Friday, October 29, 2010

Clown, Sword Swallower, Or Acrobat?

Looks like Geoff has run away to join the circus.

According to my neighbour, who we left in charge of the cat food while we were away in the Lake District, she hasn’t been seen since the morning we left — not even at her infamous bolt hole where she disappeared over the summer when Builders With Buttocks performed a structural destruction on Whirl Towers.

She was sixteen some time around May, and I know this for a fact because Son of Whirl found the spent candles tucked away under his duvet one morning. Sixteen isn't terribly old for a cat and she showed no signs of impending mortal rictus in the weeks preceding our trip away, so I can only hope she’s been inspired by her recent antics to find another Mummy and Daddy somewhere snug and warm on the block. House to house investigations are afoot, and my one dream for the weekend is to chance upon her curled up on a window sill between a couple of horrendous brass ornaments (that’s Geoff, not me — I can’t fit on a window sill unless I’m in a stately home). What I’m dreading is a scenario like her sister’s ‘discovery’ ten years ago. Moonie, the country’s official Disaster Cat, had been missing for over a week in the icy wasteland of November, and in the wake of a solemn “I think I’ve found your cat” style knock at the door one night, had to be scraped from a neighbour’s patio with a shovel like a frozen pizza.

In the mean time, here are what might be the last photos of Geoff for those of you who’ve treasured her intrusions into the Blogosphere over the years.

The bear, btw, belongs to Son of Whirl, and only sits on my bedside table to stop him tearing its head off. For the record, I am NOT a hoarder of cuddlies...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Beatrix Potter's Cottage And Wordsworth's Undead Corpse

When I set off for the Lake District at the start of this week, I’d envisaged endless hilltop battles with bobbly hatted ramblers in the cream of the English drizzle.

Which of course happened.*

* Four-nil to me c/o a hat-trick of old ladies tossed into Windermere and a noxious student type I bundled from his bike with a fallen branch.

What also happened was A GLUT OF DEAD WRITERS.

Being an utter Philistine (it’s true — right down to the loincloth and the habitual taunting of Egyptian scholars), I hadn’t realised that the Lake District is essentially a giant graveyard for England’s literary and artistic talent. When the dead rise here, it’s like a bloody poetry recital.

And so, to Beatrix Potter’s cottage.

Currently maintained by the National Trust, this modest dwelling stands at the epicentre of a two mile diameter corral of Japanese coaches on the outskirts of Near Sawrey. You don’t get very long to look around as the tour guides beat you from room to room with an old bedpan, but it’s a fascinating trip. The cottage is much as Potter left it, minus the knickers drying over the radiators, so you get to see things much as they were as she bumbled from room to room in her later years petting imaginary animals. In every room there was an open copy of one of her books, and if you looked closely, you could match up some feature or other with a stick of furniture in the room itself, or a view from the window or door. So, the Edward VII coronation teapot, the mirror on the dressing table in the bedroom, the garden gate — all these details from the illustrations were here, exactly as depicted. As I ignored the PLEASE TRY NOT TO TOUCH signs strung out over some of them, I couldn’t help feeling slightly superior to the armies of seasoned Trekkies licking the ears of some wax Captain Kirk effigy in a purpose built Los Angeles Gene Roddenberry Imaginarium. Best of all was the view from the landing.

This was exactly as you see it here, right down to the cat. It’s odd, but as I ran my fingers along the bannister, peered into the face of the grandfather clock, I was very aware of the bundle of air at my feet. It seemed to glow and sizzle with energy, and I don’t doubt it does so for every single visitor. But that’s the power of figmentary felines for you.

A further treat was the tour guides. The National Trust is infamous for stocking its tapestry-laden Tudor piles and half destroyed castles with Frankenstein-like amalgams of tweed and pastry made flesh, but because this was Beatrix Potter’s cottage, they’d assembled the most squirrelly, mousey, ratty, animaly collection of people you could possibly group together in one place outside of a human-rodent gene splice research laboratory. The woman at the top of the phantom cat staircase in particular looked like she might rub her whiskers or nibble on a chunk of cheese at any moment. As for the bloke collecting the tickets at the door, let’s just say I stepped over what was dangling from the back of his trousers in case he squeaked his ratty ears off. Maybe that’s what all the tourists came to see — the rodent creatures of Hill Top. They certainly added to the curiosity of the spectacle. What fun to witness a tiny, dark cottage, brimming with nick-nacks and the spirits of tiny creatures — plus Germans, Americans, Danes, French, Japanese and a family from Liverpool whose only interest in the world seemed to be whether Wayne Rooney would sleep with another prostitute before Bonfire Night.

Next up on my tour is Wordsworth’s tomb. We hadn’t planned to visit this especially but it just popped up on one of our walks round Lake Grasmere just after we’d kung fued a couple from Brighton who came at us from out of nowhere with their walking canes and cagoules.

As you can see, it’s a pretty plain stone for a literary giant. None of the “loving father, grandfather and budgerigar enthusiast” you see nowadays. And certainly no snippet of verse about being amongst the angels. I was touched by the simplicity of this grave, moved by its humbleness. Then I heard a low growl at my feet. “Get over it.”

Turning sharply, I saw no-one. Okay, there was an old bloke standing in the church doorway but he was too far away to be heard unless he’d shouted. And who would shout get over it while having a covert piss? So I looked down.

A clod of grass had bulged from the sod (why, this could be poetry), inches from the stone, and a single eye glared from the tear in the turf, like some dark underworld gem. The voice, again. “Get lost. I’m trying to sleep.”

The words came out, unbidden. “W-Wordsworth? Is it you? The most lyrical poet of his generation, maybe ever? Buried down there, to all intents and purposes, dead, yet at the same time, curiously still alive, still sentient, reaching out from the spirit world on a blustery Wednesday afternoon?”

“Course not, you dipshit. It’s Lowell. Robert Lowell.”

I looked around, confused — confused as the old bloke in the church doorway struggling to figure out how to get his willy back inside three pairs of waterproofs without severing it at the base. “Where’s Wordsworth?”

“Lemme see.” A rustle of paper. Damp paper. Okay, maybe not so much a rustle, more of a squelch. “He’s covering Ferlinghetti this week.”

Something about my raised eyebrows must have spurred Lowell on. Perhaps it was the way they disappeared into the maw of a passing blackbird as they loop the looped over my cranium in an aerial display of mental discombobulation.

“It’s a rota. To make things more interesting. Hell, it’s no fun being dead, especially dead and buried. Same worms, same bugs, same sobbing devotees. So we kinda mixed it up a bit, yanno, to make Eternity less humdrum.”

Made sense, but there was one small problem, one small chink in this dead poet’s logic. “Waitaminute. Ferlinghetti’s still alive.”

The rotting lyricist beneath the grass groaned. “Too right. He needs all the help he can get.”

“So when’s he back, Wordsworth?”

Another squelch, and this time I saw the paper — an ASDA smart price reporter’s notebook. “June 2088".

“Blimey.” I laughed, partly at the thought of all the Wordsworth enthusiasts destined to stand here for the next seventy years whispering to the wrong spectral poet — but mainly at the old bloke in the church doorway, now writhing and thrashing about the floor so violently, he might as well have been injected with lethal poison.

“Anyhow, get lost.” The flap of grass flipped shut.

I wanted to tease it open again, uncover Lowell, see what the hell he was wearing, but Girly of Whirly came running down the path. “Quick, quick, come quick! I’ve found the perfect totally unnecessary set of napkins that we’ll never ever use, but they’re half price, and knitted by blind Tibetan death row monks, and if we buy three sets, we get a free doily!”

She’s hardly a living poet like Ferlinghetti, but I was moved to wonder which inhabitant of the spirit world had drawn the short straw and been forced between her ears...


Oh, that's just silly...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Whirl Goes Sunbathing

I’m not so sure now that my brilliant idea to spend a few days in the Lake District in October was quite so all-consuming in its brilliance.

Not that the weather people are predicting a deluge, far from it. If anything, clement conditions are on the cards. According to NASA, even the sheep have been trained in the latest anti-irritating bleat techniques.

What’s bugging me is the prospect of bumping into gangs of bobbly headed walkers. Every time I go exploring places like the Lakes, I encounter huge numbers of them, rambling wild in their stupid wooly hats, carrying maps and stupid specialist equipment for wandering round in the great outdoors in stupid wooly hats with maps. Somewhere in the universe there is a planet with zero discernable geographical locations where ramblers can ramble to the end of time, never going anywhere, never getting anywhere, just trudging about between non-existent As and Bs, grinning in their stupid wooly hats.

Maybe I’ll confine myself to the gift shops, spend the whole week nattering with some 752 year-old woman over wickerwork beagles and tea cosy holder holders.

Or, if I find some dream pub, maybe I’ll get so ridiculously slashed they’ll have to wake up the Lakes Bobby.

Whatever — I’ll let you all know how I got on when I get back.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


With the exception of this brief introductory paragraph, today's post is going to be assembled from the comments trail. We may end up with fiction, we may end up with shrewd political analysis, we may end up with nothing. If you want to add anything, I'll bend over backwards to include your submission, as long as said text is distinguished from regular comments by being ##bound in double hashes thus##. If, when you wish to update what appears in the post, hashed comments appear in the trail, assume they will be accepted and proceed from there. If there are LOTS of unposted hashed comments in the trail, it means I've been taken ill by the plague, or forced from my desk by unruly pseudo-buggers. So here goes...

"If you dare to think of bound hashes thus, a trussed ampersand will most surely be your demise. Yet it was I who compelled you to dare, to conceive of punctuational quirks — manifest sigil portents — as a quasi-algebraic key to the black hole of understanding."

Elvis shimmered in the doorway of the time machine like a flappy-trousered sequin theme park with 100% shares in the concept of 'ole'.

"Writhe all you like, Morrison, but the simplicity of Heartbreak Hotel will win out every time over your hippy nonsense, so shut the fuck up, you loser."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

O Is For Orange, For Optimist

Making my way along the sprays of home-grown carrots flopping about my vegetable plot like some sylvan faerie’s afro, I couldn’t help noticing The One Clearly The Size Of A Marrow.

Most of my carrots have been blessed in kind with the qualities of one or two ex-girlfriends: small, beautifully tapered, and positively devourable when peeled.

TOCTSOAM, however, looked more like a cork, inserted into the Earth’s crust to prevent subterranean horrors emerging and running amok.

I knew straight away I had a problem.

In my hand, barely a single boiling of the aforementioned diminutive veg plot regulars — yet my dinner table demanded four such offerings.

Sure, I could go without and transform this meagre portion into two for Son of Whirl and Girly of Whirly by bulking it up with hastily painted flumps of polystyrene packaging* — but that would leave my mother-in-law enraged and hungry for more than the usual dishing up of my head on a plate.

* I know. Some days I am a culinary Einstein.
Tugging on a carrot capable of messing up your back for life is a hard enough challenge, but when you add on the possibility of unleashing subterranean horrors, complete with total planetary prolapse should the root of the carrot be intertwined with some similarly humungous Antipodean eucalyptus — hey, this is nothing compared to receiving a scathing haven’t you heard of slug pellets, you dimwit? over a passed gravy boat and track three of Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits.

So now I’m lumbering round the house like a hunchback, batting off winged gargoyles with a spatula and awaiting the inevitable rumble of doom on the driveway.

This may be my last post for some time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Any More Rejoicing And I'll Explode

Today is a dashing D’Artagnan sort of a day — a day for donning the wide brimmed hat of a dandy, complete with feather and the carefree flop of excess.

My moustache too, neither trimmed nor waxed (nor, heaven forbid, Hitlered) whooshes about my cheeks like vines lowered from a tree by a clever chimp intent on rescuing Tarzan from quicksand.

The air feels the zip of my rapier. With deft strokes I split proton from neutron, colour the empty space with arcs of sizzling silver

OK. I’ll fess up.

Today, I’m shopping for paint.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fitness For Death

Time for an update on the exercise regime I mentioned in this post.

The good news is that my Cholesterol test proved positive — ie sufficient amounts exist in my blood to confirm I’m no dietary lunatic, but not enough to kill me by tea time.

To celebrate, I kind of pigged out, ingesting more saturated fat than Oliver Hardy drenched in sunflower oil — all of which meant that my exercise regime (keenly observed for weeks, honest) needed stepping up a notch or two.

So it was farewell to J.P. Muller and his pre-Charles Atlas zany trunks, and hello to the 1966 first edition of James Hewitt’s Isometrics For You (currently retailing on Ebay for an astonishing £20).

The idea behind this book is a simple one: using everyday objects from the home and office, you can trim yourself for fitness in a trice.

That said, you’re welcome to grunt and groan along with me for half an hour or so as I recount how I twisted and ruptured myself through the first of my gruelling new Daily Dozens.


First up is the aptly titled SQUEEZE IN ON TYPEWRITER.

Being a writer, I figured this was the best place to start, but as it turned out, 60s typewriters are a heck of a lot sturdier than modern day flatscreen monitors and I nearly electrocuted myself pumping up my deltoids.

The girl in the photograph (a Miss Mandy Morgan) is clearly more satisfied with her efforts than I was with mine. I can’t help thinking she might have been something of a bugger when let loose on the dance floor to The Rolling Stones in a sweat-soaked bier keller.


Ten manly squeezes later, and I’m ready for the LEG RAISE AGAINST CABINET.

Sadly, I don’t have a cabinet, so here’s me, in my “Pump Up”tm leisurewear, recreating the isometrics heaven of the flower power decade by splitting my difference up against the bathroom basin...


Time to move on to a more advanced manoeuvre now all hope of salvation is lost.

Two things to notice here. First, Miss Mandy Morgan has turned into an oddly proportioned gentleman in even more oddly proportioned shorts. Second, equipment such as typewriters and filing cabinets has been dispensed with. For this, my friends, is the TOWEL SHRUG, and if your bathroom cupboard contains a towel resembling a dressing gown belt, then prepare to “stand erect”, “inhale deeply” and “shrug”. If it helps, pushing and pulling with all your might with no chance of moving anywhere is a little like submitting to agents.


Into the dining room now for the STRAIGHT ARM PRESS.

This time, we’re sitting erect, so it may be necessary to draw the curtains. As it happens, a gentle tug on the pelmet is not dissimilar to performing a TOWEL SHRUG, so before you know it, you may be trapped forevermore in a world of isometrics Nirvana. As for Hewitt, I suspect no-one crept under his arm between the two chairs during the taking of this photograph. In all probability, he may still be “on”.

Here’s one for anyone getting stuck in to Nanowrimo this year: the uncannily descriptive BROW CLASP.

I gave this ten minutes and, frankly, it was exhausting enough without the added dimension of turning my stream of consciousness into a multiply rejectable 200,000 word blockbuster. Best of luck to those of you keeping it up for a whole month. If it helps, you don’t have to “sit erect” for this one (though drawing the curtains might help). I’ll come onto “lying erect” in a moment.

Back to the author again — and HEAD LOWERING.

It’s probably worth explaining a little of the scientific case for isometrics for those of you who might have chosen to grunt along with me, but who may now be wondering whether to end it all with a sawn-off shotgun. Isometrics is based on the principle that muscles can be toned, firmed and exercised while contracting them against resistance — hence all the pushing against filing cabinets and chairs. Here, the author demonstrates how he can push his chin into his palm, and his palm (with equal force) against his chin in order to exercise the muscles responsible for lowering the head. If, like me, you are familiar with (a) the joint between the spine and the skull, and (b) gravity, do please feel free to skip this one before you risk ruining the walls of your living room with a javelin assault of your own ribs.

Back to Miss Mandy Morgan, who is infinitely more pleasant to look at than Hewitt — albeit in a baboon’s backside versus the rotting corpse of an octopus kind of way. Here, she demonstrates the FRUSTRATED LEG RAISE (in order “to keep the hips trim”).

In more affluent homes, this exercise may double as the PERMANENTLY RUINED CHIPPENDALE, and when practised in conjunction with isometric contraction regimes against the outside legs of the chair, the PERMANENTLY FROZEN PELVIS OF RIGIDITY.

But seriously, joking aside — don’t try this one if there’s cats about the place and you’re down to your last pair of tights.

Finally, we come to a whole range of exercises for performing in the bath. I know! Isn’t this just the cushiest exercise idea ever? Here’s Miss Mandy Morgan, demonstrating my three favourites.

Now, before you get too excited, I feel I should point out the hidden flaw in what might seem an otherwise perfectly sensible exercise plan. It was only after I’d run the bath, topped up the water with relaxant-enhanced Body Shop oils, clambered in and reminded myself of which leg was supposed to go where that I realised, actually, these photos clearly demonstrate that you don’t need a bathful of water at all. Which kind of blows the whole cushiest exercise regime ever thing. On the plus side, if you’re thinking of having a new bathroom fitted, you could save yourself a couple of hundred quid on a tub and still be fit as a fiddle. Just watch out for the carpet burns when you’re startled by the ping of underwear elastic.

That concludes my round-up of how I became a masterfully toned specimen of human physicality in under half an hour — then collapsed in a gibbering heap of slush, like a failed Yorkshire pudding.
Hope you fared a little better...

(apologies for the horrendous formatting — I can't make it stop)

Friday, October 1, 2010

One Parrot Fiction #2

Click to enlarge if the sheen on the parrot's beak is unclear.