Thursday 5 December 2013

Wight Christmas

No amount of lipstick makes the bomb look any better, “I’m not convinced summer blush is her colour,” says Mme Roux. There are three types of people in the world; the miserable, the awful, and the dead. Mme Roux has never been happier. “Do you think perhaps tinsel would be over egging the cake?” she wants to know.
            “I prefer trifle, less stodgy after the full goose and garter belt starter. But tinsel perhaps? Or a small spray of holly?”
            Mme Roux loves Christmas. And if no one is around to celebrate it with her then she’ll just go and celebrate it alone. Only she’s not alone. She’s got me. I say dully, “Perhaps mistletoe?”
            Mme Roux has no sense of humour. She would claim otherwise having read up on it from a book. Sarcasm isn’t the lowest form of wit as we discovered with the crackers but it’s low enough to limbo under her notice. She says, “There is no mistletoe,” and she is right of course. There’s not much of anything. Every year I visit her and this year we’re about as far from anything as we can be unless you like rubble and flies. We’ve got lots of both. “Which is a shame,” she winks, and it’s just awful, because she is just awful. Mme Roux is what happens when someone is immortal. The person for whom the party never ends, still jumping around when the sun is up, and you just want your bed. I want my bed now.
            “Look it’s lovely that you think of me like this,” I say, not meaning a word of it.
            “Every year, darling.”
            “Every year, Mme Roux.”
            “And you always cook a magnificent goose.”
            I do. I can’t eat it, but I can cook it. Mme Roux can’t cook but she does like a goose. It’s still there on the table with the skin golden-dead and without any trimmings. Mme Roux loves a Christmas goose, a tradition not for spoiling by being eaten. Being immortal she can experience anything, and well before one lifetime had tired of everything. I’ve not had even the one lifetime yet. Well strictly speaking I’ve had several, just short ones. I’m not even fifty and so my immortality has only extended to not staying down from the accidental. Two weeks ago I fell down a hole. It didn’t kill me, nothing does, but I was still stuck there. I would have been there still had it not been for Christmas, and Mme Roux hunting me up to see to her goose. A world without people but she still finds a goose; and we have to have goose. Which as I say she won't and I can’t eat.
            She holds up the gravy boat, “Still feeling saucy?”
            I’m really not. Mme Roux has through the last two centuries enjoyed an army of lovers. Now there is just me. She’d like there to be more people because this year has been thin on cards. None to be precise, no people so no post. No postie either. Everyone died, a disease or some monkeys. Or computers rose up, which is more than most people did. There were no zombies and even the middle class escapees from the city that set up their idyll in a smashing country house died since much to their chagrin there were no farmers markets. But there are tins, and you can make trifle from tins, which I have. So we eat trifle.
            Of course we eat. I can’t die from hunger but I can get really very hungry. I don’t eat goose though because I get gout. How shit is that? Immortal and I suffer from gout. As the films might have said I don’t dvink vine – because a glass of red would see me in agony for a week unless I find some naproxin. Digging through the rubble of Boots is no fun at all and the labels are all rotten so it’s chuff down the menstrual pain relief and hope for the right one. So fuck goose. And fuck Mme Roux, although by preference rather not. But give it a year of nothing otherwise and even those monkeys there never were would start to look good. Mme Roux has enjoyed an army of lovers, but she believes in conscription.
            And then there’s the atom bomb.
            Lipstick and now tinsel and wrapped up in a tartan bow. There’s nothing elegant about it. No shiny faced missile of death this. It’s old and fat but it’s what there is and so at a ball for one her dance card is full. I say, “Where exactly does one find an atom bomb?”
“Santa sent it to me.”
            “Couldn’t you have just asked for socks?”
            “If I want socks,” says Mme Roux, “then I should knit them.”
            “Can you knit?”
            She can’t, but she can wire bombs. I’m not convinced you can wire up an an atom bomb with a Danger Mouse alarm clock but then what do I know?
            “Come along, darling,” she says and I do though I keep hold of the trifle. She has acquired a tandem which means she can cycle without having to pedal. And she doesn’t, but I do, and for such a long way until by nightfall we’re high on the hill and quite far away. She has port from a flask with a cigar from her hat and together we watch as the night becomes day to the mushroom blooming light over what was once Bath.
            Then we wait until it snows, because Mme Roux wants a white Christmas. Which is sweet and it’s thoughtful she shared, but you can’t make a snowman from fall out.

Wednesday 24 April 2013


They'll rob you, ravish you, and kill you. In no particular order.

Of all the trials that attend to living in Tolly Maw one of the most onerous is having to participate in the hunting. Now I don’t object to hunting per se. I eat meat after all, and if I have eaten what I’ve killed then a few rabbits as a youth probably doesn’t balance out the fact the mostly I get it from the butcher. In Shrewton many years back Billy the Butcher even provided it from under the counter. Even though he was as the name suggests - a butcher. He would wink when he did it. I tried hard not to watch certain bits of League of Gentlemen at the time.
            No, what is so tiresome is that in Tolly Maw then inevitably what they hunt are people. You know the score. You break down on a lonely road, there is a mist, there are hillbillies and what people in cities know about hillbillies is that they eat people. Or get the stuff from Billy from under the counter. As an aside, if you find a signet ring in a sausage apparently you get to keep it. But I digress. If only a little.
            At least in Tolly Maw they don’t hunt down screaming teenage girls. Partly because that would be viewed as just plain wrong. Mostly because teenage girls just tut and roll their eyes to cover their own embarrassment, whilst texting. More on that in a moment. But no, here in Tolly Maw they chase down middle aged men, and Michael Praed from the post office is even learning the banjo. It’s usually after watching too much Southern Comfort, or drinking it, or one of the two but involving it by the pint in any case. And frankly I can’t be asked. So just to fit in I have to sit there, on a stump, until I hear one coming and then amble across their path in order to point them in the wrong direction. Mostly I show them which way is out – which is nowhere, but I try. It’s the blubbing I can’t stand, but no amount of manly punches on the shoulder and demands to cowboy up ever seem to help.
            Of course this was all a lot easier before smartphones. Or indeed any phone that didn’t have at the very least a car attached to the other end. Now there are a hundred apps that could possibly help, Usually though a surprisingly effective (for such a badly made) arrow spears them at the point they’ve called up whatever app is likely to help. I don’t get involved. Well you don’t, do you?
            What I tend to do then during the evenings of this current hunting season is text.
            You can pick yourselves up now if you know me. Alan, text? He’ll be hanging around bus shelters next. Which I do. In order to catch the bus. I’m a late comer to texting I admit. And my phone is so old you still have to pound the keys three or four times to get the right letter. But what I like about it is that you can do it whilst doing everything else. Fantastic. Not like the phone at all, which whilst I clearly have one I never, not ever, use to phone anybody. So I can talk to people whilst doing whatever else I’m doing. So I can read, have the radio on, even watch television have I the mind to (which I don’t) and can have perfectly normal, usually, conversations. It’s a bit like email but without the neediness of email. And by the by, ‘lol’ is perfectly acceptable phrase to use. In context. To indicate a light heart, or that you appreciate what is said. It is still not punctuation however, nor is it used by default. My problem with texting is that I have to steel myself so much to be efficient, to say r u ok rather than spell the damn words out that it takes me longer than actually doing it long hand. Or properly, as you prefer. What I’m not good at is multiple texting. It seems rude. So if I’m talking to one person for a few hours, then I’ll just say ‘busy’ to anyone else. I know, I know, I’m just not awful enough any more. Oh, and I can do it whilst the sproutling is in the same room and she won’t know. So nice as I am, I also get to be sneaky. So still a bit awful. Which is nice.
            Best of all (and I’m no great hand at technology so I couldn’t say why) texting works wherever I am. Which is jolly handy since as you might know I have a wretched habit of slipping about the years like a drunk confusing anecdotes, on ice skates, with a bag on my head.
            But I have to go now someone is approaching in a panicky fashion.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

There And Back Again

I’ve been wandering of late, difficult as it is, with such internet as can be managed handily made possible by my internet provider – Paul. You notice the difference in my old and reliable portable typewriter and it’s more modern equivalent when you’ve got to cram it in the bottom of a backpack. But the places I’ve been aren’t reliable when it comes to paper-thin laptops and pads, and whilst the world conspires against it I do have to work. Distance conversely is not such a problem since if Tolly Maw is good for anything it is just great at being down the road from any number of places somewhat stranger than it. The ‘Maw (as the locals call it with something like affection, but that something being more commonly resigned horror) lies on the road to anywhere – even if most certainly not everywhere.
            Grasper for example I can get to in an hour when the wind is in the right direction. I rarely wish to but the road chooses and up with the lark and the sproutling in school then if I hurry I can be there – when it’s there – fairly quickly and work with speed and a particular obsession with getting everything absolutely right. I don’t need to re-write so much but it’s rather the point of what I do that I want it to be just that. And it was sunny in Grasper, and to be fair no one was going to tell me off for working there. Albeit to the minds of none of them is what I do to be considered work. Grasper as you might very well know is a place very much dedicated to fun. Admittedly to the identification of it and summary disapproval once pinned to the butterfly board after the judicious application of net and killing jar. The people of Grasper having for various reasons missed being young entirely see no reason why the same should not be the case for everyone. Since they were rather shy, nervous even of a good time, as the years go by they increasingly loath those who see things otherwise. Young people mostly, obviously.
            Mencken said that Puritanism was the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy. There is of course likewise the myth amongst certain of our cousins that their own founding fathers came to their shores to escape religious persecution (in fact it was because to their minds there wasn’t enough of it back home).  And golly, the people of Grasper are puritans. Not religious you understand, but they hate it when people do anything other than town-sanctioned fun. It’s sadder still to see not the giddy baby-louts being chased away from flat surfaces for having skateboards as much as their peers who do the chasing. They wait until they too turn middle aged – somewhere about twenty six if the hair things nice and early – whereupon they can with the benefit of a few grey years under their belts roundly curse the kids in bus shelters. The kids would almost certainly be elsewhere but where do you go when you’re in your teens? The pub not only serves little more than a range of brackish ales, but serves that by the half pint and never more than one an hour. And it only opens for three hours on a Wednesday for quiz night (and event whereupon people can social without talking to each other) and Sundays for lunchtime for the sort of colossal roasts that nonetheless conspire to be deconstructed to such an extent that the only thing that comes near to any association with roasting is the name. Children obviously aren’t allowed in at either time. Children are hidden away until old enough to be noticed, whereupon they are left in the bus shelter for the night. You are allowed out of hours if willing to sit on the bench outside as a local character. Which was me for the now.
I learn all this from the most-boring-man-in-Grasper (which is saying something).
‘I blame television,’ he tells me over the half-pint of Cromwell he would nurse if not for the possible allusion to breasts that might entail. And he does, he really does, at length. ‘Reality television and those talent shows.’
‘Like we had with Opportunity Knocks?’
He blinks, but hearing only his own opinions presses on, ‘Everyone just wants to be famous nowadays. Famous for being famous, no talent at all.’
I would have thought that a talent show would have been ideal in that case, but again he doesn’t hear me. He also doesn’t like the arts, sports personalities, popular science or celebrity chefs. Presumably because anyone involved might be famous for having some talent. He tells me that everyone is overpaid, almost certainly more than him, which is of course the rub of it. He doesn’t mind if people don’t do proper work as long as they don’t enjoy anything like the sort of car he can afford.
He must love writers then.
Grasper has a cricketing green but no team, and after some visitor played darts in the pub they had to get a new board.  The most-boring-man-in-Grasper also dislikes cyclists who, I learn, ride about taking up the roads that were paid for by his tax disc. Since the road here was laid in the 1920s over the dusty track that preceded it this seems somewhat doubtful. I suspect that what he really dislikes is the fact that middle-age people on bicycles throw aspersions upon his own perfect-heterosexual figure. They’ll probably live longer too; they almost certainly enjoy it. At heart he doubtless thinks anybody on a bike should either be a dotty woman suitable for solving quaint murders, the postman, or the sort of policeman mostly seen in old episodes of The Avengers (useful for moving people along in case they poke their noses into a little rural Satanisn, and being surprisingly strong when they do).
When I rise to leave he withers when he sees my backpack.
‘Aren’t you the local tramp?’ he demands to know.
‘Not local, no,’ with which I establish an awful local music festival and prevent a new motorway being built. Or I would but I have to pick up the sprouting up from school.     

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Fun Size Mars Bar

It comes as something that on a blog you can’t say what you’ve been doing. Which I shan’t, so there. You’ll have to speculate. Yeah, there you go*.
            But I’ve been nudged and today outright told that if current events now don’t see me commenting then nothing will. Previously I had to take down a selection of articles. The first the latest in the ever popular history-in-800 words concerning the rise and fall of Goths across the centuries. One regarding Robert Smith. And the other about the Clash which whilst entirely flattering is still now a hate crime. Frankly I’m stuffed since not being able to take the piss out of Goths leaves me with a big, gaping hole in my conversation. Ugly bastard buildings.
            The matter at hand of course is that descendant of straw-roofing artisans, the now late Baroness Thatcher. And who doesn’t miss Danger Mouse? Now I’m sure that many would suspect that I’d be here to rant and rail and throw stale buns at her memory. I’m not because as I’ve witnessed across the net her legacy lives on, indeed benefits us all today. Because Thatcher has reminded us once again of proper politics. Once more people are on one side or the other. They get heated, they loath those who say or think otherwise. The lines are drawn. Everyone is us, and all of them are crypto-wankers or reactionary-gobshites. And that’s swearing that is.
            For too long we’ve all sort of muddied our way through a series of Tony Blairs. First there was Tony Blair. Now there’s Tony Cameron, put in power by a lot of people who voted for Tony Clegg. The last is hilarious. It really is. A lot of people who would never, ever vote Tory did do. And they always will have. Ha, ha, ha. No skin off my custard you understand. I just want you to vote. Always. Just don’t bang on about it afterwards. 
            So we’ve been swimming in the non-Newtonian fluid of many Tonys all chasing the same sort of votes and all looking quite alike and really with very few exceptions sort of muddling along somewhere in the middle like Goths at a black lace theme night at the roller disco. Shit, did it again.  Here we were until yesterday with the Tonys only told apart by Tony Cameron looking a bit pissed off, Tony Clegg looking resigned and weary, and Tony Milliband being the restaurant at the end of the universe. But not now. Now once again there are lines.
            Yes, for the next few days at least everyone is either a boil-in-the-bag fascist barely a short hop from bovver boots and a hairdo to strike matches off, or an unshaven commie who never did a day’s work in their life with a silly beard, that has trouble filling up their petrol tank for all the milk bottles they’re topping up first. The one demands we remember the 70s, the other the 80s. I remember both. The first had Action Man in it and the second Kajagoogoo. If you don’t remember them or Flock of Seagulls then you don’t really have an opinion on the matter anyway. They were both rubbish bands. Unlike those in the 70s which hindsight has pruned of all the crap in the charts then too to leave only Led Zeppelin at number one every week even though they never released singles.
            So delight in it. Revel in your awakening. The lines are drawn, politics is back.
            And the word ‘Falklands’, ‘Miners’, and 80s chart music are the new Godwyn for the laws on internet debate. The last one I added. Really it was bloody awful. Unlike in the 70s when Jethro Tull were on Top Of The Pops every week and Punk and Disco were never around at the same time at all.
            Especially roller disco. With Goths in the middle like a pack of Tonys.

*Also, gout.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Sleep Scroungers

I thought I’d escaped the bedroom tax what with not being in receipt of any housing benefit but it appears not – since I discovered today that the tax is to be applied to bedrooms, full stop.
            I rang and discovered through a young chap, clearly much harried, that sleep has been pinned down as being one of the singularly largest drains on the country, being unproductive and indeed the preserve of people simply lying around. Already plans are being made to demonise sleepers who could be out there working. This all seems a little unfair, at least to me personally, as I would happily not sleep at all if I could seeing as how there is just so much stuff to do. I will get a decent sort of rebate on the tax since one third of the bedrooms in my house are actually being used for work, but that all rebounds as one of the remainder is occupied by my daughter. Children are likewise seen as a drain on the country’s resources and are (I was quietly told) to be phased out entirely over the next ten years.
            It’s not like this week hasn’t been the busiest since... ever. What with the end of term today needing three days of cake making and decorating (fortunately the sprout won first prize), her birthday, her party to organise, the upcoming Brownie camp, Easter – oh, and work, with today yet more forms arriving needing to be urgently filled in. But whilst I explained all this it was pointed out that if I hadn’t insisted on spending five or six hours just lying around of a night then the whole thing could have been made to go away.
            I had to concede the point.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Bus Wankers!

So it transpires I’m a poof. It seems an odd way to come out of the closet I admit. It surprised me too let me tell you as I’d never before thought that such involved me reading on a bus. But there it is. Despite two children and the majority of my life quietly dedicated to going to bed with women the fact that I read a book on the bus means that I’m gay. I was told so. So it must be true.
            It’s been said across the net that homophobia is the fear by certain people that gay men will treat them exactly the same way as they treat women. Equally I’d add that like a lot of middle age men (who typically glance at the odd book or two as well) that I’m homophile. Or to be more exact, are of the sure and certain belief that being straight and with kids every gay man I know, have met, or will ever meet is having a much, much better time of it than I am. All that fun just out there, and not for us. Yes, it’s jealousy. And jealousy isn’t nice. But then middle age men aren’t always very nice especially when it’s just a veneer learned through self examination. Which mine is, oh yes.
            I swore to myself I would not moan on this blog, nor express hate of anything from the way weetabix dries in the bowl to meercats. I’ve done that. I used to have a web column back in the last century and it was called Hate! I stopped that but the internet has picked up that baton and run with it to the extent that bile drips from my very monitor in some places. Not I, the web is too important for that, but elsewhere. I mean to say, I don’t much care for My Little Pony so I won’t often be found on a fansite dedicated to them. And if I were I would not then find time so heavy on my hands that I would then attack those on that self same site for whom Rainbow Blossom  is a subject of considerably, even abiding interest. Likewise whenever faced with a customer down the years that cared to slate me I can smile back, or when reading nonsense likewise chuckle and live content in the happy realisation that life is too short to listen to idiots. Though if you said it, I know you said it, and I’ll remember.
            So on this bus I’m reading. A book, not a newspaper. And two fat men of about my age stare at me. And one says to the other, ‘What’s he doing?’ To which his witty friend replied, ‘Reading, what a poof.’
            Now naturally what should happen is that I would ignore them, seethe a little, and then come up with some witty rejoinder later. That I should like the bullied 1st year know my place. Sadly, that is not I. People forget that under this charming and jolly nice exterior I am still Alan. Alan who indeed won the cun t-of-the-year competition in the 80s against some very stiff competition. Indeed, Alan that knew the sort of people amongst whom we would actually go through and judge such an award. So for all those of you who would turn the other fearful cheek, I was there for you. 
            Although to be fair all I came up with on the spur was, ‘If you’re looking for a three-way I don’t fuck fat twats’.
            I should add here that their weight was not an issue. Cope knows I was there myself for quite some time. But such were the weapons offered.
            ‘You what?’
            ‘You fucking heard.’
            ‘Fuck off.’
            ‘Off the bus? Or just generally fuck off?’
            To which I was told to watch it. To which I laughed. Then they got off the bus and when in motion again made motions with their fists.
            All of which made me feel jolly young again.
It was just like the 80s.
Presumably I’d better look out at closing time in case they and their half dozen mates fancy teaching me a good lesson when they decide on a little idle gay-bashing. Which would be terribly unfair as I’d get the hiding without all the benefits. You know, all that fun I’m absolutely certain 100% I’m completely missing out on.

Sunday 24 March 2013

We Miss You James Herbert

Just the other day I saw James Herbert’s new novel in the supermarket at a cut down, end of aisle price. So I walked round the corner to the proper bookshop and bought it there. For the sake of a couple of quid I’d rather have the bookshop. Quite aside from anything else they host the book group I try and get to, and they have nice cake. Not that I can eat cake but I appreciate the gesture. I could eat cake, but having hit eleven stone now cake and I are undergoing a trial separation.
            So I read it and like nearly everything Herbert it was very readable. And then just hours later I find out James Herbert had died. And I felt sad, and I still do.
            I’ve muttered before about how I dislike the terms young-adult and teen-fiction. Teenagers that genuinely do read, read books. I did. And when I was a middling teen I read James Herbert. I also read Zelazny, Moorcock, Dick and any number of others but as a teenager I definitely read Herbert – and so too did many of us. His heroes were pretty much alike and the attractive foil for the hero likewise so that the inevitable sex scenes were identical between them. Ever thrown into sharp relief from the purity of the identical perfect first-fuck by the host of grubby perverts also in the book that would get eaten, or beaten, or just always killed. We know this because Herbert always showed, rarely told. He had the knack for spending a chapter going through the topsy-turvy, usually perverse, lives of someone only for them to get eaten by rats, ghosts, or killed by someone that has three chapters of their lives before suffering the same. He showed us what was so terrible by showing what happened. No nameless body on a beach with a bit of exposition to paint the eyes and mouth on a cardboard face here. And he was brilliant at it. I’ve read some snidey stuff about Herbert’s work recently. This is exactly what you’d expect since he sold millions. \But the thing is, absolutely everyone that met him describes what a great bloke he was. So I say good for him - and thanks for all the scary nights.
            He was in many ways the English Stephen King, by time and success. But I don’t know what Maine looks like and Herbert had less characters that were writers. But I do or afterwards did know what Aldgate was like (Rats), what Wiltshire, Bournemouth and the Elephant were (Fog) – and so on . Domain got me fascinated with London under London and my Granda Bill then told me more. The last struck a chord too since nuclear war was not for we teens of the 80s unlikely, it was almost inevitable. It was.
            And as I say James Herbert was readable. He told his tales with a fast pace, with chapters that made you read the next. With wonderful and realised passing supporting characters (that as I’ve said would then die). He was a British horror writer and he wrote for us. We read them when we were teenagers. And when we were teenagers the darkness never sparkled.
            RIP James Herbert. You were great. Your work was important. We’ll miss you.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

By Air to Shangri-La

It may well be a place now of giant shops selling giant amounts of things (though not necessarily for giant people) but Purley Way in Croydon once ran alongside the world’s first international airport. You can still see the entrance there, or used to at least – it’s been a while since I lived out that way – a nifty piece of art-deco architecture from when there was a romance to air travel.  Rather than flying in 747s or Air Busses airplanes had proper names like the De Havilliand Dragon (followed closely by the Dragon Rapide, now more commonly found in the French editions of the Monster Manual) and the Armstrong-Whitworth Atlanta. Planes with proper, gutsy names.  Names you could hang a hat off.
            Before the likes of Blackbush and Northolt decided they could more than accommodate international travel in the 50s then in the decades before it was Croydon or Croy-nothing. The aerodrome became an airport in the 20s, an airport by the way the way being an airfield where one is required to go through customs.
            Now obviously the likes of you wouldn’t have had the distinction of being anywhere near flights to Templehof or Rotterdam, enjoying the vagaries of luxurious travel in cramped armchairs and a fair chance of crashing in the Himalayas and discovering Shangri-La. Back then of course planes were regularly equipped with yeti-guns, and pith helmets were required just for a trip to the loo – of which there was probably none.  Air piracy was not only common but expected as independent zeppelins cruised the skies and science was only allowed in the hands of responsible chaps with pipes, in sheds (or mad scientists, but they weren’t allowed on Imperial Airways).
            Personally I avoid such places. I’m of an age to settle down and enjoy life a bit. Air travel for me inevitably leads to dinosaurs and cave people placated only by stout bars of chocolate. And since I’m on a diet I just don’t have the chocolate to deal with ‘em.
            I’ve got a pith helmet of course.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Hangovers, Museums, and Clive Mantle

Tolly Maw has a museum I discovered yesterday.
            Deserving of a hangover I had not been given I had the day mostly to myself.  When you’ve had kids all the time, forever, it’s difficult to know what to do when for the day you do not. Similarly having for the first time in a long time been able to go out the night before I opened one eye very carefully on the morning so as to sneakily look around in case there was horror and headache awaiting me. I’d only been asleep for four hours, but the first recce showed nothing resembling a quiet, middle-aged course of hiding under the pillow and soft weeping at the loss of my youthful ability to regenerate from the excesses of the night before. I crept to the bathroom for a wee like a burglar. It took a careful appraisement of body, self and soul before I could accept that yes, I’d gotten away with it. So able to go for a walk I did (albeit after a lot of tea and ever ready for the hangover to ambush me). If I left the house after all the horror might not know where I was having expected me to rise later. I left it a note.
            The trouble with museums is that if you’ve ever lived in a city then museums elsewhere are always going to be a bit crap. When you take even the obvious big boys, the Natural History, and the Science Museum you can become exhibit blind. Of course there are bloody great dinosaurs and moon landers; that’s what museums have.  The only exception to the urban versus rural in museums is Bovington. So many tanks. So, so many. When you’re used to this sort of thing then coming to the likes of Cumbria was a bit of a shock. There then there are but a handful. In Maryport the Roman museum is the oldest collection in Britain, it being a small room with some carved stone and old coins. Or in Keswick there are two. The first has some stuffed animals and a mummified cat. The second is entirely to do with pencils. No joke, a pencil museum. If anything it rather over eggs the amount that can be said about pencils; which is not a great deal. But Tolly Maw is to Cumbria what Cumbria is to London. Because the Tolly Maw museum is kept in a box.
            No scale models here. And what is a museum without scale models, even tatty ones? Indeed, especially tatty ones. I said this and the curator plucked from the box a number of Action Man sten gun magazines. They were indeed scaled down, and also rare – and I was happy at least to find out where all the Action Man sten gun magazines went since they never seemed to linger around their sten guns when I was a boy. Poor Action Man, ever ill-equipped with unloaded sten guns and an SLR without a barrel. I didn’t like to pass judgement on the sorry collection contained in the Tolly Maw museum since the curator is Clive Mantle and Clive Mantle whilst big, and friendly, is also a giant.
            “You’re Little John,” I said to him whilst he loaded his blowing-trumpet loaded with dreams.
            He wasn’t. He was much more famous for Casualty and Holby City. Neither of which I’d seen. RADA trained, more recently something in Games of Thrones. Which I’ve also never seen. People are often surprised how little fantasy tele and films I watch. They shouldn’t be. He was in Alien 3 too, which meant he was a proper British actor since Alien 3 is the film about where all the villains from every other American film are sent to as punishment for defying people who, despite the title, don’t actually die (hard or otherwise). I like Alien 3 better than the rest of the series. I am alone in this. But still I didn’t remember him in it. It’s been a while. I rarely own films I like since I like the delight of finding out when one of them is on tele. Went The Day Well and Ice Cold In Alex were both on the other day, one after the other. That was a good day. So I said, “So you’re Little John then?”
            He sighed and admitted that he was, just without the beard.
            In case the sheriff should come by. He was in disguise. Or at least so I had to suppose. I asked if I could dig through the museum but upset Clive Mantle took back the box and returned it to its shelf. It was a very high shelf, which is why Clive Mantle has to be the curator.
            When I got home there was a note from my hangover. It pointed out that according to its records I was owed money due to miss-sold PPI. I wondered what it had gone into since I had long since ignored its services.
Now it just plain pisses off everyone.    

Friday 15 March 2013

Pencil - Aunt Minerva

Asa Ewerlof, Henry Lord Rockingham, Mme Roux, Charlie Bittersweet, Alf Bittersweet

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Cowell To Decide Pope

The Catholic Church has revealed today that in order to clean up their image (after recent events have spoiled an otherwise spotless history) that Simon Cowell is to be in charge of finding the next Pope.
            Current surveys suggest that since 1536 (nearly twenty to four in the afternoon)  the church has undergone something of a lapse in popularity in Britain, and Cowell is said to be delighted to be working in this with an organisation actually richer than his own. Already across the country applications are being taken by anybody that feels they have what it takes to rise to the double-cape, a process whose heats and finals will be shown on ITV as the PontifeX Factor.
            Religious knowledge is not necessarily seen as important, so much as character, charisma, and really, really wanting it.
            The winner is guaranteed a one-book deal, the world’s number one bestseller - although suggestions are already doing the rounds that the ‘Bible’ has long been ghost-written. Or holy ghost written (sorry...)
            When asked about the strong possibility of young, pretty, emotionally unbalanced people lining up to do anything it takes to succeed one Cardinal is said to have set his hands on fire with all the eager rubbing.
            The PonitfeX Factor is due to be shown this autumn in a ratings battle with rival Pope Idol.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Mad March

“Where the fuck have you been?” Alf wants to know. He doesn’t say it harshly, but dropping the ‘darling’ he adds to anyone from teaboy to toast rack I have to adopt my most winning smile.
            There’s snow about the shelter of the hedge yet it’s bright enough to wear sunglasses. Mine are round, because nothing else suits me. I say, “Here Alf, mostly.”
            He tells me they’ve been out looking. No word for days and they feared the worse. Even Mme Roux is worried it seems (and she knows for a fact that nothing bad has happened to me since she knows the times we have yet to meet). I say I find that last hard to believe, “We’re very different,” I point out.
            “Politics and biscuits aren’t as important as you two make out,” says Alf. He sits beside me. There’s a great view today. A little cold the air is blue and clear. The clouds are high where here they’re often neighbours. The mountains are beautiful. I am in a fine sort of mood and have been for days. “She don’t know as much as she makes out,” he says regarding Mme Roux. “she don’t know what happens between those scratches where you overlap. There are times indeed when you make her nervous.”
            “You can be right inscrutable, darling.” Alf in his 60s camp clobber is a nasty bastard when he doesn’t care to try to be otherwise, so I’m glad he’s being friendly again.
            “I’m not,” I say, “I’m very open, me.”
             “Honest and honourable? She ain’t, so don’t believe no one else is neither,” his accent grows as he relaxes to the day. It is a very fine day after all, and his voice all thick-friendly Lambeth. He’s smarter than I am, is Alf; he takes great pains to not appear so. “Anyway, where’ve you been?”
            “Here. It snowed most pleasantly and in between the sun was brilliant. It’s March, Alf.”
            And so it is, and so he nods. Just as shit always happens in December right before Christmas so too do good things happen in March. And it’s Rex Manning day on Friday, and the postie brought me the newly updated extra-scenes-version of Empire Records this morning. I can only think of one proper relationship that didn’t start in March, and instead that year I changed my life when I ended up in the Elephant and Castle. My eldest daughter was born in March. I’ve ever had good news in March. March as mad as the proverbial hare. I love March. Spring with a winter woolie and summer hat. It’s a cold beer, new bread, a good book unread. March and my life is always right. And my life right now is very right. Apart from not seeing enough of my youngest, which is the long shadow to such a fine sun. I had a pinch to navigate and I came back for that – and I made, I think, the right decisions. The day seems to prove it, the week indeed. And I’ve got these fantastic sunglasses. Round, the only ones that suit me. I say, “Where did you look?”
            “Usual. Salisbury and the Ukraine in the 30s. London and Berlin crossing the 90s. That train you like. Bournemouth, not that I understand that one.”
            “Never anything bad in Bournemouth,” I explain. It’s my place of no-shit and total relaxation. It’s a shame it isn’t that for one of my dearest friends right now, because the reason it is such a special place for me is entirely because of him. “But I was here all along. Just working, as ever.”
            “Balls,” Alf doesn’t like Tolly Maw. He knows it’s not as other places. He knows why that is too, and because of whom. He won’t tell me though I suspect, and if he’s right then again as much in his wish not to discuss it. There’s only one line you do not cross with me, and it’s her 9th birthday in a little over a week.  “There’s something you’re not telling me, darling,” he says.
            “There’s something I’m not telling anyone,  Alf.”
            “So tell me something else...”
            So I do. I tell him about Mary Anning, died of breast cancer in 1847. Not born well, never very flush, she discovered a great many fossils in Lyme Regis of startling importance. She changed, was a pioneer indeed of palaeontology. Due to her gender and certain religious difficulties she never entirely realised the recognition her worth deserved.  In 2010 the Royal Society named her as one of the ten British women to have most influenced science. Dickens wrote of her in 1865.
            “Never heard of her,” says Alf.
            “There you are then, now go and do something about that. Or how about Nelson? Atop his column in Trafalgar Square he faces the mall through Admiralty Arch – and the streetlamps of the Mall all have a ship atop them representing one of the ships from the fleet of that battle for which the square is named.”
            “You all right?” he says. He gives me the funny look.
            “It’s mad March, Alf. Everything’s all right,” so I stand and stretch my arms right out just as Julian Cope would want me to. Because it’s March, and on Friday it’s Rex Manning day.       

Sunday 3 March 2013

Hurray for Bond!

Commander Bond (Daniel Craig)

My dad and I had two things in common, two things we both liked. He wasn’t much of a reader (unless it was Douglas Reeman) and my own forays into volunteer work pale to his. Indeed, my dad lived for volunteer work which he would enter, take over, organise and have marching about in stark efficiency within a year of his interest. It started with the local garden club, then the RNLI, and then life saving at swimming pools. He would raise huge sums or train endless new volunteers, he would commit his whole life to such endeavours and jolly good for him. He liked committees. The progress was inevitable in whichever next caught his fancy. He would attend, he would be treasurer, he would be chairman, he would install a monorail and make sure that every door would swish smoothly open and that people would be well supplied by guards in shiny helmets and orange jumpsuits. Probably because one of the two things we had in common was James Bond. The other was aircraft. Helicopters mostly, and he did a lot of work with helicopters. But for today, Bond.
            This is because I managed to watch Skyfall yesterday, and jolly good fun it was too. I’m not going to point out that that wasn’t the right sort of tube train for Temple, in a film where the immensely complicated series of coincidence and plot is solely so the villain can kill M the shape of an underground train is easily overlooked. I grew up finally being allowed to stay up to watch Goldfinger, seeing Timothy Dalton not long after leaving the parental abode, at first enjoying and then hanging on loyally as Brosnan ventured into invisible cars, but missing entirely the latest reboot when first it came out. Indeed, I saw Quantum before Casino – and the first on the way to my dad’s funeral as I had a four hour wait for a coach. It didn’t make much sense until I managed to catch up with Casino.
            I read the Bond books as a teenager, and even the oddities and strange opinions are a vital part of them. I read the John Gardner versions as they came out (a strange choice my friends and I thought, as Gardner’s Boysie Oakes books took the piss out of the genre – fine though they undoubtedly were). I played the rpg – albeit at the time all our agents were scruffy louts somewhere between Robert Plant and Bodie. Bond even produced one of the finest console games ever in Goldeneye. The current reboot was needed, and has been done well, and if you didn’t like Skyfall you probably don’t like Bond movies. This is perfectly acceptable. Your opinion is valid; just that in this case you are wrong.
              Not that Bond is the most successful of the 00 Branch.
            001 and 005 are never mentioned. They probably have very dull stories. The 00 branch being assassins (not spies) they doubtless get a briefing, shoot someone, and then go home to the family in Esther, Surrey. Or more likely push the odd person under a tube, probably at Temple station.
Even if the tube train itself is entirely of the wrong sort.

Friday 1 March 2013

A Memorable Day

I’ve been asked again when it was I first met Mme Roux?
`           I was thinking about this only the other day. I was thinking about it because twice over that day I saw Angel. Not an angel, but a girl I used to know. Her name might well have actually been that, or been something entirely different – there’s no reason to suppose it derived or was shortened from anything. This was somewhere circa 1990. I was living on the Elephant back then, Castle that is. On the Rockingham, one of those estates from the 50s where the urban slums and bomb sites were bulldozed and remade into entirely new slums. In the right light they look somewhat Art Deco, but that has to be a very strong light - and the only time bright lights ever shone in such estates is when someone from The Bill would be filmed arresting a blister-mouthed single-mum prostitute-illiterate cliché. Her name then was Angel, and that was nothing odd as you have to understand that later that summer I had a good mate called Helle and my girlfriend as-then-unmet was called Grit (and both of those were their real names). I knew a couple more called Tizer and Xerox (and those were not). I met Angel on the tube coming back from a cave where I’d worked, and we got talking because back then if you had the leather jacket, and the para boots, and the squat-sink washed clothes you knew each other, even if you had only just met. I knew Angel for eight days, we were friends pretty quickly, and then she was gone. No one knew her, no one remembered her, no one had ever heard of her (and in that scene someone always knew someone, who knew someone).
            I saw Angel twice the other day, once on a forum on line, once in the local high street as I crossed the road. Not Angel as was then, but both times someone that looked so like Angel as she would have been had she hit middle age too. The same long face, the same mass of tangled, curly hair, tall, rangy. It wasn’t her in the first, and in the second the woman was jogging and, well, you don’t call out to strangers after dark do you? That would be creepy. So it wasn’t Angel, but I hadn’t thought on her for twenty odd years. And that’s why I thought too on Mme Roux. Not stealing my biscuits as now but when I first met her. Or the second time; I don’t remember the first (though she assures me it is true).
            It was a memorable day.
            I remember it because as a young man and pretty I woke up in one bed, went asleep in another and  made close acquaintance with a third girl on the train (the one before the tube where I met Angel). I want to be clear here that this was unusual. I am by nature a serial monogamist. My life, but for that one summer, has been one of long relationships, years each. I am not and have never been a player. I didn’t cut marks in my bedpost then, I certainly don’t now. I can’t abide leches. Just so we’re clear on that. It was nonetheless a memorable day; you’ll give me that one.
            And on that day I first met Mme Roux. I was late and hurrying for the train, to get to a cave. I’m never late and in truth I wasn’t then either, but I wasn’t early which for me is much the same. It was a warm morning. London no longer sees the pea-soupers but it can possess a fug, a half seen fog of heat and exhaust fumes, the ghosts of Friday night and most importantly a thick presence made by the brief absence of almost anyone. That slither of a moment between the return of some and the rise of others. It’s a weekend thing. Warm, and I was hurrying and Mme Roux fell in step with me and chatted away as if we were old friends, which might have been true, or she thought I was someone else – or it was that London thing of the time in the culture that was counter where everyone just assumed you were a friend of a friend anyway. Only Mme Roux did not fit this mould. Her leather was cracked and brown. She wore neither ratty jumper nor punky t-shirt. Her skirts were long, not short, and they did not cover hoop tights even if she did wear practical boots. In her case though they were practical for walking (not practical for jumping out of Dutch airplanes). Her hair was short, plain, and she wasn’t wearing make-up. She was, I remember thinking, therefore a Christian out to save a few souls. They tried that at the time, they might do still.
            She walked with me, in step, and quickly then. She gave me a cup of tea. It was in a mug, I recall that because it was a mug and a mug is something from the home although it was big, chipped, off white and ceramic. The tea was luke-warm, wet and sweet. Not like Mme Roux at all. We walked and she chatted about people I did not know, though she disagreed with me on that. I remember thinking how old she was, well into her thirties – I was just into my twenties at the time. I was walking quickly I say again and when we came close to Guy’s Hospital just before the station she grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and yanked me back from the road. At that moment a motorbike took the corner too quick, barely righted itself and roared away. Right where I would have been. She gives me a cigarette and a twenty pound note. She patted me on the cheek and left me stood there confused and aghast. And that was the first time I remember meeting Mme Roux. I had serious thoughts about that on the train; it was all very guardian angel. But Mme Roux was and is no angel. Though on the same day I met a girl called Angel.
            You remember days like that.  

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Die Badgers, Die!

Bryan Talbot's graphic representation of the problem we face
For too long it seems the terror of the badger has infected the countryside. New legislation is set to see badger culls put in place across the country.
            Living in the country as I do I feel it’s best to inform my mostly-urban readers of the threat that the badger poses us. It’s all very well bleating on about ‘evidence’ regarding bovine-TB (or the lack thereof, or whether the cull will do anything given that the carriers are merciless bio-commandos that have Hawkwind’s Urban Guerrilla on the IP3 players and nothing else) but the simple fact of the matter is that badgers are a real threat out here. Hardly a day goes by without badger youths, already equipped by nature with bandit masks, make the lives of pensioners a misery whilst hanging out in bus stops without any intention to use the bus. These ‘stripies’ (as the Daily Mail has christened them) creep into our houses, piss in the milk, and force our children to fight hungry dogs in viscous baby-baiting ball pits. Also according to the same source they killed Princess Diana and bring our house prices down, so there’s that too.
            After the whole myxomatosis thing with the rabbits backfired the last time something like this was attempted, sources have suggested that the government is not going to become embroiled in the same drawn out mess again. Indeed, whilst farmers with guns will initially do the work it is intended that weasels will eventually take on increasing responsibility for the undertaking. Apart from the actual undertaking, which will be done by crows – when the crows aren’t being nailed to fenceposts.
            Giant steely traps have already been erected outside of Britain’s Lidl supermarkets where it is thought badgers mostly shop. For worms, grubs and vermin it has to be supposed.
            A trial scheme is already being rolled out in Nutwood.  

Friday 22 February 2013

Lola Austistanata (Pt. 1)

Lola likes the dark; or rather the torch lit dark. She likes it that the world is so small and moves about her in such a clearly defined boundary. She doesn’t feel the same way about the night which is unfortunate as the battery is going flat, and with it her mood. She’s a sensible girl and she’s better at this than I am. If she ever sees her tenth birthday she’ll be better still. There’s no certainty of that. I hope she will, and I’d pray if I thought it would do any good. But if we have a lot of hope then that currency has been debased in the last three years. There’s been a run on hope and a lot of hope might just about see the chickens lay come morning. A lot more might see there being a morning. I’d hoped there would be chocolate at the petrol station but hope hadn’t stretched that far.
            “Creepers, daddy,” says Lola. She’s got good ears, better than that she can tell if something shouldn’t be where it ought to be (dark, torch lit or otherwise). Lola is autistic. That’s a super power. It’s certainly saved my life enough times. Every night we’re safe, or safer than now. The doors are never left open. We live because we have rituals, traditions, and all of them keep us alive. And we never, ever, forget them. Because if we forget even a single one Lola will scream and kick, she will round on me and curse me until things are as they should be. Back before everything went wrong I had a smoke alarm that went off if you so much as opened the oven, on or off. I had to either pull the wire from the thing or never use the oven. There’s a wire in Lola that you can’t pull out, but if goes off when the oven door is left open then still I’ll never miss a fire in the house. That was a different house. That house was in the city. No one lives in the cities now.
            The lanes are overgrown. The hedges are remembering that they’re trees now there’s no one to tell them otherwise. There’s a lot of low cloud and it’s dark when I turn off the last of the torch. Lola is behind me. She holds on to my coattails. If I say run she will run. From my pocket I take out a pistol and straighten my arm. Lola turns me gently and moves me forward. I don’t see anything for a good ten yards before the shadow of an overhanging bough moves with us. Creepers are ambushers. If we walked calmly out of reach it would follow us and others by scent or some sound even Lola can’t hear would join it, if there are others. If we climb a tree the same thing so we walk slowly and stay out of reach until level with it I keep the awful pistol toward its head. Lola buries hers in my coat. I should have pulled back the hammer before now and doing so the creeper starts. It drops and the crack of the pistol echoes flat over the heath. I’m a crap shot and fire again just in case. I’m shaking. Lola takes my hand and before the sound has rolled away she’s forgotten there was a creeper at all. A meal eaten, a bedtime gone by morning, a sneeze, it’s less than a stubbed toe.
            Lola is better at this than me. I wish she never had to be. But wishes are just hope in a prettier dress. Lola’s dress is colourful under her coat but there’s mud about the hem.

At first I wouldn’t hear a word of it. Lola never avoided eye contact with me. We always went everywhere together. We told stories and made up games. Social inadequacy? Not my Lola. At best I was blinkered. Her first word was ‘da’. She would always wear that fat, dribbling grin. I didn’t know that she grinned through the dribble because I had come into the room. So bedtimes grew harder. I had to sit in a certain place and hold her hand for a certain amount of time and the more she spoke the more complex things became. And by the time she was four even leaving the house was a six step process that would not, could not, be differed else it was back to the beginning. I admit I became frustrated, angry even. I never struck Lola but I did once take it out on a chair. Poor broken chair. I sound awful, and I was, just not very awful since if I rub at these few occasions it’s because scratching the scar of them never lets them heal.
She had friends, briefly. There hadn’t been much school before the world went wrong and I was shocked when going by one lunchtime to see her standing still, talking to no one, and vocally. The other children avoided her. The psychologists were useless and frustrated with it all I ended the last meeting asking if, after this the third, we could talk about Lola at last since everything had been about how it affected her mother so far. The doctors were better. Months of meetings and she was diagnosed, autistic, and for me everything was better. The beast had a name, only it wasn’t a beast. It was what made Lola, Lola. When her mother walked out Lola was staying with me, Lola’s choice; no hesitation.
            But as Lola went right, the world went wrong.
            Lola noticed.
            I listened to Lola. I listened when she got caught up in a circle of her own logic that was flawed from one end to the next. I looked back without blinking when her gaze was a cracked plate so that the lines mended. We hugged, we always hugged. And it would all go away. Only it didn’t always go away. Calm, aware of everything, Lola would point things out and increasingly without frustration, without the insistence in what was right, or wrong. She noticed, and she told me, and long able to tell the difference between when she was right and when she was in one of her moments. I started to be able to tell back that then when she told me things that could not be she was not in that moment. And she was right.
            There had been someone living next door, when now there was not. There had been roses in the garden. People had phoned, not just machines time and again (and always with the same message). When she told me a programme had been on the day before, and the day before that I watched, and she was right. The busses grew infrequent but specific in that infrequency. The nation’s most celebrated charity fund raiser was revealed to have been the country’s evilest man. The Pope resigned. There was a meteorite that struck Russia, three impossible things before breakfast with three more to go.

We live distant from everyone else, now.  There is a community twelve miles from us. Twelve miles used to be nothing. Twelve miles on foot in one direction, on bad roads, is a lot further. They know about us, we know about them, and at times we have to go there for things we need since they’ve long since cleared out all the towns from the sea to the mountains. They’re good people. There were bad people, cruel people, but they didn’t last. Even the smallest injury can go bad like the aftershock of the whole world. It might be different elsewhere but over in Keswick people work together because before things went bad no one hereabouts had grown up in a feudal society, they had lived by the big laws. In the new classless world they remained resolutely middle. If they’d had farmer’s markets and lovely celebrity chefs many there might well have preferred their world to that before. But the world had gone wrong, and wrong was bad, so they didn’t.