Sunday, January 30, 2011

One Parrot Fiction #3

Click to enlarge — but be warned: your clothes may not fit afterwards.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Casting Off Of Albatri 11

Strangle The Young

Rictus fingers
grasp at life,
can't cup it.

all our nevers.

Sup it.

With Apologies To All Who Are Holebound Today

Much as I would love to join in the fun of Rabbit Hole Day by descending down said lapin-friendly portal with all nonsense blazing, I'm currently so far UP a similar otherworldly invagination (with neither oars nor sails nor all-singin' all-dancin' parrot to guide me) that if I were to report back with my findings, I'd most surely be hung, drawn and quartered.

A roll call of bona fide usually unusual suspects can be found here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

On The Couch With Sock Monkey

WO: Happy New Year.

SM: What? It’s January the 24th — practically next Christmas.

WO: Okay, suit yourself. I was only being polite.

SM: If you had any inclination towards being polite, you wouldn’t have failed to show for your last appointment. On the 7th. Maybe you could have wished me Happy New Year then.

WO: Yes. Sorry. I was going to say something about that.

SM: So?

WO: My washing machine broke.

SM: And, what? In the absence of your trusty washing machine there were no buses?

WO: In the absence of my washing machine, there was water. Everywhere. Including the telephone socket.

SM: So — not a “Happy New Year”, then.

WO: If truth be told, no.

SM: So let me get this straight. You let me down on your first appointment of the year, then for the second, you swan in like nothing had happened and try to fob me off with a bogus greeting. What are you planning for next time? To urinate on my couch?

WO: Ah. About next time...

SM: Don’t tell me. Let me guess.

WO: Okay.

SM: What?

WO: You said “let me guess”. So, go on then, Mr Supposed To Know Everything About My Brain.

SM: I’ve told you before, it’s not just about brains. Human beings are more than the sum of their parts — even if one of those parts went missing at an early age.

WO: Don’t try to change the subject, you charlatan!

SM: Your car needs an MOT?

WO: No.

SM: Doctor’s appointment?

WO: No.

SM: Dentist?

WO: No.

SM: Hairdresser?

WO: Now you’re just taking wild guesses.

SM: Job interview?

WO: Nope.

SM: Gas man? Electric? Broadband?

WO: Nopey nope.

SM: Hospital appointment? Roof blew off? Washing machine broke again? Locusts? Earthquake? Aliens?

WO: Ha! Oh this is good, very good.

SM: Laugh if you must, but for your information, I’m using the technique known as “rational enquiry”, eliminating all the reasons it can’t be in order to reveal the truth.

WO: Very clever, but that’s not how it works with Guess Why I Can’t Come Next Time. Follows the same rules as a quiz show. “I have to go with your first answer” and all that.

SM: Very well, then. You can’t make it next time because you concluded over the Christmas break that I was a fraud and that every single penny you’ve ever paid me has been a waste of your precious money. You would have told me you’re quitting on the 7th, but you bottled it, and you were going to tell me the moment you walked in this morning, but you bottled it again, and now you’ve decided to cancel our next appointment care of some excuse far more spurious than a broken washing machine so you can text me between now and then with a coward’s exit and spare yourself the horror of telling me face to face.

WO: Hmmph. It’s no good saying it now.

SM: But I’m right, aren’t I?

WO: Yes. If you want. Fine.

SM: So?

WO: You’d better hit the RECLINE button on the couch while I look for my diary...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Curse Of Swollen Piles

Confession: when it comes to admin I’m a Doer-as-U-Goer, not a Hardcore Piler-Upper.

I like my inboxes cleared and my outboxes smeared with a rocket-fuel-like ejaculate of efficiency.

Piles of washing up after Sunday dinner? No chance! The moment those hot plates hit the dinner table, every last spoon and mixing bowl feels the dishwasher’s Radox splash.

That said, I don’t iron underpants.*
* So please, no cries of “Anal! Anal! Anal!” — especially if you’re reading this on your phone in the supermarket.

Since mid-November, however, I’ve got a little behind.** Piles of papers, unsorted, lie next to a computer crammed with cluttered directories, a phone packed with too many photos and memos and no-nos.

** Admit it, you want to snigger.

So I’m having a clearout — a bit like Santa after Christmas with the elves who ate too many chocolates.

The clichéd image, of course, is of the human-cum-octopus hybrid, busily attending to his backlog of unfiled detritus while swigging from a pint glass of Red Bull.

But that would be too easy. Far better that I drag some unsuspecting human-cum-octopus hybrid off the street and force him/her/it to crack down on my burgeoning piles. Or grab hundreds of the beggars, chop off their arms, and construct some kind of Tidying Golem.

As you don your clerical Marigolds, how do you picture yourselves?

A genuine Abysswinksback spangly Blogger Award awaits the best deployment of imagery, especially if you’re clearly making it up...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Night I Treated Victoria Coren To Moussaka (And Unlimited Gin)

Can I make a complaint?

About the bloody telly?

Specifically, last night’s feeble channel-deep regurgitation of suffering?

Let me be clear about this, Mr & Mrs Sort The Schedules – when Famille Whirl hogs the settee of a Saturday night, armed with its salmon rolls and dinky donky dips, it expects to be entertained by a cornucopia of bedazzlement to rival Elvis’ sequins the night his pants flew off at Caesar’s Palace after one too many snorts of coke.

As it was, after the docu-soap that is Primeval, there was nothing much we fancied bar repeats, and since the salmon cobs had already begun striking home at my gullet, I said, “let’s see what we’ve got videoed.”*

* I’ll cut here the subsequent snark-laden exchange with Son of Whirl about our ‘video’ actually being a Freeview box.

As a family, we scanned the hard drive.

Just three choices, it seemed.

First up was a hundred and eighty minutes’ worth of David Tennant romping round as Hamlet – a recording now well over a year old. With a heavy group sigh, we moved on. “We’ll get round to watching it some day...”

Scrolling past undeleted episodes of Poirot and one of those How Publicly Visible Is Your Stupidity? programmes featuring a makeover of a friend’s childhood home, we came across a documentary about Mark E. Smith from The Fall. Rictus grins all round.

Finally we settled on Only Connect. Four whole episodes, as it happened – back to back, to recreate the Saturday Night Spirit so terribly absent since the end of the X Factor and Harry Hill’s Very Squeaky Head.

Famille Whirl simply loves Only Connect. It’s the only quiz show on TV that levels out our puzzle-solving playing field. Instead of the usual scenario where Girly of Whirly wins at ‘entertainment’, Son of Whirl triumphs at ‘miscellaneous crap’ and I come top in the ‘everyone knows this, but give him a chance’ category, when it comes to quiz show royalty such as the Connecting Wall, we’re all equally useless.

All of which is a very roundabout way of saying that I only watch the show for Victoria Coren.

Let me pause for a second to still my butterfly lungs.

It’s not so much a case of “ticking all the right boxes” or the fact that she’s so tiny she’d be the perfect person with whom to be trapped down a mineshaft – for me, it’s the way she turns to face the contestants. All panel game hosts have to master this skill, and some manage it better than others. So for example, what Stephen Fry lacks in poise he more than makes up for in affability, while Simon Amstell, in his tenure on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, relied on the Swivel Chair Ploy and frequently assaulted guests from behind. As for Sue Barker’s movements, the only mystery surrounding their origin is the precise voltage passing through the crocodile clips attached to her thighs.

Be in no doubt, viewing public, Victoria Coren is the best Turn To Facer in the business. I could watch her turning to face teams of contestants all day: The Cambridge Tintinnabulators, The Choo Choo Enthusiasts, The Effete-yet-strangely-rough-handed Scribblers, The Chirpingford Maserati BoyZ, The Chimp Breeders, The Stow-on-the-Wold Satanists – bring them on, say I! Then watch Victoria face them, watch her turn from captain to weird bloke on the end of the left panel... to camera...and finally (and I don’t know how she does this) to all.

It’s not so much the turning motion itself, but the way she copes with her unfeasibly long blonde hair without resorting to the Weathergirl’s Whoosh or the Starched Torso ‘n’ Neck Combeau of Potential Lumbar Dismay – and she’s stern as you like without being mean like Anne Robinson, yet friendly as a loving puppy dog without the need to lick anyone’s face.

I rather think I’d like to take Victoria Coren out to dinner. But not for the witty conversation, the food, the post-pud Poker. I’d take her to watch her turn.

The Savoy Hotel! A table for three! By the Help Yourself To Salad counter!

I’d pull out her chair, let her sit. Then shrug, almost embarrassed, as I tossed a coin to determine which side of her to place myself. “Heads it's left, tails it's right.”

Knees suitably under the silk tablecloth, bottoms snug on velvet, we’d survey le choix de canapés yummique, chatting idly about the Boer War and the digestive tracts of numerous species of turtle (it’s a guess: she’s very knowledgeable). All the time, she’d be turned to me, head tilted in that way, hair doing that non-whoosh thing – unless there was a gorillagram strutting its stuff by a neighbouring table, in which case she’d turn spontaneously and I’d be forced to cover my excited champagne snort with witty retort about an anti-asthma nasal implant.

And then my phone alarm would sound.

“Excuse me, Victoria,” I’d say, rising from my seat, “but it’s time for me to move to the other side.”

As I crossed to the spare place at the table, she’d turn to follow me, move in precisely the way she does on TV – but slower, and with no distracting letters of the Greek alphabet or spectacled frumps boasting four-digit IQs.

More talk – this time maybe David Cameron’s smile and the price of half cucumbers in Waitrose.

Moments later my alarm would sound again. And again, every two minutes, till either the battery or the Savoy’s supply of coffee ran out.


Not at all, say I.

At the first hint of Victoria (or anyone else) suspecting me of being some kind of narcissistic control freak, I’d be up out of my seat and straight over to the bloke in the gorilla suit with a morally robust sit down here and talk to the nice lady, Kong Face!

Or, better still, I’d arrange the diners into teams, one half to the right of our table, the other to the left, leaving the gorillagram free for his next appointment.*

* Katie Price’s new fridge.

I take my peccadilloes very seriously, thank you very much.

Looking back, the decision to watch Only Connect was the right one. Famille Whirl was thoroughly entertained (especially when Geoff got a question about Aristotle horribly – yet amusingly – wrong), I was inspired to dream about a fantasy tête-a-tête with a woman whose atlanto-axial joint I admire, and no-one was forced to endure any vile, vile dating shows or Top One Hundred Top One Hundred re-runs.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Beats Blogging About Vacuuming The Fluff From Your Navel, I Suppose...


For many people, they’re an irritating fact of anatomical matter, a throwback to the days (before there were tights and socks to be perforated) when your pinkies needed a little protection from all those Pteranodon-jettisoned boli and ground-hopping bobbles of sub-reptilian gristle that would one day evolve into bees.

Right now, mine are a kind of living exodus, a collection of molecules organised into shell-like husks whose mission in life is to get the heck away from my brain as quickly as possible for fear of being incorporated into some madcap idea involving dressing up or horseplay.

Resolved to put them out of their misery with deft cuts of a clearly useless Christmas cracker gift (no, not the padlock incapable of securing anything, or the fish-shaped sliver of plastic shaved from Clare Petulengro’s Tupperware collection...), I don goggles and set to.

So — how was your mid-morning tea break?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Writer's 'Giraffe Conundrum'

I hate it when the plot runs out of control.

Especially in fiction.

Maybe you’ve experienced something like what I’m about to outline, maybe this is how it goes for you, too. If so, take comfort from the fact you’re not alone. Then slash your wrists, if only to keep your hand in...

Let’s say you’re writing about a time-travelling giraffe trapped in a wizard’s lair.

And let’s say he gets to throw a chair at the wizard.

Don’t ask why, he just does. It says so in your first draft:

thewizxard stared hard at the giraffe somtihing about his eyelashes but not bristling, then gir grabs chair and throws it, hits wiz, knocks unconsc

So you write, “the giraffe grabbed the chair and threw it at the wizard”, resolved to tackle the business about the eyebrows next (or drop it altogether, perhaps). Simple.

Then you remember, earlier in the scene when you were describing the wizard’s lair, you referred to a cat asleep on the chair. It’s not an essential cat, just decoration, included along with the crystal ball and the cinnamon incense sticks to convey something of the wizard’s mystique. But now you’re wondering, “what happens to the cat when the giraffe picks up the chair?”

Options now proliferate, like wannabee Lady Gagae.

“The cat eyed the giraffe suspiciously.”

“The giraffe stared hard at the chair. Only moments ago, a cat had lain asleep upon its velvet seat, but now it had vanished...”

“The cat rose to its feet. ‘Back off, you long-necked fiend!’”

Suddenly, it’s three-way dialogue time, and your characters have to start twitching, rolling their eyes and manifesting all sorts of ridiculous and unnecessary mannerisms so people can figure out who’s talking in the absence of tags.

“Yes!” The wizard smiled. “It’s my cat, my familiar
A grin from the cat. “Yes.”
The giraffe’s long lips drooped. “I’m not smiling.”

Or maybe you’re Old School, in which case there’s endless intoning, ejaculating and meaowing.

So what do you do? Go back to the description of the wizard’s lair and amputate the cat? Or accept the offer prompted by your reasoning as you re-examined the idea of the giraffe throwing the chair? What if the cat is stuffed? Nailed to the chair? Or is it the chair itself that’s at fault? Should the giraffe throw something else at the wizard, leaving the decorative cat to sleep blissfully on in the background? Could it simply punch the wizard with a deft one-two of savannah-mottled hoof? And does your protag need to be a giraffe at all? Maybe you’d be better off with a warthog, then you could ditch the wizard altogether and run with a rom-com centred on the cat’s unrequited love.

The problem with the plot running out of control is that it has to at some point. If nothing runs, you haven’t got a plot. This is as true for outliners as it is for pantsers. Whether you’re setting sail on a wide open sea or winging it down a ravine in a raft, it’s almost impossible to know at the time of committing air to script or pixel whether you’re running with with an idea or phrase capable of opening up your story or shutting it down hard. Giraffe good, cat bad? Cat good, boxing giraffe good? Giraffe bad, suicide good?

These are the cliffhangers your readers never get to see.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Childhood Bike


Bombing around the estate on bikes in their flappy trousers and snorkel parkae!

Ride like the wind, the whoosh of Hai Karate, you Teenage Rampage rebels!

For truly, thou art bionic. Or as my friend used to say, “bijolic” (which I never understood: he wasn’t deaf).

Not for me the trendy Chopper, with its ridiculous seat so unnervingly generous in buttock placement options. Chris the Twat had a Chopper, and when he clambered aboard, his overall level of twattiness quadrupled.

Not for me the stylish racer. Even at the age of nine I’d figured out these were Hunchback Manufacturing Machines. Plus, before he got his Chopper, Chris the Twat rode one – and it was a right spazzy effort.

Not for me the ordinary boy’s bike, seen in every street, every park and every TV show (including The Double Deckers and How Meaningless Is My Life?).

Nope. No way. Nopey Nope.

For I was the boy who inherited his Grandad’s Raleigh Twenty.

That’s right, I drove rode a girl’s bike.

According to the story passed down to me, it appealed to my Grandad for three reasons.

Firstly, it was perfect for riding short distances, like to and from work, the shops.

Second, it had colour-coded gears built into the handgrip. Perfect for an OAP with no sense of smell.

Third (and most important), it had a basket on the back for his sandwiches. And that, my friends, was the clincher.

If this seems the worst kind of inheritance a 70s hot rod could be lumbered with, my other grandad left me two sets of false teeth which my Dad insisted I kept in a jar of water by my bed. “Pray to God you’ll never need them, son. But if the worst comes to the worst, they’re there for you.”

So, let’s skip the years of childhood trauma and cut to the time I’d finally accepted my lot as a pre-pre-op transvestite, and cut (again – like a slasher) to the park, the ‘adventure playground’, where gangs of biker boys from neighbouring streets zoom and swerve and race, and girls from Special Girl Land lounge on swings and roundabouts looking like the phwooaaar ones from Jackie, eager for incredible stunts.

There goes Chris the Twat with a magic skidder. Nearly comes off, but he’s such a twat he somehow doesn’t.

Cheers of adoration ring out from the roundabout as my mate with the bijolic hearing aid performs an almost gymnastic feet-off-pedals splits that would have had future generations of even the most spartanly talented BMX Boyz howling with derision. But these were the days before brand names, when you could get away with anything (and I should know, because somehow I survived them).

Now it’s the turn of Stu From Dahn The Road. He fixes the muddy embankment in his eyes, juts forth the unwhiskered chin of resolve and valour – then introduces one and all to another rude word for ‘willy’ and sparks up a Rothmans with a blowtorch from his dad’s shed.

My trick? To be honest, the best I could manage was to pedal for more than a few yards without my puncture repair kit falling out of my basket. As for my bike, it wasn’t exactly “stunt”.

But I’ll say this for the Raleigh Twenty: it was the perfect bike for a boy with fledgling you-know-whats stuffed down his nylon Y-fronts.

To demonstrate why this is the case, let’s run an imaginary race as a thought exercise.*

*For the uninitiated, this is an act of visualisation midway between lateral thinking, guided meditation and three pints of Special Brew with a meths chaser.

Let’s have a boy on a boy’s bike and a girl on a girl’s bike. If you like, since this is a 70s themed post, you can call them John T and That Skinny Tart From Down Under. Name the children as you wish.

They rev up, they pedal – and they’re off!

As the supersonic kids approach their maximum speed, a mongoose races out from a nearby bush and they must brake hard to avoid injuring it. (Some rules, to prevent the thought exercise being scuppered by clever cloggses: killing the mongoose means they won’t be allowed to stay up and watch The Sweeney, and we’ll assume they can’t swerve to avoid it on account of the yearning pit between the soon-to-be-swept-away terraced houses and the soon-to-be-built hypermarket/carbuncle.)

So who is travelling the fastest?

Why the boy, of course. D’oh. Boys are made of speed, zest, get-up-and-go; girls are made of knitting and generally being useless. And this is reflected in the design of their bikes. Allied to a sportier bike frame, the superior pumping action of the boy’s legs carries him farther and faster than that of the girl. To be honest, it’s a wonder she’s agreed to this race at all – she should be at home polishing her ballet slippers.

Fine. So who brakes first, Whirl?

John T again. No Brainer. His lightning reflexes far outstrip the stumbling, almost paraplegic, efforts of his female counterpart. In ten years’ time he’ll be careering round the Med in a speedboat while she’s stuck at home ironing slugs from the garden to turn into curtains – or children.

So does this mean John will fly from his seat first? Especially if his bike is a Chopper and therefore in no way designed to accommodate a backside anywhere along its foot-and-a-half of useless Ford Escortesque vinyl?

That’s right! And for any girls checking in today who might be getting hot under the collar about the potentially sexist nature of the observations made so far, let’s move swiftly to the killer question, in which the boy gets his just desserts in the name of equality.

You mean, John T?

Better than that. Any boy.

So what’s the killer question?

Why do boys’ bikes (ie bikes designed specifically for boys (the sex designed specifically with vulnerable globules of gristle dangling between its legs from nerve fibres connected to the part of the brain responsible for REGISTERING SENSATIONS OF AGONY)) have solid metal crossbars directly in front of the seat upon which it is possible to slide, slide, slide until – THWACK! – you reach the handlebars?

In a universe of balance and harmony, the best boys can hope for during such a Mongoose-Brake-Flight scenario*, is to have their differences split equally. ‘Two to the left’, ‘two to the right’ and ‘one either side, but the wrong way round’ don’t bear thinking about – let alone Chris the Twat’s speciality when he owned his spazzy racer: ‘both dead center, tied in a knot, while flying from an Knievel-style ramp’.

* For reference buffs, this is yet another term coined by Hans Eysenck that’s been picked up and misappropriated by the NLP fraternity.
I admit, long ago, on my bike, in my parka, I cut a truly risible figure. Especially when my dad raised the seat for my 21st with a broom handle. But as I walk the high street of adulthood, resplendent in my lack of wheels, I'm proud to have owned my Raleigh T.

Call me the lucky one, but I'm the only man of roughly my own age able to negotiate the rat run between Poundland and Cash 4 Offspring in anything like a straight line...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


One of the things I’ve come to like about blogging is how it keeps me on my toes.

True, my keyboard sits on a shelf eight feet up my study wall, but even if my ground floor were free of appliance-unfriendly custard, what I now see is a particularly feeble gag would still just about cut he mustard.

In my Abysswinksback hopper I have well over two dozen half-written blog posts which never saw the light of day. Either they ran out of fizz, lacked a backbone of hardcore writing acumen, or focussed solely on contentious subject matter like plucking Daniel Day Lewis, the fate of Buzz Aldrin’s exfoliated skin molecules while he was in orbit, and semen.

I’ve tried several times to breathe life into one or two of these posts like some hapless culinary Frankenstein heating up bubble ‘n’ squeak in a wok, but whenever I've finished, they seem to lumber from the screen like decerebrate laboratory animals, usually giraffes.

Maybe I’m falling prey to my inner Zeitgeist Wand Carver, unable to consider worthy for public utterance anything lacking the zing of nowness. Or maybe that post about semen really was way too infantile.

Or maybe, it’s just a typical Tuesday.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Lurid Pink-o-hula Ra

From the withered remains of 2010 rises the fluffy bunny of 2011.

As a veteran of these almost Dr Who-like annual makeovers, I can’t say I’m too upset about the demise of 2010. It’s not so much what happened as what didn’t – the lost teeth rather than the fist-sized chunks of chocolate cake stuck at the back of your throat.

But lurid pink? Are you serious? What kind of fluffy bunny is this?

I suppose when mucus drips freely from the hard nose of reality, it’s better shimmering with such a colour than regulation Snotty. Which is not to say that the fluffy bunny of 2011 now bounds gaily across my lawn showering the snow-blackened shrubbery with its nasal bounty. Far from it. I merely wish to point up the omens we’ve amassed to ourselves, how 2011 is going to be The Nightmare To End All Nightmares (particularly in the UK where the swine have made off with all the pearls and now seek to charge us all for having cast them). It’s a villainous dagger of the mind on a par with the falling from Heaven of beds of roses, free Beyonce CDs. Or whatever swing of fate the oracles predict.

Okay, okay, I’ll confess.

I’m preparing this post a day in advance, like a Blue Peter presenter folding her half dozen incomplete Origami Chihuahua acrobats, Nigella flopping her doughy rondules into bowls overnight till the yeast has risen.

It’s New Year’s Eve. 2010. Still.

The withered remains remain unwithered and the fluffy bunny neither bounds nor showers; appears pink nor lurid, bunnylike nor otherwise.

It’s the secret Old Father Time slips in between the exagerrated hopes and fears with his sickle, there to be read like secret sigils woven into Jools Holland’s seborrhoaic follicles:

The future hasn’t happened yet. This will always be true.