Tuesday 31 January 2012

The Vim Man

Oswald Moran
An unpleasant man
Tortured kittens with wire wool and Vim
When asked about chums
He’d gnash on his gums
And complain that the law wouldn't let him.

Monday 30 January 2012

Aunt Minerva, Camille, 1936

It would be decades yet before his name would be funny, and even then Peterson Lee wouldn’t see the joke. Peterson never saw the joke, even when the others laughed and often nowadays at his expense. He understood funny, funny was songs about landladies and horrible wives. Mostly to song and always by short men in big suits. Music Hall was funny, though Peterson never laughed. He did not laugh then and he did not laugh now. “Get out of the vehicle,” he said.
            “Only pulling your leg, mate.”
            Private Lee 402323 shouldered his rifle. Bloody great thing of wood and metal, 9lbs loaded. He said, “Captain Tenniel, sir!”
            The roadblock had been thrown up in a hurry. A bread van slewed and disabled across the road with a table and chair taken from a nearby scout hut. On the far side of the van the four other men from his section were playing gin rummy. It had been pay parade only the day before and smartened then for the major they were already well into the traditional manner of dress for the army at other times. Scruffy, ill-fitting and with boots they only replaced when they were finally broken in. The officer that had drawn duty for not keeping down a stirrup-pimp of middling claret only appeared after the third time of shouting. Regular army the captain had been too young for the war and didn’t have the ribbons some of his men had. The was-there medals and the didn’t-die awards.
            “Suspicious bloke, sir.”
            “Wotcha,” said the lorry driver. “I was telling your monkey here about all the bombs in the back.”
            “Let him through, private.”
            Peterson jumped to attention. The lorry driver did the same but instead of then getting back into the cab fetched out a cigarette and a box of matches. He struck one up after offering up the packet. “What’s all this then, eh? Been invaded have we?”
              “Something like that,” said the captain.
            Peterson paid attention. He had no idea why they were here, why it was necessary to block the road in. Only that a bunch of odd-types were poking about the cinema and that he and the rest of his section - those not on leave, skiving or making their selves generally absent when Tenniel had ambled into the barracks not two hours before – had been waved into the back of the old Tilly now parked further down the street.  With his back to the cinema he was the last to see what was going on.
            The lorry driver was not. “Here, what’s with Greta Garbo then?”
            Robert Taylor and Greta Garbo were caught in a clinch on the posters outside the Regal. It was Camille showing, only not on a Sunday morning. Greta Garbo was also being led from the double doors by two of the odd types. One Bohemian in a girls shirt and funny trousers, the other a woman dressed for dinner despite the hour. Greta Garbo seemed to be handcuffed. Poised, she ignored her captors who ignored in turn everyone else. Their own car started up once they were inside and Captain Tenniel hurried to have the bread van moved and for the lorry driver to move his load down the street. Suddenly the only unoccupied one there (and not knowing what else to do still at attention) Peterson was surprised when the big black car holding Greta Garbo captive stopped beside him.
The peacock in the girls shirt wound down the window. “Excuse me, do you know where a chap might find the nearest TB ward?”
Peterson did not and unsure added ‘sir’ to his answer. The car left him still poker-straight. Captain Tenniel, irritated, waved him to rest and watching the car disappear said only, “Rum lot Aunt Minerva, don’t you think?”  

Saturday 28 January 2012

Sugar and Spice Girls

Chicken Nugget Spice, Itchy Spice, Your Mum Spice - and Victoria
Not pictured Mel C

Everyone in Tolly Maw is still jolly excited after the news this lunchtime that the Spice Girls are to reform, and secretly for a variety show in honour of the Queen. Set to star alongside such luminaries as Bob Monkhouse, Sir Cecil Beaton, and Johnny-from-that-Fanny-Craddock the five girls are said to be very excited at the prospect of being Melanie Chisholm’s backing singers, again albeit without singing in at least two cases, but still up front and having it large – for the girls, aright, like L7, and X Ray Spex, and Pattie Smith. The original line-up has already been confirmed, including for some reason Robbie Williams.
Scratchy-Pissed-Bus-Stop-Spice has been the first to shout incoherently into a microphone, her rants and screams regarding the empowering qualities of White Lightning being replaced by a liking for Liverpool FC. Supported in her positive attitude towards strong-cider it was perhaps pleasant to see on the news Mum’s-Gone-To-Iceland-Spice and Riffraff-Spice jumping up and down like housewives at a school reunion, on White Lightning. Famine Spice (carved from a single stick of purest self-loathing) neglected to join in due to an exclusive already arranged with H0/00 Gauge Model Railway Magazine. As a rail.
The five (whose very first gig was in Tolly Maw and who subsequently therefore enjoy a tremendous following to this day of all their albums released since their split*) all giggled when asked if the rumours were true, answering (even when they did not) in overdubbed soft-Scouse.
In unrelated news Dr Brian Cox revealed that he has actually discovered Spice World on his big telescope. The mop-topped former drummer with A Flock Of Seagulls was quick to assure laymen that it was ‘all a bit shit, mind’.
*1999s Northern Star.     

Thursday 26 January 2012

Apple MacMillan

An apple mac when it is raining
Will not keep that fruit remaining
It has no hat when you are sailing
There’s little point in your complaining
It’s not actually a coat

The Many Senate House

Bloomsbury and if not in the very centre of London then in its heart (located after all just off centre to Charing Cross) holds many fine buildings, and one of these the Senate House. The administrative centre for the University of London its shadow touches the British Museum. The epitome of the art deco building and completed in 1937 Senate House is either a work of clean art or a grotesque depending on your feelings. Mine lean towards both.
There is a suggestion that with the success of Sea Lion Hitler intended the Senate House to be the headquarters of the German governance of Britain. The same stories say it was therefore deliberately avoided in the Blitz, a nonsense at least in the second part for bombing was far from accurate - else if a building could be avoided any other could be selected. It actually housed the Ministry of Information and perhaps because of this became the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984. All this and when Bill Masen looked out over a darkened London still yet to know the full Day of the Triffids it was from the Senate House that the light blinked, a silent signal to the remaining sighted.
Senate House though it is known by different names in different places is one of the very few constants, one of the three of London. If there is a London, and buildings, streets and stone then there is a building, here, from 1937 onwards that even if it is not the ‘Senate House’ then it is certainly the same landmark if by another name, a different purpose. I’ve heard that one can pass through the slides here. That one can enter from one slide and then by going to a given floor, or door, office or room leave by another. I’ve not experienced this, I’ve never even been inside but both ugly and stylish, handsome and utilitarian Senate House is a building that clearly should be, and be in many ways, and so is in many places. All those places being the same place (albeit not exactly the same place).

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Trunk Branch

The elephant is a curious bird
That flits from bough to bough
You don’t get milk from an elephant tree
(You’re thinking of a cow)


Demi Moore has been rushed to hospital, according to the news today, suffering... well, whatever it says is probably a little far from the truth. Moore a high priest in Egypt circa 1290 BC having been sealed in a big stone box with hungry beetles returned in the early 80s to wreck revenge on the disturbers of her rest, and also to mope about a lot in St Elmo’s Fire. Her flesh once fresh when stolen in the early 80s it has increasingly calcified to the point where now she is a living statue, typically with an expression like a slapped arse.
Described by John Hughes as ‘Difficult to work with, commanding, irritatingly reliant on the life force of others, with hooters’ Moore originally slated to appear in the Breakfast Club as the Dead Girl lost out in the role to Alley Sheedy after being backed off the set with the aid of the Book Of The Dead, and revolvers.
Demi Moore was not available for comment to reporters earlier today who were subsequently chased off by a ferocious sand storm and the ghosts from the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Monday 23 January 2012

Kate Nash, Brain of Britain - 'Ave a Banana!

You said ah must eat so menny lem-ons, 'cause ah am so bittah

I was nearly the whole way through Foundations by Kate Nash on the radio today before it occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t Brain of Britain on Radio 4. Radio 4 is what I listen to when I’m out and about because my Q’s second-reserve mobile phone (a tenner, plus a tenner pay-as-you-go yet to be used up) does double up as a radio. And whilst lurking at the school gates with the other parents does provide for the possibility of conversation then only as regards grave robbery, which segment of society deserves castration this week, and school. So I listen to the radio on the way, there, and back whilst the sprouts dance ahead.
And Radio 4 because it’s just a normal little radio so it doesn’t get Radio 7 (4 extra, what-evah) or FabngroovyRadio6. And Brain of Britain because that’s what’s on then, today, unlike Friday when I expand my knowledge of gardening. A knowledge after a childhood of allotments, garden shows, and greenhouses that welcomes expansion as much as anyone readying themselves for a smear-test.
But what Radio 4 does not boast, is Kate Nash and Foundations. You’ll know it if you hear it, or you will when you ‘tube it in a moment. She sounds like Polly Styrene singing nursery rhymes.
Singing usually smooths accents. You really have to make an effort for it to be otherwise. Fortunately this showed that there is little in life that cannot be cured by singing any of your favourite pop hits in a Kate Nash voice, and possibly to the same tune. Be warned though that on trying it with Bohemian Like You I inadvertently added a ‘have a banana’, and that the ‘have a banana’ fitted rather well.
So as I turned Blue Oyster Cult’s Veteran of the Psychic Wars into a Chas & Dave classic I watched my sprouts, and thought as they ran ahead, how I’m now older than both my parents when I ran laughing from the nest. I can’t imagine it, not without a cold gripping hand in my chest, of my girls going. Being gone. Not knowing where they are, or how they are, and me then fearing... everything.
I already do. ‘Careful’ is my every third word with them. Of course I’m happy that they’re dinosaur hunting scrappers, but if only they could do it with a bit less running along of climbing frames or hunting raptors in the long grass with only a big stone. I worry and I’ll worry for the rest of my life.
Kate Nash wasn’t even born when I escaped from Yateley. She’s going to have to work some in the coming years as my girls grow older.
And a one, two, a one, two, three, four.
Oh we’re so pretty, oh so pretty – va-cant – have a banana! 

Sunday 22 January 2012

Rainy Sunday Afternoon

The tele finally gave way last night. It’s been around a few years now, and well out of warranty then that did not still my tedious diatribe regarding the life of things electronic. Here where I stand and point out all the new clothes no one listens, and quite rightly else how would everyone find their way home without being able to play Yatzee on their phones? My beloved Q did her best tight-lipped and whilst she drove out to the world today (the shops in Tolly Maw close Sunday, and half-day Wednesday and Saturday) swearing on all I wished that yes, she would look first for replacement valves – then I had the sprouts.
It’s not been raining today so much as everything was already wet. Myself included, somehow. It’s all very fine for you townies on a Sunday with your ‘sandwiches’ and your ‘cinematic theatres’ but Tolly Maw boasts neither. Or at least it does, and both, but not for children. Of which for the day I was one, making us three, and in the market for wholesome family fun. A spinning top perhaps. Or a murder to be investigated with a floppy-eared dog. Fun with string at the very leasr. But alas my sprouts are modern children and having but recently discovered the Xbox (and the Lego versions of everything therefore) my suggestion that we skip stones on a lake was greeted with... well, not greeted at all. Besides which they throw like their Mum.
And what is there to do in Tolly Maw of a damp winter Sunday?
There is the miniature city. Or rather, the ‘Tolly Maw Of Marvels’ which is almost exactly as I remember miniature cities to have been when as a boy on holiday my parents likewise took me to see 1/6 scale cottages and ropey looking harbours. Boats just never look right at funny scales, not on water – which scales down surprisingly badly. I still find myself in Littlehampton, and Hastings, and Bognor – but only in those annoying dreams where the backgrounds are provided from childhood but not from real memories. And in those places are miniature towns, about which you wander, because there’s nothing else to do on rainy afternoons when you’ve got kids and the cinema only shows Hungarian Disney slasher movies, on video – Betamax.
My family was the last family in the world to get a VCR, my dad the last man to buckle, and even though it was already doomed, even then when the Video Shops had reduced Beta down to a single shelf, we got a Betamax. Because the quality was better. It almost certainly was. As long as you wanted to hire, the same, copy of the Blues Brothers, again.
There is a miniature city and it’s called the Tolly Maw Of Marvels, and we still went no matter how much I try and change the subject. And there with my young girls in summer dresses and wellies – because they dressed their selves – experience just a little of my childhood. Where we spent an hour walking about quite the largest miniature city I have ever encountered, acres of it, and all in ruins. Or half-built, or not really built at all. I turned to ask the owner which city this was, to be told it was Dresden. “Or Coventry,” he said, “Or Stalingrad,” he was easy on the matter. With his liquorice paper roll-up and his kazoo, dirty orange, on which he played ‘It’s A Small World’. Repeatedly. As jazz.
But it killed some time and ended at the cafe which was properly retro too, though spoiled by a more modern sign which proudly declared that the cafe was the cafe that sold ‘almost certainly the third best hot chocolate in Tolly Maw’.
So I don’t know what you did today but I spent a wet afternoon in Dresden, or Coventry, or Stalingrad with a mug of quite possibly the third best hot chocolate in Tolly Maw. And it was a bit cold (but not cold enough to not be uncomfortable when well wrapped up). And somewhat wet without the fun of actually raining - but it has given purpose to a very hot bath to come.
And it was still a lot better than whatever arse-water was on tele.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Lay Grouter, Eight Inside (Pt 8)

The Boffin a fellow of infinite beard
Though trimmed to the chin by a wren
Resembled a wizard who with glass in hand
Might have troubled a malt now and then

A malt in that glass that could not be seen
A glass that the Boffin then raised
To show just exactly how much remained
Of the malt and his eyes (which were glazed)

Unlike the window which without glass
(The glass that it never could find)
For the window had a cane and a Labrador dog
No curtains, but a very fine blind

The Boffin rocked back on his best pointed heels
And his eyebrows he gave a good twirl
As he heard their adventures related in rhyme
And of Young Grouter’s good need for a girl

‘Easily done’, the Boffin declared
‘For a girl you have come to the right man
A man with a beard that keeps warm a brain
Already possessed of a plan’

‘A plan already indulging in progress
A progress already in demand’
That demand of a chap with a finely turned beard
Might still yet attend to by hand

A dolly, a device, of all a chap might find nice
‘Home brew and pipe smoke, a garter
A spitfire, a Kylie, and good shepherd’s pie
A drinker, a chum, and a farter’

‘In fact’, said the Boffin whose studies had shown
His investigations, his queries and tests
That the woman just right for a chap such as he
Was ‘a chap, but one with good breasts’

‘We’d admire them both, he and I, you and me’
Said the Boffin not wanting to seem silly
‘You’d fit the bill, to a tea, to a scone
Just as soon as you’ve offed the old willy’

Grouter protested, the angel concurred
Bright red and burning their ears
To be spoken of concerning a wild night in
With scissors, and scalpels, and shears

They were seeking a girl, their geas, their quest
(A quest ever proving more tricky)
For good honest love, true-hearted and pure
Also dirty, and nasty, and sticky

‘My dear boy’, said the Boffin who fetched up his coat
His scarf made of scarves and a hat
‘If you wish for a girl made entirely of girl
Then the girl that you want will be that’

And he had it in mind then to take them both out
To the house of the Vixen, who sociable
Was apt to cure young men of romantic ways
For a fee that was generally negotiable.

Thursday 19 January 2012

The Duke of Edinburgh, Sacks, and Smelling of Cake

In the 1930s young men were tinned in order to preverse their youth

The sticky-toffee rascals of Tolly Maw are up for their Duke of Edinburgh awards - or are chasing them, which means the awards had better be pretty lively about the toes. I never took part myself though at VIth-form college there was a society based around it I recall. It took place at lunchtimes and usually in a classroom or lecture hall not so very from the Amnesty International gatherings. I was at the latter because I was sixteen and frankly the Amnesty girls were all gypsy skirts and junk jewellery whilst the DoE girls were entirely boys whose motivation escaped me. So whilst I wrote the odd earnest letter to Smaug or Mrs Brunner regarding human rights violations I missed out on... whatever it was they did for the Duke of Edinburgh awards. Thrashing the servants I would have to guess.
So when as this morning on the way to pick up a prescription I chanced upon the local Duke of Edinburgh Award seekers I took the time to pause, to watch and when approached by a very red man in very small shorts, asked. It seems you have to perform or chase four goals.Volunteering I was told was the first.
            “Chocolate, surprise, and a toy?” I asked.
            Alas, no. A physical sporty thing. A skill thing (which sounded rather thin to me), and lastly an expedition. Given that the group of horrors before me now were beating something in a sack with sticks I had to presume they were on the skill part, and the skill being practised murder. Engaged in conversation by the sort of man that didn’t quite make the grade as a scout-master I had to confess to my Amnesty activity. “They all listened to the Cocteau Twins,” I tried to make him understand. “And they pushed back stray strands of hair with their fingers just poking out of baggy sleeves. And they smelt like some sort of delicious cake. Whereas those doing the Duke of Edinburgh smelled more like...” I tried to think.
            “Me?” he said.
            It was true enough. I learned that the young lads currently sack-beating had spent six months getting their bronze by volunteering for the trenches. Their physical had been burglary, their skills as seen now, and their expedition? To the Barrier Peaks, apparently. These were lads that got into scrapes. The sort who in the absence of combating grand larceny, discovering the agents of a foreign power, or solving mysteries would instead (as they were now) murder a postman. They were making quite the meal of it.
            As a Boy’s Own Lark it clearly ranked up there with the Wasp Factory. Iain Banks’ first novel (and which when I read it was indeed the jolly tale of a boy blowing up rabbits). It was all a lot darker when I saw it at the theatre. I think I might have misread it somewhat. Just as I did the man who on asking admitted he had nothing officially to do with the Duke of Edinburgh, he just liked watching youths being energetic in the woods. Which I suppose in hindsight might be in keeping too.
              I went home to dash off a few lines telling-off a dictator and my beloved Q in keeping with the occasion got very earnest about The Jesus And Mary Chain. She had never been a part of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards either, but she does still smell of cake.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Of Cabbages and King's Cross

It’s never quite dark and less so here where whilst horror and good humour both fight with pints and loud words in King’s Cross the soft glow of the Lighthouse turns even the occasional fog to a neon cloud. With a sentence like that it's almost certainly dark and stormy too. It’s warm within and on many floors, each jumbled and not a one entirely safe as tables on levels between levels are always noisily full. The air is a little wet. Shellfish grow in the dampest corners. Plates of oysters are run about the many tables with dishes of vinegar and bottles of beer. The tables and chairs form not one set between them though there are dozens of the first and scores of the second and rarely with the door open two together to be had. From nightfall to morning the Oyster Lighthouse glows. By daylight and with the last patron pushed out the building is on turning boarded up, shuttered with not a sound to be heard.

Yet the Oyster is a place of welcome. Often the first thing seen leaving the station by its light when dark it has more than its share of thieves and scoundrels, offering beds or bottles and there goes your bag, but – and worth it all with only a little wit and a good eye – the good cheer here is a powerful thing. No troubles can pass through the doors, fear is itself unwelcome and as it says above the second door in (if crudely written) Misery Is No Member Hear (sic).

Not So Very Recent Ink

'Lotte Von Bode, and the ever loyal Mr. Throttle


As ever I seek to keep you updated with news from the all-important twenty-third James Bond flick. The villainous ‘science’ I reported on earlier has been confirmed albeit not precisely as a villain in and of itself, but a tool in the hands of an old enemy revived. For once again (and quite right in a re-boot) prune-faced action-foot James Bond is faced with the efficiency of Spektor.
Albeit Regina Spektor.
The SPecial Executive (for) Killing sTuff, Old (people), (and) Rolos whilst still an organisation dedicated to world domination and unlikely killings (also old people, and toffee-filled sweets manufactured by Rowntrees) has been given a face lift set to take it away from association with its parody in the Austin Powers franchise. Whilst in that series of films (starring Wayne from Saturday Night Live) secret agent Shrek enjoyed box-office gold with a donkey, and Prince Charming, and probably some witches it is not thought that ninety minutes of dialogue consisting entirely of the word ‘Behave’ would fly with audiences - unless Roger Moore were to reprise the role.
Regina, actually as it turns out born in Russia, having heard the rumours has reportedly sent Tori Amos and Joan Osborne round to shut me up. There’s a knock at my door.
Wait, what?      

The Gout Strikes Back

“Again, what is it with you? Man-flu too girly?”
I laugh, aha – see. “I don’t choose to have gout.”
“It’s all a bit dashing-explorer though isn’t it? Shouldn’t you be propped up in the club with a smoking jacket and red, angry cheeks? It’s not enough for you to be ill, you have to be painfully ill. Anyway, why are we talking about you – what was all that stuff at the end of the story? I never said anything about looking at Christmas trees with Alf.”
I’ll not mention the weather which has all the colour of a 1950s school uniform. Austerity weather. We never had it so good. Also wet. Also, and there we are talking about the weather. Mme Roux has forgotten that she’s here to complain about Nicely Pink In The Middle. I admit I added the end to make it more seasonal. She finds me at the parson’s nose of another bout of gout and very bloody painful it has been too. Taking the sprouts to school – a mile round trip, one hour to do so. I walk like a zombie but without all the company. “Also,” I say, “I left out the dinosaur.”
“I liked the bit about the dinosaur.”
“You made up the bit about the dinosaur. It was silly. There were nannies. Also, Derek Nimmo. I talked about him the other day.”
“I made it all up,” she says, “most of it anyway. I’m not really a character from a film.”
No, we could change channel. “Look, I’ll dig up some of the first stuff about you I recorded.” I promise.
“Am I fabulous in it?”
“It’s when you’re a bit older. You’re a bit of a villain in truth.”
So gout and all the pain that comes with it. Still, back again.
Sorry about that.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Science Blames Bond, Who Thumps It

007. 'For Mordor, James'

Deep breath now.
According to Yahoo the BBC said today that the President of the Royal Society of Chemistry (Prof David Philips) has claimed that ‘Bond villains are the reason the British public has a negative view of nuclear power’.
Dr Mince speaking for the Ares Society was quick to agree, adding his weight to the announcement by interrupting all news broadcasts to do so. “One can hardly put to sea in a submarine-eating ship, or take to the heavens in a satellite-eating rocket without some do-gooder squeaking on about shark tanks – as if that’s all we ever do.”
Dr Mince (a respected businessman and philanthropic mastermind) is perhaps best known for the furore over allegations recently that he used undue influence and financial enticements to have health and safety issues regarding a volcano, his head office, and running gun battles to just plain go away. The report that concluded in satisfaction that the volcano was not, as suggested, a volcano-eating volcano, missed the point according to some sources.
On the set of the twenty-third Bond film prune-faced leading man Wilfred Bramble today had no comment to make. The latest outing for Britain’s number-one spy (already reported here as following on in the series from beating the fuck out of everyone in the first of the reboot, to beating the fuck out of everyone else in the second, to now beating the fuck out of anything left in this the third) is set to be released later this year. Early reports suggest that the villain is some sort of science, probably bad science, and that it will probably get its fucking head beaten in, for England.  

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Slide Away, Captain Nimmo

My good chum Moz pointed out to me only yesterday that the BBC (where in iPlayer have a link to the historical spy-thriller One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing) have used a picture of a young Derek Nimmo, or to give him his full stage name, Derek Nimmo Gallagher. Late uncle of the Manchester rapscallions and pop-guitar playground toughs Noel and House Party Gallagher his resemblance to the fighting-sibling front men of Blur is clear in this early picture.
Nimmo falling to his death at the end of the previous century after seeking to adjust an alarm (though his own or otherwise records do not show) was long notorious for playing almost exclusively the sort of bumbling clerics that probably had your Capri up on bricks whilst stuttering away at how they were ‘M-m-m-m-m-mad forrit’. But this was his stage role, the mask to hide his earlier life still.
For Derek Nimmo was born and raised a Prince of Dakkar, his father the Rajah of Bundelkumo in India. Angry at the loss of his family to the British Empire Derek ran away to sea where he constructed a magnificent underwater boat he came to term the Nautilus. Classically educated (‘Nimmo’ is the Latinised Greek ‘Outis’, or ‘Nobody’- used by Odysseus to the Cyclops, whom he blinded most heroically after breaking into his house and becoming angry at it being the one island he had ever visited not up for a definite shag) Nimmo spread destruction to all colonial powers through his incredible gift with engineering and the new-electric. Also his barrel organ.
Nimmo well known for his personal bravery despite his disregard for due democratic process famously fought giant squid, destroyed ironclad warships, and suffered the falling down of his trousers just as the Bishop came round.
It is singularly worthy then that his nephews, Noel and Zippy, maintain the late Captain Nimmo’s memory through their Beano-quality punch-ups and the habit of their trousers inadvertently falling down when Paul Weller comes round for tea.

Monday 9 January 2012

MasterChef Goes Ghast

He wades in a slug-like illness of fat through the humid ground mists of the Great Kitchen. From bowls as big as baths there rises and drifts like a miasmic tide all but palpable odour of the day’s belltimber. The arrogance of this fat head exudes itself like an evil sweat. Balancing his body with difficulty upon a cask of wine, addressing a group of apprentices in their striped and sodden jackets and small white caps. They clasped one another’s shoulders for support. Their adolescent faces streaming with the heat of the adjacent ovens were quite stupified, and when they laughed or applauded the enormity above them it was with a crazed and sycophantic fervour. It’s MasterChef Goes Ghast!
They’ll have to cook the meal of their lives, again. “Passion,” they say, “all I want to do, creative, creative, passion, passion, passion!”
MasterChef, again. “These amateur cooks all want to change their lives. They could go to catering college then work as a commis on bloody awful splits, learning, grafting, like anyone else through kitchen after kitchen. Working when everyone else is not. Hot, hostile and horrid, working to make it to Sous chef, but no. That’s not it at all.”
“It’s my creative side, my passion. Creative, passion. Lovely dinner parties. Things, lovely things. Creative, passion.”
Whilst the contestants weep over their failed chocolate pudding, ingredients expert Gregg Wallace is in the fight of his life with former First Servant of Groan, Mr. Flay. “Are you lishening my pretty vermin,” he says. “Are you lishening?”
Uppermost text and illustration Mervyn Peake

Sunday 8 January 2012

Cleopatra's Cheese Sandwich

Covent Garden was a fetid place. My grandfather Bill (the man who showed me London) worked there and it was not the dolly-prim place of jugglers, coffee, cake and the crowded Punch & Judy it is now. Flowers, fruit and veg sound very pastoral but he described it as filthy, rat-ridden and for some years still badly bomb-damaged. He was an office clerk, a Lambeth boy done good, from right on the walk itself and who married above himself (it was seen) and escaped to the suburbs post-war. But he worked off the Garden in a curious split-shift system like that you find in restaurants so that between one and the other he would have a few hours to himself in what for many with whom he worked was a forerunner of the long, liquid lunches later more popular.
Bill came to the Needle to eat his lunch. Across the Strand and on to the Embankment, close to Hungerford Bridge that led then right back into Lambeth. And when he would on our days out show me London we’d often eat our sandwiches here too. They were always cheese, which was good (because for his tea he liked heart, kidney and tripe – a horror as a family we had to share when he lived with us, I sat there staring at a hard-burned lump of heart that if I did not eat would be presented to me the next day, and the next).
Cleopatra’s Needle is hardly the sort of thing I usually mention. Everyone knows about it, or of it. It’s probably the oldest structure in London. It predates Cleopatra herself by a thousand years. It was presented to Britain to celebrate the Battle of the Nile, but only shipped here seventy years later. In a storm the great rafted-pontoon in which it was transported broke free and six men died failing to retrieve it. It was later returned and for which salvage was claimed. Erected in 1878, later Granda Bill loved it, was fascinated by it. He told me he would come here as a boy. Across the river and away from the Lambeth slums. Fascinated he learned about it, and because of it started walking to the museums, because of which he (the almost stereotypical raggedy oik) would spend days reading plaques and then books, and educating himself so that he excelled in what passed for schools back south of the river. In the army he topped out a number of the tests everyone was put to. And so he done-good, and because of Cleopatra’s Needle.
I love that.
You probably know that there’s a time capsule buried in the base. Granda Bill who liked a good story (and told them better than most) told me as a boy that it was long since robbed, because it was Egyptian and that’s what happened. And I’m not saying this is true. Nor that my mum has a lovely copy of Bradshaw’s Railway Guide, nor that Bill’s razor never needed replacing and was always sharp. I’m not going to make out that the twelve photographs of the era’s most beautiful ladies rest in newspapers of the day, in a drawer, and I know where. That would just be silly. Nor would I note (quite as an aside) that the stone mason that set the Needle in place was Billy Gould, from Lambeth, as that would be simple colour to a tale that isn’t even half a story.
But what was true was that when I lived across the river myself then some days when it was fair I would walk to the Thames and cross Hungerford Bridge. And I would sit and eat lunch, always a cheese sandwich, and at times in the afternoon walk further to Bloomsbury.
We sometimes walk in the footsteps of our ancestors. But rarely do we see them so well preserved in the dust of time.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Big Bang Theory 'New Friends'

With Season Five of the popular sitcom drawing to a close it has been announced that two further series have already been commissioned. The sitcom previously a well-written diversion from the common ground of six friends sharing their petty anxieties and twenty-minute pathos over breaking up one with one another has struck gold with a public that having not had to watch the first three series because it was about nerds, now ‘get it’ - that it’s about seven friends who increasingly are anxious and have feelings for one another.
‘The ratings have risen high enough for it to become Friends,’ Executive Producer Dirk Studley is quoted as saying. ‘Without needing all that comic-con shit that no one understood. Well not me, comics aren’t cool any more are they? I saw the tweet.’ He later retracted the statement, declaring the quote to be a misquote, as he never tweeted anything, tweeting not being cool, it seems. Nor read any tweets. Probably true, as reading he was also earlier reported as saying is for ‘Mama’s boys and Canadians’.
David Schwimmer (who takes over the role of Howard Wolowitz, a sulky Jewish nerd) is said to be looking forward to stretching himself in new directions where in this show he will hilariously be the only one not to have a Doctorate. Seen on set coaching Leonard Hofstedter the new series promises to focus more on Leonard’s obsession with girl-next-door Rachel who only likes him when he is with someone else.
‘Focus groups have allowed us to steer the show away from the idea of four intelligent men that play console games and who apparently don’t have sex very much (only at least once every episode between them) to scripts with less syllables in them. We’re toning down the physics content after we got bored reading up on it on Wikki.’
The new writers brought in mid-way through the current series having already allowed Sheldon to be cured of his OMG (sic), are said to be really looking forward to developing the Klingon super-villain away from the ‘insulting way in which he shows that mentalists don’t need care and shit’ to a more rounded character ‘that wears a turkey on his head and solves cancer and stuff’.
Fans that liked The Big Bang Theory from Series 1 (they got the complete box set at Christmas and watched the first series) will doubtless be cheered also by the news that Dr Rajesh Koothrappali (an Indian played by London-born actor Kunal Nayyar) has escaped from his time-travelling island where it was revealed that he was an Iraqi member of the Republican Guard.
Phoebe will play Soft Kitty a lot. It will be hilarious.       

Thursday 5 January 2012

The Baggy Tank of Bermondsey

Just off the upper nut of the Old Kent Road and close to Page’s Walk and Mandela Way there is a tank. A genuine T34 it’s been striped, spotted and pretty much tie-died since it was left there in the 90s occupying land that since has been solely occupied by a lumpy great Soviet T34.
Assumed by some to be a relic of the 60s, it is in fact a relic of the 90s – the 60s not really starting in England until the early 70s (and far more people were tie-dyed, confused and shaggy-haired in the early 90s anyway) when this is all that remains of the hastily aborted St. Ian Brown’s Day Puscht. Its colour assumed to be graffiti it is, or was, actually camouflage. The sight of a Russian-green tank rumbling into Bermondsey would have drawn notice whereas one gaily-coloured of a Sunday morning did not. Being the sole possession and total armed forces of rebellious Manchester it was a wonder it reached London at all, discovered later to have jumped the train where it had spent the whole time crammed with three others in the toilet. Here it ran out of diesel, and here the baggy rebels argued about whose turn it was to go to the garage at 3am until day break – whereupon exposed to sunlight they were forced to waddle off under the shade of funny sunhats such as might have been worn by the Monkees.
Some say it was a prop for the 90s version of Richard III filmed in nearby Battersea, bought and dumped on the ground in protest of refused planning permission. Some people will say anything, we just all agree that it’s really there.  

Wednesday 4 January 2012

When Skool Is Finished

The little beard, the untidy hair, cardigan and canvass pack the young man I meet on the bridge is the ghost of who might have been. It’s cold but I like to walk out here, on the fringes of Tolly Maw and often I stop at the bridge. You can cross the stream, avoid Tolly Maw entirely, skirt it somewhat if preferred. This is the man that might have been as I say, had it not been for the war, for Singapore and Changi. He smiles faintly at that, for this is the man that did not have to go to war, that did not work on the death railway. My dad’s uncle did too, Lt. Back, but Ronald Searle does not know him. How would he? This is the man that never had to.
“He was always the happiest man I ever met,” I say.
“It can go that way,” he says, “or so I believe.”
“You’re not stopping? Coming in? Mervyn Peake lives next door. I’m sorry about the Selfs on the other side and there’re all sorts of...” but no, he has other plans. He will walk. He will walk as other men did before the war, though he’s a little plump and looks more like a beatnik than some keen-type. I don’t know what to say, so I just say what I know. “Molesworth.”
“Ah yes.”
“My mother always wanted to have been a St Trinians girl. She knew all the words. But I was right on the last little spot of spilt ink from Molesworth. You draw wonderfully. You will, or did. Sorry,” I’m not very good at this sort of thing.
I’m glad Ronald Searle lived to be 91. I’m seeing him off now, because he’s not stopping. He has fields to see and paths to walk, because he never did. And I think his art was wonderful. Though the two are probably connected. I watch him go but he doesn’t turn back, he’s looking forward as he doubtless always did after Changi. He’s walking towards the sun so that all his shadows are behind him.
As any fule kno. 

Tuesday 3 January 2012


In the 80s to the 90s if it was a science-fiction, dark future or a space opera affair then in our games there would always be Vargr. Originating in one form in Traveller Vargr might well be old Norse for wolf, and modern Swedish (Varga) likewise, but they were never the proud, noble beasts so beloved of t-shirts and oddly chosen tea-towels. Not in our hands anyway. They were thugs, they were almost always soldiers, they got in the way, and apart from when they were feeling frisky – they were angry. Mostly because despite being wolves, they were also, always, very short. So they had the loudest weapons, drank, and played music loudly. They were the metaller kids from school and Uni - only actually possessed with one tenth the potential for destruction such kids wanted. And none of them ever had girlfriends (genetically designed super-soldiers just don’t).
Mostly they were funny.
And the picture above is a remnant of such times. Found crumpled and only copied as a photo, it’s doubtless Arrf, or Ven, or Lt. Snarf (but never Fido). And the thing about their coco-pops of a morning was that they even turned the vodka brown. And your regulation issue vac-suit trousers too, if when playing Traveller you managed to get to the end of character-generation without inadvertently and unfortunately dying.
Woof fucking woof.

Monday 2 January 2012

Stop Doing Consoles Wrong

I know all about my feminine side, I've read Love & Rockets

As of a week ago when (here in the place of Santa) Windsor Davis and Don Estelle crept into our house to deliver presents, we are now a family in possession of an Xbox. Astonishing I know, we’ll have shoes next. And when I say family that is precisely what I mean. You might recall in The Simpsons when Homer so proud of his monstrous SUV is shocked to the bone when it is pointed out he has the girl’s model. As do I, although an Xbox.
Whilst in principle I support the idea that a console gaming system is something to be shared, it is worth pointing out that in this I am lying. Console games are for sitting about on a sofa whose cushion acquires the properties of memory-foam regarding crisp-inflated buttocks. It’s for times when the curtains just won’t open. When there is important archaeology to be done, on a rope, by tapping X. It is quite the very opposite of getting fit, yet there it is, marketed as a means to get fit. Like Mars bars are energy food, other than in the Arctic when lugging a tractor tire, by rope, to the pole. This Xbox has a... nodule, a cybermat thing that when it is turned on actually looks for you. It scans the room. It monitors you. It follows you. I’m not sure it approves.
And whilst I’m happy to have spent an hour or three tipping my hat to women with the word ‘ma’am’, sauntering about, and shooting people on the wild plains of the made-up west it’s not quite the same when my sprouts are delighted to see that the game is mostly about riding a horsey. They don’t say ‘horsey’, just as they don’t have pigtails nor a lisp, but they might as well have. And so now we have an Xbox whereby girls of nearly 5 and 8 can design avatars, dress them up, and giggle. We have an Xbox on which they can play. Because it’s for the family you remember. And the family gets to play nice games like Kung Fu Panda. And by the family in this context everyone else falls over, drowns and gets their head kicked in by cartoon crocodiles so that the family shout for daddy. And daddy has to take over instead of doing anything else. To jump and kick and fight cartoon-bloody-crocodiles. And daddy doesn’t want to fight cartoon-bloody-crocodiles as a fat panda voiced by bloody Jack Black. But it’s a family thing. Unlike reading through the small stack of Christmas books he has wherein grumpy Saxons raised as Danes almost certainly upset Christians, with a sword.
That might be what the current book is about, I wouldn’t know. Because I’m not being a grumpy Saxon raised as a Dane.
I’m being a King-Fu Panda. Voiced by Jack Black.
Though the kill count is probably about even.    

Sunday 1 January 2012

Tracey Emin, Razzle, and Listening To Whale Music

I’ve just about finished clearing up from the night before where without asking half the world decided to celebrate the new-year here. At least everyone was quiet about it as in bed by nine I heard not a peep. The sprouts tucked up early (and after sharing wine and good pasta myself and Q likewise) I suspect it was with nearly military precision that half of Tolly Maw crept in. Being militarily precise they managed to blow up my shed, but at least and again – quietly.
With laundry tongs and a pair of welding gloves I’ve picked up thick condoms made of tire rubber. Dozens of jam jars first used for booze and then for what results from booze. The goldfish tank (thankfully empty) remains full of fag ends. I say thankfully empty because the sprout’s goldfish died the night before Christmas Eve. Much tearing of tears admittedly but better that the little fairground prize hadn’t managed to scratch it out for another night. As you can imagine, ‘Has Santa been?’
‘Aye, and he’s killed goldie.’ Smashing.
But most troublesome of all that was left, more than the green monkey, the single colossal shoe or the signed copy of Razzle from 1972, is the Tracey Emin. Someone left her in the hall closet, neatly put away amongst the coats and with her face twisted in that way it does whenever she’s listening to whale music, which is almost always. I did hear tell that once and for five minutes she managed to avoid tapping out chopsticks in her pocket whereupon it was revealed she was Alanis Morrisette, but I don’t believe it. Which would not have been ironic, irony just being sarcasm with a trilby. So there she hung, smoking, albeit from her ears, until with the aid of a pillow case and a shoe I managed to turf her out into the garden.
Where I can see her now. Will Self from next door is watching her from under a bush. He’s tearing up copies of Razzle (which answers a few questions) whilst the other Will Self is being prodded with a gardening fork for his dinner money. And he doesn’t have any dinner money.
Our first new year in Tolly Maw.
Oh dear.