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.