Seeing by Wireless

First it was the pneumatic boots. I had a bladder squeezed beneath each sock.  I waddled like a stilted duck through Soho Square, and of course, they mocked. They always did, they always do.  It didn’t help that the right boot started to leak and made a high pitched farting noise, and me beginning to limp at the same time.

I flirted with jam for far too long, I admit. I thought everyone loved jam enough for there to be room for another brand.  I have to accept that the public’s taste is something I find unfathomable.  And there was ‘Logie Baird Toiletries’.  I thought I’d found a means of manufacturing a high quality soap in great quantities and believed within a few weeks I would be selling it to every hotel in west London.  But when I presented my product to the hotel buyer, they all reacted in the same way, slightly disgusted. So I had to try something else.

What got me going on the project that was to eventually make my fortune was reading about Thomas Edison’s ‘Ectopscope’. It appalled, and at the same time, intrigued me.  How could anyone take the man seriously?  Edison believed, and as far as I can tell, still believes, that his device enables one to talk to the dead. There is no explanation, no science behind it, it’s just something he’s conjured up, and because he doesn’t understand what’s happening, he attributes to it some sort of spiritual significance. But the idea that one could create a machine that transmits images intrigues me.  Edison doesn’t think there’s money in it. He has a higher purpose.  He thumps the table with his fist when he’s explaining the daft science behind his ectoscope. Like a preacher.

However, for the last three months I’ve scrambled up three flights of stairs to the attic rooms in Frith Street with the sole purpose of proving Edison wrong.  I’m not sure if the system is stable, but I think I have something.  Stooky Bill sits in the chair in the room immediately below, and now and again, when the disc spins smoothly, and nothing overheats, his face appears on the screen. There. Right there. Look! You are seeing by wireless. Incredible, isn’t it?

But then the merest disturbance and the face fragments, a spectral grey, a ghost face.

Eventually, after a lot of trials and demonstrations, Harrods calls. “Baird!” the buyer shrieks, “We’ll take everything you’ve got!” So, we have to improve production and find a name for our miraculous ‘seeing by wireless machine’.  Eventually we go for ‘The Televisor’.

And since then Captain Hutchinson and I eat out every day, usually at the Ivy.  The first few times we went we took Stooky Bill. He raised an eyebrow or two – all on his own! Our staple is rich pea soup and curried chicken, then Bombe Glace, followed by copious draughts of Chateau D’Yquem, coffee and petit fours. Washed down with Bisque D’Bouche brandy.  Makes a change from bread, milk, scones and butter.


The Last Pieman

The Pieman wasn’t feeling well.  He had wiped down the tiles, washed the floors, scrubbed the counter, hung things up and stacked the pies for the morning’s baking.  Pies, pies, pies. Every day, the same thing. Pies. I have a name, he thought to himself, but everyone calls me the Pieman.  When people look at me they see a pie.

Mushrom pies, chicken pies, leek pies, rabbit pies, pigeon pies, duck pies.  Pies, pies, pies. He had made them all.

He rested his fat face on his fat hand.  He made up his mind.  He was going to shut down his pie shop and go to another country.  A country with sand and sea and sun.  No more rainy days and ‘good mornings’.

He left things exactly as they were, put together a few bits and pieces into a bag and left for the airport.

Now, to,save you time, I’ll tell you what happens as quickly as I can.

  1. Pieman arrives in Zanzibar where he buys a big, cheap house.
  2. He enjoys himself for a while.
  3. He wakes up one night with his nostrils filled with the smell of pies.
  4. He tries making his pies on the island but can’t find the ingredients.
  5. The islanders are intrigued by the stories of the Pieman’s pies. They beg the Pieman to describehis pies.
  6. The Pieman exagerrates the flavours of his pies and stories of his piemaking until he begins to believe his own stories.
  7. The islanders gather outside his house to hear his stories.
  8. He enjoys making up pie stories, but after a while tries to elaborate too much.
  9. The islanders don’t like his elaborations.
  10. He yearns to return home.
  11. The pieman returns to his pie shop to find it is now a hairdressers. The town is a damp and dreary place, the people are miserable and no one remembers him.
  12. A month later the people of the island receive an enormous meat pie. They manage to share it, then get together and sing songs about the Pieman who came and went, and who told ridiculous stories about pies.



Voyage Until Morning

Before I get out of bed each morning, I have to decide how I’m going to do it.  Shall I scrabble, scramble, spin or stagger? Should I slide, slip or slump? And why do so many of these getting out of bed words begin with the letter ‘s’?  In his very wonderful book The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker lists a family of nose words beginning ‘sn’: snout, snorkel, sniff, snore, snub and so on. He suggests the nose is somehow used in their production of these words – that is we wrinkle our noses to produce the necessary sn- sound. But this can’t explain why so many getting out of bed words begin with ‘s’. Perhaps it’s word association. Sleep, sheet, sweet (dreams). When we were little, if we were lucky, lullabies and rhymes sent us to sleep, perhaps these flutter down into consciousness as we drift off, encouraging a sort of dreamy word play,  Isn’t ‘drift off’ lovely too?  You are a boat, or a raft, or simply afloat. You are back in the womb. You are safe on a calm sea. You will voyage until morning.  At which point the alarm will sound and you will scramble, spin and then stagger out of bed, crash into the bathroom, pee, look at yourself in the mirror, wonder what the hell is going on, and then remember it’s morning. You have arrived on at the quayside. Everyone is staring at you.

Bernard’s Voice

Neil called to tell me that Bernard was on the radio. Bernard? I laughed. Bernard has one of the deepest voices imaginable. Bernard’s voice rumbles. If you stand next to Bernard you won’t actually hear what he says, you’ll just experience it. Bernard on BBC Radio 4. I wondered what sort of microphone the producer will use. Bernard’s vocal chords vibrate his diaphragm and this, in turn sets off some sort of sympathetic resonance in his rib cage. Perhaps the rest of his skeleton, and even his skin collaborate to send shockwaves of his words towards the membrane in the microphone. It gets battered in step with the basement velocities of Bernard’s voice, and these become pulses of electrical energy that travel in step along the cable to the recording machine. Bernard won’t be speaking live, you understand. He has to sample some authentic, rustic cuisine and make a few considered comments. But as it’s going out on air at any minute I have to blutack the china to the dresser. When he eventually speaks furniture bounces across the tiles.  A slate falls off the roof. Across the country Bernard’s adjectives cause several nasty injuries. In Oslo, a professor of literature is killed when all six volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘My Struggle’ topple off a shelf and crash down on the professor’s head. Each one a blow more terrible than the last.


These are the days I will cherish in the years to come. These passing days, when the clouds gather over the hills and the brook in the valley is louder, silver, bright and louder still. I hear it in my imagination.  Long ago I took the kids to the top of the opposite hill, and how I hated being there.  I wanted to be by the sea. These passing days, the bee-keeper, he tapes polystyrene rectangles to the hives.  He cares for each and every one of his half a million bees.  Once, I told him, a swarm came into the house and there they all died.  Bees lay everywhere, a mass suicide, an Armageddon. These passing days, I drink strong coffee and read long novels. I try and compose the piece of music I have somewhere in mind, but I never quite find it.  I watch too much football and wonder if I can keep going on like this. Winter scares me. But then so does every season. There is no escape.  Sometimes I play music so loud the windows rattle. I do it because I can, no one complains, there’s no one for miles. I play Tristan, or some visceral dub.  I eat turkey sandwiches and flick grapes across the kitchen for the cat to chase.


Fog lies in the valley. The mountains, like islands, rust red with bracken in the ocean of fog, catch the morning sun.  I make myself an espresso and sit down to read. The coffee dilates my arteries, blood rushes to my head, carrying a thousand thoughts. I drank too much last night, I found myself in that place again, on the sofa, watching football.  It was Saturday, and today is Remembrance Sunday. There’s nothing much I want to remember about yesterday.  Today an ocean of fog lies in the valley and even as I sit here I can see it being burnt off by the sun. The espresso dilates my arteries, blood speeds thoughts. Across the soft waters they come, appearing out of the mist, the barges, the triremes, the cogs, cutters and cruise ships of thought, the tankers and tugs, thoughts ferried from the banks of memory to the shores of consciousness.  From island to island, across an ocean of fog.  She’s sitting opposite me, in red, the wine glass at her lips.  I’m holding her hand on the beach.  She gets out of bed to bring me coffee.  I see such hope in her eyes, and such belief. The children play in the garden: the girl is on the swing, the boy is kicking a football. Grandpa is flying a kite, my brother launches a  Chinese lantern. The world is still young, and there is much still to wonder at.  There is everything to live for. You still want her.