Digital Ischemia


Vanishing Mythnight 3/3 Satyrs in the Wood of Cypress

A short farce where an anachronistic entitled young hero unravels his inheritance and unleashes mythical world salvation… begins at part 1

Being bound by the wench is simultaneously thrilling and repugnant – I still suspect she has been sub-lagoon. I glance at the gilt-lacquered Venk: he gives a magnificent ham performance of dismay at finding himself similarly restricted about the wrists. I actually— I admit, for once I’m glad he’s here. I have every confidence in his total preparedness for any eventuality. Infuriating as it is at every other juncture. But the evil wench is speaking again.

She’s doing the tedious megalomaniac explanation of all her motives thing.
“It was me who knocked over the second statue!”
“I suppose you shat by the third one too? Heavy lunch of grass?”
Her expression becomes irate. I can tell, even in the gloom, because there is a sudden sizzling warmth. But I’m unforgivably tied up in a folly; I am fully justified in being foolish. My foul fingers have been forced against my filthy, dung-encrusted body. She paces as she prattles on.

When the wench recedes, Venk whispers, “have you learnt nothing?” As an afterthought he adds, “sir.”
If his character’s circumscription is crumbling we must be approaching the thrilling denouement. I hiss an arbitrary pretentious literary reference.
“Gogol considers the most profound sleep to come ‘only to such fortunate folk as are troubled neither with mosquitoes nor fleas nor excessive activity of brain.’ I see which one is my problem, but which is yours?”

The wench continues to wander the misererium as she witters about her sacrifices for the quest… blah blah… conquering the lagoon… blah blah… The moment she faces away from us, the torch’s glimmer on Venk’s face shows him jerking his head repeatedly at her and mouthing, “key!”

Our intellectual tête-á-tête is interrupted by a tapping on the window.
An unholy voice rasps “Venk! Venk! Are you in there?”
The evil wench freezes. I seize my chance and lunge my foot at her. I don’t know if it is the prospect of discovery or a fear of the undead, but, just as I reach her ankle, our captor bolts. She does not trip and fall. However, a girly post–exertion whimper escapes my lips. Hopefully she didn’t notice that on her way out.

I re-group and hear a tinkle on the floor. Metallic, not terrified. My toes seem to have caught something. A familiar adversary. I squirm, trying to prehensilise my phalanges. Venk goes one better: he has already untied himself and is now releasing me. I’m astonished, despite myself.
“For the love of pastry, Venk!”

Venk airily admits to being an amateur ventriloquist as well as an escapologist. As well as the mythical salvation thing. Clad in nothing but skilfully–applied gilt paint. I suppose he has had some time over the centuries to master such leisure pursuits. Certainly after seven hundred years he knows the estate quite well, for example when a gust of wind is likely to cause a branch to tap the window.
“Jolly well done, Venk.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I shan’t forget this.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Sorry?” But he is already on his way up the stair. With the torch. Grabbing a butterfly key from the floor.

I leap, well, lunge, well, lurch after him. His sprightliness has never surprised me; it has been a fact for my entire existence. However, I think this is the first time I have tried to keep up with him: his turn of speed is impressive. Of course, I’m handicapped by my several injuries.
I bleat, “bags me unlocking the first statue!” How immature.

By the time I reach the statues, the first two are already wobbling about, emitting rusty neighs. Venk is anally-liberating the third.
He calls cheerily, “clockwork! A butterfly key up the arse and off it goes.”

The third statue approaches me with curiosity and vomits. I feel my ankles sizzling. He whinnies regretfully.
Venk scurries up. “I do apologise. I’ll get that rinsed off with haste.” Had I thought much about it, I would expect lithified mythif— mythological creatures to have pretty corrosive stomach acid.
“Thank you. I wouldn’t bother you, but I think lagoon… juice would merely aggravate the problem.”

The statue glances over his shoulder at the source of increasing rowdiness among the trees.
“Venkeslav is remarkably resourceful – what a party!”
Venk is indeed astonishing: he is the centre of bawdy antics. He has a coven of reanimated satyrs, centaurs or suchlike gyrating hypnotically. I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten about my rinsewater. Meanwhile, I need no invitation; I am Hrabê Nula!— “ONE STEP, YOU GHASTLY WORM, AND—” Quiet, Mother. I am going to enjoy myself.

I think this qualifies as a ‘good party’. Very Bohemian. No, the other one… Bacchanalian. I smile at my masterful articulation. Woven among the trees are even railings with skulls and crossbones. I enquire incoherently of one of my fellow revellers, a whirling wych-elm.
“Warning of what?”
“Well, death.”
“Yes, but from what?”
I receive my first ligneous sneer.

I need no invitation; I am Hrabê Nula! No, I’ve done that already, haven’t I? No matter. My physique is sufficiently— “SCRAWNY!” — Quiet, Mother. I am sufficiently lean and lithe to slip between the railings, with little damage. What rich colours and glossy leaves. What a deliciously heady atmosphere! I inhale deeply. My senses overload: white vision, white noise, diffuse fuzzy feeling, lack of gravity, then the ground gently but firmly hits me on the side.

Faintly I hear Venk. “Sir, you seem to be having some trouble with your fly.”
As usual, he has put his tactful finger right on— “I was! There were dryads and nyads and… plyads— Where have they gone?!”
“Where am I?”
“In the garden, sir.”
“I don’t recognise—”
“The Poison Garden, sir. Your mother, RIP, kept a quadrant segregated for your father’s…”
“Intixo— ontox—?” There is another collision in my mind: this time of half-baked notions with poison-induced anxiety, but still Venk-oriented. I splutter for good measure.
“Traitor! Imposter! Methuselah!”
This is slurred beyond translation, but he nods patronisingly.

When I next regain consciousness, I am in my bed. It seems a long time since I was last in repose. All is peaceful, quiet. And sore.
“You fixed the pipes?”
He nods affirmation.
“Sorry, sir?”
“It was all a poison dream, wasn’t it?”

Sheepishly he unlocks the door of a small, ancient cabinet. “I did keep one glass, sir.”
“Mouse piss?”
“One last trip, sir? That’s all it would be, I’m afraid. Can’t have you going the same way as—”
Before he lapses into his obsessional neurosis about my genetic predispositions, I split the glass into another and offer it to him as a dare.
“Exactly how old are you, Venk?”
“Millennia, sir. Drink up.”

Venk downs his dose and strides out; I choke mine down and stumble from my bed. I’m less fussed about the role reversal now, just keen to get to the action. We hear it before we see it. The reanimated statues seem to be having a philosophical altercation.
“Has the old tyrant finally died?”
“Which one?”
“There’s always another one.”
“Why is there no lava?”
“Where’s the blood?”
“Am I a centaur or a satyr?”
“Let me look at your ears, then.”

Maybe it’s having had only half a dose this time, but the vista is so much clearer.
“Satyrs, Venk? This is so much more than my effort!”
He seems diffidently pleased. “Would you excuse me for a moment, sir?”
I make an expansive gesture of goodwill.
He calls over his shoulder, “I leave you my daughter.”
Daughter? What withered crone would this be? I’m not delirious enough to get entangled in another barnacle-like family member. This night is for fun. I stare hard at a couple of trees, willing them to give up their spirits. To my astonished delight, that old wych-elm shimmers promisingly. Something is detaching from the trunk… No! Of all the rotten luck.

I greet her as an old friend.
“You nymph of Nizhny Novgorod!”
“You don’t even know where that is!”
“It’s east, north-east actually!”
The wench explodes with scornful laughter.
I continue to protest. “You wouldn’t have found the key without me!”
Venk runs past in hot pursuit of a satyr and throws out an attempt to mollify us en route.
“Children, please. I can’t wait another generation! I had hoped to expedite matters.”
The wench is still sniggering.
I spit back, “what ‘matters’?!”
“The world is disintegrating! You seem to need a shove.” Fair enough. For one horrible moment I had thought he was trying to arrange a marriage.

The wench acquiesces. “Sorry for the tying you up and running off thing. When I saw my—” She breaks off, seemingly overcome with awe, or perhaps something less respectful. “—Saviour glowing gold I panicked a bit.”
I am gracious. “Quite understandable. What’s your name?”
“Venčova.” This time both halves of my brain collide.
“You’re related?”
“You can call me Nitka.”
“Short for?”
“Infinitia.” Of course. Everything I am not.
The whole thing has been a contrived pantomime. Entertain the inchoate nobility. Disappointing.

While we have been playing more nicely—I am much dispirited—Venk has boarded one of the statues, which he now coaxes around a cypress.
“Absolutely the best retirement present, sir! My very own herd!”
The satyr looks less than happy, having two heads and a spine unwilling to be ridden. I turn to Ms Venčova.
“What have I unleashed? The hooves of hell?”
“The seven horsemen of the apocalypse?”
“Horsemen – very good.”

Venk vents a thundering call to arms. After a couple of seconds of revelry-lag, the other satyrs wince and stagger into a loose coalescence. They collectively gallup into the copse, altercate with several trees, then emerge beyond, with unimpeded momentum, despite two facing the wrong way. As this salvation vanguard passes out of sight, we continue to follow their progress.
A mighty splashing and churning, as if a dam has failed.
“They’ve reached the river.”
Distant roars of civil alarm. Massive masonry destruction.
“They’ve reached the town.”

The wench yawns. She doesn’t start fondling me in distracting ways, but then I am still sporting a crust of manure. She sinks on to the grass beside an old oak and curls up drowsily.

Starlings are waking. Their rasps sounds like peeling potatoes. Time to start planning the new world. Starting with a full map and inventory of this estate. Really quite urgently. Before I forget everything. And I must figure out how to make hot water in the bath.


Inspired by Bohuslav Martinů’s Vanishing Midnight in its three movements: Satyrs in the Wood of Cyprus, The Blue Hour, and Shadows. Backward. As in Natas Pishrowers.
I often have insomnia, often hypoglycaemic. Unfortunately I don’t have battlements, but I enjoy wandering through the hallucinations.

cypress sunrise orange sky


Vanishing Mythnight 2/3 The Blue Hour

A short farce where an anachronistic entitled young hero unravels his inheritance and unleashes mythical world salvation… begins at part 1

I return to my course, destination: misererium. The second statue is behind this cypress. As it reveals itself, all silky muscle contours, it is still but not still: it seems to be quivering. That’s the night light again: my brain trying to resolve puzzling images. I press my hand on its flank. Peculiarly warm, like the stone of the parapet. I imagine a pulse, a fasciculation.

I snatch my hand away. Another of my mother’s injunctions—”KEEP YOUR FILTHY PAWS—” But I seem to be fighting back. She’s not here; I’m quite grown-up now. I know there’s no danger from a statue. I press on toward the next. I fancy I hear a muffled whinny. That’s my mind trying to recognise the quiet sounds usually drowned out by daytime noise.

My soothing inner voice is shattered by a mighty crash. My head snaps around: the second statue lies on its side by its plinth. Its legs stick out stiffly, but it appears unbroken. Perhaps I was a little hasty in asserting the total safety of statues.

I wind along the path through a few more cypresses. The dark mass of the wood presses at my side. I hear wheezing. This time I am ready.
“Venk. Please desist from following me.”
“But, sir, I heard a tremendous noise. I imagined you hurt.” A reasonable assumption. He scans my body with medical interest. Then disappointment.
“How did you find me?”
“Well, sir, there was the tremendous crash.”
“I didn’t do anything! I was just walking past when it fell!”
“Of course, sir.” He glances at my trail. Curse my shin.

Out here my drippings show as violet. In the vicinity of the third statue I approach a hum. I expect to meet undead bees swarming up my blood runway to attempt to pollinate my— Drat. Just as the fantasy is rather pleasantly taking my mind off my throbbing shin, Venk has interrupted.
“—turd, sir.”
“I know this is the third!” Wheech, splat. Flies, not bees.
This feels like the daft kind of adventure where everything has to come around thrice. Except Venk; he is apparently an infinite loop, curse him.

I pride myself on my resilience and agility so I roll immediately out of the dung. Just the tiniest of winces. The shortest route to safety from any chance of falling sculpture seems to be through the excrement itself.
“Please stand aside.”
Venk has read my intention and is already stepping back.

I want a closer look from a safe distance at the source of this steaming pile of mythical manure. Venk follows indiscreetly, like a manic dog.
“Why are you looking up its arse, sir?”
“Er… I’m just fascinated by how sculptors from times gone by sort of glossed over certain anatomical…”
“Glossed? It has a hole. What more do you want?”
“Yes, but what an interesting shape: like an inverted keyhole…”

But I must not let myself be distracted: I will get to the… bottom… of this.
I stalk past the remaining four statues, oblivious to further incident, and on up to the fated misererium. Again the flitting white wisp. Just in case, I walk carefully with both hands limply before me. None of the great vaulted gateways are fitted with glass, pier or otherwise. The vaulting seems sufficient inexplicable ostentation for a folly, without doubling everything in reflections. Especially since the above-ground portion is merely misdirection.

The descent into the actual subterranean misererium is predictably dark, wet, and fetid. Shards of pale blue moonlight slice jaggedly between the ill-fitting masonry and only serve to make the rest more impenetrable. A papery rustling suggests mummified corpses or centuries of human dust heaped in dunes. A small crunch under my foot: probably a toenail. Not mine. I reach the cavern.

As quoth Mutual Friend Eugene Wrayburn, “invisible insects of diabolical activity swarm in this place.” Plus an ethereal wench. In a white nightshirt or smock or whatever is the appropriate term for female garmentage. All my manners are instantly sucked swirling down the plughole of my confusion. I blurt.
“Are you sleepwalking?”
“No, you are.” Her phlegmy voice suggests she’s been gargling lagoon water. Perhaps the drifting manoeuvre failed at some point and she fell in. I make a mental note not to touch her.
She continues, with incisive tact. “You are injured.”
“A mere graze.”

My eyes adjust to this darker shade of dark, and discern less dark shapes. The papery rustling may actually be paper. Papers. The wench sits in a pile of them.
“I was reading.”
“I doubt that.”
“I extinguished the torch when I heard you blundering this way.”
That would be how she identified my injury. Not concern.

A taper flares. From the papers leaps a cacophony of blurry hieroglyphs. I grab a handful and scan them eruditely.
“Where did you get these?”
Her glance slices through me, like a warmed rapier through wax. She throws a wispy arm toward the cesspit. I let the papers fall. I make a mental note not to pick my nose.

I step carefully around her. The wench sniffs deprecatingly. Another piece of vicious masonry grates my toes. As I suck my teeth again, I reflect that it is no wonder this place is rustling with toenails. As her taper flickers, her face seems to momentarily reflect that viciousness. Wait…
“You’re rubbing the stones.” My usual marker has helpfully smeared into a series of regular indentations, highlighting their contours in crimson ink.
“Your father… reused some local… monuments.”
The old cadaver! “Was he disturbing ancient graves?!”
“Not exactly: stone tablets.”
“Oh, like runes?”
She grudges an equivocal head wobble.

I have not impressed. Shame and regret lead to petulance.
“Give me that.” I snatch. All my mother’s training out the window. “I am Hrabě Nula!”
“That sounds about right.” I ignore her barb.
“What do the scritchy scratches mean then?”
She is reluctant to share her treasure. “Well, an army of knights… asleep underground…”
“Dead, you mean?”
“Are you going to dig them up? Re-animate them?” My head wobble is taunting.
She collectively gestures the sheets. “It’s not clear how that will happen.”

Uncannily I feel my super power forehead ring fire up. The hieroglyphs shimmer and squirm then start to convey something.
“It’s hard to read: all smeary. ‘They will awake and, under the command of Chief Satyr Wensey—, will come to the aid of the Smudgy People—”
“Smudgy people?”
“Ink blot. Or something off my thumb. This torch isn’t helping.”
She recoils then carefully cranes over to peer down the page.
“… In their time of need.”
But there’s a gap. Does she think I can’t read it or can she not read it? I can’t read it… completely, but the sense seems to be about what actually triggers the awakening, the unfreezing, the unlocking…

I feel a surge of intellectual, or possibly egoic, titillation. This is the apocalyptic stuff Venk has me reading about. This could be where I insert myself nobly. Er.
“Just how dreadful do human affairs have to get before these somnolent heroes stir into action? And who is Wensil—”
Our reading light gutters with an irreverent hiss. She licks her finger and prods the wick. This is simultaneously arousing and annoying. I’ve been training for months to put my hand through— Now the wench is speaking.
“I think it’s pronounced ‘Vench—'”
Is she reading my mind?? Oh, she means that ‘Wensey—’ word. Wait!

I snatch the recovering torch and thrust it to light the one by the steps. I tread heavily on another cold, sharp piece of debris. Unsettled concepts in my mind collide with acute discomfort.
“Arsehole! Does this torch holder look remarkably like Venk?”
“A sort of staff gentleman who refuses to leave.”
She nods, nonplussed. She has noticed my leg recoil and, although obviously she can’t offer any direct nursing to my shit-splattered foot, she feels around the floor to remove the injurious item.
“It’s not him, is it?” I give the brass some firm palpitation. It reminds me of the statue. I realise that if this is Venk dressed in nothing but gilt paint I will be traumatised for the rest of my life over how I am touching him. I stop abruptly.

Luckily the vench—wench does not suffer my sensitivities.
“What exquisite workmanship… despite the subject.”
“Thank you, madam.”
We both gasp. Still annoying when you know fine well what’s coming.
Venk continues, “sorry, sir. Perhaps you wanted to be alone with—?”
“Thank you, Venk!”
“—but you will keep wandering off without a light, leaving blood everywhere, and it saves time if I get at it straight away.”

My dear mother always said—”pull yourself together, YOU DAMP BLOT!”—I should be assertive.
“Venk: what is your full name?”
“Classified, sir.”
“Nonsense. Is it by any chance Vince? Winsey—Winky—?”
“Oh, please desist, sir. It’s Venkeslav.”
“That’s not as interesting as I expected.” I lie.

Venk seems to have just admitted to being a legend destined to lead mythical forces to save humanity. Or something like that. I must protect myself from any potential adverse side-effects of the discovery by feigning ignorance.

However, the wench blurts out her disagreement. I forgive her for not reading my frantic facial expressions in the gloom.
“I think it is rather int—” She is suddenly muffled.
“Venk. Unhand my companion. Dismiss.”
“You’re still here.”
“Yes, sir. Like I say, when you get going with the… lady I want a head start on the mopping and repairs.”
“Dismiss. Avaunt. Clear off.”
“Sir, your poor mother said to me—” “lash him in cask and float him out to sea!” “—to look after you.”
The wench interjects, “he could hold the torch.” Very droll.

The wench physically positions Venk to our best advantage, rather piquing my envy. She turns her attention to me.
“Why are you holding your hands behind you? Is it because you’re an irretrievable, entitled, elitist Tally?” Another point to her.
My self-consciousness short-circuits my self-preservation. “Swamp water. Mustn’t pick my—” Drat.
She sniggers. “I can sort that for you.” She springs behind me. I feel a sensuous touch glide over my arms, a soft cloth and a sudden tight bind. Curses.

…continues at part 3


Vanishing Mythnight 1/3 Shadows

A short farce where an anachronistic entitled young hero unravels his inheritance and unleashes mythical world salvation

Something wakes in my head around 3AM. There’s no hint of daylight yet, just the summer midnight blue. I wander about the crenellations, imagining myself a hero in an as yet unexposited drama. Always I am poised on the verge of glory; world salvation calls but my dozy brain has yet to figure out which way. Still, the masonry remains comfortingly warm from yesterday’s sun. After an hour my legs tire and I return to bed to complete my slumber.

But not tonight. Tonight the murk gives up an ethereal wisp. At the far end of this opulently long and wide corridor there sways a pale figure. As I see it, it seems to see me; we both halt and hold our breaths. I watch its suspended stillness. Involuntarily I move toward it; simultaneously it sways toward me.

What a dolt. My reflection. My white nightshirt. I wave. Within a moment, the apparition responds. I laugh sardonically. I turn about, thinking of it setting off similarly in its mirror world, as I tread another hall toward another rampart.

I should introduce myself. I am Hrabě Nula – Count Zero. Following the Roman tradition, my father planned to number his children, but my mother took one look at me and decided to stop before she started. I’ve lived here all my life; it is the only place I have known, yet all I know is that I don’t know all… That’s quite good, actually; I should write that down.

I relish glancing over the semi-familiar shapes in the grounds below: efflorescences of darker dark; geometrical puzzles that tantalise and surprise as I—
I suck my teeth.
“Venk!” My voice quavers.
“Yes, sir.”
I gasp at his ubiquitous proximity. Venk has been my family’s retainer for about seven hundred years. He has the physique of a leather kite.
I whimper. “The masonry is protruding again.”
“I have the file.”
“It was that second column after the—”
“Yes, sir. I see your usual marker on the balustrade. May I blot your shin?”
“Don’t fuss.”
“Right, sir. I’ll follow with the mop.”
“Leave it; it makes the battlements look authentic.”
“Yes, sir.”

I take this opportunity to be gracious.
“You really needn’t address me as ‘sir’, Venk; you wiped my bum as a baby!”
“I most certainly did not, sir! I am a butler; I don’t do crevices.”
“Well, perhaps it was a turn of phrase of my fath—”
“I did not under any circumstances perform any such or related services for your father, RIP.”
“Not even when he was floating drunk?”
As I hobble on, the rasp of Venk’s metal file recedes.

I don’t ask Venk to do anything. I pay him what I believe is a decent pension, and more besides, as reparation for his centuries of torment. However, he still likes my perfunctory opinion on certain matters of estate and domestic management, so I try not to be too imbecilic.

Recently Venk has had me studying a ‘news’ circular from the city after meals. It’s frightening stuff. I don’t think it can all be genuine; some must be a literary in-joke. He says it will ‘broaden my horizons’, the blighter.

My cogitations are interrupted by a dainty scuffling among the gargoyles. Not an ethereal wisp. Not Venk. I call back to him, trying to sound authoritative.
“Scuffling, Venk; animal, vegetable or mineral?”
“As yet, sir, not fully determined.” He has no idea.
“We’ll attribute it to Od, pro tem.”
“Have you been at the pig Latin again, sir?”
“I beg your pardon?!”
“Ixnay, ogday, and suchlike, sir.”
“I was twelve, Venk! It was a fad during my pseudo-intelligentsia epoch.”
“I see. So it’s not odgay?”
“Absolutely not. It’s a placeholder for unexplained natural causes and scientific phenomena, coined in the 19th century.”
“That’s an entirely different and wholly appropriate matter, sir. I apologise.”
“I don’t know where you get to these preposterous notions, Venk.”

Feeling still entirely untired, I limp toward one of the flights of stairs, which is wide enough to serve as an amphitheatre. My father was a considerable narcissist. Emphasis on ‘arse’. To be precise: short-arse. Each step is barely a heel’s depth and as polished as the day, or the day after, it was installed. Just to add excitement, some of the steps are not horizontal. That skittering is the sound of my inappropriate footwear losing traction and further polishing said non-horizontal steps.

Fear not: as I said, the steps are shallow, so the descent is little more than the feeling of a back massage with a washboard. The problem is that my father liked to survey his estate, while my mother disliked the Baltic breeze whistling up the stairwell. Plus my inability to maintain a feet-first position as I cross the floor below. You can imagine the sound as my forehead connects with the glass partition door.

I push myself up to sit but I’m too dizzy to move further. The pain radiates sparks through my vision. Yet I can make out a small boy standing beyond the glass. He seems about five years old and remarkably composed with his hands clasped neatly before his belly. I recognise him: he’s the one rumoured to have been recruited by some clandestine organisation because he has super-mental powers.

He steps toward the glass, our faces level. He raises one arm, his forefinger outstretched, to precisely touch my forehead as it appears in the glass on his side. I lift my finger to meet it on my side. He recognises my forehead energy ring as a sign of similar super-mental powers. I gaze at his face as his forehead lights up with a small red ring. I feel the strangest, wondrous, intense sensation in my own forehead.

Initially we test each other with tricks. The boy wanders to the village and waves to me from the church. I focus my special forehead vision and proceed to pan and zoom as if viewing from a bird’s eye. I’m confident that the church is north from here so I move in that direction by intention. However, this is hard work as I’m too close range so it’s difficult to make out features. Eventually I hit indistinguishable grey blobs and conclude I’ve found the church roof.

About this point Venk ruins my connection to this extraordinary skill by throwing a glass of cold water over me and expressing his untender concern for my welfare.
“That’s an angry red ring on your forehead, sir. Shall I prepare a poultice?”
I swat him away. Something is not right in my head. Apart from the throbbing bruise and frayed blood vessels. The glass… There isn’t any glass on the parapet.

I grab the glass from Venk’s hand and down the remaining measure. He seems momentarily appalled but regroups admirably. Clawing my way up his shiny buttons, I haul myself up to a swaying stand.

I retrace my steps: straightforward as there is a convenient red dotted line. Intrepidly I step Beyond the Red Line. I yelp. The ever-solicitous Venk leaps out from an alcove, a threadbare dressing draped over his shoulder, a crucible of noxious excreta in his hand.
“Please let me attend to your wound, sir.”
In my excitement I flap him away from my shin.
“There was a girl— There was someone here.”
“I put her in the misererium, sir.”
I stumble away with horrible visions of this exquisite ethereal wisp manacled to a slimy wall.

The misererium is an often overlooked feature of Roman architecture, and thus of mock-Roman, faux-ancient, ego-indulgent edifices.
“I put her in the misererium, sir.”
Venk’s words echo through my frantic mind. They also echo through the stone corridors; as well as Baltic wind funnels, my father was unintentionally successful in creating the most bone-powdering auditory effects.
“I put her in the misererium, sir.”
“What do you mean ‘put’?!”
“She is awaiting your convenience, sir.”
“To restore her to health? To one piece? I’m not a sorcerer!”
Venk glances critically at my bare legs, and their cross-hatched archaeology of injuries. “Indeed, sir.”
“Why? Why there?”
“She seemed melancholy, sir.”

The misererium of my acquaintance is situated on the far side of the lagoon – a stagnant, algae-glazed, joy-sapping puddle. It is dangerously close to the wood. My mother forbade me from exploring—”If I catch you in that wood, I’ll remove your testicles with this fork.”—that feature with her characteristic firmness. I feel shivers developing into shudders at the mere glimpse of it.

But first I must divert Venk.
“What’s that infernal scritchy scratchy scuffling?”
“Mice, sir.” He’s guessing.
“Mice?! Poison them!”
“I am effecting every method of dissuasion, sir.”
“What sort of cowardly—?!”
“Unfortunately they’re in the gubbins, sir.”
“They would die horribly in your water supply.”
“Whereas now they’re just shitting in it?”
“I’m training Beetles to penetrate—”
“The cat, sir. You named her.”
“I was four! Is she still going?!”
“With a sniff of mouse at one end and a sharp stick at the other.”
“So there’s ancient cat piss in the waterworks as well.”
“We are well supplied with… alternative beverages, sir.”
“Father’s fifth circle of cellar?” This is desperate. “Please sort it forthwith.”
“Yes, sir.”

In repairing to the forbidding misererium, I must negotiate other characters. My father littered the grounds with marble and stone and bronze statues; he never could decide which was the most ostentatious. Yet oddly none of them were intended to resemble himself. They are creatures of mythology: human-beast chimeras. On second thoughts, perhaps they were very good likenesses. I make a mental note to research the distinction between centaurs and satyrs, more for a false feeling of mental control than any genuine practical application.

The midnight blue gives the statues an eerie luminescence, a looming essence from behind trees. Involuntarily I gasp. Despite knowing exactly where each one is, my primitive brain sparks to make me start anyway. This is annoying. Yet without an overhead light this first one seems to wear a smirk.

I glance across the water—or whatever is beneath that fetid crust—to steady my nerves. In this deceptive non-light its coating looks like an oil slick. I get a further jolt: the ethereal wisp drifts over the far side of the toxic swamp. It could not be one of the marble statues: they are not that well polished and reflective. Nor could they balance upon that noxious veneer. There would be a chthonic crack and plunge.

I vacillate between relief that Venk has failed to constrain her and further anxiety that she is still abroad. The first statue sneers at my discomfiture.

…continues at part 2


Death and Taxings

Welcome to the Dickensian Circumlocution Office:

“What was your father’s mother’s maiden name?”
I’m ready for you there.
“What was her occupation?”
Er… homemaker and mother as far as I know. I never met the lady! The irony is you could have asked this two days ago and my father could have told you. Probably.
“Was she she married before this?”
Before 1928?? I can’t imagine my father would know that either. Are you testing me to see if I’m faking this? Is the hypothesis that the fewer questions I answer, the more likely it is that I’m recently bereaved rather than fraudulent?
“It’s because he was born in England.”
Are you saying that in 2020 your computer can’t talk to England?? Is this some spectacularly deviated intergovernmental petulance?
Actually, I was born in England too. Can I give you the information now, to save someone the trouble later? Or shall I just get my coat?

Eulogy prompts are fun for an irretrievable idiosyncrat:

“Details of activities e.g. music, theatre etc., club memberships, positions held, sporting achievements”
N/A. N/A. N/A. His activity was entirely in the brain. Even there it was intermittent. He sometimes ‘logged off’ in the middle of a conversation – while he was speaking. As a certified insomniac, I deeply envy this degree of narcolepsy.
“Details of any war or military service.”
That was just the way he spoke. Nobody knows why. No connection to 1930s Airmen.

After a bereavement, people customarily share memories – appreciative, irreverent, or just tactful, but good-humoured and supportive. Such as…

“We travelled for a week round the Highlands in his car. He proved quite ‘authoritarian’ and decided each day what our destination would be! This was offset by the very pleasant task we set ourselves of judging the porridge and scones in each place where we stayed. I think those in Skye were the winners.”
“Had he not taken up the medical profession, he could have tried racing driving! He loved his BMW sports car and drove with great enjoyment and on occasions with breath-taking speed.”
“Well, it was warm and windy so I was out in the garden singing ‘ding, dong, the wizard’s gone!'”

“He was one of those people that add to your life and they are few and far between. He led a full and rich life of service to the community.”
“He was always a thoughtful man, and amiable: and even if he did not agree with your point of view, he would always respond in a measured way.”
“Were you aware of his excessive spending? Did you ever discuss it? I find it hard to accept that he’s left nothing for you.”

“These were difficult but formative times, which do tend to cement personal relationships. He was a good friend and colleague.”
“We had many interesting and ‘deep’ philosophical discussions. We worked on the same wavelength.”
“If you like, you could say he and I were married for 23 years and had an amicable divorce.”
Apparently. And it was only 27 years ago.

“The Assets and Resources Committee soon became referred to by its initials, ARC. We had a series of day-long meetings of quite intense discussion and became known as ‘the four wise men of the arc.'”
“An exasperating but interesting cove.”
“You have probably already chosen the music for the funeral, just to say his favourites were particularly Mozart: his piano concerto no. 21, played by Alfred Brendel.”
Unfortunately Alfred Brendel isn’t available, but we do have the soundtrack from the Wizard of Oz.

I miss having my eccentricities dwarfed. And the other parent diluted.


Father Episodes concluded

A final instalment of eccentric vignettes, following the original Father Episodes and Father Episodes cont’d

The last time I saw him was of course at his convenience.
“I am booked with the optician in Auchterarder, Monday week. I shall make a pitstop with you, ETA 1PM.”
Of course the whole thing collapses under any rational scrutiny: why travel from Dumbarton to Auchterarder for an optician? Tramlines. Why visit? Marginally more comfortable than sitting in the car to eat half a sandwich and a biscuit. But the notification was purely a courtesy; the arrangement was already fixed.
I had a go anyway.
“I will have someone else visiting me that day.”
“Not a problem.”
“I might not be able to give you my full attention.”
“Not a problem.”
“I may be tired.”
Ridiculous and irrelevant. My role was simply to unlock the door. In fact, I got off lightly: the previous time he had directed me to install a handrail at the front steps. I wriggled out of this by pointing out that there was one at the back door. Points deducted, however, for lack of red carpet.

A few months ago, he presented me with a curiosity.
“I had a new experience this morning. In the kitchen I found three mugs lined up on the worktop, each containing exactly one inch of tomato soup.”
Off-guard, I tried to unravel the nonsense. “Were you up in the night?”
“I have absolutely no recollection of how they got there!”
I grasped for something sensible. “Does any of your medication have that sort of side-effect?”
“I think someone’s been in.”
I braced myself for supernatural allusions.
He continued, “one of my neighbours.”
“How would they get in?”
“I leave the door open.”

One of our last conversations interrupted him in an extended session of wallowing in the BBC News. He summarised ominously:
“It’s not far off now.”
I probed facetiously for some context. “What? The apocalypse?!”
“Yes. But I think I’ll nip out just in time.”

There was always a very fine line between idiosyncrasy and mischief. I can hear him chuckling as he trundles off across the cosmos.


Water Twerp

Filed under: Essays — Tags: , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 17:21

On Friday the water stopped. Not the power. Different. From the safety of my dry-dock I interrogated Scottish Water. They announced that someone had dug a hole in a field, got a bit carried away and disconnected three postcode areas. They specified the perpetrator as A Third Party, meaning ‘it wasnae us’.

Scottish Water webpage: Burst Water Main in Kinross

What happens when lockdown fever strikes someone who has access to not just power tools but a mini-digger? Momentarily distracted by a peacock. Crunch. Engine cuts to idle, overlaid by cursing. Overlaid by tremendous rushing of water.

I virtually invited my neighbour to comment. He has his finger on the neighbourhood pulse. He didn’t have to extend it very far: it turned out that all this drama was taking place in the field behind our opposite neighbour. I have long suspected that I am oblivious to anything beyond a thirty metre radius. Especially when that thirty metre radius is circumscribed by an amply-filled moat.

Here in the Castle at the Centre of the Universe I was pondering how to water my houseplants. They were thirsty. I should have put a bucket under the leaking gutter. More bothersome was the tragic irony in these times of heightened hygiene. I considered broaching my bottle of propyl alcohol, but decided to keep my fingerprints.

I wonder who pays: the cost in money but also in lost, treated water, in repairs and in delivering drinking water vanually. And the extra worry and hassle across three postcode areas, on top of too much already.

The day ended with water coming at us threefold: the piped supply was gradually re-introduced with a special agricultural flavouring, a van hurtled up the street and its driver threw water bottles at every doorstep, and rain fell in plentiful quantities. I have gaffer-taped an old beaker to the windowsill just in case.


Civil Ludicrosities

The octogenarian who has so generously imbued my life with so many… wrinkles… recently paused mid-biscuit to issue a demand: he requires a new mobile telephone. Why? Pyjama pocket. 60° with extra rinse cycle.

I probed for a specification: it must be able to telephone. Not create daguerreotypes, not record wax cylinder memos, not browse the encyclopediaweb, just telephone. It must have buttons one can see and press with positive tactile feedback. No answerphone that answers before you can, then charges you to retrieve the sound of someone hanging up. Missed call numbers, if recognised, might be useful but no matter.

I further probed for motivation: emergency use only. Pay as you go. Not pay £75 as you enjoy your short break at Her Majesty’s Infirmary, Paisley. Oh, and text postcards. Why? Because the bank wants that now.

Civil liberties? Was that last century? I feel an erosion. I have to commit to the cost of a mobile phone and contract in order to access my own money? Most people have them anyway. Good for them. Not the point. As criminals become increasingly ingenious, and bankers suffer increasing dents in their bonuses, they’re pushing back the effort of security to customers. Because the additional effort is ‘for our protection’ and not for the banks’ at all.

Like insurance companies pushing back to customers the cost of weak development legislation leading to houses being built on floodplains leading to increasing damage costs. Even if my house is not built on a floodplain. We customers must share the pain so that the insurance companies can continue to enjoy their well earned profits. Eventually we may try to complete the vicious circle by pushing back to politicians. Do not pass go; do not password go; do not collect £200.

Someone is nicking the cream off these delicious octo-ginger biscuits and leaving us the pre-digested stale crumbs.

And toilet paper. Surely you saw my reasoning heading inexorably sewer-ward. The raison d’être of privatised water companies is to amply fill hot tub dividends for investors. In consequence they have omitted to maintain their pipework, let alone upgrade it from antediluvian pottery. In order to bail out (shudder) we consumers— No, I must absolutely expunge (shudder) that term, especially as it pertains to waste water, and in its place instate ‘Citizens’— In order to bail out we citizens, we must once again pick up the can— argh! Pick up the cost, not only in pounds but in wear and tear on the delicates.

Seriously. Have you noticed changes in arse wipe? The ‘paper’ has been down-qualitatised to the loosest congregation of dust that disintegrates immediately upon contact with any moisture. This is a design triumph to relieve the ‘blockage’ load on sewers, whatever the collateral cost of dispersing coarse paper fibres on irritated delicate epithelia (wince).

My colonic pontification is interrupted by a church bell tolling for the unfriended flock. That loose congregation emerges from its dispersed confinements to hoot and toot and clap six times with limp enthusiasm. The NHS: another erosion. The local peacock concludes the brief ceremony with his characteristic yelp.

When I emerge from my water closet, walking carefully, I will have carefully liberated a riceberg that was blocking the shitting lanes. The rice will dry out the carelessly laundered octo-phone and free his pyjama pocket for the containment of sand, ready for the next celestial inundation. Reduce retail, Reuse device, Recycle lucre into ethical venture. The church bell tolleth no more. That is the howl of bankers.

And on to whatever we will next face as the result of orienting our society to serve and protect corporations rather than citizens. To paraphrase Mark Twain: coronavirus had travelled half way around the world while governments were still putting on their shoes. When we are finally unlocked, can we please not return to business as usual but to community as rediscovered? Bottom-up, if my scatological message has resonated, so to speak.

The octogenarian has retreated to his crumb pit to digest. To paraphrase the peacock, nature will have the last word.


Overdue part 2/2

Continuing from part 1

Actually here. Twenty-five years later. My face becomes fizzy with the thrill. I turn slowly in my seat. There is a resonant squeak. Definitely the seat; not me. There is also a loose edge of veneer on the table leg before me. My anxiety seems to work itself out by quietly rasping my toe against it.

He is instantly recognisable. I should say something. Preferably not flippant or smartarse. Never mind.
“Since my original stupid idea went so well, here’s another one: shall we speak as if this is 2005? What would you have told me then? How were you?”
He grins. “I just got married. You?”

Are you disappointed? Are you expecting me to be disappointed? It’s not like we were even friends.
He’s being succinct, so I babble. “I’m on number two boyfriend – number two serious – serious but not serious enough to get married. There were others, not serious.”
“I heard about that.” Always an alarming ambiguity.
“Heard what?”
“There was some… traffic to the upper floors in that house.”
I chuckle. “That was my year of being extrovert.”
“I was a bit envious.”
“I would have said you were discreet.”
His turn to chuckle.
“Do you still enjoy your curries?”
He smirks sheepishly. “In 2005 and now.”
I seem to be better at smalltalk, twenty-five years later.

What if? What if I had had this ability in 1995 – to converse by asking interested questions? It’s really so easy.
“I imagined you would have written a book… a rather celebrated and well-cited academic sort of book.”
“I am keen on books. Can I say that? It sounds bizarre. Anyway, I like ones that are already written.”
“Ah, you’re here for the… talk thing.” I riffle through my collection of flyers.
He is tickled with his own ingenuity. “Two birds; one sofa.” That was clever. A way out, should he need it.
“Why is this library promoting preposterous fiction?” Here it is: the flyer for today’s unpromising event.
“It’s supposed to be good.”
“You haven’t read it?” Slightly accusatory. Put him on the defensive. Toe still rasping. Making notes.
“I read the first two chapters then I realised I wasn’t paying attention; I was missing things—there are layers—so I’ve started again.”
“Sounds like hard work.”
“I think it’s more rewarding that way.”
An ideal opening.

“Does that apply to other creative art forms?” Will he accept the rather wide-angle, undergraduate premise? Casually I place the flyer between us, a little closer to him. Unconsciously he starts fiddling with it during a momentary ponder. Gratifyingly he launches what sounds like the defence of a thesis on motif and metaphor in classical sculpture. I am fascinated by such things: if you can decipher the code, you find so much more meaning. I absorb this considered discourse for later digestion. I have plenty more questions, and am not yet replete with cryptic ancient whores, but I have limited time. Having wasted fifteen years. Questions shelved.

As he concludes his executive summary, my discordant segué from sublime to ridiculous is to reach into my bag. One at a time, I pull out those Police tapes. He seems politely amazed. I lightly stack them on the table. My way of saying I didn’t forget about him.
“You had stopped listening to The Police, you said; in favour of?”
“Middle-aged, middle-of-the-road classical stuff mostly.”
“Anything in your mind just now?”
“I think it’s Mendelssohn. I’m not nerdy enough to know exactly which piece. Yours?”
“You won’t be surprised that, although that boyfriend didn’t last the decade, his musical influence did.”
“A bit heavier than The Police?”
I’m still absently making notes. Mostly about classical sculpture. I’ll come back to that.

While we’ve been talking, someone has shifted a couple of gigantic posters advertising the book event into an informal conclave. The seats nearer the prospective pulpit have a sprinkling of gatherers. We seem to be on the back fringe; undecided whether we are partaking or not. I like this non-pushiness of library people. Not presuming and setting up around us.

I stand. He’s surprised, even disappointed.
“You’re not staying for the talk?”
“Unfortunately I just can’t sit through that.”
“Can I give you— get your email?” Points for bravery. “I’d rather not make another appointment.” Points for justified jibe, humour, forgiveness. Not disappointed.
“I think you already have.” An alarming ambiguity?
The poor guy looks a little crestfallen. I indicate the flyer by his grasp and add, “you’re gratifyingly suggestible.”
I smile sweetly at his bewilderment, turn about and stalk over to the gap between posters. Not even a token podium.

Of course it isn’t a mean brush-off: on the flyer I passed him earlier I had written my email – my personal one, underneath the pseudonym and obligatory bio. Always scribbling notes. I’ll be lucky if he doesn’t bin it; it could be blowing around Edinburgh in a couple of hours.

One of the other leaflets I have appropriated: ‘Library Services’. What I’ve scratched on this one is a heavy 1960s style square around ‘Senior Acquisiter’ of something arcane. Nobody expects the Senior Acquisiter. So, not a massive detour from his usual environs. Also the reason he was here twenty-five years ago. He knew exactly where he was going. Professionally, certainly; in the way that I had absolutely no idea. So, it was a long shot in time; not so much in space.

I attempt a welcoming smile to greet the gathering. I can’t stop myself glancing to that furthest seat, to his expression of suspended horror. Can he think I’m some sort of literary protester who hijacks book events? Possibly. But only for a moment. The penny dreadful drops. I mouth, with the appropriate number of fingers aloft.
“Two birds; one sofa.”

If you were paying attention to the layers, you would have noticed gaps in the reported conversation. Not socially awkward. Omissions for ambiguity and even misdirection.
“What would you usually be doing at 2:30?”
“On a good day, I’d be in the archives with the white gloves on.”
“And yourself?”
“On a good day, I’d be transcribing my scintillating ideas from the previous evening.”

Underneath my email address I also wrote ‘Mendelssohn Symphony No.1 movement 3’. My pseudo-anxious seat-squeaking and veneer-rasping repeated a passable minuet phrase, if I do say so myself. Rasp, rasp; squeaky-squeak. Always making notes.

The Police Cassette Tapes – first three albums


Overdue part 1/2

In an utterly self-indulgent parallel universe…

Impossibly for several reasons, I’m sitting in the library on the 27th of July, 2020. I’m fifteen years late. At least. Fine? Are you trying to be funny? I’m not even sure of the date. I think it was July. Why was I in a university library in July? It was definitely the main, non-specific library; but why not my familiar science libraries? Because nothing ever happened in those.

Twenty-five years ago, 1995, I was sitting in a 1960s, very square, uncomfortable chair, in the library foyer, in its 1960s, very square building, in George Square, Edinburgh. Inside concrete geometry inside a summer day. I was hunched over a crumpled utilities bill, scratching notes for myself, probably organising tasks, because I was between shifts and needed to get the most out of my free daytime. Then I heard a familiar voice.

When I try to remember exactly when it was—knowing it’s pointless, but also knowing it’s a loose end which needs to be snipped off, because it can’t be tied up—when I try, I don’t remember anything. Later, when I’m not trying, my memory offers tantalising glimpses that it was late July, about 2:30 pm. I try to be sensible: assume it was after graduation in mid-July 1995, and it was a weekday, the last week was the 24th to the 28th. This year we have Friday the 24th and Monday the 27th. So?

This isn’t my first day here. This is day four. I’ve done the 20th, 21st and 24th already. Obviously, if I’m going to do this past-tense what-if neurosis, I’m not going to hang it all on a half-baked timestamp memory. I like to get the feel of a place. The resonance. Admittedly I don’t usually take days. And libraries are not so much resonant as muffled. Plus I have notes to make for an upcoming promotional event. Don’t really want to take days over that either.

But here I am, just as I was, hunched over my scribbling, only now I use an assortment of library flyers. Libraries are one of the last few places where paper is not a dirty word, where printers are not infernal devices.

On Friday a rather solicitous librarian approached me with the top half of her body at a pronounced angle of enquiry. Her quiet voice was wonderfully soothing and confidential.

“Are you OK? I’ve just, well, we’ve noticed you sitting here…”

These days you can’t assume students are all under 25, but still some people look blatantly out of place. Could I get away with ‘it’s a research project to test whether victims also return to the scene of the crime’?

I try to respond with quiet deference. “Oh dear, am I a security concern?” I had got around needing the usual security papers by remaining in the free access area immediately inside the door. Plus I wanted to remain incognito.

The librarian was more accommodating than the furniture. I tried to give her a short version but it still required explanation. A lot of explanation.

“How romantic.”

“Oh, no, we weren’t even friends, like I said. I just feel bad now for half-suggesting the rendezvous then half-forgetting and half-not being able to anyway.” Flimsy.

What would I say if he actually appeared? An apology would be a good start. “I’m sorry I’m late.” Very late. An explanation then. “I was in (A) prison, (B) a Swiss sanatorium, or (C) the bath.” Flippant doesn’t seem right. Flippant smartarse was where I left it.

We had shared the same flat, student house, for two years, then our accommodations had naturally diverged. We weren’t friends, but now I think I would appreciate him more. Because, of course, I’ve changed but he remains exactly the same. After a couple more years at uni I was still awkward, socially inept, but at least I’d learned some smartarse retorts since he’d last seen me. So as my limited smalltalk rapidly expired, I tried to end with a wacky flourish.

“We should do this again.”

He smiled, half genuine, half going along with the daftness. “We should meet back here in… ten years? The same date, 2005.” He seemed to enjoy the joke.

Was I serious? Did I really intend to honour that appointment? Just even for the hell of it? Ten years is a long time at any age. Thirty years is a very long time, especially to still have three music tapes. Museum pieces. Curatable cassettes. No longer played; I still have a tape player but no longer attached to speakers.

That’s what started this off: music. Always music. My emotional therapy and consolidation of lessons learned. Something on the radio reminded me of these tapes, long untouched but kept, treasured. He was thoughtful enough to give them, no longer his taste, but he had noticed mine.

It’s easy now, twenty-five years later, to cyber-stalk someone. But that’s not what I want to do. I want to actually stalk him. No, not that either. Just cauterise that loose end. Apologise to the place, the space for not thinking through the consequences and move on.

Having decided three days is not quite enough effort, on day four my washing machine protests an accumulation of fluff in some convoluted piece of piping by leaking water all across the kitchen floor. Something similar delayed me attending an appointment thirty years ago, or perhaps I invented that excuse… Mopping up this time means I miss my usual train, so I turn up, once again, late. Perhaps the universal judiciary will appreciate the effort.

I have barely dropped my bag beside my usual cuboid banquette when the attentive librarian scuttles up with her hushed tones. She seems jittery. I can tell because the two mugs of vaporising mud in her hands are mesmerisingly close to spilling. Perhaps my time is up.

“I’m so glad you’re here. I thought you might not come today.”

“Laundry debacle. Are you joining me?” Immediately I feel ashamed because obviously neither drink is for me; she has probably just interrupted her own break out of concern for my clearly unhinged welfare.

“No! No.” Yet she puts the mugs on the bench between seats. “Don’t go anywhere!” Now I think she has called somebody professional to mop me up. She adds, “I mean: you should stay for the talk! About a book…” that seems to be all she has; not enticing. She dashes away to a desk and taps a few computer keys. Probably re-orienting the CCTV cameras at me.

She returns at full tilt and alights opposite me, but remains twitchily alert. She indicates some book promotion posters.

“I’m keeping an eye out for our Host.” I’m keeping an eye out for a GHost.

She confidentially murmurs about someone else she or a colleague remembers waiting, or at least sitting patiently, a few summers ago. I nod politely, after all I am patiently waiting. The least I deserve while playing out this feeble non-drama is to listen to somebody else’s. I try to pay attention; I really do. There’s just her soporific murmuring and the soft bump of books.

In a moment, the background rustle of respectful readers resolves into the scuff of slippers, worn down on the inner sides of the heels, crossing ancient kitchen vinyl floor. Instantly recognisable, as is the voice approaching behind me. And what does he say?

“Sorry I’m late.”

Concludes at part 2


Father Episodes cont’d

A further instalment of eccentric vignettes, following the original Father Episodes

Shortly after Father arrived, he presented me with half a dozen nail files and a magnifying hand mirror.
“I thought you might like these for… female titivation.”
I gratefully frowned at the rust spots on the mirror and the assorted specifications of filery: a wide array of shape, coarseness, colour and a common theme of unfit for purpose.
He saw he was losing ground in this attempt to ‘shed’ benevolently.
“I purchased the series in trying to find the right one. I haven’t used them.”


One evening there was a crescendo of televised warfare, culminating in the vociferous cry, “get ‘im! Get ‘im!” This was followed by a rapid series of clunks and curses, “you blighter!” as Father’s reclining chair misinterpreted his vigorous limb-flinging and unfolded on him. His cries of chagrin continued as he flailed in vain to regain sight of the television and reach of the remote control, with the escalating frustration of the battle continuing without him.


Father wears Marks & Spencer’s navy blue moccasins with the special sheep fluff lining. This is a permanent association like birds and feathers, dating back to at least 60 years before any such product was available with the St Michael label. Once there was even a delighted but nebulous epiphany around a previous life as a Native American. Michael of course having received his sainthood for services to ‘cowbags and indibugs’, as the inchoate Father coined his favourite game c.1884.

These slippers are replaced every year in December. Never washed, just replaced. They are purely for nighttime trundles and restricted to the journey between bedroom and bathroom. Not too controversial. However, in my house, I prefer to wear slippers throughout, a probably pointless commitment coincidentally following a substantial outlay for new carpets.

As a spectacularly deviated protest, shortly after moving in, Father explained to me that he was now alternating between two pairs of Marks & Spencer’s navy blue moccasins. The original pair size 7 for original restricted use. Plus a new pair size 7 1/2 for daytime and entire house expeditions. Size 7 1/2, he elaborated, because of the addition of a layer of sock, which would not fit in size 7. Notwithstanding this duplicate provision, he would still sneak about in his shoes like a first class rotter, just to demonstrate that he did not recognise my authority.

After he had moved out, I discovered his final revenge. In one of his now empty rooms, the neutral coloured carpet that had required that substantial outlay was now adorned with two large, well worn, blue patches. These locations correspond exactly with his two chairs: the recliner for leisure purposes, and the executive computer operator chair for hyper-consumerism diversions.

It could have been worse: it could have been neutral-coloured dog shit from Outside.


Shortly after Father had departed to his new residence, one of his old friends, Don (the name has been changed to protect the undead) wrote to me seeking Father’s new address. Since Don supplied an email address, I promptly contacted him with the sought contact details.

Don responded with no less than 23 emails, in progressive stages of drafting, conveying his appreciation as well as some family updates. It seemed his webmail account had some synchronisation glitch that shared every saved stage with the recipient. I let him know and thought the contact was concluded.

Some weeks later, I received an unexpected email from a suspicious account with Don’s name as alias, plus a suspicious lack of text and presence of attachment. Clearly spam, and not surprising following the previous IT dodginess.

In my next conversation with father, I was prompted to enquire whether Don and he had got successfully in touch following their communication fankle.
“No. I received a nonsense attachment.”
“Ah, you got that too. I think it was spam.”
“Did you get the subliminal message?”
“Don is dead.”

I was so utterly bewildered by the sheer non-sequitur of this reasoning, that he chuntered on about some trivia for a couple of minutes before I stopped him to protest that (A) it was consistent with the pattern of spurious emailing I had experienced as well as having all the hallmarks of spam, pointing toward a compromised mailbox, and (B) if you suspect one of your oldest friends is dead, however unconventionally you have received the notification, it is usual to contact their family and express condolences.

Needless to say, Don was not and is not dead. Long live Don, and death to personal correspondence gremlins.


Phone calls are either epic waffles and whinges about the weather and Waitrose, or abbreviated bulletins concerning his health status. The latter comprise two minutes maximum, concluding with “end of message,” then a click as the connection is terminated. Either way a monologue.

I called Father one afternoon. As often happens, there was a twenty second delay between him lifting the handset and responding verbally into the phone.
“Have I woken you up?”
Further pause before further muffled response. “I’m eating a peppermint.”
“So, you’re safely back home?” Stating the bleeding obvious as invitation to journal the banal.

In the background, a chime resounded.
“Ah: doorbell. Hang on.”
I have learnt over the years to swiftly pull the phone away from my ear before the statutory series of amplified sound effects as he abandons the handset and shuffles off.

Following a couple of minutes of distant conversation, sound effects resumed, then conversation.
“My helper. Just a quick visit. Been here already. Earlier. [mumble, mumble, breathing]”
“Shall I call another time then?” Pause for peppermint-filtered mumbling. I continue. “Allow you to have one conversation at a time?” Even one can be a challenge.
“[Mumble] call back later on.”
With cheery relief I hung up. Total call time three minutes seventeen seconds. Total conversation time substantially less.


My sister visited him on one occasion and inevitably found herself detailed with a list of specially selected noisome chores. In the depths of some wardrobe manoeuvres, she identified a stack of brand new, polythene-sealed shirts.
Father pronounced, “bin.”
Her expression clearly expressed bewilderment so he expanded.
“Wrong fabric. Should be poly-cotton mix.”

My sister’s attempts to tackle this monstrous illogicality from the angles of (A) return to retailer for financial recompense and (B) donate to charity met with the characteristic Wall of Disinterest. This is a fascinating feature of the Pilgrim’s Progress that was under-written and sadly lost in an early draft.

The material continues to accumulate…

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