FTMT's Favourite Five Top Tenets

Monday, December 26, 2005

Driving.. Part 2


You feel the water pulling at you, spray in you face, a cold, hard wet shock, with an iron core. The force pummels you down but you fight back to your feet, skidding on the bottom, skidding against the torrent, straining back and leg muscles to stand and find some shot of air in this deluge. Was this the great rain, or a burst from some random cloud, a swimming pool leek or a monsoon at midday venting its anger in tropical rods of water? Drip on your forehead, drip in your arm, drip sounds resonate and resound in your ears, far away ears. Sonar bleeps fathoming an unconscious depth, striking the bottom and return back as bleak messengers from the unknown.

When Franco died the streets were empty.

Your watching Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper on the big screen. It’s getting near to the conclusion, you feel it as you swallow hard on the tension, Peter’s character says to Denis “We blew it, we blew it man!” Denis’s character looks confused and stares into the campfire. The film colour seems to change and you think, “What did he mean, blew it?” The two of them in their scripted lives only have screen moments to live. Their Transamerica journey will end in a few gunshots, almost whispered bullet sounds and the clunk of metal falling. Fire and smoke and peace. The end to all battles, the end of all battles and a portrait of martyrdom to an undocumented cause that never existed, and you had to blag your way into the theatre ‘cos you’re not sixteen yet.

Fruit juices and seasonal snacks, handwritten signs, dust and trouble and a lack of clarity in the price. You were searching for some shade, like searching for space in a theme park, or hiding in a supermarket. You don’t trust the locals, you never trust the locals. A rule of travel you were never taught but decided to invent as it seems so justifiable. They are all out to get you, well get your money, that’s all they really want. As for you, yourself, and your raggle-taggle family that trails along behind or peers through the grubby car windows, they don’t car. More water drips, more sounds without sources, more pegs squeezing into the wrong shape of hole, the grinding and the force, the wasted force.

The first time you became a vegetarian it was all so serious and definite, so right, so tasteless, so difficult. You lived on chips and rice and sweets. Fruit was too much bother and it went bad, who really likes fruit? What good is fruit when you are hungry? How do castaways survive on bananas and coconuts? “The empty kettle destroys the sweetest seagull egg”, so said Robinson Crusoe.

There are many rooms in the mansions of my weird father. Many staircases, doors and interior garden ponds, light switches and dimmers, skirting boards and keyholes. Drummers drumming, dancers dancing, lords a leaping. I wonder how he will introduce me to them or show me around, by guidebook? By Walkman? By personal assistance? These mansions are in the sky, in a place where our airliners and satellites do not go, a sky above our sky, with houses and mansions. There will be no selfish solitude here, no place to sit quietly and reflect, only eternal wandering through the mansion to get to the correct places where we sing to father. Great crowds of us singing, even of you are not a particularly good singer, or poor at remembering the words, or have a sore throat. The songs and words will come naturally to you erasing all else in your troubled mind. Forget science or law, handcrafts and music, literature, philosophy or art or theology. There are no need for these troublesome things, there are no books in my father’s mansion. Here is no trouble in my father’s mansion, those who wish to escape the flaws of their humanity will love it there, and the rest of us will remain lost. In a way it’s like Willie Wonkas’s Chocolate Factory - if it really was in Munich.

You are diving for pearls, deep diving, blowing precious bubbles from the corner of your mouth. The shell is too big and heavy to bring to the surface and to promising to leave behind or ignore. The sharpest knife snaps open the shell, twists the jaws to reveal the glittering interior. No man has seen this before, or will again. Lungs hurt, hands tremble, pearl drops.

You feel for your thoughts, they are there, close by, and burning like biblical bushes in barren deserts. Beams of thought light shining up into the sky, revealing what you think are their locations, but are not. They have no roots, no locations, no directions; your thoughts have no existence.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Driving somewhere - Part 1


You are driving in your car, quickly but safely on the motorway, you are travelling at about seventy miles per hour. You look at the dashboard clock, it is 2316 on a December night, the traffic is light and the road is dry. On the stereo the White Stripes track Seven Nation Army is playing. You home in on the guitar riff and your heart beats a little faster. Suddenly a blinding white light is in front of you, a lorry cab is facing you, heading for you, going the wrong way, it’s driver asleep. You have milliseconds to live as Jack White’s guitar slurs around that familiar riff.

You wake up in a white room with a black ceiling. You are lying on a couch. The room is strange and though you could move you feel uncomfortable about doing so. The walls look strange and you don’t want to touch them, you realise this white room is really a large box. You fall asleep again.

You wake up in a black room with a white ceiling. The black walls draw you towards that white ceiling. You begin to rise, you float towards the ceiling, the air feels thick, as inch by inch the ceiling gets closer as your horizontal body obeys some unconscious, unspoken command. You rise until your nose is only a fraction of an inch from the white light of the ceiling. Just when you think you should touch it you fall back, back down into the black walls, back into a warm but suffocating dark depth.

You wake up in the wreckage of your car, all twisted and contorted around you. Like some damaged relationship woefully beyond repair you are tangled in this metal and plastic. Some burned black, some stained, some bloodied. You recognise your car but it is now out of shape and strange as if some surrealist had painted it for you and place it around you in broken frames. Right things are in wrong places, shapes have changed and functions are now impossible. Then you realise you can see this wreck of a car but you are not actually inside it, you are elsewhere. Darkness falls.

Ambulance, silence, noise, your own internal panic and confusion. Shaky movement, voices and blurred edges to everything. Walking across dreamscapes, warm, cold, happy. Sharp pain dull pain and the constant relay of near and far memories.

Back to the white room, back to those white liquid walls that stand and yet flow at the same time, solid yet pulsating, thick as hard concrete one moment and paper thin the next, so thin you can see light and shapes, movement and shadows run behind them. The white room is peace. All is peace and then the black ceiling descends.

Them smell of 1959 is in your nostrils, first day at school, lady teachers with soprano voices and floral prints. The smell of the teacher, the class, the noise, the crack of the chalk, the snap of the book shutting. The cream portable loudspeaker is brought into the room for radio plays and music, static and trailing wires. Sitting cross legged on the linoleum and not daring to move, wanting to whisper, snigger, fidget, give in and forget to be good.

Kennedy is dead, black and white TV in 425 grainy lines, polished wood and open coal fires, I don’t know when, you don’t know when. Brown coins, grey shirts, scarves, a grey landscape and wish for time to pass. You have the feeling of powerlessness and entrapment. School, home, school and a dull inevitability that gnaws. The steady dropping of the leaves of a dying house plant, over fed but under nourished, drowning in water and dying of thirst, needing warmth and light, getting only reflections and cold.

You don’t give a damn about Vietnam because this is Scotland and everything that is in the fire will always burn eventually. What are computers anyway (?) and all the cars have funny names and people think that going on strike will solve their problems. You shift you weight from Tuf shoe to another Tuf shoe, animal trackers with a secret compass in the heal but what’s the point of knowing where north is, when you in the street outside you house? Twin tub washing machine leaks and squeaks and needs constant repair and there are only one or two phones round here. No adventure.

You search for the hidden paragraph buried in the book, page after page of blinding words and perfect sentences. The grammar trips and rushes, the punctuation like railway points and signals governing your speeding breath and lurching pace. Sailing away on this tall tale while the rain pelts at the thinnest window glass, no adequate barrier for cold, but you remain undistracted. Knees drawn up under the blanket, bell, book, torch and candle, the wicked witch of reading and secrecy. Silently turn the cream pages and break your concentration as you think about esparto grass and how bales of it come into the country on rusty ships and are unloaded in more rain or under watery sunlight. That paragraph’s location remains a secret.

Man has landed on the moon. You hear that an American man has stepped on the surface of that great cheesy, distant orb. Somehow the moon is not far enough away to matter. Summertime in Midlothian. Fried eggs and burnt bacon sizzling on black hot plates, tortured by sweaty army cooks. You are watching Top of the Pops and starting to dislike it, you are not quite sure why.

What is the point of having power if you cannot abuse it?

A fine dusting of snow is covering the cracks on the pavement, walking to school, shorts and anorak. Your legs are red with the stinging cold, you head is down. The snow starts to blind and you realise that this kind of snow is no fun, it is panic snow and the coldness on you, gripping you is now a bitter pain. The wetness on you cheeks is snow mixed with tears you don’t recall crying, you want to be home, you want your legs to move faster and eat up these daily seen familiar streets, the bumps and breaks in the surfaces, the splitting tree roots, the uneven kerbs, the bright gates, the rotting gates, the cast iron gates. The cars that are parked and never seem to move, the vegetable man and the post office van, all for once with an added free frozen topping. You want to get home.

Smoking is not what you thought it would be, why should you have to learn to smoke, isn’t it a natural thing to do? Does it make everybody seem so sick? Growing up and the pleasures that grown ups enjoy are all so bitter sweet, so much so, in the midst of this sick, queasy and dizzy feeling, they are only ridiculous. Why can adults refrain from smoking and drinking? I’m sure that goes for all those other odd pleasures they hint at, those x certificate things you don’t understand. Why don’t they just eat sweeter and more elaborate sweets and avoid all these acrid and acidic adult poisons?

Boys have nobs (do you spell it with a silent “k”?) and girls have fannys. Silent letters are fun. Teacher tells you all about them, rules and rhymes to help you remember the contradictions in English. So why isn’t it called British? Do Burns and Walter Scott and R L Stevenson figure in English Literature? Questions come far too quickly and easily to you at this age. I wish that I were you now but back then.

You don’t like Garry Glitter or T Rex, those guys are twats, and as for the Bay City Rollers, you wonder what on earth has become of decent music. The seventies started with such promise, where the hell did glam rock come from? At least we finally got a colour TV, how strange a best it is, a total distraction in this dull sitting room, like some fountain of acid experience running over and over, getting brighter and more explosive each moment. Swimming pools and palm trees and green hills look fantastic, such a colourful world out there yet to be explored.

Trauma, more lights, more action, more muffle voices far away, is that rain. You feel rain on your face, warm rain? Blood. Some body is singing in your ear, or is it a tannoy message or a phone or lo-fi lift music? You hate the questions forming in your head; they pile up like unanswered emails in a traffic jam of riotous information not flowing or making sense. You fall asleep again.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Projects (FTMT Homework)



Writing projects you may care to try.

Polish Tomato customs

Bringing together all the FTMT stories.

Looking up skirts without being noticed.

A deer in the bushes and other local wildlife.

Syrus Sea Cat revisited.

The giant black bunny.

Two eyed Cyclops.

A single singed eyebrow.

Shelves stuck to walls.

In search of a quiet life.

Titles listed like a library.

Index of snakes.

Bloody twisted Tuesday.

The sacred heart of Dora Bryan.

A list of all that’s good.

Clouds on view.

A dictionary of facial expressions.

Tippy tappy keyboards.

My answer's in the guitar.

Family squabbles.

I married somebody else.

The legitimate guide to fraud and robbery.

Ways to make it with witches.

Misleading signposts.

Why bother with motorways?

An education for West Coasters.

Types of ginger snaps not made by Macvities.

Why you can’t kick start your motor cycle

A wide enough aeroplane seat.

Cooking with onions.

Have a holiday on £10 a day.

The children’s secret film book.

Mud slices.

The Dummies guide to crossing bridges.

New York’s tattoo parlours in the 1940s.

The single pearl.

Terms of adornment.

Cultivating human hair.

The Scottish bamboo planter’s handbook.

Banjo playing made easy (deaf edition).

How to prevent a singed beard.
Rabbits and their habits

Is a Twix well named?

The difficulties of steering a steering committee

Plundering the Andes for fun.

The fake shipwrecks of Wester Ross

Soon to be an orphan

The fudge and marshmallow dictionary

My self portrait justified.

Seeing is not the same as believing.

Thin friends and how not to upset them

The single man’s guide to dealing with uptight women.

Body language in Samoa

Short Stories about short lives

Why pipe smoking is coming back

The proper use of full stops in business conversations

How to estimate your bodily hair count.

How to make a will that will annoy your family

Thinking about rock pools

What foods not to add an egg to.

The single happiest day of my life

Collecting kettles from old farm houses

Confessions of a charlatan

The many ways of arranging socks

Midsummer nights scents

A cock crowed and a crow answered

Not all of the Rolling Stones are still alive

How to recognise motorway madness when it strikes your family

Budget air travel in Pakistan

The House of Tudor: Pioneers of wooden confectionary.

The black heart of Africa transplanted by Dr Christian Barnard’s ex wives.

Piffle from the pulpit

A number of late nights in Scarborough

Random kinds of actress

The strange smell of a muddle

Booking train seats on-line

How to lip-read swearing priests

Bar code strategies

Seven great ways to win in life

Motorcycle madness examined

Other forms of English

The cat’s pyjamas don’t fit him

Smuggling bibles into heaven

The Indian rope trick in 27 languages

Smiling with false teeth.

Saturday, September 10, 2005



Impossible songs & fairytale management have opened up a huge gold bullion and snake-leg mining operation on a massive plot of cyber-land out there somewhere. Floating out on a cloudy, wavy, choppy, wet cyber-sea. We call it our little scruffy sugar-palm plantation of music and ideas, with schemes of dark blue and concrete grey, audio and mystical, heretical and strangely political, a fanatical and futuristic evolving bit of space. It needs some friends.

As Jimi Hendrix once said “It’s very far away, takes about a half a day to get there, if we travel by my dragonfly, no it’s not in Spain, but just the same you know it’s a groovy name, and the wind’s just right…”
The space is www.myspace.com/impossiblesongs


Sunday, September 04, 2005




The way you walk,
Talk about how you talk,
Take a little trickle
Don’t believe your public,
They’re so fickle
And cannibalistic
They know you believe the statistics
And the words of those mystics
Who sold you the cheapest lies.
“To keep me real!” you said, surprised.
They let you break down,
They want to see you breakdown,
Is that one word or two?
Do you know what you ought to do?
I couldn’t believe you’re in this pickle,
I felt nauseous and a little sickle.
I thought of how you look
I counted up the time you took
To tell me the truth about myself
To review a reflection of someone else.
Review yourself.
All this beggars belief,
(To use the language of a politician)
Before you take me in,
So bleak and yet so cool
So wild and yet so calm
I can’t detect that sense of alarm,
You give out,
When I give in.



I stole this riff
I stole another man’s wife
I stole the keys to your car
And I drove it back Fife.

I punched a waiter who annoyed me
I spat my gum down on the street
I smoked a cigar and I burned your dress
Then told you “you are really sweet”.

I blew my horn aloud at midnight
I spilled my drink into your lap
I said you had faithful boyfriend
But I know he won’t be coming back.

I stole a lyric from Bob Dylan
But I’m not the only one who did
I stole a melody from Johan Strauss
And sold the CD for ten quid.

I checked a pornographic website
When I was logged in your account
I stole your pin number and credit card
And spent the most obscene amount.

I told your father I’d support you
I told your mother you’d be fine
I told your sister she was beautiful
And touched her leg from time to time.

They caught me when I’d had one too many
They caught when I wasn’t at my best
I had to phone so I could tell you
I’m just the same as all the rest.

I’m just the same as any sinner
We’re on that level playing field
I do just what I can get away with
I have to get the things I need.

There is no benchmark for behaviour
There is no good or bad
You do the things you have to do
Stop yourself going mad.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Electrical Fruit



Scottish scientists in collusion with their Mexican based counterparts have discovered a method of generating electricity from limes and lemons. This also works in reverse; limes, lemons and other citrus fruit can consume excess energy and so act as a buffer for any power spikes that may arise across the network.

A grant has been proved by the FTMT Foundation into fully researching the acidic qualities of fruits v their electrical properties and uses. The spectrum of belief within the Scottish scientific community has broadened as a result of this sharing of knowledge as has the Tequila and Nachos consumption. Everybody is happy so far, getting on with thinking wide-ranging and strange thoughts and the summer is generally appearing warmer than first thought. Whatever: the formula can be written thus:

e=l/l (citrus factor/x2)~lime/lemon reduction<92>

Most ordinary people are both puzzled and stumped by this phenomenon - I’m happy to say.

Special thanks to "Erin’s Kitchen" for the photo.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Revolution in Physics



Blind drivers, but that’s ok,
Worse things are going on in society
Your mother wouldn’t like it
She didn’t like your father’s beard.
You are what you calculate you are,
And whatever it was you heard.

Working class or second best,
Held together or put down.
"Passion?" I’ll borrow that for a second,
Eat chickpea daal and rebound,
Keep on knocking till you hear,
Till the uncertainty disappears
Till the frantic scratching stops,
And you drop.

Potting and plotting in your best shed,
Ambush my house is not what you said,
Just don’t take my shadows away,
Just don’t turn the key too carelessly
Combine a set of works, a bit like cooking,
Advice and ideas are better looking,
Than a cow chewing, turning fields to green.

We stop the seeing part, only to descend
In flying boats and leather coats, expand.
No matter what you believe or demand.
Believe the unbelievable,
So much better that way, and easy to take the surprises,
In your stride.

Why were you born?
To exercise your obvious supremacy?
Over the likes of them, and maybe me?
What comes easier, what comes closer?
A chimpanzee at the controls of a bulldozer?
When you are small, we are all small and safe,
We remind you of the times you worried, escaped.
Science has you strangled now with quantum possibilities,
There are more ice creams than there are toppings,
Good-bye to god and Sunday shopping.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005




Paris in the Summer.

Hot and sticky, thunderstruck.
Queues and Mona Lisa smiles,
Catch the visitor’s smiles, anxious not to miss a sight,
Miles of queues and bag searches.
Asian tourists hungry for the Western world.

Taking the biggest strides, to stand beside,
The Eiffel Tower and discover
It has a non-magnetic surface
It has surly and sour café staff
It is claustrophobic and spectaclular
It has pigeons and peculiar shapes.

We came back to escape.
Ride the Metro to the pavement, rides the pavement,
Beggars sing or testify to passengers, misunderstood,
Read aloud your life and misery,
And move to the next carriage to beg again.

Snaking Seine. Grey and brown.

Square and angular financial sector, business blanked out and trafficless,
Eat ice cream and drink cold beer.
Hear and see, sniff the air and don’t care, we are the tourists here,
This is not our city, but for a few short hours, it is.

Arches and triumph, lost cars and double parking.
Look for a bus, look for the exit.
Take us to the country; take us to the quiet again,
This is not our city, this is Paris.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005





The tomato sat in the palm of my hand. The young lady had handed it to me shortly after I had helped her change her tyre. Her ice blue Peugeot 206 had lain by the roadside for an hour or so before I’d arrived. The rain had stopped by now and a light breeze had blown back the mists and cloud and the hills and open bare country blended into a desolate yet moving backdrop for my few minutes of recovery work. “There are no mobile signals here” was the first thing she said as I leaned across my passenger seat to ask her if she needed help. It was the usual problem, wheel nuts a bit too tight, torqued on by some spotty fitter and the palms of her hand a little too soft. I exchanged her flat tyre for the space-saver spare and with little or no fuss she was on her way, an hour behind whatever schedule she may have had. During my gallant act there was little or no conversation made, she stood at the front of the car staring into the distance and hardly seemed interested in my few minutes of repair work. I rubbed my hands together, tidied the tools and the jack and dumped the old tyre in the boot. “Should be fine now, but don’t go over fifty on that tyre.” Saying nothing but nodding a blank thanks she reached into the car door, into a brown paper bag and handed me a ripe red tomato. I was surprised by this odd gesture, I wondered if she was foreign and had I missed her accent or had I missed some other indicator. She pressed the tomato into my fingers and said, “For you, thanks!” She got into the car and drove of down the road without looking back or giving a wave.

I stood there holding the tomato and chuckling to myself. I had a mind to throw the tomato at something, in to the distance, splatter it against a road sign or squash it, but I didn’t. I held it and looked at its red and shiny skin, its shape and soft feel. It was a nice looking tomato. I could just bite it and eat it like an apple, swallow it up and get on my way but I held it.

By now her car had disappeared into the distance and the weather seemed to be determined to turn nasty again. A large bank of cloud was swooping in a drowned droplet procession of flying liquid down the side of a hill to the west, the sun had lost the will to resist and I could taste the damp passage of the oncoming rain shower. I got back in my car as a fresh rainstorm beat down upon the passenger windows and the windscreen. Relentless drumming and spattering, rivers and drops and all visibility of the road and hills gone once again, though I was safe in the dry and warm (with the engine now on) car.

I put the tomato in a door pocket, turned on the wipers and drove the rain from the windscreen and resumed my journey. Despite the poor weather I failed to concentrate on the road and thought about the lady again. She was probably about twenty four, slim, pretty, long brown hair and dark eyes, turquoise polo neck sweater, boots and jeans, black handbag (I’d noticed), it didn’t go with the rest of her outfit. She was dressed to travel but I guessed she was touring, she didn’t seem like a local or someone returning home after working away. No she was a tourist and who knows I might catch up with her at the next town, after all I was a tourist to and it would be fun to perhaps have drink together in the evening. Then I thought again about the tomato, my speechless reaction, her non-engagement but her still determined handing over of the soft fruit from a bag of more soft fruit. That was really just plain strange, was she embarrassed? Was she afraid perhaps and acted out some kind of mild panic, not being sure how to thank and then leave a stranger who had come to her assistance. Had I said anything about being hungry? Had I moaned, so why oh why the tomato?

The rain eased, I followed the green and white signs and motored down into the next town, Thurso. The high street was clearing with the last few local shoppers and a few travellers; it was by now about twenty past five. I had decided I should eat soon and pulled over into a small car park that was handy for the few bars and restaurants that made up the town centre. As I left the car I looked back down into the other parking bays and saw the blue tailgate of her Peugeot and the slim space-saver tyre, nearside rear. She was here.

Immediately I experienced the brief dilemma of whether or not to look for her, to trust to chance or providence, to not bother or to look in every likely spot until I found her. I decided to remain true to myself and the spirit of accidental adventure that has both ruined and made my life, so I began to look for her. After all I thought, she is the only person I know in this town and what else is there to do?

Two pubs, a café (a coffee and a brownie for me) an Indian and a Chinese restaurant later I found the refuge she had chosen to recover from her bad afternoon in. It was unfortunately an Italian restaurant. Firstly let me say I like Italy, Italians, their cars and most Italian foods. What I’m not so keen on however is the type of food that tends to be served in UK based Italian eateries. I always feel a sense of disappointment when leaving after an Italian meal, pasta is nice but it somehow doesn’t quite deliver. Whilst on this track I also must add that I fail to understand the almost religious fervour and ritual that seems to follow eating pizza. Pizza is ok, but it’s a piece of doughy bread smeared with tomato, herbs and cheese, that’s all. Some varieties have meat or fish or chicken attached also and that’s fine. I just don’t really understand it’s enormous popularity, now a burger or a Chinese, mmmm.

She was on her own at a table by he window. I made a stupid face through the glass and tapped on it. She got a fright and jumped but smiled. I then made a series of ridiculous hand signals in a silly attempt to tell her that I was intending joining her in the restaurant if that was ok. This was accompanied by some other stupid faces, which probably detracted somewhat from my main message. Two minutes later I was in the place sitting opposite her and apologising for joining her. “It’s fine, ok, I am happy that you came by”. She told me her name was Harriet Marigold and that she was from Suffolk and was in the area to visit friends who unfortunately were out tonight. I told her that I was a brain surgeon currently between jobs who was running away from his mad wife and her madder lesbian lover. Then I told her that I was a systems analyst taking a few days off to explore the far corners of my country. She preferred to believe this.

I had forgotten the tomato until the menu arrived. “Why the tomato?” I blurted. “You’ll see!” she retorted, smiling a quick little smile and then returning to her study of the menu. We ordered food and wine and water. It all arrived, it was hot and we ate it and talked about travels, tyres, Suffolk and the meal. The meal over we agreed to share the bill and together fumbled the correct amount of notes onto the dish the waiter had left. She said that she had to resume her visit to her friends who must be home by now so would be on her way. “Tip?” I said, “I’ll take care of it, watch!” She reached into her handbag and pulled out a tomato; very similar to the one she had given me earlier. She placed it on the table, twirled round and walked out straight out of the door calling “Bye bye, thanks again!”. I didn’t want to see the face of the waiter when he found his tip so I wheeled out pretty quickly following in her wake.
Next moment I’m blinking on the pavement, looking in all directions but she’s gone. I ran back to the car park but her car is also gone by now. This has been a strange afternoon and evening and I need to find a B&B for the night. I click the key fob, unlock the car and get in. The tomato is still in the door pocket; I pick it up and study it for a moment. It feels heavy and healthy, it looks succulent. Even though I’m not hungry I decide now is the time to eat it. She gave it to me today; it’s fresh and what else can you do with a tomato other than eat it? I bite into the tomato, the skin gives way and breaks, the fluid and seeds inside ooze, I push my tongue in and catch the goodness and enjoy the taste, it is a very good tomato. In a moment it is gone and is now resting on top of the lasagne, salad and garlic bread I just consumed in the restaurant. I feel a bit bloated but the thought of an hours snooze in some comfy B&B bed and then out for a brief nightcap prompts me to drive on. 300yds round the corner and up a side street I find McCarran’s B& B and they have a vacancy. The landlady is friendly, we have brief chat and then she quickly shows me to my room on the third floor. I throw down my bag and kicking off my shoes flop onto the bed for forty winks in the hope that I will enjoy a rejuvenating snooze and that my digestive processes will speed up.

The bed is as soft and welcoming as I’d hoped and no sooner am I lying on it, stretched out on my back than I am quickly fast asleep. Sleep however does not come alone. I am asleep but conscious of a churning and a pounding in my stomach, I moan about Italian food and then realise that I am dreaming / feeling far more than mere indigestion, I am experiencing a swelling inside, a pain and a bright red band across my sleeping vision that screams “TOMATO”. My insides feel like a tomato, pulpy, seedy, largely made of water, dripping, inside I am a tomato, outside I am a tomato, inside I am numb, a red numbness descends and then all feeling is gone as sleep engulfs me.

The next morning at about nine thirty Mrs Ellie McCarran was up on the landing and tapping on the bedroom door, “Sir! Breakfast is past, are you no getting up yet?” There was no reply so she returned to her kitchen tutting to herself as she looked at her watch. At ten twenty she was back tapping on the door again and again without response. She tapped a little more and then reached into her pinny pocket for the pass key. As she unlocked the door a loud click came for the lock mechanism, she opened the door a few inches calling gently, “Hello? Breakfast? Hello?” The ongoing silence encouraged her to open the door wider and stick her head into the room for a proper look. She looked and saw the empty bed, the closed window, a backpack and nothing in the room particularly out of place. Then she noticed on the bed, square in the middle of the duvet, in a man sized indentation, a single red tomato.

Over in the flat above La Bella Palma restaurant the brothers Jim and Paul Macari would normally be up and preparing the menus, dining area and kitchen for lunchtime. Jim had gotten up at the usual time, showered and had coffee, he had called to Paul a few times but no sound came from his room. At ten twenty Jim peered round the bedroom door, scanned the untidy room for Paul and turned away thinking he had got up and gone out early or something, not Paul’s normal behaviour. He turned back around a looked again when a bright red object lying on the bed caught his eye, a ripe red tomato.

Harriet is a witch, a witch from the great school of diabolism and ancient sorcery that sits in Suffolk. She is out on tour trying out spells, hexes and incantations. Innocent victims abound and the information and experience she will gather is very valuable not only for herself but for all her colleagues and customers back down south. Try before you buy, do a little market research, carry out a straw poll, test the water, experiment and observe and finally report back. So by lunchtime when neither Paul nor I had been seen outside of our respective resting places Harriet had felt she had observed enough and drove carefully out of town grinning to herself and gently rubbing the ripe tomato that sat in her lap.

The screen on Jim Macari’s PC was about to go to star field as he tapped the space bar. He still hadn’t seen his brother that day and had forgotten about the tomato that had lain on the bed. Lunch had been difficult without Paul but as the restaurant wasn’t so busy today he had managed with the help of Gillian who did the waitressing for them. Paul sat at the PC and began checking his emails and footering around between his favourite web pages. It was about three thirty. It was strange that Paul had vanished or gone AWOL though, knowing him as he did Jim assumed he had gone of on a small bender, this had happened once or twice and usually ended with a call from Paul asking for a lift back home at some ungodly hour. Jim was irritated but not yet angry, just as long as Paul was back for work the next day.

What is the conscious state of a tomato? Does it have feelings? Does it think, dream, feel emotion or react? Has it an awareness of self? Paul knows and so do I.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Hell and Fire

No Hell, no fire, no dire blank death and end of all. No retribution, no final solution. Pack it in with a poker, bank it up and turn it over. Let the fire consume, purge the sickest room, tear down and carbonise, the hell in heaven is there for us all to realise.

Play with your fears, take back a path, to walk away through the years. Over these fields and designs, bring your thoughts back into line. Stare into the fire light, let the pictures there shine bright. No hell, no fire, for you, or yours, or mine.



Friday, July 15, 2005





I walked into the cathedral,
felt the space and the time take my breath
Saw a statue of Mary Magdalene
wearing her Sunday dress
I lit a candle for my love,
as sad Mary looked up into His eyes,
Her words froze on her stone lips
as she formed that last goodbye.
A ghost was whispering to my beating heart
and at my finger tips electricity,
Here in this microcosm cathedral city
An abstract cross and artifacts,
the house of God and the dead.
Mary’s back is to the choir and congregation
And heaven’s still dense as lead

Tuesday, July 12, 2005




How do you want us to die?

So how do you want us to die?
Spell it out and we’ll do our best to comply
Cranky and crotchety ill fitting old bastards
We bow to our younger political masters
The wars we fought are a memory and a joke
We should suffer in silence from some crippling stroke
Only to be on the receiving end of more well intended rehabilitation
While you legislate any joy or reasons for life from the heart of our nation
No more heart attacks or cancer
No liver failure or altzhiemers
No true accidents or unsafe practices
No extra drugs or chemical additives
No cigarettes or radiation
No alcohol or sexual frustration
Good diets without the sun tanned irritations
Fairness, awareness and stress free complications
You‘ve made so many rules for us to live by
We now need some new tools to die by
Some time alone to meditate this artificial human state
That your relentless correctness must create
To ensure we all die feeling great.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Motel Room



Motel Room full of Marilyns’

Motel Room full of Marilyns'

Spectrum bubbling into troubles

Bundled up for all to see

Hide behind the softest silk scarf

You still make no sense to me.

I can see you through your clothing

I can smell you in the air

Deliriously camped out in this bedroom

In a lens cap love affair

We should drink champagne together

Laugh out loud and cut the dark

Stalk the memory for forgiveness

Summer’s day jazz in the park

This is no fashion shot assignment

These are the words you’ll wait to hear

“Let’s make love in this excitement”

Then we’ll slowly disappear.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Fully Qualified Pedestrian: FTMT Short Story No 12




A fully qualified pedestrian.

It’s my first job as a journalist after a few false starts and my itchy-scratchy student days are over, my moment has arrived, and my laptop is eager and hungry for material. I feel alive with a puzzled anxiety and overblown confidence and I feel dead with pressure and anticipation. A Scottish rain is falling, parody rain, grey wet special rain that I am determined to ignore. I am stubborn and I go out in it, I want to remain clear and purposeful. I want to hear the voice of the people, the great, the good, the dim, the downtrodden, the lazy and undeserving, these random faces, suits and shell suits with their jeans and geriatric behaviour. Artificial values that whilst I may hold in contempt are my palette to use to paint the story of their views on travel and transport, my sweat and toil will produce column inches of their quotes to amplify that broken, dull and whining voice of the common man. I am exploring my new accommodation.

My copy editor is Mr C**t in every respect. He sees me only as some cheap and disposable resource. A flat-pack tank top of a man in the 70s, a balding, drunken skin shedding snake in the 80s, and ginger-spiced up lizard in the 90s. He sits on an imaginary bilge plumbed throne at the shaky top of his chosen profession in this redtop jungle of journalistic mayhem. His office is a departure lounge only for his missiles of profanity, blasphemy, costly lies, greed and his force-fed stuck-on ego extensions. He spits at the walls and passers by with his tirades and tortures his staff with his gaudy tied presence, he whinges in his daily column and attacks everything in the innocent celebrity of transient media stars shining down from a vacuous universal sky set. Somehow I think I may like it here.

I walk towards the coffee machine abandoning my desk. It is no desk at all; it is the remains of the unlit funeral pyre of my predecessor. Strewn with his papers and debris, pens and used tissues, Griegs bags, rival newspapers, crumbs, tapes and the remains of a banana. I presume he was a he, or a very messy and clearly upset she. Nobody mentions what happened so I remain at a safe distance holding a cup of some steaming brown liquid that is a distant relative of the coffee that is served elsewhere but at ten times the price and, I imagine containing real milk and coffee. This liquid contains the equivalent of a hologram of a cup of coffee, but supping it, staring across the office and supporting the wall with my sweaty back is better than sitting at the desk from “just inside the front door of hell on the way to the reception.”

It’s the next day; I leave the office to meet the people.

“Interviews. I’m having to interview members of the public about issues they may have over public or personal transport nowadays. Jams, buses, congestion charges, fuel prices, trains, queues, ticket prices. It’s the first time I’ve had to do this kind of thing cold but my editor… well he thinks I’m not really capable, he thinks I’ll make it all up or something or but I just want to get some views down and take it from there. The public are unpredictable, I think. They will tend to misunderstand the question, particularly old or young people as neither ever listens to what you say anyway and I’ll write (I could record…) what they say anyway. My editor is a complete gobshite anyway and I don’t know why I’m doing any of this but I am capable. I’ll try a mall and then maybe a superstore or a pub. Pubs are good. I may start in a pub, might be some girls or the barmaid or somebody. Starbucks or Costa? Well then I could focus on taxi or bus drivers or the other thing would be to just stand there and talk to a random selection of pedestrians.”

“I don’t know where I’m going, speed bumps, chicanes, priority systems, cones and lines, twenty is plenty, they start us up and then they slow us down.”

“I can’t get over that road, nothing but heavy lorries and coaches lumbering past all day long, I can’t imagine where on earth they are going.”

“It’s those bastards in their white vans, they sit on your bumper at 85, drive right up your arse.”

“A radio show about traffic would be great, guests, interviews, phone ins, musical breaks, live and electric. All the hot topics and the chance to play Devil’s advocate and put people on the spot.”

“Well the traffic seems to have gotten a lot worse since they built that ferry dock, I think that there must be many more trucks coming over from the continent now.”

“Bloody cyclists, what are they on? And those stupid helmets. They don’t pay tax or anything and they hog the road or creep up on you queues, bikers are as bad.”

“I’ve always paid my road tax and my community charge but look at the pot-holes, where is my money being spent? I don’t see things getting any better.”

“I would use public transport but then I’d have to walk to the bus stop in the rain and I don’t like the neds that hang around there either.”

“The big stereo, Alpine, noise, fill the car with noise, everybody knows your coming, best chance a pedestrian’s got, hear you long before they see you. Little kids love that noise.”

“Have you seen the kind of people that use buses? They don’t look quite right, they all look funny, and it’s as if they’re all going to some special day centre somewhere.”

“I’ve paid for that bridge a hundred times over with my toll money.”

“Really I detest the public, moaning whinging, changing nothing, going on about their petty little woes, their needs, their greed, their perpetual, insatiable appetites. These are the people I must interview, entertain, God knows inform, they read my words but cannot hear my voice. They can’t see past shops and their ridiculous hunger. I struggle, I struggle to stay a socialist and hold some shred of belief in this. I don’t know what I want anymore or who I should respect, follow or guide myself.”

“What we need are proper cut ins at all the bus stops, that stops queues forming, then bring back the old style conductors and let the drivers drive.”

“Bus lanes? What are they about? Bus lanes? I’ll give you bus lanes!”

“Well you can book your train on-line but the time tables never seem to quite agree, I get confused and you know it’s never as quick and simple to book on line as they make out.”

“Well I think that the judges should hang those drunk drivers and football hooligans in the Burberry caps and handbags.”

“Those pot holes have done in my alloys!”

“Every time you think you’ve hit a clear bit of road up pops another pelican crossing, they’d rather stop two lanes of traffic and back it up for a hundred yards than have somebody wait five minutes, I mean my time is precious and it’s waste of fuel.”

“Just when you get round a roundabout they plonk down a pedestrian crossing, right after it.”

“It’s not about traffic man, or economics, it’s the healing power of the blood of Jesus that you need in your miserable life, and not just you.”

“People still spit in buses you know, you catch cold and germs on buses, and who knows what’s on the seats. Muck. At least I know who has been sitting on my car seats.”

“See that double yellow line? That’s pish, twenty years ago you could drive around this city no problem, until the started painting those things on every street, and bus lanes, tell me son, what are they for? Buses?”

“I think that it is so sad that Concorde isn’t flying, so very sad.”

“Dunno, I came on the bus with my pals.”

“I don’t like using the drive throughs and I know you always get your food quicker but I don’t like talking into that thing at KFC.”

“That Terminal 1 in Birmingham is a complete shithole.”

“People can’t sleep at night, they’re still thinking about their gas central heating boilers popping off and on, pilot lights blowing out or bursting into a magnificent blue flame with a yellow cardinal’s centre, heating the water. Newspaper stories about explosions, terrible gas leaks undiscovered and filling and sneaking in under your house, in some dirty void a careless builder left and you know nothing of. Of all the corners to cut, the risk to take that seamed so small and remote at the time, to the fully qualified tradesman who bungled yours and only your installation. Fumes and leaks, gas or carbon monoxide, both can kill, suffocate, explode, burn – all while you sleep or even while you spread your tired body across a sweaty bed, repel your partner, hear the rain batter the window. All the time that volatile gas, held captive in the pipe waiting on the vital spark that consumes it and possibly you and your dreaming family.”

“I’ve never seen anybody give an old lady or a pregnant lady a seat on the bus.”

“I’d bloody tax those cyclists, look at him, and it’s not as if there are no cycle paths but they always go on the pavement and they don’t stop at red lights. They want the best of both worlds and they’ve all got chips on their shoulders about cars and spaces on trains and the railway lines are closed and that’s where they cycle, but they don’t.”

“Have you seen the chewing gum on the pavement at the bus stop over there?”

“They know how to park cars in Disneyland.”

“I think you should always reverse into a parking space, that way you drive out, much safer. My firm has taught that since I was in the Aberdeen office, it’s a basic risk assessment.”

“I still get annoyed with people phoning on the bus, on the train – I’m on the train, I’m getting off the train, you can imagine their partner at the other end thinking, jump under the bloody train you arse, let me get on with my life and claim the insurance money.”

“You get to Tesco and there’s nothing but stupid neds in Renault Clios all parked the disabled spots while their girl friends get the fags and Bud.”

“Horses are the natural form of transport for man, if we went back horse transport, imagine, no cars. Horses are what God intended for us to use, and camels, beasts of burden, look at the Amish or the Arabs, they all know about horses.”

“See in Malta, cars don’t rust, you go there, see for yourself, cars don’t rust in Malta.”

“Well when you see a blonde in sunglasses at the wheel of a big, clean and shiny four wheel drive, what does that tell you?”

“I don’t object to paying to park but these disabled spaces and badges just get abused.”

“It is a visit to Hell. The shops, the coffee places with exotically named tasteless food and ridiculous sandwich combinations and the vacancies, the vacant stares, the sportswear and the anoraks, the buggies big as SUVs, so big they no longer fit in ordinary cars. Girls with boots, socks, tights and a master plan of no significance other than to simply spend time and plastic money. Shoes that are big, boots that are wide. Jeans, skirty things on top. Layer upon layer of shop soiled skin soiled clothes, all from head to toe except for that one-inch gap between her top and her trousers and ¼ inch of panty elastic peeking up from their bums. What careful planning and purchasing resulted in such precise and tasteless geometric perfection. Mirrored blankly and darkly in a hundred shop glass fronts that proclaim the empty Gospel of where we are today. As believable and credible as a prime-minister’s grin, a home-secretaries yawn or a news-reader’s rehearsed and hollow horror at today’s graphic headlines.”

“It makes my blood boil when I see a car with disabled badge on the windscreen and the driver’s sitting smoking and his wife’s beside him and three of her pals are in the back and they’re going through a pedestrianised area.”

“I don’t like to see obese people in little cars.”

“They just cross the road without even lookin’, expect you to stop.”

“These kids that do wheelies on their bikes in traffic, dodging in and out, ridiculous. Where are their parents?”

“Trains are never on time, but I haven’t used the railway for years.”

“I don’t like it when a fat person sits down next to me.”

“I don’t like it when somebody is reading a newspaper next to me.”

“Nobody ever talks.”

“Why do dogs stick their stupid heads out of car windows, that’s asking for trouble. Is the dog wearing a seatbelt? The driver should be fined, especially if the dog’s a boxer.”

“People should not shag in cars, it is not the proper place for that kind of thing and it’s done a lot of damage and caused a lot of heartache around the Crammond area.”

“I never have the right change for the bus, I have to buy a pack of mints or something to split a tenner.”

“Well in the supermarket car parks it’s always tight, never have enough room and people just dump their trolleys in spaces, just abandon them.”

“Sometimes just walking down the street or crossing the road this eerie feeling comes over me, my feet seem to be floating over the pavement, or the pavement is suddenly spongy and I’m sinking in a little with each step, as if on quicksand that is about to give and at that moment I think of my family and the people I love and I realise that none of them know what it is I’m going through and my life feels as small and fragile and insignificant as an egg. I try not to think like that too much, I try to keep things even but sometimes asking for something or buying something in a shop takes such an effort. The scream inside me never quietens. These are powerful emotions but to understand them is very liberating”

“Subarus and Mitsubishi Evos, you see those boys all in MacDonald’s for breakfast, on their way to some track thing, always silly number plates and dumb girlfriends with goofy handbags and cowboy boots.”

“For sale signs in car windows, I ask you, you see them drivin’, is that any way to buy a car?”

“Old people cannot cross the road, they get confused, they can’t judge your speed, they should build tunnels or bridges, stop them stopping all the traffic.”

“I don’t drive but my boyfriend says that he’s getting a Saxo when he gets a job.”

“It’s always been busy here but the shops are out of town now so that helps but it’s always been busy, I don’t know where they all come from, school holidays?”

“When I’m old a crippled I will look at my fellow man and women, old a crippled also, dim of sight and hard of hearing. I will reflect on the virility I felt in my Lexus at 95 miles per hour, at the air-con and electronic seats. I will think of passing people standing at bus stops, cyclists and Big Issue sellers, beggars with their dogs holding caps of coins in their mouths. I will think of factories closing, skills moving away or being lost and slot machines flashing and grinning in corners in plastic fake pubs where food is served all day and TVs blare. I will think of young men with thick wallets and pockets full of money and not knowing how they came by it.”

“In the old days you could play football in the street, under the street lamps, that was when we had a team, still won nothing mind you. Great players from the old mining villages not like today’s softies.”

“Personalised plates? More like check out my crap birthday present I can’t ditch or my personal dyslexia nightmare, they never look right, in fact they often say dumber things, I mean M14GER or D4DYM or X6DIC or B16BOB and Bob’s a wee baldy guy or something. It’s like one bad miss of an expensive joke.”

“The Spanish language and the driving standards there all reflect a higher culture my boy.”

“My tyres are perfect until I go into the bay and they always tell you that you need three and I’ve never been stopped but you should see the kind of tyres they drive on in Kenya where there are no MOTs or anything like that just loads of Peugeot 504s and pick up trucks but there are a lot of accidents that you never hear of ‘cos life’s cheap out there.”

“Speed cameras never flash on me, never, all you do is follow somebody doing eighty.”

“I went with Easy Jet one time and this girl next to me bought a Minestrone soup and salt and vinegar crisps from the stewardess and it was half past six in the morning.”

“I keep secrets from myself. I pretend I enjoy air travel. I pretend I like coffee or wines or toffee or bananas but I don’t. I’m not sure what I think about views and landscapes either. I so want to appreciate things but even creation seems banal at times, almost reducing itself to some amateur oil painting of artificial splendour designed to impress a tourist or buyer to a group of consumers, it curries favour and seduces. The moment the visit is over and you get back on the bus or land on the runway or turn away the experience just ripples and fades.”

“I get myself to the edge of the zebra crossing but they just ignore you.”

“If an old woman with a bag of potatoes comes on this bus I’d help her I would, but not these stupid girls with their prams and shopping, they don’t deserve nothing on my bus.”

“If you trip on a slab, on its edge, how can you prove that? I’ve written hundreds of letters.”

“Well it’s the manufacturers and the Jeremy Clarksons, I mean what do you need a four litre engine and 150 mile an hour performance for in this traffic in this country?”

“It cost me £9.50 a day to park here and I have to get back for the childminder and I’ve to pick up some tea so what good is bus to me? What if it rains?”

“It’s those BMW drivers, I’d never let them out, never, they’re scum.”

“I detest public toilets, cafes, street corners and shopping malls, I scream inside as they approach me, I scream inside as they pass me by. I try to avoid their grubby contact but they always draw me back and in as if to digest me with their acids. Everywhere there is contaminated Public space with its germs, dirty noise and language, distractions, bacteria on handles and cup edges, smudged glass rims and finger printed banisters. I’d rather endure open heart surgery in a Parisian sewer carried out by a team of acne faced teenagers trained by McDonalds than walk into those places.”

“At Christmas you can hardly walk down this street, but at midnight it’s full of screaming drunk girls with no clothes on, I wouldn’t go out then.”

“The Monkees had a fabulous red car, now that was transport.”

“Well I press the button for the green man but what’s the point of waiting if the road is clear or you can make it, that’s for old people or mums with buggies and I like it when the cars have to wait and I’m already across.”

“I’d be scared to beep the horn ‘cos everybody would look at me so I’d just ignore a situation when it happens and get away as quickly as I could.”

“They stand at the crossing and you don’t know if they’re going to cross or not and then they make faces.”

“I came here from the East to avoid people like you, you bastard scum of a liar. I read your paper but I do not read it, I see your voices, oh yes and those cars are on the road to purgatory.”

“Rover cars never did belong to that demographic stereotype the media described, I mean that was ridiculous, people buy cars for all sorts of reasons and seldom perceive themselves in the terms expressed by bored and jaded journalists who like to model the world to fit their pet theories.”

“I used to get taxis when I was younger but I don’t like it when you get a talkative cabbie, or a slow one, or one who’s English is not so good, not that I’m racist but I feel uncomfortable, I mean what if he misunderstood me and mixed up the destination and I’m a woman on her own, with shopping. I don’t like bald men who wear flat caps either.”

“When I first passed my test driving was a pleasure, we’d go out on a Sunday and enjoy the car, the experience, the freedom. Runs up to Loch Earn or Glencoe, the Devil’s Elbow or St Andrews. Now the roads are more like battlefields, people cutting you up, the pace, the hurry, bad tempers, of course the cars now are a lot more reliable and safer but they have to be with all the other traffic.”

“Education in this country is non-existent, it has become a battlefield and a sham and the health service are having to pick up the pieces of a broken society full of stressed and confused young people who have no idea where they are going or even where they’ve been”.

“People talk about the Flying Scotsman, It was a bloody old train, a steam train, a dirty train full of sailors, squaddies and drunks pissin’ everywhere, there was nothing fantastic about it, primitive, rough travel was all it was. Days of steam?”

“Speed cameras are a joke.”

“When you are walking in an underpass it’s a bit like your in a thriller film, your footsteps are loud and echoy and your shadow is long, you’re a bit on edge and then you get up the stairs or ramp and you’re on the other side but in the wrong place because you took the wrong fork.”

“I don’t think for a moment it’s all doom and gloom. The earth will refresh itself in due course, I mean, what are we really, our sense of ourselves is skewed. Man has no idea where he is going and never has. Exploration, exploitation, these things come around. We talk about pollution and toxins. That’s all there the earth is, full of them, the universe is full of them, it’s a hostile universe, we have a postage stamp corner which just about supports us and if we did succeed in poisoning it and ourselves who on the other planets would blink? Some loving far away God or alien? Some benevolent planet farmer somewhere? No, it’s not all doom, it’s a process and we’re part of it. We’re recycling matter, we’re alive right now and that’s good but it’s all so very insignificant also. It’s like England thinking they ought to win the World Cup every time. Nobody owns anything, they just think they do or should.”

“If you try and get around the shops with a double buggy you never get anywhere, just getting through the doors knackers you, and the shopping bags swing and nobody ever helps you out.”

“There are people out there who would actually kill you, do you physical harm for a parking space.”

“On a public holiday there’s no bloody public transport! What’s that all about?”

“The rain, I hate it here, in my country it only ever rains in the evening and never on a bus queue or a motor cyclist, never, you call this civilised? Civilised is my voodoo magic, I get what I want with my voodoo, you get nothing.”

“You don’t want to see these people but you do, everyday, the undead, the ordinary, waiting for death, waiting and waiting but they don’t know it, they are waiting and killing time as if they were on a fox hunt. They are not waiting for buses or post office queues, for scratch cards to yield, TV programmes to make sense and the flashing red man change to the flashing green man, this is it, this is the dead queue.”

I’m back in the office: It’s been a day that seems to have lasted forever and I’m tired. I’ve seen and heard opinions and ill formed thoughts verbalised in the most limited and funny forms. I’ve smiled weakly and nodded and agreed. I have realised I can know what people are about to say before they say it. I’ve listen both intently and not at all. I’ve written some very accurate notes and made some recordings. I’ve typed and edited and added my own parts. After lunch I just made-up things for forty minutes at a pub table. I spent fifteen minutes at home in the bathroom trimming my nasal hair. I ate a bag of prawns I had bought from Marks & Spencer’s at teatime. My career is spinning and laying itself out before me like the rainbow road from Mario Kart. I am an expert in the ordinary and mundane and I rejoice in my task of cataloguing it for no good reason and then regurgitating it and publishing it for the masses to buy with their god-given pocket money and read its bold sound bites. If they choose to that is, they may simply look at the pictures. My destiny is to place copy between the cartoon people, breasts and bras, football stars and weirdoes that inhabit the world of the extensive and expensive news today. The tragedies and freaks that coexist in this inky, unfathomable universe of print and retouched photographs.

Today confirms for me the truth, the greatest truth in the universe – for one more and I hope final time. We walk through it alone, trapped in this thin ribbon of atmosphere and fragile environment on this heaving, angry ball of a world, bombarded with cosmic rays, heat, cold and invisible signals. Alone we walk, exchanging only bodily fluids, the briefest explanations and smiles with those we love and crashing physical and emotional blows and cold shoulders with those we do not. We have risen up from primeval swamps, towed ourselves to the shore on a raft of twigs and now we crack nuts on fenced beaches and applaud the roadway engineers who have built the graffiti ruined bridges that allow us to cross their jammed and yawning motorways. I am a fully qualified pedestrian. Join me.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Cure for Baldness: FTMT Short Story No 11


A cure for baldness, impotence and short term memory loss.

Roger was afraid of getting old. He was 42, chubby, sporting a 50% comb over that he hoped maximised his thinning hair, inexperienced with women and forgetful of little things. “Things are not going my way, never my way!” he would say to himself. To make matters worse he was a librarian. A librarian in a provincial little library that was half forgotten and under funded. He would also say things like “The library is the last bastion of literary independence for the common man, it is his storehouse of holy public wisdom.” The holy, holistic and wholly were rather blurred in Roger’s thinking. The trouble was nobody ever really listened to Roger or took him particularly seriously and despite his thoughts on the importance of libraries he knew deep down he was insignificant. “My lifelong insignificance is my curse,” he would also say. Despite these strong and haunting feelings Roger loved his library and was committed to running it to the highest standards possible and he did, albeit within a limited budget, idea famine and funding restrictions.

Roger regularly forgot small things, keys, what to get at the shops, where things were, and the TV programme he’d meant to tape. He found this very irritating. His comb over also irritated him. It was something that he’d not planned or expected to have, it had just developed in the last ten tears as morning by morning he had pushed and engineered his hair to cover thin spots. The maintenance work had become more complex and required more time each day. Often a stiff breeze blowing outside his front door, passing traffic or his arch enemy; rain, negated his hard work. Rain was the merciless tormentor of his comb over, any sudden attack, whether fine rain, drizzle or chunky spots would quickly render it lank and limp and allow the revelation that was his baldhead to shine out to the world like a beacon.

Impotence wasn’t a word he liked either but sadly and (Roger thought) mainly due to lack of use or exercise his manhood seemed to have lost anything but the slightest interest in sexual stimulation. That was very annoying. The feeling of toting an unloaded gun, an empty pistol and holding a leadless pencil ground into him. The last time that Roger had used his own name in a verbal sense was a distant twenty something memory. Sometimes Roger felt almost unalive like a clock not ticking and in this state as deeply alone as a librarian can be, the silent clicking, whispering, bar coding, page thudding world of libraries. “If there was a club for misfits,” thought Roger,” I’d join and they’d ask me to leave the moment I opened my mouth or the moment they clapped eyes on me”.

Today was Friday and it had been a particularly bad day so far, early morning rain combined with a blustery wind, sandwiches forgotten and alone on the kitchen work top and Janice at the library, in a shorter skirt than usual, alighting the shelf steps just in front of him, bending over and reaching at the top of the steps to stretch and pick a book. Apart from his concerns at the poor kinetics of the situation and the safety implications Roger felt little stirring of any kind as he reminded her not to over reach at the top of steps. At lunch break he supped coffee and looked over the top of his glasses at the ruined world and landscape his life seemed be crawling across. “This isn’t getting better, this is it, downhill all the way..”

It seemed to Roger that as this point his life suddenly began to run on automatic pilot. An automatic Kamikaze pilot. Other hands took over the controls and Roger found himself leaving O’Brian’s and not heading back towards the library. Alarmingly he was headed to the bus depot and step by step onto the path or into the sanctuary of some bus. Roger liked buses and right now, being on a bus would help he thought. He was aware of his mobile phone in his hand, he was aware of switching it off, he was aware of dropping it into a litter bin as he strode toward a large cream and red coach bearing the destination “Newcastle via Port Patrick and Berwick upon Tweed” on it’s forward notice. Roger stepped onto the bus and paid a fare whispered to the driver. “Newcastle”. The big diesel was throbbing as he walked between the seats and plonked himself down on a seat directly above the rear wheel arch. “Contact with the road, contact with the machine, any contact is better than no contact” he said to himself. The bus doors swooshed closed and the coach reversed from its stand and into its journey. The time was 1405 and already he would be being missed by the rest of the staff. The thought was almost sexually stimulating, well almost.

About 15 minutes into the journey, stretching back into the seat Roger fell asleep. He awoke as his head banged the window glass as the bus jolted into the bus station at Berwick upon Tweed. “Five minutes!” called the driver, the drivers were changing here and Roger shook himself and headed of the bus to take a leak and buy a cup of coffee. In the coffee shop he was served by a Chinese girl, one of her eyes was blue the other yellow, Roger triad not to stare. The coffee was good however and he nursed the warm carton all the way down the A1 until the bus ground to a halt in the early evening air of Newcastle. “Newcastle upon Tyne” thought Roger, “a city, a party city, a working city, a city in which to lose yourself.” The bus passed over one iron bridge over a river, then another and then another. Then a great concrete and iron bridge and then a silver, concrete and iron bridge. Two great palm trees formed an arch of triumphal proportions as they entered the bus station.

Roger now free from bus and the woozy intoxication of bus travel headed for a pub. Anyone would do, any warm and busy pub, so when he stumbled upon the “Wheat & Barley” with its bitter wood and fully dim lighted décor it fully met his expectations. Oblivious to the bustling clientele he marched up to the bar and ordered a pint of lager and a whisky, paid the barmaid and with the normal amount of difficulty perched himself on a vacant bar stool and stared at his own ugly and unsatisfying reflection in a distant bar mirror. Then mirror threw back a face that did not seem to be his, expressions that were foreign, backlight that was hostile and a cheap and torn glimmer of barroom comfort that was no comfort at all. He stared into the mirror, he drank, he ordered more, he ordered a pork pie, he smeared it with HP Sauce, he stared, and he bought more lager.

The bar now began to get hazy at the edges and the music and distant conversations circulating around his head became distorted and abstract as he struggled to pick out some detail from the drums and chatter. Over in a corner a man with a straw hat was playing a banjo and tapping out a rhythm with his foot, we began to sing. The words were not English but the music was. Time and its tracking were alluding him as he supped another pint. It was at this point he became aware of someone looking directly, pointedly and threateningly at him. She was two stools away but her gaze was focused on this slightly dishevelled, lost little man drinking beer and staring at reflections and clients in a random and dislocated fashion.

“Hello pet, my name is Rosie!” Roger allowed his gaze to shift from the reflection and onto Rosie. Rosie was very blurry around the edges as far as Roger could see. She was dark, dark hair pulled up in a ponytail, dark eyes, dark (black) dress, pearls, red lips, and darker Geordie voice. She was holding a red wine glass that was half full, the sides stained with wine refills and droplets. Rosie was talking again. “You a Jock? My ex-husband came from Clydebank, he was in the Navy, Five years in Helensburgh and then two in Plymouth, submarines, bloody submarines and sardines.” “You alright pet?” “You’ve had a few beers and I don’t recognise you, down here on business? Down for the weekend?” Rosie was persistent, annoying and to Roger patently ignorant but slowly gnawing into his befuddled consciousness. “Rosie”, said Roger, “What’ll you have?” “Red wine, a gin & tonic and a packet of pork scratchings!”

Roger ordered a series of drinks. He thought he heard these odd but sage-like words emerge in between tales from a Laundromat, giant palm trees falling on old age pensioners, the local Aldi and the beekeeper’s social club’s annual concert and revue “The measurement of time is the measurement of the expansion of existence!” said Rosie (or so Roger thought) as she sipped her third gin. “By God!” said Roger, ”there is no conversation that is barren or fallen, the vital spoken word has a value beyond the understanding of the common man and yet so much just slips away unaccounted for!” Roger fell from his stool at this point. The banjo music suddenly seemed to be clearer and louder than ever. On the journey to the bar room floor his head connected firstly with the counter, then the bar rail, then a falling glass, then a fellow customers elbow and finally the tiled and polished floor of the bar. It was at this point that a large amount of blood emerged from a 3” laceration on his head and he slipped into a warm and unfamiliar world of injured, drunken unconsciousness.

Roger awoke on a trolley in the A&E, his head bandaged, neck and back sore and with the delicate touch of Rosie patting the back of his hand. A Chinese nurse with black hair, white skin like Michael Jackson and a yellow eye and a green eye stood over the trolley he lay on, she was stroking his head and humming a tune. Roger closed his eyes and then she was gone. “You’ll be fine pet!” She whispered in a gentle but persuasive voice, ”I’ll take you home, the taxi’s on its way!” Roger was aware of sliding into the back seat of a silver Toyota and speeding through blurred and double visioned streets past Kebab shops, street corner gatherings, all night Spars and neon club signs shaped like guitars before arriving at a grey, roughcast house probably somewhere in Wallsend. Roger, as if led by the nose, left the cab without thinking of his movements and lurched through a brown doorway and into a brightly lit, smokey smelling hallway. Family pictures, prints of an odd origin and silver frames covered the walls. He sat down awkwardly on an MFI telephone stool and looked at the telephone, it was shaped like a cow attached to a milking machine, and now he once again fell asleep. The healing sleep seemed to last no time. There was a cosy disturbance and now everything changed and he was upstairs, the journey to that place being vague and now almost a slow motion, paced event. Rosie was close to him, very close, they were in bed, Rosie was beside him in bed and he felt a strange sweat on his forehead (under the slowly slipping bandage) and drips in the small of his back. He was aware of the taste of his breath mingled with the taste of hers; they were kissing in a wet and uncontrolled way. The sweat weakened him but also empowered and energised him. He was aware of Rosie’s voice “Easy, easy, this is easy, relax pet, I’ll not hurt you!”

Roger felt suddenly like he was swimming in the deep end of a cold pool, the bottom was lost, not touching, no safety, no place for toes to hit the bottom, only the blunt red and silver instrument that is human risk, a new pure and strange feeling that was wrapping and consuming him with its vigour and intensity and the source was the vague, warm and indistinct shape that was Rosie, somewhere in his orbit but also in a drunk and other worldly distance. Suddenly they came together in a violent electrical moment that was a jolt to both of them. Rosie seemed to spontaneously combust like a lit match as Roger fell into her flesh and arms and powered into a deep chasm of newly unleashed freedom and expression. Time tripped them up and allowed them to fall headlong into an intoxicating and strange dimension flavoured with unexpected tingles and sensations, though Rosie as if for the purposes of references made controlling and comforting comments as Roger streamed and steamed on this unfamiliar path. His bandage was discarded and dried blood and sweat mixed all across the bed and its covers.

When Roger awoke it was Saturday. Rosie was downstairs making tea and bacon rolls. “You best have something before you go, it’s half past nine!” she yelled up the stairwell, “Get your arse down here now!” Roger blinked and wondered about his memory, was it intact? How was his hair? What had happened last night? He stumbled into pants, trousers and shirts and emerged from the hallway into Rosie’s tangerine kitchen to be handed a mug of tea and a roll dripping grease and more brown sauce from its edges. “For guys like you, overnighters, I usually charge £100!” Rosie said without looking up from the sink “but as you did hurt yourself I’ll give you a discount!” Roger looked at the lady, she was at least 50, wearing a blue misshapen housecoat, smoking a Benson and Hedges, scruffily dyed hair, pale lips and pasty complexion doing dishes. In her eyes however was a wonderful, warm, almost golden sparkle that time, a thousand men, a thousand disappointments and fistfuls of grubby banknotes and drunken nights could not diminish. The sparkle was priceless and Roger knew he had loved her and had lost her in a brisk, blurred and life-changing twelve-hour period. “Aye, right, is there a cash line nearby?”

Roger walked through the scheme to the money machine in the nearby Coop; he withdrew £100 and bought a Daily Mirror, some Polo Mints and a bunch of chrysanthemums. He carried them back to Rosie’s and despite a few minor navigational problems on the return journey placed the flowers and money on the kitchen table. “I’ll just see myself out!” he cried upstairs. Rosie was in the bathroom and from the steam and spray called back, “Fine pet, safe journey, take care!”

Roger walked a long way that Saturday morning, through pale and unfamiliar streets, past graffiti coated shops, and open air swimming pool, houses with SKY dishes and monoblock parking spaces, wasteland and very obese people, across some more Tyne bridge or others, past cafes, stalls, a camel market and offices to the bus station with all its sounds, bustle and inbred inconvenience. His head was hurting a little more now from last night’s injury, the numbing affect of alcohol and experience had worn of and life had an edge to it.” Edinburgh via Madagascar and Berwick upon Tweed” read Roger, it’ll be here at 1125 and leave at 1130 said what appeared a clear and friendly sign. “I’ve time for a donut and coffee,” he thought. “That may help this ache.” He touched his wound with the palm of his right hand pushing on the lump and stitched scab under the bandage. Unfortunately he palmed the top of his head a little too hard and inadvertently pushed it right from of his shoulders. It rolled back a little and still looking very surprised but glazed about the eyes hit the bus station paving and bounced across towards a group of old ladies. Meanwhile Roger’s body, lost without its head’s guidance lurched, tripped forward and fell onto a bench. An issue of blood and fluid followed, much to the disgust of some youths heading out to St. James’ Park for the hockey. The old ladies quickly stepped back from the head as it came to a standstill in between a straw basket, a full Winn-Dixie carrier and black vinyl shopping bag. Roger’s face was still and frozen, eyes open but blank and the nasty cut of the previous night, exposed now by the loosened bandage looked none to clever.

At that point the young man from the Information Kiosk stepped forward shaking his head and touching his chin, “Bloody Norah, that’s the third one of these this week!”

Monday, May 30, 2005

Phobias and Manias: FTMT Short Story No 10


Phobias and manias

“It all starts with the child, the child is affected, touched, smeared, polluted, mirrored. I don’t know but I do, it’s everywhere, it sears into you, into them, every body is affected, everybody is touched. I don’t remember anything but I know all about it like it was yesterday or the day before. It was real to me at the time, still is, still burns and cuts with it’s sharp edge, still stings with it’s poison like a memory trick and unwinding dream”.

“OK Jake, we’ve established that you had a series of bad experiences, you got burned, metaphorically and you are still hurting, still smarting from the experience. How long ago? Can you put a time, a fix on it? Is it still as fresh or is there a decay factor that I might apply? Sorry for these questions but at this stage I like to bottom things out, like to see the sea bed (as we say) just to know exactly where it is you are coming from…just stay with me on this, I wont take long and despite what you may be thinking it can all be quite painless and...”

“I don’t know the time, I was young, I was scared, I buried a lot of stuff since those days. You ask me questions too quickly, I need time to pick my answers, I’m not a machine, this is tough, painful to recall. Well some of the detail is missing you know, I was small, a kid, six maybe seven, alone in bed somewhere between sleep and awake. We lived out in the desert, dad ran a gas station, and mum ran the diner. I was alone a lot. I was happy most times. We had a zoo; we had snakes, lizards, bugs and insects. Cages made up from crates, chicken wire, old aquarium glasses for the snakes and car parts. Stuff that dad had caught, found or that travellers brought in, damn! Some of them just wandered into the house, never bothered me, never meant nothing, it was the way it was. It was always hot, ice and water, cola, ice and water the most precious things. I loved it when the Coke truck rolled in, when the machine was full and our refrigerator was filled, that good feeling of knowing you’ve enough to survive, stock is high, time can crawl then, you could relax. Security.”

“And did you relax? Was the fear lifted at these times? Trucks and visitors to your little zoo, travellers wanting gas, pancakes, a cold coke and a hot burrito to scare the dust from their throat and stuff their bellys. A few words to your dad as they filled up, checked the oil, a chat to your mom over lunch or breakfast, stumble out in the dust and look at your dime zoo, must have seen all types. All the low life travellers, desperados and weirdos out there, who else travels through the desert like that? Dumb tourists? Who pays to waste their time and look deep into dirt? The clientele at your mom’s café must have left a lot to be desired. Are you ashamed of your mom? Ashamed of your dad? Setting up home for you in such a god forsaken wilderness with bugs and snakes for brothers and sisters: no wonder you’re in here talking to me!”

“It was OK, I loved it there, I loved the space, I loved the dust. The cool drinks, the desert sky at night, the long shadows, the way the night fell and just kept on falling and smothered you till the refuge of sleep was all you had left, no place else to go. I’d watch those desert stars through the open window I felt so safe. Critters making their night time noises in the cages, distant truck motor, generator running, far way radio sounds. Saxophones and electric guitars, clipped and sharp, crystalline blues and rock-a-billy, songs and scores from Lord knows where, but always in the distance. My mom loved that music, that radio music. And then that blue cigarette smoke from my daddy, sitting under the window, hearing his breath, smelling the tobacco, the snap of the match striking, the first big inhale to light the cigarette, the signs and the whispers to my mom, and always traffic, slow and lazy some days, rushing and whining past others.”

“So Jake, it’s women you are scared of? Women you can’t stand, can’t talk to, can’t relate to? Is it women?”

“One day I had to go, had to go, it all became more than I could handle. It was mom, you’re right, but dad was to blame, he never played his part and I guess mom couldn’t help it. When you’re lonely and alone you can do crazy things and somehow things slipped out of control. It was the night I lost my best snake..”

“Go on, you don’t mind if I take a few more notes?”

“Ssssss, ok, I lost my best snake that night Goddamn! I was trying to tell them but there was an argument, usual business, money. All melted together in the heat, it was a hot night I remember. They were bickering, mom had been a little over friendly with some customer, dad didn’t like that, or so I thought. When I look back now I realise that I didn’t really know anything about what was going on then, it was my home but it could uncomfortable at times, there always was a disconnect. Dad stayed busy like work was a drug for him; mom fled the heat of the day to find a refuge in the heat of the kitchen and anybody’s cheap conversation. I just stayed in the background, like I was a piece of scenery in some half-baked play. So it was that night, they’d been bickering but I just went straight into the workshop and told my dad that the snake had gone. The snake was one of my best, little sandy coloured Twi-catcher with sceranoid back pattern, I’d only had him two weeks but I was sure he’d be worth $10 cos he was so bright and $10 a lot of money to a kid like me, now he was gone. Dad came back into the tank area and checked them all with me with his torch but there was no sign. He wasn’t mad or anything, he wasn’t like that, he was quiet and he knew I was bugged. He patted me on the head and handed me a coke bottle from the machine and went back into the shop. I stood for a moment sucking on the cold glass top and swinging the coke around inside my mouth when there was more of a commotion from the diner. I saw dad run in from the shop into the diner, there was a few seconds silence and then a shot, then another. Then out ran a man, all in black and I could hear mom screaming in the background. The man in black ran across the lot to a parked car, jumped in and drove off at speed in a westerly direction. Tail lights twisting down the road in a dusty twilight cloud. I didn’t hear no more from the diner so I ran in through the front door that the man in black had just run out of, no idea what mayhem I was going to find. As I ran in I saw dad standing, legs apart and a gun was lying there on the diner counter. Dad was staring at it like he couldn’t believe it was real. It was big and shiny silver and it looked hot and dangerous, it was some kind of big automatic pistol. Dad was just staring at it like he was willing it to go off or go away or something. I was stood dead still not sure what move to make. Dad was almost in some kind of trance I thought and I couldn’t imagine what he’d seen or even done to get him so”.

“He stepped back sudden and turned round and looked at me square in the eyes, sweat was running down his brow I could see now his hands were a tremble. Then I began to wonder where my mom was, if their quarrel had got real big and out of hand and if that man who’d run out was all part of their fighting. I moved forward to see what might be behind the diner counter, where mom usually stood and where she should be now. Dad signalled me to freeze but I kept going because I knew that something was very wrong. I twisted by him and ran around the end of the counter to see for myself what had happened. Dad was still slow to react, he reached out to grab my collar as I ran past but he was too slow and now I was round him and inside the counter. I say my mom lying there on the green tiled floor all crumpled and awkward looking like she’d just fallen from the ceiling and landed there between the coffee deck and the refrigerator door”.

“A whole lot of things went through my head right there in double quick time, I was wondering if she was with the Lord Jesus, if he was holding her head and lifting her slow and taking her to some shining city away somewhere. Maybe he was whispering in her ear and telling her I was ok and not to worry and how we’d all be fine saying “don’t worry little darlin’”. Then as I got closer to her I saw that her hand was holding a hot dog bun, a foot long one and she was still gripping it so tight even as she lay. I thought that during the struggle and fight she had been fighting of some mad violent attacker, a robber or a molester with that hot dog and I thought no wonder she had got hurt. By now my eyes were filling up with tears and an angry kind of grief and feeling of desperation was pumping up my heart like a bicycle tyre on a hot day. I was going to burst. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and I knew my dad was going to set things right, whatever it was that was wrong. He squeezed me gentle and we both kneeled down beside mom.”

“I was looking at her up and down, her eyes were closed, her body crumpled and there was a gash on her head which was dripping fresh red blood in a vertical stain down her forehead and into her tousled, hanging hair and onto the floor. She was still gripping the hot dog. Her fingernails were chipped, the red varnish was maybe three days old and I noticed all the freckles on her arm for the first time, her apron was grease stained and pulled tight across her waist hitching and creasing at her skirt. Her thighs and legs were frozen still and at an uncomfortable angle, one shoe was off. Dad spoke, ”OK son, OK, it’ll be OK”. I was dumb and shocked, in my head the two gunshots were still reverberating, they had no place I thought, gun shots have no place in my mom’s diner, in our home, in this filling station, they have no place, these bullets don’t belong here.”

“I looked at the hot dog and saw mom’s grip tighten on it, her hand jerked and at the same moment her eyes buzzed open and she blinked. She stared at the hot dog roll again, let out a scream and in a single whiplash movement threw the roll across the diner floor. Dad moved close towards her, held her shoulders and began to speak softly. I was sobbing in a low childish sob, not believing what was happening. Mom was crying and beginning to shake as if the first wave of a huge fright had just hit her and now she must react in some mechanical, logical way. She threw her head back as if convulsing, dad caught her and cradled her and whispered more into her ear. My thoughts gathered and I thanked God and Jesus and the Pope that she wasn’t dead and in heaven, she was with us but I had no idea what was wrong, where she had been shot or anything. The blood on her head which dad was gently catching with a napkin even I knew it was too slight an injury to be a gun shot wound. I looked more and panicked less and could see no more blood or hurt. She wasn’t shot, that man who ran out had missed or shot someone or something else, not my mom.”

“I stood up and wiped my tears and asked if I should call the sheriff or Doctor Brown, dad looked at me puzzled and just repeated the it’s OK line. I stood back and at some safe distance began to tell mom I loved her. She looked up her head in dad’s lap and smiled a weak smile. I felt the shocks drain more of my strength; I walked out in front of the diner counter and saw a bloody stain and mess of skin and flesh down between a stool and the counter. There was a clear bullet hole in the floor and I could see a reptile skin pattern plastered across the floor. Dad popped up from the other side and leaned across the counter looking down meeting my gaze rising up.”

“Sandy Coloured Twi-catcher!” said dad, “tough little varmint, kill a man stone dead in sixty seconds they do say.”

“Since that night and even right now, I don’t much care for snakes.”