Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A Christmas Miracle


Once upon a time, for reasons I’m not going into, a man was paid to beat me up. I lived in Bedford, a town of hangovers and accidents, and would catch sight of my would be assailant driving his 3 wheel car as he followed me around.



After work each day I had an evening job in a bottle shop. I spent my nights playing Leonard Cohen and The Prodigy while convincing people to buy more alcohol than they needed. I ate very little, smoked in the office and stole past sell by date beer, returning the empties as evidence that I had poured the beer down the sink as per policy.

This pre-Christmas night a man came in with a PlayStation bundled loosely with wires and asked to exchange it for 4 cans of Guinness.

“I can’t mate,” I said and he immediately started to cry. 

“Please?” He was clutching the PlayStation with shaking hands.

“Sorry, I really can’t.”

The year before he'd come home from work to find his mother dead in the armchair, remote in hand and the TV blaring static. He’d spent several days at home with her body drinking everything in the house and had stayed drunk ever since.

Seeing my refusal was categorical he became belligerent. He kicked the counter and swore as he had done before when he had tried to exchange Steven Segal DVD’s for Gin. He spun on his heels and stared at the cruel sight of the alcohol that filled the shop, the back of his neck beading with sweat. I knew he was thinking of lashing out, knocking things over and sending cheap wine flooding towards the door. As he tensed up I let my fingers drop to the police alarm under the desk.

Before he could do anything the door chimed and two giggling girls came in stumbling on high heels and throwing cigarettes back out of the door. He stamped away and I sold yet another bottle of Lambrusco as I saw him pick up a lipstick stained cigarette end and suck it back to life. He scowled through the window at me as I was wished a Merry Christmas in a chorus of perfume.

Later I pulled down the security shutters and wheeled my bicycle towards the road. I heard a cough and thought the angry alcoholic had returned and figured I would give him some of the stolen beer in my bag. I turned to see two headlights flare, pinched close like pigs eyes, and I recognised the unmistakable grill of a Robin Reliant 3 wheeler.



I started peddling as I heard the car swing onto the road. I figured there was no way he was going to run me over so he would have to block my way. I also knew he had terrible acceleration and that the first sprint was up hill so I was in with a chance of out pacing him. In my head I heard soft rock anthems and I started peddling with feet of fury, clicking through the gears as parked cars started flashing past. I heard his engine whine and saw the splash of his headlights on the tarmac around me and as I pushed harder the light fell back. The crest of the hill was approaching as the sound of his engine grew smaller and I knew if I could crest the hill well ahead I might be able to jog onto the path by the river bridge without him seeing me. By the time I hit the peak I was in a high gear and with the change to downhill I was on a highway to …well away from… the danger zone.

I did the one and only bunny hop of my life up the kerb and sped to the dark of the path, leaving the road behind. I pulled to a halt and glanced back, seeing the 3 wheeler come over the rise. Moments later it sped around the corner and I knew I’d lost him.

Mentally high fiving myself for living the Dukes of Hazard dream I started peddling towards the river. Approaching the footbridge I stopped suddenly as a colossal dark skinned man with dreadlocks leapt in front of me.

“Stop man” he shouted and having no choice I swung into a bush and slipped from the bike. He was fast approaching so as I struggled upright I put the bike between us.

“What?” I asked, concerned that I’d dodged a three wheel marauder only to be mugged by a huge Rastafarian.

“Ya can’t go on” he told me and waved me back with his palms open. His eyes were wide and red rimmed.

“What’s wrong?” I asked and he suddenly dropped to the wet path and hung his head.

“I killed ‘im” he said and gestured to the path. I looked towards the shadows and tried to see who it was he had killed.

“I didn’t mean to, dancing to tunes, I stamp ‘pon ‘im.”

I stepped forward and saw a frog, legs splayed wide and body squashed.

“He a dead frog” he said and lit a huge joint before starting to gently cry.



I said I was sorry and when he held the joint out to me I had a puff or two to be polite.

“Can’t you do anything?” he asked me and I wondered what he meant. I looked back at the frog and heard the man sob.

“You know what?” He looked up, accepting his joint back. “Frogs are like mice, they have flexible rib cages. Like concertinas. They pop back into shape. It’s more than likely just in shock and in a while it’ll hop off. I wouldn’t worry.”

By the light of the glowing cherry he stared at me. “F’real?” I nodded and we both looked at the frog. Above us the stars of Christmas peered through the Bedford cloud cover. The wind died down and the only sound we could hear was the river shushing along as it raced to leave town.

“C’mon froggy” he said and accepting another hit from his joint I agreed, “C’mon Frog.” For half a minute we repeated the chant and suddenly the frog inflated, chest rising and head shaking. It rolled back onto its feet and without a glance at us it hopped away. 

I laughed and turned to say goodbye to the man but he was now staring at me. He dropped the joint and it hissed on the wet wood.

“You witch” he shouted, pointing at me with a long wide finger.

I swung onto my bike and he jumped forward, stopping inches from me.

“How you do that? What powers you have man?”

“None mate, the frog was just in shock. Look I gotta go now.”

“HOW YOU DO THAT?” I flinched back. I could see his teeth biting the words.

“I gotta go mate, the frogs ok.”

He stared at me and stepped back a pace. “You witch” he whispered and I rolled forward saying nothing. His eyes stayed on me as I retreated and after a few seconds I started peddling. By the time I reached the footbridge I was weaving badly. I heard the thunder of steps behind me and groaned, picking up my pace as much as I could.

“Witch” he shouted from the start of the bridge, “Witch man!”

I glanced back and saw him waving. “Happy fucking Christmas witch” he shouted and pumped his fist, turning away and running back to the darkness.

At home I pulled some stolen beer from my backpack and settled on the sofa.  There was a new pornographic magazine from my housemate on the carpet and a pool of cat vomit by the television. I considered both before finishing several beers and passing out in my clothes.




Somewhere else a Robin Reliant sat silent, unwilling to be bargained with or reasoned with. It didn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely would not stop, ever, it caught up with me. It never did.

Somewhere else a fantastically stoned Rastafarian sat staring at nothing as he worried about the Christmas Witch from the River Ooze.

As for the frog, he lives now, only in my memories.

Happy Christmas. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Diseases of Venus


“Civilization and syphilization have advanced together“ - Van Helsing

In our Sixth Form year we were given a slide show on Venereal Disease as a result of a condom eruption. Several sixth form girls had acquired condoms, inflated them and distributed them around school and the boys were blamed. We were held back after assembly and when no one came forward to accept the blame the Head of Year dismissed us with a shout that we should grow up.

Two weeks later boys and girls alike sat in this special assembly noting the huge screen and the projector. One of the Religious Education teachers took the podium and smiled before she started telling us that pornography could be beautiful. She told us about a wonderful film she had seen set on a beach. It showed the magnificence of love instead of the dehumanising mechanics that made up pornography nowadays.

Every boy had multiple unfastened bra’s in their future, along with edible undergarments (which rumour had it were chocolate flavour) and a certainty that peanut butter could be involved in the bedroom. Everything was brightly possible but right now belonged to the dark side of teenage kicks. 

“Venereal disease is something you’ve likely not considered, you know about AIDS but there is much more you need to be aware of.”

What could they tell us that we didn’t already know from Clive Barker novels? One of my friends had a copy of Emmanuel IV and we had skipped school to watch it at my house.  We knew sex sounded like saxophones, that women needed oil on their chests and we discovered that watching pornography with 4 male teenage friends was uncomfortable and involved a lot of coughing.

The slide machine clicked and the screen filled with a suppurating black penis hanging from a hairless pink body.  Several slides were devoted to this man and his extreme genital warts. The words Genital and Warts etched into our minds.

The slide show was akin to someone who had never had a cheeseburger being taken to McDonalds and shown the bright red d├ęcor and the menu then just as they are about to order they are shown footage of unwashed abattoirs and the effects of e-coli.


Every girl in the room was a petri dish of disease.  Every boy felt warts pressing through their skin waiting to turn their genitals dark and crusty. The screen smeared with Thrush, glowed with gluey Gonorrhea, scabbed over with Scabies and sprayed syphilitic symptoms towards us. Phallus’s decayed and vaginas were riven with discharge. A single picture of crushed looking testicles made me think “well, that’s an image I’ll never forget.”

In each case we were deluged with how these diseases could be caught and the throwaway line “Scabies can be transmitted through something as simple as brushing past one another, the bug burrows into the skin and makes tunnels along the body” caused the entire room to start scratching.

After 50 minutes of destroyed groins and vivid sores the Religious Instructor took the stage and reminded us of the beautiful film she had seen, the beach, the magnificence, the purity and the cleanliness. She assured us sex could, and should, be an enriching experience while behind her a man’s stomach crisscrossed with Scabies faded away as the projector powered off. We filed out of the room nauseated as the teachers behind us laughed into their Nescafe and went for a smoke break.

We never saw the beach based film but once I moved in with other guys we amassed a great deal of pornography. A friend bought round a German film that he proclaimed brilliant and we watched it drunk. Somehow we managed to decipher the dialogue which seemed to run along the lines of Hi, you have breasts, show them to me and my moustache” before becoming 2 hours of men peeing in plant pots and topless girls drinking the urine. Just as it got boring though they upped the game with the men taking bowel movements on white bread and….

Anyway life rolled on and 20 years later I was at a dinner. I asked a dad friend if he was thinking about a vasectomy given we were at the age where we’d been neutered by life and wife with no use left for our little astronauts. He said he was seriously considering it and I suggested we could go together, see if there was a 2 for 1 deal and “make a day of it.”

My mind flickered on the crushed testes on screen years before and I wondered, obsessed with time travel as I am, if perhaps I had been the only one to see that image. Had that picture been a warning sent by my future post operation self to the teenage trench coat pony tail version of myself?

Did time travel hinge on vasectomies? Are there wormholes in urethras? Paradoxes within prostrates? Singularities within spermatozoa?

During the midnight walk home with my wife I considered my lower parts and their relationship with the tangles of time. As life churned around us, blossoming in back packer bedrooms, tumbling drunkenly on wet beach sands as waves surged and gushed like - [I am at a loss for a simile] - I heard a voice.

“Hey,” it said with scientific certainty. I made a one handed man-justment and listened as it continued, seemingly speaking from my boxer shorts. “Hey, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour you're going to see some serious shit.

I pictured my manhood, sleek and silver and surrounded by blue lightning, uncrushed and alive. Chrome and steel and acceleration baby!

I jogged to catch up with my wife, who for tonight only would be called Jennifer.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Crew


The same thing happens nigh on every day. I get on the bus and sit with my book and the bus then winds its way along, slowly filling to the point where people start begrudgingly taking the aisle seats and sitting beside the person in the window seat. 

I glance up and see three or four seats left including the one beside me. I glance up again a few stops later and see every seat on the bus taken except the one beside me, there are people standing, there are people muttering, and an empty seat beside me. 



Sooner or later one lone traveller will shuffle and “excuse me” their way up and take the seat beside me and I find myself wondering what exactly it is that keeps these people at bay? I have my shirt and tie on, my hair neatly gelled , my Kindle doesn’t reveal that I am reading anything disturbing, I even have a nice lemony Armani scent, so why does no one want to sit by me?

I have come to the conclusion that, despite what my daughter tells me, I am simply not cool. I drag down the bus vibe of undercut hair, too tight trousers and iPhones. I sour their Vitamin and Nutrient Water with my grey-flecked beard and crows feet. 

This baffled me as I was cool once, I was on the edge, I was at the height of a movement before it was even a movement.

I was in a Breakdance Crew.

(Wavy lines and a tumbling sensation, oh yeah, we are going down the flash back tunnel again).

Break dance was phenomenon in the early 1980’s and during the school holidays of '82 I had visions of myself with mismatched fluoro socks, stubble on my face and the attitude in my eye of Turbo and O-Zone. 



I devoted very small amounts of time to trying to body pop, focussing on certain show stopping moves. In my 8 year old mind I was approaching event horizon of being able to break dance by simply thinking about break dancing now and then.

One of my neighbours, Karl, was a confirmed break-dancer. He had a shark tooth ear ring, muscle t shirt and a small cassette player with 3 break-dance tunes recorded five or six times. He had moves and skills and as such a “crew” naturally formed around him, especially also as he was ten and we were eight.

Being in his crew meant we followed him wherever he went and heckled anyone foolish enough to start a “beef” with him. We were fiercely territorial so the crew from the neighbouring street were our sworn enemies.

Karl would show his moves in the playing field and the crew from the next street would appear on the (ungraffiti’d) walls were they sat cat calling. As was our job we heckled back, declaring their dancer rubbish and we traded insults long enough that they demanded a “burn out.” This was a mythical concept; two dancers facing off until one broke from the inability to complete a special move. To loose a burn out could lead to tears, limbs could break from over extension and hospitalisation could very well follow. So saying, none of us had been to one though Karl had recounted a victory he had had in a burn out in a neighbouring and rougher town as the sun glinted on his sharks tooth ear ring.

Given the escalating drama of the moment nothing could happen there and then, Karl could not immediately break into a carefully choreographed routine. A time and place had to be determined. It couldn’t be in the park; parents may see and interrupt the precision dancing with shouts of dinner time. It had to be somewhere we weren’t supposed to be, and it had to be in the evening. We opted for the car park in the market square of town because it had a dumpster and that gave it an urban vibe and we chose 6pm because the street lights would be on. 



It was on, word went out about the burn out, people would come and witness this and I would be ring-side as part of Karl’s Crew.

We rushed back to Karl’s place to help him work out what to wear and spent the afternoon listening to the same tunes while Karl got dressed (tennis headband, ear ring, white trainers, baggy trousers and t shirt) and his mum bought us Lemon cordial and ginger biscuits.

We managed to convince our parents to let us out after dinner on the strict understanding we would be home for 7pm. With stomach battle ready and filled with fish fingers or frozen beef burgers we regrouped and ducked and dodged our way to town. Karl planted his cassette player down and we scowled and sneered. In my memory of this I am chewing on a matchstick though I doubt that was genuinely the case.

Karl broke into an epileptic warm up of half moves that suggested the raw talent he was just barely holding back and we all felt the electricity of the impending burn out. There was danger and music in the air, and our parents would never understand the necessity of this moment, the vital territorial tribal ritual that was about to be performed to Chaka Khan and the Rock Steady Crew. Adults just wouldn’t or couldn’t understand…and evidently neither did the other crew as they never turned up.

By 6.20pm we knew they weren’t coming. Karl was still windmilling his arms and checking his ear ring but by 6.30pm the manager of the chemist came out and told us to move on in and in a precursor to the Criminal Justice Act he told us we should turn that music off.

Not down, off.

We took the long way home, strutted through the neighbouring street looking for trouble, armed with imagined flick knives and broken bottles. No trouble came, though one of us did step in dog mess.

Back at our street with 20 minutes before curfew Karl pressed play on his cassette deck and Chaka Khan started singing at a sensibly low volume. He did a few moves and then spent a while psyching himself up to do a swan dive and lead into a caterpillar.

Having spent a good 12 minutes that summer practising I had a belief that I could do each move. Karl completed the swan dive caterpillar combo while the other kids twitched and jerked. 



Figuring this was my moment I launched into a graceful swan dive and encountered the terrible moment where ambition collides with inability. My arms buckled and my face planted firmly on the concrete and my legs went over my head as I crumpled.

I stood and wiped a small trickle of blood from my cheek as sniggers started but Karl silenced them with one clenched 10 year old fist.

“Least he tried” he said and as my heart swelled as he added an uncertain “Yo!”

One by one they launched into swan dives and crumpled until ten minutes later they were all wincing and rubbing sore points on their faces. Karl executed one more perfect dive and the front doors started opening on our street as our parents called us home.

I ran indoors and my mum asked how I had scratched my face, had I been fighting? 

“Nah Mum, dancing” I said, leaving my street persona at the door as I raced upstairs for a Sunday night Matey Bubble Bath.

Under my beard a small scar from my dance days likely remains.

And in my heart still burns the unchecked heat of the burn out.

If no one sits next to me on my next commute I am going to stand and scream out “Hey, you, the bus commute crew, show me what you do make a break make a move” and then I’ll caterpillar my way up the aisle and do the robot all the way to work.

‘Cause I could you know.

Cool is in my blood. 

Yo


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

How I Died


How did I die?


2011

Bear - Dad

Me - Yes mate?

Bear - If I am ever a lifeguard, and you aren't already dead, I’ll try and pull you out of the water.

*

My daughter predicts my death several times a week. She comes to our room at 1am and either taps me on the head until I wake up or opens my eyelids with her fingers and stares at me.

A small child standing by your bed in the midnight hours is always terrifying and most nights I wake with a jolt and see the dark shadow of my daughter standing breathing beside me.

What is it?

I had a nightmare.

Just try and go back to sleep darlin’

No Dad, I dreamt you died.

She then makes upset noises and I reassure her I am alive. I pull her into bed for a hug, she curls in and falls straight back to sleep.

Then without fail she kicks me in the groin.

In the morning I ask –

So how did I die last night darlin’?

She grins from the breakfast table and gives me my latest death. The list is now lengthy

  • You were eaten by a crocodile
  • You were shot by a gun
  • You were stabbed in the face
  • You were hit by a car / bus / horse
  • You were eaten by an angry shark
  • You were sick
  • You were on the toilet
  • You ate too much beans.
  • You were hit by a dog
  • You were old
  • You just didn’t get up any more
  • A snake killed you
  • You exploded
  • You caught fire and then exploded
  • Dad, you just died, don’t you know? I am watching Tinkerbell.

With each scenario she mentions I make a mental note to be cautious just in case she is a five-year-old soothsayer. Should we go to the Reptile Park I keep a close watch on the crocodile enclosure in case it should break and the overly large child killing crocodile come rampaging towards me while my daughter giggles. I watch the ocean for sharks like Chief Brody and stay firmly on the sand while she throws sand bombs at me. I am careful crossing the road, I try not to catch fire or explode, I stay well away from snakes and exercise caution when on the toilet. Should I see a dog that looks likely to hit me I give it a wide berth. As for being shot, well there is only so much I can do to avoid that other than stay away from Nakatomi Plaza.

My sons’ death fixation does not relate to me dying, but is specifically related to the undead. He begs for details on zombies. Can zombies survive fire? Can zombies eat dogs? Do zombies ever catch the bus? Would a zombie swim or walk under water? Can Batman beat a zombie? I answer each question as best I can, prefacing it with “well, zombies don’t exist….but” and then launching into a lengthy scenario about Batman and a zombie having a tussle in Gotham City. The last zombie question I had from him was “Dad, can a zombie eat itself, what would happen when it swallowed the last bite?” I am still working on this one.

I took the kids to the local cemetery when Bear was 3 and Toes around the one-year mark. Bear had been asking to go for ages, pointing to it and telling me he wanted to see where the dead lived. We were short of anything to do that day I hiked them up the hill, Bear on my shoulders and Toes in the pram. It was a blistering Australian day and by the time we reached the gates I was dripping sweat and breathless. Bear ran gleefully towards the graves, Toes bumbled along.



Bear stopped suddenly and turned to me.

Dad?

Yes mate?

Where are the dead people?

Underground, they are buried.

He frowned.

Dad?

Yes mate?

Can we go and get a shovel?

On that same trip he asked me

Dad, why do people die?

I took a deep breath and gave it my best shot.

People get old. Once they have done everything, eaten every meal, had every beer, seen every movie and read every book they die. They fall asleep and don't wake up.

Like Da?

Yes mate, like Da.

Da was my wife’s grandfather; he died when Bear was two.

Da was old.

Yes mate, he was very old. But he was in hospital where they care for people, he was comfortable and you gave him a kiss goodbye.

Da died. He’s dead like fish.

Fish was Bears very originally named pet fish. The fish died, most likely of over feeding. He has a new fish now, when he first got it he wanted to call it Fishy. It’s a fighting fish so the name was toughened up to Demon-Fish.

Yes mate, Da is dead like Fish.

Bear gave the beach a distant look, like Heathcliffe on the moors. He seemed to weigh up mans mortality, to consider the brief shining life we lead before we wink out and leave only love and memories.

He turned back at me.

Can I have an ice cream?

*

Toes has seen her pet mouse die, she’s fascinated by deceased pigeons on the side or the road and she giggled when she saw a fish chopped into pieces by a fisherman and thrown back into the water, mouth gasping on its severed head. .

She tells me there is a ghost of an old lady in her room who hates her. This gives me chills. Sometimes she points to the corner of the room and assures me someone is standing there.



I tucked her in the other night, sung her a lullaby, kissed her and asked her to try not to dream my death tonight.

Ok Dad, I’ll just dream you get hurt.

I know I am reaping what I have sewn, having raised two happy little goth kids and I love my demon kids. So saying, it would be nice to live through the night for a change.


*

1997

An ex girlfriend, before she was an ex, asked me– If you died, would you mind if I dated your housemate?