Friday, October 28, 2011

My I Ching Venetian Blind

The sun continues to beam unusually brightly for October, and as I sit, tucked up snug inside my sheepskin boiler suit, I feel aglow with the very best of the world’s radiance.

My only complaint is that the glare — reflected from every surface of my study, including the sheep’s eyeballs — makes typing at my laptop almost impossible and my descent into Typo Central as inevitable as the shrieking of hapless angels kidnapped by demons and thrust into the bowels of Hdaes.

Normally, of course, I’d draw the curtains and throw a necessary shroud over my workspace, but since Girly of Whirly has taken them down to run up into a ball gown, I’ve had to crack out the I Ching venitian blind from the attic, where it has resided for the past twenty-five years alongside boxes of clutter and old bicycles — and the remains of some woman who claimed to be a long-lost aunt who I was (sadly) forced to club to death after an altercation.

I originally purchased the blind in 1985 when uncertainty about my future had reached fever pitch.  The I Ching, as you’re probably aware, is a kind of divination device you can use in the absence of being bossed about the place by a mad dictator or having any clue about what to do with your gift of free will.  Rendered in venetian blind form, it can also serve as a handy means of moderating the degree of light available to rooms (and, in my case, partial concealment for an attic corpse).

The idea is very simple.  Every time you adjust the slats, one of the sixty-four I Ching hexagrams is displayed at random.  For tasteless design buffs, such blinds are a great addition to living rooms bursting with crap, but to seekers of the truth such as I was in 1985, they’re perfect for posing philosophical conundrums while dealing with the realities of night and day.

It’s up now, and I can more or less see to type.  A gentle breeze blows from the open window, causing the blind's plastic slats to chitter like the legs of distant beetles, and as I sit, wrestling with the sub-plot of a spurious story, I’m minded to check in to an I Ching divination website to seek counsel about what to have later for lunch.

First, I must formulate a question, some item of purest ponderousness upon which the oracle can “make like a sage”.

And the question I choose is: Should I finish off the curry from last night or make a fresh cheese and tomato sandwich?

A hexagram appears on the slats, tugged into being by the pull cord which I now see has a withered ear dangling from it.

According to, this is hexagram 49.  Named ‘KO’, possibly after one of the Teletubbies’ parents, it’s composed of two parts, namely ‘The Joyous’ and ‘The Clinging’, and embodies the idea of moulting or shedding.  According to Chin Chin Wee (who runs this particular site from the privacy of his weirdo bandana), the idea here is that just as animals’ pelts and religious and political movements come and go with the seasons, so it is with the subject matter of my question.  More specifically, Wee says,

Fire in the lake: the image of REVOLUTION
Thus the superior man
Sets the calendar in order
And makes the seasons clear.

In terms of imagery, this makes some kind of sense.  If there were ever a fire in the lake here at Whirl Towers, it would scare the bejesus out of half the neighbourhood in a way guaranteed to make heads revolve, and if the cyclic changes Wee describes are inevitable, it makes sense to have a timetable for predicting their comings and goings to which one can refer.

But what does this mean for my lunch?

My curry, though more revolutionary than a cheese and tomato sandwich in terms of spiciness and potential for inducing gastric tornadoes, is nonetheless an old curry — ‘yesterday’s pelt’, if you like.

Conversely, my cheese and tomato sandwich is the more revolutionary of the two by virtue of the simple fact that I haven’t made it yet.  The cheese remains unsliced, the tomato unmachetied, and nothing short of a revolution of matter is required to change this.  Plus, being from Belgium, the cheese has a 'pelt' of mould.

So I’ve decided to eat both.

I shall reheat the curry and dip my sandwich into it naan-style, cross-legged in my study chair like an eastern potentate, as the shadow of KO plays upon my sheepskin.  Philosophically speaking, it’s the worst kind of cop-out, but I’m an unrepentant foodie and I don’t care.

Feel free to check in to the comments trail with your Friday lunchtime treat, especially if you decide to consult the oracle about it first.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Posing For Family Photos

I’m no great fan of ‘the Family Photo’.

This is not to say that my hard drive isn’t bursting with pixel after pixel of Son of Whirl gurning for England or Girly of Whirly lolloping from exotic location to exotic location in a selection of dazzling bikinis — if truth be told, I’ve snapped such a colossal volume of fam-friendly bobbins with my camera over the years I could bore most immortals with the resultant slide shows.

No, the sort of family photos I refrain from applauding are those taken by professional photographers.  As I walk Geoff’s ghost round my neighbourhood, shadowy lounge windows trumpet glimmers of these obscenities from mantlepiece, dresser and display, and it’s all I can do to draw my cowl over my eyes for fear of being haunted in my sleep by some vile image of Mum and the Kids and Grandad and Barney the Dog and the urn containing Jerry the Terrapin’s remains.  Grinning faces, staring out through the whipped cheese of their own vapidity against a backdrop of faux reality and lovely jumpers.  Arghhh!  If my skin weren’t so tightly bound to my body, these kinds of images would almost certainly creep it the heck off my bones.

So imagine my delight this Saturday when Mother of Girly of Whirly turned one thousand and dragged our entire extended family to a professional studio for a professional shoot with a professional photographer whose name out-pretenced the most fluffily exotic of Nigella Lawson kinky dinky fairy cake recipes.

To be fair, it all kicked off sensibly enough: thirteen people, all more or less related to one another, arranged like a smartly dressed football team, smiling their sibling rivalries into oblivion.

Then came the wriggling and writhing around on the floor.

Gone are the days of sitting on chairs, it seems, or even leaning nonchalantly against the wall with the pensive glee of underwear models.  These days, you get to lie prone on the floor as grandkid after grandkid piles onto your back in a human pyramid of visually appealing suffering.  We had Mother of Girly of Whirly snapped in mid-air as strapping sons gave her a leg and a wing beside a huge potted plant; babies hung from Tarzan-style vines over heaps of mothers dressed as Roman goddesses playing their offspring, pendulum-style, with bare feet; and finally, a kind of trapeze act involving too many somersaults and a mural of the Niagara Falls.  Apparently, this new approach to family photography is good for “capturing people’s personalities”, but until we see the final images of fear, incredulity and shame, I don’t suppose we’ll know how accurately represented we were as a miserable bunch of buggers.

Whatever the outcome, it was a lot of hard work for an inch square hologram branded onto bleached dolphin fin flesh bound in a frame of purest wicker, which is what Mother of Girly of Whirly has chosen to hang over the downstairs loo.  Sure, the fridge magnets were £500 cheaper, but seeing as it was such a special day for her it would have been foolish not to go the distance.

Hopefully, that’s me done now on the whole family photo thing until Son of Whirl is twenty-one and hitched to a girl with a face like a horse...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Legs? I Never Mentioned Legs!

Regular visitors may remember a post I ran a while ago about Victoria Coren — specifically her skills as a consummate turner.

Since that time, I have noticed (c/o my tracker) that random visits to this site relating to ‘victoria coren legs’ now outnumber any references to ‘Noddy Holder’s Cock’ and ‘Medical Students & Leather-clad Sub-dom Sex Slaves’ by about 2:1.

I can quite understand why someone might want to type ‘cock holder’ into their browser and how such a search could lead them to me via the miracle that is cybertranslocutery flammery. As for medical students and the realm of the sub-domly, the two go together like ‘chalk and cheese’ and ‘black and white’ at a Things That Don’t Go Together festival.

But ‘victoria coren legs’? What kind of search is that?

I have no doubt that Victoria Coren has perfectly interesting legs and less doubt still that there are plenty of people out there who would like to see more of them. Why they’re ending up here is beyond me (the random visitors, not Ms Coren’s legs). My original post doesn’t mention legs at all, either dangling from said quiz host and poker whizz’s torso — or anyone else’s.*

*OK, so there’s knees and bottoms — but nothing that would get you here via ‘legs’.

So let me clear things up about the whole Victoria Coren thing. I stand by everything I said in that original post (apart, perhaps, from changing my stance towards people in gorilla suits), ie that Victoria Coren is the best Turner To Facer in the quiz hostess business. And that’s all. Matters concerning her legs are nothing to do with me and as far as the whole turning thing goes it wouldn’t make the slightest difference what kind of legs she had — or even if she was an amputee.

If you’re here because you’ve just typed ‘victoria coren legs’ into your browser, then BUTT OUT, LOSER — this is a serious writing blog.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Naked Tootsie Un-Nirvana

Looks like my slippers have finally had it.

By ‘it’ I don’t mean “sex with a giant interstellar hippopotomoid” (though from the visual clues, this wouldn’t be too much of an inaccurate assessment); what I’m referring to is an ‘it’ in terms of functional life as a pair of slippers. That, dear friends, is what they’ve had.

One slipper, it’s true, could solo on, like a Wise without a Morecambe, a Kim without a Mel, the concept of the number 5 with one less plastic Jackson. Its sole, unlike that of its partner, has not prised free from the faux faux suede in a totally unmendable way, and I could conceivably hop around the place in it with my other foot tucked snugly in a blanket or tea cosy. But this would be like David Beckham continuing to play football for B and C teams until he’s forty-five. Plus, I don’t hop too well these days, even when roused to anger by the thought of having to shell out hard-earned cash on a new pair of dinky foot muffs.

So what am I to do with my single slipper? It’s a finite universe after all, and Hollywood has already burned off 5% of it beefing up Schwarzenegger’s pecs for the Terminator movies. It would be useless as a mantlepiece ornament, and no use as a burglar deterrent to sit alongside the chainsaw in the hallway, and even if I could fit it with motorized wheels, I no longer have an Action Man to sit inside it.

For now, I’m going to hang it on a hook beside my computer, where it can remain like a sleeping bat until such time as I need to “beat myself up” about something. When next I lose my wallet in the supermarket or find myself scammed into airmailing my family to some hardcore Nigerian mak your cock like that of a snake merchant, I’ll take my slipper down from its hook and thrash myself repeatedly about the torso with it.

The knackered slipper, I’ve sent to my local. The Dog and Wrestler has just been taken over by a couple from County Tyrone after years of neglect, and as part of its refurb, now boasts a menu featuring the resurrected 70s favourite, Chicken & Chips in a basket. Last time I was in they were out of baskets after a rugby lads’ stag night went horribly out of control, so I figure they could use some help.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Weekend Gruelling

In these harsh economic times it’s more of a treat than usual to send out for a take-away.

Nonetheless, on Saturday night, Girly of Whirly and I counted up our shekels and plumped for a modest Chinese feed to cheer ourselves up while we pondered the prospect of global financial meltdown.

Our local Chinese take-away is much like any other — there are fish, a selection of pretty young girls in dinky hats, and the usual array of newspapers and magazines from 1988. The cuisine is far from Ken Hom, but you get a nice enough meal for under fifteen quid without having to buy in a ton of chips or a pizza with every topping but the kitchen sink.

What I hadn’t expected when I turned up on my unicycle was for the Golden Palace to have closed down. Even more surprising was that it had been replaced by a branch of Gruel R Us.

Harsh economic times, indeed.

As I pondered the menu in the window, it seemed to me that Gruel R Us was definitely positioning itself just below the very bottom of the market. Fifteen quid would buy you everything on the Chef’s Specials section and most things were forty to seventy-five pence. But what to do? With Girly of Whirly ironing the cutlery back home and the nearest alternative being Big Bob Bumcrack’s Burga Bar it was either a case of cycling home empty handed or taking a risk on a form of cuisine fit for the workhouse.

Call me an optimist, but I bustled past the tramps huddled in the doorway and took out a fiver like Dirty Harry unpacking a Magnum.

“What yer want?” said the bloke at the counter.

I studied the cauldron, the ladle. “I suppose it’s gruel isn’t it?”

“Or fritters,” the bloke replied curtly. There seemed no need to ask what was in the fritters — or whether the bloke’s name was Terry Jones. All I needed to figure out was what flavour to go for, and whether I wanted it pouring into an empty pop bottle or a rusty oil can.

While I cogitated, the bloke spoke again. “Chicken?”

“Actually, that would be very nice, thank you.”

He shook his head. “What I meant was, you look scared shitless. It ain’t poisonous you know. Ask any of the regulars outside.”

I turned to the pallid faces pressed up against the glass by trails of snot. “So is there any chicken?”

“Not tonight, no. All we’ve got left is Plain.”

Girly of Whirly’s face flashed before me, a wash of intolerance and rage. The longer I took to cycle home with something the more I risked being poisoned in my sleep in the run-up to Christmas.

“What’s in the Plain?”

“Fuck all. That’s why it’s called ‘Plain’.”

“OK. How much?”

“55p a pint,” said the bloke. “But I’ll knock you 5p off if you’ve got your own bucket.”

A meek smile played my lips like the last twitches of an electrocuted stunt man. “Sorry. My son’s nicked the bucket for his school history project.”

There’s always a sense of anticipation whenever a feast-to-be is being prepared, but as the bloke sloshed my dinner into a pair of worn wellies I couldn’t help feeling moderately sick. Fortunately, I didn’t spew up. He’d only have mugged me for trying to set myself up in competition.

“One ten.” Such courteous gruffness.

“Thanks,” I said, and scurried outside to attach the wellies to my paniers.

When I got home, Girly of Whirly was moderately incandescent. “Where the hell have you been?”

I flopped the wellies onto the dining table. “You know how it is with fine dining. The more exquisite the ingredients, the harder they are to source.”

Her nostrils flapped shut like spasming ani. “I said noodles, not dragon bowels.”

Treat clearly shot to pieces, we raided the larder for tinned tomatoes and pasta and rustled them up with a few chillies. It wasn’t exactly haute cuisine but it did have the advantage over the gruel of ensuring that our stomachs didn’t suffer a horrible demise. In any case, a few of the patio slabs had worked loose over the summer and we were fresh out of concrete.

I suspect there’s more of this sort of thing to come, with bathtubs taking the place of council swimming pools and donkey-drawn charabancs replacing buses and trains.

So — how was your Saturday night?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Baby Slugs

In spite of the unusually hot weather here in the UK it’s nonetheless the very beginning of Autumn. The leaves are browning, the witches are polishing their balls in preparation for Hallowe’en — and my kitchen is awash with baby slugs.

I have no idea how this happens, or why it only happens at this particular time of year, but every morning since last Friday, I’ve risen to discover slugs by the half a half a dozen slithering their way along my supposedly gastropod-unfriendly lino. In the dawn’s virgin light, it’s possible to see their silvery trails weaving between the chair legs, under the fridge and partially up the wall via numerous treacherous skirting boards. I don’t know whether they’re racing, idling around or simply acting on some genetic predisposition to wazz me off big time but there’s only one thing for it once I’ve spotted them, and in the absence of an M&S Slug Getter Upper (similar in function to the eco-friendly Wasp Leash for those pesky bobbers about a-window), I bundle them into a sheet of kitchen roll and toss them in the wormery.

Today, there were four such slimy off-wazzers, and I still can’t make my mind up whether they were a quartet, a pair of duos or a trio and a solo artiste — or four independently awkward mucusy entrepreneurs. To be honest, at 6.30 in the morning it’s the kind of speculation I can do without.

As ever, once they were out of the way I settled in front of the TV with a plate of muffins to catch some early morning drivel — interestingly, today, an interview with a maths professor who has devised an equation for tracking the relationship between the width of David Cameron’s mouth and the weight of his cheeks in preparation for the PM’s inevitable evolution into a curmudgeonly old fat man — and that’s when I noticed Numero Funf winding its way over the carpet towards the front door.

At first, I thought it was trying to escape. It’s what you’d do when you’re an illegal immigrant and the cops have rumbled your mates: make a beeline back to the border. Tossing my muffins aside, I leapt up to confront it, annoyed to be witnessing its rubbery foulness as I chomped my breakfast into a similarly textured mush. That’s when I saw how far it had travelled, this tiny slug no bigger than a sliver of grated cheese (albeit brown cheese). My carpet is no Axminster, but it’s got quite a pile on it. To this slug, each protrusion of twilled wool must have been like a thick, fuzzy spear. I couldn’t tell which direction it had taken because the spears were clearly so absorbent they’d soaked up the silveryness of its trail. Whichever way it had come, it must have travelled at least ten feet, all the time having its limited supplies of mobility-enhancing mucus sucked from under it. So how come it hadn’t shrivelled to a twiggy husk? And why didn’t it just stop and wait for the gastropod emergency services? As I hovered over it, watching it battle on, with its wibbly bits swaying from side to side, it seemed to me that here was a very determined creature indeed (in the sense that a slug can be determined as we humans understand the term). Maybe I’m Disneyfying the little ole thing, but — my — what a battler this guy was. Could this be The Little Engine That Could for the Noughties? Hugo the Litter Baby Slug? Look, toddlers all, how his indefatigable spirit and pluck drives him on in the face of all obstacles, how he will grow to triumph in all endeavours as a well-rounded and courageous adult! Marvel at his vim, his spunk! Cheer as he battles the forces of evil with his trusty sidekick, Weirdneck the Ant!

For a moment I was away with the children’s book fairies, and had even begun designing merchandise to accompany the series — like Hugo wristwatch straps and salt shakers — when Drivel TV reminded me of the time.

So I bundled Hugo onto an egg spoon, out into the garden, and strode from my house into the arid nightmare world of late 2011 England, emboldened as a knight of the realm inspired by the slimiest of will o the wisps.