Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Ex Libris

Woman: You're being very unreasonable.
Doctor: Go away.
Woman: I'll only stay for five minutes.
Doctor: I'm not talking to you.
Woman: Erm, you are.
Doctor: I'm not talking to you any more.
Woman: You just did.
Doctor: Stop being so childish!
Woman (SMUGLY): I'm not the one with a chain on my door.
Doctor: I know why you've come. I know exactly why you've come.
Woman: I've brought you a present. (BEAT). To say thank you.
Doctor: A present?
Woman: Open the door. Please.
Doctor: What sort of present?
Woman: A book. I've bought you a book.
Doctor: You've been back to Borders, haven't you? I knew it!
Woman: I needed cranberries. M&S was my last hope.
Doctor: M&S?
Woman: It's next door to Borders.
Doctor: Stop there. I can see where this is going.
Woman: I would slide it under the door but it's ever so thick. (BEAT). Worked out at less than a penny a page.
Doctor: Give me a backstory.
Woman: What?
Doctor: I am not accepting any gifts until I have a backstory.
Woman: Is this fair? Really?
Doctor: You used me.
Woman: Only a little bit.
Doctor: Backstory.
Woman: O, if I must ... You are a reformed Jehovah's Witness who studied astrophysics at Havard before a minor nervous breakdown persuaded you that analysis was more your thing.
Doctor: A believable backstory.
Woman: What's unbelievable about that?
Doctor: Astrophysics?
Woman (SIGH): All right, you worked in community mental health for twenty years before beginning a private practice. You have a flatulent labrador, a daughter at university, you're divorced -
Doctor: Divorced?
Woman: Yes, which given the way you carry on is hardly surprising, and you attend open mic poetry evenings.
Doctor: Poetry?
Woman: Disgruntled.
Doctor: What?
Woman: You're clearly disgruntled. I go to immense trouble to buy you a book I think you will like, create a backstory at the drop of a hat, and all you've done is pick fault.
Doctor: You bought a book that was cheap. Cheap and thick.
Woman: But only because it reminded me of you ... Damn. I tried so hard not to say that.
Doctor: I -


Doctor: You can't roll credits just to get the last word! (BEAT). This is so unfair.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Doctor, Doctor

Doctor: So this dream you mentioned in your phone call ...?
Woman: O, it was awful! A nightmare!
Doctor: Yes ...?
Woman: I dreamed that Borders Bookshop was closing down and all the books were 20p.
Doctor: I believe Borders is closing down ..?
Woman: Yes, but the books weren't 20p. Originally, it was 20% off the R.R.P. Hardly a bargain, though now the discount is 50%-70% off, it's much better.
Doctor: Let's focus on the dream. Why was it so dreadful?
Woman: I couldn't get there. Borders - it was horrific - I couldn't get there. I was stuck in a shopping mall in Scotland pushing Judy Garland round Tesco in a wheelchair. Piles of red peppers - mountains - and bloody Judy Garland kept leaping out of the wheelchair to squeeze them. People were tutting!
Doctor: Tutting?
Woman: Yes, because she clearly didn't need a wheelchair at all. She was malingering.
Doctor: Is there anything else you wish to say about this dream?
Woman: No.
Doctor: Let's move on to the other issue you mentioned.
Woman: Yes.
Doctor: The daily visits to Borders. How many is it now?
Woman (PENSIVE): Ummm ... Five? Yes, five.
Doctor: And you buy a book each time.
Woman: No.
Doctor: No?
Woman: No. (BEAT). I buy lots of books each time.
Doctor: I see you have a bag with you now.
Woman: Mmm ...
Doctor: We discussed you not going to Borders today, didn't we?
Woman: We did.
Doctor: And yet - ?
Woman: I didn't deliberately go to Borders. I went to B&Q for a thingy.
Doctor: A thingy?
Woman: A thi - O, they're difficult to describe.
Doctor: Did you get one?
Woman: No. (BEAT). The man in B&Q didn't know what I meant.
Doctor: So you went to Borders instead?
Woman(FIRMLY): Not deliberately.
Doctor: Not deliberately ...
Woman (RUMMAGING IN CARRIER BAG): It might help if I told you what I'd bought?
Doctor: Would it?
Woman: Almost certainly. (BEAT). How the Light Gets In - M.J.Hyland, Collected Stories of Janice Galloway, How to Paint a Dead Man - Sarah Hall, The Magician - Somerset Maugham, The Law of Dreams - Peter Behrens, Resistance - Owen Sheers, Complete Short Stories of Robert Graves, Complete Shorter Fiction of Oscar Wilde, Big Mouth - Blanaid McKinney, The Collected Fiction of Neil Jordan and Something of Myself - Rudyard Kipling.
Doctor (SLOWLY): This isn't really a mini drama, is it?
Woman: No, I don't suppose it is.
Doctor: And I'm not really a character, am I? I'm just a thinly-veiled excuse for you to confess to buying a lot of books again - aren't I?
Woman (PACKING BOOKS AWAY AGAIN): I feel much better now, Doctor.
Doctor: Whereas I am left questioning the reason for existence in a post-Jungian panorama. (BEAT). Thanks.
Woman (HELPFULLY): There were still a lot of books left on the Psychology shelf ...


Friday, 18 December 2009

Alas, poor Borders Books...

I am not admitting how much I spent in the Borders Books Closing Down Sale but added to my to-read pile are:
Molesworth - Willans & Searle (Penguin)
Oscar's Books - Thomas Wright (Vintage)
Curfew and Other Stories - Sean O'Reilly (Faber)
Best International Crime - Maxim Jakubowski (Robinson)
The Ask and the Answer - Patrick Ness (Walker)
Smiley's People - John le Carré (Sceptre)
Letters of Ted Hughes - Christopher Reid (Faber)
The Vagrants - Yi Yun Li (Fourth Estate)
The Old Devils - Kingsley Amis (Vintage)
Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
Cautionary Tales for Grown-ups - Chris Addison (Hodder)
The Collected Stories - Katherine Mansfield (Penguin)
Far North & Other Dark Tales - Sara Maitland (Maia)
Diary of a Madman & Selected Stories - Nikolay Gogol (Penguin)
Selected Tales - Edgar Allan Poe (Oxford Classics)
This Night's Foul Work - Fred Vargas (Vintage)
The Three Evangelists - Fred Vargas (Vintage)
Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales for Girls - Danielle Wood (Allen & Unwin)
Wish I was Here - Jackie Kay (Picador)
The Reader - Bernhard Schlink (W&N)
The World According to Garp - John Irving (W&N) - the latter two books being bound in thick cardboard with hand-marbled end papers; far too gorgeous to leave on the shelf
and - most thrillingly - Wyoming Tales by E. Annie Proulx; three beautifully bound hardback books in a dark blue slipcover, an edition I have coveted for almost a year.
"'Reality,' sa molesworth 2, 'is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder.'"

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Banned List #2

An occasional series of things that should be banned in creative writing...

1. Body parts. Don't state the obvious. "She opened the door with her small, delicate hands." "Using his eyes, he peeped into the box." "Hair fell in a luxurious brown cascade from her head." Well, where else would it fall from? I'd be far more interested if it cascaded from her chin.

2. Don't write a dull story about dull characters using dull dialogue, dull description and dull language and then try to pass it off as Searing Comment on Apathy in Society.

3. Don't mix your metaphors. "The wind bit at his ankles like a small, hungry rodent. He felt like he'd been slapped in face with a wet fish."

4. Never rely on spell check. "She smelled his colon as soon as she walked into the room." "He was a seaman-soaked hanky in the landfill of Society." (That'll be the apathetic Society, no doubt).

Friday, 23 October 2009

Monstrous Wigs

Savage Crangle Chambers
Chancery Lane

Dear Ms Moptop

Your publication of the confidential Minutes of the NVKKK was brought to our attention. Whilst the appellative Klu Klux Klan may partially fit the description you provided, our clients, the real Ku Klux Klan, have never previously been accused of "non-violence".

You may wish to direct an inquiry to the diverse communities within the Southern States of The United States of America for confirmation of this fact.

The real KKK has been in existence for many years and has consistently engaged in acts of violence, intimidation and incitement towards racial hatred. They have never engaged in competitive napkin-folding, nor have considered reducing their robes and hoods to neatly hemmed squares, irregardless of whether pinking shears were available at Trade Prices.

My client also hotly disputes the inclusion of the extraneous letter L, which makes a mockery of their proud and noble name.

Our Client insists that you desist dissemination of these vile slurs forthwith.

Sir Peter Farter-Duck

"It is best not to mess with Farter-Duck"

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Minutes of the Non-Violent Klu Klux Klan

Matters Arising
As agreed at the previous meeting, all hoods and robes are now to be used to practise napkin-folding. Pinking shears are available at Trade Prices.

1. Imperial Wizard, Mr Snow demonstrated how to make a swan out of purest white linen. Miss Alabaster, the Imperial Cyclops, fashioned a lily. Mr Snow opined that Oriental Lilies had no place on a NVKKK table setting. Miss Alabaster questioned whether the swans were black-necked swans and whether they had an place on a NVKKK table setting. A motion was passed that swans were acceptable providing they only had a right wing.

At this point the Chair intervened and reminded Members that as a newly constituted NON-VIOLENT branch of the KKK, Miss Alabaster should replace the vase on the sidetable and Mr Snow should take his bovver boots off and leave them by the back door.

2. It was agreed that the accidental burning of a synagogue was due to a mishap with a bottle of Sambucca and a tapered candle. No intentional arson was committed and that the inflagration was poorly reported by the Loony Left Press (in an inflammatory manner said Grand Dragon Mrs Payle) and was more of a singe than anything.

3. Mr Wann, the Mighty Titan, proposed that the NVKKK issue a dinner invitation to one Nicholas Griffin. Miss Alabaster said that NG was the just sort to call a napkin a serviette. It was agreed that the shocked silence following this statement should also be minuted.

4. The Membership voted unanimously that NG was indeed the sort of person to call a napkin a serviette and, as such, no official NVKKK invitation would be forthcoming. It was also suggested by several members that NG might chew with his mouth open. This met with nods of agreement. Mr Snow pounded the table and, in his excitement, squashed a swan.

5. The dress code of the next Social Luncheon was raised. Mr Wann objected to Black Tie and insisted on White Tie. Mrs Payle said Any Fool Knows that White Tie is to be worn after 6pm and accompanied by a ballgown, and that she hadn't finished the catalogue payments for her robe and hood and would look darkly on suggestions of further expense.

6. Mr Wann objected to use of the term darkly.

7. Ms Alabaster suggested putting on the kettle and asked who wanted coffee? Mrs Payle said she would drink tea; the great British drink. Mr Snow said he had both Chinese or Indian tea and which would she prefer? And, as the milk was sour, would she drink it black? Perhaps with a sliver of lemon?

8. Mr Wann objected to the term black.

9. Mrs Payle objected to both Chinese and Indian tea. Mr Snow pointed out (testily) that tea didn't grow in Burnley and crushed the remaining swan. (He may have muttered ****ing old dragon although this is still in dispute). Ms Alabaster said she had come over a bit queer and had to sit down suddenly - sadly upon several lily napkins.

10. Mr Wann objected to the term queer.

11. Mrs Payle said she didn't think she'd ever get the creases out of her napkins and that certain large posteriors had put her behind in her NVQ Level One.

12. The Finance Sub-committee - in a quick change of subject - reported that the recent payment of subs meant the accounts were currently in the black.

13. Mr Wann objected violently to in the black - in as violent a manner as a non-violent organisation would permit within the guidelines of its non-violent Mems & Arts.

In Any Other Business, the Members were encouraged to research a Christmas theme for the next meeting; napkins folded to look like trees, presents or Father Christmasses.

Mr Wann said that Father Christmas was a bloody foreigner, and he would insist on a home grown tree, none of that Norwegian rubbish.

The Minute Taker at this point was compelled to unilaterally revoke the non-violent constitution and later, upon restitution of his spectacles (slightly chipped), jotter and pen, declared the meeting closed.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Banned List #1

An occasional series of things that should be banned in creative writing...
1. No character should be allowed to "smirk". You would be amazed just how many characters smirk. Sometimes they smirk several times in consecutive sentences. Sometimes all of the characters smirk, in all of their scenes, all of the time. They even manage to avoid speaking; instead they smirk. "How are you?" he smirked. "Fine,"she smirked back at him. I imagine them sounding like end-of-the-pier ventriloquists, speaking through tight, smirking mouths. "Gottle of geer?" he smirked. "Gow agout a glow gob?" "I good," she smirked back, "Gif guy good get gy guluddy gowf gopen gide genough."

2. Solitary tears. Where have these characters learnt such self-control of their tear ducts? I weep and turn into a big, bawling, snotty mess. I have never managed to squeeze out a solitary tear. Nevermind one that trickles slowly down my cheek. Perhaps I am irrationally jealous of such sophisticated shows of emotion? Give me a pained expression over a solitary tear any day. (Though, to be honest, I'd rather have neither).

3. Eye colours do not characterise. Why do so many writers insist on including piercing or startling blue eyes? What does all this blueness tell us about a character? (Startling green eyes don't do much for me either). How often do we actually notice eye colour? I've just spent a fortune on lotions and potions in Harvey Nicks and not one person has commented on how startling or piercing my eyes look - curse that saleswoman and her theories about the colour wheel.

4. Some characters really do not know what to do with their hands so they either light cigarettes or run their fingers through their hair. Sometimes they run their fingers through their hair having forgotten that they are already holding a cigarette. And if they've been profligate with the hair lacquer, then WHOOSH! It's an accident waiting to happen... And no author ever mentions just how messy their characters' hair is looking after it's been rummaged through for several pages.

5. Only sounds. On a par with solitary tears. "The only sound was the beat of his heart/ her footsteps on the cobbles/ the clock ticking". (You'd be amazed just how often clocks ticking are the only sound). Well, I bet it blimmin' wasn't.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

I know #2

How to flirt with Italian waiters
Moka pots make delicious coffee
Crisps taste better after eating chocolate
Kirkby is twinned with Albania
More cross-Channel swimmers have come from Albania than any other country
I have no desire to ever swim The English Channel
French perfumes use cat pee as an ingredient
All cats are secretly plotting to eat their owners
How to be a good friend
I am rubbish at emnity
I cannot spell enmity correctly first time round
A Small Boy in Bolton thinks the violin is completely bob
That life is too short not to be silly
The difference between fiction and fact
That in 1872 a Miss Edna Gussett invented the Elasticated Haversack

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

I Know #1

Spiders are more frightened of me than I of them
If you swallow chewing gum it will wrap itself around your lungs
I would give my last breath to my children
Teenagers are emotional toddlers
Walking matches the rhythm of iambic pentameters
Nothing rhymes with orange
The recipe for the world's best chocolate brownies
Fast yeast is not at all like easy yeast
Getting lost isn't difficult
When I'm going uphill I'm heading north
A map of the world will always have the ability to surprise
Iron Knob is a place in New Zealand
Train tickets are surprisingly tricky to book
Books jostle for position as favourite
Headlice do not make affectionate pets
The pencil is mightier than the pen
Everything has a museum dedicated to it somewhere
The Pencil Museum is in Keswick
By law, all folk songs must have 95 verses


I'm not saying I have to grow a beard, he said, But I'll look weird if I don't. I moved into the spare room. You have to draw the line somewhere. He went out three times a week to practise; sticks, swords, pigs' bladders - these days you can get anything off the Internet. I'll be home by nine, he said, then ten, then eleven. Not that he could sneak in after a skin-full. His bells gave him away. And you can't tiptoe in clogs.

I've never liked Morris anythings. There was a Maurice at The Playhouse. The handyman. His wife - Mrs Maurice - passed out at a cast party, in a bed on stage. La Traviata, a big four-poster all trailing lace curtains and satin sheets. Maurice was in the Green Room goosing the usherettes. That summer, when the theatre was dark, he painted the skirting boards in the ladies' loo red. People said it was tactless. A bit pointed. I never understood what they meant, but then I was only sixteen and there was a lot I didn't understand.

There's a lot I don't understand now, if I'm honest.

And the other Morris. I'd offer my cheek and he'd turn my head to kiss me full on the lips. Sometimes he tried to slip in his tongue. Cold lips, like a dead fish. I kissed him out of politeness, because it would have been too rude not to. Once, he crept into my bedroom. I was half asleep, half awake - almost dreaming. He loomed over me and I saw my mother. And even though I was twenty-four, I raised up my arms like a child to hug her, then felt those clammy lips stealing away my breath and screamed. As if a scream would stop a man like him.

Something happened in a Morris Minor. It wasn't minor, that's all I want to say about that.

So you can see, I'm not being hysterical. And I am glad my husband's got a hobby. A man needs a hobby. Just not this one.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Foreign Food

He smelled of almonds, oranges, star anise;
sweet salt in the curls clinging to crevices,
like vermicelli on a steep-sided panettone.
And where his skin was smooth
the planes of his shoulders
were burned crème caramel.

Hair black as fig,
grown too long and tangled
like the oily linguine we ate in Venice;
the twisted limbs of baby squid impaled
on my fork, raised to his lips.

And later, frantic kisses sharp
with garlic, basil, a peppery tongue thrusting
to lick the inside of my mouth.
He trickled Limoncello down my thighs,
was slender hipped, his buttocks curved
like cantaloupes - and just as sweet.

My husband groans and heaves onto his front.
The lounger's plastic bands striate his skin,
his foolish Speedos struggling.
I baste him with Hawaiian Tropic
until his back is shining,
glistening like a roasting pig.

I'll leave him cook for just a little longer.
His feet will burn,
so I will find a cafe in the square,
sip Ouzo and choose wisely
from the menu.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


I'd been smitten by a poet - unexpectedly smitten,
because I'd never been all that faffed on stuff that he'd written.
Maybe hearing his words in his voice just rang my bell?
Who can tell?
But it was a warm night,
the trees in the square sparkled with blue lights,
and some flyer promised some music in some gallery.
Arty party. Dante and Beatrice, Stanley Spencer,
a guitarist harmonising like James Taylor.

I'm full of Stargazy Pie,
catching the eye of a bloke in a suit -
always been sweet on suits -
we're at the point of smiling,
when I walk smackbang into Bridget Riley.
Lines of lines.
My eyes are dancing.
I move close, almost touch the canvas
with my nose, but still can't focus.
How can straight lines send your mind whirling?
Make your perspective so defective?
Goggle-eyed, gossy-eyed
- she left me reeling.

Later in the cafe, a women I couldn't make up if I tried
sighed, "Write me a poem for Bridget Riley.
Inspire me."

So I told her how my eyes dance
when I press my husband's smart shirts.
The steam iron ploughs through furrowed cotton,
candy stripes suck me into the ironing board -
giddying, dizzying as if I'm standing on a ledge,
about to stumble.

One day I'll fall, keep falling, tumble
headoverheels until my limbs are spinning
like the sparks on a Catherine Wheel.

I stood in front of that striped canvas,
big as my living room wall,
and thought about ironing.
I'm fighting the battle of creases and crumples
and no matter how hard I try, Bridget Riley,
I'll never get anything straight.
That's the danger of looking at Art at night.
It's too bloody late.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009


We were put from the land,
three hundred forced to the shore.
Our crofts roared, thick smoke tearing our eyes.

We walked in silence,
hearts ripped, left in the stones
we had pulled from the earth,
the soil we had ploughed,
the burns and lochs we fished.
Our fathers, our mothers,
and theirs, and theirs, and theirs.

A woman broke from the crowd,
limped across tummocks of sharp grass
to the dark mound too fresh for a stone,
a scar in the graveyard as raw as her grief.

She clawed at the dirt,
grabbing handfuls to knot in her skirts.

Then came the others.

Old men, faces cracking, took soil
from the graves of the fathers and grandfathers;
angry sons, bitterness in their fists;
and mothers stowing the dust of sisters,
lovers, of blue-born babies
into pockets and aprons,
between bible pages,
in scraps of cloth.

Carried on the boats to Skye,
the mainland,
and Aberdeen,
Edinburgh, Glasgow,

We were a great tree felled.
Iron gouged at our trunk,
the stump burned black to the ground,
but through that dark, dry loam
our roots inched
and spread.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Imaginary Beasts

I saw an angel in the pines at Formby.
It was a woman in a white mac
picking up dog muck.

I saw a sphinx by the lake in Sefton Park.
It was an old man frozen to his bench
by cheap cognac.

I saw a griffin pouncing in a tapas bar.
It was a fur coat rippling
from chair to floor.

I saw a vampire prowling by my bed.
It was a dry-cleaned dress swinging
on a closet door.

I saw a serpent in the Mersey by the Prom.
It was corrugated pipe oozing
at low tide.

I saw a zombie howling in the bathroom.
It was a fleeting mirrored image paled
by neon light.

I saw a roc swooping down to claw my neck.
It was orangewhite EasyJet roaring
off to Spain.

I saw a baby ghost lying dead in a puddle.
It was a discarded tissue flattened
by rain.

I saw a phoenix in the blue gas of an oven.
It was a crinklecut chip cremating
in dripped fat.

I saw your smile reflected in Littlewood's window.
But when I turned to kiss you, I found
I had imagined that.

Monday, 21 September 2009

First Food

She tugged my darkened nipple
to the back of her throat. That sulky bottom lip,

pleated by milk-heavy breast, curved into swell
of silken cheek. The bald imperfections of her skull.

At night, her smallest breaths grew loud; she snuffled
like a hound rooting for truffles.

Her hand a pale star stretching,
grasping wildly, reaching

into my mouth, worming her thumb
against the slippery warmth of gum.

I licked her fingers, knuckles, nails; laid my lips
against her fat palms. The undeveloped lifelines,

heart-lines mapped with my tongue, breathing
in her sourmilk smell, nipping skin with gentle teeth,

lapping at the gathered folds of flesh on wrists.
She cannot remember any of this.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Overheard Conversations #10

Location: Living room, interior, evening.
Characters: Mum, Teenage Daughter (Banshee), (Not so) Small Boy.

Small Boy (ENTERING LIVING ROOM WAVING SHEET OF PAPER): I've done my homework!
Banshee (WATCHING TV): Shhhh!
Mum: Well done.
Banshee: Shhhh!
Mum: Did you spell check it?
Banshee: SHHHH!
Small Boy: Forgot.
Mum: Pass it here.
Mum: Why's it in German?
Small Boy: What?
Mum: WILL YOU TURN THAT DOWN, PLEASE! (TV VOLUME IS LOWERED). Why have you done your homework in German?
Banshee: It's German homework?
Small Boy: I don't do German. I do French.
Banshee: So why's your homework in German?
Small Boy: Babelfish.
Banshee (SNORTS): Babelfish's rubbish.
Mum: What's a Babel Fish?
Small Boy: It's an online something that translates something into something else.
Mum (CONFUSED): And what homework is this?
Small Boy: History.
Mum: Why have you written your history homework in German?
Banshee: Because he's an idiot.
Small Boy (PRODUCES A CRUMPLED PIECE OF PAPER FROM HIS POCKET): I've got it in English, too. I can read it out.
Banshee: I'm trying to watch TV.
Mum: Go in the other room.
Small Boy (CLEARS THROAT AND READS LOUDLY): Our great leader, Adolf Hitler -
Mum: What?
Small Boy: - is a much misunderstood man, who -
Banshee (TURNS OFF THE TV): This is gonna be good.
Small Boy: - is not at all violentistic -
Banshee: Violentistic!
Small Boy: - but very humoristic and in the privacy of his own home he often curls back his upper lip and does an excellent rabbit impression -
Mum: WHAT?
Small Boy: He is a vegetarian who is kind to small children and animals -
Small Boy: - and takes a daily walk in his local park, stopping for a nice warming drink in -
Mum (SNATCHING THE PAPER FROM SMALL BOY): What on earth is this?
Banshee: He's a Nazi. I warned you. Woodcraft Folk, then Scouts -
Small Boy: I'm a spy!
Mum: A what?
Small Boy: A spy. The thing is, Mum, I'm pretending to be an English spy pretending to be a German journalist and I've cleverly revealed lots of information about Hitler so that then The Allies will be able to use it -
Banshee (SIGHING LOUDLY): If only Churchill had known about the rabbit impersonations!
Small Boy: - and then they'll send a group of undercover assassinators -
Mum: Assassins
Small Boy: Assassinators -
Banshee: Disguised as small children and animals?
Small Boy: To assassin him. They could poison his nice warming drink -
Mum: You can't hand this in! Your teacher will think we're a family of fascists!
Banshee: And?
Mum: What was the title of this homework?
Mum: What has this got to do with the Vikings?
Small Boy (SHRUGS): Nothing.
Mum: Then please explain why you have written an essay on how wonderful Hitler is in German?
Small Boy: Babelfish wouldn't do Viking.

Roll Credits

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Invisible Mending

In the kitchen, my daughter is speaking French;
dough rises in yeasty bubbles;
somewhere a TV burbles.

I have yards of blue cloth stretched
across my knees; a patch of sailor’s sky
on a cold, grey day. My fingers are searching
for holes; moth-damage, cigarette burns, tears;
a slashed hem from a sharp heel.

The women in this house mend invisibly.
We steam the damaged fabric flat;
unpick pockets, unbind a seam;
fray edges with a fingernail,
tease loose the hidden strands of silk.

I thread my needles, dart them like a shoal
of silver fish, weaving warp and weft;
tacking, slipping, backing, stitching.

Soon the wounds are closed; bare ripples
in blue sea. I press the dress, fold its arms
across the bodice in a starched caress,
gather up the skirts in sheets
of tissue, brown paper, string.

When the man knocks, my daughter is waiting.
The parcel swings lazily from her fingers.
'Ma mère dit, "Prennez mieux soin de vos vêtements." '
She giggles, tries to curtsy, closes the door loudly.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Lusts of the Flesh #3

You'd be forgiven for assuming this post is about crumpets. It's not. Instead, I present: The Cheese Sandwich.

A simple snack. Sourdough bread jetted in from San Francisco's famous Boudin Bakery. Pale Normandy butter, glittering with crystals of sea salt. Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese from Somerset, smooth and firm, with long, rich nutty flavours and a sharp almost sour tang at the end.

Slice bread, spread with butter, add slices of cheese - pickle optional - eat, enjoy.

No, no, no, no, NO!

My dream sandwich is made of the cheapest white bread - spongy, almost flaccid but curling slightly at the edges - spread with bright yellow value margarine (Stork in massive catering tubs is perfect), with a pile of grated orange cheese (of no identifiable provenance but definitely not a Kraft Single) and a thick ring of raw onion.

The sandwich must be wrapped in clingfilm and left unrefrigerated for several hours on a shelf just below a display of dry roasted peanuts, next to a jar of pickled eggs which would defy carbon-dating. The cheese will sweat, the margarine gain a subtle rancid quality and the onion will become ever more acrid in flavour. The bread will somehow manage to become both dry and soggy. Ohhh...

I have attempted to psychoanalyse this particular Lust of the Flesh. Hangover food? Afternoons spent in smoky boozers after long and tiring mornings in bed? A giddy stumble to the pub? It wasn't the food, mate, it was the company...

But if this were so, I'd eat burned crumpets dripping in (again) cheap margarine, whilst The Archers Omnibus burbles in the background, and I reminisce happily about feeling utterly, utterly spent.

My perfect cheese sandwich is simply a slutty snack; a true lust of the flesh.

Friday, 11 September 2009

I have never...

...danced the tango in the Russian Tearooms
with a slim-hipped man in snakeskin shoes.
Duffed up a ruffian,
Juggled more than two balls,
Slept in a cave with damp, mossy walls.
Petrified a lover,
Raced a grey stallion,
Wrestled a pirate for a chest of gold bullion.
Cut class,
Measured up,
Mended invisibly,
Gone missing in action or been lost at sea.
Brokered peace with large spiders,
Spoken French with conviction,
Parsed Latin with mastery,
Understood much of anything.
Crashed a car,
Crashed a party,
Trusted electricity,
Dodged jail with a nail file, a mirror & string.
Nurtured a houseplant,
Heard a bird's heartbeat,
Swum through the branches of underwater trees -
Never said I love you frivolously.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex

...but were too afraid to ask.

Q: My friend (who is a missionary) says that most sex is immoral, and unmarried sex is an abomination before the Lord. Is this the Missionary Position?
A:Yes. Indeed. However, may I suggest your friend tries the Reverse Cowgirl and thus avoid the dirty looks.

Q: Since it's called blow job.....do you have to blow?
A: Most certainly. But don't expect to get a tune out of it.

Q: My Friend Ivor Biggun is having a few issues settling in. Any suggestions?
A: Yes. He should explore the area, making a note of major landmarks. Joining a group activity is never a mistake. Classes are good. Car maintenance or upholstery. Something will always need stuffing.

Q: Should all orifices be made available for all purposes?
A: No, some should be reserved for typing, filing and shorthand.

Q: A gentleman of my acquaintance respectfully asks what is the proper post-coital etiquette......does one fart before or after falling asleep?
A: DURING coitus trumps before AND after.

Q: Should one spit or swallow?
A: This is entirely a matter of personal taste.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Eat Your Heart Out, Philip Larkin...

Location: American-style restaurant. Interior. Afternoon.
Characters: Father - late 60s; Mother - ditto; Daughter - not telling.

Father: Next?
Daughter: It's a shop.
Father: Next?
Daughter: They sell sofas. You wanted to buy a sofa.
Mother: Where are we going after Next?
Father: After next? That's not even English.
Mother: He needs towels.
Father: Only the people of Inverness speak English properly.
Mother: The Welsh speak perfectly good English!
Father (LOOKING AT DAUGHTER): Most of the time I haven't a clue what your mother's saying.
Daughter: I thought you said you wanted bedding?
Father (SNORTS): At my age?
Daughter: Duvets. Sheets.
Mother: He thinks he's funny. (LOOKS AT FATHER). You're not.
Daughter (QUICKLY): Are you scattering Uncle John's ashes tomorrow?
Mother: Yes. The lifeboat men are doing it.
Daughter: Where?
Mother: At sea.
Daughter: Where at sea?
Father (HEAVILY): Wales.
Mother: It's what he would have wanted.
Father: He lived in Clapham for sixty years. There's no sea in Clapham.
Mother: There is actually. A capital C!
Father (LOOKING AT DAUGHTER): She thinks she's funny. (LOOKS AT MOTHER). You're not.
Daughter: Shall we have a coffee?
Father: The Welsh are not a funny race.
Daughter: Mum, coffee?
Father: Name me a single funny Welsh comedian -
Daughter: Dad? Coffee?
Mother: Max Boyce.
Father: Max Boyce? Funny?
Daughter: Ignore him. He's winding you up.
Father: Another thing about the Welsh -
Daughter (EMPHATICALLY): Who wants coffee? I'll have an espresso. Mum?
Mother: Tea. I'll have tea.
Father: Angela wants to move back in.
Daughter: Who's Angela?
Mother: One of his tenants. She moved to Newcastle.
Father: She wants to move back.
Mother: Do you want her back?
Father: She's a lovely woman.
Mother: She committed a sex act in The Bay Horse!
Father: As I said, she's a lovely woman.
Daughter: What did she do?
Mother: Sex acts. (BEAT). Plural.
Daughter: Wha -?
Father (LEANING BACK): We'll finish the shopping in the morning.
Mother: We're going to Wales in the morning.
Father: Chester. It's on the way.
Mother: We are not shopping in the morning.
Daughter: Ignore him.
Father: I'll have a cappuccino -
Mother: We are not shopping in the morning.
Father: And a brandy -
Mother: We are not shopping in the morning!
Daughter: Ignore him.
Father: Where's the dessert menu?
Father (TAKING MOBILE PHONE OUT OF HIS POCKET): I think I'll give Angela a ring -

Roll credits

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Overheard Conversations #9

Location: Outside a hut set in waste ground . Exterior. Evening.
Characters: Mum, Teenage Daughter (Banshee), Small(ish) Boy.

Mum & Banshee are standing outside the hut. It is dark and cold.

Banshee: I can't believe you've let him come here.
Mum: It's good for him to join things.
Banshee: Look at the place!
Mum: What about it?
Banshee: It's in the middle of nowhere.
Mum: We're in Garston.
Banshee: They could be teaching him anything!
Mum (CONFUSED): What?
Banshee: It's a paramilitary organisation.
Mum: It's the Scouts.
Banshee: I wouldn't let my child come here.
Small Boy: You have to sign this for next week!
Small Boy: My shooting permission slip.
Banshee: Ha! What are you going to be shooting, Rory? Jewish people?
Small Boy: I'm going to camp next weekend -
Banshee: To learn how to make bombs?
Small Boy: I need to take a cake -
Mum: I'll make you one -
Small Boy: And a sleeping bag -
Banshee: A detonator, plastic explosives, a hunting knife -
Small Boy: And wellies. Have I got wellies?
Mum: Yes, they're under the stairs -
Banshee: Not forgetting the black balaclava, latex gloves -
Mum (FIRMLY): How was Scouts?
Small Boy: Great! We chopped up a piano with massive axes and burned it!
Mum: What?
Banshee: Next week: book burning.
Small Boy: Ken, he's the leader, he's got no feeling in his left hand -
Banshee: Has he got a hook?
Small Boy: When he was a welder a piece of white hot metal jumped inside his glove and destroyed his nerves -
Mum (BRIGHTLY): Let's go for the bus -
Small Boy: And the first he knew about it was when he smelled the burning flesh.
Banshee: Lovely!
Small Boy: Ken says I can train my grip by squeezing a tennis ball. Have we got any tennis balls, Mum?
Banshee: Perhaps you could practise on small animals?
Mum (THROUGH GRITTED TEETH): Yes, we've got a tennis ball.
Banshee: When he grows a small, black moustache don't say I didn't warn you.

Roll credits

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Voyage Round My Father's Head #4

Father: Have you read my email?
Daughter: I haven't been on the computer today.
Father: I sent it this morning.
Daughter: I was out this morning.
Father: Read it.
Daughter: I'll read it la-
Daughter (RESIGNED): What happened?
Father: You know how uptight your mother gets -
Daughter: When she's late.
Father: I knew you'd take her side -
Daughter: You have to arrive three hours early for American flights.
Father: It was fine until my tyre blew.
Daughter: What time was this?
Father (VAGUELY): About 9 o'clock -
Daughter: Her flight was at ten!
Father: The car fell off the jack.
Daughter: What do you mean fell off?
Father: Your mother was crying.
Daughter: Crying?
Father: She hit her head on the roof.
Daughter: She was still in the car?
Father: After the fourth go I made her get out.
Daughter: She hit her head four times?
Father: She was being unreasonable. The roof's padded.
Daughter: Did you have the car in Park?
Father: The policeman asked that.
Daughter: What policeman?
Father: I put your mother's luggage on the hard shoulder and made her stick her thumb out.
Daughter: She hitched?
Father: No. (BEAT). I flagged down a minibus.
Daughter: A minibus?
Father: An hotel minibus. (BEAT). The policeman arrived ten minutes later.
Daughter: I don't believe this -
Father: He'd seen me on the cameras.
Daughter: CCTV.
Father: Those cameras are all along the M6. Marvellous.
Daughter: Were you fined?
Father: So I asked him if he played golf -
Daughter: Golf?
Father: He only took it up three years ago -
Daughter: Where's Mum now?
Father: Member of Denton -
Daughter: Did she make her flight?
Father: He arranged a free tow. Great bloke.
Daughter: What about Mum?
Father: I've invited him to play in a Pro-Am next month.
Daughter: WHERE'S MUM?
Father: I left it a few hours and came home. (BEAT). Just in case.
Daughter: Have you phoned Amy?
Father: Your sister won't want bothering with any of this.
Daughter: She could get some Valium.
Father: I'm fine.
Daughter: For Mum!
Father: Why would your mother need Valium?

Roll credits

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Overheard Conversations #8

Location: Bus. Interior. Day.
Characters: One woman, of pensionable age. One man in his 20s.

Woman: That makes a change.
Man: What does?
Woman: A green bus with people on it.
Man: Where?
Woman: Just passed us.
Man: Oh.
Woman: They never have people on them.
Man: No?
Woman: Not normally. (BEAT). I can't see the point of green buses.
Man: No?
Woman: No-one's ever on them.
Man: Mmm.
Woman: Always empty.
Man: Mmm.
Woman: Mam wouldn't have anything green in the house.
Man: Cabbage?
Woman: It wasn't green for long.
Man: Eh?
Woman: She boiled everything for hours. Cabbage, socks, vests. Me dad's teeth.
Woman (OUTRAGED): Did you see that mattress?
Man: Where?
Woman: Just passed it. Dumped in the alley by the lights.
Man: Oh.
Woman: Disgusting.
Man: Mmm.
Woman: Some people!
Woman: Town was busy.
Man: Hmm.
Woman: Friday's always busy.
Man: Mmm.
Woman: I don't know where people get the money.
Man: Hmm.
Woman: Spending for the sake of spending.
Man: Mmm.
Woman: That top in TJs? £9.99. I could make it for that!
Man: Someone did, Nan.
Woman: Did you see last night's Echo?
Man: No.
Woman: Front page. Lad from Brookside's opening a swingers' club.
Man: What?
Woman: Shame I'm so old.
Man: Nan!
Woman: I loved to swing.
Man: Swing?
Woman: Legs everywhere.
Man: Are you -?
Woman: I'd be shattered the next day.
Man: Shattered?
Woman: There were a couple of regulars. Me and Sylvia fought over them.
Man: Nan -
Woman: There was George. He knew how to hold a lady. Firm but gentle. Always in control.
Man: I don't think -
Woman: Larry was - well, he was nice enough, but a bit heavy-handed. I'd be black and blue after a few goes with him.
Man: Goes?
Woman: We never stopped from the moment we took our coats off. I'd come home dripping.
Man: I really don't think -
Woman: I met your grandad there.
Man: Grandad?
Woman: A right charmer. He had me bent over backwards! (BEAT). I blamed him for my hip.
Man: I don't think -
Woman: Of course he said my hip had nothing to do with it. But then he would.
Man: Can we talk about green buses again?

Roll credits.

Mother's Tongue #2

Mother: Are you out of bed yet?
Daughter: It's half-past three.
Mother: Mary's home.
Daughter: I didn't know she'd been away.
Mother: Poland. Three weeks.
Daughter: Did she have a good break?
Mother: I had a good break. (BEAT). She's driving me mad.
Daughter: Hmm?
Mother: I took her to Morrison's on Friday.
Daughter: That was nice.
Mother: She was telling me about something she'd eaten.
Daughter: Yes?
Mother: Oliver oils.
Daughter: Oliver oils?
Mother: Oliver oils. I said, "Describe them to me, Mary" and she said, "You can eat them hot or cold."
Daughter: Oliver oils?
Mother: Sweet or savoury.
Daughter: Oliver oils?
Mother: And that a lady would take two bites but a man would stuff it in all at once.
Daughter: Oliver oils?
Mother: Vol-au-vents.
Daughter: Ohhh...
Mother: Yes, I got there in the end. She leaned over, patted me on the knee and said "Good girl, patience is a virgin."
Daughter: How's Dad?
Mother: Don't ask!
Daughter: Okay.
Mother: He's put a sign up on the spare bedroom.
Daughter: Sign?
Mother: Presidential Suite.
Daughter: What?
Mother: He thinks we should start a B&B.
Daughter: Why?
Mother: He's met a man in sausages.
Daughter: In sausages?
Mother: Gets them cheap. Your father says people will go for a Presidential Suite and unlimited sausage sandwiches.
Daughter: I hope you've said no.
Mother: The sign's fallen off twice.
Daughter: How's the book?
A VOICE IS HEARD: Duchess! Duchess!
Daughter: Who's that?
Mother (WHISPERING): Mary. She said she'd bring some parkin for your father. But I've hidden the infra-red.
Daughter: Infra-red what?
Mother: That massage thing. He puts on his bathrobe and gets Mary to do his neck.
Daughter: Sausage sandwiches and a full body massage by a seventy-six year old Pole? You'll be booked up.
VOICE COMING CLOSER: Duchess! Duchess?
Mother: Ring me later, I'm going to hide.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Joyful List #5

New friends; old friends; even older friends; letters in stiff, sharp envelopes; handwriting, strings of pearls cool against skin; cake stands; freckles; frocks; inscribed books; old postcards and their mysterious half-stories; jewel-bright jam bubbling in a pan; the warm weight of dough; slow roasted tomatoes; mezzalunas; fizzbangs; The Slosh.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Overheard Conversation #6

Location: Supermarket pet food aisle. Interior. Afternoon.

Characters: Mum, Dad, two children - one girl, one boy.

Mum: Do we need dog food?
Dad: We haven't got a dog.
Mum: So we don't need dog food, then?
Dad: No.
Girl: Can we get a dog?
Dad: No.
Boy: What about a puppy?
Dad: No.
Girl: Let's have a vote. Who here wants a dog?
Girl: That's one, two, three votes against one. We win.
Dad: We're not getting a dog.
Girl (MUTTERING): It's like living in Stalinist Russia.
Dad (QUICKLY): What we do need is plant food. Who fancies a trip to B&Q?
Mum, Girl, Boy: NO!
Dad: For the roses.
Mum: We haven't got any roses.
Dad: Yes, we have. That white one in the back. Ice - ice -?
Boy: Cube?
Mum: Iceberg.
Dad: That's the one.
Mum: You dug it up.
Dad: What?
Mum: You said it looked dead, so you dug it up.
Daughter (SMUGLY): All roses look dead in winter.
Mum: You dug up the clematis too.
Boy: And that other plant.
Dad: What other plant?
Boy: The one you said looked dead.
Girl: All plants look dead in winter.
Boy: Except Christmas trees.
Girl: Let's get a dog for Christmas!
Dad: We can't get a dog. It'll go to sleep, I'll think it's dead and I'll bury it.
Daughter: Just get one, Mum. He'll be cross for a week or so and then calm down.
Dad: We are not getting a dog.
Daughter: This is very undemocratic.
Boy: All my friends have got dogs.
Dad: So, B&Q..?
Boy: Alex, Joe, Michael, Connor, Benny -
Mum (EXAMINING TIN OF DOG FOOD): This looks quite tasty -
Boy: Lianne, James, Jason, Jeremy -
Girl: Jeremy?
Boy: Shut up! Peter, Paul, Christopher -
Mum (PUTTING TIN IN THE TROLLEY): If we can't have a dog, let's have another baby.
Dad (QUICKLY): We'll get a dog.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Overheard Conversations #5

Location: Cafe bar. Late afternoon. Interior.
Characters: Two women in their 30s sit at a table chatting.

Brunette: I wasn't going to tell you this...
Blonde: I can guess.
Brunette: I called round to see -
Blonde (TRIUMPHANT): Rick.
Brunette: Yes.
Blonde: Rick the Prick
Brunette: Ha-ha.
Blonde: Why?
Brunette: I wanted a damn good seeing to.
Blonde: And?
Brunette: He had a headache.
Blonde: Rick never has headaches.
Brunette: I know. (BEAT). That's why I'm depressed.
Blonde: Buy a rabbit. (BEAT). Not the furry kind.
Brunette: Got one. (BEAT). Sometimes y'fancy the real thing, y'know?
Blonde (SIGHS): Yup. (BEAT). Women like sex more than men.
Brunette: Y'think?
Blonde: For all those jokes about electric blankets and flannel nighties.
Brunette: You could be right. (BEAT). I've never had a headache.
Blonde: Not even with -?
Brunette: No. (LAUGHS). He just made me physically sick.
Blonde: Ewww!
Brunette: Not at the time. But now - the thought!
Blonde: Don't. (SHUDDERS).
Brunette: Cheer me up. Tell me about Spanker.
Blonde: No! I'm not doing all my yesterdays.
Brunette: About Honey Boy.
Blonde: No!
Brunette (PERSUASIVELY): About Darren...
Blonde (ROLLS HER EYES): Okay. Because Rick's been a dick.
Brunette: You're a mate.
Blonde: He was going back to Portsmouth.
Brunette: And?
Blonde: I got on the train at Lime Street to kiss him goodbye -
Brunette: And?
Blonde: The carriage was empty.
Brunette: And?
Blonde: We had a cuddle.
Brunette: And?
Blonde: I gave him a blow job -
Blonde: Did you go all the way?
Brunette: No, only to Runcorn -
Blonde & Brunette (TOGETHER): Then I got the train back!
Brunette: Sod coffee. I need a drink.
Blonde: Gin?
Brunette: Only if it's a stiff one.


Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Overheard Conversations #7

Location: Living room. Interior. Day

Characters: Annie - elderly lady. Various other relatives whose names will become apparent. (Just read the script). All are dressed in sober colours.

Through the window a hearse can be seen pulling into the driveway. A black-suited man arranges a floral tribute on the crazy paving: Grandad spelled in white chrysanthemums.

David (LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDOW AND MUTTERING): Anyone would think we were The Krays.
Val: Shush! You'll upset your nana.
Annie (SEATED IN HIGH BACK ARMCHAIR BY THE GAS FIRE): Well, this is nice. (SHE SMILES). All the family. (SHE LOOKS ROUND). Where's Mick?
David: Dad's having a fag outside.
Annie: Has he eaten all the sausage rolls?
Val: No, Mum. There's another tray in the oven.
Annie: Don't burn them. We all know what you're like. (ADDRESSING THE ROOM). She could burn hot water.
Sandra (HESITANTLY): Would you like more tea, Auntie Annie.
Annie: No, or I'll be wanting to tinkle when the vicar's doing his bit. (BEAT). I need my shoes fetching.
Annie: David, fetch my shoes.
David: Where are they, Nana?
Annie: Under my bed. You can use the Stannah. It'll take any weight. (BEAT). Even yours.
Annie (LOUDLY): It wasn't fashionable to be fat when I was his age.
Val: He's not fat. It's muscle, Mum.
Annie: Where's that tea you promised me, Sandra?
Annie (GRABBING AND PATTING HER HAND): Are you tired, Sandra?
Sandra: No, Auntie Annie.
Annie: You look tired.
Sandra: I'm not tired. (QUICKLY). I'm sorry about Uncle Harold. Was it sudden?
Annie: I've never been one to tell someone they look good when I don't think they do. (BEAT). Drawn. You look drawn.
Sandra: I'm fine.
Annie: Mind you, it's been ten years since I've seen you. You might always look like that.
Val: Mum!
Annie: I was just saying -
Jonathan (ENTERING FROM HALLWAY): Mr. Price wants us to leave in five minutes.
Annie: But I haven't drunk my tea.
Jonathan: We don't want to be late.
Annie: Your father was always late. He'd be late for his own funeral.
David (ENTERING ROOM): These shoes, Nana?
Annie: No, my navy blue shoes.
David: These are navy.
Annie: My other navy blue shoes.
Val: Right, I've locked the back door.
Annie: What about the sausage rolls?
Val: I've turned the oven off.
Annie: They'll go cold
Jonathan: We need to leave.
Annie: I can't afford to waste good food. Especially on a single pension.
Annie: No! I've got bunions. I'm not sitting there with sore feet.
Jonathan (LOUDLY): If everyone could please make their way outside -
Annie: Wrap them in foil and we'll eat them on the way.
Val: I don't want a sausage roll.
Annie: Sandra will eat one, won't you, Sandra?
Sandra: I -
Annie: And the men outside.
Val: Flaky pastry in a hearse?
Annie: Your father loved a sausage roll. Not keen on them cold, though.
Jonathan (SHOUTING): David! Hurry up, please!
Annie: I'll wear my slippers. No sense in suffering.
Val: I'll fetch your shoes.
Jonathan (TO VAL): She can wear her bloody slippers for all I care. Just get her out the house.
Annie: It's a shame Liza's not here.
Jonathan: I told you, she's meeting us at the crem.
Annie: Valerie! Wrap up a sausage roll for Liza. Better make it two. (BEAT). She likes her food.
Annie: Where are my shoes?
Val: I've got them here.
Annie (STRUGGLING TO STAND UP): I need a tinkle.
Jonathan: We've got to go!
Annie: So have I -
Jonathan: We're going to be late.
Annie: I hope that great lump hasn't broken my Stannah.
Jonathan: I'll be waiting in the car. Sandra, you sit in the front. Val?
Val: I'm coming! David?

Roll credits.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Voyage Round My Father's Head #3

Father: I'm phoning to see if you'd like to join us for lunch?
Daughter: Are you in the car?
Father: About 1 o'clock.
Daughter: You shouldn't use your phone when you're driving.
Father: I thought we'd eat in Wilmslow.
Daughter: I'm in bed.
Father: Still?
Daughter: I had an operation then had 'flu, remember?
Father: That was last week.
Daughter: And I'm not allowed to drive for two weeks.
Father: You take after your mother. I'm never ill. (BEAT) So you're not coming for lunch?
Daughter: Not this time.
Father: I've been to Fleetwood today.
Daughter: Why?
Father: I'll just pass you onto someone.
Daughter: I'm -
Father: You haven't spoken to her for thirty years!
Daughter: Maybe another time. (BEAT). Dad?
Daughter: Hello?
Woman (VERY WELL-SPOKEN): Hello? Hello, is that Claire?
Daughter (SLOWLY): Yes...?
Woman: It's Vee, darling!
Daughter: Vee?
Woman: Vee Bentham.
Daughter: Vee...
Woman: Your father's very kindly taking me to the airport. I'm flying back to London.
Daughter: Auntie Vivi!
Woman : No-one's called me that for years, sweetie. Now then, when did I last see you?
Daughter: Er, 1979...?
Woman: Of course! Then you moved back north.
Daughter: Yes. Gosh, Vee...
Woman (BRISKLY): You know I can't picture you at all.
Daughter: Oh?
Woman: Turn left here, darling. Your father says you were the bossy one.
Daughter: I was the eldest.
Woman: There were two of you?
Daughter: Three. Two boys and a girl.
Woman: And which were you?
Daughter: Er...
Woman: Apparently you were very plump.
Father (SHOUTING): She ate so many biscuits I told her she'd pop!
Daughter: I was tall. I had long, brown hair.
Woman: No, it's not coming to me. It's just down here, sweetie.
Daughter (EAGER): I have a very strong memory of you though.
Woman: Have you, darling?
Daughter (ENTHUSIASTICALLY): Yes, it was when you were taking Lucy back to boarding school.
Woman: Yes?
Daughter: You took me in the car for company on the way back. You had Radio 3 on -
Woman: It's gone off a bit, Radio 3.
Daughter: I was in the front seat. We ate barley sugars and talked about all sorts of things. I felt so grown up. It was very dark, all these windy roads with high hedges -
Woman: Oh, yes! The school was in Devon. Dreadful place.
Daughter: Suddenly there was a badger caught in the car's headlights. It's the only time I've ever seen a badger. I wrote a poem about it.
Woman: A badger!
Daughter: It's a very vivid memory.
Woman: How funny! (BEAT). I have no recollection of that at all.
Daughter (SHOCKED): Oh.
Woman (BREEZILY): Amazing! There we are, moving through life making tremendous impressions on other people. People we don't even remember! How funny!
Daughter: Yes.
Woman: I'll pass you back to your father. It was lovely speaking to you, Catherine.
Father: A blast from the past, hey?
Daughter: Yes.
Father: Shame you can't join us for lunch.
Daughter: Yes -
Father: More material for the book!
Daughter: Dad? (BEAT). Dad?


Monday, 3 August 2009

Overheard Conversations #4

Location: Garden Centre in West Yorkshire. Cafe. Interior. Day.

Annie - female, 83, white permed hair, glasses, smartly dressed in red M&S coat with shiny buttons, cream silk scarf, slacks and well polished shoes with a low heel.

Liza - Annie's Daughter-in-Law, 42, slightly overweight, untidy hair, scrubbed face, jeans, fleece top, boots (need polishing)

Annie sits at a table. Liza walks towards her carrying a tray loaded with plates: fish and chips, a panini, an enormous slice of chocolate gateau, and a pot of tea for two. Liza takes everything off the tray, arranges it nicely on their table and sits down.

Annie is slightly deaf and consequently talks loudly.

Annie (LOOKING AT HER PLATE): That's not a haddock. That's a blinking whale.
Liza: It's certainly a big piece of fish. Just eat what you can.
Annie: It would feed a family of eight. And a cat. And next door's cat. (PRODS AT IT WITH HER FORK). It won't even fit on the plate.
Liza: Leave what you can't manage.
Liza (OFFERING HER OWN PLATE): Would you rather have my panini?
Annie: A sandwich? A sandwich on my birthday?
Liza: Or shall I get you something else?
Annie: What else was there?
Liza (DOUBTFULLY): We did go through the menu several times... You didn't fancy the hotpot.
Annie: Fatty.
Liza: Or the curry...
Annie: Curry!
Liza: Or the jacket potato...
Annie: It is my birthday.
Liza: I suppose I could ask them to make you a salad...?
Annie: There's no substance in salad. It's why rabbits stay small.
Liza (GRABS A MENU AND SCANS IT HURRIEDLY): The carvery opens at 12.30
Annie: Well, if I'd known that.
Liza: I did mention it...
Annie: Money doesn't grow on trees. No wonder our Jonathan looks so stressed. (SHE LOOKS AROUND, CATCHES THE EYE OF A COUPLE SEATED AT ANOTHER TABLE AND NODS AT LIZA). I'm sat with Imelda Marcos here.
Liza: Pardon?
Annie: Wants to buy me two dinners! (CUTS INTO THE FISH). This batter is lovely and crispy.
Liza (WEAKLY): I -
Annie: I always have fish and chips when I come here.
Liza: Oh.
Annie (POINTING HER KNIFE AT LIZA'S PLATE): That toastie looks dry. Wouldn't fancy it myself.
Liza (PICKING IT UP): I wasn't very hungry. Wanted something light.
Annie (WITH HER MOUTH FULL OF FOOD): I know it's Modern, but I've always thought it very unladylike to eat with your fingers.
Annie: And that tea'll be stewed.
Annie: Milk first!
Annie (WORKING HER WAY THROUGH HER MEAL): I like the food here. It's a shame I don't get brought more often.
Liza (BRIGHTLY): The mirror in your hall. Is it new?
Annie: Four years old. But then you don't visit often, do you?
Liza (QUICKLY): I was here last month, Annie.
Annie: Not that you stay long when you do visit.
Liza: I have to get back for the children.
Annie: It'd be nice to see my grandchildren occasionally.
Liza: They're busy at weekends. Mandy's got a Saturday job, Connor's in a football team. Practice. Matches.
Annie: That should get some fat off him.
Liza: He's not fat.
Annie: I wouldn't know. I don't remember the last time I saw him.
Liza (UNDER HER BREATH): The last time you saw him you made him cry by calling him fat.
Annie: What's that?
Liza: I was wondering if you needed the salt?
Annie: Salt? No. High blood pressure. And cholesterol. And sugar. Getting old's no fun at all.
Liza: I can see that.
Liza: I'm fine. Thanks.
Annie: No take it. I can't eat all of them.
Liza: I really don't want any chips. Thank you.
Annie: Oh, just eat 'em. It's not like you bother about your weight.
Liza: I -
Annie: Jonathan's first wife - Monica - she was all skin and bone. (BEAT). I was quite surprised when he brought you home.
Annie: Molly? No. She'll be in the Isle of Mann. Spends the summer there.
Liza: Any other of the old neighbours?
Annie: Well I got a postcard from Cliff and Marjorie.
Liza: Cliff and Marjorie?
Annie: Marjorie mainly. Cliff's been dead twenty year.
Liza: Oh!
Annie: They lived opposite us in Bury.
Liza: When was that?
Annie: Before we moved to Kippax. (BEAT) We kept in touch. (BEAT). In those days, people were prepared to make an effort.
Liza (CALMLY): That's nice.
Annie: Kept in touch until Cliff had his... Had his.. (SHE PAUSES AND FROWNS). Well, I suppose you'd call it a mid-life crisis.
Liza: Mid-life crisis?
Annie (DOUBTFULLY): I suppose you'd call it that. (BEAT). Pass my gateau over.
Liza (PASSING OVER THE CAKE): Did he run off with someone?
Annie (OUTRAGED): Cliff? Cliff wouldn't do anything like that! (SHE LOOKS AT THE CAKE). Is there any cream?
Liza (CAREFULLY): Your cholesterol...?
Annie (CROSSLY): It is my birthday.
Annie: It was a bit dry before.
Liza: It's nice to see your appetite's back.
Annie: I doubt I'll eat much tomorrow. Probably just a cracker. (BEAT). If that. When you're on your own, you don't feel like eating.
Liza (HURRIEDLY): So what happened to Cliff?
Annie: He started wearing women's clothing.
Liza: What?
Annie: He said it was a joke, but it's not a joke when you fit your garage out with wardrobes and shoeracks, is it?
Liza: Goodness.
Annie: He had drawers full of long blonde wigs. (BEAT). He packed them when we went to Malta!
Liza: Malta?
Annie: Harold was horrified. There we were in the bar, and in floats Cliff in a sequinned frock, gold shoes and a wig.
Liza: When was this?
Annie: 1976.
Liza: Had he shown any signs before?
Annie (THOUGHTFUL): A few years earlier, he'd asked what denier my stockings were but I thought he was just trying it on.
Liza: You know, I really wasn't expecting this.
Annie: And then we had to stop inviting them to visit.
Liza: Oh?
Annie: After the incident at the Miners' Club.
Liza: Yes?
Annie: They'd come over to stay with us for the weekend. Saturday night we were going to the club. There was an act on.
Liza: Sounds fun.
Annie: And bingo. Anyway, Cliff comes through to the kitchen in his frock. Harold lost his temper. I mean, Harold was a man who didn't like to part his hair differently. He said "I'm not taking you to the bloody club dressed like that!"
Liza: The Miners' Club?
Annie: Hard men, miners.
Liza: Yes.
Annie: There was a scene and they went home. After that we stuck to birthday and Christmas cards.
Liza: I can see why!
Annie: We were in Benidorm when he died. Missed the funeral. I bet the flowers were lovely.
Liza: Mmm.
Annie: But Maureen did well. She had his frocks taken in and booked a cruise round The Med. Anyway, where are you taking me for tea?

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Mother's Tongue

See posts passim to contextualise the following:

Mother: I could strangle your bloody father!
Daughter (HOLDING 'PHONE AWAY FROM EAR): I'm sure he's not really a tramp.
Mother: What?
Daughter: I doubt whether Sid Dene is really a tramp.
Mother: Who's Sid Dene?
Daughter (QUICKLY): Ignore me. I've just woken up.
Mother: Are you in bed?
Daughter: I've got Swine 'flu, remember?
Mother: You should get up. You'll feel much better. Anyway, I am so cross with your father I could spit!
Daughter (RESIGNED): Why? What's he done now?
Mother: Mark's been round.
Daughter: Mark?
Mother: His biographer.
Daughter: Mmm?
Mother: You know that Trade Fayre your father was at in Birmingham?
Daughter: No.
Mother: Yes, you do. When he was selling Space Invaders.
Daughter: Still no.
Mother: You do. We'd just moved back to Leeds.
Daughter: In 1979?
Mother: Yes.
Daughter: I was thirteen.
Mother: That's beside the point. (TRIUMPHANT). He wasn't there!
Daughter: Who wasn't where?
Mother: Mark's been going over the first draft.
Daughter: Where's Dad?
Mother: In the bath.
Daughter: Is Mark in the bath with him?
Mother: Don't be stupid. Mark's sitting on the pouffe in our bedroom. I was on the landing, dusting, and I happened to hear Mark read out 1979.
Daughter: He's reading loudly then.
Mother: He has to. Your father keeps topping up the hot water and the immersion's noisy.
Daughter (WEAKLY): I'm really not feeling very well, Mum.
Mother: Your father wasn't at the Trade Fayre. He was in Spain. Playing golf with Jimmy Tarbuck! And you weren't well.
Daughter: I'm not well now.
Mother: Your father's life has been a closed book.
Daughter: Not for much longer.
Mother: What does that mean?
Daughter (SIGHS): I'm going to have to go, Mum.
Mother: I'm not going to tell him I know. I'm playing my cards close to my face.
Daughter: Chest.
Mother: That too. (QUICKLY). Have to go. He's pulled the plug out.

Voyage Round My Father's Head #2

See previous post for explanation.

Father: Sid Dene's phoned me.
Daughter: Hello, Dad. How are you?
Father: Sid Dene. Do you remember him?
Daughter: I'm feeling much better, thanks for asking.
Father: Sid used to visit us in Argyll Close.
Daughter: Nope, doesn't ring any bells.
Father: We lived there until you were eight.
Daughter: I remember Argyll Close. I don't remember Sid Dene.
Father: He was my boss at Ashton Baths. Great family man.
Daughter: Are you out of the bath yet?
Father: Big man. Lots of black hair.
Daughter: So, Sid Dene's phoned you. How did he get your number?
Father: You know Bryan Hill?
Daughter (DISAPPROVING): Mmm.
Father: Great womaniser.
Daughter: Always talked to my chest.
Father: What?
Daughter: Nothing.
Father (IRRITATED): I wish you'd speak properly. Your mother mumbles all the time, too.
Daughter: Is this going anywhere, Dad?
Father: I was at Bryan Hill's car showroom once and he had this secretary, Gerry.
Daughter: Yes?
Father: Great looking woman.
Daughter: Can I stop you a moment. You haven't phoned the Bookie's for at least a minute.
Father: Your mother's hidden my mobile.
Daughter: Ahh...
Father: So I asked Bryan if he was going out with Gerry.
Daughter: Was Bryan sleeping in his garage at this point?
Father: What?
Daughter: When his wife wouldn't let the dog into the house? He slept in the garage with the dog for three years?
Father: That was years later. Anyway, Bryan said "I'm not going out with Gerry."
Daughter: And?
Father: He said it three times. "I'm not going out with Gerry."
Daughter: I'm not following this, Dad.
Father: Sid was!
Daughter: Sid was what?
Father: Going out with Gerry. He left his wife and family and moved to Cornwall with her.
Daughter: When was this?
Father: 1975. It's all going in my book.
Daughter: A riveting read.
Father: Bryan Hill saw Sid last year. Very sad.
Daughter: I can see why Sid would find that depressing.
Father: He's very thin and has lost his hair and teeth.
Daughter: That was careless.
Father: Gerry died. (BEAT). She was a great looking woman.
Daughter: Oh dear.
Father: Bryan Hill said Sid smelled. Needed a wash. Looked like a tramp. (BEAT). Sid's emailing me every day now.
Daughter: Oh?
Father: I've invited him to stay.
Daughter: Have you told Mum?
Father (SOUND OF WATER GUSHING FROM A TAP): Got to go, love. I'm meeting my accountant in The Slater's.