Friday 30 March 2012

London Pineapples



If you look you’ll see them a lot – pineapples in London. On roofs, on arches, used as stoppers on gates and railings once you begin to look you’ll notice them nearly everywhere you go in the capital.
Pineapples arrived in London in the 17C and were of course then highly exotic. A luxury that for some time to come could cost thousands, often auctioned. Even when glassmaking proved sufficient for real greenhouses the cost of such glass and the room for such an undertaking kept them as a rare and exotic luxury.
The pineapple then became a symbol, and one of welcome.  I like that. That architecture had such meaning, these not-hidden or secret symbols that remain today and almost entirely unseen. But next time you walk the streets of London keep your eye out. Trust me, they’re everywhere.
Just don’t assume that everyone knows it or adheres to it. Especially dance studios.
In the 1950s the pineapples were a meeting point for the merrimen. Boisterous, young (and doubtless spoilt) gadflys who would mug passers-by, stealing nothing but forcing upon people out after dark crude clown make-up if they possessed a sour face or a winkled look.
The habit died out right about the time working class boys, less given to taking such humiliation, were becoming teds. You have to suppose that a sack (however well wielded) was no match for a bicycle chain.   

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Aunt Minerva - Where Do All The Dollies Go?



Whilst politeness costs nothing, rudeness (as Mr Screw was wont to say) commonly got charged at a clip on the nose, which at current rate went for two-pound and all square. It was on the list of charges, in his little book, and he would always give a receipt. In that same little book he noted down Gilda’s worries and ticked what there was to be done about each. It was his job, five days a week, early off on Thursday.
“They’re all the bloody same,” said Gilda. She was like so many of them here on the young side of twenty, and the wrong side of marriage, visibly pregnant as she had been for six years now. “I mean, if my Alfie knew he’d go spare. Right spare.”
“Spare,” said Mr Screw, and licking a pencil stub he noted that down too.
“I don’t mind it at the holiday camp. Well, you don’t do you? Bit of slap and tickle. And you got to take your chances with the pop stars. Like octopuppies they are.”
“Pussies, Gilda?”
She blushed, “Oh, I say.”
Mr Screw nodded. “Please do go on, dear lady.”
“Last week I was having driving lessons, I mean, I know I speak common but that don’t mean  nothing does it? He was all over me. And this morning he was cleaning me windows,” she nodded in that direction. She lived on the fourth floor. “He wanted to know if there was a little scrubber in. Asked me if I’d seen his squeegee. I said I don’t know, but he was flicking it about and I said it was getting me all wet. He had no trousers on. He made a funny sound.”
He patted her knee, there-there. “Can you describe it?” said Mr Screw.
“It were about seven inches long and...”
“The sound, Gilda. The sound.”
Gilda had to think about that.
Patiently Mr Screw waited, all ears. He was such a plain little man, so inoffensive to look at, never shocked and always interested. He came here every Monday. It was on his round. He had to collect the rent, the whole block either tatty little flats or flat little bedsits. It was so much easier having them all in one place. Girls like Gilda, blank-eyed and very dolly. They weren’t bad people. They were confused. They had their role and it wasn’t a very nice one. Mr Screw did what he could for them like they were the daughters of some old friend. Even after a rare night of running about London on more hectic work for Aunt Minerva. The girls weren’t any trouble. A lot of them were in trouble, as they would say.  
“It were... fwoooarr!”
“Fer-roooar,” tut-tut. He closed his notebook. Hob’s Lane was the tiniest of estates and so modern as to be named for the UnderGround at Hob’s End, two streets over, W10. Launderette, shop, street market and pub, the Vick & Comet – there where doubtless Tim Lee was already bragging about birds with one eye open for irate husbands. A polite word would be had. Gilda’s Alfie was not to be messed with, not by the likes of Timmy Lee. Alfie to Mr Screw’s recollection was up north in Newcastle for his brother’s funeral. He sighed. Life could be ever so complicated, and people so readily confused.
Even (or perhaps especially so) by themselves.   

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Resident Eighth Birthday



It’s been eight years today since our eldest came into our lives, or longer of course since as parents the awareness of baby starts before then. Eight years then since this one took seventy hours to be born. Eight years since I had one, just one, moment when I thought that I couldn’t do it, that it was all too much – a brief moment of panic which is always allowed so long as it is only that. But eight years, that might have been always, since memories of not being a parent are with me only in black and white.
At least that’s what I tell people.
You know what it’s like really. There’s always one. You don’t mind the grown up shuffling dead even if the full-pelt runners come as a shock. It’s all very well for people to say in the calm light of the monitor that even an old lady with a spade can do away with the dead, but you know different, right? Eight years ago on that night of horror when picking my way through alleyways to get to where Q was holed up and five rounds only remaining in the Browning. It was probably that which led to this because you have to pick and choose your targets, you can’t just blaze away and find out you’ve shot the cat. And there’s always one, that dead thing with the teddy whose button eyes are both sewn shut. Tangled hair, weeping. The little-girl zombies are the worst. So eight years since my torch fell on her and I didn’t pull the trigger and still she’s here. Right now eating cake; admittedly made out of a puppy.
She’s sat here now, quiet. Hair over half her face that hides the half not there. There are too many teeth, all tiny, all identical and her smile can half hinge her head. Don’t let your dog snap at her as she’ll snap back. She never wins a race at sports day, but she can outrace a whippet when chasing a hare. And she whispers. You have to listen and you have to learn as when she gets touched by the wild half the whispers are words, albeit backwards. It’s not all bad. She can crawl up walls and even the ceiling, if jerkily. She mysteriously likes vegetables. If she doesn’t talk to friends at school then she talks to friends that if unseen are almost certainly there. And she’s loving, as long as she’s not hungry.
She’s eight and in her head she plays complex games. Twice that now and she’ll be sixteen.
Cope save me.  

Monday 26 March 2012

A New Mayor For London



Since Ken Livingston accepted a post to teach potions, Brian Paddick’s face became stuck upside down, and Boris Johnson was, and is, still unable to escape from a single revolving door the only real contender for the next Mayor of London has been revealed today as Morph. First coming to the attention of the public in such series as Vision On and Take Morph the tiny and inarticulate actor gained fame for presenting the shows with the aid of a stop-motion Tony Hart.
On contract to Aardman he received for long years only bit-parts thereafter, including as a piece of cheese in A Grand Day Out. Not until Chicken Run did Morph gain a star billing again when curiously in a film entirely composed of Plasticine actors he provided instead the voice of Rocky, incomprehensively squeaking from one scene to the next, mostly blaming Jewish people – though for what was never exactly clear. Chicken Run (a child friendly version of Logan’s Run) rather missed the point of the original - bemusing fans when the story of how the events and revelations of a single day can turn a dedicated killer against the very society that created him without fatuously making out it was love, to something about rebelling against pies. Morph’s performance as Rocky 5 didn’t help.
A short-lived spell in advertising has since been overshadowed also, where whilst Morph had to paint himself yellow and play the trombone in order to sell butter Johnny Rotten not giving two bent fucks for what anyone thought did it better, and more laughably.
So vote for Morph for Mayor of London. It’ll probably mean the return of the bendy-bus, but then to be fair it will mean an establishment of a bendy everything.   

Town And Country



It’s been a fine day for a cold and today at lunch I took a sandwich to the bridge on the outskirts of Tolly Maw. I’m snuffling and scratchy, somewhat tired, because everyone was sick this weekend - and because everyone was sick I couldn’t be. I love my sprouts but to be honest by Sunday morning I wanted to get away. But Sunday is a day without busses and we’re a long way from the railway since our branch was closed – even then it took coffins and mourners on the rural branch on the old Necropolis. Many were stranded here as the closure took place without warning. Many remain. That explains rather a lot. I can walk, and happily, for miles and here there is an awful lot to walk. Fells and hills, mountains, rivers and lakes, but sometimes and the more you have of the great wild places they rather become not so wildly great. When I lived in cities, I longed for the country. Now in the country...
It’s hard to sometimes. The good smell of the country is wonderful. The hoo-hoo of wood pigeons is so much more preferable than the eternal siren-somewhere-nearby. I ran from London a little more than ten years ago when it hit me that from none of my windows could I see the ground. Only patchwork grey, and tall buildings indistinct in the haze. Visiting the smoke and the smell is terrible, hot tin and something stale, a scraped but unwashed ashtray. It’s a cliché too but it’s true that people are nicer out in the sticks. Everyone says hello, people help out if someone is in distress, or lost, or just muttering. There’s also that lazy sort of bigotry that’s probably just closer to the surface. And they’re not defensive. They really don’t care if it’s better in the sticks or the smoke, or what that means anyway.
But I grew up in both town and country. My family is Lambeth born and stamped. I might have been raised in the country, but not far from London and we had family there, and I was there a lot. I know London better than some, in that everyone that’s lived in London has lived in a different London. And there are times when I miss it. And Sunday I just wanted to walk to the museums, to ferret out an old and hidden pub, to troll the South Bank at dusk. To hit the pubs to see a bit of proper theatre. To have tubes and busses and lots of people just there, that you know, any time you want. I wanted bustle (astonishingly). It was a lovely day and if I wanted to play pool and sink a pint then I wanted to do it with the doors open to a noisy street.
I need to be somewhere with both. A town with character and oddity and the country all muddled in to which I can walk whistling. Salisbury was the best for that. My missus and my sprouts are all northerners, but I’m a southerner and it’s not only the past that is a foreign country.
Sometimes it’s just that a bread roll is not a teacake.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Mitchell & Coren (and Webb)

(L.) Almost, probably, got some. (R.) Didn't.

The news that David Mitchell is to marry Victoria Coren has resulted in an appeal being made to the European Court Of Social Convention by some-time partner Robert Webb. Mitchell and Webb (formerly members of the non-governmental secret society assuming the brief of defending England from similar agents of a foreign power, and Oxford – Footlights) found fame after their appearance in the docu-soap Peep Show and went on to be wry, sardonic, dry, and witty with repeated appearances by Mitchell on QI. The cracks in their relationship widened when it was revealed that Mitchell having followed Lucy through a wardrobe denied it all to Peter and Susan.
In this the latest in a long line of spats between the pair Webb has indicted Mitchell in Brussels for potentially having a much fitter wife than him.
“It’s clearly written down,” said Webb today whilst eating bread stolen from ducks, “that in any long-term friendship there is a good looking one and a more bitter, shorter, basically sadder one. Look, it’s not like I mind that he gets to watch weird porn, nor that he’s more into Star Trek, or whatever it is, I don’t know, hey, I’m the tall one.”
Social convention does appear to be on Webb’s side. As he later said, “Look, I got married first. Okay, that’s expected. But Victoria Coren is fitter than my wife. Intelligent, talented, rich from all that championship Twister she does, or whatever, right. I mean, she’s not even proper fit. Not forgettable fit. You know sort of just plain beautiful so give it a week and she vanishes into her own reflection fit. Not famously fit so that she knows it, and is crap in bed, probably. I mean, she’s related to that bloke, you know, Freud, or someone like that. And she’s quirky fit. The sort of fit where you know that if you really upped your game, and had an on-day, and, like, she was feeling depressed or something then you might be in. Not definitely, but probably. If her fish had died, or someone had been rude to her. In Waitrose say, not the papers. And anyway, I’m the tall one, a bit better looking, so he shouldn’t have a better wife than me. Crowing over it. Probably doing her, really wrongly. All fumbling and gasping, and thanking her.”
And the law does seem to be on his side.
Probably, basically. Or something, yeah?      

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Hurrah! The Budget!



I’ve been sceptical in the last couple of years about the power the Lib Dems can enjoy in the Coalition but I need a bit of salt and good brown sauce for it seems I must now eat my hat. Typically I steer clear of politics, here removed as I am in Tolly Maw (technically a possession of the Duchy of Burgundy), that and because it’s just too easy. Today’s budget has proven me wrong with the power of the people from middling public schools proving triumphant over those with whom they share power that went to somewhat better public schools. The highlights speak for themselves.

The adoption of Travis as the new national anthem for a start, I’m not sure which one, all the songs sound much the same to me but it’s a move towards the avowed promise of more dinner-parties.

The lowering of the nation’s croissant deficit.

The return of school milk, albeit now as free Santa Ama Reserve Merlot.

Wind farms to be replaced by compulsory cycling with those squeaky dynamos you used to get hooked up to batteries to be collected as part of the national grid.

The Lake District to be reclassified as Upper Virginia Water.

The compulsory seizure of Audi.

The Church of England to be renamed Narnia.

Genre literature to carry a warning sticker pointing out that it isn’t real.

Furniture to be phased out by 2016 in preference for iChairs, which you can’t sit on but are a lot easier to carry around, a little cheaper, and don’t wear out.

Nigella Lawson to be appointed Queen.

The choice between voting for one’s member of parliament, or for X Factor – but not both.

A reduction by half of the Police, and consequent granting of the same powers to the neighbourhood watch.

A restructuring of the BBC to show only the news and continual episodes of The Good Life, Ever Decreasing Circles, and To The Manor Born.

Compulsory Facebook updates under the Provision of Security Act.

So fair play, election promises delivered!

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Rumours Of Summer


Clutches of tiny Tildas the size of a disappointing gift are whispering in the trees. The susurration loses the words. Reminders, fragments of heartbreak, petty lies and the small cruelties of youth. The scratched record of stolen songs and ill-chosen words that together and competing is less eerie than it is just another layer to the breeze. It has been a fine day, a gentle day, not too warm, spring and soon gone as I never forgot each year that the pleasant malaise of this brief season will vanish in rain and cheap whitewash again until June. But tomorrow, tomorrow, for today was a rare and lovely thing. In a shared string vest and stolen wellington boots the Will Selfs said nothing to one another as each armed with fly-swat and tins of Norseman lager for ammunition shooed away Tracey Emin - when she could be bothered to bother them, which was rarely. She’s there now basking in the evening, losing an unwanted tan to a cloudy evening. Terry Thomas is eating ice-cream, not his.
We’re listening to Rumours.
Not the Pistols, the Clash, Culture Shock, or Poppies. It’s not that sort of day. The album so full of break up and loss conspires as ever to be summer. We’re all hippies today, because it’s too nice to be anything else. I worked on the typewriter I’ve had since I was thirteen. The pages handed to the internet when Paul called by, and this too, so if you can’t read this you won’t know anyway will you?
I’m not one for summer. Not for hay fever and unpleasant heat in the open, but in the woods and on a ramble, on a walk in good baggy shorts and a suitable hat I’m the very feller. It’s a truism that it was always summer when you were young, and still for me well into my twenties. Who remembers the rain of Brixton when instead there was cider in the park? Free festivals and friends, no one wearing very much, the best sort of party, friends and new friends, music and laughter. And through the magic of the Walkman the cricket scores too, on the sly.
And Rumours.
Everyone loves Rumours. Everyone worth talking to about music in any case, summer and still though the music is sad it’s wistful, but importantly not about now, but about sadder memories that only make the present better. Long looks, a smile returned, being one of the beautiful people. I was young and I’m not jealous of youth now, because when I was young I really was. I had fun, and frolics, and things were important as they had to be – apart from the future, which was not even tomorrow. Because you’re never twenty-three again, that summer is once. And it was great, and many more like it. I’ve been lucky in love all my life, so Rumours is not about me. But it’s summer in the park, and later the pub, and another party, and the music is great.
I don’t regret a thing and I begrudge anything less.
Rumours, and a smile returned. Love in the sun. It’ll rain tomorrow but let tomorrow take care of itself.        

Monday 19 March 2012

Commission Ink


A chunk of a much larger piece from a few years ago – but my scanner is only A4! This is a scan of my copy, the original is cleaner, but I don’t have the original, such is rightly the way of commissions.


Sunday 18 March 2012

Gok Wan Kenobi

Light-saber in off-position


Through a strict regime of learning very bad dialogue and winding down all good sense it seems that in the next instalment of the dreary Star Wars franchise a last Jedi is born on Earth. Star Wars ended with the Battlestar reaching earth (where sets were somewhat cheaper) setting itself aside from proper episodic science-fiction by consistently not being set in a quarry. This bold move has led to the story advancing to the point where the next chosen one is no longer in a galaxy very away, nor a long time ago, but within easy working distance of London.
It’s clearly time for an update of the saga. In this the first part (provisionally titled ‘Star Wars, How To Kick Arse Naked’) a young Gok Wan Kenobi will be fabulous, with a light saber. Through his advanced training, high street fashion, and feeling good about himself Gok Wan Kenobi will fight very briefly but successfully by turning his light saber off when another tries to parry it and then on again in the same movement thus cutting the latest Sith Lord in two, neatly. Whilst saying ‘literally’ a lot, when probably meaning ‘figuratively’.
The film will also focus on the use of the Force in Britain, local parlance rendering it into the more street-savvy the Bill. No one will really care what goes on other than to wonder why using the Bill is so situational, waiting for more light-sabre action on the streets of Sun Hill where Gok Wan Kenobi will help Tony Stamp rescue a young street-walker from her abusive former boyfriend, and some sort of fire. Robin Williams as the latest Sith Lord will be hilariously camp, again, annoyingly, eliciting for the first time ever an actual cheer when the dark side is defeated. Due to confusion over the name Robin Williams will then rejoin Take That, who shadowy and indistinct will stand in the background at the end looking earnest.
Already the second part of the trilogy is being auditioned, Death Stars In Their Eyes.       

Friday 16 March 2012

Paddington Bear Honoured

This is not the bear you are looking for...

Paddington Bear has completed his redemption with the media with his success in the Animation Awards last night, being named Britain’s Most Popular ahead of such animated stalwarts as Mr. Benn and Daniel Craig. Paddington a bear that came to this country from darkest Peru in the 50s surprised many when interviewed by Dave Dee by the thick accent and almost total absence of English , voiced as he was for many years by Michael Horden, little of either of which remains today. The 60s saw his downfall, outed by the press for the wild drink and marmalade parties, his indictment in America over drugs after Muffin (who acted as his mule) turned state’s on him.
He became at the time something of an icon featuring on the famous Doors best-of cover wearing only a string of beads, also a pariah due to his visit to the-then Vietnam war and his subsequent adoption by the Viet Minh as a mascot. To this day there are veterans who twitch at the sound of small rubber boots, that possess that look in the eyes described as ‘an especially hard stare’.
The 70s saw a bear on harder times. Jim was dead, Janis was dead, Jimmi was dead, and Paddington took an ill-advised role in the hard-core Fritz The Cat. Work went completely after that until long-term fan Quentin Tarantino cast the bear in Pulp Fiction. Only briefly on screen as Zed’s ‘bear in a box’ the role was enough to make Paddington cool again. Even the more recent Bears On A Plane (where through CGI one bear was enough to put all other bear-actors out of work) did not dent ‘the Padds’, recognised yesterday before his peers.

Paddington Bear is currently appearing in the Swan Theatre in the RSC's production of A Winter’s Tale, where Antigonus exiting, is pursued by him.       

Thursday 15 March 2012

Boneland

August sees the release of Alan Garner’s Boneland, described as the third part of the trilogy that started some fifty years ago with Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and later continued with Moon of Gomroth. Said to follow the story of Colin, now grown, a Professor spending his time between Jodrell Bank and Alderley Edge as he searches for his lost sister Susan, I can hardly wait.
I’ve previously described the wonder, the importance of the books to me, the place they take in my life, the path they set me on, that I’ll be there before the bookshop opens quite possibly in a little folding chair prepared to beat back the Morthbrood (that I suspect won’t even make an appearance). Alan Garner is a fine author, one that brings us magic without whimsy, whose heroes die and where heroism isn’t a feather to wear but something earned, in hindsight, and sad, and flawed. For children’s books they are dark, for young minds they can be frightening – and all power to them because I can’t abide the idea that there are books for ‘young adults’. Teenagers should read what they wish, where they shouldn’t have some boil-in-the bag middle ground between whimsy-wizards and terrifying rats. If more sprouts were shown a little real fear (and a little real imagination) there’d be a few less teenagers mooning over lovelorn vampires with nice hair.
That’s it. This is true. See you in August.  

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Aunt Minerva, Dracula AD 1984


Born on a submarine Asa Uttinfrer had not seen the sea since. Her Papa a ship captain she had grown to her current twenty years without long enough in his company to ever really quarrel. Her stepmother (if distant) had been glamorous, generous, condescending but never wicked. Home schooled in her family’s native Swedish in London she had never left further than Highgate where developing a fear of heights she had returned instantly to the familiar safety of south London. Asa had had boyfriends, was certainly not a virgin, had never watched television and only once when thirteen sneaked into a retrospective at the Brixton Roxy to see her one and only film. For the week that followed Dracula had tried to make her one of his brides. Dracula (she had later learned) was less dangerous than a scrap-yard dog. There were millions of ways to kill Dracula. He died all the time, every film. It was those that didn’t that she had to watch for. Not that she had to watch for anyone at all since in seven years Asa had not once returned to the cinema. She hadn’t much liked Christopher Lee after that, nor much more Robert Smith. The baby-goths that haunted the bus stop outside the house on Half Moon Lane played at the darkness with their charity-shop lace and Grandmother’s gloves and would have wilted to have been stalked by Dracula. Instead they smoked black-menthol and because of which Asa had as now to weed the raised flower beds of her father’s house for the butts that grew there end-up by morning.
               Asa alone most days in the dressing-table house, with its old wood and fresh polish, read. Her stepmother did not try and keep her in. Her stepmother rather wanted her out, about, using the youth and beauty she had herself left behind, albeit not without a fight. Asa had the radio, and her books, and the music-centre so new ten years before, and an allowance from her father that grew monthly barely spent. Returning to the house having seen to the gardening she saw again the picture she had drawn of her father in felt-tip on scrap paper. She had believed her Papa a pirate. She had had to grow older to know how silly that was, then older still to know conversely that it was true. There was very little call for submarines to carry cargo. The stain on the kitchen door was showing through the paint again too. The mark where Dracula had burst into flames having chosen dawn to enter the house. At thirteen Asa had been ready with stakes and holy water, communion wafers, and a good book. She had had all day to prepare after all. That evening one of Dracula’s thralls had come to the door before nightfall to worry her, to scare her - or to plain just tell her not to go to bed that night, as she had pointed out. He had been quite rude about it all and Asa at thirteen and home-schooled having never been exposed to the idea that girls were weaker had made the idiot say sorry after hitting him square on the nose with a brick.
            Asa had seen one film in her life, that once and seven years before. Asa read instead, and not just books (though plenty of those) but magazines too. Fangoria and Screen, old copies of Afterimage and Camera Obscura. Anything at all to do with film, she read and had even written for. At least three times a week fanzines would fall on the mat. If it was to do with horror, or any film indeed, she would read it and know it, rarely now finding anything new at all. But it was revision, practise. Because at twenty Asa Uttinfrer was the world’s leading authority on how anything and everybody that had appeared on the silver screen died.
            When she went out, however rarely, she wore Docs because they were practical and a parka because it was warm. She carried a torch because in Herne Hill a short cut to anywhere meant crossing Brockwell Park. She never forgot her keys, and always carried a short-handled crowbar.
              She had never heard of Aunt Minerva, which was a shame because Aunt Minerva had most certainly heard of her.

Monday 12 March 2012

Thank You, Moebius



I ate my lunch on that bridge on the edge of Tolly Maw where passers-by, do. I didn’t care about the rain, it seemed fitting, for today was a sad day. Today I found out that on Saturday Jean Giraud died. Giraud more popularly known as Moebius is one of the greatest graphic artists that ever lived, and now died. I wish I owned more of his stuff, I’m sure I will but for now I can only think about the work that won’t be produced. I never met the man, I wish I had. French comics have a freedom and a wonder you don’t find in our own. Moebius drew like no other and this weekend too a very good friend (and the world’s authority on comics) showed me how nowadays the changes towards computerised photo-tracing in comic art. The two facts this morning made me very sad. It’s a slump I’ve not managed to free myself from yet, and as I say I never met the man still less knew him. So I went to the bridge in the hope he would pass by, but he never did.
Giraud’s art was both intricate and had a wonderful sense for space. The line-work exquisite. He worked on such films as Alien and the Fifth Element. Whilst his Jerry Cornelius And The Airtight Garage was later changed to ‘Lewis Carnelian’ through a misunderstanding over Moorcock’s appreciation of the wo rk the very idea of two such greats overlapping makes the sun that much brighter.
I already miss the man I never knew so I’ll go back to the bridge when the sprouts are asleep and I’ll wait, and if he does not pass by then still I’ll raise a glass to him and just thank him for what he left behind, the wonder and the realisation of it all. I need to draw more, and whilst I will never, ever be his equal that’s perfectly fine, I’ll be a better me because of it.
Here’s to you Moebius, and thank you.

Sunday 11 March 2012

As A Parrot



I blame the school.
I’ve never been prone much to illness. I think after the hell of neuralgia until my mid-twenties (whereupon it just plain stopped attacking), and the gout now – which is better because it’s distanced, not in my head – mere sniffs and sneezes gave up on making an impact on me. I’ve lived in a flat so cold that a pipe bursting actually froze itself rather than drip and not a hint of a cold. Flu is what men get of course, or a cold as it’s more commonly known but the point is that for many years sickiness and the common ague were strangers to me. As an aside, stinging nettles don’t bother me either.
But since the sprouts have been in school I’ve suffered the odd one-day night-burns-it-away lurgie. The sprouts too have gained some of that. Certainly when the school is laid low by a sweeping horror they’re in there, wondering where everyone has gone, and enjoying their day like anyone in the first reel of 28 Days Later. Or Day of the Triffids if you prefer, and I certainly do. They sit there flipping through books whilst zombies lurch about, occasionally twatting them with the broom at playtime.
So when on Thursday night my youngest Boswell came down with yuckiness it was to stern denials on her part. Boswell although but five will loudly declare to any mere injury that she is ‘brave and bold’. She never cries, even when bloody and torn. My eldest Catnip whilst more girly than a dozen flower-fairy princesses says no such thing and though will cry at bump or scratch, never for long, and never to a sniffle, which she also never suffers. So Boswell was laid low (and much to her displeasure), and to the extent she denied it all and went to school anyway where as I suppose I should have expected, nearly no one else was. Apart from her big sister, who in between reading by tallow light spent the day planting daisies on the fields of dead. Crows fear her and leave her gifts. When I say she’s like a fairy its worth pointing out that it’s an Unseelie one.
Inevitably Bosswell was not long there and I had to collect her with the aid of a machete and the ancestral shotgun. Muttering and staggering home at a slug’s pace the walking dead fled, and being proper shuffling dead that involved a lot of slapstick falling over. Copious amounts of duvets and never-nice-enough water later and Catnip decides she is also ill, all the time whilst Bosswell denies it, picking at the corpse of a puppy that looked at her in a funny way.
Soon and the world is a sickly place and I... am not. So it’s been a few days of up and down stairs, fetching, reading aloud, all the while being grumbled at for being merely worn out. The village has gone to the dead and somehow the orange juice is, I quote, wrong.
The apocalypse sucks.
Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Norma June Brown



Marilyn Monroe’s back at the door again. She’s not aged well, but then who does at 86? I was never particularly interested in Marilyn unlike some, she acted and she had hips and thighs and good curves such as you don’t see so much of on screen big or small nowadays. She was always someone that had already died to me and given her overdose has led to a wet sack of conspiracy theories ever since it’s all in the same part of my head where lurk people that don’t believe on the moon landings. Marilyn was before my generation, who for such things had Caroline Munro, Raquel Welch (and according to my mate Maurice, Dennis Waterman) already with a long list of films to discover. Proper women, with curves, important when you’re of a certain age.
            Well, Marilyn doesn’t have curves now. After her pretend-death she reinvented herself as a much better actress. Most popularly known for playing Dot Cotton in EastEnders I think she turned in a fantastic Nannie Slagg in the Beebs version of Gormenghast. She turned her back on the pouty-glamour and rose within the ranks of the Women’s Institute, especially here in Tolly Maw where the WI has since the early 70s adopted the more hands-on approach and name of the Dead Starlet’s Cake and Thunder Vigilante Model Railway Society. It’s a bit of a mouthful and is one of the few organisations I’ve encountered where it’s less faff to say the whole lot than use an acronym. And she keeps on coming round selling raffle tickets (top prize ‘Michael Flatley Sings Starlight Express’ which she is insistent on not being a recording). It’s possible since after Riverdance the terrifying soloist has only gotten work tamping down mastic-asphalt, he’s cheaper than a big roller apparently.
            You can hear Marilyn coming. She has these rats in a birdcage she feeds only on brandy-soaked millet worms (the sort nylon tents are spun from), and they fight and swear and are always drunk because of it. She wears clogs made of shoehorns, hobnailed. She gets about in a pram pulled by monkeys, and not nice monkeys, but old monkeys that look up people’s skirts. They set upon travellers with Velcro and a kilt so they can look up it at need. I don’t know why and I don’t ask because you can tell these aren’t nice monkeys, nice monkeys have ruffs.
            So I’ll have to buy some raffle tickets because they’ve just flopped onto the mat. She calls out that I can sell them to friends, for a good cause, but we all know that means you have to cough for them yourself.
            It’s for a good cause at least. It’s so you don’t go on the list held by the Dead Starlet’s Cake and Thunder Vigilante Cadre Vigilante Model Railway Society. The list of wrong-uns. The list of those that need watching. By monkeys, through the window, when you’re having a nice read of a morning over a good poo. Where they scratch on the window with their one, long finger, licking the glass, whispering the words of Dennis Potter. In monkey.
            So I’ll put you all down for three apiece?

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Aunt Minerva (to the tune of) Old Ned


Charles Kimberley Bittersweet (named for the diamonds discovered in the Orange Free State) had lied about his age to join the Loamshires. Despite the need to get men to the front he had fallen in with two others and learned how to first bribe, then blackmail the Battalion Clerk so that time and again when the increasingly foreshortened training cadres shipped out he and his mates were on courses, or once victims of camel fever. When the Clerk had been discovered fiddling the rum the nose of an especially unlikely provost called Cromwell had led to Charlie being just in time and overly qualified for the British Expeditionary Force sent to Russia. So it was he had been made, wriggling and chancing everyone’s hand but his own, as a signaller in Arkhangelsk sent to do what the-then Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill had described as ‘striking at the birth of Bolshevism’. He could still remember the anger of bloody Major Bulldog when the field telephone failing to work and he, courses never actually attended but listed as passing nonetheless, had been able to do nothing about it.
            So it was that Corporal Bittersweet had found himself in the mess about Koikori, a scrap so bad that the officers dead the company had refused to fight. Later the details had come out and an act of Parliament saw the sentences commuted to hard labour, and that not long enough to matter. In Archangel the stores and weapons sent by the yanks had piled up in the harbour and that had been Charlie’s war.
            He had done better in the second bloody-arse. Crime in the Blitz was still not talked about even today. And today Charlie Bittersweet read the Daily Express in a deck-chair out the front of his arches. He had knotted his kerchief to protect his head from the sun but he still wore a muffler over his string vest because more than fifty years after Koikori and Archangel it was still never warm enough.
            Later and his boy would come round. Already and Charlie’s little helpers, his stepsons as they were still known, had knocked off. They started early because Charlie started early. Nothing was worth doing in the markets by the time it was light. But if Charlie was a night hawk then here he sat with eyes closed to soak up the sun where by late afternoon it cut for one happy hour between the train-tracks above and the yards on the arches other side. Charlie was a man that found things, and if a customer had not strictly speaking lost what he wanted himself, then that could be arranged too. In a bucket two bottles of Burton pale ale kept warm nicely. You would have had to have a gun on Charlie to make him drink anything cold, and then you had better be bloody willing to use it.
            “I hear you’re the very man,” said a pair of brogues.
            “That’d be my cock then,” said Charlie without opening his eyes above the shoes.
            Mr Brogues laughed. It was high, affected, something from the radio.
            The hour was wasting.  “Fuck off,” said Charlie.
            Mr Brogues did not. “I was rather wanting a little information. Henry mentioned your name?”
            “Henry Cooper? Hooray Henry? King bloody Henry the VIII?”
            “Henry Lord Rockingham.”
            “Don’t know him. You’d be surprised how few peers of the realm come by Oil Drum Lane.”
            Brogues said nothing at first, then after what might have seemed a suitable pause suggested, “It will be worth your while?”
            Charlie doubted that very much. He didn’t need money. He had tins full of it. Less now since his boy had put so much of it in the bank, the smarty-pants.  Besides which Charlie had his bus-pass and for Charlie trains, the underground, taxis, even once a passing Austin Cambridge worked with it, much to the startled disbelief of the padre that had been driving. But Charlie wanted Brogues gone so he looked up to see an unshaven slob in freshly laundered clothes. It was like one of those flip-books, he thought. One where you turned the pages to put heads, middles and bottoms together. Someone needed to turn to the next page. “What does old Charlie call you then, squire?”
            “Ludovic.”
            “And what does Ludovic want to know?”
            “Ludovic wants to know where to find Mme Roux.”
            “Right,” said Charlie. “When exactly?” he laughed. The plate on his working-teeth worked lose and he swore as he mangled putting it back. “Hang about,” he showed Ludovic the shocking state of his dentures. Holding up a hand in apology he rose, stretched and scratched his bum before vanishing into the dark hole of the nearest railway arch. He returned with a double-barrelled Purdey. “You remember,” he said, “when I told you to fuck off?”
            “Now-now...”
            “Is the turn of phrase confusing you?”
            “Now look, as it happens it won’t do you any good.”
            Charlie thumbed back both hammers. “It’s a nice day, and you’re spoiling it. Let’s just say for the sake of argument it won’t do any good. But it’ll knock you through the fence. And when my boy comes round he’ll find you hanging from the arch by your feet. And there are ways.”
            “I believe you would call me a ‘dago-type’?” said Ludovic.
            “That’s nice. We’ll just lock you up then. And you won’t die but you’ll get fucking thirsty until at last they knock down the house whose bowels we’ll brick you up in.”
            Ludovic frowned, then nodded. “I’ll be fucking off then.”
            “Good boy.”

Monday 5 March 2012

Bored



“I’m bored,” she says.
“Go and be bored somewhere else,” I answer (I’m witty like that). I should have known she was coming. My foot’s been acting up all weekend and like a sailor feels the sea in his bones I get impending annoyance in my foot. She sighs like a child. She’ll be kicking the chair legs next. I put down my pencil. “What is it?”
“Bored.”
“Read a book.”
“Read them.”
“Read them again.”
But no this is that special sort of boredom that needs company. I remember being bored once, I had to wait three hours for a lift and by an unlikely chain of events I had no book (as I’d suggested), no music, nothing. Not a thing had been open, it had been then boxing day, and I in Victoria. If I had not had a colossal backpack I would have walked the twelve miles home, but I did, so I didn’t. In the end – this was twenty-something years back – I managed to phone someone I hadn’t been meant to be seeing to keep me company until the father of the one I was supposed to came to pick me up. Different times, different person.
“What you doing?” says Mme Roux.
Nothing at the moment, because you’re here. The sprouts are being made ready for bed now Q is home. My day has been crowded with seeing to them in the morning and as much work as could be managed before an appointment in the afternoon, funnily enough about my foot – so I should have known. I’ve got pictures to draw, pieces to write. There are games to prepare. I might like to eat to at some point. I am never, not ever, bored. Ever. I know people who could never live a life of leisure. I could. There are worlds to write and places to portray, people to meet and none of them as it happens, real. There are always things for me to do, and other things too when I’m doing those things. If I actually have an hour to myself then I can always crack on with learning a foreign language and having an ear for German I went for Spanish. Which is hard.
            “Can’t we have an adventure?”
            “No, no we really can’t,” I say. It’s my anniversary soon, fifteen years, I’ve got to crack on with making the gift this evening. I can’t be stumbling over lost valleys, not again. Or run from Cossacks, or throw an egg at Matisse (not our finest hour). I am never bored, and not least because if ever I could ever, ever, get everything done, then there’s everything else I could do too. Galton & Simpson made Hancock spend a brilliantly conceived half-hour with Sid where they did nothing but bicker and sigh on a long, empty Sunday afternoon.
            So don’t tell me you’re bored. Don’t post, write or semaphore me that you’re bored.
            It bores me. “And you,” I say.
            “What?”
Fuck it, I put my pencils away. I put the pad in its folder. Mme Roux looks up, she grins. I’m going to bake rock cakes. She can’t make toast, that’ll bore her silly.
Hopefully bore her away.

Friday 2 March 2012

Slide23, One Year Old Today!



Slide23 is one year old today.
It’s been fun and it has been therapeutic. I write because that’s what I do, or draw, or look after my kids, and... that’s all I do. I write for work but here I can write about what I like. It is no different to me than otherwise watching tele. Indeed having put the kids to bed it’s what I do instead of just surfing the net and wondering why on whatever forum people are just basically beastly to one another? And if you want to write, you should do. Every day. And if you can’t think of something to write, then don’t. It’s a craft, not an art, you have to practise it. You have to enjoy it. I was criticised previously for not having web presence so this is that, for whatever purpose that serves.
In a year (at the time of writing) the Slide has had a few hundred more than 20,000 hits, which may be good, or it may be bad, but it certainly does not matter. It jumped a lot in December where whilst it elicited few comments Nicely Pink must have done something as it doubled the monthly hits, which were then exceeded in January, and then February to nigh on 3500 last month. There have been 376 posts to date for a total of 100,782 words, and 379 comments. I like posting, I like reading the comments, I like that a lot of people browse, and email me. I do it for myself. I don’t really trumpet the blog. There’s a link in emails, on my work board and friends boards. Infrequently I post on Facebook. There’s no end-use for Slide23, there’s no agenda, no purpose other than what it is. 
I write oddly because I can’t really abide blogs that die out when people (because we’re all rather ordinary) don’t actually have that much happen, and myself more than any of you. And it’s easy, it’s what I do. Banging off a few hundred words and less than a single work piece each day takes no time at all.
But that said, it’s been lovely having you. It really has, and it really is. It’s a diary of things that might have happened.
So have a balloon, help yourself to jelly. There’s cheap wine in the fridge and the sausage rolls are in the oven.    
Here in Tolly Maw.


This time last year: Michael Moorcock Ate My Hamster

The Lankhmar Star Daily


It’s nearly the anniversary of the Lankhmar Star Daily, thirty years since the now almost-forgotten fanzine rocked society to the core.  Founded in Cornwall, its first incarnation drew on the popular-culture of the very early 80s for those that missed the 60s to cling to the 70s with bloodied and rather dirty fingernails. Since in 1982 it was still 1973 in Cornwall this was rather easier than perhaps the scathing critics and later Lord Chancellors knew. Certainly when I visited a couple of years later cars were horse-drawn and young men went to work in tin mines wearing striped loons, or practised being old by spending the day in a library composed of yellow paperbacks reading the paper.
Closed down by issue 3, the Lankhmar Star Daily (curiously and still proclaimed to this day as an accident  regarding the initials) was forced to move to Bournemouth and the exploding hippy scene there amongst a Christchurch Road that mostly sold litter. Still facing charges of obscenity (later acquitted) the mysterious editor ‘Adeptus Magus’ living on cheap beans and listening to home-taped music re-launched the ‘fanzine of dissent’ on April fool’s day, selling 6000 copies by lunchtime. Challenging the law on homosexuality, tight trousers, Kate Bush, and the ongoing war in Vietnam some thought it had something to do with role-playing-games when a typo replaced ELP with RPG.
It was here that the multi-author franchise fiction Hurry On Sundown was born where with very few exceptions stories were written by a widely spread band of thin, hairy people but which was described by the then Lord Chancellor as ‘a wankfest’. He still contributed though. The still unnamed Adeptus Magus was joined towards the end of its run by the equally shadowy ‘Great ArgleBargle’ who wrote a lot about punch cards for computers and how to make a Nuclear device. Sundown was picked up as you doubtless know by Trident Comics which is why the Adeptus Magus is now more popularly known for his long run on Batman, the Black Canary, and famously the twelve issue miniseries lauded by Alan Moore  Three Wax – the story of a belly dancer, a valkyrie and Kate Moss fighting crime in a post-modern tale of psychedelic superhero nudity. And very good it is too. 
For myself I came on board during the still legendary Schoolkids Of LSD issue. Before this point I had only made any sort of contribution by getting noted in the Player’s Handbook alongside small iron spike and small leather pouch, the inclusion of Small Homosexual Tendency. An inclusion that saw the whole run withdrawn by TSR. It wasn’t much of an issue, not much of my stuff made it in since those similarly ungifted lads in their mid teens were insistent on the issue being about sexism, the role of women in gaming, and poetry about why don’t the nice girls like me?
In these days of instant... blogs, it’s hard to imagine a time when fanzines fulfilled that role. Typed, pasted, photocopied and sent out in envelopes it took effort and dedication to do. And the LSD was by far the best of them, especially those that tried to do exactly the same thing but not nearly so well.      

Sundown, Lost: An Important Part Of Me



“Zulus?” I ask.
Simon nods. He points. “Thahsands of ‘em,” that’s not in the film, not said by Bromhead anyway but Simon’s on a working-class kick with the baggy trousers and braces. He’s already done a little dance. He winks. It was his turn to choose where we went and bless him, for the old dear is fifty this year. I’m probably missing something but we’re almost certainly going to die unless we leave, and soon, but Rob’s already digging about in a crate by the door.
“I don’t want to be stabbed,” I say, “by a spear.” No one’s listening.
“Martini?” this was Maurice. I’m not sure this is the right one. He arrived in a Rolls that smokes now outside where he shot it in the face with an elephant gun. Not a gun for shooting elephants (for that would be cruel and he hates cruelty to animals). No this was a gun such as he found to equip elephants in order to deter ivory hunters. He says it again, “Martini?”
“Henry!” says Rob who starts to hand out rifles. “Breech loaders, accept nothing less.”
We don’t, there’s only the elephant gun as an alternative and that takes nearly an hour to prepare. I’m hung over. I woke up only an hour before with my bladder halfway to the toilet and being very stealthy in case my stomach noticed. We all have off days. At times we have off us, if we find the wrong one. We’ve been stuck flitting about between 1955 and 1989 since 1986, and it’s now... I ask.
“1991,” say Simon. Then, “’Ave a banana.”
1991.
In the 80s they were all at university flunking a variety of degrees, apart from Maurice who studied Librarianship And Salem, and who not only made it to the exam, but passed. We only found out later that the reason degrees were so sparse was that Sarah had them all. Sarah-world is a nice place to visit, only not for too long. It’s like Sex & The City, only in three week blocks and in the shadow of Glastonbury. More sort of three-weeks on, three weeks off, in the sticks. Her army of lovers work the oil rigs, and they’re all called Roy.
At university the boys all took Blue Sunshine, or so Simon says, but given all includes Jerry that seems a little unlikely. And that’s why we can do, what we do.  Jerry would be here preparing to fight off thousands of Zulus but he’s skiing. He found a world where it’s always winter and never Christmas, and off-piste (we’re told) is to die for. He means it too; if you go off-piste he hunts you down like a dog with his packs of politically-minded grumpy fighting-badgers. It’s a very unlikely life we lead. There’s more, and it’s not very complicated, but I’ve got this hangover.
I don’t know where we are either. Rob sent round a maxi-cab. He doesn’t hold with mini-cabs, they don’t have the legroom. And they need the legroom because they’re always driven by one of his legion of giant super-models, not named but numbered. I was picked up by Number Nine. Literally, as like I say I’ve got this cracking head on me and Number Nine had her orders, and me by the scruff of the neck. Maurice says they piss Pinot Gregio and shit croissants, and everything is out there somewhere so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility, in these infinite realms of possibility. Number Nine didn’t say where we were going, I ask and Rob does, it’s Hampshire. I answer, “Zulus, in Hampshire?”
“Zulus,” says Simon, “ravers, either one.” And then, “Guv.”
There used to be a villain, not my villain, but there was one. He was called Firth. He had a first name but Rob was already taken so he changed his to ‘Mr’. He’d decided that we were spoiling things what with having all the fun, traipsing about like teenagers given the chance to go anywhere, anywhen, anywhy. So he tried to kill us and somewhere he probably succeeded. But he was very firm on rules and the big one was we couldn’t go further than 1989. So he didn’t, and became a solicitor, and us?
We’re somewhere in a field in Hampshire, and Rob’s making notes. Maurice wants to do a bunk. He says, “Let’s all meet up in the year 2000?” and Rob’s pencil is feverish.
“Monday morning?” and the pencil snaps.
Simon’s going to stay with the common people.
We’re a different class.