All Five Of My “Back To The 1990s” Short Stories :)


Well, in case you missed any of them, I thought that I’d provide links to all five short stories in my “Back To The 1990s” series. You can also find links to many more short stories here.

This collection was something of an experimental project and, in part, I consider it to be something of a failure. It was one of my first attempts at writing vaguely “realistic” stories (compared to science fiction, horror etc..) in quite a while and, well, it isn’t exactly my best genre.

Likewise, whilst I’d expected to write a lot of stories about different years in the 1990s in both Britain and America, I hadn’t really put aside enough time for research. So, most of the stories were set in mid-late 1990s Britain because, although I was fairly young at the time, I still actually remembered it. Likewise, I’ve never actually been to America, so “realistic” (as opposed to stylised) American settings quickly seemed like a bad idea.

Anyway, here are links to all five stories, with brief plot summaries. Enjoy 🙂

1) “Grey Cartridge” By C. A. Brown: Two game journalists in early 1997 receive a strange parcel in the post…

2) “One Hit Wonder” By C. A. Brown: A singer has found fame! Or has she?

3) “Routine” By C. A. Brown: American stand-up comedian Jack Carlicks dazzles London with his brilliantly cynical humour. It’s just a shame that there’s a time traveller from June 2016 in the audience, who is hell-bent on heckling him.

4) “Silly Rules” By C. A. Brown: Back in the 1990s, film censorship in Britain was hilariously strange.

5) “Booze Cruise” By C. A. Brown: A couple go on a short holiday to France, displaying the high level of international knowledge and cultural sophistication that makes British tourists so widely respected and well-loved around all of mainland Europe.

“Booze Cruise” By C. A. Brown (Back To The 1990s – Short Story #5)

This is the final short story in my "Back To The 1990s" series. Stay tuned for a retrospective of the whole collection later tonight.

This is the final short story in my “Back To The 1990s” series. Stay tuned for a retrospective of the whole collection later tonight.

French supermarkets are surprisingly interesting places. Not only are there live lobsters in glass tanks beside the poissonnerie counter, but you can also buy vin de table that comes in milk cartons. And, surprisingly, the wine costs less than the milk does. Seriously, it’s about ten francs a carton or so, give or take. Plus, there are also these little flasks of rhum that come in the same kind of cardboard and plastic packaging that children’s toys use.

The trip was, of course, Carl’s idea. He’d originally planned to borrow his mate Dave’s van and go over there with the lads. But, none of them understood a word of French between them. Plus, despite some enlightened European Directive that said we could bring as much back as we liked for personal consumption, Dave had more than a few horror stories about customs pulling over low-riding vans weighed down by the contents of the local vineyard.

Despite his best efforts, Carl couldn’t get Dave to bring the van. My guess was that he worried that they’d find red diesel in the tank or something like that. Honestly, with Dodgy Dave, it really wouldn’t surprise me a bit. So, the whole thing turned into a date instead. Sure, Carl had tried to make it sound romantic but, even if it wasn’t, I wasn’t exactly going to turn down a day trip to France.

Even if, as I had learnt, it just meant driving through lots of empty countryside until we found the nearest supermarket. The biggest irony of all was that, once we’d stuck a ten franc coin into the trolley and made our way inside, one of the counters had a sign dangling over it with “ENGLISH SPOKEN HERE” printed in bold letters.

Oh, shit.‘ Carl sighed, as he spotted the sign.

Zut alors! Merde!‘ I corrected him. ‘When in Rome…

Er.. I mean. I’m sorry for dragging you over here to this boring old supermarket. If I’d have known they spoke English, then I’d have taken the lads instead. Tell you what, we’ll get lunch in the local village or something.‘ He stuttered.

That sounds… magnifique.‘ I smiled at him. ‘Come on, let’s buy some plonk.

As different as the supermarket was, with it’s open shelves of industrial chemicals, locked cabinets of shotgun cartridges and rows of videos in clear plastic security boxes, some things are universal. The booze was, just like back home, at the very far end of the shop.

We probably weren’t the first couple who had spent half an hour in the drinks aisle, playing trolley Tetris with the little beer bottles, rum flasks and wine cartons. But, the whole thing still felt excitingly new. When we were done, the whole thing came to just over a thousand francs. Despite my suggestions, Carl insisted on using the English checkout. It wouldn’t have surprised me if there was an extra surcharge for it. But, I’d left the calculator back home in the kitchen.

Getting the stuff into the car wasn’t really the exercise in frustration that I feared it would be. Sure, we’d had to drop a few of the crates into the seatwells, but it wasn’t like the car was riding low. Ten minutes later, we’d parked in the local village.

I’d thought that it would be quiet in the way that only French villages in the early afternoon can be, but it was market day. The streets were bustling and the air was filled with both the sound of a hundred rapid-fire conversations and the smell of fresh meat. A young man behind one of the stalls hacked away at a chicken with a giant cleaver. An old man casually gutted a fish between puffs on his pipe. Piles of vegetables lay in front of us, gleaming in the summer sun.

Finding a restaurant wasn’t the difficult part, but finding a table was. We’d ended up crammed in the corner of the top floor of a converted house, the air heavy with the aroma of boiling tomatoes, sizzling garlic and endless gauloises. Carl squinted at the menu with bewilderment, whilst I translated. Out of curiosity, I decided to try the escargot. When we’d finally found a waiter, I ordered in halting secondary-school French.

Half an hour hour and a couple of glasses of table wine later, our food arrived. Carl, adventurous as ever, had gone for chicken in tomato sauce. I, on the other hand, had an elaborate plate filled with little black things. They tasted like garlic and had a surprisingly chewy texture. Rolling his eyes, Carl said: ‘Olives? I thought they were Italian.

They aren’t olives, they’re escargot.‘ I smiled.

And what’s that when it’s at home?’

Snails.‘ I grinned. Carl grimaced. ‘But, you’d never guess from the taste.

“Silly Rules” By C. A. Brown (Back To The 1990s – Short Story #4)

Stay tuned for the next 1990s-themed short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT :)

Stay tuned for the next 1990s-themed short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

The thing I really can’t understand is why you ever wanted to be a film censor, of all things.‘ I laughed, before taking a sip of my drink. ‘I mean, you of all people!

Gary grinned at me: ‘Well, how else am I going to watch all of the banned movies?

Please don’t tell me you actually said that in the interview.‘ I chuckled, almost snorting wine onto the table. It probably didn’t help that someone had got to the jukebox and had started playing that ridiculous “Vindaloo” song that had been all over the radio for weeks. Half the time, I wanted to laugh at it and the other half of the time it was stuck on repeat in my mind.

Oh god, no. I was the picture of diligence.‘ Gary said proudly as he rolled another cigarette.

The picture of diligence?

Oh yes, I even did research and everything. I even quoted some of their sillier rules to them.

Silly rules? Like what?‘ I asked.

You can show a criminal machine-gunning ten people to death, but you can’t show him brandishing a flick knife. You can show two people bashing the living daylights out of each other with their fists, but there mustn’t be any headbutts. You can show a ninja hacking someone to pieces with a samurai sword, but you can’t show him swinging nunchucks or using throwing stars. I could go on.‘ He lit his cigarette and blew out a weary puff of smoke.

Huh? I always thought that they were more interested in what people got up to in the bedroom.‘ I finished my wine and thought about ordering another.

Oh god, there are tons of silly rules about that too!‘ Gary laughed ‘But, they’re pretty much what you would expect.‘ He put on a posh voice ‘We can’t have the British public getting too imaginative, you know. It just isn’t the done thing‘.

I tried not to laugh too loudly. Finally, I got up and went over to the bar for more drinks. Even though it was a quiet night, “Vindaloo” was still playing loudly in the background. When I got back to the table, I handed Gary another pint and said: ‘You do realise that you’d probably just have spent every day sitting in an almost empty room and writing down rude words, between weekly meetings with the local vicar.

That’s another silly rule!‘ Gary stubbed out his cigarette and got started on his pint.

You actually have to see a vicar every week? I was only joking about that.‘ I raised an eyebrow.

What? No.‘ He laughed ‘I meant, you can still actually get a film banned for blasphemy. There’s some short film , one with nuns, that is still very much banned to this day. It’s the the nineteen-nineties for heaven’s sake!

Get out of here! We still have ye olde blasphemy rules?‘ I laughed, before taking another sip of wine. ‘Anything sillier than that?

‘Oh yes! A film actually has to go past the censors for a second time when it’s released on video, where a stricter set of rules apply. For some reason, the censors actually think that people constantly rewind and rewatch fight scenes. I mean, you’d be shocked at the number of action movies that have been hacked to pieces on video just because they were worried about some hypothetical sad act rewatching a fight.

Oh my god, that’s too funny!‘ I almost spilled my wine. ‘No wonder you didn’t get the job. I just wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face.

Oh no, I kept a straight face.‘ Gary deadpanned ‘But I had a bit of a cold. For some bizarre reason, asking the censors if they keep a box of tissues nearby is a quick way to get booted out onto the street.

“Routine” By C. A. Brown (Back To The 1990s – Short Story #3)

Stay tuned for the next 1990s-themed short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT :)

Stay tuned for the next 1990s-themed short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

… And, London, have you ever wondered why they never play heavy metal on the radio? Or at least something other than the same five love songs sung by five thousand different people. I mean, it’s like fricking pollution!‘ Jack Carlicks took a sip of water and fell silent, waiting for the applause. It came a few seconds later, loud and rapturous.

The stage lights came on behind him, turning him into a gaunt silhouette. He cradled the mic in his arms and said: ‘You know, when the aliens eventually pick up our radio transmissions, they’ll think that the word ‘baby’ is a type of punctuation. No wonder that there hasn’t been any recorded contact with alien life. It is, and you heard it here first, a government conspiracy to scare away the cool planets.‘ A few giggles rippled through the theatre.

You’ve all seen Star Trek, right?’ An eerie silence filled the room ‘Seriously? Not one of you? Well, this is the worst science fiction convention I’ve ever been to!‘ Laughter erupted, Jack continued: ‘It’s set in a future where there’s no rockstars, no adult magazines, no wrestling, no motorbikes, no horror movies, no violent videogames and nothing but wine coolers to drink. Everyone has to wear skintight leotards too. But, get this… humans are STILL the coolest people in the United Federation Of Planets.

And, you know why? It’s like that thing in high school. You do have high schools here, right? Anyway, if you can’t hang out with the cool kids, then you hang out with the nerdiest nerds you can find. So, you look cool… by comparison. NOW do you see why there’s nothing but pop music on the radio?‘ The audience convulsed with laughter.

Jack reached into his jacket and pulled out a tabloid. For a second, he sat down, took another sip of water and leafed through a few pages. Bewildered murmurings filled the theatre. The mic crackled slightly.

Throwing the paper away and leaping to his feet, Jack grabbed the mic and said: ‘I’ve been here a week and I still can’t get enough of your press! There are paranoid conspiracy theories about Europe on page two, there’s nudity on page three to distract from the rabid rantings on page five, there’s all sorts of scary stuff about terrorism on page four and there are even calls to … bring back… the death penalty, on the front page! It made me feel homesick, just like that.’ He clicked his fingers. The air rumbled with laughter.

But, you’ve gotta wonder how they print this crap? I mean, we’ve got the first Amendment. Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press. And, with all that freedom, they still don’t print this kind of rubbish. It’s so… boring.‘ More laughter filled the air. ‘What are people supposed to laugh at every morning?

There were a few boos and hisses. Jack arched his eyebrows: ‘You mean, some of you actually…. take this stuff seriously? Even the stories about how Germany is planning to ban pint glasses from your pubs?‘ A solitary drunken holler echoed through the silent theatre. Jack chuckled: ‘Dude! There’s more beer in a stein! It’s like two pints… for the price of one.‘ He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper: ‘They’re. Doing. You. A. Favour!

By now, the audience was roaring with laughter again. Jack chuckled and launched into a routine about John Major, Bill Clinton and a golden saxophone.

When the audience had stopped guffawing, he smiled and said ‘Well, I’m glad you actually know who John Major is. When I did that joke in Texas, all I got were blank stares. Anyway, that’s all I’ve got time for at the moment. It’s…‘ He tapped his watch ‘…Half past ten, which means that you have exactly half an hour of drinking time left. Maybe the stein isn’t such a bad idea after all. Goodnight. Peace out.

The curtain fell.

“One Hit Wonder” By C. A. Brown (Back To The 1990s – Short Story #2)

Stay tuned for the next 1990s-themed short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT :)

Stay tuned for the next 1990s-themed short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

The strangest thing of all was seeing nine pictures of my face on the singles shelf at Woolworths. The stencil effect that the art department had used for the disc covers reminded me less of Andy Warhol and more of a photocopied wanted poster. The effect was twice as bad on the cassette cases that rested discreetly on the shelves below.

Odd as it must sound, the cover looked totally different to how it had looked in Cynthia’s office a couple of weeks ago. Sure, the picture was the same, but it went together perfectly with her shiny marble veneer desk, art deco lamps and pop art prints. Here, in the middle of a shop, it just looked wrong. Like something from another world.

As I stood there, I half expected someone to tap my shoulder and shout my name. Or to look at the cover and then look at me, then to look back again. But, the middle-aged man standing next to me didn’t even glance in my direction. He just knelt down, studied a ragged shopping list, and carefully picked up a Spice Girls cassette. He checked the title against his list three times before wandering towards the garden supplies.

Before I could fumble through my bag for my own shopping list, I heard footsteps behind me. My heart quickened. Although I’d done a couple of guest spots at clubs, I still wasn’t used to the whole crowd thing, let alone fame. My autograph looked less like something from a museum and more like something that made bank tellers squint suspiciously.

The footsteps got closer. I chanced a glance sideways. Two women about my age rushed past me and went straight for the shelves. As much as I tried, I couldn’t resist listening in.

Have they got it? It’s a couple of weeks old, so it’s gotta be here somewhere.‘ The woman with the blond hair and the crop top flipped through a line of discs above the cassettes like they were filing cards.

It’s punk, Debs. It probably won’t be here.‘ The other woman stood back slightly, scratching a new-looking Chinese letter tattoo on her arm. ‘It’s all pop music. Told you we’d be better off at the record shop.’

Dejected, they walked away. I let out a sigh of relief and began to look for my shopping list. If I stood around here for too long, someone would probably ask me if I was ok. But, even when I’d extracted the thin strip of paper from the side pocket of my bag, I just couldn’t bring myself to move. Maybe, in spite of myself, I wanted a story to tell. Something I could rattle off to a magazine journalist about how I’d been “spotted” by an adoring fan.

I shuddered and looked at my shopping list. Double A batteries, A4 folders, gift labels, plant food and some odour eaters. They were all on the other side of the shop. So, what was I doing still standing here? I had to pull myself away from the shelves. But, I couldn’t.

Soon, there were more footsteps. This time, I didn’t look. Instead, I fixed my eyes on the shopping list and double-checked everything. Surely, I’d forgotten something. Blank videos, that was it! Being careful not to look sideways, I fumbled around in my bag for a pen, before carefully writing “videos” in the tiny space at the bottom of the list.

Sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if this was any good?‘ A man’s voice echoed beside me.

Brushing a strand of hair behind my ear and putting a smile on, I turned to face him. With his spiky hair and battered leather jacket, he was the picture of perfection. He held a record in his hand. Was this it? Would I be telling some journalist about how this was the first time I’d met this guy? Then, I saw the cover. It was a Beautiful South single.

Chuckling to myself, I said: ‘Yeah, they’re ok. I’ve only heard a couple of their songs though. They’re kind of sophisticated, I guess. Good dinner party music, if you’re into that kind of thing.

He shrugged and put the disc back, before walking towards the counter to buy cigarettes. I kicked myself. I should have shown him my own single. No, that would be weird. I’d sound like one of those creepy people from the adverts. But, I thought that I should say something. So, I turned to face the counter. He’d gone.

With a weary sigh, I finally pulled myself away from the singles shelf and forced myself to go to the other side of the shop. When I’d picked up everything and started to walk back to the counter, I felt myself rooted to the spot once more – staring at the nine photos of myself again. Shaking my head, I told myself that it’d be easier next week.

“Grey Cartridge” By C. A. Brown (Back To The 1990s – Short Story #1)

Stay tuned for the next 1990s-themed short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT :)

Stay tuned for the next 1990s-themed short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

On the desk opposite, Grant fumbled around for something. After brushing away a couple of empty cigarette packets and almost knocking over a bizarrely-proportioned plastic figurine of Lara Croft, he produced a bulky brown envelope and held it aloft gleefully.

I raised an eyebrow: ‘I know they’re probably looking for a good review, but didn’t you take journalistic ethics at college? I mean, if you’re going to take backhanders, at least be discreet about it.

Very droll. It’s a game.‘ He said indignantly.

Don’t they usually send someone round with the games? I mean, I can’t imagine any of the big studios just sending it in the post like that. Unless it’s an independent, but I thought Nintendo was strict about that kind of thing. It is for the new Nintendo, right?

No shit, Sherlock.‘ Grant muttered, before putting on a posh voice ‘May I enquire as to your line of deductive reasoning?

I burst into laughter: ‘Sega stopped using cartridges a couple of years ago. Sony never used cartridges. And no-one’s still making games for the old Super Nintendo. Therefore, it has the be for the new Nintendo. The Ultra 64, I think.

Nintendo 64‘ He said smugly, pulling out a curved grey plastic cartridge. It looked less impressive than the pictures from America had led me to believe. Somehow, the smug grins of our counterparts across the pond seemed to lend the nondescript hunks of grey plastic a magical aura that they just didn’t have in the flesh.

So, what is it? That James Bond game from the press release? God help me, if I have to review another shoddily-made movie tie-in game…

No, that’s just the thing.‘ He showed the cartridge to me. ‘I don’t know what it is.

I’ve seen more cartridges than I can remember. Everything from shiny black Mega Drive cartridges to dusty old Commodore 64 cartridges. Whatever shape a cartridge is, they all have one thing in common – a label. This cartridge didn’t have one.

I sighed, ‘Oh god, if this is some silly spy-themed marketing stunt for that bloody Jam…

Nah, if it was a pre-release copy, it’d have tons of paperwork with it. But, there’s literally nothing here. Just a cartridge in an envelope that arrived with the morning post. And, no, there isn’t a return address before you ask.‘ Grant said, holding up the envelope.

I was going to ask about serial numbers. Wait, don’t tell me. They’ve been filed off.

A shocked expression crossed Grant’s face. ‘B… But, how did you know?

Ah, it must be the infamous Grey Cartridge, then. I’ve heard stories about it on the old BBS services. The first reported sightings were on the original NES. Apparently, some guy from the old Soviet Union would steam off the label of a cartridge, file down the serial number and replace the chips inside . When played, the screen would display a series of precisely-timed flickering patterns that would leave the viewer in a highly suggestible state. Thus priming them for the subliminal messages from..

Bollocks!‘ Grant laughed. ‘You had me going there for a second though.

Well, yeah, but I don’t see any better explanation from you. Anyway, the whole thing’s moot. Central Office still hasn’t sent us the bloody console yet!‘.