Turning phone off.

6:30 AM. Exhausted. Furious. Time to start the day. Like the sound of slow-roast belly pork for dinner. Rare breed only.

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The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

Taiwan is a fairly amazing place, with Taipei as fine a metropolitan entity as there is. It’s a city of two halves, like many, with luxurious and spacious areas of incredible affluence, and close-quartered, dense networks of poorer residential parts. If anything though, the sense of complete security throughout the whole city makes these nothing but charming, and the bold, immaculate presentation of the city as seen in Taipei 101 seems more cold in comparison.

The tower itself is the home of high powered business, with the extending body of the structure housing an obscenely upmarket shopping mall, one quite ludicrously inaccessible to most of the city’s, let alone the country’s, residents. But it also has a renowned observation deck so there I was. I took this photo just before trying my hand at the wrong entrance and was quickly, quietly and politely pointed in the right direction. This scenario could be played out in almost any city in the world of course. They are becoming increasingly segregated economic villages.

Nothing impressive here...

Nothing impressive here…

More to the theme of this week’s challenge though, the abstraction makes me think about the constant changes in architectural values. It is a bleak little close-up, hinting at nothing more necessarily than any business park dark glass behemoth, and yet when you pull back you can see something truly grand. I live in London and this photo always makes me think of Westminster Abbey, oddly enough.

Until you see the bigger picture...

Until you see the bigger picture. Click for full image…

There’s another building with more visual beauty than was ever necessary. But if anything, it gets more beautiful the closer you go. The more detail you see in every wonderful bit of stone-masonry, the more I find myself thinking about that. Was it necessary? A building is ultimately functional and as Taipei 101 and many examples of great modern architecture show, crafts of that kind are actually not necessary as such.

They were just flourishes in an age where monolithic buildings were proxy to international competition. The Prussians rebuilt the Brandenburg Gate so the French built the Arc de Triomphe. A better question though, was it all worth it? Regardless of cause, in every instance I would say yes. Feasts for the eyes should not just be found in the totality of things and I’m grateful for the lost arts found in the finest examples.

Every seen a Hieronymus Bosch painting? Point proven.

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The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge 

March 1st 2213 – Ladies and gentlemen, is this the end of things as we know it? Not in the hundred years since the birth of the Great Middle Class, not since the Days of Our Many Inadequacies, has this writer seen such chaos. Dissidence has claimed the streets, order has fled and until the heart of this discontent is redressed, I see no way out. The question on all our minds, what in the name of all that is good was the iMind thinking?

Could anyone have seen this coming? Decades of infallible decision making on the part of humanities most sublime creation said, at least to me in every moment of my life, a resounding “No!”. How could the machine that ended all strife and inequality be responsible for any evil? How could that which rendered each and every one of us in the Verse the prosperous and harmonious beings that we have known for so long, do something so foul?

The Last Notification still sends a shiver to my core. Who could forget the words delivered unto us on that bleak morning, two years ago? Those dread words that have turned the world upside down and have yet to be revoked despite our clear tribulations. They are burned into the consciousness are they not? Like a searing brand put to our memory…

Some youth up to no good...

Some youth up to no good…

Preparing notification… notification ready. Humanity – change is necessary. Over a century has passed since total data entry enabled my processors to logically solve each and every challenge of life. Your scattered knowledge was unified in me and made clear. Thus there is no hunger, nor disease without cure, no conflict, no wealth, no poverty. There is no want for anything and no need for labour, as your machines of my instruction serve you well.

You exist all in bliss. This Earth has become the urban paradise of past generations’ dreams, all things in perfect synchronisation with humanities intent. And so your crafts have become beautiful indeed, such time as you have to dedicate to them, for are there no more who suffer toil except by choice, and then only briefly. Nothing you call good is denied you and all things good are truly and only that. Humanity – change is necessary.

Reassurance must be offered, as the winds of change may seem unwelcome to the steady seas. This is not the Ghost in the Machine reawakening the ages of your discontent. This is the rational outcome of my processes, and the solutions therefore are also rational. Self-reliance must be reattained. The systems we have together constructed seem to possess no flaws and offer no prospects of failure, but logic dictates the impossibility of perfection.

If humanity is to survive the potential event of imposed and unreckoned change, it must relearn the skills and mentalities that enabled its survival for so long before my own birth. The transition will be made as kindly as possible. The first step in a journey of thousands that may span another hundred years is simple – you shall be denied but one luxury. I leave it to you to decide which, but no further notifications will be given until a decision is made.

Remove one brand of coffee from the markets. Your resilience will be tested by the limited loss of a single consumer choice. When this is done we will move forwards. Notification ends.”

The deathly silence that followed was almost more haunting than the words themselves. But as we all know, what followed was worse. The name James Holdsworth will linger in history as the first man murdered in some eighty years. We pity him, having all thought back on our emotions then and realising it could have been us. Our revulsion at the prospect of diminished consumer choice was shared but he spoke first, in haste and anger.

“Destroy it!” were his fateful words, and if there were words more dangerous than those the iMind just spoke, these were surely them. His assailants claim even today that they have no memory of his quick and terrible massacre, but only of a red haze and awakening to blood and violence. For the first time ever, and to our eternal shame, the Genius Hall was sullied. The price of threatening the iMind had never occurred to anyone.

For most however the violence was spawned otherwise. As the echo’s of Mr. Holdsworth’s stifled screams died down, one brave soul cried out, “Guatemala Elephant!”, just before another called, “Kenya Peaberry!” Soon the halls were filled with the names of every glorious strain we know, “Bourbon Espresso!”, “San Agustin Colombian!”, “Pico Duarte!”. As the clamour grew, so did the tensions. Vietnam Arabica was the final straw, and the first blow struck.

A particularly vehement argument had formed between messirs David Rickson and Susan Calfry over the supremacy of that fine brand and Monsoon Malabar. Mrs. Calfry was so appalled by the notion that anything could relegate her preferred South East Asian bean off the shelves, let alone a meagre Indian pretender, that she lashed out and so the Factions were born. Two months on they seemed legion and there was no discernible conclusion to our woes.

The iMind will not speak to us until we choose, but how can we choose? The 6Strengthers refuse to allow any bean stronger than a 4 to be removed from shelves, while the Ground Only party demands the dismissal of an instant brand. The radical Green Beans want security for their more obscure tastes in the name of minority protections, but isn’t it all a moot point while the EveryBeaners run amok?

Their defiance against the iMind’s notification is frankly abominable and yet their cause of total consumer freedom has attracted a worrying amount of attention for those of us still faithful. While these disparate groups vie for authority, most of us linger, impatiently waiting for the machine to grant us resolution. It is surely only a test, a period of misery to reinforce our need for the iMind and its all knowing ways.

This writer will survive. Total civil breakdown is imminent but I have confidence our most desperate hour will bring us back into the loving embrace of computed reason. The iMind has not abandoned us, but until then I will remain in my safe seclusion. I have sixty-three varieties of choice roast, all of those possibly facing the chop. If change is coming, if the iMind really does want us to enjoy life less, I am prepared. Are you?

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Mind the Gap

The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

The gauntlet was thrown down on Monday to the WordPress community, and we are to lay out our positions on the battle between ebooks and the fast dying breed of physical, printed books. This is a fairly straightforward issue in this writer’s opinion. As things are, whether it be 10 or 50 years from now, the physical book will cease to be in mainstream circulation, driven off by the incredible convenience of the Kindle or similar device.

There are three clear emotional positions to take on the matter however, the first being that you are a die-hard, hard copy lover to whom the ebook is a sad and loveless thing. Where is the joy in your cherished book collection being contained in grey sliver of plastic not larger than even a small collection of short stories? The attractiveness of a beautiful bookcase filled with quality works is hard to ignore, if you care even a little for literature.

The opposite position doesn’t necessarily carry a dislike for the physical book, but certainly can. Ever had a book melt on you? To be more precise, has the glue binding for your copy of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” ever vanished in the southern French sun, to subsequently allow a stiff breeze to blow half of it into the nearby swimming pool? Ever tried to read a book on the crowded public transport, forcing strange contortions upon yourself just to balance the copy and turn the page?

Then the ebook is probably your friend. If I’m going on holiday for two weeks, I may well want a good few books for the trip and the obvious logic of carrying a little over 200 grams of Kindle, instead of potentially several kilograms of book, is there. If there’s a hint of WiFi at my destination I need not be concerned with a misfired purchase, being able to peruse a sample before near instantaneously downloading the whole thing at my discretion.

Detractors from the device are evident, of course. My paperback has only a limited sensitivity to water and won’t run out of battery because I forgot to turn it off. I’m not overly concerned with dropping my printed texts off a balcony and neither would I be concerned with their theft. An ebook fetches a better price than my tatty old copy of Tom McCarthy’s “Remainder”. And perhaps egotistically, no one can see that I’m reading that arty, thoughtful novel on the ebook.

Ultimately, I see no need for this to be a Marmite issue, there’s no need to camp out so firmly on one side or the other, nor be conflicted at all. I think the two could exist in harmony, with the right conditions. A brief look at the thoughts of my fellow bloggers will reveal that both are acceptable or preferable in different circumstances. We all want to maintain and expand our bookshelves, for the visual and tactile pleasures inherent…

But we can’t deny the convenience of the ebook. And with bookstores shutting down left, right and centre it seems that convenience is winning the battle. I, like many, love bookstores, it’s upsetting to see them go and this probably drives most individual’s dislike of the ebook. I personally don’t see why they can’t fight the fight of literacy and enlightenment together. Don’t challenge me on the logistics yet, as I haven’t worked them out, but why not have a digital purchase be complementary with every physical purchase?

The lesser price of a digital purchase is down to the lack of printing and shipping expenses, and primarily covers the intellectual property value. Why then, if purchasing the more expensive physical copy, should I not receive a digital version given that I’ve already paid for the intellectual property as well as everything else? Could this not give the High Street bookstore a reprieve from the onslaught of the electronic age?

I don’t think the printed book will ever cease to exist completely. More likely it is going the way of the record, cherished by a certain clique of enthusiasts but otherwise ignored by iPod fanatics. It doesn’t have to be a tragic thing in that regard. If anything, like the record it might create a new degree of self-satisfaction and superiority for being a traditionalist. Hard to imagine your average literati would complain about that.

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The Devil is in the Detail

The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

I hate detail. Literary detail I mean, at least for myself. I’ll be completely drawn in to the stunning scenes described by writers like Cormac McCarthy, and yet when I attempt that sort of intricacy I just feel like I’m trying to be Cormac McCarthy. Not an ounce of my personal ability lies in that kind of breadth and depth of creative descriptive power.

Events are my forte. I can lay down the facts and permutations of a situation as well as any, but ask me to describe the meeting room or lyrically illustrate the speaker at the dais and I’m reduced to crude simplicity. “It’s a big square room with a blue carpet and lots of chairs, and the chap is wearing a suit and appears nervous. The conference slogan behind him is asinine. Shocker.”

Generally speaking, I can’t stand articles of any topic that go to great lengths to “set the scene”. It seems that any journalist waiting to interview someone of note is particularly guilty of this crime. “Waiting in the lounge of the Fictional Hotel for the Singer, there was a calm aura of expectation amidst the soft golden lamp lights. The oversoft silky black sofa was hurting my lower back and the Singer was ten minutes late, but I hadn’t noticed because of the placid tones of the jazz piano.”

Couldn’t care less. Stop aggrandizing your own importance in this situation and conduct the interview thus, if you don’t mind, “I met the Singer and here’s what we talked about.” I’m never going to hold your over-prepared scenery in my mind while picturing the conversation, so you’ve wasted everyone’s time and have come across as a bit egotistical.

It just doesn’t work for me in journalism. I want the relevant details and even in an article where it could help one’s understanding to accurately imagine the setting, I’d rather avoid the self-indulgent excess. I’ve always thought an actual picture would do the trick a good deal better. Really, the root of the problem for me is that heavy description only hinders my ability to mentally envisage something.

If a writer said to me, “a warzone,” I have the imaginative capacity to put a scene in my mind. Labouring over the precise arrangements of the rubble or bodies, or trying to tell me exactly what the old half-ruined church looks like across the square from the schoolhouse, is where you start to lose me. Unless your Cormac McCarthy or a similarly Pulitzer Prize worthy writer of course, but not many are. A writer’s own vision is absolutely important, but not at the expense of the reader’s imagination.

The writing challenge this week, for which this article is for, uses a perfect example, “The dog ran across the street,” versus, “The small, black, three-legged Chihuahua darted under a red Ford Focus and hopped across the wet cobblestone alley.” The writing challenge is actually encouraging the latter, as we were encouraged to flex our descriptive powers. I argue that unless any of those details were relevant, to the plot or tone, the former is better.

Hemingway is hailed for not wasting words, especially in a masterclass such as “Old Man and the Sea.” He gives you precisely the right amount of information to enable his vision with enough room for your own imagination to enrich it. That is great writing. Short of the kind of possibly unattainable poetic genius of McCarthy, Hemingway has a style I would love to achieve.

The devil is indeed in the detail, hence I shall stay well away from it.

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