Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A Day in the Life of ...



Whilst dozing on the sofa this evening, I'm sure I heard that nice Mr. Cox say 'A day on Venus is equivalent to a year on earth'. He was banging on about physics (which is why I was dozing), Saturn's rings, tornadoes and icebergs. With dedicated snoozing added to the equation, it was difficult to keep up. At one point his butler delivered a baby on the bathroom floor whilst his mother-in-law made cutting remarks and kept a child hidden in an attic.

Still, I am counting my blessings here at Chateau Moptop. Were I in my Venusian pied-à-terre, Christmas Day would have been rather more difficult.

6 a.m. The mini Moptops are instructed to return to bed until they develop pressure sores. 'Then, and only then, may you throw back the blankets - but please do not let the pillows float out of the window.'

7 a.m. The stockings disgorge their contents.
'Please, Mama, do I have to open any more presents? My fingers are bleeding.'
'Don't be ridiculous, Tarquin-Hurricane, Jr. It's barely February on Planet Earth. Pass me the wrapping paper; I'm going to wrap them all up again.'

10.30 a.m. Church. Who knew O Little Town of Bethlehem had this many verses? The sermon is long and - well - it's mainly long.

Noon. Pass out the pegs. The sprouts have been boiling for 39 days now. 'No, don't open the wind-!'
Too late. 'Phone Houston and request new dog.

2 p.m. Lunch. The turkey is very well-cooked. 'Yes, you do have to remain at the table, Concertina-Rose. I know it hurts. That's what the memory foam cushion is for. Finish what's on your plate. You may use a straw for the sprouts.'

3 p.m. The Queen's Speech. It is noted that Brenda's voice is not as squeaky as it used to be, she suits that colour and that she's looking well for a woman of eighty-two.

'She said anus!'
'No, she didn't, Concertina. Annus. It's Latin for-'
'Bum!'

On Planet Earth, Brenda gets ten minutes. On Venus. with days to play with, she wanders off - sorry - orf script.

'Don't talk to one about Cameroon. He's terribly pink and his wife's in Trade. One doesn't think much of that Hughes chap. He's accepted a Special Position after putting himself in an untenable one. At least ones uncle had the balls to resign -'

And so on. And on. And on.
Sixty-four bottles of Bristol Cream required to toast E.R.'s good health.

4 p.m. Is Monopoly the longest game in the world, or does it just feel like it? Belgravia has vanished under a mountain of Cheesy Wotsits serving as hotels. (We ran out of real pieces several months ago.)

6 p.m. Dr Who Christmas Special. Everyone guffaws at the unlikely space exploits and willy-nilly abandonment of the Space and Time Continuum.

7 p.m. The Eastenders Christmas Special continues until all of the regular characters have drowned in the canal, been barbecued in a blazing pub, fallen over and hit their heads on fire-surrounds, succumbed to the fumes of something in an allotment shed or been savaged by rabid whippets. The Moptops are disappointed by the lack of gangland murders this year, but look forward to an entirely new set of tragic demises in 133,316 of your Earth Days.

9 p.m. Monsieur Moptop complains of a sluggish liver. We count the empty bottles and resolve to invest in a recycling business.

10 p.m. The mini Moptops are force-fed the last of the mince pies.
'But they're totally, like, stale.'
'Well, if you hadn't opened the window, you could have fed them to the dog.'

11 p.m. Exhausted by a long and festive day, we retire to our sleep pods. But not before putting the ham on to boil for the Boxing Day lunch.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Voyages Around My Father's Head #6



Small Boy: GRANDAD'S ON THE 'PHONE. HE WANTS TO TALK TO YOU.
Woman: Hi, Dad. Merry Christmas.
Pa: Did you get our parcel?
Woman: No, Mum said -
Pa: What about our card?
Woman: The postman's not be-
Pa: It's mid-day! Work-shy. The sooner Vincent Price privatises the Postal Service the better.
Woman: Cable -
Pa: That's another thing. Did you know that you can't send a telegram these days?
Woman: Er -
Pa: I tried to send one to your cousin when she got married in Jamaica -
Woman: Jamaica?
Pa: I think she had to, yes. She was fatter than usual. Telegrams were abolished in 1981. Or so she said.
Woman: Who said?
Pa: The woman at the Post Office. I wish you'd pay attention. So you haven't had our parcel?
Woman: No, Mum said -
Pa: Snow! They manage all right in Alaska. And Finland. And Norway. And -
Woman: Mum said -
Pa: Phone them up!
Woman: Finland?
Pa: Phone the Post Office. Find out what's happened to my parcel.
Woman: Mum says you've had your parcel. It arrived last week.
Pa: No, your parcel. And your card. You should've had it by now.
Woman: When did you post it?
Pa: Hang on, I'll ask your mother. When did we post the parcel? (BEAT) What? Oh.
Woman: Did you send it Recorded Delivery?
Pa: Your mother said we didn't send a parcel. We put money in the children's bank accounts instead.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Great Hairy Ruins



I wish I could read dictionaries properly. Well, obviously I can read them; I just can't pronounce all the words. They have little symbols above letters which inform one - for example - whether the o is short or long (apparently). Only I can't read the symbols. It's some sort of code, I believe.

I went looking for an explanation and found this, which only made my head hurt.

Thesaurus is one of those words I never really know how to pronounce. Is it thes-aur-us as in tyrannosaurus? Or thes-aur-us as in - well, I can't think of an example.

(In my younger days, I once got into a terrible muddle with a clitoris. I thought the stress fell on the 'or' which isn't good when one is trying to give directions.)

I am thinking about dictionaries today because one of the Sunday papers ran an article on a new book based on A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in 1785 by Captain Francis Grose. I cannot give you a link to the article as the paper thinks readers should pay for the privilege of being subjected to advertisements for Mercedes Benz motorcars, but I can give you the link to the text of the original book. Here! And don't blame me if you are lost for days wandering amongst totty-headed mopsies, sosse brangles, twiddle poops and fribbles ... Welcome, in fact, to Blowsabella's Pitstop.

By the way, I am hugely amused to read that Capn. Grose was ably assisted by one Hell-fire Dick, Esq. of Cambridge. Now, there's a name that lingers on the tongue.

Slang is a funny affair. Many of Cap'n Grose's words lollop from the mouth charmingly and yet their meanings are lost to us. Modern slang is not nearly so lovely. For example, Twitter is an online thingum - O, I don't know, look it up. Anyway, Twits are people who use Twitter. They tweet to each other. I tweet/you tweet/he/she/it tweets. Twits whose tweets are read by lots of other twits are called The Twitterati. Some of them are Twats - that's past tense, not gratuitous swearing.* And all of this appears (a.k.a. masquerading as News) in respectable broadsheets without a raised eyebrow. Even Cap'n Grose showed greater delicacy:

THINGSTABLE. Mr. Thingstable; Mr. Constable: a ludicrous affectation of delicacy in avoiding the pronunciation of the first syllable in the title of that officer, which in sound has some similarity to an indecent monosyllable.

Perhaps Mr Naughtie should refer to the Culture Secretary as Jeremy Thing?

Anthony Buckeridge knew that slang was ephemeral and invented his own for the boys at Linbury Court School. Ozard (meaning bad) is the opposite of wizard (meaning good). Anyone at all clumsy, irritating or slow on the uptake is a great hairy ruin - which I'm campaigning to bring back into general usage (with some difficulty, I might add).

My society, the Campaign for Usage of Non-standard Terms (abbreviated to T.H.I.N.G. for obvious reasons) will be launched in the New Year. In the meantime, please consider joining Save The Words.

O, and if anyone can tell me another name for thesaurus I'd be ever so grateful.

* And the band played Believe It If You Will.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Inking Aloud



Talking of tattoos, I once dated a journalist who, when he was a Cub Reporter, had the misfortune to be put on Magistrate Court duty for months on end. Only one case stuck in his mind: Watergate.

Sorry, that wasn't it at all and if it had been it would have been petty theft in the Watergate Shopping Centre. No, the one case which the then (short-lived) innamorata remembered involved a man charged with breaking the Obscene Publications Act. My (but not for very long) chap turned up with his notebook. The defendant was slumped in the dock, a woolly hat pulled low over his brow. It was a hot summer's day and the man looked in danger of overheating. The Magistrate listened to the evidence of the Police and mulled over the charges. Eventually he looked solemnly at the defendant.

"Well, Mr. Shearer*, it is clear to me that every time you take off your hat, you run the risk of arrest. Either keep your hat on or grow a fringe. I am imposing a fine of -".

And so on.

Mr. Shearer - who was from Newcastle, by the way - in a fit of - what? Anarchy? Idiocy? Naked aggression? - had been tattooed across his forehead. Capital letters in blue ink announced :

 **** OFF OR I'LL KILL YOU!

I've remembered this for reasons which will become clear. For one, I've just read a short story which toys with a tattoo. It's in Polly Samson's latest collection which I've put down somewhere and now can't find. Anyway, it's very good. Then, of course, there's Parker's Back by Flannery O'Connor which is funny yet utterly, utterly heartbreaking. The Background by Saki is cleverer than a clever thing should be. It might even be the genesis of another short: Skin by Roald Dahl. And there are more tattoos than you could shake a dagger-pierced rose at in John Irving's novel Until I Find You. The tattooists mentioned therein are real people, as I discovered when I read Taschen's 1000 Tattoos.

Anyway, I haven't got a tattoo. I wouldn't dare. My mother glared at my pierced ears for decades.

"If God had intended you to have holes in your ears, you'd have been born with holes in your ears."

After fifteen years she didn't even need to make this statement aloud. I could hear her thinking it.

She extends this logic to body art. "You'll never get buried in a Jewish Cemetery if you get a tattoo."

The fact that we're not actually Jewish would be more of a hindrance to burial in The Mount of Olives, I suspect, than a tasteful butterfly on my ankle ...

Last week, I was talking to a man in his mid-eighties. I asked him about the tattoo on his forearm. He'd had it done at the Seaman's Mission in The Dingle. He pointed at a smudged and faded name. "I was knockin' about with a tart called Vera," he said. "And then I married Dolly and it caused me no end of trouble."

This morning was spent revolting again. (The Cuts, dear, must I remind you?) I have an antipathy to being addressed as Brother or Sister (even by close relations) but Comrade was a moniker too far. It propelled me towards a short spree of capitalist consumerism - and an eyebrow wax.

Alana, a purple-haired beautician whom I'd never previously met but am now intimately acquainted with, showed me - and I must stress that I had not mentioned tattoos at all at this point despite your impression that I'm obsessed with the things - her bum. A crown with Grandma inked above it. She then suggested I had my eyebrows tattooed. I declined (in more ways than one). After witnessing Grandma, I'd have been left with an expression of permanent surprise.

*Not his real name

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Two wrongs absolutely do make a right


This post will attempt to combine mathematics, grammar and naughty school boys in a seamless and educative fashion.

Here goes.

I once brought my mathematics teacher close to a nervous breakdown. (At least that's what he said to my mother at parents' evening.)

Mr Kilburn had spent weeks explaining the concept of negative numbers. In one particular lesson, I must have snorted loudly or made some other indication of disdain.

'What was that, Moptop?'
'Nothing, Mr. Kilburn, Sir.'
'Were you sniggering?''
'Not exactly, Sir. It was more of a sigh.'
'A sigh? Why?'
'Well, it's these negative numbers, Sir. I don't believe in 'em.'
'You don't believe in them?'
'No, Sir.'
'But, Moptop, if I gave you an apple and you ate it, you would have minus one apple.'
'No, Sir, I'd have an apple core.'

And so on. The battle over the existence of negative numbers ran three times a week for two years and goes a long way to explaining the Unclassified mark in my Maths 'O' Level.

Today, in a moment of rare joy and rapture, I stumbled across a copy of The Best of Jennings by Anthony Buckeridge. (I stumbled in all senses of the words as it was a pile 'em high, sell 'em low book shop - only the staff had Spoonerised this instruction.) I've been reading it tonight and am half way through Book One.

For most of my childhood, Jennings was my hero - along with Nigel Molesworth and William Brown. (Yes, I've always had a penchant for naughty boys.) In the local library, there was a row of Jennings' books which I worked my way through (1 - 23*) and then started from the beginning again. Tonight, I am beginning to understand that Jennings was clearly a very bad influence on an innocent and impressionable young mind.

Stop laughing.

Jennings has an answer for everything, using an admirable form of logic. For example: instructed to label his gym shoes he writes his name in one shoe and 'ditto' in the other. Half way through Chapter Six tonight, I realised that Jennings is the reason I argued with Mr. Kilburn. He is the reason I failed Maths 'O' Level. He is the reason my bank account likes negative numbers - which I still don't believe in.

I should sue that library.

It was odd that I couldn't bring myself to believe in something that wasn't there (not least because for several years I harboured ambitions to be a missionary). Odd, because I had very much taken to heart William Brown's assertion that 'Two negatives make a positive.' In one** of the Just William  stories, he asks his mother, Mrs Brown, whether he can have a party whilst she is away. 'No, William, you may not,' is the reply. William takes the double negative to mean that, yes, he can have a party - a technique I employed several times myself during my teens.

A double negative in English works thus: No, I do not agree becomes I certainly agree.

Therefore No, you may not have a party becomes Of course you can have a party. Please blow the dust off the Créme de Menthe and make a lethal punch that will bring most guests to their knees after three sips. Also, refilling the whiskey bottles with cold tea and the vodka  bottles with water is absolutely fine by me.

I recently applied the double negative rule to a double double entendre using the logic that one cancelled out the other.

It doesn't.

And neither does eating two apples result in minus two apples, but rather plus two apple cores.

Still, none of this is my fault as I was brainwashed as a child. That's mine, Jennings', William's and Nigel's story and we're sticking to it.

* Books 24 & 25 were written in 1991 & 1994 when I was going through my Virago Modern Classics phase.

** A Question of Grammer is in Just William (1922)

Monday, 6 December 2010

An excellent start to the day



O, what joy! What delight! Though doubtless not in Tunbridge Wells where they are easily offended.

During this morning's BBC Radio 4 Today programme, presenter James Naughtie said a very 'naughtie' word in relation to Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary. Although, it must be said, someone else suggested it first.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS5mVoqJpUk

Warning! Do not click on this link if you reside in Tunbridge Wells. Naughty Naughtie has been inundated by emails from your compatriots. Please do not add to the gentleman's distress.

Naughtie was guilty of a Spoonerism, although many more tongue-tangles were attributed to the Revd. Spooner than he unaged to matter. I wish the Revd. really had said: "Three cheers for our queer old dean!" mostly because I'm hoping to use the line myself - fully credited - in the near future. (Spoonering soon.)

Count Arthur Strong also appears - though it is beyond me how anyone can 'appear' on the wireless - on BBC Radio 4. He could spoon for Britain. I expect it's a Desirable/Essential quality for employment by Auntie. Still, here's a thought: a new Olympic sporting category that we'd have a sporting chance of winning - Spoonerisming . As long as we didn't meet Finland* in the final.

So, with 2012 looming/bearing down fast/hurtling towards us, we - as in The Nation not just the select band who visit Chez Moptop - must get behind the soon-to-be-announced sport of Spoonerisms. Let us start with a warm up exercise. All together now:

I am not the pheasant plucker,
I'm the pheasant plucker's mate.
I am only plucking pheasants
Cos the pheasant plucker's running late.

I am not a pheasant plucker,
I'm a pheasant plucker's son.
I am only plucking pheasants
Till the pheasant plucker comes.

 - though - PLEASE - do not practise in Tunbridge Wells. I'm on their list as it is.

* If you are troubled with insomnia, you might care to read this article about how Finns spoon.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Other people who purchased this also purchased ...



This time last year I was going a bit banonkas in the Border's Closing Down Sale. Six new bookcases later, I decided not to buy any more books until I'd read all the books I had already.

Cue hollow laughter.

So now, with Christmas looming, what do all the newspapers publish?

Great, long, four-page spreads of the 'Best Books of 2010'. Now I realise there is 'you-scratch-my-back' collusion between authors, and some publishers' puffery, but still ... there are many interesting books that I really didn't know I was interested in until I read about them in the Books of the Year features. For example, the history of the finger. If you'd asked me which body part I'd most like to read about in an historical treatise, the finger is the last thing I'd have pointed at.

But now it is my finger that is doing the most damage. Time was when I'd read all these Books of the Year lists, think 'Ooh, I'd like to read that', take myself off to a bookshop some days later and stand there stupidly blank thinking 'What was the name of that book I wanted to buy?' (Please note, for the sake of keeping Broken Biro quiet, I do the same stupid, blank stare in libraries.) Now I think 'Ooh, I'd like to read that' and click, click, click I've bought it on Amazon. And it doesn't help that Amazon then helpfully suggests a whole shelf of other books I might enjoy.

Look, I had no no little trouble smuggling vast quantities of books into the house after the buying spree in Borders (at one point I took to tucking them into my socks) but when the postie leaves great big day-glo labels that proclaim 'YOUR HUGE PARCEL OF BOOKS TOO NUMEROUS TO LIST HERE ARE HIDDEN BEHIND YOUR GREEN BIN. OW! MY BACK HURTS. DOUBTLESS I'LL BE CRIPPLED FOR LIFE. THAT'S THE SEVENTEENTH PARCEL THIS WEEK' then it's not so easy to explain away.

Which books have made it onto your Christmas list? I'm asking because if they match any of mine, I can pretend I've bought them for you. Anyone pining  for the recent unexpurgated Mark Twain autobiography? (she asks hopefully).

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Students Are Revolting ...

Location: a crowded bus
Characters: a Banshee (quite obviously 17 years old); a Boy (even more obviously 16 years old).

Boy: How did the protest go today?
Banshee: It was too cold.
Boy: Yeah, but all that marching keeps you warm.
Banshee: No, it was too cold to go.
Boy: They protested in London.
Banshee: It's warmer in London.
Boy: It's not tropical.
Banshee: The policehorses and riot shields create a wind break, that's why it's warmer.
Boy: Ohhh ... (BEAT). Anyway, I agree with everything they're doing.
Banshee: Why aren't you protesting then?
Boy: It's too cold. (BEAT). But I didn't agree with them throwing paint up Nelson's column.
Banshee: There are always a few idiots. Last week I stopped one girl egging the former Tory party office. Former!
Boy: It's not as if Nelson Mandela's ever done anything to students.
Banshee: What?
Boy: Nelson Mandela. He's on the side of the oppressed.
Banshee: What's Nelson Mandela got to do with it?
Boy: There was no need to throw paint up his column - that's all I'm saying. He sits at the top, cross-legged holding his hands out, all peaceful -
Banshee: No, he doesn't!
Boy: I mean his statue does, not Nelson himself. I'm not stupid.

Roll credits

Monday, 15 November 2010

Ma Cherie Amour (Four) by Antonia Cartland Blair

The story so far: Our hero - O! Can I be bothered explaining? Just read the damn thing. The life of a romatic novelist is hardly that ... And so it continues.

Chapter MCXXVI

The parchment crackled in my strong, masculine grip; a hand-written epistle from my arch enemy, the evil, wicked, and nefarious Baron Brown.

My heart fluttered in my chest like a wren trying to escape from a birdcage made of ribs. I slumped against the Ottoman – the Ottoman Ambassador, that is, who made his excuses and left with a quite unseemly haste and an even more unseemly slamming of my beautifully carved and gilded door.

I charged into the morning room, my coat-tails flittering like pennants behind me in the swift speed of my entrance. “Cherie, what should I do?”

My beloved looked up from the slim volume she was perusing. “Antonio? O, I shouldn’t do anything until Carole’s communed with Aquarius.” She yawned prettily and turned a page with a languid finger.

Our parlour maid, Carole, had recently become enamoured with a mountebank astrologer and was taking every opportunity to influence Ma Cherie with the frequent application of scented oils, candles and drawer-liners whilst I concerned myself with the vitally important business of ruling the country.

“Petros!” I called in my manly baritone.

Mendlesohn who, as was his wont, lurked in the shadows beyond the door, answered my summons. “Sir?” His dark hair flopped loosely over his brow in a most ungentlemanly way.

“Prepare my carriage. I have been invited to dine with the Baron in Vauxhall Gardens. ”

Mendlesohn was immediately alert – there was a definite erectness in his stance. The Baron had this disconcerting effect on us all. I fixed him (Petros not the Baron) with my uncommonly piercing blue eyes. “You shall accompany me, disguised as my valet. Breathe not a word to McAllister. We travel alone.”

~*~

Vauxhall was a cacophonic symphony of smells and colours. The bright, cheap dresses of les demoiselles de la nuit; the frivolous, surging swell of the orchestra; the platters of pork pies and wet nellies – all converged in a sensational dizziness. O, if only I was an ordinary man, with ordinary responsibilities and ordinary needs! But – no! – I was destined for greatness and being a slave to my destiny I must but accept my lot with the humble humility for which I was rightly famed the world over.

“You’ll take an ice?” My dining companion growled at me, one dark eye twitching slightly under ungroomed brows.

“O, well, mmm, my tailor –“. My carefully polite hesitancy fell on the Baron’s barren ground.

“It wasnae a question.” He grunted at the hovering waiter and almost immediately a crystal bowl of iced cream appeared before me. It was dusted with sherbet and crowned with an impressive log of dark chocolate. Was this a subtle indication? A codified message of his intentions towards me? But, still - the rare cocoa bean! I licked my lips like a snake that had last caught a mouse many months past.

“My Lord.” Mendlesohn was at my elbow, hissing in my ear.

“What is it, Petros?”

His breath was warm against my cheek. “You must not eat the chocolate, my Lord.”

“Good heavens!” I was suddenly unnerved. My linen napkin came adrift from my collar and floated to the floor.

The Baron stooped to retrieve it then fixed me with his one good dull almost beige brown eye.

I feigned a cough and, whilst my hand covered my mouth, directed a question at my Camp Aide. “Is it poisoned, Petros? Have you uncovered yet another vile plot?”

Petros shuffled closer and mimed wiping a spot of gravy from my cravat. “No, my Lord,” he muttered under his breath. “You cannot eat the chocolate because it will appear greedy.”

“What? No chocolate with my iced cream? But I always have chocolate with my iced cream!”

“No, Sir. You are amongst common people. You must live like common people, do whatever common people do.” Mendlesohn stepped back from my chair and imperceptibly nodded towards the neighbouring tables, which were at that very moment in time filled with the chattering classes of the City.

I looked at my dining companion. The waiter had brought another bowl of iced cream and set it before the Baron. His portion was decidedly more prudent, one scoop, uncrowned by sherbet or chocolate: a very plain – nay, Presbyterian - iced cream.

I had been fooled by his kindness, tricked into accepting his hospitality and now I was in a supremely awkward position. The chocolate log lurched backwards, whilst iced cream melted like so many tears of frustration, disappointment and betrayal. The scheming Scotch scoundrel! The wily, plotting Caledonian!

I pushed back my bowl and rose from the table. The battle lines were drawn. Now, may the best man win.

To be continued ...

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Guess Who?



The Lost Leader

JUST for a handful of offices he left us,
Just for a deputy's badge to pin to his coat—
Found the one bloke who we'd trust to protect us,
He'd rein in th' Tories as they went for our throat;
They, with the gold to give, dol’d him unemployed coppers,
So much was theirs - but no sharing's allow’d!
How all our ballots had gone for his service!
Liberals in Government - our hearts had been proud!
We that had lov’d him so, follow’d him, honor’d him,
Liv’d in his mild teenage arsonist's eye,
Trusted his promises (made in fake Yorkshire accents),
Made him our pattern to live and to die!
Charles Kennedy is of us, Shirley Williams was for us,
Asquith, Jenkins, were with us,—they watch from their graves!
He alone breaks from the students, campaigners,
He alone sinks to the rear - Tory slave!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Song of the City

I’ve breathed the stink of slums,
              held the thin bones of poverty,
hungry men lined my docks,
                       I am stained by slavery.
Storms smashed my jetties,
                 Depression emptied factories,
                        bombs flattened masonry –

                                      Nothing can crush me.

For every injustice,
        I give you someone who’ll fight,
                  shout for truth and liberty, sing, strike.

Roscoe roared for abolition,
      Kitty called for public baths,
        Josephine caught the fallen women,
Rathbone fought the rotten votes,
       James Clark taught me how to swim,
                Rushden how to see –

Idealists, pragmatists, they had dreams –
                                    their dreams made me.

I honour them in bronze, glass,
               in social housing, hospitals,
galleries, libraries, schools and missions,
                museums, clean water, a string of parks.

Their names are my history
and those of my children who –
                       quietly, namelessly –
worked extra shifts and donated their pay,
sailed to fight Fascism,
                 showed solidarity,
marched for the freedoms

we wear now so easily.

Social reformers, preachers, and teachers,
         politicians, comedians, poets and schemers,
playwrights with angry pens,
                  radicals, dreamers,
                     mothers granting forgiveness, union leaders,

chanting Equality!
      campaigning tirelessly -

                   These are my people, our common humanity.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Ma Cherie Amour - Encore! Encore!

Chapter 14.

Antonio and Cherie, having breakfasted, discuss the genre of the political memoir. Unbeknownst to them, Baron Brown has set spies to work within their household ...


‘Your interminable diary!’ Cherie threw my Smythson journal across the room. I flinched, fearing for the rare African Ostrich leather. Would I be able to buff the scuffs occasioned by its sudden exodus?

“Listen to me, Antonio.” She was a woman on fire - although, I hasten to add, not literally - her dark eyes blazing with passion, that wide, scarlet-lipped mouth quivering with indignation. “You are straying into dangerous territory. What if the Baron were to hear of this?”

“I have not the slightest fear of him! I have taken lessons in literary technique from a Mr. Trollope.” I strode across the polished walnut floor, retrieved my journal and placed it on the rosewood armoire.

Cherie’s embonpoint shivered like a milk pudding above the strictures of her corset, but I noted with some relief that her mouth was less tremulous.

I gazed towards the Houses of Parliament, visible had not the heavy, tapestried curtains been left unopened by Ann, our idle chit of a parlourmaid. “Yes. Trollope has instructed me in the art of writing a Roman á Clef. I shall be describing real life, behind a façade of fiction.”

Cherie plucked a bonbon from a Meissen dish and nibbled at the sugared crust, the crystals coating her little, pink tongue like a small snake caught in snow.

My speech quickened in my heartfelt excitement. “But, Cherie, my book shall be different from the traditional political memoir. Most such memoirs are, I have found, rather easy to put down.” I examined my fingernails modestly. Yesterday’s manicure was bearing up well. “So what you will read here is not a conventional description of who I met or what I did.”

“Thank Heavens for that!” Cherie threw herself, somewhat dramatically, onto the velvet chaise longue. Her pansy-printed taffeta gown floated like the petals of a delicate flower around her voluptuous curves. “Shall you write about me, my love?”

I blew her a kiss. “How could one not? You shall have more mentions than Petros and McAllister put together!”

My mood was exuberant, and a heady giddiness fuelled my generosity.

I stood in front of the magnificent marble fireplace. The coals burned merrily, my posterior glowing as I warmed to my theme. “In my books,” I said, reaching for a thin porcelain cup of Indian Breakfast tea, “there is a range of events and dates. Other politicians are absent from it, not because they don’t matter, but because my aim was to write not as a historian, like Herodotus, Tacitus or even Gibbon, but rather as a leader."

“A leader?” Cherie raised a quizzical eyebrow, the coquettish effect of which brought a slight but pleasurable tremor to my breeches.

I girded myself. “There have been plenty of accounts – and no doubt there will be dozens more – of the history of my ten years as prime minister, and numerous people could write them – shall we say? – passably well -”

My train of thought was broken as ma Cherie choked back a sob.

“O! That dreadful book by that dreadful man!”

I rushed towards her, knelt at her feet and clasped her hands. They trembled like distraught doves in my manly grip.

A single tear formed a silvery track down her porcelain cheek. “He said dreadful things about me, Antonio!”

“Which one, my sweet?"

I thought of the countless blackguards who had sworn friendship then betrayed us. The bearded chap with the dog; Lepre-Scott, the opera singer from the Far North whose vulgar calling card bore the legend Lepre-Scott, The Voice That Can Clear Fog. So many, so many ...

“Carole!”

A shadow of a wince flitted across my youthfully smooth brow. Cherie had recovered her composure and was calling for the new lady’s maid. No matter the money spent on elocution and tutors, one could take the girl out of Bootle but –

“Yes, ‘um.” The accent of The Colonies grated coarsely on my ear.

Carole stood before her mistress. She was a good girl, with an honest expression; a maid to be trusted, one who would not run tittle-tattling to the guttersnipes who frequented the sordid alehouses of Fleet Street.

“Carole.” Although still on my knees, I had an air of absolute authority. “Please arrange hot water for your mistress to bathe. That will be all.” I dismissed her formally, but with a kindly glimmer in my strikingly blue eyes.

I turned back to Cherie. “Let us continue our discussion of my meagre literary efforts. There is only one person who can write an account of what it is to be the human – singular not plural – being at the centre of history."

“Moi?” Cherie blushed fetchingly. Her gentle laugh like the trickle of a mountain stream through tiny quartz pebbles.

“No, my darling, little ninny. Me."

To be continued

Monday, 13 September 2010

Ma Cherie Amour - part 2


The story so far.



Having sated his love - like an animal - with the object of his adoration, Cherie, our hero, Antonio, sips a whisky and remembers times past.

Chapter 13

Where had it all gone wrong? I dismissed the butler for the evening, laid my first edition copy of I,Claudius down on the occasional gilt table and gazed into my stiff whisky glass. The years melted away ...

A chill November night. We had dined at Grand Vita, an establishment frequented by actresses, dancing girls, dressers, usherettes and other theatrical types. Outside, heavy rain softened the orange glow of the gas lamps. Hansom cabs splashed past us, the horses blackly sleek with water, the drivers perched atop their conveyances like little waterproofed molehills, sharp white noses peeking like beaks from under the brims of sou’westers.

“Come, Baron Brown, shelter beneath my umbrella. Walk with me a while.” I offered my arm with its pristine white-gloved hand.

The Baron, an imposing figure in a long, tweed cape which reached almost to the hem of his dress kilt, stood head and shoulders above the others. He prodded me with his silver-topped ebony cane.

“Aye, it’s a generous offer, Antonio, but I’m gaein’ in this direction,” he growled in that rough, manly baritone I was to grow so fond and then so frightened of.

He gestured vaguely, somewhere towards the left, where the wide, well-paved streets petered into alleyways with stinking gutters. What devilish scheme was he concocting?

“I’m the leader and you’re not! If we go my way,” I wheedled, using all the considerable charm at my disposal, “and head in a more central direction with perhaps a few right turns, we’ll almost arrive where you’d like to –“

The door to Grand Vita banged open. A sudden pool of light; laughter, the clatter of silverware, the pungent odour of eels en croute. Harriet, a pretty young thing with a sullen mouth, lately employed as the understudy to the Scottish King at The Duke’s, swayed and hitched up her stays. She broke wind loudly, giggled and returned whence she'd came.

I turned back to the Baron. He had gone, his hulking bulk merging with the dark shadows. And I was left alone, with my umbrella sheltering just my own slim and athletically erect frame, a disappointed yet private relief etched across my face...

I was startled from my reverie by my valet, Campbell McAllister, and my Camp Aide, Petros Mendlesohn.

Mendlesohn was shaking me awake, his grip surprisingly firm. “Lord Antonio! Wake up, Sir!”

His speech was indistinct, muted by the hideous clanking of McAllister’s huge balls.

“Please put them away, Campbell,” I murmured, covering my piercing blue eyes with a delicate hand. “Why have you dressed for dinner so early? I have asked you not to wear full regalia in my personal quarters. It is too, too unseemly.”

He produced a great quantity of linen handkerchief from the bottomless depths of his pocket, spat and then polished his balls lovingly. “But it’s a great honour, my Lord Antonio, awarded for services to the Pawnbroker Industry.”

I sighed. If only ma Cherie was here with me. She was a rock – as in Ignatius not Blackpool - to me, strong when I was weak, determined when I was tempted to fall over. One steely glance from her and –

But, thankfully, the good-natured, simple man was unpinning the medals from his chest.

Petros edged closer, his breath hot against my ear. He hissed softly, like a snake with a puncture.

“Antonio, the State Banquet for the Texan oilman. There is a problem. The new Chef, Monsieur Picquelles, he has eaten all the pies!”

I slumped in my beautifully carved mahogany chair. Do they really suppose I don't care, don't feel, don't regret with every fibre of my being the loss of those pies? To be indifferent to that would be inhuman, emotionally warped -

What flavour where the pies? What is Baron Brown up to? Who is the Texan Oilman and will Monsieur Picquelles eat him, too?

To be continued

Friday, 10 September 2010

And today we'll be studying Cats Do the Funniest Things


Banshee: O, I am so stressed!
Ma: It's only your first week.
Banshee: But if I don't get all As, I'll never get into university.
Ma: Says who?
Banshee: All the newspapers, all the TV channels, all the teachers -
Ma: Erm -
Banshee: And it's going to be much worse in two years' time.
Ma: Well -
Banshee: If I don't get into university, I'll have to be a plumber.
Ma: A plumber?
Banshee: I don't want to be a plumber!
Ma: You could be a dog-groomer. You like dogs.
Banshee: Aprons make me look fat.
Ma: Or a -

But we'll draw a veil over the mother's well-meaning, but ultimately stupid, unhelpful and depressing (quote) suggestions.

O, the poor younger generation! We pile on so much pressure throughout school: exams, exams, exams. Results, results, results. And there are few jobs at the end of it all anyway.

When I was at school, we ran books on who could distract the teacher from his/her subject the longest. (Richard Meeks won in a German double lesson by stating that all German pillows were as flat as envelopes and setting Frau Taillby off like a battery of Howitzers.)

Today, Banshee is distraught because her double lesson of Religious Studies was spent watching The Truman Show. Why? Because apparently Plato's Allegory of the Cave is 'too difficult'. (I think the teacher wanted a nap.) History was spent watching  The Tudors, and English was spent watching - O, I forget. I'd zoned out as the level of indignation rose.

Banshee: I didn't sign up for two years of TV.

Watching a film - and it was a film, in flickering black and white, projected onto the gym's wall - was a real treat in my school days. For seven years, if a class teacher was off work, the Head, Mr Turner, showed us a slide show of his honeymoon in Venice and a film about a steam train. We knew the script by heart, but never failed to be thrilled by it.

Still, that's probably because the rest of the time we were stuffed full of books and encouraged to discuss, challenge, and debate.

I am aware that many on Blogger battle to deliver an enriching educational experience. Somehow I suspect the Hollywood blockbuster isn't part of their source material, and thus cannot help feeling that Banshee is being cheated.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Mystery Driver Unmasked


Actor Ben Collins has revealed in his new biography that he plays the part of Jeremy Clarkson in television’s hit show, Top Gear. The show, which has run since 1977, was relaunched in 2002 when the increasingly bizarre behaviour of the original presenter came to the attention of the series’ producers.


The first Jeremy Clarkson had apparently begun to press for more coverage of green transport issues and had even started cycling into work. He insisted on a female driver for his BBC Staff car as he "felt safer when a woman was at the wheel" and spent his lunch breaks jogging around the Silverstone circuit.

Clarkson ran his Citroen 2CV on recycled cooking oil. “It smelled like a bloody chip shop,” said Adrian Philbin, the programme’s director. “He’d joined CND and gone on anti-fox hunting rallies. It was beyond a joke.”

For months, producers tried to cover up Clarkson’s eccentricities, even going so far as to publish a ghost-written column in The Sun.

However, when Clarkson attended filming wearing a pair of Farah slacks stating “I’m too old for jeans” it was clear that decisive action needed to be taken.

“That’s when I stepped in," said Collins. “I’d just passed my test on my fourth attempt and I’ve never liked Americans. It was typecasting really, but the money was good and I couldn’t say no.”

Collins had to practise lines such as I’d rather eat my own hair and If he steps on my land I’ll shoot him and signed a contract which confined him to listening only to soft rock music.

“It’s been a huge relief getting it all out in the open,” said Collins. “I really couldn’t face another Genesis track. Also, denim’s been setting off my psoriasis. All down to chafing really.”

Grinning, as he left his publisher’s offices he said, “And that little runt Richard Hammond is played by -.”

But, no, you’ll have to buy the book.

Like Shit Off a Shovel, is published by Harper Collins on Wednesday 15th September.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Disgruntled Film-goer Sues Sly

It was revealed today that Liverpool solicitor Max Rekin has served a writ on Hollywood icon, Sylvester Stallone. Denying accusations of opportunism and wanton limelight-seeking, Mr Rekin claimed that he was merely responding to instructions from his client, Mrs Susan Curley.

"Mrs Curley attended her local cinema to watch Mr Stallone in an action-thriller adventure. Not only did Mr Stallone not strip down to his vest in sub-zero temperatures - as he did with much success in Cliffhanger - but the role of Sylvester appeared to have been filled by his mother, Jackie. My client is suing Mr Stallone for the cost of her ticket - £7.85 - and for £250,000 for emotional distress. Mrs Curley last watched Jackie Stallone in Celebrity Big Brother 2005 and vowed never to watch the lady in question again."

In a hastily convened press conference, Mr Rekin provided video evidence to support Mrs Curley's allegations. Using images from the film The Expendables, the solicitor highlighted various features on the actor's face.

"The eyebrows have clearly been tattooed on to achieve an archly flirtatious expression. Lip implants have resulted in a duck-like pout," he said using a laser pointer to circle the areas causing most concern.

An expert witness from the Rimmel counter in Boots agreed that eyeliner was in evidence. "It's an amateurish application," said Chantelle Trill. "Reminiscent of the school of Amy Winehouse and, revealingly, a trademark of Jackie Stallone."

Mrs Curley was not available to talk to the Press, but her neighbour, James Kelly, 74, read out a statement on her behalf. "No action hero - especially one who has gone fifteen rounds with Apollo Creed - would ever stoop to such feminine behaviour. Besides which, he runs like a girl."

A spokesman for Universal Studios declined to discuss the case in detail saying only that Jackie Stallone was concentrating on her business, Rumpology Enterprises, and had no desire to invade a South American island or fight rogue CIA agents.

Randy Couture, who also starred in the film said,  "This is a total crock. Sly is an experienced and highly-skilled actor. It is not easy running in high heels, but Jason Stathom refused to stand in a trench in their joint scenes."

The case continues.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Ma Cherie Amour - A Novel by Antonia Cartland-Blair


The story so far: In the middle of the night, our hero Antonio has fled from the malevolent grip of the brooding Baron Brown. After several hours of wandering around Islington, he espies a lit window in a much more tasteful mansion, filled with elegant soft furnishings, healing crystals and scented candles. He has found solace with his childhood sweetheart, Cherie.

Chapter 12

The rain set early in tonight. The sullen wind was soon awake. The tree-tops tried their utmost to resist the elements, as I, too, tried in vain to resist the attractions of the raven-haired temptress sitting by the glowing embers of the log fire, an antique glass of even more antique whiskey - a gift from Signorio Sergio Bersculonio - in her beautifully manicured hand.

The heady scent of burning applewood, the rich amber tones of the spirit, the deliciously seductive fragrance of Tramp by Lentheric affected my senses. I threw caution to the winds and myself at my beloved's feet.

She cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me; made me feel that what I was about to do was right... And that the rug could be dry-cleaned anyway.

On that night of the 12th May, 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. In that I was selfish, not she - my syntax is unclear. She, as softly plump as a silk, goose-feather-stuffed counterpane; she, raking those manicured talons across my back like a snake with fingers; she, giving me her utmost attention whilst simultaneously checking the property ads for Bristol ...

O! O! O! I devoured it to give me strength, I was an animal - a panda, a tiger, a horned rhinoceros - following my instinct, knowing I would need every fibre of emotional power and resilience to cope with what lay ahead. I was exhilarated, afraid and determined in roughly equal quantities as I kissed her roughly - as in approximately rather than without due care and consideration as it was dark and not easy to find (just like those pesky weapons of mass destruction) - on her swollen lips and took her roughly - as in approximately as well as without due care and attention - on the Axminster rug.

"Was that it?" she murmured in slightly petulant tones as she reached for my vest.

I was restored, victorious, ready to face my vicious Scottish foe, my arch enemy, my nemesis, the man with the emotional intelligence of an amoeba. Ma Cherie amour! I am a man once more.

To be continued

More of this overwrought tosh tomorrow, the day after, next week, October, November, December, most of 2011 and coming to a Pay Per View Channel  soon.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Penny for your thoughts


I was in Oxford over the weekend and took the Banshee on a tour of the Bodleian Library. Top tip: tell any young person that Harry Potter was filmed here and they'll be immediately attentive and enthusiastic.

This ruse has worked - with some little success - at The Lawnmower Museum, The Pencil Museum and The Dog Collar Museum - amongst others.

C'mon, you must remember the enchanted lawnmower that Harry, Ron and Hermione use to escape from Voldemort? It's in Harry Potter and Overgrown Lawn.

Banshee (PUZZLED): I don't remember that one ...
Me (AIRILY): O, I read it to you when you were very small.
Banshee: What happens?
Me: Um, the usual stuff ... Plus! There are giant, evil dandelions, some poisonous daisies and an invasion of couch grass, but Sirius posts a Black'n'Decker Strimmer to Hogwarts which doubles - the Strimmer, not Hogwarts - as a, um, Blunderbus 2000 broomstick and -
Banshee: You're making all off this up, aren't you?
Me: Yes.

I love museums (almost as much as I love libraries). This love was established from an early age as wet half terms and holidays saw me marched around the Kirkstall Abbey Museum.

Before it was refurbished (A.K.A. ruined) one could put a Bun Penny into a Victorian 'penny slot' machine and see Madame Le Guillotine do her bloodiest worst; watch a pretty housemaid fall out of a wardrobe shot through the heart; follow the trial of a murderer up to the point where he is hanged by the neck until dead - and more. Clockwork puppets in fabulous 2D with juddery animation and a very moral message. (Never hide in a wardrobe when an angry husband's brandishing a gun.)

It was a perfectly thrilling place to visit and one could endure the endless display cabinets of Scrimshaw work and edifying embroidered samplers with the promise of a penny for Being Good.

Museums for the Young are not nearly so much fun these days. Small people pretend to be a poo and waddle through a labyrinth of intestines, or dress up in 100% polyester Tudor clothing, or press a lot of buttons. It's all about being interactive.

Curators! There is nothing wrong at all with pressing ones nose against a display cabinet and just looking. Why, it never did me any harm ...

Friday, 27 August 2010

Overheard Conversation ~22



Location: A book-lined room.
Characters: Three female poets

Poet 1: We need someone rich enough to look after us.
Poet 2: Why?
Poet 1: So we can spend all our time writing.
Poet 3: What about Felix Dennis?
Poet 2: Who?
Poet 1: He's a billionaire.
Poet 3: He likes poems that rhyme.
Poet 2: I can do poems that rhyme.
Poet 3: Someone'll have to do Felix.
Poet 1: Don't look at me. I only bend over three times a day.
Poet 3: What?
Poet 1: Once to put my knickers on, once to put my socks on.
Poet 3: What about the third time?
Poet 1: I save that for emergencies.
Poet 2: Would Felix count as an emergency?
(BEAT)
Poet 1: Linda-Next-Door hears me counting down - one, two, three - bend, and then a groan when I straighten up again.
Poet 3: I'm not sure if Felix would go for that - although the groan might work ...
Poet 1: Shall I read my poem? Damn! Hang on - one, two, three -

Roll credits

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Is there anything you'd like to add ...?


This evening, during a long and rather giddy conversation with my favourite aunt (also known as the Demon Aunt; she of Malteser Biscuit fame), I was reminded of the many silly things I've said in job interviews.

My FA must attend a job interview - for her own job - and has to give a presentation. She asked if she could give a presentation on how to make Malteser Biscuits but the Head of H.R. said they'd rather have a Powerpoint presentation on care budgets and the implications of the Government Spending Review.

(I know which I'd rather watch, but hey-ho.)

After a couple of years back in education, I applied for a job and was summoned for interview. Unfortunately, the day before I'd torn my calf muscle quite badly and was on crutches.

(I'd crossed a road as a car was heading towards me and, whilst I did not actually break into a jog, I did attempt a sort of urgent shuffle in order to signal to the driver that I did not intend to slow his passage in an inconvenient manner. Who knew that shuffling tore calf muscles?).

As I limped and, er, crutched - ? - into the interview room, the panel scoured my application form in a panicked manner, clearly looking to see if I'd checked the Do you consider yourself to have a disability? box.

"Oh, don't worry," I said, as I collapsed into a chair. "The crutches are a temporary state of affairs. I've torn my calf muscle."

"How did you do that?" asked the person in the most expensive suit.

"Well," I said. "I'm telling everyone it was page 69 of the Kama Sutra because the real reason's far too embarrassing."

WHY?

Why did I say THAT?

Still, it is nowhere near as bad as a Great Friend who emigrated to New Zealand.

When one emigrates to New Zealand, one has to submit to all sorts of tests and checks to prove that one is road worthy. On the morning of Great Friend's first job interview - to be a Dental Nurse at a Holistic Dentist Practice (don't ask) - the results of all her various immigration tests and checks arrived in the post. She scanned them quickly before she left the house.

The interview went well. Great Friend was feeling quietly confident. At the end, came the standard question: "Is there anything you'd like to ask us?"

Great Friend: "No thank you. I think you've covered everything."

Dentist: "And finally, is there anything you'd like to tell us?"

Great Friend: "Yes, I don't have syphilis!"

Crack **********


Read. Turn. Finish. Sigh. Think.

Chop, fry, splash, simmer, serve.

Eat.

Watch. Laugh. Nudge. Rewind. Snort. Snigger. Gasp. Consider.

Run. Scrub. Sweat. Stand. Dry. Slump. Retire.Type.

No, this is not a piece of painfully modern verse, but my attempt to bring down the capitalist system with a description of my most recent goings on. (I have goings ons rather than activities as activities are far too, well, active.)

According to  Crack Capitalism (John Holloway: Pluto £17.99),  nouns (car, wall, food) hide the activity that created them. Therefore all 'anti-capitalist literature should abandon nouns and just use verbs'.

Verbs.

My little protest (above) made the Dow Jones Index plunge by 0.000000000003 of a cent.

I wonder if abstract nouns count as anti-capitalist? They cannot be seen, touched, smelled or tasted, have no monetary value - and very little literary value, come to think of it ...

Still, it's a bit rum to charge £17.99 for a book on how to be an anti-capitalist, don't you think?

I studied Sociology at night school when I was sixteen (so I could avoid further Latin) and until then had thought capitalism was WRITING LIKE THIS. Within a week, I was fired up by a whacking big set text - the infamous Haralambos - and subscribed to New Society (as it was then) which resulted in my father thinking we were on one of MI5's lists.

There was a row every Wednesday as my left-wing periodical landed on the doormat. (Making strange noises on the upstairs' phone whilst Pa was talking on the downstairs' phone probably didn't help the situation.) I told him that his morning delivery of The Daily Telegraph would cancel out any suspicions raised by my 'pink rag' but he wasn't reassured.

Capitalism clearly isn't working. The earth will run out of resources if we carry on consuming so greedily. Let's bring down the ********** to its ***** by only using ***** when we write. (Ooh, I believe that last sentence brought about a wobble in the Hostess/Twinkie empire.)

The posters for our protest marches - there'll be several, don't worry - are going to be tricky.

STOP THE ***!

BAN THE ****!

LEGALISE ************!

If you can offer a noun-less solution, I'll be forever in your debt.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Going to the Dogs


In April, I was given a very generous gift voucher which I accepted very ungenerously - in that I utterly dislike the place at which the gift voucher must be spent.

It's a Temple of Commerce and takes its resemblance to a temple seriously, being full of statuary: vaguely Grecian gods and - more oddly - dogs with large, intricately carved penises and shoddily hewn eyes. Why would a sculptor spend ages carving a dog's penis and neglect to give the creature a soulful or loyal expression? (That's a rhetorical question, but if an answer suddenly presents itself feel free to comment.)

Anyway, the place glitters with gold (paint), brass and copper and contains more brown-veined marble than is possible - surely? - or wise. The hotels of Dubai are visions of understated good taste in comparison.

But the gift voucher has an expiry date, and thus the Temple needed a devotee and heavy of heart, I drove to it and wandered and wondered (mainly at the dogs with large penises) and tried to spend the ethereal pounds represented by the piece of plastic masquerading as a credit card.

Erk! My prose is purple! I blame the architect and his addiction to liverish stone and every other sort of unnecessary ornamentation.

Normally, I have no problem at all with spending. Give me a bookshop, or a purveyor of jam-making equipment, or a stationer, or a pen-shop, or somewhere that sells remaindered items and I will divest myself of money quicker than Princess Anne/Zsa Zsa Gabor/Cheryl Cole (delete according to distaste) divests herself of husbands -

O! But the horror, horror, horror! of today's experience. In the Beauty Department (badly named - yet more brown marble) a girl with eyelashes like a Kewpie Doll encouraged me to spend £125 on something that resembled a vibrating wallpaper stripper for a dolls' house.

Kewpie: It will remove all the debris from your skin.
Me: Debris?
Kewpie: It's rumoured that Megan Fox has been seen buying one.
Me: Who?
Kewpie: It injects oxygen into your epidermis.
Me: Didn't a James Bond villain kill someone like that?
Kewpie: You'll look much younger.
Me: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (Which wasn't polite.)

After hours of not finding anything I desired - because the dog statues weren't for sale, or so they said - I came close to blowing the whole voucher on a coffee machine ...

But I have a coffee machine - well, a little mocha pot, which bubbles espresso ever-so efficiently and can be stored on a window-sill rather than taking up most of a kitchen counter.

Also, the enormous, glossy coffee machine - a beast rather than a utensil - worked only if fed small plastic pots of coffee costing an arm-and-a-leg a box.

Also, my household have just discovered that their combined digestive systems will all grind to a halt if they do not each imbibe a drink of lactobiffidiffidopholopholus (whom I thought owned a laundrette in Albert Square) every morning, and I am already drowning in small plastic pots.

Also, I am having nightmares about small plastic pots never degrading (that's when I'm not having really dreadful dreams about midgets). Should I put my foot down in regard to delicate and demanding digestive systems? Or should I wait for the wind to blow in another direction and the sprouting their own alfalfa craze to kick in?

And if I return to the ToC and make enough of fuss, will the Temple let me spend the voucher on one of their dogs ...?

Friday, 20 August 2010

The Temple of a Thousand Bells



Na Mara

My mother said Never marry a man with brine in his veins.
But he netted my heart, my sailor boy, eyes grey
as the Irish Sea, the lilt of the tide in his step.

St. Luke’s bells rang loud enough to sink a ship.
He cast back my veil; the tang of salt caught on our lips.

His first shore leave – I waited an hour at the quay,
handkerchief fluttering like a gull’s wing.
Later, we rocked the oak bed as if we were caught in a storm.
St. Luke’s chimed midnight; he lit a Turkish cigarette,
smoke and story swam around my head.

The Indian Ocean, night air thick as wool, the groaning
creak of a dhow’s hull. A sea dog knitted a yarn –
a temple hidden by waves, a thousand bells,
the high, clear singing of copper, bronze, glass -

I covered my ears.

Morning, he’d gone -
coins in a brass cairn on the dresser,
a ship’s name scrawled on the red bill from the Gas.

Each month a postcard - shipping lines.
He’s chasing Jack Tars tattooed blue with campanile;
maps stolen from a matelot drunk in Marseilles.
Schooner, clipper, bucket tug;
scow, shallop, a chandeliered liner;
now a bamboo raft scouring the seas of China.

Seven years I’ve stood at this window, a Siren
weaving songs of sons and coral-lipped daughters.
I’ll reel him in and – home - I’ll butter his feet like a cat.

St Luke’s bells toll each quarter hour ‘til dawn.
Tonight, I’m drowning in this oak bed,
my belly empty, his pillow wet
with the faint grey scent of sea.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Pork Chop?


When I was a nipper, all the neighbours were given the honorific of Uncle or Aunt (if they were nice) and Mr or Mrs (if they weren't). One would never have dared to call them by their first name. Similarly, my parents' friends became adopted uncles and aunts (if they were nice) or Mr and Mrs (if they were rabid, right-wing bigots not).

One lovely adopted uncle was Uncle Donald H., a giant of a man, in stature and in reputation. I adored him. He would see my father home on a Friday night, late, squiffy, but bearing fish & chips and crisp £1 notes for the children. He was famous for practical jokes: spitting out his false teeth and perching them on top of an ice-cream sundae then calling the waitress back to complain; taking a gun from a soldier during the military coup in Portugal and placing a flower in the barrel (Make love not war, Son); jumping on the bed and ordering his wife, the long-suffering Dorrie, to scream (she, aged seventy-two, was smoking a cigarette and doing the crossword) in order to outdo the honeymoon couple on the other side of the paper-thin hotel wall.

I heard a new tale over the weekend.

Uncle Don had been drinking with his friend Gerry. At closing time, a scallywag nipped into the pub selling meat that had fallen off the back of a lorry. Uncle Don paid a tenner for a leg of pork.

Outside the back door of his home, he turned to Gerry. "This is how you handle women, Son. Watch and learn."

He opened the door and shouted for Dorrie. As she appeared from the living room, he slammed the leg of pork onto the kitchen counter. "Cook this for my supper, Dorrie, and make it quick. I'm hungry!"

Dorrie picked up the joint of meat, whacked her husband over the head knocking him to the ground, dropped the joint and returned to the living room without a word.

Uncle Don clambered to his feet. "I haven't finished yet, Son," he said and ransacked the cupboards until he found a bottle of ketchup. He squirted it over his scalp, rubbing it down his cheek and onto his shirt front. He splashed himself with water to make the 'blood' more liquid and staggered into the living room clasping the leg of pork.

"Oh, Dorrie, you've done for me!" he said. "I'm mortally wounded! Phone for the doctor - but cook me my supper first!"

Dorrie got up from her armchair, took the leg of pork from her husband, and whacked him on the other side of his head, then turned back to Coronation Street.

From the floor, Uncle Don looked up at Gerry and winked. "This plan needs refining, Son. Put kettle on."

My question is, did you have any legendary relatives/adopted relatives in your family?

Monday, 9 August 2010

Voyage Around My Father's Head #5


Close your eyes and picture this.

No! Don't close them until you've read what you're meant to be picturing.

A party is being thrown in a house dangerously close to a canal. About 250 people are present, most of whom are unrelated/unknown to immediate family but who seem to have very tenuous connections to the owner of the house. (In other words, a large number of complete strangers have been invited to celebrate his birthday with him. One suspects he merely passed them in the street earlier in the day.) The next-door-neighbour, Larry, is not what we might call fond of parties, or of the birthday boy, or of the immediate family, or of - well, anyone actually - and has summoned the Police. The time is 8.30pm. (The party began at 7.30pm).

Characters:
Pa - 70, flying - his words - and gregarious.
Daughter - harrassed, sober, convinced she was adopted.
Larry - curmudgeonly and a Yorkshireman. (The two go hand-in-glove.)
Police Officer - officious and confused. (Not a good combination.)

PC: I've explained to your neighbour, Larry, here that there isn't anything I can do.
Larry: He's creating a nuisance.
Pa: You're a nuisance!
Daughter (HISSES): Shut up, Dad.
Larry: Someone's been singing Frank Sinatra songs for thirty minutes.
Pa: He's doing Dean Martin next. I'm paying him £300 to wear a monkey suit and sing songs I like.
PC: Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin will only be considered a nuisance after half-eleven tonight. The party will be over by then, won't it?
Pa: Half-eleven tomorrow morning!
Daughter (HISSES): Shut up, Dad.
Larry: People are drinking too much. They might drive.
PC: I cannot arrest anyone on the basis of what they might do, Sir.
Pa: I've got three judges in there -
PC: They are often the worst offenders -
Pa: And two QCs -
Daughter: Shut up, Dad -
Pa: And two boxes of fireworks
PC: Fireworks?
Pa: Massive boxes.
PC: Who will be in charge?
Pa: Firework's brought 'em.
PC: Who?
Pa: Firework.
PC: I understand that, Sir, but who will be in charge?
Pa: Are you deaf?
Daughter: Dad -
Pa: Firework. That's his name.
Daughter (APOLOGETICALLY): His real name's Dave.
Larry: I like fireworks.
PC: Well, what's the problem then?
Larry: I don't like Frank Sinatra.
Pa (SUDDENLY): I remember you, Officer.
PC: Sir?
Pa: You're the one who arrested me last time -
Daughter: DAD!

(Offstage - Fly me to the moon, let me sing amongst the stars...)

Friday, 6 August 2010

Overheard Conversation #1034


Location: a barge on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. (Closer to Leeds than Liverpool). Sunday morning. 10.45am.

Characters: interchangeable - four men, all golfers, all older (but sadly not wiser).

Man: Who's driving the boat?
Man: It's moored up.
Man: It is? I feel like I'm moving.
Man: You're swaying.
Man: There's no gin in this glass. It's all ice.
Man: That's a triple measure!
Man: Only in Scotland.
Man: Do you know the best way to get a woman into bed?
Man: By not pouring your measures in a Scottish fashion?
Man: Read her palm.
Man: Eh?
Man: Where've you stashed the Gordon's?
Man: First you chat up her mate.
Man: By reading her palm, too?
Man: No, you grill the mate for information.
Man: Is there any tonic left?
Man: Then you grab the other girl's hand and tell her you can see sand on her lifeline.
Man: Sand?
Man: They've all had a romance in Dubai.
Man: Any lemon?
Man: You've been listening to The Duck.
Man: Who used all the ice?
Man: It worked on the girl in the purple dress.
Man: Who?
Man: Puerto Banus, 1995.
Men: Ohhh ...
Man: He saw bandages by her little finger.
Man: What?
Man: A nurse. Two brothers and a sister.
Man: Younger?
Man: And an Arab with soulful eyes.
Man: A man at the top of his game, The Duck.
Men: Mmmm ...
Man: I've found it. Who wants topping up?
Man: To The Duck!
Men: The Duck!

Roll credits

Sunday, 25 July 2010

That Was The Week That Was


It's been a funny old week. To summarise, I've learned
  • to play indoor bowls (as in the game rather than impromptu musical instruments)
  • that when bowling wearing an above-the-knee skirt, it is always wise to refuse to let elderly gentlemen stand behind one
  • that beginning a conversation with "It wasn't me who threw the testicles and vagina into the conversational hat" will make one laugh like a drain for days
  • that an-almost-certainly-deranged-man-masquerading-as-a-woman thinks that heaven is some sort of slimming club for those of a Catholic disposition (..."I also believe that Catholics will be weighed on different scales...")
  • that if one loans a handkerchief to a strange man who is weeping during Toy Story 3, it is best not to ask for it back
  • that beginning a  swish poetry event with a rendition of Poppy Tupper's limerick about Jeremy Hunt will not meet with universal approval 
  • and that buying second-hand books in Oxfam is far more exciting than buying books from Amazon or Waterstones.
Today, I found a first edition book dated 1888 entitled Archie Macnab Edited by He Himself for less than a bobbins book by Harlan Coben in Asda. Inside is inked William Morgan Xmas 1888, but I also found a business card tucked inside the pages:

HAROLD KING

Correspondant en Chef pour la France
DU YORKSHIRE POST
Directeur Général Adjoint á vie
DE L'AGENCE REUTER (LONDRES)
Correspondant en France
DE BATON BROADCASTING LIMITED (TORONTO)

presents h8s (sic) compliments to Lord Boyle
and hopes he will enjoy the book.

Paris Nov. 1973         3, rue du Sentier, 75002 Paris

This is diverting on all sorts of levels, not least because the suggestion that the Yorkshire Post ever had an International Correspondent is - frankly - unbelievable.

When I lived in Yorkshire, there could have been a political coup at Westminster, an earthquake in Cornwall, and Prince Charles's secret life as a cross-dresser who molests animals revealed all on the same day and the Yorkshire Post headline would have been

PENSIONER JOSTLED AT CROSSING IN HORSFORTH

That aside, Archie and I are getting on great guns. We have rather a lot in common (not least the dreadful habit of procrastination):

Naething worth daein' is ever dune in a hurry, sae the Author sat doon, and walked aboot, chew'd his nails, thocht an' thocht, and repeated owre to himsel', o'fen and of'en - "Archie M'Nab, are you a man worthy o' this privledge, this honour, this high office? Hae you got the penitration, the intuitive insicht, and the delicacy required to perform this michty task? Hae you got the geenus that'll keep ye frae being rideeklus, when yet fankel'd up in the warp an' waft o' sic an intricate and complex fabrication as a woman is? Great writer and a' as ye are, hae you the courage to attack sic a kittley subject?"

If you think you may also have an affinity with Archie, click here. And if you've ever found anything interesting inside a book, please comment in the, erm, Comments.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

There Once Was a Tory Named Hunt ...


In a whistle-stop tour of the Capital's artistic venues and ventures, Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary, gave every indication that he was approaching his new role with energy and vigour.

In an astonishing act of oneupmanship, the Culture Secretary had already pledged to cut his departmental workforce by 50% and move the rest of them into a cupboard off the M25 corridor.

"I've nothing against ex-ballet dancers an' operatic types, but they're not very clever with an 'ole-punch, an'll 'ave ter go," he announced to BBC Radio 4's James Naughtie at the beginning of a culturally diverse day. "I want ter start me day with a mug of tea, not a friggin' demi-plié."

As he left the radio studio, an unattended mic picked up something that sounded suspiciously like: "An' don' think yer job is safe either, yer jumped up little haggis!" although Mr Hunt's personal assistant refused to give confirmation of this.

Next stop : Tate Modern. In a long and convoluted speech which clearly owed much to the Surrealist and Dadaist artistic movements, Mr Hunt concluded: "Me? I know nuffink bar t'art, bu' I know I don' like it."

He received a muted applause from Sir Nicholas Serota.

Mid-morning, at a meeting of the T.S. Eliot Prize committee, Hunt hinted that there would be no Government funding for poetic sagas, sestinas, villanelles or laureates.

"If yer can't say it in five lines, is it worth sayin' at all?" he shouted at a packed room of delighted poets who had only heard his final category of cut.

At Covent Garden he pleaded a flash migraine and asked "the fat cow in the toga to put a sock in it" during a dress rehearsal of Verdi's Aida and told the "fairy in tights to take the sock out" during a similar rehearsal of The Nutcracker. Hunt laughed uproariously at his final remark and said, "Now that's what I call Culture. The great Bernard Manning never got a subsidy!"

Mr Hunt's visits received a mixed reception. The African Parrot and Tango Collective were sniffy about his reaction to a piece of Public Art assembled from 250,000 redundant vuvuzelas.

"He offered to torch the lot, " said Segun Franko, Chief Zela-sculptor. "And the English football squad with it."

Hunt has told The Arts to fund their work with charitable donations as Government funding is cut to the bone.

"Philanthropy should fill the gap easily," he said. "Get all the unemployed actresses out on the streets rattlin' tins. I'd slip a farthin' to a pretty girl."

In a bid to lead by example, Hunt offered a year's supply of Toffee Crisps and a £15 Book Token as first prize in the Jeremy Hunt Inaugural Limerick Competition.

Mrs Rollocks (57) of Putney Hill, was very impressed. "The Country's not been unified by the death of a celebrity for ages now. Let's get behind Mr Hunt. A National Limerick Competition is just what we need," she grinned. "And it will certainly take the poetic spotlight off me."