Thursday, July 29, 2010


I’ve been on many exciting adventures in my 1979 Oxfam cape.

Flights of fancy, dances with wolves — even the odd stumble-prompted semi-hernia.

Let me tell you how it all happened, this cape thing.

In an age when charity shops come bolting from every high street frontage like horses chased by squads of intergalactic Geld-o-beests, it’s all to easy to forget the time when there was only one charity (Oxfam), and in most towns, only the one shop. By dint of Venn overlap, the one shop in my home town in 1979 was an Oxfam. Ah, the glory days when everything was made of wood and nothing ever needed recharging...

My Oxfam smelled of mothballs and old zoos, and was run by a thrice dead woman with skin like a diseased Nice biscuit. Dust clouds billowed from every surface the moment you ventured in through the door, and while you took a moment to figure out which way was up using only the lopsided staglagmites of clothes as a guide, she’d emerge from behind a Trilby clad mannekin with the zeal of a trapdoor spider and pepper your future nightmares with the halitosis spittle of the damned.

I used to go in for jackets and waistcoats — especially waistcoats. 50p each, they were — apart from the 75p ones (which were 75p). At the time, I imagined that only a select few souls knew of this place, and crept between the Woolworths and the Hepworths and the Lunn Polys as if some mock Transylvanian bloodline compelled them to feed on undiluted fustiness and odd shoes with wafer thin heels. In reality, of course, every sixth former in the country was undertaking similar forays into the wire coat hanger jungle, there to mix and match the choicest ragged 50s suits with their own state-of-the-art T shirts, flobbed on by Johnny Rotten himself (or for those inclined towards rock, lifesize cardboard cut-outs of Lemmy strapped to their backs with lengths of chain).

So, collude with me in my youthful illusion, lest my tie-dyed underwear run purple from the drip drop sobs of folly. For this was my Mr Benn costume shop, my secret bunker of crumpled Burton menswear, my 3rd hand pyjama Nirvana.

Whirl feeds the birds some time in the early 80s wearing an outfit modelled on Johnny Fingers and a beard borrowed from Peter Sutcliffe. And no, it’s not a hat.

And as you collude, imagine my excitement when my Mum informed me — because yes, the one glitsch in my Mr Benn secret fashion chic bunker thang is that she used to pop in to the selfsame Oxfam herself every Thursday before half day closing to browse the flowery nylon dresses — imagine my excitement when my Mum informed me that she’d seen a cape.

‘A cape?’ I said.

‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘A CAPE’.

Oh, how I wanted that cape! I could wear it, don it, sport it! To the pub. On a Friday night. What a perfect match it would be for my snazzy white boiler suit, my clogs, and the Dr Who scarf my Mum knitted when I was 15.*
* I’m afraid so. And a pipe.

My blue cape! My beautiful blue velvety cape! So dapper, so wizardish, so moleskin soft it could almost be tamed like a hamster!

Now, before anyone accuses me of being colour blind (and let’s face it, were this to happen, it would be the least of my problems on the strength of this post so far), I have to make a distinction between the cape you see here in the photo — which will soon have its own hook on the door to my newly refurbished study/snug — and the blue velvety cape which inspired me to run with two crisp pound notes clutched firmly in my hand, all the way up Queens Road into town, in my clogs, till sweat dripped from my body as could drown a bucketful of voles.

The blue velvety cape was what I was expecting; this garish monstrosity was what I actually ended up with.

If you’ve ever been on a blind date, maybe you’ll appreciate the romeo — ohnomeo! scenario. The blond, blue-eyed athlete/scholar with the hip attire and bulging wallet turns out to be haemophiliac newt-breeding trainspotting lardarse, Cuthbert Vomit-Twat, two months into corrective surgery for the 220lb lump of bone and gristle slung between his legs since birth. Or if blind dates aren’t your thing, what about the hotel on the Costa del Patatasbravas which looked great in the brochure but in reality was actually a hollowed out horse’s corpse. Or if catch-all examples of shriekingly bombed out expectations are really what’s needed to sum up the essence of this particular form of disappointment, how about “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie.*

* Huaaargh, goosetroughs!

Typically, these zealously overwitnessed figments of our expectation shrivel and die the moment their real-life counterparts appear. Pseudo-France, so lovingly abundant with faux Gallic charm, fades into a slurry of je ne sais quoi upon your arrival in cloudy Calais; the thrill of feeling like Tony Alva as you step onto your funky new skateboard turns to bruises, broken limbs, and mockery from the kid next door; and far from being the nectar of the Angels as you were promised, Dr Pepper tastes like a brew of all those medicines your Grandma forced down you as a kid.*

* Ambiguity check: I was the kid, and my Grandma was my Grandma. So forget the timewarp scenario where I meet my own grandparents as children only to have them bully me by forcing cough mixture down my throat with an old vole bucket. That doesn’t happen till the 2nd series.

Over the years, most of my dream shrapnel has poofed out like spent fairy dust — but my blue cape lives on, in all its regally hued moleskinniness. Some days I lift it from its phantom peg, slip it on like I’m climbing into a ghost spider’s boudoir, and pass into the world in discreet disguise. As I stand in the queue for the post office; or wander down the street marvelling at the daily honk of rag and bone men’s horns that have so disconcertingly come roaring from between the sparrow tweets ever since the Tories surfed to power on a wave of sycophantic Liberal grease; or simply lean over the sink and brush my teeth first thing in the morning, to all intents and purposes seemingly naked but for the skimpiest of I Heart Madonna thongs, my blue cape cheers me on like a mystic talisman uncovered from an Inca temple, and throws an invisible blue glow over the world.

I have it on now as I type this post, tied neatly about my neck with its wedding veil deliciousness trailed over the back of the chair.

Maybe I’ll go flying in it later this afternoon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Snakes Still Alive!

I currently have a couple of posts tumbling about in the hopper, but nothing substantial with which to tempt you to yell, ‘that Whirlochre: what a rum bugger!’

I realise this is like telling half a joke or playing Strip Jack Naked while wearing a hundred tracksuits, but there you go. Soon, those posts will out. And soon, you will yell till those wibbly dangly bits at the back of your throats swell to the size of tinned plum tomatoes.

For now, it’s time to focus on the winner of my Snakes Alive contest. Actually, it wasn’t so much a contest as a complete and utter waste of time — which is not to say that being it’s winner is inconsequential. Far from it. Of the zillion blogosphere podiums it’s possible to be placed upon as a #1, all of mine are well towards the bottom end of the scale, and as we all know, the bottom is much the same as the top as far as getting noticed is concerned. Think of A to Z. Who wants to be a middling M, stuck in the middle of nowhere? Okay, so McKoala does. Not that she ever intended it consciously. But she still won. She's such a fibber.

A shiny Snakes Alive blogger award will be winging its way over to the fearsome marsupial as soon as I can get the laptop off Son of Whirl and design one. It’s the summer holidays, and he intends to spend the whole time languishing here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On The Couch With Sock Monkey

SM: We’re going to try something a little different today.

WO: Let me guess — you on top, me dressed as a nurse.

SM: Very funny.

WO: So what’s the deal?

SM: Ever heard of the Rorschach Test?

WO: The Japanese reality TV show? Where the contestants are force fed sushi?

SM: No, you’re thinking of Kujukuri Hammerhead Puree.

WO: Of course I am. Silly. So go on, what is this raw shark?

SM: It’s pronounced Rorschach, actually.

WO: That’s what I said.

SM: Fine. Now, we’re going to try a variation on the aforesaid test—

WO: Like a minnow? A lightly poached minnow?

SM: If you like.

WO: No — if you like. It’s your test.

SM: Very well then. The Lightly Poached Minnow Test.

WO: Which is?

SM: I want you to draw a doodle.

WO: A doodle? What kind of a doodle?

SM: Anything. Anything that comes to mind.

WO: What, like a bear? Some kind of a bear?

SM: Not exactly. Think of something random, kind of crazy.

WO: But a bear was the first thing I thought of. If I now think of something else, it won’t be the first thing. And it certainly won’t be random.

SM: Let’s start again. I want you to think of something random as you’re drawing it. Don’t think too hard, just let it flow. Empty your mind of—

WO: Can I just stop you there? This doodle, this random doodle — why am I drawing it anyhow?

SM: We’re going to use it to reveal your inner mood.

WO: My inner mood?

SM: That’s right.

WO: As opposed to my outer mood?

SM: Of overall low level hostility, yes.

WO: So how many moods have I got? Inner, outer, upper, downer? And how do they all join up? Are they stitched together like a quilt, or slopping around like vegetables in a broth? Or is there no link between them at all? Like they’re just suspended inside my head like fish poo in a pond that hasn’t been cleaned out for a while? You know, the way it floats around between the rocks and the plants? Or better still, like a bunch of dead fish float?

SM: You’ve asked a number of very important philosophical questions there, and we can return to them on another occasion—

WO: But I get a gold star, right?

SM: If you like.

WO: No — if you like. It’s not a reward otherwise.

SM: OK, if I like.

WO: And you do?

SM: Yes.

WO: Yeeeeees!

SM: So let’s get back to the doodle.

WO: Which you’re going to analyse?

SM: Yes.

WO: Which has to be the first thing I think of?

SM: Yes.

WO: And entirely random?

SM: Yes.

WO: As I’m drawing it?

SM: Yes.

WO: Right...let me think...let me think...(...)... — voila!

SM: You’ve drawn a bear.

WO: I know. It was the first thing I thought of, like you said. And it’s definitely random because it’s a different bear. The first one was riding a unicycle.

SM: A unicycle? Veeeery interesting...

WO: But what about the bear? Look — he’s smiling. That’s a mood, isn’t it?

SM: True, but the unicycle is far more significant.

WO: You mean the unicycle I didn’t actually draw?

SM: But you thought of it.

WO: So why bother with the pen and paper? What sort of test is this?

SM: Like I said, it’s a test to reveal your inner mood.

WO: Okay then, brainache, what does a non-existent unicycle signify? About my inner mood?

SM: You think the unicycle doesn’t exist?

WO: Of course it doesn’t exist. Look at the bloody picture, you halfwit.

SM: The unicycle is a symbol for your independence, your daring; perhaps even your fear of being buggered on a ship. In saying it doesn’t exist, you’re doubting your own abilities, feeling like you’re all at sea.

WO: What — you mean this unicycle?

SM: No! Nooooo!

WO: Ha! Got you! This isn’t the unicycle you were thinking of, is it? It isn’t even the one I was thinking of. It’s a random unicycle. Which I've jokily drawn to parody your ridiculous suggestion about my fear of being buggered on a ship.

SM: Noooo! That’s not the problem! My whole analysis was dependent on the fact that you drew a bear’s head. Now you’ve added a body, you’ve ruined the whole thing.

WO: So you’d rather I’d just drawn the head and the unicycle? Like in some bizarrely amputee animal circus?

SM: I’d rather you’d just left it at the head. And the thought of the unicycle. If truth be told, I’d rather you’d just drawn a proper doodle. Random lines, squiggles, dots.

WO: Why didn’t you just say so?

SM: OK then, I’m saying so. Let’s ditch the bear and the unicycle.

WO: Sure you don’t want it for your living room?

SM: Nope.

WO: Dining room?

SM: Nope.

WO: Bathroom?

SM: Just draw another picture. A doodle this time.

WO: First thing—

SM: First thing, yes. Random. Lines. Squiggles. Dots.

WO: Lines...squiggles...dots...(...)... — voila!

SM: You’ve drawn another fucking bear!!!

WO: Yes, but look — lines, squiggles, dots.

SM: Session’s over. Now get lost.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Butt Crack Nirvana No More (or "Please Can I Have My Life Back?")

The men with the cavernous butt cracks are long gone but the devastation remains.

The tidiest my living room has been since April.

In the wake of Plumber Dave, Electrician Tony, Plasterer Gav, and disappearing cat Geoff, I am finally left with a ready-to-go upstairs and a house-in-a-box-to-go-back-upstairs downstairs. Beat that for smut, Scarlet.

When Girly of Whirly and I first purchased Whirl Towers in 2001, we had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. It looked fine on paper, but the moment we moved in we realised all too many substantial structural parts of it were made of precisely the same stuff.

The previous owner, it seems, was a Kwik Fix B&Q DIYer whose collapsible structures have presented themselves with the same shock horror frequency as the irritatingly unrelenting weekly drops of granny porn junk mail bearing his name. Fortunately, he died a couple of years ago, the miserable fucking bastard.

Take, for instance, the garden wall we demolished the year after we arrived.

‘I’d better ask Dad what to do,’ I said to Girly of Whirly, ‘just in case I hit a gas main or wreck the foundations.’

Dad, bless him, duly appeared. ‘Christ almighty, who put this up?’ He was 62 then, but he had the whole six metres of brickwork over with a couple of swift kicks.

Take also the facial expression of the electrician, summoned to investigate the dicky wiring in the attic. If its shock horror rictus could have been weaved into a fabric, Vivienne Westwood would have worn it up her fanny to Malcolm McLaren’s funeral. ‘You’re lucky the place hasn’t burned down,’ he texted.

And what about the cupboard for the hot water tank removed by Plumber Dave? The one miraculously held up by itself like some Andrex bog roll house of cards?

Or that chimney? ‘Are your neighbours insured for walking up and down your shared passage?’

The car engine buried in the garden by the pond of decaying toads?

I could go on, but to do so would invite nightmare vexations that only an Arnie of the Will could survive.

All that matters is that I’ve just about reached the finishing line: the moment when I can lug boxes back to hither and whither; set to with all things set down, piled in heaps.

I am as blogger vermin, sprayed with distracting anti-blogroll visitation fluids and pumped full of the urge to utter, splutter, rage of naught but pain, strife, toil, and — actually, Electrician Tony had a very alluring bum crack into which my beguiled attention deposited itself like some wishfully pan-universal nugget of currency. But that’s another story, for another day.

Doubtless, I’ll continue to be Mr Infrequent Posts Kind Of A Guy (Yet Still Very Good With Small Animals) for a few weeks yet, but August promises to be a Jovian wobb-out, so don’t meander too far from here. I may just re-inhabit this place like some kind of weird leopard.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Snakes Alive!

Where did the human race dredge this one up from?

With 101 search engines at my disposal, I suppose I could find out right now, satisfy my curiosity as to the origin of this smirk-generating idiom.

Because, yes — that’s what I’m doing now.

I can’t say why I’ve just spontaneously uttered, snakes alive! — all you need to know is that I have. And now I’m smirking.

You have to think pants, don’t you? Some prehistoric pair of skimpies into which a snake (or snakes) once slithered.

Or maybe it was a bunch of Egyptians having a picnic by the Nile whose hamper got invaded by a trio of surly pythons. Or eels. Maybe the original snakes weren’t snakes at all. Maybe they weren’t even alive. So now I’m thinking of a blind man, lost amongst the saplings of a Rowan forest. Or perhaps he isn’t blind at all and he chances upon a beach where a dead octopus floats in the water.

A tribe of naked warriors waggling their willies in unison before battle?

OK, I’m going to check Cyber Snoop now.

Back in a minute...


Hours later...

How bizarre.

I’d presumed the internet would be awash with a million and one hits about snakes alive, but sadly, it wasn’t to be.

The only references I can find relate to bingo halls and the number 55.

All the fives! Snakes alive!*

* By the by, the little old lady in a wooly hat in me wants to cry out, ‘house!’

The snakes alive, it seems, are the curly S shapes of the twinned 5s.

But I don’t believe it for a minute. I think it was the Egyptians. Or the beachcomber and the octopus. Possibly even the willy warriors.

As this is my 300th post, a special personalised blogger award is on offer to anyone who can dig out the original origin of this phrase — or come up with an amusing alternative to my suggestions.

As soon as I see the one I’ll let you know.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Morning Music

This has been creeping up on me for about three weeks now.

And I love that.

The best twos and twos don't often fit immediately together to make any number.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Get Thee To A Minionnery

Such was my mission. Such was my destiny. Such was my curse.

For today, I was the thee.

Though if truth be told, it was yesterday, Independence Day: Evil Editor’s minions’ meet-up day.


I emerged from the London Underground like a bolus of Marks & Sparks mix ‘n’ match leisurewear shunted along the intestinal tract of an improperly contsructed Ikea cyborg.

Above me, the sun beamed bright; ahead of me, the wanky new bridge across the Thames to the South Bank groaned with tourists, its girders bowed into a Dachsund U of agony.

Cheery musicians plucked and beat and trumpeted and sang as one: cut to the chase, Whirl. No-one’s interested in the bridge or the scenery — they just want to know about the minions.

And so, to the huddle of tangerine parasols afloat outside Giraffe on the joie de vivre of its patrons.

Immediately, I sensed danger.

Fairyhedgehog, it seemed, had been possessed by the spirit of a twisted undead troll lord, just as she was regaling the other gathered minions with tales of her brand new luxury 50cc lawnmower.

‘You push it like this! You push it like this!’ she screamed.

Fortunately, I was wearing my stripy Whirl socks. One flash of those babies, and the troll lord’s evil essence fled along the embankment and disappeared up some posh woman’s skirt.

‘Glad you could make it,’ said Fairy.

I took my place alongside Janey V and Beau de Hog, glanced across the table to Fairy, Polenth, Robin and Beau de Robin, pleased as punch that their corporeal magnificence perfectly matched their online persona de plumes. No need, then, for my B plan of feigning death or legging it if they turned out to be dreadful, horrible people.

Presently, it was time to order. Robin turned to the waiter and said, ‘on your knees, boy — less you want a whuppin’’ while Fairy and Janey beat the hapless boy’s behind, sticks of celery a-flailing.

You don’t mess with the Minions, you trendy South Bank restauranteurs.

With Evil Editor’s picture in pride of place on the condiment rack between the tomato ketchup and the salad cream, and a hearty toast sunk in his name (including the crusts and the burnt bits round the edges), the minions tucked in to a feast of tantalising international fayre, considerable volumes of plonk, and enough witty and exuberant conversation to power a small cinema showing back-to-back screenings of The Guns of Navarone for a week.

Then it was time for the arm-wrestling.

Janey and Robin vs Whirl and Fairy, with Polenth squeezing distracting lemon juice into the contestants’ eyes while both the Beaus collected money from the assembled crowd in bras borrowed from the enthusiastic Giraffe serving-wenchery.*

* £58.35 for Children in Need, £123.87 for the Withybrook Ladies’ Crippled Donkey Salvation Trust, £16.45 for a nice bottle of Pinot Noir (collecting money in a bra is hot work, so we had to give the boys something), £27.83 for Muffle Brian Blessed, and three separate offers of “a right bloody punch in the face” for Evil Editor from a couple of disgruntled authors and an echolaic drunkard who just happened to be passing by.

The good thing about the tables outside Giraffe is that they’re sturdy. And sturdy is just the thing you need when you find yourself pinned down by the dual anaconda grip of Janey and Robin — with the hot sweat of their ferocity dripping in your face and a half eaten chocolate cake poised to fly from the woodwork as you writhe. Had I tackled them alone (my original plan, till they stripped to their waists and alerted me to the beating I was in for), I’d surely have been pounded to mincemeat. With Fairy by my side, I figured I could make that a good solid bread dough, maybe even a chunky farmhouse-style soup. But Fairy is tougher than she looks. And she bites.

The result? A mutually agreed draw.

So everyone was happy — especially Polenth, mainly because she

1) didn’t have to do any fighting,
2) had enough lemon juice left to squeeze into her fresh orange smoothie and make a dinky fruit cocktail,
3) saw a pigeon loop the loop over a riverboat just as Robin and Janey tossed me over their shoulders, and was amused by the matching parabolae.

It’s a shame I didn’t have my camera handy more often, but such were the joys of the afternoon, I couldn’t help but be immersed in their droobilicious effuse.

Fortunately, there was time for one final snap, just as we got ready to say our goodbyes...

Adieu, mes amis!


More coverage here. And here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Introducing The iPollock

I’ve never been one for gadgets.

Why, on the Luddite/Nerd Axis I’m a healthily rustic 7.359.

Not for me, the latest phone whose photos contain more megapixels than the number of atomic particles in whatever you’re snapping — and which ALSO* contributes (via Gamma, Beta, Theta and Sinitta waves) to the wholesale destruction of Pluto.
* Because gadgets are notoriously heavy on BONI.

Not for me, the fork-cum-knife-cum-spoon-cum-plate-cum-cup-cum-sieve-cum-coathanger that handily transforms a camping weekend into an IQ test for the hoodwinked and soon-to-be-enraged.

Not for me, any kind of SPECIAL ATTACHMENT to any kind of ordinary tool that fits neatly into a pocket or handbag and fills you with a sense of eureka-by-proxy — but only so long as it actually remains attached, bloody thing.

And that’s why, when it comes to word processing gadgets, I’m an iPollock kind of a guy.

“The iPollock rests neatly on your thigh and provides a stable platform for numerous sizes of paper. Simply add biro and writing. In addition, this fantastic very large book comes bundled with an encyclopaedic array of information about Wyoming’s most famous abstract expressionist sonofabitch.”

Sadly, much as I would love to pass on links to online techno-merchandise wholesalers flogging spanking new iPollocks at a whopping 25% discount, I can’t.

You can only get iPollocks from junk shops. In Leicester. In 1991.