Thursday, 23 February 2017
‘Oh, lone is the path that turns its head, that coils the slopes, and reaches unseen peaks.’
A ramble no more amongst congested city parks, devils careering on wheelie boards, arses slung from low-hung jeans, bins stocked full with detritus: used pampers, split micro-brewery plastic tankards and tomato splattered pizza cartons.
Out into the big sky and mountainous ranges, the air rare and tight, the urban hiker takes his beard for a wild unanswered whistle and a solitary testing climb. No mobile reception, no wifi, just him and his lightly groomed, much-coveted facial hair.
‘Beard, I like it. I like it very much,’ he says.
The beard tenses, its follicles frosting with the cold, tightening its grasp on the skin around his master’s mouth to produce a satisfying satisfied grin.
‘I want to shout, “I’m smiling because I’m happy!”’
The beard has other ideas and tightens its hold further so the hiker can speak no more. He is forced to sit down with his beard at the mountain’s peak and listen and watch, the cold mist rising from the valley to join his own exhaled plumes of breath, his heart slowing to a single beat, everything laid out before him.
I wish I knew who my father was so I could ask him why he gave me such a ridiculous name.
Hello, Peter, I am your father.
But you’re a midget.
That is true.
And I am of normal height.
Evidently, but your mother was unfeasibly tall. Now do the maths.
At school they called me de Poo.
And if the added my Christian initial to the front, I became P. de Poo. Pee of poo, get it?
That’s priceless; children can be so funny.
It wasn’t funny. It was hurtful.
I grew up a dwarf. Well, grew and up were never part of the equation, and consequently I was teased and bullied.
It made me strong, Peter.
So, was being called pee and poo supposed to have made me strong too?
Clearly it worked! And I went on to become Galactic Field Marshall of the Seventh Hemisphere.
You’re a mad midget then?
Sticks and stones!
It’s been so good to meet you, Dad.
Come with me and we can rule the world, and a seventh of the galaxy.
Only a seventh? If it’s okay, I’ll stay and deal with my hang-ups on earth.
Bye, Peter de Poon.
Bye, dwarf Dad.
Thursday, 20 October 2016
Mister Tindall runs the sweet shop. Mister Tindall lives alone. Mister Tindall has no friends. Mister Tindall is a monster.
Me and my brother call him names: yellow fangs, pus breather, custard eyes and banana ears; these are our yellow names for him.
He is the ugliest man in the street. He is the ugliest man in the town. He is the ugliest man in the world. He isn’t even a man.
Once he was wearing sandals and I saw claws where there should have been toes. He has a hairy back that’s way too hairy even for a very hairy man. He has spikes where they have no right to be. He owns a tail.
Dad says he’s the sort who would sit behind a screen in a darkened room and target bombs onto innocent streets and faraway playgrounds. Mum says Dad is being ridiculous but asks us each day if we’ve actually seen his tail. She has a strange worried look when she asks this. Like she’s remembering a nightmare and isn’t sure if she’s our Mum anymore.
That’s the effect Mister Tindall has. He upsets everyone and everything. That’s why we don’t go into his sweet shop, except when he’s not there.
There are pink gums, red gobstoppers, small stacks of Dracula milk teeth, and jars with body chunks floating in formaldehyde.
A new rumour has started going around town. It says Mister Tindall is fearful of his own reflection, and is as scared of us as we are of him. He’s a coward and can be got at! Last week Dad rounded up a posse and they took flaming torches and stood outside his shop for hours not saying a word.
We still hurry when we pass the shop on the way to school. In class we all daydream about him. On the way home we write graffiti on his walls, like ‘leave our town’ and ‘you’re not welcome’. At night we hear him rubbing away the words, and once we heard him cry.
Wednesday, 19 October 2016
Quiet now. The night is Devil black.
Sleep now. The Knight waits for attack.
They mass behind. They storm and plunder –
The giant evil birds, the filthy scalded cats,
The tombstone tenants, faces racked by thunder.
Hope shines out from the door in a negative of night,
The moon above is full and on the other side of dawn
The cheats and murderous burst out of the earth,
The horned devil finds a good place from which to strike,
All light gone and night undone, the Knight waits.
You said to bring a conker
To play conkers
Look, I’m not sure why you keep saying that
Yes, that phrase, I’m not sure why . . .
Can I see the conker?
You’ve got one too?
Can I see the conker?
I think I’m going to go
Can I see the conker?
I’ll leave it here; I don’t want to play any more
You’ve got nice conker
A nice conker?
You’ve got nice conker
Mum always said I was simple but vain: a lethal cocktail in her book. Granddad said I was ‘as smug us a bug in a rug’; whatever that meant. But I’ve always had this notion that I could be a hero, something, someone to look up to, a pinnacle –‘
‘An icon, lad,’ Mum said. ‘They call this an icon.’
‘Not on a plinth to stare up at, but a fully fledged blood and guts hero.’
‘So how do I do it?’
‘Do it?’ Mum said. ‘You’re crackers, lad. Just stop with all the dirty talk, your brain is made up of crumbs: crackers plain and simple, that’s what you are.’
Jacob’s Cream my brother used to call me. Only he meant it in a sly, saucy Old Testament way.
‘You’ll end up with a permanent spot on Looney Tunes like your brother if you don’t shut down the hero talk!’ Mum warned.
My bother had shut it down. He’d followed the words of an angry bishop who said radical Muslims were damaging status quo. Devoted to Saint Francis (Rossi,) my brother tried to crucify our neighbour, Mister Khan’s cat. Cat would have none of it and backed him up in an alleyway and clawed at his face.
I visited him by his new bed in his new room. ‘Cover my foot in coal dust and hand me a bandana,’ Granddad used to say to us when we were small. We had no idea what he meant but it always made us laugh. I tried the line again but my brother didn’t even smile. ‘Still spitting crumbs, Jacob?’ he asked, rubbing the scratches on his cheeks.
When it was clear he wasn’t returning, I tried to shut down the hero impulses for good but the hero words just kept coming.
Many years later, Mrs Vance, who lived next door, got her self in a spot of bother.
‘I’ve got myself in a spot of bother, Thomas (“that’s my name. Please, remember it!”).’
Sidney Groat was a moneylender, old school. Kneecap Sid some called him: one tap on each knee with a hammer for each day you were late with a payment. Mrs Vance was four days late, plastic hips, plastic kneecaps and all. ‘Call me the bionic woman,’ she used to say whilst pulling out her dentures, and then holding them above her head to make chopping shapes in the clouds.
‘Could you help an old woman in distress, Thomas?’ she asked.
‘I’ll sort it, whatever it is!’ I said.
I lay in wait for his next visit. Tap he went on Mrs Vance’s door, which I was sure she felt as a threat deep in her (knee) bones.
I burst out of a bush with my nephew’s Spiderman mask on. ‘Step back, Mister Groat or you’ll be spinning in my web and eating worms for dinner,’ (another of Granddad’s phrases).
‘Who, the fuck are you?’
‘Jacob Cream,’ I said.
He laughed, and this gave me my chance.
I took out my carrier bag (‘5p, daylight bloody robbery!’ Mum would have said if she were still alive), and pulled it over his head and tied. His arms waved; his face made moving shadows inside the bag, an angry wide mouth. He fell onto his knees after a while.
Mrs Vance stepped out. ‘ What have you gone and done? I only meant you to warn him off!’
Hard this hero stuff, hard to know where to draw the line. I didn’t fancy ending up sitting on a hospital bench next to my brother making hedgehogs from pinecones so I ran.
Mrs Vance helped Mister Groat up and they looked down the street to see if they could spot me. Mrs Vance should have got out her dentures: I was high up in the trees beside the clouds.
I’m up here now. If you look carefully you can see fine crumbs falling from the sky when I speak. And if you’re in trouble, I’ll stop talking and come down and help you. Like most heroes I’m a better listener than talker anyway, ‘a transistor radio with knobs on and no battery inside’ as Granddad used to say.