Friday, July 17, 2009

Whirl Goes Sunbathing

There comes a point in every man’s life when he must don a pair of Speedos and leap from beach to beach spawning coronary after coronary. I tried this when I was 22 and it’s the best kind of adrenaline rush, let me tell you.

But now that my six-pack has expanded to incorporate a warehouseload of Lidl Biere Francais stubbies, the closest I get to any kind of speed is watching Cristiano Ronaldo bob lithely up the wing as I turn, catlike, in my armchair to scoop another mouthful of nachos. Likely as not, this year’s bon vacances will feature precisely the same hideous flappy shorts that got me banned from a swimming pool in Houlgate for fear I might suffocate a child.

Holidays are a funny time for writers. How do you let it go, this permanently switched on scrutinising of the world that’s coupled without pause to a desire to get it down, get it down? I can’t imagine plumbers take their toolboxes on holiday and sit at the hotel bar soldering small lengths of copper piping together — unless Butlins has a special five minute slot between the bingo and the useless comedian where they all get up and make with their U-bends. And do policemen go around taking people’s names? Wield their truncheons in the sauna?

People put it down when they’re on holiday, don’t they? This thing they do nine to five?

Last year, I took a few chapters of my WIP (here, auuuuughhhhh) and it didn’t work out. The only additions I made to my myriad notes were several squirts of tomato ketchup and a Huge Bug That Simply Had To Be Destroyed. After that, it was eaten alive by Yahtzee scores.

So this year, my plan is to write nothing, and store up every spectacle like a hamster stuffing its cheeks (facial, not butt, note). I shall play the role of True Holidaymaker, pointing at cathedrals and mountains, partaking of food that doesn’t look like food and maybe straddling the odd donkey. Resplendent in my Obviously English apparel, I shall commune with the locals in that curious blend of languages that only a fool would understand, roast to a crisp on the beach with an international copy of The Guardian draped over my head — and run out of socks by Day Two. And if anything strikes me as profound or amusing, yes, of course I’ll make a note, but rather than acting on it straight away, I’ll leave it to ferment in the oak cask of my brain along with the wash of flotsam and jetsam already there afloat, and see what comes out when I get home and open up the spout in my forehead the gurus mistakenly dub “The Third Eye”.

Released of my writerly burden, who knows, I might bump into Sting...

Or Charles Bronson...

Possibly even Arnie...

One thing is certain: wherever I end up and whoever I encounter, the mere fact of gadding about in a foreign country for ten days guarantees a wholesome upping of the scope for chancing upon innuendo in the wild...

See you in August.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Milestones In Kilometreland

It’s been something of an emotional fortnight.

Love has trickled down every window like Golden Syrup, anger has raged at the sight of shrunken underpants in the tumble dryer like an incendiary, and mild to middling petulance has greeted the news that although my favourite watering hole is hosting a Happy Week of half-price continental lager, said week will coincide with me being on the continent itself, shelling out Big Euros.

Ah, but I’m being facetious (and, that being said, this word always makes me think of a week-old baby’s shitty backside...).

The truth is, Son of Whirl finished school on Friday. Normally, this heralds a six week festival of endless Swingball and arguments over who plays Phantom Mansion on the laptop. This year, it opens up the void between one school and another. Officially, he’s no longer junior.

So we’ve had school plays, leavers’ balls, engraved cups and rollerball pens, bibles, presents for teachers and the truly moving sight of the entire Year Six stood on the stage of the town church hugging each other and crying into the cuffs of their uniforms.

It’s milestones like these that give me pause to reflect on the many hoops I’ve leapt through myself on the way to lying in a heap on the floor in a tangle of hulae. Moving up to high school was one of them, and though it turned out to be fantastic, it didn’t look that way to me during the long summer of 1974 — proof positive that being pessimistic about stuff is a total waste of time. Those days aren’t coming back.

So here I am in my final moments as a junior school kid...

If I remember correctly, this was Take Two. The photographer made some comment about the Pluto transfer on my hand and I got a fit of the giggles. It’s weird to think that all I had to worry about in those days was whether the newsagent had ordered my comics and if Mum had remembered to stock up on jumbo peanuts from Asda. Oh — and avoiding Grandma’s lipstickdrool kisses. Yuck.

So I’m going to make sure I find something to laugh at today — even if it’s me. In fact, especially if it’s me...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Vorpal Blades At Dawn

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the recent post calling for suggestions for post titles. Any of them would have made for something interesting, but this one spoke to me the moment I saw it — which is not to say I’m a medium or anything (especially with regard to shoes) — so thank you to the wonderful Fairyhedgehog for what follows...

The two giants eyed each other across a strip of trampled hogweed.

“You’re serious?” said Thrugo as Bottibugo swang his weapon.

“Deadly,” replied his adversary. “These are the finest vorpal blades in the Realme, and according to every Dungeons and Dragons rulebook I’ve ever read, the moment I strike, you’re dead.”

Thrugo squeezed his thumb and forefinger tight together. “But they’re matchsticks.”

“Yes — and we’re giants.”

With a howl to rival a paladin catching himself coveting a neighbour’s ass, Bottibugo tramped down the line, waving his sword like he was trying to shake out a splinter.

“Aren’t we supposed to stand back to back and mark out ten paces or something?” asked Thrugo, hand on hip.

“Those are the rules for pistols,” retorted Bottibugo, “and in the same way that humans never coexisted with dinosaurs, pistols and giants are an evolutionary no-no, even in a Fantasye Worlde...”

“There have to be boundaries, I suppose.”

Thrugo couldn’t help wondering if this whole dispute could have been better settled by a drinking contest or a few rounds of Connect 4, but Bottibugo had been insistent: stealing the last scented wet wipe was a sin punishable by death. Or, judging by the ludicrous weaponry, very very not.

Keen to get things over with so he could smoke his pipe in his shed, Thrugo decided to cheat. Bottibugo clearly believed he could win the duel with just the one stab, and Thrugo figured that if he played along with this ridiculous analysis, he could take his opponent unawares by kicking him hard in the goolies. Grinning, he threw back a shoulder to proffer his breast like a Hollywood starlet slipping out of a negligé before sex with Humphrey Bogart.

True to his word, Bottibugo struck, and though neither giant knew it, the precise spot on Bottibugo’s skin where the tip of the vorpal blade sank home was revered in a faraway universe as ‘the best place to insert a needle if your patient is suffering from stress or diarrhoea’.*

*The Oxford Manual of Acupuncture, 3rd Edn. p256

“Ooooooh,” sighed Thrugo, his muscles sagging beneath his skin like scrambled egg in a shower cap. “That was nice.”

“Nice? You’re supposed to be dead! Chopped clean in half with your kidneys whirling round your spine like the balls of an anniversary clock!”

“In a Worlde of anniversary clocks and yet, no pistols, anything is possible.”

In a petulant rage, Bottibugo sheathed his sword in the soft pad of bugbear flesh trapped between his front teeth and pulled out the instruction manual for his Blayyde. “Knew I shouldn’t have trusted that leprechaun...” he muttered.

As Bottibugo read the tiny booklet, Thrugo pulled back his sackcloth tunic and trilled through the hairs on his chest searching for his wound. When he found it, he gave himself the heartiest prick — and his knees gave way beneath him.

“Ooooooh,” he breathed, eyelids fluttering. “This is something else.”

Bottibugo looked down at him and raised an eyebrow, inadvertently pulling a lens muscle. “There’s nothing in the book about this kind of thing, but it is meant for Humans, I suppose. Written in Human, too, which is probably why I don’t understand a word of it.”

“Are you having a go, then?” asked Thrugo, filaments of sinew now oozing from his skin pores like butter through the holes in a Jacobs cream cracker.

“Beats killing you, I suppose. I’m worming the Dyre Kowwe next week and I’ll need a hand holding her down while I make with the oiled Marigolds...”

As the sun set on Hogweed Valley, the two giants lay on their backs pleasuring each other with their weapons. When their bodies began blending into the very sod, relaxed as droopy souffles served on warped Vangelis LPs, a leprechaun poked his head from behind a rock and signalled to the party of nerdy teenage adventurers gathered in their tinfoil armour on the crest of the hill...


Thanks also to the rugged Scott From Oregon for this last minute teaser, which I couldn’t resist turning into a Haiku...

Doll urine washed down with Tab.
Ken, Ken — you’re a perv.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My Favourite Ever Carnival Float

It’s amazing how a half-hour break to eat a cheese and tomato sandwich can spin itself out past daydreams breathed through a pane of glass to a desire to rummage through the attic for that old box of photos from 1992...

I never found them, of course, and though I fixed the attic light bulb that poofed out the moment I flicked the switch, and finally located a roll of lino that would have come in handy two years ago but is now (sadly) useless, essentially that sandwich cost me 45 minutes’ worth of badly needed research into plumbing in a toilet.

But, ever the plucky explorer, I return from my excursion with a gem from my Memory Locker.

1n 1992, Girly of Whirly and I were still so in love, we spent so much time gazing into each other’s eyes it’s a miracle we weren’t run over on a daily basis. Ah, the heady days before the Throttling Rota. Around that time, we lived close to the venue for Leicester’s famous Caribbean carnival. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s like the Notting Hill carnival, only smaller — and clearly, not that famous. For two whole days the city’s Victoria Park was given over to the Afro-Caribbean community, and all manner of wondrous carnival floats and bands paraded down the street in a festival of colour and sound to rival Allen Ginsberg’s brain viewed through a kaleidoscope accompanied by a million Marley reggae fanfare. Prior to this, my only experience of carnivals had been the tired affair that trundled round the one-way system of my home town every year to raise money for the Rotary Club. With their endless crepe-paper-draped pirate floats and abysmal comedy marching bands, these celebrations of the unendurable scarred my childhood as surely as if Zorro himself had tried to spreadeagle me with his rapier.

In contrast, the Caribbean carnival was fun. Such gay floats! And everyone so cheery! From the exotic birds of paradise, lofted high in all their finery on the back of a monster arctic, to the steel bands ambling along in rhythmic ska-beat unison, clad in Jamaican flags, every feature of the procession was a spectacle to behold.

And then, round the corner, it came: my favourite ever carnival float.

At first, I thought some hapless trucker had got caught up in the celebrations, then I realised the glut of freight containers piled high on the back of the groaning lorry was an enormous speaker system, and as it juddered closer, the brickwork of every building rippled like the Invisible Man pogoing to the Sex Pistols on a dance floor of Weetabix. Expecting a display of exotic dancing by a troupe of rainbow-hued bootay-queens, we were surprised to discover a dozen or so sleepy looking old rastas, flopped out in deck chairs, swigging from cans of Red Stripe and puffing on joints the size of rugby players’ forearms. No singing, no dancing, no costumes: just a bunch of stoned old men, looking like their relatives had dragged them out of the back garden and stuck them on the back of a lorry for a joke. Whatever they were supposed to be doing, they didn’t seem to have much idea of why or how they were doing it, and as they rumbled by under a giant vacant thought balloon of home-grown sensimilla, I laughed so much I nearly wrenched my larynx from my throat.

Still am.

Don’t forget, if you want to contribute to a forthcoming post, the details are here.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Name That Whirl Post

his is your big chance to do some good in the world — and though you may wish to crochet a special costume to wear, either while doing the good or simply during the preparatory reflection phase, such gay theatricals are not necessary and may actually result in you being locked in a cave with an ogre.

Or something like that.

I’m off on my merry hols in a couple of weeks (on which, more later), but thanks to the spate of phenomenally hot weather recently, I’ve been less inclined (no pun intended) to flop my backside in my writing chair and do that quartered octopus thing with my arms that results in onscreen text via the keyboard interface in a terribly inspired way. Without help, I’m destined to write the literary equivalent of prunes and custard before I go away — a fate which fills me with all the horror you’d expect for a man whose won’t go there. Prunes. Aaaaack.

So — let me have your would-be Whirl post titles and I’ll honour the one I consider the best/most fun/rudest/easiest/whatever.

Leave your post titles in the comments trail and I’ll choose from what I find sometime round noon GMT Thursday with a view to posting over the weekend. Multiple entries are positively encouraged.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

On Being Given A Good Gruelling

You may recall some time ago I mentioned that Son of Whirl had landed the role of Fagin in the school production of Oliver!

My original intention had been to provide occasional updates on his progress, as he flowered from fledgling board-treader to stage superstar extraordinaire, but to be quite honest, it’s been such an excrutiatingly painful time sharing the house with him that I’ve nearly been forced to strangle myself several times. To have placed this burden upon you would have been tantamount to turning up on your various doorsteps and giving you a ferocious kicking.

Now the curtain has closed, and I’ve decoupled myself from the liquid Vallium pump, I can happily report on the final performance, which Girly of Whirly and I went along to see last night.

If you’ve ever witnessed a hit broadway musical performed by pre-pubescent 11 year-olds a week before the summer holidays, you’ll know that if you ever get to Heaven and have the opportunity to live your life all over again, this time you’ll be sure to tick the box marked Night Of Passion With Ernest Borgnine or Trampled By Crazed Hippo.

It’s not that the show was unduly appalling or that anyone in the audience slashed their wrists: productionwise, it was actually passable. Okay, so Oliver himself couldn’t hit a note to save his life, but at least the plot was surmountable — which is more than can be said for last year’s production of Alice in Wonderland.

Son of Whirl had the most lines, and during our many rehearsals with me sat on top of him holding a rolling pin to his head, I made the point over and over that to avoid sounding insipid or inaudible, he needed to project his voice. For some odd reason, he took this to mean that he had to rage round the stage shouting like a mortally wounded Ray Winstone. This might have won him some plaudits for a unique take on the scrounging beggar’s typically understated character, but no-one could have foreseen the calamatous show-stopping disaster that was...his hat

You’ll recall that in the film, Fagin is played by Ron Moody, and the costume department of the day decked him out in a dandy wide-brimmed hat. To keep things authentically mock-Dickensian, Son of Whirl was lumbered with what looked to be one of the dinner ladies’ gardening hats. Yes, it had width, but bugger all else of a Faginy nature, and from the moment I beheld it, I knew it spelled TROUBLE. For the whole of Pick A Pocket Or Two, it flopped uneasily about S-o-W’s face like a vampire lettuce on a slug quest before engulfing his entire head in a manner unwitnessed since that Alien foetus thing wrapped itself round John Hurt’s rugged features and passed into cinema legend. So no matter how much he bawled, his words were so muffled you could have shut your eyes and been forgiven for thinking a randy moose had bounded into the hall. And yes, that’s the hall crammed to bursting with a hundred-odd kids, and their mums and dads and teachers — in the 33 degree July heat. By act two, the kids were losing body fluids like marathon runners and the neat lines of audience seats had long since given way to floating plastic islands of the hapless. As for the drinks intended for the interval, let’s just say that halfway through Oom Pah Pah, the stage was consumed by an amber mist of evaporated orangeade.

I have no idea how any of us made it out of that place alive, so to celebrate, we wrang S-o-W out and treated him to fish and chips in a local eaterie. More on surly waitresses in a later post...