Thursday 31 January 2013

Lay Grouter, One Too Many (Pt. 11)

Our Grouter a lad of commendable needs
But with little left else to commend him
Was stopped at the door by a man with a stare
Made stern by eye-weights at the gym
A man whose wit came not from a book
But impressed on his brain by a fist
Who cared not at all for the needs of our lad
For a drink, and a dance, and a tryst
A man who guarded this door by the club
Against any that might care to enter
A man with a talent for reaching down throats
And returning with lungs and placenta
A man who on seeing our brave hero Grouter
Round the door that remained quite ajar
A jar that had once contained pickles and piss
Asked if Grouter had truly come far?
He had, and he said, describing his journey
His cunning, his vim, and his daring
Of the trials overcome and of villainy foiled
Of the dangers beyond which was his caring
The doorman on hearing and quite clearly rapt
Wrapped a hand to his cabbage-like ear
To better to hear of our Grouter’s tall tale
And at whose conclusion he let out a cheer
Yet the doorman remaining ever true to his nature
And as sweet as cream-curdled ├ęclair
Decided that the lout who had travelled so far
Had better just fuck off right back there
The Grouter retreated past a line and to jeers
From Kylies, and Kayleighs, and Katies
Who dressed all uniquely and all just the same
Had dressed like their mums in the 80s
Not put out by their hair he sought in the line
One whose late husband had been lost in the Indo...
To whom he added an ‘n’, with a flick of his pen
And with a wink then climbed in through the window

Wednesday 30 January 2013


If it isn’t enough that I’m getting work spun back up to speed, learning an instrument, walking six miles most days, have an art commission to finish and look after the kids (one of whom is sick) I also have to decorate the house. The last is important as needing a clean slate I need a clean house and so tired as a well-trod wheel I huddle now about a cup of tea with the dust of three decades worth of dead wallpaper for company. It’s not that I don’t enjoy any of it, just as there are other things I enjoy that I need to do also, but there’s something satisfying about stripping wallpaper. Which is fortunate as golly, there’s a lot of it. I’ve widened the room by an inch in all directions and there’s still more to come off, layer by layer, as previous occupiers simply slapped more over the top of the last. I on the other hand want to paint the walls.
            Indeed so far back did I go on one wall in the wee small hours that I fear that any minute the Supreme Being will appear on the other to demand the return of his map. Stripping and decorating appeals to the duality of my nature, for in the first I get to destroy with tools made for task, and then for the second I get to frimp and gad in a big shirt as I create.  It’s the first time I’ve really enjoyed even the concept of stripping because despite the interest the title of this piece might have elicited I’ve never felt the need to lounge in gentleman’s clubs seeing stark young ladies disrobe. Indeed I’ve been somewhat aghast when anyone has suggested it. Give me a girl in stout boots and well-read and I’m enraptured. Take me to where women would clearly rather not be and I’d embarrass everyone by asking them to please not to. Late last night the person to whom I had to say this was Spartacus.
            One of the leaders of the slave revolt of the Third Servile War, Spartacus was never truly identified amongst the six thousand that were crucified along the route of the Apian Way. A Thracian (now part of Bulgaria) Spartacus isn’t quite the oiled Adonis of recent portrayals. He doesn’t even look much like Kirk Douglas. If anyone he reminds me of a skinny Alexei Sayle. Which is jolly nice for him, as Mr Sayle is in my opinion one of the finest short-story writers to be read – and no one minds being a few pounds lighter. He’s been hiding behind my wallpaper for some years now having worked his way across Europe ever one step ahead of the Roman authorities. Now he’s in my shed wearing a I’m Spartacus t-shirt. Oh, the irony. It’s a double bluff just in case albino monks are on the prowl in search of ancient secrets that everyone but they read in the 80s in Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, or saw on the Beeb’s Shadow of the Templars not long after.
            And having inadvertently mentioned the Templars then Alan’s Law means that the conversation is over.

Friday 25 January 2013

Woolton Pie & The Bomb (Pt. 12)

When last I saw Dennis Cromwell he had committed his life to two particular aims; to elevating himself in society, and mastering masturbation. He admitted no particular shame in either. Indeed was so dedicated to both that my own news of the time felt rather childish in comparison. So much so indeed that in the parlour of his father’s house in Pinner I refused to show what had caused my visit at all.
            ‘Not gobstoppers is it?’ Dennis wanted to know.
            It wasn’t. Sweets had not been rationed in my memory. That’s a lie, I was very little when still they required a coupon but my own dear father always held that rationing had been the best thing about the big war. He maintained that the health and the diet of Britain had improved immeasurably because of it. So much so that sweets were rationed in our household just as we ate only what the ration had allowed, which meant afternoons attacking an allotment with a gardening fork whose broken handle was repaired, frequently, with an increasing length of string about the middle. Despite my father’s habit of picking up string in the street and his delight in receiving anything in a paper parcel the degree of gardening ensured that the ball of string about the fork had by then been larger than the ball in the drawer put aside to repair it. The result of all this had been enough vegetables to have fed the street, and for Woolton pie to be regarded not so much as a recent memory as an example of the advances made in wartime unprecedented in peace.
            Not gobstoppers, no.
            A model kit of the Golden Hind, purchased from Woolworths that very afternoon. Dennis and I had once made gliders as boys and then as our talent increased rather good little models of airplanes. My father had approved of any pastime that had not involved expense. Bits of wood were then considered ideal. But that model in plastic had possessed a detail we could never have hoped to duplicate in wood.
Dennis is impressed, I see it now. He asks if he could have the bag. To practise his technique, he told me. At sixteen Dennis dressed in blazer and slacks. He wore a stolen tie so that on his regular trips into the city he would be taken for a Harovian. Dennis was always served in public houses whereas in my shorts I never was. Not that I would have dared to, you understand. Where I would fluster and grow red, Dennis would buy rounds. That was, he considered, a very proper sort of thing to do. In the public houses of my youth no one bought rounds. In the big war rounds had been banned, the beer had been weakened, and opening hours brought in.
It’s no accident that that was the last time I saw Dennis. Or rather, spoke. I saw him of course but he was part of an older crowd, too old and experienced for university where two years later and with my higher school certificate still figuratively damp in my hand I had left Pinner behind.
My father used to regale with news in his letters, and a popular subject was Dennis. Dennis who was forced to stand at the end of Meadow Road every Friday to hand over 5/- to Maisy Wills whose shame bawled in the old pram left by the lamppost. Dennis who had managed to serve eighteen months of his two years National Service in the glasshouse after spending the first six months under assumed rank pretending to be a young subtaltern. He had I had learned exited the bus, taken one look at the sergeant, and left to where the pink gins were to be found. Dennis who had elicited scandal... well, I never quite learned the details of that.
I had not considered Dennis Cromwell in the years since.
I would no doubt have not thought of him today either, had he not now been on stage in hunting pink, severed gas mask in one hand, levelling a revolver at Cecil with the other. Scars and old burns ring his face so that the skin is another mask sunk somewhat into the smooth, bubbled flesh about it. Whatever he had once suffered the mask in his hand had clearly only protected that which was his face to the extent of the seal about the rim.
            And Cecil says, “Oh yes, any relation?”
            “Yes,” says Dennis Cromwell and cocks the pistol as he might a cigarette lighter, and with just as much certainty of intent.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Hi, Barry Scott Here

Hi, Barry, and that was the all-clear you heard. If you have problems with brick dust, debris and ground-in smoke then you’re not alone. They’re a challenge for some blitzes, but not with Distant Bang. Distant Bang is the result of boffins, working with you in mind. Doodlebugs, buzz bombs, nippers scrapping over tail fins in craters, all leave ground in blitz that can be hard to shift. But one wipe with Distant Bang, and BANG they’re gone.
Distant Bang, what do you think Jill?
England Endures, Barry.
England Endures, Jill.   

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Walk, Listen, Not Michael Winner

“I’m pretty sure they’ve invented the internal combustion engine here?” says Mme. Roux.
            They have. It was one of the first things I noticed on arriving, and it’s still to be seen whizzing by on the road deep in the valley far below my window. But I do not drive, and I like to walk, which is a bloody lucky since it’s a six mile round trip to and from town. And I had to go and pick up more medicines from my local apothecary in order to stave off another entry following the theme of ‘ow, gout’. It’s best walked for before such times, else I cannot walk at all. So because I cannot stand to see a minute wasted then in between single-parenthood (Iceland insist on my visiting them to load up on blue pop, Walls balls, and pies that are no better for being frozen – they are about to be as disappointed by the frequency of my visits as I would be by their faux-sausages), constant work, projects, drawing, painting and redecorating a whole house  I also walk again. And to be fair I’ve lost over two stone in two months. The secret is nothing so much as literature.
            Talky literature anyway.
            I also read a lot. I sleep reluctantly; it’s such a waste isn’t it?
            I like audio books. I especially like them when walking. Because you want to walk further to get to the next bit. And because if you get them from the library you end up hearing a lot of stories you’d never pick up, or if you would probably not by immediate choice. It’s a bit like being a member of a book club, which I now am, only the choices tend to bear out. So it’s the Devil’s Punchbowl right now, before that the second of Roald Dahl’s autobiography, before that the possibly ill-chosen Man and Wife by Tony Parsons, before that... and so on. Six miles, then a bit more, so that you can do both discs you’ve ripped onto the MP3. Two discs only because that way even when you get home from the regulation six miles you end up walking further to get to the end of the disc. I went round the block in the village four times the other week just to find out if Dahl managed to land his Hurricane.
            I read, when I read properly, quickly. Audio books mean that I can’t scan it in big blocks and probably appreciate it more. But I can’t just sit and listen, so I walk. Or the other way around. Either way. And my mind still wanders. Such as today when I was thinking about today’s entry and it being inevitably about Michael Winner, and trying to think of something nice to say about him. All I could come up with was that he directed the excellent 1980s film Gothic. Gothic where Byron, the Shelley’s and Barrie take laudanum and conceive the classics of the genre at Villa Diodati. Written by Stephen Volk who more recently said very nice things about my award-winning short Nice One. Truly. By the by. Which had also had a contract signed and the piece recorded as an audio version, just before the company when tits up.
            So Michael Winner wasn’t all bad, he directed Gothic.
            Except that was Ken Russell.
            I’d have remembered that if I’d gone with the audio version.

Thursday 17 January 2013

London Under London

There’s a lot going on beneath the streets of London. Much has also gone on there in the years now gone by. There’s nothing surprising about this and whilst I can’t find any genuine pictures of Morlocks or former tube navvies lost in a tunnel collapse and turned to ghouls feasting on anyone oddly likely to wander there at night there are a few that are favourites of mine. None of these are anything especially secret. Indeed, anyone that knows London will know some (if not all of them). My Granda Bill was fascinated by the subject, a fascination that infected me in turn and so briefly then my current top five.

Camden Catacombs. Formerly used as stabling for horses and ponies used to shunt railway wagons the catacombs are located beneath the lock, market and the roundhouse. The tunnels ran once (and for all I know still do) under the goods yard at Primrose Hill, under Gilbey’s warehouse and of course Camden. Though they can still be spotted by the iron grills that remain in the road surface they are like everything here not open to the public. Nonetheless a little enterprise on Regent’s Canal actually makes them the most accessible of all these I mention.

Kingsway. Everyone knows about Kingsway. Towards the end of the 19C it was decided to clear the slums hereabouts and the streets provided the opportunity to form a tramway across London, Angel to the Elephant. The tunnel itself can be readily seen in Southampton Row, but less well noticed perhaps are the entrance doors right on the road and under Waterloo Bridge.

The Kingsway Exchange. Kingsway again, here originally one of the deep shelters across the underground network and here at Chancery Lane. It developed into a hardened shelter, a telephone exchange that housed the transatlantic link, and is in remarkably fine condition to this day despite decommissioning in the 80s. It’s the location of Herbert’s third rats novel, Domain and the last heard I heard the site is still up for sale.

The Post Office Railway. Like some model of its larger passenger peer it moved mail between Paddington and Whitechapel, nearly seven miles and boasting eight private little stations – the main one inevitably under Mount Pleasant. Closed in 2003 (it was three times more expensive to operate than just chucking sacks in a van) it replaced the earlier pneumatic tunnels which shot letters by capsule through tubes for the same purpose.

Tower Subway, my personal favourite. Still seen by its pillar box entrance on Tower Hill the subway runs a quarter mile under the river to Tooley Street. The first tube railway in the capital, it was soon converted to a pedestrian walkway that itself went out of business once Tower Bridge opened.  It now carries telecom cables as well as the water mains.  

Tuesday 15 January 2013

HMV and Fraggle Hammers

The Woolworths-Armstrong Contrawinding Sonic Hound Gun

HMV has called in the receivers after 91 years of business, putting 4500 jobs at risk and doubtless seeing the removal of the last of the great-big-record-shops from the high street. It seems that people no longer wish to buy a proper wind-up gramophone and despite attempts to keep up with the changing market place by stocking a liquid ton of crap CDs, dog sleds, stout corduroy britches for lady explorers, and biscuit tins, the doors look set to close.
            The chain has been criticised for not reflecting the modern culture for music, mostly by charging for it. ‘The customer expects to get music for free,’ a statement released today describes, ‘from the downloady interweb thing. Musicians aren’t doing proper work and should not expect to get paid for it, what with everyone else’s girlfriends in their beds, and all the weasel glands they can eat stuffed up their bums. Or whatever it is that musicians do; live on watery beans and stolen tea bags if everyone has their way.’
            This is the latest in the fight back against the arts. For too long have la-de-dah artists been able to swan about in big shirts consuming wine and making stuff that gives people something to spend their money on, and ever since commercial artists and writers have had their pay capped at a kick in the nuts musicians have now inevitably followed.
            No final decision has yet been taken and it is thought that the chain might be reduced, the brand saved, according to liquidation accountants as they beat assorted Fraggles to a fluffy paste with hammers.  

Monday 14 January 2013

Screw You Autism

I see it in the way you play
When sparks of joy turn ashen grey
Your reason falters; wind-tossed hay
Alice and flamingo croquet
Certainty the cat will stray
Thoughts as yet but still halfway...
We hug. I make it go away
I wouldn’t have you any other way.
It is what makes you, you.

Saturday 12 January 2013

Parquet. The Price Of Doing Business

Salt water dribbled from the water baby. A little piece of the ocean it was the piece rarely seen, and only here by the curled tentacle beneath its china dolls mask. Ramos traced the cracks in that mask where they had grown green with age. He smiled, teeth together, and they were very good teeth all traded to him by those with nothing else to sell. The water babies could be made for many purposes and this one Pearly knew was attracted to lies. Old as the mask marked it still water babies were ruinously expensive, even one for such a simple task. But Ramos could afford it. Indeed he could have afforded one much younger, but his was a pet to him and there was something obscene about the way his fat finger traced those lines.
            “There will be no trouble with the junker,” said Ramos. In Parquet where the cooking pot of people and places made for a common patois Ramos still spoke with a round Spanish accent, aping his betters high above. He spoke of the hermandad, the brotherhood, the company of men and women that supposedly enforced the laws of Parquet no matter how frequently they changed. Not that anyone called them that, not hereabouts. That was the name the Spanish had given to those that had protected pilgrims from the robber knights centuries before, Pearly knew. Now they were near entirely made up of Prussians - Prussians that inducted other Prussians as they were washed ashore. Junker, ‘little lords’, was the patois that flattered them. More scathingly the Prussian hermandad were Hermans; that they liked less.
            “Not that we are do anything wrong,” said Pearly.
            Ramos raised his free hand to make a dismissive gesture, “But no, most certainly.”
            Between them lay bones. Bones clean, polished by the progress through the beast from whose regenerating tentacles the tips were harvested to make the water babies. And these bones intact (and so possessed of a certain energy). The witches of the brujeria that tended to the beast, married it by some manner Pearly had heard, jealously kept such things to their selves. Possession of such bones was risky. But Pearly needed them. For Pearly worked tricks, and she was not alone in this, but to work the little magick there had to be the energy to empower them. And if there were darker ways then murder and mayhem were not to Pearly’s taste. The bones looked to be all Ramos claimed, she did not doubt they were exactly as had been promised. Ramos was a man that could obtain many things and his business relied on delivering on such promises, and for that there was always a price.
            “I am impressed, patron” Pearly flattered fat Ramos.
            He knew she did, but cooed a little anyway. He said, “You understand that I find such things for you as your reputation is not one to cause... notice, might I say, with your tricks?”
            “They are to find something, for someone else, a client.”
            The water baby did not stir. Satisfied Ramos pushed the bones towards her before licking his fingers, enjoying the faint vinegar trace they left, a sign of the energy within them. “Tell me, the pain I believe that accompanies such tricks? Is it true that when one endures enough it becomes instead something to be... desired?”
            That was the danger with working the tricks. Not easy to learn, difficult to master, and its process at times excruciating, but yes one could become addicted to it. Pearly had always promised herself she would stop with the magick when the need for it overcame the revulsion. She had no fear of that yet. She could stop working the magick tomorrow if she wished. She could give up any time. Only not today, not when she had a client, and the prices being what they were?
            Ramos beamed, “And now, alas, the price?”
            For Pearly had to come up with the first, before having to pay that other.    

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Happy Birthday, Tube!

Happy Birthday Tube!
150 today, whereas my youngest is 6 on the same day. Coincidence? Yes.
            Nonetheless and on this happy day a number of facts about the tube that may have escaped your attention. I love this sort of thing. It’s difficult to be further from London than where I am and still remain on this side of the border. But if my feet are stuck in Cumbria, and if my heart remains in Salisbury, then my soul is and always will be in Lambeth.
            Half a million mice can be found on the UnderGround. They counted them with tiny pencils. The mice serve a useful function for the mosquitoes upon which they feed, the mossies now an entirely unique species.
            The rotundas (fortifications) for the old deep level shelters can still be seen about the Claphams, and especially Belsize Park. South Clapham (which used to be ridiculously easy to break into for a wander about) was used for the arrivals on the Windrush whose nearest Labour Exchange was Brixton, and because of which is where many settled enriching the area ever since.
            The longest escalator can be found at the Angel upon which late at night rather underfed fiends are said to rise from the abyss; on Saturday, going to Slimelight.
             Aldgate East was built upon a plague pit. Just outside the city so people didn’t have too far to stagger.
            In 1926 suicide pits were installed on the lines. Fifty poor souls chose this method to shuffle off each year, usually at 11am.
            Smoking was still permitted until 1987 in the wake of the King’s Cross fire. I still remember not only being able to puff away on the platforms, but also in certain carriages. Mind you twenty minutes on the tube equates to smoking a fag anyway due to the quality of the air, so breathe deep.
            Covent Garden is supposedly haunted by William Ferris late from 1897. Keeping up with the times he is said to now be a very shouty busker that chases tourists around the Punch & Judy.
            The River Westbourne is carried over the platform at Sloane Square in an iron pipe, still there and readily spotted.
            Brigadier Lethridge-Stewert was first encountered in the tube, back in 1968 and the Web of Fear. He was then but a colonel.
            Hobb’s End, the fictional station used in Quatermas (and other) stories is actually part of the miniature line used by London UnderGround for staff training. I can’t discover if it actually features a pit. It ought to. Hobb’s End was also the name of the village where faced with Bok the Brigadier later ordered ‘chap with wings, five rounds rapid’.
            Mind the gap!

Monday 7 January 2013

We Are Not Worthy (7) - Aubrey Beardsley

Born in 1872, dead at age 25, Aubrey Beardsley looked like Steerpike and like everyone in this irregular feature drew like no one else. I scratch in pen and ink and probably because I’m colour-blind so I’ve always loved Beardsley since long before I even knew his name. Noted as being the darkest of the Art Nouveau artists he co-founded the Yellow Book and Savoy magazine. He was a contemporary of Oscar Wilde, and that marvellous time and set that is as mythologized as anything he drew remains best so through his work.
            Beardsley’s art is wonderful, decadent and evocative. He turned to Catholicism late in his brief life and recanted much of what he had produced, asking for it to be destroyed. Nonetheless he kept in character enough for it to be suggested he was rather closer to his sister than was wise before dying of tuberculosis like a proper artist. And yet he is immortal, the footprints he has left are rendered like no other.
            But as ever it is the art that speaks, and why today - then Aubrey Beardsley, we are not worthy.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Lola And The Chickens

I never have to worry that we’re secure at night, Lola has a routine that if interrupted would result in frustrated shouts more shrill than any alarm. Everything is timed. We have clocks on every wall and she winds them each morning at exactly seven on the very dot, immediately after she’s had her wee and before she touches the cup of tea I have to have on the table before she’ll sees to the clocks. I overslept once and the screams saw me out of my bed and crashing into the kitchen before I’d even noticed it was daylight. I shudder to remember looking at Lola down the barrel of the pistol, she angry that the tea hadn’t been on the table and me frightened because of the pressure I’d taken up on the trigger. I’m a crap shot but no one misses at that range and that morning haunts me when I remember what might have been. I never forget the tea now.
            I don’t have to worry then, but I check anyway. The grills on the windows that we never open, the locks on the door with the keys still in and the bar in place. There are no candles burning. In the larder the tins are arranged precisely by contents, size, and best-by date. Nothing perishable has been left out and the tin chest where they live is bolted and weighed down with the microwave we very rarely use with genie we keep just-in-case. I can never imagine how the mice would unbolt the box but Lola assures me they’re clever, and so we weigh the lid down just in case. I look in on Lola having given her enough time to go through her bedtime routine and drop off. I don’t even know what that routine is any more. I have to stay downstairs once we’ve had our three hugs goodnight and the two calls of ‘love you’ and the wave from the door. I can just see the top of her head above the Peppa Pig duvet, a straggle of hair the colour mine no longer is. The pump torch winds down as I watch her. Outside and there are beasts that watch us, or would, if they knew we were here. If they did then they’d be at the chickens first, or the pig. Lola calls the pig Henry. I call it pig. I don’t want to have a Henry sandwich next year.
            It’s dark, and I like the dark. I always have. I spent my youth in the city but I was born and raised in the country. No streetlights, paths darker than the hedgerows, everywhere everything just temporary, gnawed at by nature every day. I’m not scared of the dark but it’s no good for reading and by the time the pump torch winds down again I’m asleep to the sound of nothing at all.
            I have Lola’s tea on the table when she appears. She’s already dressed. Her boots are on if unlaced. I hear the water slosh from the bucket to flush the loo. She doesn’t say a word as she brushes by to take down the clock on the wall. It’s seven exactly and she has clocks to wind. By the time she’s finished her tea has cooled. It is exactly right. She likes it strong but not hot and she doesn’t like to wait for it to be both. Winding the clocks times her tea. Only then does she give me her morning hug and the world can do as it pleases because that hug is warm and strong and means everything. Lola has her habits (and thank god because they’ve kept us alive) but she’s not cold and if I like the dark then this bright ball of everything that she is makes the sunlight, and I love that more.
            It takes her five minutes to decide on breakfast. Even though everything is exactly as it was the day before short the bowl of cereal since she last looked still she makes her inspection. Upon her sombre decision I make toast by the open grille of the wood burner. There’s only enough bread for this slice and the crust. Lola says, “Fran will be coming by later.” She’s right. The bread lasts exactly as long as it takes for Fran to return. I leave the house after unlocking the door and hearing it lock again behind me. With pistol in one hand and a dustbin lid in the other I make a tour of the garden as far as the wall that taller than I rings it square. Only then when from the window Lola sees me wave does she leave the house and even then does not fetch the eggs and feed the pig, fetch water from the spring play on her swing until I’ve locked it all again. I never do it properly. I make all the noises but leave it only on the bolt. Lola doesn’t know it but I watch everything she does back from the windows where she can’t see me. She’s insistent that she’s big enough to do her jobs without me there, and she’s right. But I watch her anyway just in case. There are no beasts out in the daylight, but only as far as we know. No beasts but people and if there haven’t been any brigands or ruffians hereabouts for a year since we...
Anyway, I worry. I’m her daddy; that’s what daddies do, worry.
            It’s late before Fran arrives. Lola hears the motorbike putt-putt long before I do. I’ve got crap hearing. I had ear trouble as a kid younger than Lola. I had to keep out of swimming pools and they had me in agony when only a little older. I still can’t swim. Lola can spend five minutes leaving the house but not when Fran comes by. That gave her trouble the first two times but once Lola had assimilated that we can’t leave anyone outside when they come to call she clicked into a new routine, but only still for Fran. Worried that I’ll cause an upset I linger in the kitchen until Lola calls out, impatient, for me to come too. There I have to let her open the padlocks on the gate because I have to hold the pistol. She knows it’s dangerous to play with guns, so she never does. She’s special and here that little loop in her otherwise star-bright head is for the best. She still spends a minute with the mirror making sure no one, no thing, stands out of site either side of the gate. Fran has backed her funny little jalopy about in case she has to head off quickly and so she back in when Lola lets her. The gate is shut and locked and checked four times before Lola is satisfied. Even then I have to go back with her so she can rattle it once again.
            Lola doesn’t like Fran. She’s never rude but she hurries to stand behind me and won’t look at the woman. Fran doesn’t mind and knows well enough to pretend that Lola isn’t there at all. When I go to fetch the eggs Lola runs ahead of me and returns when I do like a shadow. I take bread baked the day before, some aspirin, and Fran has a book for me, The Old Man Of the Sea. I count out the eggs and Fran tells me there’s a meeting in three days times. “Can you come?” she asks.
            “I should think so,” I say. Three days is long enough for me to get Lola used to the idea. A day for her to protest, a day for her to ignore it, and one more for her to pretend it’s her idea.
            “I can take those off you?” Fran says, indicating our vegetable patch. It takes up half the garden, and it’s a big garden. We don’t eat a lot of it; it’s a slug farm. Bottom of the grounds, wet. Also filled with slug traps. We get the world’s supply of slugs. The chickens love them. It’ll be dark soon so we’ll harvest what we’ve caught in time for the morning. I shake my head. Fran turns about and we go through the whole routine in reverse. She putts slowly back to the gate through the mud and doesn’t wave goodbye.
We had a thing once, briefly. Lola didn’t like it. That was that then. Fran despite the way she lives is meticulously clean. She used to complain about how filthy I was. We live amongst chickens and mud to feed chickens. There’s a spring that’s only a trickle and that’s for drinking and cooking. Of course we’re filthy.
            Lola has to go back to check she’s locked the gate properly. “We’re not going,” she says of the meeting.
            I don’t reply. We will and it’ll be her idea. It’s already getting dark but I never have to worry that we’re secure at night.   

Friday 4 January 2013

Parquet. Carnival

Masked like all others at carnival Screw was handsome. It was the new year, the very birthday and anniversary of Parquet, and just as high above the lordly and grand wore their masks then so too in the Rules did the base and the powerless celebrate. The oldest part of the Delves the Rules were the lanes, the word from Ruelles, and all stood crowded upon one another across the caverns like so many hundred stacked boxes so that the ceiling that brushed the highest limits was rarely seen at all.
Screw was dead. He had been born dead. His ma and papa were dead, they were of the dead. They had dwelled in these depths since they had been natural caverns, longer even than the goblins (that his ma’s stories had told Screw as a boy) had themselves been wrecked here so very long ago. The dead were non- people, there but never seen, rarely noticed, but in his mask of the beaming youth then at carnival at least Screw could have been anyone; and so he was someone.
            The Rules crammed and crowded, compressed and gloomy was the poorest place in Parquet. The dead lived in worse places, but they were not of Parquet. But here and at this time of year then perhaps because life was so very bad for the rest of the year, then in the Rules they celebrated all the harder. There was drink and there was food, and all sent from above, so that celebrating the wretches and the horrors would not see the grand cheer above and fester amongst themselves certain ideas. Indeed, during carnival the Rules were the very place to be for all across the Delves. All things permitted, nothing denied. Screw ducked through a series of arches that made up this lane, stepping over a fat woman with her snakes and two men that picked at a third before fighting over the glass gully knife that had killed him.
            Where the wider lanes squeezed and rose between the cracks in the layers of stacked boxes people jostled, stole, laughed and chased one another. A hundred stalls fought for attention. A thousand stolen delights were bought and fought over. Cit picaroons in packs dusted the cruder colour of the celebrants in their very best. Palliards paraded, cursing those they crowded for a cog.  Salteador waited to rifle the drunk. One too weak would flee to the laughter of those through whom he fled to the shouts of his pursuers, the salwog chase of the nithing man as they called it here. Drabs sold themselves from windows whilst their punkaterro men guided the worthies to their doors. Here and two damp drums, a fiddle and a pipe competed and still people danced. Everyone was masked, and some of those masks were heirlooms generations old. Some of those masks had names and identities that went back decades no matter who wore them in these frenzied and wonderful few days. Light flared from fire breathers and lit-farters. A young girl with a medusa face thrust a gaping fish at Screw whilst another caught hold of his cods, and he pushed then back with his cudgel and to their catcalls and insults. He was barged when a thin man all stick limbs and belly was ridden in a race with a shaved dog and a chariot of tea-trays pulled by three children. Vomit just missed Screw from high above as a stall holder tried to force yellow ribbon upon him and demand its price.
            Then here in the opening that went right to the unseen roof that they called the Circle Squared, tents had been raised. Screw knew that normally this was where all the stalls were found, the market, all now pushed and forced further into the Rules. A space where once mirrors had reflected light from the great burning lumiere deep inside Parquet but which now with their theft, breakages and ignorance was only the darker because of it. The tents were of sailcloth, rudely painted, cracked and patched and were here for the many that would never otherwise have set foot in the Rules if not for carnival.
“Welcome back my friends,” called a barker with a gaily-striped speaking trumpet, “to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside!” He was a fine fellow, tall in his high boots and coat padded to double his shoulders. About him there were knots of outsiders. Screw himself was just that, but alone and dressed as he was, masked, few would have guessed at it. He pointed at each that had come to gawp, to be thrilled, and Screw saw a young man too well protected and too eager to enter to be anything other than some patron from high above slumming it slyly and doubtless hard and giddy at the memories he was making. “There behind the glass is a real blade of grass,” the barker pointed, “Be careful as you pass, move along, move along.  Right before your eyes, we pull laughter from the skies, and he laugh until he dies. Until he dies, ‘till he dies!”
And there was Berthold, whom they called Bertie the Bawd. Masked or not Screw recognised the figure having seen him only in silhouette before now.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Falklands Lawn Mower Capitulation

Accusations have been made by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner today regarding Britain’s failure to return the Falkland Islands to the Argentina, ‘We leant them in good faith,’ she declared today, ‘and they’re definitely in your shed.’
            The Prime Minister has issued a rebuttal, citing the fact that the Islands were definitely given as keepsies, and denying any claims that there are indeed in his shed, with the lawn mower, that was also a gift, though it’s not working very well now, so they can have that back.
            President de Kirchner has held up the capitulation of the UK government as a victory. ‘The UK devils have admitted that the lawn mower was ours and arrangements are being made to repatriate it through neutral parties. For too long has the lawn mower suffered the colonialist outrages of the British. Rejoice, the lawn mower returns as a hero! But let us not forget the bread maker and the punch bowl that linger still in the hands of our enemies.’
            Britain has long denied it will take part in any talks concerning the ownership of the bread maker, keeping to the line that electrical goods have the right to decide their own owners. Apart from the fridge. Which they definitely have the receipt for. 

Tuesday 1 January 2013

New Year. Emin, Self, Briiiiiiiiaaan Cox.

Will Self has reduced himself to misery and the inward sucking of his tears sounds like an emergency tracheotomy. “Fuck him,” says Will Self by the fire. The two of them have fallen out badly. “The lamentable little excrescence isn’t fit to lick effluence from my ghastly shoes.”
            2012 went out as it deserved; annoyingly.  I had one can of fizzy beer and that had a fag end in it. I got to bed at early o’clock leaving the party still muttering along like a lot of old aunties having learned that parma violets are no longer to be made, kidney is no longer compulsory in steak pie, and that menstruation has become optional. Even then Will Self was cutting the air between himself and Will Self on the matter of breadcrumbs, Kingsley Amis, and wet bread. Tracey Emin crawled from the hollow in the sofa to chant ‘fight, fight, fight’. The problems with the Selfs are all her doing, I know full well. She can’t take the two of them and so early in the evening took the last the ready-rub from Will Self whilst he slept and sprinkled a few flakes over Will Self. She’s still trying to lure Will Self to where Shelob will do the dirty for her. Right now and she’s still up whilst I try to make the tea. She’s sitting on her haunches gnawing at frozen fish fingers, naked but for some torn Westwood fashioned into a hat. Tim Westwood unfortunately. All over the wall she’s used Vim to make little sketches on the toast-stained tiles. They’re rather good.
            I’m avoiding the bathroom, it’s still dark so the hedge made for a very reasonable urinal and a wild-wee on a clear dawning morning in the country is one of the few pleasures available to man old and young. The bathroom is littered with the party balloons that someone has been using as condoms, unsuccessfully as mostly what is left is a lot of little rubber rips that wouldn’t have served a tomcat. I’m not going to make any judgements but Greg-Wallace-off-Masterchef asleep upside down on the stairs has a balloon jutting from his flies straining with all the piss that’s still filling it, a tap with a worn washer. New-year parties, I never plan them and I rarely stay (even if as ever they are always here).
            It’s dark and I don’t want to disturb the fug of trembling semi-consciousness that has taken everyone after a night of Bacchanalian argument as to whether Cava can really be vintage? But I need to crack on with the novel assigned by my book group. I can’t even remember what it is but I’ll start on it soon by the light of Professor Brian Cox who dreamily looking towards the moulded light-fittings glows softly in the irony that being the country’s leading scientist is nonetheless also confused by many with Jesus. ‘Briiiiaaaaaaan Cox,’ he’s simpering, smiling, unable to grow a beard. ‘Briiiiaaaaaaan Cox,’
            It’s 2013. Good riddance 2012, you were all in all a bit shit.
            ‘Briiiiaaaaaaan Cox,’
            Shut up, Arwen.