Monday, 28 November 2011

A Christmas Tail

  New York. To me it had never been home, but as the cheap multi-coloured lights blinked endlessly in the windows of Café Classico and the waitresses busied themselves at the seasonal influx of customers, it felt more alien than ever. Each was clad in a dark green shirt with white cotton trim around the sleeves. These lead down to dark green boots and skirts, held by a brown leather belt with a brass clasp. On their heads each wore a red hat also decorated with the white trim of tradition – what had become the uniform of the masses, one of the many symbols of oppression that now decorated the streets.

  ‘Will that be all sir?’ The girl had rouged her cheeks to simulate the effect of cold on her skin. People tipped better the more they felt the spirit of the occasion. If you could seem Christmassy during April, with lows of 61 degrees, in the pouring rain, with the flowers beginning to bloom through the sidewalk, it was considered an achievement worth paying for.
  ‘Yeah.’ I nodded curtly, hat pulled low, down over my eyes. I had already risked enough by stopping here but I had to get a taste one last time. She brought it to me in a big mug, steaming with marshmallows and overflowing with foam. I usually preferred to take it in solid form, but this was the only way to add bourbon in to the mix. I downed half of the beverage in two seconds, scolding chocolate scarring my oesophagus, mono and disaccharides leaking rapidly in to my veins and focusing my attention in a sugar rush. If nothing else, I would miss this, this and the joyful laughter of the children, but a debt was a debt and the balance had to be restored. 

  I downed the dregs of my beverage, wiping the excess from the fur on my top lip and made for the door. As I was about to cross the threshold a waitress rushed in, apparently late. I’m never one to interfere with serving staff, knowing the workload and pressure of working with the public. I stood aside and motioned to her to pass.
  ‘Thank you,’ she said sweetly, smiling against the odds.
  ‘Wait!’ came an irate cry from the back of the room.
  I turned. An official in a dark green uniform with a badge of holly was striding across the room towards us, an accusing finger outstretched in my direction. My heart leapt in to my calloused throat. How had he known so soon? It was the worst of the scum: an officer of the Christmas Police.
  ‘Aren’t you forgetting something my friends?’ he grinned toothily, his fat folds showing through his clothing. I followed the line of his accusatory finger and my eyes rested with horror on the small green twig with white berries which lay above the door.
  ‘Aw, Billy,’ said one of the officer’s dining companions from a table at the back of the room, ‘lay orff those poor kids wouldja. It’s not like it’s Christmas yet.’
  ‘The Holidays are coming Carl!’ bellowed the officer in typically fundamentalist fashion, ‘and you’d do well to learn that! Traditions are traditions, and they will be upheld.’
  I was screwed. As soon as I kissed this broad, my cover would be blown. The duster coat and trilby hat had got me this far, but the facial hair would be harder to ignore up close and personal. I had to refuse.
  ‘No way man!’ I shouted. ‘I don’t have clue who this bird is. She might have herpes or something.’
  ‘Yeah,’ the girl piped up, nodding enthusiastically. ‘I’m always making out with strange guys in doorways. I haven’t had a health check in ages. I’m probably really infectious. ’
  ‘C’mon Billy, let it go!’ yelled the man at the back of the room again. ‘I wanna play monopoly here.’
  ‘QUIET CARL! One more word against tradition and I’ll have you drafted in with the Elves.’ Billy turned back to us and levelled a revolver at our heads. ‘You two,’ he said with the cold decisiveness of a man who has killed before, ‘make with the smoochy.’
  Our eyes turned to meet. She was as terrified as me, almost shaking. Suddenly, it came to me. I grabbed her face in both hands and gave her a big wet kiss on the lips – there it was! There was the taste of her there, her mouth stained with coffee and mouthwash, but also something much more recent.  Sweet, yet plasticised, a chocolate that had been shaped and placed in a specific mold – she had been gorging from an advent calendar. Suddenly all was relief. I broke away and found her staring at me with a similar concoction of emotion. We now both knew each other’s secret and if one of us ratted the other out we’d both be stew by teatime. We found a smile for each other, then focused them benignly on our watcher.
  He grinned again. ‘There now, was that such an ordeal?’ He turned and walked away, his fat jiggling beneath his shirt with each pace, leaving the girl and I standing breathless with relief. As soon as he had sat down, she ran behind the bar to the safety of her wrokmates, whilst I pondered momentarily before exiting the restaurant. How could the girl be so stupid as to risk eating advent calendar chocolates before December? Then I realised that my own actions were about to match her’s for stupidity. I only had an hour, maybe a few minutes, before she became bold and decided to anonymously call the police to alert them to my presence. I had best make my move quickly.

  Café Classico lay on Fifty-Seventh Street so I had but a little way to go. As I walked, I passed all the accoutrements of the Christmas Regime: Carollers exhausted from non-stop daily singing; Resident street Santas begging for money and donations in the endless holiday season. People mostly kept their heads down, but when they passed collections of the police, trills of “Merry Christmas!” and “Season’s Greeting” could be heard, elicited in a high pitch, garnered under strain. In shops, in bars, in kitchens from every conceivable source of sound came the saccharin quavers of Christmas songs: ‘Dashing through the snow,’ said one; ‘And so this is Christmas...,’ came another; ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day,’ was my personal favourite. If Wizzard had known the truth of that idea, of the misery that it would bring to millions, they would have hung themselves on their guitar strings and the saxophonist would have set himself on fire after impaling the singer on his own clarinet.

  After an age of fighting past junkies strung out on mince pies and Christmas Pudding, I arrived at my destination on Fifth Avenue. Proud and tall it gazed out over the city, the largest building in a sea of skyscrapers, a monument to the gods of industry. Formerly known as Trump Tower, this was the hub of desolation, the epicentre of the wave of madness. It was not the shining wonder it once was, but now constantly bedecked in giant flashing lights, baubles and fake branches, making it the biggest Christmas tree in existence. This was Santa’s Grotto.

  Walking in to the building was no issue. Thousands each day filled the reception, trying to get letters to Santa delivered by hand, so it was no setback whatsoever to slip in the elevator and dial the secret code, acquired under great pressure, to the top floor. Once at the top however I knew I would have to move quickly. From inside my duster coat I withdrew the smoke grenade that would grant me entrance to the inner sanctum, inside the very Pandora’s box itself from which the psychosis had sprung. The guards dispatched, I drew a bandana over my face and marched quickly up to the doors. Stealing one of the guards’ card keys, I opened the mighty, oak framed gates and slipped inside.

  What met my eyes was amusing to say the least. My adversary was as he had always been: Stocky obese build, shaggy voluminous white beard, dressed in the colour of blood with large, muddy black boots. What I had not remembered were the two lusty, voluptuous, scantily-clad sylphs draped over his knees. The one on his left knee was whispering sweet nothings to him while she worked his beard in to ringlets with a long, slender finger. The other occupied his right ear wholly with nothing more than her tongue, which slipped nimbly past the bushy outcrop growing there and seemed to work entrancement upon the owner.

  I clicked my teeth.
  The fat man’s eyes raised to meet mine. His face rapidly shed all traces of bliss and as he lurched forward the two girls were rocketed backwards from their accommodation by the full force of the man’s flab.
  ‘Hullo Klaus.’
  ‘You!’ he hissed, flecks of spit flying, freely from his lips.
  ‘Ah. So you weren’t expecting me!’ I chuckled and pulled a cigarette from my breast pocket.
  The girls picked themselves up from the floor, muttering abuse.
  ‘Sandra. Doreen. Get out of here,’ Klaus ordered the two doe-eyed beauties. They swayed out of the door, not making a backward glance at either of us.
  I tsked and shook my head mournfully. ‘Klaus you naughty boy. Whatever would Mrs. Klaus say of these luxuries you’ve bestowed on yourself?’
  The fat old man gave me a sour look. ‘I doubt she’d mind. They say she’s pretty docile when she’s on all the medication.’
  ‘She’s not herself I take it?’
  ‘No.’ He looked, somewhat regretfully, at the floor. ‘Bertha couldn’t quite stand the pace of production required for the transition to Total Christmas.’
  ‘I remember,’ I said coolly. ‘Xmas 24/7/52: The biggest mistake in the history of mankind.’
  He gave me a sharp glare. Then he smiled. ‘You’re looking better than I expected though. How did you persuade my man to defect?’
  ‘I didn’t.’ I replied. ‘Vinnie the Poacher, wasn’t it?’
  ‘The same.’
  ‘He wasn’t as tough as he looked,’ I chuckled with a grin. ‘Three fingers and a testicle and he frothed like boiling milk. It was foolish of you to tell him to go into hiding once the job was done.’
  Klaus smacked a giant fist on the arm of his chair. ‘I asked for trophies to be sent!’
  ‘And you got ‘em I see.’ I nodded to the large fluffy round tail and the long white ears that were mounted above Klaus’s oaken desk.
  He glanced up and then back to me. ‘How did you do it?’
  ‘Oh, y’know,’ I gloated, taking off my hat to reveal my own undamaged aural appendages. ‘I figured you were enough of a jackass, not to notice the difference between the ears of a bleached donkey and a giant rabbit.’
  He nodded curtly, admiring the work. ‘Well played Bunny. But how did you manage the tail?’
  I grimaced. I turned away and lifted the hem of my duster coat to reveal the scar, still with stitches. ‘How do you like my knife work? You always said I was good with a blade.’  
  ‘Well Bunny, I must say I’m impressed,’ said Klaus from behind me. I heard him get up. ‘But I must confess I thought you would have reckoned with my still having the upper hand.’
  I turned back. Klaus had a magnum levelled at my forehead.
  I chuckled. The chuckle became a laugh and the laugh turned in to a belly-aching guffaw.
  ‘Oh Nicky. You always did underestimate me,’ I said, throwing off my coat and revealing the thumb of my left paw holding down the button of the detonator. His eyes rested on the wire leading to the C4 waistcoat I had sewn for myself. ‘How do like my work?,’ I hissed. ‘I’m quite the tailor!’
  ‘Bunny, you’re mad!’
  ‘Am I?’ I shrieked. ‘Perhaps the endless Christmas jingles have finally got to me! Perhaps the constantly early Season’s Greetings cards and the carollers and the grottos in September and the ceaseless television and radio commercials of unrealistically selfless children surprising their parents on Christmas morning have whittled my wits down to nothing! But you know whose fault that is, DON’T YOU KLAUS!’
  ‘IT’S NOT ME!’
  ‘ISN’T IT?!’ I bellowed, enraged beyond measure.
  ‘No.’ He tried to hold his head up, but failed, his anger and hatred waning. ‘I’m just as much a victim as you are Bunny. You know what the fat cats are like. You start a nice tradition of giving and suddenly everyone wants more and more! It was nice at first, with the fame and the fortune and all, but it’s got out of hand.’
  ‘You think I don’t see that!’ I yelled, thumb twitching. ‘You tried to whack me!’
  ‘It wasn’t my idea,’ he whispered. ‘It just sounded so tempting when they came to me with the proposition.’ His eyes took on a glazed sheen. ‘Total Christmas – the solution to the double dip. Increased consumer confidence and spending all year round. Everyone was going to benefit.’
  ‘Everyone except me and Saint Valentine’s cupids,’ I muttered.
  He nodded. ‘Exactly. You see now why I keep the company I do: Anything to forget what I’ve done to this world; the agonising pain I’ve inflicted on people.’
  ‘You can undo this Nick,’ I said. ‘But you’ve got to remove yourself from the picture. You can try to hide, but there’s nowhere you can go that you won’t be recognised.’
  ‘Maybe I can bust Bertha out.’ He smiled hopefully, memories of a simpler time flooding back to him. ‘You and I can get her on the sled and we can escape back to the North Pole and I can nurse her back to health.’
  I shook my head. ‘As much as I would want Bertha to be well again, that’s the first place they’d look.’
  ‘I know,’ he sighed, forlorn. He was beginning to look like the Father Christmas I had known once, but a drawn and faded version of the original.
  He placed the revolver in his mouth and pulled the hammer back. The explosion tore off the back of his skull, spattering the wall with blood and brains. The roar left my large sensitive ears ringing so badly that when Dasher and Blitzen kicked in the door, I wasn’t aware of their presence until I’d already been shot in the back. I lay face down, silently listening to the sound of their hooves as they tentatively crossed the marble floor.
  ‘Is he dead?’ I heard one say.
  ‘I dunno. But the boss certainly looks in bad shape,’ observed the other.
  The pain hit me and I groaned involuntarily.
  ‘Ah! It lives,’ one announced, clearly elatedly. I got a heavy kick to my stomach, sending me on to my back. I still held down the trigger of the detonator, pressing it against my side to hide it there. I looked up in to the faces of two cocky, irate reindeer, wearing shades and carrying shotguns.
  ‘My my,’ said Dasher. ‘Looks like this little bunny just ruined Christmas for everyone.’
  ‘I’ve certainly lost my Christmas cheer,’ chirped Blitzen, stamping on my chest.
  ‘Yeah, but don’t worry about that, long-ears,’ Dasher revelled, leaning close enough that I could smell his moose-breath, ‘We’ve got lots of gifts to inflict on you.’
  ‘I’m afraid Christmas is over,’ I groaned, lifting my thumb from the trigger. A light switched on and my explosive waistcoat gave a preliminary hum. ‘IT’S EASTER NOW, MUTHAFUKKA!’

Friday, 30 September 2011

He's Got Style

  I would like to take a little of your time in order to extrude a tale of an old acquaintance of mine. The girl’s name in question is not particularly German, nor spelt in the Germanic fashion, but wishing to spare her any embarrassment by relating these events  - and her nationality being German -  I intend to simply label her Brunhilde, satisfying the impulse of casual racism I adopted sometime back in 2009.

  Brunhilde may or may not be a fashion guru, but one might be inclined on a particularly vindictive afternoon to assume that she regarded herself as such. My fashion sense has always been limited: Give me a pair of baggy shorts and some flip flops and the world suddenly becomes a lot simpler. She however saw the world and its contents as something to be rearranged, to be aesthetically attuned to the music of the spheres at all times, so that at any moment (should Jesus descend to Earth from his holy placement) he would find himself an underdressed gatecrasher and the source of much critique at the party of life.

  In the spring she would combine sassy, floral pastiche with elements of the recent revamp of the Tom Ford 70s tuxedo, intoxicating the eye with the heady bouquet of bold rose-tints and subtler emerald hues on matt black bell bottoms. The following season saw sexy, summer skirts that blasted pure radiance at all frequencies of the magnetic spectrum, whilst autumn got her going Gucci in burnt yellows and plunging necklines. Winter would come and go and in that time Brunhilde would show the conscientious world that animal cruelty was far from over with her legion of furs, each stripped from the flesh of its own endangered specie.

  She regarded the world much as she regarded herself. Living permanently in an era supported on such cultural pillars as Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel, she would accept no substitute in those around her, particularly in her choice of men. I remember one afternoon asking her what made a man attractive. Her answer was bold in its simplicity: “His shoes”. Thus it was that her contact with men was seldom, and being seldom, rarely enduring. It came as some surprise to me therefore when she related that she had recently been swept off her feet:

  It all began at a friend’s house party, as many of these stories often do. Brunhilde and her friends were discussing the finer points of Arizona Muse and Daphne Groeneveld’s interpretations of hairstyles and outfits using 60s stylistic trappings (Davina Trumpton commenting  inanely that the sash should never be used without respect for its appropriate heritage), when her eye was caught by a figure on the other side of the room. He was clean cut with a stocky, square build and a tan sheen that oozed a sensuous style in and of itself. Yet it was his sense of taste and choice in clothing which so fascinated Brunhilde.

  He had a classic, fitted, Hugo Boss single breasted suit with peaked lapels, which oozed opulent masculinity through its navy, slim peppered colouration - speaking to Brunhilde of dinner parties on riverboats and holidays in Costa Rica helping orphan children to build model hair salons and liposuction clinics. His shirt was of crisp linen, a daring peach in the face of so much dark blue. Its starched collar cut downwards in an aggressive arc, digging in to the soft folds of his cravat, which gleamed a deep purple in the supple light. His crisp, creased trousers drew an arrow of attention down toward his shoes - Ah, the shoes! Brunhilde felt herself step forward involuntarily. His shoes shone in the dappled light, twin suns in the midst of so glitter and reflection, pearly, opalescent, silvery – creating a combination of dark and light that was so counterintuitive to the senses that to see these shoes in tandem with the suit could almost have been considered a crime. Such was the taste with which they were fitted however, that Brunhilde could not help but be overcome with awe. Somehow the contrast between the two only served to complement the other half in a mesmerising contusion, which shocked the senses. Before she knew what she was doing, Brunhilde had abandoned her friends and found herself engaging in conversation with this dark and lofty figure.

  She was enchanted and indeed became quite intoxicated by him – his oaky scent, his solid frame, his silent mystique only serving to dull her senses to her surroundings and the scandalous glances she was receiving from them. She was usually so reserved in her manner but in her heightened state she babbled at him, drunk on the heady liquor of attraction, speaking constantly, but never seeming to bore this bastion of style, this obelisk of the fashion world. He stood, absorbing all she said with an air of unaffectedness and stability so alluring that when her hand accidentally brushed against his Fred Perry scarf, she was overcome with passion.

  Crazed with desire, she dragged her conquest out of the social gathering and heaved him in to a nearby bedroom, forgoing turning on the light. She divested him of all his garments in a fervour - his suit, his socks, his cravat, his beret, his trousers, his silvery shoes, his coat and proceeded to immerse herself in him. She heaved, she panted, smothering him with caresses, soothing him with kisses, dragging her nails across his smooth, hard skin, speaking to him of a thousand pleasures she had never experienced before she had met him that day. In the darkness she became completely one with the void and lost herself in the bliss of her new lover – her one, lifelong need.

  Once she had caught her breath and regained her sight she lent over and kissed her bedfellow on his side, noticing his cool composition.
  ‘What is it my love?’ she asked, her heavenly contentment registering a blip of uncertainty.
  He did not respond.
  ‘Speak to me my dear. Say my name.’
  Again he was silent.
  A cool doubt, that had begun to nestle in her mind, grew wings and she flew to the light switch, basking her and her naked lover in the cold white light of truth.

  He had been stout, yes. His collection of attire was impeccable, true. But Brunhilde could no longer hide herself from the certainty that her ideal man had been an And So To Bed, Art Deco two door wardrobe. Her horror was immediate. She had to get out. She falteringly, in breaking English, tried to explain her error to him, yet he lay there unmoved. She pleaded for his forgiveness at her mistake, but he said nothing. In the end she simply got dressed and left as he lay there, wooden and unfeeling.

  For a day she walked around in a stupor, trying to avoid anything and everything to do with fashion and furniture. She accidently walked in to a DFS and burst in to fits of uncontrollable tears. Later that evening as the shadows drew-in, she sat in her living room with a cup of cocoa and tried to forget the world. Suddenly, her phone rang. It was Davina. Apparently her boyfriend had found his wardrobe the next morning and decided that he was never going to touch it or its contents again. ‘Would Brunhilde pay for it?’ he asked? Brunhilde was too heart-broken to refuse, and the next day, the source of her embarrassment stood before her, as cold and motionless as before.

  But friends, let us not consider this a bad ending. Though things were awkward to begin with, Brunhilde and “Art”, as she affectionately named him, began to experience some of their original attraction and soon the forces of love worked their way with them once more.
  I asked Brunhilde how things were going.
  ‘Wonderful,’ she said. ‘I’ve never been happier.’
  I asked her though if she’d prefer someone else, someone a little less rigid and more animate.
  ‘No,’ she said. ‘I admit, he’s not very talkative and he doesn’t earn much money. But he always listens, he’s never too clingy or demanding and he never throws away the clothes I buy for him.’
  And friends, this is the awkward thing: Ever since Brunhilde told me that, I’ve noticed my girlfriend occasionally throwing longing glances at my chest of drawers. 

Monday, 8 August 2011

Thai Green Chicken Curry

  The following tale is based on true events. I feel forced to disclose it to the public, in the hope that some good might come from what has passed. The events in question took place on a godless, dreary Wednesday night in October. I had just returned from an evening lecture, and as I had exited The Portland Building the heavens had opened and the sky had fallen, drenching the land for miles so heavily that it kneaded everything to a thick, pizza dough. Slamming the back door behind me and squelching in to the kitchen of my humble abode I felt my clothes cling to me like adoring fans to a washed out boy band. I took off my smeared glasses and tried to dry them on my sodden t-shirt. But it was to no avail. Losing my temper I threw my glasses down on the counter top and filled the kettle. I didn’t usually have sugar with my tea, but tonight I needed at least two teaspoons if I were to be able to endure the company of my housemates with any civility.

  As I sat in the darkness of the kitchen, listening to the slow hissing of the heat element, I realised I was hungry. I pondered whether to make cheese on toast, or simply order a takeaway and to hell with the money. As the ponderance crossed my mind, in that exact second, a flash of lightning tore across the ragged sky outside, illuminating the kitchen and my eye was drawn, as if by the very hand of Beelzebub himself, to a dusty old student cookbook that stood on the kitchen shelf. I do not know what possessed me, but before I knew what I was doing my hand was reaching involuntarily towards it. Blowing at the thick layer of dust on the cover, I opened the book. I thumbed through it a few minutes. There were a few salads that might have been good in Summer, a stew or two to appease the appetite of anyone with time on their hands, but nothing to satisfy the wants of an impetuous, wet, cold, hungry lazy bones such as myself. I put down the book and made a cup of tea.

  I returned to the table. But the book had changed while I my back was turned. It now lay on a new page, one I had not seen. I was certain I had been looking at a page about boiling sprouts before. Now it lay on page one six nine. One hundred and sixty nine. Thirteen multiplied by thirteen. Bad Luck squared. Had I considered this significant at the time I would have immediately turned away, but instead my attention was drawn to the title this recipe gave itself: Thai Green Chicken Curry. I glanced at the preparation time:  30 minutes. I glanced at the ingredients: easy to obtain. I decided then that this would be my meal for the evening, and as the fires of the damned flashed across the sky I ran through Satan’s downpour to the co-op.

  Ten minutes later, dripping with perspiration and jittery with enthusiasm I assembled the ingredients of my undoing before me. I cut up the chillies, un-dit the lid of the curry paste jar, opened the tin of coconut milk and washed my hands rigorously before preparation. It was complete, I was ready to begin. Ready that is, except for the chicken. The recipe called for skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut in to chunks. The chicken thighs I had bought clearly came from skin covered, bone filled chickens. I rationalized that I could pull off the skin, remove the flesh from the bone and still be left with all the flesh I needed to cook. I begin the sordid task with the kitchen’s only good serrated knife, cutting at flesh, hacking at ligament, tearing at tendon. Blood spattered my face, the vestiges of gore bedecked my hands, but finally I extracted sufficient chicken meat to make the curry. Oh how I wish that I had given up at that moment! that sloth had tempted me to say “bugger it” and order a pizza. Clearly the Devil had another agenda that night.

  Once finished I devoured half the meal in one sitting and put the rest in the fridge. During the washing up I noticed I still had the remains of the chicken thighs on a plate, the bone the skin, and some of the flesh stuck on the bone that the knife had not removed. These, I threw in to the bin. I did not bother to note that the bin bag was empty, having only been recently changed. I slept happily that night on a full stomach. Thursday brought no misadventure. The sun rose, I awoke and the day passed without event. That night I had the last of the curry and again slept happily on a full stomach. As I breakfasted on Friday morning, there was a strange smell. Thinking nothing of it I left the house expecting nothing out of the ordinary, but on my return that evening I was struck at the rancidity that filled my nostrils. My eyes watered, my lungs craved air, and my stomach wrestled with my oesophagus in a bid to shed its load. Luckily I held my breath and approached the source of the stench. Entering the kitchen, I followed the waves of odour to the bin, wherefrom emanated this most repugnant aroma. I lifted the lid.

  Maggots feeding on the remains of the chicken I had discarded that Wednesday. Dozens of maggots, hundreds of maggots wriggling and squirming and wriggling a bit more as they squirmed away at the edge of that black plastic bag. I would have vomited, but luckily at that moment I soiled myself instead.

  I did not stop to wallow in bitter humiliation, however. I picked up the bag, carried it outside and deposited it in the black bin. I made sure the lid was firmly fastened before throwing away my trousers and showering liberally, breathing silent thanks that the worst was behind me. Sadly I was wrong. As I slept the drugged sleep of the insomniac the maggots were planning their revenge. They had grown accustomed to living in the relative comfort of the kitchen and were not going to give up their territory so easily. Sending newly metamorphosed fly messengers they dispatched communications to the local urban wildlife. By midnight they had collected their forces, in the small hours they planned their attack and at dawn they struck.

  I was still in bed when it happened, drugged in order that I might not wake screaming in the night. My housemate Rebecca answered when the doorbell went. She was curious to find that there was no one there, which is when the badgers took out her legs. She fell and was caught on a bed of silk and wrapped into a ball by a hundred spiders, before being dragged to the her room by feral foxes. The other housemates received similar fates as they woke, one managing to take out some of the pigeons before being knocked unconscious by some fluffy rabbits.

  It was several hours later that I awoke. I am apt to tread softly upon the morn, so when I stumbled in to the living room and came face to face with the collective wildlife of Highland road watching Jeremy Kyle, the surprise was mutual. The rats acted first, climbing up my legs and scratching at my face. Luckily I was able to grab one of the pigeons and beat them off me without sustaining too much damage. It was then that a vixen flying kicked me in the back of the head, sending me falling into the badgers who promptly tore off one of my ears. I was not done for however. Seizing and tying two rabbits together by the ears I created a set of makeshift nunchucks, which I used to beat the badgers senseless. I then was able to some the pigeons uncooked rice that I happened to have with me at the time and use them as crude grenades to disable the rest of their ranks. I was standing there revelling in my glory, when a swift kick to the back of my knee sent me to the floor. I turned round, and there before me stood an eight-foot maggot man, comprised entirely of thousands of individual maggots working in unison to form a solid man-shaped mass. They were back! I kicked it where I thought it would hurt. It made no difference and I was picked up a hurled full strength at the wall. I tried using the rabbit nunchucks, but it was useless! 

  In desperation I ran from the living room in to the kitchen, barring the door with the house mop. In my desperation I came to the conclusion that the battle was already lost and decided that there was only one course of action. I did the thing that I had seen on the Bourne Supremacy, starring Matt Damon directed by Paul Greengrass and based on the book by Robert Ludlum: I turned on the gas on the cooker, set the toaster on ten, put in a copy of Heat magazine, detailing the divorce proceedings of Pete André and Katie Price, against the red hot metal and ran. The gas ignited when I was part way down the street and the house erupted in orange flame. The eight-foot maggot menace was no more. I only had time to reflect later that my housemates must still have been in the house when it blew up.
‘Oh well,’ I thought. ‘Better luck next time.’


Sunday, 26 June 2011

Glorious Republic

As we approached the terminus of Grove End Road, our party was hailed by two official-looking soldiers armed with 9mm semi-automatic rifles and matching blue shrapnel helmets and flak jackets. A large sentry gun stood to their left, its barrel casting a shadow that stretched ominously from one side of the street to the other. 
  ‘Pashportsh!’ demanded one man in a thick Abbiesque accent.
  We willingly obliged. There had been six shootings across this boarder in the last three months and five of them were due to travellers being “uncooperative”. He took up each colourful little book and deftly scrutinized each picture before glaring accusingly at our faces - daring us to suddenly change in to someone else.
  ‘Americansh?’ he asked, pointing to two of my companions.
  ‘Er yes,’ I conceded, hoping that recent political events wouldn’t interfere with our holiday plans. It was dangerous to cross the border during the holiday season, but I knew my friends Lesley and Britton would probably never get the opportunity to come here again... while it remained anything more than a smoking crater.
  ‘There ish a ten euro out-of-continent chargsh,’ said the second soldier, stepping forward.
  ‘That’s ridiculous,’ I contested, ‘this country is surrounded on all sides by the British capital. Surely it makes no difference where someone’s from.’
  ‘No money, no entry,’ replied the first soldier.
  I was going to argue more when Lesley grabbed my arm to restrain me. ‘It’s okay, we can pay,’ she said, a pleading look in her eyes.
  I had intended to use my position as a journalist to curry favour with the soldiers, but it seemed senseless to risk permanent extradition, as well as possible kidnap and ransom. People in this land were always looking for a way to make extra money. Desperation and starvation forced the natives to find means to survive however they could. Our passports were stamped and we were waved through.

 The second row of fence was only ten feet away, but before that was a Bureau de Change.
  ‘Eurosh?’ said a reedy man standing behind the desk.
  ‘No thanks,’ I said, speaking for my companions. ‘We’re only here to take a few photos.’
  The reedy, Bureau de Change man took a stick from the desk and pointed to a grubby sign at the back of the stand: NO CAMERAS OR PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT TO BE CARRIED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL BORDERS, it read.
  ‘WHAT?!’ I spat. ‘How are we supposed to get pictures of ourselves if we can’t take cameras with us?’
  ‘There ish an offishial photographer at the site,’ the reedy Bureau de Change man explained patronisingly. ‘You may leave your camerash wizh me.’
  ‘Right,’ I sighed, exasperated. ‘And I expect the official camera man will charge us, yes?’
  ‘It’sh ten eurosh for one photo or fifteen for two,’ the reedy Bureau de Change man grinned. ‘The exchange rate ish two to one. Thatsh two pounds per euro.’
  I was on the verge of cracking, but we had come so far and travelled so long to get here, it would be futile to contest the rates now. We had been on the tube all morning and had had to make three changes, including through the District and Circle lines which take a bloody age, let me tell you. I accepted that the fault had been mine. Had I done my research and checked the British Embassy website, I would have known and brought travellers cheques. I handed over forty pounds sterling, deposited my camera with the reedy Bureau de Change man, and was waved through the second fence. A rickety welcome sign confirmed our location. It read: WELCOME TO THE GLORIOUS REPUBLIC OF ABBEY ROAD: TRESPASSERS WILL BE EXECUTED.

  As the five of us shuffled out on to the street, blistering heat met our faces and the three layers of clothing that had protected us from the bitter English chill on the other side of the fence only served to suffocate us in this tropical climate. Around us were families crowded around small wooden shacks, presenting their wares to the tourist stream, trying to scratch out a living by peddling poorly scaled models of the Beatles moulded from asphalt stolen from the road, and wood cut from the branches of the recording studio trees. I’d heard that such actions could result in limbs being removed – a testimony to the desperation of these people. Not five feet from us, a group of children kicked a can through an open sewer, while their mother vomited in the only hole deep enough to be a toilet.
  We took a couple of paces forward and another reedy man, uncannily similar to the first, approached us with a camera and a tripod. He shouted some syllables at us. It seemed impossible to know what the man was saying as he had only two teeth, neither of which granted him any assistance in communicating. He pointed to the world’s most famous zebra crossing and held out his hand for the money he knew we’d have. I gave him the twenty euro note.
  ‘That’s for two photos,’ I said loudly. ‘That’s fifteen euros.’
  The man pointed to his wallet, mimed “cash” and shook his head. I surmised that he had no change. In an increasingly foul mood I crossed the road and directed my four friends to do the same. We queued behind a gaggle of tourists of all nationalities, while international traffic was forced to pay expensive tariffs to pass through the zebra crossing. Whenever there was a lull, a group of tourists would be allowed to strike the immortal pose of those four who made the album in the studio behind us, the only other source of income in this fetid country. Inside the walls of the studio the rich lived in the lap of luxury, whilst on the street the class divide only continued to widen.
  When it eventually came to our turn, the man would not allow us to stand together. He held up his hand. Four fingers.

  I begrudgingly allowed my friends to be captured in the first photograph and I exchanged places with Britton in the second. When we were presented with our photos, it became apparent that the cameraman had had his thumb over my position in the second photo. I argued that we deserved a free photo, but he demanded more money, which I sadly could not produce.
  As we passed back onto British soil and the cold December air, I fumed at the injustice and corruption of this once great principality of our sceptre isle. I was incensed at the sheer nerve of those in power  - that those who could have set up schools and built churches had only used their wealth to distort the nature of such a hallowed place for their own gains. But mostly I raged at the thought that I had paid all that money for a Beatles novelty photograph, when in truth I had always been a Rolling Stones fan.  

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Mould and Magnolia (Inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s "The Yellow Wallpaper")

August 18th 2009:

  It seems strange coming back to this dingy little flat after so many years, but our regular painting man is off sick with some mysterious flu.  George insists that we have to have the whole place re-painted by the beginning of September before the new tenants can move in. Apparently it is advisable to remove bloodstains from the wall before putting a residence back out on the market. I don’t know what on Earth George thinks I can contribute to this, but he doesn’t seem particularly interested in my pleas now that we’re facing financial troubles.

  I keep telling him, “I was a housewife with a cleaning maid, George. I haven’t lifted a finger in years.” Yet the boorish old cretin continues to force me in to painting the flipping place with him and his brother Ernie.

  Poor old flat. It was a rather strange case: Apparently the previous tenant of the attic room took it upon himself to ritually flail both his housemates to death, embalm their corpses, then perform an ancient Egyptian brain removing ceremony on his own skull with an electric whisk and a Stanley knife. Considering that the procedure is usually conducted after the victim has passed on, it’s really quite amazing that he got as far as he did. Such a pity that so much young blood was wasted on the white walls and such a shame that I’m having to miss Jeremy Kyle in order to cover it up and remove the blood soaked carpet.

  George has bought three large tubs of Magnolia paint. It seems far too much for such a small flat, but George tells me that it’s really very cheap and probably worth getting extra. Because it’s the smallest room, I’ve been given the attic room to do. It really is rather a mess. The ambulance men did the best they could but it’s still obvious where they’ve had to cut chunks from the mattress to remove the corpse. It’s such a pity that people have to kill others, themselves and ruin perfectly good upholstery and bedding in the process. Why didn’t the poor fellow just throw himself off Tower Bridge? Many perfectly respectable people have done themselves in that way.

  August 19th:

  There’s rather a lot of mould on the walls up here. Apparently the next tenants are foreign migrants, George says, so a decent coating of paint will mean we won’t have to re-render the outer wall till after they’ve left, provided it goes on thick enough. They know nothing of housekeeping matters, most of them. We can probably blame it all on whichever poor sod gets the room and on his collection of rotting old pizza boxes in one of the corners, should anything go awry.

  George has bought me one of those cheap B&Q rollers and a palette knife, he says they’ll do the job fine, but no matter how much paint I roll and slap on, it never seems to hide the mould quite enough. I blamed it on the George’s cheap roller but he, quite rightly, pointed out that it seemed to deal with the bloodstains easily enough. I remember from when Herbert was growing up that those were a real bother.

  Poor sickly, little Herbert: If he was alive today it would be him having to help his father paint this retched flat instead of me. I could be at home learning about the lives of the unemployed with my feet up and a large afternoon gin and tonic in my hand. But no matter. Given his tolerance levels of peanuts, furry animals, feathered animals, sugar, pollen, bacteria, cleaning products , vegetation, insect bites, dust, citrus fruits, vitamin B12, calcium, Ammonium sulphate,  zinc products and industrial sellotape, I usually take it as a quiet mercy that he died in that giant meat blender.

It’s a bit stuffy in here. I’ll open the skylight and hope a breeze will alleviate the closeness in the room.

August 22nd:

  I’ve painted this room twice now and I swear I can still see the mould coming through the paint. Despite the window being open all night the closeness of the room hasn’t departed either. But the bloodstains are completely gone though and the mattress has been replaced, so it almost looks like a room again. If only it weren’t for that mould. It’s a strange white colour that shows only slightly against the magnolia paint, but if one stares at it closely, one can start to see patterns emerging, like budding grasses after a storm. They wave at me it seems. I see fields of it stretching up the wall and into the distance – a perfect untouched meadow of tall beckoning wheat spanning for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see. No wait, there is a blemish. There’s a lump in the middle of the wall near the front. Now I wonder what it could be?


  Ernie went to get us takeaway late this evening. I’ve applied a third coat of paint to the attic room, but the mould seems unstoppable. George tells me I’m being paranoid and that there’s nothing there anymore, but I know he’s wrong. The grass is still waving, with the blemish in the centre and it’s become more pronounced. I can tell... it’s the figure of a man.

  Ernie came back without the takeaway and without the car. Apparently he crashed into a lamppost and they won’t be able to send a replacement until tomorrow. It looks like we’ll have to spend the night in this dingy little flat. Since the beds are all singles I decided I’d prefer to take the attic room by myself, rather than listen to Ernie or George’s ungodly snoring downstairs. With the light off and a full moon shining through the skylight I watch the mould as it ripples beneath the cheap paint. I see grasses undulate to an invisible breeze on the other side.

   Magical it looks: An enchanted land away from the cares and sorrows of the everyday world of Jeremy Kyle and tenants and flat painting. I observe the enchanted pastures and start to imagine I can see brightly coloured insects flitting between the grass blades. I return to the spot where I saw the man-shaped blemish. In this moonlight, all has become clear. This is no man. This is a boy. A poor sickly looking boy that I used to know, like only a mother could know. But this boy is not the same diseased little wretch that I nursed on the couch. This little boy is strong and healthy. He is smiling and beckoning to me.

  I get out of my bed and in my pink, silk pyjamas I reach out to him and try to touch his hand, but the wall is in the way. This blasted wall that I myself have painted three ruddy times in the last three ruddy days is keeping me from being with my son. His lips move, and if I stand very still I can hear his voice through the divide.

  ‘Come through Mamaa,’ he says. ‘Come through. It’s all so much better here.’
  ‘I can’t Herbert,’ I cry back. ‘I can’t get through the wall.’
  ‘Yes you can Mamaa,’ he moans softly. ‘But you must pay to cross over.’
  ‘Pay?’ I whisper.
  ‘Yes,’ he sighs, rather deliberately. ‘Pay... in blood.’
  Ah, I think to myself, suddenly all the gory back-story makes sense.
  ‘But Herbert,’ I say ‘I can’t do that.’
  ‘Yes you can Mamaa,’ he says. ‘You know just what to do. And bring Papaa and Uncle Ernie with you.’

  I can’t fault my boy’s logic. I know he knows that I know what I have to do. I’ve picked up the palette knife and I’m lowering the ladder down through the trap door. With any luck George and Ernie won’t hear me coming. I would just so hate to make them suffer.

Fanta Miner (Based heavily on Fantomina by Eliza Haywood)

A young coquettish Vimto can of great figure, spirit and birth found herself one night in the drinks aisle at the local co-op. Seated on the higher shelf she had the advantage of being able to look down on the walkway below and observe the actions of the customers who would walk by. In particular she could not help but observe the actions of a certain young man called Nigel, whose pock-marked face and nerdy posture particularly caught her eye. He seemed to be a man of some considerably discriminating taste, as his trips always terminated in the acquisition of a can of popular carbonated orange drink. Thinking him to her liking, she decided one night to adopt the guise of one of these popular carbonated orange drinks and sat on the appropriate shelf, somewhat forward from the others in the hope that young Nigel might pass and take an interest in her.

  On the first night Nigel did not enter the locale of the drinks aisle, distracted as he was in discussing the latest Warhammer additions with a few of his geekier companions. Caught alone on the second night however he easily succumbed to the young can’s charms and she was taken to his home, under her guise as Fanta Orange. Confined to his bedroom, watching Star Trek, he opened his rucksack and pulled her from the comforting folds of his spare hoody. Our heroine was nervous now, she tried intimating to him that she was formed of un-recycled steel and had never been opened before. Though she was interested in pursuing a course of intimacy with this young man she was not sure whether she was ready to lose her innocence just yet. Such was his thirst for her however, that even had he known her true nature he would have probably drank her contents regardless of their flavour. To wit, she was undone and scorned him with harsh language the likes of which would never be fit to disclose in public. Nevertheless though he had used her to fulfil his own passions, he entreated her with delicate words that soothed her fury and he promised to recycle her in the appropriate green bin on his way to work the next day.

  He kept his word, and many times she was recycled and refilled with Vimto, where she would then have to re-disguise herself as a can of the popular carbonated orange drink. And he would purchase her again and they would retire to his abode where they were able to drink their fill of one another. But Nigel varied not so little from his sex as to be able to prolong desire, to any great length after repeated consumption; and she discovered from her high vantage point that Nigel began to grow weary of her section of the drinks aisle, as he started throwing sidelong glances at the cans of the same brand but different flavour. She wisely considered that complaining or imploring with Nigel would only drive him away, so once again she utilised her skills of disguise: lightening her complexion and adopting a yellow hue she became Fanta Lemon. So on the next evening when Nigel entered the co-op, she once again sat forward from all of the other cans. Not seeing his long-term lover to hand, Nigel was able to slip his new-found conquest in to his shopping basket and steal back to his house without feeling guilty. Ah, had he known that his infidelity was with the can he had drunk from before how he might have wished for the skies to fall on his head, but such was his craving that the illusion of a new conquest blotted all apparent similarity from his mind.

  It was not long however before the charms of Fanta Lemon begin to dim for him too. Our plucky young Vimto can, though young, was easily attuned to the whims of her lover, and made herself a new disguise, that of Fanta Strawberry.  Each new disguise, reinvigorated his thirst for her in the main, but there are only so many flavours that can be derived from that popular carbonated orange drink we all know so well. After Nigel grew tired of Fanta Apple, the Vimto can decided she must hedge her bets with one final bid to secure her lover’s faithfulness.  Stripping herself of all graphic design, she placed herself on a bare shelf in the drinks aisle one night. As Nigel bought his microwave dinner that evening he spied her on a shelf, naked but for a black question mark that barely covered her aluminium cylindrical form. Overcome with curiosity, Nigel attempted to buy her immediately. However, her lack of a bar code made purchase impossible, so in a fit of pure passion he threw down his microwave dinner and ran from the store, pursued by the furious co-op staff in their turquoise and purple chequered shirts. Held in hot pursuit by the co-op attendants, Nigel ran into the kids play park in the ever-growing darkness and secreted himself inside one of the tunnel slides.

  ‘My dear, enigmatic, mystery can, even if I have to sacrifice my life, I shall defend you against all adversaries’ he said, panting heavily.

  With his teeth he opened her ring pull. The click and hiss of the can opening alerted the listening co-op attendants and they pounced on him mid-gulp, dragging him out of the slide by his feet. He was true to his word however and engaged the co-op shelf stackers in mortal combat. In the struggle he dropped his precious can in an attempt to beat off his aggressors. Just when he thought he was gaining ground, he looked at his new beloved and froze. As he had dropped her she had fallen on her side and her contents were spilling liberally on the soft, rubber play park flooring. Even in the fading light he could see it was Vimto.

  ‘No, it can’t be Vimto’ he said ‘I’m sure I would‘ve-’

 He stopped, and then it hit him: How every soft drink he had purchased for the last three months had tasted exactly the same, but how in his lustful state he had ignored the flavour and only wanted the carbonated, sugary goodness inside. All the flavours of popular carbonated fruit-flavoured drink he had consumed had all had the same Vimtoey taste. He hadn’t been drinking Fanta at all. Under the burden of the truth, his legs gave way and he was brought to his knees. He flung his arms skyward, and cried out to the Heavens:

  ‘Whhyyyy?! How could this have happened?! I don’t even like Vimto!!!’

  When the police arrived, the bruised co-op attendants were standing a respectful distance from the bitterly sobbing man who lay in a heap at the foot of the slide. He didn’t struggle as they put him in the back of the car and drove him away. The Vimto can continued to lie there till morning when a conscientious mother, fearing for the safety of her child, deposited our heroine in one of the park rubbish bins, the contents of which were later taken to a landfill site in Chepstow where she remained till she finally decomposed several hundred years later.


Thursday, 28 October 2010

Stan's Big Mistake

  Stan’s big mistake was pornography... or something to that effect. I like to consider myself a decent, upright and patient sort of person, experienced in the manner of human behaviour and knowledgeable of  the little habits that other intolerant people so love to take issue with. Yet despite my sagacity in this field, never in my life have I lived with such a repulsive individual, someone so specifically designed to try my patience and deplete my good will as Stan Cooke. I have survived workaholics, smokaholics, alcoholics and dope fiends during the course of my time spent lodging with non-familial members of the human race. Yet, compared to this one man, the vexations of all of them combined would have been a pre-paid three course meal at Rosie’s and a full-body massage from Scarlett Johannson by comparison.
  I remember the day he moved in. In the fashion of a proper gentleman I came downstairs and put my hand out to greet him. Contrary to my expectations he put his hand at a forty-five degree angle to my own, pointed to the toilet door and enquired if it was unoccupied for he was “in danger of turning his white wash, brown”. I readily consented, not wishing to cause him further discomfort and hoping to take the air a little myself.
  All was well after that... for the first thirty-two minutes. Approximately the time it took Stan to remove his thousand pound, sound-surround, stereo system from his car and set up the various dozen or so speakers at precise intervals about his room.  From then on there was at all times the sound of what he referred to as “hard-core house” emanating from it. I found that this “music” rather interrupted my sleeping patterns, but rather than engage verbally with him on the matter I decided that I could just as easily procure some large headphones that played my own music while at home and could wear earplugs while I slept. I initially found some difficulty as the earplugs made sleeping on my side uncomfortable, but after a week and a half I eventually adapted to slumber face-up.
  It wasn’t too long after that that I began to notice that the fridge was becoming rather over-stocked. I am usually inclined to buy fresh ingredients and some small dried sundries to allow me to eat for approximately a week. However, now that the fridge seemed to have become the refuge of Bacardi Breezers and other such fruity alcoholic beverages, “something for the bitches” as Stan termed them, I found I had to limit my expenditure on fresh produce and began to subsist more on tinned goods. This led to my frequently feasting on beans on toast at the end of a long day, rather than something more nourishing, but I felt it was worth it rather than creating a bad atmosphere in the house.
  I began to notice after about a month that toe-nail clippings regularly collected in front of the couch between the hours of five pm and two am. I have always been a regular disposer of my toe nail clippings, setting aside Saturday morning as a time to purge myself of such unsightly disfigurements in the bathroom, before flushing them down the toilet and sweeping the floor to take care of any leftovers. Yet while I might accrue a tenth of an inch on any of my toes in that time, Stan seemed to be able to grow a fresh crop nightly, so that it might be harvested while he watched Eastenders and scattered on the carpet in some kind of ritual sacrifice. Thus I decided to increase my cleaning duties from once to twice a week. In addition to this, Stan’s commandeering of the sofa in the afternoon meant that I could no longer watch Gardener’s World, but  rather than confront him about it, I thought it might be better merely to read more of the great classics as I has always wished to do and was able to maintain my aura of calm.
  Come December, when the nights were short and the weather was at its coldest, I noticed that, rather than don a thick jumper, trousers and warm socks as I had done, Stan preferred to turn up the heating to sub-tropical temperatures so that he might continue to sport the casual surfing apparel of board shorts and a rip-curl t-shirt. This naturally resulted in a dramatic increase in the gas and electricity bill over the winter months, but rather than have him take offence, I said nothing and begrudged him a half-share of the bill.
  I hand-scrubbed the ominous white stains from the tea towels, I bought new pots where he had burned his pasta sauce irremovably to the bottom, I harpicked the toilets of skid marks and removed the curly hairs from the bathroom sink. I did all this and refused to bat an eye. My mother began to comment more vehemently on my appearance: “You’re not shaving enough boy! Your hair doesn’t look well-kept anymore! Why are you looking so old these days Terence?! Terrence!! Terrence!!! Terrence, you fainted you must see my doctor! No, I will not suffer my son to see one of those lousy NHS GPs!” And on it went.
  One afternoon after a long day at the office and a trip to my mother’s, I was at home cutting up carrots. It was the first time in a month I had been able to eat fresh vegetable and I was savouring the experience of preparing them, enjoying the slow, steady, regular thunk of the carving knife on the chopping board as it rended the carrots in twain. Then suddenly Stan comes down the stairs with his laptop and an impish twinkle in his eye. He says to me: “Cor, Tez you have gotta see this. This is well rank!”
  Thus it was that he introduced me to a video of Mr Hands, an apparent fetishist of equine love, who died sometime after the filming process. I pleaded with Stan, I tried in every polite verbal form to make him cease his screening of the abominable film. I offered him my kidney and my deposit in exchange for a moment’s peace. He refused and bade me watch further. I tried once more, in the most reasonable tones I could muster. “Please Stan, do not force this on me! I beg you!” He was immune to my supplications.
  I must have blacked out for a moment, because I remember very little about the connecting events, but when I did regain conscious control being held down by police whilst paramedics rushed a shocked-looking Stan out on a stretcher in a critical condition. But I must insist that I had done everything in my power to prevent that unfortunate occurrence. I took every path available to a civilised human being. So surely you can see Doctor that I am no threat to society and that the big mistake was Stan’s not mine.