Making Up My Mind

When you are an only child living in your parents’ house you have, for much of the time, only your parents to talk to. Consequently your social skills are limited. One way of filling those hours in your bedroom is to talk to yourself. Not necessarily audibly or with moving lips. It’s a way of hearing another voice, a voice that might disagree with you at times, like the voices of your friends when they quarrel with their siblings.

An only child has very little direct experience of intimate and protracted talking relationships that are not conducted with his parents. At first you don’t notice it but it’s a disadvantage and it never goes away. You can copy the way siblings do it with each other but it’s an add-on, it has no roots.

This memoir is structured in two columns. The left hand column is the fruit, as I explain below, of twenty years of writing and revising. I should add that if it were possible to tot up the actual time spent at the desk with the desktop it would probably total less than three years. On several occasions many years went by between drafts, usually because I got stuck. There is, nevertheless, a continuity in the left hand column – it’s more or less what I want.

But not completely. Some of the things I wrote twenty years ago and since strike me as wrong or wanting. Not misleading but in need of some expansion. The right hand column will be the sibling column. It can talk to the left hand column and vice versa. If the right hand column starts to dominate the left hand column I’ll let you know.

1:  M A R K E R S

On or about the 3rd of June 1943, my parents, Ernest and Eiry Gale, had sexual intercourse with tremendous success. It is, of course, unsettling to visualise one’s parents having any form of pleasure and particularly so when one’s conception is a direct product of such an event. When the deed is executed with the brio that, as is well known, is a precondition of the rare, fertilising form of the act then its recreation in the imagination is, frankly, abhorrent. I shall not dwell, therefore, on the cries, the breaths, the involuntary movements that marked the occasion.

My time in the womb was not uneventful. A constant flurry of messages kept me busy, more than compensating for the cramped quarters. Within hours I realised that what others would see as divisiveness was actually formative and character-building. I gradually came to my senses and learned to take what was given. On one particular day I came under pressure to move on and, habituated by now to the warmth and dependability of the place, I found I was loath to leave. Pressure soon came from all sides and I was forced to climb down. Surrendering to the inevitable did not facilitate the process, however. Soon the pressure actually increased, to the point that I became paralysed with indecision – or was it truculence? I began to resist. Such was my determination that outside help was sought by those in charge. I had, up to that moment, been wholly unaware of the ‘outside’ – I could not, in fact, have conceived of it. Now my ignorance was abruptly suspended. The outside proved to be constituted by incomprehensible force. It closed about my head and drew me into a place. I had not had, before this, any conception of place. Now I was in one.

I was delivered by tongs in 1944. My father was a biochemist at Cambridge and my mother was a housewife. We lived in a semi-detached council house on the northern edge of town towards Girton. I was in my pram one morning when a doodlebug – a German flying bomb – flew by. I was 3 months old. It moved from right to left in the sky above the apple trees. The pram was in the back garden. The doodlebug was black against the sky. Another unlikely act of recall, dating from around the same time, features myself sitting on a potty, which would have been enamelled metal, screaming with rage as I shat.

A little later on, at the crawling stage, I crawled towards a thing and ate it. The thing was moving along but it didn’t have any feet. Since I had only recently acquired the use of my own feet the creature’s achievement was more than usually interesting. It was also moving very slowly and this meant I might be able to catch it. I had caught very little up to that point. Because it was slimy its body glinted in the light. Slimy things were quite new to me then but I knew they were special. This thing actually left some sparkling slime behind it on the path. It was following the stalks that stuck out of it at the front. I held out my left hand, I was already left handed, and moved towards it. I grabbed the little hard house that it had and saw the little stalks shrink away to nothing. I wanted to know all about this thing so I put it in my mouth. And I crunched it up. I mixed in my mouth the meat beneath the slime and the crackling pieces that sounded around in my head.

I don’t know if my mother knew about my continental tastes, I can’t remember. Perhaps I told her later. It certainly became part of family legend – “Oh, David ate a snail when he was eighteen months old. And some coal!” I sort of remember the coal. It was near the snail. There might have been a coal holder there. A bunker. The coal came in sacks that glittered with dust, on the black coalman’s back. That’s easy to remember because it happened regularly throughout the forties and some of the fifties. Some of the coal was anthracite and some was nutty slack. Radio comedians would frequently refer to nutty slack in the ‘40s and early ‘50s. I had no idea what they were talking about but I liked the resigned cheerfulness.

I started writing this over twenty years ago. Probably more than that but 2002 is the earliest draft I can find on my disk (it was titled ‘Thinning the World’ – Draft 1). I can remember abandoning it then taking it up again a couple of years later. Then abandoning it again. The first abandonment took place when I’d got to the bit where Hugh and I are trying to climb the tree when I thought ‘Who would want to know this?’ Fatal.

 

 

 

This was taken from a longer piece written at some point in the late 20th century. Again, I can’t date it but when I’d written it I showed it to a friend and she said ‘You could send this to Playboy.’ I think this was because although I had quite carefully researched the relevant embryology and anatomy it may not have been as faintly discernible as I would have wished. The passage was opaque when in fact translucency had been sought. To compensate for this obscurity I told my friend what it was supposed to be about and this may explain why she thought it was sufficiently arousing to merit inclusion in an upmarket spank mag.

 

 

 

 

 

Family legend always featured the word ‘tongs’. The proper word is ‘forceps’. The technical term for their application is ‘assisted delivery’. Perhaps it was my father who used the word. I can’t imagine my mother confiding in me so explicitly. As a result of this protracted nativity I bore, according to the legend, a mark upon my forehead. Whenever I try to recall these factitious events I see myself suspended above a fireplace to which the tongs are being returned. I am not about to be lowered into the fire but it is close by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eachard Road was where I was born. This is one of the odd things that families say. I was actually born in a nursing home on the other side of Cambridge. It’s the same as people saying “We’re building a house in Spain.” They’re not. Builders are doing it all. The people are merely paying them.

Eachard Road was one of the roads on the side of a block just off the Huntingdon Road. The houses around the block were semi-detached council properties with small gardens that backed onto each other. At the front there were, between the fences and the curb, strips of grass. They gave the roads a friendly feel. The block had a friendly feel too, because it was essentially a closed system. Only one road led to and from it.

When I think about Eachard Road I get strange feelings. They are equally strange when thoughts of Eachard Road simply pop into my mind unbidden, which they frequently do. I’m sorry to say that I’ve returned countless times to those thoughts, elaborated them, intensified them, tried to play them through in slow, microscoped motion. I’m not even sure if the thoughts give me any pleasure. I tell myself they do and, maybe once every couple of years, when visiting Cambridge, I’ll drive up the Huntingdon Road, park a little way down Sherlock Road – the one that leads in and out – and walk slowly round the block. Thoughts and images come rushing back, of course, although I’m not convinced anything new does. Nevertheless, I imagine that on one of these pilgrimages something inside me, like a great stone door, will rumble open, unleashing high-definition films of the past that I have so studiously idealised.

The designers of Google Street View were not to hand in 1944, nor were wheelie bins or colourful lightweight bicycles. Otherwise nothing has changed in over 70 years.

 

 

At this point in his career my father was a postgraduate of modest means employed in the Department of Biochemistry. Several of our neighbours worked one way or another within the university, sharing the block with other young  families endeavouring to domesticate their lives in a depleted and disordered postwar world.

 

“It may indeed be questioned whether we have any memories at all from our childhood: memories relating to our childhood may be all that we possess. Our childhood memories show us our earliest years not as they were but as they appeared at the later periods when the memories were aroused. In these periods of arousal, the childhood memories did not, as people are accustomed to say, emerge; they were formed at that time. And a number of motives, with no concern for historical accuracy, had a part in forming them, as well as in the selection of the memories themselves” (Freud, 1899:322: Screen Memories in The Standard Edition of The Complete Works of Sigmund Freud Vol. 3) 

As you left the house by the kitchen door, where I once peed warmly into my wellingtons, you entered the side passage to the garden, fenced. Uncle George and Auntie Joan, no relation, were on the other side. George Hawes was large-limbed and had built the Anderson shelter with my father. The shelter was at the end of the garden. You would walk down the right hand side of the garden, beside the pointed fence posts and under one of the two apple trees. This tree is a bit like the one in our next house but that was ten years later. It was in the later tree that I perched when I dropped an apple right onto my father’s bald head as he passed beneath whilst mowing. The thud was both hollow, because of the cavity of my father’s mouth, and sharp, because of the smack of the two skins. Mowing is also mo-ing, which is what you did on the potty at number 27, the first house. That was because you were doing a motion, or a mo-mo.

I have never met anyone else who did a mo-mo. Many have pooed and some, such as my friend the late Julian Hough, admitted to having done, in their infancy, caca. Julian would experience great discomfort when disclosing this to me twentyfive years later. He could barely bring himself to say the word audibly. As soon as he told me I began shouting ‘CACA! CACA!’ and enjoyed his reluctant giggling.

I don’t have this problem with mo-mo. Mo-mo is simply ridiculous. We must remember that this was a Science Family. Both parents had had sheltered lives. My mother, for example, from the Cardiff side, was in a charabanc on a school trip in 1925, aged 14, when she saw a bull mounting a cow in a field. “Look, look!” she cried “That cow is giving the other one a ride!” Her companions shrieked their derisive delight. My father, comparably cloistered in his youth, had at least acquired, by the time he came to instruct his toddling son, a way of talking. This was the language of Biology, wherein nothing smells and organisms have no shame. A movement takes hold of the lower intestine – which is normally quite still, we must deduce – an evacuative pulsion commences, a deed is dood. Such is the motion of the bowel and it can be, for the sake of the little ones, diminished to the mo, executed on the po, these doubled, for extra friendliness, to the mo-mo and the po-po.

But, and I repeat myself, I have never subsequently met a single human being whose family had equipped them with this strange formulation.

Mo-mo is odd but ‘tail’ is odder. Throughout much of the last century many families wishing to name the penis for the nursery appear to have found ‘willy’, ‘peepee’, ‘winkle’ and ‘dicky’ adequate to the point of obviating the need for new and more anodyne coinages, if such can be imagined. Either my parents were unaware of the array of cheery nicknames at hand or they had consigned them, along with the less tractable fuckpole and spam javelin, to the waste-baskets of the unspeakable. In my mother’s case it is likely that not one aspect of the matter, from morphology to function to nomenclature, was ever raised in the slatey Cardiff household of the grim Reverend Jones. My mother would not have become narrow-minded – her mind would never have been allowed to broaden. My father may have learned of the slang when passing coarser boys in the street but it is hard to see how the amiable ‘willy’ etc passed him by.

Clearly science, in this case, provided an answer that would be simultaneously intimate and indirect, beyond reproach. And lacking in anatomical accuracy.

Quite possibly the nursery words were known to him but were found unacceptable. If this is the case then we might consider blaming the parents, always an option hard to resist. I could not find kindly Grandpa Gale culpable, it would have to be his tiny, fussy and fastidious wife, known to me as Grandma. On one occasion in their Weston Super Mare home, when I was eight or so, I visited the toilet then returned without closing the door. Grandma told me, across the dining table, always to be sure to close the door. Something about my mute reaction encouraged her to elaborate. “Because of the smell,” she whispered, quite loudly. This short phrase pokerworked its way into instant memorability, conjuring miasmas of shitgas that would drift down flights of stairs, wrinkling the noses of old ladies and browning off diners around whose wrists and cutlery it would unpleasantly curl. It also seemed the perfect complement to the catchphrase “Pull the Chain!” that Cheeky Cheshunt, an imaginary scatalogic music hall comedian, would reliably cry on his entrances and exits. Cheeky would bring warm tears of delighted recognition with the first element of his jovial exclamation, followed by gales of glee when he tapped the side of his nose and loudly whispered Grandma’s addendum.

I can’t remember if I decided to pee in my wellingtons or was unexpectedly visited by a need that urgently required a response. If the latter then it may have seemed sensible simply to furnish it in a nearby waterproof  boot rather than risk making my way upstairs to the lavatory. (No house around the block had more than one lavatory.) The thing is, I was actually wearing the boots at the time. It is hard, therefore, to say which is the more remarkable: a disconcerting surrender followed by a resigned but immediate use of the nearby boots or a more thoughtful and experimental approach that privileged a search for a novel sensation over the fact that the act was wrong.

 

 

 

I met a literary agent and onetime senior editor at a publishing house who kindly undertook to read what was then the third or fourth resumption of the writing of this memoir. I decided on a chapter structure this time round and started sending the text, chapter by carefully revised chapter, to the editor. This material was well received but by the fifth chapter the editor was beginning to be put off by the tone, she explained, also the scatological content.

I welcomed her comments on tone but felt that there was actually very little scat to be found in the 140 pages or so that I had written at that point.

It’s easy enough to commandeer attention if you cross a line and just as easy to lose it again. Certain lines are both repellent and irresistible. To cross and then satisfy curiosity and then return may be a way forward that is not backward.

The easiest way to create a stir that may be perceived in some quarters as in front of the garde is to withhold information. Readers and audiences will then feel compelled to make sense of what is offered and may fail to do so. Some will walk away and find something better to do. Others may feel diminished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can, of course, recognise that some of this material may be considered lurid. Unnecessarily so. Surely layers of allusion, euphemism or even medical terminology could be deployed. But then, at the time that these events (probably) took place they were vivid. Impressive in the strict sense. Formative. Haunting. The ghosts of things passed. And then, years down the line, framed in a constrained and formalised environment, lurid.

I think the two main reasons for this are: the science family; the impact of the early reading of certain texts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it must have been Grandma who frowned on winkle, obliging  my father to come up with something sanitary that would ease the instruction of this new little body so carefully conveyed from the nursing home to number 27 in April 1944. The problem may not have exercised him overlong for a precedent had been set: a biological term would have been selected then infantilised and the teeny ‘tail’ would fall in with mo-mo as a unique, never-to-be argotised, family-specific tag

But tail. They called it my tail. A tail is the furry thing hanging off the end of a dog or cat, distinguished by its location immediately above the anus. So if my dick is a tail, I’m on all fours in a painful back arch in order that the tail may hang down over my arsehole. But my bollocks are in the way! Whoever had their bollocks between their tail and their arse? Plus if it’s my tail then presumably it should be allowed to poke out of my pants! But it isn’t. Plus whoever pissed out of their tail, for heaven’s sake? Plus this back-arch is immensely tiring and you need to be at least six before you get the strength to lift your back away from the ground. It’s all silly.

In the science family I learned that little distinction was made between the public and private parts. This was not so much progressive as necessary. When my father was working on candida, a yeast that causes the fungal infection known as thrush, commonly presented in the vagina, penis or on the skin, his experimental results would be discussed at the lunch or supper table in the company of my mother and myself. These latter had the most modest of grasps of the relevant technical terms to the point where only the boldest headlines in a large font were comprehensible. I’m sure my father tried to make his reports as simple as possible but after a short while darkness would descend and all the rest is noise. There are simply no words available other than the words that any biochemist would know.

None of this talk of private parts is to suggest that this 1950s family was somehow previewing the emancipations of the 1960s. Medical talk insulates the user even as it goes granular into the thickets.

My close friend Hilary came to the house for tea in the early 70s when I was visiting my parents for a couple of days. She said to my father ‘Ernest, can I ask you about thrush?’ My father proceeded to explain the nature of the infection, its favoured bodily locations and effective antibiotic cures. Hilary said that she had been told that thrush arose because of an imbalance in some bodily organ or other that could be rectified with some medicine or other. As with many exotic cures hailing from outlier sources, this was either valuably heroic or baseless rubbish. My father took the latter view and, while clearly finding the claims ridiculous, carefully and patiently explained that the purported linkage could not possibly exist. I was pleased that such frank and modern conversations could take place but I couldn’t help wondering if Hilary’s lack of embarrassment was matched by my father’s or eclipsed by the specialist terminology.

 

In the earliest years I came to science by way of the billowing trousers and polished toecaps of ‘50s Scandinavians, Hungarians, Rhodesians, Americans and all the others who came to drink Piesporter at my parents’ dos. Dos were held regularly, even in Eachard Road, before my father became head of the Microbiological Unit in the Department of Biochemistry. International visitors were made to feel at home, our home. Weaving through the baggy suits at their knee height I was struck by the awkward solemnity of scientists compared to, say, Uncle George and Auntie Joan next door. I met hundreds of scientists, all of whom were invariably friendly. But awkward. One of them, Jezda Tosic, developed a persecution complex, my father said. He thought that everyone was against him, especially my father (Jezda’s boss). On one occasion when Jezda was at Eachard Road I screamed and cried because I had to go to bed. As my father carried me upstairs I struck out, randomly, at Jezda and my fingers caught the inside of his mouth and the flesh of his cheeks. Jezda smiled earnestly. I thought he looked hurt and anxious. Perhaps that thought has been pasted onto the rest of the image that remains so clearly in my mind. The reason it remains, I think, is because it seems to speak of the secret life of scientists. They seemed so stiff but the insides of their mouths were warm.

I’m certain that even at the age of four or five I found many of the scientists strange. Most of my father’s colleagues had a style of awkwardness that became instantly recognisable yet was perplexing enough to preoccupy me throughout my schooldays, during which I eagerly identified certain of my fellow pupils as bearing the same complex of restraints.

My father had a very even manner. He never showed anger or great joy. He only wept in my presence once. He never struck me. He played games with me. He liked going to places over and over again for our summer holidays. He was, I learned as I grew, an inspired scientist. But he took few risks in the world. The adventures that he had took place in the world revealed by the microscope. It was not an easy place to describe. I often asked him to describe it and he was happy to do so. I rarely understood what he was on about. My attention would drift. Once you passed through the cell wall and on into the nucleus the processes and the language that described them became intractable as the components became ever more recondite and minute. It was, indeed, a language problem: words like ‘goes’ and ‘sugar’ obtruded from strings of polysyllabic constructions that had obtained English visas but came from a place where rutting phonemes ran clacking through packed streets in the night.

While there were scientists that I liked and scientists that I found odd, these feelings were subsumed into my conviction that the practice of science itself was odd. My father left the house at eight thirty, returned for lunch then went back to work until six thirty. At lunch he would talk about Ron, Kenneth and Bruce who worked alongside him in white coats at benches and who came to every do. He would make rather more pointed comments about Young, his surnamed boss in the main building. He would tell my mother about Lois or Paul or Pam, American researchers visiting the Unit. I could tell which colleagues my father liked or disliked – easily grasped when their spouses or romances or leisure pursuits were discussed, but threaded through the anecdotes was, of course, the language of the work itself, the utterance of which immediately brought darkness and mystery to the tabletop.

My father’s experimental work, as I have noted, was predicated on the control of contamination. Outcomes must not be compromised by the inadvertent fouling of controlled materials. The focal points of the experiments were themselves contaminants: pathogenic bacteria. In order that their capacities could be measured then curtailed they must be encouraged to reproduce only in the most scrupulously sterilised environments. Only then can you determine that their destruction or inhibition has been caused by a toxic substance deliberately introduced by medical researchers.

This fastidiousness is itself infectious and can easily lead to the idea that all entities have an undetectable capacity to infect all other entities. This could be a recipe for paranoia.

All these men were measurers. Experimental scientists carry out experiments in order to test a hypothesis and this in turn will require the repeated and probably increasingly precise iteration of an array of procedures. Results are recorded and procedures may be repeated if results appear to agree with what might be expected from the hypothesis. The catch is that the experimenter must be continually aware that their assumptions and aspirations may influence their interpretations of the data. To withhold or overlook data that weaken the hypothesis is bad science. I can remember my father talking about young researchers who he’d had to warn about such sloppy practice.

On one occasion it became evident to my father that one of his researchers was not only sloppy, not only in thrall to his  goals but was also actively pursuing a programme based entirely on the disappearance of inconvenient results. That one such individual was driving his car over the brow of a hill outside the city when he ploughed into the driver of a broken-down car just as the driver was stepping back to assess his vehicle thereby abruptly ending the second driver’s life did not in any way moderate my father’s disappointment at his researcher’s betrayal of the codes of practice.

I had, over those early years, seen flushed and struggling weaklings assaulted by crowds of children in the playground and watched in wonderment as hard won composures were dismembered in the backs of buses. Most of these scenes featured kids but it was clear to me that the cheating researcher, an adult, had been expelled from the pale and had become something quite interesting: a wretch.

That adults as well as children could be wretches was a new thought. Certainly the silent red-faced boy having his clothes slowly torn off him by an encircling throng of primary school pupils in the playground of Richmond Road Council School looked anguished in a way that I found horribly entrancing. He moved very little, did not moan or weep but cast his eyes down as if braced for execution. But I did not think that he was not in utter despair. His body had been heaved in a number of different directions, making a zigzag composed of his head forced down onto his shoulder, his hips pushed far to one side, his legs dragged from beneath him, folded at the knees and splayed. Some tugged his collar, others pulled his sleeves, another grasped his black thinsoled plimsoles by the heel and removed them. I thought he looked poor.

I didn’t think he looked bad but I sort of understood that he must be considered so by his persecutors for the purposes of the exercise. It may be that the following day he played quite sociably in the playground. But he was marked. His playmates would remember that, in time of need, this boy in cheap gymshoes was anybody’s and could be recruited and outcast in a trice.

After the driving incident I saw the killer wretch briefly and wondered if he would be able to look as if he were not a wretch. I said hello and he said hello. I was probably scrutinising him too fixedly but if there was a trace of wretchedness to be detected it was faint. If the boss’s young son greeted you in such circumstances you would expect to be closely observed and you would work on a face that would not satisfy him. This was a valuable lesson insofar as it suggested that wretchedness was not automatically apparent to the prying observer.

On the other hand, the wisdom of 19th century poet and philosopher Leopardi, renowned for his pessimism, could have saved me some time, given his assertion that ‘Men are wretched by necessity, and determined to believe themselves wretched by accident.’ Even if we overlook what is in this case a fortuitous double entendre, it’s possible that the killer wretch was merely the worst of a bad lot.

Throughout my boyhood I asked my father How Things Worked. He knew everything about the science of the world. One day he told me that when you put a cube of ice in a glass of hot water it isn’t just that the hot water melts the ice, it’s that the ice cools the hot water. We see it as the end of the ice but it’s also the twilight of heat.

I was impressed when my father told me this. I thought I understood something that other boys would never hear about: one-way things are actually two-way things! I found myself continuing to think about it into my adulthood and even yesterday evening in the car on the way to Waterloo. I see the ice and the glass and the gradual move towards equilibrium. I see the water level not rising as the ice melts because the volumes are the same, it’s the densities that have changed. A few years later I did Physics at big school and loathed it, probably because the master, Oily, had the ability to dehydrate everything he touched. But even Oily was able to describe certain physical processes in a way that made them stick in my mind for decades, slowly acquiring explanatory powers far removed from their origins in rude matter.

My father had a very even manner. He never showed anger or great joy. He only wept in my presence once. He never struck me. He played games with me. He liked going to places over and over again for our summer holidays. He was, I learned as I grew, an inspired scientist. But he took few risks in the world. The adventures that he had took place in the world revealed by the microscope. It was not an easy place to describe. I often asked him to describe it and he was happy to do so. I rarely understood what he was on about. My attention would drift. Once you passed through the cell wall and on into the nucleus the processes and the language that described them became intractable as the components became ever more recondite and minute. It was, indeed, a language problem: words like ‘goes’ and ‘sugar’ obtruded from strings of polysyllabic constructions that had obtained English visas but came from a place where rutting phonemes ran clacking through packed streets in the night.

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As far as one can determine from the documentation, I was a poppet. There is a photo of the poppet in the back garden near the apple tree. The David in it is adorable and he stands beside his wooden wheeled and dappled horse, a postwar toy made by his Daddy. He’s wearing his dungarees and clutching what, under magnification, can be identified as an issue of Enid Blyton’s weekly magazine ‘Sunny Stories’. The magazine comes from the same period as The Book.

The Book is an unwholesome obsession. I will elaborate and then I will leave it.

When I’m drowsy my eyelids will droop and I’ll find myself instantly absorbed in a very particular recollection. Conversely, when, in the parenthesis of the droop, a certain sort of vignette monopolises my attention, I know I must  be sleepy. Not primarily a means of determining whether one is drowsy – less exotic indicators are available  – this abrupt channel change is very similar to the hypnagogic events that precede falling asleep at the end of the day, when the directed vectors of thought melt away and are replaced by things that enter unnannounced and then connect themselves to less appropriate things which are in turn joined in an unlikely manner to episodes which have the most tenuous relevance to the scenes that so sinuously ensue.

The Book is the most arresting example of an invasion of the unbidden, which is comprised of a constellation of odd, recurring memories.  What happens when The Book pops up, in the blink of an eye, my eye, is often surprisingly predictable, unlike the melting of thought on the pillow. It’s as if there were a handful of crystallised icons held in geostationary orbit between wakefulness and drowsiness, poised to reveal themselves in an identical manner over and over again. When they do present themselves the icons jump up like flags in an old-fashioned cash register and, instantly and invariably, eclipse all other activity. They do not always emerge on the cusp of a drowse, they are just as capable of intervening in the street during workaday thought time.

Most of them come from far away. They carry an unchanging  powdery aura, they are thick with melancholy, they are tiny and iridescent, they insinuate that they are portals to a world and a time in which the air was of a consistency that joined all things together under the sky. They promise to unfold into lost domains whose denizens run delightedly into the streets because I have come back and why was I away, look the gardens are still the same, the sun goes down with long shadows thrown over the fields of play, it’s all still here and you can take it back with you and it will make you happy.

That’s what they say and when they say it I believe them. When they’re not in view I am a little sceptical. When exactly are they from, these immutable vignettes, especially the ones that carry no time tags? They suggest an adult’s capacity for retaining and arranging detail yet they say they’re from way back. Is it possible that they merely appear to be antiques and are, in fact, repro?

This would align them with the sort of material that is routinely thrown up by those who are borrowed by aliens, probed with extraterrestrial urethroscopes then returned to the car on the blue highway having lost several hours and they thought it was only ten minutes or those who, after a seditious and collusive encounter with a poorly trained or spurious eager hypnotherapist discover that behind the migraines and vague elusive sadness lie years of being fucked by your uncle who is now doing fourteen to twenty in an Arizona penitentiary based on the evidence of credulous nutballs.

 

A useful definition of ‘a man’ is one who spends most of his time and energy trying not to be a woman. This does not, of course, apply to all men, just most of them.

I do not except myself. In the early days I could not, of course, have been further from such a view but decades later it seems perfectly clear that it’s not just the formative years that are formative – they all are. They form unceasingly and at the same time they reinforce what has been formed.

In my own case I now wish I had striven to be less of a man. Or had striven less to be a man. There was no choice anyway –  it wasn’t even an outlandish idea. At secondary school there were queers and I had the vague idea that they were like that because they were cooped up at boarding school (the school had a small number of boarders). One or two of them, however, were day boys and had a very hard time.

It’s certainly worth asking oneself if the degree of manliness that is detectable within oneself is strictly necessary. Many may feel that that’s all very well but they have no choice – they have got where they are by taking the well travelled path. And anyway it could be a slippery slope. As a straight cis-gender man I can say that there is much man performance that could be relinquished and it would be a pleasure to do so. I have been able to let go of some of it over the last couple of decades and I look forward to shedding more before I die.

Only in the last few years has it become possible to mount a wide debate about issues of fluidity between conventional polar gender positions and, by extension, within the purportedly stable polar positions of a tried and tested but inadequate formula.

The growing acceptance of gender fluidity has advantages even for those who do not conclude that they have been misgendered and wish to align their sense of identity with the ways in which they present and describe themselves. It becomes possible for those already in uncontroversial positions to dial down what are nevertheless felt to be exacting and inflexible elements of the formula.

If such constraints are mild compared to those endured by men who no longer identify as men then they may nevertheless prevail for lifetimes. But this is testament to the perfect, seamless assimilation of the programme – like the weather it seems there’s nothing you can do about it unless you move t0 another country.

In the training programme of the formative years much of the curriculum is pretty obvious. Eventually the baby becomes able to distinguish between the wall and the door and need not wonder how their parent walks through the wall and can no longer, as a result, be seen. (A precondition of this realisation depends on the baby having experienced the sides of its cot, say, as impenetrable.) For every discrete parental instruction, such as ‘Don’t touch the fire’, there will be myriad micro learning moments which feed into a heuristics of everyday physics and do not require constant parental input.

And for every discrete parental instruction there are also countless potent but unintentionally despatched messages that will be taken as advisories or instructions.

If, for example, a parent has a skin condition like eczema that is, from time to time, scratched idly or deliberately then this may be understood by a child as a problem-solving strategy. If  such activity arises within an unsettling situation that is then resolved then the activity may be construed as having remedial value.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At some point, possibly between 1947 and 1949, I had this book. It was square in format, about 8″ x 8″. On the right hand side were full-page, full-colour illustrations. On the left, text. There were beetles in it. And a castle. The beetles are characters in the story. The castle has dungeons and is dark blue.

And this is what’s so frustrating: I can’t get any further. The Book Memory is the Queen of Memories but it offers so very little. I’ve been having this Memory for years and years. I think about it almost every day (as distinct from actually experiencing it). There’s nothing I can do it to make it come. When it comes I cannot make it stay and I cannot make it any bigger or any longer. When it comes at night, before sleep, I hold my breath, hoping that if I play possum it will reveal itself.

If I can trap that memory I will see the whole book. I’ll see its cover and its title and I’ll get it – from an online secondhand book site – and every time I open it I’ll touch the lost land. I’ll walk through the lost land and it will make me happy.

It’s never going to happen. I know that. As much as I really want it I really wish it would go away. It’s a sea anchor. I can’t remember when it kicked in. Maybe when I was 40. Or maybe since always. But that suggests that soon after I read the book it became a thing. And I don’t even know if I ever read it. Maybe I just think I did.

I’ve spent so much time anchored in this way that it would be good to be able to claim some benefit – one that wasn’t sickly.

The imagery of the portal frames the Book Memory but there is no winding lane or busy highway that leads to the door. There are no approach routes whatsoever. It’s a pop-up.  Given the great riches that I have imagined to be piled up on the other side, the actual evidence of such booty is negligible. A wisp here, a drowsy glimpse, a glimpse of a drowsy glimpse. A peep.

 

We have touched on wellingtons earlier but why would a boy piss warmly in his ones? One could say “Because the wellington is waterproof so the piss would not leak into the passageway like it would if the boy been wearing his open sandals, a staple item of footwear for boys at that time.” The boy might have felt that by restricting the piss to the wellington he was evading discovery. This is pretty short-sighted: after stepping nonchalantly out of the brimming boots the youngster could indeed pad softly away from the point of emission but what had he left behind for his mother to come upon?

Kids, eh? Why did I think, when I left a small bolus of shit on the floor of Auntie Beatie’s lavatory in Luton that no-one would notice? Had I not learned from Grandma Gale – she of the shitgas – that the toilet is one of the more closely surveilled enclosures in the civilian world, a place subdivided into zones that are dramatically differentiated into one very right place and very many very wrong places?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When she was a schoolgirl my mother was scouted by the D’Oyly Carte Opera company on the basis of her role as Pitti Sing in the school’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado. Her father, my grandfather, I never met him, on the Welsh side, forbade her to join. That was it. Housewife. My mother developed a psoriatic rash on her right wrist that persisted for the rest of her life. At some point in the late 70s the rash moved to the back of her neck. Dry alligator skin. Deliciously itchy.

The psychotherapist John Layard (1891-1974) remarked to a friend of mine that eczema is a form of jewellery. He did not imagine that it was pleasant to wear this jewellery, his point was that the eczema patches were a form of communication and could be seen as an indicator of status. Not an elevated status but the condition of one who is suffering anxieties that cannot be fully articulated.

E L E V A T O R  P I T CH

A person suffers from a generalised eczematic condition that presents in a number of locations around the body. The locations change throughout the day. A junior doctor suspects that the movements of the inflammation should be seen as a form of language. The medics are astounded when they decode the messages transmitted by the skin of the hapless patient.

When the time came to choose a path at A level I chose Science partly because all my pals were going to do it and partly because nothing arty was ever talked about at home. I don’t feel as if there was pressure to follow in my father’s footsteps but none of the arts was ever discussed. There was no antipathy to the arts, they just didn’t come up much.

I would not be able to make any satisfactory sense of my father’s work until I was halfway through A level Biology. Even when I could grasp some of the functions of DNA and RNA, or begin to appreciate the importance of protein synthesis, I was still pressed against a very frosted glass. As a result, a degree of performance entered my relationship with my father. I would enact the keen listener and he would struggle to dissolve the opacity of his profession. I’ve no idea if he found this problematic. When I tell my daughters Sadie and Leila that I write and direct plays and teach performance at a university they can run this alongside their own experience of going to plays and going to school. There are bridges there. When my father told me he was trying to understand bacteria, I was trying to understand what bacteria, which you couldn’t see, were.

Ron, Kenneth and Bruce were champions of this art of darkness that was science. I understood that they were very clever and valued by my father and, like him, engaged in difficult research, which was finding things out. I saw them in their lab coats working with pipettes and washing their hands and they came to the dos where they chatted and sipped white wine. Ron was big, burly and punctuated his taciturnity in a northern accent, Kenneth wore bow ties, had a goatee and was effusive, Bruce looked like Prince Philip and was my father’s best friend.

Of the three, Kenneth was least like the stereotype that I was working on. He raised his voice, he kissed and touched people, he said things in French. In terms of libidinal management he ran an open-plan office. It may be that Kenneth offered the first glimpse of a world beyond the measured behaviour of Ron and Bruce and my father. The contrast that he provided could only strenghten my view that scientists were a group of sombre men who were rarely exciting. Female scientists in the Unit, demonstrative continental visiting scientists, affable American scientists and Jezda Tosic tended to untidy this picture but I didn’t care.

Rupert and Bill Badger Contemplate the Abyss (Alfred Bestall, 1956)

Although my father knew what made nature tick I regarded him as unnatural. When I was ten, my mother, anxious that I should appreciate just how remarkable a scientist he was (he had, after all, isolated a vitamin shortly after graduation), told me that “Daddy is very good at getting things done – he always does the hard things first and only then the things he likes doing.”  I really wasn’t impressed. “Mummy, that’s an appalling notion!” I would have cried, had I been more irrepressible. I can’t recall actually saying anything but the model of impulse management that had been proffered struck me as propaganda gone wrong. Nobody in their right mind would operate like that – you’d have to pretend that you were a little wooden boy and forget that you’d had a free pass into the flesh for as long as you’d lived.

Impulse management was displayed more attractively on Sunday evenings. From both Eachard Road, our poor house, and Luard Road, our rich house (acquired in 1954 when Ernest became head of the Unit), father and son would, week in week out for several years, drive to the lab to sow the bugs. We’d stop in Tennis Court Road, my father would unlock the tall iron gates, and we’d drive onto the Downing Street site. The Microbiological Unit was hutted in a long bungalow in the shadow of the Biochemistry building. On Sundays it was deserted and my father would walk along the corridor switching on the fluorescent lights until he reached his polished teak workbench in a far corner of the open plan laboratory.

If you were going to find out how bacteria synthesised protein in order that you could stop them doing it in the name of medicine for humans, you had to have a working population on which to experiment. The bugs lived in glass jars sealed with corks. They floated in soup. In order to concentrate them into colonies, some of their number would be extracted from the soup and given what must be seen, given the imminent dilution of unitary identity in a frenzy of reproduction, as the meal of a lifetime. My father would sterilise a looped filament of wire in the bunsen burner then plunge the glowing tip into the soup jar. After the hiss, the infested loop is stroked across a shallow dish of golden-brown agar jelly. Like ashtrays being switched in a pub, the dish is covered with another and taken to one side where, in this case, there stands a mild, encouraging oven.

Sowing the bugs took about half an hour. While my father enabled life I was allowed to play with dangerous chemicals and apparatus – exposing pieces of phosphorus to the air which enflamed them, sniffing ammonia, making pipettes by rolling and extruding glass tubes in the bunsen flame, squirting indicators into acids and alkalis to see the colours come and go, swirling yellow-green fluorescein in beakers of water. Then we would drive home.

At half past eight the following morning my father would kiss us goodbye and drive the copper-coloured MG back to the lab. There, arrayed in dozens of dishes, were pale, furry excrescences of mould; millions of bacteria awaiting examination, microscopy and extermination.

Sowing the bugs was something you did with utter precision on a very regular basis. No sow: no bugs. No bugs: no work. No work: no cures. There were, of course, innumerable other operations to which my father was obliged to apply precision. Coin-sized discs bearing minute quantities of radioactive isotope were slipped into coin-sized depressions in rotating plates that their radioactivity might be measured. There was even a hand-held geiger counter that I was allowed to hold to the face of my father’s luminous wrist-watch. It roared with rage as the boiling particles drummed onto its face and the needle trembled against the max point. See in the dark watches have since been banned, I believe. My father did not, however, die of metastasis of the wrist.

Centrifuging was also very interesting. Small phials of colourless liquid would be eased into the rubber sleeves of metal tubes arrayed around the circumference of a heavy rotating drum. The tubes were pivoted so that when the drum began to whirl they would swing into the horizontal.  The lid was massive and the whole device was armoured so that chunks detached by force fleeing the centre would not be propelled into the soft world. Once lock-down had been effected and the switch thrown, the motor would build from a low hum to a whine as a melting blur took hold within and the squat tub showed signs of wanting to judder across the floor, had its stocky legs not been bolted into concrete blocks. When the drum whined down again, my father, and this was the best bit, would lift the phials out and there, in each, beneath two centimetres of crystal clear liquid, was a spot of beige paste. On closer inspection I would see that the spot had no proper outline – it bled hazily into the liquid, the nimbus thinning into transparency a millimetre offshore. This, then, is what bunched bacteria look like. We can assume that any single one of them must also be beige but in a very vanishing sort of way.

When I worked as a kitchen porter in the Victoria Cinema Restaurant in Market Square for a few weeks in the summer of 1962, Sid the Chef filled the rotary potato peeler with spuds and turned the dial to maximum. As the spuds hurtled noisily about in the abrasive chamber, Sid gave out a gargling roar and whipped the door open. Globes of potato, battered bald, blasted from the peeler, bulleting into the fleeing yelping sous chefs, waiters and platewashers, ricocheting off the pots and pans.

A few years later I saw the power of the centrifuge at work on human flesh. Fighter pilots, according to the TV documentary, were strapped by their masters into pods on the end of a rotating arm, in order to prepare them for excessive G. As the rpm were gradually wound up, a camera in the pod showed the pilots’ facial skin sliding lava-like down onto their chests. As the blood drained from their heads to their toes, they blacked out.

Do bacteria black out? Such an enquiry begs many more. The least one might say is that the nucleus is probably shifted well to the left for the duration.

In a small, warm, windowless room to one side of the lab three balances stood glistening on a waxed benchtop. Each balance was enclosed in a glass case with sliding doors. Two chromed pans – the scales –  were suspended from the cross arms. Quantities were placed in one of the pans then quantified by the systematic addition and subtraction of weights to and from the other pan. While this is, of course, very much how potatoes, say, were purchased in the years before pre-packaging, I was fascinated by the business of tremendous accuracy.

Beside each balance was a box, in blonde wood, containing a bed of purple velvet artfully slit and pouched so that a series of tiny weights could be lodged in it. The largest of these tiny pieces, the 10 gramme, was bung shaped and bore a little knobbed handle by which it might be conveyed to the pan. Below 1 gramme a significant change took place. No more bungs: now leaves. Wispy leaves of shiny silver metal, rectangles and squares, all with one corner slightly turned up. Each with the gramme fraction impressed, as a numeral, on the top side. These weights were not to be conveyed by hand – a pair of tweezers was provided so that the weight of human grease could not distort the reading.

What must it be like to be the manufacturer of these tiny weights? Are the bungs and leaves produced in moulds? And if so, how are they tested? Against definitive master weights, obviously. But what if you remove a fresh weight from the mould and weigh it against the master weight and it’s too heavy? Do you reduce its weight by shaving it in some way with an abrader  of some sort? And what if you remove too much?  Do you stick a little bit back on with glue? And then what if the little bit you stick back on is too big? And how much does the glue weigh?

These thoughts hover on the very edge of a treacherous domain. Cross the border and you’re in a place that, at its least offensive, is boring and in its florid form is vertiginous and proto-aspergian. This is the place of escalating  reiteration and steadily diminishing novelty. Its mathematics informs obsessive compulsive disorder and may even lead to the collecting of train numbers.

In the right hands, of course, it can be made marvellous. Borges goes there, as does Beckett, especially in his novels. The outcomes, in these cases, are bracingly philosophical. Mathematicians go there in order to formulate. And all sorts of scientists go there. It seems you can go there in safety if you have a project. In the days when I went down the lab with my Dad we didn’t have Borges. Not down my road, anyway.

I was amazed when my father told me of the dangers of grease. I realised that even if the obtrusive and widely reported ordinary secreta are discounted, the body wiped clean, we still carry on our hands, preceding even the fingerprints, a fine film that will give weight to all that we touch, however lightly. And, as I already knew, it wasn’t a one-way thing. The toucher, the hapless bearer of exudate, makes a deposit; he leaves some molecules. But he gets some back. Not, presumably, as many as he left. Unless it was butter, say, or jam.

It may be felt by some – the macrophiles – that the quantities under discussion are negligible. That they’re beneath consideration and at the end of the day who cares? People who feel like that are clearly unaware of the unreliability of matter. They don’t understand that we’re walking through mist all the time. Everything is boiling. It’s not touch and go, it’s touch and swap.

The end of edges and the unreliability of envelopes preoccupied me greatly and have stayed with me ever since, evolving into a central axiom of a set of occult principles that include, of course, those derived from the ice/water business. These principles made sense of the world. Possibly they made nonsense of it as well. They were occult to the extent that I never talked about them to anyone. Not because I thought they were loopy. I just held my peace and ruminated on them.

I would sit in the balance room and weigh things, marvelling at the number of decimal places that could be added after the main figure. I wondered if it were possible to weigh things down to the last molecule. I imagined that if such a balance were to be made then the final, ultimate, definitive weight could never be determined for more than a moment because atoms and molecules would be jumping on and off all the time.

At some point in the sowing-the-bugs years there was a revolution in balances. You placed the unweighed amount in the pan, shut the glass doors and turned a knob. The doors insulated the pan from intrusive local zephyrs and the waves of heat that might flush forth from the body of the weigher. The knob activated a series of delicate levers, each of which bore a different weight, shaped into a metal loop. As the knob was turned the loops would be raised or lowered onto hooks projecting from the counter arm, registering their value on an illuminated screen. The knob could be turned rapidly to and fro, impelling the arms to move up and down like fingers drumming on a table. When equilibrium was achieved, the result, to four decimal places, could be read from the display. The revolutionary balance, impressive in its robotic obsolescing of human hands, served nevertheless to rub in the notion that we were greasers all, flies in an anointed order that did not require our validation.

In the early 50s polio came down our road and took Michael Murray. He was about seven years old. When he came back he was in a wheelchair and stayed in a wheelchair throughout his days at the Perse School for Boys. His classmates used to carry him up and down the stairs. With polio you had to avoid public places. The parents of the other children in the street did not seem to be aware of this – their kids were allowed to go to the cinema, to the swimming pool, wherever they wanted. In number 27, impatulpa rallasis, as I heard my father call it, was to be feared and resisted. I asked if I could go to the cinema as long as I didn’t breathe in. My father didn’t bother to point out the unscience of this – until a cure for impatulpa rallasis had been found no child of his would mix with the masses.

My protracted brush with bacteriology in the formative years alerted me to the fact that there was great force in the invisible, be it comprised of atoms or micro-organisms. Such an awareness could, one might think, have a corrosive effect on one’s sense of bodily immunity, providing the ideal incubator for hypochondria. A fellow would be inclined to hold his breath lest the very next breath conveyed contagion into him. From the bacterial point of view (the bacterium does not have a point of view consequently no questions are begged), his skin would be seen (the bacterium does not see) as warm, wet and welcoming havens for propagation. His skin is agape with portals.

Once you understand touch and swap, you realise that the body just doesn’t care in the same way as its earnest owner might. It’s tough. I joined forces with this tough body. These bacteria, these viruses, these opportunistic pathogens – I knew them, I knew their ways. I knew it was actually quite hard to get infected. The common cold, for example. It had nothing to do with humans being cold, or wet. Throughout my life I have always felt superior when people admonish each other not to venture out with wet hair. I always go out with wet hair. When my hair is already wet, I mean. And I need to go out. There has been, I will admit,  a certain truculence attached to it in the past. I would say to those who were enfeebled by superstition “My hair is wet. And I’m going out.” I would still say it  if it arose, but it would be declared ironically, as if I didn’t really take it seriously one way or the other. I should say that I have never wetted my hair and then gone out in order to make the point.

Gone-off bread is another example. Fleming noticed that the luxuriant growth of his staphylococcus culture, left on a dish in his laboratory during a two week holiday in 1928, had been inhibited in one area. Within this patch a rogue mould had grown and around it a no man’s land in which no staphs grew. Fleming concluded that the contaminating mould, which had wafted up from a lab below, had antibacterial properties. The mold turned out to be penicillium and the rest is why infections can be cured.

The blue-grey beard found on poorly attended bread is taken to be an indication that the bread is toxicated and inedible. In the antibacterial household this is not necessarily the case. While we did not, at number 27, drink rancid milk or eat festering chops, there was, nonetheless, an awareness that not all that rots is rotten. I think this is where my indifference to the sell-by date originates. I never look at them. Can’t be bothered. All you have to do is scrutinise and sniff.

Years later a hippy baker in Bath showed me a furry loaf he had prepared some time earlier. He scraped the fur off and cut me a  slice. It was fine, as I knew it would be. “Don’t worry about this mould thing,” he instructed. I hadn’t been and I didn’t.

So despite my precocious acquaintance with the semi-permeable nature of bodily surfaces I’ve always been terribly healthy, privately opining that illness was a trivial mental effect not to be indulged. I felt this right up until my late forties when it began to strike me as a touch grandiose. Nevertheless, because my father was in the business of cure I believed that the invisible was manageable. A sense of frailty and contaminability that might have got through to my body never took hold.

Similarly, the powers of the invisible never inclined me to the spiritual. I have never had a spiritual experience. This could be genetic, of course, but I’m inclined to the view that, well, those experiences are just another mental effect. Given that I couldn’t actually formulate such a glib position until my early twenties, I often wonder why I was so suspicious, throughout my school years, of the various efforts made to engage me with the Christ business. My mother’s father, Grandpa Jones, from the Welsh side, was a Methodist minister of such stereotypical strictness that when Eiry, my mother, broke free she, swore that no child of hers would ever be exposed to religion. My father, from the Weston Super Mare side, was more conventionally inducted but shook it off with the pesticidal application of science in the course of his teens at school. When he got to Cambridge he briefly joined a number of student societies representing the standard spiritual selection and rejected them one by one. So we didn’t really talk about God much at number 27. I was more interested in, say, how light switches worked, and always got good value.

*

I lived, back then, in a house of precision and repetition and measuring. You could go a long way with this recipe. I’ve got a lot out of it. It’s a formula for achievement. It only works if you don’t question it, however. Question it and you’re fucked.

But the bookshelves told another story.

They were to be found in the sitting room, which was called the lounge. It was a long room looking onto the garden at the back end.

I’ve done what I keep doing. Jumped from the 1944-1953 house to the 1953-1965 house. I can’t remember any bookshelves in the first house. I certainly had books then but I wasn’t conscious of my parents’ books. At the second house there were sets of bookshelves fitted into the far corners of the sitting room. Each L-shaped unit had three shelves. And that’s where I learned how to travel forward in time.

I’ve always been interested in what other people are reading. I jot down their recommendations eagerly and will pay close attention to those weekend supplement pieces in which emergent or prominent writers will identify the books that have had a significant impact on them.

Rarely, however, unless specifically pressed, do these respondents mention anything they read or had read to them before puberty.

It is as if no critical faculties whatsoever were present in the pre-pubertal middle class western reader. Material washed past like a river running through rocks, or an airliner traversing the sky at an altitude that rendered its markings illegible.

Clearly the fact that you listened to The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Carle, E. 1969) 50 times and The Tiger that Came to Tea (Kerr, J. 1968) 60 times had no impact whatsoever. It was all apparently a great waste of time. Oh yes, I think I remember that. I really liked that.

It really doesn’t matter if you’ve forgotten it. This forgetting business is debatable at best. But when these magazines ask you you should at least say something like ‘Yeah. I suppose there was something about those books. Something to do with appetite, maybe?’

Or if the attribution of significance to books that you’ve forgotten doesn’t make sense then jump forward a few years to the stuff you were reading for yourself as well as having read to you.

I was 12 in 1956 and familiar with the Rupert books and annuals. The utter blankness of facial expression in all of the otherwise colourful characters fascinated me. I had already seen, in 1950, on a magical 3 month visit to America, Harold Gray’s iconic ‘Little Orphan Annie’ comic strip and had been unsettled by Annie’s empty, dotless and lidless eyes.

 

The Enucleated Annie

Does she know that people are staring at her? How would she know? It’s hard to take your eyes off her but she can’t put hers on us. And it’s not as if she’s blind. She rarely bumps into stuff. Her dog Sandy isn’t a guide dog. He doesn’t wear a harness or anything. Plus he too has no eyeballs. And neither her tall adoptive father Daddy Warbucks (made his fortune selling arms in WWI) nor his servant the towering Asp (Asian, inscrutable) has to point out dangerous obstacles to her although they reliably supply assistance in scrapes.

It’s like she can see you but not see you. Which could make her both omniscient and impenetrable. But it doesn’t. You get used to it and she’s just an adventurous kid.

On the other hand Annie is in some way vacant. Her face moves around the dead sockets, much as that of a high functioning zombie might. Her body, unlike that of the zombie, is complete and conventionally flexible, compensating, at a graphic level, for the orphan girl’s dead-above-the-neckness.

 

 

 

Harold Gray was a cantankerous anti-communist patriot who gave Daddy Warbucks dots thereby, we must infer, consolidating the latter’s male gaze. Annie is tirelessly venturesome but whenever things get out of hand, Daddy comes to her rescue. He dots her eyes.

At the age of six I wasn’t following the Orphan Annie storylines so much as tentatively savouring the shadowy panels populated with awkward bulky figures I didn’t understand but found eerily puzzling.

Rupert Bear’s blankness, as noted above and seen below, is arresting for a number of reasons.

In common with his woodland companions, Rupert is, for much of the time, startled but frozen. Not because he’s a drawing but because he hasn’t got enough detail. He has five marks on his face, two of which are dots. Many illustrators or cartoonists have found this to be sufficient but Mary Tourtel and Alfred Bestall went for deadface.

In consequence and despite the frequently inviting panoramas of the Rupert Annual endpapers (see Abyssal example above), the creatures of the cottages, barnyards and woodlands of Nutwood exhibit the flattened affect of the melancholic or the ambulant catatonic. It is possible that were they to encounter, in an outskirt or meadow, a group of entranced human ramblers, they might agree to collaborate on the running of a for-profit farm or petting zoo.

A homeopathic strategy would be adopted, wherein the living dead would be drawn to the colourful intricacy of the Nutwoodens while the latter group would not look askance upon the carnivorous wanderers with their uninflected access to basic drives. The ‘like cures like’ approach would attract members of the public who, disenchanted with benzodiazepines, would find in the impulsivity, reduced affect and general deracination of the zoo creatures both consolation and inspiration.

This is a bit of a cheat inasmuch as it suggests that at an early age I was able to detect affinities between Rupert and flesh-eating ghouls. While these certainly exist I should note that when I first came across Rupert it would be almost another 20 years before I saw Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968). I might have seen it at the Scala in Kings Cross. Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey) was released in 1962 but it never got as far as the Rex in Cambridge.

I don’t think it’s far-fetched, however, to retrofit readings of an 18-year-old’s quite specific cultural experience onto the vague ruminations of a six-year-old trying to understand why some people are there but not there. The 18-year-old didn’t understand either but a few years later, when I began to immerse myself in psychoanalytical ideas, I started to wonder if they could be applied to fictional people as well as real ones. In turn, if the interpretation of dreams could facilitate personal insights then perhaps a similar approach would suggest that the curious fascinations of both Rupert and zombie lore stemmed not just from their visual renderings but their proximity to mental states that one might encounter, albeit in milder forms, in the social encounters of everyday life.

Charabanc of the Dead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I may have to revise this. Despite my scrapes with furry loaves, despite my subsequently unimpaired health, further research tells me that while penicillium is indeed a mold not all food molds are penicillin. Gone-off bread may host a number of molds at the same time, some of which may be antibacterial, some of which may be harmful. I resent learning this because it compromises my sense of my being unusually immune.

I do not, however, discount the possibility that such fancies are overweening and not unrelated to ideas about the immortality of the flesh-eating zombie.

beardogbears

Around here real and imaginary characters are shockingly always crossing paths.

Diane Williams – ‘How Much Did You Ever Think the World of Me? (2019)

 

The mammals of the Oligocene are often described as though they were halfway creatures, semi-formed prototypes: dog-bears (bear relatives that looked like dogs), bear-dogs (dog relatives that looked like bears), large cat-like sabre-toothed hunters that were not true cats, and the most charismatic members of the Oligocene bestiary, the entelodonts, or ‘hell pigs’: each as big as a cow and equipped with huge crocodile-like jaws, a sort of ‘gigantic, hyper-carnivorous warthog’. Not actually pigs at all, they were more closely related to whales.

Francis Gooding – ‘Hell Pigs’, a review of Tim Flannery – ‘Europe: the First One Hundred Million Years’, London Review of Books vol 42, #1. (2020)

Among the many inhibitions that beset my writing for performance there is, in addition to a number of quite severe constraints that I apply voluntarily, one that never relaxes its grip and must be regularly challenged. It has an almost irresistible force and settles on me like a slothful powdery moth coiling and uncoiling its proboscis, injecting a nectar that tames unruliness and blankets the mind with logic. Narrative has a uniquely sedative gravitational pull that, I find, scuppers the poetic pleasures of disconnection and incongruity. Write half a page and groan, even as you strike the keys, as beginnings sprout middles and middles taper to their ends.

Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds

It’s hardly a novel thought (it’s hardly a novel) but if you don’t want theatre to tell stories then there are countless alternatives to narrative structure. The first performance script I wrote was ‘Jack, the Flames!’ (1972) and it was significantly lacking in throughlines, coherent structure and character depth. Which is what I wanted. I was in the habit of writing down my dreams back then so I transcribed some of them then imitated them to generate more text. The script was all over the place but Hilary knocked it into shape. For the next few years, however, with subsequent shows, I was bothered by the feeling that maybe I should pay more attention to this structure thing. I tried to put endings on the scripts that felt like endings but they were the weakest part of these works. I was very taken with The People Show back then and they never had endings. Or proper beginnings really. But when I picked up my pen (there were no PCs then) I couldn’t stop drifting into narrative. I’d go for a few pages without it and the next thing I knew I was connecting up the scenes as if they were going somewhere. I just couldn’t stop it.

I found myself doing something I didn’t believe in but it would creep up on me. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a proper playwright, I’d never wanted that. I liked other people’s stories in films and books, no problem there, but I didn’t find their various structures appropriate for theatre. I didn’t actually find theatre’s own structures appropriate, come to that. But when I was about 18 I read Ulysses in my bedroom one summer and that did it. A little while later I read Naked Lunch. After those two books there was no going back. I mean, do you want to live forever in your home town? Between about 1962 and 1972 I was gratifyingly overwhelmed by a barrage of experimental films, novels, poetry and Happenings and moved in circles increasingly populated by adventurers presenting a variety of pathological behaviours. All this was both formative and obliterative. I had so decisively crossed the channel that I couldn’t have gone back if I’d wanted to. To aspire to narrative would have been a betrayal of all that magnificent reading and viewing and hanging out.

But although I felt I had placed myself beyond the allure of the conventional play form, I hadn’t reckoned with the after effects of the 18 years of exposure to narrative that had preceded the meltdown. My parents were not connoisseurs of the arts but in their bookshelves I had discovered and devoured Steinbeck, James Jones, Salinger and Huxley. Throughout my boyhood I had returned time and time again to my father’s collection of Richmal Crompton’s William books and loved every single page of the witty, eventful, stories and their variously naughty, irascible, pompous and vain characters. In all this pre-adult reading I was gripped by the expressive elements on display, including the construction of narratives. But a few years later, the early 60s tsunami kicked in, I read Artaud at university (as distinct from the Eng Lit for which I had enrolled) and thought that I was ready to dance my own steps.

I saw four or five films a week at Uni, in the local cinemas, the local art-house cinema and the Uni film societies. After Uni I went to film school. I had already seen Breathless (1960), Zazie dans le Metro (1960) and Jules et Jim (1962) in my home town and along with my fellow RCA students I then revelled in a three year binge during which it seemed that a new Nouvelle Vague film, or something European with a similar spirit, was being released every week.

It was the thing in my home town to shout out in the cinema. Wags of all classes would bellow witty, indignant, inspired, vocal graffiti at the screen, usually to roars of approval and, in the case of those cinemas with raked floors, the rolling of empty bottles downhill towards the screen. There are many such outgusts that I cherish to this day, among them ‘Shag’er while she’s still warm, mate!’ addressed to the monster hovering above the body of the scantily clad young woman he had just killed; also ‘What about the woodpeckers?’, a riposte to Rod Taylor, in ‘The Birds’ (1963), who has just frantically nailed boards across all the windows and doors in the house under attack by angry birds in order to save Tippi Hedren and himself and then mops his brow and says to Tippi ‘We should be all right now.’

Quite why Roger Dibbs undertook to come to a showing of Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year in Marienbad’ (1961) I’ll never know. One of the artiest art-house films in the world at that time, it had done well at the Venice International Film festival but had, as they say, divided the critics. On one side of the critical chasm were those found it hopelessly obscure, painfully slow, devoid of meaning, little more than a form of torture. Others considered it to be a thing of great beauty, a masterpiece, ‘one of the most influential movies ever made (as well as one of the most reviled), Marienbad is both utterly lucid and provocatively opaque’ (J. Hoberman, Village Voice, 2008).

Roger Dibbs was a very cool dancer who was into jazz rather than The Beatles. He was well groomed in a tasteful European jacket and tie style, something of the lounge lizard about him, and his skills included the throwing of window boxes full of soil and flowers through the plate glass windows of the Lending Library, setting fire to a great pile of old newspapers in my friend’s mother’s hallway and tipping a huge ornamental urn from a pub balustrade onto a white Triumph TR4 sports car parked ten feet below. The police hurried to the last scene and captured half a dozen of us. Dibbs vanished but we resolved the issue by saying to the main policeman ‘Roger Dibbs did it and this is his address.’ He was a vandal, but so well dressed. I call his vandalisms skills because he practised them often, usually at the weekends, and they acquired greater and greater polish as he moved with charm and reserve through the leisure circles of that town in a flat area of the country.

Anyway, after about 25 minutes of vitalisingly melancholy monotone French voiceover as the camera tracked ‘once again, down these corridors, through these halls, these galleries, in this structure of another century, this enormous, luxurious, baroque, lugubrious hotel, where corridors succeed endless corridors – silent deserted corridors overloaded with a dim, cold ornamentation of woodwork, stucco, moldings, marble, black mirrors, dark paintings, columns, heavy hangings, sculptured door frames, series of doorways, galleries, transverse corridors that open in turn on empty salons, rooms overloaded with an ornamentation from another century, silent halls … ‘ there erupted across what, up to that point, had been a poised, unbreathing silence a stentorian interruption from the cheap seats. Dibbs – ‘It’s a load of bollocks, isn’t it, Dave?’

Delighted as I was with his uncouth observation, I didn’t actually agree with Dibbs. I felt his pain but also my own shocked enchantment. I have held Marienbad in my top three for some considerable time and while my own shows are considerably faster paced and regularly feature spasmic, homicidal and tourettish outblasts, the languid, plotless, frozen, dreamy world conjured by Resnais and his screenwriter Robbe-Grillet, with its barely mobile, stately and expressionless actors speaking without emotion or facial nuance is just what the doctor ordered insofar as I find it unfailingly restorative and just plain exciting. Lynch produces similar effects but they, like Fukunaga and Pizzolatto’s ‘True Detective’ (2014) and Refn’s ‘Too Old to Die Young’ (2019), are enhanced by explosive scenes of violence and episodes of manic pace. Refn actually out-slows Resnais – his 13 hour, 10 episode TV show glaciates exquisitely, pushing the envelope off the edge of the escritoire with the ‘Is there something wrong with my TV?’ majesty of the dialogue scenes – every single one of the dialogue scenes – in which characters routinely pause for between three and five seconds between exchanges – to call it a tic makes it sound screwball, it’s a cavernous tock – without ever acknowledging any situational reason for this extreme stylisation. The effect, in all three cases, is to bathe the most routine scenes in unremitting dread.

I took most of my cues from films. But in 1963 or so I was mightily impressed by Artaud’s short play ‘A Spurt of Blood’ (1925), whose preposterous, deranged, mythopsychoanalytical delirium I experienced as a soothing balm. I directed a version of it while at film school. The skies rained offal.

It helped that I didn’t like theatre itself very much. It was basically very strange but everyone behaved as though it were perfectly normal to carry on like that. The utter oddness of dressing up, learning lines, pretending to be someone else and inhabiting a space bounded by flats, drapes and lights was rarely acknowledged. This awkward other-worldliness was compounded by, in this country at least, the deployment of a range of hystericised (but not invigorating) speaking styles which, at their particular times, were held to be in some way reflective of the way people spoke and thought in the nearby everyday life.

Theatre was clearly stuck and it annoyed me. When I went to see it by accident it made me bad-tempered. But there was so much to be taken from films and books.

A few months ago, idly, from the top of a bus, gazing at nothing much, noticing a large municipal Christmas tree decked with white lights. A person with a dog is pushing at the tree making it undulate. Why would they do that? The picture clears: it’s not the person that is undulating the tree, it’s the wind blowing across it. The person’s arm is extended towards the tree, yes, but they are not touching it. I forgive the person. The event fades and becomes nothing. A slip of the eye. The essence of a disposable event. To call it the essence of anything is to grant it an undue importance. This kind of thing goes on all day long. It deserves to be edited out. Deleted. Surely even a human mind, which seems to be able to hold an infinite amount of information, need not process this kind of flotsam. Just let it pass. The alternative is to remember too much. To be cluttered as a matter of course.

Or just today, a bespectacled red-faced man walks past the window. He has a monstrous extra face beneath his chin. It ripples down to his top shirt button. Well, for a second perhaps. The kind of thing that happens when you’re wearing your reading glasses rather than your street glasses. It’s just a glasses thing. Gone with the wind. No big deal. But in that second what a show! A flesh riot in the high street!

Where do these snippettes come from? Do we make them up on the hoof, effortlessly, like nonchalant poets? Are our skills in this regard so fluent that at the least suggestion of an interruption to the flow we activate an elusive but super-efficient mechanism that seals all gaps? Which in turn suggests a certain urgency. What’s the rush? What could go wrong?

It would be a mechanism that works on an anything-is-better-than-nothing principle: if we didn’t fill those gaps, who knows what would press forth? But in the case of the extra face, monstrosity emerged anyway. And isn’t that something we’d rather not know about? So maybe ‘making them up on the hoof’ isn’t the way to look at it.

In fact it’s as if ‘we’ have very little to do with it. We just provide a platform. The images pop up in one piece, ready to go. A bit like an encounter with the Australian stonefish which delivers an incapacitating sting when accidentally stepped upon in shallow seas. We just do the treading – we didn’t ask for the fish.

It is unlikely that there is within us a repository in which resides, say, an image of a monstrous extra face suitable for insertion beneath a passerby’s chin. There is, however, the silent continent, the inland empire, the unconscious which is by its very nature restlessly protean. So utterly efficient is the messaging connectivity that, in terms of filling the gaps, it’s like lying in a tent in the rain – an incessant drumming against a membrane that keeps us dry but if you poke at it the water gets through. Is it conceivable that the rain is always raining? And the only reason we are not constantly drowned by intrusions is because we keep busy?

Were there such a repository then this is how its contents might be stored

The other weekend The Guardian had a story about Haribo suing some Spanish bar owners who were selling jelly bears containing alcohol. The Spaniards, the report said, ‘planned to carry on selling their products in Spain – and to their customers in France and the UK – to show that their bears would not be cowed.’ This raises the question of whether Haribo has a position on cows that will not be borne.

I realise this is not top notch wordplay but it had to be done. Ideally the past participle of ‘bear’ will not be ‘borne’, it will be ‘beared’. This would then deliver the much desired ‘cows that would not be beared’. This, in turn, suggests that the cow will resist transformation into a feared rather than domestic creature.

On the other hand, in the statement ‘Peter and Susan were cowed by dogs’, we will find, lightly concealed, the possibility that ‘Peter and Susan were dogged by cows.’ So much better. It suggests that, under certain conditions, the placid cow will be caninised.

So much better (The sausages carried by the cheeky dog have passed through the cow. They are hotdogs.)

 

It may seem odd, decadent even, to dwell on such fleeting flukes. To treat them as if they had something to say. It must be said, however, that, in their way, they do approach the Oligocene. (See quote at top of post.) In the Oligocene (I keep writing it ‘Oligoscene’ so I looked up ‘oligo’ just now and what do you know: just a few or scanty. From the Greek ‘oligos‘ (as in oligarchy but I was slow to make the connection) (palaeontologically speaking it must refer to an era of which little is known) (despite the profusion of creatures for which it is known) it is clear that things were coming and going, crossing paths, colliding, blending, unblending, indecisive, changeable, making up their minds, haven’t quite got this but we’re getting there, this will never work, it could go either way, yeah but give it a chance

I was driving along the M4 out of town one time and had to slow down because of a collision up ahead. As we crawled past the police cars a bizarre sight slowly came into view. On the other side of the buckled crash barrier two trucks had clipped each other with such force that their rear doors had burst and their contents were strewn across all six lanes of the motorway. The drivers were talking to the police on the hard shoulder. One truck had been full of furniture – sofas, armchairs and tables. These were lying randomly around on the tarmac. The other truck was a baker’s truck and had been full of loaves, buns, tarts, doughnuts, battenberg slices, cupcakes and bags of flour. The bags had exploded and created a Christmas scene across ground zero. A heavily powdered sofa bore several dainties in odd clusters and ragged stacks, as if impulsively abandoned by two untidy people. Slices of white bread festooned an inverted reclining chair. Jam doughnuts littered the scene like beached anemones. And so on.

As well as resembling a respectable site specific installation piece, the spectacle was a fine snapshot of the poetic process which went some way beyond ‘the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella’ to a higher hybridism wherein the battenberg on the scatter cushion was not on it but of it. A creature of a drained undersea world.

the possibility of recognising nature, even distorted nature, which is, after all, a kind of struggle between my interior life and the external world as it exists for most people

Picasso in ‘Life with Picasso’, Francoise Gilot (1964)

Freud, of course, gave us the Slip (in ‘The Psychopathologies of Everyday Life’ (1901)), something of an ur-text here insofar as it introduces the notion of the unbidden utterance – an involuntary speech event featuring the partial expression of unsettling memories and ideas in words which resemble and replace those that would have been spoken as part of an uncorrupted original remark. A similar but visually based principle animates what we could call the space-filler, wherein an often minor, often everyday, occurrence seems to elude comprehension yet is nevertheless, with the speed of thought, framed within an interpretation. The malfunctioning aspect of this operation – the absence of an initially acceptable understanding – features the barely conscious acknowledgement of a gap, a black hole, in the generally unstanchable stream of consciousness. Nature adores such a vacuum. Ever loaded, always cocked, it will spritz the narrative with alternatives drawn from what is probably a vast but uncatalogued collection of all that is inconvenient. A malcontent is undulating a tree. Public order is breaking down. A public good is being trashed.

(An earlier version of the paragraph above referred to ‘unnatural alternatives’ ( 2 lines from end of para) – this is careless. It suggests that the natural is limited to what we know. ) (Picasso saw it otherwise: “…I don’t want there to be three or four or a thousand possibilities of interpreting my canvas. I want there to be only one and in that one, to some extent, the possiblity of recognising nature, even distorted nature, which is, after all, a kind of struggle between my interior life and the external world as it exists for most people….I don’t try to express nature; rather, as the Chinese put it, to work like nature.”)

Greta Gerwig on the set of ‘Little Women’ with cast members

Reading an article on ‘Little Women’ (2019) in Sight & Sound (January 2020) I glanced at one of the accompanying photos and was surprised to note that Emma Watson had folded her right leg across Greta Gerwig’s lap as she studied the script with the director and cast members Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh. Watson is slight of build yet her bent leg looks quite heavy. Her posture also looks quite uncomfortable.

But, of course, Watson is doing none of this. The ‘knee’ that is seen is formed by the lid of Gerwig’s laptop and her ‘calf’ is Gerwig’s lower leg. The photo is sufficiently dark to allow the casual glancer to fuse the two dark objects into one encircling limb. If the exposure and contrast are tweaked with photo editing tools the actuality of the arrangement becomes crystal clear:

In such a situation if one would be asked ‘Are you seeing things?’ then the answer must be ‘Yes, I am.’ And supposing it were then asked ‘These things that you see – are they worthy of remark?’ then the response should be frank: ‘They are largely useless. Most would be wise to ignore them. There may be those who have some use for them, however.’

It took several minutes to write the three preceding paragraphs and less than one half of one second to misread the seating arrangements in the photograph. Correction of that misreading took perhaps three or four seconds. The economics of this are sufficient to dispel any ideas of the value of the mistake that can never be made again. But I dwell on such phenomena in part because they are so hastily discharged.

These corrections and realignments probably happen throughout everyone’s day every day on the planet all the time. They probably start when everyone is very young, when a mixture of misreading and intermittent realignment is all we have. A little later realignment becomes a more conscious operation as our confidence feeds off a steadily expanding bank of successful adjustments. And of course, as we get older it is as if the need for realignments is greatly reduced, our skills in this field are consolidated and the incidents, if they are noticed at all, have no more importance than an itchy nose. It may be, however, that it’s not so much a matter of skill as we simply learn to ignore events that have no apparent meaning or value.

In order to resurrect then reinstate a capacity for misperception, Salvador Dali conceived the Paranoiac Critical Method, wherein a specialised personal effort was required to undo the habit of ascribing an essential, final reality to objects in the world. By incubating some of what he considered to be the crucial characteristics of a paranoid state of mind he sought to expose himself to the world equipped ‘to systematise confusion and thus to help to discredit the world of reality’ (1930). The world thus apprehended will be constructively contaminated, its objects will be surrealised. Dali would deploy ‘a delirium of interpretation’ informed by ‘irrational knowledge’.

The crucial achievement of one who has deliberately and perhaps ‘methodically’ developed a paranoid frame of mind is to find, with considerable rapidity, connections and associations between objects and ideas that have no association or affinity. This destabilised mode of seeing lends itself equally successfully to the production of the double image, defined by Dali as ‘a representation of an object that is also, without the slightest physical or anatomical change, the representation of another entirely different object, the second representation being equally devoid of any deformation or abnormality betraying arrangement.’

Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire – Salvador Dali (1940)

 

Ernst, in a lecture delivered in 1935, described the objectives of systematic derangement variously: / the exploitation of the fortuitous meeting of two distant realities on an inappropriate plane / (a) means of bewitching reason, taste, and conscious will / the cultivation of the effects of a systematic bewildering / based on nothing other than the intensification of the irritability of the faculties of the mind /

The paranoid state was held to have artistic value (in addition to its capacity for enabling misery and terror) insofar as it, apparently effortlessly, remodelled the exterior in the terms of some of the more volatile or inconstant currents of the unconscious.

When we did peripheral vision in A level Biology we learned some things that were useful. The usefulness of some of these things was immediately apparent and I have valued them ever since. There are various types of gaze. The dominant one is characterised by visual fixation and refers to the field of vision within the point of fixation – the centre of the gaze. Vision beyond the bounds of the point of fixation is deemed peripheral vision and takes up the larger part of the visual field.

One thing in the diagram that fixates attention is the unusual scope of far peripheral vision. You can see behind you. If you look at the side of someone’s head you’ll notice that the eye curves round the front of the head. Without actually turning the head at all you can exceed what might be assumed to be the outer limits of peripheral vision. There is a visible ground between 90° (approximately the mid-line of either shoulder) and 110° (beyond your shoulder), where straight ahead fixity is 0°. The far peripheral. Out of the corner of your eye.

They told us at school that the far peripheral enabled creatures to move around without turning their heads unduly, to avoid bumping into things and to become aware of threats before they get too close. It is inevitable that things seen out of the corner of one’s eye will often carry a certain weight of menace, usually mild to the point of becoming barely perceptible.

On the other hand, our tendency to misread peripheral information can be regarded as having a survival value comparable to the indisputable advantages of a built-in optical early warning system. It could almost be argued that if peripheral vision generally delivers insufficient detail this actually enhances the survival project insofar as one is compelled to double check just in case one has overlooked a ravening nearby bear, dog or highwayman.

We’re not talking ayahuasca here. This is the straight street, not even the high street. But if the structure of the eye is such that it facilitates both detection and misinterpretation then it is tempting to imagine the capacities of the corner of the eye being extended right across the visual field so that the peripheral eclipses the fixated.

But I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘That’s all very well but how are you going to get to the shops/the cinema/the other side of the room?’ To which I would riposte ‘Yes but is it not conceivable in this case that what would then be seen would be not the consensual external but a marvellous mélange not dissimilar to the dogbear (or beardog)?’

It might be that you would then feel obliged to observe that ‘I am an airline pilot/driving instructor/ person. The only way that would work would be sitting down. And not in an aeroplane. Kindly remove your sewing-machine from the dissecting table.’

The information delivered by peripheral vision is, of course, invaluable but it is also imprecise. If it seems ominous, however, it is not always the case that one need be dogged or cowed by it. You have the option of immediately turning your head and instantly resolving the matter. If you choose not to turn your head then the misinterpretation may linger, which introduces the possibility of savouring the distorted elements connoisseurially: where you do not discard but retain, perhaps in the belief that while it might be distorted it can also be regarded as a free offer.

Saccades: A saccade (from Fr: jerk) is a quick, simultaneous movement of both eyes between two or more phases of fixation in the same direction. Humans and many animals do not look at a scene in fixed steadiness; instead, the eyes move around, locating interesting parts of the scene and building up a mental, three-dimensional ‘map’ corresponding to the scene. (Saccades: Wikipedia) In this example the viewer’s eyes will saccade as they track the movements of the saccading eye.

It’s misleading to conclude that visual distortions of this kind are damaged goods. Along with misheard speech and misread texts they constitute a constant but elusive source of inspiration for artists who are keen to examine the sources of inspiration. All that glimmers is not gold, needless to say. A lot of this stuff is off-cuts. But they who denied it supplied it and should not disdain authorship.

Authors are free to develop their material. Many of them would see such development as a seamless extension of techniques or anti-techniques that they employ as a matter of routine. When paying attention to the suburbs of attention is successful, the event may be called ‘a good idea’ or ‘a brainwave’, something that ‘popped up’ etc.

In the well-known but only moderately amusing joke about drunks: Is this Wembley? No, it’s Thursday. So am I. Let’s have a drink. the rewards of mishearing are made clear. The peripheral becomes the contaminant that enters the mainstream and determines its course.

The dominant contaminant is probably not misperceived so much as overlooked. Everyday thought teems with mental events and is accordingly filtered in order to maintain fixation. The thoughts that don’t fit fall away into the wings. We learned how to ignore them years ago. If we were to unlearn those lessons then the beardogbears could lollop out of the woods and display themselves and if we didn’t like them we could send them packing. It’s like going to the gym (I imagine) – the more you do an exercise the easier it gets.

You paint in those few moments when you can formulate something. But lying in wait for them, that’s very different from representing something and giving it shape.
Sigmar Polke

 

On the foreshore of the Oxfam Book Shop a mint copy of ‘London in Fragments – a Mudlark’s Treasures’ by Ted Sandling. It’s about the people who dig antique fragments out of the mud when the Thames is at low tide. On Sandling’s first ever visit to the shore he spots a fragment of an old clay pipe and initially dismisses it as being simply too ordinary, as mudfinds go. On closer inspection he is excited to find that the bowl of the pipe is moulded to resemble ‘a perfect horse’s hoof, complete with a fetlock and a fine coat of hair.’ The muddy old pipe stem had been misperceived, its distortion overlooked. A thing of the interior was rejected in favour of the mundane. An inverted surrealisation has taken place: the hunter has construed something as unworthy of remark but upon taking it in hand he sees the commonplace morph into a dream object before his eyes. pipehorsepipe.

Pampas: Season 1

In April 2015 I started writing ‘Pampas’, a series of short text and image pieces that I posted more or less daily on Facebook. After a while I decided to put all the posts on Strength Weekly where they would scroll seamlessly up and down in elegant surroundings. The posts should be regarded as a series rather than a collection of one-offs. Given the fading in and out of narrative characteristics, I understand that some may find the seriality of Pampas debatable.

The first Pampas entry was written to thank Facebook friends who had wished me a Happy Birthday. A couple of days later I decided to keep it running and see what might pop up.

04/04/15 In the course of the day I pampered myself with both soft and hard things. I sorted through light fabrics, tissues, creams and the damp noses of adorable animals. Then I took hold of massive bars and bolts, moving them roughly through hedges whilst swearing. I shouted hoarsely. I barged along shopping streets. I demonstrated qualities in such a way as to suggest robust focus tempered by great suitability for teams.

06/04/15 Now there are great sales. I ran again through the streets communicating my ideas. “In films all the actors should be stars! Not just the stars should be them! The lesser should be more too I cried out!” I had a cup of tea at the pavement – what a cuppa! I wanted to knit. To be in a railway carriage. Going past the White Horse with a sheep. I could see that a pedometer would be informative. It was, after all, a long street.

06/04/15 I was approached by Johnny Depp. “I really like that whole stars thing,” he said. “Johnny!” this was me being so frank, “It’s not just for the character actors or bit part players – it’s for all of us so that films and of course television would be even more terrific!” Johnny said “Oh yeah, man. That’s completely cool. I have many colleagues who would go right along with that.” “Down the road?” I asked. “Oh yes,” Johnny said. I went on down the road, running.

07/04/15 I ran so fast, gesticulating, that soon I had burst, heedless, from the end of Oxford Street and, via Marble Arch, was quickly in the countryside. I looked about the moors around. Now I could collect some animals! Standing still by trees in copses I jumped out unexpectedly and soon had armsful. I had tiny struggling birds, warm stoats and martens writhing, a vixen, a pig in shit, butterflies about my hair, at my feet in the grass a snake. And many others of all types peculiar to the area.

08/04/15 I next arranged them in a varied group. In order to demonstrate my wranglerhood wherein I would call their names and they would trot or fly forward, I named them. I had Aquitaine, Charlemagne, Edith Clever, Gauvain, Cheddar Plate, Carlos, Saxmundham, Ernest, Beldame, Dobbin, Charity, Andrew, Gance, Coptic Thistle, Delphine, Victor, Geraint, Lordy, Raine, Aquavit, Tonelle, Sultan, Brunel, Launcelot, Roy, Hope, Gaston, Norman, Perlesvaus, Titi, Humphrey

08/04/15 I had Ron Contray, Mister Double You, Miss Emily Posthene, Miss Julia Margaret Cameron, Mister Kevin Waller, Prince John of Andorra, The Family Jack and Linda, The Couple Tina and Lofty, All of the Bensons, Evelyn de Mure, Cowslip, Fatty, Strange Dick, Dash, Torrance the Saturnine, Benjy, Paulette, Esprit, Monty Pulciano, Peter the Erratic, Sissy Boyce, Ted Brothers as well as the Ted Brothers, Flannery Walker, Agravain, Jack the Lady

09/04/15 We were where passersby paused. I clustered the creatures and began to wrangle. “Hola, All of the Bensons!” Forward from the collection came the grouse. “Avanti, Delphine!” Out of the cluster loped the vixen. “Hup! Hup! Dash!” The elk sedately emerged. Through the crowd murmuring began. As each creature was summoned so it came and so it stood in the sun on the plain. Creatures that dined on each other rubbed shoulders with each other as if they were herbivorous to a creature. Which they were not. Some seemed shiftless. I realised that they needed husbandry.

11/04/15 Tiring of the show I took my leave of those who had gathered. One man said “I would like to control Nature.” I said “It’s a slippery slope.” I made off in the direction of Thetford, anxious to expose the animals to an air base. Jets cracked above and Gauvain the lizard went still like wood. Shimmer rose. Flannery Walker said “I’m more of a city type.” How was I supposed to feed all these? And their la de da sensibilities. The F-15C Strike Eagle is hardly the stuff of buttercusp and davies is it?

11/04/15 A figure stepped sharply from the haze. “I’d like to introduce you animals and their guardian or carer (he nodded to me but it was imperceptible, as between men) to some body shapes.” Setting to one side his rifle he began to throw big fish, little fish, cardboard box. I glanced at the carp Perlesvaus. The officer had moved on to shelf on the wall. I became aware of unrest in the vole Edith Clever. I realized that the shapes, thrown competently enough, were nevertheless found offensive by the water creatures. I cut my losses and, as a diversion, plucked up into my hands the dry pangolin neonate Geraint.

12/04/15 “Every generation,” the airman declared “must pass down its shapes so that the young may rock out, bending these gestures to their own idiom.” “Shit,” I exclaimed, “I mean, I so agree.” “Look at the Egyptians – Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose – wild figurations!” So saying he turned about and within a moment was a wisp. I placed Geraint on my shoulder that he might communicate readily. Yet my charges were dispirited. Do animals dance? I don’t think so. Then again, the grebe…

13/04/15 Few hoots across the fen. Little lowing. Scant baaing. The cuckoo imperceptible, like its distance. No yap. No sheep bleats like blokes in the night on a hill. Gone from touch the velvet nose of the fallen horse Torrance the Saturnine, nor her warming whinny and snicker. Just the wind through the sedge. Scratched on the war memorial: “Suck Mine”. Were they not a herd or skein? Why the long faces? These creatures, now in three figures, were bunched, yes, but not affiliated.

14/04/15 I was distracted from this melancholic inwardness by the pushing to the front of Mister Double You, the pig in shit. Even animals are sensitive to caste and the excrementally compromised swine was given the widest of available berths. But what was Mister Double You doing? He seemed to be worrying something in his mouth. “What’s that in your mouth, Porky?” I said familiarly. He dropped it at my feet. It was a small, injured clown. “Long way from home, funny man,” I remarked, unpleasantly.

14/04/15 “Call me Bonkers,” said the entertainer. He noticed the pangolin Geraint on my shoulder. “Fuck’s that on your shoulder?” he said coldly, “Looks like it came out of the cheese.” I replied “Is that your humour talking?” He replied to me “A lot of people are drawn to it.” I picked him up, put him in my mouth, worried him briefly then bit him into various pieces. I swallowed his painted head then mindfully distributed the rest among the swarm. I won’t say he tasted funny. Things were looking up.

15/04/15 In an appropriately supportive environment the clown rush takes about an hour to come on. Subjects often choose to lie down but will rise in order to vomit, an essential process which, if resisted, will only postpone the rush. The practice as a whole would be regarded as anthropophagic but this, of course, could only apply to myself, as a human eating clown flesh. In the case of my charges the ritual could be seen as hematophagic but this is to stretch the definition. Early clown rush onset features only mildly humorous episodes.

The clown rush is upon me. I feel it in its earliest stages. Despite the wretched demeanour of the now digested funny fellow, whose blown chunks litter the soil around my shoes, it is not his acerbic tone that lingers. Rather it is the essence of his calling, the parfum of his métier, that now floods my cerebral veins and begins to humorise the cackle of voices that we are pleased to call thought. What presently clutters my consciousness are the most banal of utterances. I don’t mind if I do. Rather you than me. If I say so myself. Better in than out. You have to be mad. You know you like it. I won’t say no. If my arse was like your face. I could get used to this. A man goes into a box.

17/04/15 I had seen dogs dreaming by fires near water on beaches at night their feet pedalling their jaws working. Yelping to themselves perhaps they see rabbits said someone. The supine swarm while not asleep was flushed with flesh and small animal jokes were animating their limbs and fins and wings. Such was my affinity with the intoxicated herd that I was able to decode their humour and here is how I present it now. With pigs they suddenly straighten the tail then let it recoil. With butterflies they unfold their wings, spread them to the sides and pretend to be drawn to wardrobes thereby imitating cloth-eating moths whom they legendarily despise. These things the various creatures find diverting but of course they do not laugh. They cannot.

18/04/15 At the height of the rush so much the ostriches of the ineffable I’m losing the platform it’s higlady piglady the fur is flying here come the jest What it is is the herds are sherding the sheds are shed. What it is is that I’m like blending with the flock they’re incoming and I’m going out and yes I know the difference between snot and broccoli I know it’s epping barking I know what Della What? When did that happen? Johnny Depp? You’re kidding. Are you dicking me? Are you my uncle? He took what?

18/04/15 Hi. My name is Johnny Depp. Yes, I followed David out of Oxford Street and saw him get animals then do some clown in a bunch with the animals he got. I saw how stuff got out of hand. Way out of. I saw the bear and I figured they’re not going to miss it. I always wanted one anyway and I figured for David they’re just like toys or like a herd of bagatelle.

19/04/15 Yes, I am Johnny Depp. I know you will think that I’m not, that it’s hard to believe. But there we are. I have put the bear, it’s small, on my shoulder so that it can tell my moods and I its. From my low hill that I found in this flat place there are all manner of divers creatures just, like, tripping. The worst is their self appointed leader or herdsman David who, frankly, is well out of it. Later this afternoon I am meeting my wife Angelina and we will go to Carluccio’s for a tricolore salad. We expect to bump into Ryan Gosling – a terrific fellow – and one of your English actresses the young Carey Mulligan, born in Westminster. What a talent there!

20/04/15 The place was packed but it had the typical bustle. The gang studied the menus. The waiter was Paolo. He said “Today we have the sharing platter with caprese bites.” Johnny looked up “Do you have anything Hungarian? I’d like Hungarian today.” “He’s a pretty Hungary guy,” quipped Ryan. Angelina leaned mesmerically in. “Look, Johnny, they have polpette. That’s meatballs isn’t it? Kind of Hungarian.” Johnny pursed his lips. “The Magyar husgomboc comes on a platter with buttered noodles tossed in poppy seeds. It’s a quite different thing.” Paolo brightened, “We have the platter…”

20/04/15 Angelina smiled warmly at the young waiter and said “He really wants the husgomboc.” Ryan said “I’d like to go Swiss actually.” He glanced enquiringly at Paolo. Paolo said “We have the veal saltimbocca, signore. Is veal escalope wrapped in Parma ham, with a white wine and sage sauce.” Ryan came back with “Is that Swittish? It doesn’t sound Swittish.” Carey was gazing at Edith Clever, the stolen koala on Johnny’s shoulder. “Johnny,” she mused, “What about the bear?” Johnny pointed his first finger at Carey. “I’m on it! They only eat eucalyptus leaves.” He turned to Paolo, “Can we get some eucalyptus?”

21/04/15 I came through the detritus of old joke ends broken catch-phrases to see you nice laid out as if on a poisoned sea bed with immortal plastics and looked out around about me and there were the sheep lowing and the cattle barking and the pigs in the trees and I put them into their proper places patting them and saying yes that was surely far out but now is the time to walk wiser forth and emboldened. And I realized that for some of them they were qualities in the mind and for others they were there, near Thetford where we were, in the flat places that spread you utterly butterly. Now we would sort the sheep of mutton from the goats of frail insubstance, we would walk embrightened by the clown whose life we had taken into ourselves and we would find and get back Edith Clever the koala bear taken by feckless Johnny Depp the film star.

22/04/15 I had to work out which of the multitude of creatures stood for something and which were innocent. I was familiar with Leach’s work on animals and swear words wherein he asserts that we tend to frame insults in terms of animals which we are close to in our everyday lives, for example: bitch, dog, rat, pig, cow, sheep, fox. Leach also suggested that the edibility of animals is an issue – we are uneasy about creatures that taste nice yet could be pets.

22/04/15 These concerns, I thought, would help me in the task of eliminating those who were not suited to the business of tracking down Johnny Depp. Yes, I had myself killed and eaten a clown but there was no way I would have considered the fucker a pet – he was simply unlikeable. No, it was clear the farm animals would have to go. And the dogs and the cats. Geraint could stay. Who ever called anybody a fucking pangolin? I rest my case.

23/04/15 Evelyn de Mure I said to the white-tailed golden horse You will always be a pal of mine. Lordy I said to the cock You crow but you are not a crow – think about it. I embraced the sheep Cheddar Plate murmuring History is not made by individuals. Keep it in your pants Flopsy I jovialised at the buck The Couple Tina and Lofty. With heavy heart I worked the line as the kittiwakes wheeled and their mournful cries scraped the slate sky. I kissed a cow, stroked a playful piglet under the gaze of its spattered mother. They were my almanac, my zodiac.

25/04/15 Now I had about me a lean team stripped of sentiment and symbol. I could test the deedscape unencumbered. My invective would stream from the black stream without the barnyard. I had about me Gauvain the reptile (“Who’s a halted boy then?”); Agravain the marten recently run from Runton; the carp Perlesvaus, cold, disdaining flies; Aquitaine now larval, soon to be pupal then Blooey!!; Sissy Boyce and Miss Emily Posthene, the lovebirds dancing slowly with Launcelot – gaunt, gauche, cackhanded; Strange Dick the edible dormouse; and caterers. As a bunch we were bostin, swank. Don’t steal from us.

26/04/15 From her perch on Johnny Depp’s shoulder Edith Clever (rhymes with favour) was beginning to feel quite the show business columnist with seeing charmed lives everyday and eating from the table of piled eucalyptus of various strains gathered for her by Leaves of 24th Street, Suppliers of Arcane Provender to Whomever Would, Like, Search Such Provision. But last night a group of explorers and the German actress Edith Clever (Die Marquise von O. (1990); Ein traum, was sonst? (1994)), now 74, came round for supper and now Johnny is washing up.

26/04/15 Neither the koala, Johnny, Angelina nor Edith Clever (born in Wuppertal) knew the koala’s name was Edith Clever because Johnny stole the bear and didn’t think to ask its name before so doing (don’t get me started!). The bear watched from the shoulder as Johnny squeezed in the Ecover (or equivalent) and set about the plates. Angelina wanted to dry there and then with a cotton cloth but Johnny said “Just let’em drip” so Angelina arranged them in the draining board. Then Johnny set about the knives and forks, holding half his lower lip between his teeth.

27/04/15 As Johnny was fretting over how do you get the last vestiges of potato out of the masher the phone rang and Johnny said to Edith Clever the bear “Can you get that?” Unbelievable or what? I mean, he actually thought that a bear could answer the phone for him! What is it like the world in which these people live? That they thought that an animal – one without opposable thumbs – could do such dexterity!

27/04/15 I went on a spring holiday to Stockholm once, round the archipelago, very nice, not cold and they had a deal where if you go without opposable thumbs there’s a 30% discount so I took it. Let me say: it was shit. You can barely eat! You have to crowd the food with your palms and let’s not even go where when you drop something you have to clap at it and kind of hope to scoop it up. Ridiculous. I got some lip plumper cream at the Åhléns City beauty centre in Klarabergsgatan, it makes your lips bigger and I smeared it on and after a couple of days I had some thumbs again. You know, I don’t want to dwell on it but Johnny Depp does have his own thumbs!

The Pickup Unplucked

28/04/15 I bunched the animals by the gate and made my way down the path and passed the trees and some heifers (not my ones I had got rid of them in a purge just ones like you would expect to see) and there was a dark red house that I hadn’t expected there were no window frames and inside a woman with her hair down and her arm stuck straight up in the air. She was still but across the dark room was a man ironing with his back not ironing with his back but with his back to me. I started to speak and he said without turning “I’m ironing willy nilly.”

28/04/15 I said “Good day. Can I ask you about the pickup please?” “You’re welcome he said evenly.” “Okay,” I commenced in a businesslike way, “How much do you want for it?” He folded a bib and reached for a creased lace tucker. He said “Is it for sale?” I said “Oh. That depends. Is it?” He said “What do you want it for?” I said “I’m taking some animals around and it’s a slow business on foot.” He said “I certainly understand that. Are they a variety or of a type?” I said confidently “Very much a variety. I dispensed with types.” He nodded, “I hear what you’re saying. Fifty pounds.” “I accept that I said.” As an afterthought I said “I assume she’s a runner.” He nodded, “Fleet.”

29/04/15 Which would have been fine. The pickup when I turned it over there was nothing. I opened the bonnet and there was no battery. I held Geraint with his exceptional sense of smell over the petrol hole. He was indifferent. I kicked the tyres. You guessed it. Ames and Cora, her arm down for a change, watched from the window. “I think we may not be gone some time,” I declared.

29/04/15 There was a bucket which I rinsed and filled at the old pump for the carp Perlesvaus which I put in and Gauvain immediately skittered to it and took up his whole immobile thing near it which encouraged the whole of the rest including birds not to mention Aquitaine now a marvelous marsh fritillary with the colouring to find their way into the open rear cargo enclosure. I took the pangolin Geraint from my shoulder and clipped him under the wiper blade that he might flick out his adhesive tongue for flies otherwise impacting the windscreen.

                                The flies adherent

Perlesvaus Immersed

30/04/15 We had been in the pickup for several days. I took the driver seat and those in the back took turns sitting beside me. The pickup had not moved during this period. Ames would throw, at different times, seeds, pollen, ants and plankton into the back for sustenance. The days were long and uneventful. Ames was not unpleasant but he was not warmly sociable with affable greetings or similar. I said “Do you have the makings of a sandwich in the larder?” and he said “That’s more of a lady area.”

The Fridge Vert

30/04/15 Cora, where Ames would say things, said single words that were not connected to the topics under consideration at a given moment. I said “Is there ham in your coldbox by any chance?” and she looked at me for a long time, with her arm in the air then said “Pierrette.” On one occasion Ames and I almost had a conversation about van Gogh. I said “What about van Gogh?” and Ames said “From what I can put together he is unbalanced.” I thought to myself “Come on, Ames, your wife’s got her fucking arm in the air!”

01/05/15 Aquitaine was weakening after her piercing by the parasitoid wasp Gaston. It was in the nature of the latter but a bummer nevertheless. Such beauty. In the second week I found a broken fax machine under the driver seat. Ames said “It is a kind of television.” Then he said “You should see the barn.” My legs were frail and the barn was dark. Using my hands I found a package wrapped in oilcloth secured by cord. On removing these I found a deep blue reflective polycarbon shell which, when pressed like this (I am demonstrating) fell into the halfshell exposing a film of seamless nanomesh bound tight around a pebblesmooth glassite container.

02/05/15 The package was clearly a device. Or the means of containing a device. But how should it be regarded? I fell to ruminating on the issue of Ames. His eyes, hollow as if he had himself torn them out, spoke of melancholy and decrepitude, a world of falling buildings, unvisited lanes, torn boughs. Dust beneath taps, under the sink a cloth brittle with rust and residue. He would bring instead of the scream the hoarse whistle the low whir. What of his estate would he wish to share?

02/05/15 An obsidian disc etched with hieroglyphs from the Aztecs or space. A vellum scroll with treasure information marked with X or the equivalent of X. A will in which the finder is rewarded with a collection of vintage car barn finds. Two tickets to Latitude with motor home. A book commending the actuation of unrealised personal resources. An instrument to unlock portals to dimensions and safes. I replaced the package and strode from the barn to the light. “Keep the money,” I said to Ames. He said without a flicker “Olly olly olly tits in the trolley.” “Enjambement,” said Cora.

03/05/15 I was out of there. I herded the creatures onto the A11 and stuck my thumb out. Our first driver had a savagely capacious 4×4. I said “I’m David.” He replied “Richard. Richard Ostend.” It turned out that he ran an agency which introduced film stars to people with distinctive characteristics so that they, the film stars, might spend time with them, these people, learning to replicate their qualities. “That’s where the big money is,” Ostend asserted.

This gives a good idea of the space we had in the back

04/05/15 I asked Richard what if, in addition, the people studied the film stars and attempted to assimilate their qualities. “Collateral damage,” he said. We were passing through Mildenhall. Insofar as he might without taking his eyes off the road Richard turned to look at me. “David,” he asked, “You’re actually Johnny Depp, aren’t you?” I swallowed. The jig was up. I barely knew the guy but I felt I could tell him. “I guess I am,” I replied. “How is Scarlett?” enquired Richard. “She’s voicing the Jungle Book right now.” “You miss her, yeah?” I nodded. “I really do.”

05/05/15 I was moved by Richard Ostend asking after Scarlett. Aquitaine had passed away that morning and I had pinned her to my lapel, using hair spray to stiffen her wings. I had come to a turning point. “You probably don’t remember,” Richard said, “but when you were preparing for Edward Scissorhands I connected you with a nervous hairdresser in the Holloway Road.” “Oh yeah,” I cried “I recall that guy! Such mannerisms!” He turned to me again “Johnny, can I ask you, where exactly is David now?”

                Richard’s car can be seen here

06/05/15 Scarlett wanted to go to Nando’s for a late breakfast. She had enjoyed her last visit there with Carey and Ryan and found the peri-peri enlivening. The staff were kind to the bear Edith Clever and respectful of our privacy. Scarlett, recently returned from voicing the snake Kaa, was absentmindedly fondling one of my hands. “Yeah, it was terrific. Did you know in the first Jungle Book Kaa was voiced by Sterling Holloway? He did adult Flower in Bambi – can you imagine that?” I asked “Is that the guy with the cigar?” Scarlett rolled her eyes (gorgeous). “No, honey. That was Sterling Hayden! Doctor Strangelove!”

09/05/15 I swirled my Pinotage. “I kind of like this one,” I volunteered. “It has a distinctive nose.” “Rather like you,” Scarlett riposted. A smile played around my lips. But it may not have struck the right note. Scarlett raised an eyebrow. I swallowed. But she could not possibly know. My close resemblance to Johnny was beyond dispute. Her instinct would be to attribute her feelings of unease to my being out of sorts, not to the nature of my being. She cocked her head and murmured “Are you sure you’re okay?”

11/05/15 Richard Ostend was approaching the junction of the A11 with the A14 outside Newmarket. “What I don’t understand, Johnny,” he ventured, “is at what point the switch was effected.” I said “Maybe I can help you there. It was back in Oxford Road…” “Street?” intervened Richard. “Yeah,” I confirmed. “All the shops. I came out of M&H…” “H&M,” Richard corrected. “Yeah. I saw this guy running. He had a cup of tea. There was something about him.” Richard interrupted me. “Excuse me interrupting, Johnny. But the way you’re talking! It’s just like one of your films. Where the character sets the scene. And the voice…it’s very good.” “Well, you’re very kind,” I conceded. “No,” he said “I love it.”

12/05/15 Johnny Depp, and this is how it happened, rushed out of the store with some slacks where he saw a man running that he was curiously drawn to by. He (Johnny Depp) thought it was something in the man’s face. So he followed him to the country where he recognised due to him (Johnny) playing Tonto with a crow on his head that what it was was shamanistic where you all ate something, for example a clown or other job and their qualities went into you. This fucks around with your identity and Johnny saw that who we know now to be David had lost his so there was Johnny’s chance!

14/05/15 The thing was, Johnny told the rapt Richard, I had to gather the cloud. Without waiting for Richard to say “You what?” he said: It’s a Blavatsky thing, she picked it up in a lamasery in the U-Tsang province of Tibet. You concentrate the astral fluid between the palms of your hands, drawing it down from the atmosphere then enshroud it cloaklike around your vile body. It was in this manner that I was able to approach David unannounced, pluck off his pangolin and give him the koala I had scooped from among the swedes in their firm, non-acid soil.

15/05/15 I was getting increasingly nervy about Scarlett. We enjoyed at times a wordless communion beyond knowing – she would touch my cheek I would squeeze her elbow. She would move the salt cellar a fraction and I would nod. I did not feel false. We went round to Carey’s for supper, Ryan was doing his lasagne, and they had Noomi (so strong!), Jennifer, Bradley (still buff) and Michael (actually a really relaxed man!) there. They all accepted me and were solicitous about the terriers. Noomi picked up her flute (not the instrument) and went “Toot toot!” and this really caught on, with Michael going “Toot toot!” and Jennifer then going “Toot toot!” For dessert Ryan had got some dainties from Patisserie Valerie, that place in Soho.

16/05/15 We were fingering our macarons when there was a knock at the door. It was Jake, bearded and in a hurry. He greeted us breathlessly. Ryan said “Try these puits d’amour a caramelized jam-containing puff pastry.” Jake said “Can you lend me a fiver?” Noomi said “No sweat” and slipped him a bill. I said “Jake, I thought you were a homeless man when you came in.” Ryan said “I mean the pastry contains the jam, yeah? The jelly?” Jake said “I got it the first time round.” Then Jake turned to me “Where you coming from, man? This is connected to what I’m doing.” I said “What are you doing?” Jake shot me a glance. “Google it, man.” Then he hurried out. There was a silence. Carey said to me “He likes you to know what he’s doing.” Scarlett was looking at me funny. Again.

18/05/15 Michael, with his genial way, eased the froideur. He said “I have recently celebrated my birthday.” A murmur ran around. Noomi said “How old are you?” People said things like “Whoa!” but jovially. Michael went “I’m 38. What about you?” Noomi goes, to the point as you might expect, “35.” “Okay!” says Ryan. “Yeah Ryan?” Carey responds to him. Ryan shrugs like it’s nothing “34. Carey, you’re 12, right?” This gets a round of laughter. “Old joke, Ryan,” Carey says, “I’m actually 29. And fuck off, by the way.” Oh boy. It’s coming my way. And I don’t have a clue. When was Gilbert Grape? 80s? 90s? Scarlett is grinning at me. I’m fucked. Am I older than Michael? Got to be. Jennifer comes in “He-e-e-ere’s Johnny!” Scarlett’s looking quizzical. I’m fucked.

19/05/15 “Johnny,” said Richard as he expertly went along the road. “I was recently trying to move a filing cabinet. It slipped from my grasp and crushed my toe. The nail detached but is now regrowing. As I was putting my socks on this morning in Snetterton I glanced at the toe and…” Richard hesitated. “I feel embarrassed to say this.” “Go right ahead,” I urged. Richard said “Do you know Sheridan Smith? The actress?” I shook my head, “Is she good?” “Oh certainly,” he affirmed, “but when I glanced at my toe I thought of Sheridan Smith.” I asked “She looks like a toe?” “God no. Lovely looking woman. But I thought of her.” I nodded slowly. “I know people who would envy this, Richard.” He turned “Really? Is it good?” I replied “It’s terrific.”

20/05/15 Richard Ostend, emotionally fatigued after his outburst on the A14 took the vagabond film star Johnny Depp for a coffee in Bury St Edmunds, a market town in England’s Suffolk area. Richard chose a restaurant chain in Auction Street. As Johnny Depp examined the laminated menu he found himself suffused with a troublesome sensation of recognition. His eyes misted over as a mysterious but profound sadness overtook him.

21/04/15 So from above looking down people are respectfully encircling Johnny’s table in the chain restaurant as he sits his wrists flat to the surface tears coursing down his face. “Was it Sheridan?” Richard asks softly. Johnny shakes his head. Two truck drivers step forward not too close “We so like what you do,” they whisper. Johnny nods distractedly. A girl asks her mother “Who is that Mum?” She bends to the girl’s ear “That’s Johnny Depp darling from Nights of the Black Caribbean.” The girl pushes her way through the crowd now some thirty strong watching. Gently she puts her hand on top of Johnny’s hand. “I’m sorry you’re sad.” As one a family towards the back bite their lips and breathe in then out. The father looks up. “What is that music?” The air was filled with such magnificent music.

22/04/15 The restaurant manager suggested that the large crowd and Johnny go to the cricket pitch where Johnny could continue crying and people could watch. He set up an armchair and led Johnny to it. The people continued to be respectful, maintaining the social space measure common in the west, that is to say between 4 and 8 feet (for newly formed groups). Richard and the manager invited the people to write their questions on file cards which they distributed. Each card bore the legend ‘Johnny is Present’. Among those in attendance were visitors to Bury from the outlying villages of Little Saxham, Fornham St Genevieve and Cattishall.

23/05/15 For example Mr Butcher the baker, Ms Wheeler the walker, Mrs Baker the milliner, Jean Dexter the socialist, Jack Fitch the student, the nudist Ian Draper, Neville Carter the Formula One racing driver were there. It was a curious occasion but very human as the builder, Robert, observed. Towards the back the crowd was parting as a figure made forward. Eyes widened. “Is that Roy?” “Does he live round here?” “I think he moves from town to town.” “Who is Roy Mummy?” said the bright young girl. “He is a high-functioning psychopath darling.” “Does he gut people?” “Not all psychopaths gut people sweetheart. I’m not sure if Roy does or not. And the word is eviscerate.”

25/05/15 A silence held the place. The restaurant manager, Tom Spicer, walked over and put a plastic bucket of chocolates and toffees near Johnny’s chair, for anyone really. Some of the people were very quietly singing those lines from ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’ – the title and the ee-aye ee-aye o bit – over and over. At the edge of the hedge at the side of the pitch a fox slipped the thicket and looked across. A baby cried once, possibly twice and way in the sky swooped a glider then soared to the sun. And now at the front Roy looked at Johnny quite hard to see clearly but that was the glare in our eyes.

26/05/15 Certainly Roy attracted lore. It was not that he was not the winds that passed through him. He is quoted, in fact, as saying “One thing I am fucking not is the wind that passes through me.” He hated that shit. No. He had his own impulses. Very much so. Nor was it that he didn’t get the codes. He said “I have them in my wardrobe. But it’s not all suits, yes?” There were times, he would say, when he would just step away. “Very few people know what I mean when I say that. Let me try to explain. We all love transparency, don’t we? We fucking love it, yes? Well, shall we just say, I’m walking through walls, all the time. No wardrobe. You should feel the wind out there, chummy.”

27/05/15 So who was more famous? I mean, Johnny we’d all say but why is there this story where in the Horn Dance that year a man with antlers and plain white underpants walked the other way through the deer-men shouting “Help my crops!”? It wasn’t a part of the dance. This man was not known personally but many recognised him. And now, if you please, as Roy walks out towards Johnny, why do the birds go up? It wasn’t the fox because there is no fox. And the bladder, was it a pig’s or what? These are things that you hear and the thoughts that you have.

28/05/15 David, masquerading as his double, Johnny Depp, had so far evaded detection by Scarlett, his consort or, to be fair, Johnny’s consort and as a result found himself in social situations with such film stars as Bradley, Carey, Jake, Jennifer, Michael, Noomi and Ryan in alphabetical order in Ryan’s place for example. Light-hearted banter featuring the ‘outing’ of people’s ages had begun and it looked strongly like David was fucked because although he had Googled everyone on Scarlett’s laptop he had omitted to look up his own age or, to be precise, Johnny’s. What a div! He was loath to be seen through by Scarlett, he enjoyed how she would pinch his hand lightly whilst talking to him but without seeming to notice that that was what she was doing. And little things like that.

29/05/15 “I’m 41,” I declared. Maybe that would do it. I looked over at Jennifer as if, you know, “Yeah?” She raised her eyebrows and turned to Scarlett suggesting with her face “Hmmm?” I chucked the bear Edith Clever, (which rhymes with favour) ever attendant, under the chin meaning to mean moving on without a care. Michael bent down his head and looked up under his brow to be like a judge. He clasped his hands together which was a good detail. “Had you figured for a 60s kid,” he said, nodding three times. I turned from the bear like I had been woken up from something. “This guy,” goes Scarlett, “this guy is 52 next Wednesday!” She presses my knuckles against her mouth. “Carey, your grandpa is here!” shouts Ryan.

Walking away from Ryan’s along a shopping street Scarlett and I did this thing where we put all the men on one side of the street and all the women on the other side and they could walk freely along in either direction. I can’t remember how it started. Obviously people knew who Scarlett was and when she went up to women – in a completely friendly way that being generally what she’s like – she’d say “Hi, would you like to cross the street with me?” and they would. She would talk to them mostly about the state of the world – how thoroughly fucked it was – and then she’d cross back again. Obviously people knew who I was – in the sense that they invested in my close physical resemblance to film star Johnny Depp – but I did not necessarily have access to his charisma.

But I was familiar with the hypno-therapeutic work of Milton Erickson (1901-1980) who maintained that everyday consciousness was a trance state that could be deepened with low-key hypnotic interventions. Erickson would chat casually with his patients, using phrases such as ‘taking it easy’, ‘going along with’ or ‘letting the matter drop’. These would impact on the unconscious of the patient, facilitating the changes that were being sought. I stepped into the crowd, which was, thanks to Scarlett’s diligence and charm, already largely male.

02/06/15 Recalling that Jerry Lewis, in ‘The Ladies’ Man’ (1961), wore his real-life wedding ring throughout the movie, thereby signalling that he was simultaneously a fictional (unmarried) character and Jerry Lewis, I resolved to draw not just on Johnny’s plus points but some of David’s social skills too. “Going to the other side of the street is taking it easy, no?” I suggested to a gentleman. “I’m sorry?” he replied. “Over there,” I gestured, “It’s not difficult to imagine.” Then I added “Is it?” The man said, unpleasantly, “Are you looking to get hurt, pal?” “No,” I said. And then I said “Thank you,” as David would have.

03/06/15 Scarlett’s side was dense with women but I had yet to extract a single man. Clearly there was something not quite right about my use of Erickson’s subtle and unobtrusive techniques. As I walked past Sports Direct I began going over his phrases in my mind. I must feel comfortable with them. I should let go of my frustration. This should not be difficult. It’s what I want. It would be a good feeling. To do this well would bring good feelings. It’s full of promise. It would be comfortable. I can let things go. I can fall away from this. My shoes are down there. The street is down there. I’m up here now. I

04/06/15 Roy strode through the murmuration swirling about his head they did not dive or joust just clouded around his head and as he steadily strode he searched his pocket and to a gasp and breath from those to hand as he drew upon the distraught loco Johnny he drew from the trousers a glinting thing and gripped it grimly a can a can of Red Bull an energy drink he slipped off Johnny’s moccasins and from the other pocket pulled a struggling hare he snapped it sharply and wetted it from the can and bent and with it bathed the feet of Johnny gently.

05/06/15 Roy the known psychopath brushed Johnny’s calves with the damp hare fur and the caffeine an accepted stimulant and the taurine from the bull sign in the zodiac above made their mark. The active liquid moved through the minute holes in Johnny’s skin and sank into his central nervous system causing alertness. His shuddering sobs soon subsided and his thoughts of Scarlett such sweet sorrow so hurtful to his heart as his eyes swam into focus on the bucket of toffees beside him. He rustled among them and extended one to Roy. Roy said “We purchase roots from the farmed earth but who among us can describe their tops?” From those to hand applause arose

07/06/15 Johnny said “Do you mean by that that we take much for granted in a world of corner store convenience?” Roy cocked his head to assess his questioner. “John, these titbits…” he gestured towards the bonbons, “are here to stop people sucking you. But I am liquid. I am good in the air. Were I to take off my shirt there would be no tattoos for I am not marked. I have no blood group. I am not a lava lamp. I am not milk. I have not come here just to kiss my sister. Fouled are those that follow me for they are muck.”

08/06/15 “What’s he on about?’ whispered Mr Cook the dietician. “I think he may have a background in football,” said Miss Cross the Yoga teacher, “The shirt, being good in the air…” “Oh,” said Ian Glazer the tiler, “I had him as a chocolatier – the titbits, the bonbons, the sucking.” “No,” chimed in the poulterer Madeline Fisher, “He is clearly at home on the farm – the fowl, the muck.” “I think you’ll find that was ‘foul’,” corrected Miss Wright. “Why did he come here to kiss his sister? You can do that in your house. Or her house,” mused a guy carrying a barrel. “That was his point, surely!” snapped a dilettante.

09/06/15 And so it was decided. Johnny, diverted from his melancholy by Roy’s gritty if elusive philosophy of life also, surprisingly, Richard Ostend, who saw in Roy the father he never had, resolved to invite the deranged but, it must be said, currently manageable homeless yet well groomed man to travel with them. A number of those to hand now stepped forward to grasp Roy and demonstrate their gratitude. Some gave small but thoughtful gifts – a number of ham sandwiches, a map, 100 millilitres of Jo Malone cologne (which Roy, to the startlement of the donor, and with some difficulty, opened then drank, exclaiming “Pokey! Not sure about the bouquet however!”), a mouth organ.

11/06/15 The presence of Roy in the 4×4 was invigorating. As he had been on the green so was he in the cruiser – resolute before a sickly wind that swept up all that was mould, gewgaw and disarray, reeking with the sweat of mangoes, the dung of lizards and the bright baubles of comfort. Roy, Johnny, Richard at the wheel, passed through this churn of light and clatter and it streamed around Roy’s head and in his wake was all this stuff made fresh, clear, edged, you could tell the sheep from the goats. There was a time and place for everything.

12/05/15 “Roy,” asked Richard, “How do you do that?” Richard, Johnny realised, was one of those who would enquire where others fear to tread. Attractive, if you can do it. Roy said “Certainly we can clean surfaces, removing clutter and obliging ourselves thereby to consider that which is beneath.” “Right,” Johnny interjected “Like when I was preparing for Captain Jack Black in ‘Hello Lagoon’.” Roy ignored him. “So consoling,” continued Roy to Richard, “the notion of the healing power of the submerged. But all that is beneath is wounded. Were it not, for what reason would it be concealed? We remove the world and the submerged becomes the terrain. The weekend begins here.”

13/06/15 “Roy,” Johnny asked, “Is this like a Freudian thing? The depth thing?” As the 4×4 sped south on the A134 through Bradfield Combust, Roy turned “When one passes the night with rough and ragged moss, with many unhappy birds on bare branches that pipe piteously there for pain of the cold, one is not so au courant with the world of the paperback. But in the high streets below those dank woods I have heard snippets. Subtract the implicit optimism, the disdain for those already equipped with clarity and the preoccupation with making whole the hole and we might have a deal.” He said. Richard said “Where would you like to go?” Roy said “I want to go to London to launch my own fashion range.”

14/06/15 “What a marvellous idea, Roy!” Richard remarks. “There will be an emphasis on all-weather daywear, realised in tweeds and merino mixes you cannot fuck with,” explains the short-fused psychic timebomb. Johnny leans forward, “I love it,” he goes, “What you gonna call it, Roy?” “Roy,” went Roy. “Roy?” Richard goes. “What?” asks Roy. “What you gonna call the line, Roy?” Johnny rephrases. “Yes,” Roy goes. “That’s the name of the line: ‘Roy’,” Richard helpfully goes. “Quite,” comes back Roy with uncharacteristic patience. “I can see it,” Johnny nods. “And maybe a dash or something then one more thing” Richard muses. “’Roy – There Is No Magic’,” supplies Roy. “Top notch!” acclaims Richard.

15/06/15 Then it was a question of discussing Roy’s fragrance line. “It will correspond with the various aromas that arise as I traverse the fundamentally unsocialised yet non-stratified terrain of my being,” Roy explained. “Many of them will be mineral, some having complex chemistry. Ideally they would be scraped or wiped from my skin but I need to shift bulk rather than exquisite droplets.” As for the naming he itemised his thinking so far: The Body of Roy; Le Corps du Roy (Fr); I Exude; Service; The Pungence; I May; Brunt; Mister Jazz Evening; My Nature; The Father; Lilies of the Felt; Newmarket; Toby; Désespoir; Sulphides by Roy; Cleft; On.

“Richard, can we do a hundred miles an hour, please?” Roy asked. Off they went. Soon the policeman said “Can I see your licence?” Roy asked the officer if he and Roy could discuss the situation at some remove from the 4×4. Basically Roy said okay we’re bang to rights but I know you are relaxed with the smooth flow and the air as it wraps around the vehicle cushioning it and making it so easy to stream and to get to the place where there is no hurry, no hurry at all. Roy got back in the 4×4. “Let’s go,” he said. Johnny looked back, “Is that guy zonked or what?” Roy said “He’ll be alright.” Richard asked “Does it wear off?” Roy replied “I’ve no idea.”

17/06/15 I could hear everything but it had become a soft roar with just the odd low or high note. The shops were more or less there too but slightly dark and not sharp enough. I seemed to be moving along without too much trouble though, despite the fact that my feet were not actually touching the ground. Or maybe the ground was very soft like eiderdowns. None of this was especially unsettling but I was aware that I had something important to do. Which was to find Keira. She was on the other side when I last saw her. So maybe I should cross over. I wouldn’t want to lose her. She was wearing a red dress, which would help.

On the other side I saw a number of women and I bumped them lightly in passing. They tended to be slightly softer by which I mean my arm would sink in about an inch before the bump as if they were padded. But it was summer so I suppose that was an effect. “Do you happen to have seen Keira?” I asked several. They each said “No, I’m sure I would have noticed.” A police constable said “What, that Keira?” and I said “Are there others?” to which he replied “Well, probably.” Then he asked “Are you romantically linked, sir?” I said “Yes. She has a red dress.” He said “We like red, do we?” I said “Yes I do like red. Yes I do.” And I did.

The darkness didn’t help, I have to admit. Around me the others appeared to be getting along well enough so I continued to thread my way down the women’s side, looking ceaselessly about me. It occurred to me that if Keira too was struggling with the low light, she might have gone into a brightly lit cafeteria. I made my way past the perfume counters with their smart young sales assistants and was soon at the very top of the building. Keira was seated with a macchiato, her coat tossed on the banquette beside her. She leaned forward and squeezed my hand. “I knew you’d come,” she smiled.

20/06/15 “Where did you get to?” she said. “Oh, it was just kind of dark,” I said. “Where?” “In the street,” I said. She glanced towards one of the big windows overlooking the street then shook her head and grinned at me, “What?” “It slowed me down,” I said. Then I said “Isn’t it quiet in here?” Keira said “You like quiet, don’t you?” “Yes, I do. I do like quiet,” I said then I stopped talking. I just didn’t want to talk anymore. “What are you thinking?” Keira asked me. “I’m being quiet,” I said, “In my mind as well as out here. Both.” “That’s because you’re deep, Johnny.” “Yes, I am deep. I like to be deep,” I replied. She giggled again.

21/06/15 “Will you look at that!” exclaimed Keira. “Yes,” I said, “I will.” “Isn’t that extraordinary? She’s just like her!” I looked around. The waitress was coming towards us. Keira said to her “I’m not going to say it. I bet everyone says it, don’t they?” The waitress said “They say it a lot.” Keira clapped her hands “And you have the accent!” The waitress said “Actually I’m Swedish. And she is Danish. Her Dad is Danish. Her Mum is from New York.” “Fantastic!” said Keira. “You could do her job!” “Well,” said the waitress, “They have one, I don’t think they want another one.” “I suppose not,” said Keira. “Can I get you something more?” the waitress said. “Not for me, thank you. You don’t want anything, do you, Johnny?” “I don’t want anything,” I said.

22/06/15 “You’re looking sort of cloudy,” she said cheerfully. “It’s like I’m in a corridor,” I replied. “You should walk to the end of it and see what’s there,” she suggested. I was familiar with the work of the anthropologist Kilton Stewart (1902 -1965) who, in a paper on the dream life of the Senoi of the central mainland of Malaysia, described a psychological technique practised in that group wherein if a child had a dream of falling and woke up to avoid hitting the ground he would be encouraged by the elders to fall all the way next time, in order to see what he might discover there. Keira clearly had something of the same wisdom; I got up and started to make my way across the cafeteria.

25/06/15 The little hands popping out of the walls were not children’s hands they were just small. Each time they managed to touch me I saw moments of light and these lit the way along. There were all sorts of things I could see. Some made no sense at all. kemo? fudge pipe? There was my home town, everybodyleaningout of windowswaving. my most respected bicycleet. All the fun of it. What did I just tell you? diamond dandy dinmont and the cut grass. This was all very well. Better than TV I suppose. We’ll have johnny on the left side: here. And we’ll put david on the right side; that’s right. They are coming out together, hands in the air. Nice and steady.

26/06/15 Oh dear, Keira thought. What is it with him? As Johnny shuffled towards the window he was raising his hands in the air and glancing shiftily hither and thither. Are we supposed to take this seriously? she wondered. The cafeteria was still empty. She jumped to her feet, sprinted the length of the room then, drawing on skills she hadn’t used since school, slammed her shoulder into Johnny at waist height, bringing him down in an instant. She tickled him mercilessly, shrieking as they rolled over and over. “He’s after my bike!” he yelled. “Why are you speaking in an English accent?” she panted. “In fact,” Johnny gasped “It was actually a trike!”

27/06/15 I pulled myself together. I realised that I was no longer host to the parasitic mindworm that was the film star Johnny Depp. And I was relaxed about my strong resemblance to him. It might be thought that if all this was so clear to me, why did I not simply secede from the masquerade that was Johnny and Keira? But reader, hey: was I not enjoying the tremendous company of one who so invigoratingly combined pale delicacy with great robustness of spirit? Come on! Assuming the American accent that was expected, I said “It’s a script I’m reading. You know.” Keira asked “What’s the character?” I said “He’s called David. But that could change.”

28/06/15 We made our way into the full sunlight of Kensington High Street a part of London. “So what’s he like?” she asked me. “Well,” I mused “He’s kind of quiet. Yeah.” “What class?” she asked. “Just a middle class guy.” Then I had a better one, “A salesman.” Keira said “So that’s quite interesting. What accent would that be? More lower middle? Where’s it set?” Blimey. “I’m just looking it over. They don’t even know I’m reading it.” “Still,” she said “Try something and I’ll give you my valuable opinion. Give me your David.”

01/07/15 DOUBLE SUMMER BULLETIN Part 1
The sudden requirement to deliver a professional impersonation of David via my ongoing enactment of Johnny which was itself, of course, a mere charade, teetered on the outer limits of practicality. The possibility of offering a version of David that was simply a full reversion to actual David might seem an obvious solution but were I simply to revert in this manner I would run the risk of becoming alarmingly and suspiciously credible to Keira in a way that would compromise my dalliance with her.

01/07/15 DOUBLE SUMMER BULLETIN Part 2 Keira would expect the legendarily versatile Johnny to construct a more than passable characterisation but it would not be based upon David because Johnny’s experience of David was fleeting at best. The challenge, then, was to present David as Johnny might have conceived him, based on Johnny’s perfunctory reading of a (non-existent) screenplay. Using David as a source of authentic material was beside the point. But given my limited skills it would be odd if I were not to draw upon my lifetime as this person. You could argue that Keira would be satisfied with anything that was believable but while Johnny had the technical wherewithal to compose such a persona, I didn’t.

02/07/15 I must apologise to my readers. I have grossly complexified a situation that did not merit the frankly baroque level of attention I gave it. Obviously Keira knew nothing of David and it was self-centred of me to suggest that she might. I could say anything I liked in any accent I liked and she would be free to offer criticism. I’m sure famous film stars do this all the time. Anyway I’ll leave them to it. Let’s move on. You’ll never fucking believe what Roy just did.

03/07/15 Yeah, Roy just ate the koala bear Edith Clever. Johnny’s bear. Just fucking ate her. While Johnny was dozing. Richard goes “Roy, don’t you think…” Roy puts his hand on Richard’s knee. “Richard, please. You’re a good man, you have various qualities. But I’ve heard this shit. I heard it way back ago.” Richard, still on it, goes “What’s Johnny going to say when…” “Listen,” goes Roy, “You know when you’re in Borneo or some fucking place and a skinny ill looking European steps out of the dark no shirt with shorts held up with string no shoes. He doesn’t tell you shit. He has a bowl of rice then fucks off back into the dark. Are you going to think about it? Why would you think about it? What are you going to learn? Be empty Richard. It makes time fly.”

05/07/15 Johnny wakes up and is like “Roy, you’ve got hair all down your face and shirt. What is that?” Roy says “You can’t digest them. You might want to but you can’t.” “Where’s Edith?” Johnny enquires. “I don’t see her.” “She’s not here,” Richard sums up. “Roy ate her.” Johnny electrified leans right forward into between Richard and Roy. “You’re dicking me!” he declares. “What did she taste like?” This really pisses Roy off. “What do you mean like? Why should she taste like anything? Was she like duck with notes of carp? Was she teasingly reminiscent of young horse marinaded in shrike fat? Fuck like! Like is for losers, John! Like is for systems! There are no systems!” Johnny looking tired says “Yeah. I get it. You ate my fucking bear, Roy.”

07/07/15 Roy said to park the car by this cornfield near Alpheton in the Suffolk area so Richard did and they all got out, Johnny sulking because of his eaten bear but Roy and Richard walking through the cropside cornflowers, corncockle, corn chamomile whatever. Suddenly whoosh! and a whir and outflew two quail at speed and Richard just breaks into a sprint and he’s making these grunts like Maria Shaparova and he closes on a quail and leaps up and catches it in his mouth and crunch it’s dead. Roy says “Here, Richard, here!” and Richard runs over and drops the quail at Roy’s feet. Even Johnny the sulk is moved to say “Cool, Richard!” then Roy says “We all know about poultry but what about machine parts?” and starts walking back to the 4×4.

08/07/15 Roy told Johnny and Richard that cows have 25 thousand taste buds per tongue while humans have only 8-10 thousand. “Are they tasting things we will never know?” he wonders to the men. “If we are to come closer to the beasts of the field – fucked if I know why we would but it’s a thought – then we must allow ourselves to move beyond the petty confines of the major food groups.” He opens the bonnet of the 4×4 and lowers his head towards the warm engine. “Excellent!” he cries, “Room temperature!”

09/07/15 Basically Roy was anxious to demonstrate to his companions that their palettes and, by extension, their entire sensoria and thus the dimensions of their being in the world were needlessly restricted and urgently required exposure to the transforming sensations that lay beyond the savouring of humdrum nutrients. He lowered his head deep into the engine cavity and ran his tongue lingeringly over an oily and odorous section of engine casing. Even after years of extreme licking he was still subject to intense and irresistible shudders, involuntary shrill vocalisations and alarming rotary nystagmus featuring rapid circular movements of the eyeballs in their sockets. Thus enwrapped he motioned to Johnny. The intention was clear.

10/07/15 Rapt, Roy, reeling, raised his ecstatic head to Johnny Depp of ‘Pirate Plenitude’ [12]. “John. Johnny,” he croaked, “Dip your stick, feller.” Johnny licked his lips, more nerves than relish, grasped the rim of the well and found a screw on the side of a knot of pipes and pumps. Roy nodded his approval. “Take it out.” Johnny popped the slick stub in his uncertain gob. The magnesium really did it. Intensely bitter, causing a consternation of the salivary glands which caused his back teeth to screech and grind the fierce chemical ricocheted through nerve pathways neglected since the days when people used to tongue their swords clean of blood and guts. Johnny didn’t see it like that, of course, he just said “Will I die?” and Roy said “It’s an upgrade.”

13/07/15 Before he dismantled the exhaust system in order to felch the tailpipe, two things happened to Richard. Roy said remember Richard this is not sexual and the other thing was that Richard, as he lay spasming among the vetch and scabious, rang the AA. The AA man, surveying the countless engine parts strewn around the flattened and oil-soaked corn, asked “That bloke that looks like Johnny Depp, why is his mouth full of earth?” Richard, usually quite the diplomat, had found that he could get some relief from the incessant gunshot noises in his skull if he started barking and was, in consequence, loath to desist. The AA man, who had confirmed that Richard was a member of the motoring organisation, said “That’s all right, sir. You take your time.”

14/07/15 The big thing, the AA man (Christopher) thought, was whether the situation should be regarded as automotive or medical. He had searched the corn carefully and concluded that several key pieces of car were nowhere to be found. So he winched the 4×4 onto the recovery trailer and ushered the three men into the passenger cab. The man with soil in his mouth sat in line with the mirror and Christopher could see thick streaks of what looked like white lithium grease on his shirt and in his hair. Suggesting that the man had, for whatever reason, crawled under the vehicle. Christopher’s brother-in-law had bipolar disorder and was supposed to take lithium to calm him down. But that was in capsule form. Surely this gagging, trembling zombie hadn’t confused the two?

15/07/15 Rolls Eyes looks up at sky. Clouds fly by. Rolls Eyes shakes like tree. “Christopher,” speaks Barks Like Dog, “Can you understand what I say?” “No,” Christopher just says to him “No. Can’t understand what you say, Barks Like Dog.” So Carries Soil in Mouth speaks but spills earth on earth. Rolls Eyes speaks to Carries Soil in Mouth “No John do not speak, do not spill earth.” Carries Soil in Mouth opens his mouth. It’s full of soil. You can see roots and creatures. “All things in his mouth,” says Rolls Eyes, “He is world child now.” “Aah!” cries Barks Like Dog, “Aah! He has eaten the world now he is Great Father as well as world child.” Christopher drives now. Three brave men sit with him. Under great sky. Going along.

16/07/15 And so Christopher, a good and kindly man, the rescuer of vehicles, took with him withal Roy the wild of gaze, Richard open of heart and John the bringer of great renewal and they came to J & L Motors and Leonard, the L of the concern, stated his regretful view that he had very few of the requisite parts and so must order them from Ipswich wherefrom they would arrive in at most three days and Roy, who saw the several stacked sacks of insecticide beside the coal and kindling said that they would make camp as night was nigh then good Christopher said my work for you is done and he vanished as in a puff.

18/07/15 As they lay in the lee of the lumber the dark had closed upon them yet there was little stillness for the nightsoil undulated as it streamed from John’s mouth and the waxy grubs the pale-pulsed eggs the aphids and the chittering ticks seethed over his chest. Surrendering a known and measured metabolism for something quite unearthly he shivered and as he did caused Roy, swathed in organophosphate fumes that mouldered through his motor centres, to swerve awake catch sight of John and mutter “My god, it’s full of stars!”

20/07/15 Johnny had barfed the badness of an obsolete value system onto his chest whence these contents had scampered off to get under stones where they felt more at home. As dawn broke Richard’s head stopped banging off and all that he saw was bathed in acetylene light, too bright for the eyes he used to have but now he could gaze unblinking into the sun for as long as he felt like it if he felt like it, no worries. Roy suddenly snapped his fingers and exclaimed “Brunt!” Then he added “By Roy.” After which he said “Ozonic.” “O what?” Johnny enquires. Roy explains “After the storm: the air.” Then he added “It’s all chemical.” Then, to himself, again “Brunt. By Roy.”

21/07/15 On the third morning packages came from Ipswich and their contents were entered into the car. Roy, who had no driving experience, picked up the basics and they headed off at a hundred miles per hour. Going along, Roy laid out his sense of the situation as it pertained. “Through a process of radical metabolic realignment we have thrown off structures of constraint that have confounded our species for millennia. In short, we have erased the unconscious. Using assaultive oral applications of hand-picked toxins we have dismantled neurochemical matrices that constituted what, with some understatement, we may refer to as a filter system. No longer will our foundational energies be obliged to communicate by obscure if at times poetic means. It is the end of art. It is the end of depth.”

The idea was that once in London Roy would seek venture capital for the launch of Brunt by Roy, a fragrance for Men & Women Who Are Prevalent. The blend comprises notes of musk, civet and ambergris which, initially at least, veil the unconventional elements in the accord. (The accord is a balanced blend of notes which lose their individual identity to create a completely new, unified odor impression.) The noxious or, as Roy would argue, radically transformative components in the fragrance would not be experienced as aromatically offensive consequently the absorption of the fine spray by the soft tissue of the mucous membrane would be unimpeded.

23/07/15 Obviously the only person that can stop the known high-functioning psychopath Roy from dispersing his mind-mangling fragrance far and wide and thereby loosing the discontents of our very lives upon us is David for at least he, by what can only be a fortuity of genetics actually looks closely like the even more well known Johnny Depp to the point where people go “Johnny! Wow! I really like what you do” at him in the street which gives him an edge in this particular situation because Johnny himself is – depending on your stance here – either a fucked and cancelled headcase or, Roy would contend, the ambassador for The New Behaviour.

26/07/15 David, regarded as Johnny by Keira, and Keira were walking hand in hand near the high bit in Notting Hill an area of London. David had been deep in thought but then he turned to Keira and said “I believe that stars such as ourselves who in our work present strong effective and dependable qualities are capable of applying these qualities in real life thereby eliminating the middle person.” They turned to the east, in the direction of Oxford Street. Keira then turned to the west out beyond Westfield a mall to the plains. I too turned. Keira tensed. She said “What’s that coming over the hill?” I replied “It is dark. We may be needed.”

27/07/15 And so, Readers, just at the point where Pampas is set aside until late August, some heavy shit is in the air. Will David and Keira be able to keep Roy out of Oxford Street? Will the toxified Johnny, the enchanted Richard and the compromised David-as-Johnny as distinct from the actual David, in their various states of possession and impersonation, be of any importance in the struggle to neutralise The New Behaviour? Or are these vaunted manners simply a less inhibited way of handling historically unprecedented conditions? Hey.

Pampas Season 2: part 1

2.1 Kind of quiet in the Edgware Road. Johnny Depp is on the hubbly bubbly but Roy has an American Spirit Black Pack Perique blend filter that he requested from a tourist. Richard has a snus portion under his upper lip. When he spits, Johnny says “You don’t have to spit. That’s the point. The Swedes don’t spit.” Roy nods wryly as if yeah what Swedes ever spit? Roy has this look at the moment: a tee shirt that says ‘I Forgot My Hot Pants’ and a picture of some denim hot pants with sequins. Under a pin stripe jacket. Johnny, largely with kind of a Bedouin thing, nevertheless has a tee shirt ‘Sublevel Yachting’. Roy sees a dog, says “Ah!”, leans over and stubs his cigarette out on its arse. The actual hole. Fucking mayhem.

2.2 The lady who had the dog swung the hubbly bubbly at Johnny’s head at which point of contact it smashed and propelled him onto the pavement he was spark out even as he flew in the air face down. She took the jagged base and went for Roy’s neck but he was rising to his feet and caught it on the shoulder she reared back and kicked his chest with her heels but he caught her ankle and flipped her over she landed on her back on Johnny’s back the dog went fucking nuts and clamped onto Richard’s leg but he did a massive punt and it went vertically up and as it came down later Roy blood all down his look grabbed its ears and swung it so hard the ears came off in his hands. He put them in his breast pocket and pointed at them. He said “My hanky.” And yeah it was a striking effect.

2.3 There was some concern about Johnny’s cheeks. He had broken the fall through the air with them. Richard had rolled him over and it was certainly the case that they (the cheeks) were now the site of contusions that enlarged even as you stood. Roy’s position was “It’s not what you look like” but Richard’s was “It’s what you look like.” Then Richard pointed out “I can’t see him fronting in Selfridge’s, Roy.” Roy took a bread roll that had rolled from its basket during the scuffle and broke it in half. He then surprised Richard with a joke, something the latter had not expected from one more at home among larches. Roy said “It’s a thing of two halves.” Richard held Johnny’s mouth open and Roy pushed a roll half, with its convexity outermost, into the space between the 52 year old film star’s upper right 8,7,6 and the flesh below his zygomatic bone and between upper left 6,7,8 and the flesh below his zygomatic bone on that side.

2.4 “Where’s his turban?” Roy said. “I don’t think it’s a turban,” Richard said. “The head thing. Where did it go?” Roy continued. “It’s under that car,” Richard indicated. “Leave it. He looks better, yes?” Roy went. “The cheeks look a bit low,” mused Richard. “Only if you know him,” Roy went. “People do, though,” Richard remarked. A lady came over. “Is that Roy?” she opened. “Ruth,” goes Roy, “How is Mrs Atkinson?” Ruth says “She is as well as can be expected. She lost some clothing on a train and more recently her son was murdered.” Roy responds “Mrs Atkinson’s son was not of the highest cut, to be frank.” “Have you hurt yourself, Roy?” she notices. “Blood of dog,” he says. “That could be a fragrance,” Richard says. “More of a wine,” Roy says. “I think so,” goes Ruth.

2.5 Ruth took Johnny’s feet while Roy and Richard took the heavy end. They got him into the 4×4 where Roy took a couple of minutes reshaping his (Johnny’s) cheeks with small pinches. Then Roy drove to a lady’s clothier up the road with skirts and cardigans and similar things where he asked the assistant to show Ruth some skirts. She got a pleated one like a kilt in different colours and a cardigan in lavender. Plus some brogued walking shoes but the holes don’t go right through. Then in Church Street a street off where they were they got a denim jacket like Lee or one of those. Richard said “It’s a shit look, Roy.” Ruth said “Well, it will cover many situations.” And Roy said “See, Richard? Shut the fuck up.”

2.6 Richard ruminated what does Roy know about Ruth? Settled among spruce, sleeping in seclusion, with whom would he wind up? How had he honed, who had he wooed? Ruth pulled another macaron from her rucksack. “Richard said you stuck a fag up a dog’s shitter, Roy.” “So I gather,” Roy shrugged. Richard goes “Actually Ruth, your look, it really works with that macaroon. I was hasty.” “Aron,” Ruth commented. “Where do you, you know, come from?” Richard directly asked. “Weakling,” she said. “Near Crowborough,” Richard said, “Sussex.” Ruth nodded very slightly. “Do you find,” ventured Richard, “despite yourself, that we tend to become like names that a) have long limned our pasts and b) are susceptible to such an operation, I mean you could hardly expect that of North Challey, for example.” Ruth replied As a matter of fact no.

2.7 Roy folded down the three seats in the 4×4 and rolled Johnny towards the hatch back. He then invited Ruth to go and lie on the floor with him, next to Johnny. Richard sat in the front looking at the street. Roy and Ruth rose and fell energetically and Richard felt himself flooded with ancient memories. Once again pistol shots rang out in his head and he could not stop them. And he could not stop the pain that flared around each shot. The street darkened and Richard went blind. He touched his eyes and then he reached out to feel the glass before him. He sat in the dark although it was not exactly dark it was nothing.

2.8 When the vehicle was quiet again Richard said “Please excuse me Ruth and Roy but I cannot see.” Roy said “We’ll see about that,” glancing at Ruth for acknowledgment of his swift wordplay. He took the blind Richard by the hand and led him down the road in the Marble Arch a monument direction. “Among us prowl the reptiles, Richard, their skin rife with light-sensitive proteins. For millennia the mammals have have suppressed this knowledge in order to deflect criticism of the vulgar binocular system. Take a leaf from the gecko and the sublevel cuttlefish, use the skin of the head, wear shorts that you may savour the vision that flows from the flanks. See the world anew with your neck.” He led Richard to the middle of the road and walked back without him to the 4×4 with pale Johnny in it and Ruth.

2.9 Fucking Richard man. He’s what 100 yards from where Edgware Road hits the park so we’re talking major traffic coming through and he’s holding up his arms out with the palms out moving them around people are swerving and yelling then he drops back his head so his neck is pointing to the sky and he shouts “I see through my throat! I see through my throat!” and runs towards the park right into the oncoming and he’s dodging and they’re careening and you wonder How does he do this? It’s a matter of time before he’s dogmeat but then he spins round, heads for the pavement and he’s running along away from the park and there are some guys with hubbly bubblies and he’s got his head so far back the scalp is practically between his shoulder blades and he goes “Hey! Guys! Hello!” and some of them are clapping and saying “Hello how are you?”

2.10 “Take it round the park,” Roy says. Richard pulls off his shirt and vest in order to optimise neck and shoulder vision. At first with dermally distributed visuality you can’t process the inputs – the brain can’t stitch them together from so many perspectives. Entomologists have stated that young flies also have this problem. Ruth is intrigued by his head lolling over the back of the driving seat – his eyes, were they not defunct, would be peering at her chest. His throat is taut and he has pushed the seat almost up to the steering wheel. “I’ll just check Johnny,” he says, raising his left hand to the roof of the 4×4 so that with a twist of the palm he may periscopically survey the rear area and its insensible resident. “Still still,” he reports. “Anyway, Rockahula,” he says and takes off down Park Lane a rich road.

2.11 He does well. Takes it at a fair clip, mind you it’s pretty much like a short strip of motorway along there, using his hands in all these increasingly snakey moves, it’s like rear view mirrors but on all sides (he has one hand through the sunroof) but it isn’t because with a mirror you look in it but with this his hand is looking you don’t need anything more. “I’m getting into it, I’m getting into it,” he declares and he’s whipping in and out past the shit statues and Ruth says to Roy “This is quite exciting” and Roy says back “I can see you like it” and Ruth says “Can you see what I’m doing?” and suddenly Richard’s skin goes off, just when it was so good it just goes off and Ruth looks down and sees his eyes go on and she shouts “He’s looking at my chest!” and in that dark gap Richard mounts the pavement.

2.12 “The Arab man is comatose yet shows no impacts other than facial contusions and minor abrasion. Possibly he was asleep at the moment of collision and failed to use his arms protectively,” said the good looking young Dr Peter Grant, “but he did have bread in his mouth which he must have been chewing.” “I don’t think he’s an Arab, doctor, “ said auburn haired young nurse Penny Arnold, “his trousers are roomily tailored but otherwise the indications are European or American.” Dr Peter Grant looked at the efficient young nurse with his hazel eyes. “I’m not happy with verbal and motor responses. We’ll go straight to imaging for subdural haematoma.” “Right away, Dr Grant,” said the pretty young professional.

2.13 Roy was in the finals of a Shaving Competition with five other men who had not shaved for two days. They would sprint through a cornfield to a roar from gathered men and women who understood shaving and supported the Shaving Group’s waiving of the No Cut rule, which disqualified contestants who drew blood, however modestly, in the course of the high speed challenge. At the far side of the field were the shaving stations, each bearing a disposable razor, an aerosol of unscented foam and a small bowl of warm water. Roy enjoyed the No Cut Waiver because he had mastered the Single Sweep, wherein the shaver describes a series of unpunctuated undulating crescents across his face and neck regardless of nicks and gouges. But to his horror he could not move his hands.

2.14 And who should Ruth see in that bare corridor but Anne of Austria. “Who are you with?” Ruth asked. “I am with Hildegard of Halifax and the Lady Jean of Jarrow.” “Will you dance when you get to where you’re going?” Ruth asked. “We will dance all the way there,” said Anne in a deep metallic voice and the three royal women began to spin and as they spun they spat. Then comes Louis the Eleventh and he does some neat capers involving small jumps and tiny turns with the toes just so and Ruth says “That shit is so cool” but she can’t hear herself speak because now they are being abrupt with each other like those air guns for wheel nuts vootvootvoot and Louis the Eleventh he just barrels down through the floor and he’s gone and Ruth asks someone “I’m so thirsty” and they say “I’m afraid we can’t give you any liquid yet.”

2.15 “Hold!” cried Sir Aquitaine. And the retinue came to rest. As they looked down from the brow to Sir Richard Quatrefoil resplendent. “Sir Gules de Blazon!” mocked Sir Aquitaine, employing the heraldic terms most appropriate to the flayed breast of the perfect gentle fellow. For pure Sir Richard’s breast was sorely striped like he’d been fed through a barbecue or something. Not to mention pocked. With glass mostly. As you might expect when effectively shot through a shield darkly. Now pitiless Aquitaine flanked by Sir Gauvain and his beast the carp Perlesvaus, filled with christian bale, harsh gutturance and lance arm strong, did bear down upon Sir Richard swiftly and with one thrust to that much cut front folded him into night.

2.16 We know from EEG that persons in coma are not brain dead. The comatose have brain activity, they are not flatliners. Their brains respond to stimuli by emitting an electrical impulse. But if Johnny were in deep coma they would not let him go home. If he were in a vegetative state, with modest reflexes and sleep-wake cycles, he could go home. But you wonder now if he thinks or sees pictures in this place beneath the sea. There is no way of telling. Is it a thought if there is no thinker? If there is no thinker then are there pictures floating down there and what are they of? Are they of things that we never see anyway even when we have the full box of waves?

2.17 Keira and I agreed that we had a sense of foreboding. As if a loathsome vapour or malodour were closing down the sky. “Perhaps we do need stars of the screen, Johnny,” said Keira, alluding to my suggestion (see Season 1:26/07/15) that actors should fully extend the scope of their impersonations so that they might step into everyday life and apply their strengths there rather than on the screen where people know it’s acting. “I suppose,” she continued, “there could be problems with getting carried away.” “In a sense that is collateral damage,” I opined. “In the world of entertainment we see many professionals, take Matthew McConaughey for example, who achieve remarkable verisimilitude. Such protean figures must, at this tipping point in the story of civilisation, make the transition.”

2.18 Keira, as game as ever, was convinced. She undertook to take on the character of Brogan, the feisty figure from the acclaimed film Brogan. In the film, Keira, as Brogan that is, confronted with a succession of dilemmas, coped confidently and showed depths that had not previously been apparent. Her love life was complex insofar as she found men generally unsatisfactory yet the film required her gradually to become enamoured of the character of John. When John became enfeebled by disease, Brogan was compelled to leave the United Kingdom for unrelated reasons yet succeeded in keeping in touch with John with email.

2.19 Just two days later Keira had gone. I was so sad. I knew that I would miss her dreadfully. For much of her life she had been feted as one of the beauties of her generation. She had a tremendous openness and spent much of her time in a state of delight. As she faded away I held her hand, her features softened and her breath grew light. “Can you remember when you knocked me over in the café?” I whispered. “No need to whisper,” Brogan said, “I’m not the nervous type.” “Hey, Brogan! What’s new?” I said. “Who are you?” she asked, matter of factly.

2.20 I suddenly glimpsed an unexpected possibility. Brogan did not know who I was, nor did she see, as others did, my close physical resemblance to film star Johnny Depp (‘The Lone Ranger’ dir Gore Verbinski. (2013)). “David,” I replied, and instantly felt a wave of relief followed by a considerable loosening of my joints. “Okay, David,” Brogan said. “Where did Harry go after dropping Amy off after their dinner at Paul’s?” She had me there. As I pondered this unanswerable enquiry, Brogan began pacing to and fro, from time to time glancing out of the window of the flat. I began to see that I was not the sort of companion who might assuage her restlessness.

2.21 Brogan, I’m afraid I don’t know Harry, Amy or Paul,” I said to Brogan. She turned from the window and looked firmly at me. “David, because I have had largely unsatisfactory relationships in one way or another, both intimately also with friends and acquaintances, such as with John who has, I must confess, faded in my mind of late, I tend to focus my energies on the travails of others. This should not be seen as somehow explaining my activities – I have skills and they are, I can say this, successfully applied. I can cut to the heart of the matter. I am driven, if you like, but I have found in life what I can do well and it pleases me.” I felt warmth towards Brogan. “Yes, Brogan, I see that,” I said.

2.22 It was clear that Brogan was feeling cooped up. We went for a walk in the neighbourhood. She moved quickly through the knots of passersby, sometimes pausing to scrutinise individuals who, for reasons that were not apparent, caught her attention. As we passed The Amount of Beer a young woman seated with friends at a streetside table looked up and smiled broadly. “Brogan! Wow!” she cried. Her friends seemed similarly delighted. The young woman was scanning the street beyond Brogan. “Are you doing another one?” she asked. Brogan replied “Are you a friend of Amy’s?” “Er…no?” said the young woman. “I’m looking for Amy,” said Brogan. “With Johnny?” the young woman said, looking at me. Brogan said “Johnny’s not around. That’s David.” The young woman grinned. “Right,” she said.

2.23 Brogan told me that while she was keen to locate Amy in order to ascertain just what happened with Harry after the dinner with Paul, she sensed that for the next few minutes it would be a waiting game. She said “From time to time in this caper, David, there are little gaps and it is in these that I pursue my personal interests.” “Good idea, Brogan,” I said, “I’m the same.” Brogan said “I like ornamental gardens. I have a dog, called Andrew. I am fond of jazz. There are some cousins. I relax when I can. I am drawn to certain sorts of figurine. My mother is blind. I dislike people who search their pockets for no reason. Before John there was Frank, who was moustachioed. My little nieces love me and I them. My best friend drowned. There is no God. Picasso is admirable. Let me be clear. There is so much.”

2.24 We passed a house in flames licking high and screams coming from it of despair. Brogan tore off her coat which was rayon and therefore a fire risk. She ran into the house as I held the coat. From all the windows came thick smoke and cries. Was there a person in every room? It could not be ruled out. To my amazement Brogan appeared at a window holding a side table which she repeatedly dashed against the window frame. “David, stand back!” she cried and moments later came an armchair. “Position it, David!” she instructed hoarsely as it went hard to the pavement. I shoved the chair round so that the man thrown next landed in it. “Reassure him!” yelled the tireless figure. “And look in my coat!” There was a bottle of Cien (the Lidl own-brand) aloe vera lotion. I smeared it on the man saying “No worries. Shit happens.”

2.25 I was trying to get a sense of what Brogan was. For example, from where did her memories come? The moustachioed Frank – had she encountered him in the course of her entirely prescribed and necessarily episodic past? How could it be otherwise? Unless her psychology was such that she was able to generate material to fill the biographical gaps. But to use the term ‘psychology’ was itself ridiculous. And how would she recognise that there was a gap to be filled? I was familiar with the work of Anheuser & Busch on confabulation but to apply that to Brogan would be to pathologise this exceptionally resourceful individual. And, of course, it was also my belief that since our future was now in the hands of those whose psychology was largely extinguished our salvation lay with those most adroit in the management of surfaces.

2.26 After the Fire Chief had warmly congratulated her, and the burned man had clasped her hands, I resolved to traverse with Brogan the archipelago the waters of which might prove to conceal branches, bridges, aspects opening onto aspects, in short, a body not pinned with trinkets but itself full and fruitful. “What’s it like having a blind mother?” I asked her. “You are not seen. The silver of the mirror is blackened. You are not carried in her mind. How then could you carry yourself? There is no echo. All moves ever outward, fading into air. I made my own sandwiches. I cleaned my own face,” Brogan said.

2.27 She sat beside me on a bench and I was able to study her in repose. Generally she looked resolute but I began to notice something odd in the way she composed the muscles of her face. It was the fact that I found myself using the word ‘composed’ that made me pay closer attention. We are used to seeing people drumming their fingers on tabletops or nodding absently in thought but Brogan seemed to be cycling through a repertoire of small facial movements that had the effect of slightly altering her expression then returning it to its initial state. This state, that I have called ‘resolute’, would liquefy – momentarily assuming an almost expressionless condition – then reproduce itself. It seemed odd rather than neurotic, almost as if she were using her spare time to perfect something.

2.28 “What are you doing later?” I asked her. “It depends what happens,” she said. “What if nothing happens?” I said. “That doesn’t arise,” she said. “But would you go home? To your house?” I asked. Brogan reached for her bag. She peered into each of its several compartments, working from the smallest, which bore a pair of fastenings, to the most capacious, which would normally lie beside her hip. Then she returned to the smallest and removed from it an ivory comb to which she quietly said “No”, then from the next a purse of coloured sand to which she said “No” from the next a jar of white dried beans to which she said “No” and to the most capacious then to the smallest again and “No” and I said “Can you not find them?” and she said “I can’t find them.” Then she said “But they must be there.”

2.29 In this way she searched her bag many times. The narrow boats passed, one with a sleeping cat on the hatch. A phone rang. Brogan reached into the inside pocket of her bright rayon coat. “No,” she said. It was mine. I said “David here.” A voice said “David, it’s Amy.” I said to Brogan “It’s Amy.” She took the phone. In a honeyed voice she murmured “Amy.” Then “We will.” Then Brogan turned to me and said “Let’s get up and go. Amy’s coming round.” “Where?” I enquired. “Where’s she coming?” Brogan strode away from the canal. “To mine.” After a few minutes we were at hers. Brogan released the fastenings on her bag. She put her hand into the smallest compartment at the front and took out her keys. They were on a fob with some bright fur.

2.30 Brogan showed me into her place. I was struck by its cleanliness. I understood that in a fundamentally anxious society one would tend to encounter a fetishisation of the clean and the tidy but Brogan’s place didn’t quite fit that bill. It was, for example, dustless and its edges and corners, including the edges of the carpeting, were marvellously accurate, abutting each other in such a way that one felt that even at several fractal magnifications there would be essential, geometric contiguity. She allowed me to look into her wardrobe, where I found long brass rails hung with skirts, blouses and coats made from polyester, acrylic, nylon satins and rayon taffetas. The colours were bold, bright, unpatterned. “Shall we sit down now?” asked Brogan. We did so in the sitting room. “She’ll be along,” Brogan reassured me.

2.31 After several hours, in the course of which Brogan sat quietly in an armchair, the door bell rang. Amy was in her early thirties with a mohair twopiece. “Amy,” Brogan said, “What did Harry do after dropping you off after your dinner at Paul’s?” Amy said gravely “Brogan, Harry is a selfish fuck inhabiting an extreme point on a spectrum reserved for those who experience others as a system of obscure and incoherent signs that are rarely worthy of a response. He is, psychologically, akin to one who cannot find his arse in the dark.” Brogan stood up “Are these the qualities of one who would do another in, Amy?” “Has Paul been done then?” Amy enquired. “Sundered,” rejoined Brogan. Amy crumpled. “I loved him,” she whispered.
2.32 Paul was rent. Riven by Harry. Amy aghast. I scarcely knew her. I had only known Brogan for hours. But now Brogan rose into her calling. As she moved dynamically around the bare, pure space she would, from time to time, stop. At one point coming to within a few feet of me she spoke fiercely to my face but not fully to my eye. Amy moved up behind her so that she was seen over Brogan’s shoulder. Then Amy walked to the table and sat at it, her hands clasped, staring down upon them. Brogan laid one hand on her shoulder but directed her speech towards the window. As their feelings intensified they strode, fell together, turned, restlessly crossing and recrossing the space abreast and in echelon. At one point they stopped. Amy said “When I sat at the table I felt I needed your hand there earlier.” Brogan said “That’s fine.”
2.33 Then Amy says “I’d just like a biscuit.” Brogan says “I have some. I’ll find them.” And she goes off to find them, looking around for them here, there. In all manner of places they might be. A drawer. A box. She looked. Then there they were, in her hand. Not like they’d been there all along be sensible. She also had a nice cuppa for Amy. And one for herself. “I so wanted this,” Amy declared. “Fig roll said brogan helpfully. I tell you what caught my eye she put the biscuit in her mouth then took it out and said I really wanted this but she actually hadn’t bitten it the end was still there but she was chewing and I thought eh

2.34 All at once Amy put her biscuit aside and curled up on the floor in a ball as if there were a fire there there wasn’t. Brogan (from the hugely successful ‘Brogan’) jutted her chin forward and gazed down upon Amy recently bereft. She (Brogan) walked from the pale space to an adjoining one and came back in with a stick. This stick was not dowel but pretty straight with like a handbrake kind of hand grip on the holding end and a knob of soft leather like I believe they are called percussion mallets in music at the other end. She prodded at Amy’s back and Amy said “fortunately” then at her neck Amy said “that question” then her thigh she said “de la rue” (of the road Fr) then her wrist she said “factory” then her navel she said “inasmuch Bobby”. It went on. I have to say, it was actually kind of okay.

2.35 Eventually Amy’s responses faded and she lay quite still on the carpet, as though every word had been tapped out of her body. “Is she okay?” I asked, “She barely seems to breath.” “Oh yes,” Brogan said, “She will rest now. We can go.” “Will she be okay when she wakes up?” I wondered. “Oh yes,” said Brogan, “She won’t wake up until the next thing.” “When’s the next thing then?” I sought. “Who for?” enquired Brogan, “Her or me?” I thought for a moment. “Er…you.” “Soon, I hope,” she said, “but there’s no hurry. I don’t mind in between. Do you?” “I guess not,” I said. “It could get boring, I guess.” “It’s just in between, David,” Brogan said, “No biggy.”

2.36 I was beginning to understand the situation. If I could somehow intervene in the scheme that animated Brogan, in some way divert its fitful expressions so as to seize authorship then I might realise my ambition to visit upon the world beings whose perfection of intent would quite eclipse the stuttering endeavours of those who merely made things up as they went along. Were I simply to execute my own designs then matters of light and shade, considerations of tone and tenor, all manner of titrations and refinements would cloud if not wholly entangle my purposes. How much more inexorable would these be if Brogan, the embodiment of gung ho can do know how, were my proxy and prosthetic!

2.37 “Brogan,” I said to Brogan (yes the one from ‘Brogan’) “Do you have any small talk?” Brogan, wearing a sky blue duffle coat of felted duffel with the horn fastenings (the blue was of the purest altitude I had seen) and beneath it a lime shift, said “How is it measured?” I replied “Well, it is to do with matters of little consequence and often used to make situations pleasant and make time pass before you get to your floor.” “You see,” she said “all that I say advances me. There is no slack, no roll of chub. Who of us can locate the wellsprings of our utterance? Not me certainly David. Even when I say Can’t complain or Is she really? I am in a situation that moves things towards something.” Brogan paused. Her eyes welled with tears. “I would like to say something that was nothing.”

2.38 “Amy is in the past now,” said Brogan. “That’s why she’s asleep. She might not wake up unless she is needed. She might not be needed. I’m usually the last to know. It’s not a problem though, because I’ll forget her. And then it’ll just be her clothes. They’re usually left in a neat pile. She herself will have gone. I don’t know where they go.” “Are there lots of them then?” I asked. Brogan frowned. “I suppose so,” she said. “It’s not something I dwell on. Did you see I’m wearing blue?” “Are there sausages to be had?” I heard myself saying. They were in the cupboard. Pork and lavender. I fried six. Brogan put one to her mouth. But whereas I munched mine hers came out untoothed. Again.

2.39 We looked up and there was this guy on the sofa. “That’s Big Vague Michael,” said Brogan. “Does he have a key?” I asked. “He doesn’t need one,” she said. Big Vague Michael had an interesting way of moving. He didn’t move much but he was moving all the time but not leaving the sofa. His head was big and you know where sometimes with people you can’t see them but you’re looking right at them? Well it was like that. We’re not talking invisible or anything, it was certainly there and plus there was nothing to stop you looking at his head but when you did it was unsatisfactory. You thought this head doesn’t sort of hang together. It’s not like deformed or anything. It’s like you could look all you want but there was nothing coming back. That’s a good way of putting it.

2.40 “Mike!” goes Brogan. “Mike!” He’s just across from her. Big Vague Michael hears this but his eyes are kind of nystagmus (see Pampas: Season 1: #93 09/07/15) but then he clicks them to a stop and looks at Brogan. “He’s…he’s..” he goes. “It’s Brogan, Mike.” She turns to me “We haven’t met,” she explains. “He gradually composes himself,” Big Mike says. “Yes,” Brogan says, “You do.” And as I’m looking his head is tightening together like air is sucked out. “See that?” asks Brogan. “They all do that. Sometimes as men, sometimes as women. Or before that.”

2.41 This big handsome man, Mike, looking certain and shaped, raises his head to address Brogan who is standing up. He smiles warmly, extends his arms then suddenly clutches his throat, from which are expressed the bubbling shrieks of what you would expect if treading on a box full of live but plucked young turkeys. A black powder trickles from his mouth and thickens to a steady stream, spilling down his shirt and lap onto the tailored carpet. “My God!” I cry aghast. “Soot,” says Brogan. “Dirt!” I insist. “No,” she is quite matter of fact. “It really is not. It is the final and pure sum of him as he burns.” Mike’s eyes roll up as he dies on the sofa.

2.42 “He came here to die,” I said. “A man comes in, heaves soot and snuffs it.” “No, he didn’t come here,” Brogan explains, “He is the next thing. We must search the body for identification.” She starts going through Mike’s pockets. “He’s Mike,” I said. “I know no Mikes,” she said. “Look…” She extracts from his inner breast pocket an oilcloth wallet and passes it to me. It was still warm. There was nothing in it. “I wish Jean and Max were here,” Brogan said. “I haven’t seen them in years,” I told her. Rather ruefully, Brogan said “They’re so good at this sort of thing, you know.” The doorbell rang. “Funny,” she said, “Usually they don’t ring.”

Readers: the Editor of Pampas would like to apologise for the uncharacteristically protracted gap in publication between the previous and the above. This is due to circumstances well within my control.

2.43 “David!” It was Brogan. “Brogan?” I said, snapping out of it. Brogan, reclining on a sofa ‘just like from shop’, looked largely relaxed but she said “That was the door. Ages ago.” I said, coming back to myself, “I was busy, for several weeks. I couldn’t get to it.” She vocalised “Humph!” Then she spoke “Well I just hope they’re still there.” “Who, Jean and Max?” “Tush!” she exclaimed, “I was actually mindful of the numbers.” I looked quizzical. “The numbers…” Brogan sat up. “David! I’m Borgan.” I appeared puzzled. “The Danish thing?” “Fuck!” she swore. “I meant Brogan. The various shit that I do – you have to have the numbers.”
2.44 It was, I realised, odd that Brogan could have a thought like that. “When you say ‘numbers’, what are you thinking exactly?” I put to her. “You feel them. When they like you,” she replied. “Brogan – who?” I was insistent. “I have a reputation. I take down scum. I slot punks. The loved ones of those whose condition I improve give cakes and cards of gratitude. Such things spread. The forces of the law begrudgingly admire my prowesses.” “That’s probably prowess, isn’t it?” (I saw no reason to let ordinary talk go off like bad squirrels.) Brogan said “Whatever.” Then she said “Sometimes on a hot night, on the porch, I can hear them. They’re out there.” “The numbers,” I nodded. “Yeah,” confirmed Brogan.
2.45 I wondered what Brogan knew. She could not, for instance, know that Johnny Depp lay in a coma, that Roy an obvious nutjob and chicken jalfrezi could not feel his hands with his hands, that Ruth in another wing was wounded and Richard the stout as in staunch and stalwart not lardy aide lay within a respirator. But there was one thing namely my own resemblance to filmstar Johnny where when people found I wasn’t him they said “Wow! That’s like some kind of 3D photocopier of meat or similar.” What would Brogan make of this, given her emerging sensitivity to those on the soft horizons of her mind? Brogan said suddenly “You’re not my cousin are you, David? You feel sort of close.”

No Respect

I was ugly, very ugly. When I was born, the doctor smacked my mother.

One night I came home. I figured, let my wife come on. I’ll play it cool. Let her make the first move. She went to Florida.

When my old man wanted sex, my mother would show him a picture of me.

I get no respect at all – When I was a kid, I lost my parents at the beach. I asked a lifeguard to help me find them. He said “I don’t know kid, there are so many places they could hide”.

I’ll tell ya, I don’t get no respect… The other day, I got back from a business trip. I got in a cab and said to the driver, “Hey! Take me to where the action is!” So ya know where he took me? He took me to my house!

A girl phoned me the other day and said… ‘Come on over, there’s nobody home.’ I went over. Nobody was home.

I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet.

My mother never breast fed me, she told me she only liked me as a friend.

My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.

At first glance he’s neat and smart – usually a sharp blue suit, a white shirt and a red tie. The outfit rarely changes. Neither do the mannerisms that threaten to compromise the overall composure. The left hand straying to adjust the tie knot, a knot that does not require adjustment. Every few seconds the hand flies there, fidgets needlessly then drops to the side again. And then, after a short while, the sweating. It’s real. It shines under the lights. He’s obviously working hard but part of the attraction of what he does lies in the contrast between the smart outfit and the material that he’s producing. The sweat is therefore a little jarring, perhaps a product of that contrast. It’s not quite right. He will reach inside his jacket or into a back pocket, produce a handkerchief then mop his brow. Even when he’s finished and sitting next to the host at the desk, he continues to mop his brow. And that seems to suggest that he was tense and is still tense and while it helps the act perhaps in the beginning it wasn’t planned but it suited the act and has now become a part of it and, to some extent, is inseparable from it. Rodney has an urgency that reminds us that if you’re going to channel a stream of gags as if they’re just naturally popping into your head then it’s hard work – these things don’t come naturally. Is that what anybody is actually like? They walk in and these compact formulations are ejected twice a minute until time is up?

The gags are one or two-liners on the whole and must, obviously, be separated in some way if they are to make sense. Between each gag, then, comes this small fusillade of tics, the fiddling and dabbing bringing to mind the tugging of the shirt shoulder, the adjustment of the head band and the bounce after bounce after bounce of the ball before it is served by the tournament tennis player. While we don’t doubt that the tennis player wants very much to deliver, with Rodney we wonder if each new set of birth pangs will be the one that scuttles the enterprise.

So although he is superb his persona isn’t relaxed. It is shot through with tremors from the one who, from beneath its damp skin, animates the performance.  In this respect he’s subtler than Woody Allen. The physique  of the latter, his posture and his vocalisation are brought together harmoniously in the character of the whining weakling who will never experience a satisfying social transaction. But when Rodney pushes through the curtains the first impression is of one who is combative. He has a bullish demeanour, bulging eyes and he seems like a man in a hurry. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if he were packing a handgun. He’s wired.

Except that Rodney tells us, from time to time, ‘I don’t get no respect.’ This is his catchphrase. His act consists in his itemising the hundreds of instances in which he has been disrespected. It’s not observational comedy, the overrated genre which, in its disingenuous claim to derive from the clear and nonjudgmental eye of the portraitist, asks us rue our inability to see the funny side of life that’s beneath our noses. Instead it’s where Rodney, who may or may not suffer from low self-esteem when he’s at home, merely opens a vein of abjection then complains about it within earshot. He’s talking to us but you get the feeling that his internal monologue is not that different.

Oliver Stone clearly suspected that there was a thin line between love and hate when he was casting for Natural Born Killers (1994). The self-flagellation of Rodney’s humour could be turned outward, at which point he would become a psychopath rather than a stand-up. This proved  to be entirely the case. Ed Wilson, his character in the much underrated film, is Rodney to the max, unalleviated by nervous tics or the least indication that he may be domesticated to any degree. A masterclass in cartoonish, horrifying domestic sitcom parody, Rodney’s scenes as abusive, ogling, pawing, incestuous father to Juliette Lewis’s rebel girl Mallory are, despite the use of a sitcom laugh and applause track throughout, appalling yet exhilarating because somehow soon the slavering beast will be neutralised and his comeuppance will be as lurid as his fatherly behaviour is beyond the pale.

 

Towards the end of his amiable work in Cheers, Woody Harrelson was approached by Stone and took the role of Mickey, a natural born killer of a more suitable age for Mallory in the homicidal folie a deux rampage (52 victims) on which the couple embarks after Mickey has despatched Ed with a crowbar.

The first hour of the film is incongruously experimental for a Warner  Brothers product, both formally and in the nihilism of its moral instruction. It is pitched as a satire that will address the enthusiastic attention paid to celebrity killers but is so extravagant and poetic in its means that it becomes, in the same breath, an irresistible paean to unfettered recreational slaughter. The first 15 minutes do not so much test as erase the contours of sitcom convention, setting free an ordinarily muffled content that celebrates, within the frame of a passionate romance between two attractive and murderous young people with a lot in common, the amputation of  sociality that we are encouraged to believe is one of the great privileges of dedicated coupledom.

By presenting Ed/Rodney as the prime and incestuous transgressor Stone creates a space in which the abused and avenging Mickey and Mallory may outdo him as killers yet retain the charm of the natural born. Rodney Dangerfield’s stand-up comedy work is made palatable, furthermore, because it is presented as a species of self-harm but  in the menacing sitcom preamble to Stone’s movie this effect is redirected with the support of, amongst other things, the sound of manic laughter from the laugh track serving to remind us how uniquely thrilling are the pleasures of rupturing taboo.

17.08.2021