Solace

Friday evening. Whiteout.
Snow falls silently,
softly in ghostly murmuration.
A restless earth blanketed,
metamorphosed and miniaturised to a mewling baby,
acquiescing to the serenity of sleep.

Let the sky fall,
the working week is over,
and I hygge at the aphelion
from Monday 9am.
The curse of Adam,
the venue of all my failures,
trapped in the repetition of an Escher,
tiring with the tedium of Sisyphus.

But here, my daughter and I
spin a delicious nonsense of
animals and magic and poo and bum talk
that would make Rabelais smile.
We are safe, and delighted,
we are enchanted, and transported.

And the many tiny tortures
of the working week,
that pursue me in thought –
wild dogs tracking prey to exhaustion –
suddenly fade. Give up the chase.

The universe is singing,
and my soul springs to life on a great dancefloor,
galvanised by the lovely electricity of
my daughter’s lambent laugh.

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Getting to know…

…Billy Turnips

3a0e21b4-8e56-4b38-b75e-8ff0940c4a83-326-000000333b4a84f9-1Billy ‘Bastard’ Turnips shot to fame in 1976 after winning TV talent contest New Faces as the ‘Pogoing Painter’. Following several years enjoying the trappings of overnight fame, Billy hit the skids and went through a number of reinventions including the ‘Pogoing Window Cleaner’ and the ‘Pogoing Window Breaker’ before finally carving out a niche as the country’s first and only ‘Painted Pogoing Lollypop Man’. He lives in Basingstoke with his 97 year old mother, Tilly Turnips, and his autistic cockapoodle, Monbodison.

Who or what is the greatest love of your life?
Me first wife, Pricilla. She was an amazing women, tits that could stop a train. The Acker Bilk of the pink oboe, they used to call her. Although – and this is between you and me – Acker Bilk was actually better at blowjobs. I should know.

What word or phrase do you overuse?
‘Fancy a bath?’

What is your most treasured possession?
An original draft manuscript of Shakespeare’s The Tempest from 1609. It contains a song, removed from the final version of the play, performed by Caliban which goes ‘We art voyaging to Ibitha, Return’ed to th’island, We are art voyaging to Ibitha, ‘Tis our entent to stage a masquerade’. Of course, almost 400 years later, The Venga Boys picked it up and had a lot of success with it. Dutch arseholes. Which, incidentally, is the medical condition fucking ruining me sleep at the moment.

What is your biggest regret?
Failing medical school because I refused to get off me pogo stick.

Tell us a secret
If I clap 100 times very quickly a quid falls out me arse.

Chin up

Fear whips through,
a nuclear wind
dissolving resolve
on contact.

Dread seeps in,
rising black water
drowning pleasure
as it sleeps.

I nod, I grin,
I do what I can
to pass muster and time.

I awake, I begin,
cattle-prodding my
body on down the line.

The mechanism creaks as it chews itself up.
The orchestra grates as the conductor fucks up.

I cannot think, I am no fun.
I want to drink, I long to run.
It comes and goes, it’s dull and drear
and I wish I was anywhere but here.

Haikus 8

astrocapetown611539031089.jpgAn ending
A tumour excised.
Moon orbiting home planet,
drifts off into space.

CV
‘You list ‘fisting’ as
a hobby?’. His forte was
angling, not proofing.

The one
True love: it is the
instant assent to the sprung
ask: ‘sniff my finger’.

1AC9A9DC-2240-4003-BE27-323CE0EEB5A9Celebrity
We’re all just over-
engineered apes scanning for
the next hot alpha.

Purpose
Alone, I’m just a
cog. But with you, I help turn
a magic machine.

The Global Odd Sock Enigma

The bony man edged forward purposefully in his seat. During the train’s snaking journey from Rugby to Coventry, she had caught his eye several times more than she felt comfortable with. True, there wasn’t much to gawp at in the drech gloaming outside the rattling carriages, sluiced by unrelenting sheets of January rain. But he seemed inordinately interested in her. Why couldn’t he just avert his gaze, hang suspended in the tedious stasis of solo train travel, like everyone else?

Leaning on elbows that could slice bread, he smiled greasily and nodded as if to say “you’ll like this”.

“You’ll like this” he squeeked in a fay, faintly lascivious cockney whine.

She looked up and smiled unconvincingly, as if to say “no, thank you, I’m too ensconced in my book”. Her eyes returned to the page, but as she tried to read on, she felt his rheumy little peepers crawling over her face.

Spiv

The bony man took a battered tin from his waistcoat pocket. There was something jarring about him. Something awry. Like a rotund, big-breasted women running down the street. Something unlikely, incongruous, precarious about him.

This inkling of oddness bothered her. He should seem more reputable, she mused, clad as he was in a three piece suit and topped with a trilby. Yet despite his obvious sartorial pride, he looked scruffy and crumpled as severely thin men always do. Like a child doing dress-up in father’s clothes. The red tin said Licorice Wafers – for COUGHS due to COLDS. Spindly, simian fingers popped it open to reveal tobacco and cigarette papers.

As he rolled, he spoke.

“You might not think so to look at me, but I’m something of a genius”. She froze. He was apparently addressing the air, but he knew she – as the only soul within touching distance – would feel obliged to respond.

“Pardon?”

tin

As he sealed his oily rag in one fluid movement across his tongue, he settled back – ominously, she thought –  as though he were settling in for a long chat with a good, familiar friend.

“I have made a series of groundbreaking discoveries. Solved age-old and hitherto perplexing mysteries that have furrowed millions of brows and confounded millions of minds. I think you’d like to hear, wouldn’t you”. An assertion playing dress-up as a question. There was something jarring about it.

“I’ll give you an example. Just one. I have solved the Global Odd Sock Enigma”. He spoke these words as if they were capitalised and of tremendous import. “I – and I alone – know what happens to socks that disappear during the laundry cycle”.

“Oh” was all she could muster. As much as she resented him and his presumption, there was something sadly ridiculous about the man. Which was almost endearing. Almost.

He continued. “I mean, we all know the problem. It’s a familiar one. We submit pairs of socks to the laundry cycle. Into the washing machine they go, then out into the garden on the washing line, or clothes’ horse if the weather’s inclement, or tumble dryer if we have the luxury of owning one of those shining white knights of labour-saving amelioration”.

It is a problem, she thought to herself. I mean, this man is an unbearable arse, but it is a problem. Her body began to untense as her interest was piqued and the initial wave of rattled indignation dissipated.

Sock“But when we come to sort, fold and put away our clothes, what do we find? We find hitherto partnered socks in a sudden state of sorry solitude. Their twin vanished without trace. The Global Odd Sock Enigma. And over time, we put these bereaved single socks to one side, perhaps on top of the chest of drawers, or back in the sock drawer, in the eternally-springing hope that they will be returned to a state of duality come the next laundry cycle”.

She wrestled to contain a smile as he repeated the words ‘laundry cycle’, as though he were an expert speaking the argot of some rarefied and recondite academic discipline. His pompous air and self-important speech were inherently ridiculous, and they served to soften his alarming oddness into something approaching an endearing eccentricity. She began to feel a cosying warmth build in the pit of her stomach. Her nods and smiles were now encouraging, inviting and bidding him to continue.

“Until I made my discovery, this remained one of the last great mysteries of our age. Up there with ‘where do we go when we die?’, ‘are we alone in the universe?’ and ‘why is belly button fluff always grey?’. But as to these poor missing socks, where do they go? Are they lost somehow in the washing machine, the only garment diminutive enough to slip through some tiny aperture when wet? Do birds pluck them from the washing line to build their nests with? Well, no. In short. The answer is quite simply this. They are subsumed by larger items. Most usually duvet covers. They find their way into the corners. And we never think to look for them there. So there they remain. The truth is, no sock ever truly gets lost. They are hiding in plain sight. In our drawers, languishing like Jonah in the belly of a textile whale”.

With this he noticed the train pulling into Coventry station – his cue to alight. He picked up his tobacco tin and returned it to his breast pocket. He gripped the brim of his hat between his forefinger and thumb, mimed a little doff, before scurrying down the carriage, through the doors, and off into the soggy winter evening.

She made a mental note to check all her duvet covers and pillow cases when she got home. There were three odd socks that had been sitting on top of her dresser for months now. Rendered redundant and gathering dust.

As the train lurched into life and began to pull away from the platform, she noticed a small moleskin notebook on the table in front of her. Realising it must belong to the bony man, she grabbed it and scoured the platform for any sign of him, but he was long gone. And, besides, there was little she could do now the train was in motion. Except open it and have a read. The contents page was an eyebrow-raiser:

  • The Physics of a Viable Perpetual Motion Machine…p1
  • The Solution to the Global Odd Sock Enigma…p24
  • A Mathematical Proof of the Existence of the Soul…p32
  • Why Belly Button Fluff is always Grey…p33
  • A Quantum Mechanical Explanation of Time Travel as an Existing Phenomena…p49
  • The Solution to the Global Missing Tupperware Lids Enigma…p57

The essays were dense, florid tracts crammed with mathematical ‘proofs’ (she barley scrapped a pass at school so couldn’t discern Nobel physics-prize-brilliance from innumerate nonsense) and a verbose and baroque writing style, falling over itself in a dense thicket of multi-clause sentences and rambling digressions.

Still, if it helped her track down her odd socks and missing Tupperware lids, it was probably worth keeping hold of.

Science Fiction story

“I can’t believe it’s the year 2087” said Cheng Shakespeare, in a state of disbelief. Behind him a man with a cybernetic eye fed some bitcoins into a levitating vending drone.

Cheng watched a Skybus glide vertically upwards and zoom off above the towering skyscrapers of this moribund synthetic metropolis, making a noise like a synthesiser with an ‘insect’ setting. It was night time, and also really smoggy and raining hard and generally quite depressing in a brutalist post-industrial kind of way but with hover cars.

No-one seemed to have gardens any more. The rampant clamour for dwellings had gobbled up green space as human populations exploded like a protracted number bomb. Since the early twentieth century humanity had been breeding at an unsustainably exponential rate, without so much as a telepathically transferred thought for where it was going to bloody well put itself. A telepathically transferred thought humanity could have had, thanks to Amstrad’s patent Brain-to-Brain Interface of 2019.

0e3b422f-a3de-487e-8e9b-86000aa51c71-274-00000033f975bc7f“You what?!” returned Quasar O’Doherty, somewhat incredulously. Behind him a holographic prostitute was doing her darndest to solicit the custom of a silver-skinned man with self-tailoring clothes.

“What do you mean ‘what?!’?!” Cheng fired back. But before the two men could resolve their frankly aimless exchange, a thunderous bang shook the Lower Twelfth Precinct, which quickly filled with billowing clouds of debris and smoke. The unmistakable sight of two AI Militia materialised from the swirling grey haze, their machine-like gait and USBs-for-bollocks the only subtle signs betraying the inorganic identities of these cybernetic simulcras.

“Shit! Download the Police!” Quasar bellowed, reaching for his iPenis. After just a few seconds of frenzied tapping on his wi-fi enabled nob module, a bank of lasers shot out from the Police headquarters several miles away and 3D-printed a Lawbot on the street in front of the insurgents.

Shakespeare and Quasar flagged down a hovercab which whisked them up through the neon-lit troposphere to a cruising altitude of 4 clicks, and away from danger. From up here civilisation was little more than an ugly inorganic sprawl, neon-lit, rain-soaked and with lots of steam rising from it (at night).

Safely back at Residential Quarter #7569, the two companions took the stairs to the anti-gravity roof restaurant. Quasar ordered the pulled-thylacine sandwich, whilst Chang opted for the banoffee pie via neural upload. Both men had electromagnetic coffee delivered through foot plates underneath the table.

img_0510-1“Well, can you believe it’s the year 2087 now, Cheng Shakespeare?’ Quasar enquired sardonically.

“Yes. Yes I can, Quasar O’Doherty. What with everything that’s just happened, I damn fucking well can”. Both men laughed heartily, before retiring to sit in a dark room for several hours, since the imperative for sleep had been neuro-engineered away, yet people still liked to observe the now antiquated tradition of doing fuck all over night from about 11 until about seven or eightish in the morning.

A Sting in the Tale or Too little, too late

Once upon a time there was a bee. Now, as bees go, she was a contented little bee, full of the joys of spring. A free spirit, she was at her happiest when on the wing in meandering quest for the next flower.

The other bees were in agreement that she was by far the best waggle dancer in the hive. Such was her love of life – it could not be contained and came pouring out of every pore, whatever she turned her boundless energies to.

She was also the kindest, smartest, most sweet-natured bee. Her name was Honey.

5ae1ee7ee4af936d801fda1567f557fe

One bright May morning, as Mr Blackbird hopped his Mesozoic way across the dew-specked lawn in search of unsuspecting bugs, and Mrs Butterfly alighted on a flower, wings spread to soak up the warm caress of the ascending sun, Honey found a patch of fragrant lavender to rest on.

She drew in a breath to drink deep of the sweet, herby scent. She loved lavender most of all the flowers. As she was savouring the sights, sounds and smells of the garden, her attention was caught by a harsh buzzing behind her. She turned to see a surly-looking wasp perched on the violet bracts of a nearby lavender stem. He looked intriguing. A little odd perhaps, but she was strangely drawn to this creature.

The wasp’s name was Nettle. He was a spikey customer. A malcontented soul, aloof and alone with no hive to call home and only worries and bugbears where Honey had curiosities and joys.

Nettle convinced Honey to come back to his home, which was little more than a hole he had excavated in the rockery. As hermitic and ascetic as he was, generally shunning companions and conversation in favour of his own sour company, he couldn’t help but obey the strange swellings of feeling which Honey had stirred in his chest. He had tasted of Honey, and she was very, very sweet.

At first Honey was happy to leave behind the hive, since Nettle was such an intriguing companion. He could be cranky, waspish even, but through the grey clouds of his brooding temperament, a few tantalising rays of something sunnier shone through every now and again, the tentative and fleeting light of a good soul, hidden but struggling to be found.

As Spring rolled into Summer, Honey began to draw out more and more of Nettle’s sweet nature, his humour, his ‘bee-ness’. At times Nettle could be terribly cruel, and Honey felt the sharp stab of his sting on more than one occasion. But she stayed with Nettle, in the dank dark of his earthen chamber, because she loved him, and she thought that, in time, he would come to love her.

Nettle was a talented writer, and Honey was in his thrall whenever he read one of his latest poems by the fireside, as they settled in for another evening in their quiet little home. Through the delight and enchantment of his fine words, there was a vague, undefined sadness that nagged at Honey’s heart, an unrealised desire for something more, a life fuller and richer and more varied beyond the loamy walls of their subterranean nest. But Honey paid it no heed, as she buzzed her wings in appreciation, imploring Nettle to read “just one more” verse.

frenchbeesOne evening Honey was feeling particularly light and giddy. She had been caught in a reverie, fondly remembering the lavish hive parties of her previous life, where the honey would flow, and the waggle dancing would go on well into the night, when she and her dear friend Pollie would always be the last bees standing. She buzzed up to Nettle excitedly and implored him to dance with her. Nettle was in a foul mood and, wheeling around tetchily, rebuked her with words intended to sting:

“Wasps don’t waggle dance, it’s foolish and stupid and so are you, Honey. Now leave me in peace, you frivolous girl”. That night Honey cried herself to sleep. She missed the hive and her friends and the simple pleasures of the garden. She missed being happy-go-lucky and carefree. She missed being Honey.

common-wasp-stingNow, Nettle wasn’t a bad hymenoptera. It was just that he was used to being alone, and his waspishness, his tendency to complaint and criticism, the regular expressions of his captious and tetchy nature were for him, a curious kind of comfort. It was not in his nature, as it was for Honey, to seek solace and sympatico in others. He was slow to trust and quick to judge, and in short he didn’t know how to be sweet like Honey. As much as he loved and appreciated and admired Honey, he couldn’t show it, or at least not consistently, and not without stinging. In fact, quite the opposite. As poor Honey would discover.

The balmy, sun-kissed days of Summer gradually acquiesced to the wind-bitten advances of Autumn. Honey had long since given up hope of  being happy again. She and Nettle no longer enjoyed poems by the fire, or anything much for that matter. As Honey’s inner light died, so too did Nettle’s already meagre attempts to connect with her. Just as Honey’s pure and loving spirit had breathed life into their relationship, so too did her steady diminution into melancholy occasion it’s death.

Death has many forms, the physical just one. But it isn’t only bodies that can die. Hopes, cultures, memories, ideas and loves can all be starved at the root, consigned to eternal erasure.

One chill morning Nettle awoke to find Honey not at his side. He went outside the nest to find the garden swathed in a blanket of white, the snowfall was heavy last night, he thought to himself. As he yawned a whisping trail of vapour into the freezing morning air, he saw a shape ahead of him, quite still on the frozen ground. A familiar yellow and black form crumpled in a heap.

beeinsnow

Flying over he immediately recognised it as Honey, cold and dead, next to a single snowdrop which had emerged, defiantly, from the snow. In that moment Nettle felt a stab of something that was new and unknown to him. His legs gave way and he crumpled to the cold whiteness below, his head resting on Honey. A surge of sadness overwhelmed him, and he felt as though he was drowning as a mighty river of feeling burst within him.

Tears flowed as he heard a cracked, guttural cry of grief take flight from his mouth. His love for Honey was pouring out. Deluging and crashing like terrible waves around him. Stinging him with a million barbs.

On that frozen winter morning, as Mr Blackbird hopped his Mesozoic way across the entombed lawn in hopeful search for breadcrumbs, Nettle found his heart. He expressed his love.

But it was a futile love. Too little, too late.