Wednesday, 26 February 2020

The Typography of Tears

*Extract from longer piece*

There was a small pile of beetroot accumulating behind a pot plant which Alex was adding to daily. What he intended to do once that hiding place was no longer tenable hadn’t occurred to him yet. He was dealing with this day-by-day. What was the alternative? Tell the truth? That would mean disappointing his mother. He hadn’t analysed his rationale but he felt he couldn’t let her down. She thought he loved beetroot. She thought she was making him happy by bringing him his little salad with beetroot. In fact, it wasn’t bringing him happiness. It was bringing him revulsion.

     She was always telling the story about how she believed he had come to love it so much. When his mother was in hospital having him she had been fed almost exclusively on beetroot. Beetroot soup, beetroot stew, beetroot stroganoff, beetroof pilaf, roast beetroot… but she had been in hospital for a long time because of her blood pressure. At least one week overdue, she had taken it upon herself to avoid the nagging and fussing of family and medical professionals and go travelling into the mountains. Whether she intended to deliver the baby herself was uncertain.

     Not wanting to cross the forest themselves it had been several days before anyone reached her. Finding her missing from her small cottage her family had reluctantly appealed to a massaman they found at the edge of the forest. In turn he passed on the message to his band who were gathered for nightly fire meeting. Word had been sent via the massamen, one of whom had located her at a small cabin in the foothills of the massacurya, in the early phase of labour. She was calmly breathing through the contractions when the massaman appeared. Knocking five times in rapid succession before he entered, Alex’s mother exhaled into a deep growl at the silhouette as he stepped into the doorway. His wide brimmed hat and heavily cloaked silhouette shifted slowly into the room and then he stepped forward one pace. She growled louder and gripped the blankets underneath her into tight bunches in her fists. Alex was on his way and Tay had no intention of leaving the cabin until he was safely with her. 

     The massaman pulled up a chair and waited. As the growling dissipated into steady panting he moved the chair forwards a few inches and waited again. “Tay,” he whispered. Her attempt at a growl was exhaled as a whimper. “Water,” he said as he left the cabin. He proceeded to deftly light a fire, using kindling he kept in his cloak pockets. He had given no affirmation to the family that he would bring her back and it seemed to him, without any discussion, that he would respect her wishes, as were obvious to him, to allow her to give birth here, a place she felt an affinity with. The door to the cabin was ajar and he listened to her breathing as she progressed steadily through darkness and light, riding the waves of pain and euphoria. The air was perfectly cool. There was a breeze that carried sparks from the fire up towards the star dimpled sky, floating higher and merging with the up and away. A small window and a crack where the door had been left open also filled with dull light. Tay was still working hard inside and the massaman yold himself that sitting there was where he should be, just far enough for her to call him if he was needed, but not too far to intrude. A circle of trees protected the cabin which was only infrequently, used by the massamen. The others wouldn’t come looking for him here until the morning when they might send one or two fellows if he had not returned. The night was more than young; it was being born.

     The remains of a fire made by this massaman had lain expectantly for some months, waiting for some wanderers to return in need of shelter. It was just passing that time of year when the seasons trick you. Warm in the day but cool in the night which falls more quickly than you expect it to. This part of the forest held only the buzzing of birds and insects. They were too far from any camps to hear the barking of dogs.  Tay made a noise; a low grumble that could have been a name, and he turned to the door. Now she needed him. He took the pot of hot water from the fire and carried it to the cabin.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

A Tale of a Broken Jug Foretold

Image result for broken spanish jug

Have you ever known you were going to break something? Really known it? It’s always in the worst place possible, the house of a little old lady, somewhere important. Because there’s always too much precious stuff, crammed into a small place (a bungalow the size of a shoebox, a flat the size of the Sylvanian families’ gypsy wagon), too many things placed precariously, too many things that seem to operate with their own unique system of rules. And so many table cloths, not just one, but one under-tablecloth and one over-tablecloth that looks like a large, less strainer-like doily, so that the under-cloth shows through. If pushed on the matter, two tablecloths is probably enough, you might conclude. Well, hold the fucking phone because apparently there are people who would disagree with you. Why stop at two? That person thought. Yeah, the clue, was in the fact that they didn’t stop at ONE. So, now add a pot plant and a crystal bowl. And add some rules for the tablecloths. Write these rules in a tiny notebook with a cover made from recycled paper with dried flowers pressed into the front (don’t tell me you don’t know the sort I mean) and hide it inside a small box with a clown figurine stuck to the top. You’ve read the rules, obviously, so you know that the tabletop decorations, those things, the plant pot and the crystal bowl, get put away when you’re eating, of course. You don’t know where, because you haven’t looked for the tiny rulebook that tells you specifically about tabletop trinkets yet, (no it isn’t in the same notebook as the tablecloth notebook, don’t be deliberately obtuse). In fact, it’s hard to even look around because you’re so afraid of breaking things. There are so many trinkets, you’re afraid you’ll open your eyes, and just knock one over with the movement of your eyelashes. It could be the butterfly effect at work, but in a dangerously chintzy way. Next -- pay close attention --  the eating-tablecloth comes out to cover up the other two. It’s not for aesthetic value, it’s purely practical. Don’t get the wrong idea. Only a mad person would have two decorative tablecloths and cover them up with a third decorative one for no reason. So it’s three tablecloths, got that? And maybe as well as the fact you’re crammed into a space full of trinkets, and lots of obviously well-established rules regarding the use of particular cleaning cloths, pot scourers and tea towels, there’s an atmosphere where people are telling you to relax, or if not telling you, intimating that you should. Because this is a lovely place and there’s no reason to be so anxious. In fact, you’re also trying to tell yourself, (probably in the same voice a masseuse once used to tell you to ‘relax’, when you were  obviously indicating through your bodily awkwardness that you really weren’t relaxed in the way you should be): You should relax here, see how cosy this place is with all its little jars and teacups and trinkets? Everything stashed away in its own place! No space for a single thing more! Not, unless, you broke something, of course. Then the thing you broke would open up a huge trinketless void, which no amount of trinkets or old-lady tea cups or ugly clown boxes could fill. Because YOU broke something, and now you’re the worst person in the world. There’s that inescapable feeling again, you’re going to break something. You know you’re going to do it, there’s almost no point telling yourself to be careful, because that isn’t how these kind of premonitions work. Maybe, it’s just that there’s not enough room, not enough room for you, you’re the one thing too many, and there’s no special space here for you here.

Monday, 24 February 2020


After some rigorous enquiries, a replacement teacher had been found for Manel Pujol and she was due to be at the law firm to meet him for the first time at 8.30am. In the young woman's mind she would arrive early, dressed smart, ready to make an impression to match. Instead, she was tearing down Diagonal in the centre of Barcelona,  in the middle of rush hour, trying to avoid being hit by a stream of electric scooter riding business-district commuters, frantically checking Google Maps to make sure she wasn't going the wrong way, wishing maybe a little luck would shine down on her from that cloudless blue sky. Maybe number 364 Diagonal wasn't actually, as it appeared to be, an impenetrable ship of a building surrounded by roaring waves of traffic, and a black panelled door would appear before her, opening like a port in a spaceship, and she would be beamed instantly into Mr Pujol's office, just a minute late, and she'd be smugly wondering how many of her nine lives she had intact. But no, her normal, hustle-ability just wasn't kicking in today, and effing Google Maps was directing her to the back of the building, and her mumbled "ffff-fffkkksss-ks" were gaining strength, clenching up into her jaw, her wrists and her calves. All that new age self-help Eckhart Tolle stuff she had been listening to lately, reminding her to "accept each moment as if you had chosen it", was being mentally crumpled and chucked aside, this was no time for mindfulness, she had to find the f***ing office. This was the sort of morning that she could later fashion into a practice of the third conditional. If she had left five minutes earlier, she wouldn't have been late. If she had given more of a fuck, she wouldn't have laid in bed until 7.30. If.... Then she sighted a portly bald-headed gentleman looking at her over his glasses... oh fantastic, it was Captain Mannering reincarnated as the Catalan concierge of Escalera E, 364 Diagonal, Barcelona.

"Que escalera quiere?" he croaked in between nicotine stained dentures.

Flicking through some screenshots for a name, the woman inhaled and announced with a semi-pre-prepared cavewoman-like stammer, "Estoy.... aqui....por Manel..... Pu.... Pu.... Pujol!"

Big sigh. Deep breath. Awkward pause. The concierge persisted with his question: "ESCALERA E?"

She looked at her phone: "Escalera A". Shit, she was at the wrong end of the building. Mumbling, "vale, vale" to herself, she shot back out onto the pavement where crowds of rush-hour robots blocked her path, she jumped free of the pavement, onto the edge of the main road itself and sprinted towards the other end. Time around her seemed to be speeding up, flowing free as a river, contrary to her own tempo which felt like a crumb moving through muddy water. She paused outside Escalera A, cursing the fact that a building could be so, well, bloody big, and yet still be the same number, and then took a moment to remind herself where she was ("no offence, but this is the land of manaña manaña, f'christssake"), and she breathed out a couple of "accept every moments" and counted some hail "manaña manañas", to a rhythm of in-for-four, out-for-four, whilst also trying to accept in that moment, (as though she had chosen it), that she was emitting an unusually hot mustiness which was not quite in keeping with the calm and professional aura she was hoping to project. She pulled her jacket tighter around her and pushed her face into a smile. 

Here it was, and smiling up at the woman from the concierge desk of Escalera A, was a blonde Yvette from 'Allo 'Allo. The concierge took down the woman's details, head bobbing slightly from side to side, fingers typing deftly, eyes firmly fixed on the screen, noting the woman's name and ID number, and then looked up to enquire, head poised on one side, each word very clearly articulated, "De donde eres?" She said it with a curiosity the woman had not felt directed at her in a long time.

 "De... Inglaterra, de Londres,came the woman's bubbly response ("am I proud of that?" she wondered).

"Oh, que maravillosa!" persisted the Yvette-alike, her face gleaming. "Pues, Mr Pujol is late," handing over the plastic security card, "entonces, you can wait upstairs for him, vale?"

Taking the card, the woman gave Yvette her best sing-song, "Gra-ci-as!" as she passed through the security barrier at 364 Diagonal, Escalera A.

Sunday, 4 December 2016


Birthday changes to Christmas, with autumn turning to winter sharply; layers of frost seal pavements and tips of noses with an icy glare.
The party was an intoxicated blur; fun filled to the brim; drunk ravenously and held laughing in a loving head-lock.
At work, we find a box of decorations in a cupboard tucked away on a floor filled with empty desks.
In between calls, we complain and drink coffee and stick silver tinsel around our screens. I’ve hung an angel from the tiny branch of a plant on my desk. 
I’ve been thinking for such a long time, 'I don’t know how much I’ve got left to give this place.'
In between calls, I make more coffee and wonder how you're getting on. 
There's a brown piece of tape from last Christmas hanging from the tinsel. Angel’s made of tin and her legs swing.
In a taxi, hungover, the day after the party, the radio spilled a new football abuse story.
The driver said; ‘What I don’t get yeah, is if that happened to me, I’d have been straight to my dad, d'you know what I mean? You wouldn’t wait all this time.’
It’s four o’ clock on Sunday 27th November. Scrolling through Facebook, there’s another tribute; another RIP; another curse to 2016. Taxi races past bare trees, their branches pointing upwards like lots of icy fingers into the night.
I say: ‘They pick the kids that might not have a dad like yours to tell.'
The kids who think they won't be believed, so they just wait, I think. 
The taxi is loud with nothing but dark and hang-over and waiting to get home. 
In Topshop, I’m in the mirror, holding a dress that costs more than I want to spend. Holding it against my body like it's mine already; feeling the fabric crush in my hands, guiltily. I'm imagining other nights; nights I'd dance in this; nights I'd wolf down hungrily.
Nights that would be full.
Outside, a guy selling the Big Issue has so many decorations on his hat he looks like he's wearing a Christmas tree on his head. City Hall and the castle are emblazoned with psychedelic projections that make the cityscape cartoonish. The projections follow you wherever you go, like a TV in the corner of a room that never gets turned off. 
There’s the tunnel of light. There’s a sleeping-bag hidden in an alleyway and someone bedding down in a doorway.
This guy’s weighted to his spot by a heavy back-pack he never takes off. He gives me the magazine and says keenly, ‘You know, this dark, there's a lot of people been saying it’s getting to them.' He taps and then shakes his head. 'Lot of people saying, it’s making them feel all funny.’
I agree with him. He laughs and says, ‘I’ve been telling people, you know, if it wasn’t for all these lights, I don’t think you’d even be able to see me out here selling these mags.' 
City Hall glares and flickers above the market, like the warmth of a television screen.

Sunday, 25 March 2012


There was no mistaking it. Her arse was the best he’d ever seen. Even in her uniform of brown slacks with orange piping, it was obscenely good. Not too large but definitely not flat. Round. Firm. Protudent was the word he was looking for. Maybe time had made his memories resentful but he seemed to recall the bottoms they had in the 1940s just weren’t as good. Although back then, when he was young and the possibility of getting nearer to the owner of a bottom as good as that of 'Samantha' still existed, their bottoms had all seemed as wonderful as each other. Another benefit of being young, perhaps, was the pure joyful lust that you were allowed to wallow in. As opposed to the sad and guilty thoughts he indulged now, at four thirty on a Sunday afternoon, whilst considering the pros and cons of two similarly priced tins of baked beans.

Nowadays, young women just seemed so polished, so taut, so confident. It was the way they managed to do these things that astounded him. Were they still really the same as they used to be? He supposed it was just creams and ‘supportive’ clothing, which gave them that extra something. Not that he pretended to have ever really known anything about women.

The smaller tin of baked beans it was then. They’d do nicely with a couple of sausages and some peas. Bill dropped the tin into his basket and headed off toward the checkout, pulling the beast of burden that was his tartan shopping trolley behind him. Fucking embarrassing was what it was, really. He’d got the trolley on his sixty-fourth birthday; same day he’d got his government-issue bus pass. It was a tongue-in-cheek birthday present to himself. Very fashionable amongst us old-age folk, he thought, but, seriously, it had been a bloody nightmare lugging so many cans down the road twice a week- hoping the flimsy carrier-bags would hold out on him, and he’d just given in and accepted it: I’m old. No one cares if I’ve got a tacky tartan push-along. Get on with it.

Out on the New Cross Road the pavement was icy. A Christmas tree stood awkwardly by the public toilets and some lights ran nervously between the lamp posts. The sky was grey like porridge. A couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses stood shivering outside of Woolworths’ closed doors, shopping bags dumped nearby as they participated in a bit of impromptu sermonising. Preaching the good news of the Kingdom was a tough gig, their audience- a group of pigeons- huddled in the doorway behind them.

Bill hurried, giving his trolley a good work-out as it bumped over uneven paving slabs. He had to make it back by seven to give him time to get his dinner on, feed the cats and brush up on his general knowledge for half an hour or so before settling down to Mastermind with a cup of milky Darjeeling. This week he had been researching Henry II, the specialist subject of the 1980 Mastermind Champion, Fred Housego. Bill tended to alternate his research techniques. Admittedly, he had a fairly haphazard approach, which he was sure, Housego wouldn’t approve of. Not that he cared what that eejit thought. Bill based his studies on past questions, areas that hadn’t come up on the show for a while and things that just took his fancy. Nevertheless, it all helped exercise the old grey matter and kept him from being just an old codger sitting at home with his cats in front of the box.
They rattled on, Bill and his trolley.

Outside The New Cross Palais, a homeless couple were exchanging slurred, toothless jibes as they tallied back and forth over someone called ‘Wendy’.

Past the launderette with its pleasantly dirty, soapy vapors and over the bridge above New Cross train station. Looking down the railway to one side, the silver tracks looked like grey sky reflected on a narrow river as they disappeared into a border of leafless spiny trees. On the other, instead of narrowing inward, the tracks spread out, splitting like tributaries of the Thames, their empty surfaces stretching towards the dormancy of West India Docks.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Sleepy Head

High up in a tower, that shadowed all the neighbouring towers, Sleepy-Head lived alone with her mother. Sleepy-Head had a body that was spindly and sallow like the stem of a plant deprived of light. Looked at one way, her features were incongruous with the delicate, oval pallor of her face. Look again and you might find yourself thinking differently. Whilst she had a bump on the bridge of her roman nose and a small gap in between her two shiny front teeth, she had lips so ripe they may have tasted of cherries and eyes like hot cocoa. Her appearance mattered not to anyone beside herself, however, as for as many of her thirteen years as she could remember she had had only her mother, Wide-Awake, for company and apart from a few windows looking out of their home on the thirty-seventh floor, no other experience of the world beyond.

Sleepy-Head ached to go outside so she could encounter for herself the taste of the wind; the sound of wet grass; the smell of laughter. Her mother proclaimed it to be too treacherous a place for her to enter as yet. With Mother Wide-Awake it did not matter from which angle you gazed upon her crags and creases; her looks were as cold and gravelly as her character. Despite her mother's view, Sleepy-Head continued to ponder the question of how people left the tower in the hope that one day soon she would too. 

Sleepy-Head had once believed that people must be able to fly, for she had watched the way birds travel on their wings and although she could not fly herself, she knew flight was possible. Lately, she watched people from her window as they appeared from the bottom of the building and observed that although she still did not understand how they made it there, she could no longer be certain that people flew.

She began to lie awake in her rickety old bed, concentrating on the sounds beyond the confines of her room. Sometimes she heard other people's babble below her and from them she learnt a great deal. But more often she heard the grumbling, growling and moaning of a curious being on the other side of her wall. She had become accustomed to its snaps and groans. There was a rhythm to them; the growls raised and lowered, culminating in the clunk of jaws closing. The creature could not be malevolent, she reflected, as she often heard people conversing with it. This, she realised, was how people travelled up and down the tower.

Every day Sleepy-Head cleaned the house from top to bottom, not having the courage to stand-up to Wide-Awake who would appear suddenly at the same time in the evening and inspect her efforts. No matter how hard Sleepy-Head grinded, by the next morning her labour would always be undone and the house as dirty as ever. One day, she waited until just fifteen minutes before her mother was due to arrive home before beginning her chores: She frantically embarked on her cleaning. Wide-Awake arrived to find Sleepy-Head beetroot-red in the face and soiled with dust. Removing her coat, Wide-Awake scuttled a finger along the mantle-piece.

Sleepy Head faked a long, wide-mouthed-eye-rolling yawn and exclaimed, Oh, Mother! I certainly have been working hard in your absence, Im just about ready to fall asleep upright!

Wide-Awake exhaled sharply and began to scrutinise the inside of the oven. She stood up straight and looking around the rest of the room announced, Why, I have never seen the place so clean! You must have worked yourself nearly to the death doing all this.

She kissed her daughters cheek, which sent a chill down Sleepy-Heads back, and stroked her hair with a skeletal finger, smiling all the while. Would you like to stay up and eat with me or are you going straight to bed?

Oh, to bed, to bed, said Sleepy-Head, and sleep well, Mother!

Without changing out of her sooty clothes, Sleepy-Head wriggled under the bed-clothes and lay with her mouth covered, suppressing her delighted giggles. She tried to adjust her eyes to the darkness.

From the lights that danced before her a figure seemed to emerge dressed in white and then fell away like an ember. Beyond the wall she heard the comforting sound of the creature purring and burping.

Later that night, when she was sure her mother would be asleep, Sleepy-Head crept from the house for the first time ever. She tiptoed down the tunnel and found herself face to face with the creature she had spent so many years listening to through the wall. As if by magic, its jaws began to open with a recognisable clunk. Knowing that she had no choice she stepped quickly inside the creatures mouth, hugging her arms around herself. Her stomach churned and her skin prickled hot-cold with sweat at the anticipation of what laid below.

Overwhelmed, she sank down and squatted on the sticky floor. She stretched her thin cotton dress tightly over her knees and began to chew furiously on her fingernails.

The descent was painfully slow: she willed to be plummeted to the ground. Then suddenly lights were flickering and the grumbling began to lessen: the creature was resting. Sleepy-Head jolted up from her squatting position, the jaws opened obediently to display a tunnel much like the one that had led from her home. Noticing greasy paper-bags and drinks cartons littering the floor she asserted this was not the same tunnel she had just come from. Uncertain as to the creatures mood she crept away from its mouth and down the tunnel towards a large window. To her amazement she saw things she had never seen so distinctly before.

She saw vivid green and the carefree blur of children. She could not tell quite how far away they must be but they seemed so much closer than before and she could not wait to embrace it all. 

Sleepy-Head thrust open the window with only a small amount of difficulty and with a soaring sense of expectation and elation greater than any she had ever felt or would ever feel again, manoeuvred herself onto the ledge. Fear was far, far away and so she jumped: her arms held out wide as she descended; she felt her dress billow up and flutter at her sides like wings. A man below her looked up at what he thought must be a bird.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

another fairy story

    In ancient times that were ancient then and even more ancient now, the city of Be’ersheva- Mother of Sheba, the city of Abraham, Father of the People, the City of Seven Wells, was a place of importance and a centre for trade, as is the case wherever an oasis springs up in this dry, unworkable place. The city seemed old but it also seemed new, for it was both of these things to at least some people, at least some of the time and it moved and swayed and throbbed, shimmering amongst the already shimmering desert beside an ever-more shimmering oasis. 
   This was a place that clamoured with a mixture of joy and severity. A place where all kinds of people from miles around met to trade and catch-up. ‘Oh, yes! This is the first time in a long time, friend!’ ‘So good to see you, so good, and your daughter?’ A meeting point for people who had been travelling to discuss their plans and decide where-to-next. 
It was in this city that a man and a woman met and fell in love, as men and women are bound to do. 
   The woman of this story was an Amira, a princess, of the important Ai-Hawa, tribe of the wind, who met cyclically in Be’ersheva to buy and exchange goods of all kinds. The Amira Ai-Hawa, was an unhappy princess. She longed to be as free as her name and on one particular trip to the city she decided she would go for a walkabout apart from her family. So Ai-Hawa followed her father to the market place and waited until he was safely engrossed in business talks and then slipped away into the crowds. Ai-Hawa passed through Be’ersheva’s expansive and bustling market. There were fruit, vegetable and textile stalls in abundance. She ran her fingers through baskets of grains and pulses, all the while remembering to watch her head for hanging baskets hanging high, and fruit and vegetables that tumbled like acrobats from containers on poles. Old men smiled, laughed, squawked and cooed like birds and monkeys and as they laughed pomegranate pips fell from their mouths, landing at her open toed feet.
The man was Abiel, the son of an equally important family, known colloquially as the House of Many Doors and he was affectionately known by the people as the Prince of Closed Windows because of his mother’s over-protective nature. Now Abiel was a grown man he wanted to be as free as the wind that called at his bedroom window and so he began to seek this freedom in the town’s baths and opium dens. It was in one of these particularly reputable establishments that shortly after leaving her father Ai- Hawa- overcome with intense curiosity- found Abiel totally benumbed upon a sofa. And wellaway! The pair beheld each other in the way that two beautiful people behold one another. And wellaway! They began to speak like young lovers do, saying thus and thus.
Abiel said, ‘Young Amira, let us not beat about the bush, will you marry me? For if we make haste it can be done in a matter of days!’
Ai-Hawa laughed and said ‘a matter of days? Your people surely don’t marry in the same way as ours!’
‘Then how?’ he asked.
‘Like this!’ she replied and lay down on the mattress beside him laughing still. She looked at him deeply whilst they caressed for a very long time.

If He Were There

Our father liked to walk about the house barefoot. It should not have been something unusual for a man to do in the sultry heat of Guadeloupe, but with him it had become an obsessive caprice. The floor had to be clean. He instructed our mother firmly on this matter. She was to make sure the floor was well-swept during the day, ready for his arrival home in the evening. He had a particularly intimidating way of ensuring she did this.
As soon as he got back from the office he would balletically remove his shoes, whilst almost mid-air between the entrance and the inside of the doorway. Then he walked with his bare feet touching the tiles from the porch to the kitchen. Our father would do this, as he did most everything, completely silently. He had a particular way of walking; like a nomadic wanderer, lifting his feet in the sand. Perhaps it was the influence of our geographical antecedents; the pugnacious Carib, who defended our island against the Spanish colonialists so successfully for nearly a century. Or maybe that was just what my father’s tall, graceful build led my imagination to believe.
He stalked into the kitchen to deposit the shopping bags; as he did this, he felt under his feet for traces of dust. You could have sworn the air stopped moving around him as this ritual took place. It was a pivotal moment in the day, upon which the atmosphere of the ménage depended for the rest of the evening. If our father was satisfied, the family could relax and enjoy a jovial time with him; playing games and telling jokes. If he was not satisfied, he would return to the kitchen and with ceremonial dignity present the dustpan and its guilty contents before our mother. All this before he had even said ‘good-evening’ to any of us. 

As a result, for several days after, our mother would pay special attention to this duty and all of the children of the house would be inveigled into helping her in a last minute clean each night before our father arrived.

I returned home one evening, after a long, hot, lazy day at Pointe-a-Pitre fishing with my friends. We often spent our time in this way, not having to worry about food or money, as the fish we caught on the nearby beaches provided us with both. Otherwise we would cook the vegetables we had found in the forest on a wood-fire, eating them surrounded by fellow intruders: Iguana Delicitissima. By seven in the evening the temperature had dropped to only 77 degrees. Our father entered the house and began to make his journey from the porch to the kitchen. Once again, the air stood still around him; stiller than before and we knew something was amiss.
He moved as if traversing the breadth of the island. In a few swift steps he felt the mountains crumbling underneath him, he felt the moist earth below the tropical vegetation, he felt the desert and he felt the beach I had played on that day with its black, volcanic sand.
He swiftly began to sweep the house. From the kitchen our mother must have already been aware; did she hear the sweep-sweep of his furious brush? Sweep-sweep on the tiles. Maybe she just sensed it. There was something about the way she attended the calalou on the stove; her back remained turned. She seemed quieter; more pensive than usual. What crossed her mind? There was a still and silent communication taking place between our parents and all any of us could do was wait.
Then he appeared. Like ear-wigs jumping from a piece of rotten fruit, we scattered. The presentation of the dust was something we would settle to watch from a distance on this occasion.
One and a half metres in front of her he stooped as if to place the dust-pan on the tiles. He did this silently; without a word, as always. But something was different.
Did our father realise what he had done? Our mother realised it. Long before he even appeared before her, with every sweep-sweep of his brush her mind had been ticking over. Stroke, stroke. Another revolution took place; gained momentum from its foreboding. Invisible to us she had begun to tingle, not just with fear, but with angry trepidation.
We were still lingering on the edge of the scene. I pulled my sister behind me, taking a further few steps back. I was clinging to the doorframe now; and my sister to me. I was determined to be a witness, no matter how small; no matter how great my fear.
We were frozen. Our parents stood facing one another. Our father tall and slender; smooth and dark, like the Carib warrior that was latent within him. Remaining as still and stony as one of their zemi idols, while our mother seethed and smouldered like La Soufrière.
Our father’s hand continued to stretch out, unfalteringly offering the dust to her. And we were there: frozen.
A fly moved its way around the rim of the pot of calalou on the stove. Large, bulbous eyes occupied most of its alien head. The membranous wings twitched and its swollen antennae bristled. The raised layers of the circus formed a shield above the abdomen. And again, with wings twitching, filmy and thin; the fly suddenly parachuted into the air.
I felt the wood splintering under my fingertips and for a moment longer my attention was caught by the fly, spiralling into the garden where the rough scales of a gecko drew along the ground beneath a flurry of poinciana and hibiscus. Gecko doesn’t mind a bit of dust but he does carry evil spirits. The fly spiralled away from our sheltered grove within Pointe-de-Pitre towards each corner of our butterfly shaped island and then higher, above the two wings of Guadeloupe. Our parents had always been separated by the fact that they were from two different sides of the island but at that moment, as they stood facing each other- she from the mountains of Grande-Terre and he from the rainforests of Basse-Terre- the gulf that separated them was greater than the river that separates the two. I felt for a second that we kids were the channel that joined them together. Another fly moved around the rim of the pot.
“Reiver!” She made to knock the dustpan from his hand, but stopped and shouted instead: “You want your damned floor cleaned just how you like it, then get a servant!” Feeling the burn of her words which seethed at him like the sap of the poison Manchineel our father dropped the dustpan.
There was nothing else to be said. Our mother left the kitchen and wandered to the end of the garden, her muttering a furious fly-like buzz. Two pairs of eyes wandered after her through the open kitchen doorway, which left off the latch, slowly slid wide open. We surveyed our barefoot father standing in the dust for a moment, who, although unaware of our presence, was too sad to watch any longer. Curious of our mother’s whereabouts we slunk away; conceding, we knew who had won that battle.

What you sayin', Bertrand?


This is an exceptionally long post. It is actually essay-length. If you’ve read any of my other longer posts then 1) well done for getting to the end and 2) be a bit worried because this one’s even longer than the others. You might want to pop to the shop and get a few supplies in before starting. I wouldn’t bother “sitting comfortably”, just phone work and tell them you’re taking the day off.

I’m no philosopher. I ain’t pretending to be clever or muffin, so if you were here for the advanced class, then I’m sorry but you’ve actually stumbled into Philosophical Ponderings: the Advanced Remedial Level by accident. You may know from some of my previous posts that I’d been banging on about thinking about the old M.O.L. This is, obviously, not something that I have begun wondering about recently. As a child, I spent so much time on my own thinking about why we were here; where we came from and generally being a bit serious that I occasionally used to experience momentary black-outs when considering the enormity of things such as, quite how long ago the dinosaurs were and how amazing it was that we’re here at all. Now I am aware that this M.O.L is a question that isn’t exactly new, a bit like Michaela Strachan, it’s actually pretty old, never goes away for long and pops up when you’re not expecting it with a seeming pretence of youthful novelty. “The meaning of life, you ask? Well gosh, I wasn’t expecting that, I’ll have to get back to you!” I was fully aware of the unoriginality (vanity, even) of what I was asking and I’m not pretending in the least to have anything of any consequence to say on this. It had just been that a series of events had conspired to get me a-thinking about “IT ALL”. Y’know, you’re bumbling along, thinking things aren’t the best they could be but you’re doin’ okay, you’ve been working hard, the worst is over, you have survived adolescence and university mostly unscathed, notched up a few more notches on the old bed-post than you would have liked to in the process but generally you know how to make your hair “work” and you’re even beginning to get better at doing things like making conversation with other people’s grandparents and you have a pretty high success rate with poached eggs, la-dee-dah, you think to yourself, I am some sort of actual grown-up. And then no sooner do you reach this sort of moment of self-realisation, just like the heroine of a Jean-Luc Godard film, BANGCRASHFUCK! It all goes wrong and you hit the usual mid to late twenties we’ve grown apart-heart-break followed by “all I had been working towards, all my hopes and dreams are shattered” ennui-slash career crisis. That was a bit heavy. I think it might be time now for something like this:
[Insert lol related joke here]
So when I give this really long self-deprecating and overly self-conscious disclaimer about how embarrassed I am to be asking this question, I guess what I’m really saying I’m bothered about is not the question itself but that despite the fact that we ask this question to ourselves so often, there is so little security-cleared advice on the matter. In everything most of us do we are wondering, “Why am I doing this?” This applies to our careers, our children/our un-children, arguments with boyfriends, the decision to exercise or not exercise, the question of whether to practise our ukuleles or trawl the internet for pictures of kittens with humorous captions? What does it all mean? Should I worry about any of this? Even if you pay by the hour to find the answer to that question, you’ll never get one. (That would be unethical, obviously.) So now, back (briefly at least, don’t worry, there’s another tangent right around the corner, in fact, less of a tangential corner and more of a Thelma and Louise tangential canyon), yes, so back for a moment to the list of three pieces of evidence I mentioned some weeks (now, months) ago that I would like to present to the M.O.L jury (sorry/not really sorry for repeating myself- oh and by the way if anyone has any suggestions as to who might be on the M.O.L jury panel, please let me know, I’ve had a think and I’m creatively stumped… I’d imagine that choosing the jury would be something like deciding the panel for X-Factor, not all the members of the panel should be experts in the field… this shouldn’t necessarily be Project Runway: The Philosophy Season- I’d like to think outside of the Tupperware on this one. It also makes me think of that ubiquitous magazine Q&A question: “If you could invite anyone alive or dead to a dinner party… who would it be?” Where some numpty always says something like, “Ooooh, I’d ’av: Nelson Mandela, John Lennon and Martine McCutcheon.”) Anyway, the official line-up can wait, so for now consider the following to be recommendations to you my dear jury of six loyal followers and an unspecified number of lurkers that read this blog (I know you’re there even if I don’t totally know who you are [although, I sort of do]):

1. Lars Von Trier’s 'Melancholia'. I said you should watch this as I had fully intended to use one of my free Cinema City members’ tickets to go and see it before I had to admit that I had recommended a film I hadn’t actually watched because in the end I never managed to get out of bed in time. That was me admitting it, just now. So in place of an actual review of the film I’ll say that it’s something to do with the actress out of Spiderman who used to say she wasn’t going to give into Hollywood pressure to have her pronounced incisors corrected until she gave into Hollywood pressure and had them corrected, yeah, her, that Vampire-movie child-star, something to do with her and that bloke who wasn’t the short English one with a hammy Southern accent out of True Blood, but the other one- something to do with them and the end of the world. The fact that it’s to do with the end of the world is why I thought it might be appropriate evidence but, sorry to say, I still haven’t done my homework and it’s proving difficult to download illegally (not that I do that- except I do- note the sarcasm- course, I don’t- I do). Anyway, as I am rubbish and lazy, I cannot speculate too much about what answers this film might give us had I actually gone to see it but anecdotal reports so far say it’s incredibly dreary. On the other hand, I’m still keen to watch anything directed by a man famous for bullying Nicole Kidman as no one likes her really, do they?

2. So yes, we keep on asking but there seem to be no real answers, unless you want to, like, dose up on the, like, Prozac of, like, organised religion, man. Enter Mr Will Self with his Book of Dave. My instructions on this one were to “believe”. (Before I continue to rant on talk about the novel I just want to mention briefly that I was really sad to read in this weekend’s Guardian Review of Mr Self’s terrible illness. That’s all I’ve got to say on that, so back to Dave.) EXPLAIN THE BOOK. What answers does this satire give us? Perhaps none, other than the very important one which is not to trust answers that are spoon-fed to us with sugar by Mary Poppinses in dog-collars, obviously, and whilst you may not know the answers you can still comfort yourself by laughing at those who think they do. Which leads nicely onto my third piece of evidence and, hark, for quite a revelation it is!

3. Graniad article: I said to read it, and here this is where my original disclaimer kicks in again. Much like my previous sausage roll feminism this is juice drink philosophy, not freshly squeezed. But somehow, like choosing a bottle of Lucozade instead of a fruit-smoothie after a night out binge-drinking, it managed to help me to kick-start my day and cure me, at least temporarily, of my M.O.L hangover. This article from 2004, is a summarised version of ‘What’s It All About: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life’ by Julian “my real name is probably Baggins” Baggini. You may know him from other toilet-reading classics such as “The Duck That Won the Lottery: And 99 Other Bad Arguments” and “The Influence of Egg and Bacon Flavoured Crisps on 9/11* and Other Underwater Basket-Weaving Experiments”. I would imagine, although I cannot be sure, that he is probably friends with other intellectual-writing-for-Generation-X authors John Sutherland (“Is Heathcliff a Murderer?: Great Puzzles in Nineteenth-Century Fiction”), Tom Hodgkinson (author of “How to be Idle”, “How to be Free” and “How I became idle and free by telling you how be idle and free but I hope to god, you never do or no one will buy my books anymore”) and that other Guardian darling, sneary-self-help guru, Oliver Burkeman with his new book, “Help!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done” which tells you so much about [what the book is about and…] what life is really all about in just the title that you really need not read the book at all but just go… well, gosh, I think that perhaps what this is going to tell me is that ultimately whatever I do in order to be happier, the most I can expect to achieve is to be slightly happier and get a bit more done, therefore…. maybe I should just stop worrying about being happier, worrying about getting more done, reading books that tell me to stop worrying, reading books that tell me to get (a bit) more done and just fucking well be a bit happier and get a bit more done. It’s that classic modern folk expression again, isn’t it?: JUST DO IT (I think it might have been something Beowulf said). Anyway, I merely josh about these writers as I like them all and besides I'm part of the tabbing generation who can’t concentrate on anything too heavy for long and would probably never read non-fiction if it wasn’t for Sutherland & co.

Anyway, you go back to her and I’ll go back to, back to, back to Baggini, (a careful consonant/vowel swap still isn’t fooling us into thinking your real name is more exotic than it is BAGGINS). But good gravy, and juice-drink philosophy aside, I think the man might be onto something. He begins with an oft-related anecdote about a taxi driver who once had “that Bertrand Russell in the back of his cab.”

I feel, though, that I can maybe sympathise with Mr Russell. Let me use another two hundred-word tangent to explain! [I’ll use a different font and indent the text in desperate  hope of maintaining your concentration.]

Back in 2005 when I had begun ‘seeing’ (amongst other verbs in the present continuous… funny that ‘seeing’ is the one we tend to focus on, perhaps ‘touching’ is too crude, ‘smelling’ too subtle, ‘hearing’ too friendly?) a man we’ll call Mr. Rochester (or something funnier, but no comparisons to Bridget Jones and Mr Darcy, please) he used to call me sometimes when he’d remembered that he had a girlfriend who he could use his mobile to contact, when said mobile wasn’t lost under a pile of damp washing and pizza boxes, that is and ask: ‘What you sayin’?’ Now, at the risk of endangering my impossibly cool reputation (and I must stress that this was SIX years ago- we didn’t even have The Internet, Ukuleles or BlueTac then, for god’s sake, NO-ONE was that cool) but for quite some time this question left me rather puzzled. In fact, the question and my ensuing bewilderment were possibly indicative of some deeper miscommunication at play in our relationship but leaving that aside I was quite confused and for several weeks and months whenever Mr. Rochester asked me: “C* (*Insert real name here), what you sayin?” or “What you sayin, darlin’?” and I’d just reply in a way, which may have accidentally implied a lack of interest, “well, err, nothing really, Mr. Rochester,” when really, despite my Peckham ““roots”” I just wasn’t street enough at that time to comprehend what I now appreciate to be a wonderfully inclusive greeting (rather Batmanghelidjhesque, you might say).  So, using my own experience, I think perhaps when the taxi driver asked Bertrand, “What’s it all about?” he was probably just caught a little off-guard, a little out-of-touch linguistically, much as he might have been if he’d been asked, “Bertrand: What you sayin’?”

Now this is the point I got to on the 27th October and since then I've tried several times to finish this piece. All I really needed to do was summarise Baggini's article but I kept being stumped. Probably because, as he says himself, explaining the meaning of life in a cab journey is quite a tall order, and now here I am trying to juice-drink-philosophise his answer even further when you could just go off and read it yourself (-do). Second I was disuaded by trolls' comments on my blog. But third, I was just too busy all of a sudden, very happily living my life, happily not caring about the M.O.L. 

What Baggini basically says is that satisfying the M.O.L comes in two ways... looking for answers in a forwards direction and answers in a backwards one. Looking backwards is actually unlikely to help much, as 'life's purpose, if it has one, is not given to it by its creator', but this does not mean that life has no meaning. 'Meaning', however, does not necessarily belie long-term goals which unfortunately it often turns out we choose for the wrong reasons... we do things for the sake of other things, we study to pass exams....we work to pay the mortgage. Life can have all sorts of meaning, but it is meaning in terms of values, day-to-day values, of which we can make our own personal list (Baggini offers us Woody Allen's "Groucho Marx; Willie Mays; the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony; Louis Armstrong's recording of Potato-head Blues; Swedish movies; Sentimental Education by Flaubert; Marlon Brando; Frank Sinatra; those incredible apples and pears by Cézanne; the crabs at Sam Wo's; Tracy's face") and of course, we all have our own lists... so on that note, go make your own list, have a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy some of the beauty that life has to offer for nothing's sake but its own... Here's something to start off your list {skip to 4:45}:-

Sunday, 30 October 2011

a bit of short fiction this time: ‘Dried, Chewy Squid Snacks’ (Inspired by traditional Korean bar food; written May 2008)

Dried, chewy, squid snacks; fermented and rotting vegetative matter; trapped strands of meat; ground peanuts. The inside of someone’s mouth is a place most people never want to see in too much close detail.

Why dentistry? His father was a surgeon; his mother a psychiatrist; his older sister had bagged gynaecology. One could say, his options in life had all chomped shut a long time ago.

No matter how far we are from what we would really like to be doing; no matter the mundanity of our work we must all look to find some meaning in what we do.

So, looking into his patients' mouths he no longer thought of the people they were part of. Instead the mouth was a degenerate, alien world; the saliva an ocean tide rising up the cliff edges of teeth; the tongue a writhing mollusc that had been disturbed inside its shell.

Lying in the bathtub at the end of the day, he found it difficult to shut out his work. The cold enamel sides reminded him of huge teeth which trapped him inside a cave's salivatory depths.

For instance, one night, a couple of hours after his usual bath, with a couple of
glasses of single-malt whiskey warming his breath, whilst kissing Sandra, (34, Human Resources Manager of 'Wimpy' South Western Division), he imagined his tongue not as his tongue, but as a solo muscular embodiment of himself slipping inside of Sandra’s mouth.

He was unequivocal about it, not prepared to miss anything as he clinically and systematically explored her every crack and possible cavity. The plaque along the ridges of her teeth aided his grip as he climbed, slipped and slid in a fantasy of dental rock-climbing.

Until, he remembered what he was really doing and pulled out of Sandra’s mouth so suddenly he almost bit her, prematurely ejaculating the only explanation he could, (and not for the first time)-

‘I’m sorry, it’s not you; it’s your teeth.’

Thursday, 27 October 2011

plenty more _________ in the sea

Now I was up until the wee hours trying to finish this other piece, 'What you sayin' Bertrand?' I was doing so well but at 4am I had to give in and go to sleep and now I've got more pressing matters to discuss before I get back to Bertrand.

As some of you may know, over the last eighteen months, being unfortunately afflicted with singledom, I had been trying my hand at spinning the horrific wheel that is ONLINE DATING. I had intended to devote more time at some point to describing my experience on the three different sites I tried, on and off and on and off again (mostly off) for about ten months. Whilst the "highlight" of my year of Internet dating (slash, year of five dates) was probably being stood up by a man I thought was going to be a sexy Irish musician (INSTANTLY THE WARNING BELLS SHOULD HAVE BEEN RINGING), but actually was just a bit of a douche, ON THE WAY to the date, which was supposed to be AT THE ZOO. (Oh, and "Isn't the zoo a bit expensive?" I had said before we agreed to go. Oh no! Don't worry, he had an UNLIMITED MEMBERSHIP CARD! To the Zoo! Go figure.) ON A SNOW DAY IN LONDON (when the transport is all buggered up and even the animals are sensible enough to know they should just stay inside their enclosures) so I had already  battled adverse weather and transport conditions whilst trying to look all sexy-first-date-cute in my winter woollens for several hours before I finally managed to get on a tube in South London and received a text from him saying, "... have you left yet?" ("Yes I've left, I told you hours ago I was leaving!") But unfortunately, "something had come up", even though the date had only been arranged two hours earlier and it had all been his strange idea in the first place. The words 'lucky' and 'escape' spring to mind.

Anyway, I thought I had given up on the dating for good.. it wasn't just the messages like:

Hi im writing this cos ya know how it is looking over folks . But ya know they do that hole lol thing . Well i really did . Looked at ya pics very cute. Ya know the hole thing ya style an that . Look as you can see i do have kids but im not looking for no baby mummy. I totally know the washing matchine.

The worst thing was just being totally on edge for weeks if you did think you had found someone you liked and you would begin exchanging tentative messages, all the time just wanting to meet, until eventually you would... the problem with that then is that you invest so much of your time in something that could have been decided very quickly had you just met at a party. The problem with the British (and maybe lots of other Europeans- I cannot confirm nor deny) is that we just don't really do dating. Compared to the Americans, for example, we just don't small talk in that way either. It's like you need a personal reference from a mutual friend before you can so much as begin to talk at ease with someone you've never met before. Single? Want a new boyfriend or girlfriend? The best you can hope for is to scour your existing friends, colleagues or mutual friends of theirs and wait for a drunken opportunity to present itself. That's how it works here and although not a very dignified method for the earlier part of my twenties it had been working just fine.

So anyway, I thought I was over online dating for good. It was just another social networking procrastination disorder taking over my life and encouraging me to buy expensive jumpers that I thought would make me look 'cute but indieish' to impress the Creative Media Professionals I was meeting on GraniardSalemates. Then in the kitchen- in on my own- on Tuesday night I cracked. I LOGGED BACK IN. Before I knew it I was scrolling through pictures of men in the area... within minutes I had re-filled my previously deleted profile, zhoom zhoom, uploaded 9 different pictures of me designed to appeal to any tastes! Cute and indie, I can do! Sultry, I can do! Nature-loving, I can do! I could go on but, oh no, basically, I've done it again... and in record time: I have a date on Friday night. It all seemed so easy, "blah blah blah, you're new to town, let's meet up for a drink", "blah blah blah, YES". YES?! What do you mean 'YES'? I actually have to go through with it? Now for the hard part.... What do I ask him? How do I act? What do we talk about when we've run out of small talk? What if he's weird? What if I seem too keen? What if I use too many big words?

Life. So hard. All advice appreciated....