White-collar narcos: The respectable face of the junk trade

white collar narcos

'White-collar Narcos: The Respectable Face of the Junk Trade', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on history.

White-collar Narcos: The Respectable Face of the Junk Trade

The accumulations of wealth created by a succession of historic drug trades have been among the primary foundations of global capitalism and the modern nation-state itself. Indeed, it may be argued that the entire rise of the West, from 1500 to 1900, depended on a series of drug trades.

(Trocki, Carl; Opium, Empire and the Global Political Economy (Routledge, 1999), p.xii

The British East India Company and Jardine Matheson

Sugar, slavery and opium. These are the three things the British Empire was built on and the foundation of its wealth and power. The institutionalised trade in drugs goes way back. By the early 1800s, opium was one of the biggest marketable commodities in the world and the foundation of European trade in Asia. Global capitalism arose as a side effect of the (entirely legal) trade in opium and was the stuff that the nations of Britain, Holland, Portugal and America were using to grow their trade bases and expand their economic power. How was it that narcotics came to be the foundation stone of a global economy and an immense force in international politics? Simple. The same way that today the pharmaceutical companies in the US are raking in billions a year from the completely legal sale of opioids (heroin, in other words), back then they set out to create a drug ‘epidemic’ of a magnitude never before seen, an operation which they pulled off with unprecedented success. They got the world hooked then peddled narcotics till they were shitting silver. Some would call it astute business practice.

The British were not responsible, however, for introducing opium to Asia. The Portuguese discovered opium in India in the seventeenth century and by the early 1800s had a significant trade with China, and by 1677 the Dutch East India Company had the monopoly on opium trade with Java and much of the Malay Peninsula. But it was when the British expanded into the trade in the late eighteenth century that there was an explosion in the quantity of opium flooding Asia. Coming to view opium as an answer to the trade deficit with China, Britain really set things moving. Having discovered tea in the 1800s, Britain pretty quickly became reliant on the stuff, a predilection that went hand in hand with their taste for sugar, which was being produced in vast quantities using stolen land (plantations) and stolen labour (slaves) in the West Indies. The problem was that there was so much silver flowing out of the state coffers for the purchase of tea that there was a massive trade imbalance, known as the ‘tea remittance’.

Enter opium.

Writing in Opium, Empire and the Global Political Economy, Carl Trocki states that,

‘…it seems that there is one key ingredient necessary to create a true drug “epidemic”: In addition to exotic introduction and changes in production, the commercialisation of drug production, trade and marketing seem to have been crucial.’ (Trocki, p.xii)

The British used their huge trading bases in Calcutta and Bombay to develop the production and trade, and soon there were inhuman quantities of the drug leaving the country. ‘Patna’ opium (from Bihar in India) became synonymous with the British East India Company and was the most highly regarded product of its day. It was enough to see the logo on the side of a crate to guarantee quality. Between 1810 and 1820, about 10,000 chests (600–700,000 kg) were being imported annually into China. Not all of it was British. A huge amount of American ships were plying a trade in Turkish opium (exported from Smyrna), and the Dutch and Portuguese were in on it too, but no opium was as prized or as desirable as the British product. 

In 1813, the British East India Company lost its trade monopolies as a result of parliamentary acts passed at home, and this is when private interest stepped into the fray. William Jardine and James Matheson were two Scotsmen who set up company in Canton in 1832 in order to take advantage of the economic climate. Jardine Matheson & Co still exists today, with an immense portfolio trading in property, hotels, automotive, food and much else besides. Their total revenue in 2019 was some 40 billion dollars. Yet they started out exclusively in opium. By 1838, they had helped to increase the annual import of opium into China to almost 40,000 chests (almost 3 million kilos). It was around this time when the Chinese authorities decided that Jardine and Matheson and other ‘barbarians’ would have to be expelled from Chinese soil for the suffering they were inflicting upon the country. The Emperor decided to appeal to Queen Victoria to ‘reign in’ her subjects, and a letter was sent but was lost in the mail. Receiving no reply, the Emperor ordered all opium in Canton to be seized and dumped in the bay. Over 20,000 chests of opium were destroyed, the total value around two million pounds. It was then that William Jardine, recently returned to Britain, took up the cause of reparations. Wielding his not-insignificant influence, he harried the British Government, the Foreign Office and the British public to his cause, and to cut a long story short, the First Opium War was launched against China in 1841, leading the Chinese to sign the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, in which Hong Kong was ceded to the British and several Chinese ports were forced to open to European trade in opium and all else besides. 

The Sacklers and the Opioid Crisis   

I hadn’t heard of the Sacklers until a few weeks ago when I read an article that led me to the HBO documentary, The Crime of the Century. It seems the Sackler family kept a high profile in the arts and education with a very heavy investment in philanthropy, but in business they liked to fly under the radar. The Sacklers (if you’ve been living under a rock like me) are the biggest name in the opioid crisis that has rocked the States in the last few decades. In 1952, the Sackler brothers bought the small pharmaceutical company, Purdue-Frederick, which was turned into Purdue Pharma in 1987 after the death of Arthur. In 1996, Purdue first released OxyContin onto the market. OxyContin is a variation of oxycodone, an opioid used to treat severe pain. Opioids (another variation of which is fentanyl) are derived directly from the alkaloids found in the opium poppy. Make no mistake, this is heroin, just by another name. (Heroin, incidentally, has an established history in the West: It’s the brand name for a variation of morphine that was trademarked by the Bayer pharmaceutical company in 1895.)

Having unleashed OxyContin onto the market, Purdue wasted no time in developing ‘the commercialisation of drug production, trade and marketing’, and from its release in 1996 to 2000, the company’s annual revenue increased from 48 million to 1.1 billion dollars. Prescriptions rose from 670,000 in 1997 to 6.2 million in 2002. Fast forward a few years to 2017, and the number of prescriptions for (all) opioids in the US was 191 million. Talk about creating an epidemic. The number of deaths from opioid overdose from 1999 to 2017 is quoted at over 200,000. All of the above was facilitated and made possible by what are essentially white-collar drug peddlers. The numbers above are only for prescription-related deaths and do not count those who died from illegal narcotics. Once the epidemic was set in motion, the US then became victim to illicit opioids manufactured in Mexico and China and imported into the country.

Where it gets sinister is with the ‘Ensuring patient access and drug enforcement act’ of 2014. With the opioid crisis in full swing, the DEA was at war with the pharmaceutical companies, in some instances shutting down distributors directly in order to slow the output of opioids onto the street. The act, also known as the Marino Bill, was drafted by a former lawyer for the DEA who knew exactly the kind of language with which to pepper it, and with a smattering of bribes to congressmen and women, the bill was pushed through, enabling the industry to tie the hands of the DEA and ensure continual and unrestricted access to the markets. Big pharma was once again free to peddle their narcotics. Much like William Jardine had rallied the British government to go to war with China to protect the opium trade, the pharmaceutical companies bought the US government so that their business could continue unabated.

One of the most pernicious, yet well-organized and profitable drug trades that has ever existed.

That’s how Trocki described the (primarily British) European drug trade in Asia that almost destroyed entire countries. Yet the quote above may well have been a tagline for the HBO documentary, attributed to the Sacklers and the owners of the major pharmaceutical companies involved in manufacturing the modern opioid epidemic.

Corruption isn’t new, it’s been around ever since political systems first arose. But it’s a sad fact that money, everywhere and at any time, is the major deciding factor when it comes to political policy, and, indeed, justice. What’s the difference between William Jardine and Lo Aqui, or Richard Sackler and El Chapo, for instance? Essentially, nothing. One wears a suit and the face of respectability, the other is vilified. All are high-level dealers. Junk peddlers, nothing more.

Accountability? Not something you need to worry about if you’re a narco but buy your shirts from the same tailor as your local politician.    

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘White-collar narcos: the respectable face of the junk trade’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

9/11, the TV show we could not turn off

9/11, the TV show

'9/11, the TV show we could not turn off', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on history.

9/11, the TV show we could not turn off

Where was I? On the Camino de Santiago of all places, a walk which, along one of its many routes at least, spans the entire breadth of Spain. I’d flown into Bilbao a short time before and had made my way to the French Pyrenees, where in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port I prepared for the 770 kilometre walk to Santiago de Compostela.

It must have been about a month in, but somewhere around Leon, I got up one morning to go and get coffee. Walking days start early, so it was around seven when I found a little café and sat down. There was a small fifteen-inch television in the place and news played on repeat, the footage that of the plane smashing into the first tower. I caught the eye of the café owner and the two of us stared at each other in disbelief. That’s all I remember of the event and its aftermath.

A few years back a British journalist got into hot water for calling it the greatest televisual event of all time (or something to that effect), but in one sense that’s what it was. No Hollywood production could rival it for pure exhilarating violence; it was ‘spectacular’, in the true and original (etymological) sense of the word.

It was Jean Baudrillard who penned the essay ‘The Gulf War did not take place’ (PDF link for those interested), a piece about how the entire war was only given concrete reality by a furious and sustained propaganda campaign. I cannot comment on what extent American lives are shaped by the media (my guess is quite considerably), but it seems striking to me now that media-driven American war now became the war on America, the event announced also with a televisual extravaganza, perhaps the greatest ever seen. After that, who could oppose the subsequent twenty-year global war of terror where millions of (mostly Muslim) lives were lost to the fury of America’s thirst for revenge, a war (or series of wars) which, in retrospect, seemed to have been in the planning for quite some time?

My own views on 9/11 probably now border on the prosaic. I find the official narrative to be a piece of absurd contrivance. It seems to me that the event could not have happened without its own fair amount of (internal) advanced planning. That the towers fell as a result of controlled demolition seems beyond doubt, and once that is established, one is forced down a whole series of scary rabbit holes. But who cares? Twenty years later, the story has been buried in the rubble and no one much wants to go digging anymore. People’s attention span is short and there’s always another atrocity to hypnotise us for a few short seconds, and if no tragedy exists, then we’ll find some other inane bullshit to latch onto. Transgender weightlifters, for example. And tomorrow, the story will be much the same: Who cares?

I hope that the people of New York and America find out the truth one day, and not so far down the line that the response is the one I have paraphrased above. But it’s, what, fifty years since Kennedy was shot? And by the time the truth is admitted to by the state (10, 20, or 100 years from now), there will be nobody around who truly gives a damn. But I also hope that the cycle of ‘blood for blood’ comes to an end, too; the 200 dead Afghans in Kabul only a few weeks ago would suggest we are far from there yet and it shows no sign of slowing.

We live in a visual world and we are mostly anaesthetized to media depictions of violence. But whereas we in the West see most of our massacres onscreen, those in the global East are well-used to carrying their bleeding dead in their arms. Other than army personnel, 9/11 was the first and only time that the people of the US were subjected up close to warfare, and for that reason it leaves such a massive psychological imprint on modern lives and will likely do so for years to come.

We do not live war, but for one brief moment in 2001, we all did. But largely because of neo-colonialist policies by Western governments, there are those in the world who live with it continually. We suffered once, they suffer daily, weekly, yearly. And if we don’t like it, all we have to do is turn off our TV. They don’t have the luxury.

*

Artwork: ‘Empire Fallen’ by Babul Miah, age 17, from the book “The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11.”

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘9/11, the TV show we could not turn off’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Art and cultural appropriation

art and cultural appropriation

'Art and cultural appropriation', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on art and politics.

Art and cultural appropriation

A few weeks ago there was story in the news about a home chef who was attacked by a journalist and woman of colour for the crime of writing a book on Asian cuisine. The journalist in question (a feminist, no less) ripped into the author, incensed that a white woman had the audacity to ‘write a cookbook about dumplings and noodles’. The woke attack backfired and a torrent of hate mail was unleashed upon the poor journalist, who had the gall after the event to go public and beg her readers to fund the therapy she so desperately needed to recover from the psychological damage the hate mail had inflicted upon her. In my opinion, much of the flak she took was well-deserved. Whether her attack on the author was the result of a stunt to grab reactionary liberal readers to her blog or simply a gross error of judgement, such presumption deserved to be ripped apart. All that said, to err is to be human, and we hope she found the funds she needs for the $130-per-hour therapist in order to rebuild her oh-so-delicate ego.

We’ve heard a lot about cultural appropriation in the last few years, the phenomenon just one thread of the huge and complex subject of identity politics, something which I’ll confess now to know very little about. What does interest me though, as a writer and creator, is the question: Where are the lines? Are there any, do they exist at all? Well, they most probably do on some level, so in order not to cross any, I’m going to limit my answer to my own sphere of experience, which is fiction. For me, it boils down to the following: As an artist, to what extent can I cross cultural (and, indeed, gender, sexual, class and social) boundaries in my art?

The answer to me is clear: Everything is permissible. With one simple caveat.

There are examples of bad writing in every genre: bad literary fiction, bad sci-fi, bad romance. Some writers are simply poor writers, and much of it comes down to throwing your work out there too soon or without putting in the requisite hours. Sure, some writers are gifted. Most are not. For many, it is simply about putting in the time. What is it they say? You need to do something for at least 10,000 hours before you even get close to mastery? Well, if that’s the case, it’s as true of writing as it is of anything else – do something enough, you’ll get pretty good at it eventually. Speaking from experience, I was so eager after I’d finished writing my first novel that I couldn’t wait to get it out there. Ignoring that it was trash, I hadn’t even the patience to edit it properly before I was sending it off to agents. Yeah, it pays to wait.

The problem with writing people and culture badly, however, is not simply a question of the craft. It is a question of empathy. As an artist, you are entitled to write from within any culture you choose, be it a novel about a Latina immigrant from Honduras or a peasant tea-picker in North Korea, a poor traveller kid from a Dublin slum or an embattled queer activist in Uganda. As an artist, it is entirely your right to explore the human condition from whatever angle you see fit. The caveat, though, is that you write as a human. As long as you are a human being capable of feeling empathy for others, then you can write who you like. Anyone, anywhere. And don’t be misled by the word ‘empathy’; writing with empathy does not mean that you write only about compassion and love and sadness and warmth, but about rage, hatred, jealousy and madness, if they are pertinent to your work. You can’t shy away from tackling the more unpalatable aspects of existence simply because they’re challenging. It’s your duty and right as an artist to wade in, even if it means getting lost.

I’ve been writing for just over three years and have written male and female characters of all stripes. Do I always nail it? Almost certainly not, but I’m entitled to give it a shot. To err is to be human. I’m alright with getting it a bit wrong, because failure is an essential part of our condition. But so is perseverance. So if I fail this time, I’ll try again, and maybe next time I’ll be closer to the mark. And what can my failure do but deepen my own sense of humanity?

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Art and cultural appropriation’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

A Whore’s Song, new novella from Ultan Banan

"A Whore's Song", new novella from Black Tarn. Indie publishing for mad seekers.

A Whore's Song

I tighten the garrotte around Hilden’s neck. I’m sitting on his back, riding him like a mule, my legs tight around his hips so he can’t bring himself off against the bed. He’s fighting me, but he knows I know best. I am more powerful than him anyway. His body, pale and unsubstantial, squirms below me but I keep him under control. The cord has cut of circulation to his brain and he’s suffering mild hypoxia. He’s also experiencing an increased blood flow to his little tool (believe me, it’s nothing to write home about). His prick will be swollen, agonisingly so. His head is red and puffed up and I see his eyes close, the lights going out, so I loosen the garrotte and let him sink to the bed. He moans, begs. I lean in and let my lips brush against the back of his neck. He smells nice, which is something, at least. Bankers are usually well turned out. They spend money on themselves. I tease the lobes of his ear with my mouth, then I proceed to pour in the poison, the sweet poison, taught to me by the Madame herself, the poisons that are the source of her power… rituals, mantras — magic some might call it, but it’s a very simple and natural thing. Words have power. And whores with words are the most powerful of all.

a whore's song

Available now

For books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 Extract from ‘A Whore’s Song’, from Black Tarn Publishing. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing

Taliban bad. Save the women!

taliban bad

'Taliban bad. Save the women!', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on politics.

Taliban bad. Save the women!

 

“History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.”

Yeah, it does feel like that sometimes. Right now, for instance. You look at the pages of any UK or US newspaper today, and you may be having flashbacks to around the early 2000s, right about the time when Blair and Bush were sounding the drums of war on Afghanistan. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember much how it went the first time round. It went something like this:

The USA was attacked in September 2001. Blame was immediately assigned to Osama Bin Laden, a mujahideen harboured by Afghanistan. Afghanistan (which was conveniently on a list of countries that was being targeted by the US for regime change) found itself in the Empire’s crosshairs. The bombing started. The propaganda campaign went into full swing, and all those who justifiably weren’t convinced by the wild and implausible 9/11 story, or who simply didn’t have the stomach for another American war, were assaulted with tales of Taliban wickedness, particularly against the poor women of Afghanistan, who lived lives of abject misery under the boot of the evil, hairy, patriarchal terrorists. Once the West was suitably enraged, our boys moved in and the Taliban went into hiding, and a CIA-trained neo-colonial government was installed in their wake. Hurrah! And they all lived happily ever after.

Well, not so much.

Twenty years later and the evil, hairy terrorists are back. And what of the women? Well, the Western liberal warmongers are terrified for them all over again:

Thank the Lord for our armchair warriors, eh? (Note where the article appearing on CNBC originates: The Brookings Institution.)

Do I sound facetious? Well, I’m not sure how else to respond to this outpouring of crocodile tears. Where were the voices of protest against the illegal military occupation in the first place? Opposition to the bombing of weddings, hundreds of women and children killed by Reaper drones? I don’t recall too much noise on that. What about the CIA heroin trade, hmm? Any takers? Nah, all quiet.

There’s noise, but it’s all about the bad, hairy terrorists. Get this – Ahmad Massoud, leader of the NRF (National Resistance Front, a hastily assembled anti-Taliban movement) was given an editorial spread in the Washington Post to beg for help from his handlers to fight the Taliban. If you don’t know who Ahmad Massoud is, it may be enough to know that he received training at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (yes, read MI6 asset). What can you gather from this, then? Well, you wouldn’t be far wrong if you surmised that there are elements of British and US intelligence who are still convinced that they can rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and who are now disseminating their propaganda in the Western media to bring about public consensus on the issue. And along with all that, we’ll see more renting of garments and gnashing of teeth over the plight of the poor women of Afghanistan.

Let me be clear: Do I believe that the women who live under Taliban rule have a hard life? Yes, absolutely. Do I wish that those who desire to escape, could? Yes. But will I lend an ear to any more appeals from the Guardian on raising awareness about their plight? No, fuck off. I’m done with the sleek and covert war propaganda. This is what I would say to war hawks, those insidious pricks who huddle and slither in the background and seem to have access to all the major media houses: It’s not your fucking country. Leave it alone, stay out. Just like you did in Iraq and Libya (even if I’m not convinced the same cunts are still up to some underhand shit in those countries), leave it to the Afghans to sort out the shitshow you’ve dropped on their doorstep. The last twenty shameful years in Afghanistan is one slice of history that does not need repeating.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Taliban bad. Save the women!’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

NFTs and ebooks

ebooks and nfts

'NFTs and ebooks', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the technological.

NFTs and ebooks

This is a follow-up post to one I wrote about three months ago on creating ebook NFTs. Unlike the previous, this will not go into the technicalities of the process. This post is merely to recap my experiences of publishing my ebooks on the blockchain.

So far, I’ve published my work (books and art) on the daVinci Gallery, Opensea, Cargo and Unique One. I’ve only sold a couple of ebooks on daVinci and nothing on the others. If you’re at all familiar with the NFT world, you’ll know that the space is concerned mostly with digital art, maybe seventy percent of that being along the CryptoPunk lines, which are low-res pixelated images of everything from space monkeys to pirates. For an old guy like me, it’s perplexing and exasperating. When I see a ridiculous 16-bit image of a monkey smoking a cigar going for a couple of hundred quid, it makes me wonder what the hell I’m doing with my life. Nevertheless, the NFT revolution has been an exciting learning curve for me, and I’m still in, even if I’m not making any money. Yet. I do a little bit of digital art, too, and I’m building a portfolio of stuff, hoping that some of that work may draw interested eyes in my direction. While I enjoy doing the art stuff, I’m still first and foremost a writer, and my books remain my priority.

So, where on the blockchain can you publish your ebooks? Well, on all of the platforms I’ve mentioned above. On Cargo, I haven’t been able to sell my ebooks because the platform (at last check, at least) doesn’t support any of the formats I require to upload my files. So far, the daVinci Gallery has been the most friendly to ebook NFT creation. Here’s what I do: I bundle my books (PDF, MOBI and EPUB) in a zip file, upload it to Drive, then provide the link when I create my NFT in daVinci so that the buyer will receive it when they purchase the ebook. They can then go and download the bundle. On daVinci, you can create as many copies of an NFT as you like, a thousand, for example, or just one. Just bear in mind that the price of crypto fluctuates, so if you create a thousand copies of a book that today sell for $5 (around 50 Harmony One), then in a month the equivalent price might be $1, and in a year, $50. So for me, it doesn’t make sense to mint a thousand copies, because you have to delete and remint to change the price, at least on daVinci. I minted 25 copies, and if they go for $5 one day and $4 the next, well, I’m fine with it.

All that said, ebooks on daVinci are pretty thin. The selection is poor, which means it’s not a place people go to buy books. Space monkeys, yes. Books, meh. 

The other place you can mint multiple copies of an ebook NFT is Unique One. Same story: everything bundled as a zip and uploaded to Drive. The only problem here is, Unique One is a Japanese NFT site, and unless you’re writing in Japanese, you’ll probably not move a thing. I haven’t sold a single unit there.

On Opensea, you can create an NFT with your book, but, as of last attempt, you can only mint a single item. One book. If you want to auction a limited edition of one of your novels, this is fine. If you’re just out to make numbers, probably not worth it. Where Opensea differs from daVinci is that you can’t search by ‘Books’ as a category, so it’s likely not a place people go to look for reading material.

I haven’t tried Rarible yet, but I plan to do some minting in the coming weeks. I’ll see how that goes. On Rarible, however, you gotta pay gas fees upfront in Ethereum, which is expensive. So if you’re starting out, begin with daVinci and Harmony One where the costs are peanuts.

So go and get busy and put a few of your books out into the ether. If it’s going to happen at all, then we need to create the market ourselves, from the ground up.   

*

(See my how-to on creating an ebook NFT on daVinci.) 

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘NFTs and ebooks’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

The Sparrow

The Sparrow, by Ultan Banan. Dystopian literature for discerning readers.

The Sparrow

Indifferent, the sparrow that lies half-buried in the cold soil. The body dessicated, shrivelled, eyes bored through by the earthworm, the tiny feet that have found their final perch. I excavate its corpse and place it in a hole in the tree, a more fitting burial place for the earth’s forgotten. I say the words that I spoke over my dead grandfather, the words of the ancient Persian poet, and I bless myself in the sign of the Christian cross. Softly go, creature of God. Dying is all well.

The tree, a cradle and a tomb. I found a tree in the woods when I was eleven that had within its trunk the fused skeleton of a wolf which had impaled itself on a freshly broken branch midwinter. The tree had grown and subsumed into its own body the skeletal remains of the beast. Now they are conjoined, woven by the years and made one by a nature which sees not a difference in the form and make-up of each. At cellular level, there is no distinction. Now, sisters, they return to the earth in a slow eclipse. Decomposition will take both, and what will spring from their common tomb? Perhaps a sparrow, fed on the young sapling that grows in their wake, unwitting songstress of the earth’s vicious cycles.

My grandfather died and was buried here, in these woods. We planted a young elm on his grave. Now that tree is forty feet high, young but sturdy. In the days following his death, I imagined the decay of his body, saw his skin burst and his fluids run from him, saw the maggots feast and the earthworms exit his open cavities. As the fats and lipids leached from his body so his bones appeared, and all the goodness of him was returned to the earth. But above, the roots of the little sapling had sunk into the soil in search of sustenance, finding my grandfather’s resting place and source of all those proteins and enzymes, and they went to work sapping him up, sucking up his juices, because life is everywhere and in all places sustained just the same. Dust you are, yes, but that is not all. Other things too, juicy things, succulent and oily and rich. Now, when I pass the tree, I say the words that I heard him say all those years around the table, still speaking his guttural German here in the New World: Guten appetit. The old man knows I mean well.

When I was young, I watched him skin rabbits he’d shot in the woods out back of our house, cut them down the middle then rip the skin right off them. The old man knew the order of things:

Alles guten gaben
Alles was wir haben,
Kommt, O God, von Dir,
Wir danken Dir dafur.

Myself, I cannot kill. I buy meat, slaughtered by the butcher. I do not want blood on my hands, but all men need meat. I ran over a pheasant in my car once. It was dead before it hit the ground. I hung it outside my back door for a week then ate it. That is the only thing I have killed. But grandfather’s rabbit tasted good. My grandmother knew well how to prepare it. Boiled in the pot for three hours, the flesh fell off the bone. It is hard to escape the inevitability of it all.

Somewhere in these woods, I too will be buried. Perhaps by a son (not yet born, but who will grow from the same earth that I in turn will be entombed within) who will say the rites that I shall teach him, Persian words and German words, saying them with the requisite solemnity and irony, and black humour too, and when they plant a tree over my resting place, he will pass also and say, Guten appetit. Yes, my son, I hear you. I never wanted for anything in life. Nor will you.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘The Sparrow’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

A Whore’s Song, new novella from Ultan Banan

"A Whore's Song", coming novella from Black Tarn. Indie publishing for mad seekers.

A Whore's Song

I say all this, perhaps, to explain my true nature just a little more clearly. Much has been said about me, and much of it is untrue. I was a man. A woman too, if we are to elaborate. Many times, in fact. That is merely the corporeal part of the story. Beyond the corporeal, real existence lies. Beyond the corporeal is the ethereal, the transcendental, and what is true here is true across all spheres of being. This is what is true:
I am a searcher. I am a teacher. I am a wandering mendicant and the stranger warming himself by your hearth. I philosophise. I agonise. I am a lover and a being of gentle fury. I weep for the lost lamb of the solitary shepherd, and I smile softly at the cruel torments of loss. I have watched them die, mother and sister, brothers and fathers, and loved them because they had to leave. I sing when I am alone and am silent in company. I dance on empty floors and lie on filthy couches, with no company but the spitsilver moon and the eternal sadness of its light. I die every day. I am born anew each second. I have been murdered, and I too have had murder in my heart. I have had all things in my heart, good and evil alike, for this is the way of being. I have sinned and loved the sin. I have killed the thing that I loved and been destroyed by the beauty of its demise. I know well the agonies of corporeal desire. I have submitted to them all. I loved whores, and love them still. I wept at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, for I saw the light in them even then, the beautiful light eternal. I have eaten the flesh of animals and know that it is good. I have known the absence of humility. All these things and more, I have known and done. But I have never been bought. Never. No man has ever purchased me for silver and never will, for once having embraced the light eternal, a man’s soul can never be corrupted. Even if he may drift, the core remains. That core is ineffable.

a whore's song

Coming on the 31st August...

For books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 Extract from ‘A Whore’s Song’, from Black Tarn Publishing. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing

Whorehouse Hygiene

'Whorehouse hygiene', by Ultan Banan. New novella coming soon.

Extract from 'A Whore's Song', by Ultan Banan

Washing dildos is one of the more tedious aspects of my job. No — we don’t have girls to do it for us, though it’s likely Deirdre is coerced into carrying out such menial tasks. When you’re still working your way up, the other girls will take every advantage. They are predators. They give no quarter. Fortunately, I got wise pretty quickly when I was on the rise. After the first year, nobody messed with me. I took the swipes and stood my ground, and soon they came to know what I was all about. That’s what it takes. A girl like Deirdre, she shows her soft side too readily. They will eat her up if she’s not careful.

Yes, I learned quickly that it’s easier to shovel your own shit, as they say. I have no problem doing the dirty jobs that no one likes doing. Take this filthy cock-like appendage in my hands, for instance, as I scrub the traces of blood and shit from its length. Who would relish such a job? Who would take to such a thing without the requisite squeamishness, the necessary revulsion? No one. Yet such things carry a reminder of the need to stay grounded. Doing what I do, owning and possessing men, digging into the darkest corners of their soul and finding their deepest secrets and fears… well, the risk is that you get carried away, drunk on power and greedy for more. Get ideas above your station. Little rituals like these, scrubbing sex toys, the instruments of my control, they keep me level, remind me that I, too, have a place in the hierarchy and that I’m only here because of her that made it all possible. Madame Zhu. I carry out my tasks with diligence, because I am not above them.

Not to mention hygiene. I take it seriously. I’m a whore — I must. We have good clients who take care of themselves, and who scrub and wash and disinfect, but still, I must be careful. What I’m about to say, you may consider self-evident, but the fact is that many men who visit whorehouses are perverts. Not exclusively, I might add; some are simply lonely. Many, however, are into sick business. I mean, things that don’t bear repeating. So you have to be on your guard that they’re not carrying things in with them that are best left at the door, things with names like ‘trichomoniasis’ or ‘papillomavirus’. Or, if you’re a plain sort of individual with a liking for brevity, things like ‘syph’ and ‘the clap’. Take young Isaak, for instance, who was carried out of here only moments ago — who knows what he’s had up his hole when he’s been high? I mean, I could tell he was a virgin, but boys will be boys and the tots will play when the adults are away. But maybe you’re wondering how he is… well, I’ll put it like this: shitting will be agony for the next few weeks, but he’ll escape without any lasting damage. I could have been rougher on him, and God knows I’d have taken pleasure in it, but my instructions were clear. I did only what was asked and nothing more. I’d deal with them all the same way. Rapists, that is. But let’s not go down that road.

I dry off the dildo and place it back in the drawer next to the rest of them. Some of them are devastating. I’m not sure if I can adequately describe them, but let’s try. So the one I just placed back in the drawer, I call ‘Nurse Ratched’. She’ll toy with you but leave you in a bit of a mess. Not making a lasting impression, however (even if Isaak might disagree on that point). Next up is the ‘MacGyver’. I pieced it together from two other dildos of mine that had seen better days, taking the strap from one and the cock from another and uniting them into a new animal. What can I say? I become attached to things. The McGyver is eight inches long — not including the balls — with a diameter of about two inches. It’s pretty lethal. After the MacGyver, we have the ‘Henry the Eighth’. Ten inches in length and with an enormous helmet like a child’s fist. Many a man has seen his life flash before his eyes on the end of Henry the Eighth. And lastly, there is ‘Genghiz Khan’: Big, fat and dangerous in every way. I mean, he’ll roll over you like an army. Fourteen inches, four inch girth… out to destroy. It’s been a while since Genghiz has seen the light of day.

I close the drawer. It must be nearly finishing time for me. It’s Thursday, so it’s unlikely the Madame will have another client. I generally do three a day Monday to Thursday, and two on Friday. Weekends are free — the perks of my station. Come Thursday evening, I’m practically done. Fridays are a breeze, the jobs light. No heavy lifting. It’s a fine way to break in the weekend.
There’s a knock at the door. That’ll be dinner. I ordered the Thai chicken. And perhaps I’ll invite Deirdre in for a half-hour. God knows, I’ve been thinking about her since lunch.
I open the door. It’s not Deirdre, and it’s not lunch. Jessie Skin is standing there, and she’s holding a folder.
She looks stressed.
‘We have a problem,’ she says.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Whorehouse Hygiene’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Keyboard Dyslexia

keyboard dyslexia

'Keyboard Dyslexia', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the written word.

Keyboard Dyslexia

I started writing three or four years ago. During that time, I’ve written four novels, two collections of short stories, a children’s trilogy, and much else, good and bad alike, in between. All told, I’ve written over a million words at this stage. And yet, I don’t know, nor have I ever learned, how to type. Ever since my university days, I’ve been ‘one-finger Freddie’ (not a reference to some legendary campus sexual deviant, I swear), thumping away at the keyboard like a bemused simian newly introduced to tech, looking up occasionally at the screen to scan the text, with no awareness at all of ‘WPM’ or daily targets. Even now, as I write this, my eyes are glued to the keyboard as I hunt down and stab each letter with a weary index finger.

 However, that’s all about to change. In the last few months I’ve made the resolute decision to teach myself ‘touch typing’, that thing people who actually know how to type do, you know, the lightning fingers and eyes on the screen, face all passion and productivity. Professional, like.

I made this decision for two reasons. The second reason was the realisation that I can increase output considerably by taking the time required to learn this method. On an average day, I probably knock out 1500–2000 words. On a good day, 3000. Once or twice, I’ve done 5, but that’s exceptional. I can generally do 3000 in four hours at the keyboard, but I generally burn out after that. I figure that, with touch typing, I can reduce that time to two hours, leaving me more time for editing, reading, etc. All it requires is that I take the (and I’m guessing here) thirty or forty hours required to get myself up to speed with the new method.

But the first and main reason for my decision is something I call ‘keyboard dyslexia’. This is a term I believed I coined myself, my theory being that there is a certain type of dyslexia that affects one only when typing and not when writing or reading. (See below for a list of some of the words I butchered while writing this.) So I went looking for evidence to back up my new theory. There isn’t much out there, the only thing readily to hand on the internet a short article on that repository of sterling internet information, Quora. I kept digging and found an article on an obscure blog by an Irish granddad who had come to the conclusion that it was his keyboard that was dyslexic and not him (recalling, in a way, Tom Waits’ assertion that ‘the piano has been drinking, not me’). I can get behind that (very Irish) logic, but it doesn’t really solve my problem. I kept searching to no avail, leading me to the conclusion that perhaps I was making it up after all and no such affliction existed. Nevertheless, what did become clear during my research is that touch typing is believed to be beneficial for sufferers of good old regular dyslexia. So, if it works for normal dyslexia, why shouldn’t it work for my made-up, imaginary variant?

I made the decision: I’m going to learn touch typing.

I started one week ago. As of writing, I’ve done eight hours of practice, one hour a day, and I’ll keep doing this for a month, or for however long it takes to nail it. I’ve found some excellent free online resources which I’m going to share with you now. TypingClub is the one I’ve used thus far, and it has a logical, structured method for improving the muscle memory.  

So if like me, you’re still at homo-erectus level with your typing (and maybe suffering from the imaginary ailment of keyboard dyslexia), let’s get on with evolution and ramp up those WPMs.  

Online Tools

https://www.typingclub.com/  (excellent tool: walks you through it letter by letter)
https://zty.pe/ (Space Invaders-style game. Addictive as hell)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/topics/zf2f9j6/articles/z3c6tfr (haven’t tried it yet.)

Addendum: some of the shit my dyslexic keyboard comes out with:

tow – two

hte – the

moent – moment

howwrer

excellet

erctus

stuctutred

impriving

memeory

do’nt

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Keyboard Dyslexia’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.