Sunday, August 30, 2009
The Isle of Mull Spiritual Retreat For Businesses
Day 3, Workshop 2, Cushion 4
Friday, August 28, 2009
So there I was, sat at the breakfast table, consuming a light early morning feast of scrambled eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and muffins, when Son of Whirl shuffles in from the lounge between useless teen TV shows.
Glancing up from my newspaper (Wednesday’s. I know, I know), I watch him toast a slice of bread and take out the HP Sauce from the cupboard.
Aware I’m giving more attention to what Justin “Wank Hair” Toper reveals about my stars than my own flesh and blood, I attempt to make polite conversation.
‘So,’ I say, ‘what’s that you’ve got there?’
Uh ho — that look.
‘Duh! I’m making a brown sauce sandwich, Dad.’ (pause) ‘Or maybe, if I’ve been taken over by Martians, I’m actually spreading destruction on the world...’
Great. Thanks, son.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Regular visitors to this blog will know that from time to time, voice posts appear. Some of you even join in with the fun yourselves, and I believe a list will soon appear over at Robin’s blog.
In the past, we’ve covered kids’ stories, romance and extracts from our own work, but this time (as it’s a free-for-all), I’ve opted for breathing new life into a withered old cadaver.
This story dates from 1995, I think, though some of the spicier passages were added yesterday afternoon. It’s quite long for a short voice post, but as it’s a fable told in its entirety, I hope you’ll stick with it till the end.
As a bonus, I’ve also included a short movie below. In my original plan for this post, I opted to dress up as a weird storyteller gnome, in spite of Sir Anthony Sher’s assertion that drama is about revelation rather than disguise. This is not to diminish the truth of what he says — it’s just that I’ve got loads of great hats.
Sadly, from the very first take, it was clear this project was doomed to abject failure, so what you’ll see are the outtakes, knitted seamlessly together like the fibres of my fake beard and punctuated with spontaneous blasphemy.
(This is louder than the voice extract, so adjust your volume a notch before proceeding.)
Sunday, August 23, 2009
...have taken over the greenhouse.
The chillies may vie for position in this careworn structure, by dangling their curry-bound protuberistae over the rims of their terracotta pots; and the lettuces, crisp and hobbit-turf green, may proclaim their salad-worthy credentials as they hug themselves tight like vegetable footballs in the compost — but the true stars of my would-be botanical garden of delights at the moment are the tomatoes, throbbing with succulent redness from their twisted flourishes of leaves.
And, since this is Linguine Time, I have harvested their sumptuous yumminess with the zest of a man for whom no saucepan is too big for serving as a culinary concoctionscape of potentially underwear elastic snapping proportions.
So as I sit here, allowing this to simmer gently, I’m minded to wonder whether next year, I should venture to procure a selection of tomatoes so bulbous as to double up as hats.
Or a swimming pool — a tomato juice swimming pool. Wouldn’t that be something?
Wahey — there goes the timer...
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Directly outside, the stars shine aloft, a picture of your face.
I see you gazing from amongst the archers and the furrowers of fields, your eyes aglow, comforting.
But I am not a fool.
I know full well these flickers, pinpricks, dots and specks are hung in the air for all to see; fire clouds inhabiting the unfathomable. Here, before we were born, and here when we are all long dead.
And yet I must summon you from the light of their cold distance, sit with you here for these whiles.
When night falls, I wait for you to inhabit the sun’s shadow.
I would kiss you again, but you are long, long gone.
And I am trapped in this place. Doomed only to witness as the world spins by, directly outside...
Friday, August 21, 2009
Rifling through some old diaries this afternoon, I came upon an entry from November 1983 which, although it tells against me (or my youthful self, at very least), nonetheless makes a good story.
So I’ll tell it.
And, yes, I’ll probably jazz it up a little and throw in a few alien gladiator hordes.
The protagonist of this story is, of course, me — a spaced-out theatre student with only the slenderest grasp of what kind of apparel to don in order not to look like a twat. This was, I think, my pyjamas and dressing gown period, a time when I grew a succession of unsuccessful beards and wore inch-thick motorcycle socks that could stand up on their own when removed with a shoehorn.
My chosen place of study had few of the facilities enjoyed by students of the larger universities. Everything shut down at 11.30pm and most of the girls were made of wood. So on a Friday or Saturday night, the drunken contents of the minuscule bar would decamp to someone’s room in the concrete carbuncle masquerading as a hall of residence, there to smoke ferocious amounts of dope and get wazzed.
Just before closing time on the night in question, a group of us was sat discussing the possibilities for later on when Mack (not his real name, of course — I’m protecting his identity, even though he probably OD’ed on something exotic some time in the 90s) ambled his way to our table and said, “let’s go to Dartmoor!” And as ever, with endeavours that turn out to be disastrous, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Mack, I have to point out, was a hardcore doper. I smoked a fair bit in those days, but would never have been happy with the status of ‘fiend,’ in spite of the apparent cool. Mack consumed hot knives for breakfast (and if you’re unfamiliar with this term, you can Google it, though essentially it means ‘first meal of the day’). At 11pm, heaven knows what melange a trois of illicit pharmaceuticals was masquerading as his blood supply. “Yeah, let’s go,” we said (though not in unison, for we were not any kind of troupe).
There were four of us, I think, and once again I’ll dole out aliases.
First, there was Kim. In spite of hailing from Swindon, his enthusiasm for the world remained undiminished and he was a decent actor.
Next was Maddy, a peroxide blonde who at least two of the senior lecturers wanted to shag and who Mack believed was an angel. Quite how she ended up coming along for the ride is beyond me — maybe her cassette player had bust and she found herself at a loss.
Finally, there was Mattress, a talented musician with a beard as big as his stomach who we somehow managed to accommodate behind the driver’s seat.
Oh, and me — I was there too.
For those of you not familiar with Dartmoor, it’s a vast expanse of heath in the southwest of England where they lock up all the felons from Plymouth. Occasionally, there are ramblers, but mostly, the only living creatures you’ll see are sheep, and occasionally alien gladiator hordes.
So we park the van in a patch of pitch blackness between a couple of similarly hued voids. And the first thing Mack says is, “let’s roll some joints”, producing his stash from a sack. I’m not entirely sure what the plan was supposed to be, or even if there was a plan at all, but by the time we were done with the fruits of two months’ Moroccan child labour, it was clear we had a major problem.
“Mack’s unconscious,” said Maddy. “What are we going to do?”
Half an hour later, I think someone responded, but in the intervening stasis, Mack had come to his senses and confessed to being ‘a little bit stoned’, a fact confirmed by the length of the stalks on which his eyeballs jutted from his skull.
So we were stranded on Dartmoor for the night.
Having matured considerably since then, it occurs to me that the thing to have done next might have been to snuggle together for warmth and sleep it out till morning. But no — clad as we were in full honours Withnail & I regalia and possessed of a similar rationale, we decided to go for a walk. At midnight. On a moor. In November.
So we strode out into the darkness, cross heath and hill and possibly undiscovered body, miraculously avoiding all the pits, cliffs, traps, brambles, electricity substations and other hidden hazards I’ve subsequently discovered pepper the face of Dartmoor like zits on the young Dean Gaffney.
After an hour or so, we grew accustomed to the light: yeah, we can see fuck all. And it’s odd, but none of us was scared. That’s what twerps we were. I’ve no idea what we talked about, my diary doesn’t go into detail, but I guess it would have been something along the lines of discussing the play we were working on or enthusing about The (emergent) Smiths — whatever it was, herds of malevolent sheep constantly interrupted us, bahing menaces. Or maybe the sheep were all around us, and we merely passed through their numbers in a constantly moving sphere of anti-wool protection. Lots of weird sounding birds, too ( though they could have been escaped convicts larking about — or Percy Thrower, as I believe he was still alive then).
As dawn broke, we came across a reservoir, into which we might very well have plummeted had Mack not taken so many wrong turns on our white knuckle ride down the narrow country lanes. None of us had cameras, which is a shame: it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen, with the mist rolling off the water onto the rocks and birds soaring overhead. We walked the whole way around it, sober enough now to realise that the numbness of drunken revelry was uncannily similar to the onset of pseudo-frostbite.
This was the point at which our thoughts turned to finding the van. We had light, but no bearings; money, but no fags — and with breakfast in the canteen only two short hours away, our quest to find our way home took on an almost Herculean dimension.
We struck out for the nearest tree, and then a herd of sheep, wandering from random landmark to random landmark with less navigational nous than a Sat Nav retailing at £19.99 in the back pages of the Sunday Sport.
What I can tell you is that if you should ever find yourself similarly lost, it’s true what they say: you wander round in a circle. Just at the point when we were contemplating eating our own underwear, the battered hub of Mack’s van appeared over a hillock and we scurried quickly inside.
We made it back in time for breakfast, to slurp up bowlfuls of tinned grapefruit and test the soggy toast for frisbee potential, and despite feeling wretched for the whole of the following week as a result of this mad adventure into the wilderness (and possibly Stanislavski, the useless bastard), I’m convinced the experience contributed to the development of values I now hold terribly dear — most notably a love of snuggly blankets and roaring fires.
Anyone else do anything profoundly stupid in 1983?
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Oh, how I love linguine!
Strung out in splendiferous arcs of glee twixt orbits of spaghetti and tagliatele!
Oh, to suck it through my nostrils; to ingest it via my ears with the vim of a perforated guru!
To squeeze it through my skin pores with a butter-through-Jacobs Cream Cracker ease of slither!
Shallow, am I, that I live only for this.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
‘Three angels walk into a bar...’
‘Great — it’s an Englishman a Scotsman and an Irishman joke, isn’t it? I love those.’
‘Actually, no, it isn’t. And I think you’ll find that angels are just angels, ie “from heaven”.’
‘OK, but before they got to Heaven, they must have come from somewhere.’
‘That’s not how it works.’
‘Because this is a joke. What matters is that they’re angels — in a bar.'
‘OK, so where’s the bar? Sounds a bit odd.’
‘It doesn’t matter. Isn’t it a curious enough set-up for you to wonder that I might be about to titillate your humour glands with a knock-em-dead punchline?’
‘What’s curious is that you seek to amuse me with a joke that might not actually make sense. I ventured to suggest the nationalities of said angels — or pre-angels if you accept my argument in full — and in doing so, drew upon the most likely stereotypes. But what about the Welsh?’
‘They have their own jokes in their own special language.’
‘OK, then — the Swiss. The French, the Aussies, the Biafrans. That would make a difference, wouldn’t it? To your joke? Three angels walk into a bar, one of whom is French, and the other two, Biafrans, but both with different European lineages on the mother’s side. Don’t tell me this doesn’t matter a jot, especially if the barman is German — or, heaven forbid, Greek.’
‘What’s your beef with the Greeks, for Chrissake?’
‘Nothing. I’m just saying it matters.’
‘In the context of the joke, I can assure you that it doesn’t matter. They’re angels. That, if you like, is the stereotype we’re lampooning,’
‘Speak for yourself. You haven’t told me the fucking joke yet. How can I be complicit in the lampooning of unrevealed stereotypes?’
‘It was you who introduced the business of the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman...’
‘Because those kind of jokes are funny. What’s funny about three angels going into a bar? Do they get pissed out of their heads? Surprise, surprise. Do they gamble on the one-armed bandit? Surprise, surprise. Do they get off with a hooker? Surprise, surprise. And why three angels anyway? If the point of the joke is that angels do something out of character, some evil or sordid act for which they must be rightly and rib-ticklingly lampooned, why does it take three of them to do it? Why not ‘an angel?’
‘I haven’t got to the mermaid sorcerer triplets yet.’
‘What mermaid sorcerer triplets?’
‘The mermaid sorcerer triplets gathered round the bar with their nets that I’d have introduced into the plotline of the joke if you hadn’t speculated about the nationality of the fucking angels!’
‘Angels and mermaids? In the same bar? Is this an architect’s nightmare or what?’
‘Oh, suit yourself. Knock knock...’
A prize for the best Angels and Mermaid Sorcerer Triplets joke awaits. Enter in the comment trail. Deadline Sunday 11.55pmGMT. Crap crap crap crap crap prize, as per usual.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
I've long suspected that the diminutive* Kiersten deserved more from life than absurdly manageable hair, easy access to a beach and a laptop with a mind of its own.
And now it's happened.
Her brilliant, brilliant news is here.
* Can't add or subtract to save her life — nothing to do with being small.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Seventy two minutes into England’s woeful friendly against Holland and I had to down spectator tools to wield a more speculative contraption, namely the laptop.
So, there I was, with half an eye still on the game and half the other eye on my screen, eyes waggling sans any hope of focus like some kind of goat scribe.
But here’s the interesting thing. No sooner had I given up on Girl Hand romping away with the tie 10-2 than Jermaine Defoe tucked one away, as they say (why they never say stuffed the Soccer Turkey or inseminated the net with the demon seed of skill is anybody’s guess, but tonight, my money’s on it having something to do with Teddy Sheringham playing the role of head studio pundit). For a game of two halves, it wasn’t turning out to be that bad a yard of slurry. So I watched the rest of the match.
A shame, methinks, as I was quite looking forward to the distraction of a reasoned appraisal of Fabio Capello’s orbit round the Spectacle/hairdo Fashion Axis. For a footballer, he’s not far off challenging Gok Wan for top oscillation slot about this most envied of universal constants. Why, were he to make a direct bid, it’s possible to conceive of a thrills n spills moment with both men jockeying for position like suave gibbons clambering up a greasy pole before one is finally cast into the style void of despair.
Capello: Take those!
Wan: It’s ‘this’, you dumbo—
(Capello, understanding the international language of insult, lashes out at Wan with the foot that sank England at Wembley in 1973)
Capello: Take this!
Wan: Ha! You reckoned without the gallons of grease sweeping my otherwise ordinary fringe into a symbol of effeminate excess! Grease that protects me from the advance of any boot — or size 30 housewife in pants like a tent!
(Capello, noticing Wan is momentarily distracted by his own hubris like a hapless back passage Rio Ferdinand, unleashes his finest bifocals, boomerang-style, stunning the Beau of Beaumont Leys)
Wan: Why, you tarnisher of Gucci-Primark chic!
Capello: You...you — hey Stuart, what is English for—
Pearce It’s big girl’s blouse, guv...
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The pages of my manuscript lie flat before me like striations in dead slate.
I should prise them apart, reveal long-dead molluscs, invest all petrified life with a big-screen pseudo-undeadliness to rival Richard Attenborough’s best nouveau Jurassic efforts. Really, really, I should.
And this is the writer’s curse, n’est-ce pas? Resurrecting into seeming first flush of life those flashes — once brilliant, electrifying — now scarred by time’s toil. All those triply spell-checked visions, hobbling from hard return to hard return, hacked by the reaper blade of edits.
So I flick at the corners of the pages, skimming through thumb widths of dead space like a cartoon might present itself: some squiggles on a page that might actually feign life — yet all I have is air. A slight gust wafting unnoticed over my keyboard, barely drawing ripples from my mug of Jasmine tea.
Who drinks this stuff anyway? Call me pampered, but I’ve grown too accustomed to tea bags to put up with any of this roughing it “think of Buddha” kind of spoon-it-in-but-don’t-swallow-it kind of nonsense. And I can’t say the flavour is any better than PG Tips, whatever the monkey legend infusing the dream.
But maybe I’m being unkind to the tea-drinking pioneers who first laid down their Co-op 99 in favour of flavours new. It’s not their fault they invented a high-falutin’ beverage whose shriekingly high cost sits uneasily with the miserable delights that eventually drip from the tea strainer. Or maybe I’m drinking the wrong brand. Hmmm...Aldi’s own. OK.
So, hey, I may mock my predicament. Wrap myself up in coils sprouting from my skull, hewn of synapses thrashing for want of anything other than this. Don the tangles of nerve fibres embroidered by my feverish hands as I lie, eyes flitting from manuscript to blank wall, blank wall, blank wall — arghhhh! — in the sullen, Jasmine-infused temple of my self-inflicted misery.
Luckily, I found a Swiss army knife on holiday. It was lying between the rocks at the bottom of a lake, still buoyant from the joie de vivre of the Frenchman from whose slick-yet-shallow-pocketed swimwear it evidently must have slipped. So I’m going to try out the bottle opener on Chapter 18 later on today and see if I can inject some of my current misdirected misery into the gloom of life I wrote out for one of my characters some time in February.
I must be keen and heartless with the knife.
But I must not cut into the soul that first spoke to me.
Yipes. It’s like being a heart-and-head surgeon...
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that the flora and fauna of this world are out to get me, I return from a weekend away in Wales to the safety of Whirl Towers nursing more bites about my person than Christopher Lee administered during his entire stint as Dracula.
It’s nice having friends who own a Caravan In The Country, but if I’m ever resurrected as an insatiably megalomaniacal fascist dictator, I shall insist said caravan opportunity comes complete with an opt-out clause for the country that invented the cloud of flesh-chomping gnats.
I have fourteen bites on my back alone! Fourteen!
Had I been parading half-naked between the dafad and the amaethdy, I might not have minded being thusly pecked, but as it was, I had an inch-thick waif-hewn Primark T-shirt on, and the bastards still managed to thrust their nibble tubes through the fabric.
So now I look like a 3D dot-to-dot picture inspired by Edvard Munch.
Grieve for my hapless flesh.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Visitors to this site may remember Conan, The Marauding Pink Fur Apple Potato — see here and here.
Although it’s been many months now since his shrivelled remains were cast into the Whirl Towers Wormery, to be transformed into urine-like compost juice by the host of wrigglies slithering within, verily the spirit of Conan liveth on.
For at the end of the garden, in a small vegetable patch between the greenhouse, the shallots and the not particularly promising cucumbers, Conan’s progeny now spawns.
Here are the first of his splendiferous eggs...
And here’s my absolute favourite (sadly, now consumed)...
With any luck, over the coming months, a new kind of hero will emerge to embrace the world of speculative fiction with its bizarrely-shaped tuberous wherewithal.
So remember to check in regularly, potato buffs...
Monday, August 3, 2009
Today, I’m supposed to be trawling through the piles of holiday laundry threatening to mutate into a parallel universe of unwashed pants, but bugger that for a game of soldiers.
Ha! What soldiers?
Hans: Great game of footie, Tommy. Merry Christmas.
Tommy: Merry Christmas, Hans. Let’s get these strips washed and resume the shooting.
Hans: What with, comrade? The Kaiser has not equipped us well. Just these pointy helmets for hand washing — and no soap powder.
Tommy: Crikey. You’ll never win the war at this rate. I’ll ask our CO if you can borrow the Zanussi. And here, take this packet of Persil and share it out amongst your men...
A writing curfew, for heavens’ sake? I should know myself better by now.
So — I have to report that some writing happened. And it’s good news.
Picture the scene, if you will...
There I was cycling round the shores of Lake Annecy, following in the pedalsteps of Bradley Wiggins and Lance Armstrong (and, when I have time, I’ll try and render my mobile video footage into a montage of cinematic delight), when I began having a few ideas about my current novel. Just a few things — odd plot twists and such — none of which I wrote down. But it was enough to feed my brain, and after a good night’s kip, I rose the next morning eager to make use of our planned hike round Menthon St Bernard to hose some new mind stuff over the emerging sprawl of my next project like a latterday Jackson Pollock.
A four mile hilltop walk in the 30 degree heat might not sound like the most fertile of gestation pools, but by the time we were done, I was delighted with the metaspectra that had fluttered twixt eye and ear as we negotiated dried-out river beds, surprise cats and dragonflies the size of cigars.
Here are some of the pretty pictures...
What I ended up with were the draft outlines for the first four chapters, a map, six or seven living breathing characters, and a T shirt dripping with so much sweat you could have swum in it. Admittedly, I was resurrecting an old idea from the early 90s that had already begun to morph into something different, but I astonished myself with the factor nouveau that transformed it all from a potentially workable idea into something that simply has to be written. I’ve not been this excited since Ronnie Corbett accidentally goosed me looking for his spectacles during a power cut on a late night sleeper train to Thurrock.
So I now have two projects on the go (besides Girly of Whirly and Son of Whirl, both of whom are high maintenance distractions in their own right): tidying up my current almost-finished WIP with the aid of my alarmingly astute beta critiques (see progress in sidebar), and havehappening the idle thoughts necessary for mapping out the bizarre new fantasy world in which my blossoming characters will shortly be forced to romp.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Call me boring, but I prefer my life & death experiences to take place close to home and not, as it turned out, while I’m on holiday.
So here’s how it went...
Having taken time out from Girly of Whirly’s basket shopping antics and Son of Whirl’s Coke-hypered demands for Coke after Coke after Coke, I found myself ordering a beer at a sleazy bar jeux called Le Coupet (literally ‘the carpet’ or ‘the haircut’ depending on whether you use a hover mower or a regular Gillette 20-blade razor).
Normally (when in France) (when in need of beer) (when in need of a break from all the whining and moaning), I head for anywhere selling Pelforth Brune, but since this particular bar purported to sell Jupiler (which I haven’t drunk since way before I started developing the pendulous man-boobs that now pass for inbuilt ice-breakers at parties and other social gatherings), I simply couldn’t resist, and I wandered straight into the place without paying too much attention to who was hanging out in there.
No sooner had I ordered my beer from the (frankly) intimidating tattooed barman than he barked, “Vooz Onglaizzze?” with a gallic rasp to rival Obelix pulling up a pair of hessian Gaul Knicks. Worse still, one of the guys playing pool sidled over to the door and kicked it shut while his ball buddy (what do you call a couple of bikers playing pool anyhow?) gripped his cue and gave me a hard stare.
Now, it may be that, somewhere in the world, there exists an obscure language where the phrase vooz onglaizzze translates perfectly as “marry me, o marry me, you sexpot” — but even if it did, I wouldn’t have been any happier.
So my heart started to race. I didn’t need telling I was in trouble. Oui or Non, thanks to my pallid skin and Shops At Asda chic, Je was definitely Onglaizzze, and probably just about to get my head kicked in.
Nothing if not a mug, I shrugged and said oui, and then, noticing the footie on the telly, tried to strike up a manly conversation about the French national team by adding, “so, who are Paris St Germain playing?” — only it came out as “monsieur...le ball...Paris?” (and in any case, the match was an Italian satellite broadcast of a pre-season friendly between Udinese and some useless Serie B team).
That’s when I heard the first bottle smash against the side of the pool table, and when I braved a glance away from the barman, I saw the fattest of the bikers had three bottlenecks gripped between his fingers like a makeshift knuckleduster. And the thin one had a flick knife.
Instinctively, I grabbed the nearest thing I could lay my hands on: a baguette.
The barman vaulted over the bar and grabbed me round the waist yelling what I presumed to be the French equivalent of “Kill heem! Kill heem! Filthy Onglaizzze merde-cochon!” while the bikers brandished their weapons menacingly.
Was I about to be stabbed and buggered? Or buggered and stabbed?
Uh ho — worse.
The barman produced a rolled-up copy of Nuts magazine, presumably left behind by his last Onglaizzze victim, and turned to the half-completed £100 crossword on page 63.
“Who eez Ashley Cole’s waaaaaarf?” he screamed, his eyes rolling round in their sockets like escargots in uncooked albumen.
“Is Coleen McLoughlin, n’est ce-pas?” mouthed the biggest biker from between his moustache and string of onions.
“Non, non, imbecile,” retorted his ball buddy (yup, tight leathers), “c’est Abbey Clancy.”
Glad, for once, to exist in the same universe as The Sun, I cleared my throat and remarked (with considerable authority for a man wearing no socks), “No, McLoughlin is Wayne Rooney’s wife and the other one hangs out with Peter Crouch. And neither of those fits in with the 6,4 clue, see? The answer is Cheryl Cole.”
“Ah!” squealed the barman, obviously delighted, “so zat makes nine down cunnilingus, non?”
I looked at the clue. “Cauliflower.”
These guys obviously needed some help, and though it meant staying with them for longer than the wrath of Girly of Whirly was ever going to stand, I recalled the sacrifices made by the thousands of brave men who layed down their lives on the beaches of Normandy to aid their Gallic brothers, and with grim determination, said, “un autre Jupiler, s’il vous plais...”