Google+ A Tangled Rope: 03/01/2010 - 04/01/2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wednesday Story: How I Became the Fat Bloke


How I Became the Fat Bloke

It happened in the office on Tuesday afternoon. Jane was talking to the new girl: Susan, explaining something or other about the arcane intricacies of the filing system. I was just around the corner trying to get the photocopier working again. I was out of sight, but within earshot.

"If you have any problems," Jane said. "Just ask Pete."

"Who? Oh yes, I remember," Susan said. "The fat bloke."

It came as quite a shock. Up until then, I'd never really thought about it. As far as I was concerned, I was the same as I'd always been since I joined the firm, back when I was twenty and thin. Now, here I was twenty years later, and - in one mid-afternoon moment - I'd become The Fat Bloke.

Of course, Pauline - the wife - had been on about it for years. And, it seems, our kids have always been making joking comments about Dad's belly. But - up until that afternoon - I had thought; yes, maybe I was a bit overweight. Yes, maybe I could do with cutting down on the sandwiches and beer, the lunchtime pub. Yes, I might be filling out a bit. Yes, perhaps a bit more exercise would help, if only I had the time. A touch of middle-age spread, maybe. But - fat? Me? Never!

That night, Pauline found me trying to stand up straight and squint down at the dressing table mirror.

"What's the matter?" she said. "Have you lost you dick?"

"No… I…. Pauline, am I fat?"





"Yes! You are bloody enormous. Have you weighed yourself?"

"The scales are broken."

"No, they are not. You are so bloody heavy you go off the scale."


"No, come here and look at this." She had just had a bath. She took off her dressing gown and stood there, naked. For a moment I thought my luck had changed. I reached out for her.

"Piss off," Pauline said, slapping my hands away. She stood on the scales. "Look, ten stone. They work perfectly. Now you get on."

She got off and I got on. The dial whirled, wobbled and clunked to a halt.

"What does it say? I can't see." I pressed my gut in, but I still couldn't see the dial.

"It's gone past the end. Off the scale."

"It's official then." I sighed and sat down on the bed. "I am The Fat Bloke."


"The new girl at work, Susan. I heard her call me The Fat Bloke today, this afternoon.

Pauline, still as naked as I was, sat down on the bed next to me. I noticed that the bed didn't sink under her weight like it did under mine. I had a sudden vision of what we must look like, sitting on that bed side by side. The nudist re-make of some Laurel and Hardy film. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Pauline - despite two children - still not looking all that different to when I met her seventeen years ago.

I could feel my desire growing, just having her so close to me. But then I thought of that description some woman had given of a fat politician with an erection: A wardrobe with the key sticking out of the door, and my desire faded away.

"What's the matter, Pete?" She put her hand on my thigh. I almost flinched under the touch.

"Why… how… did I get like this?" I said, shrugging in despair. "When did it happen?"

Pauline sighed. "I've been telling you for years. But you never pay any attention. You just sit on that sofa in front of the telly. Beer on one side of you, pork pie, crisps, a sandwich, or something on the other. The only bit of you that gets any exercise is your jaw."

I stood up. "That's it then. From now on, diet and exercise."

"Yeah?" Pauline shook her head. "That'll be the day. Anyway, do any exercise in the shape you're in and you'll kill yourself."

"I've got to do something though." I winked. "We could… y'know… exercise together?"

"Sod off. I'm not having you on top of me until you lose some weight. It's like being buried under a huge sweaty mattress."


"Well, y'know…."

"That's probably why I'm the shape I am. When we were young we used to be at it all the time. We must have shagged our way through thousands of calories in our time."

"Did we? I don't remember doing it that much, or that often."

"What about all those times… over the common, after the pub… in that red car I used to have?"

"Bloody hell. You couldn't get up much of a sweat in that thing, there was no room. I used to end up with my knickers wrapped around the gear stick and my left leg hanging out of the bloody window." Pauline smiled.

I moved closer, opening her knees, and knelt down between her legs. "What happened to us?" I said.

"Life," she sighed. She touched my face with her fingertips and stood up. "Come on now, let's get to bed. I'm tired." She dragged a clean nightie from the drawer and shrugged it on. She got into bed and picked up her book.

I sighed and trudged slowly around to my side of the bed. I lay there for a while, my arms behind my head, staring up at the ceiling.


The next day I was back at the common for the first time in years. I had made some excuse about having something else to do when the lads gathered for the lunchtime stroll to the pub. I couldn't think what to do, so I just drove.

I just sat there, in the car, in the same car park where we used to go, Pauline and me - before we were married - after the pub had closed. Back then it all seemed so simple. Life was just there, and you lived it. There was no thought about what life would do to you in return, how it would get its own back. How it would get its revenge on you for taking it for granted.

Now, I wondered, where do I go from here? What with family, job, mortgage, the payments on the bloody car and on the furniture, and the youngest needs new shoes again.

I thought about going for a walk over the common; at least it would be exercise. But how would that look? Some middle-aged fat bloke skulking through the woods. I didn't even have the excuse of a dog to justify my being there. Just another someone up to no good - a flasher or a peeping tom. A fat bloke? Bound to be a pervert.

There didn't seem much point in doing anything though, not then, and not with the rest of my life. I could see the choice I had to make. I could carry on slobbing my life away, until being a lazy fat slob killed me. It is self-perpetuating in a way, once you get past that critical point there is nothing else to being fat, except getting fatter. No sex, no other life, no outside life, your life just gets centred around what you can eat and using the least amount of effort to get it. You become pure consumer, ad-land's wet dream, sitting there swallowing everything that comes your way, until… well, until that last… final… wafer-thin mint.

I looked down at my stomach: big, fat, round. It had been hard work making it that big, but now it had become a sort of monument, living history. A record of over-indulgent, and self-indulgent, living. A barrier I had built to keep the world, mortality, at bay. I was safe behind my self-made rampart. An Englishman's stomach is his castle.

The other way was the way of denial, of guilt, of punishment. Deny myself, leave my desires unsatisfied, punish my body and its cravings with exercise. Turn hedonism on its head and get my pleasures from self-denial and torture. People used to suffer, want to suffer for religion, forty days in the wilderness, celibacy, self-denial, and self-flagellation. These days they do it to themselves through diet and exercise, punish the body for its desires, its demands. Sex isn't dirty enough anymore, so punish the body for its other desires - for satiety and for comfort.

I couldn't imagine myself living like that. To me a life of virtuous self-denial seemed like no life at all. I don't feel guilty for being born and I don't want to spend the rest of my life punishing myself for it, and punishing my body for being… well, so base.

After all, that is what it is all about isn't it? The whole of human civilisation seems to be about finding ways to deny the animal, the instinctive, the body, in all of us. The body reminds us of our weaknesses, our frailty, our mortality. The body has to be punished, for it carries the terrible news that we are no different to any other living thing and that, one day, we too will die.

I did, seriously, think about it for about ten or fifteen minutes. In the boot of the car, there was the hosepipe I borrowed from Pauline's brother six months ago. I'd put it there intending to drop it off one day, on the way home from work. I thought, one end in the exhaust pipe, the other through the side window. Just sit there, like Buddha, and wait. Cheat life out of its revenge, get my retaliation in first.

"Don't be so bloody ridiculous!" I said out loud, looking around guiltily when it came out far louder than I'd anticipated. "The only bloody reason you're acting like this is because you've just realised that the new girl in the office isn't ever going to fancy you, that you're too old and, yes, too fat to be reasonably fanciable any more." I sighed. "I may be getting older and fatter, but at least I don't talk to myself. I'm not that mad." I looked up at my reflection in the rear view mirror. I tried smiling at myself. It seemed to work.

I started the car engine and headed back to the office. On the way back I noticed the sign, and stopped on impulse. The decision seemed to make itself once I was in there.

"What's in the box?" Jane said, as I struggled back into the office.

"I decided I was getting a bit porky, a bit fat," I said. "So I bought this exercise machine."

Jane looked at me, then into the box. "Aaaah. It's lovely. It's a Labrador, isn't it?"

"Yes, ten weeks old. When I saw him I couldn't resist."

"Sue! Come and look at this," Jane called. She smiled at me. "You are going to get plenty of exercise with him. They need at least one long walk a day. It'll do you good, really."

"Oh, he's lovely, so cute." Susan reached down into the box to stroke the puppy. She looked at me. "What made you decide to get a dog?"

"I decided I need some exercise," I said. "I'm tired of being a fat bloke."

"A fat bloke?" she replied. "I wouldn't say that. Cuddly perhaps. Anyway, I like men with a bit of substance to them. Thin men always seem so vain. So, what are you going to call him?"

I shrugged. "I dunno, probably An Expensive Mistake."


[This, and other stories can also be found here as well]

Government Warning Scheme Extended

Following on from the massive success of their terrorism alert warning system, where the people of this great... mediocreok-ishtotally-fucked… er… nation are warned to be more on their guard against suspicious foreign-looking gentleman in public places with smouldering underpants, or smoke billowing from their footwear, the UK government has today announced a similar warning scheme for the UK’s somewhat unpredictable weather.


A government spokesthing said:

The recent bad winter weather, and the current unseasonable spat of winter weather has – we believe - left many people in the UK confused as to just how cold it may well be outside, and, therefore, just what actions they ought to take, for example, should they wear a hat, or even gloves?

Obviously this is not the sort of decision we – in this, the people’s government – feel that ordinary people should be allowed to do without government advice. We have worked hard over the last 13 years to make sure that ordinary people have lost the ability to make significant decisions on their own without the benevolent involvement of the government, and so – we feel – that this is another area where we in government can assist people to come to the correct decision.

The UK government’s new Nasty Weather Alert System has – like the Terrorist threat system – five levels of alerts:

  • Normal – it is safe to go outside without a hat.
  • Drizzle – Normal but with a chance of getting slightly moist, but not in the good way. A hat is advised.
  • A Bit Parky – wrap up warm, but only when venturing outside, otherwise you won’t feel the benefit.
  • A Bit Nasty Out – Warning a scarf AND wellies may be necessary. Councils may announce grit has run out.
  • SEVERE – Don’t go outside, or the yetis, polar bears and mammoths will eat you! Only TV news reports are allowed outside in order to tell people not to venture out at all - until the all-clear has been announced by an official from the Met Office.

However, ordinary people do not seem that impressed by the government’s new initiative. As one member of the public said:

These terrorist alerts seem to make bugger all difference, except that they only seem to be announced whenever the government makes some sort of cock-up elsewhere and needs to divert attention away from it suddenly. Perhaps if they did less interfering in ordinary people’s lives, then just maybe they wouldn’t cock so many things up and need to come up with stuff like this to divert attention away from those cock-ups.

It’s a thought – isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Handsome Prince


Anyway, once upon a time there was a handsome prince. Unlikely, I know but I suppose it could happen occasionally in an infinite universe.

However, he was not a happy handsome prince, mainly because every eligible princess he was made to meet looked like either one end of a horse or the other.

Actually, I don’t really care about what happened to this handsome prince. Maybe eventually he did meet a beautiful princess, after all, even though all the odds seemed to be against it.

Or, maybe, instead he met a beautiful commoner and gave it all up for her, ran away to a new life in a new place far, far away from the palace.

Maybe he realised that beauty isn't everything and settled for a marriage of minds - although, him being a prince means that the only creature with a mind compatible to his would be an educationally under-achieving pilchard.

Perhaps the whole idea of a handsome prince was far too unlikely a combination and, consequently, that whole universe suddenly imploded itself in a fit of existential universal self-disgust, self-loathing and a completely justifiable hatred of cliché.

Fundamental Particle Experiments To Take Place Today

It has been announced that the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland will today attempt to smash beams of protons together at massive energies.

However, just down the road a bit, at the European Large Hardon Collider they are also about to start investigations in search of another fundamental physical particle predicted by theoretical research.

The European Large Hardon Collider was set up by the European Institute For Finding Out About Stuff (EIFFOAS) in order to investigate why men seem to suddenly get hard-ons most of the time, sometimes seemingly at only the slightest provocation.

The theoretical work that has been done on this problem suggests that there must be some force out there in many ways akin to form of gravity. For just as any stray bit of junk will be captured by the gravitational field of a star or planet and dragged towards the larger body, in much the same way a male's eyes will irresistibly turn towards any exposed female flesh, especially towards the more interesting bits.


Some scientists speculate that this force must also bend light in the same way as gravity, because no matter where else a man may try to look, it always makes him eventually and irresistibly stare down at the exposed cleavage.

Like gravity, this force is also dependant upon the size of the attracting article, as the more of the breast that is exposed, and the larger the breast, the more the male glances will be attracted towards it.

The fundamental particle behind this force - the Tition, or Big Bosom particle - like the graviton, or the Higgs Boson has yet to be seen under experimental conditions. But once it is found then progress can be made towards a unified theory of sexual attraction.

However, just as the other fundamental particles have their opposites: electron

- positron, proton - anti-proton. The particles of sexual attraction have their opposites. It has been postulated that the opposite particle to the tition is the nagion. Some scientists dispute this, however, as no correlation has been found

between the two particles, for it has been discovered through many experiments that even quite a small quantity of nagging by a nearby wife or girlfriend is often

enough to nullify the attractive force of any partially-exposed breast in the vicinity of the man.

Anyway, scientists are hoping to discover far more about these fundamental sex particles once this initial run of the European Large Hardon Collider has been completed.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Poem: Sand Through Fingers


Sand Through Fingers

Cupped hands hold dreams
that sand through fingers
like clouds across your night time skies.
Turning, you reach out
to hold onto a single cloud
that will blanket you
until morning defeats your peace.

But it is gone, far our of reach now,
as you chase on through your night
across fields, through woods and on
down the long winding corridors of memory.
Opening too many doors
on secret rooms you kept dark
for far too long.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Poem: Dawning



Now the dawn rises up
Like some new monster
Like some mythical beast
Old and new
Promise and threat.
It begins and always
Will begin once again.
There is nothing new.
There is nothing old.
The world is re-created
By the new light
Of the old sun
By the old light
Of the new sun.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thursday Poem: The Hand Of Day


The Hand Of Day

The coloured skies of dawn that hold
The promised day there in the palm
Of morning. Close enough for you
To take the hand of day and walk
On down these paths, between the gorse
And rocks and on towards the sea
That leads beyond the wider world.

To see it spread all out for you
To take a moment from the day
To hold in your safe hand and keep
A precious moment to hold close.

You have a box of dreams you keep
High on the shelf of memories.
The dreams of times when you broke free,
And left the chains of this small life
Behind you, heaped here on the ground
Before you rose on up to take
The whole of a new world at once
Into your sight, to see it all
Beneath you, spread out, waiting there
For you to reach to take it all.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wednesday Story: Rain On The Window


Rain On The Window

We met, Liz and I, at a demo. I can't remember what the protest was about now, but, then, there, on a quiet backstreet away from the surging screaming crowds, the wailing sirens, Liz had a handkerchief, and I had a bleeding head.

I didn't tell her - not then, not ever - that my head wound was from slipping and stumbling hard against a stone window-sill as I ran away from the demo, trying to not get involved, rather than from the police truncheon she always assumed. As a guilt-ridden middle-class politics student, she needed a working-class hero, and I… well, at the time, I had nothing better to do.

She took me home with her that day, back to the house she shared with a handful of other students. She took me straight to bed.

Part-way through, I remember looking down at her; seeing her trembling with a delicious fear that she was being so daring, so brave. I had thought that kind of thing had long gone, left behind with Mellors and Lady Chatterley. Nevertheless, it seems that, for a certain type - the middle-class liberal - there was still that… well… I suppose… strange attraction towards the workers.

I saw it again, later that evening, when she took me downstairs to meet the other students. It took a while before I realised I was on display like some rare exotic specimen Liz had bravely captured out there in the wild working-class jungle.

The students, all girls who called themselves women, sat with grim fascination as I told them about working in the foundry. Then, when I told them how the strong-armed take-no-shit-from-no-one men had been left defeated and dumped, about how Jack, our militant union rep had broken down and wept when the foundry finally closed down forever, they were almost on the verge of the politically orgasmic in their outrage on behalf of those noble workers.

For the remainder of that evening the rest of them looked upon Liz with a mild jealousy that I found unsettling. I wasn't used to that intensity, of being the focus of attention. Up until then most of the girls I had known were still setting their sights on someone higher than mere factory fodder like me. They had dreams of urbane clean finger-nailed and after-shaved office men in suits with company cars and a future with the possibility of semi-detached housing estate lives to come.

Liz took me back up to bed that night with a kind of victory flourish as she ostentatiously pulled me from my seat amongst the other girls on the sofa; taking me upstairs with her. Of course, I doubt if any of the other girls did want me in anything other than theory, or saw me as anything other than a vague dreamy possibility. Still, I suppose the left has never really managed to untangle itself from the Romanticism that surrounded its youth: from Blake, and Wordsworth and so on and so forth. Even now, post-Thatcher, even post-New Labour, I still see left-leaning friends who haven't managed to disentangle themselves from the romanticism of the left. Or, come to that, even grown out of the faded mythology of rock 'n' roll - yet another bastard offspring of Romanticism - despite their advancing years.

The price I had to pay for those warm nights alone with Liz were the evenings away from the cosy squalor of the student house. At least one evening a week we spent in cold bare rooms at the Student's Union, or the smoke-stained upstairs rooms in the type of pub I would never normally frequent. I spent hour upon hour watching verbose prigs, with more earnestness than sense, putting the world to right through long tedious self-aggrandising speeches while Liz squirmed in ecstasy in the seat next to me. I remember her clutching hard at the top of my thigh, or even stroking my cock through my trousers, whenever someone lambasted Thatcher and the Tories.

After each meeting there would be several more hours, in the Union, down in the pub, or - even worse - back at someone's place where the talk would go on and on… and on. Then, there would be the long slow walk back to Liz's house with her babbling on like a kid who'd just met Santa. I just wished for the peace and warmth of the bed as she slept beside me, her head snuggled against my chest under my left arm and her thick curly hair tickling my nose. I loved the smell of her hair; it was the colour of autumn leaves, red, copper, gold and all shades between and smelt like autumn too, of smoke and mists and ripening apples.

That autumn turned to winter and still we clung to each other. That day we’d spent in bed. She was sitting on top of me, my nose buried deep in her thick hair as she moved slowly; muttering sighs into my neck and chest.

“Liz! Liz! She’s gone. The old cow has fucked off!” Gemma burst into the room. “They’ve finally dumped her!”

Liz turned to stare, open-mouthed as Gemma. She stroked strands of her sweat-damp hair from her face. “You mean…?”

“Yeah, yeah. Oh, fuckin’ yeah!” It’s on the telly now!”

“Bloody hell. I must….” Liz grabbed the duvet, wrapping it around herself as she got off me,

“This’ll wipe the bloody smile off Simon’s face,” Liz laughed, pushing past Gemma in the doorway to bound down the stairs. In the doorway, Gemma looked down at me naked on the bed, at my erection standing lost and alone, and then back at me. I saw the thought flick across her eyes.

“Who is Simon?” I said, recognising the name but being unable to place it.

“He’s the leader of the Conservative Students at Uni,” Gemma said with an obvious contempt. “A complete wanker.” Then she was gone too. As I lay there, I could hear the girls laughing, shouting and cheering downstairs. From the fragments I could make sense of, I gathered that the Tories had finally dumped Thatcher, that she would soon no longer be Prime Minister. I sighed, got out of the bed and dressed, knowing that Liz would now be busy all night with her political cronies.

I suppose Liz and I must have carried on together for some time beyond that day. We had no big break-up, we just drifted apart as she immersed herself in politics and I was left more and more alone. To me, those post-Thatcher days, though, they all seemed so grey, featureless unmemorable. It was a bit like the bloke they replaced Thatcher with, I suppose. I always have trouble remembering his name… something bland… a bit dull… ordinary…. Major, that was him.

I remember once, about that time, Liz staring out through the window watching the way the wind and the rain were busy vandalising our puny human world. Outside the wind lashed out at the trees lining the street. Those trees, it sometimes seemed to me, had grown cowed and fearful through their years of constant suffering under the elements. The rain fell hard and loud… well, not falling, more like hurled down in huge handfuls by the angry wind, almost as if the wind was issuing a challenge to the rest of the world. Liz sighed and quickly drew the curtains on it all before coming back to bed.

She was cold against me as we snuggled closer. At least I felt capable of warming her, I felt that was something, but she turned away from me once she felt warm again. She lay on her back with about six inches separating us. She lit a cigarette and sighed the smoke up towards the ceiling.

I lay there, watching her. There was nothing else I could do, except listen to the wind throwing its handfuls of rain at the window as it howled in frustration around the outside of the house.

Liz stubbed out her cigarette. "Let's fuck," she said.


Later, we dressed facing away from each other and not really talking. We had grown quite adept at not talking to each other, or rather, talking to each other without saying anything. We could discuss food, the weather, day-to-day stuff, but there was this big thing between us we could only talk around, not about. We both knew it was all over, but we had nowhere else to go. Nowhere else we wanted to go.

No, actually – to be honest - I’m not sure that Liz really ever noticed I’d gone. She just seemed to immerse herself deeper and deeper into politics until I became superfluous, an irrelevance to her life.

So... one day I moved out while Liz was at a Labour party meeting. I left her a note saying I’d gone, in case she didn’t notice I wasn’t around any longer. Then I did the traditional thing and went out and got drunk – a lot. In a way I was glad it was over. I could stop pretending to care about politics, the world, seeing everything distorted through politics. But, still, I needed those drinks to teach me how to forget Liz herself.

One morning, a few weeks or so later, I was sitting staring deep into the steaming heart of a cup of black coffee in a department store restaurant when I thought I heard someone calling my name. Looking around gingerly, so my throbbing head didn’t explode, I noticed a large red blur behind a table in the far corner of the restaurant. When my eyes eventually focused, I could see that Father Christmas was calling my name and gesticulating for me to join him at his table.

For a moment, I wondered about pink elephants and whether I’d been overdoing it a bit. Then Santa pulled his beard down and I recognised him.

“Hello, Jack,” I said as I crawled into the seat next to him.

“You look a bit rough this morning, mate,” he said, tucking the white beard under his chin and throwing the red hood back off his head.

I nodded, and then wished I hadn’t.

“A woman?”

I almost nodded again, but remembered just in time. “Er… yeah. You know….”

He asked me if I was still on the dole. I was, of course. “This was the best I could get.” He tugged at the sleeve of the red robe with disgust. “Me a skilled worker… or was… once.” He sighed. “I used to spend more down the pub on a Friday night than I get here for a week’s wages.”

I nodded, carefully this time. Steel working was always a very thirsty business. You needed the first few pints just to replace the sweat you lost during your shift.

“Still,” Jack said and took a sip of tea. “Every bit helps, especially at this time of year. What, with the kids and so on.”

“Well,” I said. “I was lucky that way. For you married blokes with kids I always thought it would be a bastard. Bloody Tories, eh?”

“Yeah, bastard Tories,” Jack turned to me, looking hard into my bleary eyes. “Mind, though, our lot weren’t much better. I used to go to the meetings, before these youngsters took over. They promised us the world….” He looked at me like someone who’d lost his world, like a priest who’d lost his faith. “Didn’t they?”

“Yes.” I thought of Liz and her friends… her comrades, and all those magnificent promises they were still making to each other. All the plans they had to put our world to rights. But, as I looked back at Jack I couldn’t see a place for him in either the world we had now under the Tories, or in those plans Liz and her Labour pals were so busy making for everyone.

Jack looked up sharply. “Shit it’s the boss… the manager… bastard.” Jack slurped his tea down, standing up as he drank. The bloke in the suit over by the restaurant counter looked at Jack and then slowly brought his wrist up, pointedly looking at his watch; obviously relishing the power he had over his workforce.

“Wanker,” Jack said.

I smiled. “See you, mate. Good luck,” I said as his big red bulk lumbered hurriedly away. The manager stood there for a moment. I could feel him watching me, but I pretended to be oblivious to him. I knew he was debating whether it was worth his while to throw an obvious non-spender like me out of his precious shop and onto the street. Someone called him away, though, before he could decide.

I thought about Liz as I got up and left the shop, smiling at the memory of the smell of her hair. I decided then and there that the drinking would have to stop. It was time for me to get off my arse.

I realised Jack was right, but I never had a chance to thank him. Thatcherism is little more than an easy theme for nostalgia television these days. Back then, though, those of us living in the industrial heartlands could almost understand those that did kill themselves. When their entire world collapsed around them, we felt the suicides had a certain clear-sighted courage the rest of us lacked.

Not long afterwards on a cold February morning I stood looking down at his coffin as spadefuls of frost-hard dirt slowly covered it. Later, all Jack’s old Labour and union cronies stood around together back at Jack’s council house. They spent hours whispering to each other, over limp ham sandwiches, about all the new changes to the party, about the new faces that were appearing and all the talk of something called ‘New Labour’.

By then I was off the drink and working again. I’d been given a job as a labourer on a massive new building site. At first, I was angry, but as time went on I learnt to appreciate the irony that I was labouring to help construct a sparkling new shopping mall on the site of the foundry where I used to work.

Once the mall was built, though, I was back on the dole again for a while. Through yet another job creation scheme, I got a job in our local library. After spending months out on a building site, it seemed like luxury to be inside again out of the cold, wind and rain.

Steve, one of my old pals from the foundry came into the library one day, looking for a particular book.

“It’s for my course,” he said looking down at the counter between us. He seemed embarrassed.


“I’m doing an O.U. – Open University - course,” he said.

I could see his face reddening. Back in the old foundry days such a thing would be almost unheard of, and anyone doing such an unusual thing would have expected to have the piss ripped out of him on an almost daily basis. Talking to him later in the pub made up my mind for me. I knew I didn’t want to ever go back to manual labour if I could avoid it. I had had enough of the back-breaking ‘dignity’ of labour. So, I too took an Open University degree and, later, got this job, here at the university library, on the back of it.

My first day working at the University made me think about Liz for the first time in years, made me wonder what had happened to her. Just for the hell of it I decided I would use the University library’s research facilities to see if I could find out what had become of her.

It didn’t take that long, a couple of lunch hours, or so. It made me smile, though, when I discovered that she had, in fact, married Simon, the Conservative student ‘Wanker’ she had seemingly so despised during her student days. I wasn’t surprised at all that she had become a ‘New’ Labour candidate though, and then later became one of the infamous ‘Blair Babes’ elected in 1997.

Therefore, when the government minister responsible for Higher Education came to visit the library last month I wondered how long it would take her to recognise me.

She was in that typical politician’s state of looking, but not seeing, the person in front of her as we shook hands. I had to squeeze hard to get her to look up at me, actually to see me. She reddened slightly before the professional politician in her reasserted itself.

Although we were expecting it, the announcement, during her speech of the forthcoming privatisation of the University Library Services still caused a ripple of disquiet to shift through her audience. After the speech, there was polite, but muted, applause. Everyone shifted away from her as she made her way through the groups of people standing awkwardly balancing drinks and nibbles.

“Hello Sam.”

“So, you do remember me?”

“Sorry, after a while you go on a sort of autopilot. So…? Well… I always wondered what happened to you. All I had was that note… then nothing.”

I thought about saying something cruel, cutting, but quickly realised it would just be too melodramatic, making it all sound as unreal as a soap opera. I just nodded.

“So,” she said, “you work here in the library of my old university? Now, that is something I would never have expected back in those days.”

“Yes… or at least I work here until your plans come to fruition, then… well….” I shrugged.

“Don’t worry about that?” She sipped from her glass of water.

“Well, I can’t help worrying. You know I have a wife, kids, a mortgage… now… well, all that usual stuff.”

“No, I mean….” She looked around, noticing all the journalists were still over by the drink and food tables on the other side of the room. “No, I mean I will make sure you don’t lose your job. That is… providing… of course….” She glanced meaningfully over towards the gathered journalists.

She saw the look on my face. “Not that I’m embarrassed about my… our… past. Just that it would… complicate things a bit, unnecessarily, especially if they found out about you getting involved in riots and being beaten up by the police. I still get called an ex-radical and all that crap. If they…” she nodded over at the assembled journalists, “discover I had an ex-boyfriend who was also an extremist… well… I could do without all the hassle. I definitely don’t want to be dumped back on the back benches again. All that stuff that belongs lost in the past; I want to keep it there, all right?”

She was still trying to read my face between glances back at the journalists. I was trying to decide whether it was worth the bother of putting her right about me tripping over that kerb as I ran and hitting my head on the window-sill.

She bit her lip, a mannerism that suddenly took me back to all those years ago. “Listen, Sam,” she whispered urgently, “if you don’t mention anything to those press bastards about our… affair, then I will make sure your job is safe after the privatisation.”

“How can you make that promise?” I said.

She smiled. “Simple. The company that will win the bid for providing the services - sort of - belongs to my husband.” She smiled again as a journalist came up to her.

“I couldn’t help noticing that you two were having quite a chat,” the journalist said, professionally appraising us as she drew closer. “Do you know each other?”

“Actually, did you know that this is my old university,” Liz said as she took the journalist’s elbow to lead her away from me. As they walked away, Liz glanced back over her shoulder. “Goodbye, Mr… Mr…. Thank you for your input. I’ll make sure it is taken on board.” After checking the journalist wasn’t paying any more attention to me, Liz winked. I nodded back and she smiled in relief.

I think I smiled to in relief that my job was safe and I wouldn’t be back on the dole again. On my way out that evening, I even considered whether to vote for Liz, come the next election.


[This, and other stories can also be found here as well]

Anti-Terrorist Police Action

Following revelations that anti-terrorist police are urging internet café owners to spy on their own customers, in order to report any of those customers that may be visiting ‘inappropriate’ websites to the authorities, today the police announced they would be extending the scheme.


The original idea, that internet café owners would monitor all sites visited by their customers and report any visits to any websites from a list of sites regarded as ‘a bit dodgy’ given to them by the police, or any other internet activity by café customers who may look ‘a bit shifty’ has been hailed as a great success by anti-terrorist squad leaders.

Consequently, the police are extending the scheme to other places where the public can also congregate, such as takeaways and fish and chip shops.

As a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Chief Constable said:

It is a well know fact that several recently apprehended Al-Ka-Hollix terrorists have visited fish and chip shops and ordered saveloys. Therefore the Metropolitan Police are now requesting that all owners of fish and chip shops - and other takeaway emporia serving saveloys - immediately report any such suspicious activity such as someone actually purchasing a saveloy, or – indeed – any enquires about the availability of saveloys, or any other related product, to their local police immediately, especially if the customer seems a bit foreign-looking and looks as though he might enjoy a drink or two.

Asked for a comment about the implications of this policy on people’s right to privacy a spokesman for the Home office responded:

Quite obviously, as this government has been aware of for some time, this whole idea of privacy, having a private life, is outdated and outmoded. Having a private life means that there is always the danger of someone – often quite deliberately – doing something which this government disapproves of, and – quite possibly – doing something we may have already banned. Obviously, this sort of thing can not be allowed to continue. Especially when people are contemplating taking some sort of action that is not in this government’s interest, like contemplating acts of terrorism, eating too many crisps, smoking in a public space or not voting Labour.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Female/Male Stoat Beguiler

Embrocation Disingenuous first became professor of Semi-Beguiled Stoat Contemplation in 1968. Back in those heady days of the late sixties, it seemed that the Summer of Love could almost belong to anyone with a tattered paperback of Blake's Complete works, a brace of Doors albums, a 10% deposit and, of course, a semi-beguiled stoat.


But, inevitably, the wide-eyed optimism of the sixties fell headlong into the comedown of the mid-70s. By then, it seemed obvious that Disengenous's - now seminal - work, The Female/Male Stoat Beguiler, an in-depth study of the relationship between the underwear of accountants and the price of eggs, became - to many - the work that most influenced the rise of what later became known as Feminist Theory.

It was not easy in the Sixties - despite the very generous grants available at the time - to find an adequate theory that would link all the then cutting-edge and vital social sciences. Feminism, Stoat-beguiling theory, accountancy and the study of the habits and practices of the tribes, groups, sub-cultures and so on that exploded onto the youth and teenage scene in the sixties all seemed - to the commentators of the time - to have nothing in common. It took a scholar of Disengenious's erudition, and blind disregard of the facts and evidence, to come up with a theory that could link them all, no matter how tenuous and flaky.

Of course, it was the Mods and the Rockers and their bank holiday rampages around the coastal towns of Britain who got all the tabloid publicity. But it was the secrecy, the underground nature of the accountants and the clubs where they practiced double-entry bookkeeping well into the early hours of the morning, their briefcases, and in some case very early examples of uninhibited calculator use that Disingenuous found fascinating. She was particularly fascinated by the fact that all the male accountants were men, and the female accounts were - on the whole - mostly women (except – of course – those specialising in corporate taxation). This became even more apparent to her when the craze for total stoat-beguilement swept through those underground accountancy clubs in the late summer of 1969.

Disingenuous was fascinated to discover that the female accountants in those secretive clubs would use methods of stoat beguilement that were very different to those utilised by the male accountants. Eschewing the need for any further research -as she said in a interview after the publication of The Female/Male Stoat Beguiler - 'in case I came across anything which would have contradicted my precious and wonderful theory' - she immediately began to formulate a synopsis and publicity material for the work that was to make her name.

In The Female/Male Stoat Beguiler, Disingenuous made the now commonplace - but then startling claim - that the methods of stoat beguilement used by the male accountants was not only in itself a manifestation of the male accountants’ domination over the female accountants, but that it was also symptomatic of the wider society as a whole and an expression of that society’s contempt for women. Claiming that her theory proved that the phallocentric male hegemony was demeaning and dismissive of all women, Disingenuous stated that women would never be free until they symbolically burned their stoat-beguiling mittens and refused to ever take part in 'such degrading spectacles ever again!'

From that day, forward the relationship between the sexes would never be as straightforward or unquestioning ever again, and it is Embrocation Disingenuous, and her The Female/Male Stoat Beguiler, that we can thank for the current state of harmonious equality and greater mutual understanding shared by both sexes in our modern world.

Monday, March 22, 2010

An Episode From The History Of British Pop Culture

Dispatch Fantail was, back in the 1960s, one of the leading figures of the British Eating Pies Boom. Coming quickly after the British Blues Boom, the mania for eating pies was taken up by those who found it difficult to play the guitar and/or moan convincingly about what it was like to grow up black in 1950s America.


The other advantage of the Eating Pies Boom was that it was entirely home grown due to the fact that most English towns, and even small villages, usually had a shop that sold pies of some form or another, even if only the simple staple steak and kidney pie or, for intermediate pie eaters, the apple pie.

Of course, there were those purists who regarded any other pies other than the steak and kidney, or the apple pie, as ‘inauthentic’ and a betrayal of the purity of eating pies. There were others though who, beginning with the more complex chicken and mushroom pies, began to explore the possibilities of other forms of pie, some even going as far as quiches, pizzas (then still regarded as quite exotic, foreign and ‘other’), with the more adventurous going down the dangerous path of the strudel, others losing themselves in the Eastern mysticism of the pancake roll or kebab.

Dispatch Fantail herself, began publicly eating the traditional steak and kidney pie in the backrooms of her local pubs, this was – of course – back in the days when the idea of food in pubs was still very much a novelty, so someone eating a pie live on stage soon began to attract large audiences, especially those keen to witness Fantail’s legendary virtuosic dexterity with the knife and fork and her – for the time – daring use of the solo ketchup sachet.

However, soon with the pressure of eating several pies a week in several different pubs and clubs, the constant touring, began to have an effect on Fantail, her increasing use of condiments began to have deleterious consequences for her pie eating, with Fantail once seriously overdosing on freshly ground black pepper which resulted in a lengthy hospital stay where she was not even allowed to be in the same room as even a solitary mince pie until her recovery was complete.

Unfortunately, spending so long away from performance pie eating meant that Fantail lost her edge, and even her most loyal fans began drifting away. Eventually Dispatch Fantail gave up pie eating altogether, became a vegetarian and moved to an isolated cottage in Scotland, where she is rumoured to still live to this day.

Occasionally, a lone walker, out on the Scottish moors at night, tells of smelling a steak and kidney pie cooking somewhere off in the distance, but these reports have never been confirmed.

Monday Poem: Walking Away


Walking Away

The stiff awkwardness of formal gestures.
The sudden awareness of large hands made
tentative in half-completed gestures,
left to fall to the sides in spaces between
possibilities of touching and touched.

The realisation that words do not have
the eloquence of tears or silent communion.
The understanding of shared moments left
undeclared, even though distances remain,
we feel closer to knowing.

The hands made gestures towards touching
never really sure of the certainty of grip.
Again, we would like to see the world
on the outside of this moment just fall away.

Cold stone holds the notes suspended,
to fall like sunlight through stained glass.
Always so cold, as if to show and tell
of the distances we've all fallen and
there is nowhere else for us to go.

There is nothing here but dust, we let
it fall and walk away only knowing something
here has finished, only knowing how to walk away.
The gestures remain unmade, undone
and what steps are possible are slow
and, in some way, hesitant as if walking
away from here is walking away from
a former life forever, leaving it to memory.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Poem: Stations



Should I have forgotten
The way your eyes
Looked away
To stare
Along the route
That would take you from me?

Eyes which shone
Like polished metal
In a face framed
By the rust
Of your hair.

The rails,
Like arrows,
Pointing the way
To your new future.
Like the lines
Of our lives,
Never to meet again.

You were always on the move
But you never really arrived.
There was always one more station
And still
One more journey.

What else could I do
But learn
How to turn
And walk away?

Taking the steps
That lead down
Through artificial caverns,
While trains thundered overhead.
A demented roaring from those
That know no final destination.

The Greatest Inventor Of This Age

Palmtree Doodlebug is probably best known these days for the invention of the all-weather knee hat; a device that has proved invaluable for those places where shorts are worn on a regular basis, to prevent the knees getting either damp in the rain, or excessively sunburnt in the heat of a hot dry day.


Although it was the knee hat that made him famous, and wealthy beyond even the dreams of Bill Gates, Doodlebug has produced many more inventions that have made our lives immeasurably better in recent years. One only has to mention, for example, the solar powered fallow deer impersonator that has done so much to bring about the current revival of the retail shopping experience on the High Street, along with the high-speed motorised V8 pogo-stick that has done so much to increase the throughput of our otherwise-moribund hospital casualty departments, and done so much to increase the alertness level of pilots of low flying aircraft.

Then there is the gas-powered inflatable companion-lady intimate doll, ‘filled with pure hydrogen for that floating on the clouds feeling’ that has done so much to rid the world of the traditional post-coital cigarette and provided many opportunities for the fire brigades of several countries to practice their craft as well as increasing the expertise of numerous hospital specialist burns units.

Lately, though, there has been little in the way of new inventions from the Doodlebug laboratories. However, well-founded rumour has it that Doodlebug himself is hard at work perfecting a revolutionary new design for the milk or fruit juice carton, where – informed speculation has it – he is working on a design that will – unlike all current designs on the market - result in much less than half the contents of the carton ending up soaking into the trouser leg of whoever tries to open it.

With the civilised world crying out for such a concept to be brought to successful fruition we can all only wish Palmtree Doodlebug the best of luck with what may be his most daunting challenge yet.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Places of Historical Interest

Here, as it happens, is the place here Organism Stickleback first used his Shortbread Biscuit Re-Organising Device. I'm sure you will all agree it is not that interesting. Now, if you are ready, we will move on to a place where something slightly more historically-significant took place.

Here, in this very room, Rudderless Ostentation invented the world's first All-Electric Badger-Indifference Engine. Quite stunning, don't you think? Just think, this room - ostensibly no different to many other such rooms in houses of the period - is singled out above all those others, through nothing intrinsic to itself, but just because by mere chance it was the place where something historically-noteworthy happened to take place.

Remember that as you gaze around at its immaculately-preserved mediocrity with awe and wonder, but please remember not to touch the objects on display. They have been specially-selected to look historically significant, but are by themselves of little or no value - mere historical props.


As you look around, please think to yourself that if Rudderless Ostentation had lived just next-door in the other half of this typical pre-war semi-detached house, or in any of the same model of house in the surrounding streets, or even in another town altogether, we wouldn't be standing here today.

Not only that, but also consider the fact that this house and its setting, its environs, would have had little or no effect on the development of the world's first All-Electric Badger-Indifference Engine, and that Rudderless Ostentation would most-likely have made his highly-significant contribution to history no matter where he lived or worked.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Donkey Mollification

Plectrum Underfloor is probably the best-known Donkey-Mollifier of these times. Thanks to her TV programme, now in its seventh series, we have all come to know and understand as much as anyone could want about the almost-lost art of donkey mollification.


Besides her fame as the country's leading Donkey Mollifier, Underfloor is quite a multi-talented person - surprisingly, she knows how to cook both beans on toast and tinned spaghetti hoops. Surprisingly, however, donkey mollification was never her first choice of career. 'When I was at school,' she recently confessed 'I always wanted to be a political assassin.' But, typical of the hide-bound traditionalist education system of the time, she was severely discouraged by her teachers, who even went as far as banning Underfloor from taking her sniper rifle to school, just because of one unfortunate incident in school assembly with a (ex-)supply history teacher.

Thankfully, due to assiduous campaigning by Underfloor and other media celebrities, in these more enlightened times, a schoolchild is often, these days, more than welcome to attend school with the weapon of his or her choice.

However, frustrated by this thwarting of her first choice of career, Underfloor began to look around at other career opportunities. Spurning the typical career choices taken by the rest of her contemporaries of petty crime, drug addiction or prostitution, or, in the case of the academic high-flyers in her class - all three, Underfloor first began her working life in a cake shop as assistant chocolate éclair resuscitator.

It was the trauma of seeing the damaged éclairs with their cream leaking out, the broken choux pastry, or even the shattered chocolate coating, that first awakened Underfloor's latent desire to, as she said when awarded the OBE in the recent New year's Honours list, 'to simply do some good in this world'.

It was not long after starting work in the cake shop that she first me old Ethelbert Saggypants when he came into her cake shop to buy a re-conditioned éclair. At the time, Saggypants was the last practising Donkey Mollifier in the country. As he watched in fascination as Underfloor coaxed his ailing éclair back to its full straight stiffness, he told her of his old, traditional, way of life and the dark and secret art of donkey mollification.

Inspired, Underfloor left the cake shop that very afternoon, going with Saggypants to his donkey sanctuary. Over Saggypants remaining seven years, before old age and illness finally rendered him incapable of mounting a donkey without medical assistance, he taught Underfloor all he knew, or - at least - had speculated, about donkeys and their mollification.

Until the current energy crisis forced the government's hand, Underfloor's donkey mollification would have remained an arcane rural skill, of interest to those who seem to think something quaint and oldie-worldly is in itself inherently fascinating. But it was the necessity of every home in Britain having its own source of electrical power, and the countrywide introduction of domestic donkey-powered nuclear fusion generators, which made donkeys a household domestic animal throughout the country once again.

Soon, it seemed, the whole country was crying out for donkey mollification some kind. Luckily, Underfloor lived very close to the famous TV producer, Spleen Hobovest who was having mollifying problems with his power-generating donkey. Spleen Hobovest saw that not only was Underfloor an expert donkey mollifier, she also had a presence and personality that would work well on TV.

They began to record a pilot for Underfloor's first TV series only a week later. That first series was an instant success, of course. Since then Plectrum Underfloor's Donkey Mollification Show has gone from strength to strength as it has become almost a fixture on our TV screens and her books constantly hit the top of the bestseller lists as soon as each eagerly-awaited volume is released, while her DVDs outsell their nearest competitor by a ratio of 10 to 1 and her range of donkey-mollifying blankets and mollifying tranklements are in constant high demand.

However, despite all this, it should be remembered that it is thanks to Underfloor and her sensible straightforward donkey mollifying advice that we are all able to afford the luxury of cheap environmentally-friendly electrical power at last.

ASA Criticises Government Ads

Some government press ads, meant to scare the UK population shitless over the possible dangers of climate change, have been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, for being - as the ASA press release stated:

A complete load of bollocks.


The ads which featured scores of people running around, like headless chickens being chased by chainsaw-wielding psycho-foxes, all screaming: ‘We’re all going to die and its all YOUR fault, you heartless selfish bastard!’ at the viewer, have been running for 3 minutes at a time during every single ad-break at peak viewing time, causing several hundred people with nothing better to do, and – apparently, no mute button or off-switch - to complain about them to the ASA.


[Ed ‘cracking cheese Gromit’ Millimetre]

In response, climate change secretary Ed ‘cracking cheese Gromit’ Millimetre responded by dismissing the agency’s attack on the ads:

We are the holy and the righteous, anything we may slightly exaggerate, or even totally make-up and lie about, is only ever done for that most noble of reasons – keeping this – the people’s - government in power. Furthermore, we are – as a government - committed to pissing tax-payer’s money up the wall on ads for things that those who care about the subject will already know all about anyway, while those that don’t give a toss about it will still continue not give a toss about, no matter what we do. As a government we strongly believe that tax-payer’s money is our money to spend on whatever we want to spend it on, even if it is a load of bollocks. So piss off and leave us alone before I introduce a bill to make you illegal.

However, as an environmental journalist said:

Of course, to the government whether there is such a thing as so-called ’climate change’, or not is irrelevant. What matters to them is the opportunities it gives them to exert more social control over the populace, and as a way to increase their tax take in order to pay for that increased social control. Not only that, it does produce situations that all governments love, a chance to divert attention away from the government and towards something else seemingly more catastrophically scary. This is especially useful when the government –as usual – has cocked something up and needs to divert attention away from itself for a while.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lost Shakespeare Play Discovered


A play manuscript, recently found in a skip around the back of Downing Street in London, has now been credited to William Shakespeare.

The play, MacBrown: Thief of Pensions, tells the tale of a insane Scotsman, who through devious manipulation, ends up ruling the whole of the British Isles, without having a mandate. The play tells how the MacBrown wages a ruthless campaign against all those he feels are against him, both within his government and outside it, whilst – ignored - the country goes to ruin as his lieutenants, the rude mechanicals, are left to think up more ways to tax the people and find more and more ways to bind them up in petty rules and regulations.

As the play progresses the delusions of the MacBrown become more and more obvious, even to those around him. They organise several plots against him, but MacBrown defeats them all with the aid of his one great ally, Oberon, the king of the fairies.

At one point the MacBrown is convinced that it is him, and him alone, who saved the world from financial catastrophe, despite his notorious fiscal ineptitude, which once saw him almost giving away all the gold in the kingdom in return for a magic bean way past its use-by date.

Then MacBrown begins to dabble in witchcraft, unleashing ‘the forces of hell’ against all who would oppose him, with the famous line that Shakespeare re-wrote for another of his Scottish plays: Is this a Nokia I see before me?

Eventually some of the former ruling classes nominate themselves a champion to take on the MacBrown in single combat over the House of Commons dispatch box, but to their shock the MacBrown seems invincible to defeat by mortal means and he just lumbers on, oblivious to the fact that the whole country wants him gone, but none of them seem to know how to get rid of him. Some even call upon the ghost of the dread Blair the Liar, the previous, deposed and despised, ruler of the British Isles, to come to their aid, but the ghost just sits amongst his piles of gold counting his money and laughing at them all.

Eventually, the play ends with the undefeated MacBrown looking out from his impregnable office in 10 Downing Street as the hordes of the downtrodden people of his kingdom mill about in defeat outside, unable to bring themselves to believe that they will ever rid themselves of the curse of the MacBrown.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Britain’s Most Famous Film Actress

Distaff Penumbra is now – without a doubt – Britain’s most famous actress, easily eclipsing all others, and, it seems, now at the pinnacle of her career. However, when she first appeared on cinema screens in the mid-70s in the (very) seminal Swedish Plumbers On The Job, where she played a young housewife seemingly distraught at her malfunctioning washing machine, there was very little indication that she would go on to bigger things, and better films too.


One of those bigger things was - of course - Truncheon Polevaulter, the very well-blessed male actor, with whom she made a whole series of films, namely: Hot Raunchy Dirty Filth Volumes I-VII, in which Penumbra’s acting ability and range were both tested to the limit, playing such roles as: a sexually dissatisfied career woman, a sexually-dissatisfied housewife (in a magisterial reprise of her first ever cinematic role), a sexually-dissatisfied lady of the manor, a sexually-dissatisfied canteen manageress, a sexually-dissatisfied nurse, a sexually-dissatisfied diversity outreach co-ordinator and so on.

It seemed inevitable, in a way, which, after such intimate contact with each other in their professional lives, that Penumbra and Polevaulter should become romantically involved in their private lives, so, for several years - as they worked on that series of films which made them both household names - they also become lovers.

However, when Penumbra took on her greatest, most famous role, that of the sexually-insatiable nymphomaniac, Hotstuff Shagger, in her legendary Leather Nympho-Sluts From Mars, which featured cameo performances by 32 of the leading actors of the time, including the legendary final scene where they attempt to cure Hotstuff Shagger’s sex-related difficulties all together at the same time, Penumbra finally broke with Polevaulter, caustically remarking that he ‘was not man enough for me any more.’

However, her break with Polevaulter led to a serious decline in the fortunes of Penumbra which found her trying to eke out a living through bit parts in that most sordid of genres, the party political broadcast, where she played a typical housewife – an irony commented on many times as columnists pondered whether we would ever see Penumbra swinging naked and upside-down on a chandelier whilst servicing both a plumber and an electrician ever again.

Luckily, though, Penumbra was saved from the ultimate disgrace of appearing in an advert for a discount frozen food supermarket, by the film critic, Slackjaw Yokel, who mounted a retrospective of her greatest films at the National Film Theatre, followed by a re-release of her entire oeuvre on re-mastered DVD. This, in turn, of course, led to Distaff Penumbra being offered her choice of roles in several big budget films in the currently popular MILF genre, a genre she has now made her own, especially in the touching and heartfelt ways she soothes the dozen or so troubled young men in the football team featured in her award-winning Distaff Penumbra V Big Dong United, recently released to packed cinemas, and already a blockbuster on DVD pre-orders. So, all-in-all it seems that from her Distaff Penumbra’s career can only go on to even greater things.

‘Equalities’ Chair Criticised


The Chair of the Equalities and Furniture Rights Commission has been criticised by the influential Parliamentary Furnishings Committee for not doing enough for other items of household and workplace furniture.

As one of the members of the parliamentary commission said:

Mr Futon calls himself the ‘chair’ of the Furniture Equalities Commission, but what does that say about the rights of tables, sofas, desks, filing cabinets for equal representation alongside chairs? The commission, under Mr Futon, is – quite obviously - institutionally tableist itself, and therefore in no position to criticise others about discrimination against standard lamps and bathroom cabinets.

However, the Commission chairman received strong support from ‘Dirty Harry’ Harman the Labour government’s Equalities Minister, who is seen as strongly supportive of equal rights for all items of furniture, especially dressing tables, which she sees as historically discriminated against throughout the history of furnishings for being an essentially feminine piece of furniture, losing out in furniture status to what she calls ‘the macho wardrobe culture’ of the UK’s bedrooms. She recently reappointed Mr Futon as Chair of the Equalities and Furniture Rights Commission for a second three-year term, saying that she was strongly supportive of the work he has done in the workplace in increasing the number of desk lamps in British offices and in helping frame legislation against the over-stuffing of exploited filing cabinets, pointing out that:

This Labour government has, in general, very supportive of equal rights for all items of furniture, in both the home and the workplace. The people of Britain must remember, at the forthcoming election that it was this Labour government, under Tony Blair, not the Evil Tories, who first introduced the idea of sofa government, and we all know what a great success that turned out to be.

Asked to comment, Lord ‘Dick’ Dastardly of Foy said:

Listen sonny, if you finish off your piece with some archly-knowing smart-arsed comment about getting more pouffes into government, I’ll send Muttle… er… Miliband round to bite your ankles, now be off before I get Gordon to unleash the forces of hell on you.

Friday, March 12, 2010

One Of The Strangest Incidents Of The Last Decade

Napalm Cheeseguttering has now become famous mainly through one of the strangest incidents of the last decade, at a time when mere fame became the lot of anyone un-self-aware enough to enter, with an eagerness often in direct inverse proportion to any discernable talent or ability, the increasing number of talent and ‘reality’ shows that seemed to infest the TV schedules like acne on the face of a teenager and to much the same aesthetic effect.


At the time of the incident, Cheeseguttering was the lyricist, lead vocalist and bass player in Goat Knee Designator (formerly: Spunk It Up The Wall) yet another run-of-the-mill rock band. Rock music, despite being terminally moribund and about as musically exciting as an undertaker’s End-of-Year balance sheet, was still the main way that teenagers (of all ages) felt was something worth at least pretending to like. And for teenage boys especially it was still seen as the best way of getting to see, and – on occasions - actually touch what girls keep inside their underwear, without having to go through the horror and trauma of having to talk to them.

Anyway, one day in early May 2006 Cheeseguttering was walking down the High street in the small suburban town of Burnwitchburn, carrying his bass in a guitar bag and contemplating whether to go to the chip shop or the Chinese takeaway, when he saw her.

Without a moment’s pause, Cheeseguttering did what any teenager in a rock band does when suddenly confronted by a beautiful woman, he wrote a song about her. She’s Got Tits Like A Dead Heat In A Zeppelin Race, of course became that year’s most played single, topping the charts for 13 months and entering the record books as the song most requested on Valentine’s night for the next six years in a row.

It seemed then that Goat Knee Designator, and – of course - Napalm Cheeseguttering himself, could only go on from there to become one of the greatest rock sensations of all time. However, Cheeseguttering had a terrible secret in that he was quite interested in maths, and quadratic equations in particular. He also had a deep interest in, and understanding of, science and the world around him with more than a glib, superficial understanding of the way it worked and the political processes involved.

Of course, when the established rock stars found out about this, they knew they would have to act fast. Realising the danger to their own positions of someone becoming a famous rock star and then engaging in the mandatory pontificating about science, the world and politics that such a position entails, whilst actually knowing something about what he was talking about was a danger to the positions of all of them. Consequently, they decided that Cheeseguttering would have to be stopped.

Consequently, since that day Napalm Cheeseguttering was invited to collaborate on the writing of a charity single by some of the biggest names in pop music he has never been seen again, not since that day Sting, Bonio and Bob Geldof were seen, each clutching a baseball bat, leading him into a soundproof rehearsal room at a secluded Nevada desert recording studio.

Survey Shows Men Better Than Women

A survey - produced by yet another brand looking for free publicity in newspapers desperate for some space-filler - has ‘discovered’ that – apparently – men are much better at lying in junk surveys than women are.

The results from the survey show that over 3% of men know what a vacuum cleaner looks like, and some claim to even know what that brush next to the toilet is there for.

As a researcher who has investigated this sort of survey pointed out, however:

This survey just goes to show just how good men are at telling blatant lies to any survey in the vain hope that it makes them look good.

As anthropologists have pointed out, in the ancient days of opinion polls, back in the latter half of the 20th century, opinion polls were often carried out by women standing on the street corner with a clipboard. So, men quite naturally tried to come up with answers that would impress these women doing the surveys. Naturally, this sort of learnt behaviour has now carried on, even into modern anonymous online surveys.

On the other hand, with women, the bitter experience of trying to get a man to understand the concept of dust and the use of furniture polish will only make them dismiss this sort of survey with scorn and contempt.

However, the survey also shows that 85% men are willing to spend several hours a day doing the essential daily household task of flipping through the TV channels searching for something a bit raunchy and checking that the TV won’t accidentally show hours of football by mistake.


97% of men also claim that they spend at least 4 hours a day making sure that all the porn on the internet is kept safely away from prying eyes in a secret bookmark folder.

Well over 50% of men also claim that they see it as their job to make sure that the fridge is not too over-stocked with beer, especially during the vital World Cup period, when he knows the woman in his life likes to spend quality time on her own staring at the wall in the bedroom and wiping her eyes while she wonders just where did her life begin to go so wrong.

A spokeswoman for the survey-commissioning brand was delighted with the result:

We are so pleased with this survey. We couldn’t have got a better set of headline-grabbing results if we’d made them up ourselves, which – of course – we didn’t… Oh, no….

Anyway, this survey has managed to come up with some results that will create headlines in the newspapers that will certainly grab the attention of our market demographic, namely those women who spend a small fortune on our ‘beauty’ products in a vain attempt to try to hold on to their rapidly-fading youth, and - of course - on the off-chance that they one day manage to get themselves trapped in a lift with George Clooney.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

History In The Raw

Pekinese Souwester became the UK’s first all-nude presenter of a live-to-air TV history programme mostly by accident, when the flimsy summer dress she was wearing caught on an exposed halberd as she did a piece to camera from the newly restored armoury at the famous Milton Keynes medieval castle.


As it was the hottest day of a unusually warm British summer – as the Met office had forecasted that it was going to be the coldest and wettest British summer on record,sales of barbeque equipment and sun cream had already reached record levels by this time – and as she was filming under hot TV lighting, Souwester had already forgone her underwear under the dress. With one eye on the ratings both her producer and director had both confirmed that this course of action was fine by them, especially the way the TV lighting accentuated Souwester’s body under the flimsy dress as she moved from the relative warmth of the outside of the castle to the cold dank dungeons which now housed the newly-refurbished medieval armoury.

TV critics – more especially the male heterosexual ones – were quick to acclaim the ease with which Souwester coped with the sudden loss of her clothing as she interviewed the curator of the exhibition, especially when - as Souwester’s dress came off - the curator walked straight into a recently sharpened rack of medieval pole-axes, suffering a severe shredding of his inventory.

Following the massive ratings success of Souwester’s subsequent hit TV series: History In The Raw, C4 have been very quick to announce that the next series of Time Team will feature several young nubile archaeology students writhing around naked in the mud in order to be the first to dislodge a piece of Neolithic knapped flint from the clay.

Thursday Poem: What Lies Beyond


What Lies Beyond

Distance grows like the space between times
when we learnt how to hold onto those moments
that can so easily slip by, and be lost forever.
Silence grows around us and fills those spaces
until they crack and burst out
into the world and we have to touch them.

There are no shapes we can hold and turn
to see how the sharp light is reflected back
creating patterns we could see and believe in, even though
there are no shapes we can hold and turn and see
there are no patterns, no forms
and no such meanings. We are all we have.

I will remember always the taste
of women, how they taste of lands always just
out of my reach, and how – no matter how close we lie – still
there is always that one place that lies beyond.
I have known so much, and yet
so little of it finally matters.

When we lie like this together, and
I can still taste all that distance on my lips
and tongue, then I can believe I’ve known something
something far more real than this world you’ve shown me.
The world has turned and moves all
around us and – yet – still here we remain.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wise Words


Even though – as the great sage Osbert the Underwired had it – our elbows be now set irresolute against the swelling tide of badgers of ill-omen and the enraged weasels of fortune, let us not be downhearted, for – at least – we still have our donkeys.

Osbert’s wise words – of course – do lose something of their force now that we no longer live in a world with such close contact with the forces of nature, and the sheer power of his oration has been dimmed by unthoughtful repetition dulling it into mere cliché, and yet…

and yet…..

Yet, there is still a part of me, a big part of me that believes… no, which insists – despite the passage of years and despite their over-used familiarity - Osbert’s wise words are – still – complete and utter bollocks.

Wednesday Story: A Ghost Story


A Ghost Story

The old hometown looks the same, I couldn't help smiling, despite everything. This place - my old hometown - didn't look the same at all. If I didn't know where I was, I wouldn't recognise it. From the hospital I'd just left to the trendy coffee-bar-type café where I was sitting; it was all new, all different. The next line of the old song came to mind - And there to meet me is my mama and my papa, well, that didn't apply either. My dad was long dead now; he'd died a long time ago, way back in the seventies, before I'd even left this town to go to university. An industrial accident, that's what they'd called it. The irony was that this new shopping complex, where I was idly passing time drinking trendy coffee, had been built in the place where the iron foundry where he died… that had killed him… had stood all those years ago.

And now, just a few streets away, my mother was lying, perhaps even dying, in the new hospital. I couldn't help wondering if my dad would have lived, survived his accident, if that hospital had been there then, back in his day.

"Hey, Steve!"

I looked around at the sound of my name; a portly middle-aged man was easing himself between the nearby tables, grinning at me. I stared at a face that bore the ghost of someone I knew a long time ago, a memory as vague as a reflection in a muddy canal. A quick flicker of uncertainty crossed his face as he drew closer, realising I did not recognise him. Then it hit me, and the years fell away from his face.


"Yeah. I was beginning to think you'd forgotten me." He sat down opposite me, leaning forward over the table towards me.

"Sorry," I said. "I… I'm a bit… preoccupied. I've just come from the hospital." I nodded over in that direction. "My mom…."

"Oh, right." He leant back again, glancing back the way he'd come. "I…."

"No, it's all right. More than that, it's just what I need… a familiar face." I leant forwards, towards him, this time. "This place… It's all… so strange… new. It doesn't feel like home any more."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," Carl said, relaxing and looking around too. "Anyway, about your mom?"

"Her heart. She is getting on now… well, as you know."

Carl nodded and shook his head, one after the other. "I know. We lost… Alice, that's my wife - I don't think you two ever met. Anyway, Alice's mom died last July. Every time the phone rings late at night now I expect the worst. Silly, I know…."

"No. I know what you mean. But, my mom, the doctors seem confident, relaxed…. Hopeful, even."

"Good. Good." He nodded rapidly, looking down at the table. We both descended into thoughtful silence for a moment or two.

"So," he said. "What happened to you, then?"

I smiled back at him. "Well, you know I went to university - Swansea - as planned, and… well, I never came back - apart from visiting mom every now and then, of course. I've been living there for so long now, it's, well, I suppose, it is home now." I sipped at the dregs of my coffee. "I take it you never left, then?"

"Me? Oh no, I'm a real home-lover, me. Alice is always trying to get me to take more holidays… go abroad, and all that. But I just like pottering about at home. Home, wife, kids, family… and so on, that's it for me. I'm a real traditionalist, at heart, I suppose."

I nodded, thinking of my family back home. I was a stranger in a strange town now, and I suddenly felt the loneliness of it. The thought of going back to a house empty of everything except too many childhood memories filled me with a sudden depression.

"What's the matter?" Carl said. "You look like you've just seen a ghost."

"I think I have." I attempted a smile. "I was just thinking about going back to that empty house."

"Ah." Carl nodded his sympathy. "Hey, I know why don't you come back with me? Meet the wife, the family. Have a proper home-cooked meal?"

I was instantly tempted. "No… I couldn't… impose on you all like that." I shook my head.

"Don't be daft. They all know about you anyway. My best mate from school. I've told them about all the things we did. They'd all love to meet you. It would be proof I didn't make all those stories up. The kids can't seem to reconcile me as their dad with what I was like when I was their age. Go on… come back. Say yes."

"Oh, okay then," I grinned back at him. "All the stories?"

"Well, not the ones you're thinking of." Carl grinned too. "I'll just ring Alice." He took out his mobile and made a call. "Funny, she's out," he said to me. "I'll leave a message." I could just hear the sound of his distorted voice coming back to him from the answering machine. "Hey Alice, It's me. I'm bringing an old friend back for dinner tonight. He's had to come back to visit his mom in hospital… and he's at a bit of a loose end. Anyway, see you later." He switched off his mobile and noticed my frown. "Hey mate, I only mentioned your mom so she doesn't get funny with us when we get back."

"Look, if it's going to be any trouble…."

"No, don't be daft. You'll get loads of sympathy off her. Alice's really good that way. Don't worry about it. It probably will save a bit of awkwardness, know what I mean?"

I nodded. "I suppose so."

"Anyway, Alice… Alice Davis, as was. Do you remember her?"

I shook my head. "Doesn't ring any bells."

"Never mind, you'll meet her in a few hours or so. Meanwhile, how about if I show you around a bit? Go and have a look at the few old places that are still left?"


"Hey, Steve, did you know The Crypt is still there?"

"Never!" I said. "I thought that place would have been condemned years ago."

"Condemned? No chance! They even did it up a few years back."

"Did it up? The only way you could do that place up is with a bulldozer." I laughed and stood up. "Come on, you'll have to show me. I still have a couple of photos of one of the gigs we played there. I bring them out every now and then to scare the kids with."

Carl stood too, grinning like the teenager I now remembered so well. "I've still got a tape of your band - that one from the rehearsal in the upstairs room at the youth club. Remember?"

I shook my head. "No. I can't remember any youth club."

"Really? I would have thought you'd remember Dawn, though."



So we spend a few hours visiting a few of the old places, laughing and giggling like a pair of kids as we went from place to place. The derelict old church was still there, but recently re-pointed and cleaned. The once-boarded-up big, high, church windows had now been professionally bricked up too. I shook my head in wonder. The Crypt with its enormous, but tasteful, new neon sign, the new set of steps with a guardrail that led to the door, I shook my head. It didn't seem like the old place anymore. I glanced at the poster of upcoming gigs pasted on the wall.

"They're all tribute bands," I said with a sigh of disbelief.

"Yeah, it's all like that now," Carl said, shaking his head. "You don't get many original bands doing their own stuff these days, or so it seems to me. I'm a bit out of touch with it all, though."

I nodded, turning to look around at the new housing estate built on the hillside, stretching down towards the canal below. "Me too," I said. "In fact, when I met Claire I sort of gave up on rock music."

Carl turned to face me, shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand. "Nah, I can't believe that. You… your band… music… it was everything to you."

We turned and began to walk back to his car. "Well, Claire, she was a classical pianist when we met. She educated me."

Carl seemed puzzled. "But, just because of that you gave it all up? I can't see that."

I stopped for a moment. "When I started to pay attention, to listen to what she was playing, then the stuff I'd been doing seemed so… so…." I waved my hands, making a dismissive gesture. "A different league, completely."

"But The Swamp Rats were so good," Carl said, almost forlornly.

"No." I shook my head. "Third division, at best."

Carl glanced at his watch. "Shit, we'd better get a move on, Alice will murder us."

It was a house in the middle of the new estate built on the side of the hill. "It would be convenient for The Crypt, if I ever went there these days," Carl said as he pulled into the drive.

I muttered the usual platitudes about the house as we went inside. Standing in the hall, Carl yelled "Alice! We're here. Come and meet Steve."

"Steve?" A voice from the kitchen with something strange… strained, perhaps, about it.

We stood for a moment, and then Carl nodded towards the kitchen. "Come on," he said to me.

When she turned from the cooker, she seemed to be blushing. I put it down to the heat in the kitchen. She didn't want to meet my eye, at first. There was something vaguely familiar about her. I presumed I must have met her once, briefly, some time in the distant past.

"Hello, Alice," I said. "Nice to meet you."

It seemed as though she was risking a glance up at me.

"You do look vaguely familiar," I said. "I think we may have met, back in the old days… briefly."

She gave me another look, one that I found difficult to read. It was as though a whole raft of feelings were going through her mind at once. "I don't think we did meet, did we?" she said, turning away from me.

"Of course not," Carl said, brightly, trying to lighten the mood and rubbing his hands together briskly. "He wouldn't be able to forget you, love." He turned back to me. "Maybe she was around more, after your time. After you'd left for Uni?"

"Yes. Yes. That's probably it," Alice said emphatically as she busied herself stirring briskly at something in a saucepan. "Look, I'm a bit busy here."

"Yes, right. Of course, love." Carl ushered me out of the kitchen and into the living room.

"Sorry about that," Carl said, as we sat down. "She's usually not that… er… distracted."

"It's all right," I said. "Look, if it's a problem?"

"No, of course not. Don't be daft. We both have mates around quite often. It must be something else… a bad day at work, or something. Don't worry about it."

I gave him the old look. The no bullshit between mates look.

"I said, didn't I?"

I nodded. "Okay." I looked around the room. "Nice place," I said automatically.

"Yeah, well. It is about as good as you can get on our money," Carl said, with a little hint of pride in his voice. "We were lucky actually, caught them at just the right time, just before the price boom."


Once we sat down for the meal, just the three of us - the kids were out apparently - I again had the impression that Alice was trying to avoid catching my eye. She either looked down at her plate, over at Carl or stared out at the garden through the window. There seemed to be a tension about her too, her shoulders tight, and a certain awkwardness in the way she moved.

"I don't know, there is something vaguely familiar about you," I said to Alice, trying to be friendly.

She shook her head, as she stared out at the garden, not looking at me. I complimented her on the meal too, she just smiled briefly as she turned back to look down at her plate. "Thanks," she said. "It's just roast lamb and veg, nothing special."

"No, love. It's great," Carl said. I caught the false note in his voice. He could tell there was something wrong too. He turned to me, a slightly forced smile on his face. "You probably wouldn't recognise her, anyway. Back in those days she had bright pink hair!"

"Ssshh," Alice said sharply, then forced herself to smile at her husband. "Steve won't want to know about that. It was all such along time ago now." She put down her knife and fork on her half-eaten food, then suddenly stood and took her plate out into the kitchen.

Pink hair? I caught a glance at her face. There was a memory there, just out of reach.

"Sorry, mate," Carl said. "There must be something up. She's not usually like this."

I shook my head. "I'll nip off, soon as I can, afterwards."

"No… I…."

I could see the disappointment in Carl's face as he looked down at his plate. "We'll arrange something, though, maybe… before I have to head back."

He looked up at me, smiling in relief. "Yeah? Great." The enthusiasm was there, genuine. I wondered for a moment why we hadn't kept in touch.

After we'd finished eating, and Carl had taken our plates into the kitchen - where Alice was still - apparently - busy with something, we adjourned to the living room. We sat side by side on the sofa, like so many times in the past. I could almost see us as gawky teenagers once more.

I glanced up at their wedding photograph on the mantelpiece. "You know," I said. "There is something vaguely familiar about Alice. I can almost remember…." Again, there was something tugging a few strands of memory… pink hair… the shape of her face… that nose. I shook my head; the memory had gone, slipped away.

"Hang on!" Carl said, jumping to his feet. "…Won't be a minute."

"Where…?" But he'd gone.

A few seconds later I looked up to see Alice had crept silently into the room. She still wouldn't look at me.

"What's the matter?" I said.

"You know… coming here… like this."

"What?" I shrugged.

She risked a brief glance at my face. "Are you sure you don't… don't remember?"

"Remember what?"

"Back in the old da…."

"Here we are!" Carl burst back into the room, carrying a pile of photograph albums.

"No!" Alice almost screamed, reaching out to grab the albums.

"Don't be silly, love." Carl glanced at me, then looked heavenwards. "She hates anyone seeing these old photographs," he said to me. "I keep telling her she's just as beautiful now as she was then."

Alice turned away, folded her arms and strode over to the big window, staring out at the front garden.

"Women, eh?" Carl whispered conspiratorially as he sat down beside me and opened the first photograph album. He flicked rapidly through a few pages. "Here, that's Dawn - remember her now?"

I looked down at the photograph, out of focus and not very well posed. "Oh, yes. She was the one who…." I glanced up to see Alice look away sharply, before I could catch her eye. "Yes, well."

Carl looked up at Alice. "He was always one for the girls. They all seemed to like him, fancy him, especially being in the band and all that. It used to make me as jealous as hell."

"You should have carried on learning the drums…." I said.

He looked up at me. "I broke my leg remember, falling off that wall when we were pissed that night. I missed loads of Swamp Rats gigs during that time. I remember that one gig you told me about when you came to visit me in the hospital, y'know the one with the groupie?"

I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, Alice moving further away from us. I turned back to Carl, grinning like a schoolboy, "Oh, her… yes. I remember her."

"Go on, tell Alice about it." He turned towards Alice. "Hey, love, listen to this. After one gig, Steve here and four or five blokes from the band the Swamp Rats were supporting all shared this groupie. Six of them and just the one girl! Go on, tell her."

"Oh, no," I said. "We were young, foolish, just kids. I can't remember that much about her…."

"Ah," Carl said as he turned another page. "Here's the photo of her - Alice. See - the pink hair!"

I stared at the photo, gulping and feeling myself beginning to blush as it all came back to me. The six of us, and the girl, lying there on the floor of the van, surrounded by the headline band's equipment. The six of us - more boys than men - all naked and laughing along with the naked girl with the bright pink hair. I looked up at Alice. All I could see was the side of her face and her neck reddening as she stared away from us.

"Ah, all of this… so long ago…." I shrugged, helplessly. No wonder Alice had been so uptight all evening. I glanced at my watch. "Is that the time?"

Carl glanced up at the clock on the mantelpiece, next to their wedding photograph. He jumped to his feet. "Oh, shit, yeah. I've got to go and pick up Donna from Guides. Hang on, mate. I'll only be twenty minutes or so. Wait here, with Alice, until I come back."

I made doubtful noises, not wanting to be alone with Alice and doubting if she would want to be alone with me. But I could see the pleading look in Carl's eyes. I nodded. Carl grinned then turned to leave.

The door slammed and we were alone together; me slumped on the sofa and Alice still staring out through the window as the silence lengthened between us.

I couldn't stand it any longer. "I'm sorry," I said to her back.

She didn't turn. I was beginning to wonder if she had heard. "Sorry? What for? Sorry for what happened or sorry for not remembering?"

"I…." I didn't know the answer to that one.

"I thought I was in love," she said, still staring out at the front garden. "I thought I was in love with you."

I remembered; she had come up to me as I finished helping the headline band pack their stuff away in their van. Alone among the guitar and drum cases, the amps and speakers I'd sat down in the back of the van for a quiet fag, only looking up when the van shook as she climbed in. She didn't say anything, just came up and kissed me. Moments later - or so it seemed - I was leaning back against the side of the van as she knelt to suck me off. I could feel an erection growing now as I thought back to those days. Then, suddenly, the headline band had all reappeared, now with spliffs and beer, cheering and jeering as they caught Alice and me together.

After a few moments of chaos, suddenly she was naked. Then, as suddenly, the rest of us were naked, and then... I looked up to see that she'd turned away from the window and was looking at me.

"I thought I was in love with you," she said again. "But I wasn't" she shook her head. "I was half in love with your image - the rock star - and half in love with the rock 'n' roll dream… the myth…. " She sighed and shook her head. "The illusion."

I nodded, not knowing what else to do. I stared down at my hands clasped together, reassuring each other.

"I tried to kill myself, you know - afterwards."

Shocked, I stared up at her. "Oh, shit. I'm sorry."

She nodded slowly, looking down at the carpet in front of her feet. "You ought to be sorry," she said, anger at the edge of her voice. "It was because of you, over you." She glared at me. "The way you ignored me, didn't even recognise me the next time we met at The Crypt. The thought that I'd… done… all that for you and then you could just walk away, ignore me, probably thought I was just a slag, a groupie, just some… thing you could discard, forget…. I… I just couldn't bear to live with that."

"I'm so sorry," I said, not knowing what else to say or do. I could remember how… how scared of her I was at the time. I thought that a girl who could do something like that - how could someone as… well, as ordinary as me ever cope with her?

"I rushed up to you as soon as I saw you for the first time after that night. You just walked straight past me. You were with some other woman… tall… jet-black hair… leather."

I suddenly remembered Tina. Tina with all the black leather - a hardcore punk fantasy. We'd only gone out once together - to The Crypt, of course. She'd given me some pills, sneering at my ill-concealed reluctance to take them. I doubt if I would have recognised anyone that night. In fact, I could remember staring at myself for what seemed like hours in the stained and scratched sheet of metal that served - badly - as a mirror in The Crypt's toilets, wondering who I was. I didn't mention this to Alice; it seemed like trying to weasel out of it, an attempt at some feeble excuse. Tina had scared me too.

"I got out of the whole thing myself, not long after," my own voice sounded far away to me now. "I didn't like what it made me become. I hated myself half the time for those things I did because I thought that was what I had to do. Perhaps I did recognise you, but thought something inane like it would be uncool - or some other similar stupidity - to acknowledge you." I looked up into her eyes. "I was an utter bastard. You have every right to hate me." I stood up. "Tell Carl, I had to go, maybe a message from the hospital… or something like that." I took a step towards her, reaching out for her, touching her shoulder. She flinched as though my touch was electric. She took an involuntary step back, away from me. She shook her head.

"I met Carl in the hospital a little while later," she said. "We were both there as outpatients, him for his leg, me for… well." She wiped her nose and eyes roughly with the back of her hand. "At the time, I even blamed you for Carl breaking his leg, falling off that wall. It happened when he was out on the piss with you, of course." She smiled grimly and shook her head. "He never did agree with me blaming you, though. He always thought the sun shone out of your arse." She looked at me again. "You became my personal devil. Funnily, hating you made it easier to forget what happened. I could blame you, you personally, not me for what happened… and… forgive myself."

I shrugged. "I suppose that is fair enough. If I were you, I'd think like that." I tried to smile. "In fact, I blame me too. I've never thought about it before, but on those few occasions I did come back here, I stayed away from all the old places. Too many ghosts I didn't want to face again, I suppose."

For the first time that evening, she looked at me properly, as though she was actually seeing me now, rather than some ghost of memory, or even some nightmare character of her own construction. "Yes, well," she said, and turned away from me again. She stared out of the window again.

"I…." I made some sort of half-hearted gesture towards the door. I saw the movement of my arm had caught her eye, but she did not turn back to face me.

"You'd better go now…. He'll be back in a minute," she said.

I made no move to leave.

"Go," she said sharply. "I don't want you here when he gets back. I can't stand it, having you both together again." She shuddered and hugged herself.

I took a tentative step towards her, mumbling something apologetic, but she shook her head and waved me away, without turning towards me. At the door, I glanced back. From that angle, I could see her reflection in the window. She wiped her arm roughly across her face as I left; she was still staring out of the window.

The hospital had my mobile number, so when, back in my mother's empty house that night, her phone rang twice I ignored it. I could picture the look of confusion on Carl's face as he put the phone down, and then, as he looked across at his wife of so many years, seeing something strange there. A look he had not seen for such a long time. A ghost he thought had long since been exorcised.



[This, and other stories can also be found here as well]