The Sixteen

Sixteen people came to stay for the weekend.  I know some of them well.  Some are complete strangers.  One or two are celebrities.  We play games and drink and eat and talk about old times.  Even if we share no common experiences, we try and find something to reminisce about.

With Sonia I talked about the range of luxurious soaps which were once available everywhere but which have now disappeared.

With Carmel I talked about shadows, the ineluctable modality of the ineffable.  We ate raisins and discussed meat production.  Seven months at slaughter, six weeks when it hit the factory ship floor.  Ten months.  Fifty three years.

With Ed I talked about the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson’s great last songs.

With Julie I talked about sophistication.  What the hell?

Said Phil.  We looked at the window.  Something huge and horrible was waving at us.  It had tentacles and several mouths.

I talked to Graham about the octopus thing.

I talked to Phil about the octopus thing.

With Roger I talked about the Kabbalah, quiche recipes  and Kellogg’s promotions of the last twenty years.  Did I have the plastic figures of Snap Crackle and Pop?  No I didn’t.  Did I want them as he had two sets.  I’d think about it.

With Maisie I talked about the years passing, the gentle leaves parting, the hush and slide of the grass, the passing of greater and lesser moments.  How to cook pasties.

With Marcel Duchamp I talked about waste.

With the ghost of Sir Anthony Blunt I talked about a proposed tabloid headline at the time of his exposure. TWO QUEENS AT THE PALACE.

With Isaac Newton I mused on the thoughtless experiments parents conduct on their children.

With Zena I went on about how everyone seems to be dropping food all over the floor.  This wasn’t her party.

With Candy I cried and cried and cried and cried oh Candy my lost love.  The life we could have had together, the fish dinners, the haircuts, the late nights studying Euclid.

Paul didn’t want to talk.  He wanted to sleep.

I talked to George about the octopus thing.

And with Weird Walt I sang and danced, explored the remote islands of the far north, radiated cleverness and charm, wit, sagacity.

And the octopus thing got a tentacle in through the cat flap and tried to sneak off with the lava lamp.


Over Benito’s

She didn’t like his new hair, or absence of it.  He had an ugly skull.  They began to compare head shapes.  He couldn’t win.

“You are descended from the Normans.  Cold, brutish.  The Normans themselves were Vikings.  That slender, tapering skull is distinctly Norman.”

He said nothing.  She wouldn’t let him feel her head shape.

That evening they ate chicken.  It wasn’t a particularly good chicken.  It was a battery chicken and skinny.  She had cooked roast potatoes but they were feeble, soggy and dripping with fat.

He said nothing.

“I am going to have a tattoo tomorrow,” she said.  “I’m meeting Paula at ten outside The Lamb.”

“Is she having one?”  He wiped some fat from his cheek.

“Is she having one?  No. Two.  She’s having a hammer and sickle.  I’m having a star.”


“At a place over Benito’s.”

“No, I meant where on your body?”

“You’ll see,” she said.

The next evening he did the cooking.

The Singing Postman

I dress up in my V neck sweater and sometimes my Arran cardigan and she goes ape.  She doesn’t understand.  She wants me to listen to something that’s distorted and manic but I don’t like that old stuff.  I like the Singing Postie.

And the Singing Postie strolled into Fortnum and Masons, Uncle Tim was telling me on the phone, and I had to interrupt his larval flow and tell him he was lying because he’s dead and Tim said no, I’m talking about twenty years ago when I was working there on the tea counter.

My friend Will yelled stop talking to that bastard and come and entertain me I haven’t come over here to listen to one half of your conversation.

And I realise all he had taken in of what I told Tim is he’s dead and that was bothering him.

Who’s dead?

The Postie.

I know that.

Will and I sneak off.  We’re going to get a drink and something to eat. We go and listen to a tape that Will’s brought over with a song called Little Boxes but it isn’t what I like it’s depressing about people living in houses.

I’m putting on Val I said.  He keeps things cheerful.

I look around the room to try and find something to calm him down.  Look, I say, and throw him the cover of the Val cd.  Count the tracks.

Twenty seven! shouts Will.  Twenty seven tracks.  Then the door opens and in he comes.

You’re playing Val Doonican! shouts Morris.  What the fuck is the matter with you?

Ubiquitous Barb

The worst thing you can say to someone is that you don’t remember meeting them, whereas you can clearly picture the meeting because it meant so much. It was like that with Barbara.  At least, I think it was Barbara. It might have been Fiona.  Strange thing is, you don’t hear these names much any more.  Once upon a time the name Barbara was everywhere.  You couldn’t move for Barbaras: Stanwyck, Streisand, Bach, Windsor, Cartland, Woodhouse, Bush. They fell out of the sky. And now where are they? Barbs were ubiquitous, and now they’re almost extinct.

Handaxe Manufacture in the Rift Valley

She wasn’t my type. She was too tall, and was a little unhinged.  I liked the fact that seemed keen to talk to me, because not many people do, so I laughed when she asked me if I was lost.  I wasn’t lost, I was just idling, wandering around town, staring into space.  I laughed and from on then on it escalated.  We sat in Coffee Republic and she told me about her job in the museum. She polished flint axe heads.  I thought that a noble profession, and probably one of the oldest. She told me that it was quite likely handaxe manufacture went on continuously in the Rift Valley for something like a million years. I was thinking about this when she pressed something into my palm.  ‘It’s the spare key,’ she said. ‘To my flat.’

What it Means

You wake in the early hours of that strange time between Christmas and New Year.  The bed is warm, the world beyond is not inviting.  Somewhere, far away, people are swimming with dolphins. Most of the universe is silence, but here there are one hundred mile an hour winds, ancient trees sway and groan. You find the radio and let it hold the world in order for a bit. Now impressions flood in, of nations in conflict or homes without power. But then consciousness grips you by the throat and shakes you awake. There is coffee to be made, books to be read, many small happinesses still to be found.


Count to twenty before you read the next sentence.

O.K. you didn’t.  I can’t expect you to do everything I say.  I can’t expect you to do anything I say.

Did you see the shooting star?  Or was it a comet?  Or maybe bits of a comet.  That amounts to the same thing I suppose.  Shooting stars/bits of old comets.

But then again, maybe it was something else.  Maybe it was a swordfish brilliantly lit up, a swordfish out of its natural element, soaring.

That’s quite funny, isn’t it.  A swordfish soaring I mean.

Humans have been able to do it for almost a century now.  Fly I mean.  So why shouldn’t the swordfish?  Those great snouts.  No, maybe not snouts.  No, there’s no real comparison really, how could you compare that appendage with anything which exists?  Other than a sword of course.

No it wasn’t a swordfish.  Not unless I decide here and now to change the meaning of the word swordfish.  No I won’t do that.  Shooting stars/bits of old comets, that’ll do for now.  That’s what I suppose I saw.

But  I’m not convinced.  Not really.  It was unlike anything else.  That’s it.  It was something that doesn’t have a name.  Not because it doesn’t exist.  No.  Because no one has ever seen it before.  The great big swordfish/comet/star.

Nothing like a swordfish at all.  Expect a bit.


The Sufflebell

You and your friends, two, perhaps three, are up on the top of a hill.  Now maybe you’ve never been to the top of a hill, but in Wales, where I have spent most of my life, we are surrounded by them.

You are on one of these hills, at night.  There you look up into the stars and follow the scarves of your breath as they twist up into the skies.

Just then one of you spots something.

“Look,” your friend shouts, “up there.”

And you all see the Sufflebell, trinkling and supping, nodding at your curiosity.

Now perhaps I should explain what a Sufflebell, or rather, what the Sufflebell is.  I should but I won’t.  I won’t because I don’t want to.  What have you ever done for me?  You come here expecting stories that start and go on and then end.  Perhaps you didn’t.  Perhaps someone said to you, “you know, you should read that story it’s not the sort of story that starts and then goes on and then ends.  Maybe you’ve even stolen this story without knowing much about it at all and that this very moment it is under your coat making its way to the outside, where there’s a bridge and, further on, a big ship in harbour.  Your heart is thumping away and you’re not sure yet whether you really want to read this story or not.

However, if you are reading this and your imagination is still perched on top of that hill, waiting to glimpse the mystery of the Sufflebell, forget it.  I’m not telling you.


Frank first heard the sound on a rainy November evening.  He was sitting on a bench outside the Friar’s Tavern.  His dad was looking after him that night.  He was in the pub and had left Frank outside.  As he went in he said he wouldn’t be more than ten minutes.  It was more than an hour later and Frank was tired and thirsty.  The light and the laughter coming from inside the tavern made him hungry too, in a funny way.  He wanted to be warm inside, like the pub was.

It was cold.  He shivered.  He wasn’t wearing enough.  Then he heard the noise.

It was like a hammer hitting stone but it was bigger than that.  There was something about the sound that made it seem bigger than the town.  It came from miles away, probably out towards Middlesborough.  Somewhere there was hitting something.  He heard the sound three times, at regular intervals, about twenty seconds apart.

He called after someone who was going into the pub.  “Can you ask Mick Mason to come out?  I’m his son.  Tell him I want him.”

He didn’t get an answer but about two minutes later his dad came out.

“Sorry Frank,” said his dad.  “I forgot.”

They walked along Sullivan Street then through a gap in the wall and along the canal bank.  It was dark.  All that was visible were the flats on the other side, over the trees.

And there was the sound again.  Frank stopped.

“What’s that sound, dad?”

Mick Mason laughed.  “Come on,” he said, “come on.”

Frank asked his dad three times.  His dad wouldn’t answer.  After the third time Frank gave up.  His dad went like that sometimes.  All the way back Frankie could hear the sound, feel it, echoing in his head, a huge sound, big as a mountain.

When they got in Mick made some tea and brought some to Frank in a big mug.

He put his own mug next to his son’s and sat down.

“When I was about your age, I used to hear that sound.  I remember I was with my dad fishing out on Monk’s Point.  It was getting dark.  The sound travelled right out across the river, like a ghost ship.”

“So what is it?” Frank asked again.

“I don’t know,” said Mick, slurping his tea.  “It’s a good sound though, isn’t it?”




Someone recently told me that your intestines could stretch from one side of the country to another.  I imagine food travelling from Bristol to Ipswich, a dollop of mulched toast pulled in by the police, an articulated take away overturned on the hard shoulder.

People say I talk too much, that I don’t let them get a word in edgeways.  I imagine words travelling on their edge.  Is this possible?  What happens if you turn a loudspeaker on its side?  Does the sound come out sideways?  Can music be upside-down?

I rang up the opticians the other day to make an appointment but but the receptionist said the optician couldn’t see me.  That’s a joke I’ve told over and over again. Over and over.  You can’t see people when they are on the phone can you?

Do people still give you a ring?  Telephones stopped ringing years ago.  Someone gave me a lift the other day.  It works quite well but I still prefer to use the stairs.  That will be lost on Americans.  They don’t have lifts.  And some of those skyscrapers have a hundred storeys.

I have a hundred stories.  And I don’t need a lift to get to them all.  All I need is a pair of tweezers and a sharp pencil.  The tweezers to pull them out (they hurt, like pulling out nose hair and it make your eyes water) You need a sharp pencil to write them down.   Otherwise they disappear.

I used to think it was possible to live on bread and water alone.  I tried it for a week.  I didn’t mind the bread, or the water but I didn’t like being alone.

The French eccentric, Charles Fort, used to keep records of weird happenings.  He kept lists of frogstorms (frogs pouring out the clouds) and fishstorms (fish raining).  I suppose it is possible that aquatic creatures could live in clouds for a while.  In the future we could have continents of clouds moving across the land, each populated by a different species, floating farms, airbourne zoos.  If humans could make it up there too it would solve any worries we would have about overpopulation.