Wednesday, November 08, 2006

armpits, and life...

Prithee what news of this muggly mulch of friv and splu that we call home?

Well, we've furtled in the evening mists and under the gibbous moon, lost, found, now you seem now you don't, I've fallen in a hole.

Barfed great swathes of onerous pricklies up bathroom walls and hallway carpets ("what made me eat it dad?", " well he did, he made me, it was stuck to his nose").

Woken in the smelly used sock of Bacchus' laundry basket amongst the fetid rummage of the previous night's debauch (far too often than is wise or strictly necessary).

Slept fitful churning...grumbled, gnashed and gurgled through troubled dreams of giant rabbits, swirling smoky overcrowded clouds of crows or old cheese sandwiches fallen behind overstuffed sofas, each to our own as is our want.

Gyred mightily and sprung sprightly from a standing start, involuntary aerobatics to accompany each whistle and banshee screech and pyrotechnic thud of light in the November night sky, "I don't know dad, I don't know why, it's louder in my head", bladder bursting jet propelled impropriety at every starburst shell or blast-it-to-buggeration-super-grenade-repeater, damn you Fawkes you were a fucker, we'd piss in your hat if you were here.

Made tea, in quantities to fill an effelumps bath, or ship a ship to Mandalay, and left said tea as tasting sad.

Been a single, furry ball, too may legs, too many heads on the fireside rug.

Frosted, toasted and roasted all in a single day.

Called it a day

Called it a weekend and then a week.

Call it a what you will, it's what we do.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

mia shoot me

I want to say this simply, so please for once grant me the power to be clear.

I wrote something on Sunday which I looked at afterwards and felt so ashamed of I had to remove it, like looking at a side of oneself that you don't recognise or worse, that you do recognise but don’t like..

What I wanted to write about was how lucky I am. To wake up to the very epitome of glorious autumn, a crisp day bathed in late summer sunshine. The snuffle scruffle bum walk and stretch and cold nose in the ear from a Charlie, and a Toffee who loves nothing more than to drape his neck across yours, (if you've been silly, or drunk enough to leave your bedroom door open). To roll over and find the half a bottle of Taittinger, that you managed to smuggle out of the night club and all the way home on the tube, on your bedside table. A hairy hug, a sip of champagne, a piping hot shower, aspirin and scrambled eggs - what could be better. what more could a man want?

Nothing, really.

You see, we get to do pretty much anything we like whenever we want to. Of course I have to work but that's just about the only thing that gets in the way of sheer hedonism. We walk, we laugh, we are as tidy (or not) as we want to be, as punctual, shy, selfish or gregarious as our mood takes - sometimes we go out for a whole Sunday, lunch and all, without even taking a bath or brushing our teeth.

It's an agreement. A trade.

Because there are other things that we don't do anymore. In short we don't look for happiness beyond that which we can generate and sustain for ourselves. There are no external influences, nothing beyond this tiny, compact, introspective microcosm that has any impact on our (my) selfish existence.

Now that’s where it starts to go wrong, that sounds maudlin, regretful, but it’s not supposed to, that’s certainly not how I feel.
My only reservation is an inkling, a small persuasive voice that’s muttering that there ought to be a point. More point. Is a beautiful day still beautiful if you don’t share it? Of course it is? The Pearl Fisher’s duet is a small parcel of bliss that could stop yor heart, as evocative as the top of a baby’s head. A thrown stick and a puddle, the smell of new cut grass on a warm breeze.
Is it wrong then to want your world to shine? That’s not to walk through life oblivious to the mundane or the ugliness, but not to settle for less, in…anything.

What joy, what bliss, what ho, what's the point. You don’t find what shines by collecting lots of things that don’t.

And it's no big deal. That's the mistake I made on Sunday when I thought I might write something that might help me to understand. The mistake being of course that there is nothing to understand after all.

It really is a matter of 'so what'. Who actually gives a jaundiced squirrel? Once in these past three years I have made the ridiculous mistake of imagining that the hand that touched my face might stay there, but she was simply a friend of a friend caught up in a moment and doubtless too much tequila....gone in 60 seconds, a butterfly touch whipped away on the chilly night air, so transient that it was just my imagination. Stupid, stupid. Sex, important? No. The hand on your face, the fingers in your hair....or lack of them.
That's the knack of it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I forget

It must be age related. I have a memory like a sieve these days. It's like living in the twilight zone.

One particular problem is remembering birthdays….my family in its entirity consists of 3 people - and I regularly forget their birthdays (occasionally their names). It’s not as if I ignore them, I genuinely like them, but I end up sending them a gift and card at completely the wrong time in a fit of anxiety, because I’ve convinced myself I’ve forgotten (I once notoriously sent my niece her birthday present 2 months early – but I did get the day right).

It happens in the blogosphere too, I have consistently arrived late to the party and left behind numerous combined, belated congratulations and apologies.

Damn it I like you, I want to get it right.

It’s not a matter of just telling me, if you tell me today I will have forgotten tomorrow (I am as retentive as a chocolate teapot)…so, I’m going to be terribly anal and write them down, I shall make myself a “Birthday Book”.

But you’ve got to tell me when your birthday is (yes you!)…privately by email if you’re shy, or publicly in a comment (who knows, maybe other people might find it useful too?).

And then, if you don’t receive your Birthday wishes promptly it’s final proof positive that I am indeed completely pointless (as if that were needed).

Monday, October 23, 2006

presque vue

sitting on the beach wrapped in a blanket. Huddled behind raised knees, listening to the waves, listening to the crash and grumble of a million smooth stones tumble and jumble with each inward and outward motion of the sea.

The slate grey sky is indistinguishable, inseparable from the sea. Distance is a tunnel, a funnel, a grinding machine into which all the colour of the world has been poured and washed and abraded to a gun metal base.

The wind carries spray and dirty wisps of spume beyond the reach of the retreating tide, further up the beach, to where I sit, wrapped in a blanket, huddled behind raised knees...sheltering from the cold stiff breeze and the threat of rain in the leaden air.

But I am not cold. Not a bit of it, I'm basking in the summer sun, as bright and cheerful a day as ever was. There on the top of the hill, staring down the lane, beyond the great oak to where the hill steepens and falls a half mile of helter skelter, pell mell, catch me if you can. The sun is warm, but more warming still is my bright blue pedal car and the anticipation of streaking down the hill away from the haunted house-not-home on the hill.

In my mind's eye I can see me. It is the summer holiday and the boy that I am watching is eleven years old. The summer stretches into the distance, for ever, beyond imagination. The sky is the bluest blue, somnolent, serene, the grass was never greener, long stalks of barley sway, susurrate softly whispering secrets to one another with each breath of air.

He is a creature of the outdoors, a town boy relocated into the Scottish countryside. Every day is an adventure teeming with discovery. Walking in the tall pine woods on an endless bed of fir needles, up to the ancient standing stones on the top of the hill, or down by the river across the shallow salmon run into the fields beyond where there is a lake, sunken, hidden from view by a ring of holly.

Anywhere other than indoors. From the moment that breakfast is finished until tea time and then straight out again until night fall, avoiding the musty gloom and great thick walls of the house on the hill, and the child within that cries “mummy”, but not from need, from dread. (We (my family) share a space with this tiny terrified phantom, but not a place in time. His dread and far too audible laments are somehow locked in the walls of the house like a recording on tape which is occasionally triggered by who knows what so that we can all relive his anguish. Or at least I think 'we' do for my parents will not discuss it).

On the beach the sun is setting. An unlikely skein of geese honk forlornly and bustle along the beach, easterly towards the first evening stars. Out at sea clouds appear like purple loaves, flat bottomed, I see reclining knights on the tomb lid of the horizon finally marking the division between sea and sky.

In the barn the boy has heard, amongst last years hay, mewling and shuffling - in the far corner behind great discarded, rusting farm implements whose purpose is not obvious. A brindle cat with kittens, five noses, ten closed eyes and twenty tiny paws in a single ball of fur, black, white, black and white, she looks back contented with her pale amber eyes and flexes her claws in and out against the surrounding straw as the kittens snuggle and suckle.

She is lying in a comfortable bowl of hay on the seat of a tiny, blue, pedal race car. I have not the heart to move her and her family, but my mother will, she’ll bring her inside and find her a place that’s warm and dark and safe in the pantry and give her milk and kitchen scraps. It’s deceitful of me I know, she was happy where she was, but I wanted that car.

The car is tiny, the wheels which were once solid metal discs with white rubber rims are chipped and freckled with rust, there is a small white steering wheel, everything else is blue, powder blue. It must be very old, an antique perhaps, like no ‘modern’ race car, but shaped like a sausage with a long bonnet with the seat forming the rear and only with some pushing can the boy squeeze his bottom down onto it. There’s no room inside the car for legs so they poke out in front, or more comfortably crossed over the bonnet beyond the steering wheel.

It’s strange (is it strange?) that sound takes on a different quality at night. Is it the diminution of one sense that heightens another? Or is it simply that the tide has turned, have I been here that long? But the mutter of the sea rolled stones seems more brittle now, and I feel cold, the damp chill has begun to seep through the warm folds of my blanket.

But still, with my eyes closed I can see a summer’s day. I can remember the other me carrying the car across the cobbled yard to the top of the hill. It’s nearly half a mile starting between the house wall and the corner of the great outhouse on the edge of the courtyard. Nearly half a mile of hedge lined lane with no other purpose, no end other than the farm house, not a home, perched on the hill at the edge of the forest.

I am (he is, we are at that moment) eleven years old. There is no doubt what I will do, not a moments hesitation. I sit the car down on the very brow of the hill and tuck my feet up, crossed, on to the bonnet. Down the hill the great oak beckons, swallows swoop and dive above the barley, butterflies dance in the briar and as I look up a dragon fly zig zags across the lane like a sparkling green automaton. For these last few seconds I am the only thing in my world that cannot fly. But not for long.

The car is so small that I can reach the ground with the palms of my hands and I press backwards, rolling us forward on to the first gentle slope.

Slowly, ever so slowly at first, we begin to roll. There’s a rasping, grating, rusty exhalation from long unused bearings and we are off. Yard by yard, picking up speed, faster and faster, a sideways glance confirms that the hedges that are now rushing by are beginning to blur. Faster and faster. There is a sound of wind and rush and hurry now.

We are only half way down the first relatively gentle segment of the hill, beyond the oak it angles down. Faster and faster. I can see over the false horizon of the half-hill now, the lane disappears, but I can see the fields below beyond the road that the lane will intersect, beyond that the gravel track leading to the stone hump back bridge across the railway.

Faster and faster. I can steer but tears are streaming from my eyes. Under the branches of the great oak we flash, we are a blue streak now, there is no car, I have wheels. Screaming half laughter half terror, faster even faster, the world is a blur, no stopping, no brakes, nerveless fingers and a rictus grin, crying, laughing and howling like a loon.

No tractor or caravan on the road pleeeease today. However did I think that I would stop this tiny blue juggernaut? We shoot out of the lane, the embodiment of coruscating, sparkling blue glee, across the road in a flash and onto the gravel path opposite. Showered with stones, holding hard, gripping the steering wheel with every ounce of petrified strength, up the incline of the bridge to an eventual halt in the grassy bank on the other side. Slowly unclenching numb fingers and face, unbuckling legs and backside to unfold into a wobbly, unsteady upright to look back up the hill and begin to unravel the sheer idiocy of it.

I cannot see the house.

And there is one other thing I know, immediately, I will do it again. And when at night I lie in bed and strain not to hear that child’s torment, I will cover my head with my pillow and think about the blue car.

On the beach I stand up. My bottom and knees are stiff, fingers crack open from unconscious balled fists. With the blanket draped across my shoulders I stoop to pick up a stone to fling into the sea and wipe my eyes.

I remember the blue car. But I don’t remember him at all. It should feel like me, but the memory I have is….the memory of a character I have read in a book, or the memory of a film. It should be me, we should be me, the same, he should be vivid like the car but somehow he's not, we became...separated.

But it was our blue car.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Of rolling over to find you when its quiet....

For each of us a season.

The back door is open and chill coils of mist spill down the jambs to the floor to eddy and pool. But not too far, its too warm in here for you, soon you'll be reconstituted, twinkling droplets on the coir strands of the mat. Fresh from the bathroom in a towel, making coffee and enjoying the counterpoint of cool and snug warmth, I can see you, plod plod plodding up the rear steps. Brown-wetter-than-normal-nose first you appear out of the foggy shroud little by little and stand on the threshold, half in half out, writing nonsense with your tail to ask, "did I hear a dish being filled dad, was that the cupboard door?".

"Yes it was chuck, now go and fetch your dozy mate". And these are the 5 minutes I keep for myself in the morning, sitting in the kitchen watching Charlie delicately pick at his breakfast while Toffee sets at his with such gusto that his whole body seems to clench and fragments of kibble ping and ricochet off the walls.

Today our sounds, the slurpings and munchings, the ping of the kettle and rattle of the spoon, are more precise, resonant almost, our aural colour, since the world outside is quiet wrapped in a blanket of thick muffling fog.

To wake up on a foggy autumn day is to wake up and discover that you are deaf. To lean out of bed to wipe a hand across the window to see the world confirms that you have also lost the faculty for colour. The world outside is shades of grey, and suddenly, shockingly visible cobwebs an inch from your nose. The fog has permeated the glass, a misty osmosis beading the inner surface and the little river that I have formed runs down my arm and drips, coldly onto the bedside table.

It's too early to get up, too late to go back to sleep. There's a warm snug nest in the middle of the bed and cooler spots for toes on either side. Four great fluffy pillows to make soft walls, to cocoon until this bleary eyed splutterfly emerges into the world. So comfortable to lie there, so quiet and utterly peaceful. A short distracting day dream of a soft warm bottom sleepily resting against my leg, a freckled shoulder and slender neck draped in tussled hair, framing the smell of blissful contented sleep...I miss you (whoever you are)... time for loss. There is no time to concentrate on what is not.

A different bottom, a bony bum with tail, bumps against the bedroom door accompanied by a loud, stage sigh, "pfffhhhhhhhhhh" ("are you ever getting up"?). How does he always know when I'm awake? I'll leave them in their separate space each night, tucking them in with a brief tummy rub, Charlie on his beanbag and Toffee in the corner of 'his' sofa. But every morning when I get up and open the bedroom door a large brown inquisitive eye will peer into the room and the patch of hallway floor immediately outside will be warm. And we'll sit outside for a moment and play rough and tumble, on my bare bum on the cold wooden floor, and it's good, it's great.

That's a part of why I like this time of year - beyond the colour and quality of light, the crunch of leaves and the feeling that everything is somehow richer, readier, complete - there is also coolness. It's no longer a world of dull warmth, (the summer warmth where every surface feels the same), but a dappled landscape of temperature, a place where fingers and noses are cold and toes are as snug as a bugs in a rug. When I'm warm I'm simply warm but when I'm cold I have choices and surprises and the opportunity for the mundane to be small delights, thick socks, soup, sunshine on a woodland walk, even a proffered smile is more warming on an autumn day.

It's an evening for wellie boots and a torch lit scramble I think. And tomorrow a lie in, and perhaps a day dream before the alarm bum strikes the door and says "come out".

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Of knots in string...

I don’t get it….sorry that’s true, but misleading. I’ll start again…

I don’t understand, after all I’ve looked after my body. No, really, I have. I’ve been taking copious amounts of alcohol for years simply as a preservative. And I did hear that a glass of red wine is good for you so, ipso facto, a couple of bottles must be full of goodness?

Following the advice of some of the greatest medical minds (of the seventeenth century) I smoke, not because I enjoy it, but to protect myself from common evils like the ague, dropsy and melancholia.

My doctor once told me that if I wanted to stay healthy I should ‘observe the Mediterraneans’ and I have. Closely. I am happy to report that I can now distinguish between a Croat and a Greek from a distance of 75 yards. (I once studied a particular Italian young lady for almost half an hour before her boyfriend offered to take me outside and help me to rearrange my spectacles).

Why then is it that bits of me seem to be abandoning ship at the moment. My poxy bloody knee, or at the least the cartilage thereof, has decided enough is enough and has hung up it’s clogs. Damn you tiny piece of my anatomy, how dare you remind me that I actually need you in order to get from my bed to the bathroom (it’s usually some time after I’ve woken up that I become fully aware, I’m not used to the application of sharp, unexpected pain to startle me into existence).

So, as much as I normally dislike them, I thought I’d write a list, along the lines of, “12 things that are wrong with me”, or maybe “12 more reasons I live alone” might be more apt:

1. One of my eyes doesn’t work, at least it works in the way that a kaleidoscope works.
2. I can’t decorate for toffee, I can do the big bits but the little fiddly bits fill me with dread.
3. I smoke and I drink probably far too much.
4. I can be as much fun as a wet Wednesday evening.
5. I’m impatient, if I want something then I want it now.
6. I have an unfeasibly large penis (far too big to be accommodated comfortably).
7. I am prone to exaggeration to the point of lying
9. I find it difficult to concentrate.
10. I bore easily

(You are very welcome to suggest additions to the list of things that are wrong with me if you think that I've left out anything particularly relevant or ghastly).

So, there you have it.



Saturday, October 07, 2006

Oh do shut up...

Every now and then you’ll be involved with, or overhear the conversation that begins, “I wish I’d lived ‘then’, life was so much simpler", and every time my jaw drops in the face of such stark idiocy.

‘Then’ can cover a multitude of sins according to the nostalgic whimsy of whichever plonker comes over all misty eyed at the time. At this point my eyes roll up, because I’m certain that more often than not the main reason that life was simpler 'then' was simply because there was a distinct lack of choice, and indeed considerably less of life to complicate.

There seems to be some particular affection for the Victorian period. It must have been smashing. A time of 'family' and moral standards, (did you know that it was quite commonplace to deposit the product - babies that is - of the illicit union between the master of the house and a ‘downstairs’ maid in the Thames?)...but that’s an aside.

I always try to imagine where I might have fitted in to a past society relative to where I am now. I might have been lucky and had a job in a bank or I may have been a salesman, toting my wares in a suitcase from business to business or even household to household. God forbid I would have enlisted into the burgeoning army arriving from the countryside to man the fires and jennys of the industrial revolution.

I might have married, we might have had children. If I did work in the mill I would have been working for 12 hours a day, and like everyone else in the same situation I would have had a whole half day to do with as I please – polish my clogs I suppose. And my wife would have worked there too, a slave to the machine. The children, when they were young, would have been left at home, stunned senseless and inert with a dose of laudanum from the crack of sparrow fart until late evening.

Ah deep joy, the simple life for me. No supermarkets, no prevaricating between these beans or those beans, which loo roll to go for, air fresheners, do I need the 2ft roll of cling film or the 30 inch roll, none of the daily folderol and flimsy….nooo, actually hardly any choice at all, or nutrition for that matter. I don’t need to worry about what to do with the kids at the weekends, we’ll do as we always do and go down to the shore of the Thames to scavenge coal, what fun! There’s not a thought in my head about their education – what in god’s name would they want one of those for, I can’t read or write or do ‘guzintas’ and I put bread on the table every week thank you very much. And my pension is the furthest thing from my mind, after all it’s unlikely I’m going to live beyond 40, what a blissful existence.

As if our daily lot in the factory weren’t dangerous enough, (Arthur lost an whole arm to the furnace yesterday and he’ll never work again, of course he’ll never get paid or masturbate again either), there’s a whole host of really exciting diseases out there just waiting to experiment with my body; rickets, whooping cough, dysentery, cholera (we don’t have sanitation at home as such, well we do, but we call it a bucket), diphtheria, there was even a rumour of a spot of plague up on Cheapside last week – and whatever viral exotica the rats and the fleas bring with them to Canary Wharf from distant corners of our most excellent and apparently far flung empire. There’s something called the "‘flu" (I think)coming in from India next week, I’m sure we’ll all enjoy that .

Of course our favourite nights are in the winter months where we hunker down, as a family, under the blanket with our broth and think how lucky we are to have salvaged enough faggots of wood for this meagre fire. On Sundays we can hear the chimes of Bow Bells summoning the toffs for the evening service and we chuckle – we chuckle because we know – we know that they are struggling through the cold night air made thick as treacle by the smoke which pools and swirls, unable to rise in the frigid air, our own dear smog – and for once, unprotected by their windows, they are as susceptible as us to the great leveller, consumption, the grim reaper of our age. So we laugh, unless one of us coughs, which is an awkward moment.

I should not want a tooth ache though. The man a few doors down died not too long ago from a toothache. He was afraid you see, too scared to visit the blacksmith, so he endured the pain as long as he could, he picked and picked at his swollen gum until it looked as if he had a pigeon egg in there, until eventually one night, wracked with agony he had his wife strike it with a chisel – and out it popped! Too late, too late, his blood was poisoned and the fever took him away. Never be afraid of the blacksmith is my motto, better a fast, clean pain than the torment of leaving a rotting tooth. Easy for me to say I suppose because I only have 6 teeth left now.

I did hear tell that the old Queen has wooden teeth, imagine that, who’s ever heard of such a thing, they’re pulling our legs.

And back in the pub my eyes un-glaze and I pop back into the reality of health care and fresh food, and the simpering idiot is still extolling the virtues of the ‘simple life’, and I think oh do shut up...Dickens was wasted on you.

“Anyone fancy a pint?”

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I feel at a really low ebb. It’s no biggy and I know it won’t last, the sort of thing I can normally cure with a glass of wine and an almond slice – and I have no excuse after all, I’m tucked up in the corner of the sofa with a pair of pooches fast asleep next to me (Charlie is draped across my foot at the moment and he’s dreaming, chasing rabbits, twitching and “ruffle-scruffing” in his sleep).

Nevertheless, all I can think of to write about are the things that have startled, saddened, sickened or simply scared the shit out of me today:

They are, apparently, trying the case of a six year old girl who was taken from.her.bath (she was told to be quiet or she would be hurt), driven away, sexually assaulted, raped and then returned to the edge of town, naked cold and god knows how petrified and told to face the wall whilst her abductor made his escape. The accused is apparently a 37 year old male neighbour.

Today I discovered the identity of the neighbour who appears to think it is okay to put whatever household rubbish they have accumulated the previous day into a plastic carrier bag and leave it in the street. We have urban foxes, the bag is ripped open and the contents strewn across the pavement so that the rest of us have to walk through a hideous mess of someone else’s domestic detritus; chicken carcases, vegetable matter, empty cans, even used nappies. I know because I met them depositing today's offering, and having had quite enough of tip toeing down the street with the dogs I confronted them. “Why?”…but I couldn’t communicate my disgust because we didn’t share a language. I could only point and look horrified.

Apparently I have one of those faces whereby people appear to think it’s okay to ask me how I feel, nod, and then tell me, chapter and verse, exactly what is wrong with their life.

The two Irish men who I met tonight walking a whole flock of lurchers who spoke to me at length about I know not what. You have to be careful in London, let’s face it you have to be careful in any big city. I couldn’t understand a bloody word that they were saying, they might have been extras from “Snatch”, and while they seemed friendly enough I was worried that I might nod or smile or look disinterested at just the wrong moment. That and the fact that Charlie fights well above his weight, unlike his dad he’s scared of nothing and there was a very real chance that he might pick a fight with one of the scary, hairy hare coursers.

That the North Koreans have announced that they will test a nuclear device, And that it is apparently our fault (those of us who have them already) because of course they find it threatening. Why oh why anyone in their right mind would want to threaten North Korea UNLESS they appear to be a belligerent, nuclear threat, I have no idea.

I burnt my dinner.

And no, I’m not forgetting that the Amish are trying to conduct their grief with whatever dignity they can amongst the bright light of the world’s press. And that they, probably more than any of us, will never understand that the eventual furore will focus – not on gun laws – but on heightened security for schools.

This world gives me the heebie jeebies at times.

All I know is that Clotho spins the thread of one’s life, Lachesis measures its length and Atropos will inevitably, eventually sever it.

So I shouldn’t wish for sleep but on the whole I’d rather today just buggered off...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Monday, September 18, 2006

in the event of gas....

I don’t where to’s been a while.

Which could be the opening line for various different subjects, so let’s draw a veil over the more sordid possibilities and move right along.

Out of the last ten days I’ve spent three ‘in transit’. I feel like a sort of person-parcel, sent second class, and I’m just grateful that my baggage arrived at the same time and places that I did. There’s nothing more comforting and refreshing than a clean, crisp pair of undercrackers at the end of a long-haul.

Any kind of ‘hauling’, long or short, is made all the more tedious now by the heightened level of security at all of the international airports. At Heathrow the security status is now Dildocom One, meaning that anyone attempting to smuggle such apparently life threatening artefacts as toothpaste or lip balm on or upon their person is promptly marched into the car park and shot. The bodies are hung from the top storey in the manner that farmers display dead crows to dissuade other vermin.

And of course they take anything capable of lighting a cigarette (why oh why do I never remember to pack a stone and flint in my luggage) so that when I arrive in the good old USA with two tiny little hours before I have to board my connecting flight – instead of heading for the transit lounge I brave the incredulous stares of passport control, customs and security (“how long are you staying?”, “one hour and fourty five minutes”, “excuse me?”, “I’d like a cigarette” (“but you b#stards, in your infinite wisdom have decided to criminalise poor f#cks like me who are paying the price for having bought a pack of ten when we were twelve years old and have neither sufficient will power or time to break the terrible burden of habit portrayed by the rugged, lariat-wielding, heroic yet coughing and spluttering Marlboro’ man who just a few years ago epitomised everything clean and wholesome and American – may I go now, we are using up the time that I would rather spend killing myself?”, obviously - unsaid), I smile and try to look just a little pathetic, but genuine.

London, Miami, Sao Paulo, Rio – Rio, Sao Paulo, New York, London. I was graced with a whole row of empty seats, an inquisitive person (who I scowled at and sneezed on), and a very (extremely) large lady from Buggered Hut, Wisconsin, (I thought she said) who damn near suffocated me during a troubled sleep. I sat determinedly for ten hours pressed against the cabin wall while her fleshy elbows rose and fell like enormous pink metronomes. I didn’t pee the entire time, and I’m sure I went a whole hour without exhaling during lunch, which she ate with gusto accompanied by a gale of crumbs - while I deliberatley picked at my food and to her consternation took a bite out of everything (each of 3 crackers) even though I had no intention of finishing them.

I had hoped to meet someone in Miami, but I couldn’t make myself understood over the noise of the bar I’d managed to find, and my mobile was acting up – but probably just as well because no one wants to spend time with someone who has spent ten smelly hours on a flight and has a lit cigarette in every bodily orifice.

(Is it just me or do aeroplane farts have a particular and nauseating odour? Is it the food or the re circulating air, or perhaps the effect of pressure differentials on passengers intestinal tracts. Whatever it is it’s loathsome, and it’s viral, it starts with a single trouser cough but soon after there is general botty burping and the resulting reek would send a Victorian sewer cleaner out for air).

Lawks, I sound like the grinch don’t I?

Rio is amazing. I knew it would be but I didn’t know in what way, I was just prepared to be none specifically flabbergasted. But I know now: It’s so vibrant, so full of life, there’s a joie de vie that’s almost palpable.

I’d been told to be careful, it could be a dangerous place. To be sure, I’m certain that if I’d walked through certain areas with my camera in one hand and mobile ‘phone in the other I would have been mugged – and just as sure of the same outcome if I’d have walked through some areas in London, or any big city for that matter.

Obviously I was spoiled. I stayed literally twenty five yards from the Copacabana, where everyone played during the day and promenaded or exercised on in the evening. I wasn’t exactly thrown in amongst it. Nevertheless the joy and carpe diem spirit of the people is obvious. I was talking with a young lady in a bar one night and asked her “is it still beautiful to you?”, “what?” she said. “Rio, is it still beautiful?”. She looked nonplussed for a moment and I thought I would have to explain (thank goodness her English was far better than my non-existent Portuguese) that I meant that sometimes people who live in a place can be inured to it’s beauty and she said “of course” as if it were an idiotic question. Of course it was. So we had another Capirinha which is remarkable a combination of life blood and jet fuel, makes it impossible to be unhappy - and absolutely should not be drunk by the pint.

I could have spent the entire time on the beach. But obviously I was there to work, so I found a compromise, a rhythm. The conference I attended was an hours coach trip away (I spent every day glued to the window), starting at noon and finishing at eight in the evening (night drops like a stone at six pm). So every day I dragged my sorry behind out of bed, laundered and fed it, and spent two luxurious hours on the beach before putting on a suit.

It was in excess of 35deg some days, completely devoid of air conditioning and stuffed to the rafters with outrageously beautiful women who’s sole role in life appeared to be to take your business card and make you sweat. (At one point during the week I recalibrated, for two days I had been thinking “she’s beautiful, oh and so is she, oooh and her” until I realised that in order to make any progress at all I would have to discard the simply ‘beautiful” and only spare a glance for the ‘absolutely stunning’ – I think it was after I walked into a concrete pillar).

And it was hot. Fortunately it was quite dry too so there was no sweating, but what with the ambient temperature and the visual stimulus my underwear simply melted one afternoon and slid down my leg into my shoe (and they ask us why we wear dark blue suits?!).

Home now, with two dogs fast asleep and snoring gently on the sofa, it all seems so very far away. Well..of is.

(And as per usual, the blog god will not allow me to publish photo's).

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cap'n Grumpy Guts

please give me the strength to be, at the least, civil.

Two ten hour flights separated by a nine hour stopover in Miami on the way to Rio....not to mention a 4 am start. If the person next to me on either flight introduces themselves cheerily and chatters away - I will bite them, I will.

I am the long haul grinch.

(Still no internet at home so I hope you are all safe and well out there).

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

poo, with a light dusting of sugar

I’ve just arrived home after ten days away in Norway to find out that the my internet connection at home will be kaput until at least the 12th of September (by which time I’ll be off elsewhere). Which is a bit of a bugger.

So no blogging from me then. But I’ll try to say hello in other ways if I can.

Mind you, I’ve plenty to occupy myself what with tidying up all of the mess I left behind, finding out who I owe apologies to and getting to know the two strange, emaciated looking dogs I found in the house...and all.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

oh poo

it's lunchtime, i've just woken up, on the sofa. one of the dogs has been sick on the carpet and i'm wearing charlie like a hat....i wish somebody would come round and shower me, or maybe put me in the washing machine...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

duck soup

My friend Derek owns a house on the beach in Peranporth, Cornwall. You can walk directly from the door, past Cathedral Rock, into the surf. This weekend there were a houseful of guests, they came from all over, a congregation to enjoy some company, a few drinks, a little surfing and some general dolittle. And I fell in love.

I think we all did. With Georgia.

Georgia is a smile, a turned up nose and gentle freckles, a shock of blond hair and a guileless, simple charisma that melts the heart. “Pass me the…” she’d say “Can I have a…”, and we’d feel pleased to be asked. “Pick me up” she said, and I put her down, eventually, three days later. Georgia is four years old.

It’s strange what keys exist, what doors open to unexpected draughts, what negligible force it takes to persuade.

I managed to broker a deal this week, the best deal I’ve ever done, and I’m renowned for waking in the morning surrounded by the slops of the previous night with a signature in my hand.

This one is for me though. I handed in my resignation, a year’s notice - more than enough time for them to find someone to take my place, and plenty of time for me to galvanise myself, or rather us, to travel. To go look, and find out.

(ps Any suggestions on where might be a good place to spend New Year in the States?)

Monday, August 07, 2006

having trouble sleeping? then we'll begin...

Does it ever occur to you to wonder how the future will look back on the USA? In some future history, how will the States be portrayed?

I suppose in many respects that will depend on who is writing the text books.

We (in Britain) have become apologists for our past, for the misdemeanours of our Imperial antecedents, in many respects simply for having the audacity to make the most of the opportunities that were presented by the circumstances of the time: The introduction of banking (thanks to the Dutch entrepreneurs of the East India company) which facilitated the building of a huge fleet of merchant and naval vessels, the industrial revolution, the dreadful domestic conditions which contrived to convince people that they may be better off trying their luck in the "new world".

This did not happen over night. The 'progress' of Britain into the Indies, the Americas the Far East and Australia was made against a back drop of almost continuous war with Spain and France and the politics of the blockade and siege.

What in fact is "Empire"? Are we currently living in the days of the American Empire? If empire is a global sphere of influence dominated by an individual nation, then yes, we are certainly witnessing a stage in the development of the Empire of the USA.

Historically 'Empire' is forged by more than political will or force of arms. It is true that we associate many empire states with charismatic individuals, Genghis Kahn or Alexander the Great, who wielded political might or were the figure heads for religious fervour and associated 'divine' conquering armies. However it is probably fair to say that most of these individuals were the product of their times, who catalysed a ground swell of popular opinion, a swelling feeling of outrage amongst the common citizenry of the time against their poverty or ingenuousness of the current aristocracy. Whether it be by fomenting religious belief or a sense of being chosen by the their plight, such people are easy to manoeuvre into a fighting force.

One overriding precondition for Empire is culture. Culture in as much as it is a belief by a people in whatever principles bind their society together. Their laws, practices, tolerance of religious belief, which lead inevitably to the expression of the people in terms of arts, education and philosophy. Consider if you will the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Moors all of whom were warlike in their own proportion, but all of whom, after making war, made peace. The geographical spread of these Empires encompassed culturally diverse peoples who were not necessarily simply overrun and 'cleansed' of their existing social structure. Within the overriding ethic of the 'invaders' there was an absorption of local knowledge which fed the arts and strengthened rather than weakened the whole. Probably the most visually impactful outward appearance of this is the growing sophistication of architecture associated with the progress of an empire whose territory is expanding to incorporate different cultures. The Moorish temples and strongholds of southern Spain are subtly different to those of North Africa despite the builders probable desire to faithfully emulate the buildings from whence they came.

This is Empire in it's ascendant.

There seems to be a point where a civilisation begins to turn in on itself, where the cultural influences reach their zenith and are replaced by personal financial and political machinations which begin a spiral downwards in to decadence. (Ring any bells?). There is a difference between entrepreneurial guile coupled with an overriding moral sense or principle which funds growth, and the need to amass wealth, power and influence as an object in its own right. This is decline. It is fragmentary and the cause of inward focus that loses the impetus for growth needed by Empire and eventually fundamentally flaws it's ability to defend itself from external threats.

The Romans never successfully returned to the 'blissful' state of Republic. It's not as if they were crucially overstretched, but they had become a decadent society in so much as their politics was centred almost exclusively around the struggle for survival and inheritance of their Caesers. Nero was by no means the first (or maddest or deadliest) or most self destructive of their Emperors. Succession to the throne by a string of self absorbed rulers had dire consequences for all of those who had formed each previous government. There was generally a cull of the unlucky administrators who had been loyal to the previous Emperor (governors of vassal states, chancellors, ambassadors and generals) to the extent that the Romans eventually effectively decapitated their own administration. (Do we learn? It seems not. There are plenty of comparisons in recent history, although possibly not on the same scale, but Pol Pot and Idi Amin certainly spring to mind).

When the Mayflower arrived in America it did not bring the first settlers from the UK. A settlement had already been established in Virginia. In Virginia the chances of surviving (quite apart from the difficulties of making the voyage) the first year were pretty much 50:50. Departing to America was not for the faint hearted, and indeed the Mayflower was not simply crowded with religious refugees seeking a place to enjoy freedom from persecution. There were more 'adventurers' than Pilgrim Fathers, more people that thought that they stood a better chance of scraping out a living from an unknown soil than the fields from which they had been dislodged in Britain. The population of America grew in no small part because of fish. Thousands of barrels of salt fish were exported from the early British settlements. Make no bones about it, these people came to survive and hoped to prosper, not simply to die whilst maintaining their beliefs.

Puritanism and profit were institutionalised by the Massachusetts Bay Company, and they also discovered the importance of a third ‘p’, procreation. Unlike Virginia the population of Massachusetts swelled rapidly to nearly twenty thousand in the first 15 years of occupation. And they could hardly deny the existence of an indigenous population of American Indians.

(Did you ever wonder why “Indian”. It’s very simply that the British came to India before America, so anyone of a coloured background who couldn’t provide an understandable term for their race became an “Indian”).

The native population was tolerated, but once the numbers of settlers swelled and new land was required, well the story is well told no doubt. But of probably 5 million original inhabitants in 1500 by the 1800's there were less than 250,000, ravaged as much by disease, diphtheria, smallpox, influenza as clashes with their new hosts.

The great paradox of the first ‘civil’ war (there was of course no America at that time), was that by then the New Englanders who fomented it were amongst the wealthiest in the British Empire. In 1763 the average Briton paid 26 shillings in taxes, whilst the average New Englander paid just 1 shilling.

So why a revolution? It must have been at the very heart of the “American’s” conception of themselves, a struggle to break free from an evil empire? A creation myth perhaps?

And what relevance does this have? It is simply the formation of a state, of a nation. Not all nations that have aspired to Empire have made particularly noble beginnings. China has enjoyed thousands of years of cohesive civilisation, prior to which the land mass that we call China was inhabited by a myriad feudal and constantly warring kings and nomadic tribes. The American civil war had a similar effect to the 'combining wars' of the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, bringing together not just two disparate beliefs and geographical areas into one cohesive state, but probably more like at least four (independent California and Alaska would probably have thrived if the larger USA had not been formed).

It is not until after the 1st great war that the United States of America could properly be called a “superpower”. Following the 2nd world war, the fall of the former Soviet Union this status had been confirmed. The USA fulfils almost every criteria to fill the vacancy for Empire: A dominant nation state with immense influence on the peoples of other nations around the world. Protective of its own borders whilst (rather than using “tax” as the instrument of it’s power and wealth) securing preferential access to commodities and necessary raw materials combined with prohibitive trade juristiction. The USA is the cornerstone of the global economy, at present the US$ is not founded on the country’s actual industrial production or balance in trade, it is an arbitrary value, a license to print money, conceded as a right by other countries to a dominant force. This will change, and the change will be breathtakingly rapid for those who live in that era.

So what of cultural exports? There is no doubt that the USA has had a cultural influence on the rest of the world. Without being frivolous there exists a global determinator of wealth which measures how long an individual has to work in any particular society in order to afford a “Big Mac”. It is not America’s fault that it rose to its power in an era of astounding scientific progress hastened by two world wars. That America has presided over the race for space, witnessed and driven the development of engineering and electronic marvels, and turned so much of the technology to the most altruistic avenues of science is to its credit.

This is also the era of communication. We are all so well informed so abruptly that criticism is inherent in our current society in a way that it was not even 100 years ago. (In the 1700’s it took 4 to 5 months to send a message from London to an ambassador or general in Hong Kong). War is become a spectator sport, politics are short term and fragmentary. We have always voted with our feet, whatever policies within a manifesto suit us we will choose. But within that process everything, EVERYTHING is become immediate, because we choose government that can not fulfil its promises to its citizens without a tendency towards Imperialism. There is absolutely no way that the USA can continue to remain a financial giant without interfering in global politics.

Perhaps that’s the difference, the pendulum is shorter, perhaps rise and fall are now just decades apart?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

the river

the sun has set behind the wooded escarpment beyond the black glass of this wide sweep of river. The trees along the ridge are silhouetted against a red mackerel sky as if in the embers of a great fire. It is a memory of the midday sun that crackled amongst the branches leeching sap from their cracked, desiccated skin earlier in the day. Now they stand solemnly with arms uplifted refreshing themselves in the cool, moist evening air. And the river winds its way around the foot of the hill in slow whirling eddies, like mercury, without a gurgle or apparent ripple.

The sky is changing quickly. While the filigree of fish bone clouds ride high in the pale blue and rose sunset - towards the East the sky is blackened, and great boulders of purple and flint are building thunderheads roiling up and out like billowing smoke in the rafters of a vast vaulted cathedral nave.

The willow rustles in the cooling breeze. The leaves of Rhododendrons and Azaleas dance an arrhythmic jig to nature's metronome, the first pitter patter of rain drops that presage the coming storm. A moor hen clatters across the leaden flow of the river into the shelter of the reeds. On the other bank, what human activity had begun to be observed by back lit windows is now obscured as shutters close to keep the warm light in - and the unruly elements out.

Somewhere in the distance the storm has already begun, a dry rumble of thunder rolls faintly over the hill like shifting barrels in a farflung cellar.

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All this time I've sat in the garden, the grotto of a bistro, under a red slated veranda peering out through the vines and bourgenvilla and the swelling scent of honeysuckle. I'm freshly laundered, dusted down and showered after a day of chateau spotting down country lanes and occasionally across fields of cattle on a creaky rented bicycle. I'm tired, pleasantly achy and still tingling from the scorching sun, but now I have an aperitif. A glass of achingly dry sauvignon sweating icy tears and I'm comfortable and happy with my wine and utterly enchanted by the changing flavour of this countryside.

Rather incongruously, since I am the only person here except for the lady serving at the bar, two men in short leather jerkins and ruffled white shirts have begun to play guitars and sing melancholy songs in strong nasal inflections. I have some French but the local patina has made it so difficult to understand, for me, that I can barely order a simple dinner and their song is lost on me except for the occasional word or phrase. I think it’s a love song, but I’m not sure, it may be about the loss of a favourite goat. Perhaps they’re the same thing.

This is the valley of the river Loire. Winding its way West and South below Paris towards the coast the Loire is an area of lush green, full of arable land, farms and villages. Thunderstorms are common here in the summer. The afternoon sun is intense and the wide green basin cups and holds the heat in a breathless cauldron. Any sea-born cooler breeze is driven up quickly to condense and form the frisson of electricity at the heart of a breaking storm.

There are great towns, Tours, Chartres, built around cathedrals visible for miles across a thousand acres of corn and sunflowers, but the real Loire is found along it’s tributaries where the Noblesse of France, the nobility, built there chateaux. They are excruciatingly beautiful, like Cinderella’s castles, set high on hills, or obscurely behind thick walls along gravel drives amongst the shelter of dense woodland.

Always though, like most things human, we are drawn to edges, to the boundaries of the physical landscape, and the chateaux are drawn to water – to the banks of the Loire.

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I’ve been drawn to Saumur, to one the grandest, most ostentatious chateau of them all. It stands above all else dominating every aspect of the surrounding town, where the Loire is bridged, twice, courtesy of a narrow island separating its flow in two.
That is where I sit now, on the island, in a small restaurant in a grove of apple trees found by descending a set of narrow railed stairs on the stanchion of the central section of the old stone bridge. Apparently I can get home later by a quicker route as some others will be rowing a boat a little upstream towards where I am parked for the night. The conversation completely exhausted my French and I left happily with my glass and a last “merci” to sit outside and watch the storm.

The beauty of it is they do not think I’m odd to want to sit outside and watch the elemental fury unfold. I’m joined by others, some who stay and eat as I do and some who came out for a brief glimpse as dragons fight for possession of the sky above, as the heavens boil and transform the picturesque beauty of the chateau across the river into flickering still shots of Dracula’s castle.

It is mesmeric.

I exchange knowing looks and nods with people at neighbouring tables. Sometimes after particularly violent coruscations, when the lightening shrieks through the sky with an audible dry crackle immediately followed by a stunning, shocking boom we, who’s hands had shivered a moment ago, raise our glasses in a toast – out of respect for the gods of thunder and our grandstand seat and our acceptance, conscious or unconscious, of their implacable power.

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Later that night two men pole the boat to the far bank. I sit in the rear, (holding a bottle of the excellent sauvignon with the cork removed and replaced for my night cap), with my other hand drifting in the water. There are two couples returning home and the jongleurs, who are not singing anymore, all watching the stars as they reappear from behind the scudding remnants of the storm.

We scramble up the gravel of the shore and say our “au revoirs” and thank you’s to the boat men who fade slowly, back across the river, into the shadows of the island.

I will sit on the shore for a little while I think and just enjoy it for a moment longer.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

sorry, I've been lazy

or rather laissez, laissez faire...

doing this


it was just good to breathe, really breathe,

tell you later

Thursday, July 20, 2006

on the laying of ghosts, part the whatever...

may I say....

I'm dismayed to know that there's anyone who may think that there is any greater ethic, higher principle or better 'me' hiding inside some fabrication that I choose to show the world....

....there's no riddle to me at all, nothing deeper than whatever it is you see - it's not a wall I hide behind, it's simply that there is nothing else. This is the best I can do.

Do you think I live alone because I choose to? Because no one has ever found the key to unravel the mystery of me? Really? Utter rubbish. Tosh. Quite the opposite. Whoever may have been in my life that I have thought might be my heart’s desire has discovered what I already know.... that there really is nothing of any import to find out. It must be a disappointment, but not something that I couldn’t predict.

If you look at me and it seems that you cannot tell what I am thinking, there's nothing enigmatic going on, it is most likely because...I am not thinking.

I'm happy like that.

I get by on it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

if you go down to the woods today...

"Hello", he said and stood up from the long grass in the shade of an ancient sycamore.

"I've been sitting here for's nice and cool".

Shoulder length grey hair fell in matted tresses from under a stained, wide brimmed canvas hat. Some of it caught in greasy wisps against stubbly cheeks and chin. Rheumy eyes looked not at me, but into the distance, from under restless white thicketed brows. He was tall and spare. His head sat on stooping shoulders and was made of mottled leather as were the hands that signed incoherently as he walked and talked. He was not a thing of beauty or suppleness, in motion his arms and legs appeared unconnected, forced under duress to comply, a gargoyle detached from a high church parapet and given awkward articulation to walk among the living.

"You shouldn't sit on the grass" he said, "you get worms, they get up your bottom" and added almost wistfully "it happened to me once"

He came forwards in short rushing uneven paces, jerkily, a marionette controlled by an inept puppeteer.

"Or rocks, because then you'll get piles"

It was a hot day, a sultry afternoon with not a breath of air. Toffee had been chasing crows and lay temporarily exhausted and panting forty yards away while Charlie stood by me, to attention, watching this awkward apparition approach.

As he came out from under the shade of the tree it became clear that what I had mistaken for a dappling of light and shade on his shirt and baggy trousers were in fact a multitude of stains. Within three yards of us now, I glanced down at the assortment of wild barley and burrs that had attached themselves to his shins and saw that he had made his own sandals out of canvas shoes, and that his feet were scaly, bruised and decorated with toes too long in the nail.

Still he came forward, stumbling finally to a halt, too close.

"Is this your dog? I like dogs. I like tv too". Close enough to see a rime of spit at the corners of his mouth. "I like wild life programmes".

"I know a lot". His arms fluttered before him as if inhabited by moths. But instead they were apparently inhabited by cumin seeds sewn randomly and shallow beneath the skin of his exposed forearms.

"You think everything is trying to kill and eat everything else in Africa?" He looked up and seemed to see me for the first time. His eyes rolled and he blinked and looked at Charlie, and then back up to me, and behind a milky film I saw his eyes refocus. "No!" he proclaimed, "not so". "There's a truce, down by the water hole. There’s a no mans land where everything is safe, so they can drink you see", and he looked at me, asking me to see.

"The lions and the cheetahs, even the wild dogs, they all know, they know that the deer have to drink or they'll die". He hesitated, "and those big wapapotamuses" they're lazy, they just lie there".

He leaned in.

He leaned in and bled a whiff of old sofa into our shared space...old sofa, burnt umber and an ill kempt fridge.

"But not the crocodiles, they’re sneaky they are", he confided. His chapped lips pursed as he breathed in, a susurration of air through dry leaves. "Bastards".

"They're sneaky bastards". "I don't like them at all".

I'd shuffled back, a foot or two, but he leaned in to occupy the space.

Over my shoulder once again he asked "Or are they alligators? I never know". The milky veil descended over his eyes as he rummaged in his attic for the answer.

"It doesn't matter, it's the same thing anyway" he said a moment later. And slowly he stooped, bending at the knee, descending in front of me to hold out a horny hand towards Charlie. "But I like dogs". "They like me too, don't you girl", as he stretched his fingers towards Charlie's shoulder.

Charlie grumbled his dissent, and twitched backwards on stiff legs.

"Feisty one" said this animated bundle of firewood in clothes, unfolding even more slowly towards an upright attitude,

"That's good, feisty is good".

"Feisty makes the world go around. Princess Margaret was feisty. I liked her a lot. She was a good looking woman, not like the Queen, and she had bigger tits". All delivered in revelatory staccato. "I met her once. She came to the home. Well, not really met her, but I saw her".

"We had angel cakes that day"

Simultaneously I took a step back and looked over my shoulder towards Toffee, still lying stricken in the grass. I tried to whistle but my lips were dry, so shouted instead. "Toffee! Toff, Toff!!"

"We should go", I said, "they're getting restless".

He glanced and saw me, but heard not a word that I said.

"Everything needs everything else. There are little fish that feed whales, and little fish that stick to sharks and eat the bugs, and little fish that penguins like, and then killer sharks eat the penguins. If we didn't have any silly little fish then we wouldn’t have great big ones like know?"

I nodded sagely.

"To'off!!" and then a little too shrilly "Toff!!". "We really must be going", I almost pleaded, "we don't have long and the boys really look forward to their walk".

"It's the same on land too". "Never kill a spider, they eat flies". "I don't know what ants do for us, but you can bet it's important, they fit in somewhere - never kill an ant!"

"I won't" I agreed "Toff, Toff!!" urgently now.

"Excuse me" I said and shuffled sideways and began to walk. "C'mon Charlie".

Charlie came and so did he, shuffling along beside me with an exaggerated gait. "I came on the bus you know" he said, "all the way from Islington".

"They let me on the bus for free" and I didn't doubt it.

I was striding now, and slowly he began to fall behind. I wet my lips and whistled and Toffee stumbled wearily to his feet, shook his head and suddenly, as is his wont, bolted for the bushes at the far end of the field and crashed into their midst without breaking his stride.

Sweating slightly I slowed down and, in my stride, nudged Charlie conspiratorially with my foot.

Business as usual, walking, weeing, snuffling and walking some more.

Except for a distant voice behind us which shouted one last time "Lovely tits!"

Monday, July 10, 2006

Thursday, June 22, 2006

goodbye and thanks for all the fish....

Tell me if this makes sense:

I was sitting doing my thing in the office today when my gimp said, apropos of nothing, “you don’t like me do you?”

I’m used to being subjected to him giving voice to obtuse, random corners of his mind so I wasn’t particularly perturbed…I’m pretty sure he knows full well that I detest him. (Although on reflection he seems to think that everyone else thinks he's a hoot).

It was just too good an opportunity. Honesty is the best policy? So I told him. I told him that no, I don’t like him, that in fact he makes my skin crawl, that he represents almost every human quality that I despise; ugliness of spirit, crassness, sexism, racism, complete self indulgent absorption, the attention span of a may fly…in fact I went so far as to suggest that I it thought it may well be down to him being at a different stage in evolution to the rest of us. Either lagging well behind, chimp like, or well in advance – perhaps he’s superseded us and was now the next stage of humanity, the corporate twat.

Actually I ignored him. I couldn’t bare to look at him.


It’s symptomatic of the way I’m feeling at the moment. I hate this. If you’ve met me or read this it will probably have become apparent to you that I don’t have an anchor. My sole responsibility is to the dogs. In every other respect I do whatever I please within the limitations of my income.

My job sounds wonderful if you describe it, simply put it involves a huge amount of travel and getting drunk with people when I get there. I’m the corporate good time, and they pay me to do it.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Stop whining boy? (Except that it spills over into my life, I can’t help it, my cup literally runneth over).

I can’t complain about the salary either, the partners look after me very well. But I don’t think I’m ever going to be rich, filthy stinking rich, rich with a big house in the country to retire. I’ve had my own business fail on me in the past which landed me in (HUGE) debt, and I’ve made lifestyle choices, most of which included spend it now – tomorrow is another day.

So I was considering retiring now.

Why not?

Ugliness hurts me, it’s an almost physical hurt and there’s so much of it in the city. I feel like my soul is being slowly but surely eroded. There’s so much anger here, and spite, so much needless thoughtlessness and intolerance it’s almost palpable, there’s a miasma of crippled, abused emotion in the air.

So I’m beginning to think quite seriously about cashing in my chips. Pooling every penny I posses and then slipping out of the door one morning with the few possessions I really need and the dogs of course and leaving. We’d go to France first and Spain, and….well, there’s no rush, we’ve all the time in the world.

I’m not sure what I can do to earn a crust, I doubt whether I can get part time jobs as the local lush - but if we are happy we can survive on crumbs, so long as there’s petrol when we need it…and wine, of course!

Take a look at my Bongo, (it's the Mazda Bongo, the third one down) I’m going to buy it on Saturday.

Monday, June 19, 2006

the magic caravan (the end...thank goodness)

Well the the rough draft at least, it still has to be edited by my mate Pam...

They ate breakfast together in a cool, stone floored kitchen. Great sizzling slabs of bacon, fried eggs and buttered toast accompanied by steaming hot cups of tea. Stanley cooked himself seconds but the boys were stuffed.

While they sat and Stanley busied himself at the ancient stove in the corner they chattered about what to do, where to go, the obvious stumbling point being that they had no idea within 50 miles of where they actually were at present. Stanley sat down around the table with them bringing a great pile of fresh toast and the tea pot, and joined in. "See now" he said, while liberally buttering a round of toast. They watched, fascinated as he bit off the corners and began to trim down the sides unevenly with his teeth, not entirely sure of what it was they were supposed to 'see'. When Stanley was happy with his molar machinations he held up the remainder of the toast, and with butter running down his fingers, declared "that's Devon that is" pointing at his masticated marvel. "Yoir 'ere", he pointed vaguely to some point in the centre, "Cornwall's thataway, Barnstaple's up 'ere on the coast, and Dartmoor's over in that direction. That be a nice drive", he said contemplatively, "but you don't want to be gettin' lost up there". And promptly popped the entire county into his mouth.

"Or else", he said over his shoulder, as he stood to clear the dishes, "you moight want to stay 'ere for a day or two".

Breakfast was free gratis, there was something so simply friendly in the gesture and the manner that it was offered that brooked any suggestion of offering payment. They washed the dishes together and tidied away the plates and then retreated into the bar. They lit cigarettes and Stanley found a pipe and packed it. "What would we do?" asked Derek.

"Well, here's a thing, do you fish?"

""Not much" said Colin, "but where".

"There's fish in pond" said Stanley, "and I've got rods you can borrow"

"Sounds good to me", offered Derek glancing out of the window onto what was becoming a beautiful day, "a lazy day".

And Stanley sealed the deal with the offer of a packed lunch.

They pottered around, Derek and Colin collected the few glasses from the previous evening and cleared the fire while Stanley made for the kitchen. He came back with a brown paper bag containing doorstop cheese and onion sandwiches and a stone demijohn which he filled to the brim with cider. The fishing rods, although so far unnoticed, had been obvious all along, pushed over the low beams of the bar. He brought them down and shook one gently dislodging cobwebs and dust, it was all set up ready to go with a float and hook held on to the spool of the reel.

"There's only two" said Colin

"That's roit" said Stanley, "Oi aint got time to be arsin' around fishin' av Oi?". "Oi've a business to run, now bugger off and enjoy yornselves!"

And so they did.

They sat on their sleeping bags on the gravel down by the pond and idly whiled away the morning. The little floats on their lines never so much as bobbed nor twitched, not a sign of biting fish. They neither knew nor cared what they were fishing for and only vaguely hoped that whatever it was that it liked cheese. The first few attempts at casting in had been a failure as the bread that they had originally used to bait the hooks had fallen off in transit, but when they experimented with little lumps of cheese from the sandwiches it stayed put and landed with a soft plop to sink below the sparkling surface.

The morning was warm and hazy, the caravan - now a dusty grey - sat amongst it's own meadow of tall grass where butterflies flitted amongst wild poppies and fennel and the only sound was the soft drone of the occasional bee. The stone flagon was soon opened on the premise that the pub was only a few minutes away if they should run out and the temptation, which they succumbed to, was to simply lean back and doze. Derek sat up to take a swig and peered out across the pond. He saw the rusty truck roof and it's three snow white occupants lazily sunning themselves, and a thought occurred to him: If he were a fish, then the submerged nooks and crannies of the truck would be a fine place to be. Momentarily enthused by his own genius he reeled in his line, replaced the cheese with a fresh lump and stood to cast out.
He took aim and watched the cheesy morsel on the hook arc through the air, it looked to be a good shot and he waited for the plop, but there was none. Instead the line landed on the roof of the van and stayed there held briefly but calamitously by the insubstantial float. Just long enough in fact for the nearest of the ducks to take an interest, reach out its neck and gobble up the cheese.

"Bollocks" he muttered. Not initially registering the extent of the problem.

He gave the line the slightest of tugs and was vaguely alarmed to see the ducks head move fractionally towards him. He pulled a little harder and the duck, eyes open now, extended its neck in his direction.

He gave Colin a dig in the ribs with his foot, "washamara?"

"Erm, we may have a problem"

Colin sat up, "why are you pointing at that duck with your rod?"

"I'm not pointing you tosser, we're attached"

"Ah" grinned Colin "then yes, I'd say you do have a problem".

At around this point the duck stretched it's wings and uncurled onto it's feet. It had so far been gazing at them without appearing to be overly concerned, but as it began to move so its head began to swivel against the tension of the line. It decided to pull back. Derek was still talking to Colin and hesitated momentarily before compensating for the sudden movement by his feathered adversary in this little tug of war. They looked over and saw the duck, clearly distressed now, decide that enough was quite definitely enough. With a flap and an ungainly waddle it made for the water. Unfortunately it made for the water in the wrong direction. Its dash and Derek's slow reactions flipped it up over and onto its back, where it flapped around like a wild thing, quacking up a thunder, spilling white feathers into the air and the other two ducks into the pond. Somehow it found its feet and, making the connection between the boys on the shore and it's own discomfort, tried once again to exit in the opposite direction - with similar results.

They both looked on, mouths open, at the commotion on the tin roof until at last Colin said "drop the rod, drop the bloody rod".

But Derek didn't think that was a good idea, an instinct told him that the rod would float and that the poor fouled foul would only drag it around the lake. "No!" he said without explaining.

"Well cut the line"

"No we have to get the hook out!"

"Oh yes right, of course, and the cheese? - do you want the fucking cheese back too?"

"We can't let it run around with 20 yards of frigging fishing line hanging out of it?!!"

And after a long pause, Colin agreed, "Guess not" he said, "unless you fancy a unusual kite".

They quickly came up with a rudimentary plan while the duck's thrashings ebbed and flowed atop the van. The route to the right around the pond offered the shortest distance from van to the bank, so Derek started to let out some line. For a moment the commotion ceased as the duck, given scope to manoeuvre, slipped over the side only to start a cacophony of quacking complaint as soon as it hit the water and its progress was again impeded. They both set off down the bank, Derek slowly but surely retrieving the line and towing the struggling duck ashore.

It took an age. They got it to within a yard of the bank where, on inspection, a ragged hole in its beak and the offending hook were clearly visible. Fearing to cause further damage Derek simply held it there while Colin edged towards it in the shallow water. It eyed him warily and scooted from side to side, he put his hand around the line and inched towards the beleaguered bird and wrapped one hand around it's neck.

The duck must have thought that this was the final stroke in some devilish plan to end its life. It thrashed his arm and face with it's wings making an awful din, it's neck was surprisingly slender under the thick white feathers. Colin was sure it must surely do itself a damage when suddenly Derek appeared by their side and held down first one and then the other of its wings, still keeping a firm hold of the rod. Colin quickly wrapped his free arm over Derek’s hands until the duck was held in the crook of his elbow, its neck still held in his hand.

Together they retreated up the bank.

"There, that wasn't so bad was it" said Colin to the duck.

The duck stared back at him balefully as if to say, "No? Well you fucking try it then".

"Hold it up” said Derek, and Colin did.

Derek approached slowly, not knowing if the mangled mandible caused the duck any physical pain or not, but not wishing to alarm it further. He got within inches, and reached to swap his hand for Colin's around the creature’s neck. In the instant that Colin released his grip the duck's neck sprang forward and it attached itself to Derek's face, biting his top lip fiercely with its beak.

"Trust you to catch a homosexual duck" said Colin.

"not phuffin phunny" phaid Derek.

Derek slowly reached up, wrapped his fingers around the back of the ducks head and gave it an experimental tug. It stayed fast, and brought tears to his eyes. What's more there was the unmistakable bitter taste of blood in his mouth.

Colin lowered his head and peered at them both. The duck appeared to have Derek in a death grip, there was a steady drip of blood down his chin and a very determined look in his feathered friend's eye. He motioned upwards with his hand and lifted the duck to accommodate Derek as he slowly rose form a crouching positions.

"I think it's a stand off" said Colin

"puff" said Derek

"Twat" offered Colin

"nooo puff" said Derek and pointed behind him in the general direction of the pub.

It took a considerable time and much discomfort, (for Derek), to negotiate their way to the pub. Each slip or misplaced step, and anything that the duck mistook for a further threat on its wellbeing, was accompanied by a muffled complaint from Derek.

When Sydney emerged to Colin's shouted, "Syd....Syd!!" he was greeted by a very strange sight indeed. There in the front door was a boy, holding a duck, holding another boy holding a fishing rod, by the top lip.

"Don't want none o you circus types 'ere" he said, stifling a laugh.

"Just help me get this frigging thing off his face"

Stanley came for a closer look. He saw the jagged hole and the hook still connected to the line and immediately understood what had happened, though not exactly how the duck had become connected to Derek's face.

"Oi thought you were going to fish", he said, "not duck, that's a different sport altogether". And then added. "Don't look too happy do 'e"?

"He's had a bit of a rough day" said Colin

Stanley thought for a moment and then with an "Oi'll be back in a tick" went off to the kitchen. He came back a few moments later with scissors and a teaspoon and knelt on the floor to examine the full extent of the predicament. He was not overly concerned with a steady but slow drip of blood from Derek's chin, he was in no imminent danger of bleeding to death. Slowly he reached out and circled the line in thumb and forefinger a yard from the protagonists faces. They both followed his movements with a wary eye to see what he had in mind. He brought this hand up towards them, slowly, ever so slowly and nipped the line twixt finger and thumb six inches from their faces. The scissors, in his other hand appeared stage right, moving again very slowly, so as not to startle, where they opened fractionally and then closed on the line with a soundless snip. Stanley put the scissors down and held the rod and nodded at Derek who released it so that he could put it gently on the floor.

The feathered fiend evidently thought that the scissors had been wielded with a more sinister purpose and crapped over Colin's elbow onto the floor.

So far so good. With the steady solemn hand of a surgeon Stanley retrieved the spoon from his breast pocket. Holding it by the handle he offered it inch by inch towards the beasts beak where a slight gap, the width of Derek's flattened lip, was evident between the upper and lower bill. Ever so gently he tried to introduce the spoon into the gap but the duck, sensing a threat to the quid pro quo, immediately clamped down harder on it's hostage. Derek let out a startled groan and the drip of blood increased to a small steady flow.

Stanley retreated and stood up, scratching his head he muttered "Well Oi don't know, Oim flummoxed".

Just at that moment a child's voice from the vicinity of the doorway chimed in, "Stick a pencil up it's arse!".

Those who could, being Colin and Stanley, turned to look. A tiny befreckled urchin with a flop of blond hair stood all of four feet tall in the doorway. The ragamuffin wore baggy short trousers, a threadbare t-shirt and incongruous oversize carpet slippers. He was grinning from ear to ear obviously enjoying the show and repeated his advice again, "a pencil, up the arse".

"The duck's arse?" asked Colin solemnly.

"'Course" said the child equally seriously, "don't be darft".

So far Derek had been unable to declare his feelings about the antics of the past hour, due in no small part to having a large aquatic bird attached to his lip. It hurt, it hurt like hell. After an initial numbness every small movement hurt and bar having the bird instantly and painlessly removed, Derek's next requirement for a relatively happy existence was for everyone to be quite, quite still. He would happily feed through a straw until the duck slept or even passed away. It is a common syndrome for captives to build up a rapport with their captors over time, an empathy based on shared perspective. He had become certain that his lip was being held hostage by the duck, it being convinced that some mortal blow would befall it the moment it let go. And so they were balanced, precariously. The child's suggestion of introducing something into the duck's bottom filled Derek with horror. He had stared long into that beady black eye, he had learned to admire the stubborn will of his assailant and knew full well that an anally offended adversary would exact a terrible toll on his lip.

To make his point understood by the group Derek very careful raised his right arm and extended the index and middle fingers.

"Shame" conceded Stanley, "it sounded loik a good idea to me".

"Anywise Tom, where's yorn pa?"

"Oim ere" said a bigger version of the child.

"Get moi bloody slippers home you little sod", and cuffed his son around the head raising a puff of dust.

"Aw da', oi want to watch" said the boy, and retreated behind his father and stuck his head out from behind the jamb of the door.

"Looks loik yor in a roit pickle"

And before anyone could explain, or indeed utter a word, the Wurzel Gummage figure produced a (well used) handkerchief from his shirt pocket and dropped it over the ducks head.

Deprived of it's view, and consequently of any impression of immediate danger, the duck lessened and quickly relinquished it's grip. Derek who had been unconsciously pulling away, stumbled back, tripped and sat back on the floor. Now unimpeded, blood welled up in his lip, covering his teeth and ran off his chin in a steady stream giving him the appearance of a startled but well fed vampire.

Stanley worked quickly. He put his hands under the handkerchief and with a deft flick retrieved the hook outwards so that the barb did no further damage, "take he round the back and let the poor little blighter go" he said to Colin, who did.


Later they sat around the fire chortling over mugs of cider. Closer inspection had shown the cut on Derek's lip to be deep but only a quarter of an inch long and had stopped bleeding almost immediately when, much to Derek's dismay, Stanley had dabbed it with iodine. Drinking cider was fine, but he had to be careful when he laughed. They amused themselves conjecturing on Natty's demise and decided that he had stopped to tie his shoe lace, or dropped his lighter, but he'd obviously stooped too low, too close to the pond and been dragged by the nose to a watery grave by the duckfiend.

By common consent they retrieved their sleeping bags and spent the night on the bench seats in the bar. They left the next day, with a packed lunch, waving from the car to Stanley who stood smiling, hands on hips, in the doorway of the "Sign's in Cellar".

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

the magic caravan part iii

Look, I'm sorry. I know this is dragging on a bit, it's boring me too, but it's a true story and I've started so I'll have to finish. Just one more bit after this and you'll see the point, I promise. Incidentally, blogger has decided I can't add pictures so no light relief there either:

They looked at the caravan, and then at Stanley.

Stanley had a very simple way of avoiding any further discussion in the matter, he excused himself with a hearty “Good night” and crunched off, chuckling, the way they had come.

They watched him retreat along the edge of the pond and turn up the bank towards the orchard where his torch flicked into life momentarily illuminating the old apple tree which stood like a sentinel at its border.

Derek dropped the sleeping bags to the ground and sat on one of them looking forlornly out over the pond.

“Does it look like rain to you?”

“No, it looks like a pond” replied Colin.

“Nobody likes a smart arse…..I was thinking we’d be better off sleeping outside”

“Oh yeah, that would be lovely, we could build a little camp fire and keep watch in case the rotting corpse of Natty makes a reappearance, covered in pond weed and duck shit” suggested Colin morosely.

“Chuck us a can” ordered Derek and Colin duly obliged.

The unmistakable sound of click splffft twice in quick succession was followed by glugging noises, loud, theatrical burping and then the sound of two further cans being opened.

“I mean how the hell can you drown in twelve inches of water?” asked Colin.

“You can drown in an inch of water if you try really hard….or maybe he was eleven inches tall”

“Maybe it’s locked?” suggested Colin helpfully.

“’Course it is” mocked Derek, “I imagine it’s chock a block with valuable mole skins” and then “fuck it, I’m going for a look”, forcing himself to his feet a little unsteadily.

He stumbled up the slight rise towards the caravan. The moon behind him , although bright, cast no shadow of his on the dull surface of the caravan but it did illuminate the mist that sat on the high of the bank, caught by some lip, which eddied and pooled around his feet.

Derek didn’t hesitate but walked directly up to the side of the van and then, puzzled, stood for a moment looking for the door. It wasn’t obvious. The entire caravan seemed to be made from dull, dark rust and when he reached out a hand and brushed the surface in front of him it felt rough, like emery paper. He traced a finger to the side and felt an indent in the surface and followed it up and then, refocusing, the door was suddenly obvious. The handle was a flap like affair set into the surface and he curled two fingers into it and pulled. The caravan seemed to rock slightly towards him and then, with a small screech and what felt like the suction you would normally associate with the door of a refrigerator, the door opened towards him spilling forth a miasma of mothballs and sickly sweet mildew into the fresh night air.

Colin observed the whole performance from the safety of ten yards. From where he watched Derek seemed to have been coaxing the door open, as he traced his finger across and then upwards, almost magically, perhaps whispering some ancient druid spell of entry. As the door opened there was a soft “plop” in the water behind him and he raced up the hill in a jangle of beer cans to join his friend.

“It’s a bit whiffy” said Derek as Colin nearly bumped into him.

“It’s a bit dark”

“mmmm, cosy”, said Derek making the most of Colin’s obvious discomfort.

“Let’s go back to the car” which was half plea, half serious suggestion.

“You can if you like, but I don’t really fancy finding my way through those bloody apple trees without a light……”

“Smarmy twat” was all Colin could muster.

And so they retrieved the sleeping bags and stepped tentatively up into the tiny tin toadstool, Derek first of course.

It was a single room. Derek stood in the doorway and as he moved to the left to allow Colin room to join him the caravan rocked alarmingly under his weight. The wheels and axle which had been hidden by the mist obviously ran directly through the middle of the little caravan, through the centre line of the doorway.

“Pissed again” said Colin and entered to the right, whereupon the caravan corrected itself and swayed in the opposite direction. Derek walked to Colin, and it dipped further to the right, and then they both moved quickly across the centre line and the floor lurched dramatically downwards in that direction.

“Wicked” said Derek, “we’re going to spend the night in a tiny theme park”.

“Welcome to Nattyland?”, suggested Colin, “enjoy the ride. Keep you hands inside the carriage at all times and don’t go near the water”.

The caravan was a single room. Small windows to the front and rear (although there was no way to determine which was which) afforded just enough light to distinguish a sloping roof but gave no clue to the ‘d├ęcor’. The single most overpowering and obvious quality was the overriding stink of mothballs coupled with the syrupy sweet undercurrent that Derek had encountered earlier, and which now on reflection made him think of apples, overripe rotting apples.

The floor was smooth, carpetless and hard, and other than themselves and their few possessions was completely devoid of any feature or object. Derek opened the bag containing his sleeping bag and, holding the hood, swept it out across the floor soliciting a small puff of moonlit dust and a gentle rocking. Colin did the same in the other direction, with similar results. They sat together and flipped off their shoes, and wriggled into their respective nylon cocoons accompanied by the nauseating rock and roll of the van.

“Excrement” muttered Derek, “I need a wee”, and went through the process in reverse.

“Chuck us a fag” said Colin, “and a beer”.

Derek stood, silhouetted in the doorway, directing a silver stream of urine into the night. He fumbled in his back pocket and tossed the cigarettes over his shoulder in Colin’s general direction, where they hit him square in the forehead and skittered off into the gloom. Colin followed them, squirming grub like across the floor and sat enfolded in his bag to light one. The flame from the lighter briefly revealed what appeared to be dun, dirty brown flock wallpaper in a strange asymmetric design, but nothing of any real interest.

Eventually they slept, dreaming dreams of ocean swells and sailing boats, of hammocks and summer breezes as the slightest movement or readjustment caused their dark bower to gently dance.

“Thish ishn’t my tongue”, said a voice next to Derek, “it doeshn’t fit”

Derek reached over and felt around and sure enough found the face belonging to the complaint. He grabbed the top lip and pulled it towards the nose, soliciting an “Oww!!” and then his hand toddled off to the left in a wide arc encountering two full beer cans in their plastic lattice by his side. Deftly, for a man who has just awoken, he single handedly separated them, sat one on its base and pulled back the ring on the top. He opened his mouth and simply poured, soaking his face and the hood of the sleeping bag, but managing to get a reasonable amount in his mouth too.

He repeated the exercise with his arm reaching awkwardly behind his head and was gratified to hear a startled grunt which quickly subsided into gentle gargling.

“’sprin” said the voice this time. “aspirin”.

“Pocket” muttered Derek, and after a short pause the figure behind him began to bum crawl towards the door.

“Arse pocket in my jeans” said Derek, “I’m wearing them”. He felt around lifting his backside off the ground and located the packet in his back pocket, so far he’d only used one arm and he used it to propel the painkillers at the prostrate shape in the doorway.

It was morning outside. The light that scythed in through the crack in the doorway was bright and golden in contrast to the bleary green dimness that occupied the rest of the van. Slowly adjusting his neck, at every moment expecting a lance of pain from sleep stiffness or the previous night’s excesses, Derek looked down along his body to the window. The glass was completely covered in moss, dark and smooth where it was thickest, more brightly green at the edges where the sun made some meagre ingress, but nowhere transparent. More than anything else it resembled a badly kept fish tank.

He rolled to the side in time to see the figure in the doorway, head thrown back, dispatch two aspirin with a swig of beer and then unadvisedly lean against the door, which opened and deposited him on his back on the ground outside. For long moments the feet of the figure encased in the sleeping gently flapped like the disembodied nether regions of some unlikely sea creature before slipping sideways out of view.

Derek rolled over and attempted to re enter the land of nod, but was eventually forced to recognise the overriding imperative of his bladder. With a groan he struggled from the open end of his sleeping bag in a process that, in nature, results in the emergence of a delicate, beautiful butterfly but in his case gave birth to a hairy dishevelled gargoyle.

With a flop he sat down in the doorway resting his feet lightly on his friend and surveyed the lie of the land.

The land was indeed brightly lit and unrecognisable from the moonlit demesne of the previous night. The pond sparkled and glittered under an early morning sun that had risen behind them and now peered over the crest of their caravan. It was a big pond too, roughly oval and 30 yards across at it’s shortest span to the opposite bank from where Derek sat. And obviously quite deep, in the middle was what appeared to the roof of some kind of small truck, perhaps the original conveyance for their sleeping quarters, which was now submerged to the tops of its glassless windows providing a sun trap for several ducks who sat placidly on the tin platform.

Beyond the pond a small rickety wooden shed stood on the far bank in a patch of dusty earth amongst long uncultivated grass and beyond that a large unkempt hedge over which, vague and rippling in the early light, were the hazy purple outlines of low distant hills.

Derek breathed in savouring the fresh country air, sans eau de mothball, and immediately fell back into the van in a spasm of coughing.

He lit a cigarette and dropped an empty beer can on what he hoped was the lump formed in the sleeping bag by Colin’s head. It was.

“It’s too bright”, came a muffled voice.

“I need to go poo” said Derek, simply.

“Well go poo”


“Frankly my dear I don’t give a shit”

“I’m going back to the pub, the loo’s outside remember?”

And eventually after a few strategically aimed kicks and some plaintive wailing Colin was separated from his bag and, armed with their toothbrushes, the pair ambled back towards the pub.

It was a very short trek, completely devoid of the mystery endowed on it by night. The orchard was bright, airy and no more than rustic, the twisted trees took on almost comic shapes by the light of day. In just a few minutes they stood outside the lavvy which leant against the rear of the pub. To Derek’s delight there was toilet roll too, albeit the crispy shiny kind which he conveyed to Colin through the wooden wall.

“Hurt’s yer bum” he shouted.

“Does the trick though” replied a familiar voice from an open window in the side wall of the under the sloping eve of the pub, “you’re up then, I didn’t think Oid see you this side of nine o’clock”, he sounded genuinely surprised.

“When yer finished whatever it is you’ve got to do, Oi’ll get us up some breakfast”.