Monday 17 October 2011

Hi-De-High Adventure!

I’m almost packed, which doesn’t take long. A single frame and canvass sack and otherwise that’s I all stout and looking forward to the next horizon. For soon I shall be off and in good company, for that company is my ardent brood and we’ve not had an ardently-brooding holiday for two years, and a month, or three, or more. As I write my beloved Q is loading up the Vega 5C, flustered as to space for it’s a convert, double bunks and gramophone. Checking labels and make for we’re off at first to the 1930s and then - who knows?
Whether sky-pirates or battling balloon hamlets, cities forgotten amongst ice and mountain blue, dance hall, gypsy ball, we’ll see it all.
It’s the only way to avoid the internet truth be told.
So high adventure and empty beaches for the sprouts, and ho how we’ll go to the back of beyond. For two weeks. So for these two weeks I bid you all a fond soon-be-back. I’ll leave the light on in the corner, feel free to browse, there’s plenty to see here still all hung with jolly bunting in Slide23.
Pip, pip!

Sunday 16 October 2011

What the hell happened to wosisname? (end)

This is the final part, scroll down and read those previous in order for fullest effect.

There are six glasses on the table for Charlie has not returned them to the bar and no one is collecting. She is alone in this if not upon the table where new friends sit and change places as if a queue unseen is passing about the Punch so that over the course of the evening she meets everyone.
Now and chatting about her roses is Milly whose husband died in the Falklands, not in the conflict but from following a penguin into a minefield. The conversation is the same as that of the brothers Pike, Henry and Rufus who though they share the play of anecdote and answer are talking instead about their sister Pru who went to Carlisle to be a lesbian (which both seem to think involves a written exam). Mrs Francombe sits now a table over having taken her turn with Charlie and perhaps still thinking about the Polish POW she once hid in a chicken coop until 1953. Tom Ruddock who owns the largest farm in the district is in his regular place of authority by the bar where Billy George and he recall the time they went to Glastonbury Fayre in the late seventies (of which they are still arguing about Steve Hillage). There is Hector who ordered a mail order bride and is in litigation with the Post Office. Annie Twist who waved at Charlie from her bike is gossiping with Mary Monroe about the antics of their third, Alice, who died six years before and still pops by for tea.
And there are others, many such though the bar is small and most have to stand and they all know Charlie a little better now. Just as they knew her Mum who was one of them until stolen away by her Dad. Of course he came back though alone but for Charlie and she remembers them all or thinks she does. But in the way that whilst as a girl she thought Ever Decreasing Circles was comedy gold until on a rare rerun it was not quite right. Everyone had been younger, there had been a laughter track, and whilst things had been in their place it had seemed like a bad copy, a mockery of the original. Not funny, cruel. But everyone here was friendly and everyone here was pleased to see her and if no one cared what she had been up to in her adult life then that suited Charlie who shared the sentiment precisely.
            Into the Punch came wossisname.
Standing by the door he elicited little attention at all though he was dirty still where dried mud remained and his hair was messy where sweat had been and gone. He had perhaps expected more, bin bag in hand and face set, downcast yet hostile. The Punch did not so much as move out of wossiname’s way as ignore him so he was forced to push to where Charlie sat and from within the bag pull out a Versace dress, a Prada handbag and a tangled clutter of Agent Provocateur. Her phone fell upon the first where it lay draped in the lap of Henry Pike. It rang. Charlie accepted it from Henry and turned it off.
            “These are nice, dear,” said Milly holding up a satin corset tangled up with a single stocking.
            Wossisname said, “Where is your husband?”
            “You killed him.”
            Charlie shook her head, “I’m sure I would have remembered. London fell first to the catastrophe. That’s right isn’t it, Milly?”
            The old woman looked up from admiring the fit of the lingerie across her tightly buttoned chest, “Sorry, dear?”
            “London. That’s where the virus, or the deaths, or whatever it was breaks out.”
            “If you like, dear.”
            “There is no virus, there is no catastrophe,” said wossisname. “You just need help. You just need to get away from this place. They hold to some old religion up here. They’re going to use you in some ritual tonight. They’re preying on your paranoia.”
But Milly only laughed. The Pike’s laughed. Overhearing the argument Mrs Francombe laughed. It was infectious. Soon Tom, Billy, Hector, Annie and Mary were all laughing and not just them but everyone. The publican laughed loudest of all banging his hand on the bar and wossiname turned on them all perhaps aware in his heart that he was in danger but bolstered by anger and now offended at their treatment of him. He looked as if he might have shouted but Milly tapped his arm and he looked down to see her drying her eyes with a pair of thong briefs in silk, “Oh dear,” she said. “Oh, deary me! We’re not going to do any such thing tonight.”
            “Of course you are.”
            “No dear, that was last night. And here she is, just as we summoned her.”
            “But the Evocation?”
            “Invocation, dear. Invocation. Quite different,” Milly turned to Charlie. “So sorry about your mother but she was so frightfully keen. Such a good girl, and she was such a very good vessel.” Then back to the hiker, “Invocation, as I say. One envokes a spirit without, but that is so very messy. No, an Invocation - inviting the spirit within. Much neater. Hard on the vessel of course but what a sweet girl it made. And things are getting on and we’re none of us young now. So we summoned the spirit, and here she is. Aren’t you Charlie?”
            And she was. All ready for whatever there was to be done. Nothing nice she thought, “What shall I do now?”
            “Whatever you wish, dear. Yours is the power, whatever you say.”
            Charlie was happy. She had it all planned out, her catastrophe with Stephen, and Hugh, and Bruce if he was to be found (or Ray if not). And she would be a huntress. How brilliant was that?
            And what the hell happened to wossiname?

What the hell happened to wosisname? (5)

What then indeed happened to wossisname on this warm day?
 Charlie might imagine that he walked back the first mile at an angry pace, perhaps a little hurt but all the more determined because of it. For the second mile and that thereafter he would become thirsty. The third and final mile would see him increasingly frustrated for a hiker though he appeared in truth he clearly was not one that walked for pleasure. He would cough for his throat would not only be dry, but sore and no amount of saliva would make a difference. His top would become a burden and his t-shirt become wringing wet about back and sides. But the knight errant is on his quest and his obsession lends him energy, but then what else can he do? Return to the village no better placed than when he left? He has a need. In Charlie lies his justification, she thought. Perhaps having spent so long comparing conspiracies this field trip is now the most important thing in his life. To validate that life, to disprove those who might have said he had no life at all?
            Or maybe that was playing too close to stereotype. There was every chance Charlie allowed that he had a girlfriend, a cat and a circle of friends being as interested as he in the occult and the mysterious that he enjoyed his time immensely. There was nothing to say he watched the X Files. There is every chance he knew who Charlie was. In the Punch they would have discussed her and however guarded a name is enough for wossisname, for wherever he is there is the internet and there also, Charlie’s Mum.
Of course he knew who she was.
An insane murderer is one thing, an insane murderer about whom Nine Inch Nails released a classic song quite another. He most likely owned the album. He might even have called it up as he walked and Charlie could imagine him playing it as he arrived at the field.
There now where the earth lies in a mound over the pit does he dig with his hands, eager but fearful to find the truth? No, for Charlie remembers she left the spade not far away and a man looking for a pit would easily find a spade.
            So then wossisname digs. He does not call the Police because he would have done that before now and a man of such clear and fragile dignity would never wish to look a fool. Or if he did would find them now rather busy with the catastrophe. So he digs because he knows what he expects to find and that says rather a lot about him, for he must have grisly expectations. And having dug and found a bin bag does he tear it open, or like a scene from a television show wish to leave things undisturbed? Whatever he does Charlie is sure he takes pictures and perhaps then to prove his determination might he then call her?
            If he does then Charlie won’t hear it but she would have liked to see his face when the first bars of Boys Don’t Cry comes from the pit, and then? Charlie no longer cares. Dressed and painted Charlie is going to the pub. Hair spiked. Pale faced, black lippy and eyeliner, happy again. She had been a happy Goth. 

What the hell happened to wosisname? (4)

Perhaps it was the remoteness of Cumbria that had so far preserved it from the catastrophe. Or more likely the disease they carried had yet to break out. But with so many tourists in Keswick at least it was surely only a matter of time.
Charlie had almost balked at having to pay for what she had been expecting to loot but what with money shortly to be useless anyway it really made no difference. Anyway she consoled herself that with the market present in what was doubtless its unaware last gasp she had been able to buy up the sort of local produce even she could not envision soon finding. On the passenger seat of the Audi there was rather more cheese, sausage and whisky mustard than she was likely to need but it balanced the foil wrapped hiking rations that crammed the well of the rear seats. Food had been her first purchase. Behind Charlie was stuffed everything else. Not least the spade.
            Closer to the village she pulled over. Over a gate and sheep freshly shorn of fleece and a year’s worth of crusted shit ignored her. Having yet to change Charlie sunk to her ankles in the mud and left her kitten heels behind as spade in hand she crossed inside and in the cover of the hedge dug a hole. Having never done such a thing it was considerably harder than she had thought. But still Charlie persevered until hands raw she was able at last to return to the Audi and in six hard journeys transfer twelve half full bin bags from boot to pit. That done she filled in the hole after lastly stripping off the silly and thoroughly ruined skirt suit, tights and underwear. Satisfied with her morning’s work she drove back to the cottage naked. Only when all her new things crowded the living room did Charlie wash in bottled water.
            There came a knock on the door a little later and that she ignored. She ignored it too as she tugged happily at labels, dressing and stomping her feet in good new boots. Nowhere had Charlie been able to acquire a big, fuck-off hunting knife even in the odd and stuffy shop crammed with airguns and canoes. But an axe had been easy and so since the caller was persistent then with one hand on the door and a hatchet in the other Charlie answered. It was the hiker. He fidgeted. He made to push by her so she pushed back and flourished her little axe in what she thought to be more than fair warning.
            “Let me in. Please.”
            Charlie could think of no good reason why she should and said as much adding in case he had not noticed, “I have an axe.”
            “Good, that’s good. They’ll come for you later.”
            “The dying? Is it my blood they’re after? My brains?”
            “I don’t know about that. Look please, at least let me explain.”
            An older woman in a waxed Barbour went by on a bicycle. She waved but did not stop and continued along the road till she came to the Punch. There and watched by the hiker she leant the bike against a land rover. The road was crowded on both sides. The pub was doing good business. A middle-aged couple on foot passed the cottage gate and they too raised a friendly hand. Their dog pissed on the front nearside wheel of the Audi. Charlie scratched her bum with the hatchet where her new trousers itched, “Give me a better reason to let you in?”
            “I saw you digging.”
She thought on that for a moment before stepping aside. She did not offer the hiker tea and nor did she put down her axe. He made space on the sofa and began to roll himself a cigarette, “It’s there to be found if you know where to look. A lot of it is online now. You can check.”
            “On a website?”
            “Message boards?”
            “Your website?”
            “Well yes,” he admitted. He lit his cigarette and explained about himself but Charlie not caring did not bother to listen. Instead she went to the window from where she could just make out The Punch. She wanted a drink and had forgotten to lay anything in. The hiker was still talking, “Tell me, do you know what an Evocation is?”
            Not really, “Why?”
            “It is part of what they do, have done for centuries. There was a witness to it some years back. But there’re traces far longer ago than that.”
            Charlie interrupted him not caring that he looked offended that she had, “Is this magic stuff?”
            “Well, yes.”
            “My Dad says it’s a load of bollocks. I think you should leave now.”
            But the hiker did not want to go. He did not even move from the sofa, indeed he sat back further. He pinched off the last of his cigarette, “Maybe I should go and dig up who you buried?”
            “If you like, it won’t matter. Everyone’s dead soon anyway.”
            “Can I have your mobile number?”
            “Will you go away if you do?”
            He nodded and dabbed it in to his own. Before he left he asked, “How do I know this is for your phone?”
            “I never lie,” and Charlie kicked the door shut in his face before returning to her piled acquisitions. Happier times and happier again soon to come she picked out scissors, comb and make-up. Charlie swore at the mirror where though he had left the thought of the hiker had followed her into the bathroom. He was quite spoiling her jolly catastrophe and she felt sure that Stephen would find him to be frightful. Hugh would likely not do more than gently tease the man but would probably know how to cook him if Bruce (or at a pinch Ray) could be prevailed upon to hunt him down like a wild pig. Charlie supposed that as the huntress that would really fall to her but she was doing her make-up and so for now she would try again to put him from her mind. Still though he persisted and so quite against her choice Charlie for the hour that followed increasingly returned to wondering what was happening to wossisname, thingy, the hiker?  She ate onion marmalade on whole wheat crackers, roughing it.

Saturday 15 October 2011

What the hell happened to wosisname? (3)

The village was dark to someone used to the city. There was a single streetlamp but that not near the cottage and the moon had been full the night before so still shone brightly. Other than the shadows of house and hedgerow there was gloom enough for Charlie to check the Audi whose boot she opened and in which was bagged her whole life.
The air was rich with dark earth and lingering honeysuckle. Restful as she had always thought the catastrophe would be. Cumbria was a good place to see out the depopulation of the earth, there was bound to be an eco-farm somewhere with a windmill and stocks laid in. She checked her phone, pleased to see it still had a signal. Automated Charlie supposed and so it might be days yet before a fault needing human attention sprung up and the signal went down. Not so for the satnav. That was all battery and satellites made after all not to need much upkeep, maybe. Here then and staying over before she equipped herself in the morning. There were probably more camping outfitters up here than bakeries. Her shoes and skirt were not really suitable for a huntress and she would need weapons. A shotgun to start with but there would be something better in a TA centre. Sellafield was somewhere hereabouts; there must be plenty of guns littering the place now that the guards had fallen to the mysterious illness.
            “Can I speak to you?” said the hiker from the Punch.
            “Must you?” said Charlie. She tossed her phone into the boot, banging it shut. This boy would not last a week on his own. But Charlie was not going to carry passengers and could not see what he might contribute. He looked like a victim, just the sort to trip and make a noise where here in the early days those not quite dead would be preying on the fit and healthy.
            “Can I come inside?”
            “Look, this place. I arrived today too. Please understand I don’t think it’s safe for you here. I’ve been hearing about this place for ages. It’s old. The people here are old. Old traditions, there’s no church did you notice? How many villages don’t have a church?”
            “Are there bees? Has someone been killed? If there’s a mysterious past then someone must have been murdered, yes?”
            Even in the gloom he looked perturbed, “Bees?”
            “Bees, only you can see the hills and they’ve not built a wicker man. So whilst I don’t mind Christopher Lee in a dress I would hate to be in the remake. What do you want?”
            “Please, this place,” he said. He hesitated perhaps trying to find the words before, “It’s not right. But it’s not what I thought. I came here expecting... Roger Delgado. But everywhere I look there’s only Anthony Ainley. So can I? Come inside?”
            “No. Go home.”
            “I’m camping. But I still think you should leave. I’m quite serious; there’ve been stories for ages about this part of the country, articles. I’ve been all over and this morning they were taking down the bunting. There’re the remains of a bonfire on the other side of the village. Why should there be bees again?”
            But Charlie did not answer. Charlie raised a hand to forestall any more of the young man’s longing for mystery and unlocked the door. There he stood still until she shut it again and there he might have remained but Charlie did not care. Camping? Was that the absolute best he could do? There was a world of empty houses. She found a pencil, paper and a box of candles. She had a list to make for the morning and the first thing she wrote down was a spade.

What the hell happened to wosisname? (2)

Stepping through the door brought back fewer memories than she expected. Charlie had been back here since her last visit only in dreams and whilst it was smaller than it ought to have been also it had been redecorated. The old sofa on which she had sat and read the NME was gone, replaced by something in pine. The smells she had forgotten she only remembered now by their absence. There had been incense, the spicy smell of a curry or a patisserie perhaps?
The landlord was also the publican, pleasant enough in jumper and corduroy. “You’re good for a week,” he said.
“That’ll be fine,”
“All new and it cost me a fortune, but you’ve got to make a show these days. You’re lucky it got finished early, bloody miracle frankly. Plumbing only went in two day ago, used to only be the fire for heating and a back boiler for water. Nasty old thing it was.”
Charlie nodded, “I remember. When it rained the coal outside would turn the puddles black.”
“Came with my Dad. Few times over the years.”
He hurried her round, unsurprised by what she said and perhaps she thought rather disinterested. Here the kitchen made smaller by modern convenience. Now the same narrow stairs but with a shower-stall upstairs big enough for four where there had been a tub on bare boards. Of the two bedrooms she took the slightly smaller, her room as had been. That too had changed, the shutters eggshell dappled and gleaming double glazing that still had tape about the edges that the publican pulled away and hid in his pocket. They both pretended she had not noticed. He said, “Whole place is yours, lass. Drop the key in Sunday, settle up then. I’ll be in the Punch, or the girl will. We do food if you’re not wanting the bother,” he did not offer to help with her bags, “right then.”  And he was gone, coughing his way back down the stairs. Charlie tried to open the window but whether new or reluctant it resisted her efforts. So making sure the door was shut and the kitchen tap worked she drank from a coffee cup before returning to her room. She liked it that hers was the first shower and tired she lay on the bed but sleep would only come after a half-hearted attempt for her to do the same, the first too for that in this new bed.
She did not wake until nine. Twenty minutes later and she pushed through the second of two doors to the pub, the first held open by an iron boot scraper and one that saw use. She has not expected the fruit machine and if the juke box was literally just a box on one wall still there was music. Pink Floyd, she recognised the band if not more particularly the album. Otherwise the Punch was as it should be the public bar small with a low ceiling and still only a third full. She could tell it was not a pub for tourists, too dark and the taps were not marked by brand. You knew what to ask for or they probably did not have it. Charlie settled on vodka. Pink Floyd continued with only a slight pause, someone had put the whole album on. There were five men there other than the publican. All were looking at her. Not offensively, one half smiled indeed. She settled on a stool between two unoccupied tables and wished she had a book.
The publican laughed with one of the locals before turning to Charlie. He did not have to leave the bar to speak to her though he turned down Roger Walters. “Would you like to eat, lass?”
She would and chose. She looked at those in the pub after he pushed through a curtain. Three were older. The last and he younger sat a little apart from the others, he in jeans, walking boots and like her an outsider. But it was not he that met Charlie’s eye, nor was it he that had been the topic of conversation. Instead the smiling-man asked her name adding, “Are you Laura’s girl by any chance?”
Laura was her Mother’s name, “Funnily enough.”
“You look a lot like her, taller mind. Not seen you for what, ten year or more?”
            “Longer,” she explained about holidays with her Dad and they nodded. All but the younger man who nursed his beer more excluded now than he had been when two of them hadn’t been from hereabouts.
            “You won’t remember me then?” smiling man said. “Aye well, I used to work for your Granda. Good to see you again, lass,” with which he turned back to his friends.

Friday 14 October 2011

What the hell happened to wosisname? (1)

If the children of the famous find good cause for complaint what then of they whose parents were infamous? Charlie would say (whenever the subject came up at dinner parties) that she had never known her mother as the silly cow had walked out on them before she was born.
She had said it so often that people who knew Charlie answered the question on her behalf and sometimes in a silly voice. Usually the men and more recently one in particular so that now the answer no longer elicited the sort of laughter reserved for a joke only a few understood so much as a frown for one repeated. Which was unfair because Charlie was not being funny, was not even trying to be funny. She had attended far too many dinner parties not to know the rules. Women were not to be funny. That was men’s work, apparently. No, she said it because it was true.
Everything Charlie said was true. Charlie did not understand lies. They changed the world. And her mother really had left her before she was born, albeit figuratively and to Rampton Secure where for all Charlie knew she remained. Clearly Charlie had been there too until wrinkled, new and bawling but not as she remembered it and anyway not for long. Her father had not told Charlie any such thing (preferring to say his wife was dead) until Charlie was thirteen when he had made shepherd’s pie and she had made him miserable. They ate a lot of shepherd’s pie back then. It was something they had shared and starting the same time and for nearly the two years following being miserable had been too. So her mother had left them (which was true) Charlie and her Dad, left them so that she could batter to death Mrs Conway three doors down for reasons no one had ever really discovered.   
    Mummy being a minor murderer would have been hard for any teenage girl. And so it had been for Charlie right up until when three months shy of her sixteenth birthday Charlie had found out she was a Goth. Not fitting in with other girls her age Charlie had managed to not fit in with other Goths either. She had liked being a Goth. She had liked cider and black and she still liked The Cure. She had been a happy Goth. She had dressed the part but spent half her time laughing and the other half passing her GCSEs, pissing everyone off and not least three of her teachers. As if to celebrate her success Nine Inch Nails had mentioned her Mum on their next album. There had been a T Shirt. She had worn one to her Uni interview. She did not lie now and she had not lied then.
Not lying had shaped Charlie’s whole life. Not lying saw her now driving up the motorway at 3am. Her husband should have known not to ask her in lazy frustration only an hour before whether she had come? Not unless she had which she frequently did, if rarely in anyone else’s company. He should not then have turned the conversation into a wider debate regarding his marriage to Charlie in order to dab a little selfish lotion on the wound. Because again Charlie did not lie, but Charlie did go on holiday. She was going on holiday now, just Charlie and her black eye.
It was a spur of the moment holiday, an impetuous holiday. It was a holiday of necessity. A holiday in her husband’s three year old Audi. She had not wanted him to buy a bloody Audi but Jeremy Clarkson had thought differently. And Jeremy Clarkson had never admitted if ever asked by her husband that in the past he had enjoyed a thicker willy, unlike Charlie. It was just one of many conversations her husband had never had with a television presenter he would never meet. Worse still Charlie had later discovered that she and Jeremy did not disagree at all. Not about willies perhaps, but certainly about the Audi. Jeremy had not liked the car either. Her husband had. Her husband that by every definition she could find was the epitome of the Audi owner. And so rather than Jeremy Clarkson actually agreeing with him her husband had decided that since the two of them were such good mates (their having never met quite aside) what Jeremy really thought was what her husband thought. It stood to reason. Her husband had lied in his assumption that Jeremy Clarkson had lied. Charlie hated that.  
But at least with an Audi Charlie could drive like an idiot without undue notice. Had there been anyone else to notice which at 3.07am there was not. Indeed and therefore until the M6 Charlie was able to indulge in one of her fantasies where she was one of the few survivors of a comfortable catastrophe. A nice sort of catastrophe, not one with leaking zombies or hungry plants but one where people just sort of went away without even their bloating bodies left behind to cultivate disease. Where Charlie would meet up perhaps with other like minded souls and live in a nice country house. Where there would be canned goods and batteries for ever, or perhaps some sort of farmer’s market. In this fantasy anyone she formed a tribe with would be rather nice all in all.
 There would be dangers but nothing she and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall could not overcome. She rather liked the idea of fighting off thieves and brigands and she certainly would not drive about the deserted larder of England in a bloody Audi. Since it was her lazy early morning fantasy Stephen Fry would not be completely gay either, he the chieftain of their polite little tribe and she his warrior priestess. Although not a priestess, Stephen and Hugh and at a pinch Ray Mears (although she would prefer Bruce Parry) would wish to maintain certain standards of reason. No worshipping a dead airman in her catastrophe. They could instead worship her with a nice Merlot. And they would all have nice thick willies too, she decided. Not too long, but thick. The only thick thing in their little community based (she rather fancied) in Kentwell Hall.
By breakfast time she was filling the tank in a Moto service station in Lancashire that had been built to recall an airstrip. It even had its own hexagonal control tower. It had doubtless been impossibly modern in the sixties but now this romantic idea of flight and travel more closely resembled an American prison. Paying for petrol Charlie added a small pack of crayons and the sort of activities pack desperate parents bought their children on long journeys for them to make a mess out of. Charlie was going on holiday and somewhere thereabouts she had gone with her Dad when young. The crayons and colouring books had not occupied her much longer than the edge of Cumbria then and would do nothing for her now. But she was going on holiday and so there would be crayons. Before driving off she made sure the boot had not been disturbed. Why anyone would have broken into it in public and on camera was unimportant, she tested it all the same. Her but-recently old life was in that boot. She did not care for it to escape.
Charlie had no particular plan, nor any certain destination and so by lunchtime and well into the Lake District she just drove. It had been some time since she had left a major road and for long stretches she could add to her catastrophe fantasy. Sheep she saw had also survived. Hugh and Ray (or hopefully Bruce) would know how to butcher them. But she would be the huntress. She supposed that in a few years the fields would all be sprawling hedgerows. Would crops grow wild or would nettles become the dominant life form, she wondered? She slowed to pass a woman on a horse. Charlie pondered if she too would need to learn to ride but thought not. There would be cars lying around for years yet and surely one of her community would know how to maintain them. Did petrol go off? Did diesel spoil? Charlie did not know. Someone else would. Someone else would deal with that. She was the huntress.
She recognised where she was.
It had been years since her last holiday up here. Then it had been her Dad that had driven and her Dad that had made any arrangements. She had just been his sulky passenger to the general holiday-in-the-Lakes. There had been a cottage (one of a row of houses really and not what she would have called a cottage at all) and astonishingly there it was. She pulled up just where her Dad had. There was the shop that sold everything. There was the pub where she had eaten crisps. There was no green and no one played cricket. It was not Somerset. And there rearing up suddenly and close enough to seem unlikely were the mountains. The closest went from uneven and tangled field to a sharp rise of shale and determined bushes in mere yards. Back in London you did not notice the hills until at the top, and sometimes not even then. Back home and the landscape was smoothed down, capped and covered with grey. Here and she now recalled perfectly the hills and mountains were as a child would draw them. Peaks held in place by a starlet’s torpedo brassiere. The only sound was her music. Charlie turned off the engine. She was on holiday.

Thursday 13 October 2011

St. Natalie Imbruglia

The Right Reverend Ming (The Merciless) called by just now, leaning in through the window like a mongoose in a very loud suit on seeing a reluctantly innocent snake. He does it I think because of the sunsets, which here are magnificent and about which he dearly would wish to do something about.
Ming was much a fluster, but an excited one for it seems that god (in the person as regular readers will know of lovely John Le Mesurier) has revealed to him certain changes in the church. ‘Which is why,’ said Ming with collection box in hand, with a rattle, ‘that now I am here to collect on behalf of Natalie Imbruglia.’ I had not been aware that Ms.Imbruglia was in need of what remains to me after home, hearth, kith and kinder? But Ming is expecting this and explains with no small amount of gentleman’s relish that the church is not collecting specially for Natalie Imbruglia so much as collecting in reverence to the concept of Natalie Imbruglia.’
‘I'm not so very aware of her recent work,’ I did say.
‘This is Torn era Natalie Imbruglia.’
Ah, and there he has me. Us indeed. If this then is the new church how can any of us in all good conscience resist? We should go now to church and in so doing gently nod, albeit whole-heartedly, towards the very concept of a Torn-era Natalie Imbruglia. And come the hymns we will all do a funny little floppy-dance in the aisle. What choice have we now that a word against the church is a word against Torn-era Natalie Imbruglia?
Aaaaaand off you go to YouTube.*
And hey wait, you – yes you in the video with your slacks and stubble, and yes – you the other one, baldy, that’s right you tell him to go away...
*I'd give you a link, but when it came to the Angel gang I always preferred Fink.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Brit Superhero Autoerotic Teleport Shocker!

The Green Cross Man, Britain’s only superhero. First appearing in the mid 70s amongst a turbulent nation, the GCM died yesterday in a rented flat in East Cheam, London. Named by the Daily Mirror in their expose ‘Julian’ was officially the only successful subject for the RAFs White Summer project. Outed there in 1977 as a former soldier, when first released from the project it was as a bodyguard to one of its Steering Committee, F. Alexander. In 1988 the award winning Stop, Look, Listen (Bolton/Dimbleby) for C4 went into further detail of the scandal, of the ‘Black Mountain Side’ that followed on from the already exposed White Summer, both based in RAF Rendlesham.
I remember the Green Cross Man (playing on the rural folkloric figure of the green man, formerly a trickster sacrifice but here more vengeful, angry, ‘cross’) changing the world. I was seven or eight at the time and whilst to some now teleportation and a West Country accent might have always been commonplace then for us it was a shock, but one that like all such things soon wore away its shine. It seems laughable to think now how the world changed that day when The Green Cross Man was first shown on the news using his power to make sure that children looked both ways before crossing the road.
Whilst we now know that the serum for teleportation is produced in root from certain brain stems that was just another revelation of the C4 documentary. Now of course with national teleportation as common as walky phones in my own dear Tolly Maw that which we take for granted has led us to become a nation of fat bastards.
Sad indeed in the face of who started it all, Julian, who was discovered this morning, hung in the room two over from where he was found.  

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Captain Cecil, & The Bomb

“The parable of the scorpion and the frog falls rather flat when we know that in nature frogs eat scorpions. How the scorpion must blub! 'I have yet to journey to where in stinging you we both die', he is desperate to say - 'for I am the scorpion and it is in my nature'. 'I wouldn’t know about that', says our frog and eats him because that’s what really happens. Is there a lesson in that?”
            I can’t really say and so fall back on a faint smile. I’m really quite scared. I suppose I must look out of place here with everything so orderly and I such a state. Once fields and now a camp where despite the mud the rows of Chieftain tanks, Ferret scout cars, Saladins, Saracens, Humber Pigs and others I do not recognise are all freshly scrubbed. Indeed still now some are being hosed and tended to with brush and broom. I cannot imagine how they will fret come autumn and the rain, when dust will become mud.
 I can see lines forming by what I suppose to be a cookhouse. Everyone alike is dressed in overalls, green or black with coloured armbands whose meaning I cannot discern. Yet there is order and into which Bon Bon so buffed is very much the debutante.
            “I have to say this is all very impressive.”
            Captain Cecil nods at Mme Roux's words but looks at me. I’ve heard of him of course, and of his little army (though I’d not have called it little any longer). Ten years ago and Cecil was much like Bittersweet. A raider and a hoarder but in Cecil’s case he secured his plot and then his land with the sort of men and women who rather than fear brigands, raiders and robbers welcomed the chance to fight them. More gathered to him, or surrendered but for a long time there was ever another tribe nearby until he swallowed that too. Now he is one step below a feudal lord, yet calls himself only ‘Captain’, and that I suspect only under sufferance. Such a small, slight sort of man too, almost ineffectual and so neatly dressed, though not in the uniform of his followers. He says, “Tell me, what do you think?”
            “Of this?” I say.
            He makes a gesture as if to suggest that I might make my own mind up. Otherwise he does not reply. Mme Roux is also looking at me now, eyes urging me to say something.
            So I do, “It’s awful.”
            Cecil purses his lips, he looks amused. He says, “But we are the strongest, the most feared. We could restore Britain, we could...” but he stops when a whistle sounds. Those not already queuing for the mess hall hurry to do so now. “They would make me leader, and better I than most others,” he looks back to me. He says, “I have done some dreadful things.”
            That too is true. Mme Roux might wear her reputation like a cape but Cecil’s is a cowl. Though he is alone here with us and his army however impressive in the distance it is I that worry. He is smaller than I. He is smaller than Mme Roux. I still have Bittersweet’s revolver. But he has not walked the land to leave it smoking, crying, suffering even. I have heard stories of drowning, and knives and (I look now at his bony hands) of throttling. But all of people I’ve never met or can recall much now. Always people like he, or worse. Or better, I do not know. And Mme Roux has come to trade away her bomb else have it taken from her.

Monday 10 October 2011

New Rockstar Game, GTA Victoriana

Rockstar Games’ forthcoming title (the latest in the GTA historical ports) is currently courting controversy. Actually it’s doing nothing of the kind since ‘courting’ rather brings to mind chaperones and aunts, stale cake and a little furtive holding of hands when really Rockstar aren’t even in the same room as a girl with this one. No, if Miss Emily Proud is to be courted, then controversy here is being tied up with barbed wire, dabbed with aniseed flavoured mince liver and tossed in a cage with four extremely randy Patagonian mountain cock-hounds. Which to their mind is a date. A date in the same sense as the Saw movies are rom-coms.
No, this time and Rockstar put the player firmly in the role of Jack The Ripper, albeit with the player’s name and face ported in for the starring role. Marketing having long since taken over from programming here then (for example) Giles The Ripper will find his glasses steaming up as his avatar wades through quite literal pools of blood. There’s not much of a plot here but given it’s the only game scheduled to be released in the next four years that isn’t a first person shooter (including the updated Tetris, now a scarred Spetsnaz super-soldier set to save us from crocodile-faced space zombies) it’s already being heralded as the ‘next stage in rpg gaming’. Presumably if the role one is playing is that of a mostly naked horror with a ported face that has to cut open passers-by for health packs. As was the case in the 1880s. 
The game is said to be best played with headphones as the game engine includes a number of voices, set to be heard right in the player’s head - whilst the Wii version has a distinctly non-virtual orifice.
Taking on the success of Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead, Dead, Dead. Dead the game is to remain firmly away from the weeks of your life soaked up by GTA San Andreas and instead involve only two missions, one of which is optional. But still and all this aside who isn’t whilst tutting and shaking their heads is not going to do so whilst jacking hansom cabs and stalking Victorian docks?
For shame, you’ll say. This is disgraceful, indeed. Also, whores, whores, leave me would you!
Red Said Fred is set to be released November this year.     

Sunday 9 October 2011

Ryan McNab, the Shepherd's Pie Job

We’d put the OP in at 12.00 hours in a cupboard full of someone’s gran’s old mixing bowls. We were in hard-routine so close to the cooker which meant no smoking, no hot drinks, no farting and only porn printed on para-silk to avoid the rustle. Linds hated it. He was a legend in the restaurant game. Back in that deniable feast in Oman in the 70s he’d been one of those to lay out sandwiches and cake right under the noses of the communist rebels. It had been no picnic. He was like all the veterans that had preceded me into the catering game, face pale from ingrained flour and with eyes broken from too many split shifts, nose brightly ruddy from too many hot pans.
‘This is bollocks,’ said Moz. Everything was bollocks to Moz. He’d been first through the door at the Embassy when things had gone to rat-shit and there’d been no Ferrero Rocher. It had been Christmas Eve and every box in every garage had been had by a thousand drunken husbands on their way home. He and Adey Barber had made them into pyramids using bits of pastry and off cuts of icing, part of the kit crammed into the Blue Kitchen’s always ready Range Rovers, they converted from burger vans, themselves improvised from ice-cream wagons. ‘This is bollocks,’ he said again. He was a big man and carried a big spoon. He was an old Oman hand too, done the Embassy as I say and was a specialist in gravy-boat troop. He snored like a bastard but his sauces were only ever one kettle from ready. He held up the supplies he’d brought for the mission, prairie oysters, this was indeed bollocks.
We waited till an hour before tea then bombe-burst out of the cupboard. Bits of glacee ice cream hit the kitchen about us. Linds was at the wine rack in a moment, the officer tucked in tight to his drinking elbow. He didn’t need the Jeremy (we always called the officers Jeremy) but it gave him someone to discuss Chiliean red with and soon the muffled rattle of corkscrew and glass told us that the job was on.
We peeled the spuds with two mags of silenced nine milly and had the water heated and roaring with a thermite charge Moz had laid in earlier. Through the insect goggles of his mask and under the dirty white of his hat I could see him scowling. He preferred a quick in/out job. Something that went ping and job done. But he was a good lad and if it was bollocks, then still he mashed the spuds with a vintage German stick grenade from the last war his Dad had brought back the trattoria at Monte Casino.
‘Thirty minutes, gas mark 6, stand-by,’ said our ear pieces. In the window opposite and keeping our cover Nott was too professional to comment on the plan. Shaped like the French bread on which he lived he was a frontline flour-monkey. He knew all the best pasties right down to crust and content but had no interest in how they worked. He’d always eat what he killed, and he killed a lot of curry.
Linds had the wine and I had the meat done. Good lamb, well flavoured, not too many carrots else it’s more sweet than savoury. Onion, a little fatty bacon, good stock, rosemary and Worcestershire sauce. Our Jeremy was ordering us to make it in individual, tiny portions. He did know food but he always wanted it as if seen from far away. Linds wasn’t having it. As far as he was concerned if you could pick it up, it wasn’t a shepherd’s pie.
We went into all round defence as we cooked off the pie. One by one we had a shit in a plastic bag. Not because we had to. We checked our white-kit, then on each other. Aprons that in training felt like a dead man on our backs were light as icing sugar now. It was almost mealtime and we’d have to do it room by room.  
Then we got the call. ‘Wait one,’ said the Jeremy reading the order chit as it rattled out of the machine. He didn’t swear when he told us that three were wanting it veggie, he left that for us.
Linds went for more wine. That was practically vegan wasn’t it?     

Saturday 8 October 2011

Now with Mr Bittersweet, & The Bomb

Old Mr Bittersweet has prospered (and continues to do so) where here and long after the great grab for batteries and bully beef have been exhausted his own line in tinned tea, tailored suits and toiletries was coming good. He and Young Alf live in their department store and given that anyone likely to roam about like a pirate being frightful have done so years before (and mostly in the end upon one another) it has been months since they have had to use their Lewis gun. Ten years since the distant mushrooms and what the British people mostly want now is a tin of biscuits and a pair of good slippers. Growing food takes a lot less time to learn than it does to master the art of a well-packed custard cream. But oh, people might be able to bake their own, but they’re not the same. There are still many communities without reliable electricity but they all have a good, local newspaper. No one is short of a bale of lamb’s wool but can you get hold of a packet of matching buttons? As Old Mr Bittersweet just said to me, ‘I should cocoa’. And he has cocoa too, at three dozen eggs a tin. The world, from what his boy Alf has told him once in my presence, might be a smoking and terrible ruin but in England people scrubbed their steps clean before seeing to a new roof. Atom bombs are atom bombs but they’re no excuse for a dirty shirt collar. Shirt collars are like gold dust after all, and Old Mr Bittersweet prices them at just that.
            Here in the yard of Bittersweet & Son where shadow letters spell the legend Making The Catastrophe Cosy a tarpaulin has been pegged over the lorry and Mme Roux accepts the cup of good Indian offered her. Fussing, she’s last to the table and mine is already cool enough to drink. I’d brought cake because Old Mr Bittersweet likes little better, but no sandwiches because he only likes the proper stuff: white and ready-sliced.
             Amongst the tea things there is a revolver. Having taken from his shoulder a Geiger counter Mr Bittersweet plays mother. Her rubber gloves dirty Mme Roux removes them but with care so as not to risk a split. There is no sugar bowl. For a man with a sweet tooth Mr Bittersweet has views on that sort of thing, as well I know.
            “Whatever you’re thinking of doing I hope you’ve got a plan b?” says Mr Bittersweet.
            “No,” she says.
            He nods. Mme Roux is of the belief that sometimes it serves to show faith with a plan. It shows a lack of confidence in it to consider another way and plans can be prickly things at best, prone to all manner of accident and error. An old and proven plan might understand the wisdom of having a reserve but the young easily take offence and she well knows that more plans fail due to sulking on their part than anything else. She points at the lorry to say, “I have a bomb.”
            “Famously so, is that it then?”
            “Would you say so?”
            I drink my tea, listening but with nothing to say. Old Mr Bittersweet on the other hand says that it certainly looks just as he had imagined it to be. Albeit (he continues) and if he is honest, with a bit more of the gleam about the steel of it? He says, “It’s true then?”
            She smiles tightly. Not wanting to lie she does not have much practise in telling the truth. Mme Roux to my experience is entirely and exactly what she wishes herself to be. Others may have fallen into their lives, their loves, lusts and lollipops through circumstance. Most maybe are a cocktail of their parents and the years that came thereafter. Mme Roux once decided not to leave herself to the frail uncertainty of experience but instead to make such decisions for herself. She is not alone in this.  So plucky, so adventurous and even it might be said how daring Mme Roux appears in the gossip and tales that travel where people walk and radio reaches, that her reputation has gone far further than has she. She hopes so. Near all these tales of her exploits come from her. Actually, me.  Most of them are even true. Some of them are even about her. Everyone knows she has the last bomb, her Bon Bon. It has been an adequate threat but has become now (and because of our efforts) rather than a means of warning away danger, increasingly now of attracting it.
            Three pieces of cake have been cut. Mme Roux frowns. She says to me, “Sorry, did you say something?”
            “No,” I say.
            “I must have imagined it.”
            Mr Bittersweet sets one of the slices on a side plate that he passes over. He says, “What did you imagine he might have said?”
            “I don’t know,” says Mme Roux. “I wasn’t listening.”

The Knight of Pots

Friday 7 October 2011

Madame Roux & The Bomb

Mme Roux having given her bomb a face looked upset that it had taken the most of the blushing passion to do it. The bomb was leaving Mme Roux for another and it would only do so looking its best. She had had me at it for a week now with the marigolds and Vim.
No amount of lipstick truly made the bomb look any better. Where it did not fill the flatbed of the Bedford QL an excited Mme Roux had packed it out with sofa-foam and four dozen mildewed and well wetted towels. It was indisputably a bomb. Big and barrel-round with fins and a nose cone, a child drawing a bomb would draw this one. She signed it with the last of the lipstick. It was Mme Roux’s bomb and famously the last of its kind, a shame then if rumour was right that soon she would lose it.
If only the great nations had waited before having their inevitable war they might have made a better fist of it. The big loads had run out before the V Bombers had made it home to their mostly destroyed airstrips, the job only half done at best leaving this the last and (even before those noisy days) one of the oldest. Mme Roux called it Bon Bon and hummed the Blue Danube as she worried at what rust remained along the most visible of the welds. Bon Bon was leaving Mme Roux for an older man and if now old enough to marry then years in bombs were shared with dogs and both at sixteen were prone to leaks. Mme Roux had five years on Bon Bon. Widowed for three and despite the name the only thing French about her were the knickers.
It was a fine bright day to be sprucing up a bomb and soon there would be tea.