No Deal

“Well James I’ve got some great news and some not so great news. Which one would you like first?” asked my beautiful, sexy, amazing girlfriend as she grabbed the lagers from on top of the bar and lead us across the astroturf. There seems to be more and more astroturf in the world every time I look. Astroturf bars, astroturf gardens, astroturf kitchens. Before we know it the whole House of Lords will be turfed up.

I got the feeling she had brought us to the pub to tell me something quite important, because she wanted to go just us two. Usually she would bring a train of equally whacky uni friends along who I’d have to begrudgingly endure. I looked forward to it being just the two of us for a change. We settled on a bench next to a ping pong table and I stared at her with weary eyes.

I’d just got back from the tory party conference in Manchester which had sucked the life right out of me, so I was delighted to go for a nice big pint of beer. Man those guys are in for a tough time if they think they are going to convince the electorate that they can operate as a competent government for the rest of the parliament. The whole thing was fantastic political theatre, the falling letters, the cough, the impostor with the P45. You’d expect to see that kind of imbroglio on The Thick Of It, not in real life. It was truly exhilarating. I really have absolutely no idea of the direction British politics is heading at the moment… Anyway, back to me and the awe-inspiring girlfriend.

“Great news first please,” she handed me a nice big pint with a giant white head on the top like a great big dollop of vanilla ice cream. It was the kind of beer you’d expect to see on a reasonably good TV advert. One of those adverts that conditions you so that you see a cold glass of beer and you just want to do things like watch football with friends.

“Okay. I got the teaching job.”

“No way? Wow. You must be very happy. ”

“I am!”

“Which one?”

“The one in Chalk Farm silly,” I didn’t know where Chalk Farm was, let alone what constituency it was in, so squinted at her slightly. When you are so close to somebody and you really love each other you don’t need words to communicate.  

“It’s in Northwest London,” I got a strong hunch it might be Hornsey and Wood Green. Or possibly Holborn and St Pancras. I’d check on my smartphone when I went to the toilet.

“And that’s the bad news then, the fact it’s in London, I take it Mars?”

Mars is short for Maire. This is pronounced Mar-ee, not Mare, like the horse. Her mouth and eyes moved to the side of her face as her head began to nod. She stared at me like I was a Green Party MP standing in a Labour heartland who’d just been told that unsurprisingly and despite a long and fearsome three months of campaigning I’d only managed to get a meagre 0.9 % of the vote share. I knew something was quite possibly very wrong now. I could feel my hands and feet beginning to sweat.

“Go on then, put me out my misery, what is the bad news? Are you dying or something?”

“No silly.

A long pause. It was purgatory.

“The bad news is that you won’t be seeing me anymore.”

On being told this I wanted to pick up my glass of lovely refreshing beer, relax my oesophagus pour it straight in, then kneel on the astro-turf while pleading and praying to a God I don’t even believe in for this to be a dream.

“Are you going to say anything James?”

I felt like somebody had jammed a coat-hanger in my chest.

“I just can’t comprehend how you’ve came to such a screeching U-turn all of a sudden.”

“A U-turn?”

“Yes a U-turn. Our relationship has been absolutely fine recently, I’d even go as far as to say it was particularly strong. And now you want to throw it all away-.”

“I’m moving one hundred and sixty three miles away James. I haven’t got the energy to have a ‘relationship’ at that distance.”

It looked like I had some convincing to do.

“I’ll level with you, overall I think that the decision to build HS2 is a complete waste of the taxpayer’s money. But my god that’ll get you to and from London fast. Getting to London will be the new equivalent of getting the 144 from Droitwich to Bromsgrove.” 

That didn’t cut ice with Maire. She wasn’t aware of what HS2 was, and I knew based on the mood she was in she wouldn’t listen if I explained. I sighed and then went to grab a massive swig from my pint and realised I’d necked it all already and was fighting with every sinew in my scrawny little body to resist the urge to grab hers and neck that as well. She didn’t seem remotely interested in it either. It was just a convenient prop brought in purely for the purposes of lubricating my heart before ripping it into pieces.

“We can come to some kind of arrangement surely. I’ll still come and see you. We can Skype as often as you need…”

“Are you trying to negotiate with me James?”

Maire often liked to play jokes on me, it’s part of the reason why I was so infatuated with her. I remember when on April Fools she called me up and got me to drive out to Aston Police Station, where she said she had been detained overnight for being caught with four grams of cocaine. Frantic with worry, I jumped into my Peugeot and gunned it down the motorway at seventy miles per hour, minimum speed. I got there and told the police that I was here to see my girlfriend who’d been caught with an illegal substance on her person. When I got there I went all round the station, even checking the women’s toilets cubicles, and subsequently I had to undergo the lengthy and infuriating process of convincing a female officer who saw me coming out that I wasn’t a pervert.

I called Maire and all I could hear coming out of the handset was her satanic laugh like the sound of thousands of hyenas in a hanging sack being burned alive. It took me a very, very long while to realise it but the whole thing was absolutely hilarious.

All my other girlfriends, had been so boring in comparison to my Maire. Both of them would just go on and on and on about things like how the devolvement of power to the Northern Irish and Welsh assemblies was ‘constitutionally inconsistent,’ or they’d be more excited by Luxembourg’s new leadership contest than spending quality down-time together. I loved Maire because she wanted to do things like go to the cinema, listen to really loud, repetitive music, watch horror films and occasionally do a bit of sex together. Everything I thought I had, that perfect partnership that had served me so well for three whole months of the autumn term was melting before my very eyes.

“How do you feel about this?”

“How the mother-fucking fuck do you fucking think that I fucking feel about this?”

“Not good I take it.”

“No not good at all. Listen Maire. I love you.

“You can’t love me. We’ve only been almost together for three months.”

“You’re making a mistake.”

“I don’t think I am actually James. It seems like the obvious thing to do.”

Like an avocado, the world as I knew it had been sliced down the middle, twisted off into two parts, and had the core of it ripped clean out and thrown into the bin. I planted my face onto the slightly wet surface of the table and gave my scalp a massage by gently running my fingers over the curves of my skull. This attempt failed miserably. I raised my head.

“Right, I know this is going to sound a bit like I’m negotiating, but please just for my sake can’t we implement some kind of transitional period? Even if it’s just for a couple of months. This is a massive change for me…”

“How do you mean? Do you think I’m going to fuck you every other week for the next eight weeks or something? You think I’m going to drive down to Bournville during my precious school holidays for a bit of sex with my ex?”

I was puzzled at this, and took a moment to pause.

“You’re not going to screw someone else are you?”

“James…”

“No, sorry forget I said that. Listen, I could make a few amendments to my monthly budget and finance a trip or two every month or so. At least keep things as normal for a short while, so that I can get used to the idea of you leaving me. Please, You have to understand Maire that this is a cataclysmic shift of power.”

“Whose power?”

“Well it was my power, which you’ve taken from me. I feel like I’ve been castrated. You’re breaking my heart here Mars.”

“Being obscenely melodramatic about it won’t help you James.”

I returned my face to the wet wood, the hard wet wood. I tried massaging my head again but then got so frustrated by the impasse that I smashed my fists on the table like a very angry child. People looked over. Maire whispered in her gentle, angelic voice asking if I wanted her to do it for me. I said hell, yes I do. She then gave me the most celestial of massages, so soft and gentle. I wanted to cry, lots, like a very sad child.

“Have you thought about maybe doing a teaching job somewhere a bit closer, like Birmingham for example?”

“No. I want to live and work in London. Is that not obvious to you?”

“It just blows my mind that the reason you’re willing to dissolve our partnership is because you happen to have applied for a job in a different part of the country.”

“James,” she grabbed me by the hair on the back of my head and pulled my head up to look at her, like it wasn’t attached to my body because she’d just cut it off in battle.

“I’m not breaking up with you just because of that.”

“Well why the mother-fucking fuckedy fuck fuck fuck are you breaking up with me then.”

“I don’t know I just don’t feel like it’s working.“

“What do you mean don’t feel like it’s working?”

“We want different things.”

“I thought we wanted each other and that’s why we mutually agreed to enter into a relationship.” I thought I’d dismantled her with that one, but she came back with a bazooka.

“Things change James. I mean we want to do different things. I’m a Chemical Brothers kind of girl, you’re more… The Miliband Brothers.”

“Maire I thought we’d been through this together, so many times. I was completely ambivalent towards the Milibands, despite the fact that I thought Ed deserved a bit more credit from fellow party members, having contributed some seriously reasonable manifesto pledges in the 2015 election, such as the energy price cap for example…”

At this point, Maire started to groan, which I noticed she only really tended to do when I was talking about politics. Which was reasonably often.

“Arrrrghhhhh! Shut up James. You are driving me crazy.”

I told her I was going to get another drink. Maybe two. I even thought about going full-Farage and pinching a cigarette off the rabble rousing proletariat in tracksuits standing by the outdoor heaters. In the end I thought no Nigel, not today.  

 

Fucking Miliband brothers. Does she even know me at all? I bet she doesn’t know I voted for the Liberal Democrats at the general election. She just doesn’t care. Sometimes, sometimes I even consider that she may have lied to me and she has never even voted before in her life. And that’s so sad, because people really should realise how lucky they are to live in the longest lasting democracy on the planet and take advantage of that luxury. I’ve always thought that the U.K should take notice of the Australian voting system where voting is compulsory by law. About 5% of enrolled voters fail to vote at most elections and they get punished for it. And so they damn well should. In a very magnanimous way, the Australian government asks the voter if they have a credible reason for why they failed to turn up to the ballot box. If no satisfactory reason is provided (for example, illness or religious prohibition), a fine of up to $170 is imposed,and failure to pay the fine may result in a court hearing and additional costs. How would you like to be fined $170, endure a court hearing and the possibility of additional costs Maire? Not very much I don’t think. But that would be exactly what you deserve. Serves you right for not honouring, parliamentary democracy, you beautiful, evil bitch.

As I’m waiting for the bar man to come to the rescue, I look back over my shoulder at Maire. She’s wearing these silver crescent moon earrings. Light bounces off them and they sway as her head slowly moves. She is entranced by her mobile phone, and laughs hysterically at something on screen, probably a video on Facebook. Only a few days ago I had to perform CPR on her after she could barely breathe laughing at some videos of goats climbing up mountains. It’s not even funny I told her. But this made her laugh even more, so hard that I ended up laughing myself. The way they get down a near vertical cliff face in such massive, reckless leaps. It is quite funny really, in a way. I took in the full splendour of her smile. Such a sight to behold. My friend Abdul from P.P.A (public policy and administration) told me that she was the spit of Heidi Allen, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire. And she is quite frankly what they might call ‘a sight for sore eyes’ if ever I saw one. How the hell have you pulled a girl like her? Abdul would always ask. No idea I’d tell him. Absolutely no idea.

“You waiting to be served mate?”

“Yeah, rum and coke please. Make it a triple. “

“We don’t do triples. I can do you a double and single if you want?”

“You know what mate. Fuck it, just give me three singles.”

“Coming up,”

I necked them all one by one with terrifying voracity as he laid them out on the table. The barman took a long look at me, with his hands crossed together and eyebrow raised.

“You had bad news or something pal?”

“You could say that yeah. She’s broken up with me.”

The bar man looked out through the window at the girl entranced by her phone.

“Are you saying that was your girlfriend?”

“Yes.”

“Jesus. I would have betted my life on her being your sister.”

“I’ll pay by card please.”

 

Right I need to play this really cool. Don’t even mention the break up. Make it look like I don’t even care all that much. Mustn’t look needy. She’ll be well into that. I notice there’s a song being played and it sounds like it might be her kind of thing. I searched Google for an app that identifies music (there’s bound to be one) and downloaded Shazam and found that it’s a song called Love Don’t Let Me Go by an electronic music artist called David Guetta. I go back to the table, grinning to myself. It wasn’t over yet.

“Such a good track this is. I love David Guetta, such a clever DJ.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah definitely. Guetta, he’s up there with the best of them for me. Faithless. Moby…” I start to bop my head slightly, “makes me want to go to a rave this does. I’ll check online if you want, maybe we can go to one of his gigs together if he’s touring?”

“I hate David Guetta.”

“Oh really? Yeah I’m not a big fan of his new stuff to be honest. It’s all a bit heavy and fast isn’t it?”

“No it’s just shit.”

“Oh yeah absolutely.”

Now Maire was eating a satsuma with confidence.

“We both know you don’t listen to music James. You have two albums in your flat, and they’re both by Keane.”

Why can’t people just accept that Keane are an exceptionally talented artist? That soft but dominating singing voice, the melancholic lyric bites, catchy tunes, the gentle piano. What more could anybody ever want from a piece of music?

Maire laughed again. I laughed back but really I wanted to cry again.

“You see James. You’ll be fine. You’re fine.”

“I won’t Maire. I still can’t believe you’re actually breaking up with me.”

“It’ll get easier. “

It wouldn’t get easier, in fact the exact opposite. I’d one day wake up and realise that none of this was a dream and then it would get much, much harder as it slowly sank in like the proverbial badger in the quicksand. I can’t even find a political analogy to suit such abject suffering. I can only think of something I saw on a nature documentary while I was waiting for Question Time to come on last month. I’m a tarantula and she one of those tarantula hawks, the insects that are neither tarantula nor hawk but are in fact parasitic wasps and she’s gone and stung me so I’m paralysed and she’s dragged me over to her nest so that she can penetrate me and lay her eggs inside me so a baby wasp larva grows and feasts on my insides but carefully avoids my vital organs so I’m on death’s door all the time but still alive and now the baby wasp larva is pupating and it’s grown into a wasp that’s basically another version of her that’s much more evil than I could possibly have imagined and she’s burst out of my abdomen and she’s doing that awful laugh and it’s all preposterous and I can’t bear it any longer …

I drew my smart phone from my pocket and checked the BBC headlines- 

Jacob Rees Mogg the bookies favourite to become next prime minister.

A conservative backbencher, never held a cabinet position….

Maire turned to me, twizzling a lock of her perfect brown hair around her blue varnished fingernails.

“James, has it ever crossed your mind that you might have an unhealthy obsession with politics?”

 

A Christmas Storeh

I

Kurt jumped off his BMX half way down Shelthorpe road. What number was it again, 49? 94? He pulled his Nike drawstring bag off his back and rummaged around until he found the the crumpled up flyer he’d got from the Post Office.

Looking for young elf with good atitude to help Santa spread xmas joy on weeknights.

Decent £, decent hours, mon- fri

Give Spike a call on 07565673241 or call on 944 Shelthorpe Rd if interested. Start IMMEDIATLEY

Santa-and-elf-coloring-page

Spike was in the lounge watching Top Gear with a can of Oranjeboom (red and black) when he noticed the little kid outside. The house was half-decorated, and all the floor was all splintery, dusty floorboards. Spike was fat, bald and his clothes were always covered in white paint stains.

He paused the show and went out to the front to hold out a big, strong workman’s hand. Kurt’s shake was nervous and flaccid, he simply allowed his hand to be enveloped. He kept brushing his hardened gel quiff to the side. It never moved an inch.

“So, you must be Kurteh?”

Kurt nodded.

“The name’s Spikeh, You look like a right young’n, how old are ya 13, 14?”

“15.”

“Oh, that a relief. Just means I don’t ave to pay ya properleh.”

Kurt contrived laughter noises.

“Only jokin ya little bastard. I’m full of little bastard jokes like that I am. You’ll find that out soon enough kidda.”

Spike went over to his van and unlocked the front. He checked the foot-well, grabbed a bundle of empty cans, and chucked them into his neighbour’s black bin.

“Ya mind if I call you Kurteh do ya lad?”

“Yeah.”

Spike paused a second and stared at Kurt, “Do you mean yeah you do mind, or yeah can I call you Kurteh?”

“Yeah.”

An even longer pause. Spike raised one of his eyebrows to the sky. He thought to himself, how have I managed to recruit another one? I bet this fucker can’t even count. Just my fuckin luck.

“Right then so you know what you’ll be doin today then Kurteh?”

Kurt shook his head, clutching tightly onto the strings of his drawstring bag like his life depended on it.

“Well as you might have noticed, I’m Santa and you’re my little elf. Now I’ve got a couple of things for ya.”

Spike went back into the van and picked out a small green hat from the footwell and a big white bucket covered in dirt. The hat had little gold bells all round the side, so it jingled much like a tambourine. On the side of the bucket were written the words

NO DONATION TOO SMALL


MERRY XMAS FROM SANTA, ELF AND RAINDEERS!

“This’ll be your at, and this’ll be your bucket. I need you to always wear your at, and always carry your bucket. All right? Now then Kurteh, I’ll show ya where you’ll be workin.”

Spike led Kurt to his garage door. He opened it up slowly to reveal Spike’s sleigh. It was built out of a trailer Spike previously used to take things to the tip. He had plastered it in lights, tinsel, and the odd bauble. In the middle of the trailer was a tall plastic Christmas tree with big purple baubles and green and white flashing lights. A plastic model of an angel stood at the very top, flashing at two second intervals. A speaker lay hiding underneath the tree for playing Christmas anthems. Bordering the trailer were four reindeer made out of brown mesh, all with a seemingly arbitrary number of limbs.

“Go on then kid, jump aboard.”

Kurt looked back at him to confirm he wasn’t joking. Then after a few seconds he realised he wasn’t and jumped over the back. His long, fleshless body clambered and rolled off the side, into a bed of straw and discarded roll ups.

“Ya like it do ya?”

“Yeah it’s all right.”

“Made it wi me own bare ands, me and me mate Wilkeh anyweh like. He’s in prison now, ya don’t wanna know. Only took us a few months. Don’t get me wrong it’s a heap of absolute shite if you ask me. People still like it. Fuckin idiots. They see it whizzing down the streets, fucking Pogues blaring out and they think it’s like Christmas day!”

Kurt stood there, blank faced next to the tree. He looked hopelessly out of place.

“You are a dumb little bastard aren’t you? But it’s all right. You don’t need to be a rocket surgeon. You just need to follow the trailer while I drive it around, and politely ask the people on the streets to put money in the bucket. Do you think you could do that Kurteh?”

“Yeah.”

“Wicked, and if you do that for me, we both make a bit of money, and go home to the pub afterwards appeh as larreh. Kapish?”

Kurt nodded.

“Any questions kidda?”

“Errm, what do I wear?”

“You can wear whatever the fuck ya like kidda, football kit, tracksuit, overalls, gimp suit. So long as ya wear that at. The public couldn’t give a toss so long as they think you’re an elf. And ya are you an elf, ent ya Kurteh?”

“What?”

“I said, are you an elf?”

“I don’t know?”

“What do you mean, you don’t fucking know, are you wearing an elf at or what?”

“Yes.”

“Yes you are Kurteh, so ‘ll ask you again, are you an elf or not?”

“Yes.”

“Good,” Spike produced a smile like some kind of evil shark. His teeth were a piano of silver metal crowns and yellow, natural teeth,  “all right then you little bastard. I’ll see yas outside here at 6pm, tonight, sharp as a diamond. And also, any bollocks from you Kurteh and I’ve got a queue of elves up to the McDonalds roundabout waiting to wear that Elf at for me.”

Kurt nodded, with the face of a turkey ready for the slaughter.

“Good lad. Now piss off would ya, I’m off to Mark Jarvis.”

 

II

 

On Kurt’s BMX ride home he was overwhelmed with content. He had never had a job before, which meant that he never really had any money. His mum gave him a fiver every week, but he ended up having spent that all on coke cans and chocolate bars by Tuesday. Other times he would starve himself a bit until he had enough money to buy a game for his Xbox. Kurt loved his Xbox, and being the elder brother of five and therefore having had to share it his whole life, he wanted to buy one for himself. He longed to become an independent gamer.

When he got to the top of his road he transferred his feet to the stunt pegs at the back and just let the bike roll all the way down the road until it took him to his driveway. Kurt opened the side gate with the sign on it that read, ‘BEWARE, trespassers will be SHOT!’ in a dripping red font, and concentrated briefly on not stepping on any of the dog chews and burst footballs strewn everywhere across the concrete garden. Kurt’s father was drilling in the shed. He glanced at his son through the window and removed his safety mask and shouted ‘“alright cuntybollocks?” Kurt wasn’t immediately aware. Kurt’s dad turned off the drill.

“I says, are you all right CUNTYBOLLOCKS?”

“Yeah dad I’m fine.”

“Did you get the fuckin job then or what?”

“Yeah think so.”

“When do ya start?”

“Tonight.”

“Ahh good lad. What were it doin?”

“Goin out wi yim in his sleigh and collectin cash.”

“Ahh well we all gotta start somewhere kid. The bloke all right?”

“Yeah.”

“Gotta watch out for these dodgy cunts these days Kurt. What were is name?”

“Spikeh?”

Kurt’s dad pulled up his T-shirt to wipe the sweat off his brow.

“Can’t say I know the bastard. Well you tell him if he does ote to ya I’ll drill him.”

Wilkeh switched the power drill back on and held sideways in the air laughing hysterically to himself for a moment before sliding back into the shed like a crab sliding back into its hermitage. Kurt grinned for a second, then went straight up to his bedroom to boot up Call of Duty, frothing at the mouth.

Three deeply frustrating hours passed, which Kurt spent trying to unlock Red Tiger camo for the G3, a gun Kurt didn’t even particularly like. After being repeatedly slaughtered at close quarters by a number of players with a much faster fire-rate weapon Kurt threw his controller at one of his little brothers.

“Kurteh you know what Mum said, if ya threw controller at meh gain then you won’t get play Xbox three days.”

Kurt looked at his little brother briefly as if to say yeah right, get fucked mate, and stormed out of the door. Stanley was left sat down on a bean- bag crying, controller on his lap. He soon forgot the grief that his older brother had caused him and his eyes lit up as he realised he had access to the Xbox.

“You betta let me go on aftward Stanleh.” A voice came from behind the beanie bag from another of the siblings on a smaller bean bag. All of the brothers looked almost exactly the same, only they came in different sizes. They were like Russian dolls in second-hand sportswear.

“Maybe tomorrah Andeh,” little Stanley replied.

Kurt threw on his Air Max, wheeled his bike round to the front and cycled off to Shelthorpe road for his first shift.

 

III

 

When Kurt got to his destination, he pulled out his Iphone 5 and checked the time. 17.54. He was 6 minutes early. The sleigh was now parked outside the house, attached to the back of Spike’s van. On the side of the van was a large unlit neon sign that read

IT’S FOR CHARITY!

Kurt realised his feet were shaking, and sweat had saturated his trainer-liners. He stared at the door with eyes wide open, like a little bunny in the headlights. He decided to just go for it, and swung open the front gate to walk towards the front door. He knocked once. Immediately he heard the barking of a ferocious canine.

He stood on that doorstep for just under fifty minute before Santa Claus finally opened the door. The house stank of stale fag smoke, which wafted out onto the street.

“Kurteh, we’re goin,” Santa said as he struggled to apply his snowy white beard to his face, which he attached to the sides of his hat with safety pins. His black boots were quite obviously his work boots.

“Where’s your elf at kidda?”

“You what?”

“Your elf at, what you put on your ed. Where is it?”

“Oh yeah. It’s in my bag,” he pulled the drawstring off his back and plucked out the dirty green elf hat and put it on his head.

“I told you, and I’m not being funneh, you always need that thing on your ed. Honestleh kidda, I’ve sacked perfectly good employees for smaller offences.” He took the opportunity to give Kurt a long, stern and calculated stare, which evoked terror in its recipient. Spike opened the van door for Kurt.

“Wait there a minute kiddeh while I go and switch on the genneh.”

Kurt sat there in the passenger seat, staring blankly through the windscreen whilst chewing the skin off his cuticles with his head at a 45 degree angle.  Spike switched on the generator in the back of the van, it roared into life and the sleigh lit up. The sleigh was mostly red lights, the charity sign on the side of the van was white and purple, and only the top half of the C was illuminated. It looked more like a fairground ride than anything Christmassy. Spike saw the C and dropped his sack from his shoulders and punched the side of the van with his fist. Kurt quivered in the passenger’s seat.

“Fuckin Leceh, bollocks.”

The introduction of Fairytale of New York came on as the vehicle dragged itself down the street. Spike then reached across the dashboard and opened up the glove box. Inside were two CDs, one a Ministry of Sound Ibiza Weekender compilation and the other Morning Glory by Oasis.

“Like Oasis do ya Kurteh, you little bastard?” Kurt looked puzzled.
“The band, Oasis.”

“Dunno em.”

“Jesus whatever they teach you kids in school these days, it ain’t nothin important is it,” and with that Spike fast forwarded to Roll With It, and turned it up full blast until everything vibrated. They stopped at the traffic lights just opposite McDonalds.

“Don’t wanna ear that Fairytale bollocks any more. Christmas songs are for wankers. Drives me insane it does kidda. I just wanna listen to proper music. From the nineties. You feeling Christmasseh then Kurteh?”

 

IV

 

They were in Barrow Upon Soar tonight. When they got to their first street it was dark and starting to rain. Above, the moon was hiding behind thick grey clouds, drifting fast. Spike had Kurt standing at the back by the trailer with the bucket while he slowly drove on in the van. If anybody was in the street, Spike expected Kurt to give them the bucket. He told him if he ignored anybody he would know about it, because he could see all that was going on in his side mirrors.

Kurt encountered all kinds of village folk and found most of them to be quite pleasant. Some were very impressed by the trailer, and others were completely disillusioned, but they kept their thoughts to themselves. Worshippers were enjoying a service at the Barrow Methodist Church when Santa and his sleigh rode towards them. In the car park a few of the parishioners had set up a table, offering mince pies and mulled wine. Noticing a gathering there, Spike stopped the van in the middle of the road, threw his roll up out the window and jumped out the side.

“Ho ho ho to the Church!”

He was attempting to make his voice as posh as possible.

“Merry Christmas to all, and what a fine day to celebrate the birth of Jesus.”

“Merry Christmas to you both!” said one elderly lady.

“Like a mince pie, some mulled wine?” said the other.

“I can’t have the wine sweety because I happen to be driving you see,” he pointed to the van and sleigh outside, “But I’ll have one of these pies if I may. Little fellow can’t drink you see. Not yet anyway, he’s only 13 years old. HAHAA!!”

Spike grabbed one and shoved it in his mouth in one and whilst munching he turned to his assistant, looking at him, and then the bucket.

“Have you got any money?” Kurt asked.

The women looked at each other with raised eyebrows. After a few seconds Kurt received a swift slap to the ear.

“What did I tell you about manners Kurteh? What do you say?”

Please can we have some money?” he then held the bucket out forwards.

“And what are you collecting for?” a lady asked.

“Chariteh,” Kurt pointed towards the purple and white sign on the side of the van.

“That’s wonderful, what charity is it?”

“That’s a good question sweetheart. Which charity you ask?”

“Yes. For example we are collecting for the Salvation Army,” she pointed towards her own bucket on the table, “which charity is your bucket for?”

Spike stood still playing with the curls of his beard and paused for ten seconds. Just as one of the ladies began to sigh, Spike said “cancer.”

“Oh Cancer Research UK, I see. A very good cause. And this is your little son is it, helping you out?”

“Yeah my pride and joy this one,” Spike put his hand on top of Kurt’s head and patted.

“Aww well it’s lovely that you’re both out doing good deeds over Christmas for no benefit of yourselves. Very refreshing to meet somebody who has taken the lessons of the New Testament well and truly on board!”

Spike had no idea who she meant, so turned to Kurt and shrugged his shoulders. Still smiling, the two ladies grabbed their purses from their coat pockets and dropped a few coins into the bucket.

“Cheers girls.”

The vicar then wheeled out from the back of the Church, vestments strewn across his shoulders.

“What’s going on here then ladies?”

“Oh hi Albert. Nothing, just Santa and his little helper doing some humanitarian work together.”

“Yes they’re collecting for Cancer Research.”

“Oh fantastic!” The vicar then pulled out a fresh twenty pound note and placed it into the bucket like it wasn’t a big deal.

“Merry, Merry Christmas! We’re going now aren’t we Curtis, we’ve gotta do the new estate now.”

“Great stuff gents,” said the vicar with a perfectly holy smile.

One of the ladies then grabbed a couple of leaflets from the table and handed them out.
“We have service every Sunday and we’ve got a special three hour one coming up on Christmas eve. You’re both very welcome to come down.”

“Oh it’s an honour to be invited it really is. We’ll be there won’t we Kurteh? Kurteh?”

“Yeah.”

Everybody smiled and waved as they left. As they got back into the van Spike told Kurt that that would do em both for the night, he ‘couldn’t be arsed to do anymore’.

When they got back to Shelthorpe Road Kurt handed over the bucket for Spike to count the cash. The sum was £43,37.

“Not bad Kurteh, for your first shift. “

Kurt was quite happy with himself.

“Here ya go Kurteh, here’s £9.80 or summet. You’ve earned that kidda.”

“Cheers.”

“Cash in and as well. You know what that means? Cash in and?” he didn’t wait for an answer, grabbed Kurt’s hand and put the cash into it.

“Thanks.”

He pulled out a Sainsburys carrier bag bursting full of cash from under the seat, and emptied the rest into it, then returned it.

“I’m off to the boozer with my pals now kid. Wanna come?”

“I’m 15.”

“Oh yeah.”

 

V

 

The days went by surprisingly fast for Kurt and he slowly grew accustomed to working, it made him want to leave school even more than he did already. He would go to school, go home, play COD for a few hours, then go off to Spike’s, work for four hours, then go home and play some more COD until his eyes felt like they were bleeding.

After the first week he turned over £37, which he kept inside a magazine under his bed so that his brothers wouldn’t steal it. He’d spent next to nothing of his earnings at school, intent on saving it to buy Call Of Duty WW2 before Christmas.

On arriving back at the house after his last shift on Friday, his parents called him from the lounge.
“Oi cunteh!” his dad shouted.

“Come in Kurt and say ello to your mam and dad,” said his mother. Kurt wandered into the room, hands where they always were, clutching at his drawstrings on his chest.

“Ow are ya cunteh?”

“Yeah how was work Kurt?”

“Yeah it was all right.”

“Being a good little helper are ya?”

“Yeah.”

“Paid you as he?” asked Kurt’s dad.

“Yeah.”

“You got enough to buy us all some nice Christmas presents?”

“Yeah.”

“Good lad Kurteh.”

“Yeah good stuff Kurt, proud of ya.”

“Well done Kurteh,” his mother said before turning her attention back to the television. Kurt went into his eight hour COD binge a very happy and slightly richer young man.

As the next working week pressed on, Kurt realised it wasn’t going to be so easy. One night in Sileby for example, a few kids with skinheads on Greedon rise had mocked Kurt’s hat and proceeded to throw rocks at him. When one of them hit the van Spike, fired up on rage and hot blood, went into the back of his van and pulled out a Fiskars XXL X27 Log Splitting Axe. He chased them down the street, cursing and giving them death threats all the way to Seagrave, leaving Kurt standing there, shivering and chattering.

A series of drivers who were blocked off due to the fact that the giant Santa sleigh and van was obstructing it got out of their cars and went over to the little kid in the middle of the road.

“What the fook ya doing here kid?”

“Dunno,” Kurt replied.

“Who’s driving this fookin ideous contraption, your dad is it?”

“Dunno, I mean, no.”

“Are you simple kid?” Kurt just stood there, staring at the reindeer.

A mob had formed outside the van now, getting bigger and bigger by the minute. Some were taking pictures to upload onto Spotted Sileby. They were moaning, cursing and spitting everywhere.

One skinhead finally says, “right I’ve had enough of this. I’m movin the fucker ma self. Aint no one else gonna fuckin do it.”

The mob cheered as the man climbed into the front of the van. He pulled the handbrake and van and sleigh gently dropped down the hill. He stopped at the corner of the road at the bottom and nodded his head to himself as if to say yeah decent job that. The mob got back in their cars, and honked their horns in jubilation as they began to move up the road.

“Tell your dad I’ll be after the cunt if he does it again,” the man got angry again, “fuckin chariteh? Bollocks! This ain’t for chariteh. You appy to just take people’s money are ya? Yas are the fuckin scum of the earth the both of yas.”

Still consumed by rage, he then grabbed hold of one of the reindeer’s head and ripped it off the side of the van, throwing it onto the pavement. His wife, stood on the pavement, loving every minute.

“Well done Toneh!”

“Come on Nickeh, that’s enough for me.”

Then he grabbed her hand and they walked off into the night together. Kurt wanted to cry.

His master returned an hour later, deadly weapon in hand, Santa beard and hat still firmly in place, out of breath and puffing hard on a fag.

“Couldn’t catch the bastards. I fuckin ate Silebeh.”

It took him a good few moments before he noticed the meshy reindeer skull staring at him from the pavement. The blood went straight to his bald head. He screamed at Kurt until his larynx wanted to burst out of his neck.

He picked up the terrified little kid by his collar and threw him against the side of the van, spitting into his face with every word. He proceeded to ask a series of questions he knew he would never get an answer to.

“How the FUCK could you let this happen?”

“Who the FUCK’s been driving my van?”

“How did you get to be such a dippy, worthless little FUCK?”

At one moment, Kurt feared that he might be struck by the axe in Spike’s arms, but it wasn’t to be. He swung backwards, but then stopped at the final minute and took a deep, deep breath. Spike grabbed the mangled reindeer, and threw it onto the sleigh.
“Get in the car now you little bastard or I’ll leave you ere on your arse.”

The journey back to Shelthorpe was quiet. For the duration Kurt desperately tried to hold back the tears in his eyes.

 

VI

 

Kurt’s weekend traumatised after what happened at Greedon on Friday night. He was starting to realise that Spike wasn’t a very good man. He was quite angry about how he had been verbally abused, and as he stormed buildings, tossed grenades, commanded air strikes and controlled helicopter attacks, he imagined every soldier he exterminated was Spike. It made him want to be a soldier in real life, if only there was a civilisation of Spikes somewhere out there that the government had an interest in decimating, little Kurt would have been on the front line with his AK-47, wanting blood.

But Kurt was getting tired of the same COD game. His friends at school were all teasing him by constantly gloating about how good the new one was. About how on the zombie mode instead of a knife you get a spade, which you use to cave the Zombies’ heads in at close range. Kurt fucking loved Zombies. He needed that game, badly. Which is why, unfortunately, he was resolved to carry on working until Christmas. He went to work on Monday as normal.

“Listen Kurteh. I lost my rag on friday night. I’m sorreh about that. Little fuckers throwing rocks mate. I ad to try and smash the little bastards or it wouldn’t ave been right. I chased the fuckers but they got away. That made me even worse mate. I remember a face though so I’m all right. I’ve cooled down now…”

He carried on talking but Kurt didn’t listen. It was Quorn tonight. He just had to carry the bucket around for a few hours, then he could go home and you know what.

The shift went agonisingly slowly. Partly due to the weather, the village people were nowhere to be seen. It was mostly dog walkers, and they rarely want to give out money to charity, they just want to walk their dogs and be done with it. Dog walking Bastards, Spike thought.

Kurt hated it when the streets were dead, not only because he didn’t make any money, but because it meant that Spike would speed off ahead in his van, and Kurt would have to sprint behind to keep up. Kurt was never a long distance runner. He was having a really hard time. Only to be made much harder when it came to the end of the shift as Spike counted the cash.

“12 quid Kurteh? This all you got is it?”

Kurt shrugged.

“Look mate, It’s simply not good enough. I’m not angry or ote. Just don’t be surprised that I ain’t paying you tonight. If you don’t work ard, you don’t get paid. Simple as.”

Kurt looked down at the cans in the footwell.

“You understand Kurteh?” Kurt nodded.

If only he had a spade, he’d know what exactly what to do with it.

 

VII
Mountsorrel was slightly better than Quorn, but the night was colder, and longer. He turned over £26.54 in total, and was paid £6 for four hours work.

“Let me tell ya ow it is. I’m running a business you see Kurteh. And with businesses, it’s all about making moneh. Notes. Cash. Fuckin WONGA. That’s what life’s all about kidda. You’ll find out when you’re older.”

Kurt felt very humiliated, but hoped for better nights to come. Spike reminded him of Tyler, the school bully who used to throw people’s Beyblades onto the roof of the mobile.

 

When Kurt got home that night his parents noticed something was awry as Kurt charged through the house, without saying hello. His parents rushed to the stairs.

“What’s got into you cunty boy?” his dad asked.

“How was work Kurteh?” his mum.

“Fine.”

The pair of them looked at each other, puzzled, then went back in the lounge to devour another episode of Gogglebox in a state of perfect mirth.

“This show’s fuckin ilarious!”

“Aint it! I ope little Kurt’s all right though.”

“He’s fine, he’s probably avin girl troubles or summet.”

 

As Kurt got up to his room he was crestfallen to see his brother Aiden playing Gran Turismo.

“What ya doin Aideh?”

“Playin Gran Turismo leave me alone,” Kurt hated Gran Tourismo.

“Let me play now.”

“No.”

“Leave him alone Kurteh,” the youngest of the band of brothers Andy interjected, brainlicker juice all round his mouth.

“Why you playin that fuckin shite game anyway?”

The brothers completely ignored him, engrossed by the race Aiden was taking part in. Kurt put his head in his hands, “ARRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHH” then went down into the kitchen, and grabbed a packet of his Mum’s Silk Cut off the side. He went down the side of the house and smoked it until he got niccy rush. Then he went straight up to bed where he twisted and turned for a few hours before sleep.

 

VIII

 

A few more days of making little money, a few more days chasing the back of Santa’s sleigh. Spike was getting noticeably frustrated about decreasing cash-flow. The car journeys were tense and quiet. On Thursday after Kurt pulled in on his BMX outside Spike’s house, Spike burst out of the side gate and came out with, “Look Kurteh. You’ve really gotta pull your finger out tonight. No excuses. We’re in Mountsorrel, and it ain’t like Silebeh, everybody’s got money in Sorrel. Like they do in Quorn, but the bastards in Quorn aren’t as thick as they are in Sorrel, so they’re much more likely to throw a bit of cash your way if you give it a bit of bollocks. I’m not bein funny or ote mate, if you don’t do it proper and make me some cash I’m gonna ave to get someone else. Now stick on your at and grab that fuckin bucket and make your family proud, all right?”

The night started out well. A group of carol singers, aggravated by the fact their singing was being interrupted by The Pogues, went over to Spike and asked him to turn it down a bit. Spike said, ‘Yeah if ya give us some moneh.”

The superviser lady then proceeded to throw a few coins into the bucket.
“Come on love it’s for chariteh.”

She then made it a fistful. Estimating that the total of the donation was probably in the region of ten pounds, Spike was happy to drive off and leave them to it.  

“And merry Christmas to the fuckin lot of yas!”

Most of the people Kurt met ignored him, treating him like an annoying beggar in the street.

Please can I have some moneh?

We haven’t got any change, sorry. They’d reply. It didn’t stop Kurt from trying ever harder.

Merry Christmas, can I have some money please?

A couple of girls he realised were from school simply said no, then burst into hysterical laughter together, taking a photo of him next to the sleigh. Kurt looked very distressed. He didn’t want to be all over Facebook in his elf costume. He heard them cackling like hyenas from the top of the road. It just wasn’t fair. He lost his ability to talk to anyone after that.

He continued to hold out the bucket to everyone in the street, but nobody threw in anything. They just walked on, like he and the sleigh were an apparition, a hallucination of a depressing reality. Kurt glanced at the wing mirror and saw Santa, staring at him whilst toking fiercely. He exhaled and the reflection of his face disappeared behind the smoke.  The end was coming.

Spike stopped the van  outside The Swan Inn on Loughborough Road, with a firm, lasting oink of the handbrake.This jolted the sledge forwards and backwards. The Christmas tree waggled, from side to side then fell over so that it was leaning on the top of the van. 

“Come into the front Kurt. Show me that bucket kiddeh.”

Kurt passed over the bucket. Spike gave it a shake, then turned to Kurt, “there better be some notes in ere kidda.”

He popped open the lid, and found nothing but the change from the carol singers. He inspected them with his chunky fingers and found that they were mostly coppers.

“Fuckin done by a bunch of carol singers. And what money have you made kidda out of that, 20 pence or summat? Four hours work for twenty fuckin pence? It ain’t fuckin good enough. Go on kid, fuck off will ya. ”

Spike stormed out of the van and headed straight for the Swan, Kurt got out the other side and walked the other way.  A man was talking to his friend outside the pub. They were both wearing extremely elaborate Christmas jumpers. 

“So basicalleh, Mickeh’s missus says to meh, I’ll give you two undred and fifty notes if ya can carpet the entire ouse before wednesday. So I turns to er and I says, I’ll tell you what love, ow’s about you give me two undred notes, and I’ll have it done by tuesd-”

“Ayyy up Toneh, weren’t that the van what you moved on Greedon the other night?”

The man’s friend pointed to the sleigh, which stood there, flashing red, a reindeer missing on the side, Christmas tree collapsed, angel hanging upside down. Marteh heard the comment right as he was on the threshold of the pub and stopped dead still. He put his hands behind his back and reversed back with three long strides, before turning to face the man.

“Owe ya Santa?” the man’s dippy mate asked and giggled to himself. Nobody else laughed. All went completely quiet outside the pub.

As soon as the man opened his lips to speak, Spike had swept somebody’s pint glass off the table, emptied its contents the floor and hurled it at the man’s head. It missed by centimetres, and smashed up against a fence. The broken shards fell on top of a couple having a drink in the corner. 

Spike then threw his body at the man and rained down fists upon him like a windmill. His mate tried to pull him back by his waist, but Santa elbowed him in the nose and he backed off like he’d been electrocuted.

Little Kurt who was round the corner could hear the breaking of glasses and men shouting as they brawled. He realised he had no drawstring bag on his back, he’d left it in Spike’s van. He thought about leaving it, but then realised it had his mate’s Xbox controller in it, and some cash from the previous shift and a whole can of Monster. When he got there he saw a scrum full of men, with a Santa’s hat poking out the side. Women were screaming and confused men turned to leathering each other. Spike emerged from the bodies and got involved with anybody he could see.

The van was pumping out And the bells are ringing out….

“Fuckin ell,” Kurt murmured to himself as he climbed into the van one last time. He picked up his drawstring and was ready to leave the scene and walk all the way back to Shelthorpe, when he saw a police van swinging round the corner, sirens blaring. He’d never seen so much action in real life, only on GTA. He watched as the police eventually apprehended the renegade Santa, and got him face down on the cold pavement. People were still kicking him while he lay there being handcuffed, beard full of blood. Kurt grinned as they dragged him, shaking like a salmon into the back of a police car.

Kurt noticed the handles of the orange plastic bag poking from under the driver’s seat and pictured a brand new Xbox all of his own.

 

man with gun

*

 

Man with gun enters room. Fully grown, mature, adult, man with beard, known to friends simply as ‘that man with the gun.’ Everyone immediately acknowledges man and gun, exchanging formalities such as – Good to see you man, it’s been too long, and nice gun bro, where did you get it? Man with gun stands by television, picks up remote in one hand whilst still carrying gun in the other. Points remote at television. ‘Whatever you do, don’t get them mixed up!’ I joked in an attempt to make him approve of me slightly more, so as to lessen the hopefully very slim chance that he might use his gun on me for whatever reason.

He flicks through TV Guide and finds show about monster trucks. Really big, massive, nasty TRUCKS like MONSTERS with really big, massive wheels crushing things forever, on camera. I start to wonder why man thinks it is necessary to carry large, metal gun, possibly loaded and with bullets. Maybe man thinks of gun as fashion accessory, like bracelet or watch. Maybe man feels like 007 with gun. Maybe the ladies are into the whole gun-thing…

 

**

 

Man with gun wears leather jacket inside and likes to talk about politics and football, sometimes momentarily making people forget the incontrovertible fact that he is still definitely, 100% in possession of deadly weapon, more specifically; gun. Everyone agrees strongly with man’s opinions, no matter how extreme or uninteresting, partly because man with gun is perceived as edgy and likeable, partly through fear of being shot with gun. Friend Steve asks man when he got gun and man says that he has had it ever since man was child. Man changes subject and mentions that he enjoys ice skating. Friend Steve asks if he skates with gun in hand and he says yes, obviously. It can’t be easy, on ice with big heavy, metal gun in hand, friend Steve says. Man comes out with, it’s actually a lot easier than you might think, holding a gun at the rink. Haahaa very lyrical. I carry on thinking about why man feels urge to be constantly armed with gun and think maybe gun is an anxiety-thing. Life can be very stressful for most people and maybe carrying gun just takes edge off. Friend Steve then says (quite sycophantically) “I can’t get over how cool that gun looks on you man. It really suits you. Damn I wish I could pull that one off.”

“Thanks dude” the man replies. A very long silence, then-

“So… shot anyone good lately?”

 

***

 

Man with gun’s wife comes into the room and sits on man’s lap then asks, “how are you both?”

“Fine thanks.”

Man puts arms round wife’s waist and holds gun with both hands pointing forwards, forefinger relaxing on trigger. He says they’ve been together for six years now, and got married the year before. He opens up wedding album on mobile phone and shows us endless series of photos taken somewhere in France of man, wife and gun together in state of perfect contentment. Man sheds tear whilst showing photo of man kissing bride at altar with left hand on wife’s cheek and right hand holding gun by side. Emotional Friend Steve also sheds tear.

I’ve had many rum and cokes at this point and can’t really hold it in any longer so I ask man, “this might seem like a personal question, and you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to. But when you both…you know… in the bedroom…together,” I point at gun “does the gun stay or…?”

“Yes that is very personal and actually quite rude,” wife nods head as answer, “and I’d also like to add that I may have a gun, but other than that I’m just a normal human being like everybody else. A human being with a job who likes to do things like watch television programmes about cars, spend time with my wife and children and have a beer at the weekends with friends. Why does the conversation always have to be about the fricking gun? This does NOT define me!” Man with gun is now red-faced and angry.

“You’re not going to shoot us are you?”

 

****

 

Man with gun has hair played with by wife whilst man gulps large mouthful of whiskey with grimace. “They aren’t trying to upset you honey. Don’t make a big deal out of it. The whole gun thing is just a bit unusual for most people at first, that’s all.”

“It’s fine. We can just draw a line under it now. Honestly.”

Friend Steve leaves room.

Big, massive MONSTER TRUCKS jumping off bales of hay and smashing into each other to loud AMERICAN ROCK MUSIC nobody knows. Friend Steve casually comes back into room in with large carving knife in hand, pointing downwards like dagger, sits down and scrolls through social media on mobile phone whilst humming. Everybody looks over and sighs. Man with gun scowls.

“Put the knife away Steve you loser.”

 

Tamarite I

I told my Madre that I was going to meet a girl in the town centre. She asked, ‘oh how do you know girl?’ I said Tinder, ‘What is Tinder? Is it like Facebook?’

‘Yes it’s like Facebook.’

I didn’t look too much into the girl. She was British, which is why I wanted to meet her, hoping for a nice fluent conversation (none of the Spanish chicks around would match with me). I would equally have met up with a British lad if there was one around, possibly with far greater enthusiasm. She was eighteen, which is five years my junior, an age disparity which I am oftentimes prone to forgetting. She was not the finest looking, but appeared like she made an effort with the feminine things like makeup and hair etc. From her pictures she looked very pleasant, happy, full of life. Almost every message she sent she used the 😀 face, so I assumed even if she was lacking in the brains department at least she would be entertaining. This certainly wasn’t a date, however. More a casual surveillance of what’s on the radar.

I was walking down past the rocky roads and the Favela like buildings towards the chick. The streets were punctuated by groups of old ladies on deckchairs, sat together on the pavements. I had only seen elderly women sit like this in Requiem For A Dream. They always seem in fine spirits. I say Hola! When I walk past which never fails to make them giggle.

I walked past a chick on the other side of the road who was quite beautiful, she was also using her phone so I was confident it was her, and I intermittently looked over at her until she had gone past so as to indicate it was me. It wasn’t her.

I wished it was.

So the chick calls. Bethan is her name. She asks me where I am and I say I don’t really know, but I will know soon as I’m near the centre, which was where we planned to meet. Then she starts getting a bit stressed, ‘Oh so I’ve been going in the wrong direction this whole time, HAVE I?’.

I say ‘don’t get stressed, everything is going to be okay.’ She’s a bit northern. I explain in very simple terms that I know where I’m going, I just haven’t got there yet, but she insists on staying on the phone to talk through it all. I hear sighs through the phone. I tell her I’m near the tower. She says, what tower? The massive one in the middle, that comes up when you search Tamarite on Google Images. She says, oh my God I don’t know any tower and I imagine a :/ face.

You’ve been here for two months already girl get a fucking grip.

She mentions walking past some Jesus statue, and I make a couple of jokes about how I love Jesus and Jesus loves us too. There’s a bit of silence on the line, and she says, ‘are you a Christian or something?’.

‘No Bethan, no I’m not.’ What kind of idiot calls their kid Bethan?

I’m in the centre of Tamarite in no time, where the shops and bars are immaculately split up by two parallel lines of trees. There are kids around of all ages, jumping around and playing. My own kids go out at ten every night, and come back at twelve. This is seen as normal, as the little town is a proud community and safe place, radiating with joy.

They took me a bit by surprise in their brightly coloured t-shirts, flocked round a monument of some sort. One who was perched on the steps said ‘Hello Jim.’In Spanish the Js are pronounced like Hys. So this would be pronounced ‘Hello Hyim!’. I took a long look to see if my kid was there, fortunately he was not. I then saw Bethan, standing on the other side of the road, on her mobile phone. It was unmistakably her. I wandered over and as I got closer I slowly began to make out what I was dealing with.

She was of course fat and stumpy, and on getting closer I was instantly reminded of a dumpling. I went in to hug her and found that her head was in line with my belly button. We went over to the nearest bar. I went inside to get a drink, and she stayed outside. I looked at her and made a drinking gesture through the window. And she eventually clambered in and said, ‘it’s Spain, they come to you you know.’ I stayed at the bar, getting myself a San Miguel and her a cloudy shandy. I’m not a fan of that pay monthly contract bollocks, pay as you go all the way.

‘You don’t mind smoking do you? It’s just I smoke, all the time.’ She got the fags straight out, and in a few moments, it was confirmed that she was a glumbucket, of the highest order. The way she talked about everything was like a moan.

I don’t get paid enough. My dad doesn’t speak to me anymore. He cheated on my mum. Not a single one of my friends wished me a happy birthday the other day. Nothing ever works out for me. Yeah, yeah get over it.

I knew this was nothing but a pointless exercise, not even a training exercise, more like being caught in a traffic jam on the M25. But still I had enough energy to rage against the dying of the light, having a glass of Estrella sitting in front of me. I found it hard to listen to what she was saying lest it depress me into a Toblerone binge to Scotland in my bare feet.

Her hair was dip dyed and slung back across the top of her head, above a red forehead which was faintly glistening with a border of sweat. The rest of her head blended into the neck, leaving no obvious distinction of which was which. She was wearing these awful glasses that were very large, with thick black frames. If they were practical glasses it would have been preposterous, if they were fashionable, it would have been even worse. I say this as a guy who’s conquered the whole geek-chic look, with the braces and everything. I don’t even pretend those things are practical.

Bethan smoked her third cigarette, and told me about some party she went to in a neighbouring city. ‘It was alright, not the best. I got my purse stolen, when I was really drunk and passed out. Which was really bad because I needed it and it had money in it. Just my luck.’

‘So tell me about this party then.’

‘It went on until eight in the morning.’

‘Were they all on drugs?’

‘I don’t think so I think some of them do weed, but I don’t mind them doing weed because it doesn’t do that much. It’s the other drugs that I mind. They put them in your drink you know.’

I bet they do. ‘What other drugs?’

‘I don’t know what they’re called, I don’t know drugs, I don’t like drugs. My friends don’t do them either. They get offered them but they just say no.’

‘Oh right.’

‘I haven’t been to many parties even in England because I’m only eighteen.’

‘Old enough to go bungee jumping.’

A slight creaking , the gentle escaping of air, the subtle flutter of light objects. Background noise. I didn’t make much of it. Her eyes kept disappearing behind me as I spoke, then returning momentarily, then disappearing again. With each change of focus I think, ‘ she’s not going to do it again surely.’ Then eventually I expect it to happen with a tiresome indifference. She really can’t help herself with this. What’s even going on behind me? She clearly wasn’t listening to a word I was saying. Perhaps something even more captivating than me was taking place behind there. Finally I gave in and turned round to see that the bar woman was was moving a number of cardboard boxes into the restaurant.

A couple of kids turn up, a lad and a girl. He’s broken his voice, and has a beard, which is more than I have, but he’s still a junior. The girl says ‘I think I know what this is going to be about!’ Before the kids even say anything, Bethan draws two fags out of the box, then holds them out behind her, facing the other way. The kid takes one of them, says in Spanish he doesn’t need the other one. She wields the remaining one like a magic wand. ‘Oh take it, I insist!’ he takes it, and hands it to his girlfriend. ‘It just saves him coming back to bother me later, you see.’

I ask her why she does that, and she just says they all get fags off her whenever they see her. She then says, if she doesn’t hand them over, they don’t go away. No, they don’t go away, because you hand them over, you absolute specimen, you despicable splodge, you unbalanced little flump, you base!

Oh no. I see a woman walking towards us down the road, and as she gets closer I realise it’s Madre, with one of the kids. Oh dear. She then introduces herself to Bethan, and they have a small dialogue in Spanish until Madre says something a bit more complex that Bethan inevitably doesn’t understand. The kid says ‘I want to go now’ and Madre whisks him away.  

She then talks more about the bad things that had happened at home, how much she doesn’t get on with her Dad and how he can’t keep off the bevs. I feel so violated, the 😀 faces were all a lure to reel me in. So too were the photos, which weren’t that good but at least she appeared happy and not abnormal. I’m not being shallow about it, I just don’t like being conned. It’s not morally okay to do that. Girls are so successful in the art of deception with things like this, they can make themselves appear skinny in photos, appear reasonably good looking in some even when in reality they are ugly. I on the other hand, struggle to put a profile together that makes me look as good as I feel I do look, it being hard to find a photo that doesn’t make me look like creepy goblin. Besides, it’s 2017, who even takes photos anymore?

This was dragging along now like a colossal trailer full of broken fridges, with four flat tyres, being towed by a 1960s Reliant Robin. I’d only been there thirty minutes. I had finished my cerveza and I wasn’t getting another one. I told her I had to go to the bathroom then I was going to go, as I had to get up at eight in the morning. I got back and another little kid– looked about fourteen years old– was stood by the table, talking to the glum-faced town fag-dispenser. He introduced himself to me as Pedro. He lingered around quite awkwardly, until he finally asked for a fag, got one, and then ran off back to his friends.

‘You do realise he’s about fourteen.’

‘Yeah I know. I don’t care.’

I give it to her straight- ‘It’s not acceptable to give cigarettes to children,’

‘Well I’m going home in 8 weeks anyway.’

?

Being the Jacob Rees-Mogg that I am, I waited for her to finish her cigarette, before darting off into the backstreets with my earphones in, hoping something like this would never happen again.

The Jack Walk

I find real catharsis in taking dogs on walks. This is because dogs effectively live to be walked. It’s all they ever want to do. From the moment you take a dog out of the house, it seems to explode with happiness, wagging its tongue, panting uncontrollably and immersing itself in every aspect of the journey.  For this reason the dog walker feels like she is doing a good deed, and can see the results plainly in front of her in the form of an utterly contented beast. It isn’t like walking a human, where you have to maintain some kind of conversation, in fact, you’re perfectly free to stick your music in and forget they’re even there if you would like. Furthermore it provides an excuse to switch off the television, put the laptop away, get out of that door, get in and amongst the fields and the trees and experience Barrow Upon Soar’s rich tapestry of nature.

I got an opportunity to take my mother’s friend’s Jack Russells out yesterday and it turned out to be anything but cathartic. They weren’t her Jacks, they were her friend’s, who was out gallivanting on holiday in some sultry corner of the globe, presumably indulging freely in a bacchanalia of drugs, alcohol and sex. There were two dogs, one of them vivacious and young, the other one slow and whacked out like a family teddy bear out of the attic. I grabbed my stylish digital-camo sunnies, stuck the dogs on the lead and took them over to Millennium Park- a very pleasant recreational area near where I live, complete with a giant sun-dial to make telling time that little bit more convenient.

The walk was going perfectly well and to my satisfaction there were no rival dog walkers around to cause me any trouble. I was told by the owner that I could take the leads off the slow and whacked out Jack if I so wished- there would be no hazards there. I flirted with the idea for a while, at first thinking it too outrageous to go through with, but the dogs were so timid and well behaved and the concept of a lead is so authoritarian to me that I soon succumbed, and released both dogs from their tyrannical leashes.

At first the younger Jack scouted ahead, just within my range of vision. The older creature hung way back, moving at a slow pace. All of a sudden I had to turn my attention towards multiple directions at once as the dogs scattered all over the place. I was doing okay however, I could call the dog at the front and it would turn back and slow up for a few moments. The back dog was of course, no threat whatsoever and would be more likely to collapse at any given moment than cause me any grief.

Or so I thought. In a few moments the elderly Jack overtook me and began to chase its younger more athletic companion. I took a moment to laugh at the way in which it moved, its back legs moving at once, in a hopping motion, its front legs pedalling like a Loony Tunes character fleeing from the baddie. As we–the unseemly and incompetent convoy–kept moving through the field, I noticed a bench to my left and thought, ‘all right, let’s take a breather, maybe the dogs will run about a bit and play. Get it out of their system- so to speak’. The kid Jack wasn’t having it however and was motivated only by distance. The geriatric was still slowly making ground in second place. With a sigh I rose from my seat and began my pursuit.

Then in the blink of an eye I saw something I could scarcely have imagined previously. The decrepit beast burst into a pace akin to light speed and in a flash was out in front. I thought ‘well that’s very impressive Old Jack, but you won’t last long at that rate. Schoolboy error.’ But there was no looking back. He was out of here. Showing no signs of deceleration. Into hyper space.

The bat shit crazy incontinent old fiend soon overtook the kid dog, whom it was also fair to say was well and truly going places himself and in a matter of seconds, they were out of Millennium Park gates. In one moment it hit me that the walk had taken on a wholly different dynamic whereby I was not the walker but the walked.

I felt like a bad supply teacher. Moreover, Old Jack had well and truly conned me, all the while dreaming of escape, lulling me into a false sense of security at the beginning of the walk, playing the codger, then jetting off at the opportune moment. Had it been waiting all of its life for this chance? Was this its best hope for true freedom?

They ran straight out into the right hand side of the road; the oncoming side. A Chelsea tractor was forced to come to an abrupt halt to avoid running over the things. The driver honked his horn and waited for the dog to go round him before again pelting off ahead (at the cost of the biosphere). Fortunately for me, Young Jack was never really taking any of this seriously. This was no life and death situation for him, it was all just a funny joke, he was now content to amble along in second. Following his friend but by no means gunning to fly head first into the jaws of death alongside him. Meanwhile at the back I was tagging along, occasionally switching from brisk walking to bursts of half-hearted jogging, shouting the dog’s name every few seconds. Though it had once listened, it was not listening now. To my left a gardener was pruning his hedge, and looked up to see what was happening. I half expected him to moan at me for having lost control of my pets but he took pity on me and smiled before returning to his secateurs. I paused to think about how I must have looked, jogging, distressed, carrying two dogless leads, my cheeks bulging like hamster cheeks following my recent jaw surgery, and wearing my suave digi-shades, and a T-Shirt that said X-tra large Condoms, great sex, great protection.

I could barely make out the dogs any more, all I could see were furry balls floating over the roundabout. One after the other with a ten second interval. After a few more car horns the balls got to the top of my estate. I took it upon myself to catch up this time and used my massive pistons to propel me like lightning. At this point I was half-expecting to find a writhing dog corpse at every roundabout.

As I ambled on no such corpses were found. To my delight, Young Jack was soon within my grasp. I lassoed the beast and gained control of it once again. Old Jack however was last seen cackling and smiling to himself as he sprinted towards the horizon to his lifelong awaited freedom.

Zengin’s Pride

Deep in the heart of the ancient woods, two slimy hermaphrodites were sharing a slimy embrace, suspended high in the air above a carpet of woodland leaves and mulch. Fuelled with strange invertebrate desire, they hung from a string of mucus like an umbilical cord and spiralled and pirouetted and danced through the night. For hours on end they hugged and kissed and smooched and cried together. They lost themselves in each other’s slippery skins and tasted each other’s slime until one final burst of enthusiasm that marked the conclusion of their meeting. The atmosphere pervaded with awkwardness all of a sudden. Immediately the two slugs were incapable of eye contact. It was now time to go separate ways. With their teeth like clandestine guillotines they severed the cord and dropped to the ground and slid away in opposite directions like they had never known each other. No goodbyes were uttered. They plunged into the darkness, never to meet again.

Hoot-hooooot. Yellow eyes glowing in the distance, between the leaves without blinking. Fast-forward to the night of our protagonist’s birth. The momentous night. A litter of slime in the dark. Hoot-hooooot. Yellow eyes glowing in the distance. A pale and translucent thing at first; the colour a gentle light blue, nestled into the rotten undergrowth, among others, all feeble little sacks- some without motion. Hoot-hoots in the distance. Yellow eyes glowing between the leaves.  Two slugs remained, one sizeable and full of life. The other a runt, pathetic, soon to expire. His mother stared only at one, who she has named Zengin. Hoot-hoooootShe rejected the other slug, and gave all her attention to its superior. Yellow eyes.

The owl is coming!” uttered the maternal slug, covering her favourite son with a leaf as she saw the flapping of wings through the needled branches of the pine. The young slug was devoured in one peck. Zengin watched from a gap under the leaf as the owl finished chewing, and then slowly rotated his head as he locked on its prime target, who on this occasion had not the haste to escape. Zengin’s mother’s shouted to her son one last time “be proud, Zengin. You are the greatest!”. The owl then scooped her up with his claws and cackled to himself as he dived into the air.

“Bless my feathers! I do love the fat ones. This’ll feed the kids for a whole week. Hoot hoot!”

From this point onwards, Zengin was left on his own to confront the world, however barbarous. All that he had to take with him were those precious words uttered by his mother. Being too young to understand the concept of hyperbole, he regarded them as infallible, as literal truth. Be proud at all costs. You are the greatest. As soon as Zengin could develop thoughts, they were exclusively self. Or I. Or me.

The young mollusc soon left the leaf under which he had viewed the slaughter of his mother, and got on with his life. He feasted on all of the rotten treasures of the woodland until he increased in size and strength, and his muscles began to show. God I’m handsome, he thought to himself. The mollusc purchased designer clothes from brands such as Ralph Lauren and Paul Smith God I’ve got style, the mollusc thought. The mollusc soon met other slugs of a similar age and established a clique full of admirers God I’m popular, the slug thought. The mollusc began to have dalliances with other youthful and exuberant slugs God I’m a stud. He watched his children grow up God my children are better than everyone else’s. The mollusc began to read the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, William Wordsworth, William Blake and George Gordon Byron. God I understand poetry, he thought. It was only a matter of time before the keen mollusc took up a pen himself. The mollusc composed an epic poem of twenty eight thousand lines titled The Eternal Quest of Zengin the Perfect Slug. God my verses are delicately cadenced, I’ve outdone Dante! were his thoughts on this occasion. Nobody read them of course; It’s just a shame nobody is intellectual enough to appreciate this emphatic work. The hubris was frightful and burned bright like phosphorus, and was equally corrosive, as we will soon learn.

The slug began to develop an insatiable sense of anger at the world, the world which he deemed to be insignificant for a slug of his intellectual capacity. But most of all he felt that his excellence was constantly unrecognised. In his bohemian slug circles he began to vocalise his thoughts about the pretentiousness and lack of ability that surrounded him. He ended up telling a slug with a liking of impressionism to “fuck himself” for refusing to make him the subject of all of his paintings. “Impressionism is shit anyway. An impressionist picture of a family of slugs eating a dock leaf is just a regular picture of a family of slugs eating a dock leaf, only slightly more blurry. Paint me, and you must not ever blur what is immaculate as it is.” The disgruntled impressionist slug left the society and was never seen again. 

Soon the community began to realise that this Zengin slug was a most arrogant creature, whose thoughts were always completely concerned with himself. Thoughts that were descending into chaos! Why won’t they provide my food for me and attend me at all times? Soon became Why won’t they make me their Monarch? Soon became Why won’t they worship me like a deity? He was insufferable. They soon banished him from their circles.

Inflamed with rage and disappointment, Zengin decided to take a stand, and make his voice heard. Crowds of slugs were congregating to discuss routine political matters, and Zengin the slug, wearing a T-shirt with a pseudo-iconic picture of his own face on the front, climbed onto the top of the tallest dock leaf and commanded the attention of the populace, rudely interrupting a discussion regarding tax credits. 

“Zengin stands before you. Worship me you pathetic slugs. I am the best. You are all worthless molluscs spawned from your mothers purely for the purposes of following my designs,” there was an intrusive silence. “I am the righteous dictator”. Each sentence took what felt like a life time.

“I am the greatest.”

The crowd had already grown tired of his grandiosity, “Are you not also a mollusc?” a little leopard coated slug dared interrupt from the back of the crowd. Slugs speak every bit as slow as they move.

“No. I am no mollusc,” if not slower.

“What are you then?” another slug, flummoxed by Zengin’s words gave in reply.

“I am a celestial deity in the form of a slug,” some slugs laughed in response, others were growing irritable and murmured to themselves their discontent and embarrassment.

“PROVE IT!!!” they all roared.

“Does not my mastery of oratory demonstrate this clearly enough to your impoverished brains?”

A long pause, “no.”

“Well what must I do?”

A fat slug with short stubby antennae addressed the proud orator.

“You say you are celestial and a deity and not a slug like the rest of us. Surely you must therefore be immortal?”

“Yes, immortal. I am yes.”

“Then we shall pour salt upon your flesh, and watch you return unscathed. Then we shall worship you unconditionally, for as long as our miserable lives may transpire.”

“How insolent of you to even require proof. Do you not know it in your souls when you gaze into my eyes, my eyes heroic like lion’s eyes on stalks?”

“Not really,” the fat mollusc replied with ambivalence.

“Oh as you please. Bring me the salt. You will see. Oh you will see that I am invincible.”

The slugs congregated and after eleven long hours of acquiring salt granules and carefully placing them on a dock leaf, which they carried to the spot where Zengin remained standing, facing the slug crowd in what he believed to be an imperious stance. The slugs violently beat their drums and violently waved their torches in the air. They drank beer and ate popcorn (sweet flavour)

The fat slug with the stubby antennae saw this as an opportunity to make money so took it upon himself to open a betting shop, and take bets on the outcome. Most backed death. The queue stretched further than the eye could see. It is rumoured that even a number of snails came to view the spectacle. And the other slugs were too captivated too notice. They were consumed and in a frenzy.

Zengin was not intimidated by the mob, and stood strong, laughing at the gormlessness of the crowd. The crowd were divided in their chants, some roared for Zengin’s divine rulership, others for his demise. Some wanted divine revelation, others simply the gore of death. The dock leaf full of salts –carried on the shoulders of eight labouring slugs– was moving ever closer to the mollusc orator by the hour. Zengin was not phased and stood magnanimously on the his rock. He imagined that this image of him would remain the most prevalent and revered image for the future of not only slugs, but all molluscs alike. The gastropods, the chitons, the bivalves, the cephalopods- they would all remember the image of Zengin on the rock. Some slugs took it upon themselves to video the event on their camera phones, others drew portraits. Some merely watched intently, waiting.

“Salt!”, “SALT!!!” they screamed.

“You shall see. You shall see pathetic ones. You shall see,” Zengin responded.

The slugs who were administering the salt couldn’t help but portray their enthusiasm. It was not often they had the opportunity to potentially destroy a fellow slug for sport. Zengin lay next to the leaf, unwavering and motionless. With smiles on their faces, the slugs began to tilt the leaf while the crowd was catapulted into ecstasy.

The first granule fell onto Zengin’s back. The second. The third. Then the rest. The eight began their journey to the other side of the leaf to witness the results. The crowd fell silent as the granules began to slide down the dock leaf towards Zengin’s back. 

Yellow. Then came the swoop and in a matter of seconds the young slug was in the talons of the same owl. As they flew off into the trees, Zengin shouted to the crowd at the top of his lungs.

“Zengin is the greatest, and will be resurrected!”

“Shut up little slime! Hoot hooooot!” replied the owl as he carried off his dinner.

Cobwebs and Blancmange

I had invited myself to stay over at a girl’s apartment. I don’t know why. She was a girl I used to like at school. I couldn’t remember spending the night there, I just remember when I got into her bed I saw that all around it was surrounded by cobwebs, little spiders and flies. On arrival there was a little show for me actually; a blue and red insect was enveloped in a little web that went upwards at the foot of the bed like a tube. It looked like a ghostly pitcher plant. Before I could take the time to mourn the insecticide, I noticed it start to sway and shake, and I was waiting for the wily arachnid to appear and engulf it at any moment, you know the way they do- get all on top of it, paralyse it with a bit of venom, wrap it up and then suck up the insides. But there was no spider, and the ladybird just waggled and waggled its way out then bust out of the web and flew off, increasing in size as it did so. I watched as it flew out of the door. It may have been missing a few legs, but at least it was free. It would have been all right now. Maybe.

I had dreaded staying in that little single bed, surrounded with cobwebs. I thought, I’m going to ask her, ‘does all this not bother you at all?’. Then I must have gone to bed at some point, I don’t remember. I woke up and entered the kitchen to discover it was painted yellow. Her partner was there. I knew she had a new partner, but I didn’t know it was a chick. Funny how people just turn into lesbians sometimes. I just went along with it.

I approached the yellow cupboard to make myself some breakfast, with my towel wrapped around my waist. For some reason the only thing I noticed in the cupboard was a shot glass of yellow and pink blancmange, which I grabbed immediately, with a small bottle of milk.

Is that even how you make blancmange?

Is blancmange even particularly suitable for breakfast?

I felt pretty comfortable, like I could just stick one of those Jonas Rathsman mixes on, Elements, and then just dance around the kitchen while I did my thing to some nice, funky, colourful techno.

I thought I’d say good morning, and ask ‘are we all right?’

Her response- ‘You do realise I play rugby for Oxford?’

It was a killer that one was. I broke into awkward laughter, ‘why would you say that?!’

She didn’t know how to answer. I noticed she was quite an attractive blonde girl. However, all was not well- she had been indoctrinated, she was wearing a dark blue hoodie that was probably one of those ‘University’ brands, or a leaver’s hoodie from one of those private schools that make their students feel like a million dollars purely because their parents are stuck up enough to send them there. She was one of those who wasn’t up to her own life, she was defeated by herself at every turn. Life is like a video game, and some people simply aren’t good enough, so they only get so far, and get killed on the same level, by the same monster, over and over and over again. It must be so demoralising, but they carry on trying.

She definitely had a horse.

‘I just wanted to make that clear.’

This one hated me, absolutely hated me. She must have told her everything about me. This one probably had very good reason to be skeptical about me, but contemplating rugby tackling me was extreme. I realised my blancmange was only slightly increasing in thickness with the milk I added, so I kept adding more and achieving the same awful results.

‘All right to jump in the shower after I’ve made breakfast?’

‘Another shower?’

‘No,’ said the unfamiliar lesbian.

‘No worries.’

‘You used my towel yesterday didn’t you?’ asked the girl whom I used to be so fond of those many years ago.

‘Yeah,’

‘I bet it stinks now!’

I thought to myself- ‘why would it stink if I used it to dry myself after showering?’

They kept quarrelling with each other about things. I could only hear murmurs and groans.  I didn’t listen, but then she spoke to me.

‘Stay in my bed last night did you?’ she snapped.

‘Yeah I assumed it would be okay?’

‘Well it’s not,’ I remember that stare. I tried not to look back, lest I turn to stone.

‘So how do you make blancmange, does it just set eventually or does it go in the microwave or…?’

‘I’m fed up of this,’ the Oxford lesbian stormed off, grabbing the keys to one of those Fiats that all girls of about that age seem to drive. She looked distressed, but deep down you could tell that she relished making a scene. It was probably her greatest form of self expression.

The remaining one then groaned from the kitchen table, all stressed and in her pyjamas. She had a series of application forms in front of her and you could tell she didn’t understand what any of them meant. She’d have been better off tearing them to pieces. She ended up sweeping them off the table onto the empty chair opposite, then started groaning again.

‘Do you ever think about getting a life?’

‘Well that was awfully abrupt of you.’

‘Well, do you?’

‘Isn’t it a bit early in the morning for questions like that?’

I looked down at what I was doing in shock. I left the shot glass on the side by the fridge, and had since acquired a butter tub full of more blancmange, and was adding beetroot to one side. It turned into a beet coloured mess, but I was persevering. It was frightening.

She was getting animated now. She was clearing undergoing an identity crisis. I wish I knew who I was sometimes too.

‘I cleaned up your room for you. There were cobwebs everywhere, and spiders corpses and God knows what.’

‘I don’t care!’

I paused for a brief period, sighing at what I had created on the work surface. The horror. The unprecedented purple and yellow horror. I sighed.

Everything was so yellow, so horribly yellow all of a sudden. The walls, the floor, the ceiling. 

‘You really have transformed into a very miserable and nasty person haven’t you?’

 

Banished

I had been banished from my homeland by them and forced to live the rest of my days on an island of disused electrical appliances. The accumulation of these disused electrical appliances had formed a conventional geographical landscape, there were mountains, dunes, hills, caves and valleys all consisting almost entirely of discarded electrical equipment, ranging from microwaves, right the way through to scanners and other forms of basic printing equipment. It was a nasty place, and a stark reminder of the sub-standard technological endeavours of the past. I had been alone on the Island for twelve years, all the while desperately trying to escape. The place was starting to have its wicked way with me-I kept hearing this track. I don’t know whether I was actually hearing it coming from a bassy sound system or whether it was all a figment of my cursed imagination. It sounded wonky and agonisingly repetitive. 

For twelve years, with my gigantic legs like ostentatious Roman columns I clambered and scrambled over obsolete P.C monitors and waded through mires of unidentifiable cables and wires until finally I discovered a beach. One would expect, being an island, that there would be beaches everywhere and I would stumble upon one without much trouble. But this was far from the truth. I can only suggest either that they have cast a spell on me (hampering my sense of direction) or that the Island is of continental proportion, the size of Australia probably. Though infinitely more horrideous to inhabit. 

One of the troubles of such an Island is the continuous electrical shocks from misplaced plugs and battery packs. I found myself being given a good old zapping almost daily, sometimes multiple times. It really is terrifying, and impossible to get used to. I believe I might actually be beginning to develop my own electrical current, possibly something to do with my braces (which I’ve worn for fourteen years now, twelve of which have been without any orthodontic treatment). But that doesn’t even bear thinking about. I hadn’t been zapped all day today and along with my discovery of this preposterous beach I was beginning to think it might be my lucky day. 

 As I walked, breaking metal and plastic with my legs etc… it became apparent to me that there was life around. I would notice crabs quickly crawling sideways into old Playstation disk-drives as they saw me approach. Seagulls sporadically flew overhead with USB sticks and memory cards clutched in their horny beaks. 

Since the first day of my banishment on this isle, when they had whisked me off when I was twenty two, and hopeful and just coming out of university, I always knew that the only way I could escape this place was by building a boat and sailing off into the sea. My whole exiled life was in hope and prayer for the one moment when I reached a beach, but it was a dreadful anti-climax when I finally got there. But then again everything in life is an anti-climax, if you anticipate it positively. 

Why do we even bother?

Why are my legs so massive?

I tried not to think too much because my thoughts always end up like this and I go round and round in the same circles. I try and tell myself one thing, over and over again -It will happen Jamo, one day it will happen.

It will happen. Anyway- I figured the best  method would be by using a large fridge freezer that I’d picked up earlier on my travels, and add a couple of other boat-necessities to it. A sail basically. All I had to do was find something to use as a sail, and then there was hope. It will happen. 

(But what if it doesn’t?)

As I walked further down the beach the music stayed in my head, getting louder at irregular intervals. I heard a voice shouting “HDMI Cable!”, then “Ear-Phones!” I noticed that the voice was that of a penguin, standing by a large pile of dilapidated extension leads, plugs and sockets. He was desperately trying to get my attention. I noticed he was smoking the remnants of a roll-up, and as I got closer to him I realised he looked rough. His feathers were grey, and there were patches of bare skin developing over his body. I’d never seen penguin skin before. I pretended that he wasn’t there. His voice sounded soft like gravel; “Sir, come from a long way have you?  VHS?” he began to cough violently after this pitiful attempt at a conversation starter.

As I walked straight past him I was thinking to myself, what the fuck would I want with a VHS? Jesus Christ. He can’t have long left. Absolutely fucked. 

Then I skulked away, sliding down a slope of unidentifiable digital boxes and keyboards on my side when I heard the words being shouted to me.

“It’ll never happen you know!”cough, cough, cough.

Don’t ever listen to a penguin. Ever. 

A few miles further up I saw a beige coloured fabric nestled into the side of a little ledge at the back of the beach. I thought this would be perfect to put on my fridge, and I could maybe use a robust old television aerial as a mast, but I would address that issue later. On closer inspection I realised that the curtain was already being used by a family of otters who were watching television. They were using it as a carpet, or a bed or both.

“Hi, sorry to interrupt.  I’m in a bit of a mess…” they were watching a documentary about the dangers of alcoholism. They had a really large HD-ready LCD screen complete with Sky Plus. One of the otters in a floppy hat and with effeminate whiskers, presumably his wife, was quite displeased to have her programme viewing interrupted and sharply pressed pause on the Sky box, leaving the television with a still of Louis Theroux looking compassionately distressed whilst talking to a slovenly man on a park bench clutching a can of Zubr. They all looked at me at once. A butch, masculine otter, presumably the father, looked shocked and then exclaimed in a west-country accent “Man, why so big in leg?”

I smirked, acting as if it was a joke. “I’m building a boat and I need a sail-”

“They’re gargantuan! Whopping great mammoth- legs!” he continued to stare at them in a daze. There was a pause. 

“Any chance I could have that curtain please?” I continued.

The otter turned back to his family, still flummoxed “How does the man get from A to B?” then he snapped out of it and looked at me again. “Sorry there, I was distracted. What was it you were after again?”

“The curtain.”

“Oh right. For a sail or something you said?”

“Yes.”

“Oh okay. That for the Detritus Beach sailing competition this Saturday?”

“No. I’m trying to get away from this Island. For good.”

“Why’s that? Not good enough for you is it?”

“No it’s not that. I just…”

“You humans. Always asking for a bit more aren’t you? It’s never good enough for man is it?” A rat’s head emerged over the side of the curtain. The otter then quickly tried to leap on top of it but it scurried away and giggled to itself. They clearly had a problem with beach-vermin.

“Anyways, I can’t give you the curtain if you aren’t going to give it back, but I can lend you it if you want to enter the competition, ten quid per boat and it’s all for the Underprivileged Otter’s Foundation, so it’s all for a good cause, we always go down to the Raft afterwards for a few drinks. Great day out if ya fancy it?”

“No thanks, I’m out of here man. Is there anything else you recommend I use to build my boat?”

“Typical. Errrm what to use? Refrigerator usually does the trick. The one you’ve got there looks perfect for the job. Anyway be gone man, I’m trying to watch a documentary with my family, ” the wife pressed the play button and Louis Theroux’s face became reanimated. 

I staggered off.

“Oh and competition starts at eleven o’clock!”

I then heard the otters laughing sinisterly, and the music began to play again. It will happen. It should do. It might. It could.

ZAP!!!!!

After the shock I was catapulted five feet into the air and landed half-inside a washing machine.

It quite possibly never will.

 

A Creative Writing Seminar

 

So basically I was in this creative writing seminar. Everyone was reading their poems about things and the lecturer was commenting on how sick we were at poetry and stuff occasionally and we were all handing out sheets of paper with our poems on them to the class and writing things on them if we felt that that was a necessary thing to do.

“I particularly liked the metaphor about (insert metaphor). That was a tremendous image, it really was,” the lecturer might say about someone’s poem.

“Yeah that was really good actually,” someone else might have said.

A guy called Dave who always wore burgundy Superdry clothes had to read his poem. I really didn’t like Dave’s poetry, because it was a bit depressing and sometimes a bit pretentious.

 

We marched together, like imperial soldiers

your arm round mine, tied to my ulna like rope

up the mountains, as if Ben Nevis was only a hill

and you were my perfect future. 

 

“Nice one Dave,” we all said.

One student covered her eyes with her hand in order to conceal a tear which had escaped from her face.

“Are you okay?” the lecturer asked Hannah.

“I’m fine! I’m fine!”

“It was a very touching poem,” the lecturer conceded.

“I’m fine! Fine!” she said, endeavouring to cover her face now more than ever- which had turned vermillion.

She was probably fine. She just had an extremely personal connection with heartfelt verses, such as the ones that Dave produced every week, that was all.

“Thank you Dave. Thank you very much.”

Dave smiled to himself and put his pen in his mouth feeling a bit satisfied with himself and also a bit like Sartre. It was my turn to read a poem now. Which one should I read? errrm errrm errrrm errrrm…

As I was deciding, I saw the lecturer withdrawing a pouch of Golden Virginia from his pocket. I decided to read the one about the depressed squid that I’d been working on for a few weeks.

Then the lecturer pulled out a pack of King-sized rizzla.

 

I float through Sea, I float through the salty water

like an octopus (but I am actually a giant squid)

 

“Sorry to interrupt James, does anybody have a train ticket or something? Making a roach you see.”

“Yeah sure,” Caroline handed the lecturer a train ticket (rather obsequiously). Everyone fancied the lecturer to a certain extent.

“Thanks. Do continue James,” the lecturer said as he effortlessly crafted the perfect roach.

 

I plunge through the darkness, propelled

like an extra-terrestrial missile, armed only

with my tentacles of cruelty and contempt. 

 

I looked over to my lecturer who had now ground some weed and was gently dispersing it across the tobacco, until there was little left to see within the paper but a thick blanket of powdery light green leaves. The smell of haze spread across the room like a friendly cloud. I continued…

 

I have an eye that is too big, and terrifies everyone.

Why do I move in bursts, why do I buffer through the sea?

I don’t belong here. I am depressed.

The class showered me with applause.

“Wow James that was probably your best yet I reckon,” one said.

“I loved the buffering. Squids do move like that!” said another.

“I love the way you portray depression as a thing that affects creatures as well as human beings,” another.

“You’re a genius James.”

“Thanks,” I smiled.

There was a bit of a silence. The lecturer revealed an extremely long and perfectly shaped spliff, removed a key from his pocket and packed the top down nicely. Then he folded the top over, preferring the folded approach to the twisted one. We all know that the folded approach is the more sophisticated, and that the lecturer had definitely made the right decision there. The lecturer tapped the finished product on the table and held it between two knuckles.

“Well I have to say James. That was an outstanding poem. How do you come up with stuff like that? You’ll have to tell me some day… anyway in the mean time, I think you’ve deserved it; would you like to do the honours?” the lecturer handed me the spliff and a bright red clipper with a massive yellow smiley face on it.

I lit the spliff and it was really harsh. Then I passed the spliff all the way round and everyone had some.

“Great seminar guys!”

Then we all went home really stoned and wrote a bit more poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knuckleheads

Crab Apple had the best box in the whole of the Underground. It was six metres squared in volume and had perspex walls, a quilted blanket, a small sink, and access to no less than three other boxes across the corridor.

Crab apple was elated because his working hours had recently been reduced to nineteen and a half hours a day, meaning that now he had nearly five hours of leisure time to sleep and to see his friends across the tunnels to play knuckleheads with them, with the bones of dead creatures. Crab apple was hard working and good natured but above all he was almost completely content. He hated working because the practices he was required to do were absolutely insufferable, but he needed to persevere if he wanted to enjoy the fiery thrills of knucklehead combat as regularly as he was doing.

Everyone envied Crab apple because his box was the best. Crab apple prided himself on that smooth perspex finish. He would rub the glass every night before bed with his face, and he would be thankful that he had somehow ended up with such a remarkable gift. He always slept well, then he would wake up, have a few sips water then prepare for a day’s intensive labour, alone. His job was simply to dig, he didn’t know why. He was a good digger, and he dug like no other. He knew that if he carried on working at the same rate, the rewards would come and before he knew it, Crab apple would be awarded a mattress all to himself.

Norman would never have six metres squared or perspex or a quilted blanket or a small sink or a mattress all to himself. Norman was on twenty two hours of work per day. He lived in what was known as a shoe box. He was different to Crab apple in that he was always angry and depressed. This led to him having an awful problem with swearing and not many could tolerate his incessant pessimistic outlook. The sight of the perspex box across the corridor made him want to kill himself.

Norman liked Crab apple because he was a friend to him. But to Norman Crab apple was intolerably stupid and trivial. Crab apple couldn’t hold any kind of conversation that didn’t concern either digging or knucklehead warfare. Crab apple was good natured but brain dead to everything, everything including the one thing that excited Norman; the concept of freedom. That there was something else other than the dusty, hot, narrow channels of the underground. Norman could never convince himself that a mattress represented freedom, to him this was simply not the case, but a sordid mendacity implanted into the minds of the diggers from a dark, dark superior being who was operating from above. But this was just ‘audacious conjecture’ or ‘blasphemous conspiracy’ and he could not announce these opinions to others because they would simply not understand and render him insane.

After an infuriating day of blistering and bone-crushing labour Norman climbed back up to the corridor covered in a layer of dusty rock carpeted to his skin by sweat. He went back to his shoebox and briefly washed his face and hands. He then knocked on Crab apple’s door, hell-bent on suicide.

Crab apple was lying on his back, fiddling with his knuckleheads when his friend Norman called. He leapt with enthusiasm and opened the door to greet his friend.

“Hello Norman. My good friend! Are you all right?”

“No” Norman replied. His posture was flaccid and his voice sounded like over used sand paper.

“Ahh my good friend, that is a shame. Perhaps a good  game of knuckleheads might make you feel better? “

“I don’t want to play fucking knuckle heads”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes”

“Oh okay fine, maybe later then my good friend?”

“I don’t want to play knuckle heads ever again”

Crab apple did not know how to respond to this, and looked well and truly perplexed by this objection.

There was a hideous pause.

“Well what do you want to do then?”

“I want to cease.”

“You mean you want to…”

“I WANT TO BLOODY DIE CRAB APPLE!”

Again, Crab apple had never experienced such a queer and flummoxing admission. And again Crab apple was perplexed.

There was a hideous pause.

This one carried on a while longer.

” But if you die Norman, then who will do your share of the digging? Above all else, the digging must be done, my good friend” Crab apple assured, rubbing a horrible rotten knuckle bone against his chin pensively.

“I don’t care. I don’t fucking care in the slightest”

“Norman, my good friend! You are so young! There is a solid thirty years solid and intensive labour in you yet. So keep your labour as solid and intensive as possible! Keep working as hard as you are doing and then before you know it you will be perspex, just like me! I mean it Norman I really do. I built what I’ve got now on good, hard labour. You can do the same. You just have to believe in your ability to dig. We are diggers, that’s why we are here. Dig Norman. Dig everything– that’s what my father taught me, and his father before him and his father before him and his father before and his father before him. Dig everything, my good friend, dig everything! That is the best advice you’ll ever hear. And I, my good friend Norman, am living proof of this” Crab apple smiled to himself, a smile of immense pride.

Norman sighed and was becoming extremely frustrated.

“Is this all you want Crab apple? Do you think this is enough?” Norman pointed towards the quilted blanket which was covered in filth, and the ladybird-sized sink, that sat pathetically by the door. Crab apple was offended and confused. There was another pause. “How can you convince yourself that such a preposterous life is ever worth living?”

” Norman, my good friend… I do not follow you. Is this not the finest box in the whole of the known Underground? It is surely not preposterous. Surely it is not that. And is life worth living? Of course it is. “

“Except it isn’t though. Life is absolutely unbearable “

Crab apple flicked a knucklehead across the room and then smiled at it as it hit the floor then went to retrieve it.

“My good friend. Everything is fine. Everything is fine!” He flicked the same knucklehead at exactly the same place and reacted to it in exactly the same way again, smiling as he did it as if Normal was not present.

Norman was growing frustrated. “Crab apple. How simply can I put this…Has it ever occurred to you that we are being hideously mistreated? “

“What do you mean?”

Norman did not know how to respond to this, whether to tell Crab apple his true thoughts or not. He was growing too tired to think and for a second he thought he might be going insane.

“Oh for fuck’s sake. I don’t even know any more ” he said.

“My friend you know your language is terrible! “

“I’m sorry” Norman said ironically.

“Look Norman. I don’t know what strange diggers you’ve been talking to down the tunnels. Or what dreaded underground gasses you’ve been inhaling, but you are speaking like a madman, my good friend! You need to relax. Relax, you must. You only have just under two hours before your next big dig”

Norman looked down, and convulsed for a moment to himself. Crab apple stared at him as if he was expecting him to do something, but when he didn’t he continued to stare at the unthinkable spectacle on his door step. He said nothing.

“Oh go on then Crab apple you simple minded, narrow bundle of knuckle-shagging fuck dust.  Prepare the knucklehead battlefield. We shall have our game”.

Norman walked into the box. Crab apple rushed to prepare the pieces.

“That’s  good to hear Norman, my good friend. That’s good to hear”.