Sunday, 21 March 2010

100. Endinging

There’s no such thing as a happy ending.

But that’s only because nothing ever really ends. Every dying breath breathes life into something new and unexpected, and that’s the joy of living.

That means nothing ever really lasts forever. The state of things is constant flux: nothing is fixed in place, not the good times and not the bad times. The dark of the moon swells as the light shrinks to a sliver, but the moon endures and the light side will return. A flower is only beautiful because it dies and feelings are only precious because they pass. And that’s the point, and that’s why it’s worth doing the things that make the feelings happen.

And so I laid back and filled my lungs with warm summer's air, perfumed with the clean, sweet scent of newly-cut grass. It’s still the single most delicious thing I have ever smelled.

It was now late in the evening. Childhood's final summer was drawing to an end. I couldn’t remember a moment so perfectly bittersweet. I’d never felt so happy and I’d never felt so sad; a single point of sheer bliss so close to the end of so many things. Nothing would be the same after this and nothing would ever be so good. And when it was gone, it would be gone forever. I found myself looking forward to looking back on it, feeling my older self encouraging me to make the most of this moment of music and friends. And I promised him that I would.

There’s no such thing as a happy ending.

But sometimes, just sometimes, life grants you a few quiet minutes to yourself, to stand to one side and look around, to appreciate what’s gone before and not worry about what will come next. Sometimes what’s next isn’t just over the page or in the next chapter but in a whole new book, a book that’s yet to be written and one that you will get to write yourself.

They pass in an instant, like sparks above a fire, but they’re there. And these are the moments that make the rest of life worth living; a series of shining, precious points stitched across your days, like stars in a night sky.

There's no such thing as a happy ending. But just sometimes there are tiny, fleeting moments to look around and think, “Yes, let’s stop things here – ”

99. Overture

Ninety-nine different beginnings, crudely sewn together.

Hwaet! Who’s there? You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveller. You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. As the manager of the performance sits before the curtain on the boards, and looks into the fair, a feeling of profound melancholy comes over him. Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. This is the saddest story I have ever heard, of man's disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste brought death into the world, and all our woe. It is the saddest night for I am leaving and I am not coming back.

I began this disorderly and almost endless collection of scattered thoughts and observations in order to gratify a good mother who knows how to think. How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. Why should I not publish my diary? To pity people in distress is a human quality every man and woman should posses. I hope you will be ready to own publicly, whenever you shall be called to it, that by your great and frequent urgency you prevailed on me to publish a very loose and uncorrect account of my travels.

It started as a mistake. A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth in the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds. “To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.” You better not never tell nobody but God.

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. As a proof of my readiness to accept autobiographical convention, let me at once record my two earliest memories:

1. I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me.

2. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

Call me Ishmael. I am an invisible man. I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other. You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.

I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho' not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” – he was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream. He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.

Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn't matter what. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But all children, except one, grow up.

To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black. It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen, when that April with his sweet showers has the dryness of March pierced to the root. April is the cruellest month. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. That is no country for old men.

On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. Bridge. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. It was a dark and stormy night. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. It was 7 minutes to midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears' house. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. A squat, grey building of only thirty-four storeys.

We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold. The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended. Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do.

"What's it going to be then, eh?"

“Nothing to be done.”

We are in a camp five miles behind the line. Yesterday, our relief arrived; now our bellies are full of bully beef and beans. A screaming comes across the sky. I can feel the heat closing in. After the siege and assault was ceased at Troy, the burgh destroyed and burnt to beams and ashes, the man who hatched treacherous plots of treason was there tried for his treachery, the truest on earth. It was a pleasure to burn.

Mother died today. They shot the white woman first. It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. It was the day my grandmother exploded. We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon.

I am a sick man. My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense. If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.

For a long time, I went to bed early. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me. When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed into an enormous bug.

Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. The story had held us, around the fire. The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet. Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. It was love at first sight. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.

Sing to me of the man. riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

All this happened, more or less.

Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents.

98. Frogs, snails, etc

Gary was the kind of boy who pulled the legs off spiders and immolated ants with a magnifying glass.

He owned a penknife, wore an earring, and had Nightmare on Elm Street on VHS. Thanks to him, I got my first scar, saw my first pornographic magazine and learned my first swearword.

I remember that day well. It was a revelation. It was as if he had showed me another world hidden behind the drab one I’d known for the previous seven years of my life, a world more exciting, dangerous and adult. The Prelapsarian tabula rasa of my little brain – if ever a small boy’s head can ever be described like that – was no more. It would gain further stains before the end of that summer, becoming as grimey as my face usually was (and still is, for that matter). But for the time being I felt like I had been initiated into a secret brotherhood; one of the elite, some sort of profane Rosicrucian or a sweary Illuminati – not that I knew what any of those words meant.

I had danced home from school with devilish glee, dying for an opportunity to use my newfound knowledge.

Happily, my little brother stepped up, as he so often did. He showed our mother some picture he’d drawn at school. I took a deep breath.

“That’s crap, that.”

For a second I assumed the sky had fallen. Then I realised it my mother’s hand (the right one, backhand).

With perfect timing, Gary chose that moment to come in through the kitchen door. He never knocked and he ever used the front door.

“Hullo, Mrs Ball,” he said brightly.

“Hello, Gary,” mum replied, suspiciously. Gary was the one of my friends who wasn’t allowed to come round for tea.

He wiped his nose on the back of his hand (I remember his nose was always running, even in the middle of summer. How was that even possible?) and turned to me. “Robert, you gay, you will not believe what I found in the Woods,” he said, his eyes burning with delight.

He was right; I wouldn’t. And it would turn out that I was right not to believe, because what Gary had found was a world away from what he thought it was.

97. Undertow

Her eyes were cold , grey and beautiful as the iron sea by his home. Looking into them, he remembered standing on cold beaches, watching the surf for hours, scoffing at scuffed metal signs warning of rip tides and dangerous undercurrents.

Why fight it? He felt like a harpoon had come out of the spray and plunged deep into his heart, pulling him in, the sound of sirens in his ears. He could barely keep his head above water. He gave himself up to the undertow.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

96. Alpha to Omega

Alphabetising actual acts and adventures
Catharsis and composition to the chaos and cacophony of the
Disparate, desperate deeds of those dismal days.

Everything that
Follows flows from finding
Guile and guilt and greed for gold in God’s
Holy house.

I am irreligious but if invoking
Jesus in judging others,
Know kindred
Law will be levered by me, the laity, to be levelled at you; a litmus test for the legitimacy of your
Mendacious minister’s morals.

Not now -
Other openings, onerous
Parts of this piercingly painful parable, position themselves as priorities, priest.

Quite quickly, it is
Shown that I should
Rein in my rage, bring regulation to my record, ready myself to relate my recollections of your regime.

The truth I
Unearthed is currently untold, but it will, ultimately, be uncovered as this unfolds.
Veils, vituperation and violence – my
Writing won’t waiver, whatever you wish.

Your yoke is yanked away

95. Darkness visible

Let us not begin at the beginning; let us begin a little before then.

Let us begin a few seconds before the beginning of everything.

What follows may obfuscate more than it illuminates.

94. Nighthawks

No one noticed them sitting together at the counter. No one asked why they were still there, when it was so late. No one saw that their coffees were cold and undrunk. No one noticed their hands, so close and yet still not touching. No one heard them speak. And no one noticed when they were gone.

93. Daydream

On a warm May afternoon, a man fell asleep amid the twisted roots of an oak tree.

And there he dreamed a dream of a new world.

And when he awoke, he wrote down his dream and he placed it next to his breast to keep it safe. And he fell back to sleep, knowing that he had seen a new world and knowing that he had seen how it could come to pass.

This is not the story of the dream. It is the story of the dreamer and his lifetime of torment. For when he awoke the second time, he could not remember the dream. And when he looked at the record of the dream he could not read what he had written.

This is my story.

92. See Emily play

Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Emily.

She was beautiful little girl. She had cheeks the colour of Damask roses, flawless skin as white as porcelain and lips as red as blood.

But she lived in an attic of a large house, where no one played with her. She spent her days in half-light and dust, away from the other children, not seen and not heard.

For although she looked like a real girl, it was an illusion. She was too fragile to play with. Her body was too brittle to embrace and her skin too cold to kiss. Only the hair on her head was real, hanging in perfect ringlets. But even that had been taken from the heads of other children.

If only the rest of her was real, then the children would play with her. She wanted to be like the other children ever so much.

Emily resolved that she would begin with her eyes. She had heard them called the windows of the soul. Emily had no soul, but she would take one of those, too.

Presently, her only companion was Thomas, a black kitten who had nearly been drowned by one of gardeners in a water butt. A stable boy had pulled the sack out just in time, but not before the cold water had taken eight of Thomas’s lives, which played around him all day long, pale reflections of his coal black self.

And so, at midnight, Emily crept down into the main house, Thomas alongside her, her knife glittering in the moonlight. She looked for Mistress Constance’s bed chamber.

91. Post hoc

I want to get something clear before we go on: just because one thing happens after another thing, that does not mean that there is any causal relationship between the two of them.

I mean, I come home from work. The sun sets. Not, I come home from work – the sun sets, you’ll note. Two things just happen. One thing does not affect the other. We clear? Good.

Because the fact that my wife left me at the age of 40, homeless, hopeless, helpless – after 15 years of submerging my own life to try and build something I never really wanted, that she then so casually destroyed, as if she’d just kicked down a sandcastle, turning 15 years of my life into a total waste of time – because that has nothing whatsoever to do with the events that I’m about to relate. Bear that in mind at all times.

Okay, so six weeks after my wife walked away, I was in Camden with Anya, getting my first tattoo. It was a star with 15 points. A Russian prisoner’s tattoo, Anya said. I never asked how she knew these things.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

90. Elementary

I've always been interested in the fact that Sherlock Holmes is held up as a paragon of logic and reasoning, when he's anything but - he just casts that illusion. And I also like the fact that Conan Doyle was repeatedy duped by con artists, promising visions of the afterlife or fairies at the bottom of the garden. So this is an attempt to square the two.

All tales have a beginning, a middle and an end. Just not necessarily in that order. That was the lesson taught to me by my dearest friend and colleague Mr Fortitude Saville.

I remember it clearly. Mrs Hudson had cleared away the dishes from a most robust luncheon and Saville and I had retired to the drawing room. Saville was applying himself with wordless Trojan industry to a box of Egyptian tobacco.

With silence hanging in the air as thickly as the blue smoke emanating from Saville’s pipe and for want of some kind of conversation, I touched on one of his favourite subjects: himself and his mysterious methods.

“My dear Saville,” I said, “I am still puzzled at our most recent case. It is truly remarkable that you could have determined who, in a city of more than three million souls, was sending those poison pen letters to young Lady Constance. Even after all these years, I am still unsure as to how you can produce such prodigious, nay, miraculous, instances of deduction.”

He took a long drag on his pipe and looked at me with that familiar heavy-lidded ennui. “Your uncertainty is no accident. Deduction itself s a simple process; even you would be able to grasp it, Herring.” He leaned forward. “What is important is that we make sure other people don’t grasp it.”

“I don’t follow,” I said.

“Precisely!” Saville walked across to the fire mantle and leaned against it in a pose of artful nonchalance as he gathered, or chose to cast the impression of gathering, his thoughts. “What one omits is just as important what one says. And so is when one chooses to say something. You see, every story has a beginning, a middle and a conclusion, but not necessarily in that order. Indeed, the most effective sequence for the gentle reader, in terms of crude if pleasing sensationalism, is most certainly not that order. It is a question of presentation, Herring.”

Although I appreciated Saville’s patience and slow deliberateness of explanation as he sought to illuminate his methods for my singularly dim eyes, I struggled to comprehend. As a master of observation, he perceived this in a trice.

“I am using an analogy, Herring. You know what that is, don’t you? Any case that I deign to investigate is nothing but a small story. It begins with a problem, proceeds through observation and deduction, and concludes with the solution. And a deduction is a small story itself, beginning with a general rule, proceeding to a particular instance, and concluding with the truth. All that one requires is a rule that one knows to be true, and then to apply it to the instance before you. If alpha, then beta.

“It really is elementary. And rather dull – both for me and for the clients whom I charge so rather handsomely for my services. And that, Herring, is precisely we must obfuscate and call upon a little sleight of hand. Far better to give them the beginning and the end, and leave the dreary middle to their imagination. Would you pay to see a magician who unconjured his illusions as he performed them? Maybe once, but then you would try to perform the tricks yourself.”

I suddenly felt like I didn’t know my closest companion in the slightest it. “Magicians, Saville? That doesn’t sound very scientific.”

“Science! I couldn’t give a damn about science. Give me magic and mystery any day. You may not have observed, Herring, but science does not pay. So let us not lay bare our methods, like a common street whore, but rather, like the dancing girls of Paris, tempt, tease, tantalise. Detection is a performance.”

I felt indignant and not a little hurt, as though my chair were shifting unnaturally beneath me. Had Saville been lying to his – no, our – clients these last six years? Was I the victim of sustained falsehoods, too?

A cold look flashed across Saville’s face. “Let me show you. Oh, my dear Watson, do not excite yourself. Your emotions are no doubt still a little agitated after last night. Just because you had been so ill-prepared to become caught in a downpour, was that any reason to strike your servant girl simply for being clumsy?”

Lizzie. I felt like I myself had been struck. “How did you know that?”

Saville drew smoke down deep into his lungs, held it there and slowly exhaled, looking like an Oriental dragon, his lithe frame wrapped in his silk smoking jacket. Eventually, he said: “There are some cuts on your shoe. The only way to get those cuts is from a shoe being rather clumsily scraped. If your shoe was being clumsily scraped, that must mean that you have a clumsy servant and that she had cause to scrape your shoe. And if she had cause to scrape your shoe, you must have been muddy, and therefore wet. And I know your temperament towards the fairer sex all too well.”

He was right. How was he right? Were the signs so clear? I felt like I was being made a fool of. “And this is your ‘deduction’?” I asked.

Saville laughed. “No, that was abduction – the polar opposite. I saw an effect and looked to determine its cause. But I begin by telling you my shattering conclusion and then present the reasoning in reverse, as if it were deductive reasoning, rather than abductive. Generally, my methods are abduction.” A smile one might expect to find along the banks of the Nile flashed across his face. “You may interpret that as you will.”

“Of course,” he continued, strolling around the drawing room, “in any piece of deduction, of the general rule is true, then your conclusion will be logical, if not actually true.”

He looked at me. “All snowballs are cold. Herring is cold. Therefore Herring is a snowball. Do you see? Clearly false – you are many things, Herring, but not frozen water shaped into an orb. But with the impression of logic. And that is all that is necessary. One cannot argue with cold, impersonal logic, Herring. And people do not like to argue or think too hard. If it is ostensibly logical, that will suffice. We live in an age in which soft-headed cretins pay kings’ ransoms for mediums, mesmerists and Theosophists to show them ghosts in the parlour, ectoplasm in the drawing room and fairies at the bottom of the garden. They want to believe. And it is so very easy to lie when the other party wants to believe.”

I felt dazed. “But how is that you’re always right?” I asked. “There are hundreds of reasons why I could have cuts on my shoe.”

“Are you aware of Occam’s razor?”

I believe I unconsciously brushed my cheek.

“No, Watson, it is not a product for your barber. It is the principle that the simplest explanation – the least elaborate – is most likely to be true. It is also patent poppycock. Consider the case to which you referred, the Case of Poisoned Pen.”

I remembered what I had seen; what I thought I had seen. “You identified the writer from the quality of note paper, the typeface of the newspapers he had cut out and affixed to it, and from his handwriting on those words he had been unable to find in each day’s Times,” I said.

“Yes. Rather elaborate, don’t you think?”

I concede that it was.

“No, the simplest reason, is that I knew who was sending the letters is because I ordered that idiot Jew to send them on my behalf, so that cretin girl would come to seek my help. And I knew about your conduct towards dear, sweet Lizzie because I have been bedding the girl these last six weeks.”

89. Fading glamour

It was a face that had seen better days.

It seemed to go well with his slightly threadbare sequinned jacket.

It wasn’t just the deepening lines. Try as he might, he couldn’t smile with his eyes any more.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

88. Exposition Position

Daniel frowned.

"So, what does exposition mean?"

"Well," said Rory, "exposition is when a character in a novel or play or film gives the reader or audience some background information or explanation about the present situation. It's a way to quickly bring them up to speed on what's happened previously but is usually a bit clumsy.

"Now that you're clear on that, let's get a move on. Thanks to your exploits on my stag do last night, we're 100 miles away from the church where I'm supposed to be marrying Laura this afternoon, with no money, no clothes and no time."

"But what about the Sarah? Do you think she'll make good on her threat to wreck the wedding?"

"Let's not begin to get into all that again," said Rory.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

87. On shifting sands

John and Julie are walking arm-in-arm along a cold English beach in spring.

They come across a curious thing. In the sand, in letters six feet long, is written, “I love Julie.”

Happiness swells up through Julie’s face and bursts into a smile, like someone blowing bubble gum.

“Did you write that?” she asks.

“Yes,” John lies.

“You are so sweet,” she says and grips his arm tighter.

Julie and John walk on. They happen upon a trail of pristine white shells, laid out in a perfect line across the sand. They follow it together and soon it begins to curve and wind its way across the beach in ever more complex knots and tighter spiral. They feel like they are becoming together enmeshed in a labyrinth. Then they see that the trail of shells has spelled out, “I ♥ Julie.” John and Julie are standing together at the centre of the maze in the middle of the heart. Julie’s smile is like an excited round of applause.

“Was this you, too?” she asks.

“Um, yes,” he lies. “Yes it was.”

“You are so amazing,” she says.

John and Julie walk to the end of the beach. Near the water’s edge, someone has scratched something in the wet sand. It reads, “Julie fucks like a train.”

John definitely didn’t write that.

“I think we should talk,” he says.

“Yes,” she agrees.

At the end of beach, near the storm barriers, unread, lies written in the sand, “John 4 Julie 4 ever.” John did write that. The sea starts to wash it away.

86. What lies beneath

It was one of the most unusual autopsies in which Robert Knox had been employed.

The official verdict cause of death was given as misadventure. The real cause would take several months more to come to light.

In the meantime, he was presented with two ineluctable questions.

One: why the man in question had ingested a Lego Darth Vader just before death.

Two: how and why he had managed to slice open his own scalp and carve on to his own skull the phrase, “If you read this, you are gay.”

85. Les Fleurs du Mal

Nothing quite says romance like stolen flowers. Certainly not like stolen flowers from a churchyard.

“It’s what they would have wanted,” he insisted.

84. Dichotomy

Bernice was a very pretty girl with a very ugly voice.

83. Beginninging of the Endinging

This is the beginning of a story about me trying to reach the end of a book.

I know that sounds trivial, but hear me out. I haven’t not finished a book, if I may mangle a double negative, in my entire life. But now I fear this book is going to finish me.

Seriously. I have been reading it for two years now, and I don’t think I’ve slept for the last 100 days.

At first, I would near the final few chapters and then something petty would get in the way. I’d end up working late, or old school friends would invite me for a drink out of the blue, or I would somehow lose it for a few weeks. And then things started to escalate.

It was a bit like Achilles and the tortoise. I went from reading a few chapters, to a few pages to a few paragraphs, to a few words, to even less than that. It’s not even a very good story, but not finishing it started to drive me mad. Insomnia suddenly hit me, so I’d end up staring at the pages, unable to take anything in.

I can’t remember everything that happened. I spilled paint on the book, although somehow it only covered the final few pages. I tried to buy a replacement but no book shop, library or dealer anywhere in Christendom appears to have a copy of the damn thing. It took me months to work that out and weeks more to patiently slice the pages open and carefully scrape the paint off, finding the words miraculously untouched beneath.

Six months ago, I got an eye infection and was basically blinded for 12 weeks. I asked Jessica to read to me to finish the damn thing, but she lost her voice. And then my father died, throwing my life upside down. I’m not saying the book killed him, but I’m pretty sure it’s killing me.

I wonder whether books have life only as long as the story within them is alive in the reader’s head. Is it a bibliographic Scheherazade desperate to stave off the inevitable?

I need closure on the book before it has closure on me. I found it in a second hand book shop – did someone hide it in there before me to rid themselves of it?

But before I tell you about the end of the book, I should tell you about its beginning.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

82. Elegantly Wasted

If you’re going to get wasted, get wasted elegantly
Keith Richards

Francis had spent the evening single-handedly propping up the bar, figuratively and – in must be said – financially.

Now, in recognition of his sterling efforts, the bar was returning the favour and kindly propping him up.

“I think you might have had enough, sir. Might be time for you to head home?” said the landlord.

Francis tried to fix him with a level gaze, which was not easy given the slight sway that the bar seemed to have acquired.

"Enough?" he asked. "Dear boy, I'm only just beginning."

He finished his drink. "One for the road?"

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

81. Get a child with mandrake root

On Wednesday, Jeremy pooped a homunculus.

It looked up at him from out of the pan with unconditional love in its tiny eyes, like shining, hopeful currants in a gingerbread man's face.


"No, Dadda," said Jeremy. "No, wait - nothing."

The homunculus burbled and splashed around merrily.

Jeremy slowly pulled up his trousers and gingerly prodded the little creature in the head with the loo brush.

Could he just flush it out of sight and out of mind round the U-bend, like his late goldfish?

He bloody knew he shouldn't have done all that mandrake last night.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

80. It started with a kiss

Plagiarism Week - Day Seven + 2, paying tribute to Sarah and Marko’s glorious pledge to kiss in front of a London monument every day for 100 days. Amazing. The picture is one of theirs that I’ve borrowed.

It started with a kiss.

No, really.

An incredible kiss. One of those perfect midnight kisses. A kiss in which creation seems to hold its breath and wait until you’ve finished. One of those kisses in a which a single, silent, stolen second will say more than a million poets chained to a million typewriters for a million years ever could. A kiss in which two people connect without anything to dilute, pollute or refract, sheltered together in a bubble of their own making, and time and tide and the rest of the world can go hang themselves for the moment.

Like your feet have left the ground. Like you’re going to melt into the other person. Like there are balloons in your chest being twisted. Like time has slowed to a trickle and you don’t want to do anything too sudden in case you break the spell.

And you kiss in front of monuments and it seems like they're a monument to your kiss. And you kiss down back alleys and it seems like they're protecting you from the eyes of others'. And you kiss and a falling star could destroy the city and you'd never know nor care.

And you know no one’s ever kissed quite this before. And you know no one ever will.

And when you stop, you’ll feel like you’ve woken up in a different world to where you started, having travelled somewhere between the mundane and another place far more glorious and delicious entirely.

One of those kisses.

It would also end with a kiss, but that was months away.

79. Hand Not In Glove

Plagiarism Week - Day Seven + 1, paying tribute to Grant Burford's Lovesgloves photostream. I spotted this one in a little square near my home.

On Sunday, her boyfriend disappeared.

This was typical. She had turned her back for two seconds and he’d vanished, leaving behind nothing but one of his stupid, massive woolly gloves.

They had been having a pleasant day in the park, she had looked away to put her tissue in the bin, looked back, and all that was left was his right glove, waving toodle-ooh in that inane way of his.

Had he run away? Had he been kidnapped? Had someone thrown a ball and distracted him?

If he were right now, he would probably blame it on aliens. Bloody aliens.

78. Encyclopaedia Panicka

Plagiarism Week - Day Seven, tipping the hat to Ben Partridge's Random Article blog, taking whatever is thrown out of Wikipedia's random article generator and writing a story about it. I thought about doing the same but it seemed a bit too close to what Ben is doing (plus my random article was rubbish), so here's a beginning about searching for a random article.

NB: I was going to set up the fictitious article on Wikipedia but they deleted it almost immediately, so you can see it on a seperate blog via the link halfway down the page.

Ross Norris had always assumed that boredom and laziness was the cocktail that was going to be his downfall. A warm, rich, somnolent cocktail, it must be said, like Horlicks, rum and warm cream. (A cocktail that boredom had, in fact, led him to create one afternoon. Not bad actually. Like malty opium.)

School had shown it, university had shown it, five years in the real world had shown it. He really should have learned his lesson by now, but this morning’s collection of overdue credit card bills, unpaid council tax, unemptied bins and a teetering Everest of missed deadlines suggested otherwise.

Today, however, Ross Norris’s singular capacity for procrastination was going to save his life.

At his desk with nothing to do – or, more accurately, nothing he wanted to do – and no one fun to do it with, Ross found himself poking about some online encyclopaedia. It was the kind written by its users and policed by well-meaning busy bodies. The moronic marshalled by the pedantic. In his more misanthropic moments, he viewed as a strong argument against democracy. The current prime minster: 8,000 word entry; Mr T: 16,000 word entry. Or maybe things were better that way round?

There was a ‘random article’ button on the home page. He hit it.

It took him to Ross Norris.

Ha! What are the odds? He seemed to remember some Aussie folk singer sharing the same name. Bit odd, but it would be even odder if it never happened. Even if it’s 3.1 million to one, there’s always the one. He decided to read a bit more about his namesake.

Hang on, this wasn’t right.

“Ross Norris is a media coverage analyst.”

What the fuck? That was him.

He skipped through it. It was a potted history of his life. Someone must have pieced it together from his CV. Company policy? Those bastards in IT! This was exactly what they’d find hilarious.

No, wait, there was stuff in here that couldn’t have been on a CV, about school and his best friend and things. Nick! That gimp. It was probably him. This was exactly the kind of thing that someone with the near permanent surfeit of time and imagination that Nick Nolan possessed would do.

But it still didn’t feel right. It wasn’t embarrassing enough for it to have come from him. And Nick didn’t live in London; there’s no way he’d know that much about his job. Or, Jesus, his gym membership, where he drank, where he played football, which bus he caught he caught, the coffee he bought every single morning – Christ, it even mentioned the barista he’d been pathetically flirting with was the last three months.

Norris suddenly felt like he had antifreeze in his veins. His desk was swimming in and out of focus. He looked around the office but no one appeared to be paying him any attention. That didn’t make him feel any less vulnerable. Was there a way to work out who’d written it? He looked at the top of the page. Nothing there, maybe –

Hang on. It didn’t read: “Ross Norris is a media coverage analyst.” It read: “Ross Norris was a media coverage analyst.” And then there was his date of birth: “b. 28 July 1981; d. 22 February 2010."

Fuck. That was today.

77. Definitive

Plagiarism Week - Day Six, in homage to Chrissy Williams and her Learn 100 New Words blog. I thought about using some of the ace words she's found, but then I looked up beginning in the dictionary and seemed to be a story in itself.

Beginning noun.
1. Entering upon existence or action
The beginning of their love

2. The point at which anything begins
The beginning of things between them was probably that evening in October when torrential rain had flooded the Tube and he’d stubbornly insisted on sharing his umbrella while they waited for a bus

3. An origin or source. A first cause, a first principle
And, looking back, that slightly pathetic £2 umbrella, which blew out God knows how many times, and his ridiculous insistence in trying to keep it over her head, despite not being remotely big enough for both them, sparked the beginning of their love

4. The first part (of a period of time, of a book, a journey etc); the earliest stage of development
In the beginning, she remembered, they had been gloriously, recklessly happy – exciting and slightly scary times, poor and in love, full of loud music, late nights and long kisses

The beginning of the end the first clear sign of the end of something

1. ending. 2. end.

76. Drawn only for the curious and inquisitive

Plagiarism Week - Day Five, a tribute to Edward Ross’s always outstanding 100 Moments From My Past, Present & Future, with further apologies to Laurence Sterne, and Philip Larkin, I guess. Quite emphatically not based on a true story.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

75. Only connect

Plagiarism Week – Day Four, which doesn't actually include plagiarism but does feature an in-no-way crowbarred in reference to Angela Fernihough’s awesome blog.

It was, she conceded, an odd hobby to have.

Each Saturday morning, Amy would make herself a pot of coffee and pour over the lonely hearts columns. She was looking for love – other people’s.

She searched the pages to find people whom she felt would make good couples. GSOH, naturally. Anyone looking for someone kind. Complementary interests – although everyone seemed to enjoy long walks, so much so that she had wondered whether it was code for something delightfully scandalous that she wasn’t yet aware of.

As she looked up and down the column, she painted pictures of people from the sketches of their adverts. Nice people. People looking to nurse others’ bruised hearts and, in so doing, nurse their own. People whose entries hinted at views of the world that would mesh like the warm fingers of a couple’s hands. If only they would reach out to each other.

So she would do it for them. When she'd carefully found a couple, she would leave a message on the man’s voicemail and get a male friend to do the same for the woman’s. Nothing deceptive; just that their profile looking interesting and maybe they should have speak. She never met them, never knew what happened after she’d intervened. Only connect.

Here we go: Friendly Edinburgh lady, 50s, seeking a lovely M for her life.

There was something sad in seeing strangers advertising their hearts, the infinite richness of their most intimate hopes printed in black and white in public.

She looked for a suitable man for her friendly Edinburgh lady. So many people, lying next to each other with so much in common, all searching for the same thing, but not making contact. Well, she’d make contact.

This looked like a nice gentleman: Looking for someone special. M, 50 WLTM F to share the goods things in life with.

Being a servant of love is much easier than being its victim. She never wanted to have to abbreviate her heart.

Amy picked up the phone.

74. Circles

Plagiarism Week - Day Three, pinching the idea of doing it in 140 characters from Greg Wohead.

He died in the same bed he was born in, and in which his children had been conceived. And his very last word was the same as his first: Mum.

And as Greg does perfectly formed Twitter plays, here's a lame, self-referential stab at that:

Davis: It says here that there are 140 characters in this play.

Harris: Bloody hell. That is a big cast.

73. A list of unfortunate events

Plagiarism Week - Day Two, with this listing based on Elise Bramich's One Hundred Days of Lists From My Life.

- An incredible sequence of misfortunes and misadventure had befallen her over the last 100 days
- There were almost too many to list
- They taught her that:
a. She didn’t have agency over her own life
b. Sometimes things do just happen
c. Life is not fair
d. Life is impersonal
e. And sometimes it isn’t anyone’s fault
- There was no way to make sense of them
- It had been just one fucking thing after another
- She wanted to write them down, but she was concerned that would:
i) Put her at the heart of events in which she had only a minor part
ii) Create patterns that weren’t there
- So she decided that the best thing to do was make a list of everything that had happened
- It really did begin on a night that was
1. Dark
2. Stormy

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

72. There once was a man from Ithaca

Plagiarism Week - Day One, ripped off from Tim Hickman for the 16-line rhyming and Nicola Dawn for limericking. And to Homer, obviously.

Sing to me, Muse, of an epic,
Classical poem in ... limerick.
Rhyming does not diminish –
No more than a book you can’t finish
As long as it doesn’t become mere gimmerick.

For there once was a man from Ithaca
Whose deeds could not have been more mythic-er.
He laid siege to Troy,
Telemachus was his boy,
And his wife – well, she was terrific, her.

Penelope, constant she’d stay
The whole time her husband was away:
Ten years Troy to sack,
Ten years to get back,
No wonder a hundred suitors made a play.

Our story begins on a beach one fine day

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

71. Quick and to the Pointless

You're so obtuse, I bet you don't think this story's about you.

Bad luck.

Monday, 8 February 2010

70. Masquerade

She looked in the mirror. The mask looked back at her.

It wouldn’t come off.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

How could this have happened? Was someone playing a stupid game?

She tried to prise it off but she couldn’t get her fingers between the mask and her face, her real face. She couldn’t get any purchase on her temples, so she hooked her fingers around her jaw and yanked, only to feel her jawbone scream in pain and strain sickeningly in its joint.

She tried to get her fingers under her eye sockets and pull from there. Her thumb plunged deep into the soft skin around her eyes so that it felt like she’d reached inside her own skull, but the mask wouldn’t move.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. She’d gone too far.

She looked at the blank, white face and her flesh began to creep, except for the flesh on her face which remained still and flawless as porcelain.

In horror, she touched the mask. Her fingers felt its cool, dead surface; her face couldn’t feel the touch of their sisters. It felt like someone had amputated part of her.

Her own eyes stared at her desperately, pleadingly, set in someone else’s impassive face. Or were they someone else’s eyes looking out of her own face?

Oh God, this was too much. She couldn’t breathe. She felt trapped, shut inside the thing. She splashed cold water on her face in the hope that it would loosen whatever had fixed the mask there, but she couldn’t feel the water on her skin.

She was panicking. On the inside she was crying but the mask remained unmoved and pitiless.

With a scream of frustrated rage she headbutted the mirror, hoping to split the mask. The mirror shattered but the pallid face still gazed back at her, splintered into a dozen bleached, empty faces.

She’d been wearing the mask for so long, enjoying the game and the protection it afforded. She’d been wearing it more and more, for longer and longer, until she’d felt bare and vulnerable without it. She’d dreamt about peeling off her face and revealing the beautiful, pristine mask beneath, and now she had her wish. The mask had finally take the place of her real face.

Christ. What was she going to do?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

69. A snake eating its own tale

This story will begin shortly. And it will begin with an ending.

It will begin with a pathetic, squalid ending when I find him cold and still on my settee.

This story will then proceed in reverse. It will flow uphill as I try to unravel what happened, and why and when, and look for who could have done that to him during an evening I have no memory of.

Finally, this story will end with a beginning. It will finish when I finally reach the headwater of these events, the beginning of the end that started this whole sorry tale.

And as it ends, I will realise that I made this story begin and I made it end. And I will realise what it was that happened that night that I can’t remember. And it will feel like a snake eating its own tail, and I don’t think you’ll like me anymore.

But, as I say, first it begins with an ending.

68. Full Fathom Five

Under a dark sky, upon a heaving sea, in a boat, was a girl.

She was bent and thin, and her boat was small and frail. Together they were thrown by the swell and beaten by the waves, flayed by the rain, and pushed, pulled and jostled by the wind.

The boat offered no shelter from the storm. Rain and sea foam soaked her flesh, and the wind chilled it to her marrow.

The tempest threatened to overwhelm the boat and the girl. But they didn’t fight the elements; together they rode the swell and let the gale direct them.

She braced and balanced herself inside the boat. With her left hand, she paid out a plumb line. Despite the storm, she was determined to understand what lay unseen beneath, to sound out the profound, to fathom the depths.

And down there something was moving.


One of my favourite things is that TLA is a three-letter abbreviation for "three-letter abbreviation".

That’s the kind of thing that is racing through my head right now. Because in about one second’s time, the car I’m in is about to be hit by a bloody great truck. It’s a DAF truck, you see, and I’ll wonder what “DAF” actually stands for.

When it does hit, I think it’ll be pretty much the end of little old me. It really is a very large truck. But in the meantime, we have all the time in world, at least until I’m done telling my story. That’s the beauty of a flashback, you see. I can basically tell you my whole life story. And if I tell it really slowly, like, taking a second to recount each second, I guess I can have my entire life all over again.

Don’t go away! I wouldn’t wish being subjected to that on my worst enemy (Who’s that? you ask. Well, you’ll need to read on to find out. See? Foreshadowing). Anyway, don’t worry; this will be my life story without all the dull bits and more of the good bits.

So why don’t you indulge me and let me tell you just how I got here? We can’t halt the inevitable, but we can at least put it off for a few hours. And surely you wouldn’t begrudge me a few hours more? Would you?

66. The Second Coming

Day 66, i.e. two thirds of the way through. And what's two thirds of 100? 66.6 recurring.

The second coming had not been a roaring success.

For a start, there had been no fiery chariot. That shouldn’t have been important, but it transpired that, without it, the believers were not so believing. And there were an awful lot of others ostensibly like him, asking why people just couldn’t be nice to each other and not try to fill the holes in their hearts with metals and stones.

More pertinently, it also transpired that the people who looked after his Church were not desperately keen on being contradicted, especially about the poverty thing. And so they’d burned him at the stake.

The second second coming had been even worse. He had performed his miracles, but all it had created was disagreements. How had he done it? Was it really a miracle? And there were now all sorts of different groups bickering over the future of his Church with the kind of myopic pedantry that used to amuse but now dismayed.

Indeed, they had agreed on only one thing – turning water into wine was probably blasphemous and most certainly witchcraft. So they’d hung, drawn and quartered him.

But the second second second coming was probably the worst to date. There was a fiery chariot and columns of flames and everything. The people heard. But they didn’t want to listen. It turned out that most of them were quite happy, thank you, with the sinning. And some of those who should have been believers were somewhat cynical about being told that, yes, their lives were cold, brutal, short and basically miserable, but that didn’t matter because as long as they listened to him it would be worth it when they were dead. And some of them just didn’t like him and refused to recognise him.

And with that, and without realising it, they killed their God.

And that is where I make my second coming. Please allow me to introduce myself: I am nothing if not patient.

And I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.

And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.

65. Setting Sun

She had cast a long shadow over his life.

Actually, that wasn’t fair.

She cast a warm glow from behind him, like a summer evening's sun. It was his stupidity getting in the way of that which cast the dark shadows in front of him.

64. Tracks Of Her Tears

She had felt on the verge of tears for weeks , as if she’d had a high-water table or a Spring tide.

Then the waters came and she felt utterly drained, like a cloud that had rained itself away. But now the sun was weakly showing through.

63. On thin ice

The ice creaked and squeaked beneath his feet.

He was far from the shore, walking on thin ice.

Beneath his feet, he could see the lake water, half hidden by the clouded glass of the ice. Not hidden enough for his liking. The waters looked cold, black and bottomless, with only the brittle, frozen shell of ice to support him.

The ice creaked again.

It was too far away to turn back. Taking a deep breath, he walked on, walking on water.

62. A book without pictures or conversations

Alice was lost.

The clocks had long ago struck midnight and the Underground was empty. She didn’t really know London but she suspected she had missed the last Tube, leaving her wandering round and round a labyrinth of tiled corridors.

She was sure she was following the signs’ directions to the letter but she seemed to be going in circles, finding herself back in the same place time and time again, unable to find either the platforms or the exit. But her head was so fuzzy she couldn’t really be sure of anything.

She was surprised that she wasn’t panicky, but it was actually rather exciting – a faintly naughty privilege, like when she’d broken into school, strutting along the deserted corridors and sitting behind the teachers’ desks in vacant classrooms.

What was it with this stupid city? An hour earlier - she thought it was about that long - she had got the northbound Victoria line from Euston to King’s Cross. There she had found out that the trains weren’t going any further. So she had got on the northbound Northern line from King’s Cross, which then deposited her back at Euston, with an apology that trains were going no further from there. How was that even possible? So she had got back on the northbound Victoria line from Euston ...

There was something very familiar about all this. Something about getting very tired of waiting for her sister that morning, who was at Bank. Something about the perils of following the boy with the big feet and the waistcoat on to the Underground at Warren St. Something about being frustrated by things named after kings and queens.

Alice rubbed her eyes. Definitely something about eating the boy’s cakes. What had he put in them? She felt unsteady and uncoordinated, as if her limbs weren’t her own or were the wrong size.

“Who are you?”

Alice jumped. Not an encouraging opening for a conversation, but the tone was friendly enough.

It was a man carrying what looked like a bong or a hookah in a bag. Alice saw he was wearing a pair of industrial boots. They were made by Caterpillar. Of course they were.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

61. Imperfect 10

Her boy wasn’t perfect. And that’s why she loved him.

Perfect is rubbish. Perfect is boring. Perfect is safe. Perfect is samey. Perfect is burbling lift music next to symphonic power and passion of imperfect, matchless beauty.

Perfect was a kiss from her mum; imperfect was the taste of his sweat and feeling of his nails down her back. His imperfections were the little deviations from the mundane that surprised and stretched her, that recognise life’s richness and expressed what was unique about him and everything he’d ever done. There is beauty in dissonance.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It annoyed her that so many people had reduced that sentiment to a bland truism, saying it without ever thinking it or feeling it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and she beheld her boy to be very beautiful indeed. He smiled at her through imperfect teeth and looked at her with love through eyes that didn’t work properly, but at least he smiled at her and looked at her.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder... What she liked as much was the flipside –no one is inherently beautiful, with all the supposed superiority that’s meant to come with that. The kind of guy who looked down on her beautiful boy she beheld as decidedly unbeautiful, rendering the arrogant, posing cocksure pricks deflated and impotent. It made her feel powerful. Without anyone to look at them they were like trees falling in forests with no-one to hear them drop. And in many cases they were about as interesting as a piece of inert lumber.

“Hello, beautiful.”

She could smell him before she could see him. He was about to bite off considerably more than his perfect little mouth could chew.

60. 14 words for 14 February

In the second drawer down was the fading Valentine’s Day card; written, unsent, unread.

59. Scent of a Woman

He knew he was in trouble when he caught the faintest whiff of her perfume and it was like being hit in the chest with a hammer.

58. Language of Love


onguboy [v. Boro]: to love from the heart
onsra [v. Boro]: to love for the last time
onsya [v. Boro]: to pretend to love

57. Bitterly Ironic

All he had ever wanted to do was make her laugh. But now all he seemed able to do was make her cry.

56. Owner of a Lonely Heart

No-name slob, M, 44. Looking for chats, laughs & someone to romance. Lks walking, reading, theatre & travel. Seeks F, 40-50 w/ warm SOH to go lightly with him. Ldn. Call 0905 795 8616.

Fit, successful, M, 35, seeks attractive, tall, slim F, 21-29. Works f-t in sales. No mingers. Ldn. Call 0905 795 2442.

F, 43. Will never let anyone put me in a cage. Looking for kind, easy going M, for conversation & laughter. Long walks, longer dinners and still longer kisses. Warm SOH essential. Lnd. Call 0905 795 8617.

She checked her mailbox. Still no calls.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Choose Your Own Adventure. Write Your Own Adventure

You’re on your way to work, going down the escalator in the Tube station. It’s a long escalator. The longest in the world you’ve heard someone say.

Your mind is wandering. You’ve made this journey so many times, the whole trip is as automated as the escalator. Adverts for cosmetic surgery and stage adaptations of already popular films wash over you as you let it carry you down.

Then it hits you. Or, more accurately, they hit you.

You see them coming up on the other side and then, for no discernable reason, your eyes meet. And it’s like someone has stuck a lance in your heart. It’s like someone has flicked a switch in your chest and made your lungs light up and like your stomach has just filled with blossom. In a city where no one makes eye contact, where everyone is hermetically sealed in their own antiseptic bubbles, some connection leaps between you.

You don’t quite know what it is or why it’s happening or why it’s this person and why it’s this time and it scares you a bit, but in a good way. As you slowly, inexorably, come closer together you can feel something rising inside you and it feels like this is the most exciting moment of your life. And you see that they feel it too, but you’re still both hedging your bets, not wanting to give too much away in case you’re wrong.

You’re now nearly opposite each other and you think how ridiculous it is that something as mundane as a moving staircase has brought you together. But as you reach each other – so close you could actually reach out and touch each other – you both look away. Is it shyness? Propriety? Taking preventions to preserve your pride?

And then it’s already too late. The one moment you had, you blinked and it was gone.

And now you’re past each other, and whatever has brought you together is slowly taking you further and further apart. For the first time, you realise that you were always moving in opposite directions and that however much their eyes had closed the space between you like someone closing a telescope, there was always a barrier in the way.

And you see that you have a choice. It’s not the first time you’ve had this choice, but it could be the first time you take it, rather than letting it pass away. You can turn around and run up the escalator after them, and risk maybe not finding them waiting at the top but know that at least you tried and that maybe you got your answer. Or you can carry on your way like every other morning and go to work, and wonder whether something could have happened, and wonder whether they’ll be wondering whether something could have happened, and long for what might have been every time you go down here.

So, what do you do?


If you decide to continue down the escalator: turn to page 2

If you decide to turn around and go up after them: turn to page 17

Empty Spoon

It had been six weeks now, but still he slept on only one side of the bed.


She was called Lily.

Afterwards, he would think about how apt it was that she was named after a poisonous flower. At the time, only some half-remembered line would drift woozily through his head. There is richest juice in poison flowers.

He had drunk deep from her nectar. She had poured her honeyed tones in his ear, sweetening his sorrow and sugaring his bitterness. She had placed soothing kisses on his eyelids, streaking his tired eyes with her juice. He remembered thinking that, finally, he could forget.

But he had forgotten too much. She had numbed his conscience and coated his conscious with her thick, sticky sap. His thoughts were like a honeycomb suspended in a jar of glutinous, amber honey, and his world beyond Lily was indistinct, as if he were trying to view it through that same jar. He had drowned in nectar.

She was a flower who could make the Sun turn to face her. And so now he found himself on his way to the shop with a baseball bat under his coat, all for another drop of her.

She had poisoned his mind with honey. And he didn’t care.

It’s not fair that you’re so fair of face. And also so fucking ace

John was 15. He had been brought up to believe that there were two types of girl in the world: the beautiful ones, and the nice ones.

Unfortunately, he had been brought up wrong: she was clearly both. He found this to be unfair.

Worse, she appeared to be a hitherto unencountered type of girl: one who appeared to take some interest in him.

He found this to be deeply unfair. What was a boy to do?

Snakebite Love

She had poured a pint of snakebite over her own head to get another boy’s attention.

That was the exact moment he fell for her.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Key to the closet

Carl had a skeleton in his cupboard. His dead mother’s.

As he was led away in handcuffs, he turned to Inspector Janowitz.

“You’re probably going to read something weird and Freudian into this, aren’t you?”

Monday, 18 January 2010

Cold Reading

This story is for you. You know who you are. Others will read it, but no one else will understand it. Not like you will. Only you will bring the right meaning to these words.

You're on the verge of making a big decision in your life. In the past you’ve doubted whether you’ve made the right call or done the right thing. But I don’t doubt you. I know you’re doing the right thing and I support you.

You’ve got so much potential that you feel you’ve not fully harnessed. You sometimes think that when people praise you they don’t really understand what they’re praising – like a mum singing their child’s achievements. You worry that what you’re doing is not as good as what other people are doing. But it is.

I know there was something you used to love in your past that you’ve left behind but are looking to pick up again. Do it. You’re worried that time is running out, but it really isn’t. You’re too often too critical of yourself.

Sometimes you think no one truly gets the real you; they only appreciate the appearance you put on for them. You want other people to like you and admire you – but you won’t admit to yourself that a great many do, even if they won’t tell you.

I like that you think for yourself and don’t like to follow the crowd or accept others’ views. Sometimes you think that going with the flow might be easier. I feel the same way, too, but you’re right to stick to your path.

We all sometimes read things written by strangers and see thoughts and feelings that seem so intimate and unique to us marked there on the page. The words are a hand extended towards you. It means you’re not alone. You’re never alone.

Take my hand. I’ll look out for you.

And I’ll make everything right.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


The first time he met Chelsea was in somewhat inauspicious circumstances.

He had been walking through Regent’s Park and had nearly knocked her to the floor.

He had nearly knocked her to the floor because he hadn’t seen her. And he hadn’t seen her because she was bent over scooping up dogshit.

He was all kinds of stunned by unexpected forceful contact with a woman who was coldly, piercingly beautiful. But who was also, inescapably, holding the warm faeces of a tiny black plug in an inside out plastic Waitrose carrier bag.

Angel, falling

They say that it’s not the fall that kills, but the abrupt stop at the end.

They also say that you’re dead before you strike the ground.

One way or another, Lucy was going to find out which was true. She hoped it would be neither.

Even as she fell through the sky, she was still so high that curve of the Earth could be seen. She had a while to wait.

All that glitters

There is no such thing as a nearly perfect crime.

You either go to your grave at a ripe old age having gotten away with it, or you don’t and you might as well have tried nick the pen from the duty desk in a police station for all the good your planning did you.

Kemp had done everything conceivable to make this one perfect. The job was simple, elegant, classic. The preparation had been rigorous, the execution meticulous.

They were going to steal gold bullion from one of the vaults of the London Bullion Market Association. Defences were light because secrecy was its security. Everyone knows you keep gold in a bank vault. Which is why they kept gold in unmarked boxes in cellars across the City.

They had cut into the cellar from the sewers: the beginning of the job, but the end of five years of preparation. Five years in which they’d gone to every conceivable length to account for every possible complication, sweeping up every grain of incriminating evidence behind them, taking care of every ramification and every ramification of every ramification. It wasn’t just picking up the paper trail behind them; it was making sure they weren’t then caught dumping the bin bags.

Investors around the world bought and sold the gold in these cellars. They bought and sold the future value of the gold. Ownership moved but the bullion itself stayed in the cellars, unchanging, unmoving. Abstract values arbitrarily tied to lumps of metal by pieces of paper. A pyramidal house of cards of speculation – but a house built on foundations of gold.

Kemp pulled down his goggles and shone his torch around the cellar.

But they wouldn’t be keeping the gold. Trying to dispose of gold was where most people’s problems began. No, their plan was to remove some and effectively hold it hostage. There was only a finite amount of gold on the planet. Each bar had a serial number so every ingot in the world was accounted for. You couldn’t just magic up replacements or move bullion around to hide its absence, like some giant game of find the lady. If the news got out that gold had been taken, the whole system would collapse.

So all they would demand was a few million to buy their silence, secretly wired to some offshore accounts. After all, who better to hide money away than the Square Mile’s finest?

Kemp stepped gently into the cellar.

There was just one complication.

Where was all the fucking gold?


Clem kept coming back to the same phrase over and over again: Many a true word spoken in jest.

She remembered how they’d pissed themselves that night in the pub. She’d only just started her new job and had sort of gravitated towards Sarah. She was confident, opinionated and about the funniest person she’d ever met. A session with her in the pub was like two hours of stand-up.

“You must have a death list!” Sarah had said. “I thought everyone did! A list of all those miserable sods, bitches, bastards, arseholes, tossbags, ball sacks and weirdos you’d like to give a little bit of a gentle nudge along to when it comes to their shuffling off this mortal coil.”

Clem confessed she didn’t have one.

“Oh come on! Seriously, it feels so good just writing it down. And then when it’s written down, it doesn’t niggle away to you anymore.”

So between them they scribbled down the list on the back of napkin. Everyone who had wronged her; everyone who had lied to her or stolen from her; everyone who had hurt her. Everyone who had just, you know, really got on her tits.

Nathan in accounts. Bloody Louise. Gaby for stealing Gavin. Gavin for being stolen. Marie at school. Donna at university. That dick on the Tube who’d knocked her over that morning.

It had felt good. Cathartic. She was purged.

And then she’d had to attend Nathan’s funeral. And Louise’s. And suddenly it wasn’t so funny.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Jimmy had been picking his scabs again.

His mother had told him not to but it had driven him mad all that morning. It was a great scab. It was the shape of a heart, the colour of rust and the texture of tree. And it was in the middle of his knee. The best place for a scab. It would be wrong of him not to pick it. Plus, it was so itchy and he’d really wanted to see what was beneath it.

He’d gone out to the curb as soon as he’d finished his lunch and started winkling away at it. He’d finally got his thumb nail under the rim and prised it up a few millimetres. It had hurt a bit but in a good sort of way, like a wobbly tooth.

It reminded him of when he’d helped his dad lift up the flags in the back garden and they’d seen all the weird white spiders and millipedes underneath it. Or when he and Dave had prised up that grid and looked down into the storm drain. He’d wanted to go down but Dave was too scared (but Jimmy was secretly a bit pleased that Dave had been too scared).

He had been worked away steadily at his scab in the sun for he didn’t know how long when his knee suddenly shouted at him in pain. He looked down.

Jimmy wasn’t sure how long his mind had been wondering and wandering but there was a little hole in his knee. A real hole. Not a patch of fresh skin or a bit of blood but a hole. It seemed to go a long way down. A really long way down. He couldn’t see the bottom of it. That wasn’t right.

Jimmy pushed his finger down inside. It went in up to the knuckle.

That really wasn’t right.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Mr Bligh

"Come in, please."

There was a faint rustling sound at the back of his throat when he spoke, like ashes in a grate.

Short minute, after noon

Lucy was becoming increasingly concerned about her shadow. It was definitely fading.

She looked down at her feet. Even in the early afternoon’s bright winter sun, there was nothing to show but an indistinct, grey penumbra. Stretched out along the frozen ground from the gnomon of her legs, it looked like a silhouette drawn charcoal and then half erased.

When Lucy was younger she’d never had such problems.

At 13, her shadow had been as dark and cold as the bottom of the oceans.

At 16, it was black as pitch and distinct from everything around it, with sharp, precise edges. If she spent too long standing on her parents lawn, the grass beneath her shade would eventually die, leaving a shadow of her shadow.

At 18, it would draw things into it and she would never see them again – light, warmth, smoke, boys.

But now she was sure it grew fainter with every passing day. And she didn’t quite know what that meant.